Tuesday, July 29, 2014

WILLIAM'S DOLL

A Picture Book

Written by Charlotte Zolotow

Illustrated by William Pène du Bois

(HarperCollins, 1972)

Full disclosure: I receive American Girl catalogs in the mail. They seem to come every six weeks. I can flip through the pages and dream of owning a football-sized doll. I can get Addy, “a courageous girl from the Civil War era” or a Bitty Baby in various skin, hair and eye colors. So many choices; it’s overwhelming.

I am not ashamed of my American Girl catalog; instead, I am amused. A few years ago, I went online and ordered one to help with a sitcom spec script. Unfortunately, the employed writers on “Modern Family” had a similar idea and ran with it. I proved I had a good sense of the show, but killed my spec. It seems nothing can kill my catalog “subscription.” At least I recycle responsibly.

To be honest, I’m uncomfortable with how much marketing goes into girls playing with dolls, even politically correct historical dolls. I’m sure they’re okay as part of a well-balanced toy chest. Barbie could even be there along with rubber snakes and a retro Etch A Sketch. Call me horribly biased, but I’d much rather see boys playing with dolls. And that’s why I’m blogging about William’s Doll.

This is a remarkable picture book, particularly considering it was published forty-two years ago by a major American publisher. As one can surmise from the title, William is a young boy who wants a doll. More than anything.

He wanted to hug it

and cradle it in his arms

and give it a bottle

and take it to the park

and push it in the swing

and bring it back home

Yes, all normal things one does with a doll. Normal things for a girl.

No doll for William. His brother dismisses the idea. “Don’t be a creep!” (Mild words. It’s a picture book, remember.)

The kid next door is more direct. “Sissy, sissy, sissy!”

William’s father takes corrective action. He teaches William basketball. William excels.

But William still wants a doll.

This leads to another intervention from his father.

William finally gets a doll. His grandmother proves to be the enlightened one.

I would have remembered this book had a teacher or librarian shared it with my class. Maybe I would have wanted a doll, too. (I played with animal figurines instead. It may have been odd but it wasn’t as flagrant a gender-role violation.) I only discovered this book as it was mentioned as a passing citation in a recent New York Times Book Review. I hope others noticed, too. And I am encouraged that I found the book on the shelf at the closest Los Angeles library branch. A few of the pages even show signs of use.

There are things I can pick apart about this book. I wish the doll hadn’t been blond-haired and blue-eyed. I don’t think the author needed to go out of her way to explain that William excelled at basketball. And the grandmother’s defense of the doll when talking to the father closes some doors that should have remained open. (“He needs it,” she said, “to hug and to cradle and to take to the park so that when he’s a father like you, he’ll know how to take care of his baby…”) Still, William’s Doll would have been ground-breaking in its time. Even now, it provides a wonderful springboard for discussion.

I may recycle catalogs, but I am going to track down a copy of William’s Doll. There’s a spot for it on one of the many shelves in my (principal’s) office. Right beside the Barrel of Monkeys.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

THE SOLO TRAVELER

Being single isn’t always a bad thing. In fact, I like my independence. I am reminded of the upside as I check my Facebook messages and my friend Susan fires off yet another SOS. She’s traveling for five weeks in Europe with her husband and another friend. It’s the end of week three and it seems like the end of a marriage and the friendship. Following the Tour de France in an RV must have sounded better as an Internet research exercise.

Travel can bring out the worst in people. There’s no set schedule. The setting is unfamiliar. And expectations don’t always jive with reality. My stomach churns as I read her messages. No one likes conflict. I try to acknowledge her feelings and offer encouragement. Selfishly, I sigh in relief, glad that I am the stay-behind housesitter and not another body crammed into that RV nightmare.

My own weekend began with an edge to it. Seems telemarketers from the East Coast forget that 9 a.m. in New York is 6 a.m. in L.A. It’s been that way for, well, let’s go with forever. Subtract three, people. But then, I assume telemarketing applicants aren’t put through a grueling math test as part of the hiring process. Phone? Check. Voice? Check. You’re hired!

It’s always telemarketers on Susan’s landline. I’d have muted the rings with a pillow over my head, but the dogs I am also tending long ago decided the phone’s ring is a cue to howl loud enough to sound like a pack of thirty coyotes. They’re quite convincing. I must not look the neighbors in the eye today.

