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It Takes a Village, Part 1

23 Jun

Why do we stop being raised after we grow older? If it takes a village to raise a child, then who raises the twentysomethings like me who wander through life—not exactly aimlessly—without a clear guide map through young adulthood’s piney forest? If it takes a village to raise a child, then it takes a family, a campus, and a city to raise a twentysomething. We, Lord of the Flies—style, have to fend for ourselves and raise each other. And we people of the concrete jungle know that our island can be just as rough as the one in Lord of the Flies, because rather than a group of gangly boys, we’re dealing with eight million people who would put our head on a pike to get ahead of us personally, professionally, and romantically.

I think a lot of us in our lives try to paint by the numbers. We see how others have succeeded, and try to follow along within the lines other people have outlined. Putting personal flare into our lives is a topic that I have previously advocated in my blog, but it was advice that I didn’t take myself until a friend of mine swooped in and caused me to color outside the lines.

Patrick is a friend of mine through a long line of connections. He goes to Fordham at Rose Hill, and I met him because he dated one of my best friend’s roommates. With such a tenuous link between us, it seems weird that he was still in my life at all, but we have kept in contact through this time. Last Friday, he called me up because he was in the city, and he took me to lunch at Empanada Mama where I mislead him as to the size of the empanadas. I could’ve sworn they were bigger. But what they lacked in girth, they made up for in flavor.

The date went really well. It wasn’t a romantic date, and neither of us have any interest in each other (unless Patrick is one to conceal his passions, and from his out-there, expressive demeanor, I doubt it) but it was the best date I had so far. Patrick had a lot of great advice, and it was really great to work through some of my problems with someone one-on-one. Whereas most dates cause anxiety, this one worked as a kind of relieving therapy session, only a booth replaced the couch, and the office was Hell’s Kitchen.

I had become discouraged because, while I have seen and felt my body respond well to the diet and exercise, I felt as if I was failing in my mission. Patrick, though petite and healthy, is on a personal journey to lose weight, even if I believe he doesn’t need it. It’s always part of the plight of the fat person to believe that every skinnier person should be happy with his or her body. However, we may have a bigger blind side to the problems of pretty, skinny people than skinny people do to those of us who are an extra pizza slice away from visiting the tailor to have our pants let out. He advised me to not always worry about the numbers, and that if I felt myself shrinking, it was best to follow what my mind was thinking, and if I liked the way I looked in the mirror, then I shouldn’t ache to bring a scale into my circle of friends. Whereas friends can give subjective, personal advice, scales cannot.

It Takes a Village to Raise a Child, It Takes a Bulldozer to Raze the Concrete Jungle

As I related in my previous blog, I recently began speaking with my ex-boyfriend. Though he hurt me in the past, much like Patrick felt obligated to help me where he had experience, I feel an obligation to him to help him through experiences I share with him. He has been having problems with his boyfriend, and when he called me to talk to me about it, I heard a lot of the same things I said last summer after we broke up coming out of his mouth. Even though I knew how to deal with them, I remember how hard it was for me to take advice last summer, even from friends of mine who knew how I felt. When someone is going through a break-up, it’s especially hard, because the person is expected to transition to the single life while simultaneously going through a period of trauma. Transition is hard enough without having to do it in a distraught personal state. If being broken up taught me anything, it’s that you need other people to get through it, because going cold turkey doesn’t work when it comes to break-ups. Breaking up is a team sport, and your friends are the star players. However, my ex-boyfriend finds himself right out of college, most of his friends have moved back home, and he now has no boyfriend, which is why I have come in to help him through this period.

