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I can complain

23 Jun

Few things annoy me more than someone saying, “I can’t complain.”

Because you can. Of course you can. There is always something wrong: if not with you, then with the world as a whole. And maybe it’s because I can always complain — and I’m really quite good at it — but it always feels a little condescending. It’s a dare almost, as if to say, “I can live my life free of complaints. I challenge you to do the same.” If that’s the game of it, I forfeit. I’d rather complain than be zen and obnoxious.

But lately I’ve been thinking a lot about contentment, or the lack thereof. It’s a problem I’ve encountered throughout my life, and it’s something I think we all deal with to varying degrees. There’s this sense that life would be perfect if we could just fix this one thing — and then we fix this one thing, and life still isn’t perfect. Far from it, in fact. For me, that’s always inspired guilt. Here I am, living a relatively carefree existence, and I’m still not 100 percent happy all the time. What more could I possibly want?

And even ignoring the massive injustices in the world, the rampant misogyny and homophobia that dominate our culture, the fact that countless children are going to bed hungry — even on a smaller scale of just my life, I’m not sure how much better things could really be. The big three are a great job, a great apartment, and a great boyfriend. Not to brag, but I have all three. So is there a fourth that I’m missing, or am I doomed (like the rest of us) to constantly seek out a sense of satisfaction and inner peace that simply doesn’t exist?

The short version: probably. I think we’re conditioned to always be striving for more. No one ever feels truly satisfied by his or her success, whether personally or professionally. And so, when asked, “How are things?” the appropriate responses are limited. Either you recognize everything great in your life, you realize how lucky you are objectively, and you answer, “I can’t complain,” because saying “I’m blissful” is false but anything else feels ungrateful. Or, if you’re like me, you recognize everything great in your life, but you also think about everything that’s somehow lacking, and to avoid being a whiny asshole, you say, “It’s fine.”

There is nothing wrong with being “fine.” Being fine means that you can complain, but that everything is at least OK. It’s the status quo, and it’s the answer most of us give every time we’re asked. If someone said to me, “Would you be satisfied being ‘fine’ or ‘just OK’ for the rest of your life?” I think I’d begrudgingly accept. Because even accounting for the highs and lows, the average of my experiences will almost certainly be somewhere in the middle. And there’s something tempting about cutting through the bullshit of feelings (both good and bad) and just accepting the in-between.

At the same time, that’s depressing. We all want to be able to say we’re happy. And looking toward the (hopefully very distant) future when we’re near death, we want to look back on our lives and smile. I’m not sure that’s a realistic goal, but hey, perhaps with senility we’ll get there. Really, though, whose life is so perfect that he or she can reflect on it as a whole and see only good things? I’ve been taking Prozac for years and I still don’t feel that optimistic.

So here’s what I keep coming back to: moments. In therapy I was taught to be mindful, and while I never really got into mindfulness meditation, the concept appealed to me. Living in the moment means shutting out all anxieties about the past and future in order to focus solely on the now. The idea is that whatever good thing you’re feeling — the ice cream you’re eating, the positive feedback you’re receiving, the orgasm that’s curling your toes — is the only thing you’re feeling. It’s easier said than done, but I think that’s the key to feeling more than “fine.” Because in any of those moments, when taken individually, you are not “just OK” — you’re fucking great.

Lately, because my life has been better than usual — especially when viewed from the outside in — I’ve come back to the “I can’t complain” quandary. It’s still not something I want to say (and I will never, ever, because it’s the worst) but I feel like I’m approaching that point where asking for anything more seems greedy. And so, the next time someone asks me how I am, I’m going to focus on that particular moment: what do I see? smell? taste? feel? Ideally, I can answer “I’m really good” and mean it. Because in that one isolated moment, what is there really to complain about?

On being single

27 Apr

Why are you single?

Because I want to be.
My therapist once told me that a good relationship is like icing on the cake, and you can’t frost a cake until it’s finished baking. I clearly took this to heart, as it’s been nearly a decade and I still bring up the analogy in casual conversation. I’ll be 27 in a few months, and I still don’t feel like a complete person — which is fine. But given my unfinished state, I’m not sure I’m ready to inflict myself on someone else. And what if it were the right guy? He might not like me as I am, realizing how much growing I have left to do. I could squander a great opportunity — or I could wait.

(I’m talking out of my ass.)
Maybe there’s some truth to the cake analogy, or maybe it’s something single people tell ourselves to feel better. All I know is I enjoy cake and I enjoy cake batter and I enjoy frosting on a cake and I enjoy frosting by itself. This idea that one has to be fully-formed before entering into a relationship is silly for a couple reasons. One, we are always growing, so to wait until we’re a complete human is absurd and frankly impossible. Two, we grow with other people. Which is to say, we adapt with one another. A successful relationship means that the growth process has to be shared, not finished ahead of time, separately.

