Category Archives: Introspection

The Honor of Listening

Last night, I attended a trans* panel discussion facilitated by the Empire State Pride Agenda and hosted by the Gay Alliance of the Genesee Valley.  It was attended by approximately fifty people and the presenters were incredible people whose stories were well worth hearing.  What struck me is that those who planned the event took great care to choose presenters that demonstrated the great diversity of expression in the local trans* community.  Speakers included a transwoman, a transman, a crossdresser, and a genderqueer individual.  Each of them shared a brief glimpse — there’s only so much one can share in ten minutes — into their lives and their experiences embracing their gender identity and gender expression.  I wish more people had been there to hear these incredible people speak.

To me, it was an honor to listen as they shared a part of their lives that is rather intimate and personal.  I imagine that for them, it was an act of courageous vulnerability.  After the discussion, I approached the various panelists and thanked them for sharing their stories with me.  Each one of them responded with, “Thank you for coming and listening.”

“Thank you for listening.”  They didn’t thank me for filling out the provided postcard asking my state senator to support the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act currently before the New York assembly and senate — which I did do.  They thanked me for listening.  I think that’s because listening is important.

While listening is not sufficient by itself to be a good ally — a good ally is then motivated to act on what zie hears — listening is an essential first step.  Getting to know and understand the people a person wishes to support and be an ally for helps them understand how zie can best help them rather than doing well-intentioned, but unhelpful or even hurtful things out of ignorance.  Also, I think that learning to listen and engage with the stories of others — trans* people in this case — humanizes them, generates empathy for them, and hopefully builds a desire to support them and their fight for equality and justice.

Over the next couple days, I hope to talk more about trans* issues, including blogging about a video one of the allies from the panel discussion recommended I blog about to encourage further discussion.  But today, in my mind, I’m still listening.  I would invite you to listen as well.

If I’m going to be an ally, it can’t be about me

Some time ago, I had a friend who liked to be “helpful.”  He loved to do nice things for others.  He loved talking about all the nice things he did for other people.  It got annoying rather quickly.

Mind you, there’s nothing annoying about helping other people.  In fact, such expressions of altruism, hospitality, and compassion are something I personally value greatly — and think everyone should value greatly.

There’s also nothing inherently wrong with sharing stories where one helps another.  It’s often a good way of raising awareness of the problems and needs of others.  If my friend Becky mentions in passing that she gave our mutual friend Ralph some extra grocery money, I might respond by saying that I didn’t realize Ralph was strapped for cash and ask if he’s okay.  I might even contact Ralph and ask him if there’s anything else he needs.

No, the problem with my friend’s behavior was that he was bragging.  What’s more, it quickly became clear that his intentions were not so much to help others but to draw attention to himself in that “look at what a great guy I am” sort of way.  In time, I began wondering if he cared about the people he helped at all beyond a way to show off what a great guy he was.

I thought of this friend as I got involved in a conversation over at Fannie’s Room regarding those people who wish to be seen as, to paraphrase Fannie, heroic allies of women or racial minorities (or QUILTBAG people or any other marginalized group) for the simplest and most basic things while they ignore subtler, more complex, and equally important (not to mention more common) manifestations of marginalization.

While I certainly agreed with the point Fannie was making, I took it one step further:

You know, I never really got this mentality.  I have no desire to be a “heroic feminist ally.”  Quite frankly, doing so would strike me as making being a feminist ally all about me.  (Do I really need to spell out why this is problematic?)  Personally, I’d much prefer feminists give me an honest critique of where I do well and where I need to improve.

I want to expand on that point.  When a person is acting as an ally to others, it’s not about them, and it’s inappropriate and rude to make it about them.  People who wish to be an ally — whether it’s an ally to women, QUILTBAG people, racial minorities, or some other group — need to understand this fact quite clearly.  Without doing so, one isn’t much of an ally.

On those occasions that I write about feminist issues as a man — or should I ever right about trans* issues as a cisgender man or racial issues as a white man — I don’t do so in order to gain praise.  I do so to help out women (or trans* people or people of other races), and I believe I wholeheartedly have a duty to do my best to help them.  Part of helping them means not drawing attention to or accolades for myself in the process.

