26 August 2013

Veg Head

I'm coming up on the anniversary of quitting alcohol. I quit alcohol because I didn't like the way I behaved on alcohol. It brought out my inner asshole. Also, I was prone to binging. Who knows? I was probably well on my way to becoming alcoholic. In two days I will have been alcohol free for a year.

Earlier this summer I quite caffeine: not just coffee and tea, but also chocolate, sodas and yerba mate. I was jittery, and I'd begun to experience some fluttering in my heart, a condition I get from my Dad and his mother. The withdrawal was painful, but relatively brief, and now I am no longer a person who drinks a lot (or any) coffee.

About 15 years ago or so, I quit smoking. I went cold turkey on New Years Eve, and while it wasn't that hard physically (I'd been smoking American Spirits, which lack the additives, etc., that make cigarettes so much more addictive than they should be), it was difficult psychologically, since I was working retail, and a smoke break was essentially a customer break. Since then I would allow myself an occasional cigarette, just for pleasure and a warped sense of rebelliousness. But I have given up those as well. Again, it was the heart fluttering thing.

Having got rid of alcohol, caffeine and nicotine, it was time to look to other things in my effort to make my life better. So I have given up meat, dairy and eggs.

I was a vegetarian twenty years ago, but I didn't manage to stick with it. I did it largely for health reasons. But I became aware of the the conditions of factory farming in the US. Still, I fell off the wagon, and started eating meat regularly.

Now I practice vegetarianism again, and mostly for ethical reasons, with health being a secondary goal. The factory farming practices in the US are widely documented, and I don't need to reiterate them here. To eat meat, dairy and eggs is to sustain a system of horrific cruelty. I do not want to do so any longer. Like peeking behind the curtain of religion, seeing goes on to bring flesh, eggs and dairy to the table requires a decision either to abstain, or to willfully ignore what one has learned.

I won't call myself vegan for the time being for several reasons. For one, like it or not, "vegan" has become synonymous with "sanctimonious asshole". A few overly aggressive vegans have ruined the reputation of all. I once heard a white Buddhist complain loudly and angrily about the smell of lunch meat in the hall the Buddhists rented from a Quaker church. When someone told him the Quakers fed homeless people meals during the day, which accounted for the lunch meat smell, he replied that they should be more sensitive to the Buddhists who used the space, too. I was stunned by his crassness. I almost walked out of the session before it started. As it was, I didn't want to be associated with either Buddhists or vegans at that point.

Also, I have no plans of getting rid of all the leather I already own. I don't plan on buying any new leather goods, but it would be a waste to throw out all the leather I already own, especially the boots for winter months. Once the leather goods wear out, I hope I can replace them with non-leather items.

And I'm not going to worry too much over miniscule amounts of animal products in household cleaners, etc.

I might change my mind later, and become more strict about it. But for now, this is where I'll stand. Once I grow re-accustomed to the vegetarian way of eating, it will be time for me to tackle another bad habit/ethical dilemma/life change. Taking charge of my way of living has become the great project of the latter part of my midlife. Whether I end up always alone or not, I will at least work on building a life and a self I can respect.

15 July 2013

Making Good Changes

I haven't posted on my blog in a while. That's because not much has changed for me until recently. I have read a lot of books in the past few months, and digested the better ones. But otherwise my life has coasted along the same: work, cat-maintenance, reading, little social life, no romantic adventures.

But I have made another major shift: due to worries about my health (my father has atrial fibrillation, which is heritable) I decided to quite caffeine entirely. That means no coffee, no tea, no chocolate, no sodas and no yerba mate. I tapered down rapidly last week, and went cold turkey over the weekend. I've had some headaches and short bouts of sleepiness, but it hasn't been as bad as I expected (I've quit caffeine before, and it's been grueling). I think the recent shift in my work schedule that allows me more sleep at night was a factor in making it a little easier this time.

So, in addition to no alcohol, I now do not take caffeine. Nor do I smoke cigarettes or do drugs. I supposed I could call myself "straight edge", but to me the label is tainted by associations with all those militant asshole sXe groups who used to go around beating up punks for smoking pot and drinking. I don't drink, smoke or whatever, but I don't plan to be an asshole about it —everyone has to be responsible for his/her own life and health. Instead of thinking of myself as "straight edge" I prefer to think of myself as "sweet edge". That has a nice ring to it. And contrary to what my friends will tell you, I'm well capable of being sweet.

Now that I've tackled the caffeine withdrawal, it's time to rethink the rest of my health. I get enough sleep now, thankfully. But I need to exercise more diligence with regard to my output. I am in the process of rethinking my diet, and I want to increase my activity levels.

As for food, I need to consider carefully what foods are good for me, and what aren't. I haven't come down to any strict food routines, but I do think I need to cut down/out all processed foods, sugars and starches. I need to cook my own meals. I want to try living off of vegetables, fruits, a few grains, and lean, organic, low-cruelty meat and fish. I'm even open to, but have not yet decided to, becoming a full vegetarian.

As for exercise, I don't know yet. Join a gym? Do yoga? Jog? One problem at a time. That's how I'll begin to manifest the healthy, fit man inside who aches to be seen.

