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.

Reentry

Todd Rundgren: Something/AnythingHello, it’s me. I was told once that I looked like Todd Rundgren, and I was insulted because I thought he wasn’t very attractive. He had bad teeth and long hair. But, aside from that, we  really do look a lot alike. He writes better songs than I do.

In case you haven’t noticed, I’ve been on a long break from the blog, doing other things—traveling, learning, teaching, living life. You know how it is. I’ve missed it some, missed the conversations it can spark mostly. A little voice in my head kept reminding me it was here waiting, but it hasn’t felt like a crisis at all. I hope you had a nice break, too.

Looking at when I was last posting, I guess it should not surprise me that my unplanned hiatus happened and lasted this long. I went away to see my family. Come November, I started two big writing projects: NaNoWriMo, where I put 50,000 more words to paper (or the digital equivalent of that); and an intensive online course called Writing from Your Queer Goldmine, five weeks of digging deep into a life-changing experience from my queer past. Material from both projects will help fill the gaps in what I hope becomes a novel one of these days.

Around the same time, I treated myself to some weekends away—a yoga retreat, a meditation retreat, a long drive to LA to get some incredible teachings—and a birthday party, a wig party where I really did look like Todd Rundgren, a holiday party…

Hong Kong hotel viewThen I left for Asia: Hong Kong, Bangkok, Cambodia, and best of all, Bhutan. I’ll probably write about it; but then, I thought that about last year’s trip. In the meantime, my trusty travel companion, Alan, documented our trip in his hilariously zen way on his blog. I recommend it.

It was another of those trips it’s not so easy to adjust to being back from. Travel has this overwhelming effect on me sometimes. Reentry is hard. It’s not just the jet lag, though that did wipe me out. I come home changed, and everything is new, my life a clean slate. It takes me a few weeks to get into a routine, taking my time deciding what to allow back in.

Usually after a big trip, I don’t call anybody right away. I sit with myself, cocooning, and see what happens. Nobody calls. Maybe they know. Eventually, I reach out and get things going. I go back to work and put things on my calendar and see the people I love. It’s like emerging from a dream or a good meditation or savasana at the end of a yoga class–I don’t want to shake things up and lose the feeling.

boys on their phones, Trongsa festivalI move slowly, lightly. I question everything, and I feel sensitive. Mostly happy. Sometimes I do the things I used to do, and it just doesn’t feel right anymore. I feel closer to some people, more distant from others. I love them all.

There’s nothing so unusual in all this. (I’ve never been much of a drama queen, thank goodness.) Everything changes all the time. I’m not the same person I was a couple months ago, or yesterday; neither are you. How great!

 

 

 

Enough

When you realize there is nothing lacking,
the whole world belongs to you.

—Lao Tzu

I HEARD THIS QUOTE the other day, and it reminded me of a feeling that keeps coming back to me these days: that I am lacking nothing. I have health, happiness, peace of mind, and love. I have wonderful living conditions. I have a lot of things I don’t need, but that I like. I have enough.

My life is so good. I realize that might seem boring. So much of life for many of us is wrapped up in the pursuit of things—things to acquire, to accomplish, to see and do. What if we decided we’ve got all we need and we are doing enough? It could be an uncomfortable thought. A lot of people seem to thrive on striving for more.

bucket_list_antarcticaI could, if I had to, try writing a bucket list of things I’d like to do, experiences I haven’t had, places I’ve never been, things I want that I don’t have…but I am long past thinking I can find real happiness externally. Moments of it, sure. I like to travel and experience new things as much as the next guy. But I don’t require such things to be happy or to feel my life is complete.

There is a manic, YOLO quality to some of these bucket lists. You may (or may not) only live once, and you’re smart to not want to waste your human life. But does that mean we need to rush through life chasing after everything that grabs our attention?

A part of the thrill seems to come from checking things off the bucket list. There’s a little endorphin rush. I get it. But are we valuing the destination over the journey? (I just discovered a wonderful New Yorker article on bucket lists, inspired by President Obama’s stop at Stonehenge, that asks similar questions.)

