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 to 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

  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.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

leaving non-fiction

no place like the beach in the summertime...
"I wrote this short story earlier in the year as a contest entry--I didn't even place in the contest, but I still think it is a decent story!  Plus, we are exactly in the time of the year when the story takes place, so I thought it would be interesting to take a "Fiction Break" from my usual essay style of writing and give you something different.  I have populated the post with pictures that I took when I was at the beach just after Labor Day--in other words, the exact setting and time of the year for the story.  How great is that??  Enjoy!"

"The Non-Endless Summer"

The most perfectly melancholic paradox I know is the phrase “Endless Summer”.   

He was in love again.  Shit.  No, he wasn’t.  Yes, he was.  Fuck!  Where was S---- now?  It had taken until September this year for it to happen, but at least it had happened.  Fuck!  Where was she?  He wandered north on the boardwalk with more purpose than that demonstrated by the people surrounding him.  He made good time on the stretch just below the pier that veered toward the water only to retreat back to its original path.  He then entered the cool darkness of the tunnel running under the street that dead-ended at the pier entrance.  

He had always liked this short tunnel—the darkness inside a striking contrast to the bright-white heat of the late afternoon pushing in at either end.  He always suspected (hoped?) that upon exiting the tunnel on the other side, he would emerge in another time— a time most likely in the past.  

This never happened, of course, and this never failed to make him just the slightest bit sad.  He walked out the other side into the sunshine and scanned the surroundings, blinking back the light as his eyes re-adjusted.  Then he saw her—riding on her old cruiser bicycle as if she didn’t have a care in the world besides whether to bring potato salad or coleslaw to a bar-b-que.   “S----!!!” he screamed, startling her a bit.  As she saw him standing there she smiled and gently applied the brakes. 

S---- walked the bicycle across the pedestrian boardwalk, then between the cushion-like walkways traversing the child and adult play areas, and eventually onto the actual bike path; oddly, it had just as many people walking on it as the pedestrian boardwalk—a fact she has never understood.  The tunnel where she was supposed to meet 
R----, the one he had just emerged from, was not so far away that S---- needed to ride the distance, but she felt somehow ridiculous walking a bicycle on a bike path.  So she mounted the cruiser and pushed the pedals for a couple of revolutions—just enough to get it going—and then let it coast easily toward the tunnel. 

Her thoughts along the way were a jumble, a contrast to the ease of the short journey.  She crinkled her sunburned nose while imagining what she would say to R---- when she saw him, the possibilities shifting each time she considered how he might open the conversation.  She only knew one thing for certain, and that is that she would tell him the truth.  The truth.  

The words dissolved in the late summer sun as soon as she thought them.  The difficult thing about the truth is finding our way there, she thought, noticing how the truth of the coastline was imposed upon by the pier, by the boardwalks, by the play areas, by the parking lots, by the people.  What is a beach other than the place where the ocean meets the land?  And yet, here in Southern California, on this hot, hot August afternoon, it was a million things more. 


When you grow up near the beach, it becomes a part of your personality.  You become a “beach person”, of sorts.  And yet it is not the same thing as being a “mountain person”, or a “city person”—it is not the same thing at all.  To grow up near the beach, to have it become a part of your personality, is to ingest a mood, not just an environment.  Mountains and cities can be said to have moods as well, but unlike beaches, these environments affect us by their sheer power—one has no choice.  We become affected by mountains and cities.  But beaches, well.  Beaches have perhaps more power than either mountains or cities, but beaches don’t force themselves on you.  Beaches seduce.  And therein lays the difference.  And it is during late summer, that time stretching from right before Labor Day up to late September, when the beach is at its most seductive.  As the tourists slowly leave, its attention is no longer divided.  There are times, especially during early morning or late night, when a person can feel that they have the beach all to themselves! 

