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.

 

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Leap day

pool_closedAT SOME POINT, I’M going to have to admit that I have crossed the line between recovering from surgery and being a normal person. (Well, my normal.) How do I know where the line is and when I’ve crossed over? I feel like I have. Not in every way, but in most ways. I’m no longer in pain, aside from the near-constant muscle ache associated with rebuilding my sliced-through abdominals. (It’s amazing how much those muscles do for us! I never realized.) My stamina is good, not great. No swimming or yoga or long bike rides yet. My body is not the same as it was, but it will never be the same.

My stream of visitors wishing me well and bringing me food and flowers and driving me to appointments has dried up, as it naturally should, leaving me with boatloads of gratitude and friendships old and new that I’ll have to take an equal role in sustaining. Oh yeah, that. This is a good development. It means I have to start actively participating in my life again.

I’ve been passively social, you might say. For so long, I was waited on, pampered, treated so well, with no need to make plans or decisions for myself, with no calendar day holding more than one or two easy things to do. I was healing, and that was enough. Now, I’m not only tying my own shoes; I’m doing pretty much everything I need to do to get through my suddenly busy days. This is good, too.

GameOfLife1How did I get so busy so fast? I went back to work two weeks ago, a little sooner than originally planned. I was kept busy with a big freelance copy-editing job and studying for an exam. I sorted through a lot of medical bills. I did the laundry and cleaned my house. Life, in other words.

I’m done with the freelance job, and the test was taken last night, so I suddenly find myself with time opening up again on this, the “free” day we’re given once every four years, possibly to make more room for squeezing in the summer Olympics and a presidential election.

I know it’s not really an extra day, it’s just how we name things; but it can be fun to think of Leap Day as a freebie, just as we can celebrate that extra hour we get with Daylight Saving Time. Thinking, What will I do with my extra day? is a good way of reminding ourselves how precious our time on this planet as human beings is. I’d rather do that than treat it as just another day. Don’t we do enough of that already?

Leap-Day-CalendarSo, I’ve decided to use February 29 to get over the idea that I have no time for writing. I’ve been keeping my hand in it over the last few months, what with the Caring Bridge website and, okay, two blog posts on here and some writing in my journal and even some writing at work. I’ve also been reading a whole lot of good writing and sent a couple of short pieces out and edited my friend Alan’s novel.

All of it counts as something—inspiration or contemplation or learning or honing my craft—but the harsh judge within me feels like I’ve not done a lot of “real” writing in all this time, by which I guess I mean fiction. I’ve not worked on my novel or written any new stories. I’ve felt a little stuck in that sense. Maybe I need to find an online course.

But then I tell my harsh internal judge to shut the fuck up. (Applause.) I’ve been busy healing my demolished body, growing a liver, and gaining back (so far) 20 pounds. (More applause.) And nurturing the most wonderful connections with friends and family and my  cat, Emma, studying and teaching Dharma, vacuuming, and working in the yard. The weather has been wonderful!

How we spend our days—yes, this is life.

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.

 

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

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!

 

 

 

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

First Take

Roberta Flack: First TakeBECAUSE IT’S MY FAVORITE chakra, I’ll post another piece I did focusing on the heart, this one based on an exercise called “Waking up clichés.” We were encouraged to take worn-out, heart-based turns of phrase—I immediately thought, 1970s love songs! Perfect!—and transform them into something fresh and new. Running with the Roberta Flack reference in the writing I’d just done, I chose to transform another of her songs in this reworking of an old story, parts of which I’ve told before.

First Take

Even from this distance, a half-block away, Rick could tell—Jesse in person was more gorgeous than in the photo he’d sent. In the photo, his face was half-hidden by a pulled-down baseball cap, posing, showing off the pecs and abs and narrow waist, nicely ripped but merely hinting at handsome. As they came within striking distance, Rick saw, he felt, as Jesse’s whole face erupted with a kind of childlike openness, what Patti Smith would call such naked joy, unusually wide-smiled beaming. Rick regarded the sexy scruff of a beard, the beauty mark on Jesse’s jaw. And those dark brown eyes unafraid—they held a glimpse of something, something deep; they told a story as ancient as the heavens, the formation of the planets, their moons, the sun and the stars, a story at once brilliant and dark, Jesse’s eyes profoundly happy and giving, and at the same time reflecting some of the gravity of sadness that is life. All this in an instant.

