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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When I Am Summer

Orange is my favorite color and while I’m allergic to the fruit, orange things generally make me happy. I’m not sure why. Maybe there was some pivotal point in my young development whereby something wonderful happened and I connected that event to the color orange, or maybe not. Maybe it’s just one of those things and can’t be, and perhaps needn’t be, fully explained. It’s not just orange though, colors such as red and pink also please me both visually, and here’s the more interesting part, physically! As I’m not a neuroscientist of any sort, I can’t be perfectly sure, but I may be a synesthete. See, red, violet, orange, mandarin, pink, and vermillion aren’t just colors to me, they are feelings both emotional and physical. This reaction isn’t to these colors alone, but they are the ones with which I can “feel it” the most. There’s nothing more wonderfully orange and radiant than the sun itself, and that is why I am an absolute, fully fledged sun worshiper and lover of all things summer. I couldn’t be happier that here in the northern hemisphere, it looks like summer is well on its way and I for one am thoroughly thrilled!

Winter is hard for me most of all due to its absence of color. Leafless trees appear to be the hands of dead things reaching up from the grave; devoid of the color of life. During the long winters here in northern Europe, I struggle not to succumb to seasonal depression and most of the time it seems that the conditions will never end and I’ll have to live bundled up and surrounded by grays and browns forever. There’s nothing wrong with these colors in and of themselves yet, in me, they trigger a physical response that stiffens the joints, tenses the muscles, and gets me hungrier and hungrier by the day. I usually put on weight and only want to sleep. It’s hard for me to muster up enough energy to maintain social engagements and make time for fun in my life. Everything vibrates, but only barely and the lull of the bassline of life during winter months leaves my eyes as heavy as stones and my mind slow and lethargic. I tried light therapy and it didn’t work for me. It’s also not the temperature; where I live in Germany, the temperature is actually quite mild and real extremes are unusual. Still, I prefer warm climates and while the thermometer plays a role in how I feel, it’s not the whole of the story.

When spring starts, before the birds fly back and start their incessant singing, and I begin to see the first hints of color coming back to the landscape, it’s not unusual for me to experience near euphoria! The hair on my arms spontaneously stands at attention when walking by early blooming, albeit pale, flowers. Dabs of green at the end of weather-weary branches leads to a small but noticeably growing warmth at the base of my spine. By the time the temperature heads up and things start really coming to life and are in full swing, I’m drunk from color and a humming feeling grows throughout my body. As mentioned, this sensation is particularly piqued by oranges, reds, pinks, etc., but not only! In the summer I don’t just see nature, I really feel it. I am it. Every spindly vine, every thick growth of green haired shrub, the brushy pointedness of thirsty grass, it all meets in my body and I feel not so much as a human thing, but as a wholly new being born for just that season to experience orange, green, red, gold, yellow, pink, even purple and bright blue.

If this all sounds a bit crazy to you, it probably is. There is a very real possibility that this may all be simply a construct of my imagination, some overreaction to a natural propensity to enjoy warm weather and luscious environs — I don’t know! But, if you think this is all a bunch of hocus pocus, just imagine what it’s like with me at an art museum! Ha!

If it happens to be summer (or almost summer) wherever you are, I hope that you’ll get out and enjoy all that’s on offer. Who knows, maybe you might feel what I feel?! Happy (almost) summer, everyone!

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Some Things I Love (and Some I Don’t) About Germany

I’m an American, but I’ve been living in Europe for over a decade now, mostly in Germany. Obviously, there are some things about Germany that I think are pretty great, or I wouldn’t still be living here, would I? Still, there are also more than a few things about the place that drive me right up the wall, but I also know that the place wasn’t built especially with me in mind and that no matter where I live there are always going to be things that drive me mad. This post will focus on a few things about 21st century Germany that are both really cool and really not. Naturally, this is just my personal take on all of this and there are certainly people out there who will disagree with my assessments both positive and negative…but I’ve never been someone who’s much interested in pleasing everyone — so let’s get started!

 

Love #1 : Living History

There is old stuff everywhere. Beautiful, historic, documentary-worthy stuff is all around because European material culture was never subjected to mass destruction by colonists, and furthermore it’s still accessible and it is really inspiring. Coming from a country that, at least from a Eurocentric perspective, is rather new, it’s really special to walk down cobblestone streets and to be (within some historic districts) surrounded by half-timbered architecture. Living in a country where there are for-real castles is undeniably cool. For the most part, Germans appreciate their cultural heritage and take necessary steps to preserve it. I believe that this sense of cultural history, when visible as material heritage, can be a great tool for fostering social cohesion. Well done!

