Category Archives: compassion

Do Two Things

I’ve probably come to this conclusion before, so my apologies if this is tiresome.

I make the same mistake over and over again (what was that definition of madness, again?)—deciding either:

  1. …that I will somehow throw the neurochemical round-house punch to end all neurochemical round-house punches and knock my depression right TF out.
  2. …that I’m feeling much better and that, as a result, my depression is just about over and I’ll be fine any old minute now.
  3. …both.

Then I find myself flummoxed when I don’t magically turn into … well, not a normal person (as D always says, “Average was never the goal!”), but a not-depressed person … overnight, or when I overextend myself and just can’t even for the next five days.

As such, I’ve decided to adopt a motto that some might call “strategetic” and others might call “cowardly.” In short:

When all else fails, run away
And live to fight another day.

(Coincidentally, this exact phrasing is the motto of Daniel D’Aeve, a semi-cowardly knight [he doesn’t like loud noises, for one thing] and accidental pirate [he doesn’t like boats, either] and the semi-hero of a musical I’ll probably never finish, but who knows. Miracles do happen.)

I’m not going to wrestle my depression into submission. That’s not how this works.

 

 

not-how-this-works

Via teh Pinterest-Googs Nexus

If I keep engaging it head-on, this gorilla will always, always wrestle me into the ground. Depression is like … I don’t know, wrestling some kind of mutant alligator that has gained the ability to steal your strength and make it its own as long as you keep fighting. (I feel like there’s almost certainly a Japanese monster movie about this already, but if there isn’t, there should be.)

As such, I’ve decided to adopt a more conservative tack. I know that I’m too impulsive to entirely avoid wrestling the alligator—sometimes I don’t realize I’m doing so until the alligator is already doing death-rolls at the bottom of the pond—but I’m going to try not to, like, walk up and pick fights with the alligator … even if that means letting it live in my house for a while.

come-at-me

Even if it taunts me from my own ottoman, I will try to not to fight the alligator.

In other words, for a little while, I’m going to try not to do as much.

I’m not going to stop doing everything, of course, but I’m not going to push quite as hard for a bit.

Instead, I’m going to revert to the best strategy I’ve ever found for keeping myself afloat in the midst of one of my moderate-but-grinding depressions: Do Two Things.

Oddly, I thought I’d written a post about this strategy before, but I can’t* find it, so I’m writing it now.

*Which is to say, I ran a search, devoted exactly 30 seconds to looking
for it, and then I gave up because I realized that if I kept it up I’d
start reading old posts and never finish this one.

So, in case you’re wondering, here’s how it works.

First, you get depressed. This makes living seem like a tedious uphill grind, and causes you to write poems empathizing with Sisyphus, and generally makes every single little thing that you have to do in order to continue to remain semi-afloat seem like a hideous impossibility.

Second, you own up to the fact that you don’t want to do anything. You don’t feel up to doing anything. You drag yourself to class because some part of you dimly recognizes that things will only be worse in the long run if, on top of recovering from a depression, you also have to get yourself back in performing shape or auditioning shape or what have you in the span of 3.4 days somewhere down the line. But other than that you feel like you just can’t even.

Eventually, you begin to feel slightly better, and then you look around your house and you realize, Holy Hell, it looks like a tornado crashed through a paper mill, a diner, and a thrift store before chugging right through your door. And also the cat has somehow contrived to get maple syrup on his head (which he doesn’t mind in the least, but you do). And you are out of Kleenex.

Some part of you thinks, “I should do something about all this,” while the rest of you just gazes around at the chaos with the proverbial thousand-yard stare and no idea where to begin.

That’s where Do Two Things comes in. You tell yourself, “Okay. There is no way I can do all of this right now, so I’m just going to do two things today.”

Then you turn to the thing nearest thing—or the nearest thing that feels like you have some hope of accomplishing it—and you do that thing.

The whole strategy hinges on this one truth: that sometimes “Do The Dishes” counts as one thing, and sometimes, “I’m going to wash this one dish” does. Sometimes, getting out of bed counts as one thing, and sometimes completely unmaking the bed, rotating the mattress, and remaking the bed counts as one thing.

It doesn’t matter. You judge yourself by the standard of where you are now. You give yourself permission to wash this one dish and that one fork.

The funny thing is that usually once you get started—once you wash the One Dish—you’ll usually find yourself thinking, “Ah, well. I might as well wash this entire stack; it’s not going to take any longer, really, and I already have my gloves on.”

So often Doing Two Things turns into Cleaning the Kitchen—but you have to remember not to look at that fact too directly, or your motivation might catch your scent on the wind and bolt. Wild motivations are flighty like that.