After showering and walking and feeding the innocent looking dogs, I decided to get in Susan’s ultra-hip station wagon and take in my own travel adventure. Why not head south to Orange County? Anaheim. Not for Disneyland—that’s not the sort of destination for a soloist—but I’d read about a cool writers’ café in some area referred to as a promenade. Such places are always charming, right?

This wasn’t entirely a spur-of-the-moment, hide-from-the-neighbors excursion. I’d Google Mapped the route after reading about the café and a raw vegan restaurant in Sunset magazine. (Aside: Even with the eternal health craze in Southern California, going solo is the only way to go raw vegan. Hard to convince anyone that cooking carrots is just cruel.) I figured a weekend morning would be the best time to check things out. Less traffic while the locals forewent freeways to fit in yoga classes and farmers’ markets. According to Google Maps, it would take me forty minutes, forty-five tops.

But what’s a travel adventure without a few directional challenges? My Google Map directions proved to be faulty. I lost faith in the route when it neglected to mention a freeway in between the I-105 and CA-91. Somehow I guessed right, veering south onto the 605, but when my 40-minute drive exceeded an hour and I still hadn’t come across the exit sign for W. Lincoln Avenue, I pulled over.

Travel setback. Gone too far. Thankfully, there was no one to sound an early alarm and tell me to pull over to ask for directions. No one to silently seethe for being ignored in the passenger seat. No one to ultimately snap at for saying, “I told you you should have pulled over.” I simply pulled into a McDonalds, accessed the free WiFi and switched to Mapquest. I’d gone nine miles astray. I also discovered there is no Lincoln Avenue exit from CA-91. Google Maps had left off another freeway. Easy to do with so many of them in these parts. Nonetheless, dear Google Maps, I’ve deleted you from my Bookmarks. That was the extent of my aggression. No marriage, friendship or other relationship to repair. I am sure Google Maps will do just fine without me.

After ninety minutes, I finally arrived at my precious café. When I first walked in, I was disappointed. The place seemed small. Surely, I would not be able to settle in and write. Had there been a companion, I would have been heard the negative mumblings.

We drove all that way for this?!

I thought it, sure, but I calmly told my inner voice to shut up and wait in the car. And it did! I ordered the cold brew Stumptown coffee, perched myself on a shiny black stool and opened my laptop. You will write. You will soak up the inspiration. You will create something brilliant. Even if it’s only a paragraph. Or a word.

But then something happened. I tasted the cold brew and loved it. Truly! No false, pumped-up deception. I don’t know all the particular descriptors for coffee aromas and subtle hints of flavoring—this is when my brilliant word would come in handy—but it was a memorable drink. As I sucked down the beverage, I soaked in the décor. Open books suspended from the ceiling. Typewriters lining the built-in shelving. A lending library parked out front (on that charming promenade) in, of all things, a silver Airstream trailer. Now this is how to use a recreational vehicle!

The writing flowed. I ordered another coffee, this time an equally satisfying hot brew, called the Hairbender—I’ll spare you the barista’s explanation; it’s not that interesting. I sat contentedly on that teensy stool for nearly two hours. There was no one to say, “Aren’t you done yet?” No one made me shudder with, “Did you see that massive Walmart on the way here? Can we check that out?” And no one tsk-tsked when I decided to reward my writing productivity with disappointing Thai spring rolls at the vegan joint. (No one but that inner voice that apparently got bored in the car and returned with a bang-on “told you so.”)

I
made it back to my temporary home perfectly content with my morning travels. The neighbors hadn’t egged the house and the dogs hadn’t chewed up the phone cord.

I am replenished and ready to show more empathy when Susan fires off her next SOS message. I own this vacation and it feels great.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

THE PRIDE INSIDE

I’ve missed this year’s Pride parades. I am sure Toronto’s World Pride was incredible. (New and improved, no doubt. What will they call it next? Intergalactic Pride?) I was in Vancouver during L.A. Pride and I’ll be in L.A. during Vancouver’s upcoming big event. It’s okay. I don’t even have anything rainbow in my wardrobe.

Sorry.

But on Tuesday I went to an honorary Pride event: Lady Gaga in concert at L.A.’s Staple Center. As we were doing shots on Saturday night, Benny casually said, “You should go with us to Gaga.” My reflex response was “No thanks.” But that’s not what came out. Apparently I say yes when I’m liquored up. (It was only my first shot. Apparently I’m that easy.)

