Elegy

(crossposted from Facebook)

Four people I knew killed themselves last year. At least.

Frances I knew as a dancer. I went to her memorial. I met her friends. They had nothing but amazing things to say about her. They said she always challenged them and herself to bring themselves fully into whatever was going on. I wish I’d gotten to know that side of her. All I ever saw was that she seemed distracted and a little sad when we danced.

Jonny I knew as a graduate student. He struck me as intense and intensely unsatisfied with not understanding things deeply. I knew that feel. As I started drifting away from grad school I saw him less and less, along with the other grad students. By the time I heard about his death, which was only a few weeks after I had decided to leave grad school, we hadn’t talked in over a year, maybe two.

Kathy I knew as an effective altruist. She was involved in drama I don’t have details on before she died, and she left a heartbreaking and controversial suicide note. She was clearly in a great deal of pain, and she clearly stood up strongly for what she believed in.

Maia I knew as a name on the internet. Under the name “Squirrel in Hell” she said many provocative things and told me once that I was right about something, which instantly endeared her to me forever. I thought of her as a kindred spirit, and looked forward to learning from her. I heard about her death (learning, at the same time, her gender and her name) thirdhand, and still have no direct evidence of it.

● ● ●

I have at once too much and too little to say. What is there to say to the dead? What is there that can be said?

Say, at least, to the dead: I’m sorry. I’m sorry it was hard. I’m sorry you were born into a body molded to a simpler shape than the world you found yourself in. A body that dreamt, softly, of flowers and rivers and lakes and prairies, of fire and love and the hunt, and meanwhile you were born into… a hospital.

A hospital. Did you know that the hospital used to separate you from your parents right after you came into the world, and put you all by yourself, where no one could touch you, for your protection? And though they fed you, you died, and you kept dying, and they didn’t know why? And that someone had to come along and tell them that maybe, just maybe, you were dying of loneliness?

(Did you shudder when you read those words? “Dying of loneliness”?)

Say, at least, to the dead: I’m sorry I never knew any of you. Not really. Not enough to tell your stories. Only enough to remember that you died, and that it was sad that you died.

Say, at least, to the dead: I’m grateful. There is a gift in death. The boundary between us and everything else thins slightly. There is an opportunity to let things in. There is an opportunity to sink back into our dreaming bodies, which have been waiting all the while for us.

(Death can cut like a knife through bullshit, if you let it.)

Say, at least, to the living: fuck. Fuck this. Towering infernos of fuck this. People our age aren’t supposed to fucking die. Not like this. What the fuck is wrong –

I have at once too much and too little to say.

Say, at least, to the living: the only place the dead can go is into the rest of us.

(Do you get it? That’s the only place the living can go, too.)

● ● ●

There is an art in leaving things unsaid. I hold my pose open. I sit in the question, trembling, my heart in my throat: how will you dance with this, and with me?

Unclogged

(crossposted from Facebook, very lightly edited)

I spent the last six days at the Emergent Leadership Training in Austin, and it did exactly what I was praying it would do: it got me “unclogged.”

This is what being unclogged is like for me, compared to being clogged up, in no particular order:

  • I can feel my chest and my stomach, and they’re relaxed. There’s less tension in my body overall.
  • My speaking voice resonates in my chest more. My singing voice is richer and sweeter.
  • I can do pull-ups.
  • I really want to talk to people and invite them to things.
  • It’s easier for me to be turned on and have sexual fantasies. My orgasms are more pleasurable, last longer, and have a more pleasant afterglow.
  • I feel much less tempted to aimlessly browse the internet, play video games, or watch TV.
  • Difficulties in my life are easier to think about. I flinch away from them less and have more productive and creative thoughts about what to do about them.
  • I tear up much more easily. Love feels more accessible, both giving and receiving.
  • I laugh more easily and more loudly. I make funnier jokes.
  • Dancing feels more natural.
  • My bodily needs – hunger, thirst, lack of exercise – are easier to notice and take care of. I feel more in my body generally.
  • My values – what I care about and stand up for in the world – are easier to access and act from.
  • I can write poetry.

