Sunday, December 26, 2010

My 2010 in Books, Part 4 (Honorable Mentions)

The Yoga Sutras of Patañjali: A New Edition, Translation and Commentary, by Edwin F. Bryant. If you have any curiosity about Indian philosophy, I highly recommend this book. Bryant surveyed all the commentaries on Patañjali, including not only various Hindu schools, but also Buddhist and Muslim commentaries, and incorporated the material in this comprehensive volume. Highly recommended.

Personal Memoirs, by Ulysses S. Grant. I read this book out of a curiosity raised by frequent reading in Ta-Nehisi Coates's blog on A must for those interested in US history or the US Civil War.

Turtle Feet: The Making and Unmaking of a Buddhist Monk, by Nikolia Grozni. My new all-time favorite "spiritual" memoir, Grozni's slow awakening to the pretensions and underlying reality of spiritual pursuits in the Himalyas is funny and rich.

My 2010 in Books, Part 3 (Books That Affected My Life)

Flow, by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. This book spells out the keys to a 'flow'mentality, at work and at play. Essential reading.

Think for Yourself!: An Essay on Cutting through the Babble, the Bias, and the Hype, by Steve Hindes. An essential book on critical thinking. It helped me to rethink my beliefs (or lack thereof).

The End of Overeating, by David A. Kessler, MD. By looking at the reasons behind current US obesity trends, Kessler is able to make solid recommendations for individuals trying to fight the overeating habit.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

My 2010 in Books, Part 2 (Non-Fiction)

Born to Run, by Christopher McDougall. In trying to discover why a tribe of sandalled indigenous Mexicans happen to be the greatest long-distance runners on the planet, McDougall also uncovers the problems with the modern running shoe, how our ancient ancestors ran down their food, and some things that bring simple joy to living. Also, he tells a really good story.

Losing My Cool, by Thomas Chatterton Williams. Williams immersed himself in the middle-class black approximation of thug life hiphoppery in his middle school and high school years, but soon learned it was a dead end. His father's relentless influence, and his father's huge library, led Williams back to a love of learning. This is perhaps the best memoir since Lac Su's I Love Yous Are for White People.

The Gun, by C. J. Chivers. An excellent history of automatic weapons, and in particular the AK-47. Chivers explains how this weapon, more than any other, including the Bomb, has changed the face of our world.

My 2010 in Books, Part 1 (Fiction)

Ghost Radio, by Leopoldo Gout. A creepy, atmospheric ghost story, steeped in a middle-class urban Mexican-American milieu. In some ways, this novel is as much a meditation on music, noise and teen rebellion as it is on meaning in life, and on what haunts us.

Let Me In, by John Ajvide Lindqvist. By far the best vampire novel I read this year (I read five). It starts out creepy, and the horror just grows. What's more, to the very end I remained conflicted about the role and survival of the original vampire. The plot twists add to the tale.

Secret Identities, edited by Jeff Yang, Parry Shen, Keith Chow and Jerry Ma. A seminal collection of Asian-American superhero comics. Fun, enlightening, and well crafted. If you love comics, you really ought to have this book.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

3 Secrets about Me

Three secrets about me:

1) Sometimes I get very, very frustrated that parts of my body ache and/or refuse to work right, usually because of age;

2) I miss cuddling more than sex; and

3) I still want to start an "old school" gay family, i.e., the kind in which all the members, who cross the generations are recruited into it.

Culture, History and Language

For several years I collected books on religion. Whichever religion had intrigued me at the time, I had collected books on it. Over the years I amassed quite a library of books on religion, particularly, but not exclusively, Buddhism, Islam, Christianity (especially Mysticism), Judaism (especially Kabbalah), and Paganism. I had not come close to reading all the books I collected. I figured books were investments in the future, and that I would be reading and studying these books for years.

Then suddenly this past summer I woke up to realize that I did not know whether or not God exists, and that I would never know for sure one way or the other, and that I did not have the will nor the wherewithal to make myself have faith in God. I acknowledged my own agnosticism. And my interest in religion (insofar as I was trying to figure out the meaning of life) plummeted. All these books I'd amassed to help me study and understand the meaning of life no longer had that value for me.

This realization not only shifted my emphasis for my library, but shook my confidence in my studies. For a while there I really didn't know what to study. I tried studying philosophy for a while, to continue to search for meaning in life. But I rather quickly realized that any meaning my life would have would have to be made (rather than discovered) by me. Philosophy is still of interest, but it no longer is an indispensable study for me.

I decided I needed to find an emphasis for reading and study.

This weekend I realized that what interests me far above all else is the combined studies of History and Culture. History without Culture is merely a recitation of a series of events; Culture without History is merely an attempt to freeze life into a museum exhibit. Neither works without the other. My insight came from reading a very good book on the Cherokee ball game, anetso. Anetso is a cousin of lacrosse, and the author examines the history, culture and religion surrounding anetso's practice and exhibition. But one interesting point he makes is that Westerners tend to study European and Euro-American religions historically, while they tend to study non-European religions culturally (and therefore ahistorically). In other words, the study of religion in Europe is part of the fabric of European history; however, outside of Europe (and European America) it is viewed as the province of Anthropology, and thus more related to an attempt to see it statically, as part of a museum exhibit.

To remedy this all around, I feel that whether I'm studying religion, sports, the media or whatever, I would do well to view it as a study of Culture and History. In truth, one does not exist independent of the other.

I've acquired several good books recently that fall in line with this new emphasis in studies: one on the changing meaning of jihad, one on the War of 1812 in North America, and just today a history on the killing of Crazy Horse (a personal hero of mine). I'm also weighing studying the Cherokee language, as part of connecting to my family's history (but that is for another post).

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Looking Forward

Time marches on. Good. In my lifetime we've seen an increase in tolerance for gays, but a corresponding increase in civic disengagement and mindless demogoguic populism, especially on the right. It is what it is.

But on a personal note, I will be glad to see the end of 2010. With such things as Manuel's nose wound, the blizzard week, Mom's several health issues and surgeries, the bedbug war, a rather dismal social life, 2010 was the worst year I've had since 2006.

I'm also looking forward to the end of my fifth decade of dwelling on this planet. After much reflection I've concluded that my fifth decade was the worst decade of my life, with the losses outweighing the gains. I expect life to get better. I expect to do better myself. I just have so much to gain.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Report from the Illness Room

Some people, when they get sick, get sad and then they whine. These people usually were as healthy as a horse growing up. I grew up getting sick often (due to massive allergies, hayfever and asthma). I learned how to be sick - that in essence I have to put life on hold and wait the illness out. So when I get sick, I tend to get bored and angry, and then bitchy. And that's why I tend to cocoon when I get sick. No one needs to be around a sick, bitchy man.

I do not want to be bitchy, so I've been trying to keep myself occupied. When I'm feverish, I cannot read very well. Still, in my more lucid moments, I managed to finish reading Peter Hoeg's Smilla's Sense of Snow. I cannot decide whether I liked it or not. I enjoyed to first parts more than the latter parts, I think. I've gotten through a few more pages of Chivers's The Gun, too.

