Friendship Hygiene

There’s so much that I try to fit into every weekend that it’d be just impossible for me to get it all done. Essentially, I set myself up for failure and it’s a behavioral pattern that I’ve sadly grown accustomed to. While I’m not a hardcore procrastinator, I have been known to, on occasion, push important tasks to the next day, or the next. By Wednesday of each week, I’m already arranging and rearranging the order of all the things on my to-do list and by Friday, I’m usually ready to go. Somewhere around Saturday evening, things start looking a bit shady and by midday Sunday, I’m already calculating in my head exactly what I can push over into the next week. These are all usually small and mostly inconsequential chores, but they are nonetheless on the list and will have to be done eventually…I know…but later. Unfortunately, one area where I’ve been extremely lagging behind is in friendship hygiene. I haven’t been a very attentive friend lately, and I know it. Furthermore, I’ve been planning to get to it, but…

I had the great joy of getting to talk with two really great and old friends this weekend. For me, that makes this weekend a huge success regardless of whatever else I was able to check off the list. Though I don’t like telephoning, as an expat, I don’t really have many other choices. Skype is a great service, but it requires so much that an old-fashioned call just doesn’t. While it’s apparently easier than ever to keep in touch with people these days, I feel like, with some of my friends, it’s been ages since we’ve had an in-depth conversation about anything. Now, I’m in my 30s and so that ¬†means that lots of my friends are quite busy at the moment trying to have kids, having kids, surviving kids, or talking nonstop about their kids (I know, your kid is exceptionally clever, exceptionally healthy, exceptionally socially aligned, exceptionally exceptional….I get it, and I just don’t care!), and I really do understand that it’s legitimately challenging to raise a well-adjusted child and do…well, anything! It’s a hard job, but an elective one.

My point here is not to malign anyone with children for not carving time for me into their sleep-deprived and offspring centered lives, because I’m just as guilty of neglect. Sometimes, I have so much to do that I don’t even remember that there are other people in the world, let alone that it’s a friend’s birthday (a big thanks to Facebook for continually remembering what I never in a million years could). Every week my register of mountains to climb grows longer, and every week I tell myself that I must remember to call so-and-so because it’s been way too long. Rarely does that thought endure the hard birth into reality. So again, I’m not complaining about my beloved friends, but rather asking myself, just how, and when, did we get so damn busy!?!?

As I mentioned, this weekend out of pure good fortune, I was able to touch bases with two friends who mean so very much to me. Despite them both being parents, despite the world still turning around us and nothing stopping for an instant to let us catch our breath, we were able laugh and explain what the world looks like to us at this particular moment in time. Hanging up the phone, on both accounts, I felt like I had reclaimed something lost, something which I’d had all along but which I was keeping too close to my chest — rather like a broken arm; something which needed extending, opening up, and using. For the first time in a long while, I really felt like a good friend.

I know we’re months and months away from 2018, but I’m making a resolution today to be a better friend, a more communicative and patient friend, one who makes space and time for those who are so very important to me. I promise not to put it off any longer.

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Moving

I’m moving into a new apartment soon. It’s not so far from where I live now, but in a neighborhood with more amenities, and it’s slightly better connected via public transport, too. It’s up A LOT of stairs, but that should be good for my growing waistline. All in all, I guess it’s not so bad, and for anyone who has moved as much as I have, it’s really no problem at all. Still the act of actually packing all of one’s stuff, transporting it, unpacking it, etc., well, it’s just all so banal! Yet, I do like to keep busy, to have the next thing already lined up, and I’m a big fan of change. Sometimes, even small changes can be the catalysts we need to jump-start a new phase or period of life, and without putting too much emphasis on this move and its ramifications for my life-path, I’m slightly hopeful that this newness will break up the stale and sedentary aspects of everyday life that I sometimes can’t see my way out of. Change is good, at least it always has been for me.

“Things which do not grow and change are dead things.”

– Louise Erdrich

Turns out, besides being a brilliant writer and national treasure, Louise Erdrich is a sage! There’s nothing about that which I can find objectionable. What I like about her books is not only do they largely focus on the Native American experience, but they always feature some kind of drastic metamorphosis. Now, I’m not talking about Gregor Samsa level mutation or anything, but changes that nonetheless alter the worlds of those whom she writes about. Indeed, the interplay between nature, human subjects, non-human animal subjects, and the world of the unseen, is so tangible in her books, that the transition from one of those states to the next is nearly effortless for the reader to accept. Change is Erdrich’s way to not only push the story along, but to push the reader along with it. She knows that life is a constant state of flux and that this unsettledness, the constant state, can alter the outcome of a life and be used as motivation.

