Unwelcome Reminders

To be honest, I wouldn’t put it past my phone to give me such a message when Siri finds herself in a sassy mood. I’m more than somewhat glad that she doesn’t.

Saturday night, I walked out of work in a terrible mood, though all things considered, I can’t say that’s such a surprise. For the past five months, I’ve been going in everyday with the hope that at some point, I’d be told that I’m going to be able to stick around for a good long while.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t look like that’s not going to happen and not because I did something wrong or that I’m not good at what it is I do in exchange for a paycheck. As best I can tell, it’s just the price of business. A choice made by the people at the top, who don’t seem much concerned or aware of what happens to everyone else on the other side of the door to their corner offices.

Earlier that same day, someone I knew once and cared about very much was not all that far away, spending the day in pursuit of Pokemon along the coastline.

We haven’t said a word to one another in six months. Prior to that, we hadn’t seen each other in close to five years and if my suspicions are correct, then this is how things will remain going forward.

I wish I knew why. The fact that I don’t have an answer on either front is something that’s been gnawing at me for a while now, to the point that when I got to the subway that night, those feelings that I do my best to not think about whenever possible, all day, every day, had sank their teeth in.

And standing on the underground platform in the stifling, late-night heat, I suddenly found myself needing to step back from it as far as I could…because I had been given a command by my own subconscious to jump.

Now obviously I didn’t or else I’d be having to explain just how I’m sitting here writing this out now with more than just my digits intact. But that doesn’t alleviate the reality that there is a very real hole in the middle of my being. I thought coming back home would give me the means to finally fill it – fresh start with new opportunities and different people.

Close to a year later, it’s impossible not to recognize that I somehow went from an already bad situation to a worse one and all because I wanted to be happy and finally feel better about who I am.

It’s a terrible thing to live with, trying to be happy and knowing that it’s always beyond your reach. To most people, happiness involves some degree of wealth, power, influence, and having someone to love who loves you back. In our modern context, a man who wants even a small degree of those things is considered an enemy, a part of what’s wrong with the world at large.

While I’m not naive to say that if someone dumped a ton of money in my lap that I wouldn’t want it, I also grew up around people who weren’t wealthy. They did enough to provide for their families and enjoy a comfortable life once their work was done everyday.

As a kid, that didn’t seem like an impossibility. If anything, I figured all I had to do was what my grandparents did and be as good a person as they taught me how to be. Shows you what childish aspirations are worth when you get older, I guess.

The most bitter pill to swallow along the way has been understanding that the reason why my life is what it is is because there’s something wrong with me. What that is depends entirely on who you ask, but I imagine the list is long and distinguished at this point. Half the time, it’s a case of me simply wanting anything in the first place. After all, good men aren’t supposed to want anything. They just somehow get it all because they’re good men.

All I ever wanted to be is a good man, but I’m not. After 40 years, there’s no way I can’t ignore that anymore. If I were, then my life would be a whole hell of a lot different than it is now.

But it’s what it is and it feels like every day is just another reminder of that.

New Chapters, New Characters

It’s an amazing time to be a storyteller. It’s also a profoundly frustrating one.

For the first time in the 50-plus year history of the series, Doctor Who has turned the reins of The Doctor over to a woman, as millions of loyal fans around the world got the news this morning. It may not seem like much, but it’s truly a landmark moment in television history that’s close to 40 years in the making.

True to form, the reaction has been mixed across many different outrages. Male and female fans were mad that Doctor Who seems to be placating to the Political Correctness faction who demanded the new showrunner Chris Chibnall, and by extension, the stodgy old BBC itself, represent them.

There’s also fans who belong to differing minorities demanding to know why it was that another Anglican actor, even though they chose a female, was cast over someone who represented them, as well as LGBTQ fans who are wanting to know if the new Doctor is going to be representative of them, or will she be another cisgender version.

We live in an age where there is a broader spectrum of personality types represented in popular culture and media than ever before, which is far from a terrible thing. On a planet of nearly seven billion people, there is no logical reason why there shouldn’t be a larger cross-section of humanity that’s being transferred over to our modern stories, be they visual, audio, written, digital, animated, etc. The palate is so rich and so varied that there is honestly no legitimate reason as to why those of us who create those stories and thereby the characters who inhabit them, take full advantage of that spectrum, rather than relying on generic, homogenous stock characters.

Therein lies the problem, however, with the demands of the audience and the inability of the storytellers to meet said demand, not because they don’t want to, but because there is only so much you can cram into a singular character to represent the broadest cross-section of the audience possible, even when it’s a nigh-immortal Time Lord with two hearts, can regenerate and travels through the universe in an amazing blue box.

The decision to follow through on switching The Doctor’s gender did not happen in a vacuum, nor did it come without some degree of logical processing. When the series was at the height of its international popularity in the 1980’s, the demand was there, but the writers, the network and the society of the time weren’t prepared to follow through on them. When Doctor Who came back in 2005, so did that demand, but neither Russell T. Davies or Steven Moffat were able to do so not because they didn’t want to.

Davies, being a a proud gay man who’s previous work included Queer as Folk, and Moffat, who’d also done prior work on shows that had diverse characters of various backgrounds, recognized that in order to get to this point, a lot of pavement that had to be laid down first.

Over the past ten seasons, Doctor Who has seen a paradigm shift in its character base from the molds of the classic series, that being white, hetero Anglican men and women. To say that was done solely because of discriminatory views of the creative minds of the day is both irresponsible and stupid, though. Popular media in all forms reflects the times in which they are made. It’s when those established social taboos and standards are challenged, pushed and ultimately proven to false or no longer reflective of the prevailing attitudes that they finally fall into history.

While the show has always relied on the male-female dynamic between The Doctor and his long roster of Companions, it took more than four decades for an LGBTQ Companion (Capt. Jack Harkness), and a non-caucasian Companion (Dr. Martha Jones) to enter its universe. And while there had been female Time Lords throughout the history of the show, the closest to The Doctor himself had been a Companion, Romana, and an adversary named The Rani, until Moffat decided to turn his oldest Gallifreyan enemy, The Master, into a woman back in 2015.

This, along with stories which included examples of Time Lords being essentially a genderless society as they can fluctuate back and for with each regeneration established the foundation that if anyone else from Gallifrey can do it, then why can’t its most famous resident?

