Jan 302013
 

cranes((More pictures forthcoming, but wanted to get this part up!))

This is a cardboard box filled with paper cranes that I’ve folded since last summer. This batch started while I was working on my summer apprenticeship for teaching First-Year Composition. There are a couple hundred here, though I haven’t actually counted for an exact number. But I know that I’ve made about 50 or so since last week.

I’ve been folding origami off and on since about eight grade, when I went through a variety of hobbies to find something to do. That was around the same time I became really interested in learning American Sign Language, all of which I have pretty much forgotten except the basic alphabet. But that’s something, right? I used to have a couple of color books that showed easy things to fold: cicadas, boxes, “balloons,” or little people. I always loved folding kabuto (samurai helmets) the most.

My obsession with paper cranes didn’t start until a few years ago, though. It was all part of a grand plan for proposing to my now-husband. You see, in Japan there is a story that if you can fold 1,000 paper cranes, you get to make a wish. My cunning plan was to fold 1,000 and present them to my boyfriend who also loves things like origami.

Once I had picked out the ring, I spent the next several months in my secret alone time (lunch breaks, after work but before he got home, or late into the night) folding these little multicolored birds. Every one brought me one step closer to the best way I could express how much I loved him. I kept a stash of origami paper in the break room at work, and hid another in the closet at home. Any time Charlie wasn’t around, I was folding paper. It was a simple joy of working with my hands, of making something, and of having a purpose.

My plan had been to have a romantic picnic in the park behind our apartment. There were these beautiful little elms with low branches. I was going to string together the cranes and hang them from the branches, leaving a bread crumb-esque trail of cranes from the apartment to the park. And there I would be with my tree filled with paper cranes, lunch, a bottle of wine, and the rings. I would be dressed up to see him, and I would get down on one knee and he would think everything was so beautiful and special that he would cry and just have to say yes.

1,000 paper cranes is, I believe, a show of devotion, and that is the root of the story – if you have the fortitude and stick-to-it-ness to make that many, you can put your mind to anything. Of course, folding 1,000 cranes takes longer than you might think. Some days I could get into a rhythm and fold one in about 3 minutes. Other times, the folds just wouldn’t line up, or I would get distracted and they would take 5 or 10 minutes instead. After several months of this, I had still only managed to make about 300 cranes.

Thankfully I had let some of our friends in on the super secret plan. Days before I had intended to put things into action, I got a call: “You might need to rethink your plan for this weekend. Make it mobile.”

Shit.

In preparation for this sudden change of circumstance, I told Charlie, “Umm. I need to walk over to work; I, uh, forgot something. I’ll be back shortly!” (I didn’t know until after the fact that he then saw me sneak out to the car and drive away – arousing his suspicion.) I ran to Daiso and did my best to package the cranes and the ring, and to write a letter for him.

Apparently, I hadn’t been the only one planning a surprise: I had forgotten it was my birthday weekend, and Charlie had planned a weekend getaway for us. It was the “Things You Like” weekend, including reuben sandwiches, the King Tut exhibit, dancing, and Hotel Kabuki, which was, as our friends pointed out, a much better theme for a birthday weekend than “Things You Can Hardly Tolerate.”

We had our fun first night, and after dinner we went back to the hotel room. I had lived in Japan for a few years, and so staying at Hotel Kabuki (ostensibly Japan-themed in Japantown) seemed apropos.  We were getting changed to go out dancing, and when Charlie came out of the bathroom I was holding a present for him.

“What’s this?” he said. Opening the card, two tiny metallic cranes fell out: one gold and one silver. It said:

“In Japan, there is a belief that if you fold 1,000 paper cranes you get to make a wish. I’ve spent months folding cranes for you, but by the time I made about 300 I realized that you’ve already made all my wishes come true.”

He opened the box and said, “But there are only two cranes here…”

Once he removed the lid, the tightly-packed cranes exploded from the box in a spray of bird-shaped confetti. He dug around inside and pulled out the ring box.

I got down on one knee and asked, “Charlie, will you marry me?”

*****

After two years of marriage, we separated, but only physically. I am back in Georgia working on my PhD. He is in New York working as a researcher. I have another year and a half left of coursework before we can get back together. For now, lots of Skype dates and short visits.

Making the cranes now is like a countdown. By the time I finish the rest of the 1,000 cranes we will be back together, and my next wish will have come true.

Jul 122012
 

“Beauty is truth, truth beauty,” – that is all/ Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.
John Keats – “Ode on a Grecian Urn”

Let me open by expressing my immense appreciation and enjoyment of Regina Spektor’s music. I think she is brilliant and talented, and my quality of life has been improved ever since my sister introduced me to her music.
Phew, glad I got that out of the way.

Walking home today, the song “All the Rowboats” from her latest album, What We Saw From the Cheap Seats came on my iPod. I’ve been enjoying this song since I first heard it, and I’ve often thought about the lyrics. Maybe now that I’m back on a university campus I felt inspired, but when I heard the song today, it occurred to me that Regina Spektor is in conversation with John Keats (as well as many other poets and artists, but Keats was the first to come to mind for me).

NB – Now, my goal here is not to write a term paper on this topic, nor is it to write my dissertation. In brief, I just want to talk about how I perceive Regina Spektor to relate to John Keats. Really, this is just my nerdy way of showing one of the many reasons why I love her music so much. Line numbers for the song are approximated based on the ones listed in the official video description.
Before we get too much further into this conversation, take a moment to watch the video and listen to the lyrics. If you want to read along, just go to the actual video page on Youtube. It’s awesome. Don’t worry, I’ll wait till you’re done.

Now that you’ve heard Regina’s song, let me direct you to John Keats’ most famous poem (and arguably one of the most famous in the English language), “Ode on a Grecian Urn.” In this poem, Keats celebrates the timeless perfection of art. He lays out several scenes taking place across the urn; of the two young lovers, Keats says:

Bold Lover, never, never canst thou kiss,

Though winning near the goal – yet, do not grieve;

She cannot fade, though thou hast not thy bliss,

For ever wilt thou love, and she be fair! (17-20)

It’s almost as if Keats says, “Cheer up, guy – even though you will never actually get laid, you’ll have this feeling forever and your lady will always be hot!” For Keats, there is a particular beauty in the anticipation – the young man’s feeling as he’s about to kiss his lover is greater than what he would actually feel should that love be consummated. Keats, as spectator of this scene, appreciates the “for ever” and “eternity” of the urn, along with its “quietness” and “silence” – a trait which he gestures to several times. The urn’s beauty is because of its silent stasis, rather than in spite of it. He exalts in it without any sense of sympathy for the lovers whose bliss is forever deferred and left on display.

