Saturday, March 15, 2014

GIMME, GIMME, GIMME


It has taken me over two weeks to write this damn essay, and I am still up in the air as to whether it is interesting enough to publish or not. That is not a plea for validation, just a confession. You have been warned. It is long, and it does not make me look very good. So be it. I tried to make it funny in places. I do think I succeeded at that task. Don't you wish I were still writing about leaving Los Angeles?? As a token of goodwill I have decided to intersperse recent pictures of my visit to Santa Monica and Venice beaches on a day that was, as we like to say here, "picture perfect". Well, have at it.

                                                                 ***
There is a British show called "Doc Martin" that I love to watch. It stars Martin Clunes, who you may know from the British sitcom "Men Behaving Badly". The character he plays is a general practitioner in a small English village where there is socialized health care. Doc Martin is assigned to this village because he started experiencing hemophilia (fear of blood) while working as a top surgeon in London, necessitating a reassignment. As a G.P., he is brilliant, as he was as a surgeon, and his knowledge and application of medical expertise is responsible for repairing many of the health calamities that plague the townsfolk. He is, without a doubt, what I would call an ability carrier (explained later). He is also, without a doubt, a major class curmudgeon and an all-out unpleasant grouch. So even though the town can't do without him, they don't really like him, and they often feel resentful of his arrogance and dismissive manner.


The quality that makes this nasty character likable at all is that he is so totally clueless to how off-putting his behavior is. He is not trying to be difficult, he is just trying to do his job, and the people don't heed his instructions or respect his stated boundaries. He simply cannot understand why everyone insists on "chatting" with him during visits to the surgery, or why they want to be friendly out in town, when he would just rather get his job done and then retire for the night, alone. They are upset at him because he is not like them. He has a task to do, which he seems to get satisfaction from doing well; but I am not sure if he enjoys what he does, or if he realizes that the task involves working with actual living human beings. Yet he does the task because he has a medical mind and he views everything as a problem that can be solved with the proper intervention. He views "people" as simply the conduits through which he gets to apply medical procedures. I often suspect that the character of the doctor suffers from a form of Asperger's Syndrome. The townspeople take his gruff demeanor rather lightly, and are often amused by his ways, and in truth they rarely hold a grudge. "That's just the doc!", they would say, and they would be right. They alternately fear and admire him.

I know that response.

***
Busy as a summer day, in March
The other day, I stopped in to check on my neighbor Georgette because her phone had been giving me a busy signal all day. I manage the building we live in, and I was checking on a repair issue she had mentioned to me. When I knocked on her door that evening, I was hoping to find her doing okay, and I just wanted to let her know that I was attending to the issue--I wanted to have the entire activity performed in less than two minutes, max. But it didn't go that way--not at all. She invited me into her apartment and proceeded to describe how her phone service had been shut off after the recent storm (hence the busy signal), and then she explained the initial repair issue all over again and kept me there for close to ten minutes. She then offered me chocolate, coffee, and I think a package of tortillas. It was a blur of blab and bling and my mind went into a coma.

As she was talking, and talking, I noticed my patience running right out of the apartment, as if to catch up with her lost phone service. I noticed this because it is something that tends to happen a lot when I feel that others are taking advantage of my time and attention. The thing is, Georgette is 82 years old, and it would behoove me to have a little more patience with her in the way that you have patience with an older person--but you must believe me when I tell you that she has always been this way with my time, and I have known her for 12 years!

It takes patience to have your picture drawn
Anyway, it does seem that I have a history of losing my patience with those who come to me for some sort of assistance, whether they are older or younger. It would be fine if requests were just stated without verbal "backup documents" and half hour discussions, but that rarely happens! Don't people realize that I am smart and catch on really really quickly? Fortunately, over time my patience has improved (if not my humility), and since I left my day job last year I have more time to myself (and conversely, more time to respond to others). The one place where I rarely ever lose patience is in my therapy office (unlike Doc Martin!)--because the exchange is time-limited and paid for--so both the client and I benefit (even-steven)! And therein lies the crux of my issue--the lack of equal exchange in most circumstances outside of the therapy office.

***
Slack-lining. I do NOT have this ability!
There is, believe it or not, a downside to having the ability to do most things really well. When one has this ability (as I do, by the way), it tends to invite others to then want things from the "carrier" of that ability (me).
The downside I refer to then is only felt by the carrier, since it is easy to conclude that the others benefit immensely from their fulfilled requests. The downside is that there is always an other who wants something--there is always an other who wants something. To whom does the ability carrier turn when he or she then experiences want?

There is a second downside, not mentioned earlier, which is that ability carriers frequently do not experience want themselves. This "desire deficiency" in the carriers is the catalyst that turns others' requests into the initial downside. Empathy cannot develop toward those seeking assistance when the one with the ability to assist has little personal experience with desire. Carriers are not completely devoid of desire, though. They usually just want just one thing: to be left alone.

If there is one thing I have learned about people, it is that they do not like to leave you alone, especially if you are recognized as an ability carrier.

Not all ability carriers suffer from Asperger's Syndrome.

It takes great ability to do the rings. No Aspergers necessary.
The secret about ability carriers, which I will generously share with you, my non-demanding readers, is that we are really good at most things because we tend to only do the things that we are really good at! The things that we are not really good at, and there are several, are quickly identified and left in the hands of others. If there is anything that we know, it is how to keep ourselves from looking deficient, since the original motivation for our quest toward ability mastery is usually overcompensation. (You can fill in the blanks--gay shame, guilt, blah blah blah...) This in itself is a skill that sets us apart from the others.
Most people seem to have no idea what they are good at and what they are not good at. If you don't believe me, the evidence for this is all over the place, but you could hasten your research by observing American Idol contestants or Piers Morgan.

