Posts Tagged With: relationship

Oregon Trail: List of Follies 2

I am not bear meat. Seriously, I made it out of bear country alive even after all my unbelievable blunders. Those bears will have to go hungry this winter, I guess. Poor bears ūüė¶

These last few days, I’ve felt so liberated. Not liberated in the ecstatic, transcendent, and joyous state of existence we normally associate with that word, but more “liberated” in the sense of being free of any sense of belonging and identity. Well, not quite, but I’m in the habit of brewing a mug of melodrama each morning I wake up along the cold, wet streets of Portland. It’s an existence that others would consider depressing, drab, and dangerous, but in many ways its not all that bad. I get to eat out a lot, spend time at the library, do a lot of walking around the city, live at a more leisurely pace, etc. It’s a bit exciting at times. More on this later.

How did I end up here, you ponder to your little self as you impatiently skim through this introduction for the “good part” in your pajama bottoms? I’ll tell ya’ eventually. In the mean time, my “List of Follies 2” is an excellent spark notes version for you internet-junkies. Consider it an instruction manual on how NOT to behave if you want to have slightly important things in life like a job, somewhere to live, and someone to love you.

What do you think: Did I fuck up more than I did during the first part of my journey? Have you made any of the same mistakes? Would you like to share or give your own two cents on the good life?



  • Day 46: Touching the Oakland Inner Harbor without proper sanitary footwear
  • Day 48: Taking a beautiful, radical, poly chicana (who would later never respond to my friendly texts) out to an expensive organic vegan lunch.
  • Day 49: Buzzing around Berkley to find chili garlic sauce for the dinner I was supposed to make for my host in West Oakland two hours ago.
  • Day 50: Getting lost in the neighborhoods of Twin Peaks and subsequently killing my feet, freezing my ass off, and practicing my urine retention skillz.
  • Day 50: Not signing on as a “Sex Model” at
  • Day 51: While in a time crunch, taking two extra hours pondering life and justice at Alcatraz, an hour detour to Berkley for vegan ice cream, and taking the wrong exit/bridge back into San Fransisco during¬† peak rush hour.
  • Day 46-51: Driving up the curvacious CA-1 in sea mist at dusk (and well into the night) because of having miscalculated the free days I had in the Bay Area before spending two full days with an online friend.
  • Day 54: Passing up all the ancient forests of Redwood National Park because I became overly indulgent in the morning.
  • Day 55: Freezing-up in horror as a van engulfed in 10-foot high flames rolled in reverse towards Catbird and I.

The Era of Asshole-ness

  • Day 4/59: Freezing-up out of intimidation when my amazing date tossed my insinuated-kiss challenge back at me.
  • Day 5/60: Making up for the past night fuck-up by going with my heart (vs. ego or brain) to make a (successful) move on someone I would be living and working with for the next three months and hardly knew (even though I promised myself “never again” to living with a lover twice before)
  • Day 4-6/59-61: Polling friends on facebook for advice on and interpretation of my romantic life, (polling that reads a lot like obnoxious and inappropriate bragging and bro-ness)
  • Day 8/63:¬† Sleeping over at another person’s house less than 24-hours after sleeping with someone else for the first time.
  • Day 9/64: Thinking being open and honest would be a good idea.
  • Day 13/68: Inviting someone with whom I share mutual affection (a someone who is very insecure and also someone I cannot get a good nights rest with) into my bed to cuddle before going to sleep to wake up hours later.
  • Day 21/76: “Correcting” a sensitive someone by suggesting that she should use gendered pronouns for nonhuman animals.
  • Day 21/76:¬†Asking someone who liked me when she was planning on leaving my bed with her dog, (a dog whom had just snapped at my face in her bed).
  • Day 27/82: Absentmindedly shutting a dog into his crate while another was already inside.
  • Day 31-32/86-87: Immaturely withdrawing because of someone’s lack of faith in my knowledge about tick removal, escalating a mutually infuriating conflict to the point of no return (or so we thought)
  • Day 38/93: My grandmother slipping on a sidewalk, hits her head, and does not return (not my folly, but a very sad, unexpected death)
  • Day 46/101: Returning to a hospital with a reputation for having dickhead doctors for a medical checkup.
  • Day 2011: Taking on an extremely ambitious project, procrastinating a year, and moving somewhere 20-60 minutes from an available library whose resources I can’t access because I am not enrolled there.
  • Day50ish: “Accepting [a film review] with major revisions” for an academic journal from an author who is not fluent in English.
  • Day56/111: Snapping at that someone for “stealing my fan” from the communal/study space for her cabin.
  • Day 73/128: The first time ever telling a woman she is “being a bitch” for unproductively (hostilely and sarcastically) referencing everything I’ve ever done wrong while I was chatting with a friend.
  • Day 86/141: Selecting a Thai restaurant as the venue for a date, only to read that “No meals can be made Vegan” on the menu immediately after my date arrives.
  • Day 91/146: Poorly anticipating how much cleaning up I had to perform before leaving the sanctuary.

The End?

  • Day 56/147: Forgetting to print out a map of Crater Lake National Park (where there is no cell reception) before I arrived at night (when the visitor center is closed) with no available campsites, and no cash for the Wizard Island cruise
  • Day 57/148: Forgetting to submit my payment for my Lost Creek campsite and possibly having my tent confiscated.
  • Day 58/149: Relying on a flaky stranger (who told me before he went to bed that he’d kill me if I touched his daughter) to host me for a night in Eugene, OR.
  • Day 59/150: Taking home a drunk young woman covered in chocolate vegan pudding into my new car.
  • Day 60-68/151-59: Prioritizing sex over Portland job searches.
  • Day 65/156: (Too stupid to even mention) on Alberta!!!
  • Day 69/160: Dehydrated and ill-fully bumbling around southern Washington.
  • Day 72-73/163-64: Inefficiently purchasing food and materials for my solo wilderness Olympic NP trip.
  • Day 77/168: Impatiently speeding to the Hoh rainforest and barely missing a bobcat.
  • Day 77/168: Temporarily moving in with my present lover until I find a job (even though I promised myself “never again” to living with a lover three times before [see day 60])… Oh, the heartbreak.

