Wednesday, June 20, 2012

shifting, part two

grab a cup of coffee...this is a bit of a dense one. i apologize ahead of time. wait--no i don't. :-)

Photo by Flickr user orangeacid

okay, so where to begin…
since this is primarily a blog about moving to new places, i want to frame my discussion of "shifting" within that perspective, helping me to avoid the overtly personal and hopefully universalizing, for the reader, what i am currently experiencing. it will be best to begin by breaking down the key areas where i have noticed the shifts taking place. they are:




as i wrote in the previous post, “shifts” often begin even before we take action towards a change; they begin when we start thinking about a change. for me, moving out of los angeles is not just about moving away from this city, it is also about moving away from who i am in this city. to be honest with you, i sometimes doubt that this is even possible. noticing myself in this city is a combination of awareness of the environment and awareness of the personal, and involves a consideration of where, how, and even how much these two factors interact. i have written plenty on how the city affects the personal, but what bothers me is noticing how the personal may just be, well, the personal. in other words, i may just be who i am, despite the influence of where i live.

at least, to an extent.

i once had a very bad therapist. well, to be fair, he was a good therapist for the first seven years when i was seeing him, but during the last three he was indeed very, very bad. this is because it appeared to me that he started to dislike me, and that is not a good experience for a client to have! my hunch is that he was envious of me, but that is just my hunch, and we will leave it at that. the most egregious example of his insensitive position was one time when I confessed to him that i feared i might be developing some sort of social anxiety, and he responded by saying, “MIGHT be!”. needless to say, that didn’t make me feel any better! bad therapist!! but you know what, i suspected what he suspected, namely, that i might suffer from social anxiety. i might. now you can look up the definition of social anxiety on your own, and i don't intend to go into details here about why the label might be true for me. but what i do want to highlight is that whether or not it is true, i have been blaming most of my discomfort on los angeles rather than admitting that this may just be a part of who i am in relationship to the world. i mean, i am a therapist, for cryin’ out loud, it is not a stretch for me to understand this issue and recognize the triggers.

so it would be foolish for me to think that i could move out of los angeles without bringing along some of the baggage, since some of that baggage may include items that i brought to this city with me.

one of the bloggers i follow, max, recently took the brave step of describing what it was like for him to suffer from PTSD. i applaud him for doing so, since it is often hard for non-sufferers to understand what the sufferer is dealing with. well, for me, i will say this about social anxiety: it is often difficult for me to be in the world. not impossible, but difficult. some places are easier(safer) than others. i am most comfortable when surrounded by people i know(and like), or when i am in a place where i have the control. but in a crowd of strangers, i become somewhat anxious and guarded. it is something like this: when i am around people, it is hard to relax. i find myself suddenly aware of almost everything: whether they are too fat or too thin; whether or not they can leave their phones in their pockets for more than five seconds; whether or not they have more items in their baskets than the sign allows; whether they are complaining about how 'this place never has enough cashiers'; whether they are aware of me or not; whether i find them attractive or not; whetherwhetherwhetherwhetherwhetherwhether.

i usually get through it by looking at the floor and just "going inside" until it is my turn at the cashier, for example, and then i get out of there and wonder what the hell i was thinking for coming to a store in the first place.

this is why i consider it a miracle that i had a career onstage performing in front of audiences of strangers—but i am grateful for that, because it has helped me to be less anxious in the world(maybe because i am in control onstage). it is not lost on me that many actors admit to having their own social anxieties--i once heard a story about al pacino that reported how he hides behind large plants at house parties. but i don’t think that my anxiety will magically change when i leave this city. i just hope to make it easier by moving to a place where there is a greater chance of being surrounded by friends, or at least people i like, instead of hostile narcissistic strangers. more importantly, i would like my sense of safety to extend beyond the walls of my apartment.

but back to the shifts…

in a nutshell, the personal/professional/environmental shift i am feeling is connected closely to the fact that i am turning 50 this year(let's face it, they are all connected). i am sure that i have volumes to write about this, but suffice it to say that, despite looking youthful and being fit, i am aware that I am no longer young(though i AM fit), and that some adjustments in behavior may be warranted. NOT because a 50 year old should act a certain way, but because i want to put my focus on behaviors that enhance my sense of self-worth as an older gay man. for me, that means "shifting" away from certain behaviors i have engaged in successfully as a not-so-older gay man. this is not proving to be too difficult, as i find that lately i have less and less interest in many of these behaviors. yay! (if you find me being vague, it is in the interest of writing universally, as i mentioned earlier.) i credit this shift directly to the idea that i am thinking differently about myself recently--better, in fact--perhaps due to being close to finishing my internship hours and moving on toward licensure, and also perhaps because of how i want to think about myself as i approach fifty. fortunately, i am reading a very helpful book that uniquely describes this very shift process. concerning behavior, dr. morin has this very powerful and succinct statement to offer: "the to bring one's behavior into alignment with one's values--not perfectly, of course, but as close as possible."(italics mine)

i highly recommend checking it out if you are experiencing a similar process yourself.

dr. morin focuses on shifts in the "erotic" self, but his book is more far reaching than that. what i will share with you here is that he writes that when we shift how we think about ourselves, we will often find that the things that turn us on don't turn us on so much anymore. he says that this is because many of our turn ons are based on the ideas we have about ourselves. in my case, one of the things that no longer turns me on is "los angeles". in fact, if i think of los angeles as one of my "relationships", it feels like i have broken up with this city, but am still living with it because neither of us has found new places to move to yet. actually, it feels like los angeles has indeed moved on to other relationships, and is doing just fine, and i am stuck in the awkward position of treading water. it is time for me to move on as well(the environmental shift--no longer thinking of myself in a good relationship with this city).

