Monthly Archives: October 2011

What a weight off: my beloved motorcycle is no longer sitting on the street getting rained on, but is safe in a friend’s barn. Just in time for the snowstorm that’s still raging outside.

It took me two hours to drive the thirty miles home, fifteen miles an hour on the highway, basking in the green and orange flashes from snow-weighted branches drooping onto power lines, laughing when the streetlights went out. It was like a miniature apocalypse. Who doesn’t love a good apocalypse?

I enjoy being snowbound for the same reason I enjoy traffic jams and power outages. Priorities are suddenly different: having limited options makes leisure possible. We think having options makes us free, but it just makes us confused. I can do anything I want to? I think I’ll watch TV.

But if I can do only one thing — say, sit in traffic smoking cigarettes and getting a warm glow of schadenfreude from watching everyone else get irritated — I am free to enjoy every second.

Happy blizzard, New Englanders. May your lives come to a beautiful halt.

How do you talk to strangers? What are the rules? Nobody knows. I’m usually happy when a stranger speaks to me, and some strangers are happy when I speak to them, but everybody’s worried: will he think I’m weird? When I say Good morning, do I mumble or enunciate? How big is too big to smile at someone you don’t know?

The other day at the gym I kept catching the eye of a fellow swimmer, a man about my age, both in the pool and in the locker room. I didn’t mean to keep looking his way; you want to be careful about making eye contact in a locker room (although eye-to-eye contact can be safer than eye-to-elsewhere). When he was leaving, he caught my eye again, smiled, and waved. Relief: he didn’t think I was weird, just friendly.

Well, we were both dudes, and both swimming, why not? That’s enough common ground for a wave.

I overheard a conversation once between two (presumably straight) guys about gaydar and how it might work. One said to the other: if you catch another guy’s eyes and he looks just a little too long — you can tell. Ridiculous, or true? Maybe a little true. Most men do avoid each others’ eyes. Is that because they don’t want anybody thinking they’re gay, or for some other reason?

I’ve been getting to know the guys who live next door. The first time we spoke was when I was doing some work on my motorcycle. I think I wrote about this: we ended up killing a fifth of Maker’s between the three of us. Since then we chat occasionally, usually in the hall on the way to our respective apartments; last Sunday I stopped by for brunch; this evening I invited them to watch the game at my place on Sunday.

I know this is nonsense, but I sometimes feel like their amiability isn’t genuine — that they’re too normal, not to mention too good-looking, to really want to spend time with me. The feeling says a lot more about me than it does about them. I used to feel that way even about my friends. I remember that When Sal agreed to go on a road trip after my junior year, I wondered (and, poor guy, I even asked) if he was just being kind to the poor nerd. That was easier for me to believe than that he liked road trips and liked me.

We neurotics — or is that everybody? — go around building things up in our minds, constructing whole narratives out of stray glances and tones of voice, never suspecting that everyone else is every bit as simple and crafty and naive and guileful, as we are. Children afraid of our own shadows.

Lot of comments on that last one. I mean next-to-last one, not the search-term poetry. Which, again, I didn’t write. You did, dear readers, you did. Whenever someone googles Wes Welker, or grease monkeys, or other things too unmentionable to mention, and ends up on my blog, my software tells me about it. So google carefully.

I debated publishing that last post at all, because I usually try to stay upbeat, I mean not only in real life but also online. Part of that is pride. I’d love for everyone to think that I’m some kind of Atlas: lookit, lookit, everyone else thinks SSA is soooo hard but no problems here, I don’t even break a sweat!

Sometimes that’s true. And sometimes it isn’t. Wish I could tell you living out the Church’s teachings was always easy, but it just ain’t, for me or anyone else. The things worth having are usually the hardest.

Anyway, I’m glad I posted it and I have been feeling much better ever since, due largely to everyone’s prayers and support.

In other news: the good people at EWTN tell me my interview will be airing next Tuesday, November 1st, at 7:00 pm EST. You can see the schedule and find instructions on how to listen, whether locally or online, at their website: www.catholic.com/radio.

In other other news: Tom Waits has a new album out today. Oh boy! Dude has been turning out solid stuff since ’72, and has somehow only gotten better. My first introduction to Waits was through a particularly demented fellow student in my college years. He only liked the zany stuff, the thumping and growling and rattling and the ominous German phrases. I like Waits’ more melodic stuff, like Ol’ 55 and Hold On, but have been developing a taste for his other side over the past year.

