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 Sweetness of Dependence

21 May

I keep my summer challenge books in a blue shopping bag on the floor by my bookshelf. I originally wanted to use the “go-fish” system of selecting the sequence of the reading of the books. I would close my eyes, hover above the bag, and dive my hand into the pile, pulling out the next book I was to digest. But I decided instead to choose my next book by alternating the type of book, genre, time period, or subject matter. The first book I decided to read was Summer by Edith Wharton, because I wanted something to get me in the mood for the coming season. Summer is a novel about a young librarian, Charity Royall, who spends the summer in a love affair with a newcomer to town, Lucius Harney, and while she enjoys her liaison, discovers the dangers of that love as she gets pregnant and ultimately forced into marriage by the man who raised her, the lawyer Mr. Royall.

"Summer" by Edith Wharton

The lush New England seasonal scenery described by Wharton was a joy to read, and definitely excited me for the oncoming summer, as have the past few days of heat and sunshine. But, more than that, the book really got me thinking about my summer challenge. When she first starts flirting with Lucius, and she feels wanted for the first time, she starts to feel what Wharton calls “the sweetness of dependence.” That got me thinking about why I started my challenge, and why I write this blog. I’ve always had a weight problem, but when I get down to the bottom of it, is my driving factor really my health? It should be, but isn’t my real aim in losing weight a chance at feeling the sweetness of dependence? I know any doctor would list the health reasons for losing weight, but any good group of friends would say weight loss is the best boost for self-esteem, or the perfect doorway into the house of love.
What about dating and blogging? I don’t believe dating has anything to do with the sweetness of dependence. In fact, dates are one of the least dependable things I can think of—mostly because we imbue them with expectations. I should be able to depend on someone to be somewhere by a certain time, but once they fail, I already deem them undependable. What about the expectations we have of the dinner conversation and the subtle nods we expect—the hand that grazes yours as he passes a fork, or the extra laugh after an unfunny joke—to bolster the mood or our ego. We come to expect these, to depend on them, to help our self-esteem, and because we want to sample what we think will be the sweetness of dependence. Even though we may just be masking the taste of the bitterness of delusion.

I check my blog every few minutes. WordPress (my parent blog website) offers on its home site a line graph that tracks the progress of how many hits your blog gets per day. I watch this like Hollywood executives track box office scores. It’s nice to know that one hundred and forty-one people have looked at my blog in one day. To know that people out there wish to read what I so carefully take the time to write is an ego-booster, but it also reassures my heart that the life I lead is worth living, and it reassures my head that what I have to say is worth reading.

Is Edith Wharton’s book an advertisement for the fruits of summer and the beauty that comes with awakening one’s senses to the sweetness of dependence? Or, is it a warning for those wide-eyed individuals who, like me, go into the summer looking for a change of pace? Charity Royall found an everlasting love, though ended up pregnant by one man, abandoned by him, and married to another. Though I don’t have to worry about birth control, am I setting myself up in my quest for life’s riches and sweetnesses for a sense of bitter regret? A loved one asked me if I would be upset if I didn’t get to the twenty dates I set out for at the beginning of my mission, and after reading Summer, my answer is that, it might not be the worst thing in the world. Sometimes, when you get everything you want, and your soul is transported to nirvana on a summer’s breeze, there’s nowhere to go but down—a fall into autumn. Maybe my lesson from Wharton is much like a lesson that I should take for dating itself—setting up expectations distracts one from the most important parts of life. Sometimes, you have focus on the experience. And that’s what my blog is about:  experiences. I may have a goal in mind, but once I reach my goal, the blog has to end. So, I wouldn’t mind not reaching my goal, because it would only give me more opportunity to express myself, and I sweetly depend on you to stay with me along the way.

1st book: Summer by Edith Wharto, 19 books to go.

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.