To be continued…..

With Love,


Categories: Oregon Trail 2012 | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Time has us by the Strings

Just now, while searching through my old files, I found a letter I wrote to my ex just over 10 months ago. Since I haven’t had time between co-authoring a chapter, working on a farm, and dealing with yet ever more exciting “ex-relationship” drama, I thought I’d post it here. <But then I changed my mind at the last minute>


I. An Untimely Self

This letter was my final attempt to move my ex through logos, and it’s failure to do so–the failure to rebuild trust and intimacy with meaning–left me disillusioned more than ever with reason. At the end, I resorted to ethos, to find a common meeting ground, a simple, common, everyday activity to bond over, but every invitation was blocked. Logos and ethos could not have access to pathos so long as I had become the abject of my ex’s subjectivity. My attempts at logos and ethos were in fact a symptom of the larger problem. Both tactics pressured her to live by my time, rather than letting her be as she had become in her own time. The tactic I should have followed was kairos, an attentive, self-restrained patience.

Although what she said most often was that she needed space, what I think she really meant was time. Within the tradition of liberal humanist discourse, personhood has been defined territorially, not temporally. To say one needs to be oneself is interpreted as one needing distance from being touched, from being affected¬† by something outside. The subject, to have integrity, needs to be autonomous–not dependent on others–to properly perfect oneself according to one’s own image. Yet such existential independence is rarely achieved, especially when space must be shared. To let one be is not so much leaving space as it is respecting time. For who we are changes, and although change can be very painful, it must be affirmed if we are not to act violently to ourselves and others, to manifest suffering.


II. A Puppet of the Past

I cringed when I acknowledged that this letter retains relevancy in the present. Reading the letter encouraged me to reflect on my recent behaviors over the past couple months to make amends with someone I became very intimate with and likewise had to live and work with in the aftermath of intimacy. I find myself making the same mistakes,¬† attaching myself to the value of “I” and the possessiveness of “me.” Each time a powerful “relationship” comes to an end, I feel simultaneously devastated and empowered, for I have learned through my faults. But history teaches me that it is so easy to let faults slip through our consciousness back into the body of habits. I discover myself repeating these uncanny words.

Without losing myself, I will not become someone else. Yet, after months on the road relatively cut from my former roots in Texas and Illinois, I cling fast to my bumper during each intentional swerving maneuver to release me. Consciousness and swerving has helped clean up some “noise,” but has not established a new paradigm for my being. I sit on the side of the road lost in thought, but not of the past. My familial, fraternal,¬† and romantic relationships are knotted around my ego, suffocating it of creativity. The knots tie me down to people and land I am thousands of miles and hundreds of days apart from, playing me like a marionette. I’m a puppet of the past. The more force I apply to these strings, the more tangled I become; the more I act like a Man, the more of a mockery I prove myself to be.


III. Concrete Reality: Time has got us by the Strings

Must one accept our string, our knotty personas, to move beyond it? To master oneself, one must not attempt to master others, but to master kairos, to master a situation by allowing it to be and be undone. For years I have attempted to  master time, to conform the present to the fantastic future and the future to my representation of it in the present. But to live in fantastic expectation, to force things from out of the present,  only works so long as the fantasy is not traversed.

The difficulty of reality is our exposure in time, our ineffable exposure to ghosts from the past and omens of the future. Reality is that time has us, not us it. Karma is the catching-up of time when we believe we have moved beyond it. Suffering is the manifestation of reality’s disillusionment of our ideals once time has tagged us. Once tagged, we are not¬†I, but is. And is is all there is. If we cannot accept that, we cannot accept ourselves, and so we suffer even as time has passed us by. We continue to dragged ourselves behind or run ahead of cars, and so eventually feel the friction of reality against our flesh, tearing us apart without pulling us together.

In writing this, I feel as though I’m resigning myself to fate, writing against resistance. Do I prefer life as a puppet over life as a person or has my thinking finally become just as tangled up in knots as my identity?

Categories: Essay, Original Writing, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Complimentary Dates


Before I returned home in January to avoid the emotional and social aftermath my ex concocted, I updated my OK Cupid status to Chicago. Although I had some old friends I was excited to see, I didn’t have a community of people to chill with like I did while in grad school, and I wasn’t living in the city so it would be more difficult to make one or find people to go out with. More so, I was looking for some validation that I was attractive dating material… plus, I wanted to bone. The free dating site didn’t do much for me in Texas. There weren’t many rad feminist nerds, and if there were, I was limited because I didn’t have a car and I was swamped with grad school work. To my surprise, I had hundreds of visitors to my profile within the first couple days. By the time I arrived at O’Hare airport, I had several dates lined up and a potential six or seven more. My self-esteem was at the highest since the Spring.

So I spent my first week hanging out with some friends (a philosopher transplant in a Northwestern English grad program, a Texas socialist, an old friend kinky hipster) and some dates. My first date–a microbiology teacher and grad student–in Chicago was promising. We went out twice, but she was too busy to pursue a relationship with someone outside the city. My second date was a different story. We both thought one another was cool, and we both had survived bad breakups and really wanted sexual satisfaction. We met up a couple times, and both enjoyed the sex, but I didn’t feel comfortable afterwards. I wasn’t attracted to her beyond a political level and felt like I was just using her for sex. I went on another 8 or so phone and dinner dates, but most didn’t amount to anything due to a disinterest on either one of our ends. Eventually I became exhausted from my commutes to the city, and I even began to question the point of all the dating. Yes, I was hanging out with cool people, exploring the city, eating great food, and upping my dating experience points. But what was motivating me? Sex? Companionship? Boredom? Procrastination?