Like I said, I’m not expecting that this new apartment will upturn my whole life, offer a radically alternate worldview, or anything of that sort, but I am already experiencing little earthquakes, which foretell the seismic shift to come. Just going through all of my belongings and deciding which to transport and which to chuck away has become an almost meditative practice…albeit a difficult one. It presents multifaceted challenges particularly in the case of books; Which to keep? Which to give away? Will anyone even be interested in reading that anyway? Just keep it… You’re the only one who will appreciate it… No! Just get rid of it! You can’t just get rid of it…it’s a book! I keep reminding myself that to grow and change also entails letting things go, even beloved things like books, that if I’m perfectly honest with myself, I know I likely won’t ever read again. Of course there are diehard favorites that I could never imagine life without, and they will be accompanying me to whichever corner of the world I roam. Some things really never do change…well, almost.

“Beware, for I am fearless and therefore powerful!”

– Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, Frankenstein

Throughout my life, moving has been a pretty constant theme. We moved around a lot when I was a kid, and yet we didn’t. Since leaving home, many of my life experiences have been direct results of moving to a new city, meeting new people (many of whom remain great friends to this day), and exploring a new place with people in the same or similar situation. Being an expat, one can’t afford to be afraid of new places. For those who have moved to a new country, learned a new language, and made a new life in another place, there is little time for fear. We all know that if one overthinks these kinds of things, they tend to be paralyzing, so I say it is best to have no fear, to push any anxieties to the side, and to brace oneself for the shifting of plates. I’ve always been apprehensive about visiting Japan, Indonesia, even the West Coast of the USA, due to an unfounded trepidation surrounding earthquakes, never understanding how the people there can manage to get a single night’s sleep. Now, I realize that just like Dr. Frankenstein’s monster, they are uniquely created beings, foundried inhabitants of places on the globe that are bound to change, shift, and shake. They are unafraid and therefore powerful. And when their world is turned on its head, they rebuild and get on with life.

That’s just what I’m going to do. In a new apartment. With fewer books. Wish me luck.

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Shut Up and Listen!

Who doesn’t love a good portmanteau? One of my favorites was coined by Ben Hammersley of the BBC in 2004 – podcast. I’m pretty sure that I was quite late to the whole podcast explosion, but for the last two and a half years or so, I’ve been a fairly diehard fan. They’re great to listen to at the supermarket, on the subway, on airplanes, at Thanksgiving dinner, etc. Sure, they constitute one more digital affront to interpersonal communication on a human level, but really, that’s probably why I like them so much. Sometimes, I don’t want to be approached on the street (I’m looking at you Greenpeace!), or any of the other public places where people feel it’s appropriate to talk to strangers (didn’t you people have parents who taught you better?). Sometimes, I just want to get from point A to point B without having to talk to anyone and earbuds are a perfect signal to the world that I’m not available for giving directions, saving the whales, or any other form of verbal interaction. So, this all makes for great spawning ground for the devouring of podcasts, and nowadays, my commute to work feels languid and lacking without someone talking about something I never knew I needed to know about directly into my ears. In this entry, I’m going to share some of my favorite podcasts at the moment, and I hope that you’ll share some of your favorites with me in the comments section.

In the number one spot comes the lecture series offered by the Art Institute of Chicago aptly named, Art Institute of Chicago Lectures. To be perfectly honest, this may be a bit of a niche podcast, but as I’m a full-fledged art geek and I happen to live far from Chicago at the moment, this hits the spot in the most perfect way. I used to live in Chicago and attended lectures at the Art Institute on occasion, I always found them to be both informative and approachable. Sometimes people can be a bit put off by the art world and its seemingly unintelligible langue and impenetrable mystique of pretentious cool, but I have always found the lectures series by the AIC very welcoming and inclusive. This podcast is really nothing special, as it is a literal audio recording of the on-site lecture series, but it does what is intended and for those who are nowhere near the treasure trove that is the AIC, it’s a whole new and non-threatening way to learn about art from one of the world’s premier institutions. Of course there are other cultural institutions that offer the same kind of thing, but there’s something about the midwestern, pared down style of this podcast that really satisfies. If you’re an art geek, you really should be listening to the more than 11 years worth of lectures available here!