I spent most of 2018 unclogged, and it was life-changing, but then I got clogged up again in September. Could you tell? That’s when I stopped writing these statuses. That’s when I stopped writing poetry.

The big warning sign was towards the end of November, when I noticed that I had stopped caring about anything. That meant I had gone numb to avoid feeling everything that was clogging me up. So I sat down to feel everything, and –

Pain. Fear. Grief. Shame. More pain. But it was stuck. I couldn’t move it. It just stayed there, hurting.

I noticed I hadn’t seen most of my friends in awhile. It felt scary to reach out. I reached out. I spent time with them. It helped. But there was still this ocean of emotion I couldn’t move.

Then I went to Austin for this training, and a lot of things happened. I screamed, loudly. I cried, loudly. I was held beautifully, in my screaming and crying, by everyone else there. (Thank you all for that.) Then we danced. And we sang. And we loved each other.

Halfway through a poem that had been half-formed in me finally finished coming out, and I felt comfortable posting it; that was a good sign. The ocean was finally moving.

And now I’m back. Hi, everyone. I missed you. More to come.

(crossposted from Facebook)

The problem is that the words die.
The problem is that the words die
and now I don’t know how to say
anything alive.
I want to talk about –
I can’t talk about –

listen, when I was six years old
I laid eyes on a little redheaded girl named Austin
and I fell, helplessly in –
and that was the first time I can remember
anything mattering at all, namely –

listen, the only reason I know how to sing
is because from that moment on I sang –
songs to myself every chance I got,
I poured everything I had into those songs,
I practiced them until they sounded exactly right,
until they reverberated with –

listen, once I went to the marina
and I saw a Korean couple getting married
and she asked me why I thought they were getting married
and I said I’ll tell you why I would get married
if I were them,
I said I may not know a lot but I know that –
is good, every version of me knows that –
is good, what it means to be me is to know that –
is good, and it took me three tries to say this
because I kept crying every time I said –

listen. I have been embarrassed.
I have been ashamed of my –
I once tried to toss it out the window because
it was hurting me and I wanted it to
go. Away.
I have been confused.
I have abandoned myself in –
I have broken myself against –
and I am still learning how to give myself –

listen. I have wanted –
in familiar labeled packages, I have wanted –
safe and comfortable and cloying,
and then I went out looking for –
and what I found was
the wild screaming vastness of
another human heart
afraid and in pain
bloody and open
beating
in time
with mine
for a moment
and there
were no words.

Birthday reflections

(crossposted from Facebook)

A very belated thank you to everyone for their birthday wishes last week! It’s taken awhile to write this because I’ve been preparing for my first experience with Burning Man. I am currently on the playa for build and I have cell phone service and most of my camp is sleeping so now’s as good a time as any for some words.

I am frankly embarrassed by how much better life has gotten since my last birthday. Friends I haven’t seen in awhile keep asking “how’ve you been?” and I keep responding “really, really ridiculously good” and meaning it.

I spent most of 2013 through 2016 feeling incredibly lonely after leaving behind the social support network I lucked into in college, and also numbing and distracting myself from how much this hurt because I didn’t know what else to do. In 2017 I went through a long process of undoing the numbing. It was very painful and I needed it. I got help from a lot of amazing people throughout this process. A very partial list: Leslie Grace, David Bollt, Booster Blake, Heather Higgins, Pete Michaud, Stephanie Zolayvar… thank you all.

2018 feels completely different. Something happened to me in February that I still don’t really understand, but the short version is that there was a kind of fear or anxiety or shame that had been holding me back the entire time I had been numb, and it lifted. I became free of it. And I finally started moving again, and I have not stopped.

I started talking. A lot. In a lot of ways. Facebook statuses. Conversations at workshops. I talked about my story, and what I’ve learned from it so far. And people have been listening. They’ve been resonating. They’ve been telling me about their own stories, which are surprisingly similar to mine. And we’re starting to notice, together, that we have a shared sense of how we can use what we’ve been learning to help people.

A lot of these people are coming to Burning Man.

I have some plans for how to get these people talking to each other, which I’m very excited about. I don’t know which of them will survive the desert, and I’m okay with that. I feel open to possibility. Anything can happen in 2018.