Love #2: Cultural Opportunities 

There is genuine civic support for cultural initiatives and institutions within German society. Sure the home-grown TV programs are mind-numbingly boring (had to fit that jab in somewhere), but world-class operas, theaters and philharmonics are affordable for everyone and there are even discounts for students, the unemployed, and people who have social or economic hardships. As a person who believes that the greatest power of art is to lift us all out of the mundane and into the world of imagination, into a place where new ideas and means of looking at things is enabled, I think this is just fantastic!

Love #3: Food/Drink Quality 

Please mind that this is not in any way, shape, or form praise for the German “kitchen”! With this point I only want to tip my hat to the fact that the quality of the food on sale is, in my estimation (and I’ve been eating food my whole life, so I reckon I’m expert enough to make this judgement), higher than in some other places I’ve lived. Chemical processing, artificial colors, milk that isn’t milk and cheese that isn’t cheese, aren’t such a big thing over here. Yes, it’s on the rise, but at the moment, it’s still pretty well possible to rest assured that you’re getting what you’re paying for. I love junk food as much as the next guy, probably a bit more, but we all know that stuff will kill you in the long run!

Love #4: Less Puritanism 

While this is a bit of a blanket statement, and certainly not accurate across the board, there is a greater acceptance of human sexuality here (in that it is an actual thing that exists and that one needn’t be ashamed or guilty of). Although Chancellor Merkel has openly stated that marriage equality isn’t a priority for her government (BOO!), the recognition that humans are sexual beings and that the human body isn’t just a physical representation of a sinful nature, is certainly progressive. Nudity is ubiquitous and I find the embrace of the human body and sex positivity refreshing.

Don’t Love #1: The Myth of German Efficiency/Punctuality 

I know what you’ve heard. It’s a lie. A dirty, low-down, evil lie! Public transportation is the WORST! Because I knew that I would write this blog, I focused on how often my tram (which is supposed to get me to within a block of my workplace in eight minutes according to the schedule) was on time last week; Monday to Friday — zero times! To be fair, it was once late by only three minutes which isn’t so bad, yet it also didn’t come at all twice meaning that I had to walk to work twice last week! Now, it’s only a walk of about 30 minutes, but that’s a long time in the morning when you’re trying to get to work and not expecting to have to hike the whole way (although at this point I should be expecting that there’s always a very good chance I’ll have to walk)! Did I also mention it’s really expensive?

Don’t Love #2: Resistance to Change

There’s a general election in the summer. Merkel will win again. I called that the day after the last election and in the course of local election season (now), it’s looking like I’ll be proven right. Despite the fact that her refugee policy has been hugely unpopular among the Germans, she’ll almost certainly win again. Most Germans will tell you it’s because there’s nobody else who could do the job, that they have nobody better to choose from. Yeah, in a country of more than eighty million people, they believe that there is not one person who might have a political vision better than Mrs. Merkel’s. I argue that in reality, the aforementioned opinion has nothing to do with politics whatsoever, but is rather the outcome of a national aversion to change of any kind. Even German cities have a kind of provincial vibe to them, it’s still not a sure bet that restaurants and shops will accept anything but cash, and WiFi hotspots or services are about as frequent as leap years. They like the status  quo and that’s not a good thing if you ask me.

Don’t Love #3: Opening Hours…None

Whatever time it is where you are right now as you read this, everything in Germany is closed. This is because everything is closed all the time, especially exactly when you need it to be open. There’s not much more to say about that other than, if you’re coming to Germany, just make sure you bring everything you will ever need because all shops will be closed forever.

Don’t Love #4: Only One Right Way 

German Person: There is only one way to do whatever needs to be done, and it’s the right way. The right way is the only way. I know the right way, and you don’t. You don’t do it the right way, and I do. Why don’t you do it the right way? It would be better for everyone if it were done the right way!

Non-German Person: Oh. Okay, but can’t it also be…

German Person: No. That is not the right way.

Non-German Person: Are you sure, because…?

German Person: Yes, I am sure.