I wonder if anybody has ever completed everything on their bucket list. Then what? Does completion bring fulfillment? Or depression? It seems to be in the nature of these lists to be never-completed. Our desires cannot be sated by accumulating experiences, so we keep adding more.

Fuck itThere is something a little sad about all this. Bucket lists say “This will make me happy.” If you ever take the time to read many of them (there are websites and apps where you can do that), you might be struck by how many list the same predictable things: skydiving, mountain climbing, visiting every continent. Usually things that cost money.

It’s nice to have goals and make plans. I’m glad people are thinking about what will give their life meaning. But that’s the thing—often with these lists, nothing seems very meaningful. It’s all very self-centered. Where are the bucket lists about healing the world or helping to improve the lives of others?

There seems to be an implied presumption on the part of bucket-listers that they (a) are entitled to do or achieve or experience anything they can dream up and (b) will live long enough to accomplish it all (or die trying). Sounds to me like a recipe for extreme frustration.

tikkerNone of us knows how much time we have left. People die unexpectedly all the time. Taking that quiz on Facebook that tells you at what age you’ll die won’t save you (and, sorry to break it to you, but it tells everyone they’ll live to be over 110); nor will the watch that purports to count down how much time you have left. (The person who steps in front of a bus because they’re checking how much time they have left will be very disappointed!)

There are things I would like to do before I die, but nothing I can’t live without doing. There are things I might like to have, but there is nothing more I need. I would like to live a long life—by some standards, I already have—but I know I might not. That’s life.

 

Love according to Bread

The Best of BreadTHERE ARE CERTAIN groups from the 1970s that were decidedly uncool to like, or at least uncool for guys to like. Bread was one of them. My sister had all of their albums, and I loved them. Listening to The Best of Bread this week, I find myself appreciating them even more as an adult who knows a little bit about the subject matter of their hit songs, which was almost exclusively one thing: love. I loved all love songs back then—the sappy ones, happy ones, sad ones, confusing ones. What did I know?

I knew nothing. And so I had no way of knowing Bread’s love songs were actually a cut above. I just liked them. And I felt something when I heard them…so maybe I did sort of know there was something special going on.

I’ve written before about how most love songs I grew up with put a lot of crazy ideas about love into my impressionable young mind. I’m still digging out from it, but think I’m safe in saying I have a much better understanding about what love is than I did as a tween. God, I hope so.

Bread’s love songs—all of the hits, anyway—are different because they are about real love, love that is about wishing the other person happiness and celebrating the happiness they bring to you. “Make It with You,” their first and only #1 hit, looks at trying to love without grasping after it, knowing it could last or not. It’s the politest “ask” in any love song I can think of.

Everything I Own” is about showing regret and appreciation of a love lost and sincerely wishing to try again. It’s about giving. “If” is just pure love through and through. These are not crazy love songs; they are about being in it together. Even “Baby I’m-a Want You,” which by its title might appear to be about wanting to possess and get something out of the other person, is different: it’s an admission of insecurity, the singer vulnerable and celebratory of the love he’s being given. Baby has-a done him wonders!

Diary by BreadDiary” takes vulnerability to the point of heartbreak, a sad song that ends on the sublime note of the singer wishing his beloved happiness with another man, the man she truly loves. Wow. Talk about turning away from jealousy! (Granted, he should not have been reading her diary.)

The most profound Bread hit, though, and perhaps the truest love song of the 1970s, is “It Don’t Matter to Me.” The song was also a favorite when I was a kid. This is a way better take on the “if you love somebody, set them free” theme Sting took on a decade and a half later. This isn’t telling someone else what to do (or whatever Sting’s song is about—I can’t really tell). This is personal:

It don’t matter to me
If you take up with someone who’s better than me
‘Cause your happiness is all I want
For you to find
Peace, your peace of mind

The singer loves somebody. He sets them free. He wishes them peace of mind. And he hopes they’ll come back to him in the end, but he has no guarantee of that. That’s love, friends.

