Sunday, October 21, 2012

the big announcement

the other day, i watched a wonderful documentary entitled "happy", and it proceeded to examine several different people and groups of people in different areas of the world to determine what makes people happy.  sounds like a pretty vague concept, no?  well, it wasn't.  check out the trailer:

i was glad to see that much of the information presented was not only observational, but also information backed by scientific study.  one of the most interesting studies they brought up was one in which it was determined that 50% of our happiness level is determined by genetics, and only 10% is determined by our circumstances; i.e. our job, our health, how much money we have, and where we live.  only 10%!  this leaves 40% that is determined by what they call intentional behavior, in other words, actions that we take in our lives to cause something to happen.  this can include exercise, social activities, etc.

wow!  here i have been spending the last few years thinking that a move to another city would have a major impact on my level of happiness, when the research shows that our choice of where we live is only a portion of a 10% impact!

well, this took me by surprise, indeed!  but here is the thing, and i promise that this is leading up to the BIG ANNOUNCEMENT.  the thing is that i watched this documentary after making the decision behind the BIG ANNOUNCEMENT.  so while this information did not have a direct impact on my decision, it certainly did help to support it.  so here is the BIG ANNOUNCEMENT:

i am not moving to san francisco.  

that's right.  i am not moving out of los angeles.  i am not, as the saying goes, leaving caLi(forniA).  here is how it came to pass...

i was riding my bike to the counseling center to see clients on a saturday morning, when all of a sudden i had a sensation in my body.  this sensation "told" me, in no uncertain terms, that i was not going to be moving.  and when i felt it, i was immediately aware that it was a certainty, and that i would not, indeed, be moving.  the next sensation i remember feeling was relief.  and then, out of the blue, while riding my bike to the center to see clients, i did the most unusual thing--i started laughing.  and later that day, when i got back to my apartment, i looked around and i actually said to the walls, "i am not leaving!", and i meant it.  i would not be dismantling and leaving this apartment that i love so much--this place that has been my home for the last ten years.  you can take a look for yourself at these photos from my airbnb profile:

the main room looking toward the dining area
the dining area and my childhood piano
my office and beloved bookshelf
my sunny kitchen

the sanctuary
can you see what i mean?  and can you see why it is hard to get excited about leaving this rent-free two bedroom apartment in order to move into the highest rising cost rental market in the united states?  i think that i have been down this year because i have been failing in my attempts to get excited about living in the bay area.  i have been able to get excited about leaving los angeles, just not living in the bay area, if that makes sense.  i feel that there has been a developing suspicion that all would not be that much different up there, i would just be in such a worse place financially, at least for a couple of years.  and maybe that was fine when i was in my 30's, but in my 50's, after working my whole life to build a bit of a comfortable life, i just can't see the reward in throwing that away for the chance that i may rebuild it again in the future.

here is the bottom line:  i knew i could never stay in los angeles out of fear of moving.  i knew that the only way i could stay is if i came to the decision that it was what i preferred to do.  and the truth is that i do prefer to stay--at this time.  it will be SO much easier to study for my MFT licensing exam, take the exam, and build a practice while remaining in my apartment and being in the same city as my support system.  i already have clients who i can move into my practice, i already have friends, and i already have a setup that makes it easy to slowly build a new practice without the worry of financial hardship or pressure.  it just took me five years of processing to come to that decision!

of course, you know what i am doing here...i am building up evidence to support my change of mind.  but i'm not doing that, really, because the change of mind came about as a result of evidence, not the other way around.  i feel that i really thought it through.  there is a wonderful book (of COURSE there is a book involved!) that i read last year called "stumbling on happiness" that i may have mentioned in my posts before.  one main point of this book is to illustrate how poorly we generally predict our own happiness in the future.  we think about all the goodies that we will get by doing something or moving somewhere, and ignore all the unpleasant details.  then we do the thing or we move to the place and discover that it is not all we had thought it would be.  well, that is something that i cannot afford to have happen.  so my though process involved as much bad as good, and at the end of the day, the good that i came up with did not outweigh the advantages that i have in staying here.  and it all came to me while riding on my bicycle.  pretty perfect, i would say!

so now what?  well, i have some work to do on my relationship with los angeles.  i will tell you this--i AM excited about exploring possibilities for increased community here, it will just take more effort than i have been investing.  but one benefit that has already manifested is that i have been able to break the news to my friends here, who have surprised me with their expressions of relief that i am not moving.  i am very moved by this.  and the blog?  well, just because i am not leaving california now doesn't mean that i won't eventually might just say that i have delayed the process for a while.

so stay tuned, folks...

