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It began with the crush of scorched grass under my toddler feet, and sunlight flickering in silver poplar leaves, a visual buzz of tiny bells against the sky. Hallucinogenic, it clouds my memory with chevrons of light and shadow. Texture is the fabric of the universe coagulating like blood, or wrinkling like warm jelly running across a cold plate. The surface of a lake is smooth, barely rippled, but sky lights graze across and turn it to diamond facets, forms here and gone in an instant. Telescopes and microscopes reveal different magnitutdes of texture like layers of an onion..
Music is a texture of air. Particles swarm and recede like waves on the ocean of atmosphere. The surface stretches into three dimensions. When I was a child my parents would take me to concert hall. It was like crawling in a drawer, brightly cluttered, objects gathered together out of vast spaces. My ears rang with percussive grains, brass baubles and silk threads. A passage by Sibelius is like a jar of pins. It was an ordered mess, but to understand it was impossible. The mind cannot focus on one thing at a time. It becomes immersed in the tangle.
I go to the gym two or three times a week and lift weights. My muscles are like bundles of cord. When I lift, the threads bunch into a knot.
Handsome men come and go. I watch one through the mirror, across the room. He follows a liesurely rhythm: one set, rest a few moments, another set. A sandy coloured goatee scruffs his chin. When he gets up for a drink from the fountain he is tall, with a slight belly, strong arms and shoulders. He reminds me of my lover who laid me on soft needles in hemlock forest.
I'm together with my friends. We go for drinks after choir practice. Sylvie hugs me. Her sweatshirt feels soft and nubby. I drink a pint of Barn Owl Cider. Greg orders two baskets of fries which everyone shares. I order antojitos but no one else tries them except Jodie, the newcomer. Tonight we are eight, a smaller and quieter group this week than usual. Several people stayed home with colds, mostly extraverts from the alto section. Tonight it is the texture of our gazes along the table that holds us together. Part way through our pints we start to chat.
Texture is one of the classic elements of design, along with colour, value, line, shape and space. The artist must consider all of these in creating a composition. The decision to eliminate one of them may, in itself, create the work of art. Distinctive works may be created without any lines. But one without texture is impossible. A flat canvas with no lines upon it is an even texture. The artist may use materials to create physical texture, the kind you can feel with your hand, using layers of paint or fabric. Visual texture is the illusion of physical texture.
I create visual texture with my coloured pencils.
Sometimes I accomplish this with strokes and lines. In my drawing of a ruffed grouse, the background is a maze of soft green and brown cross-hatches, like the forest thicket melding into shadow behind the cottage.
Or else I can use shapes to create a puzzle of colours and tones, like in my blue drawing of window frost. Blotted fragments of buildings and pavement squeeze through patches of refracted sky. In ‘Hollyhocks,' discs of translucent petals dapple the glaucous veil of morning.
You can feel these textures with eyes instead of fingers.
I am listening to music with my friends Martin and Daniel late into the night. Allegri: Miserere. Barber's adagio for strings. We drink Scotch and snack on Havarti cheese. Counterpoint is the simplest and most perfect of textures. It takes only two or three lines or voices to create auditory depth. Now we are listening to Bach's chaconne in D minor, two human voices and a violin weaving together sounds of immeasurable beauty. The sung words move slowly, ethereally. The violin line is frantic. It is the counterpoint of human existence: peace against passion, two themes carried always at once.
My choir sang in a small, overfilled church hall this morning. It was humid. We were fifty voices, all wearing black pants and shirts with rainbow coloured scarves. There were half as many people in the congregation. Our voices caught on the low ceiling like poplar fluff on sweaty skin. We sang Samuel Barber's "Sure on this shining night" better than we have ever done in rehearsal. After the service clots of queer choir people in black mingled with Unitarian Universalists in jeans and casual shirts. I had to run home and change into shorts before going out to lunch.
Time has a texture. It can be thick as a tunderstorm or fine as satin. My time draws thin during the week when I spend hours alone at home. Most of my activity bundles together on weekends when I have things to do with my friends.
I used to be more lonely. The thin parts would stretch for weeks at a time. But I have gathered relationships like threads and woven them into a tapestry. The pattern is complex. The weekdays have become a needful background, space around the design. Texture is beautiful when it is not all the same.
Today I want to tear the fabric apart. Nothing is working. I keep getting lost in the threads, can't find my way.
On days like this I feel like leaving everything behind. The sun is shining. I imagine driving with the windows down and wind in my hair. Strands of air weaving through the blond.
But I won't get very far with this fantasy. I don't have a car, my hair is buzzed short, and anyway it started turning brown when I was 30, losing those gold overtones.
I have to return to my weaving, try to untangle some knots.
