Hopeful Romantic

At one point, nearly…Christ, a decade ago, now, I attempted to write memoirs.

(Good god I’ve been a manifested ghost a long time.)

Initially, my host and I accumulated about 450 single-spaced pages, divided into sections regarding my childhood before I arrived in London, my young adult-hood as I approached marriage, my newly-wed years, and my years as a father.

It was all rather serious stuff—an accounting of a life, rather than the reliving of one.  This has largely to do with the fact that when I first manifested, I was rather a stick-in-the-mud, lacking in real personality and foisting this sort of agreeable, but utterly Victorian manner upon my host.

I understand now that ghosts long-dead and then suddenly manifested remember their public personas first, followed, often slowly, by their more poignant and complex memories.  Personalities fill back in over time.

Mine did, to be damn sure.  I flatter myself to think that my sense of humour is rather obvious, now.  I admit that my vices and penchants are equally as obvious.  And I’ve recovered my losses so that they might heal, my romance so that it might bloom, and my hobbies, interests, and tendency toward self-exploration so that I might grow.

The people who graced my life have become more real to me, as well.

Geoffrey, who I had thought to be my best mate, crawled into my bed and happily reminded me he was also my husband.  Marion, who I had remembered as my sweet wife, flew down off the mantle where I’d placed her and rightly berated me for idolizing her into inactivity, forgetting how far her radicalism went.  My friends, employers, and acquaintances exploded into colour and humour. And Jon, my darling boy, died again, forcing me to face my depression and to summon the courage to really, fully remember him—not only his giggles, his beauty, and his intellect, but also his stubbornness, his stark honesty, and his tendency to exhaust those around him with queries and challenges.

Naturally, I wanted to apply these correctives to my original memoirs, which had come to seem stagnant and false.  But by the time I had gathered enough of myself to consider such a task, Alex was deep into his graduate studies and fully immersed in the re-writing of his historical fantasy novel.  Oh, and I had, you know, remarried, become a father again, co-launched a fashion line, and taken on international modeling.

These things do quite fill a schedule, haha.

Then Alex finished his novel and sent it off for beta-editing.  He moved away from toxic environments to work on his dissertation in relative peace.  Marc and I settled into our business and charity, finding it all rather less bewildering.  Paces slowed.

I started thinking about those memoirs again…

Only now, I’ve been thinking…what if I wrote them as romances?

You see, one of the things Alex and I did have time for over the years was a shared love of m/m historical romance.  The plots!  The characters! The history and fashion!  It’s delicious, and sends me right back to my time in late-regency, early-Victorian London, curled up on a chaise, listening to Geoff read me poetry.  Hoping he’d put down the book and, um…well…

That’s rather the only problem with the idea.  Even just reading romance turns me into a fidgeting, blushing mess.  Not that I’m a prude—far from it, which is perhaps part of the hesitation to consider my amorous exploits in lush detail.

I mean, not far.  Far enough, though.  Oh, I don’t know…

But I’m determined to best the bashful, because in outline, the narrative thrust of the memories I want to share work so well for romance.  They’re funny, complex, lovely, sad, and triumphant.  And quite frankly, when I’m on my own, away from the fear of embarrassment, the stories fly out of my pen in such a way as to convince me of my need and ability to write them.

So, there it is.  I’m going to take a crack at romance novels.

On the site, that means you may be seeing a bit more of my Victorian life, as well as some recollections on the time—its politics, fashions, employment, operas, poetry, etc.  I hope that’s enjoyable.

You may also see new portraits from time to time, as Alex has agreed to sketch my loves, my friends, and their respective loves, who often became my friends, in turn.

And you might see bits of conversations, dialogue now, one supposes, as my compatriots and lovers were hilarious, lovely, sharply discerning folks who I’m convinced would like to be heard even now.

You will likely not see…um…saucy bits?  That sounds…anyway…

Let’s see how this goes, shall we?

The Quiet Path to Peace

Father’s Day approaches, as it does every year, and as always, I am filled with both existential dread and riotous joy.

Rather odd how a greeting-card company creation can do that…

But I must say, this year, I’m more joy than dread.  And that has a great deal to do with my therapist, Jasmine, the task she set for me this last April, and the decision I came to as a result.

Jasmine, you see, asked me to celebrate Jon’s birthday in silence this year, to re-evaluate the depths of its meaning and his place in my life.  Her argument: To commemorate is sometimes to forget.  To speak at length is often to pull great loss into the shallows for public dissection.  She wanted to know how I felt about Jon when I was utterly alone with his memory.

At first, must say, I was a bit put off.  I’ve spent all this time reaching a point where I can talk about Jon without breaking down or, worse, fading out into vegetative depression consequent post-traumatic stress disorder.  And now I was supposed to be silent?  Had I not already adopted twice over?  Had I not conquered my guilt over Jon’s death to the extent that I perform well, and deservedly, as a father?  What was this?

But I did as she asked, because I knew she did not ask it lightly, and because I trust Jasmine immensely.  With both my life and my afterlife, quite frankly.