Sunday, October 7, 2012

the "new neighborhood" of 50

the following post includes photos i took of the "Levitated Mass" at LACMA.  this huge rock made a news splash earlier in the year as it traveled for two weeks from a riverside quarry to its new permanent home on wilshire.  it is the centerpiece of a project by reclusive artist michael heizer.  this is the first time that i went to see the finished exhibit.  the rock is supported over a concrete trench, and from underneath the rock, there is the impression that the mass is being "levitated".

a boulder out of its "place"
i have now been 50 years old for over a month, and i have experienced some interesting "settling" into my new decade of living.  as i have written before, the build up to turning 50 was not really something that i, um, enjoyed.  it felt as though i were being forced to move from a home that i had grown comfortable in, to a new and unfamiliar neighborhood.  but about a week or so ago i began to realize that moving is exactly what i did when i turned 50.  and now that i have been in my new "house" for a bit, i thought it would be fun to report how things are in the new hood.

you can walk right under the boulder
you know the old saying "wherever you go, there you are"?  of course you do.  well, i really kinda HATE that saying!  it's such a downer when you think about it. what it says, basically, is that you can run from yourself, but you can't hide!  not exactly what someone wants to hear when attempting to distance oneself from undesirable behaviors or unwanted personality quirks.  i had a bit of a panic about this saying in the early summer of 2011 when i was visiting san francisco, and i suddenly wondered if i would eventually make the move to the city only to have nothing change for me.  if you want to refresh your memory, you can read about it here.

everyone wanted a picture like this guy on the right, pretending to "hold up" the rock.  hysterical!
well, if i am to compare turning 50 with the experience of moving to a new neighborhood, then i suppose i can report at this time that the ol' saying is only half true.  amended for accuracy, it should be "wherever you go, you will recognize a part of yourself that has come along".  or "wherever you go, you will find parts of your old self".  or "wherever you go, you will drag along some of the old crap, but there will be new crap too, so it wasn't a total loss".  so maybe i never was a good "saying" writer, but you get the idea!  here is the thing:  of COURSE we take ourselves wherever we go, but as i have written before, we are a product of a three-way interaction between our brains, our bodies, and our environments.  so if one of those things change, well, then we change.   somewhat.

i wonder if, after these few months, the rock feels "at home" in its new environment
in turning 50, you might be asking yourself which of those three things has changed for me, and believe me when i tell you that i am asking myself the same thing.  in my previous post i made it abundantly clear that my body has not changed that much, and as you know, i have not moved to a new environment yet.  so what does that leave?  you guessed it!  my brain!  in a nutshell, i have noticed that my brain seems to have moved into a new neighborhood, symbolically speaking.  an unfamiliar neighborhood, but a likable one nonetheless.

from underneath, i felt as though i was looking at a view that nature did not intend me to see--like looking up the rock's "skirt"!
the new neighborhood that my brain seems to be inhabiting is the brain of a man who is growing older, and who is also preparing for the day when the body "moves" as well.  the experience for me is one of confusion and also wonder.  imagine that you have moved into a new neighborhood.  it takes a while to know the neighbors, if you get to know them at all, and for probably the first month you feel out of sorts even in your new place, at least until you begin to unpack your things and "personalize" the place.  as you arrange the house with your familiar things, you begin to recognize yourself a bit more every day when you come home, even though it is not exactly the same.  it may take long time to find out who your neighbors are; it may take a while to decide who is nice and who is not nice.  but along the way you will be subject to the reflection of yourself that new people project back to you, and it may not exactly match how you were previously reflected!