Unconnecting and connecting

HERE IS SOMETHING adapted from what I wrote two months ago, in the middle of my Writing from the Chakras class. I had a hard time deciding whether to post this, which I guess is why you haven’t heard from me in a while. These two pieces arose from meditations on the Floating Chakra, imagining moving through the body’s chakras from root to crown and back again. I did it twice, a few days apart. It was an emotional week.

Unconnecting

I lay there prone, unable to get up. I just dreamed something powerful, already forgotten, and awoke feeling expansive and whole, my heart too big, too comfortable, too tender to disturb. I felt it building, a familiar creeping sadness, a place of such pure emotion. And I couldn’t leave it, couldn’t move out of it. A voice in my head calmly urged me on, told me to shake it, to move out of this into action. I couldn’t.

That’s when I lost it. That’s when it all broke down. The surging at my heart built up inside and, no place to go, burst out in heavy sobs, tears running down my face onto my hands, I couldn’t say why, my nose running, my body heaving now with the sobbing beyond control, the release of all that was pent up inside of me, the cat dying day by day before my eyes, my beloved roommate getting on my nerves, my going to the barbecue alone, my lover who I’m afraid to love, who I’m afraid doesn’t love me as much, my doubts about ever finding true love again, it all came spilling out.

Here I stayed, stuck, unable to get out of my heart, to free my voice to say the things I long to, to express what I need to, to get what I need from those I love or want to love, my fucking block that is killing my spirit, suffocating, strangling, a tourniquet above my heart, my heart and my head not connecting at all, my heart and my sex struggling to meet, my power weak, my voice silent, my brain functioning disconnected from all that matters, a severed spine, a disembodied jumble of energies and emotions, chakras scattered, a mind alone without the knowing what it would be like to feel whole for once.

It’s Independence Day. I’m reminded by the fireworks obnoxiously going off outside, the screaming sirens, and think how much I hate the word, the concept, the idea that we can be independent and that that is something to strive for and celebrate, that it is something good. I can’t do it alone. I can’t. Call it a weakness. I call it strength. I depend on you. You depend on me. Lean on me, it makes me feel better. Tell me your fears, my love. I wish I could tell you mine. Trust me like I trust in you. Hold me in your arms. Hold me in your heart. Help me. I feel so lost.

Mona and Emma

Connecting

Something opened in me these last few days, emotional days, the passing of my kitty, the heartfelt connections, friends coming through for me, my being able to speak, to tell my story, to hug my roommate, to cry together, to thank her; to kiss my man, my boy, to have not the courage, but, even better, the inability to stop myself from saying, “I love you so much,” our tight embrace under the stars at midnight, our coats and hats and hugs against the cold, our hands dirty from having buried Mona, an understanding at that perfect moment that we love each other in the truest sense of wanting to shelter each other from harm and sadness, of wanting each other to be happy, of his comforting me, of his bicycling clear across town after working all day to be there for me, to kiss me in the way only he seems to understand I like to be kissed, he knows, he takes my hands in his, he holds my gaze, he says, “I love you too.”

Later, sleeping, waking, watching him sleep, I think of all the things I want to say to him when he wakes up, and I feel power in it, like I can have some real agency in all this, I don’t need to be a victim of my own insecurity and inertia, and it’s enough to just know I can, it makes me feel better. And I think of loving without grasping, without needing anything in return, catch myself a few times from going down that familiar path and instead enjoy the moment, the luxury of the gift he gives to me, the gift of presence, calm and peaceful of mind, knowing there is no place I would rather be, nothing to do more important than this. It is not lazy, I want to correct him, one of the things I want to say. It is our gift to each other, a supreme kindness.

Eventually the noon siren goes off and I get up and pull on gym shorts and a wifebeater and slippers and I feed the one cat and make us English muffins even though he says he’s not hungry, one with peanut butter and jelly and the other with just butter so he can have a choice because he is a picky eater. “I don’t like peanut butter,” he says, and I vaguely remember that from once before. “You can have the other one,” I say and take a bite. “Do you want jelly on it?” He smiles. I go and put jelly on it and come back, put the plate down next to him on the bed. He eats it. I eat mine standing there next to him. We share a glass of orange juice. He wants me to come back to bed. I do. We kiss. He likes it despite the peanut butter.

Mona and Javi