31 August 2012

Love, Frankl and Midlife

I continue reading through Viktor Frankl’s fascinating The Doctor and the Soul, and I find it both enlightening and frustrating. Enlightening because I can see things from a different angle, frustrating because just when I think I’m going to get to a real insight about myself, he moves on the next point. I find I wish I could talk to him face-to-face.

Last night I finished the chapter on love, and while most of it was on point, I have a few quibbles.

Frankl distinguishes between sexual desire (i.e., lust), erotic desire (i.e., infatuation) and love. Lust is purely physical, of course. Erotic desire involves the psychological as well as the physical. In other words, erotic desire is the desire to have/be with a person for their personality as well as their looks. Love, on the other hand, is the full, non-possessive appreciation of a whole person. Love can be experienced in a monogamous relationship, or it can be for a relative, etc. Up to this point I agree fully.

What I think Frankl didn’t spell out and should have is that for monogamous, coupling relationships, lust and infatuation are stages one must go through to reach love. I don’t think many, if any, leap ahead directly to love, bypassing lust and erotic desire, to establish monogamous relationships. Love minus sexual and erotic attraction is simply a deep friendship (which is a wonderful thing, by the way), but not the basis for a monogamous coupling.

To be sure, I agree with Frankl that if a relationship gets stuck at the possessive, erotic desire stage, it isn’t love. Furthermore, a relationship stuck at that stage is fragile. If the partners cannot move it to real love, it may not be able to hold up over time and the vicissitudes of life.

Frankl also reiterates that one does not have to experience love to make life meaningful. One can also make life meaningful through action and through one’s attitude toward unavoidable suffering. In fact there comes a point in some people’s lives when love is admittedly no longer possible, and they must make meaning otherwise. He maintains however that if one does not experience love and feels resentment toward life over this, he will hamper the meaning-making in his life. To be able to live without love and yet not be resentful about that is a path toward meaning-making.

And this is what I must learn to do. I freely admit I harbor resentment for not having been able to find/have/create love in my life. All my past relationships never got beyond the infatuation stage. I may have thought I was in love, but I wasn’t. Between coming out late and having warped ideals of love modeled for me while growing up, I was hampered in the pursuit of love. If I could undo my past I would certainly change how I did things.

But now I’m at a stage of life in which I believe opportunities for love are vanishingly scarce at best. Because (IMHO) sexual and erotic desire must precede love, I no longer can fall in love with someone. I do not desire men my age. They are not sexually attractive to me.  If, when I was much younger, I had truly loved someone, and had aged alongside him, that wouldn’t be an issue. We’d have our whole history together to draw upon. But without the initial stages of sexual desire and erotic desire to start off with, love of a monogamous, coupling nature is not going to happen for me. In my life, I’ve moved well beyond the time when this could have happened.

So my current task is to deal with the resentment. I must learn to live with my life (the unavoidable factors I was born into, such as a fundamentalist family, a small town milieu, etc., and the poor choices I made along the way, such as sticking with infatuation relationships when they should’ve been dropped) and move beyond the resentment. I must admit that the resentment runs deep, and is tangled up with my religious upbringing, my regressive childhood social milieu and a host of other factors. It may very well be that letting go of the resentment is a major component of my meaning-making tasks in life. To show to myself that having been born in the time and place I was does not need to make my life hopelessly angered and emotionally crippled.

29 August 2012

This Way Now

Monday, I quietly hit the reset button. The descent my life had taken had only been getting worse. I decided I may not have all the answers I crave, but I knew I didn't want to live like that any longer. I want to be clear-headed and curious, not numb and befuddled.

I'm in midlife. Midlife is a second adolescence. All your settled verities come up for review, questioning, and often rejection. You have to relearn who you are (or remake who you are). I'd begun to think of midlife as a problem to be solved. Worse, I'd begun to think I was botching the solution big time. I was flunking midlife (or so I thought).

But like adolescence, midlife is not a problem to be solved. It is a phase of life to live through and learn from. And it cannot be rushed. It can be handled with more or less skill, but I suspect the aptitude for midlife is a learning curve of sorts. So, I'm not trying to pass a test or get through a task quickly in order to get some vague reward. If I had to guess right now, I'd say the passage is the reward. Sort of like Zen Buddhists will tell you that Nirvana is Samsara.