In my worst depressions, sometimes my Two Things are as simple as getting out of bed to get a drink, then eating a bagel while I’m already up.

When I’m well into recovery, they may be as complex as making the dining room ready for company and re-organizing the closets.

Either way, I give myself permission to feel like if I’ve done my Two Things, then I have done enough for the day.

It is, of course, totally okay to do more than the Two Things. It is pretty much impossible to do less: even in the pit of the kind of depression that keeps you confined to your bed or the sofa, it’s fairly likely that you’ll have to use the bathroom at least twice on any given day. If you’ve been in that place, you’ll understand why that counts. You just start with whatever Two Things are in reach.

Do Two Things acts both as an accessible goal and as a limiter.

If I’m having the kind of day that starts with “I am going to wash this One Dish,” then I know that, no matter how significant an uptick I might feel, I probably shouldn’t tackle rearranging the closets (which always sounds like a good idea, but turns into a nightmare because D has lived in this house for 20 years and almost never gets rid of anything).

Even if Washing the One Dish turns into Washing the Dishes, the knowledge that the first of my two things began as “Wash the One Dish” keeps me mindful of the fact that I’m not yet fully recovered, and that I shouldn’t start burning tomorrow’s matches today.

So there we have it. For the time being, I’m going to Do Two Things. This will help me get through the current slog without overwhelming myself (at least, without overwhelming myself as often).

Anyway, I don’t know if this strategy will work as well for anyone else as it does for me, but feel free to try it if you want to. It’s also good for getting started when you just plain feel overwhelmed, whether you’re depressed or not (this is a key feature of Adulting with ADHD).

A Thing I’m Slowly Figuring Out

I tend to try maintain an aura of ebullient optimism.

I’m aware that I lead a relatively charmed life, in which I’m permitted by circumstance to pursue a fairly impractical set of goals, and to mention that I still struggle seems a bit like spitting right into the face of good fortune.

But I do still struggle, and I’m beginning to understand something, which is this: living a life in which I’m not forced to do work that grinds my soul to powder, in which the work I do is work that I enjoy, doesn’t alter the fact that my mental health is a little fragile and that history and genetics have conspired to place me on a narrow bridge that spans a yawning chasm.

Rather, the life I’m living acts as a kind of safety harness, so that when–not if–I go plummeting off my bridge, I can eventually climb back up, or at any rate be hauled back up by people who love me.

I am capable of periods of immense creative productivity, but they’re interspersed with periods in which merely surviving is still all I can do. Those periods of mere survival are made easier to bear by the knowledge that I won’t have to return, as soon as I’m barely able, to work that will inevitably accelerate the arrival of the next plunge off the bridge.

Because D carries the vast majority of the weight of the financial responsibility of keeping us afloat, I’m able to get up and walk along my bridge for long periods, when in the past I rarely made it beyond the clinging-and-crawling-along-the-edges phase before I slipped again.

I don’t make much money doing what I do, but I usually have enough energy left over to keep our house comfortable to live in and to cook good food.

~

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Tapeless Boys Live!

Sadly, I failed to realize the potential hilarity in recording a video of A-ha’s classic, “Take On Me,” with a small change in the lyrics (read: “Taaaaaaaaaape onnnnnnn meeeeeee [Tape … on me!]” etc) until this morning, after I’d peeled myself free of The Tape.

I suppose I’m overestimating my overall level of organization in assuming I could complete any such project, though.

Anyway, I know, I know: I said I was going to let it come off on its own.

D had his concerns, though, about leaving it on too long, and also once the little end bits started peeling themselves off I got antsy about it. They weren’t making me itch except when they were—always when it was least convenient to be furiously scratching an armpit. I trimmed them, and then I trimmed them a little more, and finally this morning I said, “Ah, feck the lot of yous,” to the remaining bits and peeled them right the heck off.

Anyway, things are looking good under the tape. The incision lines have remained very narrow; in many spots, I suspect that they’ll disappear completely over time.

I’ve known for a long time that I generally heal very well, for the most part, and my surgical incisions appear to be no exception to that rule. This, by the way, is a really strong argument of remaining as fit as you can if you have even the mildest form of Ehlers-Danlos: the better your blood supply and oxygenation, the better it’s going to be for your healing process no matter what, but that’s extra important when you have a disorder that affects collagen formation.

I chose a surgeon who has a ton of experience doing surgeries like mine–one who specializes in them, in fact–and who is known for his fastidious approach to suturing at all the necessary layers. Given that “hypermobility-type” EDS is less rare than the other types, and that he has literally done thousands of these surgeries, it’s a safe bet that he’s worked on someone with the same condition before.

