Sunday, November 29, 2009

Shades of Grey

Hope Springs Eternal
This week someone told me that I make a lot of declarative, definitive statements regarding most matters in the world and in how I perceive things to work, especially in these tough times. They didn't say it was a bad thing, just that it was unusual in this day and age, and how it was refreshing overall. Of course I was aware that I have very strong opinions about many topics, but I hadn't been called on it in a while and it got me thinking again about why I am this way.

It's no secret that I am an idealist, that I believe things should be a certain way and that I do my best to help anywhere I can along those goals. I'm sure many of my formative years reading comic books, where the line between offensive villains and defensive heroes was always clearly defined didn't help my idealized thought process. Nor did stories of knights, whip-wielding archaeologists, and George Bailey help in my perceptions of doing what needs to be done to serve "a just cause".

Still, I am left uneasy with the concept that I am a definitive person, that my opinions are absolute and unwavering. Yes, the notions of absolute "right" and "wrong" would be great if they were always clear and easy to define. However, as we all know the real world does not necessarily work in such a clear cut manner. Unfortunately, in the real world decisions are often made through reluctant compromise where sometimes, most times, no one really wins in the end, or at least not the "good guys".

I am abundantly aware of what shades of grey consume us on any given day, but that doesn't mean I have to be satisfied with them. We all make concessions every day to make the path easier, to lighten the load, to make others feel better, or when we are just too tired to put up a fight. It's natural, and in these tough economic times, people are even more afraid to stand up and take a risk. It is completely understandable, and if you don't get that, then you either haven't been watching closely or are untouched by the changing times.

The countless shades of grey that consume the world we all inhabit seem to fluctuate between lighter and darker shades depending on the weather, who is in power, what news network you watch, the intensity of your headache that day, and how much sleep you got the night before. Life isn't easy, but since when has it ever been? We have all done things at some point that we aren't proud of or that we regret in those quiet moments when the kids are asleep and the dog hasn't been fed yet, but that's okay, too.

All that said, the only thing that really bothers me about all of the struggles and uncertainties today is the lack of hope I see in people. A lot of people I know want things to get better but go through their days with a sincere disbelief that things can ever get better. Okay, maybe in certain instances they are correct, but no one ever lived a good life and nothing ever got better by thinking the worst. So sure, I freely admit that I may not always be the most positive person out there, but the one ideal I will always cling to is hope. That can never be a bad thing.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

"The Little Things"

Calendar: November 2009
(Tom's Take Out Calendar, November 2009)

So much of what makes us individuals is actually a string of small traits and subtle interests gleamed from others. Catch phrases, shared movies, television shows and books, certain ways we like our tea or the way we dress, all of these things stem from the influence of other people in our lives, even if they are only there for a fleeting moment.

Having lived what I see now as a somewhat sheltered life, much of the little things I've gotten into, words I often use, and inspirations that have enhanced my everyday life have come from places I am almost unaware of. These are all little gifts that I otherwise would never have known if not for someone's personal outside example. These small things have brought so much joy and comfort, and thus have helped make me who I am today, that there is no possible way I could repay the myriad of people who have guided me to this path.

With Thanksgiving Day imminent, I thought I'd take a second and make a list of as many things as possible that I never liked, words I never used, or attitudes I never appreciated until someone personally influenced me. Some of these things I actively and vocally decried, disavowed, or just plain wrote-off as dumb, useless, silly, or evil for some childish notion of the past, or simply never thought about at all. They are, in no particular order:

-the necessity and over-use of cell phones and all of their functions
-the love of certain consumables, including Ethiopian food, boba tea, edamame, tofu, balsamic vinegar and oil, udon noodles, sushi, and more
-the ease and functionality of digital photography, the fixed 50mm lens, UV filters
-the awareness and appreciation of "Alternative" music of the early to mid-'90s
(i.e. Pixies, Built to Spill, Soul Coughing, etc.)
-the awareness and appreciation of contemporary "Indie" music
(i.e. The Mountain Goats, The National, Neutral Milk Hotel, etc.)
-the ability to use Photoshop, Mac computers, etc.
-shooting in "RAW"
-the appreciation of plain white (not color-gelled) lights in photography
-a slightly more open-minded perception of certain drugs and harmless, though technically illegal activities
-being forced to go out after dark to socialize
-openness in discussing taboo subjects, including masturbation, bodily functions, personal nudity and bodily issues, etc.
-appreciation for "pin-up" styled imagery
-being able to ask for and accept a hug, neck and back rub, and a little bit of help now and again
-preferring a functional pick-up truck to some sporty, fashionably smaller vehicle
-taking the time to appreciate people who my first reaction would be negative of, including those unusual or questionable interests, body modification, personal associations, etc.
-the use of laptop computers in public
-using iPod vehicle adapters
-an almost complete lack of fear about taking a financial risk versus having an amazing experience
-appreciation of alcohol in its various forms (except beer), mainly whiskey, wine and tequila
-my overuse of the word "crazy" when describing something unusual
-the spiritual guidance of gurus such as Robert Smith, Iggy Pop, Lou Reed, Mike Doughty, Peter Gabriel, others
-being forced to use MySpace, Facebook, and, which led to amazing things and people entering my life

I am sure there are countless others, but these are the ones that have sprung to mind recently. With that said, I still have a long way to go. I find that I'm still painfully set in my ways in many regards, but I'm trying. To those who know me really well, honestly, truly, I'm trying. To all the Americans, have a Happy Thanksgiving, to the rest of the world, Happy Thursday!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

"No one knows how love works."