Television has been of limited use, but I've kept up with my stories, e.g., The Vampire Diaries, Burn Notice, Supernatural, etc. But Syfy's movies have been their usual awfulness, and the other channels just aren't cooperating with me either.

The internet has been a lifesaver this time around. I've watched shows (The Venture Brothers, Community), surfed and reblogged on Tumblr, and built a playlist on Hypster.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Well alrighty, then

I woke up very early this morning, after having gone to bed very late last night. My body had simply gotten enough sleep over the long weekend, and was done with it. I have read that as one ages, one needs less sleep. Here's to hoping I put my future increased waking hours to good use.

In my tendency to try and draw life lessons from everything, I reached a few conclusions this past weekend.

1. In recovering from my last disasterous relationship I've gone far enough in cultivating my solitude. I would do well to increase my tolerance of human beings, and spend more time with them.

2. Even if it is very cold outside, I would do well to get out and walk about for a while every day (unless there's some really gawdawful precipitation descending).

3. Cooking is engaging, and a good way to spend one's time and creative energy (I knew this, but had forgotten it).

I'll be glad to see the end of 2010—it has been a difficult year. For that matter, I'll be glad to see my next birthday, if for no other reason than to put behind me the most difficult decade of my life (I've decided it was worse than even my teens!).

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Do Not Fuck with The Old Ones

Maybe the Old Ones are Spirits, or maybe the Old Ones are the Collective Unconscious, or maybe the Old Ones are the accumulated weight of all the culture handed to you by your Mom, your Dad, your Lola, your Etsi, your primos, your titas, your cuyo, your friends, etc. But whatever. If you respect* that weight, that presence, then things will go well with you. If not, if you just jack around with the Old Ones, you could reap some damage.

*Respect does not mean sheeplike following. It could in some cases mean wise, knowledgeable and aware defiance. No one, IMHO, should manifest sexism, racism, heterosexism, etc. just because they saw it in their elders. Defiance can be respectful. "I'm doing things differently from the way you did it, because you gave me the wisdom to grow to my own conclusions as an individual, and I thank you for that."

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Not Hiding; Seeking

Sunday afternoon I met F for pho at Pho14 on Park Road. Pho14 is pho heaven. I had the vegetarian pho; F had meatballs. The best thing about meeting over pho is that since it takes time to consume and enjoy, we indulged in plenty of conversation to catch up.

Afterwards we went down to the National Portrait Gallery to take in the Hide/Seek exhibit. The exhibits impressed me greatly. The curators managed to pull together artwork from almost every major lesbian and gay artist in US history. The works include art from Eakins, Wood, Johns, O'Keefe, Mapplethorpe, Warhol, Goldin, Haring, etc. The art is arranged by periods, but they flow seamlessly from one to the other. The exhibit hall was crowded, and not all of the viewers were LGBT folks (although many were; this might well be the best place in DC to meet gay men, or at least intelligent gay men, for the time being). Most of all, seeing this exhibition reintroduced me to the thrill of being gay that I felt during the first few years after I came out. During that time I devoured gay art and literature like a hungry man who's just come upon a feast. The artwork I saw Sunday reminded me of that initial rush, and brought me back to a place of not only pride, but connection and identity. I highly recommend seeing this exhibition; I intend to see it again.

From there F and I walked to get coffee near Metro Center, then made our way to the "Borderstan" area to Local 16, where the Pocket Gays group were hosting a "Spanksgiving" party on the roof deck. Seeing my old friend D and his partner M made me very happy, since I had not had an opportunity to hang out with him for some time. Also, I got to meet some more of D's friends. D has the most interesting circle of friends of anyone I know, and I was particularly gratified to make the acquaintance of Z, who is smart, affable and attractive (rarely are all three in one person, right?). After a good evening of chatting with old and new friends, F and I left, and I made my way home to supper and The Walking Dead. Perhaps due to the full and fun day, I had no zombie nightmares Sunday night.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Monday, November 8, 2010

Drugs, Rock'n'Roll, and...

Everyone does drugs, whether it is something as innocuous as a cup of coffee to something potentially dangerous like falling in love, to the totally dangerous stuff like crystal meth. While I do not condone the use of the dangerous stuff, I try as much as possible to live and let live with the lesser drugs. My preferred drugs are caffeine and television. This week promises to be a good week for my fix. First, Amber Tamblyn* joins the cast of House on Monday evening. Second, Burn Notice returns on Thursday evening, and it looks like they are keeping Coby Bell** on the cast—insert very loud ‘Yay!’ here.

Over the weekend my craving for new music blew up, and I bought two albums at Hot Topic. Selfish Machines by Pierce the Veil*** is a wonderfully seamless set of post-hardcore songs. It is listenable, without sacrificing screams and earnestness. Linkin Park has produced an amazing concept album, A Thousand Suns, which shocked and gratified me. It has gravitas and maturity, and it is worth every penny.

Finally, the bowl of vegetarian pho I had at Pho 14 on Park Road Saturday afternoon constituted one of the most fulfilling erotic**** experiences I’ve had in ages. The flavors, the textures, and my own decision to take time and enjoy it—it was better than sex. I’m still happy just thinking about it.

*Whom we love not only for her excellent performance as Joan in Joan of Arcadia, but also for her excellent chemistry with Jeremy Renner in the all-too-short-lived The Unusuals.

**Whom we love for being totally hot, as well as talented and cool.

***Who may well be the best-looking band on the planet; usually there’s one or two unattractive people in a band, but all of these guys are totally hot, and musically talented.

****Erotic in the sense of a deeply moving physical experience.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

A Total Exposition of Reality

There is no mystery, only reality. So, here is reality. The reason the Taoists divided everything into yin-yang is because it is a shorthand for everything. Female-male are polarities, not absolutes, and things shuffle back and forth between the polarities. True masculinity, true feminity is actually very rare.

Next, every religion posits metaphors for reality. Torah, New Testament, Al-Qu'ran al-kareem, the Upanishads, the Sutras, etc. - metaphors. Estimations and descriptions of the truth - not the truth itself. You cannot encapsulate the truth in words. Run at it, yes; bang your head against it, yes. Capture it and tie it down - no fucking way.

Next, you are free.

Fourth, recheck number 3: you are free. This is much bigger than choosing whether to put pickles on your sandwich. On Monday morning you can walk into your office and quit your job for no fucking reason whatsoever, because you are free. Or just don't show up. Yeah, you'll loose your home (or maybe you won't - who knows?). But that doesn't constrain you from quitting your job. Or going postal. Or just not showing up any more. You are free.

Next - we're up to five now, right? - society = religion, and religion = society. No one wants to deal with that total freedom, so they make up rules, call it God's Law, and impose it on themselves and each other. Durkheim was right: society is the totem, and the totem is society. What you have chosen to believe is a system designed to keep you from quitting your job/going postal/etc. (BTW, I am totally NOT recommending going postal. That's entirely up to you. As for me, there are other ways - read on.)

Six - You. Are. Beautiful.

