Point of Pride

Squeaking in an observance of Pride Month at the last minute

I don’t usually make a point of acknowledging Pride month, or the various events and parades or anything, because for me it would feel performative. I’m about as boring and mainstream a gay man could be1Without being a billionaire or a repressed congressman who works against civil rights legislation, of course., so it feels opportunistic to be taking attention away from the people who’ve “earned it,” either through activism, or through a lifetime of being bullied just for not conforming.

But the older I get — and, paradoxically, the more mainstream and unremarkable it gets to be A Boring Gay — the more it feels urgent to call attention to it and celebrate it.

It’s not hyperbole to be extremely concerned about the corrupt minority that’s currently working to roll back all the progress in civil rights we’ve made over my lifetime. The most worthless Supreme Court justice has already felt empowered enough by the new stolen court seats that he’s threatening to overturn the last couple of decades’ worth of progress. You know the one — he’s the one whose marriage to a blatantly traitorous asshole was guaranteed by a court ruling exactly like the ones he’s threatening. And I’d hope that anyone with an ounce of empathy who’s still calling for restraint and moderation would recognize how tirelessly the Republicans have been working to make trans people’s lives miserable.

But Pride is an invitation to take a brief break from a life that’s always spent having to be on the defensive. It’s an opportunity to celebrate. Back when I was deeply closeted, my first reaction to talk of “pride” was the predictable “what’s there to be proud of? It’s just the way I am and I can’t do anything about it.” It took me an embarrassingly long time — and it’s probably an indefinitely ongoing process, in reality — to fully accept that there’s no need to “do anything about it.” It’s an assertion that you don’t need to answer to anyone but yourself.

A couple of weekends ago, we went to an event for Pride month at the Hollywood Forever cemetery, where they were showing But I’m a Cheerleader. I could’ve sworn I’d seen it before, but it turns out I never had. But I wish I had, because I loved it and had never seen anything quite like it. So much of the “LGBT-themed” stuff I’ve seen is either about surviving through a repressive society, or stridently overcoming it by asserting your uniqueness. I loved seeing a movie where it never even occurred to the main character that she had anything to be ashamed of.

The screening was packed with people of all different types, so just being outside among other people was like getting a tentative peek at life after COVID. But more than that, it felt to me like the first “gay event” where I didn’t spend any time thinking about whether or not I fit in, or who in the crowd I did or didn’t identify with. We were all just a bunch of very different people who had one thing in common: we were there to see a movie.

And I don’t tend to think a lot about “safe spaces,” not because they’re not important, but because I rarely need to be that concerned about it. But it was just comfortable being able to turn off any sense of anxiety for the night. It was nice to be solidly in the in-group for a change, and know that everybody there either identified as LGBTQ, or was completely on-board with the idea. I lived in the Bay Area2And came out in the Bay Area for 25 years, so it’s not as if I’ve ever had to feel like I was in hostile territory. But still, it was nice to have it set aside as a big, shared space, where I didn’t have to give a moment’s thought to the other thing that most of us all had in common.

Which is why the increased level of acceptance across the US is undeniably great, but it doesn’t negate the need for Pride. I spent a long time wishing for the day when I could just be normal and fit in. I’ve been more or less enjoying exactly that for the past several years. But I’ve finally started to realize that the key to happiness isn’t just being comfortable and normal, but being comfortable with not being normal.

  • 1
    Without being a billionaire or a repressed congressman who works against civil rights legislation, of course.
  • 2
    And came out in the Bay Area

A Big Nasty Redhead At My Side

Trying to figure out living in Los Angeles and songs about Los Angeles

This week we moved to Los Angeles, which really isn’t any of the internet’s business1Nothing personal, but you’ve seen the internet and you know how it is, but this blog is the closest thing I have to a long-running journal.

What is more in line with this blog is that I still can’t fully figure out what’s going on with the song “I Love LA” by Randy Newman. I’ve spent the last 40 years2I mean, not constantly. There have been whole decades in there when I haven’t thought about the song at all never being fully sure whether it was sardonic or sincere.