He said to expect things to look a little ripply and wrinkly at first, but there are very few ripply spots.

Overall, I continue to be surprised by how good everything looks.

Anyway, here are a couple of shots from this morning:

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The left side is particularly clean, even though the incision is a good 2 cm longer. I suspect that the portion towards my arm will be invisible within a few months. It’s actually less visible IRL; for whatever reason, cameras tend to enhance the redness of these things. Also, I have no idea why I’m making my “What did you say to me?!” face here. In other news, this is what my pecs look like when I’m not flexing like an overwrought high school kid.

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My chest looks better than my eyes, which are hella puffy this morning because allergies. In this shot, you can see the only ripply spot (right at the inner end of the right-hand incision), and you can also tell that the spot right under my arm is a little puffy, which is pretty typical when you’ve had drains in and will persist for a bit.

You can see a couple of pale hypotrophic scars in the second picture (if you look closely, you can just pick barely out the related ones in the first shot)—those are really old, leftover from Things That Happened 😦 I have some elsewhere, too. They’re not the result of neat surgical wounds, but of untreated cuts (not self-inflicted)[1].

  1. I’m not sure how much of this I’m ever going to discuss here. Honestly, this blog isn’t about that, and I don’t want it to become one long Content Warning.

Anyway, one of the things I hadn’t anticipated as a result of this surgery was that a bunch of those scars would be gone, since they were in areas that wound up in the Extra Skin Department. They were from before the m00bs, so I suppose it never occurred to me to think about it?[2]

    1. The funny thing is that I was well aware that I would finally be rid of at least some of the stretch marks that resulted from the rapid development and equally-rapid diminution of the Moobs[3]. I worried that the remaining ones would wind up looking weird and truncated, but actually there are barely any and they’re effectively unnoticeable.
    2. …Aaaand, now that phrase is racketing around in my head as a parody of Poe’s “The Bells,” because it scans: “The tintinnabulation of the bells, bells, bells…” all too easily becomes “the rapid diminution of the moobs, moobs, moobs…” Feh. Apologies if that’s as terrible an earworm for you as it is for me.

Interestingly, this is the one place where my feelings about all this get a little complicated (or, as they say in The Book of Mormon (the musical): “Now’s the part of our story … that gets a little bit sa-a-aad…”).

It doesn’t in any way diminish my delight at the outcome of my procedure—not the least fraction of an iota, in fact. If I could go back and do it again, I would in a heartbeat.

What is weird is that I’m not sure how I feel about those scars being gone.

I’ve evolved the philosophical position that scars, in a way, represent history written into our skin. For me, looking at my scars doesn’t trigger bad memories or make me feel victimized or whatever; it reminds me that I survived; that I came through and sort of fought my way back to, like, life. (I say “sort of” because I’m not 100% sure “fought” is the right word; it implies an angry struggle, and not one of endurance. There have been angry moments, sure, but mostly it’s been a question of determination.)

There’s also the fact that I associate my scars very positively with one of the very first people who responded to my history with kindness and understanding instead of shock and attempts to evade discomfort by minimizing the flat-out badness of the stuff that happened. The first time my first boyfriend saw me shirtless, he touched the scars really gently and said, “Oh my G-d … who did this to you?”

For me, that moment was incredibly important: it was the moment that I first realized, really, that dealing with what happened to me in any really helpful way was even possible. (For what it’s worth, though, the scars he touched, that time, were the ones on my belly, which are still there and, barring anything really weird, always will be.)

That said, losing my scars isn’t the same as losing my history … and our bodies change all the time. There were many more cuts that never scarred in the first place, for one thing. Only the deepest ones left any trace, and even those have faded tremendously.

Anyway, I suppose there are a lot of people who would expect me to feel, like, “Yay! Fewer scars, especially ones associated with horrible things!”

But, in fact, that’s not how I feel, and I’m okay with not feeling that way. I guess having Feels about it took me by surprise: it hadn’t occurred to me to think about it before. In fact, I didn’t even think about it until I took the tape off and noticed the remnants of those scars. Chalk that up to trying really hard to just not look at myself in the mirror ever since the beginning of the Great Risperal Caper.

For what it’s worth, I’m also the kind of person who wouldn’t go back and change what happened to me (probably, anyway: it’s easy to say that, isn’t it, when we don’t actually have time travel yet). I wouldn’t go in for therapy that would erase the memories, either. Yes, it was bad. Really fucking bad, to be entirely honest. I am still dealing with the fallout and will probably never be done dealing with it.