In that respect, the announcement that it the 13th Doctor is a woman didn’t surprise me at all, nor did it bother me, because the decision to do so can stand up to the weight of having earned it through character development and storytelling over multiple seasons of the show.

What irks me, though, is when there is a demand for characters to be changed to fit the current zeitgeist of a given social or cultural faction for purely arbitrary, selfish or antagonistic reasons.

Now, before I go further with this side of the argument, I want to be fully transparent in saying I completely understand the want for equal representation in popular media and being a middle-aged white cisgendered asexual American male about 95% of what is in that media is designed, marketed and produced to appeal to people like me, even though they may feature diverse or three-dimensional male AND female characters.

Of course, we want to have role models, iconography and symbols which we can relate to in movies, TV, music, books, video games, etc. That has been a cultural constant that’s been growing in speed and momentum since both this century and millennium began and damn if that isn’t a really powerful and positive thing.

However, there comes a point where as much as we all want a particular character to represent all of us, the unpleasant reality is there is no character who can, no matter what they’re capable of in the tales we create around them.

Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman can’t. The Doctor can’t. Hell, Jesus Christ couldn’t and our entire culture has operated for more than 2,000 years on the premise that he is both omniscient and omnipotent, but if you read The Bible, (and I have) there is example upon example of how Christ, despite being acknowledged as the Alpha and Omega, does not represent or personify humanity in its vast totality.

Which brings me to one of my favorite shows of the past decade, Orphan Black. 

I’ve been a card-carrying member of Clone Club since the show premiered in 2013 and, as a writer, it’s been an enlightening experience to see how it’s showrunners, Graeme Manson and John Fawcett, created a storyline focused very much on relevant, pressing feminist topics.

And yet, for their attempts to create as diverse a character spread over its five seasons, even they couldn’t concentrate all the complexities and nuances that come with being a woman into one singular character, despite having someone as talented and capable as Tatiana Maslany to work with.

She doesn’t portray one clone. She is legion. Each version is distinctly unique with Sarah being the warrior/hustler/reluctant hero, Allison, the maternal, paranoid protector, Cosima, the affectionate, lesbian scientist, Helena the damaged weapon, Rachel, the envious puppet master and on and on down the line. At last count, Maslany has played ten different variations, including a transgender clone, and if you were to lump them together into a singular persona, even that wouldn’t fully embody the full spectrum.

But Orphan Black has done a better job at trying than a whole lot of shows I’ve watched over the years and I commend it for doing so because the writers understood how to construct a storyline that not only allowed for the level of variations in characters they’ve employed, but they also gave themselves room for a supporting cast that enhances that variety on one side and establishing the old homogenous patriarchal order on the other.

It’s surprisingly easy to figure out when storytellers construct worlds capable of supporting such paradigm shifts in characters and when they haven’t, but that doesn’t stop different factions from demanding that classic archetypal characters be taken out of their traditional guises and crammed into new ones and not always for the best of reasons. With our expanding diversity has come the growth of antagonism between those very same social factions and the people who operate within them.

If you don’t create a story that can pass the Bechdel Test, you’re somehow a misogynist. If men are perceived as somehow subservient to women, you’re a neo-feminist and so on. It’s all bullshit, of course. A convenient way to do the very thing we dislike when other people do it to us, encapsulating all of our complexity into a little box you can then stamp an -ism onto.

As much as we’d like to think its possible, there are some stories and some characters that cannot be converted as easily as The Doctor can. James Bond is one of them. For years, I’ve been hearing how there needs to be a female 007 when Daniel Craig eventually steps down from the role. That a female actor is just as capable of driving an Aston Martin or swigging down a martini as the six male actors who’ve done it.

Only here’s the problem that no one really wants to address: James Bond’s world was built specifically for a man and to alter it to fit a female version would destroy what makes the character interesting in the first place.

James Bond is a misogynistic, self-destructive, sociopathic Alpha male. That is how Ian Fleming created him in the 1950’s and he did so, in no small part, to channel his own Alpha wants and character flaws into an alter ego that could overcome them, because up until his death in 1964, Fleming didn’t. If you strip Bond down and remove those elements of who he is as a character, then as much as you can argue otherwise, he isn’t James Bond anymore.

What makes him compelling and interesting is that despite his more barbarous nature, Bond finds a way to beat that selfish, internal conflict in order to save the world and he’s surrounded by supporting characters who will not suffer his playboy wiles or his misogynist tendencies lightly. We saw that on full display for the 18 years that Dame Judi Dench portrayed Bond’s boss, M and in the character of Ms. Moneypenny, among others.

Were Fleming alive today, I doubt he’d have been able to construct Bond using a similar mold. The world now is far different than it was in the small gap between the end of World War II and the start of the Cold War, when he created 007. That doesn’t necessarily mean that he deserves to be turned into something he was never intended to be in the first place.

Does that mean I don’t think a woman can portray a secret agent/assassin? Of course not. There’s a ton to choose from, from Sydney Bristow in Alias to the Black Widow in the MCU…Charlize Theron is portraying one in Atomic Blonde, and I’ll go see it when it comes out in a few weeks. Why? Because I’m interested and because I can still go enjoy those types of stories and still have good ol’ James Bond to go back to when a new movie comes out down the line.

There is something to be said for challenging conventions and something else for letting those conventions lie. Superman can’t be anyone else than Clark Kent. Batman only works if it’s Bruce Wayne in the cape and cowl, so the writers at DC created both Supergirl and Wonder Woman and done their best to make them independent of their male counterparts and especially in the case of Wonder Woman, they’ve done a better job of translating her from the page into films that appeal to modern audiences.

That, to me, is a good thing and not to be taken lightly. I wouldn’t expect someone to revamp Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice to center on Mr. Darcy, no matter how dreamy Colin Firth was. The story is about Elizabeth Bennett and her encounters with Darcy and Darcy’s returned interest in Lizzy. Without that interplay, there’s no story worth following. It’s one thing to spice it up through the addition of zombies. It’s another thing entirely to turn it on its ear to satisfy the egos of one gender at the expense of the other.

I get that switching a beloved character like The Doctor from male to female isn’t going to please everyone. That fans are going to be fickle and pissed off and claim that the BBC and hated PC-crowd has finally killed a once great show. Except a lot of these people are the same ones who were pissed when their favorite actor who played the role left and was replaced with someone they thought they wouldn’t like. It’s been that way since I saw Tom Baker transform into Peter Davison in 1982…and I was all of five years-old at that time.

