Surrender

kveikurI’m never been much for podcasts. I can’t tell if that’s my own biases against being introduced to a new medium or a problem with the medium itself. Did people dismiss early cinema as nothing more than a novelty because they hadn’t yet seen what it could become? It’s quite possible. A lot of podcasts, to me, sound like a bunch of friends shooting the shit. That’s it. I’m sorry, but you need to have more than that if you want me to listen to it. I don’t even have that many friends and I think listening to other people and their friends talk about nothing is boring. Seriously, I don’t get it: What is the appeal of listening to people you don’t know go on random comedic tangents for an hour or more without ever coming to a point? I’m not trying to be dismissive here, but I honestly do not understand why people like some of this crap. This American Life is about people’s lives, and the stories are organized around a theme. Savage Love is relationship advice. WTF With Marc Maron is interviews, although he opens with a story. Even with a podcast, there has to be a point.

Maybe I’m weird, but I like to think of everything as a potential learning experience. Even if I’m just going down the street for a burger, I feel like I’m cheating myself if I’m not looking for a chance to be enriched, entertained, or educated. A lot of new media doesn’t do it for me: Facebook, Twitter, YouTube. That probably does have more to do with the fact that those platforms are relatively new, but I don’t particularly like any of them, which means that I’m kind of an old fuddy-duddy even though I’m in my 20s. I’m getting left behind, but admittedly, it is by my choice. Since I’m straying into well-trod territory here, let me shift gears and talk about a story that is constantly updating: LGBT equality. Specifically, let’s talk about the wide world of sports. More and more athletes are coming out, and while very few of them are doing so at the professional level, it’s only a matter of time. I think what’s holding us back is that even though there are parallels between the gay rights movement and the civil rights movement, there are some differences, and we have to acknowledge that as well.

There is something very primal about sexuality that race and possibly even gender don’t touch. It’s not something that you can often tell just by looking at someone, and that confuses a lot of people. More importantly, it causes a lot of LGBT people to think that there is something special about them if you can’t tell just by looking at them. Sometimes you can, but that’s not the point. It’s been such a lazy stereotype for so long that gay men aren’t into sports that now that we are learning that some of our athletes are gay, we need to stop acting like it’s that big of a shock. Yes, some gay men love sports. And some straight men love fashion. Could you seriously not have figured that out on your own? It’s ironic that sports are typically held up as a bastion of masculinity, because really, what is gayer than slapping on tight pants and shoulder pads and slamming into other guys for a while? Football’s pretty gay too, come to think of it.

I’ve learned by now that people will never leave you alone if you let them do it on their terms. This does not mean that you have to shut everyone out for fear that they will hurt you, only that you have to own your own words and actions, whatever they are. As I’ve probably said before, I have a million regrets. But I’m not sorry for anything. I just don’t have the time. You can roll your eyes when I say that I’m the greatest human being who ever lived, but as far as I’m concerned, I am, and who are you to tell me I’m wrong? It’s all about living in the present, not that I’m all that good at that. I spend most of my time brooding in my room. The only person I can name who hated humanity more than I do is Bill Hicks, and he died at 32 because he didn’t take very good care of his body. I’ve heard multiple people quote George Carlin as saying, “Life is not measured by the number of breaths you take, but by the number of moments that leave you breathless.” Bullshit. Carlin didn’t say that. That’s from a chain email that somebody claimed was written by him. He would never have said something so trite and meaningless.

I have decided that there is one thing about California that I’m going to miss when I eventually get out of here, and that’s In-N-Out Burger. There is no other fast food chain that compares to it. It’s not the best burger around, just the best burger you can get for under $10. Double-double animal style, there is no competition. New York has Five Guys, but aside from the fries, there’s nothing too remarkable about them, and I say that as somebody who used to eat there pretty regularly. We all have our fast food, I suppose.

I’m not a very good judge of what will take off and what doesn’t. This blog has never climbed very far about 1,000 hits per month, and even then very briefly. Whatever. What I have to say these days doesn’t quite fit into this format, and maybe that’s for the best. Because I want to push outward. I want to find out just what I can get away with and what I’m capable of. And when that’s done, I want time to watch season two of Orphan Black. I go at my own pace, is what I’m trying to say. Don’t try to stop me.