That’s why of all the blog posts I’ve ever written, the blog posts I write about women are probably the ones I think hardest about and fret the most over.  It’s easy for me to write one about gay male sexuality, Pagan spirituality, or my past experiences as a fundamentalist.  I’m intimately familiar with those subjects on a personal level.  When I write about issues that affect women, I’m writing about someone else’s experiences and struggles as an outsider.  That calls for great care and attention, because it’s not about me at all.

And that’s the way it should be.

Anticipation

When I was younger, I had trouble sleeping on Christmas Eve.  I would lay in bed thinking about all the presents I would be getting, wondering which of the toys and other things I asked for would actually be waiting under the tree for me the next morning.  The anticipation would keep my mind wound up too much to allow it to slip into unconsciousness.

As I grew older, the problem faded.  As I got older, the magic of all those presents began to wear off — to the point where as an adult, my first thought when family members ask for gift suggestions is occasionally, “great, more crap I don’t really need and don’t have a place to put anyway.”  This is good, as I’m not sure that I could handle the sleep deprivation now as well as I did back when I could still count my age using only my hands.

I admit, though, that the anticipation of giving has also grown since then.  There’s something special about knowing that when someone opens that almost perfect gift[1] their expression and reaction may actually light up the room.  It’s an anticipation that doesn’t keep me awake half of Christmas Eve,[2] but it’s something that gives me that extra thrill and desire to go on.

I also think there’s something to be said for anticipating the joy of another person, as it takes us outside of ourselves for that moment and makes us more other-focused.  Sharing in the joys of others adds to both our joy and theirs, and it makes life that much better.

What joys do you share?  What things do you anticipate, both during this season and throughout the world?  Have you ever had that moment where you’re looking forward to something so much that you can’t sleep?  Can’t concentrate on your job?  (Don’t worry, I won’t tell your supervisor.)

Note:
[1]  This reminds me, I need to answer my own question on a recent open thread.

[2]  In fairness, this is at least in part due to the fact that I’m not (quite) as hyper or excitable as I was in my youth.

Let there be equality, and let it begin with me

As I’ve considered thinking about Wednesday’s post about the way various women are portrayed in the book “Destiny,” I started wondering what I had hoped to accomplish with the post.  After all, it’s not like I expect future authors of the Rogue Angel series to read my post and try to improve the series’ portrayal of women.  I simply don’t have that level of influence.

In many ways, I think I was engaging in a bit of navel-gazing, though I consider it much-needed navel-gazing.  You see, I’ve never picked up a book and given much thought to how many female characters there were, how those characters interacted, how they were portrayed, or what other notions about women were being reinforced — implicitly or explicitly.

Having spent many months learning more about feminist thought and how society perceives and treats women from fantastic bloggers like Personal Failure, Fannie, Ana, and Mmy, I felt it would be a good exercise to step back, try to see past my own privilege, and consider my reading material in a different light.  In effect, I was seeking to become a better ally to women.

I must say, it was an enlightening experience.  In the course of seeking to recall the book and write a post about it, I found a number of problematic themes to write about — more than I even originally expected to find.  These are things that I would have overlooked normally.  Or if I had noticed them at all, I would have shrugged them off as minor things, rationalizing that with such a powerful, independent woman like Annja as the main character, such things couldn’t possibly matter.  The kickass woman made everything alright, right?

Well, no, I don’t think so.  Positive and negative portrayals of women — or any marginalized group, for that matter — are not mutually exclusive, and the tendency to ignore the latter when the former is present only allows the negative ones to flourish in the culture.  So learning to spot these problematic themes is important.

I think for me, the best example of my normal oversight of this sort of thing came from when I went to write the post and could not remember any women in the story other than Annja.  I had originally boldly declared that the book failed the Bechdel test on that grounds alone.

And yet, as I mined the book for quotes and details for my posts, I ran into two other women in the story.  One woman (Maria) I had forgotten completely.  The other woman (the unnamed server), my brain had surreptitiously rewritten as a man, demonstrating that I’m still perfectly capable of assuming that a man is the default human.  That was not a comfortable realization, let me tell you.  I find myself wondering how many other women in the story I have invisibilized simply by forgetting about them or remaking them into men in my mind.

