No rush

Let’s start with a quick update: I’ve spent the last couple of months, and especially the past month, dealing with a big health challenge. To those I’ve not yet had the chance to fill in, well, surprise! It all happened fast, a few days from diagnosis to hospital to surgery. A giant sarcoma was removed, and with it around 70% of my liver. I’m healing well, and have been home for a bit over a week now. (Anyone wishing to follow the play-by-play can join at http://www.caringbridge.org/visit/daveshealingteam.)

Of all the elements of my healing, in my mind I was most fixated on gaining weight. I felt like if I could get my body back to where it used to be, it would feel and function as it used to. Not a bad theory. And I’m sure that vanity didn’t figure into it at all, haha. Seeing my totally transformed torso with its massive “Mercedes Benz logo” (without the circle) scar and patchwork chest hair, the loss of virtually all muscle tone, the straight line extending from my back to the back of my legs, where an ass used to be, now flat and with folds like old theater curtains, was, I have to admit, a little shocking.

I had been fighting at every meal to push myself a bit past full, to considerable discomfort, toward fulfillment of my goal. I thought that I could stretch my stomach back out to normal size. And it seemed to be working: I had gained almost 2 pounds. As I stepped on the scale yesterday morning to collect my 5th post-surgery data point in what I hoped would be a continuous upward arc, slowly working toward completion of the neat parabola begun many months ago (when exactly, I’m not sure), I was met with the unexpected: not just a blip in my trajectory, but my lowest weight yet.

“Oh no,” I said out loud as I moved my cheap-ass Big Lots scale to different spots on the floor trying to get a different reading (which sometimes works, but not today). It wasn’t a doomed, tragic “oh no”; it was the arrogant “oh no” of “I don’t think so—this so does not fit in with my plan.”

I didn’t want to be stuck in a negative mindset (who does?), so I went searching for the lessons. First, that all disappointment of this sort comes from unrealistic expectations. What was I thinking? Second, I need to be patient. Third, discouragement is useless.

I asked my doctor later that day about the problem of weight gain, and he confirmed that I can’t push it, I just need to eat as well as I can and it will all come with patience. (I also confirmed at his office that my cheap scale is accurate.)

My meeting with Dr. Hassoun was wonderful. I got to ask him the question every one of my visitors has brought up: what’s the deal with liver regeneration? He said in my case, I should expect my liver will regenerate to 80% or so of its original size over the next 6 to 8 weeks. Weeks!!! I was floored. And his advice about eating has me convinced I need to back off a bit and just do the best I comfortably can.

I’m eating. I’m alive. There is no rush. There can be no rush.

In the wind

Peter Paul & Mary: In the WindIf you can believe it, I’m still playing my record collection in reverse chronological order. I should be done by now, but I’ve slowed way down. It has been fascinating to wander back through the 1960s, a time before I was collecting records or listening to Casey Kasem (who started in 1970), or making much of any musical memories of my own.

My older sister got her first 45s for Christmas 1968—”Hey Jude,” “Wichita Lineman,” “Little Arrows” and “Les Bicyclettes de Belsize” among them. Prior to that, the only records I recognized from the time were those my parents had. Though I haven’t asked, it seems clear they each had their style and bought their records separately. Mom liked Englebert Humperdinck (Tom Jones must have been too racy) and the Lennon Sisters, and before that, the Ray Conniff Singers and Andre Kostelanetz’s orchestra. Dad bought Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass—Herb, my first celebrity crush—and Peter, Paul & Mary. (Granted, Mom is a couple years older than Dad.)

Currently on the turntable: Peter, Paul & Mary’s In the Wind. I’m so moved by this album, and I’m only now realizing that this trio was my very first musical influence. A quick glance at the album cover shows three attractive, hip folk musicians running around the West Village and performing at the 1963 March on Washington. Bob Dylan wrote the liner notes and three of the songs, including the song that I’m now using to describe my last relationship, “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right“; and, of course, “Blowin’ in the Wind.”

Civil rights and Vietnam were the subject of protests back then, a hopeful time when real change seemed possible, so I gather (I don’t remember much about it), just before the assassinations started. The songs are earnest in a way that might seem quaint to us now if they weren’t asking the kind of simple questions we are still asking today. Especially today, when the world seems completely out of control. And the answer is the same: Love each other.

