260. overslaugh

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enhanced-buzz-29982-1409148846-23Two days ago, this past Saturday, marked the two-year anniversary of the last time I went on an actual, non-hookup date with a guy.

Or, as it’s known on my Google calendar: “Last Fuckable Day” (à la the Amy Schumer short from last year). Because June 25, 2014 felt like the universe telling me that I am undateable.

“Why would you observe such a date?” you might ask. “I mean, what the actual hell is wrong with you?”

Well, for one thing, it’s so that I can answer myself when asking: “So how long has it been since I went on a date?”

For another, I’m an archivist at heart so preserving history is something of my hobby and expertise. At first I wasn’t 100% sure of the timeline, but thanks to stalkerish Google location history I was able to narrow down the date we first met. Weather Underground confirmed when our second date was because there was a thunderstorm that evening, and there are also SMS messages from that date saved in my email.

I don’t remember exactly when Matt the bisexual guy and I started messaging on OkCupid. It was about a week or so before we met, and we seemed to have a good connection so we decided to set a date to actually meet in person, at the Seward Pizza Lucé in Minneapolis on June 11th, 2014. It was particularly rainy that week, and I recall driving through a storm and it being particularly nerve wracking getting over there because the wipers on my car had stopped working and were frozen at about a 45 degree angle on my windshield.

The date itself went well. I don’t remember many details from the conversation, other than that he had moved to Minneapolis from New York to work on his PhD, and that he had most recently been dating a guy for several years who’d broken up with him a few months prior.

Big red flag, I know.

We ended up going for a walk across the Lake Street-Marshall Bridge after dinner, and had a really good time discussing wildlife and ecosystems (that was part of his field of study), and more about our backgrounds. It had been a little over a year since I’d broken up with Jay, my last boyfriend, who apparently met his current partner about three months after we split up. He certainly wasted no time, eh.

The evening came to an end with another torrential downpour that began just as we got back to his car. We kissed briefly as we said goodbye, and after over a year of being single I was starting to feel cautiously hopeful. We seemed to have good chemistry, and he was a really nice and intelligent guy.

The next day we decided to meet again, this time at his place that following Saturday on June 14, 2014.

Yes, I know. I know. Terrible decisions. Hindsight and all that.

It was another rainy evening, and though I was white knuckling it the whole way there as I drove through the storm, I managed to arrive safely.

I remember us talking for a long time that evening. We talked about music, about science, about his copy of Richard Dawkins’ The Ancestor’s Tale on his bookshelf. Eventually, we started making out and… well, you can imagine the rest if you like. We actually didn’t have sex until the next morning, but the whole evening felt good. Hopeful. Cautiously hopeful.

As I left that morning, I got a random text from Jay saying that he’d passed me with his boyfriend on the way to pick up his boyfriend’s kids from somewhere. (Jay had talked about kids on more than one occasion, which had been one of many sources of tension between us, because I was not crazy about the idea of parenting. And, of course, with the guy after me he got exactly what he wanted.) I don’t remember what was said, but I recall writing back something about leaving “my boyfriend’s” place, not wanting to seem pathetic and single after over a year. He wrote back something about being happy for me, and that was it.

Haven’t heard from him since.

Matt and I exchanged a few more texts that day, but after that, I didn’t hear from him again for a while, which I didn’t take as a good sign. I didn’t want to seem desperate or clingy though, and waited until Thursday to try him again.

He didn’t respond until Wednesday.

Turns out he’d been avoiding having a conversation with me. A few days after we slept together he’d been contacted by his ex again, and he confessed that he was still in love with the guy but was feeling conflicted because he’d actually liked me.

But he was going to pursue getting back together with his ex.

And that was that. I didn’t hear from him again either. No idea if they got back together.

That triggered the beginning of a major depressive episode that lasted over six months. I felt utterly defeated by being turned down by yet another guy I’d been interested in. This had happened so many times before, but I’d gotten my hopes up only to see them dashed again, and it was hard to ignore signals the universe seemed to be proverbially sending me—that no guy who I was interested in was ever going to be interested in me.

