I Met Nell Gwyn, and it was a Whole Thing

Through a roundabout series of events, it’s come to pass that I shall be starring as Velma Kelly in a London’s West End genderqueer production of Chicago.  I suppose that’s rather a story in and of itself…

The short version: I auditioned for Chicago at Toronto’s The Star—a theatre well known for its progressive casting—and they hemmed and hawed and turned me down.  My audition video was leaked, and…I suppose that’s also rather a story in and of itself…

The short version of the leak: The intern who contacted me to audition for Moulin Rouge ended up taking a job at The Star.  He filmed my audition and after his bosses nixed my involvement, he sent it to The Apollo in London where they were also mounting a production of Chicago and told them they’d be fools not to take me, and also him.  Turns out this intern—Topher—is shrewd as can be and has been rather riding my coattails all along.  We’re having discussion about the JS Brand and how he may or may not fit within it…

Back to the other short version: So, there I am in London, finding out that my boi drag Velma is exactly what The Apollo wants, and won’t I sign a contract for an autumn run?  I met their Billy Flynn—ironically, named Flynn—a devilishly charming man who gushed about the way my character would expand his role and allow him to embrace his true pansexuality.  Then I met their Roxie—Karolina—who sent me a lunch invitation signed ‘Your Frenemy’ and coyly stuck me with the bill after a bottle of champagne.  And I thought, oh yes, I am all in.

So, the main story.

The day after I signed the contract I received a letter from the woman herself, Nell Gwyn.  She asked that I meet her in one of the private rooms of The Orangery, her West End club, and requested that I wear whatever was ‘truly you’.

Naturally, I spent a day tearing apart my closet and then ended up in my usual—tight black trousers, slightly heeled boots, a loose, shimmery club shirt, and a deep red frock coat.  I put my hair up and went for old-school kohl about my eyes, and headed out feeling rather the thing.

Went only downhill from there, let me tell you.

I arrived at the club, and the bouncer showed me in, but not because he knew who I was.  Which sounds…like it sounds, but really.  He did one of those, ‘you there, you can skip line’ gestures, and made kissing noises as I passed him, which landed me firmly in a mood.

I pushed through a throng of dancers, under a load of chandeliers that had been dusted with gold so the light looked more orange—really, rather on the nose—and asked the bartender which private room was Nell’s.  Right as he was about to tell me to piss off, hand to god, some slick fellow in a velvet suit moseyed up to the bar and saved me the embarrassment, leading me upstairs to the balcony suites.  He deposited me rather unceremoniously in front of a door, knocked, and then pushed it open.

Nell Gwyn wasn’t waiting for me so much as she was lying in wait for me, oozing every bit of scandal she’d been known for in her day–

Hello, I perpetrate scandals.

—18th century gown cut dangerously low, powdered hair frothing up above her head like a cloud, dripping jewels.  She sat up slowly, eyed me even more slowly, and said, ‘tell me why that outfit is ‘you’’.

And I said, ‘no’.

I mean, bloody hell.  I know it was her club, and I know she’s likely asked hundreds of up and coming London actors and singers the same question, but for chrissake, I’m an international super model.  If that has earned me one right, it is the right to wear what I want without having to explain or defend it.

She said, ‘no’?

And I said, ‘no’.

Then I sat before she asked me to, which was probably another ‘misstep’ because she looked just scarcely off to the side and a parade of cronies came literally out of the woodwork.  As in, the brocaded wall of her suite cracked open, and no less than five powdered, decorated, foppish young men and women dutifully flew out of it like bats from a cave, and perched around her on the settee.

They all stared at me.

I stared back.

I said, ‘so, I’m here’.

One of the fops failed to hide his gasp.

Nell then proceeded to quickfire question me as to my rise to London prominence.  Yes, I knew who she was in life.  Yes, I had loads of experience with theatre as an alively.  Yes, I’ve been on the stage a while this time around, too. No, I have no interest in her agency for me in the London theatre scene.