Over the years, I have not only become more aware of my own desires, but I have developed the ability to ask for what I want and need. At the beginning, this was limited to exclaiming, "LEAVE ME ALONE!!!", but in time, I graduated to more pedestrian requests, such as, "Can you make me a sandwich, please?"
Cycling alone, like me
You may not see the progress, but trust me, that is a huge leap! For ability carriers, the slightest of desires often triggers anxiety, guilt, and fear, and those feelings are not entirely unjustified. You see, ability carriers are not born, they are made. Somewhere along the line, usually in the midst of childhood, these people get the message from someone that their needs will not be met, or worse, that they are not even valid. Since a child has a natural tendency to expect needs to be taken care of, you can see how confusing this must be when it does not happen. Children, as we all know, are resilient little creatures, so they simply do what is best for them in the situation: they suppress their needs. Flash forward to adulthood and you get the picture.

I wonder if this dude is "overcompensating" with his body
As I like to say in the therapy room, though, it is unwise to throw the baby out with the bathwater. If you are going to move into adulthood with an issue, you could really pick worse. Ability carriers are advantaged by the silver lining of becoming really good at what they are really good at.
Drum circles require patience and skill
So in the spirit of progress, why not "add to", instead of "take away" (another thing I like to say in the therapy room)? Why not add awareness of needs, why not add vulnerability, why not add trust? Why not add patience? And therein lay the work, folks. But the results are worth it, enabling one to move from "LEAVE ME ALONE!!" to "Can you make me a sandwich, please?" Progress.

***
Georgette does not mean to be all gimme gimme gimme, she has a right to be self-involved since her world has been mostly reduced to an 800 square foot apartment. She also gives back, as evidenced by the offer of bling. It may be as hard for her to ask for help as it sometimes is for me to give it to her. But it is getting easier. The difference is understanding that nobody is trying to "take" something away from me (like time). I am realizing that when I give to others, I don't actually "lose" anything. In fact the opposite usually happens. Usually. Not always...if I can make the perceptual shift. Then the opposite usually happens. I can handle those odds.

And hey, I can always use another package of tortillas.

The magic of a beach day in March

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Lila Karp

©Bill Watterson
The fun thing about a really great undergraduate program is that you have a choice of truly amazing electives to take advantage of--electives that stimulate new ways of thinking and being. I completed both my undergraduate and my graduate studies at Antioch University Los Angeles, which is a university with a tradition of social justice and inclusion. It is also unique in that it uses a pass/fail system rather than a grading system, allowing for more concentration on the absorption of material than the regurgitation of the same. During my undergraduate phase, I was obsessed with learning about philosophy, especially since my "value system" had been constructed from religious and self-help models of morality. I longed for a premise that allowed room for critical thinking--in other words, I didn't want an outside source to make decisions for me about what was right or wrong concerning personal morals and values. A bold undertaking, to be sure, but before you award me with a merit badge for bravery, please understand that when you grow up gay, you are often "forced" out of traditional mindsets. It is similar to telling someone with cancer how brave they are--do they have a choice? The answer, of course, is that yes they do, but you would be surprised how brave we all are when presented with adversity. I am no hero.

There were, however, heroes at Antioch, and they mostly occupied the position of instructor. One in particular made an imprint on me that was so vivid it changed the course of my life--I kid you not. This instructor introduced me to a way of thinking that proved to be so powerful in its simple challenge that it drove the final nail into the coffin of my "spirituality". The way of thinking was Existentialism, and the instructor was Lila Karp.

Lila was a mess. She was brash and impatient. She wore a lot of purple. She nearly always showed up in class wearing some sort of floppy hat that didn't so much work with her scruffy blond hair as much as it argued with it. She wore a mix of boldly colored drapey outfits that gave no indication whatsoever of whether her body was being hidden or accentuated. She made no effort to hide her distaste for certain students (they usually deserved it), or broadcast her admiration for her favorites. Fortunately, I found myself in the latter grouping.

Following her death in 2008, I attended a memorial for her at Antioch, and I shared that I had only once engaged in a disagreement with Lila. It was on an occasion where I disagreed with her about the relevance of Madonna, the pop star, in modern culture; I took the side of Madonna's relevance, naturally. Lila countered that Madonna was a charlatan, a fake feminist who used images of power and sexuality for her benefit only, and to the detriment of other women. I asserted that Madonna's sexual provocations served to allow women to "own" their sexiness as a celebration, not an objectification. I argued that in a similar way, gay men have appropriated the term "queer" from straight homophobes in order to dis-empower the term of its vulgarity. Now it is important for you to understand that Lila Karp did not suffer fools, in other words, anyone who disagreed with her, but in this case she tolerated my dissent. At the memorial, I shared that this was the first time in my life that my homosexuality had actually protected me from brutality!

Lila was an existentialist, and if I remember correctly, I had her for a course on Existential Philosophy. For those of you who are unfamiliar, the nuts and bolts of this philosophy is that life is meaningless until meaning is assigned (Existence precedes Essence). There are four "ontological concerns", or basic tenets, and they are Solitude, Death, Freedom, and Meaninglessness. The philosophy proposes that there is no escaping these four concerns, so why try! Accept that they are going to create a certain level of appropriate anxiety in one's life, and this can be viewed as proof that you are alive! (So much of the art of psychotherapy is seen as the practice of trying to eliminate the fear of these four concerns--rubbish I say!) I won't go into a detailed explanation of the four concerns in this post, other than to say that they encompass fears that we all have until the day we die, and since you can't avoid them, the goal is to decide what our response to our fear is going to be. Nietzsche suggested, rather brilliantly, that we merely live life, fully, which is, in my opinion, the most perfectly simple piece of advice I have ever heard. An example of this can be found in this wonderful clip from Woody Allen's Hannah and Her Sisters:


In this clip, Woody's character confronts all four of the ontological concerns, and comes out of it deciding that, since you can't get away from them, it would be best to "live life, fully"! His embrace of that idea begins once he starts to enjoy the Marx Brothers film he is watching in the theater.

