If anyone still ever reads this….

….just know that I am abandoning it in favor of returning to my old stomping grounds of yesteryear. But please feel free to come back and visit me there. So long!

Moving forward

Having worked at SMYRC for over a year and a half now, I’ve noticed a very interesting trend, both there and among people I meet at various graduate programs around the city: young, early-twentysomething, seemingly middle-class, very pretty, very sorority-looking girls are very, very interested in gay and transgender issues. And they’re not just interested: they’re advocates who volunteer, counsel, work in the community, organize, and teach about gay and trans issues. Especially trans issues. It’s really fascinating.

These are the people who started GSA’s at their high schools, and organized rallies and meetings and advocacy groups at their undergraduate institutions (even at University of Portland, which is a Holy Cross school, and extremely conservative), and have taken it upon themselves to be educated, aware and advocates. And not a single one that I’ve met has actually self-identified as queer in any way. They all seem as hetero as can be.

I’m certainly not complaining, I think it’s awesome and amazing. These are the people we really need on our side going forward. I just think it’s really interesting. And they’re all super nice. At least all the ones I’ve met and talked to.

Shake it up

Of course we all know that liberals tend to congregate in cities, in all of their self-reinforcing bubbles. Which is not to say that conservatives don’t live in cities, because obviously they do, but a large majority of small towns and small cities across the country are populated by conservatives.

I’ve been thinking about a strategy lately though, for liberals to truly take over America. Everyone that fled their small, conservative hometowns for the big cities should move back! Think of the revolution. Maybe I’m being dumb and idealistic, but the idea is a little bit appealing to me, to be honest with you. But maybe only appealing in a hypothetical sense.

But there is a part of me that’s wondering why I would leave Portland, with all of my new experience and training, and then move to another big city where I’m not really needed? What if I moved back to Arkansas and started a chapter of SMYRC there, where one doesn’t exist? And what if I also started doing community education on GLBT issues? And helped elect liberal senators?

It’s definitely a trade off, but if one truly feels that one has something exciting and necessary to offer, wouldn’t one want to go where that product is most needed?

It’s just a thought. It doesn’t mean I would have to stay there forever….

This problem

I came across this quote today, and bleak and despairing though it is, it seems to suit my mood pretty accurately:

In early youth, as we contemplate our coming life, we are like children in a theater, before the curtain is raised,

sitting there in high spirits and eagerly awaiting for the play to begin.

It is a blessing that we do not know what is really going to happen. Could we foresee it, there are times when children might seem like condemned prisoners,

condemned, not to death, but to life, and as yet, all unconscious of what their sentence means.

– Alfred Schopenhauer (a German, naturally)

Haneke’s Videos

It’s true, what Anthony Lane said in his fascinating profile of Michael Haneke in the October 2009 issue of the New Yorker, no one can mistake his films for entertainment. Quite the opposite, in fact. They’re drudgery, and magnificently unpleasant drudgery at that. I’ve taken it upon myself recently to host my own little Haneke retrospective in my apartment, at least as much as I can stomach.

In the past 3 weeks I’ve watched both Benny’s Video and The Time of the Wolf, which I’ve seen before, but it’s been awhile.

Nothing especially happens in either of them, except for one gruesome and prolonged murder (Benny), and, you know, the end of the world in the other. But it’s to Haneke’s credit that both movies are incredibly boring and leave the viewer with both a sense of abject terror and utter emptiness. Wolf might be Haneke’s most hopeful film, but that’s like saying Jerry Falwell is less hateful than Pat Robertson.

Such is life. Which is why I think Haneke appeals to me so much as a filmmaker, even though I can’t stand his movies. Pure philosophical drivel, each and every one. I couldn’t even get all the way through Funny Games when I tried to watch it, but in the context of Benny’s Videos, FG makes much more sense now. And I don’t feel like I need to see FG either, to get it, or to be able to talk about it.