It would be easy to blame the culture and say that I only did these things because it’s the way my upbringing and experiences have conditioned me to think and behave.  While that’s certainly true, I think that’s a terrible excuse.  After all, I am a part of that society and my actions contribute to the same conditioning of other people unless I do something about it.  And ultimately, I am the one person in the world I have control over.

So writing the post has further awakened me to something about the society and myself that I don’t like.  So now I’m looking to change things by changing myself.  I am currently in the process of reading “Solomon’s Jar,” the second book in the Rogue Angel series, and I’m choosing to read it more mindfully.  I am looking out for female characters so that I can remember them.  I’m looking for problematic themes while reading them, rather than thinking about them after the fact.  I’m keeping an eye out for whatever messages the book might try to send me.  It’ll be interesting to see what I have to say about the next book and my reaction to it.

If I can raise one or two other reader’s awareness, that’ll be a bonus.

“Dating” Disasters and Lessons Learned

anger. hostility towards the opposition

Image by assbach via Flickr

Since my nine month relationship with Michael (I apologize to those who never knew about this) fell apart, I’ve been surfing Chemistry.com and expressing interest in various members whose profiles the site brings to my attention.  I’m not sure that I really expect something to come of it, but I figure that I’ll never know unless I give it a shot.  And I’ve had one or two people express interest in return, so it’s not like I’m coming up completely empty.

One such person, a thirty year old man in Niagara Falls named Marty, expressed interest in return on Tuesday, March 2.  So the two of us each spent a bit of time that day running through the process that particular dating site requires to members to go through before having direct email communications.  So I sent Marty my relationship essentials, received his in return, compared them, submitted my list of short answer questions I’d like him to answer, and answered the list he sent me in return.  I then went around the rest of my day and took care of personal business.

That evening, I finished my tax returns, submitted them, and ran over to Chemistry.com.  I discovered that Marty had not only answered my questions, but had sent two emails to me.  I read through his answers and read the emails.  I was formulating my answers to the first one in my head while I opened the second one.  He included his phone number and indicated he was normally up late.  I glanced at the clock, noted that it was only 8:30pm (several hours before his stated bedtime), and grabbed the phone.  What the heck.

Marty proved to be a delightful, charming, and funny guy, and we seemed to hit it off real well.  In fact, he asked me multiple times when I’d be in Niagara Falls the next time.  After the third time, I simply pointed out that I don’t really have any other reason to come to Niagara Falls, but I could make a trip any time.  He suggested we meet halfway instead, and I suggested we meet in Buffalo.  Buffalo is actually closer to him by half an hour, but I’d prefer to drive the extra distance just to ensure there’s something to do!  So we set up an afternoon date for that Saturday.  We also set up plans to talk on the phone again Thursday night.

We ended up talking that Wednesday night as well, since my plans to go to game night didn’t work out so well and I decided it’d be more fun to go home and talk to the funny and charming guy from Niagara Falls.  So that week, we had three wonderful phone conversations, and we were both looking forward to our date that Saturday.

That’s when things started falling apart.  In hindsight, I can also say that it’s probably the point when I should have bailed out of the whole situation.  (We’ll get to the lessons learned portion in a bit.)  Saturday arrives and I drive to Buffalo.  I find Allen Street and Q Bar and I go in to have a drink while I wait for Marty to arrive.  He doesn’t.

I spent the next half hour or so waiting and making the occasional phone call or sending the occasional text message (all spaced at least ten minutes apart) to try and find out what happened.  Being the kind of person who likes to give people the benefit of the doubt, I expressed concern that something came up and repeatedly asked if he’s okay.

After going to eat at the Falafel Bar (fantastic food, by the way), I headed back to my car.  I tried calling Marty one last time, and he answered.  He sounded tired, confused and out of it.  He explained that he had gotten a nasty stomach bug (possibly food poisoning) and didn’t fall asleep until the wee hours of the morning.  As a result, he slept through our date.  I said okay and we agreed to talk in a bit.  I drove home.

