Sunday, February 26, 2006

The Freedom to let loose...

Talking to a friend recently about the ability to be childish, or rather, the freedom to be so. One of the things I've missed in my ranting about all things creative and male is the fact that guys are allowed to be childish in certain dimensions that aren't allowed on the feminine side.

Specifically, if you're a guy, you can, if you wish:

  • Act like you've recently just discovered puberty.
  • Drive a monster truck.
  • Play soldier, football or any other contact sport.
  • Get all muddy.
  • Shoot things (don't tell me all you hunters are seriously doing this because it's work, I'll laugh).
  • Do things that are dangerous, without regard to your well being (stuff like drinking games, wild off-roading, skydiving and high mountain climbing fall into this category)

Society allows men to be "boys". Women are expected to "grow up" at some point -- although this is showing signs of change, it's generally more frowned upon still. For example, people tend to shrug their shoulders when a man drops his fatherly duties and runs out on his wife. If the wife does it to the man, there's a lot of character questioning and eyebrow raising. The guy just wasn't ready to settle down, while the woman clearly has issues -- I mean, what kind of mother leaves her kids for crying out loud?

Yeah, it's one-sided, that's my point.

Guys are allowed to be childish, but only within similar confines of what I've outlined above.

Remember how Rosie Greer (he was a famous football player) loved needlepoint? Much noise was made about his hobby -- not because he was good at it (who knows, I never saw an example), but because he was a guy. God forbid he be creative with his hands here. Probably some people would question his sexual orientation -- outside of the room. Rosie looks like you don't really want to piss him off in this photo of the cover of his book.

Now, if Rosie's hobby had been lobbing sticks of dynamite at small animals, there would have been no story at all. That's a story about a real man there, not some pansy with needles that's probably making a scarf for his pet poodle.

But my friend had a point -- guys are really allowed more freedom to cut loose in our society. If you're female, you're allowed to cut loose along a reciprocating set of lines. You're allowed such things as:

  • Ability to dress creatively, within limits.
  • Make-up (see the hunting reference above).
  • Do Crafts and cooking (See Rosie, you crossed the line here).
  • The freedom to have a bubbly personality.
  • Artistic expression (What -- guys are allowed to do this?)
  • The ability to dance unimpeded by social norm. Don't tell me you recently saw a guy doing creative dance outside of a musical somewhere.
The lines get blurry when any of the above are crossed. Find a woman that likes to hunt deer or enjoys a good game of football, and you've probably got a gal that can chew tobacco with the best of em' -- it's simply frowned upon.

And what's so bad about a gal who does dip anyway? I have a neighbor who's daughter-in-law dips. It seriously bums her out. Her son dips too, but she's never mentioned it to me being an issue. Why? Because as a guy, you're allowed to spit all you want. It's "un-lady-like" for her daughter-in-law to spit, so she crossed the line.

Why I'm blathering on about all of this, I'll never know ;)

Okay, I know why, and if you've been reading here, so do you. You know that I'm making a point of some of the gender lines in our society. More to this point, my issues isn't with what I'm allowed to do -- it's with the constraints. There are too many constraints on what you're allowed to do for one gender or another -- and it makes for friction at times.

Closing this argument with a small story.

About 15 years ago we had some friends with a son and daughter who were within a year or so of age. The son was in a baseball league, as was the daughter. Turns out that the daughter was a better ball player (and she was younger, to boot), so the parents were forced to act quickly to resolve the issue.

What they did fixed the problem, although the daughter wasn't too happy about it, hearing my wife describe all of the problems that were created as part of the solution. The motivations described here are not inferred at all -- the parents were blatant about their reasons for doing all of it, and completely missed the obvious sense of inequity they were creating.

They didn't want little Johnny to have an inferiority complex, so, you guessed it, they pulled the daughter out of the league -- and put her on the junior cheerleader team.

Yeah, I'm sure that didn't affect the daughters' sense of self at all.

Just for thoughts,

Saturday, February 25, 2006


Funny thing, even the word "suit" has a series of connotations that I can't totally explain. I used to use it a lot in articles to refer to business-types (often the enemy of geek-types, BTW). That is, until I realized one day, recently, that I had become a "suit".

And even more to the point, enjoyed wearing them.