Yet they’re also quite oddly compelling. Watching Benny’s Video (about a young teenager obsessed with violence in movies, and with a homemade video of a pig being slaughtered, which I never watched, but heard, who ends up committing his own murder “to see what it feels like,” which, apparently, is nothing), I kept thinking about Columbine by Dave Cullen, perhaps the most in-depth book ever written about teenage angst and psychopathy. But Benny is the opposite of Eric Harris, the true sociopath of Columbine, in that he feels nothing. Eric felt rage, and alienation, and got utterly gleeful at the idea of inspiring misery and violence in the world. Benny just feels…nothing. Which, to me, is the far more apt model for what’s truly wrong in our society today. Sure, rage is terrifying (see: Tea Party), but being completely numb is as well.

I used to think I didn’t understand Haneke’s films, but I realize now that I understand them perfectly, because frankly, there’s nothing to understand. And I don’t mean that as an insult. I think he’s an amazing artist, but what you see is what you get. There’s nothing deeper. Perhaps Time of the Wolf is about socialism vs. capitalism (socialism being the clear preference), I don’t know. Maybe, maybe not. That’s an interesting read of it, but I honestly don’t think that was his intent. It’s a boring movie about awful shit that happens to people and how they deal with it. He’s like David Lynch, except if David Lynch is the Jungian archetype, then Haneke is the Nietzschian version of that.

Or maybe that’s really stupid too. Haneke could almost be a documentarian of disaffected suburban youth (tellingly, the same actor who plays Benny plays one of the murderers in Funny Games, and I’m pretty sure that was very intentional). Maybe the slaughter of animals is equitable to the slaughter of 9-year-old boys or teenage girls. Haneke doesn’t say as much, or even say that one leads to the other, but he makes a pretty strong argument that if you have what it takes to murder a screaming, defenseless animal, then perhaps you also have what it takes to slaughter a human. It’s no accident that of the three hallmark traits of budding serial killers, animal torture is the biggest red flag (the other two being a victim of sexual abuse and bedwetting).

I’m rambling and I’ve said nothing. But I think I love Michael Haneke. His films are like great literature. They ask more questions than they answer, and that’s what true art is supposed to do, in my opinion. He should have been a therapist maybe.

The year of moving on

I stole this from Kat, who stole it from Ama, but I love it, so I’m putting it on my blog too.

As anyone who has known me for any length of time knows, this has not been my MO previously. I would obsess, focus, analyze, regret, pound my fists on the floor until they were bloody trying to change reality and “make sense” of everything.

Fuck that.

I’ve learned to move on, let go, let things be. Finally. In class the other night, we got into a discussion about the difference between “pain” and “suffering,” and while I’m still not totally sure what the inherent difference is, my professor was pushing the point that, essentially, as the bumper sticker goes, pain is inevitable, suffering is optional. Suffering is the denial of pain. Suffering is the act of trying to get rid of pain that clearly exists. Or something.

It was a nice conversation, though I was still left a little unsure about it. But I see what he was getting at, even if I might not totally agree.

But I digress. I like the sentiment above.

That’s all, I don’t think of you that often

While it might be really lame and cliche to write a “year end retrospective” post on this ole here bloggy thing, I’m going to do it anyway. Now that my time in Portland is being counted down (somewhat eagerly, I must admit), I can reflect back upon a few revelations I’ve had this year.

Despite a brief period of desperately wanting to go back to Austin, my wandering days are decidedly not over. Tom is applying to, I believe, 14 graduate programs, and about half of the places he’s applying, I’m pretty excited to potentially live in. We sort of made a tentative decision that if, for some reason, he doesn’t get into any of them, we will hightail it back to where our hearts lie, to our beloved Texas. And while I do want to end up in Austin, I’m not sure I’m totally ready to go back just yet. We’ll cross that bridge when we get there.

I hope he doesn’t mind my telling people this, but one of the schools where Tom is applying is University of Memphis. We both desperately hope that’s where we end up. I keep researching Memphis, and it sounds amazing. And a good high school friend of mine lives there. I went there a lot growing up, but I haven’t been as an adult. The idea of living someplace cheap is also very exciting.

Most of the schools where Tom is applying also have PhD programs I can apply to for the fall of 2011, which I’ve decided I want to do. I know a lot of people in doctorate programs right now, and I’m, like, a thousand times smarter than most of them are.