Because I don’t need someone else to complete me.
I resent the idea that I’m somehow lacking without a partner by my side. I want to define myself, not to be defined by whom I date. Too often with couples, you see one or both of them losing an identity. He becomes another facet of his partner’s personality. She fades into the background as a plus-one. Moreover, the constant search for someone to spend one’s life with is a distraction — it ignores all the individual development the single person could be working on instead. And then what happens when your partner leaves? Are you a mere fraction of what you were before?

(But perhaps it’s not about completing a person. Perhaps it’s about completing a life.)
The fear of losing oneself in another is daunting, and it’s based in reality. We’ve all had a love affair (or at least a really intense crush) that took over entirely. We couldn’t focus on anything else, and every moment was defined by that other person. Love isn’t always like that, though: it doesn’t have to be all-consuming. And a person in love can still be just a person — there are couples that have lives outside of each other. And I think, yes, you shouldn’t need someone else to make you who you are, but maybe it’s not about that. There could be someone out there who doesn’t overwhelm your life so much as make it better.

Because I live a full life without a partner.
I complain a lot, but things are pretty good overall: I have friends I care about, a job I love, and a reasonable amount of people to read my ramblings. I get plenty of love in my relationships, even if none of them is A Relationship. I know these people care about me, and they show affection, and, perhaps most importantly, they stick around past the complications that would end many romantic relationships. Attraction fades and romance withers, but friendship endures. I think of the people I wanted to date who are friends now and I feel relief: would we still know each other if we’d been lovers?

(So why does it feel like something’s missing?)
Chalk it up to popular culture or holiday party invites that allow you to bring a boyfriend/girlfriend (not a friend, not a relative, not just someone you’re dating, OK?), but yeah, there is a lack you feel when you’re single. Sometimes it’s vague; sometimes it’s a direct and pressing need. Either way, this longing can put a damper on everything from dinners out with friends to birthdays to celebrating personal successes. There’s this nagging voice that says, “Yes, but” because as full as your life is, it’s not all the way there. And fuck, with a partner at your side, imagine how much fuller

Everything is less complicated.
The more I see my friends argue with significant others, whether over where to eat out or something more substantial, the less I want that in my life. I’ve been in a relationship before, and I remember how much work it is. There’s compromise — and it’s never as easy as just meeting in the middle — and there’s the need to always account for someone other than yourself. I like being an independent unit, because I never have to check in with anyone. I make plans for me and I go about my day without worrying what my theoretical boyfriend is doing. There’s no fighting. No anxiety over weeks without sex. It’s simple, and it works.

(But oh, God, the nights get hard sometimes.)
And I’ll think, I don’t care about fighting and I don’t care about compromise — I’d take it all just to be held from the moment I shut my eyes at night to the moment I open them in the morning. And maybe I don’t want to just worry about me anymore, because it feels selfish and immature, like the one last thing I’m not willing to accept about adulthood. It would be work, but that’s part of it. You’d feel the lows, but you’d also get to feel the highs. And you wouldn’t have to write about your feelings, which, incidentally, Stephen Sondheim already captured a lot more succinctly in “Being Alive”: “Somebody, need me too much / Somebody, know me too well / Somebody, pull me up short / And put me through hell / And give me support / For being alive…”

“You’ve got so many reasons for not being with someone, but Robert, you haven’t got one good reason for being alone.”

Louis 10 Years Ago

3 Feb

What is Louis 10 Years Ago?

Louis 10 Years Ago is my new Twitter project: you can find it here. It’s a real-time simulation of what I would have tweeted 10 years ago, if I’d been on Twitter instead of LiveJournal.

Twitter didn’t exist 10 years ago.

I know, smart-ass. That’s why it’s just a simulation.

How does it work?

I’ve been combing my LiveJournal for hilariously melancholy or dated excerpts that work well in the 140-character format. They will be queued so that they roughly match when I would have tweeted them 10 years ago. I began my LiveJournal on February 15, 2003 at 2:09 p.m., so Louis 10 Years Ago will begin tweeting on February 15, 2013 at 2:09 p.m.

That’s pretty anal.

Yeah, to a completely unnecessary extent.

What can I expect to see if I follow this account?

My transformation from awkward, depressed closeted gay teen to slightly less awkward, slightly less depressed openly gay twentysomething. To that end: tweets about high school, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and feeling fat. No joke-jokes, but plenty to laugh at, in a cringeworthy way.

Are you hesitant to expose yourself in that way?

Nah. When have I ever been hesitant to expose myself? No, that doesn’t sound right. I guess I don’t mind sharing the more embarrassing aspects of my past because, at best, they show how far I’ve come. At worst, they’re a good reminder that some things never change — I may always be insecure, a little out-of-place, and uncomfortable in my own skin.

I already know you’re neurotic from following your regular account. Why should I follow Louis 10 Years Ago?

Well, you shouldn’t if you’re going to come into it with that attitude. Seriously, it’s entirely up to you to let high school me into your life. I think it’s funny and a little sad, but your mileage may vary. I’m mostly doing this for myself anyway.

You are such a liar.

I know.

Can you give me some sample tweets?


