The following online journal entries are from July 2004.
SATURDAY. 11:00 AM. Goodbye, Brando...
MONDAY. 12:19 PM. Hungover. That's me. Not horribly so, but definitely in the "sluggish" and "leave me in peace" mode.
I am very tired. But my solar stimulated brain doesn't like to sleep in when the sun is out. I will probably try to take a nap later this afternoon.
The past week has been pretty busy. Big orientation days at work. Last week of summer session. Annotated bibliography and take-home final exam. Freelance work. Cleaning up the house. Working on some writing.
It's a little strange not having a ton of reading to do. Class is over, and I'm a little sad. I really enjoyed the class, the material, and the professor. It was a good five weeks. But I'm not going to miss the homework. I don't mind reading, going to class, and discussing stuff. The pressure of writing papers and such is just too much sometimes. Fortunately, both my final assignments are done. I just have to turn them in tomorrow -- a whole day early, in fact. Yeah, yeah, I'm an over-achiever, but I really just like having things cleared off my plate.
I did manage to be social this weekend, which is something I truly needed. Most of my immediate circle of friends (mainly the gaming crowd) went down to North Carolina to visit Rob and Dana for the holiday weekend. I wasn't up for spending four or five days down there. There were a ton of people going, and I didn't feel like wrangling for crash space. And I just wasn't feeling the whole group thing. I wanted (and have been wanting) to spend some time in my own space, to look up some other friends, and to do things I haven't done in a while like go into the city, go out to a bar.
Last Friday night, I headed into the city to Nicole and Dana's new house. I hadn't seen them since last semester. They have been holding monthly salons to talk about different topics and issues. This was the first one I could attend. Their house is amazing. It's right near Dupont. It's beautiful. I'm totally jealous of their ability to suss out great places to live. The salon itself was interesting. There were about ten people. We had some good food; Nicole and Dana BBQed and graciously supplied some wonderful sides. I brought a watermelon. Then we all sat in the living room and talked about the night's theme: feminism. It was a good discussion, though a little tense and intense at times. Overall, intriguing and interesting. I realized that I understood a lot more theory than I thought. The salon itself lasted about two hours, and then it just became a little party. I got to catch up with Nicole. And I got to see and catch up with Nancy.
Last night, I went into the city again. This time I took the metro in since I knew it was going to be crazy to drive into DC on the night of the Fourth of July. I forgot how much I like the metro and how much it reminds me of the SF BART. It made me reminisce about San Francisco. I went over to Nancy's apartment. We hung out, talked, had a couple of drinks. And then we cabbed over to DC9 (1940 9th Street NW @ U), an interesting bar and music/lounge/club-space, for a special July 4 Taint, a self-described alternative night for queer boys and girls. On the way over, we spied some fireworks going on all around the city and at the Mall. The day had been pretty thunderstormy and soaking wet, but it dried up enough that people were out and about. I am not a big July 4th person. I'd much rather do something else. So, why not go to a queer alternative night to celebrate the birth of the nation? What better way is there to say I'm proud to be an American than that?
It was a fun night. Nancy was there, her friends were there, even Jess came down to meet up. There were lots of people. A great mixed crowd. Though, there seemed to be a whole lot more "mainstreamers" for an ostensibly "alternative" night -- whatever those categories mean, really. But I saw a lot of baseball caps and A&F. All in all, fun. I drank entirely too much. I danced a whole lot. It got super hot and super sweaty in the joint. There were a bunch of cute indie boys and girls, though. Alas, for all of my big talk that night I didn't score at all. People liked the mohawk though. I met a bunch of people from online, which was cool, and who recognized me from this very website. I had a good time. I ducked out right at the end of the night. Jess walked me to the metro. I caught the last train back to College Park. I was so claustrophobic by the end of the night, I needed to get out into the open night air. I had some friendly chats with people waiting in the train station and on the train. I met a guy and his friend from San Francisco, actually. We talked about the Mission district and about living in The City. Eventually, I made it home.
