On One Hand

November 26, 2007

Protected: Christianity in the Media

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November 24, 2007

Should have known

Filed under: Uncategorized — ononehand @ 2:16 am

I always thought that “looking for activity partners” meant you want to find people for hiking and rock climbing together. I am now told that if you check the activity partners box in your Online profile, it means you are looking for random sex. The options are dating, long-term relationship, friends, and the one I already mentioned. I’d been advertising myself as looking for activity partners for about three years now, thinking people would message me for a gym buddy.

I should have known better. I signed up for that website when I was about 18 years old, and I guess I made my assumption when I was naiive, then stuck to it even after I became more wordly.

Speaking of known better, Thanksgiving is over, and this year is no exception to the rule that I saw my family say and do things I can barely manage to process or beleive.

The background is this: nine years ago, one of my cousins died in a car accident at age 21 at about this time of year. I was 13. Years later, after he was gone, we were at my Grandparents’ house watching old home videos. In the movie, my cousin was about 10 years old and asked his mom if he could have a piece of cake. My grandmother chimed in and told him he had to eat his dinner first.

My grandmother, who was now sitting in living the room watching the video, welled up with tears. “Oh, now I wish I would have just let him have that cake,” she said.

That all happened on my dad’s side of the family, and we watched the home video on Thanksgiving in 2005. In 2007, I am with my mom’s family; we are sitting around a makeshift Thanksgiving table made of several flimsy card tables lined up under cheap holiday tablecloth. I am across from my mother, and bring up the story.

“Remember when we watched the home videos from when Clint was a kid, and in the video Grandma told him he couldn’t have that cake…”

It took my mom a few minutes to remember what I was talking about, but when she figured it out, I continued the story.

“Remember how she cried, and said she wished she had let him have the cake?”

My mom laughed. I thought it was funny. You might have to know my grandmother to get how it was cute. She prides herself on how well she spoils her grandchildren, so it was amusing to think she took it so far as to feel guilty for saying no, just once. And my mom agreed, so she laughed too.

Actually, no, my mom wasn’t laughing. She was crying. Crying with a big bite of mashed potato in her mouth.

Fuck, I forgot you can’t bring stuff like that at the table, because the women in my family cry at everything. They cry at sad movies. They cry when they talk about their kids. They cry at commercials that feature violins and/or children doing cute things. They cried three years before when one of the kids, who is a vegetarian, recited a poem he wrote in his fifth-grade class about how the turkey doesn’t have to be afraid of him for the holiday since he doesn’t eat meat. All of the women cried at that poem. Yeah, they cry at everything. So it’s fair to say I should have known better than to bring up the video.

“Shut up,” my mom said, tears in her eyes, “shut up. Don’t laugh at me, you brought it up. You knew it would be emotional.” She covered her face with her napkin.

“She’s just touched, it’s touching,” my grandmother (different grandmother than the one I mentioned before) explained.

I was waiting for her or my aunts to burst into tears too, but in a rare act of stoicism, they didn’t.

When my cousin died, I was almost too young to appreciate what was going on. It wasn’t that I didn’t understand what death is; it was more that I was at exactly the age when boys try to have as little emotion as they can about anything. I bit my lip through the funeral while everyone else ollapsed on each others’ shoulders. I also didn’t realize how young 21 is, since I was 13 then, and in my mind my cousin was a fully grown man. And I was thinking to myself how everyone says he’s going to Heaven anyway, so if he’s in such a good place, what’s the big deal?

But my mom wasn’t a kid when Clint died, and she knew what was going on. Even though he wasn’t her son, my mom cried harder than anyone else in the family did when we filed out of the room after the funeral service, leaving the cold body lying in the open coffin behind us. Looking back at anything related to Clint’s death was tragic and emotional for her, even though the rest of us thought that the home video story was far enough removed to be fair game.

And I guess my mom wasn’t really crying about the death of my Cousin so much as she was thinking about my Grandmother, and how sweet it was of her to feel that guilt even though it’s perfectly reasonable to tell your grandson he can’t have another piece of cake. It’s perfectly reasonable. No one knew he would be dead before any of us, and even if we did know, it doesn’t mean he gets all the cake he wants. That’s bad for you.

That’s not how my grandmother saw things, or how my mother saw them, or any of us saw our family history, which wraps around itself so many times it would take a lifetime just to explain all the woven connotations of a single sentence shared between us. Each person saw the same event as a completely different story. Nothing means the same thing to two different people, they tell you that from kintergarden on, and it’s obviously true. I guess I should have known better.