So there’s my little, grossly inconclusive list of things that I absolutely love, and some that I don’t, about Germany. I have to admit that living here has taught me a lot about myself and challenged some of my fixed ways of thinking, and has, in my opinion, made me more tolerant and a multi-perspective thinker. There are so many places that I want to experience and live in and so I don’t think I’ll live here forever, but it’s been both an incredibly challenging and enriching journey thus far, so thanks, Germany! You do you!

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Introducing…Christian Schad!

Aschaffenburg Germany is a small and picturesque town at the very northwest border of the southern German federal state of Bavaria. It can easily be discovered on foot, though there’s honestly not that much to see. I do recall a rather bulky collection of cork architectural models housed in a beautifully Romantic royal residence, that while “impressive”, I could understand neither the need nor the inspiration for. There’s also something called the Pompeiianum, a fully reconstructed townhouse from Pompeii that was built by King Ludwig I in order to provide German artists with first-hand inspiration in the classical style. While it’s interesting to take a look at, it’ll leave you wondering why it’s there and if it’s anything more than a tourist oddity these days. Mimicking many other German towns along rivers, the mentioned palace sets up on the lazy banks of the river Main and because there was nothing much to do there, and being unable to generate a spontaneous plan (I had done zero research before arriving), I decided to visit the handsome if somewhat awkwardly opulent residence. After breezing through the aforementioned less-than-riveting cork gallery, I continued aimlessly meandering among the open rooms of the residence which were sometimes decorated in varying chronologically inspired designs, and to my amazement, entered into the zone of the residence temporarily serving as a home for a part of the Christian Schad Gallery. Don’t worry if that name doesn’t ring a bell, Schad has been an oft overlooked and, in my estimation, a grossly underappreciated figure in western art, particularly of the European tradition and even within his movement. This entry will therefore unabashedly uphold as its sole purpose a thoroughly subjective praise of Schad, shedding light on why he remains my very favorite painter.

Feel free to look up all of his biographical data if you’ve got nothing better to do. I figure a painter’s work should be his vitae and therefore, here, I’m going to focus on a couple of my favorites from his oeuvre. I’m not one of those people who is attracted to things simply because they are obscure. I’m not a Luddite who opposes newness and shuns what everyone else is doing (obviously, this is a blog after all), but I am someone who will like something or someone despite the public’s awareness or opinion. Usually, I’m attracted to something based on an instinctive intuition of the object’s psychological dimension. While I realize that this all sounds a bit esoteric, I only mean to say that, for me, visual art is often a primarily visceral experience and only later do I turn to the conceptual side of things. In order to capture the intricacies of a psychological state of a subject in a painting, I believe the painter needs an intimate understanding of that very mental state. Christian Schad, in my opinion, is a stellar example of an artist who inhabits the emotional topography of his paintings in a confessional, yet unsentimental, way.

As a part of the Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity) school which sprung up in 1920s Germany, Schad’s paintings maintain a distance and coolness reflected in his rejection of texture and strict adherence to an almost photorealistic slickness. His canvasses seem barely covered in paint and yet they are complete; no layering here. His strokes seem absent from the story, forcing instead a steely concentration on the subjects in the work. My very favorite painting is, Count St. Genois D’Anneaucourt (1927), which is a portrait of the count with two figures behind him. The figure to his right: a lady with a sheer green dress and a white feather in her hand, and to his left, with back turned to the viewer and face in profile, so that we see that the lady is merely dressed the part, a very well known cross dresser of Berlin’s club scene. The count’s head is slightly turned toward us, but remains expressionless, detached. The whole scene is charged with a resigned and static eroticism. Things are not what they appear. The count is not quite settled in his place in the world. The full-on embrace of in-betweenness in this painting validates the viewer’s desire to reject easy categorization and imparts a secret that the count may not even know himself.

