272. wabi-sabi

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kintugi‘Tis the season for retrospection, I guess.

As we turn our faces towards the void of what lies ahead for 2017, I’ve been reminded while listening to the radio this week of some of the high points and low points of the past year. While there were definite low points, I still tend to balk at those who claim that 2016 was the “worst year ever.”

I’m pretty sure 65 million BCE was the worst year ever for the dinosaurs, and you could have your pick of years at the height of the Black Death’s rampage through Europe around 1351-1353.

Ditto during the years of the Great Depression.

1783 was a wretched year for the northern hemisphere when the volcano Laki in Iceland started a chain of natural disasters that led to the deaths of tens of thousands in Europe.

1968 was a pretty bleak year in the United States, with the Vietnam War still raging, the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy, deadly race riots across the country, and the election of Richard Nixon.

(There are more examples on this Reddit thread.)

Point is, 2016 may have been the worst year in the lifetimes of many under a certain age, but every generation has its go-to .


For me, this has been a year of transformation and growth:

That last one had been a huge source of anxiety for me over the past few years. I’d been growing increasingly less interested in sex, dating, and “dating” (i.e., casual sex), which definitely made me an outlier amongst gay men. Discovering that there were others like me, whose sexuality was defined firstly by emotional rather than sexual attraction, was an incredible relief.

However, this has also redefined my relationship to the broader LGBTQIA+ community. Even before demisexuality, I struggled to really find a place of belonging under the rainbow umbrella.

I am not queer in any sense of the word, am cisgendered, still have my natural hair color, have no piercings or tattoos, am comfortable in my masculine identity, and feel no need to “bend” how I present my gender.

Frankly, I have heterosexual friends who are queerer than me.

Likewise, I have struggled to find belonging amongst gay men. My personal experience is that it’s a community defined heavily by sexual activity and sexual attraction—flirting, hooking up, etc. Again, full disclosure, my experience with “gay culture” has been primarily limited to a subset in central Minnesota, which may not be representative necessarily of the majority.

However, many guys with whom I’ve had conversations, who could be considered “mainstream gay” (however you’d define that), do feel liberated in their more extroverted sexuality. Many came out of repressive homes and communities, and found belonging and community in the gay bars and fetish subcultures that make this super introvert very uncomfortable.


The massacre at the Pulse nightclub in June was a conflicting event for me in many ways. Fifty people were murdered because of their sexual orientation. On the one hand, it was a reminder that although we have marriage equality in all fifty states thanks to the 2015 Supreme Court ruling, it is still not entirely safe to be openly LGBT or Q in the United States.

And it’s frightening to consider that the incoming presidential administration could overturn many, if not all, of the advances for LGBTQ rights with a pen stroke or judicial appointment.

Yet aside from a sense of shared oppression, I don’t feel drawn to “gay” spaces—bars, clubs, gyms, bathhouses, concerts, etc. Even “gaymer” events are off-putting for me, mainly because the sexual energy is almost emotionally deafening.

At the 2015 American Library Association conference in San Francisco, when I attended a GLBT Round Table social (and later an independently organized) event, even though we were all librarians, I observed how the gay (and, I presume, bi) men flirted about the room like bees, sizing each other up.

I just wanted to talk to someone about cataloging and archiving.


A few days ago this video came across my YouTube feed.

Dubious genetic explanations aside, I found O’Keefe’s assertion that LGBT people have unique qualities and perspectives for bringing communities together and facilitating healing to be very heartening. While I may not fit any stereotypes of how society envisions a gay man, I do believe that growing up as an outsider has made me a more compassionate, empathetic, and social justice-minded as a human being.

It’s one reason I decided to go into librarianship in the first place: I know what it is to be denied information that might broaden my mind and challenge my comfortable, preconceived notions about the world—and people.

And I can do something about that as a cataloger, an archivist, and as a librarian.


The reason I worry so much about sex, and the hypersexuality of gay men, is the knowledge that androphiles are my field of eligibles. As a demisexual, it takes a while to even recognize that I’m interested in a guy.

While I’m still trying to figure out if we have anything in common, he’s already decided that we should to go back to his place.

I worry that everyone else moves too fast for me, that no one is willing to wait for the intricate gears and dynamos of my psycho-sexual machine to determine if attraction will happen or not.

Will I ever find someone? (And where do I even look?) Will the attraction endure for me, or for him, or will he eventually get fed up with me and my cogitating?

As I consider the theme of loneliness in 2016, I recognize the need to resolve it somehow, to rethink my perspectives.