November 21, 2007

Protected: Stages of Dishevelment

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November 18, 2007

Protected:

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November 17, 2007

Mars Transit

Filed under: Uncategorized — ononehand @ 6:13 pm

I miss kegs and keg stands, being loud and reckless, and starting pseudo-fights. Even though I never really started any; I mean, it’s just something I wish I had done.

“You don’t seem like much of a brawler,” he interjected.

Well not a brawler, but I mean, I’m talking about pseudo-fights with buddies, messing around. I like the kind of energy it cultivates, a sense of companionship and trust. I tried being playfully aggressive with past boyfriends, and they would try to play along but didn’t get it right. They thought they were wrestling – and it was pathetic. One of them would just sort of grab my writs and hold me there, another would slap and flick at me, or bite. They just didn’t have the same drive, didn’t understand what we were supposed to be doing. I probably wasn’t the best example of masculinity for them, but they definitely didn’t contribute. That’s part of the reason my relationships have been so frustrating.

Romantic relationships never feel like peer relationships to me. Me and whatever guy I’m with; we’ll try to be very mutual and equal, but we aren’t truly peers. Someone always has the upper hand. One is critical and the other tries to measure up, someone is into it and the other is disenchanted. There is a weird gender element and we feud over who is in the masculine or feminine role. I’ve been thinking it’s my own fault. I’ve been thinking it’s because of the way I grew up, where I never really connected with my peers who bullied me, and I don’t know how to connect now because I never learned to do it then.

Now I’m going to sound like a homophobe when I say this, and I hate that, but I don’t know how else to say that I don’t connect very well with guys who are gay. The problem might originate in me, or it might be something I am picking up from experiences we all share. But when I am talking to a presumably heterosexual guy I am not interested in, and he is just a regular guy, I don’t have any problems with feeling like “peers.” I don’t have a hard time figuring out what we are going to talk about, as long as he’s into art or politics or science. I don’t have a hard time knowing if our values are the same or not. I don’t feel a hidden agenda or that the person could pretend to respect me and actually not respect me. I feel that these guys are instantly on my level.

I think I am a masculine person by nature, but in my youth I associated masculinity with homophobia, with cruelty, with an intentional lack of femininity or sensitivity, and I was too afraid to talk or connect to a heterosexual guy. After I realized I was gay, I avoided straight guys like they were zombies. At the same time, I thought that people were always picking up on subtle signs and assuming I was gay, peering into dark parts of my consciousness I didn’t want anyone to see. That made me draw away from straight guys even more. The farther I got from masculine men, the more I thought that the essence of what it is to be masculine is to disrespect women, to break things and to smell bad. I also avoided things I associated with masculinity; I hated the idea of working out, hated sports, hated cars. I thought straight guys had no sense of emotion whatsoever, that they never hurt or thought something deep. Eventually, the only interaction I was having with straight guys was when they were threatening to beat me up in the park or ripping down the Gay-Straight Alliance signs I hung around the school. That has a lot to do with the neighborhood I grew up in; it took coming to college and finding straight guys who would treat me like a normal human being to shatter that illusion.

“That’s pretty intense.”

“Well it’s a summary. I still had a few straight friends; they would be dorky guys who weren’t that masculine, or people I had been friends with for so long I just trusted them. Anyway, it’s not true anymore. I am really realizing how wrong I was about all that, because today it is the opposite. I have plenty of straight guy friends, love to go to the gym and can get into sports if I want to.”

“But you don’t like the gay scene?”

“Yeah. I don’t get gay guys,” I said. “It’s fucking sad.”

“What about them don’t you get?”

“The obsession with self. Narcisism.”

“hmm.”

“We never get on the same page. Whenever I’m hanging out with a gay guy, there’s a sort of competition between us, because we’re both sizing each other up, sexually, I guess. Or I think that gay guys are thinking to themselves, this guy is in to me, or, he wants me but I am out of his league. I’m feeling judged. It offends me, because whether I am actually interested or not is my own fucking business. When I hang out with a straight guy, there is this kind of respect there, and an I-got-your-back cohesion. I’ve never looked at another gay guy and felt, hey, we’re cool, this guy has my back.”

“hmm.”

“Does that make me a homophobe?”

“I don’t think you can be gay and a homophobe.”

“I just don’t like feeling as though I’m back in high school.”

He said, “But gay guys are just cute. Practically begging to get fucked.”

“That’s not hot to me, either.”

“No?”

“Who the fuck invented anal sex anyway?”

“Are you kidding?”