But why, I had to ask myself, do I enjoy suits? I mean, I didn't used to like the damn things. They were a serious pain to wear -- and I'm kind of a rough and tumble guy in real life (honest). Yet, here I was, enjoying something that by my own admission, is kind of bland when you look at it.

Then it struck me last week, after I was trying on a nice suit in a department store -- I realized why, suddenly, I liked them.

They're one of the few things about masculine culture that doesn't make me wretch, or want to hide under a rock. I mean, I simply get embarrassed watching James Bond movies -- it's not that I don't like the action -- it's the stupid phony reaction shots from the female-models-posed-as-secret-agents. The stupid setups where James Bond has some really cool gadget -- they're playing on the juvenile testosterone responses of the typical male 14-year-old mindset -- and it bugs me.

Sports bugs me for similar reasons. Watch a football game, and who's getting paid the most? (Answer -- the jock-strap wearing loons damaging their bodies in the name of the game). Who's getting paid far less to wear far less, do far less and act far stupider? (Answer -- the cheerleaders). It reinforces the male "bread winner while the wife watches" stereotype. Odd, you never much get to see interviews where they highlight this or that cheerleader on their cheering prowess. It doesn't seem quite as important as the dude that broke his leg on that last touchdown run, or the guy that turned the direction of the game for the winning team.

That's because there's another game altogether going on here: It's called gender discrimination.

Think I'm some kind of militant feminist? Guess the fuck what, I'm not -- I'm a militant masculinist (there's a word not in the dictionary) -- I want to advance the general perception of masculinity as something that I can identify with and not feel like I'm out of place because my arms aren't dragging on the floor whilst I walk.

I'd simply like to see something going on in society that reinforces intelligence over this inherent stupidity. Monster garage is far more challenging, so maybe something will give here someday -- but I'm not holding my breath.

Actually, lots of intellectual coolness goes on every day on the tube, it's just that the most popular crap reinforces the things I hate, so really I'm just whining about that.

Back to the suits.

I like them because they're one of the few things masculine that I can identify with without shame.

And there's a (very small) amount of room for some creativity -- color, fit coordination and so on. It's kind of sad (that aspect). I was trolling the discount racks at another store in the mall, and found this display. "What's in style" read this huge sign, and it points to the lack of pleats on the pants, the "side vents" on the jacket and some other completely lame feature that I seriously could give a rats ass about, no self-respecting person would honestly care about -- except some weird "suit Nazi", which I'm sure exists somewhere, yet I haven't met.

So maybe there is some silly stuff about them, but hey, I'm willing to have fun with it, regardless.

Fun. Suits?


Yeah, Fun! Cheers!


Sunday, February 19, 2006

The word for today: Acceptance

Okay, the ride has been a bit bumpy lately, but for some good reasons -- some discovery on my part. I'm dumping some of my thoughts here, so bear with me.

Let's talk about a basic human need: acceptance. It appears that one of my issues in my life has centered around feelings of being a fish out of water. Not just because I'm a creative male (see a few dozen prior blog entries), but because I grew up in a small Mid-Western farming community as a ministers' kid with a bi-racial heritage. The community was mostly made up of farmers and their kids -- almost all from the same German heritage (and all related to each other, but I digress). My parents were anomalies -- they both had master's degrees in social work, and white collar jobs -- Dad was a minister, Mom a social worker.

We moved in in 1969 -- I was 5 years old at the time -- and right away we didn't fit. Three boys, all with long hair in a conservative community that had (even at that date) not seen boys that didn't have buzz-cuts. I was the only kid in class that wore Guayabera shirts to school (It's a Cuban shirt -- very popular in Puerto Rico, but unfortunately for me, never seen before by any of my classmates). To say I felt that I never fit in much is a huge understatement.

One of the more surprising things I've learned to date was that I was still a likable guy. My favorite grade school teacher and my friends that I kept contact with have related this to me countless times -- but it doesn't sink in at my gut. More on this as we go along.

One of the benefits I love about living in Ohio is the diversity. If I say something like "My Mom is Puerto-Rican." people respond with "My dad is Italian.", or "I'm 25 percent native American.", or "I'm Irish." It's never the same answer and I love it. I can't say I felt that way growing up, and it made me feel much like a stranger in a strange land (no, I'm going off on the inevitable Robert Heinlein tangent here).

If I had to pick a heavier impact, though, it would be from the former difference -- the fact that I never felt that I was accepted for being who I was. Besides the creative direction, there's a devilishly deviant part of my personality that bends me toward a social personality trait that I call "Center of the Room".