But when the creators of Doctor Who, in an attempt to keep the show going after William Hartnell was forced to leave the role as the First Doctor in 1966, put in his wonderful ability to regenerate into a totally new person and continue having his wonderful adventures, there was no law that he could only turn into a man.

And besides, Doctor Who was and always will be a show for kids, which those of us lucky enough to have been kids once and watched it, get to enjoy as adults with our kids.

In that regard, girls need avatars and role models to aspire to just as much as boys do. And we boys have had more than 50 years of the Doctor and his TARDIS to play with.

It’s time to let the girls have some fun with it. Personally, I’m looking forward to what that change will bring.

Insomniacs and Broken Things

So I fully admit that I’ve never expected to break the internet when I claimed this little piece of virtual real estate and resumed a blog I’ve had in one form or another for the past way too damn long.

Let’s not kid ourselves. Between my rantings and ravings about the trials and tribulations of my life and the stuff that the cool people like Wil Wheaton, Lena Dunham or -insert celebrity name here- chucks up in the internet on a given day, even I’m more inclined to go see what they have to say before I ever think that my chicken scratches matter at all in the grand scheme of things.

Because of that and a prolonged struggle to channel what’s been going on in my head for the last two months down in here in some constructive manner, I stepped back and took a break, but that doesn’t mean I’ve sat on my butt and did nothing.

During that span, I’ve settled into the routine of going to the gym in the morning and work in the afternoon. On my weekends, I go exploring parts of New England that I hadn’t been able to visit as a child, getting away from the city and by extension, people.

I don’t mind it so much, really. I’ve had more than six years of practice in anonymity, being just another guy getting a bite to eat in a restaurant or walking down a street or sitting on the subway. It’s also afforded me a chance to brainstorm a new story to write for the first time in close to fifteen years.

It’s the ultimate cliche of being a storyteller that we should write what we know. I’d like to think I’m  fairly educated man, but if there’s two things I have had to learn to the point of expertise, it’s trauma and how to survive it.

Believe me, for all I’ve learned in my life, I would’ve been just fine to have been spared that particular curriculum.

As a culture, we have so many opinions on how a person is supposed to handle trauma, even though there’s as many types of trauma as there are theoretical ways to deal with it.

I’d be remiss to not admit that I have a keen interest in that process, figuring out how people who go through things which leave lasting marks can overcome them, even if doing so means they emerge as a different person than they were before.

So I sat down and started conjuring up a story of a man who deals with his trauma, both minor and major, by not being able to sleep until he gets the answers he needs to understand why supposedly better people seem to relish in inflicting that very trauma upon others. As a writer, I’m not about to suggest that I’m pretentious enough to manufacture my characters out of whole cloth with no connection to the things which drive them to do what they do.

My protagonist, Damon Flynn, is yet another avatar I’ve built to channel my own emotions into, a relatively simple guy trying to carry on with the understanding that the trauma he’s trying to come to terms with also comes with an additional price of having to do so alone. That the things he valued before his life was irrevocably altered, relationships, trust and love, are no longer within his reach.

I heard it said once that a good writer has to be willing to torture their characters when the story dictates that such a decision is both logical and essential to get from the start to the end. So far, I haven’t had much reason to subject Damon to that yet, but I know it’s going to happen eventually in some form or another, because Damon understands the same reality I’ve had to understand for a long time now.

Once you’ve been broken, either at the hands of someone or something, the act of putting yourself back together leaves you uneven and baring jagged edges that can cut anyone who gets close enough. So for their own protection, as much as for your own, you have to keep them at a distance because the last thing you want is to be the reason why someone you care about ends up just as broken as you are.

At the same time, you’re also able to understand the broken people around you a little better. The cracks make sense in a way that pristine people can’t comprehend. Worse yet, you begin to understand just why so many take a certain amount of satisfaction in damaging the pristine ones, even though nothing good ever really comes from doing so.

I guess if I’m supposed to write what I know, then this is the best thing I could do for the time being – tell the stories of a broken man trying to figure out how he can sleep soundly at night even while other broken people do dastardly things.

Round Four

Well…here we go again.

For the past few weeks, I’ve been going into the city and having appointments at the Depression and Clinical Research Program at Massachusetts General Hospital and this morning, I officially started a ten-week double-blind trial related to the effects of Omega-3 on Depression.

This is my fourth attempt to try and get a grip on what’s going on in my head. During my sit-down with the supervising therapist this morning, the best I could explain it to her is that after nearly 30 years of living with it, I’m still looking for the means to, for lack of a better term, fix it.

Sitting on the subway last night heading home from work, it was hard to shake the question, Why the hell am I still doing this? and was even tougher to find an answer.

In my experience, it’s never been easy to explain to the people just how long I’ve been looking for a way out of this emotional maelstrom I’ve been caught up in. Conversely, there’s been no end of both the sanctimonious and condescending who would lecture me to no end about how my inability to either suppress or outright eliminate my Depression was making their lives more difficult and uncomfortable.

Most times, their complaints were encompassed in six unbelievably obtuse words; Don’t you want to feel better?

Let’s try something. Put yourself in my shoes and wonder how you’d feel if you got asked that question.

I’m not a gamblin’ man, but I’d be willing to put my money down on your response being something along the lines of Are you really that #$%&’n dumb to think that I don’t?!

Of course I want to feel better.

One of the things I’ve had to be honest with myself about over the past few years is the sobering reality that I genuinely don’t know how to function in a way that doesn’t involve my Depression. After living with it for this long, I can gauge with pretty accurate estimations of when I’m on an uptick or about to drop back down into the abyss for a while.

During the upticks, like the one I’ve been on for about the past week or so, I know I probably seem as normal as the next person. In reality, most of that are my coping mechanisms being able to thwart off all the things that inevitably build themselves back up and take over my state of being.

That also means that all of my friends and loved ones have never really seen me truly healthy, either physically or emotionally. They really haven’t.

The thing that worries me the most, though, what has got me trying not to freak out about going back into this again, is whether or not they can accept the idea of me doing what I need to to get healthy, or even if they want me to.