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/7/79/Keats_urn.jpg

Blue balls is beautiful forever and ever.
Sorry, dude.

Here’s where Regina Spektor’s track differs from Keats:

While she clearly has a great appreciation for the art, as evidenced by her need to reach out and physically connect with the marble sculpture (18), she expresses pity for the “living dead” artifacts which fill museum gallery (39). (Admittedly, there is some ambiguity as to whether that “living dead” is representative of the art or the museum patrons. Personally, I think we can read it both ways.) This theme of death and afterlife of the art(ifacts) pervades the song; these pieces are kept, in some sense, alive beyond their natural deaths. By continuing to be on display in their “glass coffins” in the “tombs” of the “public mausoleums,” the artwork languishes in a state between life and death (22, 38-39). Like Keats, we, as spectators, enter the graves of these pieces of art and attempt to reconcile our own mortality by identifying with the seeming agelessness of art.

But the gallery is not simply a grave; it is also a prison. Brilliantly, I think, Spektor makes clear the gilded cage in which the art is confined, describing them as “hanging/ in their gold frames/ [...] Forever and a day” (6-9). Every day, the tourists and docents – the voyeurs and wardens – come through the gallery, consuming the images of immortal art. And each night, once the patrons have left the building, “first there’s lights out, then there’s lock up” in the same way one expects to hear about in a high-security prison; in the most evocative line of the song, she decries the “masterpieces serving maximum sentences” (27-29). During these after-hours, the art returns to its silent stasis; they can never be free. So long as the art is kept imprisoned in the galleries, she seems to suggest, it cannot be out in the world fulfilling its purpose.

It is because of this imprisonment and entombment that the art cannot truly be alive. Spektor pities the “lonely” violins kept in the glass cases (20). Unlike Keats, for Spektor the silence of these artifacts triggers sadness rather than awe. These antiques are no longer permitted to carry out their intended purpose: to create music – to perform art. (More than any of the paintings or sculptures, it is perhaps Spektor’s own love of music that places her in close alignment with these pitiable instruments.) Encased in glass coffins, the violins have been transformed from agents of art into objects of art. Their exhibition in the museum as simply artifacts has changed their purpose by robbing them of their function.

As we moved through some of the tumultuous 20th century art movements like Surrealism, Dada, or Pop – one of the unifying themes is that an object “transcends” to art through this process of separation of purpose and function.

“The Urinal” sounds half as sexy and is twice as likely to get peed on.

Early 20th-century Dada artist Marcel Duchamp probably best exemplifies this idea through his so-called “readymade” sculptures. Duchamp removed everyday objects from their functional context, slapped a title on them, and voila! readymade art. My personal favorite of these, a snow shovel entitled: En prévision du bras cassé (Prelude to a Broken Arm). But perhaps his most famous piece is “The Fountain,” pictured here. A simple rotation and a conscious decision by the artist to remove its function and give it a title. After all, an object becomes art once it has a title, signalling its transition beyond its mundane function, right? And once it makes its way into a museum, then it’s definitely art.

Now, in the 21st century, Spektor revisits these ideas and asks her listeners: How do we look at an object which has been separated from its function? What would be the appropriate feeling were you to see Van Gogh’s paintbrush on display? At one time it was tasked with creating beautiful art, but now, in its afterlife it has been transfigured and robbed of its purpose. As with the violins, is there something tragic or pitiable about that process – is something essential lost when form and function are separated?

This is not to say the object should or should not be art. The recognition of the transformational process does not detract from its new state as art. Rather, it creates a layering effect to the narrative: In realizing this transition, we should also be willing to recognize the loss or sacrifice of the essential “thingness” of an object when it becomes art. This tragic loss is the “price to pay” and the “consequence” of greatness (31-32).

Although the comparison between Keats’ urn and Spektor’s violins is not exactly one-to-one – after all, the urn’s function does not change, exactly – both artists exhibit an anxiety about not only the supposed timelessness of the art but also the ethics of display. Spektor shows a different way of approaching and looking at art on display than Keats. Keats celebrates the exaltation of an object into art without consideration for the piece itself, whereas Spektor recognizes the essential loss that an object experiences as a consequence of becoming art. Both clearly find appreciation in art, but Keats relishes in what the piece has become, and Spektor mourns for what is lost.

 Posted by on July 12, 2012
Jul 102012
 

I haven’t posted in almost a year, but here we are posting twice in a day. But while I’m on a roll, I wanted to address something of relative currency and importance…

 

http://tonicgossip.com/wp-content/2011/04/Nicki-Minaj-2.jpg

Wocka wocka!

I never pegged Nicki Minaj to be any sort of psychic. A strangely sexy Muppet? Perhaps. Gifted at creating addictive tracks? Definitely. A precog? I had no idea.

In an interview with Details magazine in 2010, interviewer Jonah Weiner asked Minaj:

“As an openly bisexual rapper, do you think hip-hop is getting more gay-friendly?”

Her response: “I think the world is getting more gay-friendly, so hip-hop is too. But it’s harder to imagine an openly gay male rapper being embraced. [...] But I think we’ll see one in my lifetime.”

 

I am sure she had no idea how right she would be – or how quickly.

In case you’ve missed it – these sorts of things often get missed in election years – but R&B / rap star, Frank Ocean, came out last week. This is not idle rumor; in fact, Ocean came out himself on his Tumblr page.

I’m not going to sit here and say that I’ve been a Frank Ocean fan forever and ever. I only actually encountered Frank Ocean in the last several months when one of my favorite students introduced me to Odd Future during class. Since then I’ve been watching their videos (and the videos of their various solo projects), downloading some mix tapes, and enjoying their music.

Like so many others, I am immensely proud of Frank Ocean. I am proud of him in the same way I am proud of anyone who has to face the unfortunate ritual of coming out. I am doubly proud of him for coming out while being a golden child of what has, traditionally, been viewed as a homophobic institution. The hyper-masculinized and hyper-sexualized nature of the rap community over the last, I dunno, decade and a half [citation needed] has created an environment in which homosexuality is not only unacceptable, but punishable.