Another of Schad’s works which I find particularly inspiring is a portrait of Egon Erwin Kisch (1928) wherein again the subject indifferently gazes out at us as might a bored primate at a zoo. Kisch’s curvy, tattooed body contrasts with the cold geometry of the cranes crisscrossing the background. What I like most about this painting, is that we can see that Kisch is slightly annoyed; perhaps he finds this whole business rather foolish!? Kisch was quite a rascal and daredevil and sitting for a portrait doesn’t seem to be the kind of thing that he would have enjoyed. Like any good friend though, he obliges the artist, yet cannot contain his inner monologue, speaking to us through the subtilty of a slight expression. Schad does the subject no favors, neither adapting his mood to our expectation of him, nor his body to our artistic sensibilities of masculine beauty. The tacky tattoos mock our bourgeois notions of decency, in much the same way that industrialization and the ravages of the mechanized first world war had done to Germany. Through portraiture, and highly objective portraiture at that, Christian Schad whispers what nobody is saying, yet what everyone is thinking — we’re all just bluffing.

In 2018 Aschaffenburg will be opening a Christian Schad Museum as the first project in the construction of a new museum quarter which I can only hope won’t include a purpose-built structure for those dull cork models. While there were some successful shows that included his work during his lifetime, Schad turned after WW II to more experimental work and became something of an artist’s artist, well-known among experts, but largely forgotten by the general public. His work hangs in world-class institutions in both Europe and North America, with many pieces also in private collection. Schad was not an unsuccessful artist, but he was not, and in my estimation is still not, a public artist. Like many of his subjects, Schad kept himself at arm’s length. Now you know.

(Count St. Genois D’Anneaucourt, (1927) Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris) (Portrait of Egon Erwin Kisch, (1928) Hamburger Kunsthalle, Hamburg)

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Reinvention & Boy George

From time to time, things need to be redone, reformed, reinvented, rethought, reassessed, etc. Surely, this ongoing process of renewal brings about change and that’s something scary for many people, and that’s pretty normal I’d say. Fear is fine, it’s paralysis that kills, in my opinion. We must keep moving. While there are countless matters of smaller importance that we all have to reconsider on a daily basis, I reckon that for many of us, the major things in our lives exist someplace on a pretty consistent continuum of status quo. Big adjustments necessitate periods of recalibration and this can be disorienting. I think I can safely assume that most people don’t enjoy having to map out new coasting coordinates in rapid succession and on a never-ending loop. Exhausting! In terms of personality and character however, a recent series of disparate events has led to me considering if in fact this may be just what I need to do; reconsider. I prefer a life of sensory gratification however, and so for me, change is not so much frightening as it is just so much effort! This is exactly one of those nagging aspects that I’m currently having to examine. Looking at oneself  is not really fun, and I imagine that’s why our eyes are designed to look out into the world and not at ourselves! We’d just hate ourselves too much to go on living otherwise, unless we were full-fledged narcissists — which some people are.

Curveball:

Remember Boy George from the hit 80s band Culture Club? Did you know that he had a massive career starting in the late 90s and into the 2000s as a highly sought after DJ? It’s true! He was one of the first DJs that made that medium into a celebrity-making profession. What’s interesting about this is that unless one was in that particular music scene at that particular time, it might be easy to consider his recent gigs as a TV talent show judge as something of a comeback. In reality, he hadn’t gone anywhere, he’d simply changed, and not always for the better — there was that incident where he was arrested and convicted for false imprisonment! Also, photos from this period show him looking bloated and unwell from years of drug abuse. To me, what I see there, is someone who was a bit lost but still brave enough to venture into a new art form and to try things that may not be successful in terms of “public perception.” I believe that every second of it was difficult, confusing, and also invigorating on some level. Being lost and having to refind your way is not always pretty, but it is growth. Seemingly, things are in a good place for Boy George these days and, I for one, applaud his success. Moreover, it’s his ability to find spaces where he can reinvent the creation that is Boy George, that I find most inspiring. Fundamentally, it seems he has maintained his core personality, while stumbling, fumbling, writing, singing, risking, and eventually winning.

I’m assuming that there’s a different way for each person to figure out what they need to do and to renew themselves continually, while still slopping through the messes that we get ourselves into in life. Hopefully, I’ll soon be able to fully realize that mistakes, while stingingly incapacitating, needn’t become markers of my indulgence in slovenly non-action. And, when the actions I do take don’t lead to the outcomes I’d expected or hoped for (which is most of the time), or indeed when the exact opposite occurs and everything blows up in my face, maybe I can slowly start learning to accept that as part of the process and not as an insurmountable obstacle to overall growth. I wonder if snakes feel compressed by skin that they’ve outgrown before they shed it? Probably. Looks evolve. Styles evolve. People, for better or worse, evolve.