I got the job as the intern for the About.com GayLife blog. During the interview, my boss talked a lot about how he believes that journalism is an important platform for social change. The blogosphere is a place where people can feel community without being within physical proximity of each other. If you can relay important news to a lot of people, and force people to think about important issues, then you can change the way their brains think and their hearts beat. It’s very powerful. With this blog, my writing is a force for personal change. However, there is still a community. Knowing that I have readers who are coming along with me on this journey is important to me, because you are an unseen motivation, the unsung heroes behind the biking, the dieting, the reading, and the writing. It still takes a village, but at this age, it’s a village of equals who stand to learn from each other. We are often blind alone, only able to see peripherally, or not able to see past the end of our nose. But together, we navigate the concrete jungle in search of love, financial success, and friendship, and along the way, a little bit of not-by-the-numbers fun.

Pressure Cooker

17 Jun

College students often feel driven by pressure. And I’m not talking about the “Will I smoke the marijuana?” type pressure. I’m talking about sweat-down-the-back, eyelids-falling-down, instant-rice-cooking-in-the-microwave pressure. So many sayings about pressure exist in college life. The pressure can be “on,” we can “feel” the pressure, and some of us feel like we’re constantly “under” it. It’s hard to believe that pressure has such an overwhelming effect on us, especially when it has no corporeal form. Therefore, in order to affect us, pressure has to manifest itself in concrete obstacles. These obstacles are imbued with frustration, deadlines, anxieties, and challenges.

There is no pressure in dating. The word “dating” seems stressful, sure, but that’s not because it is inherently so. It’s because we think about coming up with topics of conversation, sustaining witty repartee, and deflecting any moments of blasé into oblivion. But, this week, I was faced with a different kind of pressure from dating. Even though a blog is a very public thing, I consider it very private, and I don’t let everyone know about it. I know that I post updates on Facebook and Twitter, and that is super public, but at the same time, I don’t openly tell people about it all the time, especially people I want to potentially date. I don’t want people to think they’re just another notch in my twenty-date belt, and I also don’t want someone knowing all my inner thoughts and insecurities right away. Two of the most useful aims of the dating process are discovering someone’s inner thoughts, and breaking down the wall of confidence and secrecy people put up in the beginning. Reading someone’s blog is the instant-satisfaction, drive-thru version of waiting for a home cooked meal.

I had a date on Monday. We met outside a Barnes and Noble, and proceeded to get coffee upstairs and chat. He’s a great person. He’s hilarious, coolly laid-back enough, and understands things that are important to me. He knew about my blog. He had referenced it once in conversation. And, at the end of the date, he said, “I hope I get a good write up.” I even consider this entry a bit of a swan dive for the relationship (hopefully not the friendship,) but as my father described, so is the life of the writer. If I lie, and write down something that pleases everyone, then the writing loses its truth, and if the writing loses its truth, then I’m doing a disservice to myself and my writing. Out of nowhere, I felt this kind of pressure on me. Do I stay true to myself and my blog, or try to nurture this egg of a friendship along? I don’t want to say I didn’t choose the relationship, but I chose myself, and that’s saying a lot. In the past, I haven’t always been my number one priority.

We walked around downtown, all the way up to midtown. We had great conversation, but I could feel a feeling of disconnect coming from both sides. Maybe it’s because he felt pressured to perform well, so he could earn a good “review,” and maybe I felt pressured to show that I was in it for more than the story. Either way, the blog was haunting me with every step. My blog is all about writing and feeling true to myself, but with it weighing over my head, I felt like it was pressuring me to act differently. But, if I take what I just said into account, it couldn’t have been.  An internet blog is not manifest, it’s just ones and zeros. That’s how I knew I was cherry-picking chimeras out of the air. Any pressure I put, undue as it is, comes from me and me alone.