After I hit the pause and reset, I wanted to establish some basic ideas about my life, some values I hold to. I thought about not only what those values were, but also the best way to word them. I'd read that expressing values as commands are counterproductive, because there's always a part of oneself that resents commands. Even if one desperately wants to lose weight, for instance, it's better not to say, "You must diet every day." Also, I'd read that casting affirmative statements in the future tense is also counterproductive, in that it allows the mind to permanently postpone the affirmative action/condition stated. For instance, "I will lose weight and look good," is little more helpful than "You must diet every day."

To that end I arrived at Five Assertions. I assert these things about myself in order to make them manifest in my life right now. I could probably come up with more, but these five cover a pretty good range. Best of all, they avoid negative statements. There is no "I do not do XYZ" in the assertions, even if it is implied that I will refrain from certain harmful behaviors and attitudes.

This is the new direction I'm taking as I navigate my second adolescence.

Five Assertions

  1. Music is my boyfriend.
  2. My body is the house of my mind, so I keep it clean.
  3. I have human freedom, and I practice human responsibility.
  4. I read daily.
  5. Everyone struggles with life, so I struggle to be patient with them.

28 August 2012


Every morning, I wake up a new person. I have a new opportunity to do things differently. That’s the best thing about the passage of time. I don’t have to be stuck in the same mode of being if I do not want to.

I do not want to.

I won’t let myself be consumed by regret over the past, but I also do not want the past to be my template for today. I will not let only my mistakes define who I am.

I have the knowledge I need to do better. I will act on that knowledge.

It is time to be someone new.

24 August 2012

I Don't Know How to Do This

A couple of days ago I wrote that life is a job, and implied that one of the most basic aspects of that job is to make life have meaning.

I know that the meaning of my life is entirely up to me, for me to create. I've come to see that this isn't some diktat from some being of a higher order making demands of me based on some responsibility contract I was forced to sign by being born, as if I'd coerced my parents into making me, rather than the other way around. No, there's no entity arbitrarily demanding I get to work at meaning-making. Rather this is simply a law of the universe, like the physics of gravity or the dharmic laws of cause and effect. It just is. The responsibility to make meaning out of one's life is like the responsibility to eat if one wants to live. It is simply a fact of the human condition. I'm beholden to no one, but I am vastly beholden to myself.

The problem is that I feel I lack the skill set to create meaning for my life. If someone has been indoctrinated— dare I say brainwashed?— for the first three-fifths of his life, the "formative years", to believing that the meaning for his life comes from an all-powerful entity given to mercurial moodswings and tyrannical rulership, it's hard to take control of life for oneself. In other words, I was taught throughout my childhood, youth and young adulthood, that God had plans, that God had given me my life's meaning, etc. So I not only received no training in meaning-making, I was discouraged from even questioning it. I just don't know how to do this.

I can of course think critically. I can weigh options. I can say, well, I like this, I loathe that, I don't give a shit about the other. But I cannot find the wherewithal within me to feel passionate about anything. The closest I come to passionate is anger over the way I was raised. And even that is mitigated by feeling sorry for my parents, who were so smart and so clueless at the same time. I have no burning desire to accomplish any particular thing; I have no "great work" waiting to be done.

So here I am. I'm freaked out about being old and alone, and completely unable to find a mate. I'm adrift in a life that has no inherent meaning, and feel ill-equipped to create that meaning. I have no real career, no real family and nothing to look forward to except getting older, uglier and more alone.

Bear with me; I'm still trying to figure this out.

23 August 2012

Growing Old Alone

I need to do more to be ready for being really old. I haven't done enough to prepare.

When I was really young, I just assumed I would die around 30. I had no rationale for this; I just thought I'd drop dead or be killed. Instead, I came out.

After coming out 20 years ago, I always assumed I would grow old in the company of another man, or in the bosom of a queer group home/homestead. Now I've watched those dreams blow apart like a slow-motion explosion.

I have insufficient plans for growing old by myself. I need to change some things. Soon.

22 August 2012

Life Is a Job

I had been dwelling on the difficulty of making life have meaning the other day, when I ran across one short, key sentence in Frankl's The Doctor and the Soul:
Life is a task.
Exactly. Amen. Almost the same words I had been thinking.

I lose patience with people who keep talking about how life is a gift, as if it came wrapped in pretty paper with a cute bow on top, and we open it to find the most awesome playstation/smartphone/lego set/malibu barbie/pony combination imaginable. You insult me when you say life is a gift. Being born a gay child to Christian fundamentalist parents is not a fucking gift. Ever.

Life is not a gift. It's a fucking job.

But it is a job that if you work hard at and keep at it, you can make it somehow meaningful. I believe that you don't have to have been born in fortuitous circumstances to make life have meaning. You don't have to have hit the jackpot of good looks, material comforts, or decent parents. You just have to take whatever you find around you, whatever your circumstances are, and metaphysically macgyver it into something meaningful. And that job is different for every person.