A couple months and a couple hundred dollars later, I didn’t feel any better than where I started. I had not much to show for my time at home. I intended to volunteer at a humane education organization and attend couch surfing events to make friends and get referrals, but with little results.¬† Okay, I had watched the entire series of Battlestar Galactica. This 72-hour accomplishment is quite the feat for someone who hasn’t watched any TV (save a couple series on DVD like Arrested Development and Curb Your Enthusiasm). But the show only reminded me of my ex. I couldn’t separate it from her because she would talk about it all the time in the month before the breakup. I couldn’t stop guessing which character she identified as and what she must have thought about the character’s relationship tensions as we wen though our own. It was a bizarre exercise of the imagination. Besides Battlestar, I did quite a bit of reading. It felt great to read novels again after grad school, but I soon became impatient with even this.

In the last six weeks of my stay, I focused less on entertainment and more on planning. I found two incredible WWOOFing opportunities. One northern in Utah at a Hare Krishna Temple and another in southern Oregon at a care farm. My spontaneous adventure had gotten locked in as I worked my schedule around these opportunities. I soon had an itinerary after talking with a facebook friend who I studied with in Australia who had since been giving tours of the country every summer. Now that I had more concrete plans, I felt more confident telling relatives and acquaintances about my road trip.


It was either my new found confidence and optimism from dating and planning, just plain luck, karma, or a flirtatious combination of all the above that set me up in contact with several lovely women. The first was a beautiful blonde who contacted me first. I’m bashful to admit that her references to Pokemon (and interest in vegan donuts) caught my attention. I’m not normally attracted to blondes, but she was cute as a button. We romanced each other over a game of Mario Kart and participated in a victory dance in her bedroom. Afterwards, we cuddled, giddily smiling. Unlike previous dates, I felt something. I did not feel alienated, but connected. There was mutual affection. It was really great. It was what I think I was looking for: emotional and sexual intimacy.

On the next date, however, there was no sexual fruition. I wanted to assume she felt sick from the food and wasn’t interested, but she said she felt fine. After she kissed me goodnight, I felt empty. I thought I had found another person to share intimacy with, but I hadn’t. I felt rejected, but not like the previous times which I accepted relatively easily. I felt like a failure and the fear grew within me that it would be another year or longer until I found another person like my last two exes. I went back onto OK Cupid and looked for other people to meet, one of which was the girl I “fell in love” with. That same week, I was contacted by a woman from the Southeast and got an invitation from someone I had messaged in Arcata, California to spend the day together. I spoke with both over the phone, and each I had a great conversation with. The magnitude of positive attention I had in this one week made me feel accomplished and helped me rebound from my sadness over what I saw as rejection from the blonde gamer.

Actually, I eventually went out with her again several times and we developed greater intimacy. I thought she was being aloof the entire time, but as I reflected on my past relationships, I realized that perhaps it a response to my own aloofness. Was I guarded as much as they were? I was being more private because of my concerns with web privacy and the violation of my social space by my ex in the Fall, but there was something more. I became more conscious that I did not give many compliments. I did not give much at all. And I was just as reserved at times towards receiving. I was suspicious of both ends. Each exposing my vulnerability in different ways. In each I exposed myself as interested and opened myself to either rejection and/or dependency. So I gave her compliments, telling her how I felt about her the whole time. Unfortunately, I was to anxious to do just that, and prefaced them with “I don’t usually give compliments” and end noted “, but that’s not so much a compliment but a fact.” I’m quite the neurotic! Even still, the night ended happily.


So what lessons did I learn from all this?

First, to capitalize off my positive traits. I could tone down my innate cuteness, eccentricity, and nerdiness, but I ended up dating people who I did not connect with and care much for.If I were to achieve sexual and emotional intimacy, I had to feel comfortable with myself, and I could only do this by having confidence in myself and my innate attractiveness.

Second, to admit I want intimacy. I often find myself between the polyamorous queerisity of some of my friends and vanilla hetero-monogamy of others.¬† It’s ridiculous that i should feel pressure to be at either end of those spectrum.¬† I don’t like putting limits on my sexuality and on the number of people I can love, but I also am not turned on by strapping a stranger down to a table and beating them. I want intimacy without a quota. And I don’t have to be¬† radically queer to be radical or have great sex.

Third, to be direct and honest. I’ve missed out on so many sexual invitations and opportunities because of a sense of futility or a fear of losing a friend. In the long term, I would discover that picking up on an opportunity was far from futile and that my potential friendship with that person was far from secure. By speculating about a future and calculating an approach out of anxiety from acting in the present, I denied beauty from my life. Recently, I’ve discovered how powerful it can for both parties to be to be direct about how you feel about one another, why you are attracted to them, and what you’d like from them. I’ve “fallen” for people who have done that to me, so it shouldn’t be surprising that it works the other way around too.

Fourth, to assert my sexuality. When I was younger, I’d come off creepy because I would be sexually assertive without confidence and sensuality. I became embarrassed of my strong sexuality and afraid of acting on it because of how others may be affected and how I would judge myself. I assumed it was a default intrusion rather than a gift. Now I was discovering, beginning with a cute chicana that I dated after the breakup, how spellbinding my flirtation could be. A writer-sorcerer, I had a away with words. They crawled off my tongue, skipped from my lips, tickled the back of her ear, crept under the skin of her neck, and slid between her thighs. When I paused, I could hear her silent response.

Fifth, to be the top. This may contradict the first lesson I learned, but it is an extension of the last two. I’d describe myself more as a switch. I get turned on more when someone is very expressive and I feel more when I’m able to slip out of consciousness through transcending thought. I am also a heteroflexible feminist and value gender equality. What (generalization) I’ve discovered is that most (or at least many) rad feminists like their partner to be the top, probably for the very same reasons I do! Women are often very self-conscious about their positive body image, pleasing their partner, and getting-off that they aren’t able to do all these things simultaneously. But there is possibly also a gendered component of wanting to be wanted (which I’m subjected to also, by the way). By minimizing my gender privilege (self)confidence during sex, the act becomes more intimate and fluid for all parties, as it allows me to fully unleash the sexual animal inside without guilt and not overanalyze desire.

Sixth, to date vegetarians. This lesson may seem superficial, but I have never had great sex with a non-vegetarian. I don’t know why. It could be because I feel more intimacy with someone who doesn’t support interspecies injustices. Or perhaps vegetarians are more intimate with me for the same reason. Bias or just a coincidence from a smaller sample size, I’ll probably not be making a rule out of this anytime soon, but it’s fun to think about.