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Next, I’m not really a horror junky. I scare pretty easily, and don’t find anything invigorating about being frightened at all. Needless to say, unless something is pretty exceptional, I’m probably not going to like it if the content is scary. Lore, the brainchild of Aaron Mahnke, is terrifying not because of gory and bloody imagery, but more so because all of the stories told on this podcast are true, real life, mysterious, and spooky facts! Mahnke’s voice is smooth and consistent and he never puts on haunted mansion voices to make the content chilling, but knowing that what he’s saying is the truth, and that these things really happened…is beyond petrifying. And, I’m not the only one who thinks so, this crafty storyteller is in talks to bring Lore to the small screen, and there’s a book series out, too! He’s even doing a national tour of the USA telling these too hair-raising to be true tales. A big congratulations to this podcast and to the narrator himself! This one is really a gem and I encourage anyone who has a penchant for the dark, the mysterious, or the horrific, to stop by and have a listen, I’m sure you won’t be disappointed.

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Finally, and this one has been getting lots of press recently due to the unconventional love-life of its host (not to mention his stunningly good looks), Nico Tortorella’s The Love Bomb. Look, if you’re having trouble keeping up with the fast-changing world of sexuality and gender in the 21st century, I suggest you stop by The Love Bomb as they dissect and examine the ins and outs of what love means for all of us living as progressive and evolving humans at the early stages of this millennium. Honestly, I could do without the Def Poetry style intros whereby the host creates what sounds like a free association poem about whomever his guest for that episode is (the guest list, which includes folks from both within and outside of Hollywood, is impressive). I’m not a big fan of spoken word poetry, preferring to just read it for myself and find my own cadence with the poem. Really though, this podcast is enlightening and also fun, at times even irreverent. The host is bravely open and telling concerning his own exploration of love, and it is this unapologetic openness that, I think, encourages his guests to be equally open, to ask the questions we’re all thinking, and to answer with candor and genuine interest. I really like where this podcast is going and look forward to it hanging around and seeing just where it meanders and what it becomes. I’m sure that with the host’s star appeal burning bright at the moment, the format for The Love Bomb will change and probably grow into something bigger and therefore more commercially minded, but for now I’m just enjoying this refreshing exploration of 21st century sexuality. Just as a final note, a tiny critique; the host mentions having done ayahuasca in Peru…a lot. I guess it was a pretty eye-opening experience for him, perhaps even life changing, but I think we all get the point and I, for one, am over it.

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Some honorable mentions: This American Life, I didn’t include this above because I reckoned that everyone already knows and loves it…and why shouldn’t they!? By The Bi, an American couple in Australia who are doing their part to increase bi visibility, The Sewers of Paris, because it’s gay, hilarious, and often oddly informative, Occult of Personality, for lovers of the occult, Freemasonry, Kabbalah, etc., and a newbie, Very Bad Words, which is just what it sounds like – a podcast about bad words. This fresher brings linguists and other language specialist together to examine “bad language” and it’s really fucking great!

Are you even listening!? ūüėČ

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And the Emmy Goes To…

This past week, the Emmy nominations were announced and while I’m not a big awards show fan, there were a couple of things in the nominations that really pleased me, and maybe a few that didn’t. Just for a bit of fun, I’m going to discuss a little about the nominees that I’m really happy for, and one nomination in particular that I wish I had seen on the list, but didn’t. Whoever wins, I’m sure they’re all genuinely deserving as by all accounts we’re experiencing a new Golden Age of television due to the production muscle of platforms such as Netflix, Hulu, etc.,

First, I was absolutely thrilled to see Broadway’s own, Jackie Hoffman, nominated for her role as Mamacita, Joan Crawford’s maid in¬†Feud.¬†I for one feel that Jackie has been overlooked both on Broadway, but also in showbiz in general because she is a powerhouse of comedy and her timing is without match. With a single look, Jackie can manage to convey what others need a monolog to get across, and she can do it with wit and a healthy serving of self deprecation. If Jackie Hoffman doesn’t win, we still do because whatever she’s in, she gives us exactly what we want! Good luck, Jackie!

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Next, a big congrats to Rupaul’s Drag Race for an amazing eight nominations! Although, it seems the Emmy academy is a bit late to the show, but better late than never, right? Not only is the show nominated in various categories but Rupaul Charles is nominated individually as the show’s host. Whether you’re a fan of drag or not, this show is undeniably entertaining. Whether it’s the interpersonal dramas, the out-of-this-world costumes, the bitchy banter, or just because there’s nothing else good on on Monday nights, everybody can find a reason to like this show. There’s got to be at least a couple of awards coming their way at the ceremony and I am personally keeping my fingers crossed that one of these is for the visionary host herself!

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Finally, one note of disappointment that I’d like to express is that unfortunately, there was no mention at all of Netflix’s Penny Dreadful! While I realize the premise of bringing together a group of gothic characters, putting them in the setting of Victorian London, and having them interact with each other may not be everyone’s cup of tea, it was a very well executed show…well, most of the time. There were moments when storylines seemed to get lost, or become so divergent that it became difficult for viewers to follow, but on the whole, this was a bold premise and I commend Netflix for taking a chance on this show. Furthermore, the notion of mixing literary characters from the gothic/horror genre and the history of the city of London is something that I haven’t seen before, and I found it just too bad that Netflix couldn’t continue with the show.