Not that the motivation for this trait is all that rare -- it's not really all that rare to find someone who wants attention -- the rare part is where everyone else in the room is actually wishing for it at the same time. That's because humor is involved, a lot of sarcastic whit, rowdiness and inevitable self-deprecating insanity. As one of my high school friends pointed out (yes, this has been going on for quite some time), if it was boring, and I came along, it wasn't boring for long.

People that know me fairly well know that there's a mischievous side to my personality that manifests itself heavily in social situations. I can't stand things being dry for long, so I tend to be the guy that steps in and says "Let's have a party." Actually, I don't say it -- I just start the mayhem without any kind of announcement.

This works really well at most social events, like parties for example. It makes for some interesting meetings at work. It's definitely not the kind of thing you do a funeral (no, I'm more socially grounded than that, although some funerals could have been spiced up a bit more, I've always resisted the temptation).

But often, even after the laughter has died down (okay, right after the laughter dies down) I feel, or at times have felt, pretty much the same feeling I've always felt. It's an uneasy feeling that there was something not quite right about this aspect of my personality -- usually this depends upon how I'm feeling that day. If I'm having a bad day, it's bad, on good days, it's awesome. It was hard to understand.

That is, until about a year ago, when I by chance I ran into someone with extremely similar personality traits, and realized that they definitely made my day go faster and that the laughter was just as good for everyone else as it was for me. The other thing I discovered is that, like me, they could be laughing on the outside, and not doing so well on the inside. It's a very lonely feeling because you're the only one in the room who knows just how bad you really feel.

Mistakenly, they, at times, felt phony, just like I had. What they did teach me, however, was that it's a defense mechanism -- something that had never occurred to me at all. Thinking back, sometimes it is. But what a way to defend yourself. Recently I've found myself taking a back seat to this person -- a decidedly good seat -- in the audience. There can only be one center anyway for the best effect, so this isn't a bad thing. What's really good is the fact that for once I don't feel quite so lonely -- it's OK to make everyone feel good, even if you yourself aren't doing so well. Plus I get to watch, learn new techniques and so on, from a vantage point that simply wasn't available before.

Is it phony if it helps people get along, and you enjoy yourself just for a bit? I know enough now to say that when I've been the center of the room, one of the reasons that a lot of the stuff comes off so funny is because I've done self-deprecating things, sarcastic jokes that people know are grounded in how I really feel and so on -- I'm simply too truthful to myself and my audience to be deceitful (the exception is practical jokes, which is another really, really long blog entry, lemme tell ya).

The reason it feels phony at times is grounded in the moments when you're laughing on the outside and crying on the inside. This is not because you're being fake -- it's because you're two people -- one is social, and the other is personal. Just because they don't line up doesn't always mean that either of them is a fake. For a lot of people, these two beings always coincide, and that's a simple way to go through life -- they don't often coincide for me because I've been this way a long, long time.

In this case, the reason I'm lonely has very little to do with the number of people in the room with me -- it has to do with the fact that for some alien reason, no one seems to see how fucked up things are -- or worse, they seem to know but just don't seem to care to do anything about it.

And I've been the kind of guy that does care and have my share of scars from battles where I did in fact do something about it when no one else was lifting a proverbial finger. As some people know, I've taken on Microsoft and other corporations, lobbied the government and through my work with Linux, worked world-wide to change perceptions of things that were simply not right. I tend to side with the underdog if I perceive that something is wrong.

This can be good when you win -- but can I win if the underdog is the creative American male? Just who is the enemy in this context? The enemy in this case is society. This is a fight that I can't win, unfortunately -- I can only hope to voice some opinions and look for some change (inevitable) over the course of my lifetime.

And so we arrive at my particular malady. I'm fighting a ghost. I cannot win this battle -- I will not surrender, but I must admit that the change I'm fighting for is simply impossible to effect anytime soon.

Does this sound like a stupid reason to be depressed? Sometimes depression is brought on by the fact that some part of your life sucks. In other words, maybe I'm seriously depressed for a worthy cause. In my case, the reason may seem stupid to a lot of people. It's no longer trivial to me, ever since I lost a childhood friend with a remarkably creative personality to what can only be described as social stupidity.