Now, here I am, hungover. The day's been really low-key. The weather's hot and balmy. I'm thinking I might retreat into the air-conditioning of my bedroom and sleep or read for fun.
THURSDAY. 7:17 AM. Happy birthday to Lauren! She's the best. I hope she has a great, great day!
THURSDAY. 7:01 PM. Today is turning into one of those days -- one of those days you just want to wait out because the next day has to be better, different.
Insert aside: I have been thinking about changing the layout of my pages. I have also been thinking about taking on the domain name www.writerpunk.com since it is currently available. But the notion has got me thinking about what moniker I want to be known by five years down the road. I haven't come to any conclusions. It's part of the reason my current domain is simply my name -- I couldn't decide back then either. But the revamp has got me thinking how little actually commentary I have been making as of late. The day-to-day stuff is fine, but I used to like to mix things up with a few on-the-fly essays about this, that, or the other thing. So much of my thoughts have been internal, directed elsewhere, or just plain ignored. I cannot help but thinking that I have been censoring more and more. It might be that I'm finally becoming a more private person, my desire to wear my heart on my sleeve is waning, and I want people to know me for more than just my rants or whines or blahs. Maybe I've just lost my sense of exigence or my sense of audience.
Today is a rant day. Today is a whine day. Today is a blah day.
I have been feeling particularly disconnected as of late. It's a condition that is no stranger to me, and I kvetch about it now and then. I've talked about it at length in the past, over the years, and in more than just a few entries. But there's something different. I can feel it. I am ready to go home.
Melodramatic as that may sound, I can't help but think of all of the books I read over the past six weeks for my summer readings course. In so much of twentieth century American literature, the theme of home stands out as one of the most interrogated ideas. I quote from my ENGL621 final exam:
"Finally, the theme of home is a vital part of the 20th century American literary tradition. America is undoubtedly a young nation that has seen its share of trials, conflicts, victories, and changes in the short time it has been conceived of as a country. But what does it mean to be the United States? Can such a place, made up of so many different cities, regions, communities, be truly united? What does it mean to realize that America is a nation of immigrants? A nation founded upon the displacement of native peoples? The answers to these questions can be found in the discussion and imagining of home. Winesburg, Ohio and The Great Gatsby and Garcia Girls all deal with the idea of leaving home. In Our Time and Howl and Ceremony and A Gesture Life all deal with homelessness, of not being truly at home. All of the texts, particularly Dogeaters, evoke a desire to find home, to achieve the mythic home, and the costs of the struggle to find a home. The theme of home is further spun out with the onset of American colonization, the struggles of post-colonization, and the negotiation of ex-colonization. Immigrant American (even Native American) writers must map their stories on to more than just one place, more than just one language, more than just nationality, and many times on to bodies and faces that are just as miscegenated. Home, then, becomes a constant shuttling between here and there, then and now, old family and new life, and often between old wounds and healing as played out in the lives of Nick Adams, the Four Sisters, Doc Hata, and Tayo. "
I feel like I am stuck. Not exactly homeless. Not exactly at home. Since my mother passed away (an incredible eleven years ago), I think Maryland and this area has really lost its sense of home. As the years passed, after my father remarried, and now years later with nothing more than a tentative tie to the physical, geographical places where I grew up, the idea of this area as my home has faded further.
When I moved to San Francisco, I was new to a totally new place, a totally new city. And, I admit, it was not home either. It took a very long time for me to grow into San Francisco. And eventually it became home to an extent. I learned so much there about myself, my life, and my world. But all the while I was enjoying the streets, the sun, the ocean, the people, the color, the food, the new friends, I was missing my old home, my old friends.
So I moved back to Maryland. The circumstances of my choice to return are still unsorted. I know that I made the best decision I could make at that time. But I can only affect the present moment I have right now. I have been back in Maryland for over two years and will be for at least another while I finish school. But is this place my home? Have I been able to re-establish roots here?