It doesn’t take much searching to find intensely homophobic rap lyrics. Never to be outdone by anyone, Eminem raps in “Criminal“:

My words are like a dagger with a jagged edge
That’ll stab you in the head
whether you’re a fag or lez
Or the homosex, hermaph or a trans-a-vest
Pants or dress – hate fags? The answer’s “yes”

Regardless of how much weight you’re willing to give Eminem’s attempt at a defense during the intro of the song, these lyrics still contribute to the hostile outlook that rap has traditionally maintained in regards to homosexuality.

Similarly, Wu Tang member Method Man is reported to have said in Blender magazine in 2003: “I don’t think any gay dude is gangsta, period. [...] You can’t be fuckin’ people in the ass and say you’re gangsta.” I say reported only because I have, as of yet, been unable to find a primary source for this quote, despite its ubiquity.

That said, by many accounts the pendulum is swinging. The last few years have seen at least some progress towards minimizing homophobia in rap. With any luck, even the annoying “no homo” defense is on its way out. Support has been swelling, but the community had not yet reached a tipping point by actually having a mainstream, popular artist come out publicly.

Frank Ocean has changed that.

What has really encouraged, and in some ways, surprised me is that Frank Ocean’s coming out has also triggered a further upsurge of support from the rap community. Founder of Def Jam and media mogul, Russell Simmons, posted an open letter to Frank Ocean saying,

Today is a big day for hip-hop. It is a day that will define who we really are.  How compassionate will we be? How loving can we be? How inclusive are we?

I am profoundly moved by the courage and honesty of Frank Ocean.  Your decision to go public about your sexual orientation gives hope and light to so many young people still living in fear. These types of secrets should not matter anymore, but we know they do, and because of that I decided to write this short statement of support for one of the greatest new artists we have.

His gifts are undeniable.  His talent, enormous.  His bravery, incredible.  His actions this morning will uplift our consciousness and allow us to become better people.  Every single one of us is born with peace and tranquility in our heart.  Frank just found his.

Frank, we thank you.  We support you.  We love you.

Frank’s friend and collaborator, Tyler, the Creator, tweeted his support for Frank Ocean: “My Big Brother Finally Fucking Did That. Proud Of [him]  Cause I Know That Shit Is Difficult Or Whatever.”

Other heavy-hitters like Jay-Z and Beyonce have come out to support Frank Ocean following his coming out. In Jay-Z’s open letter he voices his unequivocal support, while acknowledging the dangers and hardship that Frank Ocean will likely face in the wake of this momentous decision:

We are all made better by your decision to share publicly. [...] Still, there are real risks with coming out as a man who loved a man. I hope you hear and are reading the hundreds of thousands of people who have your back. We admire the great courage and beauty and fearlessness in your coming out.

And Beyonce posted this image on her personal site to show her support:

http://media.beyonce.com/files/images/frank_main.jpg

While I hope not to distract from Frank Ocean’s personal struggles and triumphs, I believe it is also worthwhile to take this moment and look at the world around us and see that we, as the gay community, are growing, too. These words of support for Frank Ocean can be our words of support, as well.

Frank Ocean’s coming out is as much a milestone for the gay community’s cultural acceptance as it is for the rap community’s growing acceptance of homosexuality. In a way, it is a milestone. It is another moment on the “look how far we have come and how far we have yet to go” track. To have parts of the R&B/rap community embrace Frank Ocean for his courage – a community that, for many, is synonymous with homophobia and misogyny, to be able to grow and accept an openly LGBT artist is amazing, and portends well for the rest of the mainstream.

(Don’t get me started on Queen Latifah; I love you, and I know it’s complicated, but people need you.)

Frank, my friend – is it okay if I call you Frank? – You are just one man like anyone else. But your courage to come out in the face of all this makes you strong; it makes you an inspiration. Whether you realize it or not, your decision to come out will provide hope to many young people. The more powerful and beautiful voices that rise up, the stronger our song will become.

From the bottom of my heart, thank you, Frank Ocean.

Jul 102012
 

I don’t know that there are many crazy or supernatural or paranormal things I believe in. I don’t really believe in religion, and I am not a conspiracy theorist. I do, however, believe in serendipity and semi-random happenings.

I often go back to Dynamix Studio’s game The Adventures of Willy Beamish as my point of reference. I often describe to my husband the weird Beamish moments of my days.

I don’t know about anyone else, but I grew up loving the Sierra/ Dynamix adventure games. I played the hell out of King’s Quest, Quest for Glory, Space Quest, and many others.

One of the things that was always interesting (and often frustrating) was the way you had to look at and pick up anything that wasn’t nailed down. Why did you have to be such a kleptomaniac/ hoarder in these games? Well, if you hadn’t picked up the Cubix Rube earlier in the game, you wouldn’t have it to throw at the Labion Terror Beast later, and then you would be unceremoniously devoured.

But why did you pick up the Cubix Rube in the first place? How does the game narratively explain or rationalize that action? You don’t necessarily know that you will need it to confuse the Terror Beast – but, there it is, not nailed down and so into your inventory it goes! If you want to beat the game though, thank goodness you got it!

Even though narratively the event makes no real sense (which is a whole other post), I think it’s at least somewhat representative of how real life happens.

A very minor example:

I am walking around in the front-of-house at the Starbucks where I used to work. I was just sweeping and cleaning and taking out trash and all the other regular things one does on a normal day. As I’m sweeping I see a perfectly functional paperclip just sitting on the floor.

But rather than sweeping it into the dustpan as I normally would, I picked it up and put in my pocket for no particular reason.  Again, like in the adventure game, in the “narrative” of my life it makes very little sense why I picked up that paper clip rather than sweeping it away like I have countless other times. But there it sits for a day or so in the bottom of my pocket rattling around next to my change and keys.

Flash forward a couple days: I have just gotten home from work. I am sitting down at my desk, still tired from standing all day. I just want to check my email and whatnot for a couple minutes before I get changed, but dammit if the internet is down.

After some fiddling, it becomes apparent that the modem has miraculously gone senile in the few hours I was at work. I try the soft reset by unplugging it for a minute, but no joy. I look around the desk for something to hard reset the box. Pen. Headphone plug. Dammit – nothing fits in that tiny hole in the back of the…

Wait a second.

http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3044/2767447513_ff6c69069a.jpg

You know, in case you don’t know what a paper clip looks like…

I jam my hands in my pockets and sift through the 48 cents of change and push away my keys. There, still at the bottom of the pocket, is a random paper clip just ready to be unfolded and reset my modem.