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More Than Human

BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU'RE DEADThere is a difference between mellowing out and losing your edge. Most people mellow out as they get older. That’s natural. Sidley Lumet made a string of good-to-great movies from the late 50s into the mid-70s, from 12 Angry Men to Dog Day Afternoon. His pace slowed after that, but he never lost it completely. His final film was Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead, an unflinchingly cynical piece of work that would be impossible to sit through if it weren’t so gripping. A lot of artists have a 10-15 year period relatively early in their careers during which they crank out one classic after the next. Springsteen was like that. So was Akira Kurosawa. John Carpenter, too, although he was a little hit-and-miss even when he was in his prime. Alfred Hitchcock is an outlier. He made two of his best-regarded films, Psycho and Vertigo, when he was pushing 60. I haven’t seen any of his films from the 70s, but I’ve heard some very positive things about Frenzy. If I mellow out, that’s fine. If I lose my edge, kill me. I’m not kidding.

I’ve cried at only a couple of movies in my lifetime. Ikiru is one. If you’ve seen that one, you probably know which scene I’m talking about. Even if you haven’t, the DVD cover gives it away. Dear Zachary is another. It’s one of the most wrenching films ever made, made even more so by the fact that it’s a documentary. The last half hour of that movie will rip your heart out. The most recent one was Mary and Max, a claymation film from Australia. It’s on Netflix, so if you haven’t seen it, hie thee hence over there and watch it immediately. It’s about a New Yorker with Asperger’s who becomes pen pals with a little girl in Australia. As a warning, let me say that though the film is animated, it is not kid-friendly, and it gets dark pretty late into its running time. But it’s worth it. I respond to dark comedies better than most other genres, perhaps because my life is one. That film is hopeful, just unconventionally so. Don’t feel sorry for Max.

There’s a general rule that I’ve observed when it comes to couples. People who are in healthy, fulfilling relationships rarely feel the need to talk about it. You can spend a significant amount of time getting to know them before they say the words, “My girlfriend/boyfriend/husband/wife/partner/whatever….” People who are insecure about their relationship and want to hide behind it as a means of deflecting criticism are the ones who always gush about their partners and how perfect they are. It’s more willful self-delusion than anything else. They want to believe that because of this relationship, they are a totally different person than they were before. This requires that their partner sit still and be objectified to be complicit in maintaining the illusion. It’s a form of co-dependency, an immaturity that tries to pass itself off as maturity. There’s nothing wrong with a little PDA here and there, but if you make YouTube videos consisting entirely of you and your boyfriend kissing and canoodling, I feel justified in saying that your relationship is not long for this world. That is all.

I’ve said before that I never want to work a 9-to-5 job. I’m actually starting to like the feeling of being free when everyone else is at work, even if the flipside is that I often have work when everyone else is out partying. Maybe that’s because I’m a weirdo, or maybe it’s because I like to remind myself that I’m a weirdo. I wonder if other people find me intimidating. Do they hang back from talking to me because I scare them off? As I write this, I’m still doing a slow burn over the events in Ferguson, Missouri. I don’t have the time or the energy to talk about that at length now. But I will reiterate what I have said before: If you are one of those people who insist that this isn’t about race, you’re part of the problem. I hear people tell me that if I were nicer, people would be more willing to listen to me. No, I think the only way I ever get someone to listen to me is by telling them exactly what I think of them. It’s not “I speak my mind, and if you can’t handle it, fuck you” so much as it’s “I speak my mind, and if you can’t handle it, okay then”.

You can’t really get anywhere if you can’t have a discussion. And a lot of discussion gets shortchanged because the instant I say something negative about, say, a movie, somebody says, “It’s just a movie. If you don’t like it, you can watch something else.” That’s…not a response to my criticism, however. Sometimes, I watch/read/listen to stuff that I don’t exactly like. Sometimes I say so just to see what people say back. If all people have to say is, “Why can’t you just let Person X do their own thing and not be so judgmental”, I sorta shrug and roll my eyes at the same time, then walk away. When you put yourself out there in a public forum, you are opening yourself up to criticism. That doesn’t mean you have to like it. It doesn’t even mean you have to listen to it. It just means that you should acknowledge it. Because you can’t make the stuff you don’t like just disappear. And the reason other people exist is not to tell you how wonderful you are.