Memory and nostalgia are decidedly potent and narcotic powers. In the years after my mother's death and the literal fragmentation of my family, I could only remember what it was like to have a home; I could only imagine and long for the sense of home I had lost. And while I was haunted by my mother's death and the death of a home now mythic, I could not find new ways to create home. The same could be said of my time in San Francisco. While I was in The City, I was exhilarated, enchanted, and at times exhausted by my changed life. But homesickness -- the memory and nostalgia of a different, distant, and departed home -- sometimes clouded everything. I can only imagine that if I had the courage and the conviction to let go of my soft-focused ideas about the home I left, I would have had the courage and the conviction to stay in San Francisco, to make the city work. And now years later I find myself missing the city, hating the suburbs, and wishing that I had made different choices. So, do I choose to let go of The City so that I can be at peace here? How do I find the place that is the right place, the right home? Is it even possible to let go of the past completely, to exorcise the ghosts?
I don't know if I have any exact answers. I don't know if I need them. I do know that life, my life, has been about some pretty cruel juxtapositions, antitheses. I believe that you don't really truly understand what home is until you've lost your home. Maybe the realization comes after your family's first move or after going away to college or sleep away camp? Maybe the realization comes after a divorce or the death of a loved one or a cataclysmic disaster. Maybe the realization comes after witnessing, empathizing with someone going through it. The loss of home ultimately defines home. But it is definitely more than the material, physical loss of home. The moment your mind, body, and spirit registers the psychic snap, like a change in barometric pressure, like a sudden pressure on your chest or behind your eyes, the loss of home puts into stark reality, sharp relief the idea of home. Alas, once you realize that you have home, it's gone. And after that Tree of Knowledge moment, you can never truly achieve the ideal again. Memory is always mythic. As they say, you can never go home again.
Maybe I'll end up living out my life like Doc Hata at the end of Chang-rae Lee's A Gesture Life:
"Let me simply bear my flesh, and blood, and bones. I will fly a flag. Tomorrow, when this house is alive and full, I will be outside looking in. I will be already on a walk someplace, in this town or the next or one five thousand miles away. I will circle round and arrive again. Come almost home."
Come almost home. Come almost home. It's a phrase that rings true for me right now. It is a bittersweet thing home. Not entirely wrong. Not ever completely right. Just is. Just is. I think I can live with that. I know I can live with that. And I think I have to figure out what homes to leave behind, to keep in memory, but not to tether me.
So much of this place, understatedly called Maryland, keeps me tied up in knots. The memories are thick here. The history is long and deep. The trees, streets, grass, buildings, waters, and skies are magnetic. And ultimately there is blood here, bone here, dust here. But I cannot help but feel like I'm becoming more and more of a stranger here, moving to the borders, on the outside looking in. So I know my work. I know the knots that need to be untied, loosened. I have to figure out how to say goodbye to all the ghosts.
But now down to brass tacks: One cause of all this heartache is the disconnection I mentioned earlier, specifically a disconnection from my support system, my friends, my family. Every day, every week I feel myself being shifted aside, pushed to the margins, relegated to place and time dictated by occasion, necessity, and chance. Rules of engagement I cannot adequately influence much less control. My father is incommunicado again and has been for the last month or so. My sister is about to leave this country (much less my immediate life) for a year. And my friends don't need me in their lives. I don't say that to make them sound like their cackling, rubbing their hands, and plotting to forget me; they simply have very different expectations and needs from our friendship. I know they care about me, I know they love me, but they do not require me to be in their lives. A distinction that is lost on many whose lives are filled already by those things coveted by our culture and our mythology as required: partner, child, god, job.
As I've said before, I cannot compete with marriages, babies, houses, and jobs. I know I don't need to compete -- it's not a competition -- if it were, I'd always lose. But it feels like I need to compete. It feels like for me to get any mic time or face time or even a nod or assent, I have to find new and flashier ways to get attention, to feel involved.
