Repost: Green

It was a year ago today I started I Can See Better Through the Fog. Since the blog’s inception I have went on dates with nearly thirty men, had my first kiss, came out as gay, lost my virginity, reevaluated and redefined my desire for physical intimacy, settled into my new home of San Francisco, began volunteering at an elementary school, tutored ESL students, transformed this blog first into a storytelling medium, and then into a podcast with 46 posts published, had two fleeting relationships, lost an aunt, lost a grandmother, went to numerous concerts, including Radiohead, Neil Young, and Jack White, fell in love the Castro Theater and its retrospective screenings, walked much of the city, reconnected with old friends, made new ones, and grew out of others. It was truly a busy year filled with a spectrum of different experiences and emotions. In an attempt to acknowledge the personal progress I’ve made over the past year, I am returning to my first post.

Here is a narrated reposting of my first entry from a year ago entitled “Green”:

Andrew Bird covers It Ain’t Easy Being Green on the new Muppet movie soundtrack. I hadn’t really thought too much about the lyrics until I heard him sing them. They’re more profound and deep than you would think, considering we’d always heard those words coming from a neurotic green puppet known for his high pitched voice.

In the most literal sense, the meaning behind the song, originally penned by songwriter Joe Raposo (who coincidentally also wrote “C is for Cookie” and the theme to Sesame Street), is about finding self acceptance and self worth.

After hearing Bird’s cover, I couldn’t help but think of another reading of the song. It’s not easy being new, unripened, inexperienced. It’s awkward, uncomfortable, and often times isolating. For me, when I’m green, it can be paralyzing. I want and expect to know everything and be great at something from the get-go. But more times than not, that is not possible to do in a new profession, a new environment, a new life. In Bird’s interpretation of the song, I hear a voice telling those who are wet behind the ears to accept it. “When green is all there is to be, it could make you wonder why, but why wonder why…I am green and it’ll do fine.” As someone bound for new journeys into social, romantic, and career realms, I am bound to be green once again. I must be courageous enough to accept it so I can overcome paralysis and get enough experience to ripen.

As I sit back and reflect on the past year’s journey, I recognize “green” is how I felt August 25, 2011. I still feel “green” in many areas of my life. I every so often need to remind myself that experiences, from the difficult to the enthralling, have ripened me, and made me more comfortable in my own skin.

I am aware that in my human nature I desire something beyond what I am and what I have. In the past year I have come to reaffirm the key to moving to “the beyond” is to accept whatever color I am now as just fine. I am sure one year from now, another color I will be.

What I Learned

I Can See Better Through the Fog is a storytelling podcast series in the vein of This American Life and the Moth. It tells the ongoing story of an echo boomer’s quarter life crises, featuring life, love, music, and San Francisco. Press the play button below to hear an audio recording of this latest entry or listen to it on iTunes. If it doesn’t work, you may need the latest version of flash software. (click here to download). Another troubleshooting tip would be to go directly to the soundcloud website. Sit back and let your ears do the work. The text version of this entry is provided beneath the list of selected tracks.

Runtime: 4 minutes and 45 seconds.

Selected tracks: Neil Young “Old Man”

The past three months of my life have been a trial by fire. The deaths of both my Aunt Shirley and Grandma Reva reopened past wounds. A flood of anxiety and depression that I had not felt for years reappeared, seemingly instantly from deep submission. Coinciding with these events, my dating life continued with both exciting fervor and emotional difficulty. My lessons in dating and relationships came mostly through one guy in particular that I was seeing over the course of much these past three months. When that relationship came to an end, the accumulation of loss in my life had become so great that I was often on the verge of panic attacks. I knew I had to take a step back and reflect on how I felt in order to relieve my stresses.

In reflection, a pattern seemed to immerge. I clung to outcomes and relied on people, especially love interests, to feel adequate and whole. When I did not perceivably get validation from an outside source, anxiety settled in. Realization was the first step. The next was to search for how to detach myself from these outcomes and expectations. I found refuge and healing through spending time and talking with many wise friends, young and old alike. Two books in particular were of great help: “If the Buddha Dated” and “The Happiness Project”. Through many teachings, I began to put a filter on my life’s happenings. I found new insight on past hurts. I began to recognize my feelings, from physical and psychological aspects, and saw how connected they were to situations, actions, or thoughts where I put weight on any specific outcome. My mental tension began to ease.