That threw her.

‘No one makes it in the London theatre scene without my patronage,’ she said. I know, for a fact, that this isn’t true, because I’ve made it in the London theatre scene without her patronage. ‘But’, she continues, ‘I cannot possibly let you hitch to my star unless you part ways with Marie’.

It took me a minute to sort through what she could possibly mean, and when I came to the crux of it, I became rather livid.

First, how dare she think I would throw over the woman who saw my work with Marcus and decided to launch my international modelling career.  Who dazzled me with quirky humor and put me in her most beautiful designs and gave Marc a pet lizard with no explanation whatsoever and has become a dear friend to both us and the children.

Second, gurl knows I’m a model and questioned my outfit.  Confirmed.

‘No’, I said again.

‘You must’, she said.  And she sat up straighter, looking suddenly both vicious and frightened, and one of her fops looked away.

‘I won’t’, I said.  Not that I owed Nell any explanations, but I added, ‘Marie is the balance to Marcus at the heart of my modelling career.  I would never betray her trust’.

To which Nell replied, ‘Then you’re a Francophile and a traitor’.

And I sighed.  I openly sighed.  The fop gasped again.

‘Madam’, I said, ‘I’m thoroughly an Englishman, and I’m thoroughly finished with this conversation’.

I stood, right as Marc swept into the room.  I had texted him earlier on to ‘come get me’, and the man knows how to come and get.  He had on his most regal toga, his most regal expression, and he put out his hand to me.

‘Where you are want to go’? he said.

‘Oh, anywhere really’.  I took his hand, and he spared just a fraction of a second of eye contact for Nell, before kissing my cheek and leading me out of the room.

I did not look back.

No, I know, the whole thing was exceptionally done.

After the fact, I’ve come to the conclusion that Nell Gwyn is bored.  She’s bored with this whole song and dance.  Every question she asked me came from a script, all her ‘pretty young things’ looked like they wished to be elsewhere about five minutes in to the conversation, and I noticed the wallpaper peeling in a corner, which would never happen if she didn’t want it to happen.

Also, noticeably, London has not come crashing down around me after our interview went poorly.  The theatre did not rescind my contract, the tabloids have not buried me alive, and no one has actively snubbed me.

It’s like the whole thing never happened, quite frankly, which might be as Nell wants it.  I’ve decided I’ll let her have that—aside from posting about it here, where ghosts are less likely to see it and make a thing of it—and see if our paths cross again.  Maybe she’ll come around.  Maybe she’ll decide to ignore me.  Maybe she’ll give me a poor review, or snub the show.  The fact is…it doesn’t really matter whatever the case.

Because it might also be that nothing has come of the interview because Nell is irrelevant.  Which, that would be a difficult place to end up…and I do hope she finds something more fulfilling to do with her time, and something more akin to peace.

Also, I texted Marie to ask what sort of bad blood runs between her and Nell.

She replied, ‘Who? ; )’

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In Which I Return to the Stage

As a Victorian, I worked two rather dissimilar jobs: as a subscription solicitor and contributing editor for Fraser’s Magazine, a general and literary journal; as a bloody opera singer.

You might say I preferred one over the other.

Now, to be fair, there were things I didn’t like about my job at Fraser’s.  Soliciting the upper-crust was always tinged in aggravation and condescension. Chasing down contributors hours before deadline wasn’t much more fun.  (I had to shoulder a door at one point, only to find our prestigious essayist half-naked and blissed on opium.  Another time I watched a perfectionist set fire to his pages in a fit of manic tears.)

And there were things I loved about the opera, too.  Her Majesty’s may only put up one show these days, but in my time, we were known as the “Italian Opera House” and did valiant battle with Covent Garden.  We had ballet at intermission, strong ensembles (which reflected well on me as the choir-master), and star-power, all of which could be quite creatively intoxicating.