I have to say that I am uncertain how to deal with this disconnection. Do I let it run its course? Do I bring it up? I fear sounding too emotional, too needy, too co-dependent. But these are emotional, needy, and co-dependent times for me. What more can I say that hasn't already been said? How do I challenge millenia of the-way-it's-always-been-done? Does it even do any good to point up the myth, the heteronormative, the privilege? I think part of me just wants to make sure that I get a chance to express myself, that I am actually heard, and that some of what I have to say and feel is recognized. I know the circuits of my life will find other ways to connect, other ways to redefine relationships and friendships. Until then, though, I am vulnerable and need as much care, respect, attention, and thought as anyone else. My troubles, my concerns may not be the same as yours, but they are no less pertinent, no less poignant.
I am uncertain about my future. I am uncertain about more than just home. I want to talk about the craziness of school or work or students. I want to commiserate about not having someone, of not dating, of not being on a single date for years, of not having sex for years. I want to go places, watch movies, see shows, read books, do things that are comfortable to me and might be just a little uncomfortable for others (instead of always the other way around). I want to be gay. I want to be gay in spite of the crap going on in this country and around the world. I want to be gay as much, as often, as welcomed as my heterosexual friends get to be straight. I want to love. I want to be healthy. I want to lose weight and not feel fucking scared that even if I do guys still won't like me. I want to fix up the rest of my house, sell off the house, move out of the house. I want to play and game and do more than just play and game. I want to talk about how closing down shop on Archaea has really hurt me. I need to get out, meet new people, make new friends, expand my circle. I need to shout and laugh and scream and cry. And with all of it, through all of it, I have to know I am heard, acknowledged, and there must be a response.
A measure of a good home, a true home, a possible home is the frequency, breadth, and depth of the responses, the reciprocation. A home cannot be empty. A home cannot be silent (though it certainly can be quiet). A home cannot be lonely.
SUNDAY. 9:01 AM. The US Senate is to begin deliberations on the Federal Marriage Amendment (FMA) this week and to vote on whether to pass the Amendment on. Whether LGBT or not, whether married or not, whether religious or not, this is an issue that will ultimately (negatively) affect everyone's citizenship: it can be couched in all of the rights -- right to choose, civil rights, right to love, right to marry or not, partnership rights, equal rights. In the end, the FMA is a step in the wrong direction. Help me and millions others guarantee a quality of life, a standard of citizenship, a grounded equality that many already take for granted.
Do one or more of the following. Do at least one. For me, for you, for someone halfway across the country. Most of the stuff gathered here is national in scope, but some of it is focused on the Maryland/DC/Virginia area -- there are resources for all parts of the nation.
SEND OR SIGN OR SPEAK OUT
Tell Your Senators to Oppose the FMA
Take Action to Oppose the Federal Marriage Amendment
Million for Marriage Petition
Send a Free FAX or Email via ACLU
Send a message via Working Assets
Contact Your Senators Directly, Tell Them to Oppose the FMA
Write a Letter Supporting Marriage Equality to the Editor of Your Local
Newspaper (tips from the HRC and Lambda Legal)
Rally in Washington, D.C.
Lambda Legal Marriage Project: Get Involved
Margaret Cho's Marriage Equality Website
GLAAD Marriage Equality for Same-Sex Couples Resource Kit
HRC's Reasons Against the FMA
HRC's Why Civil Unions Aren't Enough
American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on the FMA
Don't Amend website
Marriage Equality website
Soulforce Interfaith Movement website
REGISTER TO VOTE:
Register, if you haven't, or update your information:
FRIDAY. 9:21 AM. Sitting here listening to Dashboard Confessional's "Vindicated." So emo. The band and me. Something about the song and its ilk that just speak to me. I guess that's the whole point of music, of art in general. To find a place, a kindred, an empathy. And there's just something about the music that seems at once earnest, full of vigor as well as sad and tired. Kind of like me.
