Saturday, May 21, 2011


there are those of us, who, i suspect, find a "groove" in life and just stick with it. think of liza minnelli and her never-changing haircut. i think the reasoning is: it works, so why change it? i think that personality can be described in this way as well--at least aspects of personality. i subscribe to the theory that personality is never set--there is not a fixed "self"--and yet this same theory also proposes the idea of an innate "temperament": qualities of ourselves that do not change because they are part of our genetics. examples of this would be our intelligence level, sociality (introversion or extroversion), adaptability, sensitivity, and irritability. of course, all of these qualities are also affected by our environment, but what i am saying here is that despite these effects, our temperaments pretty much remain constant throughout our entire lives.

but some things change.

i believe that the things that cannot be categorized as "temperament" change more often in artists than they do in people who are not artists. why? i am not sure, as my conclusion is based primarily on personal experience, as well as observation. but i suspect that i came to this by noticing that certain aspects of innate temperament, for instance, sensitivity and sociality, even intelligence, are heightened in artists. in my way of thinking, these heightened "fixed" characteristics have an effect on some of the changeable aspects of our personalities: perspective, empathy, mindfulness, compassion, ambition, and self expression.


last night, during a self-imposed quarantine due to a nasty cold, i watched the film motorcycle diaries, which is the story of che guevara's youthful travels through south america with his best friend.

it was a wonderful movie--i can't believe it took me so long to watch it! but i bring the film into the conversation here because it was during the course of his travels through the continent that che changed, primarily due to the amount of poverty and injustice he witnessed amongst the indigenous people of chile and peru. and as a result of this change, the seeds of a revolutinary were planted. the point of interest for this blog post is that the change occurred during his travels. and from what i saw in the film and have read online about him since, the changes were not to his temperament, but to the changeable aspects of personality.

this is not surprising! theories of personality state that change is often observed as a result of a "feeling process", and usually occurs in the context of a personal relationship. well, both of these were certainly present during che's journey through south america!

why are so many movies made about road trips? my guess is that it is during travels that change occurs with the highest frequency. additionally, in most of these films, people are travelling with someone, setting into motion the two prerequisites for change mentioned above. think "thelma and louise", "easy rider", "it happened one night", even "the wizard of oz".

and this is why, when people ask me why i have to leave los angeles, i tell them that i am interested in the change that will occur. in order to maximize the change potential, i will have to make sure that there is both a feeling process and a context of personal relationship happening during my moving adventure. of course, for me, settling into a place will not end the "road trip", since it may take a year or so to "travel" through my new neighborhood and discover places and people. but i will welcome the change--change that i don't think will happen if i stay here in los angeles (perhaps due to the lack of the requisite feeling process and relationship context). i think that perhaps there is something that happens when we go somewhere else that facilitates feeling processes and relationships. in fact i am pretty sure of this.

so what would i like to change? good question. i would certainly like to change perspective. perspective on what, you ask? well, perspective on people, primarily, but also perspective on myself and on relationships. perspective on friendships. perspective on love. perspective on engagement, interdependency, and aging. i would be happy to start with these areas of change.


when i travel up to san francisco next month for vacation, i will be going up with only my cheapie cell phone (it makes and takes calls and texts--no web)--no smartphone, no laptop, no netbook, nothing else. i intend to be "disconnected" from the internet for two whole weeks. i will have to rely on my ability and willingness to engage with others in order to establish any context of personal relationship. in a way, you could say that i am disconnecting in order to reconnect. i am "travelling" away from the safety and security of the internet, and back to the way things used to be done--in person, through personal engagement. i am excited! i intend to take a notebook and a couple of pens so that i can journal in coffee shops and write down future blog post ideas. (when was the last time you saw anyone writing in a notebook in a coffee shop??) i will return to los angeles via the coast, and it will take a week. i will be crew member (for the 4th time!) with the aids life/cycle, and let me tell you, if anything could be called a "road trip", this would certainly qualify! a road trip with incredible and guaranteed potential for feeling processes and personal relationships! along the way, i hope to be reminded of what people (including myself) are capable of: kindness, generosity, caring, creativity, and fun. all along the way i hope to encounter examples of this, and if things go well, i will offer examples of the same.

los angeles is a shitty city (there, i said it!). people here are mean, lonely, needy, and self-involved. and i am tired of being one of them.

i need a change.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

a place for mom

today was mother's day here in los angeles. that is silly to write, because it was mother's day all over the country, but the way i wrote it is exactly how i want to say it. now that i think about it, i don't even know if other countries celebrate mother's day. how country-centric of me. i remember how shocking it was to realize that the united states is the only country that celebrates thanksgiving! i guess i thought that thanksgiving ranked on the same level as christmas, which apparently is celebrated pretty much all over the world, but this is not the case, as you know. neither is it the case with mother's day. but it should be. it should be celebrated all over the world. maybe i will start that movement.