BUT. It also made me a more humane, more compassionate person. It might, in fact, be one of the major reasons that I am not a much worse human being than I am. And it taught me, over the course of many years, to tap into a profound and quiet strength that I think probably belongs to us all as humans; to endure, to survive, and finally to shake off my shackles and begin to thrive.

So that’s that.

At any rate, I’m rather glad I took the tape off, because it seems that the adhesive has irritated my skin in a few spots. So chalk one point up to D, who has been gently hinting that maybe I should go ahead and peeeeeeeeeel it off (“Like a lliiiiiight switch! There—it’s gone!” ACK SOMEBODY PLEASE STOP THE SHOWTUNES).

Body of Work

I should be mowing the lawn, really, but I want to try to sketch out some thoughts first.

Yesterday was a good day for me, body-image wise. Today hasn’t started out as one.

There’s no rhyme or reason to it, as far as I can tell. Sometimes it changes, for better or worse, in the middle of things. It shifts on the fly.

I should note that this is progress. It used to be all bad, all the time, no matter what.

Then, for a while, it got weird: like, sometimes I could look at my body and think, “Yes, this is a good and functional and rather nice-looking purpose-specific kind of body, but it doesn’t look like my body.[1]”

  1. I don’t mean I think this on a rational level. I mean, really, on the level of instinctive identity perception, in the sense most disconnected from questions of philosophy, there’s just no there there. There’s no conscious analysis involved, just an unconscious, “Nope.”

How do I explain that concept? For me, I think part of it stems from some fundamental disconnect in the neural circuitry that drives identity-related connections. When I look in the mirror, I don’t feel any sense that I’m looking at myself, really.

I mean, rationally, I know that I am. But the circuit that says, “Ohai! That’s me!” doesn’t really seem to fire. (Sometimes this results in me staring into the mirror for a really long time, trying to figure things out.) I don’t know if this is anything at all like what many people experience, but a few conversations and a fair bit of reading have indicated to me that it’s kind of weird[2].

  1. Please note that “weird” is a word I use without any value judgment. I actually rather like it. To me, it just means “strange” or “unusual,” sometimes “uncanny,” but without the additional sense of “…and offensive or repugnant.”

If you’ve ever seen a recent picture of yourself in which you don’t actually recognize yourself until someone points out to you, “Hey, that’s you!”, that might be a similar phenomenon (though, really, I’m not sure).

Curiously, the effect is diminished in class when I observe myself in the mirror and correct myself accordingly.

Yup, it’s long, so here’s a more tag:
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The Evolved Self Eats Crappy Food (Sometimes)

I started to read this article by Benjamin Hardy on why most people will never be successful.

It caught my attention by leading with a negation of the equation “money=success”—a negation with which I concur.

A few lines further on, though,  this bit rolled in:

To be successful, you can’t continue being with low frequency people for long periods of time.

You can’t continue eating crappy food, regardless of your spouse’s or colleague’s food choices.

Your days must consistency(sic) be spent on high quality activities.

To which I say:

Shamelessly (and successfully) stolen from Know Your Meme.

The article in question goes on to prescribe a reasonably-okay definition of success centered on the verb balancing, but by then, Hardy had lost my buy-in.

Why?

Because success doesn’t necessarily mean never eating crappy food. Nor does it necessarily mean completely eschewing “low-frequency people” (whatever that means). Part of success is being able to roll with the punches (or, as autocorrupt appropriately suggests, “the lunches”)—to accept without judgment that the occasional bag of Doritos can be good for the soul, and that humility is a critical faculty.

Added a “More” tag because holy philibusters this is long.

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In Which Driving Is Surprisingly Exhausting 

I took a day off today — perhaps imprudently, perhaps not. I am an intensely driven person whose drive occasionally gives way to sheer, unrepentant laziness. 

Fortunately, that rarely lasts more than one day. Also, I suspect it may simply be the fatigue that visits itself upon me from time to time attempting to masquerade under a different name: if I call it laziness, I can pretend it’s a choice up until it really cripples me. Maybe taking the rest before it reaches that point is a better plan?

After all, sacrificing one day in order to save four or five makes sense to me.  It’s a more efficient way to reach what I’m driving at. 
That’s not what I’m talking about when I say that driving is exhausting, by the way — I mean sitting in the car for a day and a half, most of it at the wheel. 
They(1) say that the brain uses about 25% of the energy one takes in just doing its job. Given the relentless focus required to drive more than a thousand miles amongst apparently homi-and suicidal weekend travelers, I don’t doubt it. Seven hours behind the wheel makes me about seven times as tired as seven hours in the studio.