It doesn’t seem like a natural thing, to me. It’s an improvization. It’s an, ok, I guess this is what we do now. I’m attracted to a guy’s body, yes, I can be turned on by that, I can be turned on by touching, kissing, whatever, but who the fuck decided that an asshole is an erogenous zone? It’s like we’re just trying to mimic heterosexual sex, and to do that you have to find a hole, and the only hole in the lower half of a guy’s body is his ass, so that’s what they use.

“There are nerve endings…”

OK, I get that, and I see that some people like it, but it isn’t the default for me. I can see why people do it, because it feels good to them, but their interest in anal sex goes beyond the physical sensation, because some people think that even just looking at or touching an asshole is extremely erotic. They would look at it in porn, or just want to touch a person there; I don’t understand that impulse at all.

I used to be offended by the “are you a top or a bottom” question. I would basically say, fuck you, it’s none of your business. Now I understand that sex is such an open thing in the gay community that it’s considered OK to ask that, and I don’t mind anymore, and I would just say “top” because I am definitely that one more than the other. But really, I’m just adapting to what the other guy wants, because the anus is not an erogenous area for me. It’s like an ear or a nostril.

When straight people are confused and curious about what it’s all about, I want to say “lots of gay guys don’t really like anal sex.” Because I think that so much of homophobia has to do with the idea that anal sex is gross, so I want to explain that being a gay man not about anal sex at all. It’s the truth; being gay is not about anal sex, it’s about being attracted to men while being a man. But I haven’t found it to be true that some gay guys don’t do it; anal sex practically ubiquetous among gay men, in my experience. I hoped there would be someone out there who agrees with me that anal sex is sort of weird, or says, like I do, that it can be an expression of a commitment or love, maybe an every-now-and-then thing after you’ve been together as long as you remember, but up until that point it has no redeeming value. And I’m also thinking, now, it’s OK to fool around or have sex in other ways, but if guys would just quit fucking each other in the ass, we wouldn’t have to worry about things like AIDS. Yeah, I probably shouldn’t say that – no one deserves to get AIDS, no matter what – but for me, it’s just easy to say no to the whole thing, no to anal sex outside extremely serious relationships, and then I don’t have to worry about HIV or anything like that.

“Hmm. Is it that you don’t want gay men to emulate women? You see wanting to be penetrated as acting like a woman and you’d rather they just act like men?”

No way, that has nothing to do with this. I have no problem with any sort of gender situation you want to express. Plenty of guys say they want someone “masculine” or “straightacting” or that they “hate fem guys,” which only pisses me off, because it’s a fucking intolerant attitude. I’ve fallen in love with guys who were extremely effeminate and I think it’s perfectly doable. But I think it’s ironic that these same guys who say they are for “dudes who act like dudes” make me feel far more creeped out than any other kind of gay person, because they’re that much more conceited to think they are manly men when other people aren’t, and that much more conceited about their willingness to make effeminate guys feel like shit about who they are.

When I say “masculine,” I don’t mean a deep voice or certain mannerisms. I don’t even know what I mean. Maybe it’s just a tolerance for clutter, or an aversion to gossip, or something like that. Actually, I think that masculinity – at least the kind of masculinity that I say I am attracted to – is about physicality and playfulness. A sort of fun competitiveness – not a serious competitiveness – and a very physical, spacial way of communicating. I’m very attracted to that because I understand it, that person is not likely to pick at me for doing things I think are trivial, and the messages I get from a person communicating in that way are very clear to me.

“That has nothing to do with anal sex.”

“Yeah, that was just a side issue. To me, I guess it’s true that it isn’t a masculine way of communicating, or of showing affection, but for the most part that is a side issue.”

“Could you adapt?”

“As much as I’ve needed to.”

November 16, 2007

Protected: Restoring 2 years

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November 14, 2007

Discussion is about Something Else

Filed under: Uncategorized — ononehand @ 8:39 pm

“In that case, that’s a little out of line,” my roommate laughs. “If there’s only ten people in the class, that can piss a professor off.”

I had been telling my roommate about how I got in trouble in a graduate-level class for doing sudoku during discussion. There were three other students doing the exact same thing, but I was the one who got caught since my newspaper clipping wasn’t buried under notebook paper like the others’ were. I didn’t see her coming, but suddenly the professor was kneeling at my side, glaring with deep anger in her voice.

“You need to put that away now or leave the room,” she said to me, her face hovering six inches from mine. “Have respect for the classroom environment.”

“Oh, uh… sorry,” I said and put the sheet of newspaper away. The other nine students in the class were watching awkwardly, looking away quickly if I made eye contact with any of them.