And yet, even then, there is tension in the relationship.  To understand this you must first get that the thing about late summer is that it is, well, late.  We can track the days getting shorter, the sun setting sooner, the crowds thinning.  In some ways, during this time of year, our beach love affair is on borrowed time—we can never be certain when the weather will turn to a chill—when those early mornings or late nights will be better spent inside where it is warm and bright.  The joke of it all is that we know this, yet we carry on as though it will be endless—an endless summer. 

It is a beautiful truth that the loveliest of things always come to an end. 


R---- watched S---- glide toward him on her cruiser, and it took all he had to keep from running to her and bridging the remaining distance.  But he stood his ground and waited, ignoring the stomach knot that indicated restless emotions, knowing that if he were to release any movement at this time, more than just movement would be released.  S---- hopped off the bike and walked the last steps until they stood facing each other in the sun.  She looked at him, saying nothing, waiting.  And then it came from him, all at once.  “S----, it’s over.  He is gone…this morning…with his family…back home.  He’s gone.  He’s…”  Then he stopped, falling into her arms, and she held him as she knew she would when this moment came.  “I know, sweetie.  I know.  He had to go, and it had to end.  I’m so sorry, sweetie.  He loves you, but summer is over.  Summer is over.” 

The crowds continued past them, meandering either north or south on the boardwalk, while R---- and S---- stood still together like the axis point of a compass, pointing the way to the inevitable change of seasons.  Nobody paid attention. 

The sun may shine.  The waves may crash.  But summer on the beach…summer…is not endless.  That is why it is so lovely a time.

my summer feet

Saturday, August 10, 2013

leaving 50

this month i will turn 51.  i have previously written about the concept of "aging backwards", and so have no desire to further espouse that topic.  however, i do suspect that it would be fun to explore the idea of "leaving the age of 50", especially since the incident of "becoming 50" initially caused me a certain amount of upset.  now i am aware that just because i think it would be fun for me to write about this, that does not guarantee that it will be fun for you to read.  therefore, i find myself with two tasks at hand:  discussing my taking leave of the age 50; and writing in such a way that you, the reader, are entertained.

i am up to both tasks, let me assure you.  i will start right out of the gate by attending to the latter.

i am having fun these days.  like, really having fun.  this is due, in large part, to the fact that i left my job at whole foods nearly four months ago.  it is also due, to a lesser degree but no less substantially, to the fact that it is summer.  summer in los angeles.  it is difficult for me to imagine my "alternate life" as it would look right now--you know the life i am talking about--the life where i moved to san francisco in may.  while it is summer in san francisco as well, to my best knowledge,  i am sure that many will agree with me that the experience of summer in the two cities are markedly different.  namely, it generally feels like summer in los angeles, as opposed to up north, where summer is so often merely an implication.

this difference lends itself to a whole jumble of fun that is somewhat unique to southern california.  may i list a few...?
...days without putting on a shirt or shoes, bike riding at midnight, cocktails to welcome an 8pm sunset, getting a deep dark tan, sleeping naked on top of the bed, shorts everyday, evening concerts at the pier, outdoor movies, pool parties, writing at dusk or at 3am, hollywood bowl shows, working in the planters, working out in the park, music playing through a screen door, candles on the patio, grilled steaks, grilled pork ribs, grilled chicken, grilled vegetables, grilled fish, grilling, friends for dinner, friends for lunch, friends for coffee, riding down the boardwalk from santa monica to venice, jazz at the farmers market, kids playing soccer til 10pm in the parking lots, skin, sun, heat, peaches!, sun, flowers, sand, stillness, bbq, sun, sangria, sun, lazy, sun, naps, sun, sun, sun.
having lived in southern california my whole life, i can confidently call myself an expert in summertime, and since my birthday always falls during summer's golden waning days, the summertime holds a particular significance for me, transition-wise.   this year thought there is added weight to the meaning of my upcoming age-marker.  i had trouble with turning 50.  i don't seem to be having the same trouble with turning 51.  i have read blogs that have described how it gets easier as one continues through the 6th decade of life--that there is a "relaxing" that usually happens as one discovers that life goes on, perhaps with more aches in the joints, but life goes on.  as i have written before, the anxiety about turning 50 was fueled by the thought that life would not go on, at least as far as how i wanted it to go on.  i thought that a 50 year old would have to act a certain way, dress a certain way, live a certain way, that was markedly different from how a 49 year old, or anyone younger than 50, would live, act, or dress.  i thought that i would have to give up so much of who i was in order to not seem foolish or sad by those bearing witness to my exploits.  and while this way of thinking warrants perusal, it is doomed to failure by a flaw that, in hindsight, i had to be 50 for a while before noticing.