oh my god. even i can't read the previous paragraph!  let's put it this way.  more than a month into being 50, i feel as if i have unpacked about half of my boxes--enough to "recognize" myself in this new place.  but i still feel as if i know none of my neighbors, so there is the rub.  in other words, i am not so sure about how others are experiencing me as a 50 year old.  make sense??
this thing is 340 TONS!  and yet i felt very secure walking underneath it.
i didn't have this problem when i was going through my 40's.  i did not feel, during my 40's, that there was much that needed to change.  for some reason, 50 has been a sticking point.  but there is some movement.  for instance, i notice that there are certain things that i just don't do anymore.  like going out dancing, or even going to bars, or hooking up, or trying to dress "edgy".  it is not as if i suddenly stopped doing any of those things, it is more like i slowly just "let go" of them, and then one day realized that i was not doing them anymore.  let me just state that there is nothing wrong with doing any of those things at the age of 50, but i think that in my head, i feel as though at SOME point, i have to stop them (believe me, nobody is telling me i have to stop these things!).  i would rather, as they say in the biz, "get out while i am on top".

from afar, it looks smaller, and somewhat lonely.  as if it really does not belong there.
but what has been interesting to notice is that as i arrange more and more of my "familiar" things around my new 50 year old "home", i find myself coming into contact with familiar parts of myself that i had "packed up".  the artist part, for instance.  that one is showing up all over the place.  (for those of you who don't know, i was a dancer/actor/singer for many years.)  not that i am going to start dancing professionally again, but i may go dancing.  i may start practicing my guitar again.  i may write more.  i may seek out other artists, particularly "older" ones.  i may do that.  but since i don't know the neighbors yet in my new older home, i am taking baby steps with that.  without a doubt, i am inspired by artists like madonna, who just never fucking stop.  i don't think she gave turning 50 a second thought!

they say that the exhibit is "permanent" and that this is where the rock will be for hundreds of years.  in time, people may start to think that it has always been there, and that they dug the trench around it.
so with that in mind, this is where i am.  i am still unpacking, if you will.  but i have a few things around the house that i love and recognize, and the place does not feel so unfamiliar anymore.  but there is still much more to do...

and i have GOT to start meeting my "new neighbors".

this poor rock has no "neighbors", just lots of visitors.  is it possible to feel at home where we don't belong?

Sunday, August 26, 2012

i'm 50!!!!!

my 50 year old face
can i really be 50???

let's take a look at my face again:

me. unretouched.
does it look 50?  hmm...maybe in this picture it looks more like 50 feet high!  the difficulty with evaluating my face is that the face, by itself, is rarely up for solo evaluation.  it is, rather, generally seen as part and parcel of the rest of me, i.e. my arms, legs, chest, stomach.  you get the idea.  it is my belief that when people make an assessment of my age, they take into account an "average" of the ages that they assign to my various parts (face: 42, legs: 30, stomach: 28, etc.).  perhaps.  i suspect that this is a lightning fast process.  but here, at the top of this post, i am presenting the task of just looking at my face, as a separate and isolated representative of "me".

when i look at the pictures of my face above, i think that it looks like the face of a man who may be 36-44 years old, with the given that the picture was taken on a morning when the "subject" was "tired".  i notice things in the picture that i don't always notice when i look at myself in the mirror, namely, my wrinkles.  but i don't think that this is the face of what i would think a 50 year old man would look like.

good news, i suppose, if my goal is to look younger than i actually am.

check this guy out:
i googled "50 year old man", and this picture came up.  does he look older than i do?
i must look younger than he does!

in truth, i don't know that looking younger is my goal.  i come to this conclusion based on the fact that i NEVER lie about my age.  never.  and i could!  so if i wanted to look younger, it is interesting that i willingly deflate that illusion with the truth about my age.  i think that what i prefer is to look like a healthy person who happens to be 50.  i think that healthy people are attractive no matter what their age is.

check our this picture of leroy bell, a 60 year old recent contestant on x factor:

Add caption

of course, he is a freak of nature, but i love that he looks like this in real life, as he was not a celebrity when he entered the show.

