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.

Camera Shy

There was a time, back when I was still in middle school and even high school, where I was more than happy to get my picture taken. As a kid, I was an absolute ham and found just as much enjoyment in having someone click a pic of me as I was to find something to get on film myself.

In the Age of the Selfie, where we’re expected to show off ourselves virtually all hours of the day, I know I’m supposed to be all too happy to be clicking my phone and advertising my life wherever, whenever.

Except I may be the only photographer on the planet who has no interest at all in turning the lens back in my own direction.

The last time I voluntarily took a picture of myself was just over two years ago as I was sitting atop a ridge overlooking Banks Lake in the middle the Washington high desert and even that one felt like the emotional equivalent of pulling teeth.

Now one would think that for a person who loves photography as much as I do, I’d have a stockpile of candid snapshots of my own face large enough to crash most of social media.

But I don’t. In fact, of all the pictures I still have collected over the entirety of my life, I may have no more than thirty in which I appear. Before leaving the desert, I ran all my old high school and college photos through my paper shredder and I’ve reached the point where I have very little interest in even using a picture of myself as an identifier on social media.

In fact, if there’s one thing that puts my anxiety on edge more than being made to interact with people, it’s the idea of producing a photo in which I appear.

The reason why has nothing to do with ego or the need to be contrarian or anti-establishment, either.

The No Selfie Rule exists because they embarrass me.

In the 30 years I’ve been using a camera, I know all too well what amazing things they can produce and I’ve been damn lucky to be in the right place at the right time when I had my Nikon ready to shoot. It’s that pursuit of things that are worth immortalizing in an image which always inspires me to keep exploring and trying.

I am not one of those things worth immortalizing. I’m a pasty, pudgy, middle-aged guy with a gimpy chin and a hairline that looks like a pencil with the eraser bitten off. Instagram material, I am most definitely not.

My life being what it is has made it clear to me that when all is said and done, the better course of action is for me to fade into obscurity, that sort of person who maybe one or two people can say they knew, but there’s otherwise no documented record of existence.

And you know what? That’s okay. Not everyone is meant to be remembered.

I am more than happy to show you the world I see through my camera. I’d like to think that it’s something I’m good at and I can find things that go against the grain of who I am as a person.

But when it comes to my being in the frame, sorry, but I don’t do that anymore.

My eye is way too critical to find that an appealing photograph.

Inconvenient Truths

So I finished watching the Netflix series, 13 Reasons Why last night and for all the heavy-duty subjects they cover in it, the lingering thought that’s been banging away in my head after waking up this morning, is the notion of truth.

In both our current political and social discourse, truth has become both a dirty word and a grossly distorted one.

According to Webster’s, truth is defined as:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As we’ve learned over the past few months especially, however, truth is one of those rare concepts which is both subjective and objective. In the face of no matter how much empirical data or ironclad research you want to throw at a person to quantify an objective truth, they can very easily choose to either ignore it or reject it outright with the help of whatever subjective truth they cling to as a means of insulating them from the reality that the world which fills their own bubble of beliefs, ideas and emotions is somehow incorrect.

No amount of objective truth can penetrate the subjective truths constructed by someone capable of leaning on alternative facts in order to prove that they’re right and everyone else is wrong.

But that brings up the question of where do personal truths fall into this spectrum?

If there’s one thing I took away from both watching 13 Reasons Why and reading some of the reviews of it, it’s that as a culture, we are much happier being straight lied to and living in an absolute illusion than having to confront even the slightest bit of truth that we are not as wonderful as we like to think we are.

Editorial Note: In keeping with managerial policy, I won’t be leaving any spoilers about the show. I trust that if you’re interested, you’ll either watch it or you won’t.

In a lot of ways, I understand why. No one likes to think that they’re a bad person or whatever more exponentially negative adjective you wish to apply. It doesn’t change the unpleasant truth that we are, though, even if no one has the courage to tell us as much.

We excel at treating each other like shit.

It’s something I’ve personally witnessed since I was old enough to start comprehending what the world is. We all know how brutal we are to everyone from the people we work with and the kids we go to school with, to the people we call family, friends, lovers. What’s worse is we collectively nod our heads to one another before burying them in the sand of, that’s just the way life is.

 

That, I suppose, is one of many unpleasant truths I’ve never been able to accept, regardless of how many people remind me of its validity.

But what bothers me more than anything is the seemingly constant battle I feel like I have to wage every day just to be able to convey my truth, in whatever form that needs to manifest itself in.

I’m the first to admit that my personal truths are not pretty things. They are often dark, cynical, unforgiving and even incredibly brutal in their honesty and assessment of my world, based on the experiences I’ve had with those who occupy it.

I wish they weren’t. I really do. I wish I were one of the lucky ones who got everything they wanted and never really had to struggle for anything, like so many people I know who believe their truth is a lot more dire than it actually is.

 

But my truths, whether you want to consider them or not, did not come about arbitrarily. Truth, like everything else, is brought about through experiences both good and bad. And the fact that I feel the need to express them through things like writing about them maybe a gross inconvenience to you, but for me, it’s the only constructive way I know of to both examine and deal with them.

It’s how I’ve done it since I was a kid, because even back then, no one seemed all that much interested in the truths I had to tell them either.

And until I can find a better outlet for them, I will continue to do so, because the truth is this is one of the few things I’ve ever felt good doing in my life.

That enough truth to suit you?