11 June 2013

Orthodoxy vs. Orthopraxy

I've been reading Jonathan Haidt's illuminating, enjoyable and disconcerting book The Righteous Mind (Vintage Books, 2013), and in addition to thinking about morality, the book has prompted me to think again about religion.

Religion is more than mere assent to a set of doctrines (orthodoxy). It also encompasses a set of ritual acts and normative behaviors (orthopraxy). Some religions emphasize orthodoxy over orthopraxy, and some the opposite. In religions that emphasize orthodoxy, maintaining the right beliefs is central, and behaviors and rituals are allowed more leeway. Christian fundamentalism in the US exhibits this emphasis. Note particularly how many politicians and religious leaders have committed adultery, for instance, but have been brought back into the fold as full-fledged members because they espoused the correct beliefs. Furthermore, relatively speaking, the ritual practices of US Christian fundamentalists are pared down and more loosely structured.

Religions emphasizing orthopraxy care more about one's outward behaviors and performances than about an individual's beliefs. So long as the cohesion of the religious community is upheld, the internal wrestlings of belief and doubt are less important. Much of Islam, Catholicism and Eastern Religions fall under the orthopraxy rubric.

Now, of course, these are broad generalizations, but I think they are instructive. I was raised in an orthodoxy-style religion. Faith, or the designated set of beliefs, came first, and actions followed from that. I think that is why when I came out I had such a difficult time with religion. By accepting my homosexual nature, I was eschewing a portion of the orthodoxy. Pretty soon all the orthodoxy became questionable, and I had to leave. For years afterwards I looked around for a new orthodoxy to adhere to. But eventually I couldn't find an orthodoxy that fit me.

Had I been raised in a religion that emphasized orthopraxy, would my post-coming-out have been different?

31 May 2013

The Future

I need to plan for a future. I haven't really done so yet.

When I was young, I believed I would die sometime around 30. I had no reason to believe that - but I was pretty sure of it. Instead, I came out of the closet when I turned 31, and my whole life changed. In fact, it was almost like my old life did die, and I had a new one.

The years following my coming out were about exploring that new life. And my unquestioned assumption for much of those years would be that I'd be coupled, and that my partner and I would work out the future as it approached.

But evidence now suggests I won't be partnered. I've been single for over half a decade now, and I'm not getting any younger (much less more attractive). I haven't much thought about the future. In fact, I sort of just believed, for a while, I'd die around the time I turn 65. But then I think about how I used to think I'd die around the time I turned 30, and I've exceeded that by a couple of decades already. Who knows how long this thing can go on?

So I need to start thinking about the future.

30 April 2013

Done with the Bullshit

For a long time I wondered whether I'd outlived my usefulness. Was I taking up space and resources that could go to others who would better used them?

No more.

So many other people are doing so much worse than I in the world that I no longer worry about my relative place in it. I'm no saint, but I'm no sinner either. I'm chaotic neutral, to borrow a D&D phrase, and that's just fine by me.

So fuck everyone. I'll continue to take up my few inches of space, and eat my bit of food and wear my few yards of clothing for as long as I can, and I'll drop dead whenever. Maybe I don't deserve that stuff, but I deserve it a hell of a lot more than the bulk of this population, for certain. I'm not good, but I'm for damn sure okay.

18 April 2013

Human Beings

Nothing I can write can come close to the aptness and perspicacity of Patton Oswalt's response to the Boston Marathon Bombing. If you haven't read it, please read it. If you have, maybe you'll want to re-read it as the investigation drags on, and our patience gets tested again.

I try not to think in terms of "good people" and "bad people" - there's a simple reason for this. Too often we decide who we do not like, and then label them "bad people" after the fact. That way we don't have to wrestle with the humanity of the "bad people" or consider even for a second that as human beings ourselves, we just might be "bad people", too. How many times has someone done something truly heinous – raped a schoolmate, gone on a shooting rampage, etc. – and the friends and neighbors all say, "But he was a good person!" Clearly, in this specific instance, he was not.

I try to think in terms of "good acts" and "bad acts" – and acts for me include choices and attitudes. This way I don't reduce people to simple good and bad categories, but rather assess what they do. A guy who loves his mom and buys her roses every Sunday can still be someone who rapes and murders. We call those latter actions bad.

12 April 2013

Against Being a BOQ

I see the bitter queens, and I can feel in myself that tendency, and I want to do all in my power to resist that. I have a hard fight ahead, because my own mother is a bitter woman, and I inherited some of her bitterness. I also see it often in gay men "of a certain age." Life has handed them some disappointments, and they're irascible. Even the ones who think they manifest a positive contribution in the world come across as bitter, or at least hectoring.

How do I prevent being bitter?

1. Realize I'm entirely optional to society. People may or may not want to have anything to do with me, to listen to me, to have me listen to them, etc. There's not much I can do about that except be present.

2. Realize that life is full of both triumphs and disappointments. And that's okay. Complaining is really a waste of time.

3. Know what I can control, and what I cannot. Take responsibility for what I can control, and learn to accept what I cannot control.

4. Some of the things I cannot control:
  • who finds me attractive;
  • who I find attractive;
  • what all of society does;
  • weather;
  • what's available for me to purchase at the stores;
  • how people react to me;
  • my genes;
  • anyone else's genes;
  • the behavior of others.

5. Take active steps to promote a calm, active, accepting, self-aware and mildly positive state of mind.