I think that's one of the reasons that I've fallen into such a funk lately (not all of it, but a sizable chunk of the problem). I simply can't stand some of the stupidity around me embedded in the read only memory of our society -- The social instructions for how people raise their kids for failure in life, or worse, a life as a man where you're allowed to be functional, successful and so on -- but not allowed to be creative, funny, bubbly or anything else outside of the realm of the stock male persona of bare-chested action super-hero. For sure you shouldn't cry at a movies, hug your best friend if he's male, or sing to yourself and get caught (all big social no-nos if you're a guy).


Whatever you do, don't enjoy playing dress-up -- wait, that might be changing, thanks to "Queer eye for the straight guy".

-or is it?

I mean, do straight guys really have to sit around and get gay people to show them how to let go of social stupidity? It's nothing against the gay community -- it's aimed squarely at the fact that society says I'm not supposed to be this way. Yes, by the way, I've recently decided that I like dressing up (no -- not in my wife's cloths, either -- mine). I like it a lot. Oddly enough, no homosexual tendencies have manifested themselves in my personality, despite this known non-heterosexual male trait. Okay, I need to cut down on the sarcasm a bit here, but you get the point -- and I could seriously care less about this one. The main point I'm driving to here revolves around being able to be yourself, and not some unemotional automaton.


Getting back to the basic human need of acceptance here.

I haven't felt totally accepted by society. Not even my wife at times understands me, and she's been around me for over 2 decades -- although she's been working on it, lately a lot more than ever. At the core of my frustration is a basic indignity -- I know I'm not a bad person. I care, I show I care, and I have feedback that tells me that people know I care. I'm a productive member of society. I may be a bit on the non-standard side, but so the fuck what? I shouldn't have these feelings but for the want of some dark things that happened in the past at times when I was vulnerable.

Somehow I, unlike some of my friends, got past the issues -- but I'm here on the other side looking at the damage and at what could be better for want of a little less stupidity and social constraint. Maybe more guys like me would be around or there might be just a bit more joy in my day. In any case, I'm simply not satisfied to watch from the sidelines anymore.

Or it may be that I want something impossible: I want society to hug me back and say "You're OK just the way you are, Paul".

And that's simply never going to happen.

See -- I can't fight society. I can't "win" this battle -- it's a loss before I get started. There's no one listening or fighting back. I'm swinging at air. It's a reflexive action on my part (part of my personality) to fight something that's wrong -- but in this case, my gut reflex is to do something extremely depressive and pointless.

In order to overcome this, I've seriously got to lighten up on this one.

It might be kind of funny to at least talk through the problems. I'm thinking maybe a book about it would be nice. I need to set the boundary conditions a bit here, but it's a start.

In any case, thanks for listening in the mean time.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Tremble your way to fitness

The reference is to a George Carlin routine where he announces a whole slew of bogus book titles in a row, like:

  • Cooking with heat.
  • Marriage for one!
  • How to kill a rat with an oboe.
  • I gave up, died and it worked!

But I digress. Recently having breakfast with a friend, she said "Wow! You look great! What have you been doing?"

My response: "It's called neurosis. Be thankful it hasn't happened to you."

Funny thing is, I've been working out very regularly for the past 3-4 months. Not just because it's the right thing to do, but because I, for the first time in my life, need the stress relief that a good workout brings to the table.

I've found that it's the only way I can easily make it through the day, and that for all of the positives that a workout brings, one of the biggest and more consistent benefits is longer sleeping patterns (still work to do there, trust me).

But slowly I find my self in more and more grounded states of mind.

The thing is, I wouldn't be so damn healthy if it weren't for the stress and recent life challenges I've faced. I never thought I'd get into fitness by being overly stressed -- I've always had to work hard at a regular workout regimen.

Up to now, that is. Prior, it's always been like "Oh God, another trip to the dentist" kind of mentality. Now it's like "How many minutes left before I can leave to go work out?!?! Are we there yet?"

Okay, it might be more of an obsessive/compulsive thing too. If so, it would be one of those rare moments where OCD actually has helped my cause.

And I'm also convinced that somehow it's affected my persona -- no idea how I know this, I just feel it from time to time. Maybe I'm becoming more fit, but I honestly feel that at times the whole "wear your heart on your sleeve" thing, coupled with the recent events I've experienced are somehow meshing into a condition that has changed the way either people react to me, or vise versa.