Keeping the Pressure Down is Every Housewife's Best Friend

I cooked a meal today for my family. It was elaborate, and having to make everything come together perfectly was like orchestrating a symphony. Every flavor had to add to the meal just right, and slight changes in the recipes, and injecting a bit of my own personality into the given recipes was a big part of the success. I never feel any pressure when I cook, because it relaxes me. I know that if I follow the guide, and give a little personal flare, I should have a beautiful finished product. Any mistakes, any deviations from the plan, should not be given more weight than they deserve. It’s called “trial-and-error.” The potatoes, sitting on the counter, the pork chops in the fridge, they don’t have any inherent stress. Any stress people have about cooking doesn’t come up from the proteins in the meat, but are cherry picked from the air, where they nest and take root in our brain. Maybe dating is like that. We all know the road map to dating, even if we sometimes feel like we’re cooking without a recipe, or feeling our way around a city without a map. But, injecting our personal flare into things can take a lot of edge off of things. I didn’t just try to mimic the recipe, and hope for the best, I changed it to suit my tastes, needs, and wants. Dating is one of the most impersonal things around, because we change ourselves so much in the process. With cooking, I learned that the pressure is off as long as you stay true to what you want, and guide the ingredients along the path to success. Now, just let it simmer, and enjoy.

Leaving the Body

1 Jun

Today,  I saw two friends walk into the gym together and begin working out. One was clearly fit, a small mousey man with spiked hair, and the other was a bearded man with glasses, who was, frankly, the more attractive one. The man with glasses, who was of average weight, was being trained by the mousey man as to the correct way to do pushups, pull-ups, and sit-ups. While on his pushups, the man in red almost stopped until Mega Mouse told him “Pain is weakness leaving the body.” What kind of messed up mantra is that? Do pain and weakness have a hot and cold relationship where the presence of one (cold) is merely the absence of another? Does one have to endure pain simply to live a life free from weakness?

I’m not saying that some pain isn’t necessary in order to push through certain parts of our lives. While I was with my Global Outreach trip in Nicaragua, my leader said that “Crying is our body healing,” meaning that our body uses crying as a way to heal itself—to grow stronger. If crying and pain are ways to toughen up, then pain is necessary to all humans for improvement.

I felt some pains today. I went working out as usual today, and I realized I’m able to bike longer and faster everyday, which is making me feel much better. If I’m feeling less and less pain, does that mean I’m toughening up? Though I may be toughening up in my workout, psychologically, I’m still weak. Food-wise, temptation is everywhere. Today, I had a program for the entire building, and I shouldn’t have eaten anything, but I had chicken alfredo, hummus, and a cupcake. I felt guilty, because I really shouldn’t have eaten it, especially after I had such a good day food-wise. I had eggs and turkey bacon for breakfast, nuts and berries for snacks throughout the day, chicken salad on whole wheat for lunch, and then whole-wheat pasta with turkey meat for dinner. Then I had to go mess it up all at the end. If temptation is everywhere, and I’m weak to it, how do I toughen up? Does the pain come from the guilt I feel after eating the cupcake or the jealousy I feel that everyone else gets to enjoy the food? Will the weakness of temptation ever truly leave my body?

Sometimes, I think I’m a hypocrite. One of my main criticisms of the gay community, especially the New York City gay community, is their inability to welcome those of us with meat on our bones. Though part of my weight loss goals is to be healthy, I can’t deny that part of it is to fit into a community which I feel has huge problems. However, I truly believe that someone can’t change a system if they don’t work within it. So, if I am ever part of the healthy, skinny gay community, I won’t hesitate to be an advocate for those chubs like me who, though skinny may never be a word that describes us, attractive may not be far away. Though it will take a lot of pain to change my body, and if weakness takes an exit cue along with my gut, then maybe what will be left will be someone who has the strength to stick up for others like me, the ones who literally and figuratively don’t always seem to fit in.

Pregnant Pauses

28 May

What makes a pregnant pause? For those of you who don’t know what a pregnant pause is, it’s a technique where entertainers pause to build suspense, to leave you hanging on whatever next passes from your lips. Comedians best know the pregnant pause as the dead air before the punch line, while dramatists know the pregnant pause because it usually precedes a confession, or some plot-altering development. Pregnant pauses, either way, are moments infused with possibility. The people in the audience, breath subdued, wait for the conclusion of the phrase, because we want an emotional release just as much as the entertainer. Like expectant fathers, the audience waits to see what will come of the pregnant pause—a bouncy baby comedic thrill, or a quiet, contained dramatic confession.