This was the tenet that Lila lived her life by, and the tenet that she passed along to me. This was around the time I was in my mid-forties; I had left not only a twenty year performing career to go back to school, but also a four year relationship. I was renegotiating my life and heading into middle age, so meaning was being reevaluated right and left. It was also during this time that I began to completely let go of my belief in god, as I began to understand the oppressive building blocks of world religions and their ties to the governing bodies of the time. Needless to say, my world was being rocked. Lila introduced me to a way of thinking that embraced, rather than avoided, the uncertainties, fears, and randomness that emerged from the dying gasps of my fear-based belief systems, and she presented it in a way that emphasized the joy and engagement available once you stop hiding from the reality of life. In a word, I was alive in a way that I had never been before.

Lila died in 2008, as mentioned above. But what she left behind was a legacy of courage and wisdom. Her own journey out of the binds of feminine roles was ignited by the emergent Women's Movement in the 60's, in which she was in the front lines. Her only book, "The Queen is in the Garbage", was a novel exploration of the politics of the body as told through a pregnant protagonist. She taught at many American universities and challenged the male-dominated status quo up to her death. She did this in floppy hats and with a searing disdain for laziness or arrogance. What many students had difficulty seeing was that she was an undeniably passionate woman who LOVED life and literature, and perhaps loved even more the act of sharing that with students. She just did not love Madonna!

I will never forget her or diminish the impact she had on my life. I miss her.

***

If, in life, you are offered an opportunity for freedom from an eccentric person wearing completely inappropriate primary colors and hats that threaten to completely overtake hairstyles, my suggestion is that you jump head first into the experience. They are the seers, the faeries, the true philosophers; the true lovers, the re-storytellers who bravely step outside the dominant discourse in order to propose a more inclusive one. Lila gave of her time and her life so that others could step into an experience of themselves that was not dictated by straight men in positions of power. I pity those who crossed her, but to be honest, they got what they had coming to them. I am happy to carry on the work, and I am overdue in giving honor to a life well lived, fully.  

Lila Karp:  1933-2008

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Fresh Start


I could have created a new blog, but I didn't. leaving caLi(forniA) is four years of my history, and I like the idea of "change" more than "abandon", which is probably why I did not leave Los Angeles after all those years of head-spinning. Rather than leave the old blog, I decided to include it in my process as I move into the future. So this is how the new format/theme was born. My intention is to continue writing essays, and to open up the topic list to anything that provokes my attention. Just like the old blog, this incarnation will not be overtly about my personal life--not that my personal life is not interesting--but because I am not so interested in writing about it. I would rather write about what I think instead of what I do. I hope you find it interesting as well. So many blogs read like diaries--albeit well written diaries. I even have friends who have published well regarded memoirs. But perhaps I am a bit more private. A judgement on my thoughts is an invitation to a discussion, while a judgement on my actions feels like nothing more than a judgement.

I have been thinking about a lot of things. The world is not the same as it was when I was growing into adulthood around 35 years ago. Well, it is, and it isn't. The human condition is similar (for better or worse), but the environments and cultures that contain that condition are very different. I often reflect back to those early years of my development and try to remember if I ever thought much about what the future would be like. From what I can remember, I did think about it, but not very subjectively. I thought about it from a meta-perspective: flying cars and food pills and living in space and such. I thought about it more like a Star Trek movie, when I should have been thinking about it like a Star Wars movie--less sci-fi and more of the same ol' humans with fancier toys.


I guess that deep down I thought that the quality of life would remain pretty much the same, while the trappings evolved.

Little did I know.

By my observation, we are the same ol' humans with fancier toys, but we are also not the same ol'. People seem to be changing, don't they? I never could have imagined that real time face-to-face interaction and dialogue would become overruled by our constant attention to hand held computers.
I never could have imagined that something with the unbelievable potential to connect us (the Internet) would then become a breeding ground for consequence-free opinions and commenting. I never could have imagined that I would go through entire days where not one person meets my gaze in the world, or feel that nobody is even aware that I have passed them in the street. I never could have imagined.


But then I never could have imagined that I could stay abreast of the daily lives of friends and family who live miles away. I never could have imagined that online dating profiles would finally break the "fourth wall" for me when it comes to meeting men. I never could have imagined that I would get to the day where I never had to set foot inside a mall ever again in order to shop. I never could have imagined that my writing might one day reach readers unknown to me across the planet, all without a publishing contract. All this, and more, I never could have imagined.

Is it getting worse? Is it getting better? My answer would have to be "yes", and "yes". But I suspect that this has been the case for all of history--some things get worse, some things get better. As an existentialist, I may be betraying myself with these qualifiers unless I specify that they are mine. I do concede that one person's "worse" is another person's "better". But my labels are not assigned in a vacuum--I am a well-seasoned enough observer to be able to gauge the effects of all these things on others besides myself.