I do like Lady Gaga. I’m just not gaga for Gaga. My concert days are pretty much over. And I’ve never been one to pick the COOL shows. It’s probably because I got off to a bad start. Air Supply was my first concert. And I LOVED it! My last two concerts were this and this. So, really, it is amazing they let me through security on Tuesday night. Sometimes a short interview is a better screen than a metal detector.

Let’s back up though. The spectacle of a Gaga show begins hours before. As I sat through a dozen lights waiting to turn left to valet park at Benny’s building right across from the Staples Center, I got to enjoy the festive pedestrians who were, incidentally, ignoring those silly lights that we motorists tried to navigate through. Heck, even the naturally courteous ones were obstructing the flow of traffic. When you aren’t accustomed to walking more than three feet in platform high heels, traversing a wide street can be an arduous journey.

From what I could tell, not one of the high heeled and/or tutu-clad folks was in drag, but most of them had tagalong boys averaging nineteen years of age. In this safe pre-concert environment, the boys weren’t trying to pass as straight. Their mannerisms were freely effeminate, their smiles beaming. This is me! No filters! I was probably the same when I was their age as I excitedly rushed to get inside for the Barry Manilow concert. (See? I was never cool.)

We missed most of the pre-show people watching. (The shots bar is also conveniently within walking distance of Benny’s place.) We knew from the previous night’s concert that our Lady would not appear until around 10 p.m. The ultimate fashion diva must, of course, put her own spin on fashionably late. I’m guessing there are last-minute wig crises every night. In the fifteen minutes we had to wait, the gays were easy to spot, almost as common as teen girls wearing outfits their fathers could not have seen them in before they left the house. Lots of skin. Even fleshy rolls. Express yourself! Oh, wait. That comes my generation’s gay music icon. Glow sticks and glam predominated. (I donned a pink shirt. And purple shoes. That’s as Proud as I get.)

To be honest, the concert underwhelmed me. I know I’m not supposed to say that. Surely, it is a sin for a gay man to be meh-meh for Gaga. The choreography seemed haphazard—find your spot and wiggle in an outrageous costume. Too many of the songs were from Artpop, Gaga’s latest album which lacks the hits and the sizzle of The Fame or even Born This Way. (I get it. This is, after all, artRAVE: The ARTPOP Ball tour, but I think at least one of the first seven songs should have been a hit and “LoveGame” and “You and I” should not have been left off the set list.)

How I feel about the concert is irrelevant. It was never aimed at an old guy who can still contentedly pass an afternoon with “Lost in Love” playing in his head.

There were highlights. “Bad Romance” proved to be the most fun song of the night. And the most Prideful moment was, of course, “Born This Way.” Lady Gaga slowed the tune down and sang it at the piano with no dancers on stage. It showcased her strong vocals and made the lyrics more poignant.

Whether life's disabilities
Left you outcast, bullied, or teased
Rejoice and love yourself today
'cause baby you were born this way.

No matter gay, straight, or bi,
Lesbian, transgendered life,
I'm on the right track baby,
I was born to survive.
  

I’ll admit my eyes welled up. Here was a pop icon providing validation to the nineteen-year-old boys, many who are still working through their identity in these more enlightened times. She is their Madonna whose words reflect acceptance and embolden them to go forward.

Go, Gaga! Go, boys! “Applause” is in order after all. As we paraded out, how could I not feel the Pride?

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

THE FUTURE IS CALLING

The caller ID showed it was my mother. I let it go to voicemail. After all it was 9:30 a.m. and I was in the midst of writing in Santa Monica’s trendy Urth Caffé. This was no slight to Mom. I just could handle news about someone dying sitting in such a public setting. Yes, that’s where my mind went. I got that kind of doomsday thinking from none other than Dear Old Mom.

How could it be anything else? My parents only call on weekends. I don’t know if calling rates are still higher during prime weekday hours, but that’s been the established practice. Weekends or, if absolutely necessary, after 5 p.m. during the week. Who died?

When I stepped out to feed the meter, I listened to the message. Something about Homeland Security. She needed me to call. Oh, no. Was I added to the no-fly list? Back when my novel was published, I signed up for Google Alerts to let me know whenever my name was mentioned online. I was hoping to be linked to (glowing!) book reviews, but alas, my name is rather common and, as it turns out, people who share my name die a lot and commit terrible crimes. If I was banned from flying, it was a case of mistaken identity. I’m the author, not the murderer. We’d get things cleared up, but would that happen before my scheduled return flight to Canada? What a nuisance.