I bind a towel around my waist and leave my private room. The bathhouse is dark. Visual textures recede into shadow. But the rooms and corridors are full of rhythms: strangers walking restlessly, meeting randomly, moving into secluded spaces, pressing together lips, chests and hips. A knot of four men stands in a corner of the steam room, hands and mouths exploring one another's bodies. I rest under a strong shower, fists of water kneading my shoulders, easing away nervousness. A handsome, chubby blond approaches me. The fur on his chest is dense as raspberry canes in a forest clearing.
The brownie turns to soft dough in my mouth. I don't even have to chew it; just suck and it turns to creamy chocolate goo. My groceries were delivered this afternoon. It's always a relief, paying for them. Other things may be going wrong. Dreams keep pulling their way out of reach. But at least for a few more days I have this food. It sounds so pathetic. Really my situation is not that desperate. But I still get hit with lightning bursts of anxiety sometimes, particularly when I'm overtired. Somehow food in the refrigerator pushes those fears further away.
I never cared for green salad. We used to have it every night when I was growing up.
Lately I have started to like it. Maybe the simplicity of preparation has won over considerations of taste and boredom. A whole plate of it sometimes serves as my meal. I chop cucumber, tomato and green onion and pile them on a mess of lettuce. I mix dressing from red wine vinegar, oil, water, tarragon, basil, oregano and garlic. It gets tossed into a rough heap.
Fiber is the hidden texture of lettuce leaves. It has a salutary effect on the intestines.
The canopy of silver maples is dark, a heavy green tapestry against the sun. Shades of gold glitter on the grass underneath. People are having a celebration. The come and go on the grass, buying hamburgers and hotdogs for their children. In the midst stands a gazebo. On the front steps a female impersonator gives a show. She wears a long white dress.
"I'm gonna getcha if it takes all night."
How she walks on the lawn in stiletto heals, no one can tell.
Sarah and Laurie are there on a picnic blanket, newly married, with their newly adopted son.
When alone I live impulsively and spontaneously. Oh, I'll go for a walk now. Hmm, tonight maybe I'll go downtown and have a glass of wine.
For a few weeks of every year my children come to stay and I become a fulltime, single father. Then my life must fall into a routine. Without some forethought we would all go crazy. My daughters always want to know, "Are we doing anything tomorrow?" I can't drift halfway through the afternoon then grab some lunch because I feel hungry. I am held accountable for the hours of our days.
Time's texture changes.
The weekend was full of festivals and ceremonies. Guitarists singing in the band shell. Visits with friends in the beer garden. The choir singing over the AIDS quilt while the audience sat on the floor. One row of four people sat holding hands, like guardians over the memory of a lost friend.
Now it is over and I have nothing to say. The texture of time has turned to plastic wrap, sticking together in an annoying mess. Even if you manage to pull apart the wrinkles, still all you have is plastic wrap. It has no aethetic value at all.
On Monday nights friends gather to watch
Queer As Folk
. Last night someone brought Skittles and Smarties. Those are our drugs. The hostess puts them in dishes and passes them around.
The women might as well have been on amphetamines last night. After each commercial break they kept chattering like geese on a field, growing quiet now at one end of the room, volume rising at the other. They tell stories and complain about the lack of sexual action between the lesbian characters.
I chew a mouthful of Smarties, but my jaw comes down hard on a stray Skittles.
It is like the division of the waters to create sea, land and heaven. It is light out of darkness. A texture begins to emerge out of the confusion in my mind.
This morning I cleared the clutter off my desk, made a pot of tea and sat down, committing myself to spend three hours there. The grey sky cast soft light across the golden grain of oak, beckoning me to stay there by the window and start writing down my thoughts. Today there is no goal, no word count I must achieve. Just time spent over the open page.
We had a barbecue last night at Colleen and Kathy's house. They have a terraced garden with interwoven foliage: ivy, Japanese maple, Virginia creeper. About 40 people, choir members and their families, were there. We moved among three gatherings: on the main lawn, the patio just above it, and a circle of grass further up the hill. Everyone had brought salads or desserts. The choir provided hamburger patties and leftover beer from the dances. It is the end of our season. We won't meet officially again until September. I will miss the fabric of interaction, working together for a goal.
My parents bought me a scroll saw in my early teens, maybe an attempt to butch me up. I never developed skill with tools. Lines wouldn't cut straight. My products had nicks and uneven surfaces.
In grade eight, Mr. MacPherson taught industrial arts, a retired army officer who directed us like soldiers. We called him Fergie. He inspired no joy.
I built useless things with my scroll saw, like a tiny picnic table with holes for ketchup and mustard bottles. The edges were uneven.
I remember the acrid sawdust smell and the way burrs became smooth under my fingers.
