Tag Archives: personal

Good Housekeeping

I have been under a great deal of stress, lately, for a variety of reasons, and I have barely been able to relax at all. I realized recently that a good deal of my inability to escape, even temporarily from my stress is a direct result of my current living situation. My space, my home, are very important for my mental well being. I need to have a place that I can identify as my own. It doesn’t have to be grand or luxurious. I have quite happily lived a space just large enough for a single bed and a small table for months on end in the fairly recent past. All I need is a space that is mine, a space that I can control, a space that feels like home. Going on six months now, I haven’t had a place like that.

Reasonably, I should. I am living in a lovely neighborhood, close to friends and relatively close to family. My apartment isn’t gorgeous, and I have my share of problems with the building and the landlord, but nothing that doesn’t come with the territory of renting. I don’t need a lot to be happy, and my basic needs are quite satisfied. My problem is that I have lived with a series of people who have not and essentially refuse to act respectfully toward the space and the other people who use it. My frustration and irritation with essentially being the only person who cares about and maintains the space has inspired in me a deep seated resentment and anger toward some of these people. I don’t feel at home in my apartment in no small part because every time I come home, or get up in the morning, or wander through the shared space, I am smacked in the face with other people’s disregard.

On several occasions, my husband and I have thoroughly cleaned, top to bottom, our apartment, and nearly every time we are then confronted with a heap of garbage, or worse, the end result of a much neglected cat’s boredom. Two of our roommates are moving out, and in preparation for showing off the apartment and finding new roommates, my husband and I spent five hours cleaning. It was torture discovering more and more nastiness that was a direct result of other people’s casual disregard for the home.

My frustration has gotten to the point, recently, that I haven’t been able to maintain a regular spiritual practice. The vast majority of my work is spent in quiet contemplation. I just feel so uncomfortable in my own home that I cannot get myself to relax enough to properly meditate. All I can think about is having to clean that mess in the kitchen, or the bathroom, or wondering why someone thought it was acceptable to just dump their shit in the middle of the living room floor.

It also doesn’t help that our apartment appears to also be home to some rather strange spiritual entities. They don’t seem to do much except occasionally freak out the cats and play with doorknobs, but it can get a bit unsettling. I have been loathe to really do anything in no small part because I feel like I can’t throw them out of my home until, well, it actually feels like home to me.

Part of home is cooking, it always has been vitally important to me. Sadly, the kitchen has been a battle ground for some months now. I don’t like cooking because I don’t trust that someone isn’t going to freak out at me because I left a pot on the stove, or that if I leave something in the sink to soak, that it’s not just going to have a bunch of other stuff that doesn’t need to soak heaped in on top of it and made dirtier and grosser instead of just being washed in the first place. One of my chief joys is cooking breakfast, pancakes, waffles, french toast, bacon… there’s no better way to start the day than cooking for your friends and family. I just can’t do it, as there’s always an unwelcome surprise waiting for me every morning in the kitchen.

Luckily, all of this will be changing soon. People are leaving and people are coming in, and I am hopeful for the future of this living space. I am looking forward to having a home that I can care, comfortably, about again, a home that’s not a bundle of resentment and frustration. I am looking forward to being able to set aside a space for my spiritual practice, a space that I can meditate and reflect in and know that no one will disturb me there. I am looking forward to being able to relax.

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Poca Favilla Gran Fiamma Seconda

This past Saturday, Teejay and I got married. Of course, living where we do, our marriage is not recognized by the State. I have never been much concerned for the State’s interests in marriage, and it is entirely possible that given the option of having State recognition, I would still balk. After all, marriage, and love, are no longer instruments of state power as they once were, and I find something jarring at the idea that a marriage is only valid once it has been written down on a form and stamped and sealed and locked away in a filing cabinet in a judiciary somewhere. For me, marriage is a social bond, something that exists between those married, between their friends and family. It is a bond of emotion and love, of comfort and care, and the State can have no say in such intimate bonds. However, I am equally appalled at the number of people who would seek to invalidate those bonds through the power of the State. Despite the religious intent of such people, it seems as though they respect the power of their faith, of their god, less than the power of the State, as though only State can define marriage with any actual strength.