Obviously, the creative writing spark had been extinguished for the day. Summarily spit upon. I drove back to the place where I am house-sitting and called Mom. No roaming charges. They taught me to be telephonically responsible.

I was way off. Good thing, too. All the relatives were still alive (as far as we knew) and there didn’t seem to be any glitches to my flight plans. My writing may not have garnered raves, but it hadn’t led to a transportation ban.

So why the call? Why the mention of Homeland Security? Thirty-two months ago, I got my parents as American citizens to petition to sponsor me for a visa to move back to the U.S. It’s been a frustrating process. Not really a process because nothing had been processed. The Immigration Department’s website stated its goal of working through petitions within five months; however, the estimated wait time kept increasing—last I checked it was forty-seven months! (With that kind of gap, I think they should delete the goal from the site. Why accentuate poor performance?) Needless to say, I’d stopped obsessing over my chances of moving back. I’d stopped griping about the concrete, miles-high barrier that stopped a person who’d lived sixteen years in the U.S., gone to high school there, obtained two degrees there and been admitted to the California Bar from re-entry. Out of my control. Just like the entire TV setup at the place where I’m staying. Forget about it. Learn to live without.

“They’ve approved the petition,” my mother said. And then she went ahead and read the entire letter. All I heard was “approved” followed by “blah, blah, blah.” I got the part that mattered.

And so it begins. There is no guarantee of what is to come, but the visa process shall finally begin…within thirty days. Yes, a real process! I realize that the whole thing will take longer than I would care to speculate—let’s just go with a year or two—but I may have options about relocating. Not just dreamy, rueful notions but real options!

Return to Los Angeles?

As Tim said on the phone last night, “Sounds like you’ve got a special connection with the city.”

Yes, Tim. The guy I just started dating only weeks before my extended summer stay in L.A. The guy with whom I’d like a “special connection”. And, yes, that complicates everything.

But it’s still early. Lots can and will evolve in the months to come…regarding my visa status and regarding my dating status. A few months ago, I felt I had no options. In anything. I had no control. Nothing ahead of me. How strange to think I may have things to look forward to. There may be a conflict to come, but it is a luxury to have to a choice to make.

Let’s see how it all unfolds.

Monday, July 21, 2014

WHISKEY & A GO-GO

To my parents, I’ll always be fifteen. And to my dear L.A. friend, Benny, I’ll always be twenty-five. In most cases, it feels great when people think you haven’t aged at all. But sometimes it’s a hindrance. They associate you with a particular time in life and, along with lack of aging, comes lack of growth.

Benny and I were great friends, maybe even best friends, during the five years I called Los Angeles home. We became roommates, commuter mates, tennis partners and AIDS Project Los Angeles volunteers. But before all that, we were bar mates.

We met under false pretenses at Studio One, a large West Hollywood dance club. I stood alone, drink in hand, trying to look like I was having a good time. This was 1990, before we had hand-held devices to make being alone in public seem desirable. I had the choice of staring at the overly generous supply of ice cubes in what was ostensibly a rum and Coke or ogling the thong-clad go-go boys standing on block platforms. I chose ice. Benny fed me a lame line about being from out of town. As the eternally polite Canadian, I began to orientate him to the WeHo environs. Give me a safe topic and I can become chatty instead a shy, mumbling geek. It only took a few minutes before we realized he had just graduated from the university where I was attending law school. The truth came out. Benny was no stranger to West Hollywood.

What may have been a pickup line evolved into something far better. Right away, friendship seemed like the more obvious path. Instead of a one-night stand, we have a relationship that has lasted almost twenty-five years.

I laugh robustly whenever Benny and I get together. The frivolity is refreshing. But there is depth to the friendship as well. We shared crushes, anguished over breakups and grieved over Buddies who died from AIDS. We went through the Rodney King riots and the Northridge earthquake together. (At the time of the quake, my recent ex and Benny’s boyfriend both lived near the epicenter. We couldn’t reach them. In a panic, we rounded up groceries and drove to their houses, dropping off supplies.)