Anyway, today I woke up at 8:45 AM (All by myself! No alarm clock needed!), briefly considered hitting up Modern class, then essentially said, “Ah, frack it all,” and settled down to read.

This concerns me slightly, as if today’s scheduled class was ballet, I would have gone. As such, I’m questioning whether I shouldn’t just re-devote Mondays to ballet, which in turn makes me feel partly like a quitter and partly like perhaps re-narrowing my focus won’t kill me. At the end of the day, Modern is great, but Ballet is the thing that sets my hair on fire. Right now, budgetary constraints force me to choose between them. It’s not an easy choice. 

I opted not to invade the Monday morning ballet class for similar reasons — I guess it smacked of opting for the thing that you really want instead of the things you want less (Modern, rest) but which are good for you. Apparently my Inner Virtue Ethicist mistook ballet class for the Easy Way, and since said IVE values doing what is hard, perhaps it’s confused. I should remind it that ballet is quite hard enough, thank you very much.

In fact, now that I’m analyzing it to death, my inner conflict about this morning’s class, and the resulting decision, seems rather dumb. When ballet is the Thing You Do, how can it ever be wrong to go to class? But perhaps a rest day was, in fact, in order. The cat certainly approved. 

I plan to try Friday class instead, at the beastly hour of 9 AM, since this week I’ll have today and tomorrow as rest days.

Tonight we’re taking the truck up to Elizabethtown, so evening class isn’t an option.

In the long run, there’s a part of me that feels like it’s foolish to give up a ballet class once a week to take modern once a week. It’s difficult to make much progress on such a constricted schedule; meanwhile, I’m going like gangbusters in terms of ballet progress.

I feel like there’s a decision pending that I don’t want to make because it shouldn’t have to be an either/or thing, but will remain so until we get our finances really hammered out. I suppose I’ll talk to BB about about it on Wednesday. 

In other news, I just learned that a piece I submitted to a scholarly(2) anthology of autobiographical essays by queer athletes has been accepted! So that, at any rate, is quite exciting.  

  1. Whoever “they” are (weasel words!). Can’t recall who exactly and can’t be bothered to look it up right now; laziness pervades.
  2. I kid you not, Autocorrupt suggested “sparkly” in place of “scholarly.” Though, to be fair, I for one am at least as sparkly as I am scholarly. 

Touching Back on a Point About Bipolar

Recently, another blogger linked to my post, “Bipolar As Unexpected Gift?”

I haven’t read the linked post yet; I’m not in a great place for dealing with controversy (of which there may not be any).

That said, there are a couple of points that I think are really missed in my post — for a couple of reasons.

First, I didn’t invest a great deal of clarity in them, because the post in question was never meant to be anything but a reflection on a very surprising experience of mine (that of finding that there were good outcomes in my life — especially my marriage — that stem from the effects of Bipolar disorder on my decisions and experiences).

Second, the title is unfortunately close to the kind of thing that apparently gets out there a lot — happy-clappy New Age bull about accepting and making the most of mental illness or whatever cross one bears in life; seeing it as a gift and not as a tragedy.

I wasn’t aware of those articles when I wrote my post.

Anyway, the points in question are these:

First, when I used the word “as” in the title, I didn’t mean “as only” — quite the opposite. I had been struggling with a lot of bitterness; a lot of pain about the things Bipolar had taken from me. I can’t remember now what led me to realize that there were also things it had given to me. So the word “as” in the title doesn’t mean “as this and nothing else.” Not at all. It means “as this, surprisingly enough, along with all the other stuff it is.”

Western culture likes things to be black and white, either or: thus, if any one of us points out a way in which Bipolar has been beneficial, there are many outside the Bipolar community who will choose to see only that. “If it can ever be good, it can’t be bad, right?”

But that’s not how life works. Sometimes an ocean of bad manages to bring along with it a teaspoon of good. No, the good doesn’t invalidate the bad — not by any means. But neither does the bad invalidate the good — and hanging on to the good is one of my survival strategies.

Which brings me to the second point I rather failed to address back then: in this battle, there’s no One True Way. My experience with Bipolar Disorder is, by necessity, different from yours, and yours from mine. What works for me might not work for you.

So when I comment on the surprising experience of finding that there are good things in my life that wouldn’t have been without Bipolar Disorder, know that I don’t expect you to feel the same, or judge you in any way for however you do feel (okay, full honesty: if you regard your Bipolar Disorder as an unequivocal good and insist that others should do the same, I’m going to at very least shoot you a long, stern, professorial look with bristly eyebrows — feel how you feel, but don’t tell other people how they should feel; that is so not cool).

So there you have it.

