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.

 

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

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.

 

Open your heart

Dave X Robb undressing, Salt Point THIS WEEK MARKS THE END of my Writing from the Chakras class, and I’m going to miss it. I’ll especially miss the community of talented and giving fellow writers who have shared so generously the gifts of their own writing and the insightful feedback and encouragement they’ve given to me. And, tough as it’s been at times, both in terms of the time crunch of deadlines and the emotions stirred up by going deep, I will miss the structure that has held me these last 8 weeks.

I’ve not been able to keep up with posting on here weekly during the class, but I’ll still write a post sharing some of what I learned in each week. Today’s is about the Heart Chakra. If you know me at all, you can guess this was a big one.

One of my favorite parts of this class has been the meditations that go along with each chakra, where we are guided through visualizations and encouraged to reach deep within—in this case, to the heart—and then immediately after to freewrite, putting to the page whatever comes up, no stopping to think, to edit, to censor, to fix; just writing freely. It’s like writing in a trance.

As with the poetry I was writing a couple months back, I don’t know quite how these read to anyone who hasn’t gone through the same process with me; but I do know this kind of writing feels very freeing and will inform my writing in all its forms. Here you go, friends:

Madonna: Open Your HeartA Heart Chakra messy post-meditation freewrite

I feel such calm and knowing, here in this pure land of green and water. I love that I have come here alone, walked slowly on my own toward this destination of complete, blissful, tranquil abiding. I needed no map, no guide, simply trusting the echoes of my lifetime of accumulated wisdom and guidance.

I have journeyed in the bright white, warm sun, the sky and sea to my left both the same shade of bright blue, the faintest of breeze, not a soul in sight. I shed my burdens, my physical burdens, my cell phone, my wallet, my watch, my money, my keys, my belt, my shoelaces, my hat, my sunglasses, my shirt, my shoes and socks, my jeans, my briefs, my sunscreen, my moisturizer, my deodorant, my toothbrush, my dental floss, my soap and shampoo, my body scrub, my pumice stone, my nail clippers, my razor, my hair, my beard, my skin; I shed it all, leaving behind me a trail of my self.

And I have never felt so free.

Where am I going? Why? Am I escaping something, a leaving-behind; or is this a going-to, an arrival?

It is an arrival. Arrivals on the lower level, bypassing the baggage claim, I walk from the smoky, hazy, air-polluted interior through the automatic doors to the outdoors and find myself suddenly in a green forest, naked, then on a wide-open expanse of clifftop, the ocean over there, the waves crashing far below; I can barely hear them over the sound of my heart. The path takes me down gradually to sea level, to a sandy spot on the shore, and I collapse onto my knees, my hands and knees, lowering my face, then my whole body, to the warm sand. I fall asleep, the sun on my back equally warm, maybe a little warmer. It feels so nice.

I lie still and feel my heart pumping, the silverware-falling-from-the-sky-far-far-away sound in my ears—I’ve been told that’s the sound of the blood pulsing through—I sleep and I dream of this place, the same place, my dream of the dream of the land I come to inhabit when my mind takes a break from tormenting me and my heart opens up to the hope and the joy of the knowing I am safe and alone. I am happy. I have no fear, no ties, no possessions, no worries, only this joy and freedom and a heart bursting with love, so full it hurts me sometimes. It craves an outlet.

Salt PointI turn over, the sand stuck to me, the sunlight shining bright orange through my eyelids, burning, killing me softly, and I smile at the thought of you, my love, the blood still pumping, gathering and regrouping without my knowledge, without my having to do anything, without using hands, my cock stirring and growing, grains of sand falling off, whole cities, whole worlds erected in a grain of sand, I stretch and twist my body, I arch my back, I dig in my heels, molding a shape in the earth opposite that of my body, a container custom-made, a mold I fit in, I need nothing more than this, ever. I will never eat again. I will breathe, I will sweat, I might laugh or cry if I feel like it, and my heart will keep beating. I will bake tan, I will sleep, I will wake. I will shiver when night falls, wishing for a cover, a blanket or a warm body, your warm body beside me.