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

Road Reflections: Sex, Death, and Love


The solitude of the open road can be an experience rich in thought and emotion. Being alone in on the rorad can be a meditative exercise. The zen of driving, if you will.

It’s sometimes surprising how many prematurely ended thoughts bubble up to the surface of consciousness during moments of solitude. Yet, people do not expect this and perhaps even fear it. I’m going to refer back to Sherry Turkle’s TED talk on being “connected, but alone.”¬† One excellent point she makes is that many of us in smart phone and facebook society are anxious to be-by-our-self. In this condition, people are afraid when they are not connected, afraid perhaps to think and reflect.

My first day on the road was not suffered with the boredom and exhaustion that others thought I’d experience. People were shocked that I wanted to travel alone over such long measurements of time and space. Driving alone seemed foolish to them. How exhausting! How boring! Iowa and Nebraska would surely put me to sleep. There was nothing around to look at and I had no one to speak with. Well, no one but myself.

I put my Samsung Galaxy SII to some good use by hitting the memo and voice command buttons to record short quips, and used the voice recorder to archive longer ones. The following “aphorisms” are more-or-less transcripts of I archived during those first eight hours and 500 miles:

On Insecticide and Responsibility:¬† As I drive through Iowa, my thoughts lead me to the concept of responsibility as dozens and dozens of insects splatter across my bumper and windshield. Can my road trip justify all this death? Is driving ever justified (if we take these insects into serious moral consideration)? Then again, isn’t death inevitable? Everything comes at a cost. These animals’ deaths seem excessive as I’m not even making use of their bodies, but I’m not sure if that makes much of a difference. In the end, lives are taken in the process of all lived experience.

Responsibility is thinking through that. When we want people to be responsible for killing animals, we desire that humans be social creatures and have in mind the consequences for other beings, which is itself an ethical relationship which is itself a social relationship. How do we inhabit the world with others without the same language? It’s a difficult question to answer. We are not able to talk with them in our language or relate to them in the same social manner as we do with other humans. Nevertheless, there is something already fundamentally social about the effort to empathize with and take others into consideration. Empathizing with animals requires a pre-understanding that we have a social relationship with other animals, but we disavow this at an early age. We don’t take this acknowledgement to its end as veganism. We want to feel good about our responsibility without taking it to its logical conclusion.

Thus, we say we care about animals, but without ever questioning where that care begins and ends. To “care” about animals without an effort toward veganism is mere rhetoric. It’s as if to say “I am human, thus I care… but I don’t care more because I am human and thus have a ‘personal choice’ of whether I care or not.” So care comes naturally as a byproduct of one’s humanity, but the negation of that care is even more decisively human because it’s an exercise of the agency of the liberal individual. Of course, this rhetoric is not “human(e),” because to care in such a way is inconsistent and obstructed by an illogical prejudice (specisism), which is a threat against reason which allows us choice and agency in the first place. In the end, caring-to-reason is trumped by rationalizations against caring, against thinking.

Meaningless Death: Death is just so abstract. How can one understand it? One can understand other things that seem incomprehensible, like the creation of life and life itself. They are pretty absurd, but at the same time we are living life. We see people born, and we can experience the miracle that life is, the unfathomability of chance is before our eyes. But we never live death. It’s never before our eyes. There is no reflection on death. One is just reflecting into the darkness. So maybe there is something profound there, realizing the inability of being able to comprehend death. People fool themselves into thinking they know what death is. There is an afterlife or we return to the earth. Spiritualism and materialism. But is there something beyond both those explanations? Is death incomprehensible beyond scientific and religious discourse? What’s difficult about death is the impossibility of making sense of it. And that’s why death is so threatening: it resists any attempt to make sense of it. It’s like yelling into an abyss. There is no answer, but only the echo of our voice whispering back in our skulls.

Love and the Proximity of Nihilism: I’ve been thinking a lot about the question of love. It seems like it has as much to to do with proximity to a person as their identity. Is that all it is? Is that meaningful? Isn’t our “love” different from the affection animals feel after being fed. We want something more transcendent and deeper, but what if that’s all it is? And maybe that’s what’s sad about it: maybe it’s my realization that that’s all it is and trying to make meaning of it without falling into cultural cliches of thinking “this is my mother so I must love her,” or “this is my mother and that’s why I love her”. There is the difficulty of accepting that if that’s what it is. But it’s very real. It’s not insignificant. Love is sharing one’s life with others. That’s who one is.

I think back to that post I wrote about my grandfather. My concern was that maybe I didn’t love people in my family because I didn’t feel how people are expected to feel as “good people”, and that if I felt anything it was because I could’t get past my narcissism–my sadness for myself that I cannot feel sad for them. But my perspective is changing today. Perhaps I’m afraid of expressing and experiencing that emotion, or maybe I do experience sadness in the face of another’s future death and its a very profound feeling. Perhaps, I understand death more essentially than others, as something more than the superficiality of an end of life. And if so, I shouldn’t assume I’m not capable of feeling love.

Motherly Love. Strangely, I’m prompted to reflect on my relationship to my mother as I listen to the soundtrack for the first Kill Bill. My mom went to see the first film with me, and she knew it would be violent and wouldn’t like it (in fact, she walked out at the beginning because it made her sick). Yet, she wanted me to be happy. She is almost always supporting me and doing everything she can. I would just hate myself if I didn’t appreciate all of it. But I don’t, and this insufficient appreciation is hard for me to accept.

What makes it difficult for me to appreciate is her babying me. You begin to resent someone who doesn’t let you be you. She thinks she always knows what’s better and safer for me. And yes, sometimes I mess up because I didn’t t take her advice. But I’d like be allowed to mess up. And I’d like to be able to discover things on my own and earn things on my own. So I think what I really resent is not her, but any felt dependency on her, the feeling of not being able to be my own person and that all the great things become spoiled by her overbearingness.