I don’t see Bipolar as only or even as mostly a gift, and however you see your Bipolar, I honor that, too.

Those People

After my last foray to Wednesday class, I stopped for lunch (also breakfast, because I Failed to Plan that day) at the nearby Burger King where I like to dine after class because I am, by my very nature, a contrarian weirdo, or something like that*.

*That said, my usual meal is either a Spicy Chicken Jr. or a Whopper Jr. paired with a small order of french fries and a sugar-free drink — sometimes tea, sometimes diet soda, because they have one of those snazzy soda machines that allow you to concoct your own flavor, like Raspberry-Lime Diet Coke, or Cherry-Peach Sprite Zero. In short, this is not the picture of giant-hamburger American excess one might imagine.

At the table right beside mine, two older gentlemen were talking about “those people.”

“Those people,” the gentleman beside me pronounced as I settled into my seat, “have no sense of responsibility.”

In this case, Those People happened to be gay people — the speaker went on to recall a man who’d been a communicant at his church for years and years before coming out, ditching his family (evidently in a rather dickish and unloving way), moving to Florida (land of cranky retired dentists and tropical excess, I guess?), and getting into trouble with drugs and alcohol.

Right then, I found myself wishing that I was both more gregarious and less bound by the Yankee convention which insists that it’s poor form to horn in on the conversations of strangers, because I would have liked to break in with, “So would you say that no heterosexual man in your church has ever done the same thing?”

Because I’m not a betting man (or a betting mystif, or a betting … whatever), but I would bet on that — because while it’s a dick move to leave your family in the lurch (particularly in a culture that worships the idea of the nuclear family in the way that American culture does), and also a dick move to buy up all the property in Florida before I get a chance (yes, I’m joking … kind of), these are things that people of all sexual orientations, from all walks of life, do on a regular basis — and especially men**.

**Especially men (and especially-especially white, nominally-Christian, hetero, cisgender men), for whom the social consequences in American culture are far, far lighter than they are for women who leave their families or, for example, transpeople of either gender who do anything, but especially leave their families.

Here’s the thing.

I’m sure countless heterosexual men have left their wives and children, moved to Florida, and developed substance-use problems — but, when that happens, almost nobody attempts to tar all heterosexual men with that brush.

Almost nobody ever implies that white, heterosexual, nominally-Christian, cisgendered men who behave that way do it just because they’re white, heterosexual, nominally-Christian, cisgendered men.

Instead, people mostly conclude — correctly, I think — that white, heterosexual, nominally-Christian, cisgendered men who act that way do so because they’re jerks.

~

Recently, there has been a spate of scandals involving right-wing Evangelical men who have similarly been giant, hypocritical dicks to everyone, but especially to women.

The knee-jerk cultural reaction has been to roll our eyes about Those People; to tar all Evangelicals with the “You’re A Scummy Jerk” brush (note to self: must make “You’re A Scummy Jerk” brush for Photoshop).

And while I might disagree with the American Evangelical culture as a whole upon a great, great many things, I think actually branding them all as jerks is a bridge too far.

Yes: there are elements within the culture itself that are pretty questionable; that perhaps abet the behavior of some of these guys.

But there are many good and decent people — even many good and decent men — within that culture, too — and many of those good and decent people try to actively discourage ass-hattery.

Moreover, as far as abetting posterior*** millinery goes, the more mainstream secular culture is hardly guiltless, here — the culture of the mainstream also abets misogynistic bullshit.

***Or is it asinine millinery? Brits! We need your help! In the UK, are they ass-hats, or arse-hats? ‘Murkin lacks the distinction.

It just does abets in different ways: some subtler, some less subtle, not all less hypocritical (virgin-whore complex, much?).

However, when someone from the mainstream culture acts like a dick, we agree that he is a dick and we move on (even, oftentimes, when we really should cast some of the blame on mainstream culture itself).

When someone from a minority (even someone from the way-out, Quiver-filling Christian Patriarchy minority within the Evangelical minority) acts like a dick, though, we point to it as proof that all men (or women, or what have you) from that culture are dicks.

And that’s just dumb. In fact, it’s kind of a dick move.

Some gay guys are dicks who handle coming out in the worst possible way and make stupid decisions afterwards.

Some Evangelical guys are dicks who prey on women and girls (and/or boys and men, for that matter).

Some plain old regular heterosexual guys are also dicks who do all the same stuff.

Some Muslims are cretins who clearly don’t understand the Q’uran; some Buddhists are jackwagons who miss the whole point of the Buddha’s teachings; some Atheists are overweening jerks who think they’re smarter than everyone else.

But it’s not because they’re gay, or men, or Evangelicals, or Muslims, or Buddhists, or Atheists.

