raven: subway sign in black and white, text: "Times Square / 42 Street station" (stock - times square)
[personal profile] raven
I'm reading Insomniac City, the Bill Hayes memoir about life in New York with his partner, the neurologist Oliver Sacks. After I reread Awakenings a while ago, [personal profile] happydork directed me to this lovely excerpt in the Observer, and then [personal profile] soupytwist gave me the book with the note that "it's like you would write, only if you were a gay man in New York".

I am not a gay man in New York but I see the resemblance:

"Worse, really, was the L, which I'd take home from Oliver's on the West Side. Not the train itself, which was fast and frequent, but what it represented. In that direction, the L is packed with people on their way to Brooklyn, whether going home or out partying. They always seemed hip and gay (in the original sense of the word) and young, whereas I felt like an old man being taken away from where he really wanted to be.

I feel guilty now that I projected my unhappiness on the subways. The L, and the 4/5? They did right by me, getting me home and to work on time and safely, and each brought its share of discoveries."


Hayes loves cities, the anomie and connection of them, and also the way they hold their own microcosm in mass transit. (He says, mass transit, and I think: golden age SF, that magic gilded modernity. When people say public transport I think of quiet country stations and Yes, I remember Adlestrop. Different, but the same human topology.) And it's a beautiful, beautiful book. Textured by grief, but full of defiance, a willingness to see beautiful things. I think I see queerness in that, the theoretical version? The notion that queerness is some vanguard avant-garde, so we approach it through anti-capitalism and rejecting the sexual status quo, but it advances beyond us, so we are never truly queer. I'm not sure if I could uncritically subscribe to queer theory, or even critically understand it - my mind and/or education never feel like they're up to it - but this I like: that it is queer to reject the mainstream pessimism of the left. You queer the text by daring to find some reason not to give up and die.

And then of course it's a straightforwardly queer book, too. A queer writer, a queer life, a queer city, set out in bitesize vignettes and photography. Everything in it is something Hayes has noticed, something he's chosen to notice, about Sacks and about New York: a smokestack, a fisherman on the subway, a conversation with a stranger waiting for a moving truck, an army of skateboarders on Fourth Avenue. I have been unmedicated for two weeks now and settled to a scratchy, dimmed, distractible baseline. Everyone - GP and therapist and friends - says, one day at a time, rather than rage against the light; which for me doesn't come easily. But I happen to be reading this book as London shifts to summer, which isn't right, because London isn't New York. You don't buy air conditioners in London, or wait until next time for the favourite outfit. I always think it's like a kid playing dress up - look at us, constitutionally raincoated, looking for the window keys, in the dresses we never wear, with the little self-conscious bottles of water on the Tube. It's twenty-six degrees today but it might not be ever again. Some of my colleagues have dug out salwar kameez; a girl I know wore a paisley hijab and tried to put her face in a frappuccino. Meds withdrawal has dialled my hypersensitivity up to eleven but there's something in noticing every small sensory thing: passing perfume, a girl humming, with two different decorated Converse and a Wonder Woman t-shirt; the scent of rotting rubbish (which - I'm sorry - takes me to New York again, the Lower East Side when I lived upstate, and last summer - Hamilton, Pride, and gelato). You may as well notice these things whether or not the world is burning. You might as well live. Also from Insomniac City:

"I once said to someone that one doesn't come to New York for beauty.

I said that's what Paris, or Iceland, is for.

I said one comes to New York to live in New York, with all its noise and trash and rats in the subway and taxicabs stuck in crosstown traffic jams.

I didn't know what the hell I was talking about.

If there could be a chip implemented to track one's vocabulary, as miles logged are counted with those fitness bands people go around wearing, I'm sure
beautiful would be in my top-ten most-used words. I am always saying that that's beautiful or this is beautiful. The thing is, beauty comes in unbeautiful ways here."

Last week in post next week; also, an intake appointment for psychiatric care; and my departmental privilege day. Not sure if I can write on it, or at all. But we shall see.

on 2017-05-25 05:17 pm (UTC)
zero_pixel_count: a sleeping woman, a highway stretching out, mountains (Default)
Posted by [personal profile] zero_pixel_count
Pragmatically - let it not be 26 degrees next week, I'm coming to London and I have so many things and so few pockets to carry them in if I don't have a body-warmer or coat on.