On his critically acclaimed 2013 album, This Is What I Do, there is a song titled, Live Your Life, and in it George suggests that running around and wasting precious time was all part of it; that despite all of the, sometimes drastic incarnations in style and decision-making skills, the core of him has remained the same and only he can reimagine what he is:

“Everybody said the boy will change

Many years are gone but the truth remains

The truth remains…”

All-in-all, as I inch my way toward middle age, I am amazed at my own reinventions which were admittedly sometimes way off mark. Still, I’m not who I was, and while it may sound ear-bleedingly cliché, I’m not who I will be. So, I’m just going to work on reforming, reconfiguring, and reevaluating myself as I am now. It’s probably time for another version of myself and I’m looking forward to him being something that reminds me of an earlier model, but who is hopefully, better, wiser, healthier, more aware, and truer.

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Thanks, Body!

I went jogging again today. My running schedule could best be described as…sporadic. I’m talking leap year frequency here. Running isn’t my least favorite thing to do, but I can certainly find more fulfilling things to spend my time on. It did remind me that I have a body that can do things, though. In fact, as I get older (such a disgusting phrase), I notice a changing relationship with my body and fitness in general. Naturally, we all age and in the process we have to renegotiate our physical embodiment and the transformations entailed, that makes sense, but what I was not expecting were these complex feelings about it! Feelings in general give me the pee shivers (if you don’t know what that means, here’s a NBC news article about it…yeah that NBC…this is journalism in the 21st century: http://www.nbcnews.com/health/body-odd/pee-shivers-you-know-youre-curious-f688401) and I try to keep things emotionally as close to neutral as possible. Still aging is a complex intersection of factors that, at times, is fascinating, but is often just horrible and an unending reminder of one’s human frailty. Every disaster scenario you’ve heard from your parents and the other aged folk in your life is true…well, kind of.

I won’t bore the tens of people who read this blog with a lengthy register of my ailments, but what I will say is that the older I get, the longer that list gets. There’s nothing really seriously wrong with me in any incapacitating sense, which is great, but it seems like the things that are a bit wonky stay a lot longer these days or just don’t leave at all. That’s a marked difference from only  a few years ago when I seemed to be able to recover from even the most debaucherous of weekends within hours. Nowadays, even moderate libation lingers, sludging my body’s ability to function as a productive human well past the following Tuesday! Also, just daily wear and tear on the joints seems to turn into some sort of internal war between the north (my mind: youthful, plucky, witty) and the south (the rest of me…which is losing badly and which will most certainly NOT rise again!). Of course I overdramatize here for effect, but not by much!

Yet, and perhaps more importantly, there is also a new kind of appreciation that I’ve gained for this shell. It’s the only one I’m ever going to have, and that’s hit home with me in more than just an intellectual way lately. As I’m not a total idiot, I certainly was aware that we all grow older and that we have to take care of our bodies for reasons of health and longevity, but what I hadn’t considered was that despite my post-humanist fantasies, I probably won’t live to see the technology that will allow us to really regenerate or upload ourselves. That’s a pity. But, as mentioned, this realization has led me to see my body in a more forgiving way, in a more humane way. Before, my body was something for getting me places, or lifting something, it was functional and built-for-purpose and I honestly hadn’t really thought of it as an integral part of my identity. Now, I’m coming to the understanding that I’m going to have to live with this thing forever. The more I spend time with that though, the more I actually respect my body and the good work it has done for me over the years, and continues to do. Slowly, I’m learning that just as I’d be first in line to voice my support for the preservation of some object of significant historic cultural heritage, I have to become just that vocal of an advocate for my own body — both as a physical presence in material time/space terms, but also as a concept in my mind.

For much of my life, I’ve focused on artistic or academic enrichment and through the luxury of good health, and first world living, was able to effectively ignore the very thing that shows up for me in the world. I’d always been envious of those really sporty people who seemed to get a kick out of physical fitness and all their talk of endorphin highs and such. I never have that! It’s not that I’m sport averse, but I’m only good at two of them, and as I can be quite competitive, those are the only two I stand a chance at winning in and will therefore participate in. I don’t feel better after working out, playing tennis or jogging. Definitely worse. I do quite like winning though. Therefore, I’ve decided to celebrate even minor wins in my journey with my body. I’m going to cultivate compassion and genuine admiration for every way in which my body continues to serve me. I’m going to remember all the climbed steps, the daring jumps, and close calls that my body has absorbed like a champ the next time I start feeling like Tin Man, and rather than curse the pain or make some deprecating remark, say thanks instead.

