Blog Archives

New publication: Philistines

Just out today, my essay “Philistines” covers how I dealt with being gay during my first year in Bible college. Included: a regrettable haircut.

Check it out at the blog for Apogee Journal.

Legacy

I have likely expressed some of the following sentiments elsewhere in my blog, but I’m too lazy to go through every post to see if this is the case. Nonetheless, this is what is on my mind and heart today.

Father’s Day is always a hard day for me. Facebook fills up with friends posting photos of their fathers accompanied by loving sentiments. Or they post photos of their husbands whose parenting skills they praise.

To consider my own father is tough enough. I’ve written before about him, a sociopath without a capacity of love or an understanding of empathy. It took me a long time and a lot of therapy to come to terms with his illness, to understand why he was the way he was without okaying his abuse.

But harder still to contemplate that I will never be a father.

An intricately drawn family tree in black ink  on paper that resembles yellowed parchment.

My branch of the human family tree ends with me. Photo by Via Tsuji via Flickr. http://bit.ly/1eBqG6h

Read the rest of this entry

Publication update: “An Epic in Three Words”

I had an essay published today at The Rumpus. Please check out the link here:

http://therumpus.net/2014/09/an-epic-in-three-words/

Post, Publish, or Perish

Right now I have a great idea for an essay. It came upon me just a couple of days ago, inspired by an exchange on Facebook. And my first thought was, oh, this would make a great blog post.

But as I sat on the idea, it grew. I thought of other connections the initial idea had both to my own life and the larger world. So what was going to be a lovely post for today has now turned into something different. Read the rest of this entry

Keeping Up Appearances (of a Good Night’s Sleep)

I haven’t been about on the blog the past few weeks because I’ve been charging head on into my final year of undergraduate study. (Today marks the beginning of my fourth week.) I describe my time as going to school, working on schoolwork, and recovering from school and schoolwork.

At the exact moment, I find myself awake in the middle of the night after about four hours’ sleep. At one time, this would have panicked me, as I struggle with a circadian-rhythm disorder. But then, several months back, I learnt of the discovery of first sleep and second sleep. It appears that, when humans live apart from electricity, it is quite natural for them to awake for about an hour in the middle of the night. When we who live high-tech do the same, it is a matter of the body seeking to return to what is more natural. So now I’ve learnt not to panic, and to spend the hour relaxing.

And at this exact moment, I am relaxing in much the same way as I have been unwinding from studies lately: by watching British panel shows and sitcoms. I am at present working my way through Keeping Up Appearances, one of my all-time favorites. The show, in its pitch-perfect performances and skewering of class consciousness, truly is one of the greats of British television.

What do you watch late at night? Photo by Kevin Simpson via Flickr.

I realized tonight another part of its genius. The main character, Hyacinth Bucket (which she insists upon pronouncing “bouquet”) is a punctilious, obsessive social climber who makes all around her miserable in her attempts to show herself of a higher class than that to which she belongs. It would have been so tempting to leave the character at that, and if the writers had done so, the show would have fallen completely flat. But the writers wisely gave her one redeeming characteristic: Her sisters look up to her, and routinely call upon her to come to the rescue when things go awry in her lives, and in her love and devotion, she comes through–however reluctantly, and with hilarious results.

Patricia Routledge‘s character has an American parallel in Archie Bunker. The main character of All in the Family was ten times as prejudiced as Hyacinth, yet the writers gave actor Carroll O’Connor moments of great pathos and tenderness. And Archie’s views evolve, if ever so slowly.

Both of these hallmarks of television point out that three-dimensional, realistic characters are key to even the most over-the-top comedies. If a character is wonderful, give him some awful trait. If a holy terror, give him a redeeming quality. Every writer should bear this in mind.

Write Every Day

“Write every day” is a common maxim offered to young writers. The idea is that, like a muscle, you have to keep your writing in shape in order for it to get stronger, and, like working out, it’s very easy to let the pressures of everyday life pull you out of the habit.

Not every writer agrees with this statement. One of my instructors, Alison McGhee, doesn’t believe this is a hard and fast rule. She is much more of the mind that each writer must discover what works best for himself and just go with that. If that means writing every day, go for it, but it’s not guaranteed to work for everyone. I concur that this idea makes a lot of sense.

Yet I know that I need to be diligent about writing. It is easy for me to fall out of the habit. So many things distracting me. But the strangest thing distracting me from my writing is writing.