Good riddance to this year though.

241. duffer

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Chain_expressing_freedomWhat a month so far.

I finished the month of June in San Francisco at the American Library Association convention, which was my first time in that city, at a professional convention, and marching in a Pride parade other than in the Twin Cities. The latter is less important than the others, but suffice to say that going to ALA was a confirmation that librarianship is truly where I belong.

During the five days I was there, I heard from and met people passionate about keeping information free and accessible for all, and about getting that information into the hands of patrons where it can go out and change the world.

I got to hear the incredible Gloria Steinem speak on the transformative importance of feminism in librarianship.

Heard a (rather cute) guy from the South Carolina Lowcountry Digital History Initiative gloriously nerd out in a session on the technical nuances of making a software program do exactly what they needed it to do.

Was introduced to people in the #critlib movement who are actively taking a critical look at librarianship through the lens of feminism, queer/gender theory, multiculturalism, and so on.

It was truly inspiring.

However…


On Monday I finally got back with my therapist after a nearly three-and-a-half month break. She moved offices, and in the madness of finishing the semester, going on vacation for two weeks, and then going to San Francisco, I hadn’t made an appointment.

And I was also kinda wearing my victim hat. I wasn’t sure if she was going to get in touch with me to set up an appointment, and when I didn’t hear from her, I took it as a conformation that my issues are too fucked up for her to handle, and that she was abandoning me.

Ahh, depression.

As I got her caught up on the latest developments, I shared some of what happened in San Francisco, particularly about feeling alone in a literal sea of humanity. There were over 25,000 attendees at ALA, so for an introvert it was especially overwhelming.

There was the usual sense I have of not knowing how to interact with people, which is especially frustrating at an event where networking and connection-making could happen. Of course, that sort of activity is better suited to a smaller conference organized around a specific discipline or area.

However, that’s how I feel most of the time—trapped in my head with negative thoughts. Why even bother talking to anyone? The minute you open your mouth they’ll figure out what an idiot you are. You’re such a failure as an adult. How old are you? 32. You should be more competent by now.

That’s nothing new, but I shared all of that with my therapist, of having the sense of needing a personality overhaul, because how I’ve been going up until now is not working—for my career, for my personal life, or for my romantic life.

I also shared a major meltdown I had on vacation in Big Bend National Park in Texas last month. In short, the inciting event was having to cross a stream to enter a canyon, something I wasn’t expecting. My friend Matt just went with it and waded through, and I think seeing his seeming carefree attitude set off something in my mind.

Now, granted, I don’t know what’s going on in other people’s minds. Their stories are their own. But it seems to me that most people know how to have a good time. They aren’t caught up in their own thoughts, in insecurities, in a negative self-image from a toxic belief system.

So my meltdown in the canyon was really about my frustration over feeling rigid and stuck and not knowing what to do about that, while most everyone else seems to know how to flow.


Okay, brief diversion.

I’ve discovered a new YouTube channel, The School of Life. Came across it by accident when I saw a link to the video:

My own philosophy education was pretty abysmal. Along with psychology, we were discouraged from thinking too much about philosophy. After all, they were worldly. But I was really struck by some of his ideas here, such as Geworfenheit, or “throwness”—as Heidegger described it, the “attendant frustrations, sufferings, and demands [of life] that one does not choose, such as social conventions or ties of kinship and duty” (Wikipedia).

In Heideggerian terminology, since 2008 I’ve been moving way from a state of Uneigentlichkeit (inauthenticity) towards Eigentlichkeit (authenticity); of becoming more aware recently of the distracting das Gerede (chatter, or idle talk) and how intensely I dislike it; and of wanting to live in a greater state of freedom in keeping with the knowledge of my own mortality—das Nichts.

As Camus would say, I have enough freedom to know that I’m in a cage, but not quite enough freedom to escape it.


A friend observed that it’s not that I think about these things, but that most people don’t.

This is the trouble that comes with thinking too much, and as I watched some of these videos last night, it seems most philosophers are unhappy for that reason. It’s one reason why Camus sticks out. Even in the undeniable face of mortality, he found reasons to live.

And it’s this reason that drove me towards librarianship and grad school, of embracing my sexuality and atheism—my own Eigentlichkeit—and why it’s so troubling that I have difficulty connecting with even people I value most. Life is a brief candle, and even though I know it’s all ephemeral, like how we used to build theater sets only to tear them down, I want to spend mine adding whatever value to my communities.