 

I believe in you

Neil Young: After the Gold RushThe idea of encouragement keeps coming up. I’ve heard a couple of talks and had a few conversations on the subject lately. We should always believe in ourselves, having faith in the greatness of our potential, but sometimes we need a little help. It’s not always possible—especially when we’re feeling down—to self-generate that kind of positivity.

I received a message from my guru the other day. “I deeply appreciate you,” he said. Hearing that opened something in me. It gave me a confidence that I was lacking. Discouragement can be a real impediment to not only our spiritual practice, but to anything we want to accomplish in life. How often have we given up because we thought we couldn’t do it, whatever it is, or that what we were doing wasn’t any good or didn’t matter? Having someone believe in us is so important.

My parents believed in me as I was growing up. I am so lucky in that respect. I haven’t followed a path they might have envisioned for me, but they encouraged me anyhow. They encourage me still.

Dave X Robb and altarThe friends I am closest to believe in me. I choose to spend my time with those who build me up, who shower me with love and affirmation, who help. I have gotten good at asking for help. I wasn’t always that way. Sure, it can be scary—you make yourself vulnerable when you ask for what you need. What if you don’t get it? I’ll tell you: You get the valuable lesson that you can’t rely on that person, and you look elsewhere for your support. Happened to me recently.

Independence is overrated. There is no shame in needing others. And people seem to like it: People like to help. I know I do.

We all need to feel appreciated. This isn’t selfish egotism, or it needn’t be; this is a basic human need, to feel held, to feel like we belong, to know we matter and that we make a difference to others in this harsh world.

I rely on affirmation. It is a big part of why I write, I think. It’s why I am crazy about giving and receiving feedback in writing classes. It feels good to know I am connecting, that I have touched someone, be it a classmate, a lonely gay man in Pakistan who read a short story on my fiction blog, or a lover who saw himself in a poem I read at a salon.

But it only works if they tell you. Otherwise you don’t really know. So say it.

 

Boyfriendable

Bob Dylan: DesireSo, here’s something: When is it better to give up on something you’re pretty sure you’d like in life than to continue the crazymaking pursuit of it? By now I understand that true and lasting happiness is a state of mind, that it doesn’t come from anything external. Still, I do feel happy and at peace when I’m able to arrange my life in a certain way, when I’ve got all the pieces lined up pretty nicely—not perfectly, that would be impossible. Not permanently, everything ends.

I’ve never considered myself one of those people who can never be happy. The more you have, the more you want, they say. One can never be satisfied. I disagree. I actually think it is possible to be happy, at peace, satisfied—mentally, yes, but even in the material sense—that there’s such a thing as enough. In most areas of my life, I am content. I realize how very lucky I am to be able to say that.

The one area where I struggle most is love. Yeah, yeah, I know, I’m loved. I love my friends and my family and my cat and my life; I even love myself, at least sometimes. You know what I mean: I want a boyfriend.

There, I’ve said it.

Was that hard to say? In a way, yes. I have a hard time asking for what I want. For one thing, I see it as a failure to be happy not wanting. And, while I’m learning to be unattached to my desires, I still don’t like to fail at my goals. (At least I didn’t say I need a boyfriend!)

I know I’ve written about learning to be fine with being single. It took me a lot of work over the past few years to get to that point, and to be completely honest, I cheated. I had a crutch, a pretty special man who loved me for much of that time. We weren’t boyfriends. We didn’t see each other all that often, and we saw other people. We both hovered between “single” and “it’s complicated.” He came to my Singles Awesomeness Day party, at which we all celebrated our singledom, and stayed over. I know, right?

You are the love of your life...yes youSo, basically, my being fine with being single was…I wouldn’t say a lie, just not really being put to the test. I wasn’t quite single, not all the way. It was more that I was fine with not having a traditional relationship. And even that’s not entirely true. I wanted more from him and felt like I couldn’t get it (for lots of reasons I won’t get into here), so I adapted. As wonderful as our times together were, that part of it made me sad. I felt like I lost something of myself in the adapting. And I lost him anyway.