Seven - re-read Six. This isn't about G-d. YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL. Because you are the result of a mega-fucking Big Bang as the Universe expresses itself, and as each fucking star burns its fuel out and hurtles itself across aeons to extinction, and as a single mote of dust falls past a sunray through a window pane, you yourself are integral to that. The oxygen emerging from a pine needle, a kitten's mew, a raccoon's fart, the intake of the first breath of a newborn human baby - you are part of that. Tied to it on a subatomic level. GOOD GREAT UNIVERSE, I LOVE ALL OF YOU IN TOTALITY AND IN PARTICULARS, BECAUSE YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL. 'Nuff said.

Ocho - because you beautiful, and you are a blip in the long-ass wave from the first fart of the big bang to the last wimper of the last dying star, we need you now. Good, bad or ugly - we need you now. As a participant. Breathe and go.

Neun - Love is simply this: be here now.

Sgohi - Now is always Tao - Now is always in flux. How can you be 'here' when 'here' is always in flux? Figure this out, and you figure out love.

Friday, November 5, 2010

I Love...

Elderly couples who walk hand-in-hand. Little girls randomly jumping and singing out of pure joy and energy. A raccoon who pauses to commune with me as I make my way home. Skaters tearing up a concrete ditch in a southern exurb. The sound the wind makes in a pine forest. Lone thunderclouds on the plains. My cat curled up against my legs during the long, dark night. Excellent chord progressions. Mangos. The stillness of an owl watching me from across the street. The college student grooving his ass off listening to his tunes while waiting for a Metro train. A book bound with care and precision. Sparrows asking for crumbs in the park. Dogs. The feeling when my team scores. Uncontrollable laughter. My bare feet on beach sand. The smell of patchouli. Hiking. Hot coffee and the time to savor it. The memory of my grandfather in his garden at sunrise, with my dog patrolling the rows in solidarity with him. Waterfalls in the Blue Ridge mountains. Ice water.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Five Ways to Move Forward

I use the Samhain-through-Day of the Dead holidays to pause, reflect, recharge and prepare for the coming winter/year/decades. Despite the gawdawful polling on Tuesday (Day of the Dead, indeed!), I managed to pull out some positives from the four-day weekend. Here is a brief list of five ways in which I can move forward in my life:

1. Lighten up— most of the “big issues” have little to do with how the Universe operates.
2. Study for personal fulfillment— not for show, nor because I “think I ought to.”
3. Mourn losses— and then let them go.
4. Decorate myself.
5. Create.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Now Some Good Stuff

And now for the good news:

1. Friday night I did a bourgeois thing and went to see Margaret Cho. I laughed so hard I was sore the next morning. The woman still has it, and she was unafraid to share it.

2. Saturday night I had a nice, long chat with my West Coast friend James. We made preliminary plans to attend Burning Man 2012. This gives me something to plan for.

3. Sunday was a nice, quiet Samhain at home with Manuel. I made colcannon, which is excellent.

4. Speaking of Sunday, The Walking Dead premiered Sunday night, and it was really, really good. Intense.

5. On Monday I traded in a bag full of books at a used bookstore, and got a ton of store credit. I'm encouraged to take more—my library is going to go through a shift in focus over the next several months.

6. Speaking of books, on Monday I picked up the new novel The Instructions by Adam Levin. So far it is really, really good—and at 1030 pages, it had better be.

7. Yesterday Mom got through her third surgery of 2010 just fine, and I had a fun, brief chat with her while she was high on morphine yesterday evening.

Faith, Hope and Love Are Dead—Now Going toward the Within

The surest sign a person has that he's reached midlife is to look around and see a debris field where he had assumed his world would be. Faith, hope and love were useful ideas for a while, but they've failed to live up to reality. Love was just lust in disguise, and unable to withstand the winds of change and the vicissitudes of damaged people. Faith withered in the light of reality and the simple facts of day-to-day living. Hope was a slogan for a political campaign, and we then discovered the slogan should have been "timidity and appeasement."

What can I count on now?

I suspect the next phase of my life will be about discovering that all my resources are within. It should be interesting.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Keeping My Testicles

I went to the polls to vote this morning. The stealth republican candidate for school board, and one of his minions, were outside. His minion asked me to vote for the stealth republican candidate, and I said: "He's a republican; I'd sooner cut off a testicle."

After a brief shocked silence he yelled, "That can be arranged."

The party of the palin is so classy.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Why Would an Agnostic Celebrate Samhain?

It's no secret, as far as this blog is concerned, that my religious history is very complicated. Here, in words and phrases, is a recap: Fundamentalist Christian, Liberal Christian, Neo-Pagan, Buddhist, Neo-Pagan, Santerían, flirter with Islam, Agnostic.

I don't know whether or not the ancestors/dead flitter around me day-to-day, or not. I. Do. Not. Know. That is the Agnostic 'mantra' right there. To my mind, the mysteries I observed among Christians, Santeríans, Neo-Pagans and Buddhists were simply mental states and brain-avenues not usually found in day-to-day living. Including, but not limited to, access to one's ancestors/dead (or what their meaning/influence is for one).

Honoring one's ancestors and dearly departed means honoring thoses aspects of one's own psyche. Tomorrow I will celebrate an actual holiday for just that: honoring parts of myself that have come and gone before (hell, even my past relationships are fodder for this celebration).

Happy Halloween/Samhain, and All Saints and All Souls, my friends. Enjoy the decline and resurrection of the solar and agricultural years. Your dead sit within you, desiring recognition and honor. My suggestion: give it to them, and live.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Language of Violence

I read the other day a piece about how hiphop culture (as a whole, not including outliers) is actually very conservative. It embraces not only misogyny and heterosexism, but also the corporatist money culture. The aspirations of hiphop culture are not to change the power structure of our society, but rather to become a part of it.

I have read that there are two paradigms of power, power-over and power-with. The first kind, power-over, is the system we live with today. Very wealthy people and corporations basically run our lives, sometimes extra-legally, but usually quite legally, since the government is in their control. Very few politicians, Democrat or Republican, resist their corporate overlords, and most protest movements, e.g. the tea party, are actually made of corporate shills and dupes, and are designed to blow the steam of an abused citizenry while actually further entrenching the power structure already in place.

Power-with on the other hand is a system of consciously shared power, based on an ethic of concern. Power-with means that I see that it is to my benefit that you also have all the things you need to live, whether food, clothing and shelter, as well as safe schools, safe streets, and a culture that affirms your unique worth as an individual. It is a melding of the communitarian with the diginity of the individual. We used to dream of bringing about a culture of power-with in our society. Those dreams have fallen.

We will be stuck with power-over until such time as sufficient numbers of individuals outgrow the desire to have that structure in place. In the meantime, only individuals can truly make a difference, first in themselves, then in their communities.

In the meantime, I'd like to share an old video of one of the earliest outliers in hiphop, an anti-bullying hiphop song from 1992, The Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy performing "The Language of Violence":

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Self-Absorbed or Self-Protective?

I’ve been accused of being self-absorbed. I cannot deny that. But nothing happens in vacuum—I’m self-absorbed for a reason.

I was a very intelligent and unathletic child raised in a town full of average, sports-minded boys. On top of that I was gay, and raised in fundamentalist church. Subconsciously I absorbed the lesson that I was at war with the world.

In adulthood I learned that of course I am not important enough to be the object of the world’s persecution. Paranoia is perverse egotism. But I’m wise enough to know that this world is harsh on individualism, and really harsh on those who fit in least.