that flaw is simply this:  i was imagining being 50 from a place of not being 50.  

it may sound like a silly flaw, but it is a doozy!  you see, i fell victim to the mistake of predicting the future incorrectly.  in imagining 50 from the place of not being 50, i was imagining that i would be exactly the same, but older, in an older body.  if i were to take that idea and compound it to a ridiculous level, i would arrive at a scenario not unlike what happens in those awful "body trading" movies, where the adult and the kid somehow switch bodies with each other, with ensuing hilarity!

or there is the case where a kid finds himself in an adult body, ala tom hanks in "big", and hilarity ensues!

the problem with this way of thinking, despite the entertainment industry possibilities, is that it is a horribly misguided way of thinking about the future. because once i hit the big 5-0, i was no longer not 50, and i realized that my thinking was not the thinking of a not 50 year old.  confused?  yeah, so was i.  let me see if i can bring in an expert to make it easier to understand.  

in his fantastic book, the antidote:  happiness for people who can't stand positive thinking, author oliver burkeman latches onto the idea of stoicism as a way to see things as they are instead of how we wish them to be--resulting in a confrontation of our fears and a more reasonable and potentially successful response.  in his own words: 
"For the Stoics, then, our judgments about the world are all that we can control, but also all that we need to control in order to be happy; tranquility results from replacing our irrational judgments with rational ones.  And dwelling on the worst-case scenario, the 'premeditation of evils', is often the best way to achieve this--even to the point, Seneca suggests, of deliberately experiencing those 'evils', so as to grasp that they might not be as bad as you'd irrationally feared." (bolding mine)
once this task is undertaken, burkeman then suggests that "using your powers of reason to stop being disturbed by a situation doesn't mean you shouldn't try to change it."  you see, the stoics were willing to look directly at what we all have limited control over, while recognizing that our control is in fact limited.  we run into trouble when we mistakenly think that we have more control than we do.  in the case of my aging, i feel that my difficulty with turning 50 can be attributed to my reluctance to accept that i had no control over aging, and that this necessitated my making unwanted changes to my behavior, changes that i was trying to imagine from not being in the experience of 50.  the process i immersed myself in for the past year, and the reason i am calmer about the whole damn thing is that i have accepted that i am aging, but i also recognize that there are choices that i have around aging that can change my experience of it.  this happened after i turned 50 because i found myself sitting smack in the middle of 50, and it was not all that bad.  i had to accept it because, well, there i was!  and when i looked around and saw that it was not as bad as i feared, i could then focus on how i would choose to be 50, how i would choose to be an older man.

though i am not quite at the stage that this guy is at, this month i will be one year closer to it.  i will be 51.  i am an older man.  i am an older man.  i am an older man.  and that ain't so damn bad.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

leaving the familiar

i wrote this post in the last week of may while i was in san francisco.  i decided to keep it in present tense since that is how it sounds best to me.  what do i know.  a lot!  i have since returned home after the Ride and i have to say that i had an amazing week--much better than any "traditional" vacation by a mile.  enjoy...