But on the whole, the journal felt like home.  It reminded me that I had worked my way up from nothing, from press boy to apprenticed mechanic to clerk to co-owner.  My employer, ‘Oliver Yorke’ aka ‘Father Prout’ was more like my Da.  He brought me in from the cold, co-sponsored my uni scholarships, bequeathed me his liquor cabinet, and loved me dearly.

Mr. Yorke

A saint among men.

Meanwhile, the opera house continually grated.

I had to perform under a false Italianate name to further disguise my heritage, despite the fact that our opera manager was as much Benjamin “Lumley” as I was Elliot “Smith” and understood exactly why it irritated me so.

BenjaminLumley

Ben in profile, because of course he was sketched in profile, because Victorians.

My voice ‘teacher’, the Michael Costa, was an exacting, conservative arsehole, with zero patience.  I was functionally illiterate when I signed on at sixteen, and had I not met Geoffrey, and had he not spent ever so many patient hours teaching me musical symbols and carefully modelling phrases of foreign language (no recording devices, you know), I would have been canned, because god-forbid Costa should make a single explanation.  Costa was also a failed tenor and despised me for my voice, and for the fact that he had to mould it and feature it and watch me receive his applause.

Michael Costa

A failed tenor.

Add to that a baritone lead who was a serial sexual abuser and constantly at my knickers, ghastly hours, a slowly disintegrating relationship between Ben and Costa, and the constant disapproval of my in-laws, who insisted on calling the opera house a music hall, and…well the day I quit the opera, I walked out the front door and suffered a sort of reverse-panic-attack.  I felt so relieved I couldn’t breathe, as though all the exhaustion I’d been putting off tried to exit my body at once.  I vividly remember a near-faint and some passing Samaritan offering me a dram of whiskey.

So…all this to say…

I was not immediately chuffed about the musical opportunity that presented itself to me this last September.

It was a bit odd, actually.  My assistant, Danny, came to my office to inform me that he had just fielded a cold call from The Toronto–our local ghost theatre–soliciting me as an understudy for their upcoming musical production.  It’d been an intern calling–some bloke who found a Bootube video of my performance at a friend’s wedding and my old listing at Afterlife Magazine and Modelling Agency and put two and two together and come up with seven.  He thought I was fresh-faced, starting out, dying to make it big.

Danny and I chuckled.

And then Marc found out.  ‘You are need call back,’ he says to me.  He says this to me about eighty times between that first call and the next.

The next call came from the Artistic Director of The Toronto.  Danny transferred him directly, and he spent a solid five minutes apologising profusely for the assumptions on the part of his intern, obviously edging closer and closer to…but while I have you on the phone anyway…

He eventually got there, which is how I ended up, at Marc’s absolute insistence, in one of those dingy offices above a theatre.  The Toronto is extraordinarily well-funded, and still.  Dingy.  I’m nervous as hell, wrestling with all these competing feelings about the possibility of signing on for a set of rehearsals, a holiday preview, and a star-run in January.

I honestly felt ill.  But that sort of illness that might be part excited butterflies.  You know?

So, I said I would think about it, and then director of the musical–this very firmly Russian bloke named Serge–calls me and tells me he wants me to meet the soprano lead and see about chemistry.  And can I show up to the meeting at about twenty-one-years-old, because that’s the age of the character I’d play–potentially, just potentially–and it’s quite clear I’m being vetted.

Chartruese–Char for short–is just stunningly effervescent and quintessentially ‘actress’ but also totally real, unlike any soprano I’ve ever worked with.  I’m a blushing mess, but also completely fascinated, and we end up friends in a matter of minutes.  She thinks I’m charming, and just a hint sly.  I find myself wondering, in this meeting, if those aren’t more excited butterflies than nerves, after all.

In fact, I’m wondering if this might be exactly what I need–the opportunity to untie all the different cords that I’ve bound around my voice.  Here’s a rock-solid, healthy theatre, wonderful co-stars, a brilliant director, a role I was essentially made for.