Inspired by this person, I have completed my first novel, and I’m working on the second draft right now. I have 2 more books in the pipeline as well that I want to write. One of which I’ll probably start on very soon.

Portland has, in my opinion, an unearned reputation. I am disillusioned. People here are mean. I’ve overheard more offensive conversations here than anyplace I’ve ever lived. I’ve had more shit (like “faggot” and “fucking idiot”) shouted at me from cars while I’m walking around than anyplace I’ve ever lived. People here speed up when you’re walking across the street. People are rude on the trains (and everywhere else). The weather is ungodly. It’s crime-ridden and drug use is completely out of control. Even nice people are flakes and non-committal. It has its positives too, though, I guess. It does have great public transit, even if it’s true that most people in the city hate it and complain about it and think it’s a waste of tax dollars and it’s annoying when it holds up traffic, and most people here are actually quite anti-density. Despite that, the density is nice. Even beyond the transit, I love that I can walk to almost everything I need from where I live: myriad bars, restaurants, coffee shops, 4 grocery stores, 2 movie theaters, a post office, 2 video stores. And that’s just in my immediate vicinity. There’s much more I can walk to in neighboring neighborhoods, within about 15 minutes. It’s a beautiful city, the prettiest I’ve ever seen, surrounded by the most awe-inspiring country that exists on this continent, I’m convinced. But I’m over it. Everytime I meet a new person here (at a party, say, or at work) and they learn I’m from Texas, I end up spending 20 minutes defending it, and usually they’ve never even been there, or they were in the Houston airport once. Which I both love and hate doing.

Now that I’m doing it, I’m no longer convinced counseling is something I want to do for a living. At least not full-time. I know, I’m never happy. Seriously.

I think I still want to move to Europe or Mexico. Maybe Tom and I can both become paid writers eventually and do that. In many ways I’m very grateful to be alive at this point in time, but there’s definitely a part of me that wishes I lived in the 1940’s or something. At least as it’s idealized in my head and through literature.

I kind of like having no idea where I’m going to be in 9 months, or even what part of the country I’ll be in. It’s exciting.

Happy New Year!! May 2010 be two thousand times better than 2009.

SMYRC Fundraiser

Some pictures from the SMYRC “naked Santa” party fundraiser tonight. More here (naturally).

I guess I’ve been feeling pretty homesick lately…

…because today I went and got a big tattoo of Texas on my back…

Maybe next to it I should have tattooed “Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose” but that seems like the kind of thing I would regret later (especially since yes, this tattoo was covering a previous tattoo that I’ve hated and been embarrassed by for years, so now it’s gone).

On my way home from getting that tattoo as I was driving over the Burnside Bridge, all the traffic suddenly stopped. My first thought was that the bridge was raised, but the lights and stuff weren’t flashing. Then I noticed people up in front of me were starting to get out of their cars. My stomach flipped. My next thought was that someone had been hit and was laying in the road dying, or had jumped into the river, or something like that. As I sat there, internally panicking a little bit, suddenly a tiny little black puppy, about 6 inches high, went darting out of the line of traffic next to my car, followed by a teenage boy running after it. It then occurred to me that that’s why everyone was stopped: they were all trying to catch this runaway puppy!!

Then traffic going the opposite direction stopped, and I looked in my rearview mirror and saw the dog continuing to lead the boy on a wild chase all over both lanes of traffic on the bridge, which were now stopped. Finally he caught it and swooped it up in his arms, and ran back to the safety of the sidewalk. I drove home with a little smile on my face.

A Walk Across Steinbeck

“No more distractions. The elation of finally being alone was total. We walked straight west. I had everything I needed in the world resting comfortably on my shoulders, and the entire country waiting to be discovered.”
-Peter Jenkins, from A Walk Across America

When I was doing some background research on Travels With Charley: In Search of America by John Steinbeck, which I wrote about here, I continually saw A Walk Across America by Peter Jenkins referenced as a companion piece. So I bought it and just finished reading it last night, and aside from 2 dudes exploring the United States, the two books couldn’t be more different.