He contacted me both on Facebook (he may consider it an act of mercy on my part that I don’t publish a link to his profile) and via phone, apologizing profusely.  Again, being the kind of person who gives people the benefit of the doubt (though that may be changing soon), I let it slide and agreed to his suggestion that we try again.  After all, he’d been quite anxious days before.  (And besides, I have this bizarre history of first dates that fall through, only to meet on a second attempt.)  He suggested he might here to Rochester the following weekend, since I had driven to Buffalo this past attempt.  I indicated that would be fine, though I wouldn’t mind driving again.  He told me I was such an awesome person and wondered aloud where I had been all his life.

Sunday evening he calls me and we talk for five or ten minutes.  He told me about the day he spent with his neighbor, Wendy, who is going through some terrible stuff in her life.  Then he got a beep from Wendy and he asked if he can call me right back.  As someone who understands what it’s like when a friend is in crisis, I told him okay and let him go.  He never called me back that day.

That set the pattern for the next week.  He’d eventually call me in the evening.  After about five or ten minutes, he would tell me he needed to go for one reason or another and promise to call me back either “right away” or “in five or ten minutes.”  The second call would never come.  He also quit responding to texts during the day (something he had been quite good about and even initiated the previous week).  I became concerned and asked him about it.  On numerous occasions, I asked him if I needed to back off because I was bothering him.  Each time, he assured me I was okay.  I also made numerous inquiries about making plans to try meeting again, which he ignored.

On Friday, I decided to lay it on the line.  I left him a voice message informing him that I thought he was a great guy, but that I couldn’t keep putting myself out there if he wasn’t going to be responsive.  I told him that it seemed like his life was too chaotic to really pursue anything.  So I told him that I was still interested, but that the ball was in his court and I was going to go away until such time as he decided to lob it back in my direction.  I figured this would give him the perfect out.  If I never heard from him again, that would be that.

He didn’t take the out.  The next day, he called me, once again all apologetic.  He assured me that he was usually better and more responsible than this.  (I must say at this point that the preponderance of the evidence I am aware of is in direct contradiction to this claim.)  He promised to do a better job, and even did a better (if imperfect) job of keeping that promise that night.  He also told me more about the situation with his neighbor Wendy, and I expressed both understanding and a clear message that while I understand and sympathize with her situation, he needed to set boundaries with her and still manage to keep his commitments to me.  (I pointed out that this was not only about what’s fair to me, but what’s ultimately healthy for both him and Wendy as well.)  He agreed with all of this and went on talking via phone through Monday night.

Our last phone call ended much the same way as previous phone calls.  Wendy tried calling him, and he promised to call me right back.  He got a bit defense (but also sounded rather guilty) when I responded to his promise to call me right back with a skeptical sounding “okay.”  He never called back that night.  I sent him a couple texts later that night and even left a voice message expressing my hopes that everything was okay.

The next morning (that would be yesterday, for those trying to keep track), I got a text from Marty apologizing about not getting back to me and promising we’d talk later in the day.  I texted him back and told him I was looking forward to it.  I also suggested I could come up to meet him after work (I had made the same offer Monday).  That’s the last text I got from Marty.

I worked all day Tuesday and got out of work at 4:30.  I grabbed my stuff, went to my car, and started it.  I then called Marty and got his voicemail.  As I was leaving a message, I got a call waiting beep and checked the caller ID to see a Minnesota number.  I shrugged, finished my message and hung up, only to immediately get another call from the Minnesota number.  I answered and the conversation went something like this:

Gravely voice:  Is this Jarred?
Jarred:  Yes.
GV:  This is _____.  You know Marty?
J:  Yes?
GV:  I’m calling to tell you that he wants you to stop calling him.
J:  Why isn’t Marty telling me this himself?
GV:  Look, Marty’s going through a lot of stuff right now.  And I’m calling you on his behalf to tell you that you need to stop calling him.
J:  I understand what you’re saying, but you still haven’t answered my question as to why Marty isn’t telling me this himself.
GV:  Look, the fact that you would even ask that question means that you’re calling Marty’s motivations and his character into question.  You need to leave him alone.
J:  I see.  Well, you’ve given me something to think about.  Have a good day.

Call me crazy, but I’m not the kind of person who takes the word of a perfect stranger (presumably) calling from several states away about the desires of someone else.  This is especially true since Marty had already told me about at least two other guys who allegedly turned into creepy stalker types on him.  For all I knew, this guy was just a trouble maker.  So I called Marty and left a voicemail:

Hey Marty.  This is Jarred.  The weirdest thing just happened to me.  I got a call from someone from Saint Paul, Minnesota telling me that you don’t want to talk to me anymore.  I’d appreciate it if you’d call me and tell me what’s up with that.  Bye.