And that makes me think of my ex–how I gave her lots of advise and encouragement… like my mom… and could have been overbearing at times… and I feel really bad about it. This is a really profound and dreadful realization. It’s devastating because I was the culprit, and I played a role in obstructing my exes love of me, and now we can’t be friends anymore… And I can empathize with the last person I want to empathize with. What I realize now from all the pain I’ve experienced from my ex is that I need to treat my mom with more respect, so that I may be better (more responsible and empathetic) than my ex and myself. But it’s difficult to do that when someone persistently does not respect your integrity.

Sexual Dissatisfaction: Listening to the sexually vulgar lyrics on the final track on the second Kill Bill soundtrack, I reflect on my childhood and how much I wanted to have sex. My life was so focused around it. Much of it had to do with my identity as a male. I felt that a successful male was someone who had sex with lots of women. It’s now obviously how hetero-normative this narrative is and it’s inability to be relevant for all men. More so, however, I believed in that narrative because I was¬† really into “science,” especially evolutionary theory: having more sex meant more potential for offspring, which signifies that one is more fit, that one is a better person, that one has been chosen to have a stake in the future. So I felt like a complete failure within the evolutionary and patriarchal narratives by not having any sex.

Even to this day, I sometimes feel unsatisfied with the amount of sexual partners I’ve had. I think people place a great deal of value on their sex lives like I do because of¬† an insecurity with their self-worth. (So it’s not necessarily a masculinity issue. Today, women are judged for having too few and many sexual partners). So I think my high sexual drive is due to not only a desire for pleasure and experience, but also because of an insecurity with my self. Though, I don’t think these two things are so inseparable because I feel less valuable the more I “miss out” (i.e. the fear of missing out), the less “experiences” I have. But sex is different. It’s not just an experience, its about desire for another and their desire for you.

It feels so good to be attractive to a person you are attracted to and have respect for. It validates your self-worth. And when we discover someone slept with us as a means to an end and not because of the person we are, it feels “dirty,” or rather “meaningless.” We become so vulnerable in the act, emotionally and physically, that we open ourselves to hurt. We become even more humiliated because we feel not only undesired, but cheated and taken advantage of–duped into thinking that someone else thought we were valuable as a person, as a self.

I think back to that previous song on the soundtrack by Johnny Cash called “Satisfied Mind.” As long as I continually compared myself to others and understood myself through others, my satisfaction with life would be contingent upon circumstance and not with life itself. Having more or better sexual partners would never be sufficient. My worth has to be self-sufficient. And it’s that feeling of self-sufficiency that we call confidence, that quality which breeds sex.

Categories: Deep Thoughts, Essay, Oregon Trail 2012 | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

I share therefore I am

Over the past 15 years, I’ve studied technologies of mobile communication and I’ve interviewed hundreds and hundreds of people, young and old, about their plugged in lives. And what I’ve found is that our little devices, those little devices in our pockets, are so psychologically powerful that they don’t only change what we do, they change who we are. Some of the things we do now with our devices are things that, only a few years ago, we would have found odd or disturbing, but they’ve quickly come to seem familiar, just how we do things.

So just to take some quick examples: People text or do email during corporate board meetings. They text and shop and go on Facebook during classes, during presentations, actually during all meetings. People talk to me about the important new skill of making eye contact while you’re texting. (Laughter) People explain to me that it’s hard, but that it can be done. Parents text and do email at breakfast and at dinner while their children complain about not having their parents’ full attention. But then these same children deny each other their full attention. This is a recent shot of my daughter and her friends being together while not being together. And we even text at funerals. I study this. We remove ourselves from our grief or from our revery and we go into our phones.

Why does this matter? It matters to me because I think we’re setting ourselves up for trouble — trouble certainly in how we relate to each other, but also trouble in how we relate to ourselves and our capacity for self-reflection. We’re getting used to a new way of being alone together. People want to be with each other, but also elsewhere — connected to all the different places they want to be. People want to customize their lives. They want to go in and out of all the places they are because the thing that matters most to them is control over where they put their attention. So you want to go to that board meeting, but you only want to pay attention to the bits that interest you. And some people think that’s a good thing. But you can end up hiding from each other, even as we’re all constantly connected to each other.

A 50-year-old business man lamented to me that he feels he doesn’t have colleagues anymore at work. When he goes to work, he doesn’t stop by to talk to anybody, he doesn’t call. And he says he doesn’t want to interrupt his colleagues because, he says, “They’re too busy on their email.” But then he stops himself and he says, “You know, I’m not telling you the truth. I’m the one who doesn’t want to be interrupted. I think I should want to, but actually I’d rather just do things on my Blackberry.”

Across the generations, I see that people can’t get enough of each other, if and only if they can have each other at a distance, in amounts they can control. I call it the Goldilocks effect: not too close, not too far, just right. But what might feel just right for that middle-aged executive can be a problem for an adolescent who needs to develop face-to-face relationships. An 18-year-old boy who uses texting for almost everything says to me wistfully, “Someday, someday, but certainly not now, I’d like to learn how to have a conversation.”

When I ask people “What’s wrong with having a conversation?” People say, “I’ll tell you what’s wrong with having a conversation. It takes place in real time and you can’t control what you’re going to say.” So that’s the bottom line. Texting, email, posting, all of these things let us present the self as we want to be. We get to edit, and that means we get to delete, and that means we get to retouch, the face, the voice, the flesh, the body — not too little, not too much, just right.

Human relationships are rich and they’re messy and they’re demanding. And we clean them up with technology. And when we do, one of the things that can happen is that we sacrifice conversation for mere connection. We short-change ourselves. And over time, we seem to forget this, or we seem to stop caring.

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Love is a Beautiful Fiction

I. Why “Love”?

Her soft voice had me falling over her every word. My eyes were transfixed on her smile, my ears tuned into her story. She apologized for talking so much. I told her I love to listen. It’s how we get to know one another, I said.

Something was happening. Not any something, something exceptional. I was not going to censor how I felt. I was going away soon and had been too long bound to fear. Excited and curious, she encouraged me to speak. I said I had never felt this way in a long time. My knees were shaking. I wanted to lunge over the table and kiss her. I had never felt so connected to someone for years, so attracted to who they were. She said she was feeling something special, too. She smiled.

