In Memory: Charles Stephen Hughes

www.charlesstephenhughes.com

 

 

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From Particles and Disputations: Writings for Jeff, a book of hours

 

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So compelling was FROM PARTICLES AND DISPUTATIONS: WRITINGS FOR JEFF. A BOOK OF HOURS, by Philip D. Luing that I read it in one sitting. I simply could not put it down. Both a heartrending memorial and a tender love story, PARTICLES is pure, raw emotion from start to finish as it chronicles the real life 12-year relationship between two men--a relationship that ended much too soon. This story is not revealed as a narrative. Rather, we glimpse the lives of these two staunchly-devoted individuals through a series of private notes and poems written by one partner to his beloved; writings that marked the special occasions in their life together--anniversaries, birthdays and holidays. The entries trace this relationship from the tender beginnings of newfound love right through to the aftershocks of their tragic parting. These same intensely poignant "flat lines on paper" were gathered together and published after their receiver succumbed to a long battle with AIDS. Each entry is painfully honest and comes straight from the author's soul. This is not a book to be taken lightly. Simply put, it will break your heart ... but at the same time, it's courage and quiet strength will uplift you. I must admit that a part of me felt a little guilty reading Mr. Luing's private words to his lover, rather like an eavesdropper listening in on someone else's private conversations. In the end, however, I felt honored to be allowed to share in their most precious of moments because, within the depths of their relationship, I saw reflected back at me the value of my own. A personal note of thanks to Mr. Luing for introducing me, through this publication, to the concept of creative rage in the face of adversity. I will carry it with me forever.

Review - "From Particles and Disputations: Writings for Jeff. A Book of Hours" by Philip Luing


Stunningly beautiful

Very Highly Recommended

In February of 1982, Philip Luing and Jeffrey Lalonde meet when they are assigned to the same study group at their church. After rehearsal for a play, they went to a local deli for bagels and coffee on April 15th and begin their 12 year love affair.

Phil is the more artistic, creative and emotional of the two; Jeff is more pragmatic. Over the course of their lives together, Phil writes Jeff letters of love, feelings and celebration. He marks not only their milestones - birthdays, Valentine's Day, Christmas, anniversaries - but also those times in their lives that are mundane. Just because.

In June of 1985, both men tested positive for HIV.

And on March 9, 1994, in the early hours of the morning, Jeff slipped from this life with his love standing watch.

Phil took the letters and notes and scribblings that he had given Jeff over the years and collected them into this small tome, "From Particles and Disputations: Writings for Jeff. A Book of Hours."

And what a tome. This beautiful little beating heart of a book traces the evolution not only of a life, but of a love. It is unflinching in its joy and sorrow, in showing the fun and whimsy and growing pains of a relationship. How it starts so sweetly and then hits bumps. How we question ourselves, and each other. And how the mundane can become so very precious when viewed from the now.

Mr. Luing - Phil, if he will forgive me for taking the liberty - gives us twelve years of his heart. From the missives he shows us, he never shied away from acknowledging the beauty as well as the pettiness of their life together. I was constantly amazed by the power of his observational skills. How he, and I can only assume Jeff, never feared to face the demands and hurts that were in their relationship.

The prose? So very lovely...

"All right, all right, so I prayed; you responded. Perhaps I wasn't specific. That'll teach me to pray poetry."

When the two men shied away from each other, retreating into silences...

"If we can penetrate the silences, we can usually get through the words. It's been that kind of a year, you know? Mostly overcast. Sunlight on too brief occasions...Our words are wicked, as are our silences...For this anniversary, then, I give you my discontent and its corollary, hope for the future we are sharing."
How love means more than just you and me...

"We long ago discovered that one and one make three, not one; there will always be you, me and us at work in our domestic affairs."

How the disease they shared taught them lessons in how to support each other...

"Perhaps the vital lesson we've learned is that we bring injuries to each other to soothe, not to clone - and that we do nothing to soothe the other's injury by inflicting it upon ourselves."

How love isn't one great big thing, but a series of small considerations...

"Instead it is a quiet, practical matter, like looking around a room to see what needs to be done."
And the hardest part, for me personally, was reading the passages when Jeff was not long for this world...

"2-14-94 Lost Valentine. Sometimes my love wanders in his dreams so as I sit by his side, I repeat 'My name is Philip I love you I'll take care of you.'"

Then, when he's gone...

"Jeff, meaning "peaceful", was well named."

The beautiful description of their last trip to Paris, so very different from their first, had me in tears. Terribly intimate, it reminded me of lost loves and friends in my own life. How Phil massaged Jeff's sore muscles after their day walking around the streets of the city. But this time, it was because the bumping of his wheelchair made Jeff's legs and neck sore. I had to put the book down and talk with a friend for a moment to settle my heart.