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All in all, I’m going to try and catch the award show this year, if for no other reason than to root for Jackie Hoffman and Rupaul. I’m certainly keeping my fingers crossed for those two and I’m not going to let the fact that Penny Dreadful was overlooked bother me too much. I know that in their own way, both Feud and Drag Race are innovative, but in terms of narrative, Penny Dreadful was just something so fresh and new that I think it was either before its time, or maybe, TV isn’t the right format for this kind of narrative storytelling that is so intermingled and sometimes complex. Either way, it’s a pity that not only is the show no longer being produced, but that there won’t even be an awards show to remind us of just how good it was.

See you at the Emmys!

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These Are a Few of My Favorite Things

I’m a materialist. I like things, and while I don’t allow my enjoyment of things to supersede the importance of human relationships, for someone who is very sensory driven, such as myself, things are a constant source of entertainment and amusement. I don’t ascribe to the school of “less is more” –more is clearly more, and if given the choice of having more or less of something, unless it’s some chronic disease or money owing, I’ll generally take more. I’m not a hoarder¬†(in fact I get a real sense of accomplishment surrounding the throwing away of things), but I totally understand how that happens. It’s the contemporary version of the Victorian cabinet of curiosities, really. A need to cling, to keep things, to arrange them, taxonomize them, view them and assign a space to them in the inventory of your mind…I get it. The closest I can get to that though, is a robust book collection, and you really never can have too many books, right?

One of my favorite aspects of the digital revolution and the coming age of the robots (if you don’t think we’re only a commercial break away from being the Jetson’s, you’re kidding yourself!), is that I can have tons of books downloaded onto my phone or tablet and can access any of them at any time…providing there’s enough battery life on whatever device I happen to be using. It’s just great! Although all of these electronic devices are really cool, and I for one think they simplify life and have no time for those people who think that such devices are the downfall of the human species, there are still some non-electronic things from which I derive great pleasure and this post is going to be about three of them: Bombay Sapphire Gin, Opium cologne by Yves Saint Laurent, and roller ball pens. Stay with me here.

First, Bombay Sapphire, just looks so iconic! With Victoria, Empress of India, emblazoned on the label and that blue-tinted bottle, there is just something effortlessly exotic and yet familiar about the design of this liquor cabinet staple. In addition to the fact that the gin inside is just right, just dry enough, with just enough lemon and coriander to taste, there’s something wonderfully old-world about this spirit which is surprising considering it was only launched by IDV in 1987. Still, its effortless cool causes my mind to jump back into another place and time, with the weight of the Star of Bombay hanging from my neck. Another drink, anyone?

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Next, and this is another one with loads of cool factor, is YSL’s Opium pour Homme.¬†This scent manages to be spicy and fruity in the most perfect way. Although the spice is slightly more dominant, on the whole, this cologne isn’t just for evenings out. While it’s a bit pricey, it’s worth every cent and never disappoints. Unlike some spicy fragrances which go cold quite easily, Opium matures with body heat into a decidedly masculine, yet genteel fullness that neither overtakes nor recedes. Parfumeurs Jean Amic and Jean-Louis Sieuzac walk a fine line between sophistication and unbridled masculinity with this one. Opium pour Homme is a masterpiece and is sure to add that little extra something just when you need it.

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Finally, this last one may seem a bit incongruous considering the glamour of the previous picks, but I can’t get enough of rollerball pens. No, I do not mean ballpoint pens! Ballpoint pens are terrible and one needs some sort of codex of prehistoric iconography to even begin to decipher what they’ve written. Rollerball pens, are the cooler, better read, and intellectual big brothers of the ballpoint. They’re cheap, they make for clear and fluid handwriting, and they come in a variety of colors (yet, I still prefer the traditional black and blue)…what’s not to love?! These nifty utensils require none of the push of a ballpoint pen and will improve your handwriting by leaps and bounds once you get the hang of it. Nothing looks better or more refined than a handwritten “thank you” note from one of these! Go out and grab a pack, you won’t regret it!