To forgive the world and ‘lay down my arms’ would be best for me, for my mental and physical health. (Forgiveness on my part will make no difference to the world.) But every week I get some new, fresh reminder just how opposed to me the world is (as in last week’s DADT drama from our current executive administration). To forgive and to lay down my arms could possibly open me up to more relationships, more friendships and possibly even a long-lasting relationship. To forgive and to lay down my arms could save my brain, my stomach and my heart, literally.

Today I saw a man not much older than me walking down the sidewalk. He gave me this look that hurt me to see. It wasn’t a leer. It was desire mixed with sadness and loneliness. It was pathos. I felt bad for him; I felt fear for myself. I don’t want to be like him. I want a relationship with another man, and my body is still sufficiently youthful to lust. But I don’t want ever to have that look of sadness, loneliness and desire to play across my face.

The likelihood is that I will never have another long-term relationship. With each passing month, the likelihood grows less and less. I could give into the feelings of sadness, loneliness and frustrated desire. Or I can choose to celebrate my uniqueness in my solitude.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Dan Choi!

I don't know how to do this, or even how to say this, so I will be plain. I WANT TO LIVE IN A COUNTRY WHERE DAN CHOI IS THE PRESIDENT.

I cannot express in words how freaking disappointed I am with our current administration. Okay, I get it. You wanted to get some things done. Please explain to me: how did you get your things done BY MOTHERFUCKING THROWING YOUR BEST ALLIES UNDER THE MOTHERFUCKING BUS?!!!

So, bottom line, I'm done with our current administration. I want a REAL LEADER. I want someone who has proven himself to be past stupid partisanship be MOTHERFUCKING WALKING INTO the middle of the heat of battle, speaking the language of the enemy as well as our own. Who can trod over the halls of MF congress as well as MF business as well as MF whatever country wants to be recalcitrant.

Dan Choi is the best MF leader I have seen in the contemporary US. No fucking contest.

So seriously, all you, gay or straight, who want a real, ballsy leader who will take it to Congress or take it to whatever MF foreign soil needs it, DRAFT DAN CHOI FOR PRESIDENT 2012! I am not kidding, I mean it. We need a real leader! He has proven himself willing to serve his country over and over.

If you agree with me, the best way to start is this: #DanChoi2012 on Twitter. Let's build the meme, then build the steam. I want to believe again, don't you?


I think a person's mind is a constant conversation. If there are unitary, unquestioning consciousnesses out there, I strongly suspect they are psychopathic. I have a host of difficulties, but I am not psychopathic.

An inner conversation consists of interrogating who one sees oneself as being. I.e., am I gay, am I a Christian, am I white, etc. What do these identities mean? How do I recognize the fluid and changeable, as opposed to the essential and immutable?

I realize I am agnostic. This was as much a discovery as a choice. I realized I couldn't push myself into trying to have faith any longer. I just do not know. I always, I suspect, will not know.

So why do I wear a Guadalupe medallion? It's simple. In it I see a recognition of my mestizaje.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Single, and Creating Meaning

I embrace being single. I actually do like going home and reporting in to the cat, but not having to worry about someone else. I know, this feeds my tendency toward self-absorption, but it's comfortable right now, and given my 'success' at relationships, it may well be a necessary leg in my life's journey. Besides, no one can completely lose himself in self-absorption if he lives with a cat. Even moreso than a dog, a cat will let you know he has differing items on his agenda from yours, and that some of those differing agenda items require your efforts to get done. "I don't really give a damn that you are watching 'Stargate Universe'—I want the red dot to go; if the red dot doesn't go, I will start pulling books out of your bookcase. We'll just see how fricken interesting 'Stargate Universe' is then."

As I weigh what I need to make my life, cotidie et in toto, meaningful, I am stunned by my lack of creativity. I make no art, and only craft things that I want to have immediately (e.g., bracelets and necklaces). I haven't pursued a creative hobby in years. I would do well to express myself more. Even Manuel will occasionally create 'art' from the toilet paper roll.

Monday, October 18, 2010

The War with the World

After I came out I always assumed I would be partnered. I felt as if, whether I deserved a partner or not, I needed one in order to be able to face the world. I reckon ever since kindergarten I've always viewed my relationship to 'the world' as adversarialy. We maintain a wary truce at best. A partner was supposed to be someone with whom I shared the burdens of the ongoing war, a person who would dress the wounds of the day's battles as I would his, and with whom, in each other's arms, we would become restored for the next day's fight.

It may well be that the problem I'm having with dating and finding a partner is the assumption of an adversarial relationship with the whole world. Most weeks, by the time Friday night rolls around, I feel so defensive I know for a fact it would be a very good idea not to show my face in public. Having spent a week feeling like I'm under attack, I don't want to go out and whoop it up with friends—I want to hide out in the mancave with Manuel, some primo ale and bad television.

I wonder whether my approach to weekends would be different if I arrived at them feeling merely tired, as opposed to feeling tired, embattled and aggrieved. Is it possible that a more active social life is available through a simple attitude adjustment?

Friday, October 15, 2010

Why They Hate Us

I have a theory as to why there seems to have been a rise in anti-gay violence. It's not just that LGBT folks are more visible than before, both in the media and in the neighborhoods; it's that as we become more visible we are proving to society just how normal–how just like them–we are, and that scares the bejeezus out of them. It is essential to certain fragile psyches to have us as a debased Other. The more strides we make in ceasing to be Other, the scarier we become to them.

As for religious hatred, there's a whole extra layer of meaning. When we claim homosexuality as an essential trait and an identity, it calls into question the inerrancy of their foundational scriptures, which see homosexual acts as individually chosen acts of sin. When we contest by our very lives (e.g., my 'homosexual agenda' for today includes getting lunch, finishing some work tasks and buying groceries on the way home, where I'll watch tv and play with the cat) that the full integration of our sexual orientation is part of a wholistic personality, it is like pulling a thread out of a sweater. Once that thread unravels, more threads unravel, and soon the whole sweater (i.e., their whole religious world-view) is a heap of chaotic threads on the floor. In other words, our very existence challenges their entire purpose in life, and we either must cease to exist, or they must lose the purpose they currently have. It's no wonder their very real hatred trumps any ideals they may have about love and forgiveness. Their hatred of us is a symptom of their clinging to religious belief against all the evidence that the belief is based on falsehoods.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

An Insight into Forgiveness

Anger, resentment and fear are signs I have given away my power over myself and my life. Letting go of anger, resentment and fear allows me to reclaim this power. Therefore forgiveness saves me, when I forgive.

This is very simple, very clear. But it requires practice, and daily diligence.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Bathing for Joy

One of the 'sleeper hits' in my library is Leonard Koren's Undesigning the Bath. Essentially it is a long meditation on the joys of bathing, and how modern US bathrooms are poorly designed to facilitate enjoyable bathing. Instead, our bathrooms are extremely utilitarian, and designed out of the 'aesthetic'* of the Protestant Work Ethic. In other words: get in, get clean and get out and back to work. Koren particularly draws upon two cultural referents, the Japanese bath, and the Turkish hamam, as examples of pleasurable, joyful bathing. He espouses bathing as a means of returning oneself to the earthy and the pagan, and to a real sense of self.