I have to laugh, since, as I was planning this post, I didn’t want to make it a rant about equal rights and bigotry, but I suppose for a man such as myself, such a thing would be impossible. I shall now, having briefly ranted, move promptly along.

Teejay and I had no officiate. We took a page from the Quakers and self united. Instead of vows, we read poetry to each other, and then invited those in attendance to read a poem or speak, to offer their blessings. The end result was quite lovely, though I admit that there was some hesitation once the ceremony was underway.

Teejay was too nervous to go first, and so I recited the poem I had chosen, a sonnet by Edna St.Vincent Millay.

Thou art not lovelier than lilacs,—no,
Nor honeysuckle; thou art not more fair
Than small white single poppies,—I can bear
Thy beauty; though I bend before thee, though
From left to right, not knowing where to go,
I turn my troubled eyes, nor here nor there
Find any refuge from thee, yet I swear
So has it been with mist,—with moonlight so.

Like him who day by day unto his draught
Of delicate poison adds him one drop more
Till he may drink unharmed the death of ten,
Even so, inured to beauty, who have quaffed
Each hour more deeply than the hour before,
I drink—and live—what has destroyed some men.

Teejay then read a Christina Rossetti poem.

I loved you first: but afterwards your love
    Outsoaring mine, sang such a loftier song
As drowned the friendly cooings of my dove.
    Which owes the other most? my love was long,
    And yours one moment seemed to wax more strong;
I loved and guessed at you, you construed me
And loved me for what might or might not be –
    Nay, weights and measures do us both a wrong.
For verily love knows not ‘mine’ or ‘thine;’
    With separate ‘I’ and ‘thou’ free love has done,
         For one is both and both are one in love:
Rich love knows nought of ‘thine that is not mine;’
         Both have the strength and both the length thereof,
Both of us, of the love which makes us one.
 The entire experience was very touching, and as our friends and family spoke both of us were on the edge of tears. Those who know me, know how rarely I cry, and how reserved I generally am, and so I admit being quite surprised at how powerfully affected I was.
And so now I am a married man, which doesn’t feel significantly different. I don’t ever really expect it to. We performed a ritual and signified our love to our friends and family, but that love was there, and strong, and such a thing like a ceremony cannot, I think, much alter such affection, merely name it and announce it with joy and happiness.
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Butch, Like a Drag Queen

Yesterday, Teejay and I went down to watch the parade and mill around at Pittsburgh’s Pride in the Streets celebration. Were it not for Teejay, I almost certainly would no have gone. I have always found the whole concept of Pride to be a little irksome. In the past, the few celebrations that I have attended always struck me as strangely forced and not nearly as inclusive as they pretend to be. A lot of my discomfort comes from my belief that there is no such thing as Gay Culture, and I have always found attempts to create such a culture to be incredibly off putting. What exactly binds the Gay Community together other than a sexual orientation and persistant discrimination? These aren’t really enough, in my mind, to build a culture around. It always seemed to me like Gay Culture reduced to a celebration of a particular body type (slight, effeminate, and pale, with a disturbingly toned body) and bad dance music, with a decent amount of alcoholism and substance abuse mixed in.

I have never really fit that mold. My body is not, nor never was the Gay Ideal that popular culture constantly reaffirms. I am tall, hairy, and far from toned. My Eastern European heritage is far too strong for me to ever look like the idealized gay man. Of course, I realized that I am not alone in this, and that there have arisen a lot of other gay cliques, and I do think that is the proper word, for those who do not fit in the ideal. Bears, daddies, chubs, otters and plenty more tags that I’m sure I’m unaware of have sprung up to round out the gay cohort. Again, however, each of those groups tend to be just as protective of their discrete identities and roles as the idealized gay body is, despite their claims for acceptance of difference and inclusivity. I am not, despite the shape of my flesh, a bear or otter or whatever other woodland creature is deemed to be the most empowering. My role and my sexuality are not determined by my appearance. While I can certainly adapt my appearance to portray a particular role, that is a game played only in particular circumstances that I can choose to apply to discard at my whim.