She asked me what I liked about her so much. I didn’t know, but I felt obliged to respond, so I foolishly tried to capture my feelings in words. It was a beautiful story if I ever heard one. A sincere and seductive fiction. She said I was sweet.

Moments later we were making out on Michigan Avenue right outside the thrift store she worked at. She said I was beautiful, that someone should paint a portrait of me. Near the end of our date, she said she didn’t feel the same about me. In the minute I had taken to use the restroom, she lost confidence in her desire. She may have been afraid of being in a long-term relationship, but she was also afraid of feeling used and of growing close to someone who was leaving so soon. She said she needed more time to assess her feelings and that we should get together again another night.

When I returned home, I did what every internet junkie does. I logged onto Facebook and “updated my status:”

¬†Mutually “falling in love” (or whatever the fuck you want to call knee-shaking intense attraction) with someone you just met is super amazing

Why had I chosen those words, “falling in love”? Yes, I had put them in scare quotes to emphasize my suspicion, but I had never thought the word “love” during the entire experience. Only after it was over did I choose those words. Why?


II. Who Loves Who?

By morning, the previous night seemed relatively uneventful. What had just happened? Why had such a powerful event been diluted with a few hour holiday from conscious thought? Was I protecting myself from being hurt, or had I ever really felt those feelings in the first place? Had I interpreted my attraction to her, my shaky knees, and her attraction to me as “love” for the sake of security after heart aching reflection, indecision over a car purchase, intoxication, and anticipation for sexual commencement?

A thought darkened my image of myself: had I only said what I said in order to fuck her? Was I one of those douche bag guys who would say anything to get in a girl’s pants? I was concerned the previous night that that’s what she was afraid of. I reassured myself and her that I was being sincere and I sincerely believed that! But I can be a manipulative person with plans below the surface, acting and desiring to be considerate but not without a more primal underlying desire. Was I unaware of my subterranian agenda? Had I fooled myself the night before that I wasn’t one of those guys? I wanted to believe I was better, but the question presented itself to me: was I?

But that sketchy story is also a fiction, a story just as much as the previous one about falling in love. Just as there is no one ultimate meaning to life and the cosmos, there is no intrinsic meaning to our affect and actions. Whether I narrate myself as sincere and sweet or stealthy and seductive, when it comes down to it, I am both and neither, for all “I” am is a fiction with no author. “I” am but a translator of actions and affect of the practices of my-self-formation. To translate oneself to oneself is perhaps our most fundamental responsibility. Who is self? Not “I,” but self-conscious autopoesis–life becoming conscious of itself, naming itself as such, and narrating itself into existence through its bastard child be call language.

It’s a scary thing not knowing who we are. And that’s why we write. More fundamental than being sincere, sweet, stealthy, and seductive, I am a sorcerer conjuring new identities and worlds to inhabit. These are not my creations, for I do not simply precede them as a cause to an effect. For the very “I” who has crafted these narrative dolls is itself a doll woven by yet a doll before it and the one before it and is contingent upon whatever string and instruments those dolls have been enlightened to use. We are driven to translate our affect and actions to others in conversation, to share our-self-formation and to be recognized as such. So “I” can never be sufficient. There must always be an other who precedes, exceeds, and lives amongst my presence.


III. A String Theory of Love:

The compulsion to feel complete and connected is a human one as¬† is the suffering produced by it. In an impermanent world in which we are all by natural law unraveling, the concept of “love” as that which binds is very securing. But love is not the stitches, nor the stitching. Love is the gravitational force that spins the soft string so that it contacts and caresses other string. It pulls us closer to others while not binding one to the other so that me may slip in and out of our identities, unraveling into and out of one another. There is no inherent meaning to the string of love beyond the pleasure, desire, and joy of love’s contact; and whatever meaning there is, is woven and rewoven.

Love is a craft out of our control. To bind ourselves to ourselves and to those we care about is not always an affirmation of love, but more often an act to protect ourselves from it.¬† To love self and other is to allow slippage into and out of one another, reducing friction. At times, the discomfort of friction and puncturing is necessary to free others who have been tied up by the hands of others in the cat’s cradle of oppression. To love, then, is not to secure and design, but to ride along the sensual flows of soft fabric that rips, tears, is punctured, and patched up. This is the life of string.

So-called “love” is a beautiful fabrication. It’s not something that exists prior to linguistic craftmanship of the materials and instruments we’ve inherited from past experiences and techniques. It’s an art form of the deceit of security. When I say “I love you,” I am translating my affect and self into existence, weaving the strings that pre-exist me into a doll in relationship to another doll to make myself whole, to complete “me.” So it is true that “love” makes one complete, but only true as a fabrication. The reality that underlies it, however, is that “love” is not love. It is us who does the stitching and the knotting for love is always in motion, not stasis. It is an unnameable excess through which “we” come into existence.

Categories: Essay, Original Writing, Social Conciousness | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

The Promise of a Self

The following are thoughts I had that came to me during a walk last month.

Faith, Promise, and Forgiveness
In an age predicated on rational control through prediction and certainty, faith has been devalued. Faith, however, remains an important element of human existence, pertaining to our relationship to time. Faith is that of a promise, a promise that can only be imagined, never certain, a belief that things can be better. Faith is the promise of the impossible, not necessarily that which is against and in defiance to established tested knowledge, but for that which is most improbable, recognizing it as such. Importantly, Faith in Promise relies on the precondition of forgiveness for that which was. That is, to have faith in something is in some sense to forgive it, to recognize redemption in that which is towards that which is to be–the promise.

Humility vs. Humiliation
One reason behind the devaluation of faith in modern times is surely the devaluation of dependency and the non-instrumental. By configuring freedom as self-assertion and reason as pragmatism and holding both as the central ideals of our epoch, that which is beyond our control and negligible in its use value is deemed inferior and in need of assimilation and mastery. Humanity and its alleged superiority defined by these concepts of freedom and reason as such, becomes a narcissistic fantasy devoid of humility. Humility in an epoch of greater and greater (illusion) of control is identified as a weakness. Humility is as such associated with humiliation–to be alienated from one’s freedom and individual integrity.