I thought about this book as I was showering this morning (in a very PWE manner, by the way). I realized that I had at least four different soaps in the shower with me, but no place to put them all. I also realized I wanted more than four soaps, since I like to change which I wash with according to my mood. I will look around hardware stores this weekend and see what I can find to increase the storage in my shower for soaps. (Although whatever I get will need to hang high on the wall, since the shower is one of Manuel's favorite play areas.)

Speaking of Protestantism, I've begun to wonder whether my fundamentalist childhood & youth constitute my 'fisher king' wound. It seems that no matter how far away I get from that form of Christianity, I still can't shake off not only the scars of it's influence, but even the subtle thought patterns that are so deeply engrained in my psyche I don't even realize I have them. I wonder whether I will ever fully be rid of the judgementalism, the bias toward austerity, and the harsh negativity that underlie my daily approach to getting by in the world. I constantly find myself thinking and acting out from a harsh and judgemental place, and doing so so reflexively I don't even notice most of the time. I'm tired of it, but other than increasing my diligence, I don't know what to do. Ironically, 'increasing diligence' is a very Protestant Work Ethic value. *sigh*

*Although it seems obscene to use 'Protestant Work Ethic' and 'aesthetic' together, I think you understand what I wish to convey.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

The Six Who Only Saw Tens

I've been thinking about love, lust, sex and relationships. I wonder how much my desire for sex sabotages my search for love, and vice-versa.

If I didn’t want to find a relationship, I’d probably pursue sex with others more aggressively. Even at my age, it isn’t that difficult to find willing sex partners. However, the ones who seem interested in me for sex I intuit pretty quickly as being someone I wouldn’t want to date. Therefore 999 times out of a 1,000 I don’t even bother to hook up with them. I’m happy to receive the affirmation that comes with their flirtation/eye contact, but I really don’t want to put out the energy for such a small return.

On the other hand, I think if I let myself do without sex more I’d have more drive to find a partner. I take care of myself a little too aggressively, perhaps. As a result, most of what I see during the day I don’t notice. I suspect there are guys out there who would make good partners whom I never even notice. But do I have to go totally celibate to find them?

The fact is that I have no clue how to find a partner. The last three men with whom I had long-term relationships I met randomly. No one has successfully schooled me on how to meet good men for dating and relationships. Yet as I approach 50, this issue takes on greater urgency.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Celebrating October

Yay, October! It's my favorite month of the year. The weather finally starts to cool down, and we make the definitively change from summer to fall. The leaves change, the final harvest comes in, and people and animals start to gather themselves and hunker down in preparation for the winter. Best of all, it ends with my favorite holiday, Halloween.

I've loved Halloween/Samhain since I was a child, and loved it all the more during my pagan years. Now, even as an agnostic, I recognize that since it falls at the halfway point between autumnal equinox and winter solstice, Samhain marks the decline of the old year and the preparation for a new one. For the old pagans it was Thanksgiving and New Year's Eve rolled into one holiday, and the veil between the living and those passed on was thinnest. I still think it will be a good time to assess the past, and the influences of those who've passed on, and then set my mind on the coming days.

I celebrated the first of October and the cooler weather yesterday by wearing my favorite hoodie. (Warrior Lacrosse Mojo hoodie, in brown.) It was fun to have it on again. My one regret about the coming cooler weather is that I won't be able to wear my Vibram FiveFingers outdoors. But I have some attractive and comfortable fall footwear, so I'll be fine. I do need a new coat, however.

As for my weekend, I plan a quick dinner with an old friend who is town for a few hours this evening. Other than that, I would do well to do some housekeeping. I'd planned to make this a magazine reading weekend, but I left one of my magazines (Inside Lacrosse - it has an article on the Iroquois Nationals' inability to participate in this year's World Cup) at the office. So instead I may push to finish reading Dracula. Kind of appropriate for October anyway.

Monday, September 27, 2010

My Friends Model Joy, My Cat Models Stoicism

The absolute highlight of my weekend was Saturday afternoon when I got to spend a few minutes catching up with Alejo and Christian at the 17th Street Festival. It was heartwarming to see how they've thrived and made for themselves a beautiful extensive family, and have learned to share their multiple talents (music, web design, etc.) with other people. I'm glad to see my 'brothers and sisters' doing well.

I also got to see Dennis and Roy at the festival, and share a few minutes with each of them. It was fun and fulfilling.

However, I felt misanthropic for most of the weekend, and I didn't do much other socializing. Instead I watched tv, read a lot, studied a little Coptic and continued my ongoing war with the bedbugs.

This latter has been going on for a month now, and while they haven't been as bad lately as they were at first, there has been a resurgence. I now know I'm going to have to be even more aggressive on a nightly basis. As for pobre Manuel*, he has now had to endure two baths. And he has been an absolute prince about it. Other cats I've known have screamed bloody murder while being bathed. Manuel stoically endures the procedure, and merely tries to get out of the water as quickly as possible.

My main concern is that I don't poison either he or myself in my attempt to get rid of the little biters. Of course, when I saw the story this morning about the young man surviving the shark attack at Virginia Beach, I was grateful I only have bedbugs, and not bedsharks.

*As a rule, bedbugs hate pets because they don't like wading through all the fur, and Manuel is very furry. Still I wanted to take precautions that he not be a carrier. He's been less distressed about the situation than I have. A model of stoicism.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Autumn Anticipation and Summer Recap

For those of us on the east coast of the US, autumn technically begins at 11:09 pm this evening. (The equinox is at 0309 hours UT on September 23; eastern daylight time is UT minus four hours, putting the equinox at 11:09 pm September 22.) I look forward to the fall every year. I look better in fall clothes. I like the 'settling down' feeling everything gets. And midway through the fall is my favorite holiday, Halloween-Samhain. I usually take a few days off around that time and simply chill out.

This summer has been tumultuous. Some of the changes have been good, some have been bad, and some I will feel the implications of for years.

At the beginning of the summer I hung out with few friends. I have begun to do my part to repair some damaged relationships and not only get out of my apartment more, but also get out to actually meet other people. I enter the fall on an improving trend in socializing.

We started the summer frantically trying to figure out what was wrong with Mom's health, and we're ending it with her in rehab recovering from heart valve replacement surgery. In the middle of the summer (literally the middle, since I spent Lammas there) I went to Alabama to visit with my parents for a week. I gained some insights into my family's dynamics, and a new appraisal of my father.

Over the course of the summer I realized I am agnostic, and I left off all pretensions of faith. I simply put aside any attempt at active belief or disbelief, and realized that not only will I not receive answers by divine revelation or insights, but also that I have far more responsibility for my life than I am comfortable with. I reckon I will do well to become accustomed to the discomfort.

One giant honking FAIL this summer: I dropped the ball on initiating an exercise regimen, and on getting my weight down. Surely these are the big projects of the fall.

Finally, I like to note one ten-second moment of awesome that occurred this summer: as I was walking home from the Metro station one weekday evening, I was passed by a runner, a tattooed Asian male, a total mesomorph, zipping past almost silently in his Vibram Five-Fingers footwear. In a word, he encapsulated the athletic and graceful potential of the season. Beautiful.