To remind myself of what eased my mental tension, and to keep it in practice, I wrote down a sentence to repeat to myself every morning before I start my day, every night before I go to bed, and any other time that I might want to be reminded. The virtue is as follows:

Today I will do my best to focus on my path, accept the feelings I feel, from excitement to pain to anxiousness to fear and so forth, to take other people’s interactions with my life as lessons, and to recognize and acknowledge at the end of this day that I have taken a step forward to recognizing my own self worth and to loving myself for who I am and what I bring to this world.

As an action complimentary, I reedited my OkCupid profile to reflect my new outlook on dating. The reedit is as follows:

I’ve been on nearly thirty dates using OkCupid in the past year. Some dates have felt awkward. Some have felt magical. Some dates progressed into relationships. And some did not get past the first meeting, sometimes to my dismay, and I’m sure sometimes to others’. I am grateful for the applicable wisdom these experiences have given me. They have each been lessons and steps to leading a peaceful, balanced, joyful, and enriched life. There’s always something to gain and learn from meeting someone new. I’m not perfect, and I don’t expect that those I meet from OkCupid or elsewhere to be either. I strive to lead a virtuous, fun, love-filled life and look to share that with people who do the same, in their own ways.

That being said, you should message me if the mood suits you. I repeat: There’s always something to gain and learn from meeting someone new.

Adult Responsible

I Can See Better Through the Fog is a storytelling podcast series in the vein of This American Life and the Moth. It tells the ongoing story of an echo boomer’s quarter life crises, featuring life, love, music, and San Francisco. Press the play button below to hear an audio recording of this latest entry or listen to it on iTunes. If it doesn’t work, you may need the latest version of flash software. (click here to download). Another troubleshooting tip would be to go directly to the soundcloud website. Sit back and let your ears do the work. The text version of this entry is provided beneath the list of selected tracks.

Runtime: 6 minutes and 50 seconds.

Selected tracks: LCD Soundsystem covering Paperclip People “Throw”

The pool of multicolored plastic balls in the play place rippled, rumbled and splashed. Out of the depths of color sprouted a man with a bowling pin shaped body. The boy-man with the jutting lower lip and half vacant eyes waved at me. He massaged the tip of the cardboard Burger King crown on top of his head until one of its spires bent. It made me smile through my pain. It was an infinitesimal and temporary relief to what was happening inside the woman’s bathroom, the door with which I was holding open.

A woman approached the ladies restroom. She gave me a strange glance, to which I responded, “My grandmother’s in there.” Which had the implied meaning of “I’m just making sure everything’s alright for her.” The woman neither nodded in approval, nor dawned an expression of disapproval. I was uncertain she believed me, even though I was friendly and looked reputable in my collared white button up, jet black skinny tie, grey slacks, and shiny black dress shoes. “There’s another open stall in there,” I continued. The woman then simply walked past me into the bathroom without a word.

As she chose the open stall I called out to my grandmother. “Are you ok in there?” We’d stopped at a roadside Burger King off the I-80, just before Vallejo. We were three fourths of the way back to her assisted living facility in San Rafael, coming back from her sister’s, and my aunt’s, memorial service in Roseville. In the car my grandmother looked white and pale. She’d had to strain to ask me to pull over to the next rest stop.

“Yeah,” her croaking voice echoed across the restroom’s white tile walls. I shifted my eyes with worry and anxiousness. I didn’t want to enter, but I would if I needed to. The mentally handicapped man swam joyfully in the ball pool. Sitting in a booth in front of the play place were three of his peers and their supervisor, a Hispanic woman of maybe thirty-five. She motioned to one of them that had ketchup on the corner of his lips. He wiped the red onto a napkin.

A flushing noise came from within the bathroom, then the sound of a stall door collapsing back into place. Water ran, then a blow drier screeched. Out walked the silent woman who finally broke her silence. “You’re a good grandson,” she commented with admiration as she left the Burger King. I was too anxious and preoccupied for her compliment to stick.