Bloggers don't worry about stretch marks.

I find that keeping a blog is a lot like living a life full of pregnant pauses. Every moment ideas swarm around me like houseflies, and I try to catch them and keep them long enough for me to write them down. Every day is full of new possibilities for me. Every blog, every book presents new ways for me to express my thoughts. After posting this entry, I don’t know if my next entry will be about weight loss, my first summer date, or about the next book I’ve read. Each entry has the possibility to be a triumphant declaration, and the possibility for solemn reflection. The people and the events in my life hold within them the power for inspiration and analysis, a potent energy that is unique and refreshing.

Take for instance the dinner I tried to make two days ago. I tried to make brown rice and beans, and for flavor, I added avocado and turkey bacon. The rice and beans kicked my ass, the stove was spotted with black bean juice, and the rice ended up thick, and best resembled brick-squished mortar. I ate my experiment quickly, and dumped the rest out. I had to sit there waiting for the beans and rice to cook for about 45 minutes, and there were two distinct possibilities:  this meal can succeed, or this meal can fail. After it failed, I had two distinct ways I could present this:  a fun foray into the world of cooking, or a failed experiment that persuaded to put down the wooden spoon.

Every event I attend, every book I read, and every day that passes has something to offer me. You could say that I’m constantly pregnant, if that didn’t have a creepy connotation to it. And every time I give birth to a personal essay to share with the world, ideas are ready to impregnate me again. This constant state of pregnancy is, like normal pregnancy, a basic human want to share a part of me with the world, and to ask that my ideas, thoughts, and values live on in a way that is more permanent than myself (which seems odd since this blog is nothing but one’s and zero’s.)

"If I Loved You, I Would Tell You This" by Robin Black

I’ve nearly finished my second book, entitled If I Loved You, I Would Tell You This by Robin Black. I picked this book next because it was completely different in tone from my first. It is a collection of short stories, it was written in this past decade, and published in the past year. The characters, like Charity Royall , are due for awakenings, but theirs come at varied stages of life—grade school childhood, old age singledom, and mid-life malaise. I originally picked up this book, because I wanted to read a record of what is being published in the short story market at the time, because I write short stories myself. The book also had a gorgeous cover. The maxim “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” is immutably true in every area of life except when choosing a book. Walking into Barnes and Noble these days is like walking into an art museum, except I can afford the merchandise covering the walls. Though it was beautifully covered, and the writing itself is admirable, precise, and evocative, I felt that the book left me a little flat. I believe that short stories, in a way, work off the notion of the pregnant pause. There is a moment in the story when the suspense builds, and we wait for a moment of grotesque action that leads us to an epiphany. For the record, both comedy and drama work off of the notion of epiphany. Comedies make us realize how silly we could be, while dramas make us realize how silly we really are. Unfortunately, I felt Robin Black took to much time reveling in her own writing abilities to care about her characters. I feel as if her characters learned nothing, and we were meant to learn everything, which to me is writing for show. Though it seems counterintuitive for a blogger, I feel that writing must always be first personal and second for others to read. To write a short story and not have your characters learn something in the process is a shitty way to treat your characters—it makes their lives a mere vehicle for our lessons, and gives their lives no purpose of their own.

Reading this book has made me realize that the way I write may not exactly fit in with the current short story market, and that’s okay by me. There is a gimmicky way of writing now, people write like imitations of post-modernists now, and trying to write like someone who breaks form seems kind of counterintuitive. Replicating Lorrie Moore with extra lilts and sing-songy lyrics doesn’t make you an author. A true desire to tell one’s story, and find little grains of truth as you sift through grains of beans of rice spread out on your countertop, that’s where one finds stories. Those are the places where one has to pause, let an idea cultivate in your spine, and ultimately make itself ready to be shown to the world.