“apparently having my cell phone off for 30 minutes is scandalous. if they only knew exaclty how NOT rebellious i am.”
“watched ‘donnie darko,’ which was fantastic but paralyzing and mind-numbing.”
“i can’t think of a moment during the past month where i haven’t been confused. my only fear right now is this: what if things never get easier?”

Christ, you’re annoying.

I was 16, so yes.

What’s with all the lowercase?

I thought that was very edgy. Don’t worry, I discovered capital letters eventually.

How often will Louis 10 Years Ago be tweeting?

Sparingly at first. I wasn’t always a frequent LiveJournal user. And either way, I’m not tweeting every line of my LiveJournal — not even close — so it’ll never be too much. On rare occasions, there might be a burst of tweets, but nothing so extreme you can’t scroll past it if you’re not willing to commit.

How long will this project go on?

Good question! I have about a year’s worth of tweets now, but I can conceivably keep this up for the next few years. That’s way too far ahead for me to worry about now. It all depends on how receptive people are to the project, and if I can continue tweeting from Louis 10 Years Ago without losing my mind. No promises!

There’s one thing I still don’t get.

Ask me privately. Or just follow the account: I think it will be pretty self-explanatory once it gets going.

Would you like a hug?

More than anything.

I had a friend who lied to me

30 Jan

The larger story isn’t mine to tell. This is my personal experience, shared not for sympathy but to give some sense of where I’m coming from. I’m not defending anyone.

I met K. through mutual friends on Twitter. We bonded pretty quickly, as is often the case with people I get to know on the internet. When you put two neurotic, self-involved individuals together, they will never run out of things to talk about. We love finding out that we’re crazy in all the same ways! For a while, we chatted every day — first on Gchat, then via text. I had a friendcrush, and if I’m being honest, a crush-crush, too. Can you blame me? He was a musician. And even though he was straight, he liked to flirt, sometimes almost dangling the possibility of a tryst in front of me. I’m not saying I fell hard or anything. I’m just saying he was cute.

We made plans to meet up in person. He was going to stay with me for a whole weekend, and I was kind of thrilled. I felt like we’d really gotten to know each other at that point, but I was eager to see how we connected IRL. We talked about watching The Simpsons and staying up all night talking about our feelings. It sounded pretty ideal. The night before he was supposed to fly out to LA, he called me. It was the first time we’d ever spoken on the phone, and yes, I was enough of a dork to make note of that. I was panicked that he was going to cancel. Instead, he’d called because he wanted to tell me how excited he was about hanging out.

And then came the next day: the frantic early morning text, the cancellation, the tough-to-swallow story, the promise to make it up to me. I’m ashamed to say this happened three weekends in a row. Seriously. Each time, the excuse was harder to believe, but always too serious to call his bluff. Was he lying about a sick parent, a suicidal friend, a medical emergency? The second time he flaked I realized there was something not right, but he assured me that he was on the level. He knew how it looked, but it was just a case of really bad timing, and the universe being a colossal piece of shit. That was something I could get behind. I had an easier time accepting that the fates were conspiring against us than that someone I considered a good friend was a compulsive liar.

Over time, I began to suspect that the problem was him. His stories didn’t line up. He would contradict himself mid-conversation. It all came to a head when I learned about the lies he was telling other people. I won’t go into that: like I said, it’s not my story to tell. Suffice it to say, others had it way worse than I did. I tried to intervene on a couple occasions. The first time, he was able to talk himself out of it. I pointed out how unlikely it was that he was really a victim on all this — where there’s smoke… But he was very convincing. I let it go for a while. When it came up again, I confronted him more assertively. That’s when he told me to stop getting involved in other people’s business.

I was livid. I was hurt, too, but that seemed secondary. I tried to tell people that he was full of shit, that I’d seen through his lies, but I had little evidence. Worse, I worried about the repercussions of waging a full-on campaign against him. As outraged as I was by what he was doing to people I cared about, I feared that when the dust settled, I’d look like the asshole. He’d turn it all against me, and I’d just be some whiny asshole who got jealous and tried to make life difficult for someone cooler than he was. Even when I felt justified in my cause, I also kind of felt like a dick. And there was always this stupid doubt gnawing at me: what if he really was telling the truth? Maybe I didn’t have the whole story.

I know what I said about K. got to him eventually. That’s OK — I heard some of the awful things he said about me. It stung, but I felt some need to keep up appearances. We tweeted at each other, sometimes with slight hostility but always under the guise of friendship. It seems dumb in retrospect, but it was part my being taken in by his lies, and part my fear of consequences. Once when I did unfollow him after a particularly heated exchange, he sent me an apology email. The apology email is my greatest weakness: I probably shouldn’t admit this, but it’s the easiest way to end a conflict with me. I will always accept your apology. I will always feel crappy that I was ever angry.

