Throwing Rocks

So I went down to visit my brother and sister-in-law and niece this past weekend. We had a lovely time just hanging out together, not getting up to much. Played games and watched Scooby-Doo and generally just caught up with one another. And, of course, got a good amount of niece time in. I thought I might do a little exploring in Portland but it was rainy and I was lazy and so I did not. The change of scenery and the lovely company, though, were more than adequate for a really lovely time.

An additional highlight of course came in the form of Cooper, a very handsome but very shy kitty. He knows me pretty well but even so, didn’t want to come out of hiding much for me. But he does have his photogenic moments, as showcased below.

So very precious, isn’t he? I will always be here for a cute cat snuggle so ten points to you on that front, Cooper and family.


So we did go on a big family adventure to walk down the Columbia River a little bit. A bit of a blustery season for river walking but it was relatively warm and our whole sojourn was gloriously free of rain. The walking pace of a two year old is not quite the pace of a twentysomething gay man but we can all use a lesson in patience, yes? And it just allowed more time for chatting and playing Pokémon Go.

When we got to the river, we had a little time on the beach/shore/bank/whatever you call it on a river but where it’s sandy. And my niece got to throw some rocks into the water because why not? It was a lucky thing she didn’t tumble into the river with how close she felt she needed to be in order to throw them in but she remained blessedly dry. And then, when it was time to keep moving to go down a little pier thing, she insisted that she needed to throw some more rocks.

Two year olds, you may be aware, can be really quite obstinate on obscure points.

So as we proceeded, she picked up additional rocks from beside the path and stowed them in her pockets for throwing in the water later. This in and of itself didn’t bother me but it was the time taken to choose each rock that seemed egregious. To be fair, it’s not like she spent ten minutes choosing each individual stone. It wasn’t really all that long. But it felt like ages because she wasn’t skipping them or anything, she just wanted rocks to throw in the water. Though I suppose she had some convoluted toddler reasoning for her choices but that’s beside the point.

We made it, eventually, to the end of the pier/causeway/jetty thing and she got to go back down to the water to empty her pockets into the river.


I could make this about not holding onto things that will only weigh you down (which is a valid lesson) but here’s the thing that I think I need to hear more: make decisions. When the question is which stone to toss meaninglessly into a moving body of water, just pick one up and let it go. It just doesn’t matter all that much.

I am a very indecisive person (this is not shocking to any of you who have spent much time with me). And the thing is, I actually don’t have a strong opinion a lot of the time. Sometimes, I’ll say that just to make someone else more comfortable or because I want to be courteous, but often it’s because I really don’t mind a whole lot. But all the same, if I don’t mind a whole lot, then it doesn’t really cost much just to choose. If the rock doesn’t matter, then it shouldn’t take ages to pick one up. You know what I mean? So there’s my little nugget of learning for the week.

I’ll be honest, I’m not optimistic about growth in that area right now because there’s just a lot of other stuff going on in my life right now. But it’s something to be aware of. Not the indecisive part (I’ve know that for ages) but the part about just picking up a rock and throwing. It can be done. Small choices don’t have to be agonizing ones.

Anyway, here’s a line from poet Leah Umansky, “At times, the extraordinary overtakes me. A kiss, a new book, a moment of flattery, laughter or a happy mistake.” Let us enjoy our moments of extraordinary as we throw our chosen rocks into whatever water we have before us.

 

Somebody Else’s Lake

So we’ve all heard that saying about the seaweed being greener–or the grass, whatever. And likewise, we’ve all gotten the memo that such thinking is fallacious. No, the other side isn’t any better than this one, you just want to imagine that being in a different situation will magically erase all your problems. I guess the lesson that saying “the grass is always greener on the other side” is meant to teach is the same message of one of my all-time favorite life mottoes: bloom where you’re planted.

I’ve written about that saying here many times before because it resonates with me so much. Especially given all my moves and everything, sometimes blooming where I’m planted has become my mantra out of necessity because any other attitude would pretty comprehensively ruin my time in whatever place I was trying to bloom in. But I’ll tell you this, I think the past four or five months have been the biggest test of my commitment to that idea yet. There are two things that I’ve been mulling over: what does it mean to be planted, and what does the other side really look like.

When in the past my in-between times have had be at home again, it’s always been a temporary thing. I haven’t felt the need to bloom here because time was limited and it was almost like my life was paused, in many ways. Even if I didn’t know what was coming next, I knew that there would be a next before too long and then I’d be gone, off to bloom elsewhere. But this time, I guess it’s just felt a little closer to the Pit of Despair than before.

With that in mind, I have to ask myself to what extent do I want to become involved in things here? How do I want to engage in life here? I really don’t know the answer here. For example, I’ve been going to the church that I grew up in, which is nice, but it’s also unaffirming of queer people. So in addition to the ‘this is temporary’ mindset, I also have that factor kind of driving me away from engagement. In another sphere, I don’t have a whole lot of friends in the area and so I’ve been trying to make new ones but, at the same time, I am clear that I’m trying to move away and maybe that makes both sides a little reluctant to connect, in spite of best efforts to the contrary.

