Tag Archives: self-disclosure

I am trying to answer the question of whether a man can fall in love with another man. Last time, I talked about when I did, in fact, fall in love with S.; which might or might not mean that the answer is exactly “yes”. On to the next part of the story.

Ryan had just invited me to spend the weekend at the beach house his family had rented, which was perfect, because I had just come out to the entire world, and on Facebook no less; and even though I felt tremendously light and happy, I also felt like there was steam coming out of my ears. So a weekend at the beach with a good friend, with no internet or phone service, sounded like just the thing.

Except I was also terrified of the idea. Because the past few months with Ryan were the first time since falling for S. that I had bonded this deeply with another man; and even though I would’ve cut off a finger to stop it from happening again, I could see the warning signs. The jealousy when he’d spend too much time with our other friends; the desire to tell him everything that was going on in my head at all times; the disproportionate pain at the smallest of perceived slights. I knew how this ended.

A couple of days before the trip was supposed to happen, I went to Ryan’s place in a semi-panic, determined to say something but with no clear idea what it would be; but, as so often happens with big decisions, when the time arrived, I found out I had already decided. Over his kitchen table and a glass of Jameson, I told him I had reservations about the trip; and explained that, even though I was really glad we were friends, it wasn’t always easy to be around him; and explained that this was because I was attracted to him.

F★cking hell, what did I just do!

Except it was really easy, and no fissures opened in the earth, and he wasn’t even particularly surprised. “Yeah,” he said, “when you told me you were gay a few months ago, it occurred to me that maybe this could happen. And I asked myself, ‘Am I okay with that? Can I deal with that?’ And I figured, Yeah, I can deal with that.”

And my head exploded, and confetti and gratitude and brains and relief flew everywhere, and the conversation continued.

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.

  • I started the SEAL workout with Ryan Gooseling.

Highly recommended.

  • I got my green sash.

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.

Warning — this post contains crude words and crude humor. It is for grownups, and by grownups I mean “people who are okay with jokes about people’s private parts, and some serious discussion about what those parts do sometimes.”

There, that ought to make sure everybody reads it.

Frank, the group leader this week, interrupts Gordon’s monologue: “I just want to explain that Gordon is attracted to young boys. That’s something he deals with. Is everybody okay with that?”

Are we okay with that? I guess we are. Most of us are just learning how good it is to bring things out into the light. Who are we to ask Gordon to keep his own pain in the dark?

This is the twice-a-month meeting for people in my area who have been through the Journey Into Manhood weekend. For me, it will turn out to be only an aid for the reentry process: soon I’ll start to go only once a month, and soon after that there will be no reason to go at all. But reentry takes longer for those who have been further out into orbit, and I wonder whether some of these men will ever get back to terra firma at all.

Gordon is at the end of his middle years, with a respectable beer belly and more gray than brown in his generous beard. He is talking about loneliness, and we murmur our assent, he talks about a boy he knows, ten years old, about whom he has been having difficult thoughts. “A beautiful boy,” he says. He closes his eyes when he says beautiful.

This is the first time I have ever met anybody whom I know to be afflicted with pedophilia. I do not hear lechery in his voice or see it on his face — I mean, he’s not discussing this boy the way a frat boy would drool over a cheerleader. He longs for this boy the way I have longed for the men I’ve longed for, which is to say, not primarily sexually, but sexually only as a side effect.1

For some reason, this is a surprise to me. Pedophiles are supposed to belong to the same category as serial killers: people so far outside the circle of ordinary humanity that they see human beings as collections of body parts. They are not supposed to be filled with very human, very recognizable tenderness. The look on a pedophile’s face is not supposed to have anything in common with the look on the face of a doting father.

They are supposed to be pedophiles because they are monsters, not because they are human.

But we are human beings, and we are all full of knots. Nothing is where it is supposed to be.

I wonder whether sexual longing is ever anything but a side effect. When I say “sexual longing”, I don’t mean the whole complicated edifice of eros, I just mean the sex part: the wanting to Put Your Thing In Their Place.

