Stuck

Dave's kissing spotWhat happens when the old ways of tricking yourself into action no longer work? I promised my writing group that I’d send them a new piece by the end of this month. I had been feeling stuck and needed some deadline, however fake, to get myself writing again. It usually works.

Not this time. I can see too easily through the ruse, having tried it too many times, I suppose. Or maybe this time I’m up against some questions I cannot avoid and still hope to get unstuck.

One: Do I really want to be writing? True, I have enjoyed five years of it. I like it as a means to express myself, to get my thoughts together and out in front of some people (a few, anyway). On a good day I can even convince myself that it is doing some potential good, helping people, teaching, healing wounds.

I like the craft and the challenge of it, and I can see myself improving. People seem to like my writing, unless they are just being nice, and I think that I actually am becoming a pretty decent writer. But, as with the visual art I used to do, I have never felt like it is something I am so driven by I could not stop doing it. Do I keep on? I’d like to.

The next question, one that has really got me stuck, is this: What do I write about? I am thinking in terms of writing fiction, mostly, and that has usually been about making stories out of my lived experience—more specifically, my love life. Those were the stories I wanted to tell. I could never figure out what else to write about, and could never understand how some writers seem to have a magical ability to write of things completely outside their lived experience. I am in awe of that skill. I don’t seem to have it. Not yet, anyhow.

This brings me to question whether I have anything new to say or any desire to make up new stories. And it makes me realize, slightly shockingly, that I have almost no interest anymore in the stories I’ve been working on for the past few years. They don’t seem to matter much. This feels suddenly not so much about my writing, but about my life.

You are the love of your life...yes youThe thing is, sometime in 2015, I stopped being interested in my romantic life. I stopped dating, stopped pursuing relationships, stopped caring if I was single, stopped getting crazy over sexy boys, stopped having sex, stopped even thinking about it, any of it. It just all went away.

This is partly a good thing. A big part. My obsession with being in relationships, in having a boyfriend, in having sex, had been a constant in my adult life from the time I came out more than 30 years ago (and there were quite a few torturous years before that as well). For all that time, I remained aware of my status as single or partnered, getting some or not, of keeping my body in shape, of pursuing constantly, of doing crazy and risky and ridiculous things, and judging myself for all of it.

What a heavy thing to carry for so long! Upon discovering I’d put that burden down somewhere along the way—not sure where or when exactly—I felt immense relief.

So much of my happiness and sadness had been tied up in the question of my coupling, and it became clear I had been living with a lot of mental pain for almost all of that time. Sure, I was happy in the moments things seemed to be working great, but those were fleeting. How much did I invest in the pursuit; and worse, how much in the trying to hold onto or recapture something good?

I came to realize the most basic of truths: This was not a source of happiness for me. It just wasn’t worth it.

Thinking back, I can remember starting 2015 with the idea in mind that it might be the year I gave up sex and romance. This was at a time I was still ostensibly happy seeing someone I liked a lot, mind you. It wasn’t about that. For some strange reason, I just got the idea in my head that it no longer mattered. It wasn’t important. I’d had a good run, and now I might want to stop working at it. Maybe forever, maybe for a while. It was not a concrete goal, just an idea, and I didn’t share it with most people.

Do You Want to Sleep with Dave X Robb?I did joke with a friend that I should have a going-out-of-business sale, and that showed I was maybe not so ready to give it up after all. But I didn’t announce the sale, or the plan, if there even was one; I just gradually stopped thinking about the same old things.

A few big things happened last year that no doubt supported this wish I’d planted in my own head—losing that guy, having big health problems, making huge leaps on my spiritual path—and it kind of happened without effort. It’s easy to not have sex, a lot easier than needing to have it.

I’d certainly entertain the idea of dating or partnering with or just having good sex with someone, and chances are I will do at least one (maybe two, probably not all three) of those things again someday; I’m just not willing to put in the effort. I don’t care that much. I like not caring about it, I really do.

