Training Wheels and Language Learning

It’s all just language. Eventually you learn it or you abandon it. Blogging, writing, photographing, running, swimming – whatever you’d like to name – is just a language that you learn with time. Often through mistakes and lots of wasted time. With patience, you can become fluent in anything.

This isn’t a new truth. But sometimes I think there’s an important difference between knowledge and understanding; you can know a fact without truly understanding or experiencing it. I feel I’ve understood that I can pursue whatever I’d like and that, whatever it is, I’ll get it with time.

Lately, I’ve spent an ungodly amount of time with Microsoft SharePoint and Excel. I’m in the process of teaching it to a coworker and I can see the gears turning in her head. Sometimes she gets frustrated at formulas or remembering where a particular tool is but, with patience, she’s learned a lot.

I suppose the same is true with my experience with Adobe Photoshop. When I started, my photographs were always colorized neon and I used too many filters. As time progressed, I learned subtleties. Photoshop became a language I learned to speak and I dove in and out of the rules. Choosing what brush to use and when to use it. Sure, others could reach a similar end product to mine, but the way we reached it was entirely our own.

The things that you find challenging now will, mostly likely, become easier with time. If you choose to stick with them, they could become second nature. It’s often not a matter of resource or wealth, but a meaningful persistence or patience.

My focus now is on orienting myself in directions I want to explore. I’m pursuing meditation. I’d like to become more of a blogging conversationalist and focus on writing. I recently took up swimming again (it’s been 6 years). Lots of reading, too.

This post wasn’t meant to be much more than a gentle shrug or encouragement towards whatever you’d like to pursue. Find something you’re interested in and start walking in that direction, don’t worry about skill or beauty, it’ll come with time. Training wheels, in fact, help kids learn to ride bikes. Don’t worry if you have to use them to start, or if you’ve been using them a long time, eventually you’ll get where you’re going.

The Importance of Variety in LGBT Media

I sit watching the movie “Akron” again for the second time in the last 24 hours. Last night was the first time I watched it and it felt right to put it back on. It wasn’t a fantastic movie, I’ll admit, but I appreciated it for its deviance from traditional LGBT media.

The main characters, Benny and Christopher, are both openly gay. The story spends no time explaining questions about their sexuality and no conflict arises due to their sexualities. They don’t experience discrimination or difficulties while they kiss in public or hold hands.

Often times, LGBT movies focus solely on the character sexuality and only depict the difficulties they experience due to their sexuality. While looking for background information on “Akron”, I found a post by Tumblr user “navigaero”, who classified three kinds of LGBT movies:

“Tier 1 – the conflict comes directly from the fact that the protagonist is gay and is struggling with coming out to their friends and family (example: Love, Simon)

Tier 2 – while some conflict arises due to the fact that the protagonist is gay, most of it comes from some other problem in the story; usually, the protagonist has already come out before the story starts (example: The Song of Achilles)

Tier 3 – absolutely none of the conflict comes from the fact that the protagonist is gay; while the protagonist’s sexual orientation isn’t ignored, none of it contributes to any of the conflict in the story (example: Akron)”

These classifications, while simplistic, can help us evaluate queer media.

A review I read on “Akron” condemned the movie for oversimplifying the day-to-day life of queer people. By avoiding conflicts due to character sexuality, it avoided confronting many of the very real issues that queer people face today.

But I don’t think all LGBT movies need to tackle social rights issues or conflicts due to identity. While many of us are still exploring our identity and experience difficulties in our daily lives, it’s okay for media to focus on other topics. In “Akron”, honesty and family support were more relevant topics. And that’s okay.

We need a variety of LGBT media and “Akron” is part of that.

Another review I read, classified the movie as fluff – being light and pleasant, but of no deeper value. While the first half of the movie was very “happy-go-lucky”, the movie explored questions about forgiveness and honesty. In focusing on these, it neglected other topics like hispanic representation.

I don’t want to come across as ignoring deeper society issues – we have a lot of media on social problems – but sometimes I just want to watch a “happy-go-lucky” queer movie. When I’m feeling blue, I flip on movies like “Jongens (Boys)” or “Shelter” because I don’t always want to confront big social issues. I want to watch two dudes being romantic and not have to worry about their sexuality.

There’ll probably be a post to follow. Hope y’all had a great weekend!


Under the Bodhi Tree

This year off social media has been great. Sometimes I like to think of it as a long fast. During the beginning, I thought that after the year was finished, I would leave social media more permanently. As time has progressed, I feel that I’ll return to social media but with a different mindset.

Part of that mindset is how I view social media. It feels almost like a sort of candy. Something pleasurable and delicious but will upset the stomach if ingested uncontrollably. I suppose the point isn’t really control though, it’s more about awareness.