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American Theocracy

Having grown up in America, there are some things, sometimes seemingly bizarre things, that just don’t seem that strange to me. There’s a lot, due to levels of exposure, that we are normalized to and therefore don’t really think much about (e.g. cheese in a spray can, mundane and senseless violence, systemic racism, sexism and discrimination based on sexuality and gender identity, Spam, huge automobiles, etc.). For example, if one is lucky enough to have the time and means to travel, one quickly finds that a lot of people across the globe drink. Naturally, a lot of people drink in the USA too, but not with the same sense of disregard and ease with which it’s carried out in other countries. In Germany, where I currently live, nobody thinks twice when seeing someone walking down the street with an open beer bottle. Also, age restricted drinking regulations are quite relaxed in most places in Europe, and it still boggles my mind that at 18 years old in the USA one is allowed to vote at the federal level, fight and die in war, or buy a house, but has to wait until 21 to have a beer!?! Again, growing up, while I may have heard the occasional moan about the silliness of the consumption laws, nobody seemed to care too much and just got on with things, that was our normal. Traveling and living outside of the country has provided me with perspectives on many aspects of American life that are normalized, but which are far from normal (whatever normal means). The role of religion in American life is another phenomenon that, from a distance, seems odd and increasingly more dangerous; and especially so considering our current abomination, I mean, administration.

Trump, at the National Prayer Breakfast (I have no idea what a prayer breakfast is and I personally can’t think of two more diametric activities, but you know, to each his own I guess), held on February 2, 2017, stated that he wanted to, “get rid of and totally destroy the Johnson Amendment and allow our representatives of faith to speak freely and without fear of retribution.” Now, I’m all in favor of all citizens everywhere utilizing and upholding free speech and am happy to offer my support to ensure that free speech is maintained and propagated for the betterment of democracy however, there’s a chilling implication in Trump’s vow — to do away with the Johnson Amendment is to give free rein to religious fanatics, of which we have always had a surplus. The Johnson Amendment is a very narrow-scope limitation of the rights of religious figures and organizations to involve themselves directly in political activities due to their tax exempt status. Effectively, it strengthens the constitutional separation between church and state, and should it really be dissolved or repealed, the United States will undoubtedly atrophy into a full theocracy within 48 hours. You can count on it!

Again, if you have grown up and lived your whole life in the United States, it may seem perfectly normal to you that there are multi-million dollar earning mega-churches that scatter the country, evangelists with their own TV shows displaying prayer hotlines at only three cents a minute, pastors with staffs larger than the student bodies at some county high schools, and faith-based merchandising deals worth millions of dollars. For most of the world though, that’s a shock! Giving these people, who are running financial empires, free range to involve themselves in the legislative process, given their access to money and influence over large swathes of the population, is perilous at best and damning at worst. It is no secret that these people think of the United States as a “christian” nation despite the clearly secular ideals laid out in our constitution. It is not news that many of those who voted for Trump feel that he is quite literally a godsend. It is not by mere chance that on every coin and bill in circulation the name of god is evoked: In God We Trust. Ambiguous, but a big fat toe in the door on the way to an established state religion.

It was not always this way however, the de facto motto until 1956 was E pluribus unum – out of many, one. Personally, I prefer the latter as I find if more definitive of the American experience. The current motto is exclusive and seems to ignore that there are non-theistic citizens as well, and really, shouldn’t a motto be something that speaks for all of us? Doing away with the Johnson Amendment would be exponentially graver than simply printing a motto on government documents, it would amount to the introduction of a new oligarchy of faith the likes of which the world has only a few remaining examples, chiefly among them; Iran. Could it be that one of the driving factors behind the right’s continual antagonizing of Iran, is that the ayatollahs have achieved what the fundamentalist christian right has failed to reach in the USA? I suspect there is nothing more desirable to a great number of Americans than the notion that their country become an officially christian nation and that their faith be offered precedence in matters both spiritual and temporal. If this happens, democracy is dead. Already we see the extreme push by faith groups to influence elected officials (desperate for votes to maintain their positions and power), and limit the individual rights of marginalized and at risk sectors of the population such as women, LGBTQIA2+, non-religious and non-theistic citizens, and others who do not fit into the constraints of religious life.