When I first heard that his life was falling apart, I thought, “Fucking finally.” I’m not exactly proud of that reaction. On the one hand, I wanted him to suffer for what he’d put my friends through. On the other, I was reveling in the misfortune of someone else. There was so much about his behavior that never made sense — it was fucked-up and terrible, but it was also pathological. That’s a word I used often when trying to explain him. (Is it even the right one? What do I know.) This guy was a womanizer and a dickbag and a shitty friend, but he was also like me: a person whose brain didn’t function properly, a tremendously insecure narcissist, a drug addict.

And so, eventually, the anger faded. It’s not hard to forgive him for what he did to me, because it really wasn’t much. If I let him take me in, that’s my fault, too. But I can’t forgive him for what he did to anyone else — that’s not my place. And I want to reiterate that I’m not defending anyone: your actions may be reprehensible because of bad wiring in your brain, but they’re still reprehensible. I’m not making excuses — I’m looking for compassion. I hope that distinction makes sense. Maybe it seems silly that I’m writing all of this. If you only knew how long I’ve been waiting to get it out. It’s still such a small fraction of the bigger picture: it’s inconsequential in the long run.

For what it’s worth, though, I feel a little better.

Let it out

21 Feb

As a rule, I’m not good at vacations. There’s always too much to do, and I never get to it all—so I’m stressed and tired, and the eventual return home is kind of a relief. I figured a week in New York would do it: by my last night, I’d be eager to fly back to Los Angeles. But I’m not. I miss LA, and I’m happy to call it home, but I don’t want to go just yet. I feel a deep sense of longing to start back at the beginning and do it all over again. I want to stretch out my time here. I want, somehow, to go home without ever needing to leave.

I’m being maudlin. I can’t help it. I’m overwhelmed, and I feel silly even trying to articulate it, but writing is the only way I know how to deal.

It’s not that I’m happier in New York than I am in LA. If that were the case, I’d accept it (however begrudgingly) and do whatever it took to move my life here. I’m fairly confident LA is the right place for me, but this vacation was one that I desperately needed. There’s something about being able to present oneself in a different, unfamiliar context. New York is not new to me, but this trip gave me a chance to push my boundaries and embrace the unknown.

Most of that was internal, and when written out, it likely sounds unremarkable. I’m going to remark on it, anyway! Because I have a hard time with uncertainty, it was important to me that I let a lot of this trip go unplanned. I resolved to fill up my time but to not be overly structured, to accept that I couldn’t do everything (or even, you know, a tiny percentage of everything) because that’s absurd. There’s a way to make the best of your time without making the most of it, if that makes sense: once I grasped that, I felt the familiar panic slip away.

Just going on the trip was a feat. If you only knew how many times I’ve made rough plans to travel and then found reasons not to go. Because it’s easier to just stay at home. It is maybe the easiest thing I know how to do. Up until the night before I left, I kept thinking, what if I just don’t? It wouldn’t really matter either way—aside from pissing off some of the people to whom I had obligations and very likely my parents. Sometimes I’m gripped by such amorphous fear that I want to sink into my couch. Anything but breaking it into its disparate parts and confronting each individually.

Fear of flying. Fear of being away from home. Fear of being alone. Fear of public speaking (more on this in a bit). Maybe it sounds silly to you—it sounds a little silly to me—but going to New York, particularly after so many aborted trips in the past, was symbolically huge.

Public speaking was a big part of it, probably bigger than I was willing to acknowledge before I left LA. On Sunday night, I performed onstage for the first time since middle school. (Summer theater camp plays. That hardly counts.) I’ve resisted the urge to perform because few things terrify me more. One of the most exciting things about being asked to do this show was facing that dread head-on. And as the trip approached, it got stronger—less nervous excitement and more, “You’ve made a huge fucking mistake.”

I don’t want to make it sound as though every moment leading up to Sunday night was filled with anxiety. Because it wasn’t—at least, no more so than usual. This whole trip for me was about accepting a certain level of unease. I might suck. Failure is always an option. But that’s no reason to run, or to close your eyes and wait for it all to pass.

Anyway, I didn’t suck. I had an amazing time on Sunday: it was one of the best nights of my life. It was such an important step for me to take—to do something that terrified me and to realize that it didn’t kill me. It wasn’t just manageable; it was thrilling. The past week has been full of other moments like that, less significant if only because they mostly took place in my head, with a much smaller audience. But each step forward against the anxiety (what I sometimes misinterpret as “my better judgment”) was such a rush. I feel like I started the trip off holding my breath, and I’ve been slowly letting it out as the days passed.

And you know, I may always be a person who doesn’t love the idea of a vacation: nothing will ever be quite as comfortable as normalcy. Despite what I’ve taken away from this, I’m still a homebody. A week-long trip isn’t going to change anyone, least of all someone so stuck in his ways, but I’m writing this down because I need to remember. It’s not all turbulence and drawn-out goodbyes. It’s warm hugs and applause and a vague but overwhelming sense that it’s going to be OK. Deep breath. Let it out.