Also, I have Marcus, who is just pure and utter joy about the whole thing.  Not that he disregards my concerns, or devalues them.  He hears me, he knows my fears.  I know he does, because when I falter, he’s there with the exact reassurance I require.  But in lieu of advising or hashing things out or making promises on the front end, he just goes absolutely wild for my possibilities, pushes me out onto the tracks, and trusts I’ll evade my incoming insecurities.  If I’m going to do this thing–go back to the stage–I will never have a better partner at my side while I take that leap.  I will never feel more capable than I do with him.

So…I leap.

At the end of September I signed a contract with The Toronto, and found myself cast as Christian in Moulin Rouge.

And it has, for the most part, been just ragingly brilliant.  Marc is beside himself, like it’s Christmas every day.  The rehearsal schedule works around my time with the children, who are also rather excited for me.  The cast is supportive and warm, especially after I proved myself more than a celebrity hire.  The other Christian–Harry Jensen–put on a tough act but melted like sugar in snow as soon as he found out I’d argued for all the promotional materials to feature him instead of me.  The show is beautiful–gothic and magical, with plenty of stage-craft that can only happen when you are a ghost with the possibility of bending dimension.

I’m also singing, you know, and quite well.  I have a new voice coach, who is both adept and responsive.  I’m recovering that particular energy that fuels a confident prance across the stage.  I’m remembering the familial delight that comes with sharing the quirkiness of theatre with those in the know.  I’m making friends, dancing, groaning over production notes, playing tricks, bringing yet another portion of myself back to life.

I’m having fun.

Eat your heart out, Costa.

Scene Cards

Just wanted to briefly celebrate the fact that I’ve finished all the scene cards for my first romance novel!

scene cards

There they are. Graciously transferred from word processing lists to actual note cards by my host, Alexander, who, unlike me, has legible penmanship.

I have two hopes for the project.  I’d like to a) finish it, and b) manage to make Geoffrey and I look, as dramatic adolescents, even marginally sympathetic.   Had I a time machine, I’d flick us both on the ear.

 

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?

Dinner Party Success!

(Marcus tried to make me name this post ‘Dinner Party is More Like Winner Party’)

So, May 1st was my big debut, and I am delighted to share that it went off without any major hitches.  In fact, I’d say it was a success!  A few of the most delicious details below…

I must start by saying that I am immensely proud of my family and grateful for their help in the matter.

Marcus was excellent moral support–every time I looked for him, he was at my arm, gracefully reentering conversation or just brushing shoulders long enough to remind me that he was watching out for me.  Also, the guests were obviously enamoured with the idea of a Roman in their midst, and he was more than happy to play the part.  He skulked about in a toga, sipping wine and looking ‘so mystery’.  And he only had to leave the room and giggle about it once or twice.

The children were also wonderful.  Mira gave a beautiful toast to Beltane over supper, and she looked absolutely smashing in a baby queen ball gown reminiscent of the 1920s–a sage green and lavender number she selected herself.  And J refused to move down table for a stodgy bastard who thought he should have been seated closer to me than my own son.  He just looked right up at this man and said ‘this seat is for faeries’ and continued to eat decorative parsley, and my heart soared.

I am also just thrilled with my two doorman/models who put on a good show.  Chauncey, shy and brilliant, worked the corners of the room, while Jerome, outgoing and…airy would be a nice way of putting it, charmed the milling centre.  And while their walks were still those of budding amateurs, that was really rather the point.  They’ll walk again when we open season in the winter, to demonstrate improvement.

And finally, I would be remiss as a ghost, Englishman, and moonlighting libertine, if I didn’t mention that Lord and Lady Rochester came to the party and left in incredibly high spirits.  That’s John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester of the court of Charles II, and his new wife/open-marriage-compatriot Drizell; Willy and Dizzy, known collectively as Lord and Lady Rooster, on account of them crowing gossip all through society.