I had no idea two days prior when I picked up that paper clip that I would need it for anything. How could I? I am hesitant to call it Fate, Destiny, Wyrd, or any other word that implies a more meaningful or externally-controlled paradigm of event conceptualization.

Similarly, coincidence seems too dismissive. Coincidence is the equivalent of a shrug. The events happened, but there is absolutely zero meaning in that temporal overlap. In my own life these weird and sometimes random events happen with just enough frequency to catch my attention. I have a Beamish moment and go, “Huh.” But like I said, it happens just often enough that I am hesitant to rob it of any possible meaning.

Instead, I love words like “Serendipity” or “Synchronicity.”

I actually kind of hate Sting and John Cusack

I’m thinking more of the idea that there are sometimes happy twists of chance. Or a series of events so particularly improbable that we have to at least consider the possibility of meaning.

Synchronicity: “The view that the structure of reality includes a principle of acausal connection which manifests itself most conspicuously in the form of meaningful coincidences.”  – from Roderick Main’s essay collection Jung on Synchronicity and the Paranormal.

I don’t consider “believing in” synchronicity as being a belief system, so to speak. It isn’t something that brings me comfort or solace, nor is it something that I feel like I – or anyone else – have influence over. It simply is; it happens.

This weekend, I visited Charlie to help him get moved in. As part of our time together, we went and explored the city. We made it a point to visit all of the nerd stores in the area, of which there are many. At one of the stores I happened to notice they had up artists’ proofs from my all-time favorite CCG, Doomtown. I jokingly asked if they had any cards still, an unlikely event since the game has been out of print for a decade.

But lo and behold they did! Sealed packs and everything! Sadly, much of it was buried beneath supplies for the M:TG pre-release the next day. But, he said, if we came back after the tournament he would dig it out for us.

So the next day, we go by the store and pick up some packs and then head over to check out the gay coffee shop in town to play some sealed deck. We play our game and drink our coffee. We were debating on heading home for dinner or going to the festival, but as we’re getting up to leave another patron stops and inquires what game we were playing.

One thing leads to another, and long story short, we end up spending the evening having dinner with the dean of students at his home.  We had a lovely evening and made some new friends.

But what struck me more than anything was the amazing improbability of our initial meeting – being at the right place, at the right time, doing the right thing. It was such a specific and unlikely set of circumstances that I am, on some level, hard pressed to chalk it up to sheer coincidence – but I also don’t want to call it fate.

Whatever it was, we were – I guess – lucky that it happened.

BONUS:
Here is a collection of death scenes from Willy Beamish! Hooray!

 Posted by on July 10, 2012
Aug 192011
 

Somehow, against my better judgment I ended up embroiled in a long discussion about sexuality in a rather unlikely place: The League of Legends forums. The core of the issue was whether or not people thought it was appropriate for gay gamers to seek out other gay gamers on the forums. There were, of course many camps in the discussion:

There were those who said “Why you gays gotta flaunt? Keep your dicks to yourselves!” There were the “I’m [gay/straight/bi] and don’t care if you are. Just don’t suck at the game.” The thread contains a lot of “Why don’t you make friends with people who like pokemon instead? Why just gays?” If you go read the thread, you can see how ridiculous it gets. At some point I had to just stop because the trolls really got going and any worthwhile discussion fell apart – as happens so often on the internet…

But the thread left me somewhat frustrated, because I simply couldn’t express to some of the people that the self-identification of being gay encodes so much more information than “I am attracted to members of my same sex.” It is difficult to make people understand that the desire for gay people to hang out with other gay people comes not out of any kind of superiority or self-segregating motivation but the desire to surround oneself with people who have similar life experiences.

You prefer Barbara to Liza? Philistine!

Being friends with other gay gamers isn’t just “talking about gay stuff” all the time. Nor is it about trying to get a date. It’s not about focusing on any perceived victimhood. In reality, it’s about finding comfort around people who share your worldview; it’s about congregating in a group with whom you could talk about it if you wanted to without feeling like you’re risking negative reactions. That’s why most major cities have a Little Italy, Chinatown, or the Gayborhood. There is safety in numbers.

But for some reason getting that across to people, most of whom have likely grown up as part of the majority, seems impossible. For someone who has never been a part of a marginalized group it seems almost insurmountable to try and make them understand what the experience is like, to explain it to them in words. Yes, it is possible for someone to know in a theoretical, intellectual way, but unless they actually have that experience then often the best they can do is sympathize or empathize. They can almost never know epistemologically.

And those experiments that people do to elementary schoolers (“Here Timmy – Wear this blindfold for one hour so you can know what it’s like to be blind!”) or sensationalist television in which white people put on make-up to “pass” as black can’t possibly cross that divide. Simply put, you will always know you can go back to your old life as soon as the experiment is over. Of course, the belief that a person really needs to “walk a mile in someone else’s shoes” in order to treat them like a human being is troublesome enough, but I guess it can’t hurt, right?

...and after this, you get to be not blind and have APPLE JUICE!!

But that’s not to say people aren’t trying. Compassion and empathy can be some of the most powerful traits that define our humanity, but sometimes I just want to be in the presence of other people who know, with people who get it because they’ve lived it, too. Is that so wrong?

Aug 172011
 

I began this post a few weeks ago, but shelved it because it was starting to sound too emo. Since I started, two of the most immediate stressors in my life have been resolved – I finished and submitted my Master’s Thesis and got a new job a week later. Hooray! After some time away from it, and with a change in situation I feel like I can approach the topic from a better place:

Flipping through the pages of my poetry notebook from college I found some notes I’d written. One page had a few vocabulary terms I’d learned in my Intro to East Asian Religion class. They’re all Buddhist terms, and since they’re definitions from Religion 101, essentially, I realize that they are probably horribly reductive. Nonetheless, I like the way the sound:
Sramana: a religious pilgrimage/ wander in search of truth
Dukkha: dissatisfaction or suffering
Arhat: one who has reached nirvana
Bodhi: the state of being a Buddha – buddhatude, if you will…
Trishna: a desire for certain outcomes; the origin of dukkha

I don’t pretend to practice Buddhism or be an expert like some individuals I’ve encountered.  But it strikes me as interesting that in the Buddhist model, the Four Noble Truths say that desire is the source of suffering – the want for a certain outcome makes you dissatisfied.