I am selfish, I am wrong
This past week has just wiped me out. Maybe I'm working too hard and playing too hard. Maybe I'm thinking too hard, feeling to hard. Something has got me all jazzed and all exhausted at the same time. Passion fatigue, I guess. I've been focusing a lot of my time, energy, and attention on doing my own thing. I cannot afford to be distracted by other people's problems. But the effort is effort and ultimately tiring.
I have not been sleeping particularly well. Actually, my sleeping self has been quiet active. I have been having anxiety dreams, which I rarely remember by the time I wake up completely. I have been moving a lot while I sleep, which isn't usual. I wake up now and find myself completely turned around or dangling off the edge of the bed or wrapped up in my sheets. Distress in sleep is always an one-to-one correlation to distress in waking life for me.
Work has been pretty taxing. I still very much like going into the office. I like my job. I like my co-workers. I like advising students (no matter how frustrating and ill-prepared they can be). But three orientation days a week, eight hour days, and marathon advising sessions wipe me out. I suppose that work stress is part of my dis-ease.
Thankfully, I don't have any classes at the moment. I'm taking the second summer session off from coursework. But I do have to thinking about the coming semester. I do have grad school related work to start on. The Society for Literature and Science conference is months away, but the work on my presentation and paper needs to start; I have to submit an abstract as soon as possible. In addition, I contacted my myth professor about my independent study on J.R.R. Tolkien this coming fall. She sent me a list of ten or so titles to start reading. I still have to find a topic for a seminar-length paper. I have to get on that, too. Finally, I am planning on re-vamping my English 101 syllabus and course design. I need to update it, change it, make it fresh for myself since this is going to be the umpteenth time I've taught the class. Fortunately, I am going to get to teach a section of UNIV100 (The University and the Student) for Letters and Sciences in the fall. It's not a very challenging or involved class, but it is something different and new. All of it means more stress, anticipatory stress.
So what's left?
Nothing but my own problems. Difficulties, maybe. Issues? I'm not sure really. There are moments -- possibly the product of way too much education, not enough drugs or sex or rock-and-roll, or some sort of postmodern, MTV, self-help, dissociative enlightenment -- when I realize that everything, everything, everything is utterly pointless, meaningless, useless. Unless there is context. Unless there is connection. Unless there is trust. Everyone is so busy trying to be the center of the universe -- myself included -- that when we get caught in or get trapped in one another's gravity wells, our orbits crashing together, we realize we're not alone and the person with the biggest mass, biggest rings, biggest satellites, biggest cataclysms wins. I have no idea where this metaphor is going. All I know is that part of the secret of life is making the supreme effort to follow the advice of Copernicus and realize that though we are all integral parts of the universe, we are not its only and most important denizen.
I have noticed a increasing loss of empathy in the world. Oh, there may be oodles of sympathy. But there's something distinctly distancing in sympathy. I can say, "I can sympathize. I can try to understand how you feel. I know what you mean because I've had a similar experience." But sympathy implies a separateness of feeling and understanding. You have your feelings. I have mine. And though they may be similar, though they might be analogous, they are not the same. Empathy requires the proverbial walking in someone else's shoes. Empathy requires imagining yourself as the other person. Empathy requires the willingness to suspend your own center-of-the-universeness and attempt to look at the cosmos from a very different, often marginal perspective. I wonder if all the pop culture's lingo and hocus-pocus about boundaries and selffulness hasn't had an unintentional result. We have made a shift from empathy to the far more protective and politically-correct sympathy. Is empathy necessarily boundary-less and self-less?
I go on and on about this idea of the difference between empathy and sympathy because I am trying to figure out if I've given in to the hard candy shell of paying my sympathies rather than really trying to connect, relate, and understand others. I am also trying to figure out how to express to people around me, my friends or students or family or strangers on the street, how they can better connect to, relate to, and understand me (and by extension one another).