It happened with Chris. With Seth. With Matt. With several others whose names and faces I can’t recall anymore, “unremembered lads that not again will turn to me at midnight with a cry” (Edna St. Vincent Millay).

Of course I’m writing this with the recent image of Miss Havisham in mind, knowing that I need to resist allowing regret and heartbreak to poison me.

My therapist asked me last week to envision what it might feel like to actually be loved and accepted by a partner, without fear or reservation.

I can’t even fathom what that would look like.

249. obstreperous

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BaR_twitterSorry about the gap in posting. Grad school started up again in September, and on top of working full-time, doing music for Sunday Assembly, and serving as secretary for the campus archivists group, I’m also taking two fairly demanding courses, both in cataloging.

So time is extremely limited.

Of course, because I’m apparently a masochist, they’re both in the same subject area—cataloging—except that one is a beginning-level organization of knowledge course, and the other in advanced cataloging. Because I’m ridiculous.

But I’ve also discovered that really enjoy cataloging, which I wasn’t expecting. Homework (which usually consists of actual cataloging activities, such as identifying Library of Congress subject headings, looking up RDA rules for classification, or consulting LC authority files) is thoroughly enjoyable.

I could seriously spend hours doing this. It’s so relaxing.

So there’s that.


Had a mini grieving moment on Saturday, following by a minor meltdown in the evening.

I came across some recordings that I did in 2007 of music written for a play and performed with friends of mine. It’s music that I’m actually quite proud of, some of my best work, and overall that was a nice time in my life. It was the year before I came out, so it was actually a pretty turbulent time emotionally and psychologically, but working and creating made for a refreshing oasis in the midst of what was otherwise dark chaos.

It hit me while putting the tracks together that I really don’t write music anymore, and currently have no inclination to do so. Maybe I will again, someday, but for now that seems to be done. Wrote about that a few months ago when the Source Song Festival came around again, but it finally sunk in, like the awful significance of the death of someone close to you hitting home all of a sudden, that that part of my identity, the composer and classical musician, is gone.

It’s a striking absence considering how many years and how much effort I put into becoming a musician and composer. Hours spent practicing and writing, working on projects with friends, struggling to get my work out there for it to be (hopefully) discovered, and then finally accepting the inevitable conclusion that this wasn’t

This came up in the most recent meeting with my therapist, on Monday. The past few months I’ve been gradually stripping away the final vestiges, exorcising the remaining ghosts, of that now-defunct period of my life. It was an identity designed to please my father, the people in my life who I looked up to and respected, who all said that music was my divine calling (or however they phrased it—not quite so dramatic as “divine calling,” for sure).

I started writing music around age fourteen or fifteen, began a bachelor’s in music composition at seventeen, tried for years to make a career as a composer, failed, and finally wrote my last “serious” composition last year for a wedding.

Music formed the core of my identity for over fifteen years, and now it’s gone.

So it just hit me how much much time and effort passed investing in that identity, and how much of both was wasted when I could’ve been putting that into pursuing authenticity instead.

And, of course, that thinking shifted over into my personal life and into looking at the wasteland my romantic prospects are at the moment, how everyone else seems to be settling down or moving forward to getting what they want while I’m looking more every day like a tiny rowboat that’s drifting out, alone, into open water.


I’ve also been more aware recently of a sense of discomfort around intimacy, of both the physical and emotional kind. There are times when I can fake it in social settings and am able to pretend for some reason or another.

Fundamentally, I believe that this discomfort is rooted in a fear of disappointment, of hurt, or both, and not wanting to get involved with a guy when it’s unclear where his intentions are. Because frankly, I don’t have the emotional bandwidth to deal with bullshit of that kind.

And there’s the lack of trust that I have in my own judgment around the kind of guys I typically fall for. The last couple of guys I’ve been interested in or merely attracted to (and we’re talking about four or five over the last two and a half years) have either been emotionally unavailable, already taken, or hetero.