While I was leaving that message, I got a beep.  It was Marty’s number, but I didn’t get to it in time.  However, within seconds after hanging up from my message, I get another call from Marty’s number.  Imagine my surprise when I answer, only to be greeted by Gravelly Voice (again, a paraphrase):

GV:  Jarred, I just got done telling you not to call Marty again, and you turn right around and call him anyway.
J:  Well, yeah hon.  You see, when I get messages through someone using a Saint Paul, Minnesota number, I tend to verify them with the alleged source.
GV:  Well, you’ll note this call isn’t from Saint Paul Minnesota.
J:  Yeah, I saw.
GV:  Look, I tried to be nice last time…
J:  Oh?
GV:  You don’t know who you’re dealing with.  I used to live and Brooklyn and I’m not the kind of person you want to play games with…
J:  Excuse me?  You think I’m the one playing games right now?
GV:  Well, if you call him again after this conversation…

At that point, I begin to shout “shut up” to try to break through his obvious attempts to intimidate me and speak my peace.  When it quickly becomes apparent that he’s only interested in acting like a bully and a goon, I just hang up on the asshole.

So there you have it.  In two weeks, this guy went from telling me I was a great guy and practically begging to meet me ASAP to not wanting to talk to me at all.  After passing up multiple opportunities to call the whole thing quits that I explicitly offered to him, he calls on some Gravelly Voice to tell me to fuck off and threaten me if I don’t do exactly that.

Well, no worries there.  If someone doesn’t have the basic human dignity to deliver the “I don’t think this is going to work out” to me in person, then they are too much of a coward and an asshole for me to deal with.  Quite frankly, I haven’t even processed through the hurt of being told to go away because I’m still dealing with the rage and disbelief of the callous, thoughtless, and honor-less way in which that message was delivered.  In my mind, Marty is nothing more than a tease, a game-player, and a Grade A Jackass.  So yes, a message was received loud and clear.  I just doubt it was the message he intended to send.  But the end result is the same, so I guess it’s all good.

I think what gets me is that due to this game-playing and this duplicity, I find myself wondering how much of what he ever told me was true.  Were the guys who allegedly turned creepy stalkers really bad guys?  Or were they just decent guys who, like me, got played and then tossed away.  Or maybe they acted less than honorably simply because they finally reacted badly to the psychotic mind-fuck that is the experience of interacting with Marty.  Granted, that wouldn’t excuse inappropriate or creepy behavior, but it certainly would make me at least a little more sympathetic towards them.

In the end, I find myself wondering if Marty is just some weak-willed guy who can’t deal with his own issues without involving others or whether he’s a truly nasty game player that likes to fuck with other people’s heads.  I suppose I’ll never know.  In the end, I suppose it doesn’t matter, either.  Either way, it’s best to take this out he’s now offered me and be thankful for it.

But as the title of this post says, I think I’ve learned a few lessons.  I think I give people the benefit of the doubt way too much and for way too long.  That needs to change.  I think new people in my life should only get one “mistake.”  After they make that mistake and make their apologies, they shouldn’t get a “third chance” until they prove themselves.  If they fuck up again, I think they need to be shown the door.  No excuses.  No apologies.  Once is a mistake.  Twice is a pattern.  The third time is a lifestyle, and I don’t even care to know about it.

I also think that if they start sounding like a liar or that they live in an alternate reality (and in hindsight, I admit I should have seen the signs of that with Marty), I’m going to assume it’s because they are a liar and/or live in an alternative reality.  And that means walking away fast, because I need people who live in plain old normal reality.

Hopefully, it’s a lesson well learned that will turn into a lesson well applied.  Actually, I take that back.  I hope I never have another reason to apply that lesson.  But if I do, I pray I’m ready.

Goals for 2008

After watching other people do likewise, I decided to take some time this month to set out my goals for this coming year. I realize I’m a bit late, considering we’re already three days into the new year, but I figure it’s better to be late than to never do it at all. Besides, I did some of my goal setting at Yule, so in some respects, I was ahead of the game.