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All in all, I’d say it’s alright to find pleasure in things. Things are important. Sure, so is all the other stuff, and it’s naturally best to be a well-rounded person who is able to find pleasure in varied pursuits, but who doesn’t like to have their favorite things? Favorite things are valuable to our experience, they bring us comfort and familiarity and those are things that are going to come in mighty handy once our robot overlords start calling the shots! ūüėČ

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In Real Life

People often use the term “in real life” to denote that something happened face to face, or to assure that it wasn’t simply a virtual event. It’s as good a phrase as any of course, but if one were to really think about it, this is a phrase that our ancestors not so many generations ago likely wouldn’t have understood, or at least not as we do today. Besides books, face to face was pretty much the only option they had for life. I wonder how much of our world they’d be able to process at all, or for that matter, how much of their world we’re able to comprehend today. Isn’t the past simply a collection of facts that made it through the chronological mill-wheel as chunks big enough to be easily identified? History is written by the winners they say, but from that we can gather, there are countless tidbits from the annals of humankind which have occurred that we’ll never know about. Countless happenings that because they unfolded in real life, are lost in the chaff.

With the rise of dating apps like Tinder and Grindr, and even non-romantically centered apps such as Facebook and Instagram, we can often present a version of ourselves which isn’t very realistic at all. Filters allow us to soften harsh light, others allow us to accentuate what we perceive to be our physical strengths, and of course to edit out any takes which we deem not good enough. What they do not encourage us to do however, is show ourselves in real life, and that’s where I reckon it all gets a bit shady. Facebook seems harmless enough, but how often do people post pictures of their children looking awful and throwing tantrums? And why do people post pictures of their kids anyway? I assume that pictures of the angelic little ones feed into the identity construction of the parents and have little to do with their photogenic offspring. In real life, we see children throwing themselves onto the supermarket floor and wailing when they don’t get some sugary treat or other. In real life, we see embarrassed, exhausted and frustrated parents at every turn — ¬†no filters, no lighting tricks, no editing. Maybe it’s just all too real?

At job interviews, who are we really presenting? Who is that person who can do everything, needs no time off, never gets sick, and isn’t looking for anything better ever again? Why do we feel like that’s the version of ourselves that can guarantee a company a successful and productive employee? ¬†Because, let’s face it, ¬†it’s not the truth! The truth is, you’re going to screw up big time occasionally, you do not know everything, you can’t do everything, you will get sick, and when things we decide are better for us come along in life, we should take them! Only a fool would pass up the opportunity for positive development. Of course, that’s not what employers want to hear. I can understand both sides of the coin, but honestly, it all seems a bit contrived for my liking.

Once we can embrace ourselves, in real life,¬†it has been my experience that we are more fully able to extend that realistic vision to others. We stop seeing the touched up and glamorous exterior that so many of us exhibit to the world, and we look at people for exactly what they are; nothing more and nothing less. More often than not, I bet that this evaluation of others’ true identity is not that far from what we know we are really like ourselves. We are not super-humans! We are just humans, and that’s enough! This is not a rant against apps, or social media, or our virtual selves. This is not a Luddite’s sermon against the machine. This is one human who couldn’t think of anything better to write about this week than how he’s not always on top of his game…and how he’s okay with that because usually, in real life, he is in control, ¬†he is productive, and he is creative. No filters. No editing.

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Back to the Work of Tomorrow

The events of the 2016 presidential election in the United States left me feeling…well, it’s quite difficult to put words to it, really. Honestly, I can say that I’ve never felt that particular hodgepodge of emotions before, and I hope that I won’t ever have to feel it again! As we know however, the future is an uncertainty and I have to accept the fact that events may just not go the way I want them to — even really big events of historic proportions. While I cannot find any good, as of yet, in the political outcome of the election, I am starting to move beyond the emotional, reactionary, and defensive, and into the realm of healing, understanding, and genuine compassion and interest. I do not accept that half of my fellow citizens have an intentional malice toward others for no reason. I know first-hand that U.S. Americans are a people who value fair-dealing, straight-talking and equality. Yet, with that said, it is impossible for me to pretend that I, as a cisgender¬†queer white male, have had a full glimpse into the limitations and systemic under-thumbing that many of my fellow citizens who are not of that particular intersectional identity have had. In short, I know that I am privileged and I believe that in that knowledge lies the first footing of our climb toward a better, and fairer tomorrow.

Politics in the USA are particularly polarizing, likely because we have only two viable political parties, thereby enforcing an either/or mentality. I think anyone with half a brain can understand exactly who those are who benefit from this dichotomous splitting of the populace. I doubt however that most understand just how intentional the enforcement of that rift is. By pitting us against each other, having us devolve into petty squabbling about issues that really require no political debate at all and are matters of individual liberty, the work of the power-merchants quite astoundingly takes care of itself. A divided people is a conquered people. My aim here is not to come across as some sort of revolutionary. I deplore revolution! Instead, I draw comfort and security in knowing that there is an ever-unfolding evolution that carries us all forward; sometimes faster and sometimes slower than we might like. I believe that we are now at a place where we must evolve or face the consequences of our laziness, clannishness, our knee-jerk judgements in ‘othering’ before we have had any chance at all to understand what the phrase, “These United States…” might mean to people who don’t look like us, speak the same language as we do, share our religious convictions, or have access to the privilege that we take as a given. That means all of us have to reassess. All of us, even us liberals who are often so very self-congratulatory and satisfied with ourselves for being, “woke”.