Shit! I knew I turned the wrong way!

I can certainly see the wisdom of this: personally, I find that managing expectations and the associated feelings of disappointment to be one of the most difficult set of emotions to deal with. Of course we want things to turn out a certain way!  I have hopes and dreams for both the short term and long term. I have an idea about how I’d like today to look. And who doesn’t want that dream job? Or Mr./ Mrs. Right? Or your “big break”? Everybody wants to be happy, and most of the time we’re at least pretty sure what will make us happy. And so we hope for things to go the way we plan.

The hard part is hoping only to have the reality turn out very differently.

Culturally speaking, we value hope as a powerful virtue. Even as far back as Greek mythology and Pandora’s box, hope is the last bright light. The Bible says that faith, hope, and love abide. Hell, even Obama ran on a platform espousing hope. When all else fails, hope is there to provide you solace. It is the belief that tomorrow will be better that today; the future is bright and you have your whole life ahead of you! You will be successful and things will go your way! But sometimes they don’t, and you’re left to face that disappointment.

When talking about struggling with disappointment, it becomes very difficult to do it without speaking in cliché but well-meaning platitudes: God works in mysterious ways. Everything happens for a reason. It will all work out for the best. And while, to a certain extent, these statements are “true,” I don’t find them terribly comforting.

When things don’t go the way I plan, I always have a “mourning period.” I feel like these mourning periods are becoming shorter as I get older, but I don’t know that they’ll ever disappear entirely. I tend to take this time and think about what went wrong, or what might have gone better. I give myself permission to be a little bit mopey and to lament the passing of an idea. Really, that’s what disappointment comes down to: the loss of something you hoped to have. This isn’t to say it’s the “death of a dream” or any such thing – very rarely is this sort of melodrama based in reality. Rather, it’s a closed road – a detour – on the road of life. It’s a matter of keeping an eye on your goal and mapping another route. If the iPhone had a LifeMap app that could help me navigate these moments, I would buy it in a heartbeat.

You are here.

Once I’ve had some time to deal, it almost inevitably occurs to me to recall other moments in my life that didn’t go according to plan. These memories are comforting because it can be surprising how often yesterday’s huge disappointment turns out to be tomorrow’s “Thank goodness!”  Without getting too schmaltzy: if all the Plan A’s in my life had gone through, I likely wouldn’t be married to my loving husband and surrounded by wonderful friends near and far.

If you’re the type to believe in fate, predestination, “God’s plan” or whatever, sometimes a missed opportunity is just a way of the universe ensuring you don’t miss another, more important one. Sure, not every or even most disappointments turn out so rosy; some of them are simply passed opportunities. Dwelling on those disappointments is where we put ourselves through suffering.

This is the part where I tell myself to get the hell over it. I have a ritual of sorts when I reach this point. I take a very long, hot shower and scrub vigorously. I do all my personal grooming – shaving, manscaping, clip my fingernails, and get a haircut. Then I put on all my cutest clothes. The dirt, the hair, the fingernails are all sloughed off along with my troubles and I put on the brightest, most confident face I can. Even if I don’t actually end up leaving the house, it’s a way for me to prepare myself for a fresh start. It’s a small ritual really – sets of seemingly insignificant actions – but it builds up a tiny bit of forward momentum, enough to push me out of a rut.

I feel pretty safe, statistically speaking, to say that 99.999% of the time, moping and dwelling on the loss is not helping you 1) feel better B) fix the situation or III) get you onto something good. That’s not to say the mourning period is a bad thing, a little reflection can be a good thing so long as you don’t let yourself get stuck in that way of thinking.

Things didn’t go as you expected? Something you think could’ve gone better? Internalize that and ask, “What can I do to mitigate that next time?” This applies to big things like failed relationships, missed academic/employment opportunities, etc. and even to little banal things like a fender bender or raiding with your WoW guild.

I think there are other things that culturally affect our ability to get over disappointment:

1)  If you’re from the US, you have this idea about the inalienable right to pursue happiness. The attempt ends up conflated with the goal – the journey confused with the destination. For a lot of people, this ends up translated as the right to be happy. In some ways, our culture predisposes us to the sort of optimism that says things will go our way. This very powerful cultural expectation seeps into many facets of life, leading to the “special snowflake” phenomenon and the belief we have the right to have something just because we want it.

B)  Again, in the US there is a long-standing tradition (largely because of self-aggrandizing and super-motivated folks like Benjamin Franklin) of the Self-Made Man. This person always pulls themselves up by their bootstraps and doesn’t need any help from anyone. This American myth is at once inspiration and pernicious; it can be motivating to believe you can take on the world, but it can be very discouraging when you realize that no one is an island. I think this is also one of the cultural issues that prevents folks from asking for help (from friends, family, or even a therapist) when they really need it.

3)  The belief that recovery, healing, getting over it, moving on or whatever else you want to call it is a one-directional movement. We like to think that this process moves in a straight line where we go from bad steadily to good. In reality, I think that this process is more like a lightning bolt: even if we’re moving up from bad to good, there are going to be peaks and valleys. One day you’ll feel great, and the next day you feel awful again. I think, as a culture, we beat ourselves up over our “backwards” movement.

"Get up Franklin, we're going to New Brunswick."
"Like hell I am. What for?"
"The whoring and the drinking!"

In some ways it’s a recursive problem. In a very real way, even these things are problems of expectation. We expect that we will always get what we want, even though that is impossible. We expect that “getting better” means not feeling bad about “it” anymore. And we think we should be able to do all of this on our own.

But acknowledging your loss and moving on is an up-and-down process; give yourself permission to feel disappointed. But also set yourself a time limit for mourning proportional to the loss. Once you’ve reached your deadline, do something nice for yourself that you know makes you feel good. Use those positive feelings to get the ball rolling. Be prepared for “backsliding” and just know it’s natural and nothing to beat yourself up about. And keep a mental list of the people you know you can count on to help you if you need it.

This is starting to sound like I’m giving a pep talk, though I don’t know to whom.

How do you deal with disappointment in your life? Do you have a ritual or a special something nice you do for yourself when you need a pick-me-up? Do you have a story you’d like to share of yesterday’s disappointment turning into today’s “Thank goodness!” ?

Aug 032011
 

You know what I’ve come to realize is weird:

Having a body.