For starters, Jenkins is no writer, and he’s only, like, 23 when he starts walking. It’s a compelling origin: the young, disillusioned, wealthy, liberal college grad decides to walk across the United States to see it all before he decides whether or not it’s worth saving before he moves across the pond. He’s disgusted by the racism, Vietnam, and what he feels is the populace’s general animosity and unkind behavior toward each other. In other words, he just can’t understand why people in this country can’t just be nice to each other. But in practice, the book is a glorified travel diary, filled with trite cliches and mundane observations. Yes, he has some neato adventures, and gets in some riff-raff, and almost dies a few times (from the elements and from hostile southerners who don’t take too kindly to Yankee outsiders), but in the end, Jenkins is so desperate to find the goodness in people, he ends up overlooking reality because someone was nice to him once.

For instance, he decides to walk all the way to Alabama and actually schedules a meeting with George Wallace so that he can tell him face-to-face what a rotten human being he is (and rightfully so), but once he’s in his office, he’s seduced by a smooth talker who shows a little interest in why Jenkins is walking across America. George Wallace really cares, you see, and he thinks it’s just far out that Jenkins wants to see how great this country is firsthand, and even offers to fund the rest of Jenkins’s trip (an offer he rightly refuses), so Jenkins leaves his office not only enamored by Wallace, but totally willing to forget all that nasty racism, race-baiting and segregation stuff, because, well, he’s just such a nice guy. Jenkins must have misjudged him. I kept wondering what the poor black family in North Carolina, with whom Jenkins lived for several months, and who treated him like their own son and brother, would think of this revelation of his.

Moved by his reaction to me, which was the opposite of any I had imagined, I reached out my Yankee hand, and we shook hands hard. As I walked out of his office, prouder to be an American than when I had come in, the governor rolled alongside me, confined forever to his wheelchair, and said, “God bless ya, Son!”

Barf. Compare that to Steinbeck’s reaction to traveling through the south, and, facing the harsh and vile segregation and treatment of blacks in New Orleans, decided to cut his trip short because his spirit was crushed. I think you can see where my own sensitivities would probably lie. To be fair, Steinbeck took his journey in the 60’s, and Jenkins took his journey in the mid-70’s, but the sentiment remains the same. Perhaps if Jenkins was bit more articulate, and could author a more insightful glimpse into why his opinion shifted so radically, it would make more sense, but I don’t buy it as is. But when you consider that in the next chapter he stumbles upon a Christian revival in downtown Mobile (when he was headed to a wild party to meet girls and possibly do drugs), and is inexplicably saved, and, sobbing before thousands, gives himself over to Jesus, perhaps it makes more sense. People don’t do that unless they’re terribly lost, and terribly susceptible to suggestion. It shouldn’t really surprise me then that Jenkins would instantly forgive one of the most vile politicians in American history upon meeting him for about 20 seconds.

I was, however, really enjoying the book up to this point (especially the aforementioned months-long interlude in North Carolina with the black family), and it’s possible I’m either reading way too much into this one incident, or simply making too much of it. It really struck me, though, and I felt betrayed by Jenkins, and he instantly became an unreliable narrator for me. A dear friend once said to me that if you sat down with every single person in the world and talked to them for 10 minutes, nearly everybody is “nice.” That doesn’t mean they’re good people. Which is something I’ve pretty carried with me ever since. So, it’s fortunate at least that this occurred later on in the book after I’d already enjoyed most of it.

A Walk Across America is an interesting time-capsule, but I never really felt like I got to know Jenkins very much. At the end, he seemed like an empty vessel, simply taking in everything and everyone around him blindly and without much filtering (though he was quite turned off by the messianic vibe at the weird Christian hippy commune he stayed at briefly in Tennessee), which, again, to be fair, is kind of what your twenties are for I guess. But there’s no analysis, no insight, no real wisdom that he imparts, other than, well, as it turns out, people in the South are nice after all, and cultish hippies are creepy. He seems like a nice enough guy, I guess, and I’m sort of curious as to what he’s up to now. A Google search doesn’t turn up much, and, judging by the last few chapters of A Walk, his other books are probably just all about God and going to church. A rather disappointing climax for such a pregnant journey of ideals.