The conflict is in the reality that I seem to be surrounded by gay guys who have no qualms about having a fuck buddy, or just fucking someone who they’re into, seemingly without hangups or interest in where it goes. They just go after what they want.

It’s not guilt or anything that holds me back.

It’s fear of getting hurt.

So I can’t do fuck buddies.

Five years ago I was able to, in the months after breaking up with Aaron and then the debacle with Seth. And maybe that’s part of it—that I’ve done the sex-for-sex-sake thing and have no desire to revisit the emptiness that it became for me. Maybe it works fine for other people. For me, it was a lonely experience, especially when being with other guy’s boyfriends.

Yes, I was the “other guy” for a time.

Plus, there are new anxieties about getting older as a gay man, about the slowing-down of my body as I get into my thirties, how I’m no longer the supple young thing that guys were into. I don’t have time (or money) to spend at the gym, and I’m worried that not taking care of myself exercise-wise will eventually come back to bite me later, both in the sense of my health and in attracting romantic partners when I’m finally able and ready to pursue that.

Just a lot of anxieties overall.

I need to step back from this for now and pursue things that bring me joy and happiness.

238. caustic

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cups08I’m now into the twelfth week of classes in my library science master’s program, and between working a full-time job and doing monthly music for Sunday Assembly there hasn’t been much time for writing. With seeing my therapist every two weeks, there’s been plenty of personal reflection, but not much time to actually meditate about it, which has been difficult. Writing is how I process those things, but when one’s life seems to be flying along at 600 miles-per-hour, some things take a back seat for the sake of steering.

So a few weeks ago I was finally on my friend Keith’s podcast, Vita Atheos. It’s terrific, and you should check it out. It’s devoted to “telling the stories of atheists, their journeys towards non-belief, and the struggles that they faced in the past, or still face today because of their lack of belief.”

We’ve been talking about my being on for a while now, partly because of how unique my dual coming out story (gay and then atheist) seems to be in the community. It was an interesting experience being interviewed, and the conversation actually ran about two hours and fifteen minutes. And I didn’t even get to talking about my family!

It had also been a while since I’d told my deconversion story in detail. Most people in my life know the details so we don’t have to rehash them. Although recently, there have been conversations about the weird, fucked up things that I was taught growing up. At times it feels as if I truly came from another culture, or even from another planet entirely.

Because there are few analogues in “normal,” mainstream life—that is, for those who didn’t grow up in a conservative, fundamentalist, religious community. The “real world.”

One of the themes that has come up with therapists over the past few years (including my current therapist) is a sense of being just broken and fucked up from all of the religious programming in my early childhood years, further compounded by internalizing the homophobia that surrounded me at home and in my community. One of the things that’s come up is my inability to truly forgive myself for not knowing better, for not being stronger, for not coming out sooner and standing up for myself.

But as Lalla Ward is quoted as saying to her parents in The God Delusion: “But I didn’t know I could.”

That sort of historical musing is easy to do. It feels good to put ourselves on the moral side of history—standing up to the Nazis in Germany, or standing with Martin Luther King, Jr. against racism. Fifty years from now, children will read with similar horror about homophobia and opposition to gay rights. Of course I wish things could’ve turned out differently, and that I wasn’t trying to rebuild my life and constantly struggling under the weight of depression, anxiety, and inherited self-hatred.

The past few months I’ve been trying to wrap my mind around why I’m currently so obsessed with my age right now and being gay and single at 32. I think I’ve written about this before, that part of it the need to validate myself against the messages I got growing up, that gays don’t have relationships. Part of it is the rampant ageism in the gay community, and the fixation on being young and fit, and I frankly don’t see myself as either of these things anymore. I don’t have time to work out, so I’m still rather scrawny; and now that I’m in my mid-30s my metabolism isn’t what it used to be. I’m not overweight, but I am “gay fat” by the standards of the community (i.e., not having a gym-perfect body, BMI is over 12%).

Maybe it’s just Midwestern gays. I’m starting to wonder if that isn’t what it is.