So, I brought all of this with me to Pride. Honestly, I was not mistaken with my assumptions, but what I experienced showed me that I, recognizing the limitations of of a phrase like “Gay Culture” needed to allow myself to see the people themselves, and the what each brought with them to the celebration. The thing that struck me, and that turned the whole experience into something strangely powerful and effecting, was that I was unlike everyone else there, and that everyone else was unlike everyone else. The only thing that bound the celebration together, at the end of the day, was that all of us were human, fighting for our rights, trying to live as we know we must.

The parade itself was still kind of disturbing. The first ten minutes of it were dominated by corporate sponsors (Highmark, PNC, Walgreens, Giant Eagle, and several others that I simply do not remember), and while I was happy to see so many businesses coming out in support of Gay Rights, I still had to wonder how many of these corporations also donate to other, less savory causes. Business is business, after all, and corporations have no problem supporting contradictory causes if they think it will increase their profit margin. I understand that events like this are incredibly difficult to fund, and that corporate sponsorship is necessary, but I would be more impressed and have more faith in these institutions good intentions if they did not insist on showing you over and over again how good their intentions are. True charity, true concern, is quiet and persistent.

The other thing that struck me about the parade was how many churches were marching in support. Five or six Presbyterian congregations and two or three Unitarian congregations (no one is surprised by that one, though) came through. It was reassuring to see such a surge of support from Christians, especially after running into a horrifying Christian Bigot spouting bile on a street corner in the center of Pride. The truly faithful and the truly righteous recognize the that their salvation is not incumbent upon the damnation of others, and will do what they can to help those in need love and live as well as they are able.

I have to admit, though, that my favorite parts of Pride were the strange contemporary dance troupe that performed immediately after the parade, and seeing an acquaintance performing drag street theater randomly throughout the crowd. I’ve always been a bit uncomfortable with drag, as I feel that it can have a tendency to reinforce retrograde gender and sexual stereotypes. I have long thought that drag requires serious, dare I say, queering in order to be relevant and useful. My acquaintance more than accomplishes that wonderful queering, as thus typified: upon hearing a girl call out, “You’re so pretty!” he shouted back, “You mean butch!”

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On Anger

I do not like being angry, yet I have come to realize that, of late, I am incredibly angry. Now, I attempt to be very aware and cautious of my emotions. In general, I feel that I am a very reserved person. I don’t mean to say that I do not feel strongly, merely that I attempt to restrain my initial reactions to people and situations until I have time to step back and analyze why I am reacting as I am, and determine whether my reactions are reasonable. Over and over again these last eighteen months, however, I keep coming to the conclusion that my anger is justified, that I am not overreacting, that I am correct in my basic set of assumptions which I bring to the situations in question (and I haven’t done all of that work alone, I speak to friends and confidants about my reactions and the situations and honestly and humbly ask for their feedback).

Unfortunately, I have not been able to form a reasonable course of action in dealing with my anger. In the past, I have turned toward Stoicism. Epictetus (with whom, let it be stated, I am not in complete agreement throughout his treatise), as translated by Keith H. Seddon, explains,

It is not circumstances themselves that trouble people, but their judgements about those circumstances. For example, death is nothing terrible, for if it were, it would have appeared so to Socrates; but having the opinion that death is terrible, this is what is terrible. Therefore, whenever we are hindered or troubled or distressed, let us never blame others, but ourselves, that is, our own opinions.

I do agree that we must content ourselves with changing that which we can, and recognizing that which we cannot effect. The power of Stoicism lies in its ability to distinguish that which we have power over and that which we do not. We always, to a certain extent, have power over ourselves, over our emotions, over our thoughts and opinions. However, I must ask, at which point do our opinions cease to rely merely upon ourselves. We, fleshly and embedded within the world, must have thoughts and opinions, reactions of all sorts, which touch upon the world around us. In that action, surely the world is strangely amalgamated into our being. My happiness, being mine, amalgamates those elements outside of myself into a close relation with my being. My being is constantly in extension with the world around it. The walls between I, it, you and she are not necessarily as distinct as Stoicism would imply.

My anger is entirely my own, it begins and ends within my self. However, I also think that it is foolish to deny that there are forces outside of myself which negatively impact me. The true source of my anger is my self, I do take ownership of it, but the conditions for its arousal are also present in the world. I would not be angry if I did not care, both about my own condition and the condition of those around me. I am simply not willing to stop caring. While that would certainly remove my ever present anger, it would also remove my soul, my humanity. I think that it is a basic part of the human condition to care, to be be oriented toward oneself and others.