It stops at my skin

31 Jan

I hate compliments. I crave compliments. I fidget when you tell me I look nice, but I do like it: that’s not an affectation so much as an unconscious reaction. When you compliment me, I feel like I need to correct you. When you don’t compliment me, I wonder what I’m doing wrong. I swear I’m not trying to be difficult—this is just how my brain works. And there are some, uh, kinks in the system? Eh, I’m not mechanical-minded enough to continue this analogy.

I’m writing this for a couple reasons: first, I like to navel gaze; and second, I find myself apologizing to people more and more often after they offer a compliment. “I’m sorry,” I say. “I wasn’t fishing for compliments.” And that’s true. If I disparage myself, it’s because that’s how I feel and sometimes I don’t know when to keep my mouth shut. But as soon as I hear the standard response, the obligatory (but often sincere!) “Hey, stop it, you’re great,” I know I’ve done it again. “You don’t have to say that. Ugh, I didn’t mean to make you feel like you had to.”

You’ll know when I’m fishing for compliments, because I’ll ask. I don’t play mind games, and I’m a terrible liar. So it goes something like this: “You’d make out with me, right?” And yeah, what a dick to put you on the spot, but I only really ask when I already know the answer. You’ve said as much before, but I need you to remind me. I haven’t suddenly turned repulsive, have I? Did my face fall off while I was talking? Are my insecurities seeping through my pores? That happens sometimes, like when you eat too much garlic.

I hate that I need validation almost as much as I hate the fact that it’s never enough. And I don’t say this to be an asshole. It’s not that compliments mean nothing to me—it’s that they mean less than insults. Even perceived slights, however minor, will worm their way into my thoughts. The compliments are nice to hear, but they feel perfunctory—and when I do ask for them, surely that’s my own fault. I know I’m not the only insecure, neurotic person who feels this way. I also know it’s frustrating as shit, for me and for the people who care about me.

This phenomenon applies to writing, too, of course. I’m more secure about my work than I am about my physical appearance: if you tell me you liked an article or a blog post, I’ll likely thank you without feeling like a fraud. But all it takes is one negative comment to dissolve all the compliments away. And that’s silly. It’s completely illogical. “I hate this” should not be worth 100 iterations of “I love this.” But it is! And very few people get 100 iterations of “I love this,” and very few people only get one “I hate this,” because the internet is a dark, judgmental place.

The title for this post comes from the movie Shortbus, which provided what for me is the most articulate explanation of how it feels to not be able to process the good, and to let the bad overwhelm everything else. “Jamie loves you,” Caleb tells James. “You have so much.” To which James replies, “I see it… all around me… but it stops at my skin. I can’t let it inside.”

The only other way I know how to explain it is as a subversion of the playground chant, “I am rubber, you are glue, everything you say bounces off of me and sticks to you.” Like that, but with compliments. And the insults, those stick. When I say it like that, it sounds so absurd—mostly because, you know, playground chant—but also because I can see how little sense it makes. My skin should be consistent when it comes to the rubber-glue dichotomy. If the good bounces back, why does the bad stick?

Because I hope for the best and expect the worst, and it’s a lot more of the latter than the former. I’m not as cynical as I sound—except when it comes to myself. And then, yeah, I’m a total defeatist, or at least a self-deprecating pain in the ass. I find humor in it, because it would be completely insufferable otherwise. When you expect the worst, you ignore the good things: it’s not intentional, but they don’t fit into your vision of how things work. The bad, though, that’s exactly what you knew was going to happen.

Let me put it in terms of compliments. If I feel ugly, and you tell me I look nice, that is good to hear. I thank you, sincerely. But the swell of pride is fleeting. If I look nice, why don’t I feel like I look nice? And then—oh, look! Someone on the internet is calling me ugly! I look like pathetic and greasy and fat. These are the things I think about myself, so those are the words that matter. It’s not about the insult: it’s about the confirmation.

And oh, this all sounds so much sadder than I wish it did. I think a lot of us are like this. I know I’m not the only who ignores compliments and dwells on insults. But how awful to crave compliments when you can never get enough. And what a terrible flaw to take each insult to heart when these things are an unavoidable part of life. I’m self-obsessed enough: why can’t I be a true narcissist? “You’re just jealous,” I’d tell the haters. And whenever someone praised me or “like”-d something on Facebook or tweeted a link to my article, I’d say, “Yes, yes, thank you, I’m wonderful, I know…”

And I’m tripping over my joy

13 Nov

And I say there’s trouble when everything is fine
The need to destroy things creeps up on me every time
— Rilo Kiley, “The Absence of God”

You are always waiting for the other shoe to drop, so you go ahead and drop it yourself. This is a stupid way of saying it, maybe, but it’s true. When you feel like things are bound to go from bad to worse, you push them in that direction. It’s not that you like feeling shitty—though maybe you do, a little—but more that you like being in control. And the best way to ensure the universe isn’t conspiring against you is to go ahead and conspire against yourself.

That’s absurd. That’s ass-backwards thinking. That’s telling yourself you’re never really happy because you don’t ever let yourself be really happy.

