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The Origin of Hate: The Wordy Intro.

The fear prelude.

A wise and powerful old alien once said that “Fear is the path to the dark side.” You know, because fear leads to anger then hate then suffering and all of a sudden you’re wearing a creepy black breathing apparatus or shooting blue lightning from your fingertips and trying to blow planets to bits.

I’ve been mulling over this idea of Yoda’s for some time, attempting to write this grand essay crushing the evil force that is fear…but I couldn’t, try as I might. First I thought, “Well, you obviously can’t write something about conquering the Fear Menace because you’re a sissy and have no place writing about something you can’t fully grasp.” (That was an interesting stage for in my life). Then I realized the truth: I couldn’t write an essay that hinged on destroying fear when fear isn’t usually a bad thing. Fear is simply a chemical reaction in the brain, one of our most primal functions biologically devised to keep us alive and fully functional. It’d be like writing about the terrors of feeling hunger. Sure, some people overdo it with their food intake but all in all knowing when you should nourish yourself ain’t half bad.

Fear is inherently a necessary or even good thing, but loses much of it’s usefulness in the part it plays in two specific areas. The first is as an inhibitor in one’s quest to become their ideal self. This is the sort of fear that keeps you from approaching that sexy vixen on the other side of the room; the fear that figures you might as well settle for one school because the chances are so absurdly small that you’ll even get into your dream school that you don’t even try. It’s really easy to blame poor ol’ fear, but the true troublemaker is a lack of self-esteem or an unclear idea of one’s goals. The second area in which fear becomes a problem is as a springboard toward hate. But as with the example above, fear is not completely the issue here (I’m the last guy who will question the wisdom of Yoda, but dude’s oversimplifying). The origins of hate are more a matter of psychological processing than a simple emotional reaction. I’ll spend the remainder of this prelude looking at these origins and the part that fear has to play.

The Anger Suite.

Before we go diving headfirst into hatred, I think it’d be beneficial to define it. And to do so I’d like to compare it to its close buds anger and rage, the three main components of what I like to call “The Anger Suite.”

On one end of the suite is anger itself. Anger is a strong, but basic reaction to a perceived wrongdoing; a person, place, thing, or event that has provoked the other into a feeling of discomfort and great displeasure. It can be overwhelming to the point of negatively effecting one’s rational thought processes, often causing one to act out against the catalyst (or anything within reach, really) in varying levels of vengeance.

Like fear mentioned before, as well as sadness and any other feelings falling under “emotional pain,” it’s a natural human response meant to alert you that something is wrong and a resolution is needed in order to return you to a state of contentment. This works identically to physical pain where the sharp sting of holding your hand in a fire is your body telling you to get it out of there. And, like physical pain, allowing anger to linger results in escalating and sometimes irreparable discomfort.

This is where hate comes in. Hate is what happens when one hangs on to the anger. The anger plants roots and becomes less of a passing warning and more a constant presence in one’s life. Hatred runs deep. It’s got all the downsides of anger but even more so. Maintaining it results in a constant flow of stress and frustration which causes more anger which inflates the hatred. Where anger provides negative motivation in the moment (to throw something or punch someone in the face), hatred births constant motivation that borders on (and might eventually achieve) obsession. The catalyst and its removal or transformation to something more acceptable are never far from the forefront of the hater’s mind. The greater the hate, the greater the lengths one will go to achieve this goal.

Finally, rage. Summoned by a catalyst that causes an especially high level of anger, rage comes on powerful and reactive. Blinding in that it cancels rational thought and a clear sense of time and space, rage causes the sorts of situations that leads people to plead “temporary insanity” in courts of law. Due to the amount of energy this emotion needs to erupt, it tends to have the greatest short-term destructive potential of The Anger Suite but lasts the shortest amount of time. Rage isn’t the most common thing out there, but it’s worth mentioning in that it’s a very real concern and feelings of hatred brings the threat of it closer to boil.

Hate me. Fear me.