I don't think I'd actually want to see this. I might actually throw up.

Believe it or not, this actually isn’t meant to be a continuation of my previous posts nor was it inspired by them. In reality, it was inspired by this mysterious rash that recently appeared on my back.

At least, it looks like a rash. But it doesn’t itch or hurt; it isn’t raised bumps. Charlie spotted it on my back a week or so ago, but it didn’t look like much at the time – just a couple red dots on my left shoulder blade. Our reaction at the time was mostly, “Hmm?” with a raised eyebrow. Then last night I’m taking a post-haircut shower and Charlie says:

“WTF is up with your back??”

I look in the mirror and see that the red spots have spread all over my back. Even though I know I shouldn’t, I turn to Google and WebMD and run a search for “back rash.” Always a mistake.

You look at these images and it’s amazing sometimes how easily it can all go wrong. And so much of it is out of your control. And just think of all the things going on in your body that you are not aware of: blood pumping, neurons firing, food digesting! It can be disconcerting when you actually take a moment to stop and think about the things that your body does without your active participation. Or things that you’ve learned to do so well that you just do it.

I had a weird moment, I remember, back in college. I was merging onto I-75 and heading back to school. As I merged, I happened to notice for the briefest second that I was performing many simultaneous actions involved with driving all automatically. Even though it was “apart” from me, I had a sense of space around the car so I knew when I had room to move into the next lane over, and my hands were manipulating the steering wheel to make teeny-tiny adjustments to the directions of the wheels to keep myself going straight. I know it sounds crazy, but for a moment I felt like I was some crazy cyborg – part man, part car! It was a bizarre Zen-like moment where I sort of “forgot” how to drive because suddenly my automatic actions were brought to my attention. It was a scary but exciting feeling.
I guess I can see how some of these learned actions can become semi-reflexive, although I don’t know how to explain the feeling that we humans can use our tools and technology in such a way that they become extensions of our selves and our perceptions.

And as for other stuff in the body, in some cases science still hasn’t completely explained what’s happening! Like yawning – something so casually everyday and yet there still seems to be no definitive answer for why we do it! Does it increase or decrease oxygen intake? Why is it contagious? Is it a ventilation system in our brains to prevent overheating? (If I yawned just a little bit less, could I overclock my brain?)

Speaking of the brain – talk about uncharted territory! (N.B. – I don’t pretend to be a neuro- anything, so correct me if I misrepresent things here!) There is a lot we do know about the brain, and much of it seems to come from observing injury done to the brain. So looking at samples of individuals with similar kinds of damage or damage to the same region who exhibit similar symptoms scientists can say “Oh, that must be what that does!”

Is it wrong to think the homonculus is a cute little guy?

After all, it might be kind of difficult for scientists to get respondents to flyers that read: “We will give you money if you let us poke your brain with sharp things so we can see what happens!” The MRI studies sound like they’re interesting in terms of being able to watch activity in the brain, but it seems like there aren’t many definitive conclusions being made. “This part lights up sometimes when we do [blah]! We don’t know why yet, but there it is… most of the time!”

I am hopeful, however, that as MRI technology gets better and smaller we can get some real-time studies. I am picturing people walking around town with these little headbands filled with blinking lights (kind of like the Google Maps cars I see driving around). I would think that larger timeframe samples would allow more kinds of research to be done on that data. Of course, I suppose it gets problematic when you can see how a person’s brain is lighting up all day, but you have no real way to confirm what kind of stimulus is causing that reaction… hmmm…

Why yes, that is Lobot.

All this crazy stuff and no user’s manual? Even my computer came with one! (Not that I read it, but still!)

With so much mystery, what’s that unknown something that interests you? Have you ever had a “holy crap! My body is doing something crazy!” moment? I have friends who are doctors and neuropsychologists – maybe we can get some exciting answers!

Jul 282011
 

…There’s no one else your age ever around.

In the Part 1 of this post, I mused upon the body-image problems of the gay community. All this comes out of my reflection on reaching Gay Death, and now I’m actually writing this post from the other side of the veil!

Turning 30 yesterday, I had a couple friends ask me, “How is your angst-level about turning 30?” To which I replied, “Minimal really.” Turning 30, while a milestone in some ways, doesn’t feel like much of a big deal to me. It was just another day – just another year. I still enjoy doing many of the same things now as I did when I was younger, like video games or tabletop RPGs. In some ways, I think I enjoy them more than I did before. Now they’re a very real respite from the world, and I can appreciate them in much more meaningful and complex ways than when I was 18.

More than one person also explained my lack of angst by chalking it up to the fact that I still look young. Maybe. But looking younger doesn’t make me feel any younger. Sure, it makes the external reactions a bit less extreme. In fact, sometimes it makes them amusing. When I told Sierra that I was about to turn 30 she was shocked! No way! It amuses me, most of the time. But appearance (though important as discussed in part 1), again, doesn’t contribute to how old I do or do not feel. It’s become a quotable cliché, but I agree with George Bernard Shaw: “We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.”

I also hear that I look like Matt Damon or maybe his son. I don't know that I see it...

But it’s strange in the gay community, too. Because of the importance placed on appearance and body-image, it’s hardly surprising in some ways that aging has become such a topic of fear. But I remember being a little gayling (cue flashback sound effects and wavy screen):

I remember being 16 or 17 and hanging out on the porch of OutWrite bookstore. It was a safe haven for us gay kids. Dee and I would come here almost every Friday night to see our friends and feel like part of a community. Years later, I don’t remember many names or faces, but I still remember some: David (who would later be Nicole), Matt J., Scotty the Gay Chihuahua, Jason M., Glenn, and “That Troll from Blake’s.”

Nicole and Matt are pretty inconsequential in terms of the flashback at hand, but I remember them fondly, so I figured they were worth mentioning. Jason, a guy I would later date, is also another story altogether – relevant in some ways, but not central.

So, Scotty (the Gay Chihuahua as we affectionately called him) was another young gayling on the porch. He had blonde curly hair and braces. He would talk quickly and wildly and had a little bit of a squeaky voice (hence the Chihuahua moniker). Scotty was funny, friendly, and a bit queeny. Based on his demeanor, we all assumed that he was a big ole bottom – in years since, this distinction has become less meaningful or apparent, but that’s another post. Scotty had very little shame and would gladly flirt with “them olda bois” as they were leaving the bars.