Which brings me back to the writing. I find that I don’t care about my characters. Their problems seem relatively meaningless. Stay together, break up—I don’t care what they do.

A wise teacher once said to take the thing that is stopping you from writing, and make the writing about that. Well, I guess that’s what I’m doing right here. How this translates to my fiction, I’m not quite sure, but I am starting to form some ideas. I’ll send this to my writing group and see what they say.

 

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.

 

Shelter from the Storm

Barbra Streisand: PeopleWHERE DO WE GO for refuge? There is a Buddhist answer to that question, and it’s a good one—the three jewels: Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha—and though that ought to be enough for me, I find that I still rely on another source of refuge in my life.

People.

What do I mean by refuge? For me, it’s about finding a place where I can feel supported, especially when I am not strong enough on my own. It’s a place where I can let my guard down, be exposed and vulnerable, and know I will be loved. Shelter from the storm: we all need that. I hope I can provide it for others, too.

This idea became clear to me recently when the three people in my life who I consider most important to my feeling grounded and loved happened to be, all at the same time, away or otherwise unavailable for a spell. Lucky for me, I have a lot of wonderful friends who contribute to making me happy, so I was not alone. I am also a whole lot better than I used to be at being on my own and knowing that I am always connected, so there was that, too. It was not a crisis, in other words.

But it was interesting. It was really striking to have that small support network of mine temporarily unavailable. It made me realize how much I rely on them, and how lucky I am. I wish everyone could be so lucky.

People want to be supported unconditionally. I guess that is one of the big attractions of marriage. I am skeptical of the notion that we can find one person to provide all that we need, forever. I’m not even sold on Bob Dylan: Blood on the Tracksthe idea that we need anything from anyone—ideally, we wouldn’t, and I’d like to get to the point of experiencing the truth of that. But until I reach such an enlightened state, I am glad for my support system. It’s nice.

So many people in our culture make a fuss about finding that special one, what we used to call a “soulmate.” (Does anyone still use that word, or have they all been laughed off the dating websites?) One is the loneliest number. Who decided that one is enough? And does anyone honestly believe that there is only one person in the universe we are destined to find and stick with for life? Dating is challenging enough without the pressure to find the supposed one in 7,236,660,000 you could be happy with.

I was reading something recently about arranged marriages in India. I don’t claim to be an expert on the topic, not by a long shot, and I know these things are fraught with problems—gender and economic inequities and so forth. Despite that, it got me thinking. We modern Americans tend to look down on the idea as limiting individual freedom (Gasp! The horror!), but looked at a certain way (theoretically, at least), there could also be a very nice element to arranged marriage: an attempt by society to match people up, to be sure no one ends up onKurt Vonnegut: Slapstick their own (unless they want to be). Yes, I know that’s not how it always works in practice. That said, I’ve read studies showing people in arranged marriages generally tend to be happier and are more likely to stay together. I’ll bet the lack of unreal expectations is a factor. Love the one you’re with.

So, maybe not marriage, but wouldn’t it be nice if everybody could count on having someone they could count on? It seems like human nature to seek refuge in each other. I remember long ago reading something along those lines by Kurt Vonnegut, some kind of scheme to match people up. Lonesome no more! And so it goes.

 

Uncomplicated

Rick Derringer: All American Boy“IT’S COMPLICATED.” Isn’t that the most curious relationship status on Facebook? It can mean a lot of things, but they all basically boil down to something along the lines of “I’m seeing someone special, but it’s not exclusive, so don’t hesitate to let me know if you’re interested.” The point of posting a relationship status, any relationship status, on Facebook, after all, is to let people know if you’re available. (Or, I guess, to brag.)

There is, for some, a special allure to “it’s complicated” in that it is a two-way signal from the person posting and to a potential playmate: Both people can reasonably expect there to be no strings attached, no obligations, neither one being a traditionalist in that department; and that is a big plus for some people.

I am not a traditionalist in that department either, but I choose not to announce it with an “it’s complicated,” I guess because I wouldn’t want to confuse or scare off anyone who might be looking for a more—what is the right word? serious? committed? connected? intimate?—relationship. Because that could be nice. And it really is complicated only inasmuch as it requires some explanation. Complicated can in fact be quite refreshingly uncomplicated.

