That last was from a party we hosted. I disappeared from 10:00 – 11:00. One of the guests apparently thought maybe I was busy with a lady. Nope, nope, I was lying in the dark, staring at the ceiling, thinking how much I hated being around people, and how stupid people sound when they laugh and have a good time, and how fun is dumb.
Then I went down and played more beer pong, so whatevs. To be fair, the party went for nine hours. NINE. I consider myself a hero for succumbing neither to sullenness nor to apoplexy.
I’m just writing to say hi. I hope you’re well. Sorry it’s been a while. I don’t have any grand themes to expound upon, so maybe writing this post like a letter makes the most sense.
I just got back from an extended weekend trip with my Kung Fu school, who I keep referring to as my “Kung Fu family”, because that is how I keep feeling about them. You know that Decemberists song, I think it’s off Picaresque: “Here in our hovel / We fused like a family”? I kept thinking of that, although the beach house we rented was no hovel. We trained hard all three days, and when we weren’t training, we were cooking, eating, playing video games, or soaking in the hot tub. We even jumped in the ocean, which even in Virginia was the worst February idea ever.
So that’s why I didn’t write to you last week.
I’m on the bus now to visit a good friend and fellow blogger in Maryland. My social life seems to be feast-or-fast; either I’m on the go several weekends in a row, or I’m up in my room, plugged in and sealed off, watching Netflix while other people do exciting things.
I haven’t been on a bus in a long time. It makes me think of earlier days: I used to enjoy thinking of myself as a rootless vagabond, and would jaunt off every summer I could, to visit people around the country. Once I spent two days on an Amtrak, heading for Dallas. I chatted with a metal musician who was in mid-detox and haunted by visions of demons — I gave him a miraculous medal to wear — and drank bad, expensive beer with a lawyer named Cain.
It’s harder to pretend I’m a vagabond now, what with the cell phone and kindle and laptop and all; and, whether because I’m more closed in on myself now or just because I’m older and a little less romantic, I’m keeping to myself. Besides, I have writing to do.
You ask me how come I’m not so lonesome and desperate anymore, and why depression isn’t such a big part of my life, barely a part at all. I wish I had a simple answer for you. Father T always used to tell me that there was no magic pill, no moment when you suddenly Find Yourself. You never find yourself, he insisted: you build yourself. Molecule by molecule, like stalactites.
Never give up, I guess. Find somebody to talk to, and keep talking as long as they’ll let you. Find your fears and confront them, but take it slow and be merciful to yourself.
Pray, pray, pray. Go to the Blessed Sacrament over and over; soak in His rays like you’re sunbathing, and never stop. The nice thing about being in front of the Blessed Sacrament: there’s no wrong way to do it. There are better ways and worse ways, but spending time at the feet of Jesus is never going to hurt you.
Find yourself a good therapist, and meanwhile fire the bad ones quickly, because they’re assholes and they don’t deserve your money or your time or your secrets. Consider getting some good meds. Write to me if I can help.
I heard a nice idea from my sister: every time something happens that you’re really thankful for, you write it on a piece of paper and put it in a jar. Then, at the end of the year, you read the pieces of paper, to remember all the good things.
I think I missed some big ones — I guess I forgot to keep putting stuff in the jar — and some of the things are on a whole nother level than others (like apparently I was really excited about my new car), but here are my 2013 scraps, not in chronological order but just in the order that I happened to take them out of the jar. They are only slightly expurgated.
I got a Jetta.
It feels a little silly that this is the top of the list, but it is a cool car, and it’s bright red besides.
I told [x] I was attracted to him. He still wanted to be friends.
This was a first for me. As with so, so many other things, it was much less of a big deal in real life than it had been in my mind. Months later, the attraction isn’t really an issue, and we’re still friends. So.
[x] visited me, and we talked more deeply than we’ve ever talked before.
[x] and I have been friends for sixteen years. Somehow we had never rolled up our sleeves and compared scars before.
I came out publicly, and received a tremendous outpouring of love and support.
Yayuh. I’m not sorry that I waited so long, because my right time was my right time. But it’s awfully nice out here in the breeze and sunshine.
I am attracted to women, and some more than others.
Still true, but nothing to really write home about.
Our school goes: white, yellow, green, purple, blue, brown, black. I currently stand at purple-with-a-blue-stripe, or “purple-and-a-half”, but that’s not nearly as close to black as it sounds. Long road ahead of me, and I plan to see it through.