“Max,” my grandmother called at me from within her unlocked stall. “Do you want me to come in and help you?” I called back. “If you could,” she responded. I entered the women’s bathroom, guilt stricken for breaking code. The guilt however was outweighed by the sense of responsibility I had toward taking care of my grandmother. When I reached her she was gripping the metal bar beside the toilet, attempting to pull herself up to reach her walker. With one hand I inched the walker up to her, and with the other hand I braced her delicate, arched back. We inched together to the sink. She washed her hands in slow, fragile motions, still exhausted. We exited the bathroom and I set her down on a chair to rest before embarking on the final leg of the journey home.

“Breathe,” I told her. The terror flashed through my mind if I was going to be able to get her back without medical assistance. As my grandmother collected herself, the mentally handicapped group and their chaperone made their way to the door. “Bye,” the one with the crown replied, waving at me in parting.

When we arrived back at my grandmother’s room inside the assisted living facility, she plopped down onto her couch. She breathed heavily in and out. “Will you go get my checkbook out of my desk? I want to pay you for gas and the rest of your birthday gift.” She wanted to reimburse me for tickets I bought to a David Byrne and St. Vincent concert. “It’s fine grandma, it’s not necessary,” I insisted. “But I want to. Please Max. Get me my checkbook.” It was more a command than a request now, and typical of my grandmother, the long time family matriarch.

She wrote out the check with what little energy she had left. She ripped out the check and handed it to me. The room then lay still and silent, except for my grandmother’s heavy breathing. After letting out a big sigh she requested, “Don’t tell anyone what happened to today, please. I’d rather no one knew.” Her desire to mask her weakness weighed as heavy as my fear of it. Her declining strength, both mental and physical, was a lot for either of us to carry alone.

Namaste Motherfucker

I Can See Better Through the Fog is a storytelling podcast series in the vein of This American Life and the Moth. It tells the ongoing story of an echo boomer’s quarter life crises, featuring life, love, music, and San Francisco. Press the play button below to hear an audio recording of this latest entry or listen to it on iTunes. If it doesn’t work, you may need the latest version of flash software. (click here to download). Another troubleshooting tip would be to go directly to the soundcloud website. Sit back and let your ears do the work. The text version of this entry is provided beneath the list of selected tracks.

Runtime: 6 minutes and 49 seconds.

Selected tracks: Fiona Apple “Every Single Night” and Beck “I Just Started Hating Some People Today”

Sediments of left over tea danced like snowflakes in a snow globe inside my reused Snapple jar. Waves of foggy tap water crashed against the bottom side of the bottle cap. The few drops of water that escaped were soaked up by the green beach towel the bottle nestled against. With my yoga supplies tucked beneath my arm, I walked down California Street.

As I approached Fillmore, thirty yards down the street a white billboard with an orange flower logo hung at the top of a door frame, perpendicular to the victorian building on which it was attached. It matched the logo from the yoga studio’s website. On this free weekday morning, an unusual occurrence for me, I’d decided to try yoga to curb my habitual, torturous, and excessive anxiousness.

I walked down a narrow hallway, painted the same shade of orange as the logo out front, to a set of stairs. At the top of the stairs and to the right, a doorway waited for me. Peering into the studio, I saw only a reflection of myself in the mirror across from me that ran the length of the studio. Wondering if I missed the office in the hallway downstairs, I peered back down the steps. There was no indication I’d missed anything. Peeking my head further into the studio, I noticed a cubicle tucked away in a nook to the left and behind the door. A middle aged man with blonde sprouts, that were unlikely to grow back in full, and big green googly eyes stared at a computer screen hidden by the concave wooden desk he sat behind.

“Are you a new student?” the man asked, shifting his attention from the computer to me. “Ya. I’m here for the introductory thirty days for thirty dollars,” I answered. The man behind the desk smiled and handed me a form attached to a clip board. After filling out the form, I returned it to him with my check card. He typed away at his computer. “You’re all squared away Max,” he said. “Thanks. And what was your name?” I asked. “Venis,” he smiled.

By the spelling on the website, I’d thought his name was pronounced like the planet of the same spelling, but he said it like the canal linked city in Italy. “You can take a seat anywhere you’d like,” Venis called, as I was placing my belongings into a square cubby. I migrated over to the front left corner of the empty room and lay my towel down. Atop it, I breathed in and out methodically, relaxing my mind before the session. It was over 90 degrees in the room, the antithesis of the foggy weather looming just outside the sliding glass doors that lead to a backyard deck.