Hate based purely in anger is a pretty easy concept to grasp. You hate the guy who murdered your fiance. You hate yourself for having never really applied yourself, resulting in a life you are wholly dissatisfied with. The solution here is forgiveness of self, of others. I talk about this at length in my last post, Forget-Me-Nots: The Art of Letting Go.

Our friend Yoda tells us that fear leads to hate, but how? I mean, the very biology behind fight or flight offers a very simple choice: fight OR flight. Anger OR fear. One doesn’t lead to the other. They are polarized options…right? Initially, sure, but anger is a reaction to a perceived wrongdoing…and the thing that pushes one into a state of fear is, more often than not, perceived immediately as “wrong.” Sure we’re afraid of the guy in the ski mask coming at us with a chainsaw , but we hate him for it, too. We hate him for disrupting the relative good that our existence allowed us. We hate him for exposing our perceived weakness (read: fear). Dealing with is it like dealing with any hurt you feel (I direct you once again to my last post). Of course, making sure you’re out of continued harm’s way comes first. It IS a man with a chainsaw after all.

Perceive it. Believe it. The end?

Perception is everything. Molded by nature, molded by nurture, it can be guessed at based on one’s biology or society (sometimes quite accurately so), but is inherently a very intimate, personal thing. How we perceive something dictates how we interact with it; react to it. Skydiving unlocks exhilaration in an adrenaline-junkie and utter terror in an acrophobe (someone afraid of heights). Going a blind date excites lovers of surprise and produces apprehension in those who fear the unknown. A guy with a chainsaw would cause most to wet themselves, but it’s really no big deal if you’ve got Yoda’s skill set.

How you perceive something shapes your feelings toward it. And in the vein of this essay, perceiving something as alarming will cause us to fear it and whether that fear grows into terror or hate (both are no way to live) is up to us dealing with it in a way that does not exacerbate the fear or anger, but instead removes it from the entire equation. Understanding and compassion are the key.

Onto the main event…

This is just the intro. I focused heavily on some basic ideas and lightly touched upon the ones we’ll hit in the main event coming up. A major part of a society, of a culture, is the existence of a moral code; a general consensus of what’s right and what’s wrong. This significantly shapes the perception of its people and therefore shapes their fear- and anger- triggers as well. This becomes quite interesting when one member of society is viewed as “wrong” or “different” by certain others for various reasons. Maybe they’re an axe murderer or from a different race or alcoholic or gay. Some people can’t see the moral differences between two or four or any of these descriptors and so the seeds of hate are sewn.

Of course, the axe murderer is willfully destroying other people. He is wrong. The alcoholic is willfully destroying his or herself. He is wrong. But animosity toward those of a different race, gender, sexual orientation, certain cultural traditions…this sort of hate is another thing altogether. And so we call it prejudice, a human trait wrongly perceived as wrong…and so a grave wrong itself. It is a great destroyer of things. Of lives. Of peace. Of love.

It is the sole focus of the remainder of “The Origin of Hate.”

Stay tuned!

Question everything.

Who. What. When. Where. Why. How. These are the building blocks of knowledge. If I were to have cultivated a catch phrase, a motto, a battle cry, it would surely be “question everything.”

The majority of the time, questions are asked as the result of doubt; of an existing unknown, or the decent-enough probability of one. What time are we meeting for dinner? Does he love me as much as I love him? Is bigfoot real? Other times questions are a means for one to assess the knowledge of another or prove their own. What is two plus two? Who was the thirty-eighth president? Why did the chicken cross the road? In any case, knowledge is being shared or verified under the admittance of the possibility that the one or more of the involved does not know. The power of questions, for many, seems to stop there.

While the eradication of the unknown (of doubt) is primary function of the question, the relationship between doubt of question often warps the latter into a negative space; a space linked to confusion, uncertainty, and distrust. This stigma unfortunately tends to keep us from utilizing the question’s power when it comes to those things that are known; the things that we are certain of.