here in los angeles, mother's day seems to mean lots of flowers sold, and lots of brunches. i am not so sure how thrilled these mothers are with flowers and brunches, but if they are not, they sure aren't telling any of these kids, because the flowers and brunches just go on all day long. at the whole foods market where i work, the floral department is running like nuts on mother's day, making arrangements for impatient adult children who, for one reason or another, have waited until sunday afternoon to pick up flowers for their mothers. of course, in l.a., everyone works all day every day, it seems, so sunday afternoon may be the first time that adult children have to shop for anything. (i wonder if they learned their non-stop work ethic from their mothers?)

i did not buy any flowers today, nor did i go to any brunches. i worked. i did make myself a nice breakfast beforehand, though: french toast, hickory smoked bacon, and hash browns. but i ate alone, as i usually do on sunday mornings, and read the sunday paper. my mother was not there, as she is not alive. i am sure that if she were alive, she would have been there, and there would have been fresh flowers on the table. i am assuming that she would have loved both gestures. but mind you, i would have made the brunch myself and arranged the flowers myself!

my mother died over two years ago. she had alzheimers disease, but they say that nobody ever dies of alzheimers disease. i would beg to differ, because boy, did she age as the disease progressed. you see, the body follows the brain, so...if the brain no longer knows for sure where it is going, well, you get the picture. my mother's sister, edith, is over 90 years of age, and still of stout mind, and her body is aging appropriately.

anyway, one night, over two years ago, on a february early morning, around 2am to be exact, my mother's body just stopped functioning, and she died. she was in a nursing home in montana at the time, close to my sister's house in kalispell. my mother never would have permitted us to put her into a home, but by the time we had to do just that, she was beyond knowing where she was at any given time. i will never forget the day that we admitted her. it was winter, and my sister had recently broken her arm slipping on the ice outside her home. i had flown up immediately to help her, since she was now no longer able to care for our mother, and fortunately we had everything set up in advance, so all we had to do was call the home and let them know that it was time. the afternoon that we dropped her, they were doing an activity in the main room, an activity that basically consisted of the residents sitting in chairs in a circle, and kicking or tossing a large beach ball around. the nurse suggested that we have our mother join in the activity as a way to integrate her into the home right away, and this is just what we did. i still remember watching my mom in the chair, kicking valiantly when the ball came near her. there she was, this woman who was extremely private and somewhat guarded, now sitting in a circle of strange people trying to kick a beach ball. oh, the path that our lives take! a year and some months later, she would die in a single bed in that very same home, her days of kicking beach balls long past, a shell of the woman i remember.


in a few weeks i will be traveling to san francisco for the first time since last year around this same time. i will be spending a week in the castro district, at a bed and breakfast, before making a week's journey down the coast of california with the aids life/cycle as a member of the bike parking crew. i plan to take an additional two weeks off work upon my return (they don't know yet), for a total of a whole month off of work. you heard me right. a whole month.

i don't know if my mother ever visited san francisco, but i am sure she would have loved it. when she was alive and well, i used to drive down to san diego and take her into downtown for shopping and lunch (such a good gay son!). she loved these afternoons, as did i. there was a sophistication to my mother, and it showed in her comments about the high-rise condominiums and gleaming towers of downtown. she was a glamour gal, and was so attractive as a young woman that during her time in los angeles, back in the 50's, she was once asked to do a screen test. she never did (to my chagrin--i could have been a celebrity child!). anyway, i am sure she would have loved san francisco and all its sophistication. i know that i do, and i can't wait to be there again. as i get closer to the actual possibility of moving to the bay area, i can't help but wish mom were alive, so i could have her visit me and we could go roaming in the city during lazy afternoons. maybe i would have had her up for mother's day weekend, and i would have made a fantastic brunch spread for the two of us, and i would have filled the apartment with flowers in her honor. in fact, i am sure i would have done this.

but that won't happen, because she is gone, and i am never more reminded of that than on mother's day, when everyone in the city is going to brunch with their mothers and coming into the store to buy flowers.

i don't believe that there is any part of my mother that is around--i am an atheist, you remember. well, there is the lock of hair that i have, which i asked for before they cremated her (i will never be comfortable with the idea of her being burned). i also have the dress that she not only wore, but that she made, for her wedding to my father (do i need to remind you that i am a gay son?). it is a beautiful dress, and i could not bear to throw it out after she died (what becomes of our stuff?). her absence from the world and my life is not a comforting concept, but it is just one of many uncomfortable concepts that our world throws us without a single suggestion on how to deal. well, i am hoping that during my visit to san francisco, and the following trip back down to los angeles, that i will experience the one thing that ensures that i can deal: community. community is something that my mother lacked as she aged, but i will not let that happen to me. this, above all else, is the main reason that i am planning to leave los angeles. as i have said before, the only way it seems that one can be in a community here is to either be involved in a church, or a 12-step program; neither is an option for me. so i must go to a place where community is organic.

my mother would have loved san francisco, and the east bay, where i plan to re-locate. but i am not going up there for her--i am doing it for myself--so that i don't end up like her, alone at the end of my life, in a single bed in a care home, having lost my mind. even so, i will never get used to her being gone.

me and mom at the home, with her "baby doll"