“This is so strange,” Venis called from his cave. “Usually we’re packed by now.” It was seven minutes until showtime. As ten o’clock scrolled closer, only three others roamed in. By the way Venis greeted each of them, I guessed they were semi-regulars. At ten sharp, Venis left his desktop and shut the door to the studio. “Well, I guess it’s just us today,” he commented. I didn’t recognize until he was out from behind the desk that he wore a light purple tank top and short shorts. He was beginning to remind me more and more like Richard Simmons.

“We’re going to start out today with a breathing exercise,” Venis began. “Stand up straight and face the mirror. You can put your towels to the side for now.” I folded up my towel and let my feet firmly press against the rough carpet. “Now take a deep breath in through your nose, and I want to hear a loud breath out of your mouth.” Me and his other three students followed his lead. After a few medium volume breaths, Venis interjected. “I can’t hear you! There’s four of you and one of me.” He took his own breaths, which were inhumanly louder than the four of us students put together. “I can barely hear you. Louder! Breeeeeaaaaathe!” My anxiousness was replaced by chagrin.

As we continued into different poses, Venis kept pushing. “We’re going right into the next one. Don’t forget to breeeeeaaaaaathe!” Venis beckoned. Venis indeed was Richard Simmons, if he were cast as the drill sergeant in “Full Metal Jacket”. Finally we came to our last pose. Our raised, contorted arms lifted all our shirts just above our navels. “Now turn your back!” Venis commanded with the intensity of a military commander. I twisted to the right, wincing in pain. Across the spectrum of tense, sweating students, I noticed a black bumper sticker on the registration nook. It read “Namaste Motherfucker”.

This Isn’t Our Parade

I Can See Better Through the Fog is a storytelling podcast series in the vein of This American Life and the Moth. It tells the ongoing story of an echo boomer’s quarter life crises, featuring life, love, music, and San Francisco. Press the play button below to hear an audio recording of this latest entry or listen to it on iTunes. If it doesn’t work, you may need the latest version of flash software. (click here to download). Another troubleshooting tip would be to go directly to the soundcloud website. Sit back and let your ears do the work. The text version of this entry is provided beneath the list of selected tracks.

Runtime: 7 minutes and 23 seconds.

Selected tracks: Santigold “Big Mouth” and “This Isn’t Our Parade”

Weaving through a series of over the top floats and costumes, I searched for my friend Kelly. She’d invited me the previous night to march in the San Francisco Pride Parade with the organization she interned for. I passed shirtless boys in suspenders, policemen with rainbow beads around their necks, a San Francisco trolley full of same sex parents and their children, marching bands, cheerleaders, and a group with long balloons of all colors attached to their backs, making them look like coordinated peacocks.

Coming across an intricately designed float featuring a cartoonish ten foot model of the Golden Gate Bridge, I paused to listen to live music. At the back of the float, just below the bridge, was a blues band consisting of all black female musicians: the bassist had her head shaved, the lead guitarist wore long dreads, and the drummer covered her ‘do with a Rastafarian hat. They jammed to the beat of the marching band a few floats behind them, improvising to fuse the collegiate beat with their bluesy style. The bassist smiled down at me and mouthed the words “Happy pride”. “Thank you,” I mouthed back. “Happy pride to you too!”

I moved further down Spear Street, approaching Mission. Kelly was still nowhere to be seen amongst the gobs of people. My phone then buzzed from within my pocket. “Where are you?” I asked Kelly. “We’re in the yellow shirts, right next to the Golden Gate float,” she yelled over the cacophony of noise. I turned back to the direction from which I came, keeping the phone to my ear. “I see you,” Kelly yelled abruptly. I scanned the crowd until I caught her wave. She was positioned in the back of a group of thirty people wearing light yellow t-shirts with the name David Campos printed across them in patriotic colors.