Science is the human invention that makes the greatest use of questioning knowns…mostly because science accepts that fact that most things can never be 100% known. Does the Sun really revolve around the Earth? Do heavier objects really fall faster than lighter ones? Is the Earth really 6,000 years old? The constant challenging of and building upon perceived fact is at the foundation of science. Without it we’d still think that angry gods made lightning and that masturbation leads to insanity. While the benefits of this manner of thinking are countless we tend to shrink away from it when the matters become more feeling- and emotion-based.

Let’s take two of the most powerful feelings we’ve got: love and faith.

Love is the peak of positive human emotion, forger of the strongest relationships between one’s self and the person, thing, or idea in which they are in love with. Faith is level of emotional certainty so complete that it perseveres without the requirement of tangible logical proof. Both are draped in commitment and, as such, “questions as doubt” are in direct opposition to both. It’s difficult to separate questioning love from doubting the strength of the relationship just as questioning faith is synonymous with doubting one’s core beliefs, even seen as a sin in certain religious contexts. In fact, the opposite is true. As in science, it is understanding and verification that often should spark questioning, not lack of belief.

Take Jack and Molly. They’re recently married, have an unassuming house in the suburbs, a dog. They share their innermost thoughts over coffee in the morning and marathon Netflix series, cuddled together on the couch every night. They are in love. One morning, Jack looks over at Molly and asks, “Why are we together?”. She answers, matter of factly, because we make each other happy, we get one another, and we want what’s best for the other from the bottom of our being.” That dialogue strengthens a bond. It validates a feeling. Granted, another answer could have gone like, “I…I honestly don’t know anymore.” That dialogue reveals a weakness in the bond and from there it can be dealt with. Regardless of the response, the challenge of the question fosters growth and both parties will be better off because of it.

Here’s a list of reasons people steer clear of questioning things they’re certain of:

  • It’s morally wrong. Especially where faith is involved many religions teach that questioning its doctrine is itself a sin.

  • It looks like an awful lot like doubt. As mentioned above with love, questioning something can seem an awful lot like you don’t believe in it even if that’s not the case. Questioning a relationship, a decision, an idea can be hurtful to those who are intimately involved in either.

  • It makes you look dumb. Putting any question out there (unless testing someone) is admitting that you do not have an answer. Some of us would opt for continued ignorance to avoid being viewed as ignorant in the moment.

  • The truth is scary. So often questions aren’t asked because the answer (the truth) is scarier. Living a lie becomes the more comfortable (or less mysterious) choice and therefore we cling to it because the alternative might be worse in the short or long run.

The truth is the truth. The truth is what’s real. It is the the only way to reach genuineness, completeness of self, goals, and relationships. And the only way to do this is to “Who, what, when, where, and why” everything, not with the intention to debunk it (that’s how you become paranoid) but instead to simply understand.

Growth begins with a question.

Forget-Me-Nots: The Art of Letting Go

Whoever came up with the saying “Forgive and forget” was probably referring to a time one of the neighborhood kids accidentally hit a baseball and broke a window. It’s got a 1950’s ring to it (just like that scenario). A little too clean, a little too easy. Granted, in the sort of situation like that it’s totally justified. Kids being kids. Glass being glass. No real emotional attachments. No harm done that can’t easily be undone. Accidents happen.

What if we raise the stakes a little? Let’s say the ball crashed through the window and broke the urn which happened to hold the ashes of your recently-deceased and beloved grandfather. In this instance a bit of emotional pain comes to play. Judgment’s clouded by anger or sadness. It’s harder to brush off. Still, most good-tempered understanding people would forgive and let this go easily enough.

How about this? A mom, with her 2-year old son, is getting some weekend shopping done. The mom sees a sale on baby clothes, looks away for a second, the baby wanders into traffic and a car (completely within the speed limit) rounds the corner killing him on impact? Another accident. This time there is extreme emotional anguish experienced by the mother…and probably the driver as well. Guilt comes into play and with it the ever difficult task of forgiving oneself.