I know that’s a harsh observation and I don’t make it lightly, but for me, it’s been impossible for me to not think that part of why I’m not supposed to get better is because the few friends I still have won’t be able to handle it, and those I’ve lost and been trying to reconnect with either won’t or can’t accept that I’m not the same person I used to be.

If you believe nothing else, then believe this. It’s hard enough to convince myself that going through these processes when I have my own brain doing whatever it can to derail my ambition and actual need to get better. It’s hard enough to do it in a medical system where no one seems to have the most efficient answers or even decent ideas on how to help people like me…

It’s even harder when it feels like that whatever you do isn’t going to matter to the people in your life who matter to you.

Even so and as much as that raises the difficulty bar for me, I still can’t let it stop me from pursuing the options I have available now. It’s part of what fueled my decision to pack up my worldly possessions and drive 3,006 miles back home.

If there’s one thing Boston is known for, outside of its history, it’s the fact that there is a massive medical community out here, with doctors who are actually doing the daily grunt work in order to make life for people like me even just a little bit easier.

Is that going to happen over the next ten weeks? No, probably not, but then I don’t expect it to.

If there’s one thing I’ve really had to learn, it’s that recovery is a long game. That it’s often a case of two steps forward, one step back. I won’t lie and say that doesn’t frustrate me or test my already minuscule degree of patience with myself, but there’s also nothing I can do about that, either.

All I can do is what I’ve done and what I’m doing, which is looking for answers, taking a chance and seeking out some degree of help, even if it’s temporary.

It’s still better than nothing and I have nothing to more to lose at this point.

Tally Ho.

Confessions of an Asexual Mind

Can we talk like adults for a minute?

You know…actual mature people who can discuss the grown-up things no one really likes to talk about because venturing into such stigmatized territory makes them feel all weird and wigged out?

I promise I won’t go so far off the reservation or outside the taboo status quo that you’ll need to cleanse your mind with whatever juvenile or non-adult escape route you go with in such circumstances, okay?

Good.

So I was sitting in a doctor’s office yesterday at Mass General Hospital’s clinic for Depression and Mental Illness Research, talking to someone about why I was interested in being in one of their many study programs for better understanding how Depression and Mental Illness can be identified and treated.

The Q&A part of it lasted about half an hour and inevitably, there was the point where I was asked to describe the state of any relationships I was in, and of course, my sex life.

Having no reason whatsoever to lie, my reply to both was simply, “non-existent.

This brought the standard-issue follow up question of how long it had been since it had been even marginally existent and it was interesting to see the researcher, who was a female in her late-20’s by my guess, respond when I said it was close to six years now. Her eyes widened in momentary disbelief as she scribbled down notes, as if the idea that any guy could go that long without sleeping with someone or being intimate on any level for that matter, was about as likely as the Moon being actually made of green cheese or the Loch Ness Monster suddenly launching itself out of the Scottish water for a gratuitous selfie.

Then she asked the question which I knew was coming, but I was always reluctant to answer.

“Do you now identify as asexual?”

I didn’t respond right away. In fact, I had to really think about it for a few minutes because it was an awkward thing to be honest with myself about. Fortunately, the researcher didn’t press the issue at all, which made it easier to finally tell her that Yes, I do identify as an asexual person and have pretty much felt that way since 2011.

For the majority of that time, I’ve preferred to use the term Retired, with the proviso that at some point, my interest in intimacy and being intimate with a woman would come back. A lot of my friends who I’d talked to about it and explained my reasoning for why I’d chosen to live this way had a similar perspective.

Give it time, Dev, they’d say. Eventually, you’ll find someone or someone will find you and it’ll come back.

Except it hasn’t. Not even a little bit.

It’s worth explaining, I think, to point out that in the hyper-sexualized world we all live in, I was never one to really follow the same mindset to begin with. As a kid who was forced to discover his sexuality way before I was at an age where I could adequately process it, I started out on the polar opposite end of the spectrum from where I am now.

In that regard, I don’t suspect I’m any different than virtually any other American male unfortunately, but unlike most guys, who never really bothered to understand such behavior brings with it very real and very serious consequences if it’s used indiscriminately or in a malevolent fashion, I was made to understand it through my own experiences.

And so I did the only thing I could think of and altered my behavior and my way of thinking. It wasn’t easy and it took virtually all of my adolescence, but I reached a level where I was comfortable as a demisexual.

demisexual is defined as, “a person who does not experience any degree of sexual attraction unless the form a strong emotional connection with someone.” To me, this was about as perfect a place to sit on the spectrum as I could hope for, but I found that it was much more of a double-edged sword than I could’ve anticipated.

On the one side, there was the ability to enter a potential relationship with the focus being on forming an emotional foundation first. It afforded me the chance to get to know whomever it was that I was interested and move forward at a pace where being intimate was pushed into the background until we were both at a point where we’d hopefully be comfortable enough with each other that it became a mutually-acceptable possibility.

The flipside, though, was the idea that a man is incapable of being a demisexual and all it was was another ploy used by yet another guy who lacked both self-discipline and self-control, which to some, made me another prime example of the #YesALLMen mentality that’s become prevalent in our ongoing social discourse.

Editorial NoteFor the record, I totally get why most women are reluctant to believe that any man can be anything other than an overstimulated, underdeveloped asshole looking for the first opportunity to take advantage of them. I absolutely do. Men are egotistical, misogynistic, destructive creatures who have historically used sex as a weapon, a means of leverage, a bragging right and a measuring stick for their own machismo and Alpha standing among their male counterparts. I witnessed it firsthand growing up and have seen example after example of it since, so I am not blind to it and every time, it left me feeling both disgusted and abhorrently angry, because I know of no reason why anyone; male or female, deserves to be treated in such a bestial fashion.

The unfortunate byproduct of this, I’ve found, is that in trying so hard to establish a mutual degree of trust between myself and a potential partner, it almost invariably devolves into such a level of distrust that the foundation inevitably falls apart. Now that is as much my own fault as it is the person on the other side and I freely admit that.

The older I’ve gotten and the more bad experiences I had in feeling emotionally attracted to someone, the more afraid I got and the more hypercritical of myself I became. It also didn’t help that my one and only real relationship, which lasted sixteen years and ten of them being married, was built upon a wholly toxic foundation of insecurities and mistrust by my ex and codependency by the both of us. The lingering effects of that, no matter how much I tried it not to be, permeated into every successive attempt to forge new relationships and ultimately destroyed them, no matter how strong my emotional feelings were.