21 August 2012


I took a four day weekend to celebrate being on my own for five years. And while I was out and about, I noticed all the parents, kids and college students stocking up on supplies and clothes for the school year. The beginning of the school year always felt like a renewal of sorts to me (although I wouldn’t have called it such when I was a child). So I ended up using the weekend to turn a psychological corner. I’m calling it the end of summer, but I’m really looking to rein in the hedonism of the past several months.

I don’t want to go into details that are too personal for a public blog. Let me just say that in a final push to exorcise the demons of the relationship I escaped 5 years ago, I let myself be lax on curtailing my pleasures. My weight, among other things, suffered. I’m not the bloated thing I was a year ago, but I was inching back toward that thing.

I have stuff to do. I can’t let my evenings and weekends be totally wasted on shopping, television, etc. I can’t let my brain or my soul go to waste.

I need to be healthy all around.

This comes back to the meaning-making theme I’ve written about. I found out that those who said Frankl said meaning was to be found in work, love or suffering were being too reductive. What Frankl meant was that meaning could be found in creativity-activity, in experience (including but not limited to love) or in suffering (provided the suffering was involuntary and inescapable).

I like this better. I don’t have to try to make my job intrinsically meaningful (sometimes it is, sometimes it isn’t), nor do I have to luck out and find the right person to love. I can turn activity, creativity or experience into meaning-making happenings.

Still, in reading Frankl, I do tend to react to some of his, shall I say, less than ideal turns of phrase. When he says, for instance, that instead of focusing on what we ask from life, we should focus on what life asks from us, I want to say that life doesn’t have the right to ask that question. If I answer it, I answer it for myself.

20 August 2012

Man's Search for Meaning

This uniqueness and singleness which distinguishes each individual and gives a meaning to his existence has a bearing on creative work as much as it does on human love. When the impossibility of replacing a person is realized, it allows the responsibility which a man has for his existence and its continuance to appear in all its magnitude. A man who becomes conscious of the responsibility he bears toward a human being who affectionately waits for him, or to an unfinished work, will never be able to throw away his life. He knows the "why" for his existence, and will be able to bear almost any "how."

—Viktor E. Frankl, Man's Search for Meaning, Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 2006, p. 79-80.

One should not search for an abstract meaning of life. Everyone has his own specific vocation or mission in life to carry out a concrete assignment which demands fulfillment. Therein he cannot be replaced, nor can his life be repeated. Thus everyone's task is as unique as his specific opportunity to implement it.

—ibid., pp. 108-109.

This emphasis on responsibleness is reflected in the categorical imperative of logotherapy, which is: "Live as if you were living already for the second time and as if you had acted the first time as wrongly as you are about to act now."

—ibid., p. 109.

Thus far we have shown that the meaning of life always changes, but that it never ceases to be. According to logotherapy, we can discover this meaning in life in three different ways: (1) by creating a work or doing a deed; (2) by experiencing something or encountering someone; (3) by the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering.

—ibid., p. 111.

16 August 2012

Violence and the Moral High Ground

Yesterday's shooting at the Family Research Council really disturbed me. Of course, we are still learning about the details of the incident and the perpetrator. But it highlights an issue that needs to be addressed in the LGBTQ community: the potential for violence.

FRC, and other organizations of their ilk are our mortal enemies. Of that there is no doubt. They will not rest until LGBTQ people disappear from society. As a former fundamentalist Christian, I understand their thinking. They cannot compromise; to do so is to risk hellfire. To achieve the world they long for, LGBTQ people must die or become straight. We must be wiped off the face of the earth.

Faced with such enemies, I find it easy to give into hate, and to wish the same fate upon them. Throw in a culture saturated with guns and violence, and the mix becomes toxic. I understand the frustration LGBTQ people feel, but we must not let that frustration get the better of us.

So let me be very plain here: we must resist and denounce violence. We must not inflict acts of violence upon our enemies, even if they inflict acts of violence upon us. I'm not saying you should not defend yourself when physically attacked in the streets. I am saying we must not go and shoot at the people who would happily kill us if they could.

Why? Well, for one very obvious reason, it's simply wrong. Just because Christians want to destroy LGBTQ people doesn't mean LGBTQ people ought to do the same. I think we can agree that just because Christians think something is right doesn't make it right. Killing people is wrong. Shooting at people is wrong.