I just don’t know. I don’t know how long I’ll be here. I don’t know to what extend I’m planted here. I don’t know if I’ll get the job that I’m waiting to hear back from after an interview–though that would really simplify a lot of these aforementioned questions.

And on that note, the second set of problems that I’ve been trying to think my way through. Is the seaweed greener in somebody else’s lake (and yes I get that saying seaweed and talking about lakes to ocean creatures is a whole thing)? That is, to what extent will I really be better off somewhere else? And will it be better than where I’ve been before?

On these questions, I feel that I have a little bit more ground to stand on. I have actually started over in  a new place. Several times, at this point. I have moved to D.C., Dublin, Seoul, and Glen Arbor without knowing anyone. And in the course of doing so, I’d like to think that I’ve learned some skills about how to do it. Nothing I could ennumerate off the top of my head but there are definitely things to do and ways to think that make it a little easier to adjust and start anew.

But one main lesson that I think I’ve learned is this: sometimes, the grass really is greener. Maybe not as green as you may hope or wish or dream, but all the same. And that new place might not (correction, will not) solve all of your problems but it can solve at least some of them. Having greener grass can nourish you in ways that perhaps you didn’t know you were deficient (and hopefully also in those ways in which you know too well you are).

So that’s where I’ve been this week. Am I staying or going? Do I expend social energy here when it gives so little return and may be uprooted at the drop of a hat by my leaving? Do I remain less social and have to deal with more of this same life-on-hold feeling until something comes along? Am I putting too much hope in my life looking better somewhere else or am I striving toward a reasonable hope that change can bring good things?

You didn’t expect a sort of Spanish Inquisition, did you?

Very January

There are many things I love about snow. Some are specific to western Washington, some are not, some are listed below.

  1. Pine and cedar branches, all droopy and elegant, laden with their crystal burden
  2. Knocking snow off such laden branches, which is an almost unparalleled joy
  3. Watching snow fall,  a thousand miracles dancing on each breath of air
  4. Ferns
  5. The unseen dusk last night that cast an opalescent orange-purple hue to the very air when reflected on all the white
  6. Dancing, frolicking, or at least stepping out in the snow (bonus points if you’re barefoot) and watching your steps fill in again
  7. The muffling quiet stillness it lends

When I was in Michigan, the snow was a lot. Sometimes inconvenient, sometimes scary. By the end, it was too much. But throughout that, it was still beautiful. Even if I was ready for the snowdrifts to melt and spring to actually start, I still appreciated the snow for what it was. Is. Whatever.

I love the snow. It is beautiful.

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And so we’re another week deeper into the year. Things for me are really quite the same and it continues to be discouraging but at least there was some snow to give me a little life. It seems kind of like every time I’ve been on the brink of true resignation, something comes along to give me the slightest infusion of hope which then strings me along for a while until the next brink and infusion. I’m very read for that cycle to end, one way or another.

Until then, I’ve been passing the time for better or for worse: reading, playing Civilization, watching Netflix; applying to jobs, getting some exercise, working just a little bit (that’s better and worse, respectively). There are worse ways to while away days. And at least I’m blessed to have the company of a couple very lovely cats. Not to mention the cute ones that my sister is very regular about sending me pictures of.

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It feels altogether too early in the year for a very short post but I don’t know what to tell you. Sometimes that’s just the way it is. I’ve said before that I love winter up until New Year’s and that is so very true. I am very appreciative of the snow and everything but in general this is simply not my scene. Feeling very January this week, I guess.

Before I go, though, I want to say that I am grateful for the beauty of creation.

Russia, Barbarism, and the Fiscal Implications of Beards

If you are less than familiar with Russian history–especially before the twentieth century– there are a couple major rulers that you ought to be at least nominally familiar with. Ivan. Peter. Catherine. Some of you may be aware that St Petersburg was all Peter I’s doing. You may not be aware that another of his landmark changes to Russia was making beards taxable. As in, you were really meant to shave off your beard and if you refused, you had to pay a fee to the government.

I was confronted with a distant relative of this kind of policy when I was in Turkey. I stayed with my friend and his father worked in the military; in order to go to the fancy restaurant that his family wanted to take me to, I would have to shave my few weeks’ growth of facial hair. I didn’t have a problem with shaving, I simply hadn’t brought a razor. But we decided to dine elsewhere in the end.

Why, you may be wondering, would two governments in different centuries in different parts of the world have such regulations relating to beards? Answers, as for most historical things, are not simple but if you’re asking me–and asking me for the short version–I’d tell you it’s because of this amorphous idea that in many ways has run much of the world for the past several hundred years: “the West.”

I am not the person and this is not the place to fully unpack what all might be contained in that moniker. Indeed, I would argue that fully unpacking it is impossible, or at least incredibly contextual. But for our current needs, I think the beard example suffices. At the time of Peter the Great, the important people of western Europe did not wear beards whereas the important people of Russia did. Peter sought to change his country into a western European one (in everything but literal geography) and so made his beard declaration.