One of the things you do in therapy is break down your irrational thoughts with evidence to support the thought and evidence that doesn’t support the thought. Ideally, you realize that what you’ve accepted as fact is actually a major distortion, and probably everyone doesn’t hate you a lot, or even a little! But the problem with being a little self-destructive is that you create a lot of self-fulfilling prophecies. You worry people are going to leave you so you push them away. You’re certain something is wrong, so you make sure that something is.

You talk back to yourself a lot, not in a schizo way. (Sometimes you even write blog posts in the second person, because that’s not totally played out or anything.) The more you remind yourself that you’re mucking shit up for the sake of mucking it up, the less you’ll do it, hopefully. It doesn’t always work that way, but hey, there’s no harm in trying. You are too self-aware, too adept at navel-gazing, which just makes it more frustrating when you can’t change your own habits. You think, “Here is a thing that I shouldn’t do!” while you are doing it.

You treat everything like a scab you can’t stop picking. (There’s a visual for you!) You pick at it: “Are we OK?” And you pick at it: “Are you sure we’re OK?” And you pick at it: “I’m sorry for asking if we’re OK.” If you bug them about it enough, even those people who validate you will eventually get sick of it. Not because you’re awful, but because any reasonable person would. Maybe stop picking, then? Maybe just let it be? People will probably like you more if you stop asking them if they like you.

When you watch A&E’s Obsessed, you realize that you could have things way worse. But you also take comfort in the therapists saying, “Thinking something doesn’t make it true.” You have the power to control yourself, even when you can’t control your thoughts. You might not be able to turn off the feelings, but you can stop yourself from acting on them. And most importantly, you can live with life’s uncertainties, fully aware that just because things can get worse, doesn’t mean that they will.

Besides, shit hits the fan often enough without you having to throw it in there yourself. (There’s an even better visual. You’re welcome.)

Don’t overthink it

23 Oct

I haven’t been blogging as much as I’d like to, in part because I’m busy and in part because I’m kind of depressed and in part because I’ve been working on my super important new Tumblr (Kevin Arnold Is a Dick) and in part—all right, you get the idea. But I’ve been sitting here for half an hour trying to figure out what to write, and this phrase popped into my head: “Don’t overthink it.” So I made that the title of my post, and I started typing, and here we are. Color you fascinated.

“Don’t overthink it” is one of my favorite phrases, because it’s almost always the right advice. It’s also one of my least favorite phrases, because it’s completely useless. I spend a lot of my life thinking and talking back to my thoughts (a therapy technique that’s not nearly as schizo as it sounds), and I’ve never once been able to shut off the thinking entirely. I can distract myself to various degrees of success. I can sleep and dream about things only tangentially related to what I’m obsessing over. I can smoke a bowl and let my mind wander in a notably more pleasant way. But there’s still a lot of thinking going on.

Probably too much. It’s funny—I’m not really sure what “overthinking” entails, and I’d be delighted if anyone could explain it to me. I mean that seriously: how do you define thinking too much? I know when I’m doing it, because I feel anxious and crappy, but I’m unclear on when the line is crossed between the standard amount of thinking and the “oh, God, why doesn’t my brain have an off switch?” It’s frustrating, because I like to think through my problems, or at least make an attempt to do so, but more often than not, the thinking just makes it worse. I’m not seeing solutions: I’m seeing ways in which the situation could get worse.

Or on a smaller scale, when it’s something as simple as a blog post or, hell, a tweet, the consequences of overthinking aren’t as severe. But I can’t tell you how many hours I’ve spent staring at the screen, trying to force the writing out of me, all while questioning every idea that pops into my head. It’s hard to be productive when you can’t reign in your thoughts. And for someone who considers the act of writing to be therapeutic, I guess, yeah, the inability to write is a pretty big deal. (I’ll admit that I started to feel better about halfway through writing this post, then felt predictably antsy as soon as I got stuck.)

I wish there were some sort of warning—a sign that popped up before my thoughts went careening over the edge. But it all happens so fast. I’m having a perfectly rational time thinking (like you do), and suddenly I’m mired in a thought spiral that’s as illogical as it is upsetting. Where was the blinking red light, or the helpful brain siren? Because once you start overthinking, it’s nearly impossible to stop. The only thing I feel like doing when I’m thinking a lot of thoughts is to think even more.

And as I said, knowing I was about to slip into dangerous thought territory wouldn’t stop me from doing it. I don’t know if most people’s brains come with an internal set of brakes, but mine definitely didn’t, and the more I try to stop thinking about one thing, the more I stop thinking about everything else. All my energy gets focused on the problem or the question or the blinking cursor, and it’s paralyzing. That’s a tremendous amount of mental effort put into nothing. It would be one thing if I were thinking in a positive way, but I am not MacGyver: I cannot figure out how to turn three paperclips and a can of Diet Coke into a cure for ennui.