not surprisingly, even healthy people get wrinkles as they age.  i did not expect to get to the age of 50 without having a wrinkle or two.  in fact, i "like" my wrinkles, since they speak to the fact that i have lived some life--50 years of life, to be exact.  i know of many people here in los angeles, including men, who inject all kinds of things into their faces in order to get rid of the wrinkles.  though i might look "better" if i were to engage in one of these procedures, i would never do it.  this is because, as stated earlier, my goal is not to look younger.  i have no shame about being 50, just a bit of confusion, but confusion is not shame!

just for fun, i played around with the "retouch" feature of my photo software, and i smoothed out my face.  this is what i came up with:

my 50 year old face, retouched
i smoothed out my forehead and took away the lines and circles under my eyes, and i generally smoothed out my skin.  presto!  when i look at this picture, i notice right away that i look "fresher", especially around the eyes.  i do look younger, but i am torn about whether i look "better".  you decide!


regardless, i do feel that i am holding up pretty well.  this is due to genetics, but also my dedication to "moderation" across the board.  not too much of anything, not too little of anything.  basically, i do what my body, as an animal, needs in order to be strong and healthy.  i eat good food and exercise vigorously.  not much of a secret to share there.  it really is that simple.  and the good news is that when you commit to moderation, there is not really anything that you have to "give up"!  (granted, i stay away from junk foods and never drink soda, but then who wants to eat and drink those things when real food and beverage taste so damn much better?)

speaking of the body, i admit that it is unfair that i have not allowed you the opportunity to include the "rest of me" in the assessment.  this is because the "rest of me" is somewhat ridiculous in its youthfulness.  lacking the thin skin of the face, the other parts have fared quite well, despite years of early sun damage.  let's take a look:

my 50 year old chest
this is my chest.  not too big, not too small, it has not yet succumb to "drooping", thankfully.  people like it, i like it.  pretty simple.  for me, a strong and attractive chest has always been important, but i don't think that this is just me.  the chest symbolizes strength and masculinity, and there is really nothing worse for a man than to be accused of having "moobs".  one of my favorite positions "post-relations" has always been to have a guy rest his head on my chest.  i could just lay like this until my limbs go numb.

my 50 year old arm
this is my left arm in a bicep pose.  that is not a tan line, but a shadow, i think.  i have always had these crazy biceps--for as long as i can remember.  (that is the genetics part.)  but i don't take them for granted.  i make these suckers curl 80 lb barbells at least once or twice a week.  my family used to joke that i had tennis balls in my arms.  ha ha!  funny!  well, nobody is joking now!

my arms have done a boatload of work during my lifetime.  i would venture to say that my arms have done 2 or 3 boatloads of work during my lifetime.  to date, they continue to work tirelessly for me:  lifting boxes at work, steering my bicycle, endlessly supporting typing hands, carrying, pushing, opening, balancing, you name it.  except for some recent elbow soreness and a tender wrist joint, both of which i am monitoring and caring for, they continue to do their job without protest.  when i was a dancer, many years ago, their job was to create beauty in movement; to counter a balance, to lift a partner, to punctuate an emotion.  as a therapist, their job is more neutral:  to remain in an open position in order to signify, well, openness.  occasionally, when the situation calls for it, they are front and center in the act of providing a hug--their role being to sort of "contain pain", or sometimes merely to keep someone from collapsing.  as strong as they are, they are at their best when doing gentle, beautiful work.

my 50 year old stomach, slightly blurry
this is my stomach, with just the flintiest bit of underwear band showing.  i must say, i am proud of this stomach, cuz this is a bitch to keep.  it has been better, it has been worse. but when i look at this i do not see a 50 year old stomach.  by the way, just the other night i ate a quarter gallon of ice cream--but i don't do that everyday!  for me the best thing about having this stomach is that i get to wear the pants that i like to wear, and i get to take my shirt off whenever i am able.  i like fitted pants and shirts, and i can only wear them if i keep my stomach looking like this.  totally worth it!

for some reason, my memory of coming out to my mother is tied to my stomach.  that is because what i remember about that night, 23 years ago, is that when my mother asked me if i was a homosexual, i immediately felt like i was going to throw up.  my stomach turned inside out, but it also felt as though it had just suffered a severe blow.  either way, my 17 year old self nearly doubled over with shame and horror at what my mother had just asked, and through my tear-blurred vision i looked at her and did the only thing i knew that would protect my mother: i lied...