i am visiting san francisco for the first time in two years--and it is my first time in the city since i decided, last october, that i would not be moving here.  i came up here in preparation for the aids lifecycle, and when i participate in this event i like to be here a few days beforehand so that i can enjoy the city a bit.  i am staying at a friend's apartment in soma, which turns out to be just the right mix of glamour and grit.  actually, there is not much glamour, but i'm telling the story, so how are you going to know what the truth is?

soma is actually very similar to central hollywood, in that every street varies in affluence and amenities.  i discover that within walking distance of the apartment there is a whole foods and a trader joes, as well as the powerhouse bar.  not bad.  i am also offered a deal on marijuana on the street five minutes into my walk.  how is that for convenience?  naturally, i refuse, since i am not about to circumvent the union workers just to save a few bucks.

i am taking in san francisco somewhat differently this time.  previously, i would experience the city with the wonder of someone who needed fuel for the fantasy of moving.  look at the great buildings!  taste the great coffee!  look at the clean air and all the bicycles!  look at the men with beards!  now, in contrast, i am fueling a different fantasy--this being that i made the right decision to stay in los angeles and not relocate.  i don't really need fuel for this fantasy, since i am certain that i made the right choice for my career and my life at this time. but as humans are wont to do, i still look for evidence that supports my decisions and makes me secure in my thinking.  does that mean that you are now going to hear me trash san francisco after enduring years of the opposite within this very blog?  does that mean that you are going to question your own sanity as i rip the city from limb to limb, ranting on not only the expense of living here, but the entitlement of the citizens, and the complete lack of smooth faces?  is that what this has come to?

well, no.  i am NOT going to do that.  there is no reason to.  i still love this city.

i just don't want to live here right now.

well, i would want to live here right now IF i had the money and career to support myself in the city in the way that i am accustomed to living.  but that ain't the case!  i have neither the money nor the career right now to live the way i would want to in the bay area.  i DO have the the wherewithal to continue my usual lifestyle in los angeles, however, and that is no small consideration!  (as i like to say, it is no fun being at the buffet if you can't afford to eat!)

one thing that is very clear to me is that there are no more openings for "homeless person" in the city; in fact san francisco is experiencing a glut in this area.  there may still be opportunities available for "bat-shit crazy druggie", though, but those jobs seems to be filling up fast as well, especially in the evening hours. i do notice a few industrious types combining the two skills quite successfully, so perhaps one must think outside the box in order to win in the san francisco job market.

i also notice that many of the gays here are just too precious--i notice this.  it is odd--they seem way fancy to me.  their masculinity is not "forced" like it is with los angeles gay men, in contrast, it is more fragile, as though one look from me or a "BOO!" would shatter them into a million shards of glass.  there is an entitlement that i sense as well, which is easy to understand, because this city gets on its knees for the gays, and they know it.  but that level of special care can engender a false security--it is the same thing i see in west hollywood.  they walk like they own the streets but have a look in their eyes that suggests otherwise--i see caution when confidence would be the expected response.  to be honest, everyone, not just the gays, appears to be angry or depressed here to an extent, and when i catch their eyes, they seem to be blaming me for this state of mind.  or so it seems.  (or maybe i am just making it up.)  at least in los angeles i am outright ignored, and therefore out of the path of accusation.  i think i prefer the latter!

what would it have been like for me had i moved here?  i can't know, but i can imagine that i would have found new and different challenges to accompany the triumphs.  i like to think of it this way:  i pulled out of san francisco before committing to a relationship with the city.  had i moved here this year, it would have been way too soon, and we would probably have ended up fighting.  this does not mean that i hate it, it means that at this time, we are not a good match.  i remember one time, many years ago, when i did a dating experiment.  i started seeing a guy, and i told him that i didn't want us to have sex for at least a month.  gamely, he agreed to this proposition, and as the month went on and eventually concluded, i came to the realization that i did not want to continue seeing him.  at first i thought that the experiment had failed in that it took away the fuel that would keep the fire burning (sex). but the reality was that i simply discovered, without the gauze of sexual activity, that i was not really into this guy.  it has never failed to astound me how clearly we can think about things when we "bracket" our emotional response to the issue.