At this point, I’ve thoroughly overthought the process of overthinking. Give yourself a pat on the back, me. And as expected, I’m still right back where I started, sure to dive back into my fixations and neuroses the moment I close the browser. But on some level, writing makes it OK: I have something (rambly, unfocused, redundant) to show for my thoughts. Thanks for bearing with me while I sorted that out.

I want the world to know

11 Oct

Today is National Coming Out Day, and while I don’t have an interesting coming out story, I still feel like I should add my voice to the big gay chorus. Yep, I’m really that self-involved.

Like most gay men I’ve encountered, I knew I was gay long before I was really conscious of what that meant. I can best describe it as a feeling of being different, which is very vague but hopefully something almost everyone can relate to. The older I got, the more those feelings grew. By the time my friends were starting to be interested in girls, I had pretty firmly asserted myself as not being “one of the guys.” I still talked about boobies for appearances’ sake, but I was very much going through the motions. I love breasts—I’m just not in love with breasts.

I came out to myself at around 13, though it still wasn’t something I really acknowledged. I can distinctly recall looking in the bathroom mirror and chanting, “You’re gay,” like some queer take on Bloody Mary. I guess I was hoping a fey ghost would emerge and teach me how to be a homosexual. Around that time, my friends started picking up on my more effeminate characteristics, though to their credit, they were reasonably cool about it. Well, as cool as teenage boys can be. I heard many variations of, “Holy shit, you’re so fucking gay. I don’t even care that you’re so fucking gay. I just want you to admit it.” Which only made me deny it more.

At 15, I started chatting on AIM with an older guy at school who finally got me to admit my same-sex attraction. At the time, these conversations seemed innocent, but in retrospect, he was totally a creep. No matter—his online lechery helped me accept myself in a way I hadn’t before. I started to tell friends (on a very limited basis) that I was bi, a label I had somehow managed to convince myself was appropriate. I’d never felt anything toward girls, but maybe that would develop later. I wish I’d come out as all-the-way gay from the get-go, if only because saying I was bi first doubled the coming out process. Also, I have plenty of bisexual male friends who have been stigmatized because everyone assumes bi is just a stepping stone to gay. Sorry, dudes.

When I was 16, I began therapy, and at that point I was able to identify as gay right away. In our first session he asked if I would like to date girls or boys, and I said, “boys.” It was easier than the label and a smart way to get the conversation started. And what a relief to tell an adult, particularly a professional. Over the next several weeks, we began to talk about the process of “coming out” and what that meant, but I was too consumed with bowel-shaking dread to give it any real thought. Besides, I was starting to tell friends at school, and that seemed like enough of a step in the right direction.

I actually didn’t come out to friends so much as tell them about my crushes. Much to my surprise (and delight), none of them so much as flinched. I was glad to have surrounded myself with open-minded individuals, a product of a liberal environment and my bitchin’ taste in people. I’m sure it also helped that everyone already assumed I was gay, long before I was willing to give them confirmation. Talking about the boys I liked openly was exciting new terrain, and such a notable difference from playing up faux crushes on girls. Seriously, do you know how hard it is to say, “She’s so hot” and sound convincing? I still can’t do it, even if I legitimately think she’s so hot.

Things got easier when I moved to Berkeley and started college, because, well, it was college and it was Berkeley, and who gave a shit? I still hadn’t told my parents, though, and I refused to even hint at my sexuality on Facebook. This was 2004, and the idea of being so open on the internet was still foreign. At the same time, I was jealous of my friends who displayed “Interested In: Men” without a hint of shame. Because I kept a journal back then, I can tell you exactly when I made the switch—October 3, 2004, shortly after my 18th birthday. I recorded the event in hilariously melodramatic detail, and I share it with you in the hopes that you’ll think it’s cute, and not just embarrassing—

I returned to Facebook. I clicked on the button to edit my profile. I put a mark next to “men” as the gender I’m interested in. All at once it felt like a weight had been lifted from my shoulders. I’m not happy, but I’m better. I think I understand now. It’s like Roger says to Mimi in Rent: “You’ll never share real love until you love yourself.” How can I expect a relationship if I can’t accept myself?

I need confidence in my sexuality, in my looks, in everything. I’m working on it. I’m learning all the time. Something good will come of this. It has to.

And once I’d edited my profile, I set about to telling Mom and Dad. Or telling Mom, in the hopes that she would tell Dad. I ended up coming out in an email, in case you still weren’t sure how much a product of my age I am. Seriously, though, the internet had a tremendous impact on my ability to find myself, as it were, and to share that with the people around me. For all our talk of technology isolating us, or of somehow making us less human, I feel compelled to say it gave me a strength I wasn’t sure I had.

Not that I necessarily recommend coming out in an email. It’s kind of a cop-out move, and if I had it all to do over again—well, I’d probably do it the same way, because I don’t like potentially awkward in-person conversations. I won’t share the email, or my parents’ response, because that feels personal on a level I’m not comfortable with. (There’s a first time for everything!) I will say that both my mom and dad were wonderful, accepting in a way I never dared hope—even though they’d given me no reason to believe otherwise. This is what I wrote in my journal after reading the email they sent—

I couldn’t stop crying. Before feeling the relief and the weight off my shoulders, I had intense feelings of loss. To be trite for a moment, this somehow made me realize that the innocence of my childhood is gone for good.