John_Wilmot

I went to Elliot’s party.  Pinnacle moment of my afterlife, must say.

He wears less armour these days, but his hair is the same, as is his preference for satin.  He showed up in a tight-fitting blue satin suit with frothy, cream cravat and long black dress shoes with a bit of curl to the toe.  Very updated London.  And Drizell, a ghost from the 1940s, wore a gorgeous, ephemeral, glittering cream gown cut on the bias.  Both of them flirted shamelessly with Jerome.  And Lord Rochester invited me to one of his upcoming salons–he still writes unctuous poetry, which, while almost necessarily terrible, I cannot wait to hear.

And, in general, I would say people had a good time, myself included.  I was able to dispense with nerves as the supper progressed, falling totally into my role as society home owner and gentle eccentric.  Marc surprised me with a newly designed JS jacket for the occasion, which I debuted on the runway after dinner–russet leather lapels and pointillism grey wool.  And the house stood up to guests, with only one broken piece of pottery and a bit of spilled wine on the stairs.

Would I host again? Oddly enough, yes.

Am I looking forward to other society parties? Again, oddly enough, yes.

It’s a new age for Elliot, haha.

Society Debut

The bad news: Editing is taking my host far longer than he thought it might.

The good news: He’s restructured his approach to afford time to other endeavours, and I once again have leeway to keep up my blogging.  Huzzah!

And the timing could not be better, because, oh, do I have news…

The townhouse is appointed, the china is selected, the menu is set, and the invitations are sent:  I’m coming out, May 1st.

It’s a fashionably late coming out, to be sure. The season started with a bang round Christmas, and it’s only to run until the end of June.

But the London ton, as I have been informed by my realtor-cum-informant, Oli, feel quite a great deal of forgiveness toward my late entry, on account of my involvement with another season–that of fashion.

Were I simply lazy, or shy, or reticent, I wouldn’t have received a single invitation to turn down.  Since I am hard-working, philanthropic, and glamourous…they’ve been  gracious with my regrets, and willing to wait and gossip and RSVP to my dinner in the affirmative.

I suppose I am grateful?

But there was also some not-so-small part of me that hoped everyone would just throw up their hands and ignore me.  As it turns out, I’m painfully shy in personal settings, despite my time on stage and runway.  The thought of inviting perfect strangers into my home, with the goal of rendering them otherwise over the course of one dinner, terrifies me.

Two things keep me from turning tail.

First, as always, my husband.  Not only did Rome have its own sort of season, in which he was well-versed and well-known, but also…I’ll be damned before I run away from something while he watches.  The look on his face would be just too much.  And even if I bollocks something up, he’ll be there to smooth things over and redirect attention.  (To be sure, the ton is quite taken with the idea of a Roman in their midst.)

Second, Lord Akeldama.

I think I may have mentioned my obsession with this vampyre elsewhere on the site, or at least my obsession with Gail Carriger’s steampunk comedy of manners, which so delightfully skewers and celebrates the London season in turn.

But if not, you’re hearing it now.  I am so taken with Lord Akeldama, rove vampyre of steampunk London, that Alex had Miss Gail sign his portrait for me at a recent meet and greet event in Seattle.

akeldama

Akeldama on the right, in all his frilled and fluffy glory.  (Biffy, another of my paramours, on the left.)

I about died again.

And then, in a fit of confidence, I trussed myself up in a silk dressing gown, poured champagne, and opened a stack of new invitations to closing parties.  I even sent a few RSVPs–mostly to houses that seem like fun (Nell Gwyn, my god!), but also to a few conservative soirees, which I plan to attend in full velvet dress clutching my son’s teacup piglet.

I also finalised the details for my dinner, sent out one last round of looking-forwards, and reviewed my full guest list one last time without feeling like to climb under the table and cry.