Quiet grace. Two men who floated through the first couple of years of their mating, and then settled, sometimes comfortably, sometimes not, into their love. But always present. Always in love. Always two, no, three - you, me and us.

It was a true honor to be invited into this intimate story of how a love grows in fits and spurts, through good and bad, in sickness and in health. This is not to be missed, but savored and appreciated. It's the true map of a heart.

Thanks, Philip, for trusting me with this.

Tom
Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Verdict: BLISS is a beautiful declaration of love from a fine poet, and deserves to be cherished by anyone who appreciates the emotion.

BLISS is a collection of poetry and short prose–romantic, erotic, sensual and affectionate–from one man to another, the love of his life.

It is intended to tell the story of the relationship from beginning to marriage proposal (hopefully not the end!), pouring out the author’s heart onto the page in full and passionate force.

The emotions expressed are deep, obviously genuine, and so personal and intense that a reader almost turns aside at times, blushing, from what feels like an invasion of the lovers’ most sacred private moments. From the humorous “Attack of the Oil-Based Enamel Black Paint” to the intensely sensual “My Music Man” and the tender “Nap”, the poems resonate with anyone who’s ever been deeply in love, painting a picture that everyone who’s ever felt those feelings can appreciate and enjoy.

Some of the poems are more successful than others – occasionally, the poet struggles too hard in some works to explain the feelings that he has deftly illustrated in others, and the language can at times a bit forced. But most often, they ring with absolute sincerity and emotional force, and even in the least successful of the poems, the love shines through and warms the heart.

BLISS is a beautiful declaration of love from a fine poet, and deserves to be cherished by anyone who appreciates the emotion. A sympathetic reader cannot help but share in the happy glow of the couple, and to wish them a long and loving life together.

Reviewed by Catherine Langrehr for IndieReader

By Ross Forman

            In lieu of a grave site and headstone, Philip D. Luing now has a permanent memorial marker honoring the life of his former partner, Jeff Lalonde, who died of AIDS in 1994.

            Luing, 54, who lives in Chicago’s Edgewater neighborhood, published "From Particles and Disputations: Writings for Jeff,” a compilation of notes and letters he wrote to Lalonde during their 12-year relationship.

            “Jeff and I both specified in our wills that we didn’t want to have a funeral and be buried; rather, we wished to be cremated, be remembered at a memorial gathering, then have our ashes scattered on the coast of Oregon, where we’d hoped to retire. About [seven] years [after Lalonde’s death], as a part of my Master’s thesis project at Columbia College of Chicago, I made hand-bound copies of the book and gave them to Jeff’s two sisters, who were the only surviving members of his immediate family. Both of his parents died shortly after he passed away.”

            The book was released this year and is available at online bookstores, such as Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, Apple iBookstore, Reader Store, Copia, Gardners, Baker & Taylor, and eBookPie for $2.99. It is Luing’s “proper memorial” to Lalonde.

            “I’d always wanted [the letters] published, so it could be Jeff’s memorial, but after many years of sending out many, many query letters to publishers, it became clear that wasn’t likely to happen,” Luing said. “For one thing, it’s too short: only 98 pages. Plus, it’s not an easy fit into any genre for marketing.  It’s not a collection of poetry, and it’s not what one would expect of a memoir or diary. 

“Eventually I decided against publishing it and instead just posted it on a website until recently.  However, the site wasn’t widely visited, nor was its’ permanence assured since the site would only last as long as I was around to maintain it. 

“As the topic of same-sex marriage and the value of same-sex relationships has grown into a national discussion among the general public, I’ve sorely wanted to contribute my experience with Jeff to that conversation, to show why these relationships command recognition. The advent of e-books has opened up opportunities for non-traditional books, such as mine, to get out, be seen and perhaps build enough of an audience for a publisher to risk a hard copy book. I had an opportunity to publish it as an e-book, and now it’s out there taking part in the conversation.”

Luing said organizing the writings into a cohesive book was, for him, a way of working through his bereavement. “I was off kilter for almost a decade after Jeff’s death,” he admits.

Luing didn’t start dating again until four years after Lalonde died, and his dating career was short-lived as he soon found his present partner: singer/songwriter Charles Stephen Hughes. The two have been together since Nov. 14, 1998. “He’s been incredibly generous and understanding of my need to memorialize Jeff while building a life with him,” Luing said.

Luing, a research administrator at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine (Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences) said he truly wants the book to be published and distributed as a traditional hard copy.

“I’d like for it to be passed down to future generations,” he said. “The initial responses [to the e-book] have been very appreciative. For me, of course, the words are so informed by memories that I can’t read it the way other people do. I wasn’t sure how readily a reader could infer the story based on the words alone, but so far it seems that hasn’t been an issue. Some have said that the chronology is nice to have at the end, but that it wasn’t a necessity.”