A straight friend told me once that, if an woman at a party motions him off to the side, makes it clear that she wants to talk to him one-on-one, he’ll get an erection. That’s not because he wants to have sex with her then and there. This is how I parse the situation:

 

The Soul Speaks

She wants to talk to me.
SHE wants to talk to ME.

There is a she and a me
and she is not interested in just Being Here With Us
but in Being Here With Me.

She has noticed me, she is aware of me.
I have registered in the eyes of another; I exist.

I exist and I am good,
because I am good in the eyes of the one
who is good in my eyes.

 ***

The Dick Speaks

WHAT? IS IT SEXYTIMES?

 

I don’t know how it is for women, but for men, or, all right, for me and a lot of the men I know, our dicks are dowsing rods, or geiger counters: they register the presence of intimacy in the immediate vicinity, and react indiscriminately. Whether sexytimes are imminent or not, consciously desired or not, possible or not, permissible or not, the physical reaction is the same.

More to the point, sometimes it happens whether the intimacy in question is sexual or not.

The penis is, in other words, an exceedingly crude instrument. Which is why — in the case of homosexuality, pedophilia, or any other deviation from the sexual norm — it’s not surprising that the instrument should sometimes be badly miscalibrated. It’s badly miscalibrated even in the case of “ordinary” men, which is to say, men whose sexuality is fractured only in the more common ways.

I’ll leave you with the exchange that started this train of thought. It was a series of late-night texts from a gay Catholic friend,2 who somehow found himself marooned in a gay bar at midnight on the eve of all Saints':

I just want someone to touch me and want me to be there with them.

I know.

I just want to be held. That longing burns, like fire, from the waist to the collarbone.

My friend, I know.

1 I’m not interested in normalizing pedophilia, since pedophilia is not normal; just like I’m not interested in normalizing homosexuality, since homosexuality is not normal. The two aren’t equivalent, though I wouldn’t presume to say which of the two is the greater perversion. They do, however, have these things in common: that they involve sexuality, and that they are manifestly disordered.
2 To be clear, the texts in question were cris de coeur, not booty calls, and in any case he is hundreds of miles away. Also, I naturally asked his permission before including them here. I don’t usually mine my conversations this hard, but a good phrase is a good phrase, no? Thanks, hermano mio.

Happy National Coming Out Day! I guess that’s a thing. Apropos of that, Boy, it’s a good thing having an awkward moment at a get-together doesn’t send me into a spiral of self-loathing and despair anymore.

No joke, that used to happen. I’d flub a handshake1

or tell an unfunny joke or be the wrong kind of geeky when everybody else was being the right kind of cool, and I’d hear in the resultant silence the death-knoll of any hope I’d ever had of unweird, unawkward, uncreepy social intercourse, and it’d be back to the closet for me.

I don’t mean the closet where gay people are secretly gay, just the closet where sad people are secretly sad and lonely people are secretly lonely and nobody else ever comes inside, where pain and the shame of being in pain reinforce each other in an endless feedback loop.

But, like I say, I’m glad that doesn’t happen any more. It’s not that I’m not awkward anymore. It’s just that I don’t care when I am. Q.v. this episode out on the smoking porch at a get-together recently.

P: So what do you do?
JP: Well, I’m a web developer, and then I do some freelance writing.
P: Oh, what kind of writing?
JP: Oh, I blog a bit, and try to send my stuff wherever I can.
P: Neat, what’s the blog about?
JP: It’s, er, about faith and sexuality and mental health.
P: Cool, I’m interested in those things too! What’s it called?
JP: Uh, “Catholic, Gay, and Feeling Fine”.
P: Sorry, Catholic what?
JP: [Striving to speak clearly without sounding overemphatic] Catholic, GAY, and Feeling Fine.
P: Oh! Mm-hm! [Nodding.]
CRICKETS: Oh, ho de hum, ho de hum.
OTHERS: [Furtive glances]
P: So, this is nice! Nice party!