It strikes me that all this nonsense we all do these days seems to present a very long route to get to such basic destinations. Referring back to Star Wars, it seems that Luke Skywalker went all over the galaxy and back just to get to the understanding that all he really wanted was a Father.
Basic stuff here, folks. Like the Beatles say, "All You Need Is Love", brup-ba-da-da-da , but boy do we all have a fondness for taking the road less traveled on the way home! Perhaps that is why, as I grow older, I simplify more. I find that I don't need to chase so many things because there is not much that I don't have, realistically speaking. Granted, all of this cagey-ness surrounding my outlook on life applies itself rather mischievously when I am writing my online dating profiles, but nothing ventured, nothing gained, right?

I suppose that when it comes right down to it, I am of the age where I get to start complaining about how the "kids" are ruining the neighborhood and how it was so much better in the old days. And while they are, and it was, I am not quite ready to settle into the porch rocking chair just yet. In a sense, I am still right out there with them, ruining the neighborhood for those with closed minds and open entitlement in life, those who refuse to think for themselves and then condemn others with borrowed judgments, those who act out and speak with hatred and then refuse to take responsibility for the results of their words and actions. For any of the aforementioned, I am the one they don't want moving into the neighborhood.

But the upshot of all this is that I intend to work in-house when it comes to being an agent for change. There is a fantastic Buddhist principle centered around the idea that we can never know the reason that someone is in the middle of a particular process, and that our judgment of the same invites separation, ego, and arrogance, and most importantly, unease.
This is not to say that we cannot work for change in the world, or act against those who cause harm, but the motivation for these actions needs to spring from a vision we have for a better self, not a better other. That is a tough one even for me, folks, because I have been surrounded for most of my life by others pointing their fingers at me. Sometimes it is fun to point back--for a minute. But it gets easier. Compassion is so much easier on the body than hate, and the results are so much more rewarding.

And so it begins, my fresh start. My first task should already be evident.

I have started using capitalization when I write. Let the effect on the world begin.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

leaving 2013, part three (3 of 3)


one must certainly forgive me for having "hopes" for the new year; after all, this is the time of year when the whole world reflects upon the past, and then projects upon the future, learning from what has come before and anticipating a "better" new year.  one must certainly be forgiven for this, if only because the process so often fails in a spectacular manner.  and yet, come the end of december, i, along with countless others, launch once again into an annual inventory of "successes" and "failures"--the two distinguished only by the respective accompaniment of either pleasure or pain.  so please forgive me.

compassion, they say, begins with the self. i don't think it ends with the self, but i would have to agree that this is indeed a good place to start. at least that is what has worked for me, and what i generally tell my clients. when applied to myself, compassion allows me to put aside the whip, as it were, and recognize the innocent aim of my actions, despite the occasionally meandering results.  i used to be so fucking hard on myself, expecting that every decision would be the right one, not only for me, but for those whose opinions most mattered to me.  this is the bane of being recognized as a smart kid early on--adults then heap loads of unrequited dreams upon you and you take on the responsibility of not only your satisfaction, but theirs as well. what a burden! compassion, for my self, looks something like this:  i recognize how hard i have tried to please everyone in the world so that i will feel loved, and then i stop working so goddamn hard, and settle into the new idea that i don't need to prove a goddamned thing (pleasing someone can come from a place or caring rather than obligation).

new years used to be the perfect time for me to reset the clock, as it were. wipe the slate clean, start afresh, auld lang syne and all that, but that changed somewhat once i developed compassion for myself. once i started taking it easy regarding my choices, i found that i needed something else to set the 31st of december apart from all other days of the year. for many years i did not find that replacement--i just worked on the holiday, thereby designating it as a time to make lots of money rather than lots of resolutions.  but i don't work on new years anymore, and i don't beat myself up anymore, so what do i make of it now? well, it is fairly simple, and i really don't know why i didn't just click my ruby slippers together YEARS ago and arrive sooner at this conclusion, but you know how it goes concerning the expediency of life lessons, so here i am now at where i am now. where is that? well, simply put, i am in a space of gratitude.  

before going any further, let me specify that this gratitude is not to anyone outside of myself, but instead for something outside of myself. kind of. that something is life. LIFE. on the days leading up to the new year, what i feel is gratitude for the experience of life--gratitude that it is even possible to celebrate the closing of another year (instead of being plastered against the front of a car). gratitude for the experience of all the choices i have made this year--the ones that were pleasurable and the ones that were painful. gratitude that i am able to now reflect on those choices and narrow down my repertoire of options for living a meaningful and purposeful life.  gratitude that i got through 2013 in a very pleasant way, with big changes and insights, new friends and lovers, soft whispers and loud cries, subtle closings and powerful re-entries. gratitude for the flaws and the brilliance, the in-betweens and the borders, the blurs and the clarity, the sures and the not-so-sures.  i have gratitude for all of it, because this year i have gotten a grasp on how to really be there for all of it, instead of hiding out in the past or the future.

this perspective has influenced how i live in the city as well. my best friend recently shared with me that he felt i haven't take enough responsibility for my experience in the city of los angeles, and i have to agree with him a bit. it is easy to blame a city for one's loneliness or dissatisfaction, or blame a lover, or blame your family, etc. it is not so easy to look at one's role in experience--not from the point of blame (which is useless), but from the point of having the power to make a different choice.  since i decided that i am staying in los angeles, i was faced with making a different choice about my experience in this city. but i could not just create a fantasy view--i have been here too long and lived too much--i needed to differentiate between the aspects of the city that i have no power over and the aspects over which i can exert some control. this aspect is centered around my connection with people--getting the fuck out there and making an effort to be a friend and colleague who people like being around.  and i am happy to report that, boy, have i exerted control in this area this year! i ended last year year feeling somewhat alone, much as i had ended many years. but this year i do not feel alone in the slightest, and not just because i am spending it in palm springs with my best friend. even if i was doing nothing on new years i would not feel alone--my life now feels rich and meaningful due to a remarkable circle of friends and professional acquaintances who matter to me. i built this, it did not drop in my lap, and i am sure my best friend would say that i have taken more responsibility for my experience of late.