In the face of that, I guess it was the only logical reaction that my mind could go to and so it shut that whole part of me down entirely.

And to be honest, I don’t miss it all that much.

In some ways, it’s actually quite liberating to start accepting myself as an asexual person. It’s also very enlightening to be able to see how women interact and react to my presence in a given situation, like when I’m on the train going to or from work, or sitting in a coffee shop doing something like typing away on my laptop. It doesn’t take much to read the body language of apprehension and even to some degree, even fear when I sit down in close proximity to a woman.

After all, I’m a 200-lb. guy usually wearing a longcoat who doesn’t smile or project friendliness all that often. If I was looking at this from a female perspective of having been hit on or propositioned however many hundreds of times by so many knuckle-dragging guys who I wanted nothing to do with, I’d keep one weary eye on me too.

To be fair, being an asexual person doesn’t mean I don’t still have the Pavlovian reaction of observing someone who happens to catch my eye for whatever reason, and in a city of 650,000 people, I’m surrounded by women who the average guy would fall over themselves to connect with on some level.

Editorial Note: There was a joke I remember hearing from an older male co-worker who thought himself quite the Ladies’ Man, when I was younger and worked at a grocery store. At the time, I thought it was funny, but I eventually came around to realizing what an incredible douchebag he was because the joke seemed to encapsulate his entire view on relationships and women in general. The joke was, As Confucius once said; just because man is on a diet, does not mean he cannot still view the menu.

But I’m not an average guy. I don’t even want to be thought of as a Nice Guy, nor did I ever want to be. It’s not how I’m programmed.

It usually isn’t until I go into my bag and take out either a book to read or my laptop to go to work that the uncomfortable and subconscious tension drops because they pick up on the realization that I’m not interested in them, even if I acknowledge their existence for however long my eyes are distracted from what I’m trying to focus on.

I’ve wondered sometimes what would happen if the shoe was on the other foot though and a woman came up to me and tried to introduce themselves. That somehow, for reasons which defy my own albeit twisted logic, they managed to find me interesting or, dare-I-say, even attractive enough to strike up a conversation with.

What would I do?

Honestly…? I’d probably excuse myself as politely as I can and then run as fast as my feet could carry me in the opposite direction, no matter how nice or attractive they may have seemed.

Such is what happens when you come to accept that relationships or intimacy are not essential parts of your life anymore. That it’s okay to be an asexual person and not worry so much about when you’re going to find the next person you can connect to.

After all, there are seven billion people on this planet and not all of them are in relationships either. Someone has to be the odd man out. Suppose that might as well be me, because I just don’t want it anymore.

I still think women have the capacity to be thought-provoking, intelligent, interesting and exceptionally beautiful and I always will, but I’m sorry…they’re not worth the heartbreak anymore, either.

Noir

It’s weird to try and pin down when I first became enamored with the storytelling genre known as Noir.

As a kid, I was always way more enamored with the fantastically vivid worlds of hyper-technological science fiction and classical swords and sorcery than I ever was with the gritty, dark, urban, contemporary worlds that populate what is widely considered to be Noir. If I really think about it, my interest in it didn’t really begin until I was in my early teens and I was made rather abruptly aware of just how gritty, dark and urban the world I was growing into actually was.

Unlike most people, I guess my introduction into Noir wasn’t through the hard-boiled private detective novels which came to define Noir in the postwar era through writers like Chandler, Hammett, Spillane, McDonald, Leonard and on down the line.

If anything, I found myself gravitating to it through the more postmodern takes on those stories that populated TV during the late 80’s and early 90’s. The most obvious one that sticks out to me was a short-lived show on NBC called Midnight Caller, with the time-tested premise of a former San Francisco cop, Jack Killian, becoming a late-night talk radio jockey. Each week, someone would call into his show, providing the premise for a crime that he had to try and stop.

It was hokey and cheesy and had a lot of the typical storytelling tropes that more pretentious and overinflated critical intellects like to dismiss nowadays. But to my twelve-year-old mind at the time, I didn’t care. It was can’t-miss TV every week right up to where it got cancelled.

Editorial Note: A few months ago, on a lark, I went looking for some old episodes on YouTube and was downright tickled to find they’re almost all there. I’m pretty sure I’ve rewatched them all at least twice. I regret nothing.

But what is it about Noir that I find so interesting? That’s the question I’ve been asking myself for a while because, a few weeks ago, I sat down at my laptop and started creating one of my own.

The first thing that jumps out at me is Noir came about at a time where the only way to create visual stories was in black and white. Nowadays, we take the ability to see things in color for granted with our colossal 4K Ultra-HDTV monitors and movie screens. Back in the late 40’s and early 50’s, when these stories were first being written, film was still a black and white medium, and the filmmakers and storytellers of the time began tinkering and playing around with it, until they created a style which fit the narratives they’d been given to translate.

In Noir, the darks are somehow darker. The lights, somehow lighter. You know who a person is by the clearly defined silhouettes they create as they pass from scene to scene, page to page.

The other appeal of Noir is that there is no real hero and no real villain. Even though the world is black and white, the characters themselves are very much varying degrees of gray. Sometimes, the protagonist is allowed to and is even encouraged to don the black hat. The antagonist may do something unspeakable or they could be the most corrupt people in existence. Yet they could have perfectly sound reasons for embracing that corruption or for doing the unspeakable things they do.

A woman can seem completely innocent and above reproach, only to reveal themselves as the Femme Fatale and someone who can be even more dangerous to the protagonist simply through the lure of temptation. In this world, trusting anyone is often the most dangerous play because a wrong move leaves you exposed and vulnerable to those who will derive no guilt at all from putting a knife in your back, or worse, square in the center of your heart.

I think that, at the heart of it, my fascination with Noir comes from the fact that at some point in their lives, the characters who populate it became exposed to a world that the rest of civilization tries its best to ignore. The world where morality is flimsy and malleable. The good guys don’t always win and the bad guys don’t always lose.

Where there is no such thing as “They all lived happily ever after,” because each new story leaves lasting marks on those who populate them. If anything, it’s more of a case of the best you can hope for is “Life goes on,” and be glad enough for that, because one wrong step or one miscalculation of the person on the other side can determine life or death, happiness or despair.