The reality is that I’m where most of them are when they were in their early twenties, leaving me feeling hopelessly behind and outpaced. It seems so easy for everyone else to find boyfriends and relationships, and I don’t even know how to date. Perhaps it would be easier if my standards weren’t so high, or if I could just have fun; but it’s difficult as it is for me to connect with other humans in general, and I’m really not one for casual dating or sex, which frankly doesn’t leave many options in the Twin Cities since that seems to do it for most guys around here. Everyone here seems to be on Manhunt, Grindr, or Scruff.

#notmyscene

But there’s a much darker reality that I’ve just recently become aware of. It’s so new that I haven’t had time to put it into words, so this may not make much sense, but here goes:

Basically, at this point, I don’t know if I could be with someone when I can’t even accept myself.

Central to Christian fundamentalist teaching and Calvinism is this notion that humans are basically shit because of Adam and Eve. An ongoing theme of my childhood was a virtual obsession with sin and confession, because God is always watching, and Satan is always trying to trip Christians up. Constant vigilance. What could go wrong with teaching a child to believe that they were born flawed, and that even the most minor of unconfessed sins could land them in Hell for eternity?

So even though I know intellectually that I’m likable, even desirable, I don’t feel it. It’s the emotional equivalent of an eating disorder, I guess. What I see in the mirror is not everyone else seems to see. I see trash, failure, ruin, someone whose prime years were stolen by religion.

It’s as if, because I deem myself unworthy, I reject anyone else’s approval of me as a matter of course. Is that arrogant? Probably. But when you grow up fearing the disapproval of everyone around you, it becomes the lens through which you view all relationships.

An examined life may be admirable, but can also be unlivable.

233. happenstance

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sängyssä

Quick disclaimer: this post will deal with my sex life in unsexy and entirely untitillating language. Because my relationship with sex these days is… well, complicated.

I haven’t had many relationships that could be described as healthy. Beginning with my family (our first relationship lab, as it were), through my tumultuous teenage years, up to present-day, my life has been a decades-long exercise in keeping people closest to me at a safe and comfortable distance.

Clearing my orbital neighborhood, so to speak.

There was also the culture of shame endemic in the evangelical Christian community. Religious fundamentalists in general are adept at wearing masks to hide their true faces from each other for fear of judgment, shaming, and reprisal. In my community, it was often done with a smile. under the guise of “prayerful” good intentions; and in my family, Bible verses were often used as reminders of how we weren’t living up to the Bible’s standard for Christian living.

Not only did our parents disapprove of us—God also disapproved.

Consequently, as I wrote about in a recent blog entry, virtually all of my relationships up until now have been based on fear. I learned to fear everyone, regardless of whether there was something there to actually be afraid of.

At the same time, I desperately longed for acceptance, for belonging, and safety. The cognitive dissonance was, and still is, deafening.

This has played itself out in my sexual relationships in a number of highly toxic ways.

For one, I’m ashamed to say that once I became sexually active, I began using sex to try to achieve intimacy. It’s not the sex part that shames me in hindsight as how embarrassingly stereotypical that was. And it never worked. After I broke things off with my first boyfriend (i.e., “Aaron 1.0”), I had quite a few hookups on the way to my second boyfriend (“Aaron 2.0”) as a way of “catching up” to where I figured most gay men my age were—that is, age 26.

Even in those hookups, I was still hoping against hope to find a partner, someone with whom to find mutual belonging. I must have been looking so intently that, even if I had found someone compatible at that point, my expectations for the relationship would’ve doomed it to fail from the start.

Of course, after Seth I went on a sex binge, trying to literally fuck him out of my system. That didn’t work either, and each time the disappointment and the dissatisfaction deepened.

It was a cycle of self-perpetuating and self-propagating shame.

It frustrated me how friends of mine could have so much sex with seemingly no emotional consequences. There’s that line from the chorus of a recent Daft Punk song:

We’re up all night for good fun
We’re up all night to get lucky

“Good fun” was something I was not having.

After I broke up with my most recent boyfriend in March of 2013, every sexual encounter started to leave me more and more depressed. I was thirty years old, and the rest of my life looked to be a series of endless, unsatisfying hookups.