I entered the Wu Dao tournament — my first. Placed first in forms, second in sparring.
To be fair, there were only two other guys in my sparring division.
[x] was going to leave but decided to stay.
[x] is a coworker who became an unexpectedly big part of my life. If he had quit, it wouldn’t be the end of the world, but still, phew!
I sat and talked with [x] and [x] about porn and masturbation and homosexuality for hours. Till 2 in the morning. They understood it all.
More scar-sharing, and it’s always cool when straight guys have scars in the same spots as me.
After I had quit smoking for a week, everybody at the kwoon clapped for me.
Now I’m at seven months and counting. Dare I say that the hard part is over?
I became friends with Ryan Gooseling.
Unexpected blessings are the best kind.
I went contact-improv dancing with [x].
Okay, okay, it was fun, but it did have more flailing than I am comfortable with, and I still don’t like hipsters.
2013 saw, oddly, an apparent ending to the kind of misery that I used to think was a permanent fixture in my life. I’m sure the Black Dog will pay me a visit or two in the future, but depression is no longer a defining characteristic in my life.
Can I just say: holy shit, you guys, for somebody who was depressed pretty much every day for about fifteen years, that’s kind of a big deal. Do you even know how good it feels to go whole weeks or even months without wanting to die? Did you even know that could happen? It’s neat!
In 2014, I plan to discover what kind of adventures are possible when your primary goal is no longer just to keep the agony down to a dull roar. I’m excited.
It’s been a long time since I was depressed, and that’s amazing. The odd thing is how not-sad is not exactly the same as happy. When I was habitually miserable, I always figured that being free from the constant oppressive darkness was all I could ever ask for. Turns out, nope, my appetite for bliss is infinite, just like CSL said (somewhere [probably]), so I am probably just getting started.
Truth be told, I am feeling a little empty. Unfortunately, it’s not the Dark Night of the Soul. That is when you are so so so wonderful that God has decided that the only way to make you MORE wonderful is to withdraw the sense of His presence for a while so that your inner wonderfulness can grow. Anyway that’s what the saints say.
I wouldn’t know, because the reason I feel empty is that I am selfish and vain and I don’t pray enough and I’d rather look at my triceps in the mirror than pour out the love of Christ on my fellow wounded immortals. So I assume.
2 – Baby’s Black Balloon
Speaking of emptiness, Zen Pencils has done a curiously affecting illustration of a C. S. Lewis quotation that I had forgotten I ever read:
To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness.
But in that casket — safe, dark, motionless, airless — it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation.
The only place outside of Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell.
3 – The Perils Of Being Awesome
That bit about the hobbies and luxuries stung a little, because I had just been congratulating myself on having this chastity thing pretty well down — I mean, not that the old habits of solitary vice1 don’t occasionally reassert themselves, just that I’m not lonely and brokenhearted and stuck wandering the echoing hallways of solitude, wondering how to fill all that TIME; which is what, in my early days as a consciously gay Catholic, I assumed I’d be doing around now.
Because why? Because I do fill my time, with the things I always go on about: tattoos (I’ve got an appointment in two weeks) and Kung Fu (ranking coming up this December!) and motorcycles (there’s got to be one more perfect day before the snow comes) and writing (which I pretend I do a lot more of than I do) and working out (see biceps, above).
Which, ruh roh, none of those things are bad and in fact all of them are good, but they do sort of smack of a rich single guy spending his time entertaining himself. That’s not chastity. The point is not to distract yourself from the fact that you aren’t settling down with a mate. The point is to spend yourself on something, lap strength, steal joy, laugh, cheer.2
4 – Cheer Whom, Though?
Not that the two are mutually exclusive. Whatever we do, even if it’s something for ourselves, there are always opportunities to pour ourselves out.
I walked into Kung Fu on Wednesday feeling like I had somehow forgotten how to be in touch with human beings, so Oh well I better resign myself to just sort of drifting until I remember where my heart is.
Then I remembered that, during that year of now done darkness,3 when the Kwoon became the closest thing I had to an inviolably safe place, somehow the classes when I was most gregarious and most able to pour out love were those classes when I started out feeling the most depleted.