Friday, September 17, 2010

TV: Cops and Vampires

I forgot one other summer TV show in my last round-up: The Glades. Again, this show demonstrates what great casting can do. Matt Passmore is dead-on as the jerk-with-a-heart detective, and all the other characters (the hard-pressed buddy, the geek, the conflicted girlfriend, and the conflicted girlfriend's growing-up-to-fast son) fill the constellation of the show well. Most of the episodes are well written, and the camera work eschews the glare of CSI: Miami. (In fact, I'd say the camera work is even better than that of Burn Notice, the other Miami-based tv show.)

With almost all the tv shows I watch, I usually do something else while watching them. The writing is light enough, and the plots formulaic enough, that I can follow the show while picking up the apartment, playing with the cat, even studying sometimes. This paradigm does not hold for The Vampire Diaries. When I watch the show, I have to sit down and stare at it (unless I stand up and stare at it, which happens). I talk back to the show, I tell the characters what they should or should not be doing, etc. The show is much closer than the Meyer oeuvre to how my inner teenage girl would write vampire stories. And given that they have killed off characters I thought would be returning, I can honestly say that when I watch it, I'm not sure what will happen next. Also, they eschew the weird pseudo-religionism of Supernatural, which makes the show much more palatable (although I still love Supernatural, if for no other reason than the rare glimpse of Jared Padalecki's forearms - *swoon*). The Vampire Diaries is simply a well written vamp-teen soap opera, with engaging characters, multiple plot lines, and enough sufficiently creepy situations to keep me riveted all the way to the last second of each episode.

Which brings up the question: has anyone read the books, and if so, how do they compare to the TV series?

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Summer Television Recap

I watch too much tv. I have it on in the evening, but I'm usually doing other things around my apartment, such as rearranging my books, picking up the apartment, doing the dishes, surfing the net, playing with Manuel, etc. Still I've developed opinions about what to watch and what not to watch. Here's my brief review of this past summer's shows:

1. Burn Notice is still the best summer show. It drooped only a little bit this past season, but over all it stayed strong. The casting remains excellent, and the addition of Coby Bell only served to strengthen the mix.

2. Rubicon is the best new show. Again, it comes down to casting, and James Badge Dale is a brilliant choice for the lead. (Also kudos to Dallas Roberts as the obsessive analyst and Arliss Howard as the Geffenesque boss—complete with gay lover.) The show is so quiet and understated that the understatement becomes part of the creepiness factor. I adore this show.

3. Syfy shows all have formulae, and the formulae are starting to wear thin. I watched Warehouse 13, Eureka and Haven, and I'll still watch them, but as a rule I wouldn't miss them if I spent the evening out with friends. Warehouse 13, due to its strong casting (C. C. H. Pounder is a goddess!) is still the best of these three, and I hope they bring back Claudia's love interest "Todd" (Nolan Gerard Funk—total hottie!).

4. Royal Pains and White Collar are still good shows. The Closer is still epic and at times moving. On the other hand, Rizzoli & Isles did not live up to the hype. It had a potentially good cast hampered by bad writing (they couldn't decide if they wanted another The Closer, or another Bones.)

5. Covert Affairs frustrates me. It features not one, but two total hotties, Sendhil Ramamurthy and Christopher Gorham (whom the directors have been taking pains to show shirtless as much as possible—and he is BUFF!). But the writing is really sloppy at times. The Iraning asylum-seeker episode was downright offensive. I watch it for the flashes of eye-candy.

6. Dark Blue went from disengaging and glacial to downright awful. Even the Logan Marshall-Green eye-candy couldn't pursuade me to tune in by the end of the season.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

My "Deserted Island" Books

I recently challenged myself yet again to list my top ten 'deserted island' books, i.e., the books I most want to keep on my possession should I be stranded on a deserted island. There have been some significant changes from previous lists, and in the end I could only come up with 8 (!). Anyway, here they are:

1. Leslie Marmon Silko, Almanac of the Dead: A friend once told me that he thought he would be rereading and wrestling with David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest for the rest of his life. For me, the equivalent is Silko's monumental Almanac of the Dead. There is so much going on in this harsh tome (about an apocalyptic clash between the indigenous and Euro-American civilizations), and yet it is so beautifully terrible, or terribly beautiful. In the end there is hope, but hope that will be bought through lots of blood and pain.

2. Stephen Beachy, The Whistling Song: A postmodern On the Road, a book about the uniquely estadosunidense desire to find ellusive truth just over the next horizon, in the next town, with the next stranger who gives you a lift or let's you crash in his home.

3. Ryu Murakami, Coin Locker Babies: Unearthing the dark heart within the polished veneer of civilization. That dark heart is the pain of disillusionment, and the tragic results of resentment arising from false promises.

4. Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov: A sprawling novel of multiple voices, where the human condition is studied, laughed at and cried over. It's the crowning achievement of Dostoyevsky's life's work.

5. Kingsley M. Bray, Crazy Horse: A Lakota Life: a lengthy, assiduously researched and skillfully written study of the life of a great human being, and of the culture that nurtured him. Crazy Horse stands out as a man who carefully balanced his community with his inner life, and used the balance to become a great leader.

6. Subcomandante Marcos, Our Word Is Our Weapon: leftist polemic is supposed to be dry, demanding and dull as dishwater. This book is not. Subcomandante Marcos is a poet and an inspirational writer. When I read his words, I believe in humanity again.

7. Dan Eldon, The Journey Is the Destination: Dan Eldon's life was tragically cut short in a riot in Somalia. He left behind dozens of notbooks filled with photocollages from his travels and adventures. His mother culled out the best of the best, and put together this book, a visual musing on life, beauty and humanity.

8. Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception: This is the only book on the list I've not gotten all the way through yet. But even more than Sartre's Being and Nothingness, I want to understand this book.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Radical Queer Punk Skateboarder Nostalgia

It was a quiet weekend. I overspent myself in August, and I had to be a little more restrained in my shopping. Still on Saturday I metroed and bussed out to a suburban mall to look for ear posts and tunnels, since I'm increasing the bore in my earlobe piercings ever so slightly. I confined myself to buying only the posts and tunnels, but I looked around the mall for a few minutes in anticipation of a return. I especially lusted after a Steve Caballero skateboard deck, very similar to the one I had a few years ago.

I spent some time reading, getting through an early Dostoyevsky novella (The Double) and two-thirds of the way through a collection of fiction by John Greyson. He's a Canadian writer and filmmaker, and he involved himself in the "Queer Wave" of film and art in the late 80's and early 90's. Reading the book has taken me back to those heady days of radical queer underground cinema (e.g., Greg Araki's The Living End and Totally Fucked Up) and books (e.g., Justin Chin's Mongrel and Wesley Gibson's Shelter), and the subversive and transgressive feeling I had in the first few years after I came out. (My years of coming out were immediately preceded by my years of punk rock and skateboarding.)

The years leading up to and following my coming out were the most intense years of self-exploration I'd experienced. There were some very rocky, very scary times in there, but there were also some great times, too. Back then, having survived coming out, there were times when I felt that merely continuing to draw a breath was a subversive act. The world is different now, and I see the kids that grow up out of the closet (were never really in it, in some cases) and for all the world to see on tv, on Facebook, on Youtube, etc. and I am so happy for them. My hope back then for a better future for LGBTQ kids has to a certain extent materialized.

