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.

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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

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!

 

 

January 23./ Leaving Social Media (again)

Staying off social media has been an interesting change in my life lately. A couple weeks ago I decided to deactivate my Facebook account and remove SnapChat, Instagram, and a couple other apps from my phone. The motivation for this decision was a bit blurry and undefined.

A few times each year I get frustrated at something. I struggle to define what it is exactly. Not only in communicating this to others but I struggle to understand what it is within myself. Sometimes it feels like loneliness, other times it feels like a desire to retreat from others.

There were various reasons for this withdrawal; social media’s inability to duplicate one-on-one relationships with other people, how distracting it can be to wonder if I have any notifications (or that I can neurotically check them at any moment), the onslaught of memes that deliver humor but lack substance, or finally how blindly this can consume large pockets of my life.

Perhaps it’s out of nostalgia but MySpace will always feel like the original social media to me. It didn’t have an instant messenger and there was no infinite NewsFeed to scroll through. Although it supplemented relationships, it never felt like it was replacing them.

With live video on Facebook, Messenger installed for texting, and customized NewsFeeds, it feels like Facebook has deeply ingrained itself in how I maintain relationships with my friends and family. Leaving social media has felt like I’ve hacked away at those relationships.

One relationship that’s particularly damaged at the moment is the one that I have with myself. Empty moments where normally nothing demands my attention have disappeared. Between tasks, I pull out my phone and check for updates. It’s not that I’m desiring news but that I’m filling periods where I’d normally be doing nothing.

For example, when I wake up I silence my alarm and check my phone. When I go to the bathroom, I’m scrolling through a newsfeed. If there isn’t a conversation going on in the car with friends, I probably have my phone out. Sometimes when I’m walking I’m looking at Facebook more than I’m looking at my environment.

What am I looking for? I’m not sure exactly. Exciting news? To cover moments that I would feel bored? To stay ‘connected’? Maybe a mixture, I haven’t really figure it out. What I do know is that the cost of looking for these things is my attention. And my attention, unfortunately, is limited.

The content of social media is mostly white noise. My Facebook NewsFeed consisted of  only a couple stories relevant to my friends and family when I left. It was mostly memes, politics, recipes, lots of ads, and irrelevent short videos. There was no central substance or social expression of my friends other than sharing someone else’s content.

Don’t get me wrong, this content can be interesting and expresses what a person likes – but it does not foster social connection in a way that justifies how much time I spend using it.

It isn’t like binging a TV show on Netflix where you finish a season of your favorite show and wonder where the weekend has gone. It’s so much more subtle than that. Those empty moments I spoke about before; rolling over in bed in the morning, riding in the car with friends, even walking down the street; they’re valuable.

It’s hard to define their worth because these moments are empty. Normally we would be doing nothing in their absence. But emptiness itself is valuable. It’s filled with possibility and needed transition time.

In the car with friends, maybe I’ve missed conversation because I’ve been on my phone. Or maybe there’s a bond that happens when multiple people are together, not distantly looking at Facebook, even if nothing is said. When I’m out walking and looking at my phone, maybe I’m too zoned out from what’s actually happening around me. Maybe I need to let my mind idle for a few minutes before I get where I’m going.

I just know that I’ve felt restless and unable to define why. I’ve felt busy, though I’ve accomplished nothing. I’ve felt lonely, though I’m connected to many people. I struggle to balance this and I know that many other people feel the same way and perhaps they don’t understand it either.

So disconnecting myself hasn’t ultimately changed my life. I still wake up and go to work each day. I’m not filled with tranquility or any other emotion. But I do notice the empty moments now.

When I sit at work and everyone around me is on their phone, I open my eyes and look around. When my alarm goes off in the morning, I stretch in my bed and begin the day without taking on the burden of knowing what’s happening somewhere else. I can sit down with my breakfast and gaze out the window at the bustling world – knowing that ultimately I’m here. There’s no notification, no urge to fill the empty moments with empty content, no reason to neurotically try to strengthen relationships with others. Just here and now.

 

January 19./ Routine

It feels good to be writing again – like stretching old muscles that I haven’t used in a while. From time to time I get the urge to sit down and type for a little bit. It gives me an opportunity to look back at the last few months and reflect on what’s going on in my life. This blog seems to mirror that. I apologize for the sporadic postings.

Today I’d like to take the time to look at a mechanism called routine. It seems that my life has been a series of changes and reactions to those changes.

The most recent change has been moving. I’ve finally hit a point where I can say I’ve gotten used to living on the island and I’m no longer caught up in it. I don’t feel as anxious about living in a new place. My work environment feels the same way. I’ve adjusted to the people I work with and the routine of the day.

The feeling has been serene. I didn’t know that I was anxious or uncomfortable until the emotion disappeared. The calmness crept up out of nowhere. Since then, I’ve been looking at the other things that I’ve gotten used to… like living out on my own, the places I frequently go.

What I’ve noticed is that I desire the calm, adjusted feeling. I mean, who doesn’t? I want to have places I regularly go and to feel comfortable with where I live and where I work. On the same note, I’ve noticed the anxious feeling when the routine is broken – like when the freeway I take to work is closed or when I get assigned a new task at work.

The strange thing is that while I desire the familiarity and calmness of routine, I also desire newness and the unknown. I want to see new places and try things I’ve never done before. And I want to be calm and comfortable with the new things that I try. Of course it doesn’t always work that way.

A side effect of entering the nice, relaxed routine is that I don’t want to break it. I feel lazy. There’s little drive to go out and do when I can relax at home. This isn’t to say that I’m afraid to go out and explore new places but I’m sinking into lethargy.

Now, routine is nice and all but there has to be a balance of it and freshness. Not enough adjustments and the water grows stagnant. We want to keep the water moving so it doesn’t start turning green.

Lately I’ve just been feeling more cognizant of how I react to routine and breaking it.

May 4./

It’s 2:30am Hawaiian time and I’m sitting legs folded on my bed. There’s a mixture of flowers gathered in vases around the room. Some white and yellow daisies sit on the nightstand a foot away and I wonder why it seems to take a momentous amount of effort to write these days. Almost two years have passed since I was writing daily.

I don’t know my intention of writing anymore. I struggle with how much I see the “I”s and want to remove myself from the conversation. I want to talk about experiences without making them about me. Out of shame, I shy away from writing. But that’s just my ego cringing at another spot it despises of itself and wants to push away.

I’m afraid of dogma and rigidity. If I meditate daily or trust wholeheartedly in the teachings, I fear that I’ll become blind and disconnected from others. I also fear sounding stupid or irrelevant. With the amount of noise there is on social media, why would anyone want to read what I write? Everyone is shouting, desperately trying to gain attention. Views, likes, it’s all the same. Yet, I’m afraid I’ll fall to that pattern as well.

It makes me wince to write “my motivation is to help others”. So many people just want to “help”. They want to spread their views as absolute and reject anything that challenges them. Am I not desiring helping others through my own possibly foggy lens? But we cannot wait for perfection.

For now I’ll continue sitting and writing.