Let’s say you’re a guy in high school and your best friend is in science class when a classmate decides to pull out a gun and kill him and nine others. Or your sibling sleeps with your significant other. Or you spent two months assured that you’d get a raise only to find out that they don’t have the funds. Or your husband or wife commits suicide?

“Forgive and forget” is a stupid saying. Adding the clause “only when applied to the simplest of offenses” helps a little, but it’s not the forgiveness half of the cliché that is its major failing, but part about forgetting. Forgetting something that has caused you pain (physical or emotional) is as ridiculous as trying to forget things that have made you feel happy, content, complete. Both are growth opportunities that should never be ignored. What’s more, once an event has illicited a certain level of emotional intensity, forgetting becomes all but impossible. The farthest those who try will get to doing so is suppression…and we all know how well supressing feelings goes. Forgetting and suppression (bad) are sought after because they present themselves as express routes to the clarity and cool of forgiveness and letting go (SPOILER ALERT: They’re not).

Letting go is not the same as forgetting. I repeat: letting go is not the same as forgetting. Forgetting is the attempt to erase a memory completely. Letting go is the act of understanding the experience, logically cataloging lessons learned, adjusting accordingly, and releasing the negative hold it has had on you.

Let’s take the example of the mother who lost her son (I like using the most extreme examples because it’s easier to take something like this and scale it down to relate to your painful experience than something small like a broken window and scale the lessons learned up):

This is a living nightmare; a mom losing a child. The cause here is the death of the 2-year old (“Oh my god, I killed a child!), the mother’s anger toward the driver (He killed my son! He should have been paying more attention to the road), and the driver’s anger toward the mother (She should have been watching her child!”). Throw in the cops and the family of the mother and you’ve got yourself a certified tragedy. So, what’s the path to letting go look like here (and everywhere)?

First thing’s first: life experiences can’t be undone. Wishing things had been different; that you could go back to the way things were before… it’s not possible. Dwelling on that sort of thought is an utter waste of time and can only do harm. Time spent trying to relive the past is time lost in creating a better present. The pain is prolonged.

Allow yourself to feel. Hurt hurts. You may want to suppress the pain with every bone in your body. Losing yourself in tasks like drinking or partying or cleaning or drawing for the sake of creating distraction, pretending everything’s fine, locking yourself away from the things that could make you feel – choose your drug. These things can prolong the healing process. If you want to scream, scream. If you want to cry, by all means go ahead. Let it out. This is who you are. This is what you feel. Embrace it, as horrible as it is right now.

Keep on living. While it may feel like a certain part of your life has taken a beating…or the whole thing…know that the world will continue to turn with or without you. I suggest you choose “with.” Sure it was the world that kicked you in the first place, but it’s going to be the world that helps to lift you up again…just as it has before. And the cool thing is, every time it lifts you up the chances of the next slack to the face hurting you as much will be much lesser…even the chances of you being hurt at all go down. So keep living. Pick yourself up and have a night out with your loved ones. Take a walk and take in all that is awesome in the world. Use the emptiness you may be feeling and fill it up with something off your bucket list: take a trip, pick up a new language; a new hobby. This will slowly raise your sense of self and belonging and will counter of the negative aspects of allowing yourself to feel, namely getting lost in a prison of those feelings.

Sidenote: What’s the difference between cleaning your house as a distraction to feeling and cleaning your house as a means to keep on living? Answer: Intention. We constantly walk the thin line between helpful and hurtful and mindset can go a long way in placing your safely on one side of the other.

Forgive. While I hesitate to say that any of these steps are the most difficult in the process (that depends on each individual situation – accident or not, emotional intensity, cultural conditions, etc…) I will say that forgiveness of self or others tends to be the hardest part. Unfortunately, it is an integral part of completely letting go. Forgiveness is looking into the belly of the beast and saying, with utter genuineness, “I am not resentful.” To fully let go one must forgive.