Despite all we’ve gone through, Benny still sees me as some sort of WeHo party boy. While living in L.A., our weekends began Thursday night and stretched through Sunday afternoon beer busts. For a while, all roads led to Rage. Or Micky’s. Or Revolver. Or Motherlode. Or Arena.

Or all of them.

Yes, it was fun. We’d dance and do laps at one establishment and then move on to the next. We’d talk in code about hot men we’d never dare approach. (It’s always nice to have a bar companion with completely different tastes in men. We never competed over hypothetical hookups.) There was a fair share of drinking, but I think Benny has a distorted recollection of that part. I slowly nursed a couple of drinks, primarily sucking on ice cubes. I knew when to stop. I never wanted to lose control. My hearty laughter, however, gave a different impression. People often thought I was plastered. I’ll have what he’s having. I just enjoyed celebrating a reprieve from law studies. And as our social group built over the course of the night, I was always the first to leave. I’d had my fun—the good, clean kind—but I knew I’d get depressed if I stuck around too long and let it sink in that I permeated a sexual invisibility. With drinks and dreamy men, I knew my limits.

I’ve seen Benny—and his husband—twice now on this summer stay in L.A. The agenda is what it always was: pre-drinks at a quiet bar followed by more drinks at the gay bars. The only thing that’s changed is someone at the first bar always offers us complimentary shots. Still the polite Canadian, I drink the whiskey and the vodka, knowing that my drive home has just been delayed.

Benny’s husband seems particularly amused by my shyness and my extreme pickiness in men. He sees how my laughter only goes so far. It becomes his mission to crack my uptight core. And how better to do that than by handing me dollar bills and imploring me to stuff them in a go-go boy’s Speedo, right?

Wrong. I am quick to fold my arms or shove my hands in my pockets. There is no way that’s going to happen.

“Why not?” he asks. I just shake my head and stare at my shoes. It would be positively Victorian of me to speak my mind: “It’s impure.” That’s the short answer. It’s prudish even in word choice. The longer essay involves my extreme dislike for go-go boys dating back to that perennial long-weekend era. All eyes on the gyrating thongs. How was I supposed to compete? Besides, I like something left to the imagination. I don’t wish to engage in the post-dollar drop-off interview: Did you see it? Feel it? Was it all him or stuffing? I’ve just started seeing a great guy. I don’t need this kind of play. 

Benny’s husband persists. He doesn’t know twenty-five-year-old me. While others fantasized over sex with the go-gos, I imagined grabbing Tanya Harding’s crowbar and knocking them all off their freakin’ pedestals. Go on, git. I came to this bar looking for love.

I suppose I’ve always been screwed up.

He brings a go-go boy to me. The go-go boy pouts. Surely he’s not used to working this hard for a measly buck. It is Benny or Benny’s husband or one of their newer friends who must feed the briefs. Probably what they wanted all along.   

I spend another hour and a half nursing a bottle of water. I block out thoughts about how environmentally wasteful it is to drink from plastic. For the moment, Mothers Against Drunk Driving provides the louder message. The whiskey must go. As must the next go-go that is ushered my way. Sometimes it sucks to be that eternally polite Canadian.

And twenty-five.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

BODY TALK

If you’ve got a gut, enjoy it. Appreciate all the food that got you there. You may cringe when you look in the mirror or maybe you don’t. Maybe you are perfectly comfortable the imperfection. Bravo! If you long for a better body, one like those buff “avi is me” pics on Twitter, know that the price can be too high for a slimmer you.

I have never before posted a shirtless photo of myself. Not my thing. Wouldn’t even send it privately to a boyfriend. My body and I have a longstanding hate-hate relationship. Still, I included this photo of me from this week because, while I can savagely pick it apart, this is as good as it gets. Maybe if I document it I can stop the madness. Been there, done that, movin’ on. Objectively, I know it’s not bad for forty-nine. I am acutely familiar with the natural belly inflation that occurs at this stage. I’ve fought it off, but it’s nothing to be proud about.

I’ve written about eating disorders before. (If you're so inclined, you might want to read this or this.) I have struggled with food and weight issues for most of my life—at least since I was eleven or twelve. Male or female, there is pressure to look perfect. I knew that in the ‘70s as a kid who sipped Tab while friends guzzled root beer to show off their belching prowess. They had their priorities right.