Hope is a good thing if it is grounded in reality. For that matter even a little fantasy is okay, provided that one isn't annoying or dangerous about it.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Four Ways of Pursuing Fulfillment

To my mind, there are four* ways that a person can use toward making meaning and fulfillment in his life: career, love, volunteerism and hobbies.

A very few fortunate persons actually manage to find a fulfilling career in life. They enjoy their work, and getting up to go to work isn't a challenge for them. Most of us aren't so fortunate. Most of the jobs needing to be done in the world are not the kind that bring fulfillment, and we who have them must simply put up with the daily grind of getting them done.

Love can be very fulfilling in life, but love requires two people, and therefore at least half of the equation is out of one's hands. If an opportunity to love comes up, I strongly recommend not passing it by casually. On the otherhand, I highly recommend observing the other person and the situation closely. Sometimes what looks like love is only dependency, and all sorts of terrors can await those who pursue love blindly. Love is wonderful, but like a fulfilling career, it too is very rare.

Volunteerism can be highly fulfilling. When one finds a cause or effort that one wholely embraces and supports, and can lend one's energy and/or talents to it, putting up with the vicissitudes of ones daily grind can become worth the effort. It is important to know oneself first, so that a person can find the cause or effort that falls in line with one's own values. Also, one must have some flexibility in dealing with others, ranging from flaky volunteers to hardcore true believers.

Hobbies are an excellent way to funnel one's energy into engaging effort. It is especially easy when one chooses a hobby, to find a task with scalable challenges. In other words, as one improves in a given hobby, one can choose increasingly difficult challenges to pursue in it. E.g., if you've manages to embroider a particular design, the next design you choose to embroider can be more complex and therefore more challenging and engaging.

*I'm sure there are more, but these are the four that come to mind right now.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Urban Hell

It has become a running joke and/or standard operating procedure that whenever there is a big accident/crisis/lunatic freak-out happening inside the beltway, I call my mom and let her know I'm nowhere near it, of if I am, I'm okay. So yesterday evening I called her to let her know I was downtown, and not near Silver Spring and the situation in the Discovery Building. (Although at least once a month after work I go right past that building on the way to Borders, DSW, Strosniders, Whole Foods, or somewhere else.) I tell mom and dad that dealing with whackos, protests, motorcades, etc. are just part of life in DC. They range from merely inconvenient to terribly dangerous, but we simply have to take it all in stride.

I moved to DC for love (and to get the hell out of Charlotte, NC, a town which embraced the metanarrative of 'suburban hell' and made it its ideal.) I stayed for love, and when love failed, for the convenience of not having to own a car and easy access to museums and similar diversions.

But staying in DC has taken its toll. I arrived optimistic and eager. Now, almost sixteen years later, the optimism is gone, and enthusiasm takes a whole hell of a lot of effort to build up. This is a poisonous city. The natives resent all the newcomers. The newcomers are themselves here only to make some kind of career move, and only want to deal with people who can help them climb the career ladder. The few of us who don't fit into those paradigms have to make our own way, by our own devices.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Inner Children, Inner Wolves

When the whole "Twilight" phenomenon first blew up two years ago, my inner teen girl demanded to have her curiosity satisfied, so I started reading the novels. (However, my midlife curmudgeonly skinflint man has so far refused to pay full price to see the films, so I've only been catching them as they become available on video-on-demand.)

Since I'm naturally drawn to the warm, passionate, earthy and familial, I aligned myself with "Team Jacob" in the ongoing war of who was better for Bella. Edward and the Cullens are gracious, sacrificial, giving, and noble, but they struck me as too perfect, too formal, too rich and too cold. The pack of shapeshifters on the otherhand were rowdy, playful, fierce, passionate, dedicated and rooted in nature and the environment. If I had been Bella, I'd have run to them and stayed. "Edward who? We don't need no stinkin' Edward."

But of course, that is not what Stephenie Meyer had in mind. Breaking Dawn finally came out in paperback recently, and armed with a deep discount* coupon from a bookstore chain, I bought the book and tore through it this past weekend. Now, having come to the end of the saga, I can say I'm with:

Team Leah

[Spoiler alert: while not a full exposition, there are enough hints here to ruin it for those who haven't read all the novels. You've been warned.]

It's quite simple, really. Leah Clearwater is the one 'good guy' whose heartbreak and longings weren't wrapped up nicely at the end. Although she is powerful and determined, she remains heartbroken and a little bit bitter. She gets no mate, no knight-in-shining-armor to ease her essential loneliness. She finds purpose as a beta to Jacob's alpha, but she remains unmated. (Even Leah's fully human mother ends up with Bella's fully human father by the end.) She soldiers on, because it gives her purpose and it's the right thing to do. But she doesn't get any reward for soldiering on other than that purpose. In the end, of the 'wolves' in the story, she's the loneliest, the closest to being a 'lone wolf.'

I feel her pain.

Whatever you think of the "Twilight" oeuvre, I have to hand it to Stephenie Meyers for creating a new mytho-fictional universe. She took the vampire-werewolf tropes in some new directions, and while her morality and fatalism seem a little heavy-handed at times, no one can argue that they haven't impacted our cultural data set. Team Edward and Team Jacob will be duking it out for sometime yet, but Team Leah and I will watch and shake our heads, and go about our business.

*The midlife curmudgeonly skinflint man had to have his needs met again, too.

Monday, August 30, 2010

The Decline and Fall

This morning, I noticed that the little screens in the elevators in my office building were displaying the same 5 pieces of trivia they'd been displaying for all of last week. They used to change the trivia, not to mention weather reports, stock reports, etc., every hour at least. I turned to a co-worker and said, "This is what the decline and fall of an empire looks like. The little things at the edges crumble to dust first."

This decline and fall has been going on since not long after I was born. The economic elites were so frightened at the prospect of the disadvantaged in our country gaining more power and influence that they decided they would rather see the country crumble to ruins. And why not? If they themselves get to keep their wealth and power, why not let the country slide toward decay (if not actively push it along). So infrastructure, education, democratic engagement are all failing at an increasing level, and we cannot expect the economic elites to step up and lead us out of the mess.

Frankly, I do not know what to do. If there is one thing I've learned in life, it is not to count on the good sense of my fellow human beings. We seem to have a knack for aiming for the low side of mediocrity. The continued decline of the US empire will take years, I suspect. Still, if I get an opportunity to leave and go someplace better (and take Manu with me) I think I'd take it.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Thinking about Making Curried Vegetables and Other Stuff

I think for me, the stages of encountering "the new" follow along these lines: 1) euphoria; 2) terror; and 3) mundanity. Sometimes #'s 1 and 2 switch places. I've slid past the terror at the realization of my aloneness and freedom in the universe, and now am on to thinking, "well, maybe I could make some curried vegetables this weekend." Somehow, this is progress has been very similar to one summed up by Douglas Adams:
It said: "The History of every major Galactic Civilization tends to pass through three distinct and recognizable phases, those of Survival, Inquiry and Sophistication, otherwise known as the How, Why and Where phases.