To which my internal response up might have been: “Oh gosh. Was I giving too much away too soon? Why did I even bring that up? Did I want him to ask what the blog was called? Wait, but would it be okay if I had wanted that? Am I some kind of exhibitionist? Am I turning into one of those people who can’t shut up about being gay, gay, gay? GAAAHHH I better reevaluate the way I interact with other humans,” etc., etc.

But, yeah, anyway, it wasn’t. I honestly don’t know if I was trying to bring up my homosexuality, but if I was, everybody’s a little narcissistic sometimes, and it’s not that big a deal. I should be allowed to mention my blog’s title in conversation with friends. I’m not trying to push an agenda. I’m just talking.

And I know P. wasn’t trying to make me feel awkward. It’s just that somebody scraped a chair right when I said “gay”, plus most people’s ears aren’t used to hearing the word “gay” in a sincere context, plus it’s not something you want to accidentally mis-hear, so it pays to be sure. And, afterwards, the silence wasn’t because people were annoyed with me for bringing it up. They just didn’t know what was okay to say and what wasn’t.

When I told Ryan G. I was gay, it was in the relatively early days of our friendship, and I sort of slipped it in by mentioning that my blog was about being Catholic and dealing with same-sex attraction. There was a silence, and then he asked, “So, um, but do you mean YOU or other people?” So of course I clarified, and silently blessed him for being willing to make up for my circumlocution with a direct question, even if it made him feel awkward. I was indirect, because I was kind of scared; he was direct, because he is kind of generous.

Everybody’s full of good intentions, but nobody’s sure what the rules are yet for talking about this, and that’s not anybody’s fault. Are you supposed to ask questions, or is asking questions rude? Are you supposed to congratulate, or commiserate? Should you start making oral sex jokes and gestures for no reason?2

I don’t have definitive answers for most of those questions, but in general I appreciate openness and assume you’re benevolent unless you make it a point to prove me wrong. Mainly I just want to live in a society where gayness is something that people are allowed to mention in passing, without it being A Thing. I want that to happen.

Sometimes the best way to make something happen is to pretend that it already has, and let the rest take care of itself.

1 More gold here, Additionally, Gweenbrick, my new favorite neurotic blogger genius superhero, bemoans these moments here:
Even some of the hipper Special Needs students that I work with lapse into disillusionment when I flub yet another half hug to folded fingers switch grip slide and snap on the dismount that they greet me with.

Oh, and now I perceive that I accidentally stole the word “flub” from him.

2 This is, to date, the most offensive way anybody has ever responded to my revelation, and it’s the only time somebody’s response has actually made me angry. So, don’t do that.

…to publicly disclose your homosexuality, if that is what you want to do:

If you ask me to live a life where, in casual conversation with friends, I never make reference to anything that has to do with my sexuality, then you’re asking me to live a life that is very much different from the lives of 99% of the population.

Which is to say, most people don’t talk about their sexuality nonstop, and if they do, there’s something wrong with them. But most people don’t have to take GREAT CARE to NEVER mention anything that has to do with their sexuality — and if they do, there’s something wrong. Not necessarily something wrong with them, but maybe something wrong with the society who made them feel that they had to live that way.

Straight people don’t keep discussions of their sexuality between them and their therapists and spiritual directors, because their sexuality is not shameful. So I shouldn’t have to, either, because mine isn’t, either.

So, to the (relatively very small contingent of) people who are put off by my public declaration: given the fact that gay people already have to live lives that are different from the vast majority of the population, do you really want to burden us further by stipulating that we never ever mention those bits of our lives that are different?

So, no, I don’t plan to talk about this all the time. I just love (O how I love!) being able to do so, if I feel like it, without it being a Big Thing, and without it requiring mounds of explanation first.

Happy Sunday.

J. and I have been driving for four hours or so, with C. asleep in the back seat. Even though the setup is perfect, we haven’t had a single DMC1 yet, just a stream of banter as we find the places where our senses of humor fit together. Is something wrong, or is this good? Is this how friends are?