“You look so cute!,” Kelly commented on the purple collared shirt, black tie, and acid washed slim jeans I wore. My fashion decision would soon be rendered useless. Kelly then handed me a David Campos t-shirt. “Uh,” I said hesitantly. “What am I supporting by putting on this t-shirt?” I trusted that if Kelly enthusiastically volunteered her time to a cause, it was a cause worth supporting. But I still wanted to have more information to go off of. “David Campos is running for reelection as Mission District rep.” She then listed a few of his legislative achievements, which included free municipal service for youth. Assured enough, I pulled the yellow shirt over my head, popped and refolded my purple collar, and draped my black tie over the V and M on the David Campos t-shirt. As long as I was going to walk for Campos, I decided I still would remain an individual. I wanted the true celebratory spirit of pride to remain in some regard.

One of Campos’s lead interns began hitting on one of Kelly’s girl friends that she had recruited. He wore black hipster sunglasses and smiled with an uninterrupted mischievousness during every word he spoke. First he asked what she did in the city, then what college she attended. He chimed in that his father had taught at her alma mater, and proceded to reminisce inauthentically. He was smooth and friendly, but his slick, polished social skills hinted at an ulterior motive. As a presumed student and practitioner of political strategy, he acted on behalf of his professional ambition, not to mention his penis, rather than any type of altruism.

The floats and paraders ahead of us began to inch forward. The parade was commencing. We marched down Market Street, clapping our hands to the beat provided by the blasting speakers on the float in front of us. Crowds of onlookers cheered and waved at us for blocks from behind barricades on both sides of the street. At some points the crowd was five people deep.

As I continued to walk and clap as enthusiastically as I could muster, a short, slightly pudgy hispanic man wearing purple tinted sunglasses and a soccer jersey approached me. “I’m David,” Campos introduced himself to me. “Thanks for coming.” He moved onto the next volunteer. I took no offense by his disinterest in carrying on more of a conversation than what he gave. We were in the middle of a fracus and it didn’t seem the most appropriate time to talk extensively. Yet it reinforced my view that politicians value winning more than their constituents’ lives.

We approached the block before the Civic Center where the parade would come to its end. Campos’s lead operative cupped his hands over his mouth and yelled back at us. “Let’s pick up the energy guys,” he pumped his fists in the air to “It’s Raining Men”. “There’s one last group of camera’s here at the end. Let’s make David look good!” He then began chanting “Campos” as a camera on a crane swooped down from the right. I scurried past it, not feeling the need to be seen through a lens.

On the last turn I noticed a beautifully robust girl in a painted tank top and a fashionably torn skirt leaning on a barricade. She carried a sign that read “Free Hugs”. I separated from Campos’s group and trotted over to her. We made eye contact, and hugged. We squeezed each other tight, with compassionate strength. “Happy pride,” she said. “Happy pride,” I reciprocated.

Forgiveness

Since coming out and fully embracing my attraction to men, I’ve only been able to wonder what kind of reaction it would illicit from the devout Mormon friends I had as a kid. We’re all adults now. Most of my childhood friends are married with children, so says Facebook. In the year since coming out, I caught up rapidly on adulthood, going on upwards of twenty dates, sleeping with a few men, and now on the verge of a full fledged relationship.

Sex and romance are delicately intertwined with adulthood and maturity, as I have observed over the past year. Experiencing it distances us from our parents and mentors, allowing us to see them as human and not unlike ourselves.

I’d always thought I needed the acceptance and embrace of my childhood friends to feel whole. The hateful, exclusive attitudes toward same sex partnership embedded in my friends’ minds by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints came to life in day to day conversations and constant homophobic aphorisms. Although they were never directed at me personally, as I didn’t come out until the age of 25, they had a long lasting, tragic impact on my psyche. It made me feel like I could not become a respected and enjoyable man without a female partner.

Through close analysis of my deep anxieties, I’ve managed to repair much of the damage I helplessly let occur. Now, as I have done for many years past, I sit and wonder what it would be like to be in the same room as my childhood friends, with all the cards left out on the table. Would I need their acceptance and embrace anymore?

Probably not as much as I needed it in the past. But in these times of rapidly changing social norms and attitudes toward same sex partnership (we were friends during both the Reagan and ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ eras), perhaps I would be surprised by their current response. There’s nothing quite like the catharsis provided by forgiveness, whether or not it is preceded by an apology.

