A Room or Two in Some Quiet Place

Last night for dinner I made black bean chili and cornbread for the first time ever, and since asparagus was on sale at the grocery store, I pan-fried some for a side. The Manly Fireplug raved about the meal while shoveling down the chili. I’m always surprised when I cook something that turns out well, since I never did much cooking before I met the Fireplug, aside from boiling some pasta. Neither of my parents cooked all that well, and so I’m teaching myself as I go along, with a couple of cookbooks for direction and more than a few mistakes under my belt. Cooking for two is far more pleasurable than cooking for one, and it satisfies something inside me, to give that to him, and to surprise myself now and then with a good meal.

I’ve been reading The Gift: Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World, one of those hard-to-classify books that I might never have read if I hadn’t stumbled across a profile on the author, Lewis Hyde, in the Times, and read the book’s praises by David Foster Wallace, Zadie Smith, Jonathan Lethem, and Margaret Atwood.  Essentially the first half of the book explores a few dozen cultures, throughout history, that are gift economies rather than marketplace economies. The second half of the book explores how the creation of art parallels these cultures, and explains why art cannot be given its proper due in a culture “increasingly governed by money and overrun by commodities.” The book opens with a quote by Joseph Conrad, which summarizes his argument:

“The artist appeals to that part of our being…which is a gift and not an acquisition – and, therefore, more permanently enduring.”

He uses Walt Whitman, along with Ezra Pound, as examples of artists who viewed their own creations as gifts to a community larger than themselves. And this quote, which also draws from some of Whitman’s diaries, moved me:

“There is a spiritual path in which the soul ascends in isolation, abandoning all creatures. But this was not the path for Whitman, so hungry for affection and so present in his body. As he grew older Whitman did in fact find a form for his ‘adhesive nature:’ he managed a series of long-lasting, basically paternal relationships with younger men, Doyle being one of them. But to judge from his letters, he wanted more. He wanted to ‘work and live together’ with a man; he wanted to ‘get a good room or two in some quiet place…and…live together.’ He never got it. When he presents himself to the world as ‘like some perfect tree,’ we will be right, therefore, to feel a touch of perfection’s loneliness.”

By reading this I am made more aware of my good fortune, that I have found such a companion. The Fireplug’s favorite story of mine is The Danger of a Twelve-Year Old Girl, which makes sense because the story is pretty much all about him, and since even the Fireplug admits that he can be a tad self-centered. When I reread the story now, however, I am struck by something: that we no longer “teeter at the brink of break-up on a weekly basis.” Something over time has changed, the Manly Fireplug has we both have stopped resisting, and we have settled into something far more comforting.

Even before Prop 8 we had agreed on a long slow engagement, as we still don’t even live together. The insanity of San Francisco real estate throws up a minor obstacle to that goal, though we are headed in that direction, towards that room or two in a quiet place, or at least in one of those sleepy, far-flung, less expensive neighborhoods.

And after we’ve moved in together and measured again our happiness, then we can plan a wedding, which I hope, by that time, will be legal. Obviously I’m driven by a selfish motivation to fight for our civil rights, for how much sweeter will that wedding be, knowing that we in some small part, along with our friends, made it happen?

But my own wedding plans aren’t the sole motivation. I want to fight for something that we can give to each other, and to those who will come after us. I guess it’s as close to a reason I have for keeping this blog for so long. It’s not self-expression I’m after, so much as a desire to give something to others, to give back to the brotherhood that came before me and paved the way, to hopefully make others feel a little less lonely. A lofty ambition, sure, but false modesty won’t do.

I’ll be attending that Town Hall meeting tonight on Marriage Equality and will post an update tomorrow with notes from the discussion. The Fireplug, who works late tonight, will eat leftovers.

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