In case you’re wondering, here’s what my coming out party will look like, in a nutshell:

5-8 pm: cocktails and crudites in the ground floor reception spaces (first floor to American readers).  These are done up rather Victorian, with dark wood, rich reds and blues, and pops of white and gold that draw attention to the windows and bookshelves.  I’ve hired a string quartet to play for this portion, as well as (handsome) doormen

8 pm: introductions.  Marcus and I come downstairs with the children, introduce ourselves around, and go up to dinner.  Traditionally, I would send the children to bed after introducing them, but I fear the wrath of Mira more than I fear the wrath of society, so they’ll be eating with us, and Mira, at least, will attend the first portion of dancing.

8:15-10: formal dinner in the first floor dining room (second floor,  Am.).  Menu items include Roman grain salads, a Roman-London hybrid fish plate, a London beef main (with beet option for the vegetarians, such as myself), and ices.  This portion of the home is lighter, with the reds and blues faded to rose and periwinkle, with pops of green and grey and the addition of Roman elements, such as ferns and columns.

10-2: dancing in the third floor ballroom (fourth floor, Am.), and open viewing from the rooftop terrace–both very modern spaces with clean lines, chrome, and glass. The string quartet will return for the first portion of the evening, and then round about midnight, I’ll re-introduce the two doormen as the first of my in-house modelling/runway clients and do a quick turn with them on the catwalk, finishing out the evening with a band and last rounds of cocktails.

Second floor of the home (third, Am.) is off limits.  This is our family space, divided between children’s bedrooms and the master suite.  And we’re also not utilising the garden floor, which is where my client-boarders reside–two at present, but five rooms total…more auditions over the summer.

And that’s it!  It’s all rather posh, but I’m becoming resigned to the idea that I am, in fact, a bit posh these days.  My blushes…

Will be sure to post how it goes.

Ghost Therapists

For the past six years, Marcus has laboured assiduously to learn the English language.  He’s been downright fearless, immersing himself in any conversation that presents itself, and he’s been steadfast, drilling note cards in the mornings, working crosswords in the afternoon, and regaling me with “word-a-day” vocabulary over supper in the evening, all while reading his fool heart out, tackling books like the warrior he is.

And until very recently, I put off the study of Latin.

I assure you…I’m not proud of this fact.   Every time he says something in Latin, some little phrase that I know I should be able to commit to memory, that I know I’ve heard before, and yet it escapes me, I feel guilty and ashamed.

The guilt surfaces out of lack of effort.  I’ve done many, many other things to be the best possible companion for Marc, but on this point, I’ve faltered.  I failed for years to even try to understand the language of his inner thoughts and of his beloved Roma.

And the shame…well that’s a bit more complex, and it brings me to my central point.

Ghosts can hire therapists.

We can hire therapists to help make sense of our deaths and to help make sense of our lives. We can hire therapists who specialise in types of death, we can hire therapists who specialise in certain age groups, and we can hire therapists who specialise in certain eras.  We can even hire therapists who specialise in passing you on to final death.

Jasmine is mine.  She’s a fucking saint.  And although I have no intention of passing on–I’m quite enjoying the afterlife thanks very much–I do have every intention of working through all the shit that followed me when I died.

1_therapist

Let’s start with…Jesus, I don’t even know, the first time you had to eat a rat??

To be sure, this was not my original intention.  I lived before psychology, counselling, therapy, when the going advice was to just push things aside and soldier on.  And so I assumed I would do the same now.

But through a round-about series of intersections, I came to know Jasmine, and she came to know me, and now I’m coming to know myself.

In particular, I am coming to know that I must be more self-compassionate.

To return to the Latin, for example…

As it turns out, I did not have an affluent childhood.  I had the opposite of an affluent childhood.  I didn’t see an actual book until I was twelve years old, I didn’t really learn proper reading skills until I was sixteen, and I was still making my own flashcards to cement spellings long after I was married.