Forgiveness tends to be the last step of the process to kick off, a culmination of the others running their course and contentment returning. Life is about growth. If there is an easy meaning to life, growth would be it. Lessons learned and applied. Learning to forgive, to release the hatred toward the offender, is one of the most trying and inspiring methods to growth moving forward. The mother doesn’t need to hate herself to ensure that her next child doesn’t suffer the same fate. The best friend doesn’t need to despise the boy shot his best friend to be kind to a student that is ridiculed and beat on. The girl does not need to resent her man-stealing sister and ex to engage in a healthier relationship with her latest boyfriend. In most cases the opposite is true.

The goal is and always will be not to forgive and forget, but to forgive and let go. The first will lead to the second and we will continue life, empowered, never forgetting, never losing hope.

[A Play About Love]

Characters
Ben
Justin

A park bench. Winter. Ben sits, looking at his phone. Justin enters. Ben notices him.

Ben: Hey there.

Justin: Hey. It’s cold.

Ben: Yeah. Sit.

Justin: Okay.

Justin sits.

Justin: So…

Ben: Thanks for coming.

Justin: Yeah. Of course. Lunch break so…thirty minutes. Make it good.

Ben: Ha. Okay, so…

Justin: Are you breaking up with me?

Ben: No.

Justin: Oh God. Good. Okay. Go ahead.

Ben: Why would you think I’m breaking up with you?

Justin: I dunno. I’m crazy. I dunno. Things have been kind of…weird lately.

Ben: Yeah.

Justin: I mean, it’s not that crazy to think you’d just want to end it.

Ben: It’s a little crazy.

Justin: See? Like that. You think I’m crazy.

Ben: You just said you’re crazy.

Justin: That’s different. Everyone thinks they’re crazy.

Ben: I don’t.

Justin: Well, we can’t all be Ben.

Ben: What does that mean?

Justin: Nothing. Nothing. It’s just…you do this ‘perfect’ thing. You just have a way of making people feel inferior because you’re so damn put together.

Ben: It’s not my fault people don’t have the self confidence to deal with mine.

Justin: I feel inferior when I’m around you. Sometimes.

Ben: That’s-

Justin: Crazy? It’s how I feel, Ben. And I don’t know if I can spend the rest of my life feeling that way.

Ben: The rest of your life? You’re talking like we’re married or something.

Justin looks away.

Ben: Justin…

Justin: We’ve been dating for eight months.

Ben: Exactly. Only eight months.

Justin: Well it’s significant to me. We’re not these young queer little sex fiends anymore.

Ben: I never was. And I hate that word, queer.

Justin: It’s serious now. I want to be with the person that I’m with for the rest of my life.

Ben: So, you think about marrying me? After eight months?

Justin: Yes! Yes, I do. And I think about it a lot. What’s the point of staying with someone if there’s not at least the potential of being with them forever? It just gets in the way of finding the real thing out there. Somewhere.

Ben: Wow.

Justin: So you honestly never think about us getting married?

Ben: I do not.

Justin: Then why are you with me?

Ben: Because I like how it feels. Right here. Right now. Who knows what’s coming? No one. So, this is here and this is nice and that’s all that matters.

Justin: I love you.

Ben: I love you, too.

Justin: Do you?

Ben: Jesus Christ!

Justin: Stop! Stop it! Stop making my feelings seem invalid and ridiculous.

Ben: I didn’t say anything!

Justin: You don’t have to. It’s so deep inside of you. It’s down the atomic level. Patronizing and condescending to the core.

Ben: Okay. Well how about you stop making me out to be some loveless monster? I’m tired of having to constantly prove to you that I care about you when anyone can see that I do nothing but. I’m not keeping you here. If you want to leave me and go out and find that real thing then, by all means, if it’s not me then I want you to go find it.

Justin: Are you not listening?! I don’t want to leave. You…us…this…this is what I want the real thing to be.

Ben: Okay.

Justin: What did you want to talk to me about?