How dangerous that these two concepts be equivocated. They couldn’t be more foreign from one another in their effect upon the psyche. Humility affirms self’s relationship to its world. It is catalyzed through enlightenment as a corrective and a challenge to the illusion of the everyday. Humiliation, in contrast,¬† negates one’s relationship to world and self. It is annihilating in the strictest sense, stripping one of their meaning and value, and is thus experienced as defeating. So while Humility leads toward positive transformation, humiliation leads towards despair,destroying self-esteem and agency, creating a violent and/or depressive impulse. It stains one’s existence, leaves a deep, dark, bottomless hole that pulls one’s being back into it. The hole becomes a source of gravity in one’s life that makes it hard to go forward and transform. Humiliation becomes the defining event of self–difficult to transcend and exit.

Evolution and Revolution in Self
Why the blackhole of humiliation is so difficult to escape from is because it absorbs all light, consuming the visibility of something beyond darkness. It is where faith is the most impossible yet is the most needed. This paradox is what rips open the space-time continuum and gives birth to the miracle that is faith. The leap of faith is thus the vision of something beyond possibility. To go beyond humiliation is to have faith in a self, not yet in existence. It is to forgive the self that was, so that self may be freed into the future.

Dwelling in the past is not necessarily the antithesis to forgiveness and faith. In dwelling, one may play,¬† reinventing possibility. Such reinventing through the play of reinterpretation is an evolution of the self. It takes what was, resists its meaning, and establishes a new one. Such may free one from shame, yet it is not a revolution because it still hinges on the centrality of a particular event. Dwelling in the past is always a dwelling in a particular past event, place, and idea. By continuously returning to that event, one becomes a subject of it. That is, one subjugates self¬† to the Event as a definition of one’s existence. One cannot think outside of the event. One recapitulates its centrality. Through exiting the orbit of regret through forgiveness (of self and other), one achieves a revolution by decentralizing the event’s priority.

Self, Selfishness, and Selflessness
The conflation of humility and humiliation surely has much to do also with the conflation of ego and self. Self and ego, however, are likewise vastly different entities. Self is grounded in relationship to one’s identity and existence. It is the recognition and practice of one’s agency. Ego, on the other hand, is a grasping at the self that is most familiar (most established or old) out of the uncertainty from which anxiety grows. The stronger the ego, more strongly one is possessive of old values and identity, the more one fetishizes them without thinking them through and allowing for becoming. Ego is thus childish, or rather immature, in its lack of social development.

The negative connotation of ego is transferred over to selfishness as well because of its proximity and association as a concept. The refutation of selfishness has led people to advocate selflessness as a virtue. This is again to conflate the problem with selfishness with care for the self. In actuality, both selfishness and selflessness are against Self: the former places the primacy of ego before the Other, and the latter places the Other before self. Genuine self, however, cannot exist when in opposition and priority over others nor at its subordination. Self transforms and earns value with, for, and by others. Self that is violent toward others or accepts violence from others is lacking in integrity.

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Sewing Oneself Into Suffering

I. The Sound of Suffering: While writing the last poem, “Solar Eclipse,” I recalled the powerful song “Total Eclipse of the Heart.” In the summer of 2009, I broke down during my drive to work when the song came on the radio. Something about its lyrics instantly captured my attention. The song, like “Somebody I Used to Know,” spoke to something truthful in my lived experience. It articulated sentiments I felt but could not sublimate quite so craftily and beautifully. My heart sank deeper from the enhanced awareness of my affections and suffering but it was not accompanied by the weight of emotional oppression. Instead, I felt elated. Liberated.

And I need you now tonight
And I need you more than ever

. . . . .

Once upon a time I was falling in love
But now I’m only falling apart
There’s nothing I can do
A total eclipse of the heart
Once upon a time there was light in my life
But now there’s only love in the dark
Nothing I can say
A total eclipse of the hear

So three and a half years later, as I chose the relationship between sun, earth, and moon as the theme for a “love poem,” I came to wonder if “Total Eclipse of the Heart” had a similar message, whether I was picking up on something I heard before or a transcendent image. In the former experience, I was deeply hurt by my lover not returning my calls and emails, avoiding coming to an agree on an apartment and that my companion animal, Duke, was possibly on the verge of death, and I needed emotional support. I really loved her, but was truly “falling apart” and I “needed her more than ever.” There was no one I had ever felt more intimacy and connection with than her.

In my present situation, however, I had been deeply hurt by an ex-lover, -partner, and best friend. I no longer loved her. There were times I verged on hating her. Her cowardliness and unfairness disgusted me. I never felt so much rage and dislike directed at any one person before. So I asked myself:

II. Why am I still mourning? Why does she still occasionally haunt me five months after I was pressured into officially ending the relationship, (seven months after I had done the same to her) and two months after removing myself from the risk of encountering her at a community event, on the streets, or in a bar? Do I still love her, despite my bold assertions otherwise?

So here I catch myself romanticizing over a lost friend, a “dead” friend, for this person no longer exists in the world and never will. The person who fell in love with me and who I had fallen in love a year ago would never have been so callous and displayed such contempt for me. Or perhaps she would have. Perhaps I never really knew her. Or perhaps I did, and allowed myself to remain ignorant.

During the trauma, after the breakup leeched into my community of friends, corroding my final security, the last emotional support beams I had left, I begrudgingly relived a short but intense disagreement between us. She had said something out of desperate anger that I could never forgive, but had brushed under the rug because I loved her so much and could feel her pain. Essentially, she wished that one of my friends be date raped because she had cyber-bullied her one day on Facebook. Over the next two months, I started noticing and confronting her on racist things she would say. Each of these comments tempted me to end things, but I was afraid. It was difficult to reconcile my love for someone with the terrible, hateful things out of her inability to healthfully cope with psychological and emotional trauma. Eventually, I became the target of her venom, from her inability to healthfully cope with her indecisiveness about continuing the relationship. I can speculate as to why, but what I’ve realized during the whole process is that understanding another (and even oneself) is severely limited, if not entirely impossible. Eventually, I gave up appealing to reason, to talking things through in order to reach mutual understanding and respect. All I wanted was to rebuild trust and decent feelings between us, but she would have no such thing. All I know is that I had ignored the warning signs. The beautiful duck was now a rabid rabbit. The duck and the rabbit were there the entire time, but I cared only to see it one way.