Not that I wasn’t a quick study–I was–but I was terrified that such speed made the whole endeavour out to be a fluke.  I thought that if I ever stopped reading or writing, often frantically so, that I would lose my ability to communicate with the people who had become my world.  The world of polite English and conversational French and polished, scholarly Latin.

To make matters worse, I was convinced that even with a burgeoning vocabulary, my accent botched the whole thing beyond repair.  I spent years perfecting my disguise, only to have it slip in moments of great emotion.  The cockney streets or the Yorkshire almshouse were always just over my shoulder, no matter how much Keats I devoured, no matter how many articles I edited for the paper, no matter how many times I read aloud to my son.

And there are other things in this hodge-podge pile of shame: the fact that Latin reminds me of the Catholic church and my assinine mother-by-law; the fact that the study of languages reminds me of having to literally sing for my supper–music being the only college scholarship I had even a remote possibility of winning; the fact that my son surpassed my language skills by the time he was four, entering into a world of code that I could never be a part of.

It gets a bit overwhelming.

But having Jasmine around to remind me that I lived, succeeded, offered lingustic opportunities to my son, culminated university with a literature degree aside my music, ran a press, etc….well it helps immensely.

And her gentle reminders to take a breath, to address the underlying trauma, and then to raise my head above it…that helps immensely, too.

It also helps that when I finally cracked a textbook in 2016, Alex agreed to patiently study Latin alongside me, moving at my speed, and granting me partnership.

And, lets be honest, it helps that my tutor is a Roman dreamboat, and that through his own series of self-explorations he has come to own his affluence and privilege and a childhood full of words, and to grant me the patience I need, thus making my study a gift, not a demand.

Togato,_I_sec_dc._con_testa_di_restauro_da_un_ritratto_di_nerva,_inv._2286

Look, I’m not saying we *must* play strip conjugation, I’m just saying the word ‘conjugal’ had to come from somewhere…

So, to close on three points:

1) Thank heavens for professional problem-solvers.  If you are at all concerned by your place in the world, or within your own mind, please, go get help.  Please don’t wait for (or god-forbid seek) the afterlife for your chance to fix everything.  Live fully.

2) That said, thank heavens for ghostly therapists.  If you have someone who left the world in turmoil, know that they have opportunities to seek aid.

3) And, thank you for this opportunity to speak truthfully, and to hold myself publicly accountable to my new efforts with language.  Mille gratias et bonam dei.

Salut! is Husband Guest Post Time

So, Elias is be like super cray busy after Halloween. Ghost fashion week is be November 11-15 this year, and he is have five show for walk in because he is be super model.

(How is like, Marcus, be marry to super model? Oh you know, is pretty fucking great, other Marcus.)

Two of show he is be lead model for, which is take lot of time and prepare for interview and thing. One of show is be like super high fashion 18th century with looooot of fit time. One of show is be first walk with—Richard pirate fashion—so he is still work on brand and do meet with. And other is be basic walk, but is still take time.

So anyway, he is be like, Mahhhhhhhhhhhcus, you are so best and always be done with work for line like month before fashion week so how about you are write guest post for November when I am be cray busy.

And I am be like, fine, but is be November 12 post and is Marion birthday so you are sure you are non want do?

And he is be like, non is fine, you are do. Is make sense for love of afterlife to write about love of life. I am like.

And I am be like, best, I am like too.

Problem: Every time I am sit down and start write, Elias is be like, oooooOOOOooooo what you are write about, I am see? And I am be like, I know you are excite about, but actual fuck off. And he is do for like six second or so and then be like, now I am see? So I am just stop write until he is be in middle of fashion week and non see, because I am want be surprise.

Right now Elias is be do pre-interview for Herschel line and then he is do eat and last minute fit and thing, so I am have time before show for write post.

Here I am go!

* * *

Happy Birthday for Marion! and Surprise Story for Elias

Once upon time there is be tiny pony name Marion Rose.