I’ve been getting more into classic comic strips lately. Does anyone remember Pogo? I had never read it, but then I found out that my main man Bill Watterson is a fan. So I guess I have some reading to do.

pogo

Dream in Red

way he looks

I’ve come to a realization lately that, as realizations often do, seems obvious in retrospect. See, I’ve met a lot of people in my lifetime who have made me feel insecure, and for the longest time, I thought it was something I just needed to get over. But it isn’t. People who make others feel insecure are usually projecting their own insecurities, be it consciously or subconsciously. The people you should want to be around aren’t people who are like you, but people about whom you really don’t care whether or not they’re like you. I thought about this while seeing The Way He Looks, a Brazilian coming-of-age drama about a blind teen who realizes he is gay and falls in love with the new boy in class. I won’t spoil things for you, except to say that everything ends happily, which is not unusual for this kind of film. I’ve railed against this subgenre before, but somehow, this one got through my defenses. And I think I know why.

I tend to tiptoe around going into too much detail about my own experiences in high school on this blog. It’s not so much that I get off on being withholding as that I don’t generally find it relevant to what I have to say here. But I don’t mind saying that this film bears no resemblance to my own experiences. I spent most of my time in high school crushing on straight friends. That’s a staple of many a young homo’s story, and a lot of gay fiction plays into that by having the shy, nerdy protagonist get assigned to tutor the captain of the football team and…you know the rest. In real life, this almost never happens. I’m not saying that the captain of the football team is never gay, only that the odds that he will fall for his shy, nerdy math tutor and find his feelings reciprocated are infinitesimal. I almost got angry at The Way He Looks for presenting a story that is so goddamned warm and fuzzy, but then I realized that that’s not fair. There are teens getting thrown out of their houses for being gay, but there are also teens whose biggest fear is just that the boy they like is more interested in the cute girl in class and their stories matter, too.

I’m about a decade older than the characters in this film. I remember very clearly what being that age was like. So when I see a film like Shelter or Summer Storm, I get kinda pissy because what they present is a fantasy, nothing more. Yes, it would be nice to be pushed out of the closet by a handsome surfer who takes you by the hand and helps you to realize that everything will be okay and that this thing you’ve just learned about yourself changes nothing. Yes, it would be nice to realize that you are gay and then have your straight best friend instantly forgive you for getting overly physical and cockblocking him earlier. But that never happens and you know it. Stories like that of Leonardo and Gabriel (the guys in The Way He Looks) do happen occasionally. They’re nowhere near as rare as they used to be, but I suspect that they did happen even when I was a teen. Some people lead charmed lives, and others just know how to roll with the punches. I’m not sure if either of those can be applied to me, but hey, I don’t begrudge those to whom they can.

I’m realizing that I won’t keep in touch with everyone I know over here when I move back to New York. And I’m okay with that. You don’t have to stay friends with somebody forever in order to say that they had a meaningful impact on your life. A lot of the people I hang out with these days are California types. They’re the kinds of people who can exist only in a certain region, and since they live in that region, that’s okay. But there are folks who live in California and like California who transcend their region. And then there’s me. I’m not a California type. At the moment, I’m a New York type, but I talk about that enough already. I made the decision long ago not to pursue a career in academia. Some people never leave the college campus. I go back less and less with each passing year.

You have to be judicious in deciding who is really worthy of your time. Sometimes, that hews dangerously close to cruelty. It’s weird, because I complain a lot about how my friends never hit me up and ask how I’m doing. Most of the time, I’m the one who has to initiate any interaction. Somehow, I still feel like I’d be in a better place if I could drop a few more of them from my mental Facebook feed. It’s not even that I hate them, just that I hung out with them to vent my frustrations, and since I’m very, very slowly learning to deal with some of those frustrations, I think they’d be better off if I cut them loose. Why do you think I update this blog so often? If I had more people to listen to me in real life, I wouldn’t have written hundreds of thousands of words here. But all that barking madness has to go somewhere.

I try not to look at what I’m doing these days as “finding myself”. Maybe part of the reason that my parents were so frustrated with my progress when I lived with them was that I wasn’t rushing along and wasn’t doing nothing; I was moving, just very incrementally. In a way, that’s more aggravating than going nowhere. Then again, maybe not.