so i can end this year with this statement: i have not fallen in love with los angeles, but i have grown to love it. this has been by intention, but i have done the exact thing that i would have had to do in san francisco had i moved there. you see, the city, any city, is nothing without its people, and i populated my life this year with some of l.a.'s most interesting occupants. because i am feeling more loved, it is easier for me to love back. as i end 2013 in southern california, the area of the country where not only did i grow up, but where i have spent the bulk of my life, i can truly say that i feel fortunate and be here, and very glad that i did not move. i did not ditch the relationship--i worked at it and am better off for the effort. i feel like michael caine's character in "hannah and her sisters" when he realizes that he loves his wife far more than he previously suspected. besides, los angeles is a marvelous city at times, it really is. no more so than at night when the smog is hidden and the lights guide one's focus into crevices and shadows, the place where love dwells and waits. los angeles is a city best seen through its shadows--the sunlight is far too obvious and easy--the city holds its heart in its darkness, as do i. so i end with a celebration of l.a.'s shadows--what i love. l.a. and i are good this year. not every relationship is workable, but every good relationship takes work. i had a good relationship that i nearly threw away.

happy new years, lover.



Monday, December 23, 2013

leaving 2013, part two (2 of 3)


i have written a lot this year about the idea of control (here).  to summarize, it seems to me that the thing we have the MOST control over is our response to things--outside incidents, our own thoughts, feelings, etc.  buddhists subscribe to the idea that an awakened person is one who has this feat down, but i think that even the buddhists would back away from saying that one can ever have complete control over anything, even our responses, nor that this is even the goal.

2013 has been about control for me, lessening it, specifically, from a thematic standpoint. for ten years i have lived a rather controlled life as a way to move toward a goal--becoming licensed as a psychotherapist in california.  well, i am probably about 6 months away from reaching this goal, and so this year i have had the chance to loosen some of the control around my life in preparation for the final steps.  that meant leaving my day job of eleven years, leaving the counseling center i interned at for five years, and opening a private practice.  my decision in late 2012 to stay in los angeles and not move to the bay area was a way to exert more control over my situation, but this decision enabled me to do the aforementioned actions.  give a little, get a little.

on a personal note, this year i seriously let go of trying to control my sexuality and an "appropriate" expression of the same.  this has resulted in the return of a very healthy sex drive as well as more meaning in my life, more enthusiasm, and more energy. although i would not want to go through the struggle again, i highly value the experience of finding out how powerfully i can "shut myself down", convincing myself that the result is due to biological or environmental causes.  do not underestimate your own brain, friends! to my credit, i was able to locate the source of the shift within, rather than without, which means that i suffered less once the outside stimulus was removed. mind you, the shift was triggered by the outside stimulus, but it was not reliant on this catalyst to happen.  fuck, how can i explain this in an easier way...you know how a car relies on gasoline in order to operate?  well, that is a metaphor for the inaccurate perception i have carried for many years--that as soon as someone or something comes along, a change will occur.  what happened this year is that i found out that i am actually a hybrid vehicle instead of a gas powered one.
the gasoline (outside force) got me started, but then my internal battery kicked in and ran to home base! once i got started, i did not need the gasoline anymore--for a while.  (forgive me if i have just completely bastardized the way that automobiles work, but i hope you get the picture!)  if you want more of the details of the process i am referring to, you can go here.

don't get me wrong, i totally get why the idea of control is so appealing.  we live in a scary as fuck world in which we could cease to exist at any second, and since so many of us find ourselves wandering through it by ourselves more than we would like to, it makes sense that we would find comfort in thinking that we have power over what happens to us.  i totally get it! but here is the "easter egg", if you will, that i have uncovered in my recent exercise of loosening control.  the chaos is SO much more fun and satisfying!  however, i was not able to reach this conclusion until i became more intimate with the fact that there is never complete safety, there are no guarantees outside of physical laws, and sometimes i am going to hurt. and that is okay, because i have finally moved past the idea that any level of hurt equals annihilation. this is also sometimes known as "gay shame", or "cultural trauma". this does not mean that from time to time it is not a tug-of-war between control and chaos.


it feels really good to be moving past this.  really, really good.

so at this time of the year, as we approach a culturally constructed ending and new beginning, it seems fitting that i am able to review my process this year and make the following declaration:  "i am happy".

to be continued...

Sunday, December 22, 2013

leaving 2013, part one (1 of 3)


i often think about the construction of our current twelve month calendar, which should not be too surprising of a fact, given that i am a postmodern sort of guy. you see, in my work as a psychotherapist, i listen for, comment on, and and then tear apart narratives in order to help people uncover what parts of their belief system may be causing them trouble in life.  so when i say that i am thinking about the twelve month calendar, what i mean is that i am "tearing apart" the idea of it in my mind.  the postmodernists would prefer the term "deconstructing", but that does not carry the same vivid visual that "tearing apart" does.

i am thinking about the calendar at this time because it should be obvious to you that, as of publishing time for this post, the twelve month cycle is coming once again to an end.  we are moving very rapidly toward a new year--2014.  i am also thinking about the calendar because i am aware how powerful of a narrative the calendar is on my life--on all our lives.  without it, we would have to rely on the change of the seasons and the aging of our bodies to mark the passing of time. think about that for a minute.  imagine that we had only four different seasonal periods that constantly repeated themselves until we finally reached our last season.  we would not know how old we were, we would not know what to "call" the time that we lived in, and we would not necessarily celebrate the hallmarks that we observe in modern times.