Since I’ve been reminded of the song over the past few weeks, I realized just how different 2022 is from 1983. If there’s anything good to come from the bottom dropping out of the music industry and everything going to streaming — apart from the convenience of having almost every song you can imagine immediately accessible from anywhere all the time — is that it’s near-impossible for a song to be inescapable anymore. And “I Love LA” was inescapable in the early 80s. It played every five minutes on the radio, on music video shows and channels, in department stores, in school announcements before the pledge of allegiance, on police scanners, HAM radios, and loudspeaker broadcasts from the correctional dreadnaughts that hovered over every city center.3I say if people are going to keep telling me that they were born after I graduated high school, I get to make shit up about what the 80s were like.

Disney did provide an eerily accurate recreation in the early 2000s with the first version of California Adventure, which broadcast a constant loop of “I Love LA” and “California Dreamin'” from speakers in every corner of the park. But it’s different hearing a song that’s supposed to be nostalgic in a theme park, versus hearing it played as a Top 40 hit in your doctor’s waiting room. So the next time you hear a musician complaining about how Spotify only pays pennies per thousands of streams, you can nod sympathetically while thinking, “Yeah, but at least now I can go years without hearing ‘What a Feeling’ from ‘Flashdance’.”

Anyway. Back in the early 80s, when the song was truly inescapable, I was convinced that it was sincere and genuine and genuinely cheesy. All the horny shots of bikinis and palm trees and stereotypical LA landmarks were standard operating procedure back then. People made shit like that with no trace of shame or irony.

But then, I started thinking, Newman was kind of a satirist. I say “kind of” because I don’t actually know. “Short People” is the only song of his that I know of before he started writing on behalf of sentient toys, so I don’t know if it could be classified as “satire” or just a goofy novelty song. He exists in some kind of nebulous zone between Roger Miller and Rick Dees.

Either way, the song’s clearly not supposed to be entirely sincere. “Look at that mountain/Look at those trees/Look at that bum over there, he’s down on his knees” qualifies as sardonic for early 80s pop music. But is that it? None of the streets he calls out are all that remarkable or scenic; is that supposed to be part of the joke? When he says “Everybody’s very happy ’cause the sun is shining all the time,” is that supposed to be an indictment? Is “It’s just another perfect day” supposed to be like La La Land‘s use of the same phrase, by which I mean the gentlest of toothless sarcasm? Why do I feel like I can’t unlock the mysteries of this dumb pop song?

Ultimately I suppose that wondering whether an ode to Los Angeles is sincere is missing the point entirely. Sincerity seems to be anathema to this city. For as long as I’ve been alive and watching TV, I’ve seen LA be the butt of jokes from people who would never, ever think of living anywhere else. I suspect that Gary Owens on Laugh-In talking about “beautiful downtown Burbank” was as genuine as Roman Mars on 99% Invisible talking about “beautiful downtown Oakland, California,” but the difference is that Burbank is universally and perpetually understood to be laughably bland, even though much of it is actually pretty nice.

I was trying to think of a song that talked about Los Angeles in an undeniably positive way, and I couldn’t come up with anything. “All I Wanna Do” by Sheryl Crow is another song I’ve never been able to read; at first I thought it was an anthem to carefree southern California living, but as they lyrics sunk in, I realized it was kind of a miserable song about deadbeats day-drinking in a nearly empty bar. I guess maybe there always has to be an undercurrent of sarcasm when you’re talking or singing about Los Angeles. If you drain away all the self-awareness, you just end up with something like “Soak Up the Sun.”

I still haven’t fully adjusted to the idea that I no longer live in the Bay Area after living there for over 25 years (which, coincidentally, is half my life). It’s odd to realize that even after so many years, after I started to think of it as “home,” and after making so many friends there, I never really felt like I 100% belonged there. It is an effortlessly gorgeous place, and I’m genuinely looking forward to getting to see it as a tourist instead of a resident again, but I can’t say that it ever felt welcoming. I can’t put my finger on it exactly, but I almost always got the feeling that the best I could get from people was begrudging acceptance, a feeling of being tolerated. In the few times I’ve been out in Los Angeles so far, I’ve gotten more friendly and welcoming reactions than not. Is it sincere? Probably not, but again, I suspect that that’s missing the point.

It’s still too early for me to tell how I’m going to adjust to living in a city that I hated until a few years ago, when I stopped seeing it as a traffic-clogged obstacle between me and Disneyland, and started seeing more of the things that made people want to live here. Maybe I’ll finally be discovered and enjoy my second career as a media superstar. Maybe I’ll just end up day-drinking in a nearly empty bar on Santa Monica Boulevard (we love it).