Luing said he’s been surprised that there is a considerable audience for the book among straight women, interested in gay romance. “I think [the book] would appeal to anyone who might enjoy an intelligently-told love story with a sad but transcendent ending,” he said. “I’d say it’s more of a love story than an AIDS book.”

Still, Lalonde and Luing have battled the disease. Luing learned he was HIV-positive about 26 years ago.

“I don’t ask why I am alive and Jeff is not,” Luing said. “I assume that’s due to the happenchance of our genetics. He was more physically fit, nonetheless the disease found a foothold in his body. I concentrate more on the how, how do I respond? My response to having survived longer than Jeff is to memorialize him properly and to demand recognition, honor and respect for the love that we shared and the relationship that we built.”

Incidentally, the letters HIV/AIDS don’t appear in the book, except in the chronology at the end.

“Except for the first few years we weren’t in denial,” Luing said. “We were active in a couples support group at Test Positive Aware Network (TPAN), educated ourselves about medications, etc. It’s present in the book in that we adapt our relationship to its’ effects on our lives, our physical beings, but I wanted my writing to be about the two of us, the connection of our spirits, and I didn’t conceptualize HIV as having infected our spirits.”

Luing said his favorite part of the book is the chapter titled ‘Sext – At the Apex of Life.’

“The book is structured as a ‘book of hours,’ which traditionally is the litanies that monks and nuns would recite as the day progressed,” Luing said. “When I organized the writings after Jeff’s death, I found they fit with the metaphor of the passing day. It starts with ‘Matins—Young and Silly in Love,’ and then comes ‘Lauds—First Reflections’ when we started thinking about the relationship and asking ourselves what exactly it meant to us. 

“After that stage, we got hit with a double-whammy. The next couple of chapters represent two stages of significant strains placed on the relationship. First, as with all relationships of any length, the initial sense of euphoria and infatuation gives way and we begin asking ourselves who are we in this relationship, and how does our re-emerging sense of self fit into this new arrangement, this existence as a couple. That’s a time of challenges that all couples have to struggle through and resolve if they are to grow into a steady, mature relationship. The strains inherent to this stage were exacerbated for us by our testing HIV-positive at a time when the life expectancy for HIV was thought to be six months to two years.  We knew we’d been in a monogamous relationship for over three years, so were getting tested just to get the official word that we were out of danger. Instead we were told we had basically outlived our life expectancy. We didn’t get counseling; instead, we tried to reassure each other while at the same time sliding into a pattern of acting out our unspoken anxiety by numbing ourselves with pot, alcohol and cigarettes. 

“After a couple of years of that roller coaster ride, we did pull ourselves together between one Christmas and Valentine’s Day, quit the cigarettes, pot and alcohol, and commenced the chapter ‘Sext – At the Apex of Life.’ It was a wonderful time of mature commitment, positive outlook, good health and general happiness. That period was followed by [the period] when Jeff started showing symptoms of HIV progression, entering the chapters that truly called on all we’d learned of commitment and the resilience of love.”

The Luing-Lalonde love affair clearly still lives, some 30 years after it was formed.

“It’s been a time of incredible change—technologically and socially,” Luing said. “I remember when my electric typewriter at work was replaced with the first wave of PCs. I remember when what was to become the LGBT community began pulling off its’ cloak of invisibility and making itself known, how incredibly liberating that was to start to find books and plays about our lives, even to have our own newspapers. I [also] remember falling in love—but that, I think, has not changed all that much. It still pretty much happens the way it always has.

“I learned a lot about how to make a relationship work [from Lalonde], and it’s certainly made my present relationship much easier to navigate. It also helps that I’m generally much more at ease with myself; that happened somewhere around age 50.”

The heart on the cover of the book is a valentine Luing made for Lalonde of shirts. “If you unbutton the shirt and look inside you’ll find the poem from Feb. 14, 1988, that starts out, ‘My love, may you find my love, even if this Valentine’s Day you find me hidden in the tatters of my old, most favorite shirt, serious behind one of my serious faces…’”

So what would Lalonde say if he knew the writings were turned into a book?

“I know he’d be pleased,” Luing said. “I was a member of the writing group NewTown Writers for almost 20 years. When Jeff was alive, I fashioned some of my writings into a spoken cantata for synchronized voices, which told an imagined story. It was entitled ‘“Elements of Love’ and was produced by NewTown Writers in 1992 for Pride Week. Theater critic Larry Bommer reviewed it for the Chicago Tribune and also, at the end of the year, named it one of the best theater events of 1992. Jeff was very pleased to have those writings for him presented publicly.”