I turn back onto my stomach, I grind a new shape, I shiver, still alone, I awake in my bed not knowing the time or day or where the fuck I am, the memory fading as I piece things together, but still not knowing if I am alive or dead or sleeping.

Fire escape

Ohio Players: FireI’VE PUT OFF POSTING about the Jewel Chakra, that fiery source of power at the gut, I realize. I could chalk it up to being busy and not having the time, but I think it’s also true that I don’t feel so secure in this place, the power center, and I feel similarly insecure in my writing about it. Power can be a scary thing. I feel like I have power, but that I don’t trust myself to exercise it—something to work on.  

Here’s what I think: If I were totally free, I would be so powerful and unafraid, there is no telling what I might do. I feel the strong, solid center, guarded deep in my gut, seemingly fresh and new since it has so rarely been used, a precious jewel, old and unpolished from having observed for so long, sidelined soaking in knowledge and experience all these years, a decades-long gestation, and just now beginning to emerge, late, better late than never.

I see an advantage to having waited this long, my wisdom ripened, ready to eat, juicy and sweet, dripping, running through my fingers, over my hands, down my arms as I offer up this fruit, wanting to share it before it spoils, overripe. I am eager but without panic. Now is the time to let this power shine. Now I have the tools to wield it skillfully, to control my anger and judgment, my jealousy and pride, my impatience, my irritation. Now I find power in pure love and patience, compassion, kindness, calm, and appropriate gravity.

My thoughts and impulses take shape in there, fetus-like, growing, developing into a coherent being, capable of breath and life on its own once it pushes its way out into the world. I tread carefully, still, but my preparation bestows the confidence to lie exposed and vulnerable, knowing I am in good hands, the hands of a midwife, incongruously my own hands holding me steady, nurturing, keeping me from falling or freezing or from punching someone in the face.

The Boxer: Simpn & GarfunkelI have never been a violent type, never a fistfight in my life. The closest I ever came was childhood fights with my tough-nut sister, a year younger than me, pulling hair, biting arms, crying a lot. I learned the mechanics of it as an adult in boxing class at the Y, skills I had never known, was never taught, skills still never used in real life, but nice to have under my belt for the confidence they give should it come to that, bashing back, the powerful snap of a hard punch.

A friend talked about the sex she had the other night and how she couldn’t get into acting out the hardcore discipline, slapping the other girl hard across the face—she could do it, she said, but it didn’t feel right. And I said I couldn’t do it. I have tried. I can’t smack someone, playing, not hard enough for it to seem real, so not in the way they want—not like I mean it, because I don’t. Rape fantasies, extreme power plays, pain, humiliation, whips and slaves, dogs and horses and pigs, cops and robbers, a gun to the head, a sharp knife edge, a boot to the neck, none of it holds appeal. Life is hard enough without that shit.

All these fantasies, ways to escape from reality! Give me mindful presence. Give me eyes open and paying attention. Give me reality. (This is why I don’t drink, in case anyone was wondering.)

But here’s a power I can get behind: the power to ask for what I want, to tell him what I want to do, to free myself to express what I keep locked down, to say “I love you” in the throes of it all and not care what happens next.

Meditating on the Jewel Chakra Jewel: Pieces of You

I feel warmth swirling through my body, enveloping me like a blanket, a hug, a furnace. I feel some melting happening, drops sizzling on the hot stones, and am surprised to know I am still frozen in places I would have guessed had long ago thawed. I catch a glimpse of the power I harbor and know if I were totally free and in my power, I would be happier, free from fear, fear of the fire that warms me but that also threatens to burn.