Once you’ve gotten your first real-world exposure to that, it’s virtually impossible to unsee it and for myself, I got that exposure far earlier in life than I ought to, I suppose. That exposure both as a naive child and a jaded, cynical young adult shaped me, whether I like it or not, into who I am now and while I would never dare compare myself with Marlowe, Spade, Archer or even James Bond, who is very much the epitome of a Noir character, even though he’s an implacable superspy, it’s next to impossible to not view the world I occupy as very much black and white, while the people who occupy it are all various shades of gray.

So far, I’m only two chapters into this story and it’s been interesting to feel how easily it’s coming to me. My grand plan is to have this be the first in a series, though how many, I couldn’t say.

That’s one of the things I love most about writing, actually. Those decisions are up to the characters who come out of the aether and introduce themselves to me and ask me to tell their stories, even if they’re dark enough that they can only be thought of as Noir.

Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda…

Forty.

Well, I made it.

I’m not entirely sure how, but somehow, some way…I made it.

Like most kids, I grew up thinking forty was an ancient number. It meant that you were old and life, by and large, was over. And, like most kids, I grew up also thinking that what forty was like for my parents or grandparents was not going to be how it would ultimately be for me.

I had this rather romantic and naively optimistic notion that I’d reach this somewhat dubious milestone, having reached a position of accomplishment that I would be able to enjoy it to the fullest means I knew how.

There would be a party at my house, because by forty I’d have had a house. My friends and loved ones would be there, as would my wife and kids, and it would be a chance to simply enjoy life for a change.

That’s not going to happen, obviously.

As I write this, I’m 3,000 miles away from virtually all of my friends and loved ones, having packed up myself and whatever worldly possessions I could haul across the country in search of anything resembling a life worth celebrating in any way, shape or form.

I’d like to say I found it back home, but after six months of looking…it doesn’t seem to be here, either.

Getting older offers many an opportunity to reflect upon the life you’ve had in all the days leading up to this one. I know we do this, at least on a subconscious level, because once you reach this point, it’s hard not to do the mental math and realize there’s a very high probability that not only are your best days behind you, but no matter what you do to delay the inevitable, there’s also fewer days ahead of you.

If you ask most people who’ve been blessed with even a marginally long life, chances are they’ll offer the cliched response that they wouldn’t change a single day.

That all those moments, both good and bad, can be taken away as valuable enough that they still balance out to a life well-lived, meaningful and ultimately worth something both to themselves and those to whom their existence matters.

I’d like to sit here and tell you, now that I’m forty, that I’m another one of those people…but I’d be lying so badly that were I Pinocchio, my nose would stretch from here to Pluto.

It’s the old line of woulda, coulda, shoulda. Knowing all the things you’d change, if only you had access to a TARDIS or some other metaphysically transcendent device capable of altering history or changing the future.

So the question then becomes, Okay, what would you change?

The answer to that, is EVERYTHING.

Stepping back and looking at it as a whole, there is not one single aspect of my life that, if given the power to, I wouldn’t change in a nanosecond.

I would change the family I was born into and where I grew up.

I’d change where I went to school and how I was treated by the kids I went to those schools with.

I’d change things so I wasn’t exposed to so much hate and anger that it grafted itself onto my DNA.

I’d change it so I never saw the West Coast unless it was of my own volition.

I’d absolutely change it so I went from being about twelve to about sixteen, as it would spare me and a few other people a level of grief that none of us truly deserved to endure in the first place.

I’d change it so I didn’t get married when I did or pursue the relationships I so badly wanted to have.

I’d change it so I never knew any of the women I’ve ever fallen in love with.

I’d change my dreams of the career I’d wanted for something more fulfilling.

And to be completely honest, if I absolutely had to, I’d change it so I never made it to the age of forty.

Why would I do all this?

Because it’s impossible for me not to think if I was able to do even one or two of them then maybe, just maybe, my life wouldn’t feel like it has been such a waste.

Now the counterpoint to this all, of course, is what about the friends I do have now? What about my son? What about the fact that I’ve managed to make to this point, knowing full well that I was never supposed to make it to forty in the first place?!

It’s a hard scale to balance and there is considerable truth in the unpleasant reality that my existence being what it is, rather than what I wish it had been, my reaching this age defies both logic and common sense.

Taking everything into consideration, starting from the second I came into this world which, believe it or not, I DO remember, even now. My first memory is of ACTUALLY being born, which I have to say, is a serious mindjob, I have been living on what equates to borrowed time for about thirty years, by my calculations.

I absolutely should not be here walking, talking or breathing right now. I was supposed to have ended up in a pine-board box, serving as worm food for any number of reasons, based on nothing more than how these forty years have unfolded.

Drugs? Yep. Suicide? Yep. Homicide? Yep. Death by blatant stupidity cleverly cloaked as misadventure? Yep, that too.

And yet…here I am, just trying to do the best I can while living with the weight of understanding all that.

As for my friends, would I exchange them? Not on your damn life.

My friends have sustained me in ways I can’t even begin to accurately quantify. They’ve been my family when my actual family couldn’t really be bothered to give a damn about me. I freely admit that living on borrowed time is a hell of a lot less frightening had I been made to go through it without people to lean on and enjoy the rare good times I’ve been lucky enough to have with.

But that doesn’t mean I don’t want to woulda, coulda, shoulda back some of those friends who I’ve lost, either.

There are those who I’m more than content to let go of because we became so mutually toxic and destructive to each other that coexistence isn’t an option anymore. The rest though…those I feel a degree of responsibility towards in sabotaging the bridges which connected us.

Those people I’d like to have back, if for no other reason than a chance to see if I can put things right.

I don’t imagine there’s a great many people who reach this point and not do the woulda, coulda, shoulda, so I don’t feel like I’m much different in that respect. That said, I know when I wake up tomorrow, there will be the moment where I’ll be hoping I’m still dreaming and that if I close my eyes for another five minutes, then when I open them again, I will find myself in the place I always wished I’d be in by the time I reached this age.

I would have a good life with the people whom I love most in the world.

I’d be at peace with myself and who I am and I wouldn’t hurt anymore. Not physically, emotionally or spiritually.

Woulda. Coulda. Shoulda.