...but not for long.

they say that the stomach, or solar plexus region, is the core of a body's strength, and i believe it.  for me, all i need to see of a person is their stomach, and i can tell you right away what kind of shape they are in.  i keep my stomach flat for the reasons mentioned above, but there is a more base objective that i don't talk about as much, and that is so that i am ready for whatever comes at me.

my 50 year old legs
these are, well, my legs.  again, genetics.  mom was swedish and was tall and slender like me, so fortunately i got the swedish legs in the genetic lottery.  but boy do i work these suckers in the gym.  plus, i bike an average of 10 miles a day in my commuting.  these legs are strong and long, and i plan on having them serve me for many years to come, and this is why i take such good care of them.  but beyond that, there is a vanity aspect to my intention.  it seems that so many men spend the majority of their time in the gym working chests and arms, and very little time working legs.  i often see beautiful upper bodies and underdeveloped legs.  ugh.  being the type of person who likes to stand out in the crowd, i work my legs, and i do it in these shorts.  no baggy knee length jams for me!

it wasn't until i was in college for the first time, at the age of 18, that i discovered what my legs could do, beyond attracting college men.  i was at the naval academy in annapolis, md., and i had joined the crew team in an effort to offset the rumors that were developing around me possibly being "different".  you see, crew team members are like royalty on the east coast, more than football players.  it is as if football players are movie stars, but rowers are the real actors.  most people have the impression that rowing is a matter of back and arm strength, but they are mistaken.  rowing is about leg strength, something that i discovered i had in spades.  i was so strong, in fact, that i was assigned the position of "stroke" (no jokes, please!), which is the guy who sits right in back of the coxswain (please, no jokes!!), and sets the tempo of the rowing for the team in the boat.  it was heaven for me.  i went from being a sensitive brainy geek in high school to being a respected and admired athlete at an ivy league military academy.  all because of my legs!

i only stayed at the academy for two years, though, as i did not see a future for me in either engineering, or in the service, and so in the summer of 1982 i came home from maryland and that very summer i enrolled in another leg-punishing discipline:  ballet class.  for the next 20 years i would work as a dancer of ballet, jazz, tap, and musical theater, performing jumps, turns, arabesques, kicks, and on and on across stages all over the country.

as a bike commuter, my legs continue to answer to my demands, albeit with a different set of muscles being engaged.  perhaps more than any other body part, i owe a debt of gratitude to my legs.  it boggles my mind that most legs are used primarily to walk to cars or walk into elevators.  it is like having a powerful, wild stallion, and limiting it to giving kiddie rides.  seems like such a waste...


so what do you get when you add up the parts?  36?  41?  47?  does it matter?  not to me, so much.  i think it mattered more before i turned 50, but now, one week in, not so much.  what does matter to me is that i am still alive, and that i still have a face, chest, arms, stomach, and legs that work for me.  there are other "parts" of me that feel retired at the moment, but that is for another blog, another day!  what i am aware of is that the "age assessment" may have different meaning in san francisco than it does here in los angeles.  i am looking forward to seeing if i am considered "hot in san francisco".  i am tired of being considered the "guy who looks really good for 50".  how about just the guy who looks good?  perhaps location is everything.  but far be it for me to complain about a compliment!

and so we end up back where we started--at the face.  the face, unlike the legs or the stomach, show some mileage, but that is okay, because when i look at the pictures, they eyes still show me.  me, lived.  maybe that is why i don't lie about my age, because beyond the shock of seeing people realize that i am older than they think i am, there is the satisfaction of claiming the years that i have lived, proudly.

i am 50.

i am 50.