In waiting for my rice to boil, or anticipating the soreness in my muscles to seep out, or even just waiting for a date to appear, my life has been full of pregnant pauses lately. But, that means it has also been filled with possibility. And possibility is something I can handle. In small doses, I may not be able to handle not eating my favorite foods, shelling out money for IcyHot, or reading ten short stories back to back in a week, but as a whole, I can take a challenge. Because the thing you have to remember about a challenge:  you can fail, or you can succeed, but you can’t just sit back and wait for it to happen, you have to act like a pregnant woman and deliver.

People Like Me Are the Only People Here

25 May

As a single man walking around the city, the thing I notice most are couples holding hands. The phenomenon is an oppression to people like me every time we walk to get our groceries, to pick up take-out food, or to pick up stamps at the post office. Though singletons like me walk past with alarming normalcy and speed, none are blithely unaware of the other public displays of affection on display for everyone to see. My hand often slinks around to the other side of my body and holds my opposite hand just to compensate. Though I’m sure if my hand were on someone else’s wrist, I’d see wrists flapping freely and gaily in the wind, free like a bird to whatever it wished. The grass truly is always greener.

I always feel like somebody's watching me.

Today, I started my diet (lifestyle change, as the diet books would have it) and exercise plan, and I have to confess, readers, that thoughts of you were with me every step of the way. I was on the elliptical machine for twenty-five solid, sweaty minutes, and I used only one bottle of water. And, I survived. I was about to go over to the cardio bike when I saw another machine in my peripheral vision, and I decided that it was the time. I moved the black-and-white contraption from where it was on one side of the gym to another, so that I could do sit-ups in private. Privacy is  a necessity for me. I will always either be or feel like the heaviest person in the room, and I especially don’t want that feeling in a gymnasium, a veritable Mecca for the fit of the world. The fit just keep getting fitter, while the fat get fatter.

After I moved the machine to a more secluded place, I was ready to do my sit-ups. Just as I was sliding my legs into their grooves, a young man in a yellow and grey shirt, with a pouch of baby fat around his waist sat down at the bike machine opposite my sit-up machine. How rude! As if moving away from woman in pink bikini top on the treadmill wasn’t enough of a hassle. And, worst of all, no matter where I was in the room, eyes seemed to be glued to me, as if others had nothing better to do than to watch me, zoo-like, performing tasks for their amusement. I knew now what it was like to be the person stared at in someone else’s habitat. Where I saw single people, these people saw an unhealthy person striving to resemble them, to join their golden circle. It was infuriating.

Readers, here’s where you come in. I promised myself I’d do sixty sit-ups. I blared Lady Gaga in my ears, hoping she’d inspire me to keep going the whole time. Just as I was lifting my body up and down, I became winded by the twelfth sit-up. And my thoughts headed straight to you. People who sit at their computer waiting for words from me, I couldn’t disappoint you. Whereas others’ constant appearance in my routine feels like an oppression, my readership, you, felt like an encouraging hand, lifting my bulging body off the black backboard and into the air. I couldn’t call myself a blogger, especially one who reports to you my honest feelings about my life, and lie about having failed at my sixty sit-up challenge. My drive to be truthful to myself and to you helped me going. And, of course, so did Lady Gaga. You were heroes when I had none. It took me fifteen minutes to do sixty. I felt oddly and embarrassingly triumphant. Do I deserve praise when I did something that others can complete in about two minutes? Does stretching one’s limits to other’s norms require or demand attention and admiration? Perhaps it doesn’t, but as bad as I felt body-wise was as good as I felt soul-wise.

I’ve also recently caught up on the last five episodes of Glee, which I missed for various reasons in the past few weeks. Here is another instance where I feel like everything applies to me. With all the students dealing with sexual issues in the “Power of Madonna” episode, to Mercedes dealing with her weight in a subsequent episode, I felt like Glee was singling me out for attention. After years of shouting at the TV in anger and denial, has the TV started talking back to us, and filling us with anxiety? Of course, the TV talking to us has much more dangerous consequences. No matter how many surveys we take, or what viewership means to a network, or how many times we vote on American Idol, we don’t affect television, but television has a deafening affect on our lives. If Glee can move people to laugh, then it sure as hell harbors the power to make someone cry or contemplate. Laughter, and happiness, is no less of an emotion or a physical reaction than sadness or angst. However, as opposed to real life couples walking down the street, flaunting their tightly interlocked fingers around everywhere, with television I (sometimes) have the power to change the channel, or at least take a second to breathe during commercials. At the gym and on the streets, breathing is necessary, but no one else stops while you do it. They just keep watching.