I don’t know what that means. Is it that, when I’m empty, I’m more easily filled by love, which, let’s be ontologically honest, never originates from me in the first place anyway? Regardless, it worked. Step inside the magical door with a quick prayer to my Dad to look out for me, and pretty soon I am scattering brightness.
Or that’s how it feels. Maybe I am just scattering annoyingness. I’ll never know, will I?
5 – The Achieve Of; The Mastery Of the Thing4
What makes me not terribly worried that my hobbies are somehow slowly turning me into a self-absorbed emotional miser is the knowledge that when you do things that are awesome and that you love doing, you can’t help glowing, and the glow can’t help lighting up other people. It’s like capitalism! Except it works.5
Which must be why this video makes me happy beyond all reason.
I don’t care that it’s a commercial, or that Enya is lazy music for gooey people, or that there wasn’t any real danger, or that after all he’s just an actor. Maybe it’s that JCVD has passed from goofy sincerity, through postmodern irony, and has come out on the other side as sincere again. I dunno. The video inspires me because it’s beautiful, so there you go. My heart in hiding stirred for a split.
6 – Gweenbrick
I have been waiting to tell you officially about Gweenbrick ever since I mentioned him. I wanted to make a whole post about him. But if I wait till I do that, I’ll wait a long time.
Anyway, I can’t decide which his posts are more: hilarious, symphonic, Zen, or Hambledonian.6 I wish I could write like this man, and I am proud of knowing about him before the whole entire internet descends on him with shouts of adulation. Get in on the ground floor of loving Gweenbrick. Today’s post is called Slow Yoga With Denene.
7 – Clap Your Tiny Hands For Joy
As long as we are talking about beauty, thanks to Simo7 for posting this. Oh my gosh. Go out and give thanks. Happy Friday.
1I <3 euphemisms. 2Hopkins, obvi. 3Hopkins again. Same poem. 4The Windhover, this time, which was clearly written about JCVD, whatever else it may have been written about. 5It is fun to be snarky about capitalism from the comfort of my coffee shop. I do believe that it’s probably the worst possible system, except for all the others. 6Cf. Douglas Adams’ The Meaning of Liff, in which he defines Hambledon as “The sound of a single-engined aircraft flying by, heard whilst lying in a summer field in England, which somehow concentrates the silence and sense of space and timelessness and leaves one with a profound feeling of something or other.” That’s Gweenbrick. 7That’s “teacher’s wife” for you nonkungfuers.
If I ever told that to my therapist, she’d probably get that hungry look. But there’s nothing symbolic about it, I swear. The guy who used to own the bag, a schoolmate of mine in college, went to the basement of the girls’ dorm at the end of the semester, collected everything from the box of castoffs, and stuffed it all in.
I guess he didn’t have any sand. Or he hates women. Whatever.
I’ve had the thing for nine years without really using it. In my previous house, I hung it from an eye bolt that was already sticking out of the garage ceiling. If it hadn’t already been there, I wouldn’t have bothered. And then, since it was a fairly thin bolt, a few good kicks were enough to break it, so that was the end of that.
But I’ve got a competition coming up and I want to learn to do a spinning back kick the way Sihing B. does, like a cat lashing out with its paw, quick as lightning; so I finally hung it up in the basement.
Hanging the thing was its own ritual, and I wanted to do it right. I laid out the steps: ask the internet how to do it, check for the right tools, buy what you don’t have, and then get to it. I tend to cut corners whenever I’m doing anything technical. I want to do things the quick way instead of the right way, and I’ll often make do with the wrong tool because the right one’s all the way upstairs.
Something in me protests against paying attention to details. Details are unfair; desire should be enough.
This way of doing things doesn’t usually end well. I’m not quite convinced that it’s necessary to spray the bolt with loosening agent, and it probably won’t work anyway, and even if it did, who wants to wait? So I give it a cursory spray, wait ten seconds, tug at the bolt, and strip the !@#$ thing. The ten minutes to wait for the spray to penetrate would have been worth the untold time it’ll take to deal with the stripped bolt, but I gambled, and I lost.
This makes me angry. But oddly, I’m not angry at myself for being impatient. Instead, I’m angry at the universe, for not being the sort of place where eagerness and good intentions are enough. I want the universe to be merciful; I want it to say, “Very good, Joey, you tried; so I’m going to go ahead and let that bolt turn for you.” I want the punching bag to be hung just because I’ve willed it into place.