1. Lead more rituals.

This is actually a goal that was set for me. The Yule ritual last month was just the beginning. I have agreed (not quite at knifepoint) to plan the rituals for the two equinoxes and two solstices in 2008. To be honest, I need the experience, and it’s just time for me to continue.

2. Share what I know and what I’ve learned.

This goal is a bit vague because I’m not sure how it’s going to play out right yet. All I know is that I need to start sharing with others what I’ve learned over the past few years, even as my own learning process continues. This may mean some classes and/or workshops in the local community. Or it may mean signing up to lead a workshop at the Naturist Festival this August (as I’m pretty sure I’ll be going again). But at any rate, it’s time for me to start contributing in this arena.

3. Continue to become more social.

This one isn’t so much a new goal as a continuation of a theme from last year. I’ve gotten out to meet more people, and I’ve even learned to do a better job of stepping out socially rather than hoping people will seek me out or otherwise find me. I simply need to continue this trend and improve on the progress I’ve already made.

4. Continue the exercise trend.

Last summer saw me walking regularly. When the weather warms back up, I’m going to be right back out there. In the meantime, I’m also going to try to keep some level of exercise going on, though probably not to the same degree. But I figure if I can make it over to the fitness center for an hour or two every week, that should hold me over until the summer returns.

I’m simply decided that my real form of exercise is and will remain walking. Nothing works as well for me. New Year’s Day, I walked down to the 7-11 and back, which is about a mile in each direction. Despite the snow and cold air, I loved it. Riding a stationary bike is exercise and work. Going for a nice walk is pure joy.

On the bright side, the time I’m spending at the fitness center appears to be enough to maintain the reduced waist size I reached towards the end of last year.

Fun at Friendly’s

Yesterday, I decided to run to Friendly’s for lunch. The place was relatively empty, and I think there were only two servers working. Stef met me at the door and seated me. She asked me if I wanted a diet coke (a sign I go there way too often), to which I assented. As she headed back to the kitchen, the other server, a young man named Kyle, walked by and said he’d be right with me. Apparently, Stef had planned on waiting on me herself, so they had a brief conversation in the kitchen to decide who would actually take my table. (I love it when servers fight over me.)

Apparently, they eventually agreed that Kyle would be my server, because he walked over with my diet coke, introduced himself, and asked me if I was ready to order. I placed my order only to have him give me the perfect opportunity to tease him a little. After I ordered my food, he asked me if I wanted anything to drink. I laughed, glanced at the table, then looked back to him to politely ask, “You mean besides the diet coke you just brought me.” He laughed in flustered embarrassment (I consider the fact that he didn’t turn beet red nothing short of miraculous) and explained he was used to doing things in a certain order. I just smile and said I understood.

While we had been talking, I noticed a chain around his neck, so I looked closely at the two pendants hanging off it. This is a new habit I’m working on developing, as I’m realizing just how much a person’s choice of jewelry or body art can offer an opportunity for conversation. I noted the crucifix (which, when combined with my estimate of his age, gave me enough reason to decide to keep things to a bit of fun chat and maybe some slight flirtation) as well as a large “55.” So when he stopped by later to check on me, I inquired. As it turns out, he’s a football player and that’s his number. (Of course, we won’t go into the thoughts of being tackled that suddenly came to mind.) He mentioned that it had been his number in both high school and now college. (Of course, I was relieved to confirm that he was at least in college. I’m much more comfortable with feeling slightly lecherous rather than downright criminal.)

When it came time for ice cream, I ordered the recently re-released the peanut butterpan sundae, so I ordered that. Kyle commented that he never tried that one. I said I had it last time they offered it and loved it. I mentioned in passing that it had peanut butter in it, so that meant I’d naturally love it. So the sneak decided to demonstrate just how good a server he was by making the sundae with extra peanut butter. Needless to say, someone got a very good tip (even moreso than usual).

I have to admit, I enjoyed the meal, and I had fun chatting up my waiter just a bit. Sure, he’s too young for me (I think I’m through with college students), and the religion thing would be an issue. (After all, he’s not goth, so I’m pretty sure he wasn’t wearing a crucifix just for the “cool factor.”) But sometimes, it’s just fun to be able to chat and have a little harmless fun with someone. And besides, I think it was good practice for me. I really could use more practice being chatty and flirty, as it’s something I struggle with (especially if I actually find the person I’m chatting with attractive). So this was a great activity. And either Kyle didn’t notice or didn’t exactly mind, so it worked out well.