So, on Jon’s birthday—April 8th—I did not post to Facebook.  I did not decorate the house, buy a cake, go through my writings, or look at my recreated ‘photographic’ memories.  I sat, quietly, by myself, in my work shed, and about halfway through my day of silence I realised what Jasmine had wanted me to realise.

I am at peace with Jon.

I am at actual, quiet, exists-when-I-am-alone peace.

It’s not a peace without tears, without moments of crushing loss, without blips of fault.  It’s never perfect.  That’s not what peace is really about, is it? It’s not angels and trumpets; it’s acknowledging and turning down the devil.  It’s about hard emotional work becoming easier, and–for me–seeing that Jon would want me to have happiness.

My peace is Jon.

He is the constant tone—sometimes subtle and sometimes deafening—that underpins all the other melodies in my life.  A lynchpin in so many of my memories of Marion and Geoff.  A driving force in my own self-understanding and self-forgiveness.  A guide to my parenting.  A humbling reminder of what is important, what is superfluous, what is real, and what will pass.

At my next session, I walked straight into Jasmine’s office and right into her arms.  I didn’t know what to say, so I just hugged her for a while, hoping it would express gratitude.  She’s a let’s go running together, let’s have tea, let me hold your hand while you cry sort of therapist, so it worked.

We didn’t discuss it, really.  That was part of the exercise in quietude, the sharing of silent immensity.

I only talk about it now to share two things.

First, the exercise.  If you are in a similar place, do recommend.

Second, the decision.  The Junius-Smiths are going to actively pursue a third adoption.

Because, as it turns out, I am ready to do so.  I am prepared to process a shift in family dynamic.  I am prepared to welcome another little mind into my space, without feeling that I am pasting over Jon’s memory.  I am prepared for the search, the potential joys and heartbreaks, the possibility that this may take years, the necessary conversations.

The first conversation, of course, was with my husband.  If Jon is my pedal tone of peace, them Marc is my vibrant, dancing counterpoint. Yes, he said, of course he hasn’t changed his mind.  He wants another child.  He wants six hundred, with pets for all of them.

And then, of course, we talked to J and Mira, who’ve been asking for a sibling.  They were elated.  Serious about the process, but elated.

So, we begin our search this Sunday.  It’ll be a busy morning and afternoon with my administrative roles at JS Home for Children (always a popular visiting day).  But we’ve carved out time in our family supper and shindig for a slow start–familiarising J and Mira with traditional adoption processes, scheduling some visits at London- and Rome-based homes, planning our family video for adoption profiles.

God help us, three children…I already feel outnumbered.

But so excited.  So so so excited.

A Lighthearted Ode to *My* Queen

Dear Queen Victoria,

I regret to inform you that as of the 9th of September, 2015, you were surpassed by your great-great granddaughter as the longest reigning monarch.

I know…I know how much you loved titles. And in comparison to your ill-advised tenure as the Empress of India, this was a rather innocuous one for you to hold. So, in light of the distress which you would likely feel upon this loss, I would like to offer up the following ten reasons–in no particular order–that you shall always be my Queen.

  ***

1. When Marion and I married in 1837, she wore a white and cream gown with a red sash. When you wore a white gown at your own wedding a few years on, it made Marion look like a serious trendsetter and she garnered a full season of attention as a fashionista. We both pretended not to care. We cared. It was smashing. Thanks for the white dress.

2. Furthermore, your wedding brought Prince Albert to England. I’m sure you’d roll over in your grave to know what a service that was to gay blokes all across the isle, but thanks for that, too.

3. You cared, in your own royal way, about the poor. Much obliged.

4. You helped pave the way for companionate marriage. No one ever doubted you loved Albert or that he loved you, and the affection you showed each other served as an example to multiple couples I knew. And it made Marion and I (#lovebirdsforlife) look a little less odd.

5. You put the country back in the hands of an intelligent woman, which has always worked well for England. That in and of itself…brilliant. (In fact, I recall quite clearly the early morning cannons announcing the death of the King. Marion sat up in bed, perfectly still, and whispered, “Elliot, the King has died.” Then she sighed and turned her face to the ceiling. “Thank god there’s a woman back on the throne. I shall sleep more soundly.”)

6. You celebrated advances in the arts, literature, and medicine, along with Albert, who threw us that fantastic Crystal Palace Exhibition. Watching the royal family care so deeply about education was a balm to my son who been often bullied for his intelligence. No one can argue with “Victoria and Albert like science, too!” and for that I am deeply indebted.

7. You were also a balm for my incredibly outspoken, incredibly short wife.

8. You supported and fostered the careers of Mendelssohn and Tennyson, two of my absolutely favourite creatives.

9. You irritated my mate Paul.

10. I don’t care what people say. Surviving as long as you did in the age of cholera, dysentery, tuberculosis, pneumonia, and wicked difficult childbirth is a true achievement, and by god, I think that adds an honorary five years to your reign. (To be extended should Elizabeth make it another five years…)

***

Signed, Your Obedient Servant, Etc.,

EJS

There Goes the Neighbourhood

I believe it is fair to say that London is famous for its ghosts. And the ghosts for which it is famous are rather shocking in their behaviours. Bloody, screaming, running up and down halls at Hampton Court palace, stalking the Tower.

