Thursday, December 07, 2017

when metaphors come true

some time back, i used the futility of common facebook statuses to make a metaphor. i said, "it's like telling someone who's about to get mowed down by a wildfire to 'stay safe'"--and that's just what happened.

fine, it was a simile, but nobody says, "i made a really strong simile" so we're going to go with metaphor. 

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

why it's important to bask in love

I recently learned of a crazy concept: basking in love. Yes, I realise it sounds like the title of one of those self-help books we love to hate or some a cappella song sung on the final day of a new-age life-coaching retreat. And it’s fine if those are your things, but despite the flaky intonations of the name, basking in love is a full-on, rather radical activity (at least by today’s standards) that, like any form of meditation, can make a significant mental and emotional impact on your life. I discovered basking in love because I needed a daily practice in maintaining not just self-love (an abstract term if there ever was one) but more an awareness of that self-love. In today’s world, we’re so quick to adopt a conscious sense of fear as a primal instinct for survival; I believe doing the same with love can empower us to be brighter, lighter, happier people.

Simply put, basking in love means making a conscious effort (aka taking actual time) to acknowledge and sit with the various instances of love in your life. This includes love felt for yourself, love you give to others, to pets, even to inanimate objects, as well as love received from others (and fine, pets, unless it’s a cat, because trying to interpret affection from a cat as love is futile, exhausting, and inevitably soul crushing; you’re better off with a lizard). Considering how much time we spend basking in ‘likes’ and re-tweets as forms of validation, this concept of basking in the good, old-fashioned form of love makes sense but here’s the catch: it ain’t easy. Consider the metaphor about growing up in the internet age and learning how to use a typewriter; you know how it works, as in how to type to make words, but the logic of why you’d do it when there is another faster, more instantaneous way completely throws you off and you return to the easier one because you like quick results. And we know quicker is not always necessarily better.

The activity of basking, while simple, requires a little checklist, however, once you do it a few times, it becomes second nature. You must consider: 1) the connections you share with others, including our tendency to try to quantify friendship in certain terms, i.e. ‘considering what my friends do for me, do I do enough for them?’ Instead, take the time to simply appreciate, rather than analyse, your friend connections; 2) your connection with yourself, from how you love yourself (do you ‘treat yo-self’ from time to time or are you constantly consciously aware of love within yourself?) to how you allow yourself to be loved by others; 3) what the word ‘love’ means to you and, despite how the love we have for another person is a very different type of love than the one we have for, say, Sriracha sauce, both types are valid because together, they define us as loving beings.

Why is it important to understand yourself as a loving being? Because that’s where shit goes wrong in life—if you don’t love yourself, you can’t love others, and as socialised humans we need that love (for more on this, see ‘The Brain in Love’ study by Helen Fisher—good stuff) so when it’s missing, we have to start way at the beginning in order to get it.

Here’s what the journey went like for me. Rewind to my childhood. My parents faced it when it came to being fed and clothed, but growing up Catholic in a shitty American suburb (recently 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 and humorous approach to life attracted friends, but which, at the same time, existed chiefly to keep them at a safe distance while he figured out just what about him they actually liked.

Occasionally, I’d be bold and commend myself for having finished a school project or personal creative pursuit just to elicit a reaction, and my mother never disappointed, dishing out 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, their only response was to robotically push me to do the things the other boys did, go to the places the other boys went, essentially putting a lead-lined cap on the quirks and unusual urges I found myself naturally embodying.

I evolved into a 'closet creative,' locking myself in my bedroom for extremely tense, surreptitious periods of writing, drawing, painting, making jewellery, and experimenting with all modes of expression in order to give the raw, creative force inside of me free reign to manifest itself in every form and medium possible. I’d skip soccer practice to hide out in our local Jo-Ann Fabrics, reading the labels on the backs of paints and glazes, imagining one day I would spread them across a canvas and create something with the power to show the world that there was so much more to this skinny kid dressed in shin guards and Umbros. In the years before identifying as a writer, I saw my future self as this omni-creative being, simultaneously playing the Phantom in The Phantom of the Opera while maintaining a lucrative painting and writing career on the side and doing television interviews in which my opinions were as coveted as Oprah’s. A therapist would look at this scenario and see it for exactly what it was: a textbook case of an under-loved kid screaming to be noticed, pining for approval through any avenue he or she could get it.

Unless you grew up in some progressive hippie commune or a culturally and intellectually-inclined 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, your first job, your relationships with others and--most importantly--your relationship with yourself. For the latter, it’s that voice inside constantly shouting many versions of, "Love me! Love me!" 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.
That’s when therapy came in. How it all played out is a different story for a different article, but I will say over many years and many therapists, I learned two things: 1) unlike other medical professionals the therapist cannot do the work for you, so ask for tools as you go along and be prepared to do the work; 2) expect many unpleasant truths and operate with the understanding that they may have defined you up to that point, but they don’t have to anymore.

Once I identified the source of my unhappiness as not feeling loved, I had to accept this reality in order to heal from it—and difficult doesn’t even begin to describe how that went. From the outset, my life is awesome. I have an amazing group of friends, a full fridge, and all my creature comforts are, for the most part, satisfied. I could even confidently say I love myself. What went crazy balls with me was that, despite the love I had coming at me from all directions, 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." Rather, I would await this kind of reaction from others, depending on it for vital validation. When I didn't get it, I’d want it even more. Now I’m not only aware of the various forms of love in my life, I also know their purpose in defining me as both a unique person and a loving being.

So I bask. Sometimes I do it in the morning, sometimes at night; sometimes at home in a comfy chair, sometimes on the tube with my favourite song playing. Sometimes once a day, sometimes 17 times. The only method to follow is to think about the many different forms of love present in your life, from the profound to the subtle, and give them each extra consideration. Feel your personal connection to love in all its forms. For me, a typical session could include love I receive from my friends, love I have for Fleetwood Mac songs, love for my writing and improv comedy talents, even love I have for that damn Sriracha sauce. I give an important, shining moment to every moment of love that comes my way, and each time I do it I feel a very justified moment of peace.

There’s more—a consciousness filled with active love does a body good! 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 and fulfilling that innate need for identity. Think of it as 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. For me, this means being able to take compliments from myself and know they are true without third-party validation. Hearing such things as "You are so weird" come up when listening to a Christmas song in June I take as "You are so unique" and that feels good. The anxiety I once had while doing the activities I claim to love has basically diminished. No longer am I ashamed of what I like, what appeals to me, what turns me on, or what I find interesting. Anxiety, in general, tends to subside as the positivity gained from an awareness of love is fostered.

Like any exercise, the more you do it, the better it works. Basking in love is a practical, mindful way of maintaining a high, peaceful, and fulfilling quality of life, regardless of what you’ve had to recover from to get there. Sometimes it will help mend a bad day, and sometimes it will enhance a great day. What remains constant is your conscious pursuit of happiness, and when you think about it, 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.