There are some things you can ruin just by thinking about them too hard. All we have to do for friendship, maybe, is to put in motion the heavenly mechanism that already exists in us; when we scheme, when we calculate, we ruin all.

With J. it wasn’t like that. I didn’t pursue him or suck up to him or emulate him or seek him out or employ any of the hundred tricks I had so often used to Make Friendship Happen. I just did what I did, and found that he and I had unexpectedly fallen into step. The greatest blessings are the ones we don’t expect.

There in the car, I had the impulse to bring up something heavy, something personal. It was a manipulative instinct: if I could get him talking about something that he wouldn’t talk to just anyone about, it would be another confirmation (I always wanted more!) that we were Really Friends. A forced bond is better than no bond at all, and if you bond with somebody, that makes it less likely that they’ll leave you behind.

But I decided not to manipulate. It was pure grace, or a nudge from my long-suffering angel, that made me remember something Father T had just told me about patience.

Patience means not only being willing to wait for the end of something, but staying alongside it the whole time: not just waiting for the fruit of the tree, but watching as it grows, loving the dirt and the sap and the rain, rejoicing in the bud and the blossom as well as the apple; not only because they are necessary precursors, but because they too are ends, are good.

And I remembered how, in dirty church basements, I and the other support-groupers would tell each other all our old shames and fears, wring ourselves dry, try to get it all out in an effort to know and be known, understand and be understood. How it helped, and how it missed the point.

It’s a great blessing to find that you can speak the unspeakable and not be reviled. But only time makes friends out of strangers; and at the end of the night, or the month, or the year, we hardly knew each other any better than at the start.

You’d think our secrets would make us most ourselves, but they turn out to be the same as everybody else’s. Everyone hurts in the same ways, everyone debases themselves in the same squalid rituals that every priest has heard and absolved and forgotten ten million times.

What we really own, and what makes us delight in our friends, are those sparks of self that dance along our surfaces: the unrepeatable gesture, the characteristic chortle, the way that only he will react to something that only you would think of saying.

It takes time. I settle back, grin, and belt out the chorus to the Zeppelin song on the radio. We grow so slowly! But patience is another kind of joy.

“Oh, stop crying already.” It’s twenty years ago, but I remember the exact tone of my father’s voice, equal parts impatience and disgust. To me, crying is something that happens, not something I can decide to do or not do, so his command makes me burn with all the anger of which a nine-year-old is capable, which is a frightening amount. But there’s nobody I can tell about any of this.

It’s eighteen years ago. I am auditioning for a play that our church group is putting on. The woman in charge has me read a line or two in front of everyone. I’m profoundly self-conscious, but I do it anyway. She takes me aside later and asks if I’m okay. Even though she’s someone I know and like and trust, I can’t say something as simple as That was really hard for me, because as soon as I open my mouth, I feel the danger of tears — not just a trickle but an explosion. So I say, Yeah, it’s nothing.

When she goes away, I wonder for the first time: why is it that whenever I try to tell someone what’s wrong, the tears dam up in my head until it’s a choice between silence and total breakdown — even when it’s something small? What’s wrong with me?

It’s thirteen years ago, my first year of college. I’m standing alone in my dorm room and facing for the hundredth time the feeling of separateness: I don’t fit in here, don’t fit in anywhere, and it’s somehow all my fault. By now I should have learned the rules, but it’s too late to start.

I start to cry, and then, disgusted and impatient, I yell at myself: Stop it. Stop crying. I slap myself in the face two or three times, because sometimes that helps me stop. Soon I stop.

It’s nine years ago, my last year of college. I’m in Sal’s room, confessing to him how alone I am, how separate, what a fake and a poser and a general failure at being anything that anyone would recognize as a human being.

I hate the way my voice is starting to shake, I hate that the tears are coming. I must sound so pathetic. I can’t stand for him to watch me anymore, so I get up and run out. I catch a glimpse of his face, but I can’t look for too long. Nobody should see this.