Women talk about the constant media exaltation of The Body Perfect. While they can’t fully ignore the pressure, they can sit together over skim lattés and talk about it. Men, not so much. Most guys would just laugh it off. What’s your problem, man? Have another beer. This leaves guys who are, for whatever reason, more susceptible to this pressure to internalize their feelings of inadequacy.

I’d be envious of these other guys—if I had any fondness for beer. (I say I don’t like the taste. Subconsciously, I probably formed a strong resistance to the beverage that spawned the term beer belly.) Pizza, ice cream, cheesecake, these would be my indulgences. I talk about them a lot. But it’s rare to catch me ingesting anything beyond nonfat cottage cheese, Melba toast and plain fruits and vegetables. I have maintained a strict diet for decades, typically with the same dull staples.

The only blip was a couple of years when my ex and I were together. I indulged and the relationship went sour. The sex stopped. He became terse, then abusive. Logically, I can say that the ten extra pounds around my waist—and that’s as extreme as it ever got—had nothing to do with the demise of a doomed relationship. But my nagging interior/inferior voice says, “Porking out couldn’t have helped.”

Oh, what a piece of work I am.

Things become most dire when I hit a time in life where things are out of control. I drastically reduce, I deprive and the weight drops. Fortunately, the last severe bout was about twenty years ago when I first moved to Vancouver, was underemployed and questioned whether the spontaneous move had been an act of pure stupidity. Friends intervened and insisted I see a doctor. He turned out to be clueless about eating disorders in men, but somehow my friends shook me up enough to get me to change course. I returned to never-ending dieting and wisely didn’t talk about calories or fat.

Last fall, as feelings of isolation escalated, I became especially critical of my rising gut. Despite the regular workouts and the dieting, the Pillsbury Doughboy always greeted me in the mirror. Next up: Little Buddha. “This is 50,” I told myself. Single, fat, lonely, hopeless.

When my dog Hoover died in April, I went into full deprivation mode. The grief was so intense and the guilt so great that food deprivation constituted both control and punishment. Whenever the grief lapsed, a general apathy stepped in. Why bother? With food or anything.

It took five days before I acknowledge I needed to be admitted to hospital. In the short term, it was the right thing, but I am still dealing with the aftermath. Nobody raves about hospital food. Especially not vegan hospital food. Plain bread, vegetable broth, half a canned pear. It made deprivation even easier. In the psych ward, everything was highly scheduled—all controlled by someone other than myself. Meals at 8, 12 and 5. Snacks at 2 and 8. I’m sure the intent is to help stabilize some people, but for me, it only intensified my desperation to exert control.

My eating does not get too drastic when I can exercise. I am fanatical about it. I over-exercise. I exercise when injured. In the hospital, confined to my ward, there was no jogging, no swimming, no cycling, no weightlifting. There was a Stairmaster that I would ride in my flimsy hospital bottoms and gown, but I worried too much about body odor. We weren’t given soap for the showers; only tiny gel packets that failed to do much of anything.

No one monitored my intake. The food trays went largely untouched. I hoarded soda crackers, instant decaf coffee packets and apples from snack time. When I felt dizzy, I’d slowly chew a Saltine or lie down and try (unsuccessfully) to sleep.

I lost twelve pounds in the first six days. They didn’t bother to weigh me after that. More troubling was where the loss occurred. In the mirror, my body was unrecognizable. After all those years of building muscle mass, all was gone.

 
Biceps gone. Pecs gone. Quads gone. Welcome to a new kind of hideous.

The transformation only made me care even less about living.

In the three months since being released, I’ve increased the intensity of my workouts. I’ve lost a few more pounds but I’ve regained strength. I don’t have near the bulk from before, especially in the chest. My tight t-shirts are now roomy. Still, my body gets noticed. Gay guys are openly complimentary. It’s foreign territory.

But I am an example of how unrealistic body images are in our society. Yes, I am forty-nine and I appear fit. But my food intake continues to be tightly controlled even more so than before I entered hospital. No more breakfasts. I’ve cut lunches in half, dinners by a third. I look healthy. It’s an utter deception.


Sunday, July 13, 2014

COMING OUT OF THE DARK

I’ve been having a streak of good luck of late.

Karma?

Good things happen (finally)…?

But I’m going dark with this post. There’s a backstory.