san francisco, i will always have a crush on you, but that is certainly not the same as being in love.  i really think that it would be best if we don't sleep together.  don't feel bad--it's not you.  this one is all me.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

leaving my youth, backwards

i am still perplexed by this thing we call "turning 50".  i have never in my life run up against something this perplexing!  everybody told me that after a while, life would just continue on as it had before, but how long before "a while" has passed?  cuz i am here to tell ya that life is not as it was before.  damned perplexing, it is.

tonight i was planning to attend a "bike night" at the hammer museum in westwood.

it was part of the los angeles "bike to work week" that occurred this week.  it sounded fun!  there was going to be all kinds of bike related activities"  photos with you and your bike, t-shirts made, new products, art, films, and lots and lots of people on bikes.  just look at how crazy fun the poster looks!

and i was planning to be one of the crazy bike people.  but damned if the evening didn't arrive and i just had no energy to make the trek to westwood, which would have involved either a 45 minute bike ride, or a 30 minute bus ride and a 10 minute bike ride, and then reverse that for the return trip.  you see, what most car drivers take for granted is the ease of getting places.  that is why i am amused at how upset people get when they have to wait for a few fucking seconds in their car.  it must just be unbearable sitting there in your car with temperature control, comfortable seats and stereo music.  just unbearable!

now when i have to go someplace, i have to pedal there.  with my legs and with my feet.  true, i rarely have to wait for anyone, but i don't move unless i exert effort.  physical effort.  and must i remind you that i am 50?

well, the effort to get to westwood tonight was just too too much for me to think about, despite the premise of fun that potentially awaited me.  but let's face it, who wants to be around a bunch of fun folks when the eyes are drooping?  not me, kids!

the funny thing is that i would have fit in just fine there, despite the fact that most of the attendees would have been half my age or more.  because i just don't "look" 50, at least as far as people expect 50 to look.

couple years ago at a bike event
a year ago for halloween--i apologize for NOTHING!

a few months ago at work
and that is the rub.  i seem to be aging "backwards" from the way most people age.   most people, it seems, lose the body and the face and the youthful appearance WAY before they lose the youthful way of thinking.  

and that sucks.  who wants to be in an older body with the thoughts and desires of a younger man?  (think woody allen in "manhattan")  i, on the other hand, seem to be reclining into the thoughts of an older man, while retaining my youthful body and such.  in other words, imagine having a perfectly working order espresso maker, but you no longer want to drink coffee.  what becomes of the appliance?  you can't throw an expensive item away, so you keep it on the counter, and friends come over to your house and comment on how beautiful it is and how great it is to have it, to which you respond, "yeah, it is nice, but i really have no use for it anymore, so it just sits there, unused".

get the picture?

i am not ready to start thinking like an older man.  tonight, i did not "think" like a man of 50, i "thought" like a man of 60, or at least how i imagine a man of 60 would think.  and meanwhile, my "appliance" sits there, in fantastic condition, unused.  i am aging backwards.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

leaving the grief behind--for mom

the "weeping buddha"
my good friend marlene has a number of weeping buddhas in her home, and she told me that she finds comfort in them. there are those who doubt the veracity of the figures as an actual expression of buddhist principles, but as an existentialist, i could give a shit about whether "meaning" is officially authorized or not.  if you get something out of something, then in my book, it has validity.  anyway, as the story goes, the figure depicts a warrior who has discovered that he has just killed his own son in a masked battle.  the warrior sits on the ground with his head in his hands, consumed with grief.  they say that the figure has the power to take away one's grief if a person rubs its back.

okay.  i have heard crazier things.