“Dude, that was fucking crazy,” one of them laughed to me later, outside the classroom. “She totally made a scene.” The professor is young – 35 at most – and pretty, soft-spoken and gentile. She normally lets class discussion drift off course and students spend more time telling jokes about the material than they do discussing it. It is one of the first classes she has taught as a professor and some of the students have complained that the readings are boring and that the professor doesn’t take an active teaching role. The classroom is small, on the third story of a building with big windows that let sunlight stream in. Everyone sits around a single, big rectangular wooden table that spans the length of the room.

A week goes by. I have a meeting in another professor’s office and forget to check the time. We talk on for forty minutes or so – twenty minutes longer than I had expected – so I’m late for the same Wednesday class I got in trouble in a week before. When I come in, the students are watching a video. I apologize to the professor for coming in late but she seems as though she didn’t hear me.

Halfway through class the professor calles me into the hall for a “two minute talk” about “my behavior.” She lauches into a diatribe about how disrespectful it is to come in late or do crossword puzzles during class, and then she says, “I don’t think you even do the readings,” to which I can only answer “well… I dunno, I’m sorry, I do most of them.” She’s angry at me for seeming distracted, but way she talks about it makes it seem as though I flung shit at someone. The truth is, no one in the three-hour, once-a-week class does all the readings, which they confess to each other during the break every Wednesday. The professor says the comments I make have nothing to do with the readings so she can tell I don’t read at all. She pauses for my response, but there isn’t much I can say before she starts speaking again. I don’t tell her things have been difficult since I have ADHD but stopped taking the drugs because they were making me lose weight, that trying to control my focus or hold on to a thought when put on the spot is one of the greatest challenges of my life, which makes it hard to respond to readings relevantly in a class discussion but I’m much better at written responses, that it’s intimidating being an undergraduate student in a class full of graduates who can reference scholars like they’re tabloid celebrities, that sitting through a three-hour class that almost never remains on topic is painful for someone who can rarely sit still for even half an hour, or that it makes me feel insecure when my comments would be so far off in left-field that I’d rather not make them at all. Her face is about two and a half feet from my face, head cocked to her left, and she tells me again that I am disrespectful because it seems like I don’t even care, which is “disruptive to all the other students.”

I try to pay attention to the professor’s accusations, but all I can think about is that one of her pupils is drastically more dialated than the other. The iris on the left must have had at least twice the surface area that the other had. Her glare could have cut glass, but the focus of her eyes seems to drift in two directions, giving her a cocked cartoonish look. She says something about my grades, something about how she doesn’t know if I’ll be able to make it up because it’s so close to the end of the semester, but that I’d better show “drastic improvement” if I want to pass the course. I’m not sure how I can do that, because, besides getting caught doing sudoku, I don’t think I was that unreasonable in the first place, not sure how I can suddenly pull off an exemplary performance in something that is already difficult for me, but I’m still watching her pupils, noticing that not only are they different sizes, but that the larger one is visibly growing and shrinking like an automatic camera lens struggling to focus through fog, first huge, then collapsing to a pinprick before expanding again until it seems her entire eye will be swallowed by blackness. There were other professors and passers-by peering around the corner to watch, but all I was looking at was her eyes, thinking of a cat from cartoons I kid as a kid whose eyes turned black and popped out after a mischevious mouse hit it over the head with a mallet.

The professor stays out in the hall after I return to the classroom.

“You OK man?” one student asks me.

“Uh.” I laugh. “I dunno.” I shake my head. “I don’t know what just happened.”

The professor comes in. Everyone is quiet. She asks me, by name, to talk about what I think of the readings from the night before. I stammer an awkward response, “oh, I liked the reading about Oprah’s religion and talking about supernatural phoenomena on TV, I think it says a lot about the reason people are involved in religion; they are interested in ghosts and psychics and things because it gives them comfort about what will happen when they die.” There isn’t much else I can say, and I’m basically stating the obvious, but other students chime in to help me out. I’m not sure if they are coming to my aide as an act of friendship or if they think I had it coming and only pity me.

The professor looks calm now, wistful even, and runs her fingers gracefully through her hair to pull it back over her shoulder. Her head is again cocked to the side, and her lips are pursed into an unthreatening smile, or maybe a smirk. Both her irises are the same size. She leans forward over the table to follow the discussion.

I have been here before. A year earlier, a teacher called me out for arriving late to class and for seeming to skip the readings; she was angry and let me know by email, halfway through the semester, that things weren’t looking so hot for my participation grade. It was easier then because it was a class based on writing memoirs, so I could communicate, through the assignments I turned in, how hard I try to stay focused even when it looks like I can’t. We eventually resolved the issue, I got an A in the class and that instructor eventually helped me get published.