When I think about the sadness I experience chasing not only love, but any kind of desire, I have to wonder when it’s worth it. Over the past few years, I’ve been learning to give up attachment to finding happiness outside myself, learning to love purely by not wanting to get something from others, breaking my pattern of grasping after love, abandoning jealousy, embracing impermanence and emptiness…so, in many ways, this boy was a great teacher. I mean that sincerely. He came into my life at the perfect time. And I have to believe he left it at the perfect time.

I am not at all sure I’ll ever find another guy like him, a kind, super-sexy man who made me feel loved and held, understood and accepted so fully. People keep telling me the Universe (they say it like it should be capitalized) will provide for me; they are convinced I will find the perfect man. I hope to, but I can’t count on it. That’s just reality. I’ve set the bar really high. It is one of life’s cruel ironies that by the time one learns how to truly love (and how to screen potential dates really well), the possibilities narrow for lots of logical reasons. I’m not a pessimist, yet I know, just as I know I’ll never make the Olympic gymnastics team, I may have reached “peak dating,” “peak sex,” and “peak boyfriend” in my life. Or not.

Dave X Robb lying on the sand in CarmelBeing with someone unboyfriendable, I’d half-convinced myself I didn’t care if I had a real boyfriend. But I do. I mean it when I say I’ll be fine (more than fine) if it doesn’t happen, but it would sure be nice. That’s my desire.

Some people mistakenly think Buddhism teaches desire is bad. I used to think that. Desire is not a problem; uncontrolled desire is. Is it possible to have desire without attachment? I think so. As long as I can hold my wish without getting all crazy around it, I should be fine. Yeah, so easy-peasy.

 

Now it’s come to distances: a tribute

Dave's kissing spot

“Nobody kisses like you,” I told him not so long ago. Maybe I’ll be proven wrong.

Boy, have I had a lot of ideas for blog posts since I’ve last written one! I think sometimes I should just dictate them and have somebody else do the typing and linking and posting. That’s what I’ll invest in if I win the lottery.

It’s probably just as well I haven’t written. My mind has been all over the place this past month. It was a month ago tonight, as a matter of fact, that I got some life-changing news. Everything in life is changing all the time, of course, but sometimes the shifts feel more seismic. And it takes some time for the dust to settle. I’m fine. But I have a hard time focusing and am feeling a bit lost, and I have been unsure what to write about it all.

Someone I love a lot has moved away—far away—and I’m sad about that. I can hear you exhaling sighs of relief. Oh, is that all? I thought maybe someone had died! As I said, I’m fine. And I’m happy for him. But it has left a hole in my life.

If you’re like me, you think about how all relationships eventually end. When we die, we are separated from everyone and everything that we treasure. Sorry to break it to you. Impermanence is a fact of life. Everything is changing all the time, coming in and out of existence. Nothing lasts forever. Even the mountains. Even the stars! And the harder we try to grasp on to what we love—electronics, pets, youth, reputation, beautiful boys—the more misery we’ll experience.

But, in the meantime, we love.

I really want this to be a joyful post, a tribute to a sweet man who has taught me so much. He taught me a lot about love—the kind of pure, honest love I’m always talking about—and most of all, love for myself. I swear, he is an emanation of a little Buddha.

Inevitably, when these big things happen, songs come flooding into my mind. The one that came to me the morning after he told me he’d be leaving, after I walked him to the corner, was this simple beauty written by Leonard Cohen, recorded by Roberta Flack:

Now it’s come to distances. But our love stays with each other. Actually, every line applies. Well, except the bit about the golden hair on the pillow. No golden hair.

Two coincidences: The day he told me he was leaving was the same day we first met (March 22); and a story I wrote—fiction, but riffing off that first meeting—uses the next song on that same Roberta Flack album, “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face,” as its basis. Sometimes a coincidence is just a coincidence, but I still like pointing them out.

Most of this Magnetic Fields song fits, and some of it doesn’t. I’d never want to make him rue the day or pay and pay. But he is a splendid butterfly. And unboyfriendable:

And then there’s this, from his childhood:

Lots of lessons here. Live life and cherish each other, and love like you mean it. Wishing great love and happiness and peace of mind to you, my little Budhita.