once, when i was visiting marlene, i noticed one of the figures on a table, and i decided to test the theory and rub its back.  mind you, i was not actively grieving over anything at the time, rather, i was excitedly anticipating a lovely homemade dinner with conversation from the aforementioned marlene.   but i thought to myself, there is the buddha figure, what have i got to lose?  so i rubbed its back.
the backs on the weeping buddha figures are usually very muscular, which, in my opinion, accentuates the poignancy of the weeping.   you might agree with me that there is great power in the image of a strong man displaying the vulnerability of emotional pain.

very weeping buddha-ish
the wooden back muscles of the figure felt smooth and cool to my touch, yet there was "life" to the surface of the figure, perhaps due to the fact that they are usually carved out of wood.  i don't know if i can honestly report that i felt calm and serene, but there was certainly a sensual aspect to the rubbing, and i will leave it at that.  i don't blame marlene one bit for collecting these things.  i don't blame her one bit.


my mother lost a child, a daughter, but i never saw her even once approximate the weeping buddha pose.  had i known of the depths of her loss and grief, i surely would have purchased a weeping buddha for her to rub.  as it was, i was scarcely aware of the incident at all, due mostly to the fact that it happened before i was born, but also due in part to my mother's reluctance to talk about her daughter's death--at least not until i asked her about it as an adult.  when i did finally discuss this with her, i discovered that my mother was nearly destroyed when it happened.  fortunately for her (but not so fortunately for me), i popped out a month after my sister's death and demanded immediate and constant attention, thus distracting her somewhat from the paralyzing grief.  the role that i played in this drama was one that i never auditioned for, nor was it one that my mother intended on casting me in, and yet it was a role that created a certain unbreakable bond between me and her--even if it was a bond encased in ice.

and yet let it not be doubted:  my mother loved me beyond the stars and the moon.  of this there is no question.

Mom as a young woman
she died years ago, and during the stage of her dementia when she was aware of her failing body and mind, she was buoyed by the belief that when she died, she would finally, after nearly 50 years, see her beloved daughter again.  i get that. she didn't have much else to look forward to at the time.  a once strong, stylish, and beautiful woman, she was, in her 80's, slowly reduced to a frail, old woman who wore sweatshirts everyday, and she was aware that her time was nearing the end.  i can't fault her for finding comfort in the idea of a long overdue reunion.  i can't fault her one bit.  but i don't believe it myself.  the way i see it, my mother is not with her daughter, she is just dead.  not an easy sentence to write, but then who said that death was an easy subject to write about?  my personal grief has mercifully faded in color over the years after the initial burning shrapnel of losing her, though i am certain that it will never fully recede.  there is simply no preparation for living without the one person with whom i had been connected to since i came into being.  there is no "closure" when it comes to that grief--but that does not mean that one can't go about one's life.  (i would like to strangle the person who coined the term "closure".)  my blogger friend ron writes similarly about his journey through grief around his mother's death.

mother's day used to be hard, but now it is more like valentine's day and easter--just another holiday that everyone else celebrates while i go about my usual day. and yet, and yet, it seems a bit unfair that i no longer get to celebrate the holiday just because mom is gone.  i have written previously about what i would do on mother's day if she were still alive, and i hold to that imagined plan, but these days i am more likely to reminisce about how close we always were, and how much i miss her on a daily basis.  there is a bittersweet gift one gets when their mother dies, in that you stop being someone's child.  figuratively speaking.  that, in itself, is an unexpected "gift from beyond the grave", in that it has forced me to consider my own legacy in this world, knowing that one day i too will die.

but not yet!

with the average life expectancy rising to the age of 100, i am with all probability square in the middle of my life, as it were.  though i often miss being my mother's "child", i do relish being an adult with purpose and agency, a celebration that could not have happened had my mother not given birth to me in the first place.  in that respect, i will always be my mother's child.  and so i leave the grief behind, somewhat, and move into cherished recollection and increasing gratitude, because, let's face it, i am alive.  

happy mother's day, mom.  happy mother's day, from your child.

the last picture i have of us together, in the care home.  she was holding her "baby doll".