"For instance, the first phase is characterized by the question How can we eat? the second by the question Why do we eat? and the third by the question Where shall we have lunch?"

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, chapter 35.

Despite my official agnosticism and adherence to no specific religion or philosophy, I do find a lot of wisdom out there to draw from. Taoism, in its most philosophical form, is very useful to me. It has been mischaracterized as "go with the flow" but I believe a more accurate description of the Taoist way is "learning to surf the flow." Logs that go with the flow of a river get caught up on rocks; kayakers endeavor not to do the same.

Other philosophical streams I draw from include Stoicism, Existentialism, Soto Zen and ethical studies. I view the texts and thoughts available to me from the subject areas not as maps for going forward; instead they are like those like those guides showing me how to recognize different species of trees or birds, as I pick my own path forward.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Baba Ghanouj and Soto Zen

Tuesday evening I made some really good baba ghanouj, and made enough for me to make three meals off of it. It was simple enough (eggplant, oil, salt, tahini, lime juice) and patience while the eggplant cooked was the main ingredient. Certainly I'll make more soon. Baba ghanouj is filling and tasty.

I've been reading some pages of three different books lately. One of them is Brad Warner's Sit Down and Shut Up, which is now one of my new favorite books on Zen. He writes out of his history both with Zen and with punk rock, and he has a sense of humor that can at times be a little dorky, but over all serves to leaven his texts so that the heavy and the mundane don't turn the casual reader away. (By the way, Noah Levine approaches Theravada from a punk background, too, but in my opinion his prose comes across more militant and angry than Warner's.) This is his second book; I've read his first one, and I liked it. He's just published his fourth book, but I haven't yet looked closely at either that or his third book.

It seems like my favorite Buddhist writers come from Soto Zen (Warner, Steve Hagen, Shunryu Suzuki). Soto Zen to me appears to be the most no-nonsense version, not even promising any kind of enlightenment other than the simplicity of one going through one's day. Since I was raised on, and have burnt out on, false promises, a bare bones philosophy and praxis makes the most sense to me. I think I would do well to make myself sit regularly.

I have no idea how much I will be out and about this weekend. With the teaparty zombie hordes coming to town, I feel I would be safer staying at home and waiting them out. Still since I live nearest to the green line, and the teapartiers have been warned to avoid the green line, I think I'll be okay if I stay in my neighborhood. Besides I'm more concerned about my own potential anger upon encountering them than I am of what they might possibly do to me.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Good Friends, Good Food and Good Beer

Yesterday I enjoyed an excellent evening, meeting F at Meridian Pint in Columbia Heights for dinner. The beer selection was superb, and the food truly delicious. In most restaurants, there is one or two token vegetarian dishes so the token vegetarian can have a night out with his more omnivorous friends. Otherwise, you'll find a restaurant wholly dedicated to veganism. Meridian Pint, on the otherhand, had a selection of well-made vegan dishes as well as food for the omnivores. And Monday evenings feature the "Meatless Monday" specials. So F and I split an appetizer of tempura with a pungent sauce (it had anise seeds floating in it – yum!). He had chicken with mashed potatoes, and I had the seitan and vegetable kabobs over couscous.

I enjoyed catching up with F. We hadn't visited with each other since the party he hosted on his birthday. That was an epic party, but there were so many guests he and I really didn't get to visit with each other then. Last night I fear I gave him an earful about work worries, family worries and existential worries. Thankfully, F is an exemplary listener.

Meridian Pint was booming for a monday night, so I have high hopes for their continued success. There were many people there at a rally for our current mayor, but most of them were downstairs. The bulk of the people upstairs were there to hang out or to have some quality food. I can't wait to go back and try some of their other dishes. The vegan three bean quesadillas sound especially intriguing.

While we were sitting there, our mutual friend S walked past the window and waved at us; he was taking his dog out for walkies. After dinner we crossed the street to the dog park and had a nice conversation with S and his dog. The air was cool and comfortable after all the heat and humidity we've had lately. Truly an enjoyable evening.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Things I Have Enjoyed

A brief list of things I have enjoyed in the past (in no particular order):

1. Skateboarding (1987-1990)

2. Hiking (1970-present)

3. Co-facilitating a LGBT youth support group (1993-1994)

4. Reading (1968-present)

5. Being part of a couple (1997-2001)

6. Biking (1968-2005)

7. Being in higher education institutions (1979-1984, 1989-1991, and 2006-2008)

8. Making music (1973-1978)

9. Keeping a journal (1983-present)

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Sorry, Jesus Ain't Takin' the Wheel

The big question confronting me now: who do I want to be? What behaviors and attitudes do I value, what behaviors and attitudes do I deplore, and what do I do to exhibit the former and eschew the latter?

I was raised by drama-filled fundamentalist Christians. When the going got tough, they ran to God for answers and aid. You've heard the saying, "Let go and let God." Or as Carrie Underwood sings, "Jesus, take the wheel." I no longer have the comfort of abandoning responsibility like that. If I want to do well, I must endeavor to assume responsibility for everything that is within my power to be responsible for, and to accept with detachment all that isn't. No longer can I simply intone, "God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference." Rather, if I want to do well, I must endeavor to maintain the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, to choose to change (and work at the changes) the things I can change, and constantly to weigh and discern what I can change and what I cannot. It is on me, and I would do well no longer to slough it off.

At this time I can think of three sources for knowledge and wisdom regarding how I want to live my life. The first is my own life and my own history. What do I like about myself? What good have I done in the past? What have I enjoyed doing? What mistakes have I made that I can learn from?

The second are 'heroes', exemplars I admire for one or more qualities. What are those qualities I admire? How did they deal with the vicissitudes of their individual circumstances? What were their pitfalls, and how could they have avoided them?

The third are books of philosophy, ethics and psychology. What wisdom do they contain about how to live well? What is the best way to be a good person in the world, and still maintain my integrity and individuality? What are some insights into human psychology to help me avoid maladaptive behavior patterns?

Instead of looking outside myself for divine intervention and inspiration, I want to look around myself and within myself for wisdom on how to live.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

I Just Don't Know

Age is just a number. Yes, but human minds latch onto symbols, metaphors, markers and shiny things, and then work with those to try and make meaning in our existences. In just under six months I will have marked off fifty years of existence on this earth. My life to this point hasn't been a big failure, but it hasn't been an unalloyed success either. (Of course there are no unalloyed successes, but my alloys have partook pretty heavily of base metals up to now, it seems.)

I want the next few years of my life to involve a lot of conscious meaning-making. I have come to see that I cannot expect meaning to fall from the sky into my lap. It will not hit me over the head like a holy pillow. I must grow up and make my own meaning for my own life.

I do not know whether or not there is a deity or a plane of existence beyond this one. I have no proof nor incontrovertible evidence. I also have no proof or incontrovertible evidence these things do not exist either. I could spend the rest of my days speculating one way or the other, but it would only be speculation, and nothing more. The truth is I do not know. I admit I am agnostic.

Therefore meaning making falls on my shoulders (as I believe it falls on each individual human beings shoulders, whether he or she admits it or not, and whether he or she embraces it or not). I have to choose the ethics I want to live by, and the meaning I want to make in my life.