But Christians aren’t pantheists. God made the universe, but he allows it to run according to its own rules. If you don’t do things right, they either don’t get done at all, or they end up worse than they were before.
I’ve quoted this bit of William Lynch before, but it’s one of those paragraphs that changed my life. Listen:
People who do not attend to detail are poor in hope. They do not believe that anything will come of detail. They rather expect that the pattern will form of itself, without the detail. This is contempt, which is the opposite of hope. The mentally ill frequently find it extremely difficult to have hope in language, in talk, in the use of one word after another, in actually saying to the doctor, step by step, word by word, what they think or feel.1
We love to paint our lives in broad strokes and bold colors. There’s comfort in saying I’m depressed or I’m defective or I’m broken or I’m different. Believing these things about ourselves — believing that change is too big a thing to be possible — relieves us from the responsibility of taking steps, actual small detailed tiny real steps, towards getting better. Like walking all the way upstairs to get the philips head screwdriver instead of the flat one. Like waiting an extra ten minutes for the spray to penetrate.2
Like going to your computer for five minutes to order Clean Of Heart, even if it takes you six weeks after it arrives to actually open it and start. Like emailing your mother to tell her, no, you’re NOT fine, actually, even if you don’t know where the conversation will go after that. Like going to Confession one more time, even though you’ve fallen into the same stupid pattern every stupid week for the last six stupid months.
What is hope is also humility. It is arrogance, as well as contempt, to believe that the atoms of the world will arrange themselves just because we decided they’d look better that way.
If we can’t even bring ourselves to submit to the laws of nature, how can we ever hope to submit to nature’s Lord?
1From Images of Hope. I forgot to write down what page, so you’ll have to read the whole thing. Oh wellsies. 2Yup, that’s it, that’s my only excuse for this post’s title! I hope you like it.
Last post, a reader wondered whether it was okay to do martial arts for the wrong reasons, and imagined that “BECAUSE IT’S AWESOME” might be a wrong reason. I tried to set him straight. Today we take on this part:
I always favor amiableness over confrontation, to a fault…And while I’ll readily admit that I could stand to toughen up some, I also see a lot of good things in my peaceful nature. So, while it seems prudent and valuable to be capable of self-defense, I don’t actually relish the thought of fighting itself.
My reader does not watch enough TV. If he did, he’d be familiar both with the Arrogant Kung Fu Guy and with the Martial Pacifist. The former wants to beat you up to show how badass he is; the latter shows how badass he is by not beating you up — unless he really, really has to, and then look out. Like Tony Jaa here:
See, he didn’t want to do that! But that dude was bad news.
So, don’t be Arrogant Kung Fu Guy. Be the Martial Pacifist. It would be better if, say, your loved ones were never threatened by somebody who would only respond to violence. But if that happened, it’d be good to be capable of effective violence.
But since my reader is probably not predisposed to be Arrogant Kung Fu Guy anyway, I’ll add that my initial and current reasons to do Kung Fu are mostly not fighting-related. I do it because:
I love my Kung Fu family. I spend more time with these people than with my actual biological family. We laugh together, suffer together, fight together, smell horrible together, and occasionally even karaoke together. If it were just about me and getting Kung Fu Skills, I doubt I’d last a month.
It feels great to feel this great. For the first few weeks, Kung Fu class made me feel like a volcano. I’d let out war cries all the way home, because I had to get all that good feeling out somehow, or my head would explode and splatter magma all over the interior of my Jetta. It didn’t last — my body got used to the endorphins, or whatever — but it still makes me feel great, and I can’t imagine going back to sitting around all week.
It feels good to be strong. I’m proud of myself and my muscles. I’m not cut or ripped or jacked or swole, but I am strong, and I look strong, and I feel like I look strong. That affects the way I feel all day long. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with going to the gym to get bigger, but martial arts builds muscles that you actually use. I just turned 30, and I’m in the best shape of my life.
I belong here. Kung Fu has been making up for a lot of the stuff I missed. I felt invisible in high school, and it feels awesome to be greeted with happy shouts when I walk in the door. I was a skinny, awkward kid, so it feels great to move with strength and grace. I used to be scared of doing any kind of physical demonstration in front of people, so I get a huge boost from performing in front of the class, or giving and getting hugs and high fives after a sparring match. My real family, like most, screwed me up in about as many ways as they blessed me. Kung Fu helps fill in those gaps and right those wrongs.