  • 1
    Nothing personal, but you’ve seen the internet and you know how it is
  • 2
    I mean, not constantly. There have been whole decades in there when I haven’t thought about the song at all
  • 3
    I say if people are going to keep telling me that they were born after I graduated high school, I get to make shit up about what the 80s were like.

Unreal Unity

Thoughts about a healthier and more attainable concept of “unity” and how to move forward

Seeing Amanda Gorman reading her brilliant poem at Joe Biden’s inauguration was a stark reminder that nobody needs to hear my clumsy words.1But of course, I’m about to drop over 1500 of those clumsy words on you anyway, because that’s who I am. And it was a reassuring reminder that with a government composed of decent, competent people for a change, I don’t have to have an opinion about everything. “How could catastrophe possibly prevail over us?” “If we merge mercy with might, and might with light, then love becomes our legacy, and change our children’s birthright.” “…being American is more than a pride we inherit, it’s the past we step into and how we repair it.”

I’ve watched it three times so far, and I still haven’t watched President Biden’s inaugural speech. I’m hoping he at least remembered to mention “American carnage.” The truth is that I don’t really need to see any of the stirring symbolism of the day, because I was moved almost to tears just reading a list of President Biden’s day 1 executive orders, a tangible sign that his administration is going to be working to repair the damage of the last four years.

Honestly, every image coming from the inauguration — which I could only catch briefly while I was trying to get some work done again, after days of unproductive anxiety — was cause for an upswell of emotion and relief. There was such a diversity of speakers, a selection of people from all around the US to contribute to pre-recorded videos, an abundance of LGBT representation, all topped off with a professionally-run press conference that was intelligent, competent, and — imagine! — respectful.

I’ve already seen comments that American politics has become refreshingly boring again. And I get it, but I’ve been excited to see such an earnest display of kindness, decency, and integrity. It’s a relief not just from the spectacular combination of corruption and incompetence of a fear-and-hatred-fueled administration, but of well over a decade of creeping cynicism that preceded it.

Continue reading “Unreal Unity”
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    But of course, I’m about to drop over 1500 of those clumsy words on you anyway, because that’s who I am.

New Decade’s Resolutions

Starting a plan for a Better Chuck By 2031

As lousy as 2020 was, I’ve been very fortunate in that I was minimally affected by the pandemic and the stay-at-home order(s). Apart from having to spend the holidays apart from my family for the first time in my life, the rest has actually been a much-appreciated chance to reset. Since I’ve been forced out of my daily routine, I’ve also been forced to think about what I actually want to be doing.

I don’t really believe in yearly resolutions, but as the start of a new decade, it seems like a good opportunity to set an overall course for myself. Over the last seven years — measured from the end of my last contract as a freelancer — have resulted in me becoming more insular, anxious, forgoing social engagement with the online substitute, and devoting most of my time to the familiar. A new decade seems like a good opportunity to make a change.

So here’s a list of things I’m hoping to do at some point during the upcoming decade:

Visit Edinburgh for Hogmanay

I hadn’t heard of Hogmanay before seeing these videos of drone presentations around Edinburgh.1Technically, around the Highlands and then superimposed on footage of Edinburgh, but it’s still a good effect. Scottish YouTuber Shaun has a video talking about the various celebrations that take place around the city in non-pandemic years, and while looking at huge crowds of celebrants in Times Square or Bourbon Street always make me think Never in a million years would I want to be in the middle of that, seeing it in Edinburgh actually seems like a lot of fun.

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    Technically, around the Highlands and then superimposed on footage of Edinburgh, but it’s still a good effect.

More to See Than Can Ever Be Seen

Breaking away from toxic social media by actively choosing to make better use of your time

Stay home this holiday season, or you could find yourself on a flight like this.

Yesterday I woke up with “Circle of Life” from The Lion King going through my head. In particular, the part of the first verse, that goes: “There’s more to see that can ever be seen, more to do than can ever be done.”

What stood out to me was the irony of it: it’s ostensibly a celebration of the infinite potential of adventure and discovery, but I’ve never heard it as such, because I’ve heard it so many hundreds of times that it’s become background music. Usually, background music during a trip to a Disney park I’ve already seen dozens if not hundreds of times.

