Wednesday, January 18, 2017

why it's important to bask in love

[note: this is not some new-age epiphany destined for rebranding as a meme on a black background with fireworks. so don't do it.]

recently, my therapist proposed the idea of basking in love; love felt for myself as well as love received from others. at first, the mere mention of those words gave me the same nauseated feeling as you probably got when you read the headline. then something clicked, and i began to visualise the activity of simple reflection on the presence of love in my life, something i'd only recently begun to allow myself to feel.

rewind to my childhood. sure, my parents were decent when it came to being fed and clothed, but growing up catholic in a shitty american suburb (that has recently been called 'the most unhappy place in america') with typical american values that place self-love on the same shelf as conceit, there weren't a whole lot of opportunities to value the things that made me different. add to that colourful mix of things i had to suppress the fact that i am gay, and you're left with a kid whose upbeat attitude attracted friends, but which existed solely to keep them at a safe distance while he figured out just what about himself they actually liked.

on the rare occasion i'd extol my satisfaction at having finished a project or personal creative pursuit, my mother's response was always the same--"i love me, who do you love?"--as though i'd crossed a line by giving myself the praise and acclaim that would normally come from another person. unconditional encouragement was never a strong tenet of my parents' parenting methods. what they didn't understand they resisted; what they couldn't explain, they avoided; so when my interests began to fulfil both categories, branding me something of an outcast in their eyes, the only response they could offer came in the form of a robotic arm pushing me to do the things the other boys did, go the places the other boys went, and essentially putting a lead-lined cap on the quirks and unusual requests i found myself naturally embodying. 

i soon became a 'closet creative'--locking myself in my bedroom behind a double-fortified door, where i'd spend hours writing, drawing, painting, making jewellery, experimenting with colour--giving this raw, creative force inside of me free reign to manifest itself in every form and medium possible. well before i knew writing was an actual vocation (after a sequence of affirmations that certainly didn't come from either of my parents) i would often imagine my future self as this omni-creative being, simultaneously playing erik in 'the phantom of the opera' while having a painting and writing career on the side. a therapist would look at this scenario and see it for exactly what it is: typical textbook case of a kid screaming to be noticed, pining for love and approval through any avenue he or she could get it.

unless you grew up in some progressive hippie commune in a state led by a democratic majority or a culturally and intellectually superior country like the netherlands, you probably know exactly what i mean to some degree because you've been there too. and, like me, you probably took this behaviour with you all your life. through university, through your first job, your relationships with others and--perhaps most importantly--your relationship with yourself. the voice inside may not outright say, "love me! love me!" but it says something damn close, which causes you to double down with frustration as you answer, "how? how?" or maybe it's just a general presence of unhappiness, constantly agitated by anxiety which is really just the logical part of you shouting, "hey, you know you can fix this!" but the attempts to fix yourself are futile. we drink to quiet the voice, but that only works until you pass a karaoke bar or find yourself at home in front of a computer. then the voices don the costumes of your deepest, darkest demons, causing you to emote in some not-so-helpful ways. we read every self-help book on the shelf, thinking, with each new discovery, that "this one will do the trick." then we seek therapy. we open up, we spill our life stories, we pay lots of money for someone with a specially-trained mind to help us make sense of our feelings, and this is where we ultimately go wrong. 

i think therapy is brilliant. therapy works. it's scientific, it's constantly being innovated, it's proven. but we often mess it up by taking the wrong approach. because we spend a great deal of money to receive it, we assume--like in any other medical profession--that the one administering the treatment will fix the problem for us. if you fall down and fuck up your patella, you go to an orthopaedic surgeon, lie on his table, and he fixes it for you. got a cough? you go to your GP, tell her your symptoms, she gives you a syrup, you take it, problem solved. with a therapist, you give him your feelings, your problems, your challenges, but he can't give you the surgery or the syrup. he can only give you objective information about yourself, gleaned from the facts you've given him, evaluated through his medically-trained mind. and it's what you do with that information that will, effectively, help you. 

this is where shit gets radical. once you've learned why you feel a certain way, once you've traced the roots to a rotten parent or traumatic experience in your childhood, you've received all the knowledge and tools you need to make the necessary adjustments. so make the fucking adjustments. this involves many decisions and reminders--sometimes hundreds of them daily--to train yourself to realise that this particular anomaly doesn't have to affect you anymore. it's not suppression--you're not telling yourself not to feel a certain way--rather you're kindly demonstrating that this particularly bad moment is no longer occurring, has not occurred in some time, and essentially, you're free of it, so act accordingly.