Two peas in a pod.
I really enjoy Mark Morford's columns. He's insightful, witty, and pretty damn honest. Here is an article that I had cut out and taped in an old sketch book two years ago. I couldn't have said it better myself.

Mark Morford
San Francisco Chronicle
July 25, 2007

I am not married. I have never, to the best of my knowledge, been married.

I do not have any children of which I am right now aware. I am, in fact, recently single again for the first time in many years. Also: no mortgage. No debt. No daily array of behavioral meds (yet). No significant or particularly dangerous skeletons - none that can speak or call the CIA or reveal the location of the photographs buried on my hard drive, anyway.

This is a weirdly fascinating position to be in, and not only because many of my long-coupled friends think I must've won some sort of amazing social lottery, with the prize being a debauched free-for-all of sybaritic adventure.

No, when you're single and you've finally made it past the age when you've felt both love's deepest tongue probings and also its most random horror-flick slashings, what it means, at least for me, is that you get to become this odd sort of sounding board - a blank slate for love's warped potential, a reason for others to extrapolate on the nature of love and life and sex and how difficult/wonderful/impossible it all really is.

Which is merely another way of saying, I am learning something. Or rather, relearning. Or rather, knowing something everyone sort of knows but no one really talks all that much about because it's so damn obvious and also painful and fraught and wonderful, pounded back into my thick skull in a delightfully unexpected way.

Here is the big lesson, the thing that keeps coming at me, again and again and again: No one has the slightest clue how to make love work.

I know. Shocking. But truly, it's weirder that you might think.

See, singlehood at my pseudo-mature age can be a time of profound cleansing, of enjoying the moment as you ready for the new, of trying to figure out just what you're all about and what you really want and how to go about getting it, or not getting it, or letting it all go and not attaching to it so that it may find you, in the healthiest and sexiest and most honest way possible.

And so, you look around. And you ask. And you get feedback, comments, perspectives from all those in various stages of lovedom around you.

(Very few of my circle are single, and if they are, they're almost certainly seeking that special one to make it all make sense.) And that feedback ain't what it used to be. If it ever was.

For every happily married couple I know (and I do know a few), there are three more who are confused and tense and battling all sorts of doubt and crisis and regret. For every wedding announcement, there are two more separations. For every guy I know who's tremendously happy to be settled, there's another who wishes he could've had "just one more year" of unbridled freedom.

It goes on. For every woman I know who simply can't wait to have kids and who tears up in front of a newborn and whose biological clock is ticking like Dick Cheney's pacemaker in a gay fetish dungeon, there's another who has quietly realized that she should maybe never have become a mother.

Couples you think were rock solid and perfect have fallen apart, screamingly. Couples you thought wouldn't last a year have made it to 10 and show no signs of slowing. Couples who got together in college and were miserably mismatched took a decade off and had lots of sex with other people and then got back together and it's now the perfect, true thing. More or less. Unless it's not.

See, at a certain point, all the variants become so astounding, so dizzying, so universal, that you finally realize (yes, for the 1,000th time) there is no rule. There is no pattern. The exceptions are the rule. There is no approach that, overall, seems to work for most people most of the time. There's not even a hint of a possibility of a whisper of a rule, and anyone who tries to tell you differently, be it a church or a parent or a relationship guru, is, to put it gently, astoundingly full of it.

This is why God laughs. This is why the Fates roll their eyes and belch.

Because you think you have this crude set of boundaries and guidelines that you insist you will live by as you head into the uncharted waters of love and sex and attraction, and these silly notions grow and thrive and breed like drunken Mormons all through your 20s and 30s, when all your friends are hooking up and all the marriages are as fresh as squirted mother's milk and all the love is sweet and skittering and hot and everything seems aimed toward the positive, the right.

And then, time happens. Fights. Breakdowns. Crisis. Fertility issues.

Financial stress. Loveless marriages. Sexless marriages. Second marriages. Unwanted kids. Wanted kids who end up being the repository of all the angst of the loveless marriage. Divorce. Stepchildren.

Open relationships. Closed relationships. Polyamory. Experimentation.

Sperm donation. Therapy. Also: Cancer. Disease. Accidents. Death.

Rebirth. Morning breath.

Oh, and one more: infidelity. Oh yes. Here is perhaps the most fascinating topic of all, the soul's dirty little secret, the hottest of love's hot buttons. Because maybe you used to look at adultery and say, "Oh my God, no way, it's just so wrong, horrible, hurtful, dangerous." Maybe it was even your absolute rule. Unassailable. You simply do not cheat. Do not wander. Not ever. No no no no no.

Except, yes. Except when you get to know someone - or perhaps multiple someones - and for whatever unexpected reason and unquantifiable mutation of love and body and life, it becomes actually understandable. Justifiable. Encouraged, even. Still painful, hurtful, dangerous? Yes. But if you're honest, your boundaries will shift. Your definitions will blur. And what's more, you realize that this is how it has to be.

Maybe it's simply a case of the more you learn the less you understand. Maybe it's all about the wisdom of aging.

Me, I like to think it's simply because, for the most part, we're still just one big gaggle of spiritual infants, still love's little quivering carry-on Chihuahua: trembling and jumpy and sweet and trying to work through the infinitely frustrating, cruelly painful, orgasmically delicious variants of how the human soul can get its love on.

And baby, from what I can tell right now, we've got one hell of a long way to go.