Clinton’s loss for me, somehow underlined latent fears and mistrust that I’d always harbored toward ¬†my own people. I took the rejection of her liberal-centrist platform as a rejection of those Americans who identified with that platform. When we were called snowflakes, or social justice warriors, or leftist weirdos, I sincerely didn’t grasp how my liberal viewpoint couldn’t be shared by the whole country. Liberal, after all, comes from the Latin for free, and doesn’t everyone want to be free? Well, that’s a much more involved question than I could ever attempt to answer here, but I am coming to realize that pinning down a meaning for words like freedom, might be the work of a lifetime, of generations, maybe of forever. Perhaps such dreams cannot be interpreted or relayed, maybe they have to be dreamt and re-dreamt until they aggregate into a collective unconsciousness whereby reference points such as origin are so forgotten and unnecessary that they become regarded as purely obvious. We are not there yet.

“If at first you don’t succeed — try, try again.”¬†So for me, it is back to work. Back to doing my small part in the unfolding of the American experiment. I cannot be certain that it will all go the way I hope, for that is the nature of experiments. What I can do however, is look into my neighbor’s eyes. I can hug my radically politically opposite-minded family members and tell them that I am happy to see them, and I can mean it. I can show up and share my point of view, and maybe even more vitally, I can listen. I can listen when the words I hear make my blood boil, when I fear that I might disproportionately react to an opinion which I find abhorrent, dismissive, abusive, ¬†or bigoted. I can listen without feeling that I have to debate and negate the arguments given by people ¬†with whom I disagree concerning policies I find unjust. And most importantly, and I believe that here is where we will find our work over the course of these next years, I can slowly, excruciatingly slowly, interject spaces of commonality, equity, agreement, fairness, optimism, progress, and evolution. It is a long march forward, and when we get there, and WE WILL GET THERE, we will need as many free hands, and willing helpers as possible to turn that collective recurring dream into something that might bravely be called tomorrow.

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Wanderlust

My whole life I’ve been attracted to the far away. I can recall being a very small child and somehow instinctively knowing that the world was a big place and that things were very different across the oceans. That intrigued me and kept my mind busy on aeonic and humid summer days in Virginia, where there were endless fields of boredom to fill with notions of adventure. Growing up, I never knew what to say when people would ask what I wanted to be when I was older. I’d usually answer with something vague and abstract like, an “artist” of some sort, ¬†a “writer“, or a “traveler“, or even a “wandering monk” (I’d read Kipling’s Kim¬†and thought that was a genuine option). There was also a period where I wanted to be a protestant pastor, but that was mostly only because I was under the misguided impression that they only had to work on Sundays and enjoyed the rest of the week off. However, when I think back on those days, and that question in particular, I guess I have to admit that I didn’t really want to be anything when I grew up; I just wanted to go.

Those who travel often sometimes refer to their need to get out and explore the world as a kind of illness, an obsession, even a possession, and while that may be their honest assessment of their instincts, that doesn’t quite define my personal experience. I like seeing the world not because I garner pleasure from the exotic, nor because I want to escape the quotidian mechanizations of life, but mostly because somehow every place that I end up in becomes an integral part of my journey toward self actualization and realization of what my own life might mean. Without getting too esoteric about the whole thing, I think of myself as a kind of secular mystic and being surrounded by new environs, unintelligible languages, new iconographies and symbolisms, ancient architecture, contemporary material culture, ¬†and sounds without definable origin, etc., all suss me out of the shell of domesticity and routine and into what’s really going on.

I think that many of us tend to reduce the world into our particularized experience of it. But, the world, even in the 21st century, is vast and there are still countless things to discover. Of course the whole doctrine of discovery, at least in its historic context, is total fallacy and is flooded with racial and cultural power imbalances and exploitations, but the kind of discovery I reference here is a personal one — a discovery of self. I doubt that’s what the conquistadores experienced as they raped and pillaged the New World; could be wrong though. Did those brazenly greedy men, emboldened by prospects of uncountable wealth, and maybe even a bit of adventure, ever pause to consider how those journeys changed them? We’ll never know.