Less pragmatically - there's something deeply poetic about this post, I can actually see the reflection between your writing and his, not stylistically as much as in the way you are looking at the world, I think.

on 2017-05-26 04:22 pm (UTC)
zero_pixel_count: a sleeping woman, a highway stretching out, mountains (Default)
Posted by [personal profile] zero_pixel_count
...that anon was me in the wrong browser, btw. ;)

on 2017-05-25 05:33 pm (UTC)
rachelmanija: (OTP LA: skyline)
Posted by [personal profile] rachelmanija
I loved this book. It also felt to me a bit like a book I could have written, if I'd been Bill Hayes instead of me. I think it probably feels that way to a lot of people who love a city.

on 2017-05-25 05:57 pm (UTC)
isis: (hugs)
Posted by [personal profile] isis
Take care of yourself. ♥

on 2017-05-25 06:15 pm (UTC)
riverlight: A rainbow and birds. (Default)
Posted by [personal profile] riverlight
The notion that queerness is some vanguard avant-garde, so we approach it through anti-capitalism and rejecting the sexual status quo, but it advances beyond us, so we are never truly queer. I'm not sure if I could uncritically subscribe to queer theory, or even critically understand it - my mind and/or education never feel like they're up to it - but this I like: that it is queer to reject the mainstream pessimism of the left. You queer the text by daring to find some reason not to give up and die.


Aah I love this. So much food for thought. I haven't read much queer theory (and what I have read has been very explicitly about bodies and the construction of gender) but this resonates so much. Thanks for sharing.

on 2017-05-25 08:47 pm (UTC)
soupytwist: Joan Watson working hard on a laptop (tap tap)
Posted by [personal profile] soupytwist
I was pretty sure you'd have something to say about it, and I'm so glad I was right.

I've always thought of queer theory as a tool, really, as good as it is useful to you in that moment. But I can't help feel that there is an inherent queer revolution in the idea of saying, my love and my experience are part of this city. The city is as queer as I am because the city is me as much as it is anyone else. I can make that, I can affect that: these other people are in the city too, but I am the photographer who documents them and the writer who describes them. That's a power, which is why he always asks permission and why it's not okay to forget to do that, even if it was unintentional.

on 2017-05-25 10:37 pm (UTC)
longwhitecoats: Captain America in his 1940s costume reading aloud from the notes on the back of his shield (Steve reading)
Posted by [personal profile] longwhitecoats
[CW depression, suicidal feelings]

it is queer to reject the mainstream pessimism of the left. You queer the text by daring to find some reason not to give up and die.

Yes. This. Exactly this. On days when it gets really hard, it's this and its corollaries that keep me going. Like: continuing to exist while queer is a radical, subversive act. And: being joyful while queer is a radical, subversive act.

About a year and a half ago I had this conversation which a queer lady friend of mine, after everyone else had gone to bed: we decided to refuse to be pessimists about the future. My friend described herself as a radical optimist (and still does). I think a lot about that, about the sparkling rainbow future world. Even if I never get to see it, I sure as hell want to try; and if I give up now, I never will. Fuck neoliberal sadness and faux disillusionment. The world has always been terrible, the world has always been beautiful, the world has always been queer. I'm going to live just to spite all those television writers whose imagination was so limited and greyscale. I'm going to queer the hell out of everything.

on 2017-05-26 11:42 am (UTC)
yiskah: (Default)
Posted by [personal profile] yiskah
Yes, absolutely, yes!

on 2017-05-26 02:45 am (UTC)
no_detective: (subway fml - nicole_anell)
Posted by [personal profile] no_detective
oh yes - i love this city, but it does smell like garbage. A LOT. and i will buy this book and read it after my move, so i can revel in some properly hardcore nyc nostalgia.

lotsa good wishes for you, friend. ("you might as well live" - ah, mrs. parker, another excellent citizen <3)

on 2017-07-08 10:08 pm (UTC)
no_detective: (subway fml - nicole_anell)
Posted by [personal profile] no_detective
ahhhh, i fail so hard at dreamwidth; mea culpa 100%. yes, i'm moving to minneapolis at the end of this month. (husband is already there, taking care of his dad who's having health problems; i'm going to join him and work remotely and, fingers crossed, save some money.)

i've missed some huge updates from your life, my dear, and for that i'm truly sorry. i wish you well with all my heart; if there's anything i can do, i hope you'll let me know. otherwise i'll just keep dropping random m/m romance recs your way, which... is arguably a type of care package, i suppose. ♥

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