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April 18th, 2020

When The Abyss Looks Back Into You And Speaks A Name

The people I let into my life, become friends with, hang out with, enjoy the company of, get the very rare crush on, are broadly folks who are smart, have big hearts, are curious and imaginative, and…just don’t quite fit in. These tend to take two very different paths through life. I have walked them both.

Some make their way up the economic ladder. They eventually snuggle into some small nitch where they can use their minds in ways they either enjoy or at any rate are very good at, and in which their odd little quirks, as seen from the herd, either don’t matter or add decoration and color to the workplace. Many of my own group of friends eventually found work in Information Technologies where we’re kept safely away from the public, behind our computer screens where we can can geek out to our heart’s content. But some I know are lawyers, musicians, cartoonists, theater people…

For a while I was earning a bare bones living as an architectural modelmaker. It was as basic a lifestyle as could be, but I was enjoying myself. At various points in my life I’ve tried earning a living as a photographer, an illustrator, a political cartoonist. It wasn’t until I got work as a computer programmer that I could breath economically. That’s typically how it goes. The arts kids I know generally don’t make a lot of money, some of them live hand to mouth. But if you’ve ever tried to make a living as an artist you really have to respect anyone who has managed the trick, regardless of how low income their lives are. Most have their “day jobs”. Work they hate but which allows them time and money to do the work they love.

But there’s another, darker path some of these take: they go down the economic rabbit hole. Then they find themselves living on the edge of society. They never get the break they need, never find the good nitch to occupy. They become drifters economically, then eventually if they can’t find their nitch, transients with no fixed roof over their heads.

Invariably these attract the attention of the police, too many of which seem to thoroughly enjoy harassing them. And one minor offense snowballs into another and another and late in life they’re in and out of jails and/or halfway houses. If not sleeping on the streets. 

That is how the economic system in this country works. Oh, you don’t have a bank account? Oh, you haven’t held a job longer than a few months? Oh you don’t have a mailing address? An automobile? A phone? Good people. Smart, decent, big hearted, beautiful souls who could make their contribution to civilization if they could just catch that one lucky break. But not only are they a bit odd, they’re in pain. The kind of pain doctors can’t cure. They may not even know they’re in pain because they’ve just lived with it for so long. Hemingway knew the risks of having that big heart inside of you:

“The best people possess a feeling for beauty, the courage to take risks, the discipline to tell the truth, the capacity for sacrifice. Ironically, their virtues make them vulnerable; they are often wounded, sometimes destroyed.”

I have seen the system get hold of one of these and grind them down just for the shear pleasure of doing it. Because they can. These are not violent predatory people but they are easy marks for bullies. Because the inner beauty still there within the destitute man in front of them is a rebuke. 

As I said, I’ve walked both these paths, though luckily not to the degree I’ve had repeated run-ins with the law, or been homeless. A classmate gave me a place to live when I had nowhere else to go and I was mowing lawns and doing Manpower jobs to make ends meet. Then I got my lucky break and now I’ve a nice little Baltimore rowhouse and a wonderful job and a very good income. But it could have been lots different. Within I am no different from a bunch of people I know, who are living hand to mouth and just couldn’t catch that break. We’re all just a bit odd. If you can’t make your oddness work for you the culture tosses you into the garbage heap without a second thought. Well, he shouldn’t be so odd, he needs to straighten up and make something of himself. But he was something. And now his contribution is lost to all of us.

Straighten up and fly right. Yes. Quite. It’s a double whammy if you not only happen to be a bit…different…but also gay. Particularly my generation, or older, or a bit younger. Maybe you clawed your way out of the closet. Maybe you accept yourself, as the old song goes, just as you are. But growing up under a torrent of social fear, hate and loathing does it’s work on you all the same. And especially so if your own family has abandoned you. You avoid confrontation, stay hunkered down lest you step on yet another social landmine. Risk aversion is wired into you. You accept being less than you could be, because good enough carries with it less personal and emotional risk, then being all you can be does.

It is the ball and chain you wear every moment of your day, and maybe you don’t even know it’s there anymore it feels so familiar. It degrades your economic life, and for certain it impacts your love life. How can damaged goods see themselves, present themselves, as a worthy lover?

Why am I telling you all this? Maybe in a day or two I’ll explain. Or maybe not. It isn’t about me. Mostly. I am however, very much afraid.

One Response to “When The Abyss Looks Back Into You And Speaks A Name”

  1. Bob Cutler Says:

    Thank you for seeing what so many of us can’t, or have been blinded to, even in ourselves.

Visit The Woodward Class of '72 Reunion Website For Fun And Memories, WoodwardClassOf72.com


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