It’s because they’re jerks.

This is further evidenced by the fact that they continue being jerks after they change religions, come out of the closet, declare themselves Pansexual, or what have you: unless, of course, the new group’s ethical tenets actually inspire them to shape the frack up — maybe they adopt the practice of Right Speech, or start adhering to the Campsite Rule, for example.

Jerks who are also Those People are not jerks because they’re Those People … unless when we say Those People we mean Jackwagons of all stripes, in which case, I guess, bring it on.

Jerks are jerks because they’re jerks, no matter what the excuse****.

****This isn’t to say that cultural issues don’t enable the hell out of jerks, or that jerks can’t be reformed. They (cultural issues) do and they (jerks — well, most of them) can. If we ignore cultural issues, we indirectly enable burgeoning jerks and excuse their posterior millinery; meanwhile, if we believe that jerks can’t be reformed, we essentially give them a pass to go on being jerks because, in short, they can’t help it. So, basically, we can and should address cultural wellsprings of oppression (WITHOUT BEING JERKS OURSELVES, okay?), and we should kick jerks in their jerky faces and send them to De-Jerkification Camp … or, you know, use the Power of Example; the Power of Clear, Potent, Quiet, Withering Disapproval; and Our Grown-Up Words to encourage them to be better people. Because most jerks are not actually sociopaths, and people who are not actually sociopaths respond well to Withering Disapproval. Oh, and also to encouragement.

~

I write this because this experience was, in a word, enlightening for me: I found myself suddenly confronted with one of my own prejudices — my unexplored willingness***** to accept on face value the premise that the Evangelical dudes currently all over the newsmedia are jerks not because they’re jerks, but because they’re Those People.

*****You probably know that feeling: “Of course he did [X stupid thing,] he’s a [Y]!” … the one where you have to stop and ask yourself, “If I replaced [Y] with ‘Black person,’ would I still feel like it was okay to think that?”

To be fair, there is a degree of understandable “pride goeth before the fall” sentiment involved: when you set yourself (and your culture) up as a public arbiter of morality, then flout that morality and get caught, people can perhaps be expected to be a little smug about it.

By the same function, we also tend to be a little smug when we’re nine and our ten-year-old cousins declare that they can jump higher than we can because they’re bigger, and then fall on their big stupid faces when they try. All humans are jerks, sometimes, though mostly to a lesser degree than Jerks Who Make The News For Being Jerks.

What can’t be excused is a culture that claims to judge individuals on their own merits, not on the basis of which group they belong to (whether it’s an ethnic group, a sexual-orientation group, a religious group, or what have you), and then decides that it’s okay to make an exception for a certain group******.

******Even here, I guess, there are a few exceptions: when a group defines itself specifically by hating another group or groups and doing harm to people who fall into that group or groups, and that’s specifically part of the mission statement of the hate group, then, yeah, we can kind of conclude that Bob committed or participated in the commission of X atrocity because he’s a member of X Hate Group. Group dynamics can get really hairy at that level. That’s a Post For Another Time, but probably also for someone else’s blog.

In short, frankly, that’s exactly what those of us in the minorities-usually-recognized-as-oppressed have been battling.

We want to be understood as simply people, not as Those People.

We want to go about our lives like everyone else, and when our fellow Not-Those-People-Oppressed-Minority-Members do stupid, butt-faced, jacktastic things, we don’t want everyone else to say, “Well, that’s just how Those People are.”

Because we’re not.

And they’re not.

And you’re not.

~

This is about the most political post I think I’ve ever written here, so I think I’m going to stop for now.

Please understand that I’m not condoning the actions of any of the people in question — not those of the guys on the news, nor those of the gentlemen at the table next to mine at Burger King, nor even my own.

Nor do I think, as I touched on above, that there aren’t some serious cultural issues at play in many minority cultures. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wrung my hands in despair over the number of gay guys that buy into what can be a pretty heartless, dehumanizing meat market niche within the queer universe and treat each-other like crap; I can’t tell you how deeply I believe that no culture should abet the abuse of women, children, elderly people, people with disabilities, or … well, really anyone, but especially anyone in a position of reduced power.

When the so-called strong harm those weaker than themselves, they demonstrate that they are not really strong, but simply bullies (and, as such, not just jerks, but pathetic jerks).

As for gay dudes having no sense of responsibility … I invite anyone who thinks that to chat with my husband for an hour.

The man is pretty much convinced that he is single-handedly responsible for the safety and fulfillment of the known and unknown universe.

Maybe you could convince him to put just a bit of that down?