Anyway. I’d like to do a full piece on Waits one of these days, but for now I will have to just give you a couple of my favorites, organized from gorgeous to ghastly.

wes welker gay
wes welker gay
wes welker is gay?
is rick moranis greek?

she was bewailing her
gay mallet

every poem is inherently sexual
you saying I like dudes
walker percy bourbon
catholic banana men

zen master peru
mallet and jews
I was told to fold my wings; what does that mean?

wes welker gay
wes welker gay
is it good to be a recluse
is wes welker gay

No worst, there is none. Pitched past pitch of grief,
More pangs will, schooled at forepangs, wilder wring.
Comforter, where, where is your comforting?
Mary, mother of us, where is your relief?1

It was bad, dear readers, very bad. I spent last night in the lowest parts of the pit, and all day today the black dog gnawed at my leg, and only gnawed harder when I tried to kick his face in. That’ll teach me to boast about how well I’m doing, how fine I am, and how out I’ve got everything figured.2

Crying didn’t help, and neither did yelling. Talking to myself, talking to God; I didn’t have any answers, and neither did he. Came home, cried some more, tried not to punch anything. Finally settled down, after Compline, enough to be able to write something. I won’t even look at it today, just going to delete the whole thing. You think you know maudlin? Baby, you ain’t seen maudlin ’till you’ve seen me blog in the middle of a good old-fashioned funk.

A good night’s sleep didn’t clear it up, so tonight after the gym and a quick dinner, I got out the cigarettes and the kleenex and called Father T. I told him about my frustration, my anger, my depression. My feeling that I had failed, again, to be the man I wanted to be. How I don’t usually feel this bad but I never feel all that good, either; how feeling bad was a kind of relief, because at least I was feeling something, and maybe that something was closer to the truth.

Answer me, tell me I’m doing something wrong; tell me I feel this way because I’m living the wrong way. Tell me that everything is okay, and that I just can’t see it because I’m not wise enough, tell me that everything will be fine, and that I just can’t get there because I’m not strong enough. Tell me, tell me. I can take it.

That wasn’t what he told me.

FT: What you want is something real. We’re all wired for it. It’s just that your wires are pointing in the wrong direction.
SG: Yes…
FT: We’re all meant for love and for fulfillment. It’s the fulfillment that a man finds in marriage.
SG: Yes…
FT: Do you get what I’m saying?
SG: Yes, yes, I get it. Sure. But what I don’t get is why I’m meant for something that I never get to have.
FT: Yes.
SG:
FT: I don’t have an answer. I wish I had an answer. There is no answer.

That was the right answer.

Fr. T, if you had told me that I was wrong to feel how I feel, I wouldn’t have believed you. If you had told me that God was good and the world was beautiful, I might have believed you, but I would have hung up.

Instead, you gave me the truth that so many people think is too hard for me and for those like me. You respected me and trusted me, as they do not. You told me that I am called to a kind of martyrdom. That the world is difficult, and that there is no answer, not here, to the question of man’s woundedness. That my SSA is not fair, any more than Down Syndrome is fair, or poverty is fair.

That those who cry “Peace, peace,” when there is no peace, are lying. I am not okay, the world is not okay, none of us is okay. If you’ve never noticed it, then you’re not paying attention.

Being a secularist means believing that there is nothing wrong with the world or with us — or anyway, nothing that can’t be fixed by politics and technology. Thank God I’m a Christian. We don’t lie to ourselves; we know the world is broken, and all of us are broken with it. We know evil is real. And we know where to take it. We take it to the cross, we take it to the altar.

So I’m not okay, not today. But you’d be surprised how good I feel about it.

1 The whole thing is here.
2 Here in the writing business we call that “parallelism.” Not to be confused with its close cousin, “poor sentence construction.”

I was having a great night out at the bar — I was with mostly men, a situation that would have once tied my tongue completely, but I was doing great! I left the booth to use the bathroom. I was so pleased with myself for being social, and relaxed, and non-awkward, and normal, that I congratulated myself in the mirror.

Out loud.

For being so normal.

Then I heard the toilet behind me flush. I left the bathroom very quickly.

Conversation is like using a public urinal: the less attention you pay to it, the better it flows.1 I don’t mean Deep, Meaningful Conversations (DMC’s)2, I mean what’s usually called Shooting The Shit (STS). It’s something I’ve always been bad at.

In high school I occasionally got invited to all-male sleepovers, where the conversation followed a predictable pattern: first poop jokes, then talking about girls, then loopy dreamspeak until the last person passed out. I could very rarely get into the rhythm of these things, and would divide my time equally between being terrified that I’d say the wrong thing and terrified that I wouldn’t say anything at all. It was like a first date, all the time.

I was discovering coffee around the same time, and on one occasion I found that being heavily caffeinated lowered my inhibitions a little bit.3 so I would prep for these gatherings by drinking no fewer than three cups of instant Folger’s. Horrible stuff, and it didn’t usually work, though it did help with the paruresis.

