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Faceless

First off, if you’ve been wondering where I’ve been, I’ve been working on my creative-writing MFA applications (on top of my schoolwork) so there’s very little time to work on this blog. Which is fine; I run this blog on my terms. I have a considerably lighter semester in the spring–my last as an undergraduate!–and may write more here after December. I say all this because I recognize that my last post to this blog may have left readers who don’t know me a little concerned. In fact, everything has been going pretty well.

I’ve written previously about my love-hate relationship with Facebook. It has opened up incredible opportunities for me, but has also created endless (and often needless) stress in my life. Which means I’m like about one billion other people on the planet.

I’ve taken breaks from Facebook in the past, primarily because all the political fighting got too much for me. (There are no enemies like friends of friends.) But I always had a deadline of returning, like, after an election.

However, after the most current arguments concerning the U.S. government shutdown, I had enough and decided to take an indefinite leave of absence from Facebook.

Yeah, pretty much. From thedrum.com

And guess what? The world hasn’t stopped turning. I’m still breathing–a lot lighter, in fact.

Now, I will preface this by stating that I’ve not gone totally cold turkey. For instance, as I found out the hard way, people send party and event invitations almost exclusively through Facebook these days, so I do have to poke my head in occasionally for the benefit of my social calendar.

I have also installed the Facebook Messenger app on my laptop so that I can still chat with my friends (which is the primary reason I wanted to use Facebook anyway. I need this because it is important to managing my anxiety and depression issues that I keep in contact with friends on a regular basis, and I have irregular phone service.

But the surprising thing is that I haven’t used Facebook Messenger that much. I think that my reduced exposure to the endless barrage of news stories and arguments has allowed me to live with considerably less anxiety and depression.

All this means that I’m less aware of what’s going on in the world.  But I honestly don’t think that’s a bad thing. I have a general distrust of mass media, and figure that their primary motive is to generate whatever attitudes are necessary, positive or negative, that will stimulate profit. A lot of the news leaves people feeling helpless, and quite frankly, this is the worst possible time in my life for me to feel helpless. And what does all this “knowing” about what’s going on in the world actually doing anything? More important to effect change.

The irony is that I’m going to post a link to this post on Facebook in a couple of minutes. But then I will be done with Facebook for the day. Facebook is my tool; I’m through with being its tool.

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A Love/Hate Relationship

I love Facebook because it helped me to redeem my past. I was ambivalent about reaching deep into my past for people to “friend” on the site. I knew that I would have to fill them in on the whole coming-out narrative, and figured a lot of them would be upset about it. But I took the leap, and was pleasantly surprised. I learnt to give people more credit.

I hate Facebook because I have to face down what people believe. There is a hell of a lot more in the world than worrying about gay folks. And, unfortunately, it’s in a lot of those arenas that I bump heads with chunks of my friend list. I have to manage an anxiety disorder, and that often means managing what content I read. That entails using filters on Facebook that I’d rather not feel the need to use. I feel bad that I am unable to handle some of what people I really do consider friends have to say.

I love Facebook because it opens me up to new points of view. People can surprise you–especially if they are intelligent and thoughtful and know how to carry on a true debate without erupting into a volcano of ad hominem, quid pro quo, and other fun Latin words. I have certain friends who I love to read posts from, since I never know quite what their take is going to be on something. It enlightens me.

I hate Facebook because it’s a never-ending stream of news stories. There was this fantastic article awhile back (ironically, from a newspaper) that told of the dangers of exposure to news media. One of the issues is that the endless onslaught of tragedies that you can do nothing about can lead to an individual feeling powerless, even about the things they can change for the better. Sometimes I have to distance myself.

I love Facebook because it keeps me company. I am a student and a writer, so I spend a lot of time on my laptop. I also live alone–something I do not like–and a random chat can brighten up my day in the most marvelous way. Why, just today, I had a conversation out of nowhere that led to new personal insights. As an extrovert whose social life is presently lacking, that personal contact is essential.