I also want to steer clear of attracting the wrong type of person (not that I’ve ever found a date via Facebook, mind you…but you never know. It could happen). Perhaps it’s an unfair stereotype, but in my experience, non-traditional and complicated often correlate with unemotional, distant, non-involved, superficial, afraid of intimacy.

Dave X Robb in the kitchenNot always, mind you. Some of my very favorite people are complicated that way, and they are among the most loving souls I know.

What is most complicated about “it’s complicated” is trying to figure out what it means, especially if you are seeing someone who decides to make that their status. Are you part of the complicating? Is that a good thing or a bad thing? Of course, there is a simple solution to this: if you want to know, ask.

Because it can mean many things. And complicated isn’t even necessarily one of them; it’s just the best choice Facebook offers on its limited menu of relationship status options. What would be great is if you were allowed to describe your relationship status in your own words. Like gender, relationship status should have a custom option. What would I say? It might get really complicated.

That’s not the way it feels

Jim Croce: You Don't Mess Around with JimPLAYING JIM CROCE’S greatest hits album, Photographs and Memories (1974), the other day conjured up some potent memories for me. Jim Croce stands out for a few reasons, not the least of which is that he tragically died in a plane crash at the height of his popularity 40 years ago.

His death the month I started high school was the first such loss that had a real effect on me. I cried. I’d been around and dimly aware when Jimi, Janis, and Jim Morrison all died at the age of 27 a few years before, but those were the icons of a generation just slightly older than me. Jim Croce was my own.

His first hit, “You Don’t Mess Around with Jim,” had come out the summer before. His last posthumous hit exited the charts almost exactly 2 years later. In all, he had 8 top-40 hits–including the #1s “Bad Bad Leroy Brown,” a ripoff of his own first (and better) hit song; and “Time in a Bottle,” featured in the TV movie She Lives and released as a single from his first album soon after his death–and just 3 albums in his short career. I liked his music.

My favorite Jim Croce song, “Operator (That’s Not the Way It Feels),” also moved me to tears. (I was a very sensitive child.) It tells the sad story of a guy trying to contact an old girlfriend who had moved to LA with his best old ex-friend. Somehow I could relate to the lyrics–I only wish my words could just convince myself that it just wasn’t real, but that’s not the way it feels–despite the fact that I had not yet lived anything even remotely resembling such heartbreak.

Jim CroceWhich just goes to show, I think, what a good songwriter Jim was. He was able to telegraph to me what it would feel like decades later to experience something pretty similar. We’ve all had that feeling, haven’t we? Missing, wondering about, and trying to make sense of the love that we were sure had been there, that we were convinced was real, despite how it looks now. It felt real.

And guess what? That love was real. Things change. People get scared. They find other people. They shut down. Relationships end. But the love you felt? That was real. I think Jim Croce would agree.

Three little words

Olivia Newton-John: If You Love MeSO, HERE’S SOMETHING: What if you love someone unconditionally, like I’m always telling you to, and you rejoice in their popularity with others rather than get jealous, and that feels to them like you just don’t care? See, this is just the kind of craziness I think we need to get away from: the kind that says, If there’s no jealousy, it must not be love; or, more commonly (and more crazily), I’m crazy with jealously because I love you too much.

The quickest way to cut through that kind of drama is to just be real. If you’re scared or insecure, say so. There’s no shame in it. You’re human. Your love interest is there to support you. Hopefully. If it turns out they’re not, then at least you’ve learned something important.

If you love someone, tell them. It’s not that hard, really. People love to make a big deal out of those three little words. Saying them leaves you vulnerable, maybe, but isn’t that a good thing? If we can’t be vulnerable with each other, what is the point and where is the love? It’s natural to want to hear those words back. And that’s what we fear, right? That we won’t hear them back from the person we’ve just told “I love you.” Say it anyway. We shouldn’t care about getting something back.