I fear the hot energy of anger, of the fight, preferring the coolness and calm of the lake deep in my lower body, the even-numbered chakras comfortable resting places, landings on the Kundalini stairway; the odd ones seeming, well, odd, unfamiliar, intimidating, uncomfortable. The peacemaker in me doubts the fire, not to be played with; the controller in me wants to keep it contained, clear-cutting a break, locating the nearest exit in the event of emergency, the fire escape.

What might I unleash if I give in to it? I go there in my mind sometimes, to a place where I assert my wants, my needs, without second-guessing. I imagine myself acting without fear, and I see the fruits of my freedom. I jump off the cliff and know my wings will open to catch me, the parachute unfurling as I glide free and safe and exhilarated.

I go a step further and actually do it once in a great while, boldly asking for what I want, approaching the stranger, speaking my mind. It always works out. I always feel better afterward, so why don’t I do it all the time? What holds me back? I know enough at this point to be able to trust that I won’t do something stupid.

Led Zeppelin: PresenceMistakes are one thing; the disasters I imagine, the irreversible, irreparable harm I must unconsciously imagine (otherwise why hold back?)—these are fantasies, mind-creations never to see the light of day. Action is karma; it ripens upon me no matter what. I might as well have some agency around it all, might as well take part in this life, take the wheel and guide it, with or without the map, getting lost, hell, flipping and rolling the vehicle. This is life.

Sexploration

Do You Want to Sleep with Dave X Robb?I’VE BEEN ENJOYING my Writing from the Chakras course, which is now half over. As last year, I wanted to post something every week; also as last year, I have not kept up. But I will still post something from every week, every chakra. So, here is a belated sexploration from week 2 (and a link to last year’s), the Sexy Chakra.

In thinking about how I wanted to spend my time that week, I felt a bit overwhelmed, the good ideas spilling out of me, swirling in my head way faster than I could get them down on the page. It’s where my and my fictional characters’ deepest problems, worries, and longings reside. It is a place of celebration and joy, too, and I wanted to express that, to not get hung up on the negative side.

Both sides were important to me since I could see how both were embodied in the single idea of feeling so deeply in touch with my innate sexuality—the joy that it brings, groundedness in true connection, wild intimacy, and knowing another on a deep (maybe the deepest possible) level; and, at the same time, the immense sadness of having lost something so long ago, the sorrow of a long journey back to innocent loving, giving, pleasurable touch and understanding (and how that loss is echoed in the AIDS epidemic, no small thing). The incredible wastefulness of it all, the time lost, and the mental anguish endured still boggle me.

I have spent a lifetime trying to get back to that feeling where sex is all good, where there is no shame, no hiding, no deception, no trickery involved in pretending or fooling the other person into falling into what you both wanted from the start. Yet, even with all the thought (and writing) I had invested in this, the years of experimenting and experiencing, living and giving in the most loving, open, vulnerable, exposed way I knew how, I struggled still.

I am still working my way back to a time when there was no shame, no hurt, no judgment, no loneliness, no danger, no loss. I still look for that feeling—I’ve had glimpses of it—of completeness, of contentment and satisfaction in knowing that I am loved, I am seen, really seen, and that everything is all right.

Dave X Robb pretending to be deadDanger: Sex unsafe

Sex has always held an element of danger for me, whether it is the imagined danger of transgressing or getting caught or going to hell, or just of going somewhere I’ve never been before, a not knowing—there is some excitement in that kind of danger.

There is emotional danger, the risk of rejection and disappointment, of not getting that phone call back after what you thought was pretty good sex and a nice connection. The suffering of trying to repeat a happiness, combined with the suffering of trying to find it in the first place, can be enough to make even the strongest among us doubt the wisdom of trying at all. A lot of people give up.

Even during the happy time, it can be hard to banish completely worry over whether the happiness can be sustained. Like the erection I’m afraid of losing before the condom is out of the package and unrolled, these things can easily become self-fulfilling sadnesses.