I AM 50!!

the new "dignified" me

Sunday, July 29, 2012

places, part 3 (reflections on my state)

signage at one entrance to the new downtown park
the pictures accompanying this post were all taken on sunday, july 28th, 2012, in los angeles.  i stopped by the opening of a brand new park in downtown, called Grand Park, and on my way home i snapped some pics of a roving carnival that had set up in a small park area just a couple blocks from my apartment.


i have always loved to read, ever since i was a wee lad growing up in the dark ages of the 20th century (the 70's).  i love to read so much, in fact, that it is very hard for me to understand those people who do not like to read at all!  how is that possible?  i can understand not knowing how to read, but not liking it!  preposterous!  but then, maybe a draw toward reading is sort of a talent, like dancing.  with dancing, you can either dance, or you can't dance.  (i used to be a dancer--loaded with gifts here!)  perhaps reading is the same way, in that people either get reading, or they don't.  just thinking out loud.

a crowd gathers before the stage to watch a dance presentation in the park
but the thing about reading is that if you like to read, as i do, you look for good writers.  what makes a good writer?  well, lots of things, but the one thing i want to emphasize for the purposes of this post is that a good writer doesn't just say something.  a good writer, specifically, says something to the reader.  this distinction highlights one of the major differences between tweets and literature (there are many!).  one writing teacher i had in graduate school suggested that the first thing a writer needs to do before writing a single word is decide 1)who their audience is; then 2)what they have to say.  most people skip #1 altogether and just start "saying" stuff.  pshhhhh.

as you might imagine, i have no interest in twitter.

look crowded?  well, it was!  a good opening day turnout!
during the recent "shift" in my way of experiencing myself, of which i have been writing about a lot, i have been aided by several fantastic writers whose books do indeed say something to me.  i have shared one or two of these books in previous posts, and there are more of them in my shelfari.  the book that is speaking to me currently is one that i just started a few days ago.  it is called lonely, and it is written by emily white.  she calls it a memoir, but so far i find it to be much more.  in it, she writes of the difference between loneliness and depression, as opposed to loneliness being merely a symptom of depression.  she also writes of the greater stigma attached to the descriptor of lonely, as opposed to being described as depressed.  already, her distinctions are resonating with something in my own experience.

there was a "splash pool", which was a hit with the kids, natch
what really strikes me so far in the book is her saying that when she was out in the world, she was "looking for...a sort of emotional mirror, something I could hold up and see myself in."  i read over that line many times to see where it landed with me, and what i have concluded is that i only see emotional mirrors when i am alone in my apartment.   when i am out in the world i see little that reflects me.  for instance, my day in the park?  TONS of people, but none were there with me (no self-pity, just a fact--nobody was able to join me).  i saw families, friends, lovers, but no one else just hanging out by themselves.  i felt, in a way, as if i had crashed somebody else's party without an invite, but they were too busy relating to each other to even notice that i had come in.

i stayed for about 40 minutes, taking pictures and exploring the length of the park, and then i got on my bike and left to go home.  i just didn't know what else to do there.  

all of these kids had someone to play with, and if they didn't, they just played with whoever was around.  it is easier for kids that way.
in my fantasy perfect day, i would go to the park opening, and just like the kids in the splash pool, begin relating to whoever was around me.  you know, small talk, comments, pleasantries and the like.  i think i would probably even walk around in the splash pool.  but i notice very few people exchanging pleasantries in los angeles--what i observe is most people limiting their interactions to their own particular circle of people:  husband or wife, kids, friend, or even phone or computer.  generally, if a stranger tries to start a conversation with another person, it appears to me to be an awkward situation, as it was on the subway going home.  i observed an older man attempting to chat with some tourists who had not been on the l.a. subway before, and he was being quite nice--informing them of the best stations and some details of the trains, but it was all one-way--the tourists (they spoke english) only nodded or said "uh-huh".  i do understand the greater dangers of talking with strangers in a huge city compared with a smaller city, and the old man was somewhat grungy, but...small talk just seems easier in smaller towns (as it was for me in greencastle, missouri).