Secondly, if the culture wars turn into shooting wars, we will lose. They outnumber us, and they have most of the guns. In terms of sheer attrition, the religious right can kill more of us.

Third, perpetrating acts of violence on Christians is exactly what they want. They love feeling persecuted, because it makes them feel holier. Using violence against them will not lead them to question their own acts or motives. They already believe they are perfectly right; shooting at them only confirms that belief in their minds.

Finally, we cannot let ourselves descend to their level. The only way we have of surviving the culture wars is to maintain the moral high ground. If the Christians are the only ones behaving odiously, in time the great middle (social, not geographical) of this country will come around to our side. If we descend to their level and end up behaving odiously as well, the rest of the country will not give a damn about our rights. The only way we have of surviving the culture wars is to appeal to the humanity of the rest of society. We cannot do that if our side perpetrates violence.

We have to have higher moral standards than the Christians, especially when it comes to treating our enemies like human beings. I won't say we have to love them, since the word "love" has devolved to signify mere affection. Rather, we have to give them more respect than they give us, to resist their ideas and their influence with rationality and appeals to the hearts of the larger public, and not visit the same harm upon them they would visit on us. We have to be stronger, more patient and better people. That's the only way we'll survive and thrive. Besides, it's the better way.

14 August 2012

Brief Notes

1. I've been researching meaning-making, and while what I've learned has been interesting, it's also left me a little bummed. Frankl, for instance, says meaning is found through love, work or courage. I doubt that I'm capable of love, I've never been able to find a meaningful career, and the last time I had real courage was 20 years ago when I came out. I don't know whether there are any other sources of meaning-making. I'll keep looking, but I'm not optimistic. For the time being I'm just faking my way through this shit.

2. I want to get through this Frankl book as quickly as I can (I have a second book by him, but I'll hold it for later); I've got a mental list of books I'd like to read next. Two that I've already started are proving to be quite good. The Ball by John Fox is about why people play sports, and has chapters on basketball, soccer, lacrosse, and even the old Mayan ball games. It's actually very inspirational. The Worldly Philosophers by Robert Heilbroner is a classic survey of economics which I read over 25 years ago and desperately needed to re-read. I'm particularly interested in the chapter on Adam Smith, since I've come to believe today's "conservatives"* don't really understand him. After that I plan to read Smith himself; also Vennum's book on lacrosse.

3. Speaking of lacrosse, I've begun to collect the parts to make a long stick. I don't play, and never will (I'm too old and too poor), but I want to learn how to toss with both short and long sticks. I have a short stick, which I purchased whole; but I want to put together the long (defensive) stick, including stringing it, just for fun.

4. I also want to get back into hand-crafts more. I feel better when I engage in some kind of creative work.

5. I thought it was odd that last night five of my must-see television shows came on. I don't really have a whole lot of must-see shows. Even shows that used to be must-see for me have begun to feel old and less enjoyable. I would love to be able to cut my must-sees down to almost nothing. I hear of more and more people cutting the cable completely. That would be a very interesting experiment.

6. Speaking of cutting down on things, yesterday's entry highlighted how I've begun to feel about my use of substances, particularly alcohol and caffeine. I, too, am tired of feeling poisoned. I want to feel better. Cleaner on the inside.

*I put the term "conservatives" in quotes because the people today calling themselves conservative are not actually conservative. Our country as a whole has been dragged so far rightward, words have lost their original meanings. Today's "middle of the road" folks are actually very conservative, while the "conservatives" are actually reactionary radicals, bent on destroying the country as we know it in order to create some monstrous vision of "purity" from the ashes. There is no longer an effective left in this country, just moderates, conservatives and radicals. Also, we don't really have capitalism in the US any longer, as Smith, et al., understood it. Capitalism is investment in the production of goods and services, and exchanges based on that. We have "financialism": making money from money, all profits based on ethereal instruments, without true goods/services/entities underlying them. Thus, the seeds of our doom.

13 August 2012

"Clean Living?"

[Context of the scene: Dave is an ex-con, imprisoned for tax evasion, who's begun to hang out with skateboarders down the road from his housesitting job. He sees them mostly as hard partying punks, rather than athletes. Steve is a competitive skater; Dave, Steve, Bobby and others have traveled to attend a skating competition in Houston.]

When he woke up again, it was light. The digital readout on the tv said 7:30. Steve’s bed was empty. Dave put on his jeans and went outside to look at the morning. He heard a car start on the street behind the motel and then saw Steve in the parking lot, warming up. He was in shorts, socks, and tennis shoes, touching his toes. Dave nodded to him, unsure of where they stood.