this sure ain't easy. you'll need help. lots of support. so reach out. talk to your therapist about your frustrations. keep a journal. talk to a friend. but in the grand tradition of 'be the change you want to see' it's up to you to make these tiny changes. it gets easier. you can definitely expect an "a-ha!" moment when you realise you haven't felt that dreadful pang of tension or anxiety that usually accompanies you everywhere. the thing you know you're better off without. 

when i mentioned that this objective information is the only thing a therapist can actually provide, i wasn't overlooking psychiatric treatment. while certain types of therapists can prescribe pharmaceuticals, many of which can drastically help a person improve his or her life, they will tell you the exact same thing: drugs won't solve the problem on their own. it's you that must do the work. and we don't like that, do we?

i hated this fact when i first realised it. i got angry at every therapist i'd previously seen, feeling they had denied me this vital piece of wisdom. then i got angry with myself for seemingly overlooking the simplicity of it all--that i could have done this ages ago on my own and saved myself thousands on therapist bills. but i know that isn't true. everybody's therapy journey is different. it's a labyrinth in there, and many of us are lucky (or unlucky, depending on how you look at it) to have our own jareth the goblin king further mucking things up when we decide to do something about it. i needed the 10+ years of off and on therapy to reach the point at which i realised how it works, and what i needed to do to make it work for me. the changes we all must make to learn to live better vary far and wide. for me, one of the main things came down to basking.

the source of my unhappiness was not feeling loved. coming upon and eventually accepting this reality was beyond difficult, as i am happily married to an awesome guy with two cats and blah blah blah--you don't want to hear this part. i mention it because ostensibly, i have all the love a person could want. i could even confidently say i love myself. what went crazyballs with me was that the love i was employing toward myself was conditional, weak, and dependent on the validation and approval of others. inside, i was still that little boy hiding his dreams and talents and aspirations from the world, as i once had from my parents. i pursued my dreams and succeeded in many ways, but never once did i take a moment to break the habit of hiding my satisfaction and happiness with myself; never once did i say something to the effect of, "i did well because i did what i wanted to do, and that makes me great." i would anticipate this kind of reaction from others, depending on it for vital validation. when i didn't get it, i'd want it even more. i'd pity a poor fool who lived his life like that, ergo that ain't loving yourself.

this posed a new question: how do i love myself the right way? my first answer--find a new way to love yourself!--was far too complex, and perhaps a sign that my mind had grown a bit too analytical for its own good. the second answer was much better and more feasible: bask in the love you have.

so i bask. this means taking a few moments to simply feel my personal connection to love in all its forms: love i receive from my husband, realising it comes as a result of me just being me; love i have for my misbehaving cat; love i receive from a friend who picks up a personalised bottle of coca cola with my name on it; love i have for singing; love for my improv comedy talents; even love i have for sriracha sauce. every moment of love that comes my way, i allow myself to experience, and i notice how damn good it feels. i notice how i can take compliments from myself and know they are true without having someone else validate them. hearing such things as "you are so weird" come up when listening to a holiday song in june translates to "you are so unique" and that feels good. anxiety i once had while doing the activities i claim to love has basically diminished, as i now remind myself to bask in the love i have for the activity. i don't have to be ashamed of what i like, what appeals to me, what turns me on, what i find interesting. 

that's how you love yourself--you simply decide to, and you make many, many decisions every day to maintain that love. for me, it's basking in love. like any exercise, the more you do it, the better it works. in the same way that learning a new language creates new neural pathways, this new way of thinking does the same, expanding your capacity to regard yourself in the process. think of it retraining your brain to function more effectively, sending the anxiety, frustration, heaviness, sadness, whatever plagues you to the back seat so you can be in charge of your own happiness.

and at the end of the day, what's the point of life if not happiness?