It’s five years ago. I’ve gotten together the necessary money and resolve, and I find myself at a campground in rural Virginia, participating in the 27th Journey Into Manhood weekend — still in disbelief that I’ve subjected myself to such manifest kookery, still wildly expectant, still wondering how I’m going to explain this one to my friends.

I watch other men scream and howl, weep and claw at the ground, come face to face with the things they never let themselves feel before. When it’s my turn, I do it too.

The weekend is over, and I feel as empty and fresh as a new wineskin. For the next few weeks I keep bursting into tears at unpredictable moments. I don’t mind. It feels good to cry; it feels clean.

It’s nine months ago. I am on the porch, spilling my guts to my roommate S.: how living here with him and C. was supposed to was supposed to be my chance to finally be normal, and how it all went wrong instead. How I’ve got to move out because I can’t control my fears, my feelings of exclusion, my jealousy. I apologize for my tears, which are flowing freely now.

He looks at me and says, Hey, come on. It’s me.

So I blow my nose and we keep talking. Soon I’m feeling at peace, like the reservoir is drained, no more pressure left behind the dam. He gives me a hug and, because by this time it’s past two, I let the poor bastard get some sleep.

It’s three days ago. I am sitting around the kitchen table with two good friends. We’re drinking cheap beer and leftover wine. We all have to get up in the morning, but nobody feels like leaving.

It’s hard to believe how easy it is to talk with them, how much we have in common, even if the specifics differ. I tell them how it used to be for me; how it still is for so many men I know; how I would have once given anything for a night like this; how grateful I still am that such nights are not only possible now, but practically commonplace.

At one point I notice that I’m crying, but that’s okay — that is what people do when they are very happy or very sad.

Next moment we are all laughing again.

Back when I was in college and as crazy as a bedbug — a bedbug on a steady diet of caffeine, nicotine, and Nietzsche — I decided I was the phoniest bastard in the history of the universe and I wasn’t going to stand it anymore.

I lie constantly, I told myself, and not only in words: I lie with my face, my tone of voice, my gestures, and even the way I walk. That raised eyebrow? It was calculated to make you think I’m sophisticated. The way I laughed? Designed to make you think I’m boisterous and cynical.

So to remedy the situation I wrote down on my fingers — one per finger — all the ways I could think of that I lied. That way, every time I saw my hands, I would be reminded to CUT IT OUT.

Please, you don’t need to tell me how insane this is. You have to understand, I was doing the best I could, 19 years old and so full of neurosis you could probably see it swirling around when you looked in my eyes.

My friend M. saw my fingers all marked after dinner and asked what that was all about. “It’s to remind me of all the ways I lie,” I said, solemnly, careful to hold my eyebrows still, keep my voice flat, and not move my mouth in an insincere way. “Oh my God,” she muttered, amazed and disgusted. I brushed her off (she didn’t understand) and went off to wander back to the dorm, practicing authenticity with every step.

It is not hard to understand why, during this time, I found social contact even more difficult than usual. It was a beautiful double bind I had put myself in: I was desperate to fit in, but fitting in seemed to require consciously adapting things that were foreign to me — or that most foreign, artificial thing of all, the thing all the Normals recommended, called Being Yourself.

Looking back, I get to laugh, maybe shudder a little at how close I might have come to actual psychosis, and thank God I’m not there anymore. I don’t remember how long it took me to give up the project. I do remember the feeling of my own limbs and facial muscles settling around me like lead, the strange mummy-like feeling of trying to control every inch of my body every minute.

I thought that if I just cut off all the artificial parts, the Real Me (which must be buried underneath) would emerge. I was trying to cast off every mask, but the more I held still to let my own face surface, the less it felt like I had a face at all.

There was no eureka moment when I realized what I had got wrong, but I was thinking about all this yesterday on the way home from work, probably because I’m hosting a poker game tonight. I know how I’ll be at the game: probably drink and swear a little more than usual, probably act a little more arrogant than I feel, probably use some turns of phrase that aren’t strictly natural to me.