Later on I somehow got the idea that conversation wasn’t Really Conversation unless it involved either half-baked metaphysical theorizing or profound self-revelation. The college I attended was a hotbed of seekers, oddballs, and eccentrics — among I tried to cultivate a reputation as King of the Oddballs — so this served me pretty well during those years. It worked less well after graduation, when I was confronted with the vast throng of more-or-less normal people.

And, again, it wasn’t just a problem of of talking to people: it was a problem of talking to other men. I’d freeze up, just go completely dry in my effort to say the right thing. I always wanted to talk theory and generalization, but conversations between men seem to consist in telling each other facts, and I seemed to be ignorant about most of the facts they cared about — and terrified to expose my ignorance, or to say something unmistakeably fruity.

Do most men talk that way because it’s how they’re wired, or is it a smokescreen, a way to avoid the important things? Probably some of both. But, really, it isn’t just men: even back then, I could do it too, when I wasn’t talking to someone I was desperately hoping would like me.

Besides, talking about Important Things all the time isn’t how people work: humankind cannot bear very much reality,4 or anyway not on a typical Thursday afternoon. It’s not how we usually get to know each other, and doing it all the time would be exhausting.

I’m getting better at it, the talking, the relaxing, but I’m still new at being good at it. Any time I get through a few hours of Shooting the Shit with my male friends and realize at the end that I wasn’t thinking about whether I was nervous or tense or awkward or fruity — wasn’t thinking about much, in fact — I feel great, and grateful, like I’ve done something worth celebrating.

It’s the little things. Like not being a tense neurotic nervous oddball maniac.

1 Yes, I am an occasional sufferer of paruresis, commonly known as “stage fright.” Sometimes I find that trying to silently recite Kubla Khan helps me get going, but I usually get stuck after “gardens bright with sinuous rills.” What the hell is a rill? That must have been some good dope STC was smoking.
2 Or DMC’s, as we used to call them in college. The term was coined by my friend M. to describe the kind of conversation that was always going on at 2am after heavy doses of alcohol and heavier doses of Hegel. DMC’s usually ended in tears, mutual professions of deep fondness, the forging of entire new paradigms of thought, or all three. Or sometimes you’d just pass out.
3 I know, alcohol does the trick a lot better, but I didn’t figure that out until college. Just as well.
4 See TSE’s Burnt Norton.

…that I haven’t forgotten you! I know there are hundreds and thousands (maybe millions!) of you who do nothing but wait for me to speak words of wisdom, and that you must have been languishing this past week in my absence.

Nah.

But I do wish I had had more time to post this week. I’m working on an article for Our Sunday Visitor’s Newsweekly, and it’s been taking a lot out of me. Especially a lot of time. But my family came through with prayers, and Our Lady of Guadalupe gave me a boost like she always does, and I’ve finally got something. I hope to be able to resume my regular posting schedule (as if I had such a thing!) soon. I’ll letcha know when it hits the presses.

In the meantime, I’ve added for your clicking pleasure a couple of new widgets below the tags: Books (I’ve read ‘em and recommend ‘em) and Resources. If you know of any that should be be there, let me know by comment or by emailing me. It’s stevegershom. And then the at symbol. And then gmail. And then .com.1

Like Fr. T says, let us continue to pray for one another!

1 I konw this is annoying. I do it so the spambots won’t know where I sleep.

When I lived in DC I met a man from Colombia, a numerary in Opus Dei. He was just passing through, which seemed to be what he did in most places. He said he loved the single life, because he could be like Gandalf — at home everywhere and nowhere, always on some mysterious mission, led only by the spirit.

I thought of him last night, when I got too idle and stayed up too late, and as a result lay in bed Thinking About My Life.

And, surprise: my life started to look like a trap, a dead end. Here I am, no wife or children tying me down, nothing really keeping me but the job. I could be anywhere, do anything. And what do I do? I stare at glowing rectangles for a living.

Shouldn’t I be in South America somewhere, courting Lady Poverty? If I don’t get to get married, shouldn’t I become the vagabond/saint/crimefighter/sage I always wanted to be?

Maybe. This kind of thing is equal parts Catholicism and Hollywood, half St. Francis and half Zorba the Greek. You know the trope I mean, right? Rick Moranis/Martin Short/Zach Braff1 stumbles through life half-awake, too mediocre even to know how mediocre he is, until Michael Richards/Dennis Quaid/Natalie Portman2 bursts his quietly-desperate suburban life wide open, breaks all the rules, and Shows Him How To Live!3 Breaking Free4 is the one of the greatest 21st-century virtues.