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

an end of year slap in the face

nothing wraps up a year better than hearing a dear friend tell you things you've known all along. not only is it loving, it's affirming. affirming enough to make you realise, 'yeah, those changes you've been thinking about making for the past five years? now's the time because you're getting old and soon you'll be in that place where, if you make the decisions then, you'll be that old guy doing stuff that mostly younger people are doing, and that makes you weird."

sure it sounds a little ageist, but that's ok because i'm embracing it. i'm a little bit ageist. i'm a little bit a lot of things, and rather than exorcise them from my system on this faux-virtuous path to modern-day, politically correct perfection, i'm going to continue to embrace all the little naughty quirks that have made me relatively ok in the 35 years i've been alive.

i'm also going to do a lot more complaining. complaining is my jam. it's how i best communicate. fuck how my parents said complaining won't get me anywhere. i can complain with a certain eloquence over a variety of formats: poetry, prose, spoken word, etc. i tend not to complain over anything too ephemeral, say a facebook status, because that complaining goes nowhere and contributes to the false sense of activism that makes the world a sick place and got social miscreants like donald trump in office. my complaining has the edge of bukowski, the melody of hemingway, the depth of pound, and the colour of fitzgerald. but it's still all me.

i'm going to complain and complain and complain all i want and it's going to sound great and people will pull up chairs to listen and they'll never need to ask any questions because it's all there. crystal clear, like a bell on a cold winter night. stark, straight, and the slap in the face we all need to hear.

to a 2017 filled with complaining.

Friday, October 21, 2016

they just don't get it

the problem with today's kids showing off stuff from the past is this tendency to always put some fucking soundtrack over it. i found myself, as i often do, craving the beeps and boops of the print shop for apple iigs. i headed to youtube, sure i'd find some sort of run-through of the program, and, sure enough, i did. i clicked on it, and instead of the beeps and bopps, i heard '99 luftballoons.' while they may have shared an era, i don't recall '99 luftballoons' having anything to do with the print shop for apple iigs. and the rage ensued. this is not YOUR thing, it's mine. while the vintage-ness of old shit may hold some ironic enchantment for you, i need the authentic beeps and boops in order to get the full effect.

the SAME rage that i feel all too commonly while watching playthroughs of old video games. there's no reason--listen up, gen Zers out there who have seemingly occupied the faculties of youtube--absolutely no reason to replace the genius 8-bit soundtrack of super mario 3 with some bullshit early 2000s ballad that belongs on 'one tree hill.' so stop doing it.

and lastly, contrary to what you might think, there's nothing odd about watching video games being played as though they were films. nothing at all.


Wednesday, September 07, 2016

on the fence about nightmares

i woke up today after a lengthy nightmare playing out over a series of episodes. due to the timeless quality of dreams, there's no way to tell how long each episode lasted, or exactly how many there were, but the message--the main plot--was clear as day: i found myself conflicted over the idea of making a gus van sant-directed porno film with gian paolo.

based on such an idea, you can see it wasn't a typical nightmare, as in full of scary monsters or a horde of attack rats, but what ticked the box for me was the resulting poor sleep and sense of anxiety that pervaded both the dream and the time immediately upon awakening.

what tickled me, however, was the level of deliberation i put into this decision. on one hand, i said, "one should never do porn. it will always come back to bite you in the ass." the other hand, however, chanted, "gus van sant. it's gus van sant. it's not really porn if it's gus van sant."

i didn't even realise i had such a thing for gus van sant films.

turns out i was right: i didn't. after imdb'ing gus van sant, i realised that the director in my dream couldn't have been gus van sant. he simply doesn't do films of that nature. perhaps the 'gus van sant' in my dream was an agglomeration of several directors known for one controversy or another, a mashup of vincent gallo, lars von trier, even a dash of larry clark.

i imagined chloe sevigny giving head to some guy for ages on camera. sure, that happened, but it wasn't in a gus van sant film. it was with vincent gallo, in vincent gallo's 'the brown bunny.'
honest mistake, really.

but what i'll take with me is the satisfaction that, every so often, at intervals that lie in between my far too common dreams of pursuit, no doubt brought on by my constant state of procrastination, manifest my apparent high-brow aspirations of associating myself (and gian paolo) somehow with a gus van sant film. or any of the above.


Friday, June 24, 2016

keeping order

as anyone who knows me will tell you, i love rules.

i love rules.

i love lists of rules, regulations, dos and don'ts, various signage indicating proper behaviour for any given area.

rules are good. they establish and maintain order. they answer a great many questions that, relieved of the ambiguity surrounding them, can help you to have a great time wherever you are, whatever you do. a carefree time, even, just within the confines of these rules.

i fully agree that sometimes there is some truth to the old saying 'rules are meant to be broken.' not all rules are good or fair. but most are.