I agree that a great deal of human suffering is produced by the way we approach and frame situations, however, I also believe that there are human conditions with inherent values attached to them. Being in a state of starvation has little to do with framing. One cannot reorient themselves away from their hunger when it is consuming them. It is foolish to tell a starving child that starving is not such a terrible thing (they could be dead, after all, and isn’t that a relief? They do yet live…). I am certainly not claiming that my anger is on par with the plight of starving children, I am merely attempting to show that there are things which we have the right, and indeed it is incumbent on us as caring humans, to be angry, to be troubled about. There are judgements at play, but there are also circumstances which provoke those judgements.

Stoicism, by its nature, is unconcerned with the provocative circumstances out of which judgements arise, merely the judgements themselves. To a proper Stoic, and I hope that I am portraying them honestly, the substance of the world is of little matter, merely the substance of the mind in reaction. The world, being largely unchangeable by the Stoic frame, should give little cause for concern, all happiness, all pain, are products of the mind and may only be addressed therein. It is interesting to me how the Stoics thus address the Problem of Other Minds. Stoicism is both oriented emphatically toward the Social Good, and away from the expectation of goodness in others. By the Stoic frame, and one sees this quite prominently in Seneca, one must act toward the greatest good, without hoping to change the basic natures of those around them. A Stoic is a good man because of his basic nature, refined and cared for over many years of labor, but those whom are not by nature inclined toward an awareness of good cannot be expected to alter themselves. Other minds, while present, are incorrigible. Instead of being a source of frustration for the Stoics, this is the basis of the whole philosophy. Being unable to attend to the cares of others, attend to the care of yourself, and so doing, strengthen the social fabric of your society: your success is incumbent upon the success of your surroundings.

At a certain level, this all sounds very cunning and useful. It is, as a philosophy, eminently pragmatic. It is also a philosophy which relies foremost on an act which I find reprehensible. It a philosophy of distance and disconnect. One’s formost focus is oneself, all other good thus pours out of that action. I certainly agree that even with a strong orientation toward others, one must maintain a strong focus on oneself (failing to do so weakens one’s own abilities to care for the world around oneself), however, the a complete focus on oneself may also result in a dangerous internalization of one’s presence in the world. While the Stoics never deny their embeddedness in the world, to a large part they seek to deny the effects of the world upon them. All effects must be intentional and originate within the Stoic. The exterior world is reoriented away from the Stoic, rather than toward, the effects of the world flee from the Stoic only to impact others, and the Stoic is thus above such petty affairs.

All of this is then perfectly useless when the effects of the world are persistent and pervasive. How does one deny the provocative circumstance of one’s anger when every day, from the moment of waking they are staring one in the face? I find myself living in a society which is increasingly abhorrent, and which I realize that as one mere man I have little power to change. I, being by my nature as I am, do not have the luxury some do to keep their heads down an attend purely to themselves. I am, in several different ways, distanced from society, and the acts required to bring me into line with social expectations would destroy me; I am not willing to sacrifice my happiness for mere comfort, survival. My being is, in a basic way, threatened by the world around me.

I am also very aware of circumstances wherein I can step in and affect a change which will result in an immediate improvement of my surroundings. However, I am also aware that doing so, I am attending to the responsibilities of other people in a way which not only will they fail to recognize, but which will almost certainly encourage them to continue in their persistent disregard to other lives. While I can alter the discrete effects which are but mere elements of the provocative circumstances of my anger, I have almost no way of changing the total cause of my anger: the failure of those around me to get their heads out of their asses and take responsibility for their actions.

I find myself at a complete loss. My orientation toward myself and others forces me to abandon a great deal of Stoic thought (what I can maintain are their techniques of self care), when my frustration and anger is provoked through a persistent failure of those around me to attend to themselves in such a way that their failure directly impacts my own life persistently and emphatically. I am forced to attend to the failure of other people on a daily basis, and in so doing I find myself having an increasingly difficult time dealing with other people at all.

Seneca himself faced this problem too late to address it: his suicide was ordered by Nero.

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