Friday, May 10, 2013


Stephen and Loki reflected in the Fog City Diner on New Year's Day, 2013, before  Loki's diagnosis
Written on the plane from SFO to SYD, San Francisco to Sydney, about 30 hours ago.

I put the dog down 11 days ago. 

Loki did me an odd favor by contracting terminal cancer just when he did. I set out a few years ago to make turning 60, which I accomplished on April 6, a turning point. I described it as using my 60th year as a re-evaluation, but in the event the great bulk of the reevaluation occurred in a great clump at the end. The first part of that 60th year was a year where, as happens in a career, success an frustration bounded ahead in equal and matching parts. Midway through, my boss changed my job description; I like to say that I re-write my job description not annually but every third trimester. I like it that way, and evidently so does the boss.

But like so much in my life, it forces forward in me a chameleonesque adaptability that is belied by only apparent stridency and my entirely phony self-confidence.

The dog's death ripped the veil off those traits, at least for me, and that is part of the favor that Loki unwittingly did me. My life has been so many memes. Gay liberationist, typesetter, cyclist, leather guy, scholar, registrar, those are the broad lines, but I am so restless, so itchy and fidgety. I search out anchors and hang on to them, human and inanimate, and for the last twenty years, canine. Loki ripped me away from his anchor, and made me squarely gaze down into the free radical status that must be the source of any creativity or joy and involvement that I might muster in my 60s.

I needed to be free of dogness both for time and for perspective. I keen for him, all the while, for his being, for his anchoring, for his companionship.

Stephen and Loki at our last annual New Year's Day self-portrait reflected in the window of Scoma's on Fisherman's Wharf. BTW, I've been working on that gut ;-} 

So I got thinking about keening. I am on a flight to Sydney for two weeks of primarily family-oriented vacation. I have three days in Sydney on my own, and I have done some social media correspondence to see if I might set up some intellectual encounters. Nothing set in stone even yet; social media intellectual affinity does not translate readily to face-to-face affinity. Not trying to be superior here; I too am not so much suspicious as leery lest I be the fool who imagines that a perceived electronic warmth would be real in the flesh. It is not so much that we do not trust the other, but that we don't want to be the one who ends up overplaying his hand at a table of merry hucksters. Even if we don't really believe any of us are hucksters. It just might be better not being flesh and blood to each other. We just don't know.

But on keening. Australians use the word keen, in my limited online experience, to mean enthusiastic … I'm keen to meet you. I know what it means, but the term is still poetic for me, as above, whereby I keen for my dead dog. It has a sense of irreducible longing, where the Australian usage has a sense of realizable desire. It is curious that there is an Indonesian word that sits right smack in the middle of these two meanings … rindu … normally translated as longing, but also with the sense of being in love. So there is a phrase, sakit rindu, which literally means sick with longing, but has the sense of being in love and pining for the presence of the loved one. Rindu as a concept haunts broad swaths of Indonesian poetry, whether in the sense of love of the beloved or love of god as the beloved in the Sufi-istic sense that is increasingly literally against the law and punishable.

So being keen on something says that I want it in the context of it being possible to get and keening about something says I want it in the context of it not being possible to get. Rindu is the two senses merged and left inchoate, uncertain, liminal, unresolved.

That is my psyche at each and every juncture - inchoate, uncertain, liminal, unresolved. It is a source of perverse self-satisfaction that many think me self-confident, even arrogant, assured. It's a parlor trick that I have taught myself over the years. I have had to come to terms with the fact that a personality like mine just plain rubs some people the wrong way. Costanza-like, I cannot bear it and demand to know why, why, why don't you like me. But I have applied a parlor trick to that also and, except for the slight look of desperation that I cannot help but proffer on such occasions, I think I hide my inner George well enough for practical purposes.

Inchoate, uncertain, liminal, unresolved … those have been the sources of any creativity and accomplishment that I have ever known. Loki's death puts me squarely face to face with them again, unanchored, unrestricted. That was his last gift to me. And so, as the heartache recedes, the keening with no answer, I resolve to be keen on the future, yearning for a sexagenarian burst of creativity and expansiveness. 

Stephen, self portrait in the High Museum of Art, Atlanta, February  2013. The sculpture is Untitled, 2010, by Anish Kapur, who is most famous for the Chicago Bean
All photos by arod.