See, OutWrite is right down the street from the bar, Blake’s. After a few drinks, it wasn’t uncommon for some of them to wander down to the porch and play at chickenhawking. Most of us disliked these old guys trolling on us because we were younger. Truth be told, I couldn’t now tell you how old many of them were. Youth is so biased towards itself that they could’ve been just about any age and I would simply recall them as “older.” One such “gentleman” referenced above as That Troll from Blake’s would openly and without shame hit on the under-18 crowd on the porch. He would mostly promise alcohol and sex – and when you’re under 18 and a dude, those are pretty appealing.

He was, if memory serves me (and he was so stand-out I think it does), probably closer to 50. Dee, if you happen to read this and have any memory of this, back me up. Finally, he managed to convince Scotty to come back to his place. While the prospect of free booze and sex was appealing, that guy was old old. Generally, we all found him pretty gross. But he wasn’t the worst offender, perhaps.

Glenn, when I met him, looked pretty young. He talked like he was a little older and would often hang out on the porch with us. We all just assumed he was more mature than us, and he seemed pretty nice. He would never tell anyone how old he was. If anyone asked, he would simply smile (a little creepily) and ask, “How old do I look?” But would never confirm nor deny any guesses. Like TTfB’s, he would hit on the other guys and make implications that he could get alcohol. I have little doubt that he was successful, and only later did someone manage to look in his wallet and confirm that he was 28.

Granted, now I look and that’s not so old. But thinking back to me at 16 or 17, and most of the kids on the porch being that age, it’s a little creepy. At least That Troll wasn’t trying to fool anyone. Over the years I’ve been back in that area for Pride or simply out of nostalgia. I’ve actually seen Glenn a few times, still hanging out on the porch smiling at the young twinks. “That’s what I love about these high school [boys],” he seems to say. “I get older, they stay the same age.

The male preference for younger, fitter models is not unique to the gay world, that’s for sure. Just like in the straight world, there’s that “1/2 + 7” rule that suggests what age you can date down to without being a creeper. Obviously, that doesn’t stop some people, but what can you do? In this respect, it is interesting to consider the varied reactions to both gay and straight couples that defy this rule… Demi and Ashton – kinda gross; Ian McKellen bringing a young model as his date to the Oscars – you go, girl! Hugh Hefner and just about any of those girls – also pretty gross.

Two words: Old. Balls.

What I do find peculiar and somewhat fascinating is the demarcation that happens at 30.

Again, maybe this isn’t something unique to the gay community, but I know that in gay porn once you’re over 30 you end up in the “mature” category (but that’s still different from the “older men” category). Hell, there’s a whole website dedicated to Men Over 30! Often these guys are muscular but with a dusting of body hair and a generally “masculine” look that is notably absent in the Men Under 30 demographic. It becomes a strange new way to fetishize or objectify the male body – still muscular like the under-30 crowd, but hairier like the bear crowd. It’s almost as if the industry and community expects that after 30 our basic desires change.

But more than that, it suggests that there is a change in the community’s expectation of how a man over 30 ought to look, or be. In this way, I guess we could say that even the community’s weird ageism is still fundamentally tied to its body fascism. As a community, there is an expectation set down for what is age-appropriate behavior and appearance for gay men.

After all this rambling, I’m interested what you, my dear readers, think about this weird transition that happens at 30. Is there something unique happening in the gay world? Or is it just as weird in the straight world? Is it gendered? Do straight men over 30 have the same sorts of expectations set on them as women over 30, and how might those compare to expectations of gay men?

Jul 262011
 

Called a mulligan for last week after my parents’ wonderful visit. I tried writing up a post on Thursday about disappointment and dissatisfaction, but by the end it was simply too whiny and self-effacing for my tastes. That will go back on the shelf for revision later.

In lighter news, tomorrow is my birthday! Hooray for me! It’s a weird feeling this year, however: I am headed for Gay Death. (Not to be confused with Lesbian Bed Death, as that’s something entirely separate…)

When a gay man hits 30, that’s it. The party’s over. You are officially old. No more going out drinking and dancing at the clubs; no more casual encounters on the internet. No, at this point, if you aren’t coupled you are doomed to be forever lonely. You are a gay, gay spinster. This is the rhetoric that pervades the gay community. In many ways, it is a culture-wide Peter Pan complex that is often youth- and appearance-obsessed.

The GIS for "Gay Spinster" was less interesting than I hoped. So here's Sassy Gay Friend with Ms. Havisham.

It has been pretty well documented that gay men have body image issues more frequently and more intensely than their hetero counterparts. This is often reflected in the increased rates of eating disorders (though still lower than in women). God knows I’ve also struggled with my body image over the years, and still do. I often feel like my body has been going in two-year cycles of weight fluctuation. I’ll be overweight for two years, then thinner for two years. I feel like I’m in a good cycle right now, but I doubt that I will ever have a six-pack.

This prevalence of so-called body fascism isn’t exactly surprising. Brian Moylan hits some important notes in how and why body-obsession becomes so big in gay culture. The fact that men are so visually stimulated relative to women explains why we (men in general) like to look at attractive bodies – a strange holdover for gay men, I suppose, from an evolutionary psychology standpoint considering we aren’t looking for the best genes for mating. I will avoid making a “best jeans” joke.

The result of this masculine scopophilia results in a bi-directional sort of objectification. On one hand, there’s the extrinsic objectification we project onto other gay men. We, by our appreciation and consumption of objectified bodies, tell gay men at large that these are the acceptable body types; these bodies are attractive bodies and anything less is therefore unattractive. This is the same mechanism that objectifies women in society-at-large in which men decide what steps a woman should take to be attractive. On the other hand, there is a second, intrinsic sort of objectification going on in gay men that I believe is unique to our community.

There comes a strange point of recursive self-objectification in the consumption of idealized body images. We are at once the agents and consumers of objectification as well as the subjects of that objectifying gaze. Brian Moylan describes it this way:

Gay men are attracted to, essentially, themselves. No straight man wants to look like a woman (and certainly not the reverse) […] Since society tells us to want muscle-bound athletes, that’s what gays want, and that’s what they make themselves look like in the pursuit of their ideal. If you want to bed muscles you have to have muscles, if you want to land a twink, you better be a twink (or at least some other type that is easily cast in any gay porn movie).[1]

While I don’t know that I agree with Moylan’s like-gets-like model, I do think he’s right at the core of his statement: we’re doing this to ourselves. We like looking at images of male bodies, and hey! we even have male bodies! Even as we are enjoying our consumption of images of tight bodies and ripped abdominals, we end up looking in the mirror and applying the same critical lens to our own bodies. We ask ourselves, “Do I look like a pornstar? Would I have sex with me?” Even if we’re not asking these questions aloud, or even in our conscious thoughts, we are faced with the problem of living up to our own expectations of others because of the fact that our expectations are directly applicable to our own bodies.