What vs. Who

You’ll have to pardon me a little on this one as I’m coming into it with the reality that I have to tread carefully on how I set it up. This isn’t being done so much for my protection as it is the individual whom I am providing as an example for what follows.

And I would be extremely remiss in my role as a journalist if I did not protect my sources at all times.

A few years ago, someone I’ve known since middle school came out to me. The exact nature of the coming out is truly arbitrary in this discourse, so I will not provide additional detail. I trust enough of you who will read this recognize this is still the 21st century, despite the active and ongoing attempt to return it to something more in line with either the 18th century or Cro-magnon times, depending on how much Fox News or alt-right horseshit you chose to ingest today and can do the math…provided the government hasn’t banned it as yet another alternative fact…but I digress.

This singular event, in and of itself, was not some landmark moment for me, either. I’ve had the good fortune to be acquainted with several people in my life who’ve done the exact same thing in varying capacities and I’d like to think the primary reason why they felt comfortable doing so with me is because they know that while I am many things, a judgmental, discriminatory and Puritanical prick is not one of them.

Editorial Note: At least….I certainly hope not.

In the years since, we’ve kept in touch and as I’ve watched this all unfold from my particular patch of sideline, amidst the pride, the love, and the unbridled support that I genuinely have and try to emote at all times, there came with it a secondary emotion that I neither anticipated, nor was I entirely prepared for.

Envy. Real, raw, unabashed envy.

Now, on this point, I want one thing made abundantly clear. I do understand just how difficult and terrifying this process is, albeit on an entirely different level that most people cannot comprehend in the exact same way that I cannot fathom how difficult and terrifying it is for people to be open about their sexuality.

I am, after all, an asexual, cisgender, white American male. But try sitting down with someone you care about and explain to them that, once upon a time, you did something that landed you in a prison cell and why it happened.

I promise you. I understand just how terrifying it is all too well.

But I was sitting at work last night, trying to get a better understanding of what is fueling that envy and I think it finally clicked sometime between 11:30 and midnight.

What I envy about the ability to come out is that it is a declarative statement to the world that “THIS IS WHO I AM!!” 

And my theory on why this is such a profound thing is that we are all so preoccupied on what we are, as opposed to who we are.

For example. if you were to give me sixty seconds to tell you what I think I am, I could probably bombard you with at least sixty different adjectives, titles and character traits.

But if you were to ask me who I am and give me the same amount of time to respond, I seriously doubt I could give you any comfortable response other than Well…I’m me.

That answer is a total cop-out. The word Me encompasses a physical marker only. Me is a vague, nebulous blob of a response.

The truth is I don’t have the first damn clue who I am. I never really have.

I know the what so well that it’s second nature at this point, as well as the what’s my family, friends and especially those who are either my enemies or have some degree of antagonistic bent towards me would throw out there as well.

But Who? Hell if I know.

Part of the problem, I’ve found, is that because we focus so much on the whats, they are invariably what we turn to in order to construct the who of what constitutes our identity.

That seems both one-dimensional and rather self-defeating though. It also makes me wonder if it’s humanly possible to define who someone is without relying on the whats, especially in this age where we seem to have boiled our views of each other into the uber-antagonistic hashtags of #YesAllMen and #YesAllWomen.

Editorial NoteThere was a time where I’d jump into that debate feet first because it pissed me off just how much we blindly paint each other with such broad brushes when it comes to the terrible things that we do to each other. Here’s the bottom line, folks.

Men and women are both terrible, horrible creatures who excel in treating each other like absolute crap without any real degree of regret, accountability, empathy or regard for the damage we dish out. In fact, a lot of us take some degree of silent pride in it for reasons which defy both logic and emotion. People collectively suck. Here endeth the lesson.

I’d like to think there is something truly liberating in trying to figure out our self-identity of Who am I, separate of the What I am, which is why when someone makes the choice to come out and be their authentic selves, a lot of us tend to be gobsmacked and quick to extol the virtues of their being courageous, brave, real, etc.

I also think it would make it easier for us to be more honest with both each other and ourselves in understanding our own identities.

It’s an interesting question…Who am I?

I wish I had a better answer to give for it. Any ideas?

 

Ghost Protocol

Contrary to popular belief, my social awkwardness wasn’t something that just came about through the wonders of losing my mind like I did six years ago.

I can remember a time when I was eight years-old. I was living in southern New Hampshire, the mid-point in a nomadic period that would see me relocate six times over the next five years, culminating in my being shipped out to the West Coast before the end of the 80’s, but that’s another story for another day.

Despite the outward impressions that I was living a typical All-American life with my family, the reality was far different. Even at that tender age, I was already on the path that would ultimately lead to the greatest mistake of my life. I had also been both exposed to and subjected to things, physical, emotional and sexual abuse being the most obvious things, that had begun warping my personality so severely that you’d have had to been completely blind not to see that something was terribly wrong.

Editorial Note: When you’re a kid, you get the impression that the adults in your life can see everything, even when you’re so sure they’re not paying attention. But then when you really need them to, somehow, they all end up as blind as the proverbial bat.

Among the many problems I had at the time, was an inability to act with any real sense of normality around the friends I had. In hindsight, I can only imagine what it had to be like for them, looking at this kid who was so out of control without having any understanding of why or what had triggered the changes from the kid they’d met not even a year earlier.

There was one friend in particular who decided the only way she could cope with it was to literally pretend like I wasn’t there. If I said something even as innocuous as Hello, she would turn to whatever mutual friend or acquaintance who happened to be in close proximity and ask out loud, “Did you hear something?” and then keep on walking by like I no longer existed.

1984 was the year I was first introduced, albeit in quite rudimentary form, to being Ghosted.

Some thirty-odd years later, I seem to have found myself in the same exact spot, granted for entirely different reasons. What those reasons are, I can only speculate about because I can’t get an answer as to why and if I’m honest, it’s driving me crazy.

Ghosting, for the uninitiated, is the act of disappearing on someone, be it a friend or loved one, through the cessation of all contact without any explanation as to why it is happening, written, spoken or otherwise.

In most social contexts, it’s often applied to dating and the choice to not engage with the potential suitor, be they male or female, out of either the conscious or subconscious choice to not have to tell them why any further attempts to continue a possible relationship will not be happening.