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Weekend in Big Sur

Our long weekend in Big Sur for our anniversary, plus an accidental iPhone 12 review

Even when we’re not in the middle of a pandemic, we don’t take enough advantage of the fact that we live in the most beautiful state in the country. I’ve been living in California for over 20 years, and I’ve still never been to Yosemite; cabins, hotels, and campsites are booked up so far in advance that it’s always easier just to go to Disneyland. A couple of months ago, we drove out to Muir Woods in Marin County for a few hours, and I’d forgotten what it was like to be outside and surrounded by trees that weren’t placed there by a level designer.

So for the tenth anniversary of our first date, my fiance and I decided to escape the house with the safest vacation we could think of: driving south to Big Sur for a couple of nights in a secluded hotel, then down to Paso Robles to see a big outdoor art installation.

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Good Bones

Thoughts on pledging to be better, and giving up on the idea that people are basically good, which was kind of a lousy idea anyway.

There’s been an excellent poem going around the internet over the past week: it’s called Good Bones. It was written by Maggie Smith as a response to the disillusionment and despair many of us felt in 2016. It’s really wonderful, easily my favorite poem containing the phrase “a real shithole.”

I can imagine how it would’ve resonated if I’d seen it in 2016 — an acknowledgement that the world can be a hateful place, but with a faint glimmer of indefatigable hope still left at the end. Now in November of 2020, its tone has shifted. Of course we know that “the world is at least fifty percent terrible,” because we’ve been reminded of it multiple times a day, ceaselessly. The end no longer feels like a faint glimmer but a determined resolve to make it beautiful wherever and however we can.

I’m not just writing about it to unnecessarily over-explain it, though: I just wanted to add a personal note to say I’m grateful for it, not just for bringing a bit of light to the despair of the past week, but for reminding me just how hard my parents and brother worked to shield me from that 50% Terrible for as long as they could. I think they did a pretty amazing job, considering that I almost made it to 50 years old before I finally gave up on the idea that people are basically good.

I don’t think it’s naive to believe that; I just think it’s the product of being blessed enough to live most of your life surrounded by good and kind people. And I don’t believe it’s sad or cynical to abandon the idea, either. If you cling to the belief that people are basically good, then you’re unintentionally undermining all of the hard work that good people do every day. It’s much more inspiring to realize that people are basically neutral, so the heroes that manage to radiate kindness and hope aren’t just staying true to their natures, but are putting in the effort to make things better.

It’s aspirational. I’m feeling exhausted from having to hold onto so much anger, suspicion, and resentment all the time. I’d rather work on repaying all the kindnesses and generosity that people have shown me over the years. This has been such a tough year, and some of the things we’ve all lost and that I’ve lost are gone forever. But instead of concentrating on what’s lost, I’d rather try and help make this place beautiful.

How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love Duolingo

I’ve been slowly catching on to the fact that this is an entirely different kind of language learning. Altogether.

Can you guess the answer, boys and girls at home?

Last month, I started using Duolingo again. I expected that I’d be very interested for a week or two, and then drop off to never using it, just like I’ve done the past five or six times I’ve tried to use Duolingo.

But this time, it’s stuck. At least, if my 39-day “streak” is to believed.1It’s not. I cheated with a “streak freeze” on multiple days when the stress of election + pandemic + life in general were too much for me to care about learning Japanese.

The difference this time is that a few days into using the app, I got to the point where it started frustrating the hell out of me. I’m using it to learn Japanese, and the first several sections were mostly just a review of stuff I already knew. It was useful as a refresher, since it’s been years since I’ve taken any classes, but it wasn’t much of a challenge. But then — suddenly — it started showing me words and kanji that I’d never seen before. I started failing out of sections, having to “buy” more hearts, or shut the app down until the next day.

Continue reading “How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love Duolingo”
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    It’s not. I cheated with a “streak freeze” on multiple days when the stress of election + pandemic + life in general were too much for me to care about learning Japanese.

Quit ’em if you smoke ’em!

Relapse all you want, brain. I’ll just quit again. I could do this all day.

2020 has been the worst year of my life. As it has been for millions of people. That’s one of the relentlessly awful things about the year: it won’t even let me be uniquely miserable. Oh, you think you’re sad? Get in line, buddy.