Evangelical christians make up 26.3% of the USA and amongst evangelicals, 81% voted for Trump. These kinds of numbers translate into massive political power and influence and ensuring that religious figures, of any faith, are not allowed to simply march into the political arena without any checks or balances, is exactly what legislation like the Johnson Amendment is designed to do. I encourage those of all faiths, and none, to do whatever is legally necessary to ensure that protections like those built into the Johnson Amendment are not allowed to be flippantly brushed away. This post is not meant to be a jab at evangelicals, or christians, or anyone else, but simply a worrying observation on the part of a single citizen. Good luck.

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Everyday Adventure?!?

What is adventure? Can we really find it in our everyday lives? I’m not so sure. I know we’re encouraged to try to find new ways of doing things and to go outside of our comfort zones, but that’s a real challenge when you’re trying to do your job, be a fairly decent friend/partner/citizen, and mind those carbs! Most people are just trying to get through each day, and it doesn’t really seem that there’s much opportunity to mix things up. This is of course why one should cultivate hobbies, but who has the time? I find that in order to write, which is the thing I enjoy more than anything, I have to neglect EVERYTHING else. Sure I can take a new way home, or try out a new restaurant, but that’s not really an adventure to me. The chance to see something unexpected can always present itself, but not when you know your city like the back of your hand…well, not usually, anyway. Therefore, like many others, I try to be adventurous in my writing and to take chances and try new things, but as anyone who has ever written anything substantial will tell you– it’s hell! It’s also heaven when it’s going well, which in my case is less than ten percent of the time.

Every writer or poet will attest that the greatest hurdle is doing the work. In my head, I have countless novels and at least two volumes of poetry going at any given time. In reality, I have two unfinished novels, two unfinished plays, and a single volume of poetry that grows slower than stone. There’s just some block in getting words on paper that happens for reasons unknown. Seeing the words on paper, at least in my case, often makes them seem trite, contrived, or just stupid.  Poetry is especially perilous for me. Just when I think I’ve found the perfect turn of phrase, it slips my mind before I can get to pen and paper. At least twice a week, I get a flash of word-magic, in of all places, the shower. How the hell am I supposed to write something down in the shower? I’ve been advised to bring a recorder with me, but I’d have to leave it on the entire time of the shower outside on the shelf because I’m not even sure the one I have is waterproof (and don’t want to find out) and besides, what kind of creep records himself having a shower and occasionally screaming out lyrical phrases? I do have neighbors.

Adventure has always been a catalyst for me. The moment I have no idea what I’m doing in the rest of my life, the creativity churns and effortless words flow from my pen, or from my busily typing fingers. Going to an exhibition, a concert, or some other creative interjection can sometimes coax it out of me, and in my opinion those are all small adventures that break up the routine of daily life…but I can’t really go to one every single day. Well, maybe I could, but again, who has the time when there’s reality to navigate!? Ultimately, life gets in the way of my creativity. I sincerely believe this is the crux of why so many writers go bonkers. In order to write, one has to have experiences and live life, but ALSO in order to write, one needs time for the ideas to formalize in the mind and get sieved through the mesh of the writer’s voice. This is not something in which I’m alone, one can find countless interviews and lectures by writers describing why they can’t write online. I should know, because I’ve watched/listened to them all while not writing.

I suppose that each writer has to find their own solution to this particular conundrum; alcohol, drugs, sex, gambling, religion, food, giving up on life, etc. This blog is meant to be one of my means of just getting words out, not judging them, and letting them live once they’ve made it into the world. So far, it’s been good practice, but I find myself procrastinating and second-guessing what I write here. Still, I don’t believe in writer’s block…just in writer’s break. It would seem that sometimes one’s creativity needs to zone out, too…in fact, quite often. Hopefully, when it returns from its adventure, it is well rested and ready to do some work!

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Why am I sitting on the floor!? What the hell are you wearing!?