Action is Character

17 May

I think it was F. Scott Fitzgerald who said, “Action is character” regarding, I expect, not only writing fiction, but also life. His words are a guiding light for most writers. They are unwritten writing rule, and a go-to mantra for undergraduate and high school writing teachers across the country. Recently, I was revising a short story I wrote, and I was listing traits of the main character to attempt to come to a deeper understanding of him—and to help finally move the plot along. To be blunt, I was the main character, just like every facet of me is a LEGO I use to snap together all my characters. But, for this character, the only adjectives I could list were unsure and emotional. As you can imagine, these are not two adjectives useful to a writer. How do you give a character a purpose, how do you propel forward the plot when your main character is anchored to the seafloor, tethered at the ankles and gargling to survive? Of course, I knew these adjectives were a sheer guise behind which I was hiding truths about myself.

Starting the Summer Book Pile...

I was this character completely, from the waves in the nappy hair to the mismatched socks on his feet, and the uncertain steps he took. None of my fiction had such a complete portrait of me, and it was boxing me in. My other stories’ main characters, or supporting characters, were facets of myself, of my need to be vindicated, or my inability to curb my desire for cupcakes. It was easy to write a story about things that I did—about things that made up my character. But how does one write a story about inaction, about a character who is striving to become something, yet is too unsure to act? Quite simply, few writers do, and those who do are those who have Classics editions at Barnes and Noble, or authors who we feel comfortable quoting on blog posts. They have already proven themselves.

I began to think of ways to cure my inaction. I wasn’t exactly unhappy with my life. I had great friends, a great family, but I found myself in a rut. I needed to do something to revivify myself. I looked around the room at my bookshelf that holds my small personal library. It’s three decently high shelves kept together by curved metal rods on either side. On the top, I keep textbooks, fiction on the middle shelf, with a collage of non-fiction, anthologies, and writing books on the bottom. But for the kind of instruction I wanted, I looked to my middle shelf and dusted off twenty books that I knew deserved my attention and had been undeservingly denied it for so long. I was so good at buying books, I could burn a hole through my debit card at Strand faster than you could imagine, but reading them was always a slower process. You could buy five in one hour, but it would take you upwards of weeks to plow through them, by the time life gets in the way. Turning my attention to the books on my shelf the longest, I picked out twenty that should have been read by now. These twenty books, ranging from prim and proper European classics to New York Times bestsellers that are chirped about on Twitter, form a thorough summer education course of my own design that inadvertently sparked the rest of my summer mission.

Why stop at twenty books? Why should only my mind expand and my bookshelves lighten when there are so many other areas of myself that deserve a close look?  I turned my attention right away to my weight problems. I have always been heavy, and I have always been uncomfortable with it. The feeling of discontent comes tethered to the extra pounds. They pal around together, one carried with you on your bones, the other walking a few steps behind, though still part of your entourage. So, I decided to finally take action on weight loss, and to lose at least twenty pounds by the end of the summer.

Lastly, I wanted to get out of the building in which I live. I live in McMahon Hall, a little box of an apartment building on the thin edge between Hell’s Kitchen and the Upper West Side, and the only residence hall for Fordham University at Lincoln Center. I also work here as a Resident Assistant. As such, getting away from the building becomes a chore. So, I decided to get out and date, and not just any dates, but twenty little adventures. I want to go on interesting dates in parks, museums, or outdoor concerts. I want twenty unique experiences that can’t be interchanged or confused with one another.

There’s the mission, folks (who are soon to be addressed as faithful readers.) Twenty books, twenty pounds, and twenty dates in one summer. What you will read following this entry will be reviews and reflections on literature, recaps and analyses of gay male dating habits, and the woes and wants of a foodie who will be relearning how to eat healthily. I hope this first entry intrigued you enough to continue reading, and I hope that you all enjoy the next months reading my blog as I will enjoy writing, reading, eating, exercising, dating, craving, enjoying, and loving it.

And, as for my story, the character finally took action, and the reader was able to see his true character. Let’s see what you can see of mine as I reveal the story of my summer to you.