Unless you are live under rock you are know what tiny pony is look like.

In case you are live under rock, here is be tiny pony. OMG THEY ARE BEST.

In case you are live under rock, here is be tiny pony. OMG THEY ARE BEST.

Marion Rose is be tiny pony in Victoria time when all of England is live on eat smoke and cheese and sugar. And she is be like super mega tiny. Like, there are be lot of tiny pony in Victoria time, but she is be most tiny of all of. And she is have super shine chestnut coat and best tiny pony fashion, and she is TOTAL head kick you if she is non like what you are say.

Example: She is want head kick like all of parliament, all of time.

There is also be other tiny pony in Victoria time who is be more like mini-horse, because he is be so tall. He is be name Elliot and he is be so dark black like night and have curl mane and non fit in any of stable. Part because people are be like, gross…dark, curl pony, do non come in, and also because all of world is make for aaaaaaactual tut tut crumpet tiny pony, non for mini-horse.

Anyway, Elliot is be like super determine mini-horse, and he is end up go to school. And one day he is be eat grass by step of university stable with all of pony friend and he is look up and be like, holy shit…that is be most beauty tiny pony I am ever see.

And other tiny pony with speckle coat is be like, ummmmm you are know is lady tiny pony right?

And he is be like, sic, I know is weirdo, but I am total into.

So speckle pony—Geoff pony—is help make introduce, and Marion Rose is be like, OMG you are best mini-horse in all of world.

Problem is be, Elliot is hear like whole life that mini-horse are be worst, and he is have like no idea how talk to lady.

Now, most of tiny pony are probable non be up for deal with sad, mumble mini-horse. They are be like, wellllll, actual, I guess what I am really want is tiny pony with big stable and sword collect and dumb, boring life where we are just do season and then sit around hate each other all of winter time…tiny pony Victoria, living dream.

But Marion Rose pony is be like, Jesus Christus that is sound like worst thing I am ever think of, and so she is do lot of thing for show love for mini-horse.

She is do thing like, encourage when mini-horse is neigh with music. And she is non make fun of when he is non know spell pattern for word. And she is read with and non care if he is read slow. And she is take hoof on street and glare head kick thought at all of tiny pony who are look at and be like, gross. And she is say mini-horse is be handsome and love and smart.

Occasional, she is like…gentle head kick mini-horse and be like, for real, stop mumble and smile is non kill.

Then one day there is be tiny pony ball.

Marion Rose is definite go to, because she is be part of tiny pony society. And she is want dance with mini-horse like so bad, but he is non get invite.

So, for prove love, Elliot is ask one of tiny pony friend sign over invite for and then he is borrow tiny pony suit that is show too much hoof and try comb all of dark, black curl, and show up for ball.

He is be so nerve he is basic like almost throw up all of oat.

But then he is see Marion Rose at ball be so super mega tiny and feisty and he is be like, I am basic die if I am non dance with.

And she is see mini-horse and be like, everyone is shut up right now and hold champagne, I am go dance with mini-horse.

They are dance like whole night.

Then before ball is end, they are be so sneak and leave and Elliot is escort Marion Rose to house, and they are be like, welp, guess we are never ever want be apart now.

Is take like two more year and lot of work and head-kick, but eventual they are be marry. They are have pretty goddamn best colt name Jon who is have kind of dark, curl hair and kind of chestnut coat…and who is be kind of mini-horse tall, but definite tiny pony style…who is basic be best of both of.

And Elliot is be like, I am so happy I am probable just die of.

And Marion Rose is be like, I am know sic? I am best.

***
Now, in afterlife, mini-horse is be super model. He is be write, he is be parent, he is be act and sing and dance, and he is read all of time and be so smart.

Part of is be because tiny pony husband is be like preeeeetty fucking best and encourage.

But lot of is be because tiny pony name Marion Rose is work so hard for love mini-horse.

Amo, Marion. Gratias tibi ago.

THE END

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.