The realization I’m coming to is that I need to dismantle the old paradigms of fear and self-loathing that keep me rigid and stuck so that I can live free of ideas that no longer serve me.

So that I can actually get down to the business of living.

240. cavort

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knightofwandsLooking at the title for this entry (which, by the way, I typically pull from Dictionary.com’s Word of the Day), what immediately came to mind is some advice from my birth chart (that I did on Astrolabe):

Give yourself the freedom to look awkward or silly once in a while. The relief you feel will be quite therapeutic and the embarrassment (whether it is real or imagined) will pass quickly.

For the record, I’m an Aquarius, with both rising sign and moon in Libra. And something about being a triple air sign?

Do I believe the stars and planets align themselves in the heavens to provide little old me here on planet Earth with sage wisdom? Of course not. But I do enjoy the moments when general observations such as those in astrological charts or tarot readings happen to intersect with my personal reality.

And there is a perverse part of me that enjoys activities like tarot or astrology precisely because they were at one time forbidden and demonic. So getting my chart done or doing a tarot spread is a bit like giving the finger to that part of my past.

However, the truth from that reading is that I do tend to take myself too seriously. I think too much, analyze too deeply, and ultimately lock up and consequently look awkward and weird… which is precisely what I was hoping to avoid in the first place.

And it has the tendency to create problems for everyone else, too, in that it can create the impression of my being standoffish or rude, when in reality I’m just feeling insecure and uncertain about how I’m supposed to behave.


A few weeks, ago my friends Erin and Matt got married, and that got me thinking (yet again) about my own prospects for romance and partnership, and whether it’s something that’s even realistic for me. The day of the wedding I also left for a two-week hiking and camping trip to the Wichita Mountains in Oklahoma, and the Davis Mountains and Big Bend National Park in Texas. The trip gave me a lot of time to digest some of what I’ve learned over this past semester, and to deal with some of the issues that I just haven’t had the mental space to process because of grad school.

Something that I heard on Minnesota Public Radio the other day also caught my attention. They were talking about why millennials aren’t getting married, and one of the guests, Ann Meier, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Minnesota, said something that resonated with me. They were talking about marriage as a status marker, and she said this:

“I think it’s marking an achievement that you’re able to achieve a certain level of education and an income where you feel like [marriage is] the culmination, the icing on the cake, instead of, as Brigid [Schulte] said, a step in the transition to adulthood. It’s the thing you do when your life is set. And people are taking longer to get their lives set these days.”

I think this part of the sense that I’ve been trying to articulate the past couple of months, that it’s difficult watching my friends getting married (especially my gay friends) because it feels like I’m getting left behind. Everyone else has their lives together and, as Ann said, “set” and I’m still trying to achieve a basic level of emotional and psychological subsistence. And it makes me feel incredibly old at 32, watching people younger than me who have been together for almost a decade and seemingly much further ahead than me.

So articulating this view of marriage, that it’s a marker of a certain status achievement, is helpful, because it still doesn’t feel like I’m there. I’m working, I’m working toward a graduate degree in a field I’m actually excited about working in, but I’m also aware of how much further there is to go. Especially when I’m surrounded by couples and married people.


 

But there’s something else that I recently became aware of.

I had a conversation with a co-worker yesterday who said that even though she’s been very successful at work, it’s not something that she’s excited about, and that what she really loves, the thing that gives her the most satisfaction in life, is being a mom to her three kids. She’d been asking about my library science degree and what I plan to do with it, and I shared that for the first time in my life it feels like I have a calling, something I was just born to do.

… not that I believe in destiny or anything, but rather that I’ve finally found a field that aligns almost perfectly with my personal values and what I’m naturally good at. I am absolutely in love with librarianship and science, and cannot wait to get into archiving and special collections.

She said (and another friend of mine recently said) that she doesn’t feel about her job the same way that I’m articulating it, that the work I am planning to do gives my life real purpose and (dare I say it) joy. Will there be days when I hate my job? Probably.

But it brought home for me the reality that I do have things going for me right now.

Another astrological birth chart I looked at for myself said that people with their moon in Libra (lunar Librans) “have a strong need for partnership. Without someone to share their lives with, they feel utterly incomplete.”

I do hope (against hope) that one of these days I’ll find someone about whom I feel the same way that I feel about librarianship… that it’ll be a fantastic match. The older I get, of course, the less confident I am that I’ll even find someone.

In the meantime, I’ll continue rebuilding my life post-Christianity and getting to know myself better so someone can also get to know that person.