i also think the world is in great need of more rules. i think we need a rulevolution to better equip society to deal with one another. little regulations regarding etiquette and behaviour in this age of technology. case-in-point: cameras. in a way, we're not humans anymore. we've become a society of cyborgs, equipped with the ability to record one another, make videos, even go live when, how, and where we see fit. life is seen through a digital lens and no longer the proverbial one, and while the benefits of this widespread technological embellishment are evident, the side-effects are almost too evident, creating a sludge of slow-moving people after the 'perfect shot' of themselves with some well-known scenery in the background.

working in close proximity to one of london's best-known landmarks, my daily life is littered with more than its fair share of tourism and--as a result--a simple stroll out to fetch lunch turns into parkour course. dodging and swerving constantly to avoid colliding with people engrossed in the activities of their smartphones.

for me, though, it's not the inability to walk in a straight line for more than two metres that grinds my gears. it's those you find in art galleries circling the various pieces of art with their phones, barely paying the art any mind with their actual eyes, opting rather to 'capture the moment' on digital record. i won't go on about all the ways this is fundamentally wrong (i mean we all know they're never going to watch it again) so instead, i take it upon myself to police these people back into acceptable social behaviour.

i go to the tate modern at least once a week with two intentions of equal importance. the first is to see the art, take the time to appreciate whatever aspect calls out to me that time, and spend as many moments as necessary to express my love of art to the actual pieces that inspire me. the second reason is simple--to walk in front of people trying to take photos and videos. i feel by sabotaging their ostensibly noble efforts to 'take it all in' i am teaching them a valuable lesson. art belongs in a museum. not your motherfucking phone. the most common reaction comes in some form of an apology, which i usually ignore. what is there to say? "that's ok?" no, because it's not ok. "no worries?" certainly not--it is a worry.

no, instead i allow them to stew in their shame as i make my way to the next piece of art or situation in which someone is trying to take it home with them, stored in the digital bowels of their smartphones.

Monday, December 07, 2015

reach out and touch someone

what a title, huh? you can't say that kid of stuff nowadays, else you're apt to receive a knock on your door and paedophile charges faster than you can follow up with, "but it was from a commercial in the 80s!"

in an age where everybody is offended by something and more vocal about it than the average human being should be, it's more difficult than ever to relate to people. that barbra streisand song people is a historical vestige, a sad reminder of an era when the basic human need for the companionship of other humans wasn't stifled by the made-up differences that cause so much division as of late. nowadays, merely referring to someone is cause for offence, a direct adjective inadvertently making a case for racist, xenophobic, homophobic or transphobic claims. it reminds me of the episode of 30 rock during which liz lemon questions the derogatory-sounding puerto rican way in which salma hayek, playing a puerto rican character, describes herself. "no, i'm pretty sure you can't say that," she says, and it's true, in much the same way calling someone simply 'black' feels a bit wrong to me, as if i'm generalising and therefore negating their actual heritage. my mind races with alternatives; african american? no, we're in the UK. maybe i should just ask them, and clear it up once and for all. nigerian? ok, lovely. 

part of me is enchanted by this surge of more specific ways to identify ourselves. i think it's nice to pay tribute to one's ethnicity, cultural values, etc. unless you're a dick like that rachel dolezal, and choose someone else's values. definitely don't do that.

the other part of me, the one that sees the reality of the situation, a world in which mistaking one's identity can so easily damage the fragile ego that keeps it intact, causing way more conflicts than this world can handle, is like "enough already. one day you will die and this whole fake network of self-identity you've glued together with tears and snot will be the same smelly mass of rotting skin as you. deal."


the other day, something magical happened. something that, as people are wont to say when something fortuitous happens that usually involves someone doing something nice for a sick dog, restored my faith in humanity. we live next to a school, and a teacher who teaches there parks in our driveway. we've become friendly over the past few months, so i wave to her each morning as i'm in the kitchen doing whatever. on friday of last week, she waved back as usual, but a few seconds later i heard a knock at the door. it was her, and she quickly said, "i have to run, but i need a hug. i'm about to go into a really gross situation, and i just need some love." i gave her that hug, and as the degree to which she put her vulnerabilities right out there set in, i started firing cheeky compliments at her, from how her hair looked extra spiky to how great her five inch heels made her ass look. we both knew they were cheap shots, but in that moment, they were more valuable than gold because they were exactly what she needed. 
this tiny act of one human simply asking for the love we all deserve, we are all owed, and my ability to give it to her without consideration, was a clear reminder that this bond between people does still exist. we are people who need people, and for that we are, in fact, the luckiest people.

i took this energy to work with me that day, and wanted to scream it to others. it was a major oprah moment, and i hadn't felt one similar in some time. after reading an article on the persecution of muslims in the US, i emailed the local islamic cenrtre of my hometown and pledged my support, telling them i have faith in the people of that area not to succumb to the recent wave of assholeism that's sweeping the 'states, and my solidarity stands strong with them. (i hope i'm right). i was abuzz with happiness that world maybe isn't as shitty as it appears. i didn't do much else that day, though, because the workday ends at 4 on fridays when the booze cart rolls around, but i still earned a gold star.

anyway, get over yourselves and be nice to each other. 
and listen to more barbra streisand.