But I won’t feel bad about it. Because I’ve discovered that this is how it is with people, maybe especially men. This is how we work. A stag party has as rigorous a code of etiquette as a black tie dinner. The rules aren’t written down anywhere, but they function the same way etiquette always functions: they provide a field in which to speak, to interact, to dance the intricate dance of human contact.1

A field, actually, in which relationship is possible. If etiquette is a mask, it is a mask that allows us to reveal our truest selves — but prudently, slowly, a little bit at a time, in a human way. How many people do you know who sit around the dinner table and reveal deep truths about their souls? Do you really want to live inside a Russian novel all the time — or is a little small talk okay now and then?

Buckle down, I’d tell my 19-year-old self, and learn the rules. Swallow your pride, forget yourself a little, and play the game. You want radical honesty and authenticity? Then walk around naked. Or you could just choose an outfit that expresses who you want to be, not who you are — we don’t find ourselves, Fr. T once told me, we build ourselves — and wait until the man grows to fit the clothes.

It might happen sooner than you think.

1 Not that I’d say these things to my poker buddies, or anyway not in the middle of a game. F★ck no. Who’s big blind?

“You’re gonna have to call in a prescription for more adderal,” says an instant message from my friend S. “My head is all fuzzy.”

Oops, that wasn’t for me. S. hastily explains that he was trying to chat his wife, but got the wrong window. He’s been diagnosed with ADHD for ages, he says, and the last couple of weeks has been trying to cope with it without the meds, but it’s not working. “No worries,” I chat back. “I used to be very anti-meds until fluoxetine1 pretty much saved my life.” One revelation deserves another.

Earlier today I was thinking about my friendship with S., which is one of those rare (for me) friendships that just happens, born of little besides cigarettes and Radiohead. We couldn’t be more opposite in a lot of ways — he keeps posting facebook rants about, for example, the bigotry of that Chick-Fil-A guy, and how super-duper Obama is — but for some reason he’s easy to be with, and our disagreements sometimes make for good conversation. I congratulate myself on how much he would have intimidated me if I had met him five or ten years ago, with his tattoo-covered forearms, athlete’s crew-cut, and penchant for casual swearing.

His ADHD doesn’t surprise me, any more than my depression surprises him. It’s almost a plus, in my book. Not because chemical imbalances make people deeper somehow, but maybe the other way around: it does seem to be true that the more wires you have, the more likely it is that some of them will get crossed, short-circuited. I get along well with people who have lots of wires, especially if the wires are in disarray.

My brain mystifies me. One of the unexpected side effects of Prozac: I don’t seem to mind spiders any more. What kind of sense does that make? I’ve never been terrified of them, but they’ve always made me feel creepy. Now I look at them and see something intricate and well-conceived, like a clever piece of clockwork. Did I hate them because they reminded me of my own creeping, spidery thoughts, the ones that used to sneak up on me from between the folds of some innocent reflection? Did the Prozac fill in some crack in my brain, some microfissure where evil thoughts (whether of spiders or of self-loathing) used to be able to find purchase?

No idea, none. As I drive home from work today, I think of a passage I just read in Sheed where he discusses the differing states of the Blessed: how, in Heaven, we’ll all be as happy as we can be, we’ll all be full to capacity; but that our capacities will differ depending on how much our hearts were stretched, enlarged, by our time on earth. The difference, he says, matters more than we can imagine now. Yet we’ll all be perfectly happy.

I briefly wonder whether the meds have stunted my growth somehow, and whether this era’s tendency to over-medicate is producing a generation of moral dwarfs. The man who couldn’t stand to see the butterfly struggle, and slit open the cocoon to give the insect an easier time crawling out, stole the butterfly’s chance to be strengthened through struggle. Have I given up my chance at being strengthened?

Oh, maybe, maybe. I don’t care very much, because I’m strong already, and getting stronger. So I tell these thoughts to be quiet, and miraculously, they do — it’s a new ability of mine, almost a superpower, this ability to shut down a train of thought when it’s heading for a cliff. Besides, my life isn’t without struggle.