In the last few months I’ve discovered the joys of sparring, too. They don’t call it a martial art for nothing: I’ve never hit a home run, but it can’t possibly feel more magical than the first time you try Drawing the Bow or Rising Sun or even just a simple feint during a real match, and it actually works. That’s fire, that’s glory!
This is a poem by Rumi. I was going to stick it in the comments of my last post, in reply to Alex, who says “so many martial arts options, so hard to choose.” But it’s wonderful, so here it is for everybody.
These spiritual windowshoppers,
who idly ask, “How much is that?” Oh, I’m just looking.
They handle a hundred items and put them down,
shadows with no capital.
What is spent is love, and two eyes wet with weeping.
But these walk into a shop,
and their whole lives pass suddenly in that moment,
in that shop.
Where did you go? “Nowhere.”
What did you have to eat? “Nothing much.”
Even if you don’t know what you want,
buy something, to be part of the exchanging flow.
Start a huge, foolish project,
It makes absolutely no difference
what people think of you.
I’ve always had a love/hate perspective on martial arts. On the one hand, it’s so cooool! And I’m really into Avatar (the cartoon), which sort of shows some very different real-life fighting styles, and it’s all very interesting. And…I think it could only be a good thing to be capable of defending myself and others if need be. And anything that gets me in better shape is good.
On the other hand, I’ve got a gentle disposition. I’ve been called extremely phlegmatic, and I always favor amiableness over confrontation, to a fault…And while I’ll readily admit that I could stand to toughen up some, I also see a lot of good things in my peaceful nature.
So, while it seems prudent and valuable to be capable of self-defense, I don’t actually relish the thought of fighting itself. Plus, I get the sense that martial arts should be studied for the “right reasons,” whereas
I would admittedly be reveling in the “look at this roundhouse kick, I’m badass” factor a bit.
Even had I not previously corresponded with this reader, he would have instantly endeared himself to me by revealing his love for Avatar, and distinguishing it both from the Cameron glitzfest and the Shyamalan atrocity.
I think Avatar is a true work of art, and if you’re not sure how a cartoon that’s (ostensibly) for kids can be a true work of art, (1) that’s silly, and (2) how many kids’ cartoons do you know that have the artistic cojones to visually quote from Michelangelo, and can pull it off, too?
But I digress.
Let me address the coolness factor first. If a thing is cool, and is in no way morally objectionable, I think you should do it. Kung Fu is cool, and is in no way morally objectionable. Therefore, I think you should do it.
That’s a simple syllogism, but people who are thoughtful, serious, and sensitive (like this reader) are not always willing to accept that they should do something just because it’s cool, or fun, or enjoyable — but in the same breath will openly admire somebody who does things just because they’re cool, or fun, or enjoyable.
Sometimes we think we need a nobler reason to do something than just because we like it. This is because of a misunderstanding of virtue. A thing is virtuous despite being unpleasant, not because of it. If we were perfectly virtuous, virtuous actions would be perfectly easy and enjoyable — the way Glenn Gould not only played the piano exponentially better than I ever will, but (after years of practice) had an easier time of it, too.
Or we imagine that it’s selfish to do something just because we like it. While it’s true that it would probably be selfish to spend all our time doing things just because we like them, I doubt that this reader — being thoughtful, serious, and sensitive — lives a life of constant self-gratification. So Kung Fu is probably a good idea.
This business of “doing things for the right reasons” makes me think of Sihing2 Bengie, who is a black sash at my Kung Fu school, and claims that, had Neo mentioned a different martial art,
say, Tae Kwon Do, his own path would have been very different. Twenty-something Bengie saw The Matrix and decided to be just that badass, and so he was.
Thinking of Sihing Bengie reminds me of something else about “the right reasons”: just because you’re doing something you enjoy doesn’t mean you won’t be presented with opportunities to bring love and light to the world while you’re doing it.
Our Sifu3 is very much a father figure to us, and Bengie extends that fatherliness to those below him: he engages others in conversation, he offers encouragement during drills, and when he spars with you, he uses it as an opportunity to teach rather than to dominate. Whatever your religion, these things — care for others, giving of self — lead to saintliness.