I love my parents. I probably underestimated them. And not just in terms of this. These past two years our relationship has been so strained, and I can’t help but think that I could’ve changed that. I waited so long to tell them. Now it seems almost irrelevant.

Let me explain what I meant by “irrelevant”—or what I think I meant, because I wrote that seven years ago. It’s not that coming out wasn’t important: on the contrary, it’s one of the most significant things I’ve ever done. It’s that coming out didn’t need to be the big deal I made it out to be. I spent so long imagining the worst (something I still do, all the goddamn time) that I hadn’t considered the positive outcome. And while things turned out fine in the end, I do wish I had made the decision to come out earlier. I’m not sure what I was afraid of, but it kept me from being honest with my parents and with myself for many years. I think high school would have been easier if I’d had them in my corner.

And so I leave you with this: come out. I mean, duh, but it’s one of those things that bears repeating. I know not all parents and friends will be as supportive as mine were—I’m very lucky to have received the response that I did. But the world is already a different place than it was when I was 18: it grows more accepting every day. And though there are signs of regression, politicians who would rather we retreat back into our closets and keep our mouths shut, there are far more people who would encourage us to make our voices heard. Do not let the negativity of people like Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum inhibit you from full expression.

It’s not just about coming out once. It’s about being out all the time. It’s about never being afraid to talk about your boyfriend or husband, or to walk hand-in-hand with someone of the same sex, or to wear a shirt proudly supporting gay marriage. Now more than ever, as the religious right threatens to send us back into the dark ages, we need to come out every day of our lives. I want all of us to be able to say “it gets better” and mean it. So join me in a far more public chant: I am gay. I am gay. I am gay.

Look at what you want, not at where you are

29 Sep

“Stop worrying where you’re going
Move on
If you can know where you’re going
You’re gone
Just keep moving on”
— Dot, Sunday in the Park With George

I’m leaving Berkeley a week from today, and I’m way less anxious about it than I thought I would be. The act of moving itself is stressful, but the idea of being in a new place no longer fills me with dread. I’m ready to go—not just to adjust to life in LA, but to deal with the feelings of loss that come from leaving a place I’ve lived for seven years. Ask me how I feel next Thursday, I guess. Right now I’m strangely calm.

Also, I turned 25 on Tuesday. The day passed without incident. It’s just another arbitrary designation of time passing. It means as much as you let it mean.

And I’m choosing an uncharacteristically zen approach to all of it: the move, the aging, the uncertainty about my future. It’s time to embrace this time in my life as a period of transition, to not think about the path to success as a straight line. I’m giving myself the freedom to meander a bit in the hopes that I’ll eventually end up where I want and need to be. It’s not easy, and it’s not instant: I can’t expect to stumble into my ideal self. The more I relinquish control and allow for failure, the less I worry about actually failing.

This goes against my standard approach. Cynicism has often been a comfort to me. On a practical level, you’re never disappointed when you (vaguely) hope for the best and (concretely) expect the worst. And I have, for a long time, maybe for always, outlined all my aspirations with the caveat that they were unlikely goals. But really, who can tell? It’s too soon to know where I’m going to end up, and as long as I’m moving in some direction, I can’t be too down on myself for not being there yet.

At the same time, I have to allow for the possibility of disappointment. It’s not a matter of assuming it will happen so much as knowing that it’s out there. I think I can temper my expectations with realism without killing my enthusiasm, and that’s the real key. Finding motivation when you’re a neurotic person can be tough—or rather, it’s easy to find reasons not to try. You imagine the negative outcomes, and when you picture everything that can go wrong, it’s hard to make the effort. Sometimes, it’s close to impossible.

I’m writing this here even though it’s very personal. Not in the sense that it embarrasses me, but that these are very much my feelings. I’m not sure anyone else will get anything out of it, which is OK, I guess. You don’t have to read it.

The reason I’m writing is because last night I found my old journal, the one I kept when I moved to Berkeley at 17. I’m glad I have a record of my thoughts then, even though I cringe at a lot of it. (Get it together, teenage me!) But regardless of my lingering anxieties and quirks (oh my God, the quirks), I can see how much I’ve grown. Like, ideally, I’d be totally fine right now, but maybe being less crazy than I was a few years ago is enough.

Because it’s hard to see the bigger picture. I’ve always had trouble living in the moment: I dwell on the past, or I obsess over the future. So I ask, when did I get this way? And when will I be better? But there’s so fucking much in the middle, and who’s to say how long “the middle” lasts?

Let that sink in. Remember your mindfulness training. Focus on every step. You move forward whether it’s conscious or not: you age and you change locations, and over time, you stop feeling like there’s nowhere you belong.

And in five years, maybe, you look back on this blog post. You laugh at what a tool you were at 25, then you smile because it’s been a long time since things felt so dire.