I hate Facebook because I feel like I have to censor myself there. I’m perhaps a little bit better about this than I used to be. But I’ve run on the assumption that any potential employer is going to find some way to get at my Facebook account, as well as this very blog. (I already believe some of my entries on this blog have forfeited my chance to ever have a real job.) I decided that I’d rather be stone-broke and honest than comfortable and a liar. Still, there are many views and opinions I do not express on Facebook, and many articles I do not repost, because I don’t want to stir up trouble.

I love Facebook because it inspires my writing. Some of my blog posts start out as Facebook posts. Then I realize that what I’m trying to say is too complex an idea for a Facebook post, so I come over and write a blog post instead. In turn, I’m able to post links of my blog posts to Facebook, which helps get the word out about my writing.

I hate Facebook because it’s not designed to express complete ideas. When the site first launched, users were limited to posts of approximately 450 characters. Even though that restriction is long gone, it established the meme that Facebook posts are supposed to be concise. Not all ideas can be articulated briefly. Consider that I just went over 600 words in this post and still haven’t said a hell of a lot. This is a big reason why fights erupt on Facebook–people don’t take the time and use the space to explain ideas in a complete manner.

I love Facebook because it’s instantaneous. When you think about it, Facebook isn’t particularly novel. Virtually every component on Facebook is duplicated from Yahoo, which is what folks used ten years ago for pretty much the same purposes–games, instant messaging, interest groups. The beauty of Facebook is that it pulled these utilities from the realm of those who were more tech-savvy and placed them in everyone’s hands. And look–I can play a game of Scrabble with someone halfway around the world instantaneously. I can chat simultaneously with a friend in Vancouver, a friend in Chicago, and a friend in Madrid. I can go over and link this blog post when I’m done with it and instantly place it in hundreds of hands.

I hate Facebook because it’s instantaneous. This is another big reason why fights erupt on Facebook. In the time it takes for someone to post a comment, and then post a second comment to expound upon the first, a half-dozen people can jump and eviscerate the initial comment, before there’s been a chance to explain it. The ability to reply instantly is the antithesis to listening, which is essential, not just for everyday communication, but for the survival of our species.

I love Facebook because it opens my heart. Every day, there’s something on there that makes me laugh, and many days something that makes me shed a tear.

I hate Facebook because it demands that I maintain a switch on my heart, to shift from happy to sad to happy again in the blink of an eye. In this way, it’s destroying the human heart.

So what do I do? I just have to roll with it. Something else will come along at some point in my life to take its place. (Remember MySpace?) I have to be grateful for the ingenuity that gives me all of these good things in my life. But I don’t have to be grateful for the way it drags my life down.

Ugly Truths and Pretty Lies

An article has been running around Facebook that raises my hackles. The article, 21 Pictures That Will Restore Your Faith in Humanity, includes two pictures that really take away my faith in humanity.

From the article “21 Pictures…”–the first photo in the blog entry.

I’m going to make a bet that the author of the article doesn’t know the full story behind the pictures. They just saw something that looked inspiring and then posted them. But looks can be deceiving.

The first two photos feature a “hug-in” by the Marin Foundation. (Founder Andrew Marin is on the right side of the first photo.) The organization is best known for attending Pride celebrations and hugging people (mostly, it seems, young males in their underwear), “apologizing” for the harm the Christian church has perpetrated on the LGBTQ community, and asking for donations to help them with their “cause”. The Marin Foundation officially claims to be “neutral” regarding their stance on whether being gay is okay. The foundation’s cause, though, requires a Rosetta stone to decipher, as it consists of a never-ending stream of vague platitudes.

Let me be your Rosetta stone.

Beneath the milquetoast smiles and lukewarm niceties lies a much darker reality. Please watch this video, created by Andrew Marin.

If you’re not familiar with the language, let me unravel it for you. Basically, Marin is saying that to be attracted to the same sex is not sin, but to do anything whatsoever in keeping with those attractions–to date, to marry, to have sex–is sin, what he calls “the sin portion”. The man has a lot of gall if he thinks this constitutes “neutrality”.

Let me be blunt. I’ve had it up to here with a church that says, “Oh, we have to love the homosexuals, they’re sinning just like everyone else.” There is a bloody world of difference between a conscious act (murder, pedophilia, or anything else that gets lumped in with homosexuality) and a state of being. I could never have a date or any physical contact with a man for the rest of my life and it would still not change my orientation one iota.