In the Morning

I said when I left New York for California that I was going into what I thought of as an exile. It’s been over a year since that happened, and it really wasn’t my choice. I’ve never been able to uproot myself completely. I had a very awkward experience my freshman year of college when I returned to my high school to see the improv club perform and ended up performing in the show. It wasn’t like I was trying to pass myself off as a student, so I don’t suppose there was anything wrong with it, but man, did it ever feel weird. When I was in grad school, I frequently found myself wishing that I could pop by California for just a few hours or the same way that I spent many weekends in my first year of college at my parents’ house and still revisit my college town on occasion. (I’m not always there just to walk around. I have friends over there and sometimes, there’s a movie showing that isn’t available where I live.) I’m starting to worry that some of the people I hang out with are a bit too much like me. So maybe it’s time to get out of this town.

It’s probably better to feel as if you are leaving shit behind rather than getting out just to get away from all this stuff. And I definitely won’t be able to move back to NYC anytime soon, for reasons both financial and otherwise. What I know for certain is that I’m getting tired of this shit. I’m tired of this wussy climate. I’m tired of having to commute sometimes several hours in order to spend time with a friend. I’m tired of being reminded of shit that I did growing up but don’t really care about anymore. I don’t know if my high school has reunions, but if it does, I’m never going to one. That’s a promise.

A lot of my coworkers at the coffee shop knew each other previously. I didn’t know anyone there when I walked in and was older than most of them anyway, if only by a few years. I can’t help that I prefer to hold myself at kind of a distance from the LGBT community. I hate it when people say, “Being gay is only a small part of who I am” because no, it isn’t; I just think that it’s a mistake to define yourself in terms of how well you do or don’t fit in with a particular group. It is one thing to look at certain issues through rainbow-colored lenses and quite another to make everything about gender and sexuality. The former is not only fine but vital and perhaps even inevitable. The latter is dull. Dull, dull, dull. And I know I’ve talked about this before but that doesn’t make it any less true.

I worried for a long time about how I was going to keep in touch with all my friends when we lived on opposite sides of the country. The obvious answer to that is that sometimes people drift apart. The ones that don’t stay in contact via Skype or social media or Pony Express or telegraph or whatever the hell else you’ve got. And I think the rocky quality of my social life up until this point is due to the fear that my friends will forget me if I don’t stay in constant contact with them. One of my best friends from college is getting his Ph.D in condensed matter physics at Urbana-Champaign Illinois. I haven’t seen him in over three years, but you had better believe I want to see him again. I hope he feels the same way about me. Because we haven’t talked in a while.

Maybe the frustration here is that I can’t seem to distinguish between people who are really important to me and people who are only kind of important. It’s okay, I guess, to have friendly acquaintances with whom you exchange Christmas cards but don’t actually see much if at all, but then again, writing Christmas cards sounds like a real drag. My parents sit down to do them every year around December and…God no, I don’t want to go there.

There are a lot of nice people in the world, but as for people I would actually want to get to know, the list is rather short. Someday, I might like to meet my heroes, but of course, there’s nothing that says I should have to be friends with them. When I leave this state for good, perhaps it will feel necessary more than anything else. I’m not itching to get out of here, but the fact remains that I never really liked it all that much to begin with. And I might return periodically for the holidays and whatnot, but don’t count on it. Because people need to reach out to me from time to time, and while I didn’t write this to point fingers at anyone, I think some of them could try a little harder on that front. Of course, the ones I’d really want to see this probably aren’t the ones reading it. So it goes.

It should not come as news to most of you that reading YouTube comments is a bad idea. I still do it sometimes for reasons I can’t begin to fathom. After reading way more of them than any reasonable person should, I have concluded that most people are fucking idiots, and that most of the racist/misogynistic stuff attacking Obama/Anita Sarkeesian/Nelson Mandela/Dora the Explorer/whoever the fuck the trolls are after these days are left by a small group of people with diagnosable mental disorders brought together by a shared need to live in a bigoted fantasy rather than the real world. It’s pretty much the only way I can maintain my faith in humanity. Not that there was much of that to begin with.