And I do like that I’m learning to be more attentive to picking out little things to comment on. It should really help me with starting conversations in the future.

Being turned on by my younger self?

Thanksgiving Day, I had a bit of a personal experience. After I had gotten to my parents’ home and was seated in the dining room chatting with them, I began to look around the room. On the one stand next to the interior wall, I spotted an old picture of me. If my mother is right (I mentioned it to her later), it was the casual picture I had taken when I had my senior pictures taken in high school.

When I first saw the picture, I did a double take. “That was me?! Damn, I was cute back then!” In fact, I was so taken by the picture that I almost had trouble believing it really was me. I looked rather different back then. It was before my hairline had really started to recede and before I put on an extra 70+ pounds. This realization was somewhat depressing, and for a moment, I even mourned the fact that I was no longer that young man in the picture.

What’s more, I mourned that I never realized how good looking I really was back then. I never considered myself ugly (and never have), but I did consider myself pretty plain. Part of that was because the school nurse kept harping on the fact that I was “slightly overweight” every year. Add that to the fact that none of the girls in school really seemed all that interested in me (nor the boys, but I wouldn’t have been ready to pursue that possibility anyway), and it just never occurred to me how great I looked. Of course, that made the realization rather sweet now, even if I did wish I would’ve taken better advantage of my looks back then.

But then Miss Thing (Have I mentioned that I love having a patron goddess who let’s me get away with calling her names like “Miss Thing”?) began pointing out to me that I’m still very good looking. Despite the decrease in hair and the increase in weight. And besides, I’m slowly, very slowly, doing something about that latter part. It is entirely likely that in three or four years, I could be that “slightly overweight” (in which case I will party) guy in the picture again, just at twice the age. But it’s going to take time, patience, and a lot of self love. After all, if I try to rush things, I’ll only get frustrated and sabotage my own efforts. And besides, I need to accept I already look great so that it becomes a matter of improving on an already great thing rather than some struggle against myself.

So I will continue to do my exercising (which I admit I’ve been bad about for the past couple weeks). I’ll get back to eating healthier. And I’ll continue to do so because I enjoy it (I’m already pining for longer days and warmer weather again so I can return to my walking). But at least now, I do it with a glimmer of hope that despite not being my primary goal, there’s proof that I could really enjoy the fringe benefits in the long run, too.

Unplugging and Decluttering

Erin and I started a great comment conversation on my previous post regarding “unplugging.” We both agreed that neither of us are ready to “unplug” (at least not completely). After all, how would I get my blogging fix? Though I do think that disentangling oneself from the fast-paced electronic and telecommunications world for short periods of time is good. When I’ve done it, I’ve found it gives me time to recharge and relax. After all, far too often, I begin to realize that my planned time relaxing at the computer isn’t as relaxing as I thought. But then, I think many things we do to “relax” often prove not to be very relaxing, i we were to look at things more honestly. So when my computer time becomes more of a strain than a joy, I take it as time to leave my computer turned off and find more rejuvenating activities.

But personally, I think that this is an example of a much bigger problem. In general, I think we as people tend to fill our lives with a lot of clutter when it comes to our schedule. We fill as much activity (and sadly, I’m including the time spent in front of the television with this) in our daily lives as we can, far too much, if you ask me. And then we complain when we feel drained and exhausted at the end of each day. This is not reasonable behavior, so why do we do it?

Personally, I think we’re driven by the quest for something, most likely satisfaction. If we can just fit that one more activity into our lives like we’ve been thinking about, maybe we’ll feel like we have a full and complete life. Maybe we’ll feel like we’ve accomplished something then. Maybe we’ll finally find what we’ve been yearning for. (Of course, I also think that a desire to avoid ourselves on some levels is a major contributor. But that’s probably best saved for another post someday.)

The problem is, this is the classic case of confusing quantity for quality. Much of these activities in our lives ultimately hold no meaning on a deeper level, I think. They entertain us. They keep us busy. They give us a superficial satisfaction that we’re out doing something. (And as a former recluse, I can certainly appreciate the allure of that feeling.) But they don’t really effect us on a deeper level. In the end, they don’t satisfy.

