Thursday, January 29, 2009

Things I Miss, 8

I miss Reginald’s passion and joy in living. Despite the hard life he had (see Hard Knocks Life: Things I Miss, 7), Reginald loved life like no other person I’ve known.

A number of people who knew him well have shared their memories of him since he died. One description that has recurred in several people’s memories was that Reginald was always “on.” You couldn’t be bored around him, and you couldn’t not be continually stimulated, because Reginald was constantly engaging with the world and with the people around him in a deep way. You also couldn’t ever be lazy in your thinking around him, because he tended to presume others were deeply engaged in the topic at hand and to expect nothing less.

He really wasn’t very good at relaxing or at being “low key” (if anything, trying to relax tended to stress him out and to be unrelaxing); he constantly wanted to see what there was to see. (Given the elaborate and active quality of his dreams, I think his mind was probably “on” and going full bore even when he was asleep.)

I miss also his specific passions. He loved the arts, poetry and music most of all, though his tastes were both deep and precise. For example, while he could certainly be described as an opera fan, it wasn’t opera in general that he liked. It was a small number of specific operas that he loved, but those that he loved, he was deeply passionate about. I’ve just mentioned opera, but the same could be said about his tastes regarding a variety of musical or other art genres, with a deep interest in specific or precise works of art. I suppose in some sense the same is true for most anyone who is interested in art of other things, but the extent of his passion for those things he liked was remarkable. For example, he didn’t just like Tristan und Isolde; he had to have every distinct recording available of it. And when he listened to music, it was an all consuming experience for him, as was reading poetry, or anything else that he thought worth doing. Again, whatever he was doing, he was focused and “on.”

Further, he tended to identify very strongly with those works of art (with again this being most especially the case with music) which he did care about. Or perhaps I have that backwards. Perhaps it was those works and things that he identified that he in turn felt so passionate about.

In any case, I profoundly miss the way in which he so deeply, passionately cared about the music he listened to, the books he read, the food he ate, the conversations he had, and about living life.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Hard Knocks Life: Things I Miss, 7

Reginald had a hard time going through this world – this world he didn’t survive, to echo a line from one of his poems.

I’m not just referring to the more apparent biographic facts of his hard knocks life (a song, by the way, that he much enjoyed both in Annie and in the Jay Z rendition), though I am in part referring to those:

Growing up as the child of a single mother in the 1960s (he told me once that he identified fiercely with the Supremes’ song “Love Child” when he was a child).

Growing up living in public housing tenements in the Bronx.

Losing his mother when he was fifteen.

Dealing with the same tribulations that most every gay man in this culture deals with in coming to terms with that gayness.

Living with HIV for well over a decade.

Living with and dying from cancer and the horrible pains it brought.

Dealing with a host of “lesser” medical issues, like the osteoporosis (possibly a side effect from HIV meds) that led to fractures in his hip and at least one rib.

None of these made it easy to walk through life.

I’m also referring, though, to the combination of innocence and a strong sense of justice with which he continually encountered this unjust world.

One thing the two of us shared was a sense of how we thought the world should be, fair and equitable, with thought and beauty in all its forms valued.

But he combined this with a sort of innocence. He kept expecting the world to be fair and just, for people to be thoughtful and to value reflection rather than ignorance, and as a result he was often disappointed about the state of the world, but one of his most charming traits, that I miss so, was that he kept on presuming the best of people.

Some who knew us, but not in depth, thought I was the optimist and he the pessimist of the couple. They were wrong. In reality, I’m much more likely to view the world through a deeply cynical and pessimistic lens, with one consequence being that I can almost always envision things being even worse than they are. I may become angry, upset, or feel loathing towards aspects of the state of the world, but rarely are my expectations disappointed when people or things are stupid, hateful, vile, or otherwise bad. It’s more that I’m pleasantly surprised when things are good and beautiful.

Though it meant he often bumped up against disjuncture between his expectations and the state of the world, his sense of justice combined with optimistic innocence was a part of his charm that I sorely miss, and that I feel unbalanced without.