Although I was raised within a religiously pluralistic albeit heavily Protestant Christian influenced home, our religious convictions of any sort were merely nominal. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. There is much to laud in the sort of secular strains of religious adherence found, at least among a share of the mainstream, in most religious traditions. I guess people like to stick to the more digestible main concepts and don’t really need the meta-analysis of something which they see as abstractly integral to their lives. Abstraction is after all a sign of maturity of conceptual enhancement and exploration and that’s a great thing! But for whatever reason, Christianity never really spoke to me save for a very brief period, whereupon reflection, I can honestly say I was mimicking those around me and probably looking for a kind of acceptance that I was unable to find elsewhere. Anyway, that didn’t really last long and while I hold no contempt toward Christianity whatsoever, I also don’t feel any spiritual or moral affinity to it. That’s not to say however, that it doesn’t hold a great deal of meaning and value for believers, but only that it doesn’t speak to me personally. I am not here to talk anyone out of their religion or to insult anyone’s spiritual beliefs. Evaluating those who are believers negatively or writing them off as mindless drones, I’d say, is a misjudgment and an unfair one at that.

In the eighth grade, a teacher of mine was going to throw out a whole box of damaged-beyond-repair or blighted books, but he offered to let me have a look through them first and keep whatever, if anything, I found interesting. I’ve always been a bibliophile and there’s something about throwing away books that just punches me right in the gut. I dove in and discovered a tiny little book, more oblong than the others and with a stylized picture of a lotus flower on the front. I can’t exactly recall the title, but it was something along the lines of, Buddha’s Instruction Book or Buddha’s Book of Proverbs that caught my eye. I liked it initially for its aesthetics, and put it into my bag. Score!

That evening, I read the entire book (admittedly quite easy considering each page had only one proverb printed on it and it couldn’t have been more than 40 pages in total). I was enthralled, and so began my fascination with Buddhism. The notion that liberation (not salvation) is the aim of life and that the individual can free themselves by observing, training, and accepting their own mind, was just as radical and exciting to me then as it is now years later. There are countless resources on-line where one can learn about the life and teachings of the Buddha, and I’ve never been one for proselytizing, so sharing the revelations on the mind that the Buddha taught is not the aim of this post. Rather, I want to talk about why despite my deep appreciation for, and connection to, this great spiritual tradition, I don’t consider myself a Buddhist.  Maybe there will be some others who can relate, maybe there will be some Buddhists who will be able to delve into my issues and offer something profound, maybe not. Maybe some of the things that keep me personally away from formally becoming a Buddhist, are purely individual and maybe even a bit silly! I’m okay with all of that.

First, I hate sitting on the floor. I’m not sure if anyone else has noticed this and thought anything of it, but Buddhists love sitting on the floor. They LOVE it! Every dharma talk I’ve ever been too, every meditation group I’ve visited (and there have been plenty), has taken place on the floor. Sure there are usually a couple of folks with mobility issues sitting in chairs, but you’d better believe the chair people always get put on the fringe. I didn’t grow up in a culture in which sitting on the floor was common beyond story-time at school. Floors are cold, often dirty, they vibrate when loud vehicles pass, and they’re generally not padded (although there are sometimes these meditation cushions one can use if one can figure out how to meditate while trying not to fall off of Mt. Cushion). Not a fan!

I also don’t like that everyone looks like they’re either at yoga class or popping out to the bodega to continue last night’s house party. Though I can live with and accept the proclivity for casual clothing in nearly every aspect of daily life, what I like about many mainstream Christian churches is that people still dress for the occasion. Clearly, the way one dresses is not important in terms of deep spiritual actualization, but bare feet and yoga pants put me off. The notion that one’s meditation practice is equivalent to going out for a jog around the block, or spending a comfy day in bed catching up on some sincerely fulfilling reading/Netflix, is simplistic and lazy. I need a sportswear-free zone to get into spirituality. When people do dress up, it’s often culturally inappropriate. It’s both annoying and insensitive for westerners to facsimile culturally specific clothing just to look like old-school, hardcore dharma bums! Once, I went to a zen meditation evening and one of the very welcoming, very middle-class, very white officiates was in a full on kimono! A for real, actual kimono! Done.

Like I mentioned, these are just a couple of my personal turn-offs concerning joining a Buddhist community. I’m sure I’m missing the point; that’s nothing new!  But, these sorts of details are important to me! My dream is that we can eventually blend our western culture and aesthetic influences into a form of Buddhism that contextualizes the teachings in a format and environment that makes sense to us. That was kind of what the Buddha was going for after all, right?

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