I, of course, have this blog, which got a little bump in readership this week. As a student, I have my coursework, and I don’t have writing classes every semester–it’s all in the luck of what’s offered. I have writing samples to put together for the graduate-school applications I’m submitting this winter.

(This doesn’t even get into reading. As a writing student, I’m not only to read for school, but also “free-read”, so that I am exposed to the best writing out there. This is not easy when you read slowly.)

And I have other obligations, like anyone: my school’s arts/lit magazine (of which I’m an editor), my school’s writing club (in which I’m vice-president), Twin Cities Gay Men’s Chorus, and making sure I have my domestic, social, and recreational needs met.

In juggling all of this, I feel guilty when any one of these things slips up–and it’s often because I’m busy meeting the obligations.

But I had a revelation over the weekend. On a certain level, writing is writing. It’s all practice–especially as a beginning writer. And it all overlaps. Many of my publication submissions come from my schoolwork. I’m considering reworking blog posts for some of my grad-school applications.

For me, to write every day is not a rule I live by–it’s become a necessary means to keep up on all I have to do.

And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Persistence

Yesterday a relative pointed out to me some troubles with yesterday’s post. She said, first off, that I painted my mom to be more naïve than she was. After all, she said, her first husband–before my father–had slept around and run off on her. Second, I had the facts of the divorce decree simply wrong. Our father could take us out of the county but not out of the state, that this is a standard clause in custody arrangements. I maintained that I was right because I remembered. My relative pointed out that she, unlike me, had actually read my parents’ divorce decree.

To the first point: One of the things I don’t like about blogging is the demand for conciseness. Though I could in theory write a 5,000-word blog post, I don’t have the time to write it, and no-one wants to take that long to read a blog post. And so I compress, and avoid explaining some of the nuance. My mother, like every human being on the planet, is a complex person.

As to the second point, I relied mostly on a memory I had when I was ten. My father was going to take us to an amusement park near the Kentucky border. My mother said that he couldn’t because he was violating the divorce decree. The police got involved and everything. (In the end, our father took us, but it wasn’t a fun trip. He sat at the entrance and just told us to run off and do whatever. He wouldn’t give us any money whatsoever for concessions, and they charged five cents for water, and so we ran around on a hot day with no fluids.)

And so I tried to remember why there was the big brouhaha, and I thought it had to do with taking us out of the county. But now I have to admit that my memory was wrong here somehow. The trouble could have been that my father never told my mother directly that he was going to take us on the trip, having my brother tell her instead. It could be that, at the time, my mother misunderstood the divorce decree. Or it could have been something else that I can’t think of right now.

All of this calls to mind two important issues. First, autobiography is not memoir. In an autobiography, the author is reporting history. She collects facts and does research, even though she’s writing about her own life. An autobiography focuses on facts. In memoir, the author relies on her memory and the memory of those around her to inform the writing. And a memoirist is not merely reporting history, but is telling a story. She is using plot devices and story structures and all the other elements we use to tell a good story. But real life is not a “good story”. In real life, things don’t have a beginning, middle, and end–life just flows on. But stories demand a beginning, middle, and end, and so the memoirist frames her life to conform to the conventions of storytelling. Similarly, human beings are ridiculously complex, but for the sake of telling a story, especially a shorter story, the writer doesn’t dive into the 37 reasons why a character does what he does.

I am not an autobiographer, I am a memoirist. That distinction is crucial to understanding what I write. I have no intention to get facts wrong or to misrepresent anyone or anything. But I do try to tell a good story. And if I do get something wrong, as I did yesterday, I want to be called out on it so I can get the facts straight. I have learnt that it is better to be wrong and speak up than to be wrong and remain silent. If I speak up, then my wrongness can be pointed out, and I can change my mind and be right, whereas if I remain silent, I stay wrong.

Image from realitybitesartblog.blogspot.com

“The Persistence of Memory” by Salvador Dalí

And then there is the niggling issue of the reliability of memory. Science keeps showing us it’s not particularly reliable. The human brain is constantly restructuring itself and putting the pieces together the best it can, albeit imperfectly. We only have the illusion that our memory persists, when in fact our memory warps and melts and drips.