Plus, as I wrote recently, I had defined success for myself as finding a boyfriend and partner, because that was one thing I grew up believing I could never have. So with every disappointing hookup, my parents’ voices in my mind saying that gay men lead sad, lonely lives grew more terrifying.

So I probably put myself in situations where that prophesy was mostly likely to come true.

A foursome I had last fall (which ended with me being a third wheel after one guy went to bed and the other two guys were into each other but not me) left me feeling undesirable and even more out of phase with other gay men than ever.

Meeting the bisexual tree scientist this summer (who I was actually, finally into—until he told me that he’s still in love with his ex-boyfriend and that they were trying to get back together) left me feeling as if there’s a game of musical chairs going on, and everyone else is faster than me.

Needless to say, there’s a lot of impossible expectations and a ton of emotional trauma (yes, some of it self-inflicted) wrapped up in sex besides just getting off with another person.

So much that I can’t enjoy it properly anymore.

For example, a couple weeks ago, a friend introduced me to a guy at a gayming party, texting me before I arrived that he’d found my “future husband.” I shouldn’t have taken it seriously, but before I could stop myself, I started surreptitiously studying this guy, imagining our future together, in Technicolor. We did hook up later that evening, and while he clearly had fun, he also made it clear that he’d just got out of a five-year relationship and wasn’t interested in anything serious.

Just like all of the others, I thought.

So I’m taking a break from sex for now. It’s just too confusing and unhealthy. I’ve been saying that sex is like advanced graduate studies in relationships, and I’m still trying to just finish high school. Frankly, I need to get to the root of this need to base my self worth on external factors, like looks and performance, first.

The tough thing about that is that it’s hard not to resent everyone who is in a relationship, or who is able to enjoy sex without the resulting existential tsunami. Of course, we can’t know what’s really going on in other people’s relationships or in their minds. Maybe everyone else really is just as afraid and insecure, but can simply cope better. However, when your emotional vocabulary is based on fear, it’s difficult not to invent reasons why a relationship is already doomed, or turn an otherwise fun, pleasurable experience into an emotional minefield.

Fear fuels self-belief that I’m broken and damaged became a reason to preemptively sabotage potentially fruitful relationships.

This is why I’m in therapy, folks.

210. lontano

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RTA2172Went home feeling more alone than usual tonight.

Had a date at the Mall of America this evening after work. I’ve been talking to this guy for a while. He’s a pilot who works out of the Caribbean and happened to be in Minneapolis for a few hours between connecting flights. He was visiting family in the Fargo area and now is headed home.

I came home after work and managed to find a spot relatively close to my apartment. If I drove home after the date, chances are I’d be parking at least six blocks away due to Minneapolis’ inane, ongoing, “just in case” snow emergency. Parking is only allowed on the east and south sides of streets until April 1. This means that trying to find a spot after 6pm is like musical chairs, if the penalty when the music stops was being transported instantly to Siberia.

After changing out of work clothes, I headed out to get cash and coffee to break a $20 for bus fare. However, I missed the 23H by just minutes. My phone was already on about an 8% charge, but I was able to learn that a 4L was leaving at 7:04PM just eight blocks away. Luckily, the bus was about five minutes late so I made it in time. However, that meant I missed the connecting bus that would’ve got me to MOA sooner, but I had enough phone battery left to find a new connection to get me there.

Just as my bus got to the Mall, we got stuck at a checkpoint going in to the Transit Station. I’m not sure what was going on, and even the bus driver was confused. There was something going on with a taxi several cars ahead that backed everything up.

Fortunately, my date wasn’t too plussed. I managed to get to our meeting spot in one piece, and we had a pleasant dinner together. We talked about his flight career, our families, our hopes and dreams, and a bit about religion. We ended up talking until about 10:21PM, at which point we decided it was time to head out.

He was heading to the airport and was going to take the light rail back to be ready to make his flight in a couple of hours. We said our goodbyes in the transit station at the Mall – handshake, not a hug. Definitely in the friendzone.