Ben: Nothing.

Justin: Right.

Ben: Something.

Justin: Alright.

Ben reaches into his pocket and pulls out a key.

Ben: Here. It’s the key to my apartment. I know how much you hate your place and I’m going on that business trip tonight for a few days and, you know, for after that. Any time.

Justin takes the key, exhales.

Justin: I’m crazy.

Ben: You’re not. I know I’m not really the most emotionally available guy and I can be a lot to take. That’s why we work, you know. Balance. Everything about you, even the stuff that makes me want to break something, I love. I don’t mean to be condescending.

Justin: Really.

Ben: Sometimes. A little. But I never want you to feel inferior. There’s no reason to. First off, I’m far from perfect.

Justin: Now that you mention it…

Ben: And, secondly, you and your ambition and passion and talents…

Justin: Like that painting of your childhood dog I gave you for Christmas…

Ben: Best thing I’ve ever gotten. When I look at you, think about you, there is nothing but awe. And gratitude.

Justin looks at the key.

Justin: I’m totally going to rearrange your furniture when you’re away.

Ben: I figured.

Beat.

Justin: Dammit.

Ben: What?

Justin: It’s the real thing.

Ben: Scary, right?

Justin: Terrifying!

Ben: As long as we keep calling each other out when we’re being idiots I think we’ll be fine.

Justin: Agreed.

Ben checks his phone.

Ben: Well, I’ve gotta head to JFK. Flight’s in an hour.

Justin: Yeah, I should probably actually eat something during my lunch break. I’m working a double and Miranda’s been a grade-A ho.

Ben: Total ho. Well, see ya in a few. Movie night when I get back?

Justin: Totally. You’ll love where I put your TV. Knock’em dead out there, my corporate tool!

Ben: Keep serving your way to stardom, my starving artist. I love you.

Justin: I love you, too.

They kiss and exit.

This Blog Will Self Destruct in Three…Two…

A nowhere-near-comprehensive list of ways to screw yourself over…

  • Comparing your successes to someone else while lacking a proper competitive spirit
  • Living life under the assumption that you are owed anything
  • Thinking that returning to the way things were is ever the solution (it was the way things were that lead you to the way things are, after all)
  • Focusing on the source of your discontent instead of how to move past it
  • Running FROM something without having something to run TO
  • Prohibiting yourself from trusting others
  • Using certainty as an excuse not to question
  • Ignoring your limits
  • Allowing anything aside from yourself to define your life
  • Avoiding risk
  • Failing to build a bridge between what you know and what you do
  • Resenting others for having what you don’t
  • Pretending something never happened
  • Allowing fear to breed regret
  • Letting pride get in the way of achievement
  • Forgetting that, despite their cliche status, not putting your eggs in one basket, not counting your chickens before they hatch, and relishing the journey over the destination are among the most important lessons out there

How Religion Works [Part 1: The Magic]

How Religion Works. [Part 1: The Magic]

 

Pick A Card. Any Card.

I was speaking with an acquaintance the other day. “I mean,” they stated at the end of a short, lax dialogue about Christianity, “why would anyone pray or devote themselves to some storybook character from a completely different culture that ended thousands of years ago?!” Twenty minutes later that person whipped out a set of tarot cards (a former game from a completely different culture that ended hundreds of years ago) and, with all belief and seriousness, did a reading for me.

In another corner of the world someone is meditating on a dilemma that they wish to solve by clearing their mind and letting the solution come to them. Somewhere else a person holds their hands over a patient in pain and focuses their fourth Chakra in order to heal them. Or the one who keeps a lucky bottlecap in their suit pocket just before they defend their latest client, for good luck. Or the one who throws a handful on bones onto the dusty ground to determine the well-being of their family; their tribe.