I guess you could limit your activities to things you don’t enjoy, but that would be dumb, and you wouldn’t be any holier for it; you’d just be sadder. Or you could limit your activities to things that are only done 100% for the right reasons, but then you’d never do anything at all.
Kung Fu is a field where taking delight and showing love are often done at the same time and for the same reason. Like Heaven.
Stay tuned for Part II on Monday.
1As always, I have asked the reader’s permission to publish his email, and would never publish private correspondence without explicit consent. That being said, feel free to let me know preemptively if you wouldn’t mind seeing an email of yours appear here. 2“Sihing” means “older brother”. It’s the title by which we refer to a male black sash. Some systems use this title for any student who is more senior than you. 3“Sifu” means master or teacher or father.
I’m still recovering from the overflowing love and support I got in the comboxes, and on facebook, and by text message, and via twitter. I’m delighted, but not surprised, to find out that all the people in my life who I suspected of being kind and compassionate and generous really are that way. Thank you all so much. More than one of your messages brought tears to my eyes,1 and one in particular actually reduced me to a human puddle for a short while.
It’s really weird to have hidden something for so long because people might think it’s creepy or ugly or bad or sad or gross, only to have everyone in the world congratulate you when you let it out. Whaa? I think I just had my native simile jarred.
2: Haters Gonna Hate
Of course, it was also weird to have my celibacy treated as a personal affront, and to be called brainwashed and “douchey”, and to be told that I’m only celibate because nobody would want to have sex with me anyway, and to be warned that celibacy is impossible and I’m bound to start raping people left and right at any moment. Okey doke.
These things didn’t bother me, partly because the support FAR outweighed the insults — like, a hundred to one — and partly because these people weren’t even yelling at me, but at some bizarre brain-monster that their own prejudices had conjured up.
They reminded me of the crazy homeless people who walk back and forth down the street all day, screaming at the air. You wish you could do something for them, but they can’t hear or see you, and if you get too close, they’ll just fart at you.
3: I’m Different From You
That’s what I want to tell people who don’t know why I felt it necessary to come out publicly. Being gay doesn’t just mean having a particular bizarre sporadic arbitrary desire to sleep with other men. It means dealing, day in and day out, with what Melinda Selmys calls involuntary currents of homoeroticism. It means, for better or worse, the whole way you relate to other human beings, both men and women, is a little bit different from what people expect.
So it’s not only about what happens in the bedroom, but also in the office, on the street, at the movies, and at the dinner table. It’s a big deal. I don’t mean that every human interaction is secretly, unconsciously, about sex, or even that sex is the most important human interaction. I just mean that if your sexual preferences are different from other people’s, it’s a good indicator that a lot of other things about you are different, too.
4: I’m the Same As You
…And that’s what I want to tell everyone else. When I make some personal revelation to Ryan G.2 about my jealousy, or envy, or loneliness, and he looks at me and says, “Yeah, that’s perfectly normal, I’ve totally been there” — even though he’s straight and I’m gay — this means the WORLD to me. Growing up secretly gay, unable to share the things you feel most deeply with almost anybody — this has the effect of reinforcing, ever more deeply, the idea that you are fundamentally different from everybody around you.
That takes a long time to unlearn. But unlearning it, piece by piece, is where most of my healing has come from. The things I deal with are ordinary human things. Most men have, at one time or another, experienced the discomfort of liking something that Guys Don’t Like, or being more sensitive than is supposed to be appropriate for men, or being jealous or envious of their male friends. All that stuff might be a bigger deal for me than it is for them, but it’s just normal guy stuff.
5: Talking About It
I had a delightful, somewhat beery conversation with a Kung Fu buddy last night, all about religion in general and Catholicism and Buddhism and atheism and agnosticism in particular, and why on earth someone would want to be celibate, and what tolerance actually means.
This is part of why I came out: because I care deeply about these things, and I want to lay all my cards on the table when I talk about them, or at least to have the option. And I want other people to ask the things they have been wondering, without feeling like I’m going to bite their heads off for it.
6: Not Talking About It
On the other hand, when I went to pub trivia with some friends last Tuesday, the subject didn’t come up once. At first I was silently all But doesn’t everyone want to talk about how gay I am?, but that soon gave way to gratitude: for them, it was and would remain a total non-issue, unless it happened to be relevant to the situation, which it wasn’t. That’s exactly the way it should be.