Beef Bourguignon. Chunks of meat in a flavourful gravy, soaking into a bed of new potatoes, mashed all over the plate. I didn't have red Burgundy wine, so I used sweet Vermouth instead. The flavour was sharp and savoury. I had a bowl of salad on the side: leaf lettuce, cucumber and radishes chopped, half a tomato sliced, ranch dressing out of a bottle. It was a hearty meal.
Preparing food requires more effort than I can bear sometimes. But it's like any creative endeavour. You put yourself over the cutting board and the rhythm of preparation carries you along.
Walking home from the Greek Garden restaurant I take a long detour through the park. The deep evening shade is still, ripe, fragrant. Catching a familiar hint of cloves, I leave the path and wander into a patch of wild phlox, inhaling their perfume. But it's better from afar.
Then I realize this is the longest day of the year. The sun, going to rest high in the northwest, winking down, has already impregnated the trees with next season's life. Their boughs are heavy with chlorophyll.
I wander further along the path. The world is sweet and all is well.
It is the season of flowers. Regal irises, blowsy peonies, friendly pansies, poppies with petals crinkled like crepe paper, many others in all shapes and colours, and of course those tiresome, rank petunias. The riverside is bright with white anemones, purple phlox, and yellow buttercups and celandine. Gardens along the street make a bright patchwork. This colourful season is short, but everyone wants to participate in the riot. The meadow is ripe with fragrance, first one then another, sweet ones, floral ones, spicy ones, others vaguely unpleasant like soap, all overlying one another in a profusion of scent and colour.
The water in the bay is smooth and soft as silk. Warm June air, brushing across, barely folds it into ripples. Images of trees and sky dance across the surface. I crawl out of the cooling liquid and lie, droplets glistening on my skin. With my face down on the dock, all senses but sound are muffled. I hear the delicate wing-clatter of a dozen dragonflies patrolling the channel. Sometimes a fish disturbs the surface. No matter how long you watch, you will never be looking in the right place to see it jump; you'll only ever hear the splash.
Walking on this warm evening I can hear people talking inside their houses through open windows and screen doors. Kitchen lights cast a soft illusion of intimacy on the sidewalk. A knot of people stands talking in a driveway, breaking up slowly, saying pleasant good nights then drifting down the street. One man greets me in passing and I turn to watch him walk away. A dog barks. On summer nights the veil around privacy becomes thin. I look through it and imagine I am connected. But in the end I go home to the apartment where I live alone.
The texture of society varies. Some places, the threads bundle tightly together. In others the fabric is so thin you can see through. I am in one of the weak spots. I have many connections but they're fragile. I never know when I'm going to break loose.
Yet I often resist tensions that might pull me into the thicker parts. People ask me to get involved in things but I hesitate. I fear that they will consume me, that I'll lose track of who I am. I never know when the knots might get ugly.
The missing element is trust.
Sometimes the threads cross in marvellous ways. Yesterday I and a friend down in Pittsburgh both got out of bed, and without knowing it independantly sat down at our desks and started writing about cicadas droning in the summer. Remember the cicadas? That's where it all started: the texture of sound, the way a memory feels running through my mind.
Sometimes the threads come unravelled, lose their connection with the fabric. Last week another friend down in Knoxville parked in his mother's garage and left the car running. He had drawn a broken heart on his chest in magic marker.
This is the festival season when the city erupts. Everyone goes around in garish colours, dancing in the streets to loud music. The birds go unheard, relinquishing their celebratory role. We move in tight knots, greeting our friends, tangling and coming undone, gathering, spreading, tearing and flying away singly again. The fabric almost comes apart, shaking and shreading with nuisance, mischief and adventure. It is time for catching up with friends, sitting in sidewalk cafés, enjoying the warmth of the day and of human society. We become a strong mesh of friendship. Our conversations are full of madness and truth.
The rooms were full of sound, smoke, electricity and male bodies. They danced, carressed and slid through shadows. The ticket said the dress code was strict. Most people were dressed entirely in leather, a few wore Levi's 501s under their chaps, and some wore only rubber. Two beautiful women had brightly-coloured shirts. Practically all the rest of the hundreds of guests were men. The bartender remembered my face. "Rye and ginger?" she said. I wore relatively little, feeling warm air against my skin. And when the handsome Venezuelan embraced me, the studs on his arm band dug into my shoulders.
I kissed two friends goodbye and they turned down a side street. The gutters were full of trash, but a crew was already working to sweep up the detritus of a few hundred thousand partiers.Some late carousers stumbled around, laughing raucously. I went into a bar and had one last beer. Dark, drunk, desperate men still stalked the shadows, searching for something. What? Company.
I set down my bottle and went outside into the early dawn hours. Pale light brushed the eastern sky. I went back to the hotel alone. Over the city hung a veil of transparent, smooth texture.
The Tip Jar