Ah, you may say, but to date, have sex, etc *is* a conscious act of will. May I simply remind you that Jesus spent a heck of a lot of time telling people that, when it came to matters of personal morality, to hold oneself to a high standard, but when it came to matters of others’ morality, to mind your own damn business.

So, back to the photos. They may look good, they may look pretty, they may look inspiring. But those two photos represent a very consciously perpetrated lie. And an ugly truth will always be more beautiful than a pretty lie.

Trigger

Sunday was Mother’s Day. On Facebook, my friends traded out their userpics with photos of their mothers, and wrote glowing tributes. Well, most of my friends did. For other friends, Mother’s Day is not a happy. Their mothers have passed on and they miss them terribly. In other instances, my friends have strained relationships with their mothers, and for still others, my friends wish that their relationships with their mothers were good enough to call them “strained.” A couple of my friends shared their pain and grief on their walls, and in at least one instance, got chastised for it, which only added to the pain.

I had an idea for a Mother’s Day post for this blog, and I probably still will write it soon, since the idea is far more encompassing than Mother’s Day. But my gut told me to not write it Sunday, if for no other reason to acknowledge and honor my friends’ grief by abstaining.

If there is any consolation that at least some of my friends can take (I won’t presume all of them since I don’t know how everyone’s mind works), it is that they can see Mother’s Day coming. There it is, the second Sunday of May every year. They can brace themselves. But even then, they can’t really know what is going to trigger them, when, or how. There are 364 other days on the calendar when they can get walloped out of nowhere with pain and despair.

I have generalized anxiety disorder. I am always tightly wound. But sometimes, the smallest thing will send me for a loop and I’ll be in even worse shape. I freeze up. I feel like I’m going to throw up, except I don’t, and sometimes I’d rather throw up because I’d at least feel better after. My heart pounds. I get a weird fluttering sensation all through my body. My mind either bounces around all over the place, or fixates on one idea and spins through it over and over. I take anxiety medications, but they’re no magic bullet. Sometimes I am able to soldier through the day, and sometimes, my absolute best efforts to overcome the anxiety leave me either huddled in bed, terrified to even move, or stuck in front of my computer, endlessly zooming through the same cycle of a half-dozen URLs.

Yesterday was “one of those days.” It began as I awoke from a nightmare. Now, I almost always have nightmares, and in fact, they are the same half-dozen or so nightmares that I’ve had for the past five or ten years. It is important to note that every single one of these nightmares is based around past regrets. Because I am so familiar with the dreams, most mornings I can just bounce out of bed and start my day. But sometimes, the pain of the past leaves me huddled in bed for hours on end, convinced that whatever I can accomplish can’t possibly make amends for my failures. That’s how I spent the first two hours of yesterday morning.

At 5:00 pm yesterday, Governor Mark Dayton signed same-sex marriage into law in the state of Minnesota. This improves the lives of so many of my friends who are in same-sex relationships, some of them for decades. They’ve had some real issues when it comes to things like hospital visitation and inheritance rights that are now no more. I am ecstatic for them.

Yet the dread with which I awoke compounded itself over the course of the day. As happy as I was for my friends, I was sad for myself. A decade after coming out, I still have very limited and mostly disastrous experience with dating. I have had a couple of tepid relationships that had no chance of developing into something long-term. My friends have gradually settled into their grown-up lives with partners and families, and I see them far less. I am very alone and, unlike an Emily Dickinson-style introvert-writer, very much do not want to be. And that makes me even more anxious.

Yesterday, I was supposed to go t0 the first-tenor sectional rehearsal. I was then supposed to go to an abbreviated chorus rehearsal, after which we were to go to St. Paul to perform for Governor Dayton and several thousand other celebrants. I was to join my brothers in song in Twin Cities Gay Men’s Chorus to perform “Marry Us”, “Walk Hand in Hand”, and finally, “Love Is the Law” with none other than its writer, Chan Poling.

Supposed to.