The Perfect Fit

19 May

There’s a new four-letter word that isn’t allowed in public circles. The word is “diet.” Just like some other famous four-letter obscenities, this one can be used as a noun (“I’m on this new diet…”), a verb (I just started dieting this week…”) or even an adjective (“Today’s a diet day,” or “Do you like my diet body?”). Any way you frame it, the word should not be allowed in polite company. Introduce the word “diet” into a social circle, and the conversation begins to breakdown into squawking and squabbling. The word is about as unwelcome as Cousin Oliver in the last season of the Brady Bunch–and with the same effects. Everyone points fingers of blame as to what works, what doesn’t, and everyone becomes an expert as to what foods are right for your body. People devolve into pundits on Dr. Phil, or talking heads on CNN—talking past each other without listening to other’s views or opinions.

When you introduce the prospect of a new diet to a group of friends, and all their dieting expertise comes out onto the table, you have to work to curb your immediate sense of anxiety. Don’t people realize that anxiety and stress are the reason people gain weight? It’s a vicious cycle. Even choosing a diet has become stressful now. Much like choosing a perfect college, you read brochures and websites, looking at the fine points of a diet to see what can fit your lifestyle, how you can be on a diet and have a full-time internship, and whether this diet allows you to skip breakfast and grab a coffee (the answer is a resounding “No, it’s the most important meal of the day.”) Everyone hates diets but loves it when their friends go on one. I feel like I’m hearing the typical Evangelical spiel on homosexuality—“Hate the sin, love the sinner,” except it’s “Hate the diet, love the dieter.”

Besides the mind games at work with your friends, diet books are the best mental manipulators I’ve ever encountered. Never does one have a better sense of Stockholm syndrome—being in love with one’s captor—than when he or she reads a diet book. While it’s telling you all the sacrifices you’re going to make, the book simultaneously gives you comfortable feelings of hope, acceptance, strength, and power. Almost every diet book works in the same way. First, it outlines how much you’re going to accomplish. The first chapter lets you know everything that’s going to happen once you start the diet. After laying out the inner workings of this particular plan, every diet book will go on to do the following:  a) bash its rivals, b) reinforce why this diet is best, c) throw in some random personal triumph stories for good measure, and d) empower you.

The Perfect Fit (in many ways...)

Why does every diet book sound like it’s continuously pitching its product? Haven’t I already bought the damn book? After bashing The Zone, South Beach, Atkins, and the Magic Cookie Diet, the book will go on to reinforce its propagandist techniques—User stories! Emotional appeals!—and then, finally, leave you empowered. After reading a diet book, I feel as if I could reverse time if I could fly around the world backwards, and fit into a pair of red and blue tights.

The word “diet” is so dirty, that not even diet books want to use it. Diet books spend half their pages trying to convince you that this isn’t a diet. What would pornography be like if it opened with a man in a suit and tie convincing you this wasn’t pornography, and that no women were objectified in the making of this film? A diet is what it is, and if people can’t accept that, then they need to realize that diet doesn’t need to be a dirty word. The problem is that people put the blame on the word “diet,” and not their own minds. It’s so like us humans to displace blame on an abstract concept or idea rather than putting it on ourselves. Maybe the word “diet” can be reclaimed by us, but only if we have a change of mind and a change of heart. Perhaps one day, diet can once again have an invitation to luncheons, and have spots on our social calendars. Until we change the way our minds go, don’t expect an RSVP from good ole’ diet. She just doesn’t fit in anymore.