Is this a terrible thing? I’m of the same mind as a former professor of mine, Leah Savion of Indiana University (probably the best teacher I’ve ever had). She has an idea (which I really wish would get some notice in the academic community) that she calls “naive logic”. It’s the premise that, despite all the demonstrable failings of the human mind–its inconsistencies, its inability to grasp even basic logic, and yes, its faulty memory–it has nonetheless served humanity well for several hundred thousand years and is responsible for getting us to evolve to the point we are at. Therefore, despite our brains’ deficiencies, they serve us well nonetheless and therefore ought not to be dismissed when we delve into a deeper understanding of philosophy.

Now, the implications for this idea are profound in many areas of philosophy and cognitive science, and I won’t bother to dive into those here (because, again, none of us wants a 5,000-word blog post). Suffice it to say that I think I, and all of us, are usually doing the best we can with that wad of grey stuff between our ears. It’s part of why I try to treat people with trust and grace, even when others might consider doing so unwarranted. I believe that to live otherwise would be pretty much impossible. We would always be paralyzed, doubting every little fact of the universe.

So keep doing the best you can. I will.

Analytics

Two posts in one day. If I’m going to procrastinate on something (*cough* homework), then I’m at least going to be a productive procrastinator.

One of the more interesting things about WordPress is that you can access very detailed analytics about who is reading your blog and how they are finding out about it. Amongst many tools is a feature that tells you what Google terms people are using to come across your blog.

The first fascinating bit of information is that, despite my very liberal leanings, people are finding my blog for a conservative perspective. This is, of course, because I once lived a conservative life, or at least failed to navigate a conservative world. And a lot of people have stumbled up on my blog via Google in the quest to become a heterosexual. I can tell this is the reason because of the exact words they use: “homosexual” rather than “gay,” “conversion therapy” or “reparative therapy” rather than “ex-gay therapy.” When I plugged users’ exact phrases into Google, I discovered that I was the very first post in some searches.*

I believe wholeheartedly in the power of the written word. People are coming across my blog because they are desperate to be “cured of homosexuality.” If my story of how attempting to do so nearly destroyed me can save even one person, then this will have all been worthwhile.

 

*By the way, if you write about very rare medical conditions you have, people will easily find your blog via Google, as well.

20

I got a message today saying I now have twenty followers. I should throw a party, eh?

It is actually a bit trippy knowing that there are people I don’t know personally who are following my blog. Of course, I also know that following a blog is not necessarily the same thing as reading a blog. No matter. I celebrate anyway.

For me, to be able to communicate with people whom I shall never meet is the ultimate power of the written word. It is one of the greatest powers in the universe. It is immortality.

Dyssynchrony

Another one of the debates that I forgot to post yesterday regards age:

“The top programs are only interested in students who are younger, in their twenties, because they’re seen as more malleable.”

“But I started my MFA at a top school when I was well into my forties.”

So it’s another thing that I have to go with my gut on.

Some think I’m on a fool’s errand going into writing degrees at my age. They think I should go into STEM fields, since that is what is needed and therefore have better chances at earning a good living. But I think that it would be a fool’s errand going into fields in which I have proved that I have zero aptitude no matter how hard I work in them. I think it’s a fool’s errand to assume I am going to be able to amass considerable wealth in what years I have left–that is best left to those who have a twenty-year head start. Plus, I think that the recession proved how reliable conventional wisdom is–look at all the people who bought houses because they were an “investment.”

I lost nearly two decades of my life. I spent the first decade in ex-gay “therapy.” When you are given an impossible goal, and are told that that goal is the most important thing in life, everything else–education, career, relationships–ends up on the back burner, and because you’re investing all your effort into doing the impossible, you get nowhere. You are frozen. Everyone else around you is moving forward with their lives–finishing school, getting married, starting families–whilst you remain a teenager.

The past decade has been spent undoing the damage of the first decade. It meant working with real, actual, licensed, trained therapists, rather than just going to anyone with an ichthus on their shingle. It meant years thinking hard on who I am, what the world is, what is necessary, and what I want. It meant playing catchup with my peers, some of whom are at the leading edge of grandparenthood, whilst I am still seeking a BA and am still extremely single.

They call this phenomenon of being out of synch with your peers “developmental dyssynchrony,” and it’s where I live my life. I think I’ve made great strides in the past years to approach where my peers are, but I’m not there yet.

At the conference this weekend, I ended up spending more time talking with the authors and presenters than with the students who dominated the audiences, because we discovered that we are all almost exactly the same age. Spending time with them gave me a glimpse into my life five or ten years from now. Hopefully five. I want to keep closing that gap.