The thing is, by the time we got there, it was about 10:30PM. Turns out a bus had left about five minutes earlier that would’ve got me home by way of the 4L. And my cell phone was dead.

After wandering around for a bit, I managed to find an outlet by some payphones in the Mall. It felt ironic, crouching on the floor beside those ancient, corded, handheld receivers while my relatively fancy smartphone charged. I finally managed to get enough charge to get an Internet connection, and discovered that the next bus wouldn’t be leaving until 11:17PM.

So I had some time.

In that interval, dark clouds began to descend, like Dementors, closing in. A metaphorical rain cloud formed, drenching me with its metaphorical downpour. In these moments, it seems like absolutely everything is wrong with my life. My phone dies because my battery is crap. I leave my gloves on the floor of my car, right in a spot where a bottle of motor oil leaked. I miss buses by mere minutes. I get stomach aches that keep me awake all night because of my allergies. The cute guy I’m crushing on has a boyfriend, or turns out to be a total jerk. Everyone I’ve dated or lived with, however briefly, is now either dating or married to someone they’re great with. And I’m perpetually alone, stranded at a metaphorical transit stop with no idea how to get home.

I know, mentally, that this is the depression talking – that my life could be so much worse than it is. Yet why do I go through life feeling a though I’ve missed that one crucial day in class that helped everyone else pass the big test with flying colors, while I barely manage a “C”?

On my last connecting bus home, I did witness an interesting exchange. There was a woman in her mid-40s, with blonde hair and wearing a black leather jacket and dark glasses – the very image of a Gen X rocker. Sure enough, there was a guitar case on the seat beside her. When I got on, she was saying that she didn’t like going out to a bar unless she was playing at it.

Then the girl across from her (they seemed to have been in conversation for some time) mentioned that she cleans for a living (she “puts her all into it”), and needs some kind of therapy to help her “develop a personality” because she has trouble talking to people. She started talking about her collage art and how it was helping her get over her fear of death. The rocker lady was packing up, becoming more uncomfortable with this conversation. Fortunately for us all her stop arrived, and she got off, took her bike, and gave a “peace” sign to the driver.

I wondered on the long walk home if I’ll ever be able to drop the practiced “keep away” look that I cultivated as a deeply closeted gay man in conservative Christianland. I wonder if I was unconsciously doing it on my date tonight, or with any of the other guys I’ve dated in the year since breaking up with Jason. I wonder how often I’ve missed opportunities to connect with someone, a friend or potential romantic partner, who couldn’t see past the thorny barriers I throw up to keep people out.

Walking home tonight, I passed apartment and second-story bedroom windows, flickering ghostly blue and white. We once huddled together in front of fires to keep warm. Now we huddle in front of televisions, alone.

204. static

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Storm-cloudsIt’s been a rough day, folks. Not only has it been blisteringly cold in Minnesota, but on Sunday the city of Minneapolis has declared a snow emergency effective until April 1. Or whenever they feel bothered to clear all the snow from the streets. For apartment dwellers such as I, this basically means that we’re screwed. Parking is not unlike musical chairs, if the loser of the round were transported to the middle of Siberia when the music ended.

The other night, I had to park three blocks away from my apartment and walk home in 4°F weather, walking right into the westerly wind, with ice crystals blowing into my face.

This, on top of dealing with my landlord, whose idea of fixing the gaping hole in my ceiling was to slop some spackle over the hole without coating the area with primer sealer first and letting it dry. This is the assessment my friend Amanda gave from looking at the picture I posted. And, of course, because my landlord decided to play incompetent contractor as well as negligent landlord, he hasn’t addressed the actual source of the moisture, which is why there was more wet plaster and debris on my floor on Friday.

Plus, there have still been no bites in my job search. Last week I reformatted my resume, editing it down to one page, with a second page of relevant, “FYI” work history information. But I worry that there are simply way more experienced and qualified candidates out there, ahead of me, and that my lack of specialized training (e.g., database, programming, project management) has come back to haunt me.