A Few Things I Try Not To Say To My Friend Who Has Cancer

There are a lot of things that people say all the time to people who are fighting life-threatening illnesses.

They’re how we express our empathy as fellow humans; how we try to express our solidarity, our support, our “being-there-for-you-ness.”

Most of them are great — but some of them, when I really think about it, seem a little problematic.

Not that I’m judging you if you use them: frankly, in the heat of the moment, we tend to say whatever we can, and it’s really hard to come up with something to say that’s supportive. Worse, a lot of the phrases in question are basically the major elements in our cultural tool-kit of go-to things to say to people when they’re struggling.

Still, I think it might be useful if I write about what I try not to say and why. Of course, feel free to disagree with me (or agree with me, that’s cool, too!) in the comments.

Here we go:

What I Try Not To Say:
I know you’re going to beat this!

Why I Try Not To Say It:
In short, I don’t know that.

A couple years back, a long-time friend of Denis’ was diagnosed with what looked, at first, like a pretty uncomplicated lung cancer. His prognosis was very good. After the usual course of radiation and chemo, he went in for surgery to remove the tumors … and that’s where everything fell apart.

It turned out that his body was riddled with cancerous tumors; tumors that hadn’t shown up on the various imaging studies that had been done up to that point. The tumors in question happened to be of the same density as the organs they had invaded. They were stealth tumors.

Those stealth tumors killed Denis’ friend.

With cancer, as with so many things, nothing is certain — and if I tell someone I know they’re going to beat it, and they discover that, actually, they aren’t, it can leave them feeling like they’re letting me down. They don’t need that.

I never want my friend who has cancer to feel like he’s letting me down. He’s not. He didn’t ask for cancer, and even if he had some kind of habit (like smoking) that amounts to asking for it … well, people do stupid things all the time. That doesn’t mean they deserve cancer. Cancer sucks.

What I Try Not To Say:
Stay strong!

Why I Try Not To Say It:
It’s okay to be weak. Sometimes, it’s even necessary.

I’ve noticed that the hardest thing for people who are seriously ill to do is to just put everything down for a little while and take a breather.

People who are seriously ill often feel like they owe it to everyone around them to hold it together.

I’m not advocating turning into a navel-gazing blubfest — though I’d actually say that it’s fine and healthy to do that at times! — but when you’re battling cancer, or heart disease, or severe major depression, or whatever, you’ve already got a lot on your plate.

Sometimes, the best thing you can do for yourself is the sort of thing we perceive as weak.

Sometimes, you need to stop being responsible for a while and literally lie down in bed so your body and/or your mind can do their thing and try to heal as best they can.

Sometimes, it’s even good for the people around you to step up and take over some of the stuff you would normally do. It lets them feel like they’re doing something to help, even though they can’t wave their magic wands and make your cancer go away.

We live in a culture that devalues weakness. What we don’t always realize that it’s when others are weak that we have an opportunity to lift them up — and any good personal trainer can tell you that lifting makes you stronger.

So by lifting others in their times of weakness, we strengthen ourselves: so we should try to be less afraid of others’ weakness … and less afraid of our own. When we let someone lift us up, we’re doing them a favor, too.

What I Try Not To Say:
Everything’s going to be okay!

Why I Try Not To Say It:
Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t.

It could be that everything will turn out fine, and that the experience of living with and/or through cancer becomes a kind of emotional touchstone.

It could be that everything won’t turn out fine. A struggle with cancer, even when cancer loses, can leave scars and tear families apart. A struggle with cancer that ends in death is hard for everyone who loves the person who dies, and while some of those people will come out just fine, others might not. We don’t really understand a lot about the underpinnings of human resilience, yet.

So maybe everything will be okay, and maybe it won’t — and, either way, I want my friend who has cancer to know that I’m going to be there. That I’m not going to judge him or anyone else if everything doesn’t turn out just fine. That I’m going to love him either way as a brother-of-the-road, a fellow fitness fanatic, another human being, and a general all-around funny and awesome guy who was dealt a crappy hand.

I’m sure there are other problematic phrases out there in our cultural lexicon. I can’t seem to think of them right now.

Sometimes, though, when I need to find something to say to someone who’s hurting, I find one of these phrases slipping from my tongue (or my fingertips).

In the end, that’s okay, too: once again, as humans, we make mistakes and we do stupid things.

So, yeah. If you’re that guy from time to time who says stuff like this, don’t be too hard on yourself.

And if you’re that guy who has cancer, don’t be too hard on yourself.

At the end of the day, we’re all in this together.

And that, in fact, might be something worth saying to your friend who has cancer.

“We’re here. We’re in this with you. Together.”

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