what it all comes down to(if you have lasted this long) is that for the first time in my life, i am starting to feel like i don't have to love or be loved by only damaged people, and that i don't have to try so hard to love or be loved by a damaged city. whew!

that is certainly a shift.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

shifting, part one

the photos included in this blog posting were taken at the los angeles gay pride parade on june 10, 2012. i decided to go this year because i think it will be the last year i attend a los angeles pride parade, and also because this year has been a pretty fantastic year for gay rights advancement, and i was curious to see how that was expressed in both the parade and the attending crowd. i have to report it was pretty much business as usual, with the occasional reference to marriage equality and president obama.

oh well.

i also decided to include these pictures because i have always seen the attendees of gay pride as being "shapeshifters" of their own. it is endlessly interesting to me to wonder how long one has been attached to a particular identity: drag diva, leatherman, biker, bear, rainbow twink.

a bitchin' biker chick

for myself, i will report that i presented the identity that pretty much follows me most places these days: "classic hipster tony".

me on the left, with my work buddy "coco"

by classic, that means that my pants actually reach to my shoes, that i wear socks, and that my sunglasses are the aviator variety, NOT neon-rimmed wayfarers. i know how to dress, i can say that about myself! and yet that dress code in itself is a shift from my previous pride outfits, which, like most gay men's pride outfits, was most noticeable for how little outfit there actually was. yes, i admit to being a bit of a shapeshifter myself. enjoy the pictures. now on to the post.


there is a theory about psychotherapy that goes something like this: the therapy process actually begins before the client begins therapy. it begins as soon as he or she takes the first step toward starting therapy--calling a clinic, scheduling an intake, etc. the reason for this is scientific: once we decide to do something, that decision jump-starts a process of change within our brains. in other words, we begin to realize effects from our decisions even before we actualize them with behavior or action. you might notice this in yourself in the way that decisions alter the way you think/feel about yourself.

a gay swing band--they were pretty good!

for me, i have had several dramatic instances of this process occur over the span of my adult life. if i think back far enough, the earliest, and certainly one of the most memorable of these has to be the moment when i first thought of myself as a gay person, rather than a straight person. actually, i don't think i ever thought of myself as a straight person, so perhaps the shift was from a pre-sexual experience of myself to a homosexual experience of myself. let me tell you, it was pretty damn big, this shift! but even before i made the conclusive shift from non-decided to decided, a process had begun. i had noticed myself noticing boys--mind you, i was in my early teens. this awareness in itself started a "shift" in how i experienced myself, even though, at the time, a consideration of homosexuality was the absolute worst possibility i could think about.

a young man i "noticed" along the route

well, it is happening all over again. not the realization of my sexuality--that is pretty firmly decided at this point--but the shifting process. i started this blog over two years ago. recently, at a casual dinner, one of my good friends made fun of my talk of san francisco, saying, "when the fuck are you going to make this move? you have been talking about it forEVER!" i laughed, because he is right, and yet what he doesn't realize is that the move has already started. referring to the first paragraph, i can honestly say that the process of moving began as soon as i decided that i wanted to move. the "shift" had begun.

i am a sucker for a pretty green and blue themed float

i have noticed this in both small and large ways. years ago, when i was but a budding teen, i had an idea of what kind of man i wanted to be as i grew up. my emerging sexuality intruded on that idea quite insistently--subtly at first, and much more forcefully as time went on. but unlike that time, i am the one initiating this current shift, rather than it being initiated by change.

i used to get most of my clothes from "out of the closet". now they are mostly from "banana republic". you can decide what that means.

i have written a lot on the subject of who i am as a longtime resident of los angeles. not all of it is bad, mind you. the bad stuff is like a wart on my personality: mostly benign and dormant, but with the potential to become problematic and painful. but when i think of the areas where i consider my development to be positive, i must admit that it is an extensive consideration. i am not the same person i was when i arrived in los angeles in 1991, but then the world has changed dramatically since then as well. i used to tolerate such abuse from people--not physical, but it often felt like it, such was the psychological damage. i don't think i am unlike most gay men in that regard--growing up feeling as if i were somehow a "mistake" that slipped into the world, and not really deserving of "space". if there is one thing that los angeles forces one to do, it is to make space for oneself. if you don't do that, then you don't belong here--you will most likely fade into the background and spend your time supporting those who do make space for themselves--much like an extra on a film.

pride attendees covering the "space" that wingnut fundamentalists have for themselves along the parade route. i think that after a couple of hours, the protesters were mostly trying to convince themselves of their own argument.

as a gay man, i was challenged to make space for myself both personally and professionally, but it was the personal challenge that presented the most difficulty. fortunately, as i have struggled with my personal presence in this city, i have been bolstered by the parallel path of the gay rights movement here. it has been heartening to observe and participate in. but the difference, as i see it, between the gay presence in los angeles and the same in san francisco is that in los angeles, gays will always be of the city, whereas in san fransisco, gays are the city. not that gays haven't had to struggle in the north, but to me the struggle up there has been about who is getting the best bedroom in the house, as opposed to whether or not we will ever get to stop sleeping on the couch at all!

this kid was having a blast. he was hitting a ball that was tossed his way--i am sure it had something to do with the float he was on!

my current shift is part of a continuum. now that i have pushed my way into having space in this city, i realize that this is no longer the house i want to live in. i guess i don't like the other housemates so much!

perhaps the course of development is this: once we decide that we should have space in the world, we then move on to deciding where we want to make space.

i do like the sound of that...

(next time...what has shifted)

the b of a group--they needed a LOT of space.