Part of all this existentialism comes out of several conversations I've had with friends in the past couple of weeks. On the one hand, it seems that there are number of my social circle who do not like me, take umbrage at my philosophies, do not care for what I write on my website, do not agree with my perceptions of them, or simply think I am a bitter, conceited, irresponsible, insensitive asshole. On the other hand, there are number of my social circle who like my company, who agree with my politics, who participate in the very same ramblings, ruminations, and critiques as I do, who think I'm kind, courteous, friendly, fun, smart, cute, and who try to understand before judging, who ask questions, who call me on something that doesn't fly right. Personally, I hope there are more people in the latter category than the first. There is a small few that shuttle among the different territories of thought.
What is true? I don't know. I'm sure it's all true to some extent. Here is where context, connection, and trust come strongly into play. Here is where empathy, beyond sympathy, is necessary. I do have a gut feeling that those that find me problematic, difficult, assholish probably have little sympathy and empathy for me. But we're not all meant to get along, I reckon. But I figure that if there's a problem, hands would be raised, questions asked, and conversations initiated. I had a conversation online with Skinner last week about some of my recent posts railing against suburbia, heteronormativity, and everything frustrating in my life. In my life. It seems he (and others) have taken what I've been going on about personally as if I were specifically critiquing him, condemning him. But I did my best to explain that my target was not him, but a much larger, grossly universalized, internalized, and naturalized problem. My frustrations are targeted against assumptions made by the dominant culture at large. My hope is that things will change, that I can be a better person, that my friends and my world can recognize that there are inequalities, injustices, and full-on consequences to assumptions about gender, race, class, education, ability, nation, and so on.
An excerpt follows:
Overall, I think a positive conversation and a step in the right direction. The conversation needs to continue thought and not just with those immediately willing and curious. Going over it now, I do realize that there were things I didn't get a chance to say. One of the difficulties of spur of the moment. And there were questions that Skinner asked that I didn't answer adequately. But the future holds more discussion, I hope. In the meantime, I collected and posted some resources on heteronormativity, which I hope people will look at and find interesting. (I might as well collect stuff together. I figure it might be a good unit to do in my classes.) The last two weeks have been pretty deep. And that's been okay. Again, I've been trying to do my own thing. It is at times lonely, but I am rediscovering things I enjoy. Last week, I went to an anti-Federal Marriage Amendment rally in DC. I went with my co-worker Ranetta. We took the metro, ran into some other UM people, and met some nice folks at the rally. It was a small event, but there was spirit. The whole trip and experience was positive and reminded me of my work in the mid-90s at Maryland and of life in San Francisco. I need to reconnect with my activist work and get back into the community. The movement, the community, and the cause needs all the voices and bodies it can muster. Last weekend, I went to my first Guerilla Queer Bar. I think GQB started in San Francisco, actually. Basically, it's one night a month where a bunch of queers and their friends take over a traditionally straight bar in the city -- read all about it. Last week was The Big Hunt (1345 Connecticut Avenue) in Dupont circle. I had a great time. Shawn, Christine, Jesse, Ryan, and Tina all joined me. I drank, chatted, flirted, befriended all sorts of people, and ran into a number of folks on Friendster. I will endeavor to be at the next GQB in August.
July is almost over. Crazy. I am going to give myself the rest of the month to just relax, take some time off, and just keep things mellow. I need to learn to relax more. I think the lack of busy-ness is part of what's got me stressed out. But life is definitely changing for me. I just hope that the changes are good ones, helpful ones. I am additionally stressed out by the fact that my sister is leaving the country for a year next week. Alenda leaves for her Fulbright fellowship in Taiwan next Friday. Super-crazy. I am going to really miss her and having her around for support and company. But I know this is what she really wants to do. I hope she has a great, great experience and comes back safe, sound, wiser.
I've just got too much going on in my brain and heart. But this is life, isn't it?
© 2004 Edmond Y. Chang. All original material. All rights reserved.
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