Greetings from Santa Monica! I'm staying these days in the apartment of K, a former student currently summering in Alaska, the state she grew up in, working on her memoir. I'm doing the same, trying to get a whole chapter written before I fly out to the Plains for our annual Fourth of July trip.
It's been fun living a monastic life four blocks from the Pacific Ocean. I wake up, put a pod in K's Keurig, and write all morning. When stuck, I pace the apartment in a circuitous track, walking counterclockwise to stir up, superstitiously, unorthodox ideas. Around 1pm, I need to clear my head, so I put on shoes and walk along the beach, heading north toward the pier. The sun is directly overhead, and there's a briny smell coming in on the breeze, and the mass of people all out enjoying the day reminds me that I'm not some monk, that there's a whole busy world outside.
These have been confusing days, emotionally I mean. I'm in my happiest element, nothing I need to do but write and read. (And I'm in Los Angeles, the city I love the most.) But I'm lonely as hell. I miss N. all the time. August marks our 17th year together, and while it doesn't sound romantic on paper, I'm reminded these days of how much I love just looking across the room and seeing him there again, my partner in life.
How do monks do it?
1. Raglan Sleeve Tees
Or baseball T's, people sometimes call them. 'Raglan' refers to any shirt where the sleeve pieces go right up to the neck, named for FitzRoy James Henry Somerset Lord Raglan, a British army officer who lost his arm at Waterloo and took to wearing such shirts. They seem suited for men who've lost something, mainly their youth. Anytime I see a man over 35 in a raglan tee, I think about dads who play on softball leagues, not fully out of shape but no longer in the shape they were once proudest of (that whole mien = very sexy). Also, they make great retro band tees, which in my own youth I called poser-y, but now at 44 I'm embracing my Jason-Bateman-in-Juno tendencies, and trying to be a little gay about it, hence this, my new favorite T-shirt (from Bread & Water Print Shop in Pittsburgh):
Only downside: raglans tend to have 3/4 sleeves, which bunch up any time you pull on a jacket. Warm weather wear only.
2. "Dora, the Female Explorer" by Stackridge
Spotify fed me this song a couple months back on its algorithm, from an 1970's English band I'd never heard of. I was, naturally, intrigued by the title, given the cartoon my first wave of friends who had kids ended up knowing intimately, and once the song began, with its stompy drumbeat and dueling harmonica & fiddle, I was hooked. (I've been a sucker for violin ever since my mom wouldn't let me learn to play it.) The lyrics? Basically, the song's about a woman full of derring-do: 'Underneath the clifftop, hanging by her teeth, this girl will find adventure right there at your feet' etc. It's a banger. That title is, yes, unfortunate. Redundant and unnecessary. It reminds me of a headline N. once came across, when he was researching Carolands, a house in the Bay Area we were going to tour: 'Hillsborough's Carolands Sold to Woman Investor'. Did the Dora the Explorer creators also love this song? Is it just an obvious slant rhyme? Is there a 'Go, Male Diego Go!' jam still to be discovered?
The Anxiety of Exhibitionism
Look: let's not get into why all the ads on my Instagram feed are for underwear and workout shorts, but the other day I was fed this:
Any time I catch myself engaging critically with the messaging of online ads, I see myself as in one of my favorite Onion articles: Grad Student Deconstructs Take-Out Menu. So I'm not going to touch 'badge of honor' or 'hop in a pair', but I'm fascinated by the ad's suggestion. Here are my thighs. Look at them! I'm showing them off! But listen: I don't care what you think. I need you to understand I don't care what you think of what I'm making you look at.
More broadly, I'm interested in the imperative to show off. It's Pride Month after all. Pride is many things to many people: a commemoration of a riot started by trans women, a month of parades, a commitment to visibility in a world that would prefer us to hide, a time to dust off your old posts about the hypocrisy of corporations who flag themselves up in June and then give money to anti-gay politicians. I always note that it's not Gay History Month, but Gay Pride Month, and it feels like another imperative.
The idea with Pride, and with the Thigh Huggers* ad, is to ward off shame (though I imagine the thigh bulkers this ad is aimed at stand more often at the giving than receiving end of any body shaming). Shame is my beat, my default affect at any given moment of the day. For a long time, I bought into the shame-pride binary, trying my best to heed RuPaul when she scolded her contestants each episode: 'If you can't love yourself, how the hell you gonna love somebody else?'
Once in a session, I told this to my therapist. 'I think I just need to try harder to love myself, and be proud of myself.' Then she said, 'Or accept yourself.' And I was held there on the couch by the difference.
She was reminding me of what I'd read half a dozen times but never fully understood: the opposite of shame isn't pride, it's self-acceptance. I'm gay enough. My thighs are thick enough. That 'self' is key: when you work overtime to get others to accept you, or like you, you're still caught in shame's trap.
Which brings me back to the imperative to show off, that anxiety at the heart of all exhibitionism: Is nobody interested in what I'm showing off? Writing is exhibitionistic. (Well: publishing is, particularly when you shove your writing into people's inboxes twice a month.) It requires a certain courage to not only show off them thicc, vascular words, but to bear witness to your audience's reception.
There's a tension there. As I tell my students: if you learn anything in an MFA program, learn how to tell on your own when your essay is good enough. Become your own arbiter, because soon I and your workshop peers are going to go away. But all writing has to give something to its readers. Otherwise it's like flashing, or wearing Thigh Huggers. Look! Look at this!
Writing for me and writing for you. Something I'm still learning. Perhaps this whole essay is just an overwritten Thank You to editors everywhere.
* Which I like as a pejorative term (a la 'tree huggers') for men who spend neurotic amounts of time in the gym.
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