I recently watched a video on European history in which John Green said, “For centuries, Russia was seen by western Europe as both European and not, an Other that was to be doubly feared because it wasn’t fully other.” In other words, Russians showed the rest of Europe that “civilization” is a sham; we are all of us bearded in one way or another, our ways of behaving are all too similar for calling some barbarians and others noble. And when you’ve built your identity on being the only civilized guys in the neighborhood, that’s scary.

Sometimes, we fear people not because they are different from us but because they are similar. We cast others as barbarians to explain their actions but in doing the same actions ourselves, we create elaborate descriptions of the “civilized” manner in which we are doing them. We comport ourselves in such a civilized fashion that it never occurs to us that anything we do could be other that civilized. Barbarians, on the other hand, cannot help but perform barbaric actions.

Taxing beards will make you money. Though many will probably shave, some people are likely to continue their beard-wearing proclivity in spite of the cost. But such a tax will not actually change your people. It will not transform them from barbarians into civilized people. It will not take Russians and make Europeans of them. Because people are people, we are we.

We make war whether we are clean-shaven or hairy. We fall in love whether we speak English or Persian. We get angry whether we worship the divine or do not believe in it at all. We weep and laugh and dream and hope. When we are told that someone is different from us–or like us, but not quite–be skeptical. Be more than skeptical, actually. Strike back against that idea, that any people should be treated as less.

I hope you do recognize that that is the inevitable end point of calling people Them–they are less. Set apart, worthy of discrimination, a burden, a plague. It’s okay if they die. It’s okay if we kill them. Anyway. What am I trying to say?

Differences matter but the people who tell us that They are not Us are just trying to tax your beard.

Deodorant; or, Having Friends

Moderately embarrassing story time. When I was in middle school, my personal hygiene habits were pretty medium which, as anyone who has ever encountered a middle schooler will tell you, is not uncommon. One major element of this was that I was slow to develop the routine of wearing deodorant. It was a new part of the morning routine that had not been heretofore necessary and yet now, especially with PE every other day, it became essential. Mostly, I forgot. Sometimes, I was just a gross, lazy adolescent.

Anyway, it did not go unnoticed, as you might imagine. At some point during the year, I was called to the counselor’s office (which in itself was kind of frightening) to talk with the moderately-creepy (at least I thought at the time, who knows if he really was or not) counselor in charge of my grade or letter of last name or whatever. And, in short, he was like, you’ve got to wear deodorant people are noticing.

I think that I’m a pretty easily embarrassed person to begin with so this was absolutely mortifying. No matter how non-creepy or generously done, it was going to be heinous for my delicate sixth grade sensibilities. Needless to say, however, its effects were immediate and, I hope, comprehensive. To this day, I live with fairly constant worry about my smell even though I know my habits are much better these days and I haven’t gotten any further complaints.

But anyway. Now that you know more about that than you ever, ever wanted to. The idea that I’m trying to convey is that I am plagued by doubt. About many things, most more consequential than my odor, but that is one of them. But, for smell as well as for many other things, my doubts are unfounded. I know that there’s no real basis for this pervasive fear but it’s taken hold of me somewhere pretty deep. And simply being conscious of that isn’t really enough to overcome it.

Something that I’ve been trying to work on lately, with more or less success (mostly less, let’s be real), is thinking thoughts that are based on direct evidence. I don’t feel that I’m all that good at reading social signals and that leaves me, as above, plagued with doubts and fears about what people think about me and how they feel and whatnot. But because I don’t pick up on a lot of the signals, those doubts and fears aren’t really based on anything in particular, they’re just kind of a default due to the absence of real information.

And it’s a pretty trash default to assume that people don’t like me or that I’ve always done something wrong. So I’m working on it. Working on being direct with people so that I can have some direct information to go off of. Working on believing people when, having been direct to them, they confirm that they do actually enjoy spending time with me and do actually want to be my friend. It feels very childish to me and I’m often rather embarrassed but I think it’s a much better route than my default negative assumptions.

Here’s the real thing, going back to my little anecdote. I do wear deodorant now. Sometimes, after exertion or in inclement circumstances, I know that I do smell bad, but generally I do not. And so, knowing that I am generally kind to people (or at least trying to be, most of the time), I should be able to rest a little easier knowing that the scent of my friendship (okay yeah, this is a trash metaphor but here we are) isn’t all that offensive to my friends.

To cap this all off, I have to recognize that I do actually have friends. And this, relating to our metaphorical deodorant, has two implications. First, that I don’t generally smell bad. People do like me and I’m not constantly the least-wanted person in any group. Second, when the occasions come when I don’t smell great (which are inevitable), my friends will tell me and they’ll be nice about it and it’ll be a whole lot less mortifying than possibly-creepy counselor man.

So yes, this post is maybe a weird way to start off the year but whatever. Here are my takeaways for you: you are good, believe that people like you, accept correction when it comes, and just worry less. We are, I think, better off than we often give ourselves credit for. And, in the immortal words of Clarence the Angel, no man is a failure who has friends. So thanks, friends, for tolerating my deodorant.