Wanderlust has always been a part of my life. Without any effort at all, I find myself daydreaming for sometimes hours on end about writing comfortingly geometric postcards by the water in Porto, or watching children play in fountains during ¬†an especially stagnant ¬†and oppressive Roman summer, or the smell of easterly rain coming in from the ocean in Colombo, or the pins-and-needles tension in my feet while standing in line for the cinema in “everything’s uphill” Hong Kong, or sleeping atop an adobe house with a smooth, flat roof and a broad and bright night sky in Santa Fe. ¬†In my mind’s eye, within an instant, I can visualize the wisps of a rowdy flame transforming a funeral pyre into eternity in Kathmandu; smell the delicately floral fragrances emanating from the spaces between the rapid back-and-forths of the lacy winged fans a flock of Spanish ladies are using on themselves (and the world) after a matin√©e zarzuela, can hear the unfriendly and sharp clicking that informs the blind that it is safe to cross Berlin’s Karl-Marx-Allee as I too cross the monumentalism of good ideas turned bad by good people, can feel the chill in the air and the wish to pull the blanket over my shoulders, up round my neck, and into the moment in Addis Ababa as night approaches, and there in the background, the ¬†never-ending ¬†honking car horns so frequent that they become only one incessant and intolerable carillon beaconing the human’s need for silent moments to hurry home — clanging now ubiquitous in almost any city the whole world over. Might that shrill slash into the great jazz ensemble of nature be the soundtrack of our post-Model T lives?

Now, I am a grown up and I’m still going, still discovering, still dreaming and waking up and dreaming. Now, theoretically, I could go wherever I want, but I’m not one for planning dreams. I like to organically end up in places, turning corners here and there to make sure I avoid the ways I’ve already taken. Sometimes, I get lost. Usually, I find my ¬†way, and so much more than that. Sure it might take me longer to get where I’m going, but that’s okay. Wherever I go, there I am.

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Pride (n.)

June is Pride month and whether that pleases you or not, there’s a good chance that somewhere near you there’s going to be a parade, march, or celebration and it’s going to be loud and colorful! I figure that you can either enjoy the occasion or you can lock yourself in your house and wait for it all to end. I mean, what’s a month give or take? A lot of people will wonder why it’s necessary in the age of ever-growing marriage equality and advances in LGBTQ+ rights to take to the streets and…dance!? Well, there are manifold reasons why the community needs such a month and are bonded and strengthened by the events surrounding what builds up to a memorializing of the Stonewall riots somewhere toward the end of the month. If you’re not familiar with the events at the Stonewall Inn in New York City in 1969, you might want to read up on it as since June 24th of last year, it comprises part of the Stonewall National Monument and is therefore solidly integrated into U.S. American history. Since this is not a history blog, I won’t go into too much detail, but basically, the riots mark the beginning of the modern LGBTQ+ rights movement in the USA, a movement that is still growing, changing, and assuming its proper place within both the American and global human rights movement.

But why call it “Pride Month“? Well, you may notice that those people on the floats, rocking out to pop and techno music, at least for that day, are genuinely expressing not only how proud they are to be themselves, but how proud everyone is of how far the community has come in a relatively short time. There have certainly been struggles and there continue to be areas in which the community needs to do and be more; the AIDS epidemic is not over, LGBTQ+ youth homelessness is hugely disproportionate when projected against society as a whole, victimization and abuse continue (especially, but not only, in rural areas where young queer people have limited access to support systems and resources), and rights such as housing and job security are still not fully cinched, but like everything, it’s a slow and painful process. Still, it’s important for any group of marginalized or underrepresented people to celebrate their accomplishments from time to time. Pride is an annual chance to remember, to honor, and to have a little fun!

As a noun, pride describes a feeling of deep pleasure or satisfaction derived from one’s own achievements, the achievements of one’s close associates, or from qualities or possessions that are widely admired. Alternatively, it also means consciousness of one’s own dignity. It is the second definition that I prefer to reference when I speak of pride — an abiding awareness of an innate dignity, the dignity that all survivors acquire simply by virtue of having survived when so many did not. A dignity that is mixed with fear and guilt, and also profound respect and a sense of purpose. To be proud is to be among the living, the still fighting; and in a world that so often devalues and dismisses queer bodies and minds, to have pride is an act of profound resistance.

Wouldn’t it be great if everyone, in every community and of every possible intersectional identity, took a month out of every year to get with the people they love and celebrate their survival, their common push toward a more inclusive and less violent future, and their particular hue on the flag of humanity?! Wouldn’t that just be amazing!? Try it! Otherwise, there is a very real chance that you may never know just how good it is to dance in the streets surrounded by other humans so conscious of their own dignity that the pounding music, the flamboyant costumes (or lack thereof), the outrageous floats, the cheering crowds, the sometimes jeering crowds, the fear of judgement and shame, and the dark rains of yesterday all fade into a perfectly sunny sky and only a rainbow remains.