So after three or four years without smoking,1Without Instagram as a daily diary, I don’t know exactly how long ago anything was anymore. I’ve had a few relapses. A long one at the end of 2019 and the beginning of 2020, when things were the worst. A one-pack bump in the road back when this year’s California wildfires first blew smoke into the East Bay. And now I’m in the middle of another relapse, again triggered by the wildfires that turned the skies in the Bay Area post-apocalyptic.

I don’t mention the wildfires because we were directly affected by them; we’re fortunate in that we’re completely safe. And obviously, I’d never equate a few days of reduced air quality to what people are going through after losing their homes or worse. But perversely, breathing in the smoke seeping through the windows always makes me want a cigarette. That raspy feeling in my throat that never goes away, the weird gurgling in my chest when I wake up with a coughing fit, the thin layer of ash that seems to cover everything and stick to my fingers: ah, I remember this, and I think I… miss it?

For about a week, I’ve been dreaming about smoking. Or more accurately: sometimes dreaming about smoking, and sometimes dreaming about whatever it is I tend to dream about but in which I’m playing the role of a person who smokes. The most alarming was having a standard-issue dream, suddenly noticing that I’d been smoking a cigarette, and thinking what the hell did you do?

I can’t blame everything on the smoke. Election anxiety, and general despair over the state of the country, have been particularly fierce over the past few weeks, and I hit a low point. At least a solid week with insomnia, no energy, no enthusiasm for anything, completely unable to concentrate on anything for more than 5 minutes at a time. Also, we watched an awful anime with a character who smoked a cigar throughout, and the next thing I knew, a switch in my brain had flipped and I was a smoker again.

As somebody who’s over-thought everything his entire life,2Although now that I think of it, is that really fair to say? the thing that never stops being weird is how anti-intellectual it is. I know that it’s gross, I know that I don’t need it. I know that my life is better in every conceivable way without it. I know that it doesn’t actually calm me. I know that it’s worse than a waste of money. I know that I can’t have just one or two; for me, it’s either nothing, or one every hour without fail. I know that it stains my mustache a repulsive shit-yellow-brown color. I know that I feel worse in the morning. I know that I hate the recurring cough. I know that in the middle of a pandemic for a respiratory virus, it’s the stupidest possible time to be doing it.

But even while I’m thinking that, my motor center has driven me to the 7-11 and has me paying for a new pack. It’s like the decision-making part of my brain communicates with the part of my brain that actually does things via automated customer support line. Thank you for your message. We appreciate you and value your input. While we fully intend to go buy cigarettes and start smoking them anyway, we’ll take your concerns under consideration. Please do not reply to the message.

The one positive is that I finally found something that helps me quit. I smoked for over 20 years, and I made several attempts over that time using nicotine patches, Wellbutrin, and my insufficient willpower, with nothing lasting more than three months. But finally, Chantix worked so well for me that I don’t even mind linking to a drug company’s website. No discernible side effects, and no need to quit cold turkey as with the patch. The first time I tried it, I’d heard it described as blocking the receptors that are activated by nicotine, so that you get no pleasure from it. That made me imagine some kind of A Clockwork Orange scenario, in which I’d find them nauseatingly repulsive, but that never really happened. Instead, it simply seems to just shut up the part of my brain that has me out buying cigarettes despite protests from every other part of my brain.

I’m also encouraged because I did manage to quit earlier in the year, after one pack, and with no assistance, and no setbacks. I think that simply knowing that I can quit and that I’ve done it before, for at least three years, helps a lot. 2020 may be a horrible year, but maybe it’s the year I can shed all of the toxic BS dragging me down.

  • 1
    Without Instagram as a daily diary, I don’t know exactly how long ago anything was anymore.
  • 2
    Although now that I think of it, is that really fair to say?

Postcards from Bat2

Photos from a pre-COVID trip to Disneyland in February 2020

At the end of February, we took a short weekend trip to Disneyland, unaware that it’d be our last trip before the pandemic. Unsurprisingly, we spent most of the time inside Galaxy’s Edge. It was our first time riding Rise of the Resistance, and we were able to get a boarding pass two days in a row, which was lucky.

I like the idea of sharing travel photos when we’re all stuck inside and separated. Looking forward to being able to travel again safely.

And yes, I did buy a Han Solo vest specifically to go to Star Wars land at Disneyland. Jealous?