They embraced at once and exchanged a kiss, a polite kiss. They separated just enough, still hugging, to take another good stare at each other and smile. Jesse smelled faintly of tangerines and tobacco. They came back together, mouths open just enough for a proper kiss equal parts Jesse and Rick, lips and tongues licking teeth, tasting mint, slurping and sucking spit. Rick’s right hand moved automatically like it knew what it was doing up to the back of Jesse’s buzzed head, caressing the stubble, knocking his hat off kilter; and Jesse, too, pulling Rick closer, as if closer were even possible, boots up against sneakers, almost tripping, these two guys making out like teenagers on the sidewalk outside the Galleria Park Hotel at dusk on a Saturday night, the stores closed and the street pretty quiet, but still…

Jesse shuddered. Rick felt it. He held Jesse tighter, kept on kissing. It felt like the boy was on the verge of coming right there, standing, fully clothed, all this from a kiss, their first kiss, a damned good kiss. Jesse laughed into Rick’s mouth. He shook again, trembling tremors. Sensitive boy. Not three minutes past meeting and Rick felt protective of this sweet little guy, as if Jesse could collapse right there on the sidewalk if he weren’t there to prop him up. He reached a hand under Jesse’s sweater, first touch of the skin electric-warm as toast. He laid his hand lightly over Jesse’s heart, held it still, and all went quiet. He felt the heart beating, barely, felt his ribs, Rick’s fingers slotting into the spaces between, massaging, fingertips sliding outward, away from the heart, Jesse’s chest rising and falling. Rick found a hard nipple and gently squeezed. Jesse let out a little moan. Rick ate it up.

“You like that,” Rick said, not quite a question, his other hand moving down, slipping into the gap at the back of Jesse’s stiff, brand new-feeling blue jeans, resting there steady and flat on his sacrum. In that moment, Rick felt his own power, felt he could control this guy if he wanted to, send him soaring into the stratosphere and back, make him come right now, at his command, pressing buttons by kissing and moving his fingers just right.

* * *

“Fuck, papi, that was good,” Jesse said. He smiled. He and Rick lay naked on the big white hotel-room bed, spent. Yeah, it had been more than good. Rick had never fucked without a condom before. This was new. And he was fine with the decision, if you could even call it that, however unconscious and far from rational thought it had been. He had always strictly followed the safe sex mantra to use a condom every time, assuming every partner could be infected. He was tired of it all, tired of the loss and the fear and the barriers, the literal barriers between himself and his lovers. Rick had never felt so close, so trusting with a guy he’d just met. There was something about Jesse he couldn’t quite explain. It just felt right.

“We should use condoms, don’t you think?” Jesse had asked not a half-hour before.

“Yeah, of course,” Rick replied. “It’s not like we don’t both have sex with other guys.”

But when it came right down to it, it would have felt so wrong to stop, to tear open the packet, to do all of that… It would have broken the spell, Rick felt, interrupting the flow of the most intimate, knowing choreography of their sex. It would have introduced the buzz kill of death. It would have broken the fragile bond of trust already forming between him and Jesse, childlike in their ecstatic relief at having found each other, two lost souls wandering the barren wasteland of Craigslist looking for real connection and now celebrating their extreme good fortune, kissing the whole time fucking, eyes wide open and searching and smiling, breaking every gay-sex stereotype, their eyes wet and overflowing at the happiness that swelled within their bodies, over them, filling the room, the hotel, the whole of downtown, over the bridges, throughout the Bay Area, and into the dark, unknowable universe beyond.

Rick knew in that moment, Jesse’s body entwined with his own, heart pressed against heart, that he had found something, a satisfied peace previously unknown to him, a comfort in feeling accepted and sexy and lovable. He had been searching his whole life for this and wanted nothing more than to abide in the warm spaciousness of it forever.

He hoped, he sensed, that Jesse felt it, too, Jesse who was asleep beside him now. Rick was dead tired but couldn’t stop looking at Jesse, his smooth, taut body at once strong and vulnerable and small, sweaty, sticky salted-caramel skin and tan lines, sexy as fuck, eyes gently closed and the hint of a smile still on his face, his face, his beautiful face.

* * *

This was based on the beautiful, cliché-ridden song “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” made famous by Roberta Flack, recorded in 1969 and released as a single after appearing in Clint Eastwood’s Play Misty for Me (1971). It went on to become the #1 song of 1972 and is still the song most likely to make me cry

The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face

The first time ever I saw your face
I thought the sun rose in your eyes
And the moon and the stars were the gifts you gave
To the dark and the end of the sky

The first time ever I kissed your mouth
I felt the earth move in my hands
Like the trembling heart of a captive bird
That was there at my command, my love

And the first time ever I lay with you
I felt your heart so close to mine
And I knew our joy would fill the earth
And last till the end of time, my love

The first time ever I saw your face
Your face, your face, your face