Or maybe I'm just going nuts. Oh well. At least I'll look good while I'm staring at the walls in the asylum.


PS: I found the complete list of Carlin's "Join the book-club" monologue here.

The word for today is deliverance.

I've recently experienced the phenomena, but the word can mean different things to different people. So what does it mean in FeriCyde context?

This is my definition (okay, some of it is derived from work by Scott Peck).

Several thoughts together. The Lords prayer clearly states:

".. and deliver us from evil ..."

This on the surface may seem a trivial thought, but like a lot of simple things in Christianity, I've found that there are deeper, multi-layer meanings and more powerful implications.

And then there's the whole exorcism process, which although it might sound like it has limited application, in fact can be applied to a host of ills. I applied it to my recent thought-related problems, for example, and it worked fine.

Of course, I might really have been possessed too, but who the heck knows?

More importantly -- did it matter? Seriously?

There are several stages to an exorcism -- one of the first stages is identification of the pretext, and one of the final stages is deliverance. For more on these things, if you're curious (not everyone should be curious, by the way), please read Scott Pecks The people of the Lie. If that's not enough, he has later work on exercism, which will really turn your head (okay, I couldn't resist the pun).


Until the day dawn, and the shadows flee away.
Songs of Solomon, 2-17
Deliverance is the end result of the process of delivery, of being carried through the rough to the point of relief. I sincerely believe that at some of the roughest points of my life, I was carried by some external force through the rough waters. I simply have had experiences that were larger than my life and experience could have tolerated.

Higher powers, in other words, do the heavy lifting. I chose the identifier of angels, but your religious paradigm may provide other names.

Rough points. In my most recent experience, I simply could not sleep. I went to bed and woke with the same thoughts (imagine an endless loop of the same thought patterns that simply would not go away). My sleep patterns were approaching less than an hour a night and showing no signs of getting better.

This had the rather drowning effect of making my waking moments even more depressing. It also makes for extreme emotional instability, but I digress.

There were other life complications, which I can't share here. I asked as many spiritual friends as I could to pray for me -- all at around the same time, and I carefully asked certain ones for a specific result: deliverance.

And for the first time in months, I awoke with something like 5-6 hours of sleep, and a clear mind.

I had been delivered.

I didn't know if it was permanent then (I think it is now, by the way). I was not totally cured of the problems, but in control of my head. This was the good part.

The bad part was that I felt like I had been spiritually run through a meat grinder. My emotions were raw, but in check. It was as if someone had found the volume button for my emotional/creative side and turned it up a few notches. This was different than what I had been experiencing, which was mostly depressive, destructive, unwelcome thoughts and pain, so it was OK. Stuff that was good was so amazingly good (feeling-wise) that it's hard to describe. Bad stuff hurt like hell, but I knew I was going to be OK.

My head hurt like crazy. This went away after a week, so it points to some sort of chemical shift. For this reason I've been cutting out as many unnecessary chemicals as I can(*).

Deliverance implies being carried. It implies external forces in your life. It points to divine powers interacting or interceding in your life -- their finest moments applied to your most dire needs. It may also imply something a bit less obvious: You need to turn the wheel over to God for a bit, because clearly it's in his hands for the duration. This "letting go" can be a bit humbling. I know it was for me.

If you are in the rough waters of your life, I pray for your deliverance.

I pray that you will be carried to that point when you emerge from the rapids into the calmness of the still waters -- when you can look back at the mayhem and the insanity of it all and breath a sigh of relief.

I pray for your delivery. Godspeed.

Unnecessary Chemicals I've tossed out, and why... I've taken the attitude that alcohol is not my friend for a few reasons:
  • On the spiritual plane, Alcohol is recognized as something that opens your soul (supposedly it lowers your "vibration" in metaphysical speak), --something I simply don't want to risk.
  • Physically/Emotionally, it's supposed to lower inhibitions. Try not to laugh at this if you know me personally.
  • It's a depressant. The warming effects of the moment that I might get drinking the stuff just isn't worth the higher depression I'm going to feel later.
  • The situations where I drink are just the kind of events where I simply don't want to risk or feel negativity. I need all of the control I can muster.
Reading up on artificial sweeteners, it looks like things like Splenda and NutraSweet aren't so hot either. I've taken to avoiding them more.

I gave up caffeine. This has helped me sleep in some situations (not all of them good, like driving to work and meetings, for example).