we would celebrate, of course, because when you spend your days hunting and picking food, building shelter, migrating, fighting enemies, and hoping for a fuck, well, you have got to let your hair down from time to time to break the routine. now i am no scholar on the tribes of yesteryear, but i suspect that many of their celebrations centered around the seasons--full moons, the beginning of the harvest, the first melt of spring, and the like.  but i am pretty certain that they did not celebrate new years eve. for these folks, the day that corresponded to "december 31st" was just another day in the middle of winter.  no big.  no big at all.

and yet here we are, in all our modern sophistication and progressive thought, headed for yet another momentous changing of the calendar and all that comes with that feat.  and where am i with all of this perceptual adjustment? well, in the same boat as the rest of you--looking forward while reflecting back.  just for fun i re-read my blog post from last year around this time (here), and i was shocked to read about how i brought in last year alone, with a cold, and with a bedtime of 10:30.  my predictions for the new year were limited to the milestones that i had been planning:  leaving my job, starting my private practice internship, etc., and yet as i look back i am again surprised at how little i actually anticipated happening. perhaps a better way of putting it is that as i look back, i am surprised, more than usual, at what did happen 2013 that i could not have imagined.

simply put, i am just not the same person i was a year ago.  and that is a good thing.

to be continued...

Saturday, November 2, 2013

leaving the bubble


i had nearly forgotten about the bubble.

it had been years since i had experienced that wonderful state of messiness that i like to call "the bubble".  you may call it by a different name, but i am sure that if you are breathing, then no matter what you call it you know what i am referring to.  it is that state when all of a sudden you understand what everyone is talking about when they go on and on about how great relationships are.  it is that state when you know that someone is thinking about you in a different way than anyone else.  it is that state when you suddenly feel like a part of the game, like you matter, like you have someone walking beside you, like life has renewed meaning. it is that state when you stop thinking about death, or aging, or what you don't have, because you don't seem to need anything anymore.  do you know this state i am talking about?  it is the bubble.

the thing about bubbles, though, is that their beauty is brief.  bubbles don't last. bubbles pop.











they always pop.  it is in their nature!  and yet, we are usually startled when it happens, because we can never quite know exactly when it is going to happen. kids and dogs deal with this much better than we do, as adults.  they don't wait for the damn things to pop, they just go around and pop them as fast as they can, knowing that it is better to take control of fate!


why is it that as we grow to be adults we so often lose so much vital wisdom?

***
recently, a bubble popped in my life.  i did not want it to pop, but i knew it would pop eventually. still, i carried on as if it wouldn't, as if it would continue to float into infinity. as understandable as it may be that i had this wish, it is nonetheless a foolish fantasy. a better policy would have been to enjoy the bubble, knowing that it would pop, and that there would be something else after the bubble, but also knowing that it is possible to blow more bubbles.  actually, the latter is the policy that i have since taken, and this is the difference between my experience now, and what usually happened when i was younger.  in the past, i used to believe that there would never be any more bubbles once they popped.  it was as sad as it sounds.

leaving the bubble now is still sad, but not as sad as never entering one.  the thing about safety (never entering the bubble) is that it can be deadening.  i look at my life, and i marvel that i have spent most of it as a single man, while so many of the guys i know are the exact opposite, spending very little time in singledom and going mostly from one relationship right into another.  that is very much NOT me.  i don't know if it is because i actually LIKE my single life (i do!), or because i am not willing to settle for less than what i want, or because i just am not capable, but i do know that i have experienced more bubbles in my life than the average joe.

***
several of the blogs that i read are written by gay men in long term relationships, and it strikes me as curious that so many of them start posts with a variation on this phrase:
"nothing exciting is going on and there is nothing to report."
they often write of the routine of being with a long term partner, not in a begrudging way, but just as a matter of fact.  there doesn't appear to be too many bubbles floating in or out of their stable, routine lives.  in contrast, my life has practically been a fucking bubble machine!  though the bubbles have slowed down as i have gotten older, as least i can still count on one or two from time to time. and i can with certainty report that bubbles are fantastic!  there is nothing like the bubble.  but bubbles pop!  still,  can't help but wonder if these long term couples know something that i don't know??  is there a different kind of bubble than the ones i have chased after my whole life?

i think about these long term couples.  i think about them a lot.  i don't think it is an accident that my private psychotherapy practice is focused on gay couples. long term couples fascinate me.  so many of the couples i see have long since left the bubble, but there is still something keeping them together (besides the conflict that they often share with me).  what is that "something"?  am i capable of providing that to another man?  will i ever attract another man who is capable of providing that to me?

only in love do we seem to regret the brevity of the bubble.  in most instances, we accept transitory pleasurable experiences;  this happens when we are eating, watching television, having sex, getting a massage, or getting tickled.  we know it is going to stop, and though we may not want it to do so, we accept it with relatively little resistance. this is not the case with the love bubble, especially when it is early, new love. perhaps this is because there is no way that eating, television, sex, massage, or tickling can hold up to the way the love bubble feels.  not even close!

***
i miss this recent bubble, and this time it seemed ever so brief.  but not all is lost. even though the icing is gone, there still may be cake left.  i will have to do some investigation about this, and in the meantime, i think i will reload my bubble blower.


if you want to hear the bubble described musically, you can't do any better than this version of "you don't know what love is", sung by the exquisite cassandra wilson and her peerless musicians.  unless you have experience the bubble, then you just don't know what love is...