November 6, 2007

Doctors Operate on 8-limbed Girl

Filed under: Uncategorized — ononehand @ 1:54 pm

This story wouldn’t be good for anything without a picture. Lakshmi, an Indian girl with 8 limbs, will soon lose those extra appendages in an operation, says a story on msnbc.com. Doctors explain that when Lakshmi was in utero, her body absorbed the remains a dying identical twin, resulting in some extra grafted parts. A surgical team now wants to remove those extra limbs to let the girl live a normal life.

Coincidentially, (this is where many people would say, “ironically,” which would be wrong, because it’s not an irony, its a coincidence), Indian families often name their children after gods and goddesses, and Laskhmi’s parents chose the name of a popular goddess who has four arms. Hindus beleive that dieties will incarnate as human beings and become spiritual leaders, leading beleivers to wonder if little Lakshmi is of divine origin. People from the neighborhood have already begun to revere the girl, who is now two years old – but is unknown whether or not Lakshmi will grow up with profound spiritual characteristics.

November 3, 2007

Daylight Savings

Filed under: Uncategorized — ononehand @ 11:19 pm
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I dreamed of falling in love with a desperate alcoholic, writing song lyrics across each others’ naked bodies by candlelight at 4 a.m. I dreamed of being invited into the back room at the kegger where the cool kids hit cocaine off of a glossy paperback Bible. I dreamed of bragging, dude, I was so fucked up last night, taking a piss behind a tree in the park and falling headlong through the bushes before the guy who would break my heart helped me stuble home.

Not long ago I beleived I’d be spending the entire decade of my 20s as a tortured artist, nursing scars, finding myself lost and lovesick in the arms of someone who only half felt like a partner, puffing cigarettes in dark alleys of New York, Seattle, London, Santa Fe, Chicago…

Now I am 22, and lead the youth group in a Unitarian church. For tomorrow morning’s activity, I bought a bag of 100 daffodill bulbs the kids and I will plant in the church yard. Daffodills. Holy shit.

My weekday routine looks something like this: wake up at nine thirty, grab something to eat, and jog to the gym. An hour later, I’m back home mixing a protein shake and then taking a shower. I water my houseplants, inspect and then rotate them so both sides get some sun. I cook something with tofu and rice and walk to the library where I’ll spend the biggest chunk of my day. I think about the activity I’m planning for the middle school group at Boulder Valley UU fellowship. I go to class, walk home and cook dinner. I call my parents, who I talk to almost every day. I run errands. I call a friend. If I don’t have any more homework, we go to a bar, I buy one drink and then we come home. Otherwise I’m thinking about an article I need to write for Boulder Magazine. I check my email. I watch TV. I grab a book and read for a while before I go to bed.

Without any particular effort, I became so fucking wholesome. And I don’t doubt that this is exactly how I’m supposed to be. I was born this way, loving plants and being a vegetarian health nut who judges each food based on glycemic index and flavanoids. I was born to work in a church, I can’t imagine any organization that shares my work ethic more than a service-based small community. I just didn’t think I’d get to this place so quickly.

When I was a kid I had my hands dirty every day, planting seeds, digging for worms, catching crickets, climbing trees. It took a few heartbreaks to learn that it’s the thing that feeds me. I’ve said many times that I think that human beings are fulfilled by taking care of something. I’d been taking care of hopeless causes for years, and I came to realize that I needed something I could actually see some change in. I got some plants. It started with pineapple tops, avocado seeds and then shamrocks I dug up from the yard. Tomatoes and zuchinnis, zinias, marigolds, ginger roots, spider plants, wandering jews, pumpkins, african violets and aloe. I spend the first hours of each day just looking at the plants in the window, caring for them. The next time I fell in love with a human, it was the first time I thought someone really saw where my heart was. It was the first time someone’s compliments actually felt complimentary. It didn’t last, but it was the first time I knew such things were real.

After all that I got an email that a church was looking for someone to work with the youth. I never made a choice to apply. I was sending my resume everywhere, so I sent one to the church too. I didn’t think I’d get the job. Then I went in for an interview and they told me I got it. I met the kids and I liked them a lot. It was what came to me. There was never a choice; saying yes was only second nature; I was on a path, and that’s where the path took me.

So much for finding the desperate alcoholic. He was always temporary. I feel like I’m still so young, but already looking to figure out the rest of my life. My period of sewing wild oats lasted three years, and the oat fields, always small and tame, have succumbed to the onslaught of tomatoes and pumpkin vines, dasies and sunflowers, and under the upright oak tree in the middle is a heaping growth of bleeding hearts, the shady the trail of stepping-stones marked by creeping impatients and begonias.

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