Instead, I failed. In the grips of an anxiety attack, the last thing I can think of is going out in public and face the derisive stares my erratic behavior inevitably draws. But I failed the chorus–I had a job to do, and I let my medical difficulties get in the way, when I know there are choristers who are dealing with more difficult medical issues who attended and performed. I failed to support my many friends on one of the happiest days of their lives. And I failed myself, because I will forever be haunted by the fact that I could not get myself to participate in a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

I don’t feel any better today. I feel like I have the entire global population of monarch butterflies in my stomach. The only thing that is getting me going is the fact that tonight is the first night of my summer classes, and there is no way I can miss. School seems to be the one commitment I have been able to master even in the midst of my medical issues. In this, I am most fortunate. It bodes well for me if and when I attend graduate school. In one arena of life, I have wrangled this beast. I only wish I could do so in more. Perhaps I will yet.

Bully

The conversations continue since I dared to post a certain picture the other day. My initial response has fostered some pretty astounding discussions. This makes me happy–it’s kind of why I’m a writer.

Two conversations in particular stand out to me this morning, one of which was not directly tied into the whole brouhaha. These particular conversations stick with me, actually, because they are not that remarkable, at least, not in my life. I’ve had these two conversations repeatedly with dozens of people since joining Facebook in 2008.

First, I’ll preface all this by explaining that I was ambivalent about joining Facebook. Don’t think of Facebook as it is now, with the constant VilleVille requests, flame wars, ever-mutating interface, and general mediocrity. In 2008, Facebook was just made available to people who weren’t presently in high school or college. Zuckerberg and Company had positioned Facebook as the way to reach back to find people from your past, a deft marketing maneuver that helped to distinguish Facebook from then-dominant MySpace. Reach back to my past? That would be no mean feat. At the time, I had not finished my Bachelor’s degree after two aborted attempts, and I was working an entry-level job from which I was unlikely to advance. I was embarrassed, actually. I had hoped to accomplish so much more by this point in my life. And then, of course, there was the giant pink boa-wearing skeleton no longer in my closet. Though I had no intention of hiding the fact that I was gay, I knew that reaching out to people might mean rejection over this one simple fact.

By and large, my interactions were overwhelmingly positive. I had underestimated people. And I discovered that some folks have surprisingly progressive values–they are just, for many reasons, either unable or unwilling to air them or make a big production out of them. (The one big backlash I got was from someone very close to me. I do not wish to divulge his identity in this context, but I wish desperately that we could connect. Unfortunately, at this point, the ball is in his court.)

But in the midst of all these discussions, two patterns emerged:

One was the conversation with the penitent bully. My former aggressors would fall over themselves apologizing for the awful things they had done to me, begging for my forgiveness and understanding if I wouldn’t give it. Though I appreciated the gesture, I thought it odd that folks didn’t think I would have overcome those demons by now. (I have been to a hell of a lot of therapy, after all.) I couldn’t get hung up now on things that happened twenty years before. I had to move on in life. This was not to excuse what they had done–there was a reason I had to go to the hell-of-a-lot-of therapy, after all. But I saw their actions as performed by different people. I am not at all the person I was at 14, and this is a very good thing. I assumed that they had grown up, too. Anyway, I had kind of assumed that what my mother said was true: that bullies “weren’t raised right,” so I didn’t place the blame entirely on their shoulders. (More on that later.)

The other type of conversation is with fellow former bully-victims. They look back on the suffering we endured, and it has marked them like it has me. But, for a lot of us former bully victims, we have carried those scars into adulthood and are not willing to extend the hand of friendship. They have been betrayed past the point of reconciliation. They’re not going off to the reunions or combing through their yearbooks to friend-list absolutely everyone they knew, friend or foe. Honestly, can you blame them? There is something to be said for moving on, not looking back, and not actively seeking to reopen old wounds.

I fully respect their right to do so, and understand all the motivations behind their actions. It’s simply not the choice I’ve made for myself. For me, I knew that if I was ever going to truly be healed from past abuses, I needed to redeem my past somehow. This meant reaching out, reaching back. It meant risking getting hurt again. It meant running on the assumption that they had changed as much as I had. And, overall, it’s been successful. We look back on the tragedy that was, but then look at what good there is now.