When I first started the blog, I swore that it would be an authentic portrayal of a single, middle-aged gay man living in a rural area. For all the tasty blackberries flourishing in my backyard, there are plenty of thorns. And so it is time to be completely honest.

I knew I was in trouble last August. I’d had a wonderful summer in L.A. I felt reconnected and reinvigorated. But I was all too aware that wouldn’t last. I hadn’t moved back to Los Angeles; only visited. As I’d taken my dog, Hoover, I had a long drive back to British Columbia to think about what the trip did and did not satisfy. It was dangerous to return to my ho-hum life and expect the happy hangover to stretch until the next summer vacation. While driving the I-5 through Washington, I pulled over at a rest area and typed out a survival plan of sorts—things I needed to keep doing, start doing and stop doing. It was a comprehensive document.

By October, the emptiness returned. I lived by rote. Hoover continued to bring me plenty of smiles and laughs each and every day, but there was no other source of fulfillment. I couldn’t entice friends to visit. And my writing seemed to stall. I’d slipped from Writer to Writer Wannabe. As an intensely high achiever, I’d accomplished nothing in any domain in recent years. Life had peaked.

By January, I decided I was done with life. The thought of another thirty years of nothingness seemed like an excruciating existence. As if to confirm my thoughts, my laptop crashed. I’d backed up nothing. Years of writing projects vanished. While I should have been an emotional wreck, I took two Tylenol and went to bed at 6 p.m. Done. The sham of being a writer was over.

I knew I would never leave before Hoover. I would not do that to him. And so, while I drafted and tweaked an elaborate suicide plan that would neatly leave no loose ends to burden others, I continued to savor life with eleven-year-old Hoover, knowing that we had about a thousand days left together. Hoover would allow me to buy time. Maybe I could turn things around, find a purpose for being.

Tragically, time with Hoover came up 910 days short. He died unexpectedly and traumatically in early April. I blame myself. The grief was intense, far beyond any typical loss-of-a-pet scenario. Truly, he was all I had. While dealing with grief, the suicide plan came to the forefront. The downward spiral went into freefall. I had myself committed. I spent nine days in hospital.

In many respects, that made things worse. My timing sucked. I was admitted on the Thursday preceding Canada’s longest holiday stint of the calendar year. I was basically in a holding pen through Good Friday, the weekend and Easter Monday. And that pen happened to be the Psychiatric Assessment Unit, a place for the most acute patients. All along, they assured me that I did not belong there, but they had no other beds available. With the long, long weekend, doctors weren’t releasing psych patients. There were also more appropriate clinics at other hospitals, but all had put out the No Vacancy shingle.

In PAU, I was the model patient. They weren’t having to call security to force me to take medications by injection. When required to, I engaged in pleasant conversations with other patients, never once veering into an unpredictable tirade, never even provoking such an episode in someone else. They never had to lock me in the windowless room and I didn’t fall into an hours-long rage, pounding and yelling, “I’m going to fucking kill you all!”

I just witnessed such things. Repeatedly.

I developed an anxiety I never had. I’d shake, my heart would seem to race and I failed to sleep even when I’d take one of the sleeping pills the nurses and fill-in doctors eagerly hawked.

I was not “treated” in any substantial way. I negotiated to have my admission changed from involuntary to voluntary and I checked out a week earlier than they’d wanted. I couldn’t bear the thought of going into another weekend with absolutely no medical intervention. Before I was released, a psychiatrist who had seen me twice for a total of twenty-five minutes spoke with confidence of The Plan “we’d” created. “What plan?” I asked. The all-encompassing plan involved a follow-up appointment with a new psychiatrist, my sixth.

Apparently most people do not plan as elaborately as I.

And yet I am still here. I am on an upswing. I am giving myself some time. I held on—sometimes just barely—until I could get back to L.A. This vacation once again offers a temporary reprieve from the monotony. I appreciate every minute of it.

On this visit, I’ve planned less. This needs to be more low-key. Frankly, I feel the edge. I don’t handle the daily nuisances so well. Even so, I know I am safe here.

That recent stroke of luck? Maybe it does have something to do with being a good person. I’m pretty sparing and dismissive of any kind of acknowledgment, but frankly, I don’t think I could have lived a more honorable life. Still, the luck may be of my own doing. I’m less reserved. I’m taking more chances. Why the f*#k not? What have I got to lose? I am not the same. My life has shifted. It needed to.

Now let’s see what I do with it.