But then there is St. Francis, who as far as I’m concerned got the whole trend started, so disgusted with his worldly living-and-partly-living and so in love with Christ that he drops it all at once, strips naked right there in the piazza and never looks back. There’s Jesus’ words in the Gospel: I have come that they may have life, and have it more abundantly.

Then add these two to the voices in my head. St. Teresa of Avila: God walks among the pots and pans. Dostoevsky’s Father Zossima: Love in action is a harsh and dreadful thing compared with love in dreams.

The hard truth is that I don’t have to go to South America to be a saint. I can do that here, among the pots and pans and glowing rectangles of my life, by striving to remain fully awake, fully alive, living each moment in the presence of God. I can strive to love everyone I meet, not with my own love but the love of Christ — a love that isn’t always romantic or thrilling, that sometimes feels like drudgery, but only because its glory is hidden, like the glory of Christ was hidden on earth. Love in action means love where and when you are, not in the dream of some beautiful Elsewhere.

It doesn’t mean the vagabond’s life is out, it just means I can’t force the issue. Sometimes fear keeps you from going where you’re meant to go. And sometimes it keep you from staying where you’re meant to be.

1 Yech.
2 Yech again. I can hardly tell you how muchly-much-much I hated Garden State. Except the wallpaper scene was pretty good.
3 Or maybe…Breaking Bad??
4 I’m sure I could have picked better examples than My Blue Heaven, Innerspace, and Garden State, respectively, but these are the first three that came to mind, despite (or because?) I haven’t seen any of them in years. But it occurs to me now that Frank Capra reverses the trend: It’s a Wonderful Life is all about serving God where you are, staying open-eyed and grateful. Arch-sentimentalist though he may have been, Capra put his finger on it.

I caught a cold, or a flu, or THE BLACK DEATH or something last Friday. I noticed it at about 2PM, which meant by the time I got home I was ready for bed. I hate, hate, hate being sick, and I was determined to kick it by Monday, so bed is pretty much where I stayed all weekend.

When I used to work in a Catholic bookstore, there was a book I always saw (but never picked up) called Why Squander Illness? The idea, I assume, is that sickness is an opportunity for prayer, reflection, that passive purification stuff I talked about last Friday, and a little bit of redemptive suffering. An invitation to draw closer to God.

So obviously, I hunkered down in front of my laptop, finished the last few episodes of Angel, and proceeded to watch an entire freaking season of Breaking Bad.1

The problem is that being sick makes it very hard to pray. Praying comes naturally when you’re feeling great, or when some mountain vista or life-changing conversation fills you with awe and gratitude. Not so much when you’re lying in your own sweat, choking on mucus, and wishing your throat hurt less so you could toss more pills down it.

I fully admit to my wimpiness where sickness is concerned. Forget offering it up, I usually can’t even quit groaning for long enough to mutter a Hail Mary or two. I wrote a bitchy email to Sal about all this, and he responded with a story from a priest he knows:

Fr. [x] told us once that he visited a friend in the hospital and his friend said something to the effect that he felt guilty that he had all this time in bed with which he could be praying but instead he just kept lying there feeling horrible, and Father just said, “You ARE praying. Even if you don’t remember to offer up the suffering, that’s still who you are.” So. For whatever it’s worth.

Thanks, Sal, it was worth a lot.2 It reminds me of that bit in Richard Wilbur’s The Mind Reader:

Is there some huge attention, do you think,
Which suffers us and is inviolate,
To which all hearts are open, which remarks
The sparrow’s weighty fall, and overhears
In the worst rancor a deflected sweetness?
I should be glad to know it.

God might be our harshest judge; he’s got the material, or the evidence, since he knows the malice in our actions even when we hide it from ourselves. But the implication in the passage above is that he is also our most merciful judge, because he knows the sweetness in us. We hide that from ourselves, too.

Pride acts on the heart in equal and opposite ways. It makes us interpret our actions in the best possible light, because it convinces us that we can’t possible be that bad. But it can also make us interpret our sins in the worst possible light, because it convinces us that if we’re sinners, we must be AMAZINGLY AWFUL sinners.

No such luck. My vices are as puny as my virtues. I’m like a child, and it never shows up more than when I’ve got a nasty cold.

Good thing God likes children.

1 Which is a REALLY GOOD SHOW. At least in the sense of being morally serious, narratively cohesive, tightly (nay, Sophoclesianically!) plotted, beautifully shot, and masterfully acted. It also includes fairly explicit sex scenes, a lot of graphic gore, and some shocking brutality. So. Not for you if you don’t like that kind of thing. Maybe not for anybody. I’m still working that one out.
2 Dear Sal, I hope you don’t mind that I cannibalized your email, just a little bit, do you? I hope not. I’ll try to ask next time.