And what if it does work out and I get a relationship going? Do I take the risk of talking about difficult things or do I instead avoid rocking the boat of my good fortune, thereby all but ensuring the relationship’s demise? Is there anything more demoralizing than a breakup?

Then there are, of course, physical dangers. It occurred to me some decades into my sexual life that I almost always choose partners with bodies smaller than mine. How’s that for a control issue? I chalk it up to not ever wanting to be in a situation I can’t get out of (and no handcuffs or ropes either, thanks, unless I know and trust you). Similarly, I seem to always be aware of the location of the nearest exit in a relationship.

Dave X Robb's first California IDThere is the physical danger of AIDS. Having come to the party a little late, my sexual awakening coincided perfectly with the national shutting down of sex. It felt like one of those big, heavy metal doors being rolled down over the front of a shop, and I’m left there standing on the sidewalk with my coupons.

I shouldn’t complain really. I’m alive today because of it. It’s not so hard to adapt to safe sex when you’ve not yet had the experience of full-on gay sex without the barriers. That and seeing people dropping dead all around me made it reasonably easy to adopt safe sex.

I understood the logic of the ubiquitous prevention messages and knew I could, through sheer force of stubborn will, adhere to them like a straight-A student; yet I always felt uncomfortable with the admonition to use a condom every single time, to always assume your partner could be positive. Yes, it was practical, sound advice from a public health perspective at a time when literally half of all gay men in the city were HIV-positive. It was a simple, easy-to-understand guideline that made rational sense.

Dave X Robb fictionBut it doesn’t take a big stretch of the imagination to see how this might all come across as unappealing, albeit necessary, advice to a young gay man just coming to terms with and learning to celebrate his fierce gay pride. To see my lovers as potentially deadly, as ticking time bombs just waiting for a moment of weakness in my safe-sex resolve to explode in my ass, constituted a turn-off to say the least.

It was not so much that I wanted to have sex without condoms, those literal barriers between us, though I didn’t like them and I could imagine I might be missing out on something pretty fabulous, having heard as much from those who had experienced such a thing. I was not even particularly afraid of the virus, by which I mean I trusted condoms to do their job and trusted myself to use them properly and consistently, good student that I was.

It was this: I didn’t like assuming my partners were lying.

That was the part I could never get used to. I didn’t like being told to treat every partner as someone who could be, through malevolence or selfishness or just plain ignorance, putting my life at risk. I didn’t like always coming from a place of distrust and fear. I thought, We are better than that.

xoWe are in a different time now, and a lot of people seem to be having a hard time wrapping their heads around it. In an era where condoms aren’t the only safe sex choice, where you are safer fucking an HIV-positive man on treatment and undetectable than practically anyone else, where preventative treatment has been shown to work, and where—let’s just be honest and say it—HIV is nowhere near as scary as it once was, it might be time to consider what safety means and to reevaluate our risk tolerance and our approach to safe sex, each of us in our own way.

Nobody is saying to throw safety out the window, though you would never know it from reading the claims of screeching op-eds to the contrary. But the game has undeniably changed, hard as it may be to take that in (understandably—we’ve been living with the same safe-sex messages for 30 years, after all). That said, it has always been the case that you don’t need protection if you’re having sex with someone you know to be of the same status, positive or negative, as yourself. If you trust that person and are sure of your own status, then you have a choice.

Where You From You Sexy ThingIn my book, trust is necessary to intimacy, and intimacy is necessary to good sex (and good sex is just, well, if not necessary, at least important). Sometimes I choose to trust. I’m not stupid about it. With guys I know and love and trust, though, I have chosen to lay down my fear. That doesn’t guarantee that I will never contract HIV by mistake, but the odds are on my side; and in a world full of uncertainty—where HIV matters, but so do other things—it is a minuscule risk I find worth taking.

And yes, sure, sex without condoms feels better—my older gay brothers were not lying—but more than that, it feels way better mentally. It’s what I was missing.