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!

Sunday, July 8, 2012

places, part one

fortunately for me, my vacation this year was not planned by me.  it was planned by my brother.  well, sort of.  he called me earlier this year and told me that he wanted to go visit our aunt edith and her family where they live in greencastle, missouri, as she is 94 years old and may not be around much longer.  he told me that he was going to ask our sister to join us, and since i had not seen her since our mother's funeral, it would be an opportunity for us three to spend some time together.  would i be interested in joining them? 

well i must confess that when it comes to vacations, i don't usually hold greencastle, missouri, in the competition for destinations, but i did like the idea of seeing both my brother and my sister together, along with my aunt and her family.  the week my brother proposed for this gathering was over the fourth of july.  we would have the opportunity to participate in a real small town fourth of july, with fireworks (legal in missouri), potato salad, and a main street parade.

so i said yes.


the last time i was in greencastle, i was with my family, and it was many many years ago.  i must have been around 13 or 14 years old, and we had travelled there by car from san diego, california.  my brother is 14 months older than i am, and this was probably one of our last "family" vacations, where the four of us would all go somewhere together that was decided by mom and dad.  my aunt edith had lived with us for a few years at an earlier time, and so we were visiting her family in missouri: her daughter karla and her husband ron, and their three teenage daughters karen, kathy, and krista(seriously). 

it was summer at the time of this visit, but not the fourth of july. we had a grand time, as i remember. ron was a big muckety muck in the town, which was impressive to me, but not that big of a deal in a town of 250 people, i guess. but he owned and ran a small grocery store, a laundromat, and a carwash, all located within a block of their nearly 100 year old home. he was also the mayor! at the time, my dad was managing a safeway store back home, so he was considered the "expert" in the grocery business, and we all pitched in at ron's store to help "fancy up" his shelves and make it look more professional. we kids would tear back and forth from the house to the store, stocking shelves, sweeping, you name it, and little did i realize at the time that nearly 40 years later i would still be working in the grocery business (a humbling admission).

but the best memory was of the weekend, when the town held a 72 hour softball tournament in the field at the park, and of course we all pitched in, though not literally, since we weren't playing.  but they needed people to man the hot dog stand, and i was more than happy to help with this task.  i remember getting up in the wee hours of the morning, it must have been 3am or so, and running over to the park to work my "shift".  the park was only a half block away, and in a town of less than 300 people, parents don't worry so much about their kids running around.  it was so much fun, and the fact that it is one of my lasting memories tells me how impactful this experience of "community" was for me.  i felt safe and welcome, and i had something to contribute.  who could ask for anything more?  i think that perhaps i am still longing for those feelings again, after all these years.


this time, there were a few differences in ol' greencastle.  the town is depressed, but then that is the case with pretty much the whole midwest, as far a small towns go.  ron's grocery store is long gone, and the laundromat and car wash are closed; the buildings are boarded up and grown over.

kathy, the middle daughter, lives in the house where karla and ron used to live.

she raised five children there with her husband randy (who she was dating when we were there as teens).  karla and ron now live in a house next door, and my aunt edith lives with them.  the two houses are located between two church buildings, which concerned me a bit.  i hoped that i would make it through the week without being burned at the stake, but i needn't have worried, because i never saw any activity at all in the church buildings.

the ball park is still there, but there is not much going on, except during the labor day holiday, when i hear that all sorts of activities happen:  truck pulls, rodeo, etc. but despite the changes, the place retains its small town charm.  amidst the white trash trailers, junk-filled front yards, and confederate flags, there are still beautiful victorian homes, and fields of green, and centuries old trees, and lots of quiet.  

there is not much business going on in town, but there is sandy's country cookin', which appears to do a decent amount of business.

this is still a town where ron will leave the keys in the ignition of the car after he parks it, where everyone knows everyone, and where people are connected to nature and its effects on the weather and the growing cycle.  people here know how to fix things, because you have to know this.

but of course, i could never live there.  or at least, if i did live there, i would not last for long.  this is god's country, and if you do not believe in god, then you might as well be burning american flags on your front lawn.

add into that the gay factor, and i am sure that in no time at all there would be rumours of me having a forked tongue and a basement for abducting cornfed country boys (the latter not being an unappealing idea, at least in my mind).  and yet there is something about this small, god-fearing town that calls to me.  perhaps it is the sense of community that i mentioned earlier.  perhaps it is the connection to nature and hard work.  perhaps it is the simplicity of life.  perhaps it is the emphasis on family.  whatever it is, i felt a part of what was going on, which is often more than i can say of my experience in los angeles.  don't we all want to feel like we are part of what is going on?