National Book Critics Award Finalists

Reginald's essay collection, Orpheus in the Bronx: Essays on Identity, Politics, and the Freedom of Poetry, has just been named as a finalist for the award in criticism by the National Book Critics Circle. Although I'm obviously saddened by the fact that he didn't live to see this, I'm pleased to see the positive attention his work has received.

Follow this link for more details.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

A Bittersweet Happy Day

Today is a good day. It’s also a hard day for me, and I suspect for many others.

This past Thanksgiving and Christmas were tough holidays for me, being the first holiday season without my Reginald. Still, the burden was lightened a bit by the fact that I was surrounded by family those days, and I had many others wishing me well those days, because they knew those holidays would be difficult for me under the circumstances. Tougher still, on January 15, was our first anniversary since his death (not a wedding anniversary, since we couldn’t get married in this state, but our anniversary in any case). This, too, was made a bit easier because my parents made a point of taking me out to dinner, and because they made a point of trying to celebrate Reginald rather than trying to take my mind off his loss, which would have just made it worse.

Three days have been more unexpectedly hard for me since losing Reginald, as they’ve been happy days that have also underscored what I’ve lost and what he is missing: election day/night; yesterday’s Martin Luther King holiday; and today’s inauguration of Barack Obama.

Yesterday, on Martin Luther King day, I read a news article that nicely tied together that holiday with today’s inauguration of Obama.

As an aside, among other things the article reported on an interesting survey. Almost a year ago, last March, the surveyors had asked a sample of Americans whether they thought Martin Luther King’s dream (i.e. from the “I have a dream..” speech) had been fulfilled. At that point, 35% of white Americans thought it had been, while 34% of black Americans thought so. The survey was repeated sometime between the November election and now. Among white Americans, the numbers had increased to 46% now saying King’s dream had been fulfilled, while among black Americans, more than 2/3 (69%) now said so. I’m not exactly sure what to make of that, but it’s clearly interesting.

What most affected me though was a quote from an analyst, Bill Schneider, “Most blacks and whites went to bed on election night saying, 'I never thought I'd live to see the day.' That's what the nation is celebrating on this King holiday: We have lived to see the day."

When I read that, I broke down sobbing, as I did several times today watching inauguration coverage, precisely because Reginald didn’t live to see the day.

Yesterday and today have been good days. I spent part of yesterday reflecting on how Martin Luther King’s legacy has shaped my life. As a result of his efforts and the efforts of everyone else, sung or unsung, who was a part of the civil rights movement, I, as a white boy growing up in the south, was fortunate to not be deluged with (as much of) the racist garbage that poisoned the minds of earlier generations. Reginald and I were able to live openly as an interracial gay couple without ever encountering so much as a dirty look from any neighbors for seven years in Pensacola, Florida, and that as much as anything is a testament to how successful in some ways the civil rights, feminist, and gay rights movements have been in altering possibilities.

Still, I know how far there is to go on social issues relating to race, gender, or sexuality. If Reginald had lived to see election day, he would have been overjoyed at Obama’s election and the Democratic pick-ups in both the House and Senate, but, sensitive soul that he was, he would probably have been even more crushed than I was by the wave of anti-gay ballot initiative results across the country, from Prop 8 in California to the fact, much closer to home for us, that 2/3 of the electorate in Florida saw fit to constitutionally ban for gays something that we weren’t recognized as having rights to in the first place.

Today came terribly slow, too. Reginald should have lived to see this day – by which I mean both that it’s terribly tragic and unfair that he’s not alive right now but also that the events of today should have come much sooner. (The election of a woman as president of this country is long overdue, too, and I remember with happiness last year’s primary election when Reginald and I were faced with the wonderful dilemma of which “historic” candidate to vote for, neither of whom was or is perfect, but both of whom we felt were good candidates and far better than anything we’ve had in a long while.) Surely far too many people didn’t live to see the day.

Still, bittersweet though it is, this is a happy day.