Social media is built to be addictive. It’s designed to make you ingest more and more of it. It notifies you when someone likes your content. It reminds you of birthdays. It suggests friends and what it thinks you’ll like. It connects you with others – that, after all, is why most of us use it.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with social media to me. It’s candy – sweet, delicious, of little nutritional value, filled with a lot of fluff – though I often crave it and ingest too much of it. If used in the right way, it can lead to meaningful connection. At it’s worst, it alienates and degrades connection.

I’m not here to rail too much on social media. After all, I’m writing on a blog. Society has benefitted greatly from social technologies. I’ve been able to connect with friends all over the world and stay in touch with family as I’ve moved around the country.

But sometimes I feel eccentric and want to run away to the mountains. A little hut with a simple diet and a lot of meditation. Just more escapism, I suppose.

Unfortunately, I don’t have a hut or a mountain to live on. And I have a job to pay bills and to keep the cat fed. Running away to the mountains isn’t really an option and maybe that isn’t a bad thing. But I still want to do something. Call it a “project-within-a-project”. Now is the time – now now now.

Although I don’t use any accounts, I still browse the web. Most of the web is a variety of social media. So the “Going Dark” project wasn’t really aimed at getting completely off social media, it was focused on minimizing ingestion of content. I don’t have a Facebook or Snapchat or Instagram – but I do use YouTube and I still look at porn. Like I said, I still use the web and the web is almost completely a myriad of social media.

For the next month, I want to focus on a sort of modern asceticism. Not the starving-oneself, but more of a fasting-to-focus-on-myself. I’m going to focus on these three values:

  1. Awareness
    • An hour of meditation upon waking and before heading to bed
  2. Health
    • Daily exercise, whether it be a short walk or a long run
  3. Simplicity
    • I’ll go vegetarian for the month and reduce my diet to simple grains and vegetables
    • I will reduce to no added sweeteners, spices, or coffee
    • No pornography, or well, sex (self, or otherwise) (NOBNOM revival anyone?)
    • No music, movies, TV, video games, or visiting Last.FM for the month

These goals may seem peculiar or like nonsense but I really feel the need to try something new. I’ve been having a lot go on in my life and, when I grieve, I have a tendency to reach for the candy.

I won’t go into each item specifically (this is a long enough post) but maybe I’ll hit on them if someone leaves a question below or if it tickles my fancy for a future post. Hope all is well for y’all and here’s to some good old fasting.

Under the Bodhi Tree 0/30 days

Ikkyu without a Mouth

Last night, I ran across the work of Zen Master Ikkyū. He was a notable figure in zen in the 1300s because of his unorthodox behavior. He was controversial and often obscene. I won’t pretend to have a comprehensive understanding of him but I want to offer a few of my favorite poems from Ikkyu: Crow With No Mouth (Stephen Berg):

“nobody told the flowers to come up nobody
will ask them to leave when spring’s gone”

“that stone Buddha deserves all the birdshit it gets
I wave my skinny arms like a tall flower in the wind”

“don’t worry please please how many times do I have to say
there’s no way not to be who you are and where”

“my friend’s funeral this morning
burns inside me like my own death
and it breaks my heart how so easily
smoke rises tonight like the thought of him”

“her mouth played with my cock
the way a cloud plays with the sky”

His unorthodox behavior reminds me of Seung Sahn’s koan:

“Somebody comes into the Zen center with a lighted cigarette, walks up to the Buddha statue, blows smoke in its face, and drops ashes on its lap. You are standing there. What can you do?”

The heart sutra reminds us that everything is empty, with no eyes, no ears, no mouth, and so on. So while we know that everything is empty – empty of substance, empty of reality, empty of value – we also live in a world of substance, reality, and value. If we meet someone desecrating something we value, how do we approach them?

Anyways, it’s not common to see such a well-known master that visits whorehouses and writes about sex. If you have the opportunity, I recommend his poetry.

First Time in a Sangha

Yesterday, I went to the Honolulu Diamond Sangha for the first time. I’ve lived in Hawaii for almost 4 years and been too nervous to go. Afraid of tradition and ritual, I suppose – I’ve always wanted to see it but always been too afraid.

After breaking up earlier this year, I’ve really struggled with practice. To be honest, I’ve struggled with practice for the last few years. Sitting hasn’t been a priority of mine. Of course, when you go through a rough time, suddenly the idea of sitting peacefully sounds wonderful.

When I have particularly rough bouts of grief, I find myself sitting for long periods of time. Usually, because my practice isn’t well established, the sessions are an exercise of presence. The attention muscle in my head isn’t well stretched, so on the binge sitting, I have a tendency to come away exhausted and feeling no better than when I sat down.