Carry the One

I Can See Better Through the Fog is a storytelling podcast series in the vein of This American Life and the Moth. It tells the ongoing story of an echo boomer’s quarter life crises, featuring life, love, music, and San Francisco. Press the play button below to hear an audio recording of this latest entry or listen to it on iTunes. If it doesn’t work, you may need the latest version of flash software. (click here to download). Another troubleshooting tip would be to go directly to the soundcloud website. Sit back and let your ears do the work. The text version of this entry is provided beneath the list of selected tracks.

Runtime: 6 minutes and 23 seconds.

Selected tracks: Grizzly Bear “Cheerleader” and Band of Horses (covering Grizzly Bear) “Plans”

The elementary school’s cafeteria lay still and empty. My steps echoed through the halls filled with vacant classrooms. I stopped in front of a dining bench, pivoting to survey the vast, vacant space. After taking a deep breath, I took a sip from my coffee thermos. The Dark Sumatra blend sizzled on the tip of my tongue and cooled as it trickled down to the bottom of my throat. A large refrigerator hummed from the kitchen, yet I could now distinguish a faint set of voices coming from a classroom just outside the cafeteria. My tutoring supplies shifted softly inside my backpack as I made my way toward the voices.

A Harry Potter reading poster covered most of the square window at the top of the classroom door where the voices were coming from. Tilting my head to its side, I peeked through what little peep space was provided by the poster. A young Asian woman, with a short, stylish bob hairdo, and a white summer child care t-shirt sat in a tiny chair next to a child of maybe seven. I tilted my head further, which revealed more kids inside the classroom.

I opened the door cautiously, as to not abruptly interrupt their activity. The child care teacher directed her attention to me as I crept inside. “Hi. I’m here to tutor Jose. Mari said you would be here waiting for me,” I said softly. “You must be Max,” the young Asian woman said smiling. She came up to me and shook my hand. “Teresa,” she introduced herself, then walked over to a black binder atop a bookcase beside the door.

“Jose isn’t here today. Although he’s supposed to be.” She began flipping through the binder until she came to a page she examined. “Let me see if he’s coming in later today.” Teresa scanned the page of phone numbers with her pointer finger until she stopped on what had to have been Jose’s. She cradled the binder and carried it two steps to the classroom phone.

While waiting for Teresa to get an answer, I scanned the room. There were two other adults aside from her with a mix of fifteen or so students. Some were Spanish speakers, and some were Cantonese speakers. I recognized Gloria, a student from Ms. C’s class. She smiled when her eyes met mine, then ran over and gave me a big hug. “Hi,” I said. “I know you’re excited, but are you supposed to be working on something?” Gloria nodded. “Math homework,” she said with regret. As Gloria returned to her seat Teresa got a hold of Jose’s father.

“He’s in Mexico?” she repeated for clarification. “Family emergency? And when will he be back? Hm. Alright. Let us know when he’s back.” It was the second student I’d lost over the summer to a family emergency in Mexico. Which made me wonder if the cases had similarities and what the whole story was in each case.

Teresa bit her lower lip in thought. She then rotated her head, looking at a student working from a math workbook at the table nearest her. “Jonathan, you’re in Ms. C’s class next year, right?” Jonathan looked up from his workbook and nodded. Teresa looked back at me. “Jonathan could use some help with his math. Could you work with him every Monday until Jose gets back?”

“That’ll be great,” I told her. With that I walked over to Jonathan and sat in the tiny chair next to him. “Is it ok if I sit here and work on this math with you Jonathan?” I asked. The whimsical smile accompanying his nod caught me off guard. It was an unusually friendly and welcoming gesture for a kid to give a stranger. “I’m Max,” I introduced myself.

Looking over his workbook, I became anxious. It was all in Spanish. I was going to need to decipher some of the questions before I could think of helping him. My eyes drew first to the words I knew. From there I inferred what the directions were. It was a variety of first grade math problems. Jonathan seemed to be struggling the most with double digit addition problems. “Let’s start with this one,” I told him, pointing to the equation 61+77. I then pulled out the building blocks I’d used in a game with Luna earlier in the summer to give Jonathan a visual aid and proceded to teach him about the ones and tens columns.