III. The simulacrum of a specter. The person I grieve over now is not the actual subject of my historical love, but a projection refracted through selective memories. I grieve over an imaginary past. Why cry over a person who I never loved, who never existed outside my imagination? To make my suffering more concrete, to crystallize it into an external love object.

We like to hold on, to believe that there is something holding us together into a coherent whole, to tell ourselves lies–not in order to avoid suffering since we suffer all the more for believing them–, but to flee from the torment of despair and anxiety. For at least there is security in suffering.

The body of my existence was unraveling before my eyes into an incoherent pile of string, so I narrated a story to stitch my fragments back together. The more I repeated the story, the thicker and more secure the stitches became, reinforcing the story to hold together: this is who I am, this is who she is, this is how I feel, this is how she feels, this is why we act the way we do. Returning to memories, imagining alternative actions I could have taken and words I could have said… I was playing with dolls.

But could I do much else? Is it not necessary for one to make sense out of string? Can one exist as an incoherent pile? No. So we sew ourselves into a story, a narrative self. Playing with dolls was all I had left to make sense of the explosive trauma that had torn me to pieces. It was a painful process of healing. Each reinforced stitch, another non-anesthetized puncture, another pull, another tear. But I was naively sewing myself more securely into the trauma. I was reinforcing a self who could not escape. So dreadful was the annihilating unravelment, I kept stitching old patterns forgetting that annihilation opens oneself to a new form and future.

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Solar Eclipse


Encompassed within the gravitational force of your love,
I spin in circles.
Or is it you
shyly spinning around me?

Who is acting on who?
Are we equally subject to a force beyond us,

When darkness stretches across the horizon,
you shed light upon earth.
We share the spectacle of each other’s contours,
peaks and trenches.

Under the fullness of your explosive luminosity,
I am blinded to an unfathomable number of stars.
Their distant calls from the abyss, muted in your competitive glow.
In presence of your light,
I cannot face your dark side, which cannot face me.

Over days, your presence wanes,
your darkness grows.
Days become apprehensive,
out of fear that you will not return,
of the loneliness under an abysmal horizon.

Abandoned, I try to forget you,
but your rhythm haunts my harbors,
fingers combing through still sand shores.
Love’s tides roll in on the tempest,
it’s ebbs and flows erode my being.

You think you have left,
but you merely lurk behind the clouds
on a mischievous trajectory
to intrude into my daylight.

Neither simply light nor emptiness,
you are a stain in the sky.
An inversion of sunlight,
a vindictive hole
that has colonized what light I had left.

What is left of me?
a delicate sandstone arch,
hollowed out by the forces of love,
standing hold of the earth
under the light reflection of your iron indifference.

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Just Kidding!

Maybe you’d have more friends if you weren’t so crazy. (Pause. Laugh.) Just Kidding!

If you’ve been living in the USA sometime for the past decade, most likely you’ve heard some disparaging judgement followed by an anxious smile and the blurting catchphrase “just kidding!” In IM and text lingo, this translates into “j/k, LOL.” More than likely, each time you are a target of this catchphrase, something gets under your skin, but you are not sure why. You become annoyed.

During a recent conversation with a friend, I think I’m finally able to articulate why this catchphrase nags me so much. But before I cut straight to the chase, it may be useful to examine the general motivations and effects of humor. I can think of six at the moment:

  • being-with another (build familiarity and trust)
  • mitigating social awkwardness and rejection
  • producing an affect for one’s entertainment and power
  • recognizing a profound absurdity in life
  • sublimating moral and existential anxiety
  • fleeing from accountability over one’s subconscious attitudes

The first set of three are social in nature. They have as their end or effect the practical and pleasurable aim of social integration and mutual understanding. The first is an organic and deeply comforting connection with another person, the second is a desperate defense against ostracism, and the third is a self-centered assertion over others. The second set of three are existential in nature. They have as their end or effect making sense of the difficulty of reality and the threatening lure of nihilism. The first is an exhilarating confrontation with nothingness, the second is a desperate defense against nothingness, and the third is the desperate hiding from nothingness. “Just kidding!” falls into this final category.

Rather than “just kidding!” being an attempt to deflect responsibility for a comment by casting it as a joke, it is actually a speech act to convince oneself and others that one deliberately cracked a joke. In other words, the tag line “just kidding!” is an anxious reaction to the regretful exposure of one’s subconcious attitudes. By adding “just kidding,” one claims responsibility for the comment, but recasts it within the fabricated context of benign or neutral intent. But one was never kidding. No. One did not even intend to say it. There was no premeditation, just prejudice. It’s a prejudice one refuses to accept as having sway over us, so one takes accountability not for the prejudice but the act of articulating it to others as if it were not prejudice.

“Just kidding” then is an inverted, “I don’t mean to be racist, but…” While the later anticipates and thus has already recognized the prejudice behind what one is about to say, the former is a reflection after the fact of a recognized prejudice. While one is prelude and the other a tag line, they both are disavowals of one’s own prejudice. While they sound like apologies, they are actually rhetorical devices to avoid apology. Neither takes seriously one’s own prejudice and the hurt it might cause others who hear it articulated. Both take responsibility for what is said but by deflecting any moral judgement of it and the speaker. All in all, they can be summarized as such: “I don’t mean anything by this comment, so don’t be upset with me, even though I recognize I’m being a total asshole.”

“Just Kidding” is bad faith. It’s one’s refusal to take responsibility for subconscious attitudes. It’s a lie to oneself and the other that one had reason and control over what was said. It’s a way to avoid responsibility for examining our prejudices, our insecurities about our values and identities. It closes off conversation and confrontation. It’s in short, a way out of thinking and feeling.

Categories: Social Conciousness | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

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