Yes, it’s a matter of rebranding the skills and experience I do have to fit the needs of a potential employer. But dammit, Jim, I’m a writer, not a nine-to-fiver.

Yesterday afternoon, one of the temp agencies called about a short-term civil government position that sounded like a great match for my skills – and would’ve paid $15/hr. (This is good news since my rate up until now has been $11-$12/hr.) The recruiter said he’d get back to me either yesterday evening or this morning. I finally got a call from one of his colleagues this afternoon who told me that they’d “decided to go in another direction,” whatever that means. But she had another position to discuss with me that would’ve paid $14/hr and also sounded like a good match. She called back a little while ago to say that they’d cancelled the position.

So… things aren’t going very well right now.

Ugh. I’m so tired of looking at job postings and thinking, “Well, that doesn’t sound too bad. I could probably do that for a month before wanting to walk into traffic.” Or looking at job descriptions and thinking that it seems like a great fit before getting to the bit where they say, “Must be bilingual.” Around here these days, the languages are often Spanish, Hmong, or Somali. Or they’re looking for someone with database experience. Or X+ years experience as an executive assistant.

The jobs I want require experience that I couldn’t get without back to school. Writing and editing jobs require either an English or journalism degree, or equivalent experience.

To say the least, it’s discouraging.

And now my car is breaking down. I have no idea what’s going on, but it’s been randomly dying when I pull up to stop signs. And then it works fine for a while.

In many ways, all of this seems to be a mirror to the state of my romantic life at present.

Sorry, just writing about all this is depressing me even more.

Here. Have some Stephen Fry.

The powers of the placebo are so strong that it may be morally wrong to call homeopathy a lie because the moment you say it then a placebo falls to pieces and loses its power. I am a great believer in double-blind random testing, which is the basis of all drug testing. People still insist on things like holistic healing and things that have no real basis in evidence because they want it to be true—it’s as simple as that. If you’re dying of cancer or very, very ill, then you’ll cling to a straw. I feel pretty dark thoughts about the kind of people who throw straws at drowning, dying men and women, and I’m sure most of us would agree it’s a pretty lousy thing to do. Some of these people perhaps believe in the snake oil they sell or allow themselves to believe in it.

That’s why James Randi is so good, because he knows what magicians know: if you do a card trick on someone, they will report that it was unbelievable, they describe the effect the magician wanted, and they miss out all the steps in between that seemed irrelevant because the magician made them irrelevant, so they didn’t notice them.

People will swear that a clairvoyant mentioned the name of their aunt from nowhere, and they will be astonished if you then play a recording that shows that thirty-two names were said before the aunt’s name, none of which had any effect on them. That’s because they wanted to hear their aunt’s name; they wanted the trick to work, so they forgot all the failures in the same way as people forget all their dreams that have no relevance to their lives, but they mark when they dream of someone they haven’t met for ages that they see the next day. I would be astounded if everyone had coincidences like that—yet people say that is somehow closed-minded of me!

— “Last Chance to Think” Interview (2010) by Kylie Sturgess in Skeptical Inquirer. Vol 34 (1)

203. pluvial

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Proconsul skeleton reconstitutionIn a way, Valentine’s Day didn’t feel that much different from last year, when I was dating Jason. He wasn’t feeling well, as usual, so I felt pretty much alone. The same as this year.

I know it’s a corporate holiday, its origins are entirely apocryphal, and that it’s mostly about guys buying romantic shit for their significant others so that the latter will be more receptive to sex later in the evening. Just like Christmas is about making people feel coerced into buying shit for friends and relations because that’s what we’re somehow supposed to do. And so on. Holidays are mostly nonsense, with a dash of social bonding thrown in to add a feeling of legitimacy to the crass proceedings.

This year, I was in a less cynical mood, partly because I didn’t go out much over that weekend, and consequently wasn’t buffeted by the aggressive advertising campaigns. I did get emails from Starbucks, Caribou, and Dunn Bros, inviting my to bring my “sweetheart” for a buy-one, get-one. Thanks, big chain coffee companies, for reminding me of how freaking lonely I am.