I think it’s important to occasionally look at our daily lives and the activity we fill it with and look for the clutter. It’s important to notice the activities that aren’t necessarily serving the purpose we thought they would and honestly re-evaluate whether they are worth our time, time that could be spent on much more fulfilling pursuits (like the rediscovery of self). It’s time to slow down and look for quality activity in our lives rather than the fast-paced race that leaves us exhausted and never quite as satisfied as we had hoped.

Things are different this time

Last night, I met the guys at The Distillery (their new Winton Road location) for our usual Monday night dinner. None of us had been there before, so it was a new experience. I found it a delightful place and look forward to going back again sometime. Perhaps I’ll take my father there the next time he spends the night with me.

As is our tendency during the summer, we ate outdoors, enjoying the warm weather and beautiful sky. As we were getting ready to leave, I sat there looking at the sunset and decided I wanted to go for a walk.

It’s not unusual for me to go for a walk after having dinner with the guys. In fact, it’s become something of a tradition in my mind over the last month. As we usually eat somewhere on Park Avenue, I usually leave directly from the restaurant and walk the circuit made by Park, Alexander, East, and Berkeley. It makes for a nice forty-five minute walk.

However, I had originally planned on skipping that part of my Monday night routine last night. I figured that with my seven mile canal walk Sunday morning, there was no need to get more exercise the next night, so I planned on giving my legs a break. But as I sat watching that sunset and enjoying the moderate temperatures of the evening, I realized that I didn’t want to give my legs the break. I wanted to complete my Monday night routine like I normally would.

This exemplifies a radical difference between my walking habits recently and past attempts to exercise more. This excites me because it’s a difference that I think may help me actually stick with the practice this time around, as opposed to other times when I tapered off.

Over the past seven years, every other time I’ve tried to get more exercise (usually through walking, though I did try making use of my apartment complex’s exercise room for a few weeks last year, as well), I’ve done it out of a sense of obligation. I’ve told myself that I need to exercise, and often found myself practically forcing myself to do it. My heart just wasn’t in it.

This time around, I’ve found that I’m walking because I want to. In fact, for the first few weeks I started walking after dinner on Monday night, I refused to allow myself to think of it as another attempt to start exercising. I made the conscious choice to undergo the walk for the simple fact that I enjoy it. And the result is that even now that I’m starting to think in terms of exercise, it’s still a matter of desire rather than a sense of necessity or obligation. So I suppose it’s perfectly reasonable that even though I didn’t need to take my usual Monday night walk last night, that part of me that enjoys the routine would still want to do it anyway.

I’ve noticed a similar mentality with the canal walk. I found myself getting quite frustrated when trying to plan that trip for the last two months. However, my frustration was centered around finding a day that (1) I had free and could do it and (2) there was someone who could pick me up at the other end. My frustration wasn’t in trying to meet an obligation I was ambivalent about, but in trying to make the arrangements necessary to do something I love doing with all the restrictions created by everyone’s hectic summer schedules.

And as a further result, I’m looking for another day during the week that I can schedule regular walks. I’ve decided that a walk on the weekend and another one on Monday nights just isn’t enough for me. So I’m looking at working another walk into my routine on Thursday evenings.

I’m not sure how well that will work. I’m a bit nervous that I’m pushing my luck. But I figure that I’ll give it a shost. Besides, if I find it’s not working or (worse) that it’s actually affecting how I generally feel about my walking negatively, I’ll drop the idea for a while. But I think an honest and careful attempt at stretching my enjoyment is worthwhile.

Of course, I think there are other factors that are contributing to my success this time around. Another big factor is my choice of venues. I have a number of different routes I can take, all of which I enjoy for various reasons. This helps keep the overall experience a positive and interesting one. Then there’s the fact that I’ve found a way to work the walks into my schedule in natural and positive ways. The best example of that is the Monday evening walks after dinner. On those nights, I’ve already enjoyed a good meal and pleasant conversation. In some ways, going for a pleasant stroll is a way to keep the evening going. After all, it beats just going home and watching television or playing on the computer by myself.