the paradox of all this is that while i was watching the tourist couple, it seemed to me that they were not entirely engaged with each other, even.  they were perhaps late 30's, early 40's, with tattoos, both a bit overweight and dressed in completely unremarkable summer clothing.  this made me think that they must have been more exciting when they were younger, and perhaps more excited about each other.  i did not envy them, and at that moment, i appreciated my single and solitary life; i appreciated my freedom from being stuck with someone i was once, but no longer, excited about.  maybe that is why i do not find emotional mirrors out in the world--i am not in a couple.  one does not have to be a psychology student to recognize that most couples act as mirrors for each other--even if the mirror is cracked.

i have always loved plants for their willingness to just be what they are, without fuss

and they often do it so well...
when i finally did get back home to my apartment, i was in a curious state.  the "mirror" that i saw myself in there presented me with a disturbing reflection, and it put me in a dark and strange mood for the rest of the day.  the reflection i saw showed me in a state of "loneliness", a state that i did not immediately recognize.  or did i.

the roving fair was set up that night in the park near my apartment.   the thing i love about ferris wheels is that you are in your own compartment but moving together with many people.
i stayed in my apartment the rest of the day, even though i could have gone anywhere, done anything.  i simply could not go back out in the world and be reminded of how alone i was feeling, how alone i was feeling in this city.

the paradox is that so often the people who are spending time with each other don't seem to be enjoying each other.  i suspect that many of the people who came to this fair came in order to have a distraction from the people they live with.  if i went to the fair with someone, that would not be my purpose.
i had dinner with a great friend the other night, and he suggested that i might be overlooking my own role in my loneliness, my own role in how i perceive los angeles.  i don't disagree with him--it is always easier to point the finger at something else rather than ourselves.  but i am just so tired of feeling like i am the problem.  i am a part of the problem, but just a part.  as i told him, i understand consciousness as being a relationship between the brain, the body, and the environment.  there are times when one has to just throw in the towel and change the environment.  think about a time when you finally quit that horrible job, a time when you left a bad relationship, a time when you yourself moved to a better city. it is a damaging falsehood put forth by the new age thinkers that all you have to do to change something is "think differently".  thinking differently is just one part of the equation.

ever feel fenced in by your environment?
new york times magazine writer siddhartha mukheriee wrote recently of the new science of depression.  in her article "post-prozac nation", she examines the findings that in depressed people, there may be a link between their mood state and the death of nerve cells in certain areas of their brains (as opposed to a lack of serotonin).  before i cause your eyeballs to roll back in your head, the point i want to highlight is that she wonders what role "a stimulus--genetics, environment, or stress" play in the death of cells (italics mine).

i wonder that too.  and i am willing to leave this city and go to another in order to test the theory.

in the meantime, i am grateful for the resources that are assisting me in figuring out this process, and i am grateful for great friends for simply stating what they see when they are with me.  that often tells me more than any of the books i read.  (but i ain't giving up the books!)  it makes me realize that though i need to leave this city and try a different environment, there was nothing stopping me from taking off my shoes and running around in the splash pool with everyone else.  nothing, that is, except me.

everybody's doin' it!
after all, the park is for everyone.  it says so right on the sign.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

places, part two

my friends look at this picture of me pretending to ride a four wheeler in the field of kathy's house in greencastle, mo., and they say, "that looks like you being you". and yet this picture could not be further from my life here in los angeles.  i DID actually learn how to drive the thing, mind you, and it was quite a bit of fun to tear around the mowed hay field in the back yard of the house.  but i hear what my friends were saying.  they were not commenting on the context of the photo, they were commenting on me, within the photo.  they were commenting on how i look just like me, even in different surroundings.

well, duh.

i suspect that they were expecting to see me in overalls, sporting a kerchief and straw hat.  but the truth is that i have a pretty agreeable self-presentation that requires very little altering from situation to situation.  the way that you see me in the picture above is how i might also look one day at work, or how i might look one day at the movies--you get the idea.  i do know of gay men who have their "work clothes" and their "play clothes", but goodie for me, my outfits are pretty interchangeable.  

and yet there is something different about me in the photo, and that would be the place.  i don't often find myself driving a four wheeler in a hay field in greencastle, mo. and so, despite the recognizable presentation in the photo, i am not, actually, me being me.  i am, instead, me being me in a small town, while on vacation, and that was a nice me to experience.