Of course, there are a lot of people who are alone on Valentine’s Day, who have no one to buy into the bullshit with and for. Many of these people feel anger and resentment at those who callowly revel and who don’t seem to understand how anyone could possibly feel anything but the artificial joy and rush of oxytocin that marketing materials are designed to make them feel.

But many are also content in their own company, content in themselves and who they are as individuals, just happy to be alive, and feel no need to be “completed” by another person. These are people who seem comfortable in their own skin, and comfortable in just about any setting, anywhere, with anyone. These people also baffle me.

forest-fireMost years, especially since Valentine’s Day of 2010, when the Seth fiasco began and the flame was lit to the edges of what I thought was my comfortable existence and would eventually become a violent conflagration that would burn away the very foundations of that existence into dying embers, I watch Moulin Rouge, because nothing takes away the lingering sting of heartbreak like schadenfreude.

This year, however, I decided to watch a couple of documentaries. One was the incredible Cave of Forgotten Dreams, about the discovery of the Chauvet-Pont-d’Arc Cave in France and the collection of incredible paleolithic images that were sealed off there over 30,000 years ago. Far from crude, the paintings and etchings are sophisticated, evidence that individuals responsible for them were probably not that different from us today. We drive cars, live in advanced dwellings, have access to medical care and to technologies that would have made us gods to our ancient ancestors, and weren’t threatened by cave bears.

The other was a four-part (two-part on Netflix) BBC documentary called Walking with Cavemen. It was probably more speculation than science, although the writers did attempt to put a “human” face to the fossil bone evidence, which is all the traces we have of our early ancestors.

Each half-hour episode is presented in the form of a drama that attempts to explore the way that each species of human possibly lived, from Australopithecus afarensis to Homo neanderthalensis, particularly in response to climate change.

As the documentary notes, at one point there were numerous species of “ape men” on the African plains, each adapted according to a different successful method of survival. Some, like Paranthropus boisei, adapted larger and more powerful jaws to chew tough vegetation. Others, like Homo habilis, developed larger brains that allowed them to create tools and scheme more effectively.

Christine_de_Pisan_and_her_sonLast year, I watched another BBC documentary called Christina: a Mediaeval Life, about a 14th-century peasant woman named Christina Cox whose life has been reconstructed through financial and legal records from the time. In mediaeval England, everything was recorded, in meticulous detail. The show notes that it was one of the most well-documented periods in history (aside from our own, which future historians might consider overly documented—one can imagine them musing over our obsession with cats).

I thought about her while doing my taxes a few weeks ago, wondering if anyone in the future would be going over my tax returns six hundred years from now, and parse together from those records (and possibly from this blog and other writings) what sort of person I was.

Yesterday morning in the former fundamentalists group I attend (that is, when I feel like getting up early on a Sunday morning and being with other human beings), we were discussing how we approach death and legacy as Christians-turned-atheists. There was some discussion in Walking With Cavemen over whether Homo heidelbergensis buried their dead and whether they had any concept of an afterlife.

In a way, I’m thankful for the knowledge that I’ll die someday. That day still seems a long way off, but it will happen, eventually. Just as it happened to Lucy; to every Homo habilis who was eaten by lions or died of starvation; and to the man with the crooked finger who did the palm prints in the Chauvet cave 30,000-some years ago.

We are impermanent beings. That is the nature of life on this planet. Flowers bloom, flourish, wither, and die. Animals are born, grow up, grow old, and die. Even mountains crumble. The universe itself will even slow down and freeze to death, so to speak.

cecil_and_carlos_by_a_cat01-d6ig5gwWhat all this has to do with Valentine’s Day is that it doesn’t really matter. This moment doesn’t really matter. And yet it matters immensely.

A few nights ago I had a dream about preparations for a wedding in which several good friends appeared in various representational aspects. My friend Jenny, who is studying counseling psychology, was the bride. She arrived late, but wasn’t worried. “It’ll be okay,” she said.

I hope against hope that she’s right.

And all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.