Javi

Unicorny

Siem Reap airport selfieI’ve been writing again lately,  reviewing my last November’s 50,000 words of NaNoWriMo craziness and the notes and assignments from my Queer Goldmine class and then developing stories—here’s one—by merging some of that with freewrites I’m generating at a breakneck pace for 90 minutes three times a month in the Write Like a Unicorn class I started last month. (I’ll let Minal explain about the unicorns.)

We get great writing prompts, everything from channeling your mother to dressing the dead body of the person you love most. That one was tough, but I did it. I’m not sharing it. Not today, anyhow. That was followed by a prompt where we had to give a gift to our nemesis, and give it sincerely. I don’t have enemies—really, I don’t—but I thought of someone who has caused a lot of harm in the world and wrote about him:

A Gift

I can’t believe he agreed to see me. As the cab drops me at the gate to the ranch, he is coming down the garden path to greet me, and it’s just as I imagined. He is a likeable, sweet man. He extends his right hand to me, plants his left on my shoulder. He looks me right in the eye when he says, “Hello. I’m George. Welcome.”

We walk into the ranch house and he offers me a seat on the long sofa and Laura comes in with two big glasses of lemonade and sets them down on the coffee table and introduces herself to me. They really do seem nice.

“George, why don’t you show David some of your paintings?” she says.

“Oh, that reminds me,” I say. “I got something for you.”

I pull the small package from my bag, loosely wrapped in tissue paper from the store, and hand it to him.

“Thank you. You shouldn’t have.”

“It’s just a little something…”

It is a set of paintbrushes. I heard that he loves painting in his retirement, and I’ve seen some of the paintings online. They aren’t very good. But there is something about them that I like. And mostly I like how into it he is. He really should have been a painter all those years.

He is touched.

“That’s really nice. Thank you,” he says. He stands there quietly looking down at the new paintbrushes in his hand. He swirls them around on his palm, as if testing how he’ll use them. “That’s real nice.”

He looks up. His eyes are moist, like he has remembered something sad and is about to cry. I feel like crying too. I feel like giving the man a hug.

George W Bush in the shower painting

Panacea

Cosmology painting, Thimphu Dzong, BhutanHappy Lunar New Year! I know it was a couple days ago. As I’m fond of saying, any day is a good day to start again…assuming you want to start again. Which reminds me, Lent  began Wednesday. If you missed it and ate a big bag of M&Ms that day like I did, just start now.

And then there’s Valentine’s Day. That was a week ago. I keep missing blog-post opportunities in my head; but then, nothing is ever wasted. I got one of those year-in-review things in the mail today from a friend, and it included the 2013 year in review too. See? It’s never too late.

I went to a wonderful, funny, warm, wise talk on Valentine’s Day called Healing the Heart through Love. You didn’t have to have a broken heart to get something out of it, lucky for me, since my heart is in pretty good shape these days.

What stood out most was not the number of times the speaker, Gen Kelsang Chokyi, used the word “panacea”—although it was high; I think she said it something like 6 times—but the way she used it. Have you ever heard “panacea” used without the words “not a”? Have you ever heard someone say “such-and-such is a panacea”?

Angkor, CambodiaChokyi did. Six times. She said love is a panacea. It will heal whatever ails you. And you know what? She’s right.

Before you jump all over me and say love is to blame for the most painful heartbreak you’ve ever been through, hang on. Define “love.” Here’s how I define it: Love is wanting someone else to be happy. (Remember that from 2012?) The pain we commonly associate with love, that other thing that breaks your heart, hurts, stinks, is so confusing, is a battlefield? That’s attachment: wanting something from the other person.

Now that we’ve got that straight, let’s see if love really is a panacea. Well, where do our problems and suffering come from? Our problems don’t come from outside. They come from our self-grasping and self-cherishing mind, wishing ourself to be happy, usually while neglecting others, except maybe a few choice others whom we like because they make us happy.

Here’s a quote I love from 8th-century Buddhist scholar Shantideva:

All the happiness there is in this world
Arises from wishing others to be happy,
And all the suffering there is in this world
Arises from wishing ourself to be happy

We suffer because we are self-absorbed. Sorry to break it to you. But actually, that’s good news. It means we can do something about it. Shantideva also famously said, and I paraphrase, we can try to cover the whole world in leather or we can put on a pair of shoes. We don’t have to change the whole world in order to be happy; we just change ourself. Direct your attention to wanting others to be happy—to love—and see what happens.