the me that i experienced in greencastle was not subject to the anxiety i encounter here in los angeles as soon as i leave my apartment.  on the contrary, i looked forward to venturing outside of kathy's home and into the surrounding neighborhood.  rather than looking at the ground and guarding myself against interaction, i noticed that i was looking up, and meeting the gaze of passing motorists, who then gave me the finger.  no, not what you are thinking, but rather the raised finger or two of the hand on the steering wheel, indicating an acknowledgement and a greeting in one economic gesture.

drivers in los angeles do not give the fingerwave.  believe me when i tell you this.  but even if they did, i would not notice it, because i don't look at drivers when i am walking in l.a.  there are too damn many of them, and they are not looking at me.  but in greencastle, mo., there are very few drivers, so when one of them passes you by, you take a look, because they are taking a look at you.  that's the way it goes back there, and it's not a bad way to go about your day.  not a bad way at all.

in greencastle, as in green city, the neighboring town, i looked up and around when i walked about, and i was reminded of who i was as a child, constantly curious, endlessly innocent, forever wondering, fantastically imagining.  i had nearly forgotten that me.

there were so many things to look at that are different from what i see in los angeles:

beautiful old houses in varying degrees of upkeep

i was told that i could buy a house like the ones above for around $15,000, and that is why people who are retired so often retire in places like this.  i mean, who wouldn't?  but i am not so sure.  other than being missed at church, i am sure that if i were to retire in a place like this, i would pretty much resemble most of the other "old folks" in town, with the exception that i would have better furniture, music, and clothes.

never ending country roads
riding a bike, believe it or not, would be more hazardous here than in the big city, primarily due to the lack of width of the roads and lack of shoulder.  in addition, at night few of these roads are lit, as you can see by the lack of street lights in the pic above.  my little powerful bike lights wouldn't stand a chance against the country darkness and the big rigs.

re-imagined old opry houses (now housing lions club bingo on saturday nights)

abandoned school buses serving as home
i actually saw a confederate flag in one "yard", which amused me more than it surprised me.  i can say that there is a lot of "white trash" there because there is even more "white trash" in los angeles.  in los angeles the trash just masquerades as reality show stars.

amish farms and stores
believe it or not, i bought a few of the pamphlets sold at the amish stores, primarily for "research", and i am sure that i will soon write a post about how sensible i actually think their way of living is--minus the whole god part.  i bought some gifts for my friends back home.

small town main streets that had seen better days

abandoned theaters (this one now serving as a private residence)

lots of tractors

rows of mailboxes

rustic beauty
as i wandered and wandered, camera in hand, i imagined who i might have been if i had been raised in towns like these--small, sidewalk-less, traditional.  and as i wandered and wandered, i imagined who i might be if i were to currently live in towns like these.  my imagination ran wild, i have to say, and i like where it took me.  i liked the me i imagined in these towns, while realizing that the town in my imagination would not be the town that perhaps existed behind the doors of these century old homes and rustic windows.  but i must tell you that what is important here is not that i would ever consider living in towns this size, because i wouldn't, as mentioned in the previous post, but that i was able to connect with the less guarded, more imaginative and adventurous person i remembered from so many years ago.  i was able to connect with the me that nods at passing drivers, and says "hello" to people i pass on walks. it sounds hokey, but it was a relief for me to have an experience of myself apart from my "social anxiety" and aggressive stance in the world.  little did i realize that by traveling back to missouri, i would not only revisit memories of my childhood, i would also revisit myself.


here is the thing about a "response" that one has to life.  we can't help but wonder if that response is a permanent change, or merely a layer on top of the base.  i do have the opinion that both cases occur.  have you ever seen a loony old person and wondered to yourself who they were 40, 50, maybe 60 years ago?  well, i have.  and in the middle of that wondering, i find myself thinking about what happened to them that caused them to journey down the road toward looniness.  could they have chosen differently?

i would like to think that my choice to leave los angeles is the opportunity to take myself off the road to looniness.  besides having a wonderful vacation, my time in missouri showed me that i still have the chance to choose.  good to know.

"fourth of july" parade baby.  adorable!