Steve nodded back. “Want to run some?”

“I haven’t got anything to wear.”

“Those sneakers you had on last night’ll work. I’ll loan you some shorts. Come on.”

They ran south along the 59 access road, past an orange-and-white Whataburger and a giant supermarket called the Fiesta Mart. Steve kept the pace down to where Dave could handle it. He was the closest to cheerful Dave had ever seen him. “This isn’t how I pictured you,” Dave said.

“I don’t recommend this for everybody,” Steve said. “Somebody like Bobby, he’s probably got to keep fucking himself up for a few more years. That’s cool. You need that too. I’m not sorry I did all that when I was a kid. It’s just, after a while the engine starts to miss. You get tired of feeling poisoned all the time.

“Clean living?”

“A joint or a beer every now and then won’t hurt you. Even that doesn’t get me off like it used to.”

—Lewis Shiner, Slam (1990), pp. 139-140 [emphasis mine].

09 August 2012


First I’d like to apologize to any of my readers who may have been concerned about me based on my recent blog posts. I can get very negative when I’m writing online; and blogging (as well as tweeting, etc.) tends to open up the floodgates of my psyche, similar to having a beer or two at the bar. I think it’s all part of exorcising (exercising?) my demons. And being a queer kid raised by religious fundamentalists, I can assure you they are Legion. Nevertheless, like the Tao, my personality has ebbs and flows, and I never stay in bout of downer-ness for very long.

Thankfully, I’m able to get the appropriate kicks in the ass from various sources. Last night, it was watching the movie Chronicle (finally) and an episode of CSI called “Freaks and Geeks” that slapped some sense into me.

I’d forgotten my core values, especially valuing my own inherent weirdness. I’d taken getting older as a command to settle down and embrace blandness. I’d let being irritated by a few freaks over the years convince me I was inherently bourgeois, when the truth is that not only do a few freaks irritate me now and again: everybody irritates me sooner or later, so there’s no call for me to dismiss any set of people categorically, nor force myself to conform to one set based on the dismissal of another. Along the way I lost the sense of my own beautiful weirdness, my own call to be different, unique.

My calling is to solidify, then transcend my Self. My calling is to finally learn the compassion for others I did not learn as a child.

03 August 2012

Five Years Free

Later this month I'll be celebrating— in my own quiet way (or so I hope)— 5 years of real freedom. My last relationship died just after Labor Day in 2006, but I remained living with my former LTR until mid-August of 2007, to give myself time to build a cash reserve (among other things). Some really great friends helped me move, buy furniture and set up my home in my current space. It was the beginning of real freedom.

I love my home. I love my space, my privacy and my stuff in it, especially my library. I love my animal companion, Manuel, whom I adopted less that a year after moving in. I love my home because I've turned it into a refuge, one that is rarely intruded upon. I love the fact, also, that it is conveniently located near adequate shopping, socializing and entertainment resources. I have a good place to live, and I hope I get to keep it for a long, long time.

Nothing short of a miracle or a disaster would induce me to move at this point. I'm not counting on the former, and I'm hoping and praying to avoid the latter.

01 August 2012

Losing Weight, Gaining Gracefulness

Today on the lifehacker site there is an article titled How I Lost 100 Pounds by James Golick. The article is very on point, and stresses some of the same dietary basics that paleo does, namely: avoid starches, sugars and processed foods, and stick mostly to meats, seafood, fruit and vegetables. He tried various diets, including forms of vegetarianism, but this method has worked the best for him.

I especially appreciated this paragraph from the article:
Losing weight requires an enormous amount of motivation. You're going to have to change your lifestyle and make real sacrifices. It's going to be hard. Motivation will help you continue to justify the changes you've made, and prevent you from slipping back in to old habits.
I’m examining motivations in my life as well. So far, again, the strongest motivation for me is to be different, to be unlike the average denizen of the United States, with his daily bucket of fried chicken and Cinnabon visits. Not that I can never have those things; but such indulgences should be very rare, and therefore all the more enjoyable. I want to visibly appear different from these people. Not just in physique, but in carriage.

I work near Union Station, and sometimes go there during the day. I can generally tell red staters from locals, and both from Europeans. Red staters plod and waddle; locals stride briskly; Europeans glide. The Euro-glide is something to see. I guess it helps not to have grown up in a culture originated by Christian Puritans.

Of course, the question then becomes: as I begin to appear different from the average estadosunidense, as I begin to look thinner and to carry myself with greater grace, whom do I want to see me? Where do I go to show the world who I am? Because isn’t that too part of the motivation?