Saturday, October 12, 2013

leaving the muddle

mud·dled
ˈmədld/
adjective
  1. 1.
    in a state of bewildered or bewildering confusion or disorder.

a couple of days ago i re-watched the remarkable film "weekend", which came out a couple of years ago and is the story of two men who meet at a gay bar and engage in a weekend of drugs, sex, and conversation.  you know, an old-fashioned love story.


one might wonder why a film would be made about a gay weekend hookup, since these two fellows only have each other for a couple of days (one is leaving town). but in the film, much more happens.  perhaps it is the effect of the drugs they take, or perhaps it is the effect of the sex they have, or perhaps it is the effect of their mutual longing for each other.  regardless, there is an unmistakable intimacy that develops in the course of two short days, despite each characters' efforts to keep it from getting messy.

i was watching this film because i wanted to show it to a young man i have been dating for almost a month. (sorry, i should have warned you to sit down before reading this post!)  in one of those wonderful moments of "messiness" (see last post here for more on this idea), he fell asleep ten minutes into the film with his head on my leg.  i ask you, is there anything more romantic than that?  even though he missed most of the film, i am glad to have re-visited it myself, since the last time i saw it last i was decidedly and committedly not dating.

during this recent viewing, i realized that two states of being were projected: messiness and muddle.  what is the difference and how could i tell which was which?  well, the messiness occurred when character one made an unplanned stop at a gay bar after a family gathering (family gatherings will do that to you!).  it is here that he met character two. character one was drunk, and he took character two home.  messiness.

over the weekend, the two characters had sex, they did drugs, they talked.  they also argued--mostly about whether gay marriage was a signal of progress for gay rights or a capitulation to the status quo of hetero normative relationship.  toward the end of the film (SPOILER ALERT!) they found themselves unexpectedly in mutual anguish, realizing that despite the brevity of their encounter, they had developed an attachment toward each other, and now, one of them was leaving the country.

you will have to watch the film to find out what happens next.  :-)

***

when i wrote previously, i inferred that messiness is the "fairy dust" that makes life magical.  it is the surprise that disrupts the careful order we attempt to make of our lives--go to work, eat dinner, watch favorite programs, go to sleep.  there is value in that routine in that it feels as though it insulates us from the chaos that reigns right outside our front door.  but it is is illusory, this insulation.  it is my assertion that we secretly long for the chaos.  i know that i do!  in the chaos is where we find the magic of life:  excitement, passion, surprise, discovery, sadness, tears, joy, sweat, love.  in my own life, i have walked a tightrope between chaos and control, and as a theater performer this was easy to do, since performing onstage is a form of controlled chaos.

but the challenge with messiness is that if it is too foreign to what we know, it can be unsettling, even in the exhilaration of it.  when that happens to me, i have a tendency to retreat into either the past, or the future.  both portend disaster.  both signal the arrival of the state of being muddled.  

there is a saying that i love, and it goes like this:  "if you have one leg in the past, and one leg in the future, you are shitting all over the present."   that saying is a perfect description of the muddle.  retreating into the past or the future is a well intentioned attempt to control the messiness.  but it is a mistake, because messiness does not need to be controlled.  it needs to be embraced.  that is where life is, not in control.  but this is not the message that the world gives us.  instead, we get: GET A JOB, SAVE YOUR MONEY, LOVE ONE PERSON, STAY IN ONE PLACE, DON'T SURPRISE PEOPLE, BE RESPECTABLE.  when i retreat into the past or into the future, i can tell right away, because i become miserable.  i go either backward or forward in search of some guarantee that everything will work out just fine, which is something that completely negates the magic of messiness. if you accept the messiness, then you must also accept that things may not work out just fine, but you must also accept the notion that even if things do not work out just fine, you will be okay.  that is because in the messiness, sometimes things work out just fine, and sometimes they don't.  that is--magic.

the muddle is not life, it is retreat.  it is anti-life.  it is fueled by fear.  and when i drive down the muddled road, i never get where i want to go.


the messiness resulted in me having a young man fall asleep with his head on my leg during a movie.  i feel as though the memory of that moment will never leave me--never.  the muddle resulted in me not trusting that experience, the magic of it, and searching in my past and in the imagined future for a way to control feelings that do not make sense to me in the present.  fortunately, i did not spend more than a morning in the muddle.  only in the present can we create the chance of a future without pain.  only in the present.  we need to pay attention to the present. that is where the magic is.

so much of what is happening to me right now does not make sense in the past or in the future, but the other side of that coin is that it feels like magic in the present. and we all need a little magic now and then, don't we?

i know i do.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

leaving the control


The sign above one of the theaters near my apartment.
A late summer night in Los Angeles, California.  Specifically, the middle of Hollywood.  A hot night, music in the air, kids across the street milling about, cars occasionally speeding down the street on the way to god knows where on a Friday night.  Everything that I see from my patio, everything that I hear from my patio, has a precedent.  This scene could have happened in the 70’s, in fact, it probably did.  But most of the people I see from my patio were not even born until after the 80’s, so they mistakenly think that they are being original.  I think, as I sit on my patio, that I am being original.  What a laugh. 

It all goes down easier with liquor.  the drinking does not control me.  Youth is a shitty guardian, and quite devoid of control.  At my age, I am in charge of the liquor, even in the letting go of some control.  I am in charge. 

The corner liquor store
I came to liquor late in my life, having decided early on that I would never become my father (an alcoholic).  In some strange manner or reasoning, as youth are wont to do, I decided that if I took up alcohol, I would become just like him.  Well, he was so much more than his drinking, I should have known this—but no regrets about my choices.  There is something to be said about drinking later in life.  I don’t know what it is that is to be said, but goddamn it, somebody ought to say it.  I might as well say it.