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This looks reputable.

But if you are a ghost in London, then you know that things are not nearly so unseemly.

Ghost London is actually divided into neatly demarcated segments. This wasn’t necessarily a purposely done thing, although we British do like things to be tidy and purposeful. It’s more so that like attracted like, era-enclaves settled and put down roots, generational (and temperamental) strongholds developed over time.

For instance, the most modern of London ghosts tend to live in up-and-coming Islington or Soho. The Victorian contingency have taken over Hyde Park and its surrounding streets and insist upon decorum and a schedule that follows ‘the season’. The countryside nearest the city belongs to squires and Civil War Royalists, who seem to engage in a great deal of publican culture. The West End is deliciously debauched and multi-generational. And so on.

You are welcome to try out any part of the city you wish, and live where you best fit (with a few stipulations). Sounds rather happy, right? And it is, in any many ways.

But for a ghost like me—a categorical oddity—it also means that finding a suitable address is a bit of a headache. Which is why I decided to contract with a realtor, rather than wandering about on my own.

I went with Kensington Ghost Realtors (KGR) solely for nostalgia’s sake. I think of Kensington and I think of a young and pretty-ish Victoria, and a bit of my own youth comes rushing back to me. I filled out a survey and they matched me with a young man named Oliver, whom I insist on calling ‘Oli’ much to his resignation.

They handed me over to Oli, it seems, because he deals with most of their categorical oddities.

What does this mean, to be a categorical oddity?

“Right. I’ve had just about this side of enough of that.” – The Platypus

Well, in this case, it meant the poor man had to find a home for a bloke who is openly gay (and a bit gender playful) but also well ensconced in ‘traditional’ institutions such as marriage and fatherhood; not quite Victorian but not quite anything else either; middle-class in life with no sort of name, but upper-class in death with a name and famous husband in spite of himself; creative but also introverted.

What the hell do you do with a ghost like me?

Well, we started with a long walk, chauncing about and ruling out a couple of neighbourhoods on feeling alone. And at the end of the day, much to my chagrin, I found that I was most attracted to the neighbourhoods that were on the fringes of the Victorian part of the city.

I do so hate to be predictable, but that’s only because I’m so predictable.

The second step, then, because of the stringent attention to social standing in these areas, was to calculate my entry point into their society, which would govern where I could (and would want) to buy.  Oli plugged all my information into a KGR system that tabulates your net social worth, balancing your alively achievements against those you’ve made in death

As I said, there are some stipulations.

I have to say, the discovery of this wretched system nearly threw me back out on the prowl. I spent enough of my goddamn alively existence climbing social ladders and eclipsing judgment to last me six afterlives, and I was not about to give the Victorian enclave the satisfaction.

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The way he holds his tea cup! He’d sooner murder you than eat quail, I’m sure of it.

But hold on, Oli said, think of who your husband is, your reputation as a model, your philanthropy, your net worth. I can almost guarantee, this print out is going to tell you to live wherever the hell you want, barring noble houses, and that you’ll be able to put everyone right out when you settle in the midst of their serenity.

Well, when you put it that way…

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Hold on, I’ve something for you right here inside my jacket. I think it’s…yes, yes it is my middle finger. Fancy that.

He hit enter.

And about three weeks later, I closed on an altogether far too large, far too expensive, Georgian-style home on Holland Park.

Now, this is going to be a sometime home base for me. I have no intention of moving away from Marcus and the children. (The very idea throws me into a panic.) But I do have some intention of re-entering London life, staying at the townhouse on and off during the season, and making my way into new circles, since so many of my memories of London are hideous at best.

I wish to use this home, in other words, to recapture some of the twinkling life and love that makes me feel close to the happier parts of my Victorian existence—the fashion of Geoffrey, the radicalism of Marion, the intellectual explorations of Jon. I want to make some new friends, be openly queer in a city that now allows for that possibility, perhaps even host some salons.

I’ve been none too reticent to air these wishes, either, which means that the invitations have been rolling in—curious, polite, and dangerous all.

As it’s the close of the season, most of the polite invitations will have to wait until spring, as will my opening dinner party. The rumours as to what such an event might look like build as I write…

And in the meantime, I have the winter to appoint the house, determine how and to whom I should like to rent rooms for those parts of the year that I am not in often attendance, and take up a few of the more interesting invitations.

Dear god I wish I had Geoffrey to help me make those selections—he would know exactly which houses I must attend to in order to build just such a persona.

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With no more than this much Byron.

As I re-enter this society, I will endeavour to keep you informed of the oddities it reveals and the ghosts I meet.

(For instance, I hear Walsingham controls new appointments of nobility, sending in his spies to infiltrate the season while he skulks about in the countryside. The raven on the edge of the duck pond.)

But for now, I think I shall take a turn about Kensington Gardens…in a fleur de lis frock coat…on the arm of a Roman.

Oh, this will all be so much fun.