Ghosting is also not gender exclusive. Guys are prone to doing it just as often as women are, so don’t think this is an entirely one-sided scenario which allows for the chance to declare open season on one side or the other.

Regardless of who it is performing the ghosting, however, the rationale for doing so remains constant. Ghosting gets you out of having to have a dialogue that is likely awkward, uncomfortable and could potentially make you the villain, instead of the hero.

What it also does is deprives the other party of anything resembling an explanation, understanding, a chance for reconciliation or even some form of closure.

Now I get it. No one likes to be the person who has to put on the black hat and be the bad guy, especially when it comes to having to say something that could cut someone down to the bone. I certainly don’t like being that person. I don’t know a great many people who find it particularly enjoyable, partly because they possess some degree of both empathy and a conscience.

Conversely, no one likes to have to be told that they might be the ones who are in the wrong for how they choose to treat another person because the absolute last thing anyone wants to have hanging over their heads like some grotesque Sword of Damocles is the moniker of toxic.

Editorial Note: I understand this better than most people, having had to come to grips over the past six years that on the Great Social Toxicity Scale, I seem to have a pH level somewhere between Vinegar and Battery Acid. This is not anything I am in any way proud of, and I’d like to think I’m capable of getting it out of my system through a bit of work. It remains, however, one of the many reasons why I’ve adopted the monastic life of Retirement that I’ve grown accustomed to since, thank you very much.

I know I’ve said it before, but I’ll repeat myself because it bears repeating as it’s maybe the most important bit of wisdom I ever had passed down to me.

There is no conflict or situation that cannot be resolved if two people are willing to sit down and talk it out. It may take all day, all night, all week, all year, but the dialog HAS to happen if, for no other reason, you don’t go to bed angry.

Ghosting does not resolve the situation because it doesn’t resolve anything. All it does is raise more questions and make the person being ghosted look to the only place that they might be able to glean anything resembling answers.

That being themselves, only by doing so, there’s nothing objective to be found and considering the potential emotional damage that the ghosting does to a person’s psyche in and of itself, all it really does is make them feel even more responsible for being ghosted in the first place, despite the fact that they don’t know what they did to somehow warrant that response.

Thinking back to that time thirty-years ago and my friend actively disavowed my existence, the thing I find myself remembering the clearest was how much that genuinely hurt.

It hurt then and it hurts now, regardless of the constant voice in my head that loves to remind me that I somehow deserve this because of the things I am indeed responsible for, both in word and action, for allowing this situation to devolve into what it’s become.

It also hurts because I see Ghosting for what it is, which is equal parts extremely passive-aggressive and downright childish, not to mention just being downright cruel. I didn’t understand it as a viable solution as an eight-year-old and I certainly don’t understand it now that I’m within shooting distance of forty.

Choosing to become a ghost solves nothing because it changes nothing. I’d rather have the conversation, no matter how unpleasant or even painful it might be, if it means there’s either a chance for honest reconciliation or the harsher reality that the bridge I’ve spent years trying to keep from collapsing has no other viable option but to be burned to the ground.

I have more than enough ghosts to battle with for one lifetime. That’s unpleasant enough on its own that I’d really like to avoid having to deal with any more.

Emotional Knots

I hate when I get like this. I really do, in part, because it seems to happen with striking regularity at often the most inopportune times.

For about the last week, I’ve been at a mental and emotional tipping point which no amount of exercising, music listening, reading, driving, photographing, ignoring or just good ol’ fashioned deep thinking has been able to remedy.

It’s the classic adversarial duel between my fleeting glimmer of tiny, but resilient hope that things will get better if I can just manage to hang in there like I always have, pitted against the brooding, nihilistic, self-defeating Goliath that is my Depression and self-loathing, who is so certain that not only aren’t things going to get better, but they’re going to get a lot worse because I’m in a city of a half-million people who abhor my very existence, even though most of them don’t even know who I am or why I’m here.

That assumptive observation, of course, is the magnification of my own reaction of fear, confusion and admittedly, a considerable amount of anger because the primary relationship I was hoping to maintain here seems to have completely disintegrated and for all the quantifiable reasons I can consider in answering the question of why it’s come to this, the absence of an actual answer makes the knots in my head twist all the tighter.

In the midst of all this, has come the urge to sit down with my laptop and start writing stories again for the first time in I don’t know how long, but whenever I do, my anxiety gets cranked up so high that after a few minutes, I can’t help but shut down my writing program and either do something else to get my mind off the entrenched belief that I am the worst writer in the history of Mankind, or just sit there and let that fester away.

Part of the problem, a honkin’ huge part of it, if I’m honest, is that I’ve always been a person who writes for recognition of other people.

For me, it’s a case of wanting to create stories that people not only want to read, but can get to the end of them and say something to the effect of, “This guy’s a really good writer.”

When I was in elementary school, I got my first real taste of that recognition and it was quite the rush when I got my first acknowledgment that I was actually good at something, because I wasn’t all that great at most things, either then or now.

But at one point, even though I was barely 10 years-old, I figured out I could write and write well. Somewhere along the way though, over the course of the ensuing 30 years, it feels like whatever talent or inherent knack I had for it went away. I’m not entirely sure how, when or why it up and left, but it did, and the more I tried to force myself to sit down and try working through it, the tighter the knots strangling my creativity and the fun I once got from conjuring stories out of the aether become.

The other day, I cracked open Neil Gaiman’s book, The View From The Cheap Seats, and in it, Neil touched on something I seem to have forgotten I don’t know how long ago.

“I like writing the stories that I want to read,” he said.

I don’t remember the last time I wrote a story like that, which is really bizarre, the more I think about it. But the weird thing was as I kept reading his essay, I felt something I can only describe as the tactile feeling that comes when a knot starts to unravel. It felt rather disconcerting, especially considering it came at around midnight on a semi-occupied Boston subway train, so I suppose it wouldn’t have seemed to far out of place to act a little kooky, but I both went to bed and woke up this morning with that same feeling lingering in my head.

I have a couple ideas for some stories I’ve been wanting to write for a couple of years now and I’d like to think there’s something good that can come out of them. The question, I guess, is whether or knot I can untie all the knots in my head separating me from being able to put them down on paper.

I’d like to try, if for no other reason than I’d like to write a story that I’d want to read.

Sounds like that’s as good a place as any to start.