If you want to talk, I’m camping at Black Lotus Society, 7:30 and Bender. Look for the geodesic sphere. You might not find me, but you’ll probably find somebody. Or tell me where to find you!

Meant for your tribe

(crossposted from Facebook)

Oh. Maybe attachment bonds were never meant for just your parents and your romantic partners. Maybe they were meant for your tribe.

● ● ●

When I was 10 or so, I gave up on my parents ever loving me in the way I wanted, and I poured all of my desire for love (and attachment, although I didn’t have that word at the time) into my desire for romantic relationships. I nurtured a series of hopeless crushes until I fell in love for the first time at 17, with someone who loved me too, and I was deliriously happy. But none of my relationships, including that one, have lasted for longer than 4 1/2 months, and all of them except one have ended the same way: at the slightest indication that my partner was pulling away, I freaked out and got incredibly anxious, which caused my partner to pull away even more, etc.

I was lucky enough to fall into an amazing and supportive group of friends during college, but in my senior year, I was hit by both a miserable trainwreck of a breakup and the prospect of leaving all of my friends for grad school. I thought I would be fine. I was not fine. I didn’t date anyone or make any close friends for 4 years. I was hopelessly lonely and I couldn’t even acknowledge that fact for years, let alone do anything about it.

All of that is on my mind as I say: imagine what it’s like to live in a world where the only people in your tribe are your romantic partners. If you’re monogamous, that means your tribe at any time consists of either one or two people, until you have children. When you’re in a relationship, the prospect of that relationship ending is the prospect of your tribe – your entire world – being cut in half, the prospect of being left completely alone. Serial monogamy is your fragile little tribe constantly dying and being reformed. Anxious attachment is being terrified by the risk of being abandoned by your entire tribe, and avoidant attachment is giving up on needing a tribe because of how shitty this whole process is.

I don’t know how many people live in this world. It’s incredibly isolating – a world where the only people you allow into your heart, the only people who you touch or are touched by lovingly, are your partners, who might be there and might not, who come and then might also go.

Polyamory can help – at least you can get more than two people in your tribe that way. But if you’re still conflating attachment bonds with romantic / sexual connection, you still face the agony of the well-being of your tribe being dependent on the health of romantic / sexual connections that can and do sour.

Here is another world I’ve been seeing the possibility of increasingly clearly lately. The most important feature of this world is that you have a tribe to whom you’re securely attached. You love and support each other. You touch each other. You sing and dance together. And sometimes, some of you explore romantic / sexual connection with each other. And if that gets rocky – when someone gets anxious or avoidant or some other kind of triggered – the attachment that the people involved have with everyone else in the tribe acts as a stabilizing and calming force. If your attachment to your tribe is secure enough, the prospect of a partner leaving you maybe feels less like the end of the world.

(And sometimes, some of you have children, and those children are raised by a tribe of people who are lovingly stabilizing and calming each other, instead of being at the mercy of a fragile little tribe of two…)

It hurts to think about this world, and how far away from it most people are. There are so many forces pushing against it: high school friends going to different colleges, college friends taking jobs in different cities, friends moving into their own apartments, couples living by themselves, the crushing burdens of late-stage capitalism… and, among so many other things, some sense that it’s a little weird to allow your friends to matter to you as much as or more than your partners.

That one, I think, is a little easier to do something about than the rest.

So, can I suggest an experiment? Think about the ways in which you open up to your partners. Try opening up in those ways to your friends. Try letting them matter and seeing if they’ll let you matter too. Try playing with them and seeing if they’ll play with you too. Imagine what could be possible, together.

Performing desire

(crossposted from Facebook)

I started seeing a sex therapist last April, and it was one of the best decisions I ever made. I have a lot to say about that whole experience, but one thing that’s particularly come up for me lately in conversations is a session we did where we were cuddling and she asked me, playfully, “so what do you want to do?” and I had a clear experience of

  1. knowing the answer, which was “I actually just want to keep cuddling,”
  2. feeling embarrassed and a little ashamed of it, and
  3. noticing this and promoting it fully to conscious attention.