Monday, March 23, 2015

thank you, i think.

as i'm just about to finish the bell jar for, probably, the 50th time, a thought occurred to me. sylvia plath has been heralded as a  major figure--she's even been called a martyr--of the feminist movement, and while all the acclaim she's won as part of that movement is both indisputable and well-deserved, i will go even further to say she's a martyr for all writers. i'd say she died a terrible life because she only truly lived when she was producing work, writing to somehow contain her feelings into a place that made them at least somewhat accessible to her. she suffered for her art, and not simply because she was mentally ill, but because we let her suffer. the approach on mental health back then, especially for women, seems medieval compared to today's pragmatic approach. women "in hysterics" were regarded as different people altogether, feared, and ostracised. her methods of treatment were brutal, unresearched, experimental and--as a result--ineffective. that's why i say she died a terrible life, because i feel she died a long time before her suicide in 1963.

so how does that make her a martyr? as a writer, i subscribe to the philosophy that artists are not, as society likes to believe, these great inventors, these almost-supernatural beings vested with abilities well beyond the everyday-you-and-me, but instead vessels to a higher form of creativity, gifted simply with the ability to extract unique, lasting vestiges from the ephemeral comings and goings of everyday life. and yet because what we produce, whether it's a painting, a song, a story, or a sculpture, is thought to be a source of inspiration for the common folk (as they, the general public, tend to categorize themselves in relation to any type of artist), we find ourselves under enormous pressure, simply because we attach our self-worth to whatever we create. this, in turn, puts the validity of our self-worth into the hands of nobody and everybody at the same time. people we know, people we don't know. masses of people that may include a few genuine appreciators of art, but mostly those who choose to pass harsh judgement on something simply because they don't understand it. and a non-artist reading this would say, "but who cares what they say? they don't know their ass from their elbow, so why does their opinion affect you?" and the answer is, it just does. because as artists, we care. as vessels for a higher form of creativity, we get the divine call to create, but we don't get the divine answer on whether or not what we created is any good. and in a world that tries so hard to make subjectivity work, objectivity always prevails, and when you're starving for both food and a good review, the tiniest amount of negativity can inflict a mortal wound on the vulnerable soul of an artist.

sylvia plath cut two very deep, very lasting parallel paths during the course of her career. as a writer, a poet, and a student at cambridge, she did what women "shouldn't" have been doing at that time, considerably fueling the feminist movement. she also did what all artists do, which is to create under pressure, to submit to a life of judgement, for which she suffered greatly, but, unlike today, there was no free clinic, no charity-funded group therapy organisation around to provide the type of psychiatric care she needed. she wasn't even regarded as genuinely needing help on account of her being a woman and thus considered merely 'hysterical,' rather than simply mentally unwell. and whether or not what she wrote was as unique and genius and amazing as critics have said over the years isn't important. what's important is that it exists, each poem a tiny tombstone and each story a mausoleum that form a cemetery, a memorial, a place where writers and any other kind of artist can go to have a moment's silence as the commiserate with one of their own.

happily, her tragic story doesn't pull me into depths of sadness over the despair of the situation, but instead actually pulls me up to street level. the more i read sylvia plaths' stories and poetry, the more i research her life, the more i read her journals, the more i see she was the same as any of us creative people. she came alive when she was writing, and she was sick when she wasn't because she felt she couldn't. and what do i do when i feel i can't write? i turn to writers like sylvia plath. i read their books, their diaries, even overviews of their lives on wikipedia. then i search for their strange habits, foods they loved, foods they hated, what they ate for breakfast and what they drank or didn't drink. i seek the solace of the lives--both celebrated and tragic--of writers i respect with a religious fervour, as if their stories are biblical and the act of thinking about them is akin to praying. and for me, sylvia plath, the martyr, the saint, will always be a golden beacon of hope, a voice that, instead of the preachy, "sermon on the mount" cadence, speaks to me in a loving, gentle way, and says, "we're all in this together."