Happy Pride!

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Kathy Griffin & The Failing Republic

While my intention for this blog is to not be overtly political, there’s a plethora of worrisome developments in Washington, D.C. these days and while I still can, I want talk about some of them from time to time. The current administration, it must be said, leaves most of us wondering what’s going to happen next!? Whatever one’s political affiliation, it is not outside of reason to explicitly note that this administration is boundary pushing. ¬†Some may argue that this is exactly why so many people voted for Trump; they want someone to push the limits of the business as usual slant. Honestly, I can understand that, but I have to stand up and say that I sincerely believe that the rights and protections currently extended to U.S. Americans under the first amendment are, in my opinion, in grave danger.

Perhaps many of us can recall making class posters and memory cards at school when it was time to learn about the constitution, and specifically about the first amendment. I know that in my case, I felt like at least half of the fourth grade school year was taken up with learning, memorizing, and expounding upon the rights granted to all citizens via the first. I also recall a boyish fascination with parchment paper that began around here, and which still lingers. At the time, I probably wanted to just get through the fourth grade, but in hindsight, I’m extremely grateful that I actually know my full rights and privileges as spelled out in the first. Whether or not any of us will have the full extent of those rights much longer is, I sincerely believe, in dangerously perilous limbo. Worst of all, it’s not even brutal batons and military weaponry that will likely silence us, but us citizens who will, and have already begun to, throttle our own throats. Tongue suicide.

Last week U.S. American comedian, reality TV star, and provocateur Kathy Griffin participated in a photo shoot with the controversial, but acclaimed photographer Tyler Shields (http://www.tylershields.com). There was an immediate public backlash when a photo of her holding a bloodied and decapitated, albeit fake, head of what could appear to be Donald Trump was released. It is important to mention here that the word FAKE¬†makes all the difference! You see, Kathy Griffin did not actually behead the sitting president of the United States. Kathy Griffin, an artist, collaborated with Tyler Shields, an artist, to create a work of art that is admittedly shocking and divisive. The thing that’s so great about art though, is that you don’t have to like it. Some works will speak to you for whatever reason they speak to you, and others won’t. Feel free to write the museum and express your opinion…but there’s a chance nobody cares because the curatorial board of experts in art¬†will have already weighed the merits of the works in the museum as to their contribution to the expansion of art. If certain controversial works are displayed in exhibitions, they may be accompanied by warnings so that museum goers can decide for themselves if they wish to view them. Fine. Personal choice is always cool. What is not cool, is insisting that the museum be closed just because a work is interrogative, aggressive, violent, or in poor taste (although who exactly the arbiter of taste is definitely needs to be discussed (and I’m voting against Trump)). What is also not cool is calling for a curator to lose their job because a work is unpopular or displeasing. That’s kind of the point of art, you see…it reflects social discourse, all of it, the good, bad, and ugly.

Shockingly, some of Griffin’s sponsors have cancelled their deals with her, show dates have been cancelled, too. CNN, and even her “friend” Anderson Cooper, have issued hardline condemnations of the photo and fired her from their popular New Year’s Eve program. She has received death threats, a typhoon of negative press coverage, and is being investigated by the secret service over a photograph of a FAKE severed head, which is well within her first amendment rights to participate in! She is quite directly being publicly punished and shamed for exercising her first amendment rights! What planet am I living on!? Which century is it!?

Once it began to become clear that the photo had offended many people, Kathy quickly issued an apology. While it is certainly her right to do so, I was disappointed. Seeing as she has a career to look after, I’m sure that seemed like the right thing to do to her and her people, but to me, it came across as a forced confession of witchery — though already tied to the stake. Yes reader, witches are still being hunted and they are still being burned in the public square for all to see! Later, she would give an emotionally frenetic press conference in which she again apologized, but vowed to continue to make fun of Trump. She cited an anti-feminist slant to the barrage of recusancy she has faced by the public, and in her words, the Trump family — I believe her. One TV commentator I heard said that they reckoned that most people were upset that Kathy had insulted the “Sacred Office of the Presidency“…sorry, what?! Sacred Office of Presidency sounds a lot like Divine Rule of Kings to me. There is no sacred office in the United States — that’s the whole point of a republic! ¬†Neither the sitting president, nor the office, is in any way exempt from criticism, critique, satire, and even insult. If we allow, even once, for a precedent to be set whereby elected officials are shielded from negative leaning disquisition, then we fail to be a republic.

Don’t forget the fourth grade…please!

 

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