It may sound like I have some sort of Stockholm syndrome going on, that I’m justifying the actions of those who have hurt me. Far from it. The best analogy I can give comes from a conversation I once had with a man who was sexually abused as a child. He described the experience as “sexual education.” I was aghast at such a justification–he seemed like the perfect victim. Then he explained that he wasn’t justifying what had happened to him. He said that in order for him to move on from this unspeakable tragedy in his life, he had to find something redemptive out of it, regardless of how far he had to stretch to do so.

There is something else I can do in re-establishing and redeeming these relationships. I had mentioned before that my mother had thought that bullies “weren’t raised right.” And, indeed, children pick up their parents’ attitudes in ways we don’t even think of. (I’d like to dig up the studies that prove this, but I’m really wanting to wind this up right now. Maybe later.)

Before I began kindergarten, my mother took me to the living room and sat me down on her knee. She said, “Son, when you get to school, you’re going to meet all sorts of kids. Some of them are going to look different from you. They’re going to dress different from you, and talk different from you. You’re no better than they are, and they’re no better than you are.” She and I were both in for a shock once I started school and discovered that not every parent had given that talk to their child.

By building bridges, I can encourage people to have that talk with their children. I can implore them to raise their children to be kind and thoughtful, to understand that we human beings are all equal, and the radical consequences that this understanding entails. I sometimes say that our generation is lost. We’re already set in our ways. Not so for our children and grandchildren, not to mention those generations not even born yet.

As I’ve studied the issue of bullying, particularly as it pertains to adolescent psychosocial development, I’m discovering we’re doing a number of things wrong. We’re looking for magic-bullet solutions to complex problems. We’re ignoring contributing factors. (For example, the sharp class divide within my hometown certainly prompted a rich-versus-poor mentality in my junior high and high school.) We’re misunderstanding the way our children develop psychologically and socially, and we’re ignoring children when we discuss bullying, cooking up our own solutions in a vacuum and not asking for their input as to what would work.

I’m not an educator. I’m not a psychologist. I’m not even a parent. But this doesn’t excuse me from the responsibility of ensuring that my fellow human beings have a bright future. I don’t want anyone to go through what I’ve gone through. I don’t want to have children hurting, and I don’t want them to grow up to become adults who are hurting.

I write. And I work to build bridges of understanding. This is what I do.

I’m curious as to what you’re doing. How are you working to overcome bullying? If you were bullied, what has been your healing process? Does it look like mine or is it radically different? If you were a bully, what have you done to redeem your past? How are you raising your children so that they don’t repeat your mistakes? What are you doing to ensure that our whole species has a bright tomorrow?

Feel free to post a comment or contact me personally. We’re not alone in this.

Overthinking

Cripes!  Have I really gone three weeks plus without posting here?  It didn’t seem like that long.  I need to get much more in the habit of posting here.  To be honest, I don’t really want to, but it’s the 21st century, and people expect writers to maintain a blog, so here I am.

One positive development is that I finally have home internet established, which has made my life worlds easier.

Now, onto what seems the only subject I ever write about here–what I am going to write about.  And one thing I’ve learnt in life is that no-one gives a damn about what you’re going to do, only what you’re doing.

But I realise that I’ve been overthinking this whole process.  I’ve been wanting to write big, grandiose things.  And I realise that I can convey big, grandiose ideas without writing big, grandiose things.  I’m a firm believer in the idea that our personal stories shape our values and beliefs.  And I am chock-full of little memoirs that have shaped my life and my thinking.  So I think I will dig deep into my life and pull up those little snatches of stories, archetypal events that, while seemingly unimportant at the time, typified my life experience, and in this way shaped my thinking.

One more thing: I’m taking a break from Facebook for a while.  It’s not good for my mental health, particularly in an election year.  Which means I haven’t the foggiest idea how I’m going to publicise new entries, or anything else going on in my life, for that matter.  Like many creative types who depend heavily on their ability to market themselves, I have no ability whatsoever to market myself.  So I toss this blog to the wind and just hope someone catches it.