My father did not drink like I do, completely. He drank to contract, whereas I drink to expand.  At times, I could see my father expanding when he was drunk, but it was a sad visage nonetheless—like a bird trying to fly in a cage.  Here in Hollywood, on my patio, on a summer night with music in the air and kids milling about and cars speeding along, I have no cage.  I am expanded.

My brother drank when he was young, and it controlled him (among other things).  Big mistake, big brother!  Now, he does not drink, and the only expansion he indulges in is the one that threatens to put pressure on his belts.  The thing with control is that it too, too, often goes against the physics of the world.  The physics of the world are the furthest thing from control; rather, the physics of the world are all about change. 

My reticence to drinking early in my life was an attempt at control that worked until it no longer worked.  In order to enter the pool, it is advisable to wear a swimsuit, so to speak.  The funny thing is that by the time I put on a swimsuit I preferred to enter the pool naked.  Naked, when older, is a glorious thing. 
On a late summer night in Los Angeles, California, I am naked to the world.  Many, perhaps my brother, would think that I was needlessly exposed.  He would be wrong.  The correct assumption would be that I am exposed to my nature.  The poisons that run through my veins are the poisons that kill the toxins of control.  Control is much, much more fatal than chaos.   I suspect that my father knew this.  His flaw, the flaw that killed him, is that he feared this. 

Dad, you don’t need to worry about me.  I got this.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

leaving the safety zone


there is a similarity between my previous career as a stage performer, and my current career as a psychotherapist.  don't worry about wondering what the similarity is, because i am going to tell you outright and make it easy!  in both of these careers, my experience with the "emotions" involved were one step removed. let me explain.

as an actor, i expressed some strong emotions onstage:  rage, passion, grief, sadness, joy, desperation, and on and on.  but though i was expressing these emotions, they were not necessarily mine.  i was bringing to life a character through my body and my voice, so i liken it to drinking a hot beverage without any danger of burning my tongue.

does that make sense?  it was SAFE to be an actor, because it was a place to experience intensity within the confines of the stage environment.  no matter how bad it got onstage, my tidy, safe life was waiting for me right outside the dressing room door.



i left the stage for many reasons but mostly because there came a point where i felt tired of "pretending" all the time--i found myself yearning for experiences of intensity that were mine and mine only--not just those belonging to a playwright.

eventually, i became a psychotherapist.

what do i do in the therapy room?  i sit and listen to the intense experience of my clients, and i "ride the rollercoaster" with them through the rage, passion, grief, sadness, joy, desperation, and on and on.  but though i may be at their side, it is their ride we are on. my experience in the room is one step removed from the reality of their experiences, so it is safe for me. once the session ends, they continue with their experience, while i go back to my tidy, safe life.

perhaps not so much of a progression, methinks.

***
as followers of this blog know, i have spent a considerable amount of time this past year deciding how to be a gay man who is over 50 years of age (here, here, and here). one of the conclusions that i arrived at early on was that this milestone age marker perhaps signaled my transition from "active shaper of society and culture" to the somewhat more passive position of "observer of society and culture", combined with the adoption of the "wise elder" moniker.  you know what i am talking about:  the guy gently rocking in his chair with the twinkle in his eye and candy in his pockets for the kiddies.  the guy who you go to if you need a bandage on your knee or a salve for your broken heart.  the guy who has seen and done it all and who is now content with offering sage counsel to those poor younger folk who continue to struggle with all the existential angst that life has to offer.  the guy who has lived fully but is not yet ready to die, who knows it all but plays dumb for laughs, who does not mind renouncing passion because that is, after all, a young man's game.

but funny things often happen once we come to a conclusion about anything at all. messiness interferes.

for years now i have talked to my clients about the nature of life, that it is not all neat and tidy like in the movies, nor does it abide by the rules of religion or society (as history has shown).  the only rules that life abides by are the rules of physics, and the only rules that the earth abides by are the rules of nature (another word for physics), which is governed by cause and effect, and which is constantly changing due to multiple forces creating cause. thus, messiness.  but nature's messiness can often be glorious--it is not at all like the messiness of a dirty clothes hamper or an unflushed toilet (which can be poetic in its own way).  not at all.  the messiness i refer to is the messiness i so often portrayed on the stage; the messiness i so often listen to in my therapy office; the messiness i have so carefully tried to keep outside my door.

here is the part of the story they don't tell you.  that guy, you know the one i just described who is sitting comfortably in the rocking chair with the twinkle in his eye?  well, he is facing his own messiness: his impending death.  he may be calm and peaceful and wise, but he also knows that his time is running out, and that it may get painful on the way there.  messy.  and yet if he is wise, he just continues rocking away, not to avoid the messiness, but to face it.

***

i have been a bit too careful in my life--not in all areas, but certainly around my emotional life.  how do i know?  well, two signs.  one is that my tidy, safe life was feeling, um, how shall i put this--uninspiring?  just a bit.  the second sign is that a big chunk of messiness just dropped into my life out of the blue.  yep.  and all of a sudden, i am feeling and reeling and experiencing all over the messy place.  i am doing in my life, suddenly, what i have years of experience doing secondhand.  i have been yanked out of the fucking rocking chair by a force of nature, and after the initial shock, i am finding that my feet can still run.  and my heart can still beat. messy.  glorious messiness.

i have had reasons to be careful.  they are good reasons.  really good reasons.  but being too careful while i am messily alive is kind of like trying to dry myself off while i am still in the pool.  doesn't really work.

there is a big difference between being reckless and being risky.  the former is foolish and dangerous, while the latter is a way to embrace messiness.  currently, i am discovering why i was drawn to portray all those messy characters on the stage, and why i am drawn to listen to all those messy experiences my clients bring into the therapy room.  THAT is where life is.

in the messiness.