And I remind myself for the hundredth time that most people aren’t sane because they’ve managed to overcome an army of invisible demons. They’re sane because they never had to.

1 I’m okay with the idea of meds now, but maybe not quite okay enough to be able to type “Prozac” without a little embarrassment.

Once on a bus trip I met a recovering alcoholic named Hank. I knew he was a recovering alcoholic because that was practically the first thing he said.

I didn’t know whether to be fascinated by this kind of haphazard self-disclosure, or put off by it. I recorded the incident in my journal; I was about twenty-one and in the middle of a very romantically-conceived bus-and-train trip around the country, and I filled my journal with what I considered to be brilliant, penetrating, and above all poignant observations about my experiences and my fellow travellers.

Hank struck me at the time as very humble; you would have to be humble, wouldn’t you, to go around telling your wounds and weaknesses to some guy you just met on a bus? It was certainly the last thing I would have ever done, concerned as I was with keeping my armor in place at all times, managing my image obsessively; something I still struggle with.

He seemed different from most people: his journey out of alcoholism defined him the way some people seem defined by their conversion stories, maybe even the way the Jews were defined by being liberated from slavery in Egypt.

And well it might define him. I’m not and never have been an alcoholic (if I’m down, booze makes me too weepy to be anything resembling an escape), but I’ve always identified with them: the self-destructive patterns, the feeling of entrapment, the knowledge of your own condition combined with an utter helpnessness to drag yourself out of it.

It is a strange way to look at yourself: always seeing the good thing that you are in terms of the bad thing that you used to be. It reminds me of THE ONLY GOOD passage in a TERRIBLE, NOT RECOMMENDED novel by Chuck Palahniuk, when a recovering sex addict says something like: “My life has to be about something besides not jerking off.”

Of course there is something like this in Christian tradition — aren’t the Psalmists constantly praising God for having pulled them out of this or that pit? Hank kept saying how blessed he was to be out, but I wondered if this was what it looks like to be out of something: if you’re out of it, do you still talk about it all the time? The first part is being freed from something; the second part is being freed to do, or to be, something else.

I once said something imprudent and uncharitable to my friend A., who made a habit of exposing the darkest corners of his soul on LiveJournal.1 It was awful stuff, full of false grandeur and barely-masked self-pity. I didn’t think it was worthy of him, so I posted on his page this poem2 by Cavafy:

As Much As You Can

And if you cannot make your life as you want it,
at least try this
as much as you can: do not disgrace it
in the crowding contact with the world,
in the many movements and all the talk.

Do not disgrace it by taking it,
dragging it around often and exposing it
to the daily folly
of relationship and associations,
till it becomes like an alien, burdensome life.

I love that phrase: “an alien, burdensome life.” Think too much about your life, talk too much about it, and it becomes a dead weight, something to be dragged around.

But just because something is true doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to say it to your friend. Seven or eight years later, I still remember his exact reply, because of how it stung:3 “What am I to think of a friend who says to me, ‘Stop, this is too much of you’?”

I’m thinking of all this because of the way, for my three or four months of turmoil,4 I buttonholed anyone and everyone who might listen and might help, and spilled out my grief, as much of it as I could dredge up. It was the only way I knew to try to get rid of it. It was okay, I don’t mind, I’m glad I did it, it helped. If my friends wearied of my moaning, they didn’t show it, and if for a short while I turned into an emotional black hole, they don’t seem to hold it against me now. But now that that time is more or less over, I’ve got to be sure I break the habit.

It’s okay to be the center of everyone’s attention when you’re sick, but when you’re on the mend, it’s business as usual. You don’t go on laying on the couch and waiting for people to bring you chicken broth.

1 You can tell this happened a longish time ago, because, LiveJournal??
2 I know this poem because of my father, who once gave me Cavafy’s collected works and said with some kind of half-glint in his eye, “This my favorite homosexual poet.”
3 And because, even when it’s barbed and directed at me, I can’t help appreciating a phrase as well-turned as this one.
4 those months / Of now done darkness I wretch lay wrestling with (my God!) my God.