The narrative I absorbed growing up of what it meant to be a sexual man was that I was supposed to constantly want all these sexual things with women, and was supposed to just be waiting for yeses to immediately dive into doing all of them with gusto. But that has basically never been my experience. I also absorbed a narrative that men who expressed sexual desire were monsters, so I never felt safe even feeling sexual desire around women (as opposed to porn), let alone expressing it. My first clear experience of feeling sexual desire for a woman in front of me was a few months ago.

Before sex therapy, what I sometimes (often? I have no idea, honestly) did with partners was perform desire; touching them in ways that I thought would make them feel desired, because if I didn’t then they’d feel bad and I would have failed in my role as a loving partner. And it’s not that I didn’t know that this dynamic existed, but I only knew it as a thing that happened to women; I had never heard a man describe it happening to them. (Actually growing up I never heard a male friend describe any sexual problems whatsoever. It was just not something any of us ever talked about.)

Closely related, for me, is performing dominance. I have a history of being attracted to submissive women but having no idea how to dominate them because I had absorbed all these narratives around male dominance being toxic. The result, as far as I can tell, was that I faked it and I didn’t make it. I experimented with choking and hair pulling and none of it really felt like it was coming from a real place in me; I was doing it to make my partners happy and that’s about it. And based on conversations I’ve been having recently I’m not alone in this.

Anyway, I hereby consign all of this to the flames. I release performance and the narratives that give rise to it. There’s so much more richness and vulnerability and beauty available in the moment-to-moment dance of physical connection with another human being.

My sex therapist and I ended up cuddling for another 10 minutes or so and it felt great.

France

(crossposted from Facebook)

Awhile ago I asked you all how you felt about people sharing good things that happen to them on Facebook, because I was worried about it making other people feel bad. The general response I got was that people wanted me to feel like I could celebrate the good things in my life (and thank you for that!), especially if I didn’t try to hide the bad things. So here’s a good thing that happened to me:

● ● ●

Yesterday I got back from a 5-day party / festival at a castle in France, where I stayed in the fanciest room in the castle with two lovely friends. I had somewhere around 11 of the most beautiful and emotional experiences of my entire life (I wrote them down and counted) with some really incredible people. I talked a lot, about the things that matter the most to me, and people listened. Some of them cried. Some of them held me while I cried. I might’ve cried more in the last few days than I had in the previous 20 years.

I can’t remember the last time I felt this open in the heart and relaxed in the stomach. I feel very grateful and very energized. It was clear in France that all the work I’ve been doing on myself over the last year and a half has made a huge difference for me, and that’s really renewed my confidence in my sense of the gifts I have to offer.

● ● ●

I feel embarrassed about saying all that. I’m worried it will come across as… competitive? I’m nervous about participating in the social media game around talking about how good your life is and, y’know, posting photos from castles in France and so forth.

A lot of what I’ve been sharing on Facebook lately is my thoughts and feelings around topics like relationships, and that feels a lot better to me to share because I feel like I’m helping people see things in their own lives more clearly. I’m less sure whether this kind of sharing helps people and it has me feeling uncomfortable.

So, in the interest of not hiding the bad things, which feels better to me: a big part of my experience at this event was feeling intimidated by a lot of the attractive women there (a lot less intimidated than I would have been a year or two ago, but still). I could have tried to talk to them and get to know them and mostly didn’t because I was afraid they would dismiss me based on my physical appearance, which I’m still pretty insecure about, especially because there were also a lot of attractive men around. It’s hard for me to feel attractive as a kinda nerdy-looking asian guy with glasses in a sea of attractive white people.

One of the beautiful things that happened was that some lovely people ran an event called “Literally Blind Dating” where we were all blindfolded and ran through connection exercises involving talking and touching in pairs without knowing what anyone looked like. I ended up really connecting with one of the women I was paired with, and one of the other beautiful things that happened was that I cried a lot in her arms while she told me how beautiful l was. I cannot express how badly I needed that. I’m still getting teary-eyed thinking about it.

Okay, having said all that, I feel a lot better about sharing this now. I’d be very curious to hear feedback from all of you about all of that!