7: What’s Next?
I have no idea. There’s a documentary coming out about the Church’s teaching on homosexuality, and I’m in it, so there’s that. I’m not sure when it’ll hit the youtubes, but I’ll keep you posted. If you’ve emailed or facebooked or anythingelsed me in the last week, I probably haven’t responded yet, unless you clearly weren’t looking for a response. But I will, and if I don’t, I absolutely GUARANTEE that it’s an accident, because of overactive spam filters or accidental deletion or who knows what. If this is you, I’m sorry! Please feel free to be persistent.
Meanwhile, here’s a video of a hillbilly and his raccoon dancing to Aretha Franklin.
1Or anyway, they would have, except that would be SUPER GAY, so I probably just cleared my throat or something. 2The G., of course, stands for “Gooseling”.
I smoked my first cigarette at age 10, in the raspberry bushes across the street with my friend W., who had stolen his father’s pack. We hid the rest under a bush for later, but that night in a fit of penitence I came back and snapped them all in half, then mixed them with sand for good measure. When we met up to smoke some more, I pretended to be as surprised as anybody.
I didn’t smoke again (except cigars, which don’t count) until I was about seventeen. I had been just sort of wanting a cigarette for a while, no particular reason, just wanting to check it out; when lo and behold, I stumbled across an unopened pack in a parking lot, cellophane still on it: Marlboro Ultra-Lights, I’m pretty sure.
These days I’d have to smoke three of those to feel anything (ultra-lights, pshaw!) but back then a few puffs would send me pleasantly reeling; so that summer I’d go for a walk each night, taking the pack (which fairly tingled with verbotenheit) with me. Eventually my mother found the matches in my jacket pocket, made a guess (I probably stank) and confronted me.
So I agreed not to smoke, except I smoked anyway, because here was a positive pleasure in what was already a fairly lonely life. It didn’t really pick up until my 18th birthday, when I quit my heinous summer job as a Kirby salesman and bought the first pack that I didn’t have to beg anybody for. I finally asked my mother to remove her injunction against tobacco, since it wasn’t doing anything but make me feel bad, and she relented.
Smoking became a part of life. After meals, after Mass, after class; and then also before meals, before Mass, before class; after a movie, before a movie. After and before anything at all. Something to look forward to in the morning, something to close out the evening. By senior year I was well past a pack a day.
I marked time with cigarettes, the way we mark time with sleeping. If our bodies didn’t need sleep, we’d still want it, to prevent life from becoming one long blur: we need lines, demarcations. Life without smoking, like life without sleep, was a kind of nightmare.
Most people had only two forms of bodily consumption to enjoy, eating and drinking: I had three, and wasn’t eager to part with any of them.
Some time after college came my first serious efforts at quitting. The most success I had was the three months when I stayed with the order in Peru, when I didn’t smoke a single cigarette…okay, a single one. I managed to separate myself from the group during a trip to the market, bought a half pack, finished my chores early, and smoked behind the chapel like a fifth-grader. Then I had to confess it.
When my stay was done, Padre F. dropped me off at the airport; as his pickup pulled away, I walked to the newsstand — trailing clouds of glory from my three months of prayer, service, poverty, and soul-searching — and bought a pack of Camels.
Last Saturday I sparred after Kung Fu class for the first time in months. I didn’t do badly, and learned a few new tricks, but had to bow out early because I was puffing and blowing too hard to continue. The rest of the class, from fifteen years younger than me to fifteen years older, continued on. I was still riding the rush of a few good matches, but losing my breath — when the rest of my body is healthier than it’s ever been — made me feel frail and a little sad.
As I write this, it’s been 43.5 hours since my last cigarette. The last couple days haven’t been that bad. I am twitchy and achy and feverish and disconnected, but it’s not that bad. My little brother described it pretty well in a sympathetic text message: “For me [quitting] always felt like all the interstitual fluid in my body was becoming mildly acidic.”
And it leaves you wanting…something, something like smoking, something slightly forbidden and mildly painful that makes you feel an immediate difference. Like sticking your finger in an electrical socket; that might be an appropriate substitute.
I know if I start again I’ll just have to quit again. I know, also, that after the physical addiction is gone, the psychological addiction will linger. Meh, like they say, one day at a time. I can’t wait to take on my Sifu without wheezing like an invalid. I think I can feel the difference already.