READING: Edmund White’s “Inside a Pearl: My Years in Paris” The Wisdom of the Elders

(THIS IS A BOOK BLOG DAMMIT. With a personal twist. It helps to know the blogger, the reader, I believe. It also helps to know the writer, and Edmund White has been a part of my life, a member of my cohort, since I started thinking about who I was and where I belonged. His latest memoir is another of the beautiful rooms he has made for us, his people. I got my copy – as always – at THE CURIOUS IGUANA [CLICK HERE TO VISIT], my local, independently owned bookstore and hangout in downtown Frederick, Maryland. If you ever want to find me, look for me there, I stop in constantly.)

insideapearlIt is difficult for young people today to imagine what it was like to be “other” in the past. One can now study great artists who have come before; Michelangelo, Rimbaud, Proust, Diaghilev and Nijinsky, Genet, and others, many, many others, who are identified as having been some variation of same-sex loving. That wasn’t the case just ten years ago, let alone twenty, let alone forty. Historical figures – even artists – who loved those of the same gender, had their biographies scrubbed of such things. We – those same gender lovers – passed this information along in rumor and code; it was a rite of passage, to learn these things from one’s elders in the – community.

I don’t want to use the word “gay” or the catch-all LGBT nor any of the other variations because I am striving for a world in which labels based on sexual attraction are seen as quaint, embarrassing  stains from a less evolved time.

And when we achieve such a world, we will have pioneers such as Edmund White to thank. Edmund White, who, now, like me, is one of the Elders. White, who, unlike me, is doing a marvelous job of passing on his wisdom and experience.

I read White’s latest memoir, Inside a Pearl: My Years in Paris, in the way one visits with a friend one rarely sees but with whom one shared major life events and thus, upon revisiting, settles in, immediately at ease, at home, wondering why it’s been so long. White meanders from anecdote to gossipy indiscreet morsel to intimately whispered confession in one after another discursive digression. I’ve the feeling that if this is your first conversation with White, you’ll find it roaming and erratic, but for me – and I suspect for most of its readers – this is the tale of a survivor, a compatriot to whom we have clung in the foxholes during a long and devastating war during which there was much death, sorrow, and loss. So much loss.

I would suggest that White’s entire oeuvre from A Boy’s Own Story through Jack Holmes and His Friend, with stops at The Joy of Gay Sex and The Flaneur: A Stroll Through the Paradoxes of Paris, as required reading for all those young (by which I now mean under 40) people who want to know what it was like to be – that word I don’t want to use – during a time when equality was a dream and reality often a nightmare. (Click HERE for Mr. White’s website which includes his bio and descriptions of all of his books.)

Mr. White is an icon. A survivor. His work is not only of great worth because of his prodigious talent and giant reserve of cultural information, but, too, the people he mentions, the other artists he references become reading and listening suggestion lists from which one can expand one’s own knowledge base.  And along with all that, his gossip and his teaching, I also relish his open embrace of sexual energy. It is refreshing to hear an intellectual, a person of cerebral heft and scholarly insight as well as emotional depth, openly discuss the joys of sex, sensuality, and exploring those without shame. I have long believed that sex can and should be like any other physical activity and expression, something done for fun, in fun, with fun and joy, rather than something always wrought with such emotional, cultural, religious baggage. Just fuck. Enjoy it.

Like reading. Only with more sweat. I hope – before I die – to read many more books and sex many more people – and though I never achieved membership (and likely never will approach anything near it) in Mr. White’s Velvet Quill group – and oh, oh, how I wanted to – I can, at least, say that I have lived in my small little world in a fashion not unlike he lived in his rather larger, more exotic and exciting world.

And I, too, am a survivor whose stories, for some who have just met me, I fear, might seem rather wandering. Don’t dismiss us because we are your elders, it would be a mistake. Embrace us. We have much to teach.

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