But even if we do care, isn’t putting it out there worth it? Whether or not we get the reply we want, we get valuable information in return. As Olivia Newton-John famously sang, If you love me, let me know | If you don’t, then let me go. Of course, unless you are literally needing to take the chains away (which would usually indicate you have bigger problems than deciding what to say), you can always go…but it’s good to know what you are leaving.

Three_Little_WordsAnother fear that comes up around expressions of love is the fear of making the other person uncomfortable, especially if you’re not at all sure they feel the same way. (But isn’t this usually our own fear masquerading as consideration for the other person’s feelings?) Rather than making them uncomfortable, it’s much more likely you’ll make the person you tell feel really good. Who doesn’t want to hear they are loved?

What do you gain by keeping love hidden? What do you risk? Again, Olivia provides wisdom:

I’m not trying to make you feel uncomfortable
I’m not trying to make you anything at all
But this feeling doesn’t come along everyday
And you shouldn’t blow the chance
When you’ve got the chance to say
I love you
I honestly love you

So, get out there and tell someone you love them. Now! I dare you. If Olivia Newton-John can do it, so can you.

Rejoice!

I PROMISED A BLOG post about rejoicing, and here it is. Whenever I hear the word rejoice, I think of the Emotions and their album by that title (1977). They’ve got a song called “Rejoice” on the album, but the big hit we all know is “Best of My Love.” Was there ever a more joyful song? (The Eagles also had a mid-70s #1 hit by the same name, but it’s a real downer. Funny, isn’t it?)

Rejoicing is celebrating. It’s finding the good all around us and wanting others to be happy. As an added bonus, celebrating the good fortune of others results in the causes of our own rejoicing. I think we all know this on an intuitive level: happiness breeds happiness. I dedicate this post to Javi, one of the most joyful people I know.

I got a good teaching on rejoicing not long ago. It’s such a simple concept, it seems funny to have to teach it, but isn’t that the way with a lot of these things? Every negative state of mind has an antidote to it, an opponent force — for anger, it’s patience; for miserliness, it’s giving; for jealousy, we have rejoicing.

John Lennon: "Jealous Guy"What is jealousy, really, but wanting something for ourselves? That describes jealousy over another’s success or wealth; it also describes the jealousy we feel in romantic relationships. When love is about wanting something from the other person — even if it’s just wanting to feel secure in knowing they aren’t going away — that’s our self-cherishing kicking in. We’re grasping. As I’ve talked about before, that’s not pure love.

Pure love is about wanting the other person to be happy, not about trying to control them. Just as it harms our mind to envy others’ success or beauty or talent, jealousy in the romantic context causes nothing but suffering. Seriously, has anything good ever come out of jealousy? It’s a powerful emotion, and it comes to us naturally when we feel threatened. But we can learn to recognize and control it.

The antidote to jealousy is rejoicing, which takes us out of our self-absorption to celebrate others’ happiness. (We should rejoice in our own good fortune as well, but don’t have to overcome jealousy to do that.) If a coworker gets the promotion you wanted, be happy for them. If an artist wins the prize you thought you deserved, rejoice in their accomplishment. If your romantic interest turns heads, celebrate that. Yes, really. If they find someone else who makes them happy, celebrate that too.

Emotions: RejoiceI am reminded of a yoga class I was in years ago where the instructor said, “If this is your favorite pose, rejoice in it. If it’s not, change your mind.” If rejoicing sounds easy, that’s because it is. You can do it lying in bed (in fact, it can be easier to rejoice if you’re in bed with the right person). But you’ll need to get over a whole lifetime of self-cherishing and instead direct your love outwards, or it won’t really work. That’s the hard part.

We are all conditioned to look out for ourselves first. It’s built in to our culture and hard to break free of. But try. It’s worth it. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that putting ourselves above others is the cause of all conflict in the world. And it’s the cause of all our own mental suffering. If you don’t like where your thoughts and emotions are taking you, the first step is to notice that. The second is to free your mind.