 

FSM

savioYou might have heard about a certain controversy regarding Bill Maher’s comments about radical Islam. He got into a heated debate with Ben Affleck on his show a few weeks back in which Affleck came down on him very hard for blaming Islam for so many of the problems in the Middle East. He had a very similar debate with Affleck several years ago, only that time, it was a little bit more about Middle Eastern society itself and Ayan Hirsi Ali was there to back him up in saying that his criticisms were fair. In this case, he had only Sam Harris. I don’t think Harris is all that deep of a thinker, but that’s besides the point. Bill Maher is no stranger to controversy. He was fired from his job hosting Politically Incorrect after saying that the 9/11 hijackers, as evil as they were, were not cowards. And now he is posing the question as to whether or not the root of all of our political issues in that part of the world could be Islamic fundamentalism. Well, he’s never been a big fan of religion.

Let me make something clear: I have issues with Maher. I watch his show whenever I can and consider him a good interviewer and a good discussion leader, but yeah, his hard-on for blaming everything on religion does get on my nerves, and I say that as a nonbeliever. Even then, I think he had a point. It’s not necessarily racist to say that Islamic fundamentalism is holding the Middle East back, but of course, you could make the argument that fundamentalism is always bad and whether it’s Islamic or not has nothing to do with it. That’s the root of the debate, anyway, and for once, I’m going to decline to take sides. I get what Maher’s saying and am maybe even sympathetic to it, but I feel like the issue here is whether what he said was even that bad to begin with.

My criteria for determining if I want to spend time around somebody is very simple. Essentially, all I want to know is whether they can teach me anything new. I learned an interesting trick from a new acquaintance last month that I’ve just now tried. He suggested that if I need a few more bucks, I should show up to work a half hour early, clock in, then make myself scarce until I’m actually supposed to be there. You might point out that this is dishonest, to which I say: So what? Just don’t tell my boss, is all. With any luck, nobody will notice, and yeah, I kinda feel like I do need the money more than my employers do. My new apartment has a fucking killer location and is decent-sized if not exactly lavish. And I really, really need to put some space between myself and my family.

Cormac McCarthy once said that he doesn’t understand the appeal of writers like Henry James and Marcel Proust because they don’t explore issues like life and death. “A lot of writers who are considered good I consider strange,” he said. That bugged me more than it should. It shouldn’t really be a big deal that a writer I like doesn’t like another writer I like, but I feel like there is more to it than that. First of all, I love The Turn of the Screw, and would be happy to expound on the virtues of that densely layered ghost story anytime he wants. (Call me, Cormac. You still have my number, right?) But the keyword in that statement is “strange”. He didn’t even call Henry James bad; he just said he doesn’t get it. I know the feeling. I’ve had it happen once or twice where I’m getting into a disagreement with someone and somebody says, “You two have different opinions, and that’s okay” as if that’s all that needs to be said. What the fuck is the point of life if we can’t have a conversation?

There are a lot of beloved cultural icons that I’m not totally enamored of: Breaking Bad, Paul Thomas Anderson, I could go on. But I wouldn’t really describe them as strange; I just don’t like them all that much. I seek out the things that have me scratching my head. I discussed violent, extreme movies in my last post. I’m thinking I should check out Sal√≥, Or the 120 Days of Sodom at some point. That is widely regarded as one of the most revolting films ever made, but art isn’t supposed to make people comfortable, is it? Bill Maher has never sought to confront people with the easy truths. That’s part of why he’s on HBO. But college kids don’t want to be challenged anymore. Part of the reason I never went for my Ph.D. is that I don’t want to spend my whole life in that kind of environment. I mean no disrespect to the people who do, but man, it just ain’t for me.

I’ll close with a story about my BFF, Dan Savage. He was visiting a university not too long ago and, in the midst of a discussion about why he no longer uses the word “tranny” because it is offensive to transgender people, a transgender student stood up and told him that he couldn’t use that word even in the context of explaining why it’s offensive. Fuck that. He refused and the student left the room in tears, later complaining that Dan harassed it. (And yes, “it” is this student’s preferred pronoun. I’m all for self-identifying, but talk about a lack of self-respect, huh?) I witnessed some of that attitude in my time in college, especially when I dipped a toe into the waters of the LGBT community. I hate to say it, but people these days are too fucking sensitive. And you don’t have to make everything all about what a special snowflake you are. Seriously, Berkeley people, grow some thicker skin.