I can't even look at myself! I'm such a fatty! *eats cheetos*

I don’t know (and doubt) that straight men have this same issue; maybe I’m wrong – if so, correct me. The ridiculous trope prevails of the beer-gutted man complaining to his slim wife that she’s too fat because she doesn’t look like a supermodel. Stereotypically, these guys compare real women to the idealized images they enjoy consuming. These men are seemingly unaware of their own ridiculous standards and the irony that accompanies it. Because these men are judging bodies that are, in many respects, considered “other” bodies the process of self-reflection doesn’t occur. Even the horizontal objectification (women facilitating the further objectification of other women) of the fashion industry and its waifish models is, at its core, a system that attempts to appeal to the male gaze.

As I said, the gay male gaze gets pretty complicated here. We are consuming images of others and reflecting that consumption back onto ourselves. In any body image debate much of the blame goes into the “media trap” that controls our minds and expectations. I think that is, at least partially, just scapegoating to deflect the blame. Sure, the media wants to make as much money as possible by using our predilections against us; they want to make money and as long as we’re buying it they’ll keep shilling it.

There is no easy way out, sadly. I don’t predict men learning to NOT be visually stimulated. I don’t predict that the media will stop selling as long as we’re buying. I DO think that standards of masculinity and attractiveness will shift as they have over the last 40 years, but those standards will still exist and still impact our community and our lives. We will still struggle A) with meeting those standards regardless of their practical achievability or 2) the ramifications of our inability to meet those same standards. The best thing I can suggest is that we all acknowledge what is happening and what the effects are.

I am not suggest anything radical like stopping enjoying those sweet abs of that guy at the beach, or on that tumblr blog you follow (or started). I don’t think there’s any innate harm in the fantasy so long as you can keep that fantasy from creeping into your perception of reality.

Also, thank you to The Onion for this serendipitous article from today: Mom And Dad, I’m Gay And Also Stronger Than Both Of You, So Don’t Try Any Shit. (Someone posted this on FB just as I was finishing this post!)

Tune in on Thursday for Part 2 where I will discuss and/or ramble about age-obsession in the gay community: “I Think You’re a Troll Now: No One Else Your Age is Ever Around.”

Jul 152011
 

(N.B.- My parents are in town to visit, so I’m posting a canned post I wrote when I applied to blog for SoYoureEnGAYged. I never heard back from them, so I’m using it myself cuz I like it.)

“What should we call you?”

When Charlie and I got engaged, we’d already talked about wanting children someday. We discussed what our children would call us: Would one of us be dad and the other daddy? Papa? Father? I don’t know that we ever reached a conclusion on that one, deciding that we’d cross that bridge when we got to it and the kids would work it out.

When we got married, we decided that we would hyphenate rather than one taking the other’s name. We both loved our families and wanted to hold onto those names, as they were important parts of our identities. He had also already begun publishing academically under his name, and at that point things get complicated.

Tacking one last name onto the other didn’t work for us; Charlie K-M and Karl M-K just wasn’t going to work. It felt silly because ultimately we still ended up with different last names, which defeated the purpose. We briefly toyed with the idea of just mashing our names together, but it was a short-lived amusement. Ultimately, we decided on Charlie and Karl K-M because we thought that had a better ring to it. We both still go by our bachelor-names (GAYden names?) professionally, but our marriage certificate has the hyphenated name.

The fun part of getting married: Paperwork


I don’t know why this question of “What will we be called?” didn’t occur to us for other things.
We ended up having one of our “State of the Union” meetings one evening after I’d been introduced to a colleague of his as “This is my partner, Karl.”

At this point, we’d been married for several months – legally married with the support of our families. As far as I was concerned, Charlie was my husband and nothing else. I think at the time of our discussion, however, I may have actually said “nothing less.”

This raised some definite concerns as we talked. The politics of naming are subtle but also powerful. On one hand, it is easier to keep using partner since we’d already been using that. Also, he felt that continuing to use “partner,” even though we were legally married, was a sign of solidarity with other gay couples who might either A) Not be able to get married or 2) Choose not to. Partner is a well-established term in the gay community. It is gender-neutral and expresses a relationship of mutual respect and equality. It also doesn’t privilege heterosexual terminology or relationships, which is why there are also straight couples who use it. So it also promotes relationship equality across the boundaries of sexuality.

(These are the conversations that come up in a household with an English major and a Psychologist!)

While neither wholly comfortable nor wholly convinced with the idea that I was, by my rhetoric, devaluing non-married gay couples, I countered by saying that to me it was more the equivalent of getting married and continuing to call your spouse “my boyfriend” or “my girlfriend.” I felt that “partner” was on the chain of progression that went approximately: boy/girlfriend > partner > fiancé(e) > spouse. I felt that by our commitment in the face of the law and our families that we were passed that point in our relationship. It wasn’t about devaluing anyone; it is about saying “Hey! We are legally married and folks best recognize that! We are not going away!”

I still dismiss the argument that by choosing to use husband instead of partner devalues non-married gay couples. For me, it is a political message (without talking about things like heteronormativity) in which we can exercise the fundamental use of language as a platform. It is a mark of how far we have come, but also of how far we have to go. It is a message of visibility and acknowledgement.

Till death do us part


For us, I think we agreed that both terms are reflective of a truth. Charlie is my husband AND he is my partner. We are a married couple, and we are in this together. Yes, we obtained a marriage license from the wonderful state of Massachusetts, (yeah, fuck you too, California) but marriage equality is still our fight until gay unions are universally recognized. Now, we alternate between husband and partner depending on the circumstance.

I still tend to prefer husband, and I think Charlie still sometimes prefers partner. But we, as a couple, decided how to make the potentially messy politics of labeling in our relationship. It’s not necessarily something newly engaged or newly married couples think about, but it’s an important thing to discuss. Do you and your fiancé(e) have a preference for one or the other? Let’s talk about it in the comments!

 Posted by on July 15, 2011