Though, of course, we don’t sit to feel better.

It was easy to find the Diamond Sangha; it’s next to a popular hiking trail that I’ve done many times. In fact, I’ve driven by and stared at the beautiful architecture of the sangha a few times. It’s a beautiful area surrounded by trees and mountains. The cacophony of birds is both loud and peaceful – a strange combination.

The architecture of the sangha doesn’t immediately identify an entrance, so I stayed in the parking lot until someone else (completely dressed in black and not in hiking clothes) parked next to me. When she got out of the car, I awkwardly tried to make it seem like I had just arrived myself.

She seemed more confident about where to walk to, so I followed her and we introduced ourselves. At the base of the building, we were greeted by others who were there for orientation. We totaled 4 (including myself). There was a man and woman conducting the orientation and they introduced themselves to us.

After a bit of small talk, we sat down and spoke about our practices and what brought us to Diamond Sangha. For me, I’ve spent years reading books on zen but never really knew anyone who was familiar with zen. Most of my pronunciations are wrong because I’ve never vocalized a lot of the terms in books.

For example, it was relieving to hear them say certain words because it meant that I could imitate their pronunciation. I always thought that seiza (a way of formal sitting) was “s-eye-zah” – apparently it’s pronounced “say-zah”.

I embarrassed myself in 10th grade when I spoke to the psychology teacher about norepinephrine because I called it “nore-pine-phrine” rather than “nor-epin-efrin”. It’s what I get for reading books.

Anyways, soon we moved onto the zendo and learned about various postures and sitting techniques. Perhaps it would be better labeled as sitting styles. We were taught how to sit in full lotus, half lotus, seiza, and Burmese. The leaders emphasized that it’s important to do what works best for you and offered suggestions as they watched us try them.

I went through each leg formation and – after looking at many diagrams in books – was relieved that I could ask questions. I’ve spent a lot of time sitting in the ways they had shown but I didn’t know how to rotate my hips or how to angle my feet.

After that, we took a break. When we resumed, they instructed us on zendo formalities. Bowing upon entrance, bowing towards others, bowing at the cushion, and finally kinhin. We sat in zazen for 15 minutes, did kinhin, then when back for another 15 minutes of zazen.

Surprisingly, it felt great. All my initial worries about formality and ritual were vanquished. We had a short session after sitting where we spoke about our experience, then migrated back outside the zendo to finish up.

It really saddened me that I’ve spent 4 years in Hawaii and I hadn’t worked up the courage to go until now. Though, I’m grateful that I still the opportunity to visit – with a little over a year left. I guess we’ll see where it goes from here!



The Death of Creativity / Day 39 of 365

Back in 2012, I was a creative super-machine. I finished a 365 project the year prior and had just bought my dream camera. It seemed like every week I was doing something crazy and new. I regularly dragged friends into frozen creeks, through stinging nettles, and into the wild recesses of my world. My camera lived on my shoulder and, like my mind, it was always fully charged.

I vividly remember having a late night conversation with Jake back then. He was one of the first artists that I was close to – and the one who really pushed me to create, no matter what crazy ideas I had. Our conversations usually centered around critiquing art that the other had made.

On this particular night, I was really pushing Jake to start blogging. Beyond consuming my life with photography, I had bloomed into blogging. It was almost October and I was participating in an annual ‘Blogtober’. I’ll never forget what Jake said to me that night;

“There’s so much stuff already out there already – I don’t want to contribute to the noise.”

Jake is about 5 years my senior and, unlike me, had been creating across every medium. I knew him as a photographer, a sculptor, a painter – one of the first interactions I had with him was at a church over-nighter. We went bowling and I spent the night talking with him. As we talked, he took out his sketchbook and drew a charcoal picture of me.

I think that artists typically remember their birth into art. This was the beginning for me.

When Jake said he didn’t want to contribute to the noise anymore, it was although I had woken up even though I was already awake. Suddenly I saw noise everywhere. There was too much information out in the world and I became self-conscious.

That was my death.

A weed was planted that night and I’ve spent the last 5 years pulling them up. “Is what I’m creating worth being put out there?” sprung up from the corner of my beautifully cultivated garden. Soon thereafter, “Am I really contributing or just creating junk?”. I wasn’t quick enough to pull these weeds out. I was in deep trouble when the “Am I bothering people by putting my art in front of their faces?” arrived.

Soon the weeds overtook the garden, and although I plant new flowers occasionally, they’re dwarfed by self-consciousness. At 18 years old, I didn’t have the capacity to understand this. I only saw that I was ‘making noise’. That was my creative death.