All of these examples and/or ones like them happen countless times every day across the globe. And one or more of these examples, to just about anyone reading this, sounds either absolutely plausible or absolutely ridiculous. Yet, they have ALL stood the test of time. But why? I mean, we’re talking the products of completely different belief systems, some in ways in direct opposition to the other. Some claiming to be the only true way while shrugging the others off as misguided jokes. Yet, they ALL persevere. They ALL have a group of people swearing up and down that they have experienced, firsthand, their desires being met through each of these means. How can that be? If there is one way, how can they all offer powerful, potent results as far as their denizens are concerned?

 

The Easy Answer.

People will believe what they want to believe; hear what they want to hear; see what they want to see. If you were raised on Christianity, you are more inclined to bend your perception of life to fit that. Someone’s wife dies. They might think, “This sucks but it was part of God’s plan. She was needed in heaven.” That’s crazy talk. No one is needed in Christian heaven. There’s not some heavenly crisis that needs solving. It’s perfect by definition. People just die. It’s part of the show. Someone raised on Tarot really wants to move to California and open a New Age bookstore. They pull “The Empress” card, which is all about achieving a great bounty and new ideas. Immediately, the reader reads “new ideas” as the ones she’ll bring forth by introducing a new bookstore and “great bounty” as all the money she’ll make with this awesome idea. No matter what card she pulled the result would have supported her idea. She had made up her mind. (Let’s say she pulled the “Ten of Swords” which is easily one of the scariest cards ever- utter destruction, nowhere to go but up. She’d think “that’s obviously referring to my life here in this town. I really DO need to get out of here!”)

The easy answer: We use our belief systems to justify how we already feel or to blind ourselves to the reality of something we don’t want to think too much about because of how complicated, sad, or scary it is. It’s power is in it’s enabling and deceptiveness and nothing more.

Or is it?

 

There Can Be Miracles…

Fourteen years ago I dreamed that I was standing at the beach, the ocean stretching out before me. Between myself and the water were two of my cousins, brothers, building a sand castle. The younger of the two of them threw a plastic shovel that was quickly swallowed by the sea. He started after it and the other brother, taking the other’s hand, went with him, disappearing beneath the waves. The next day I woke up, went to school, and then ended up at my grandmother’s where my mom and I found out that my two cousins, the ones from the dream, had drowned in their swimming pool that afternoon. (I wish I had a story that was that powerful but less depressing, but I don’t)

How many times have we heard of people praying to God for their sickness to go away and then -poof- they’re healed and the doctors are baffled? Or those amazing Reiki healing stories. What about when a parent will just “know” that something terrible has happened to their child? In the past year I’ve been read by a Tarot card reader, a psychic, and a past life reader, none of whom knew me prior and all left me with freakishly identical answers to the question of my purpose.

Those who subscribe solely to the easy answer from the previous section are denying the existence of these, the second and more powerful perpetuators of our spiritual or religious belief systems. The easy answer bypasses the fact that, lo and behold, beyond the ease and delusion and fear this stuff can actually work! The metaphysical world is real and, from the looks of things, omni-denominational.

 

Let’s Get to the Meat of It.

I have a very close, intelligent, and religious friend who once said to me, “Trystin, I believe that just about all of the religions are true. Because there are so many different types of people, God gave us options so we can choose which one fits us the best.” What. God supplied us with the very source of most of the bloodiest, manipulative, insane events in history so we could experience him in our favorite way? No. That’s crazy-talk. That’s rationalization. That’s justifying opposing ideals while maintaining the perfection of one’s own belief system. Compromise by not compromising. Anyway, we’ll worry about the nitty gritty of all that in Part 2: The Mystery. All we care about is “The Magic” right now.

Now, let’s take a chicken (Haha, “Say whaaat?!” – bear with me here). Chicken is a fairly affordable and very versatile food. You can fry it, bake it, grill it, saute it, toss it in soup, salad, or sandwich, take it barbecued, smoked, breaded, light, dark, by the breast, wing, thigh, leg, foot, gizzard, enjoy it hot or cold, lathered in gravy, cooked with lemon, garnished with all manner of veggies, all of these things greatly altering its taste and physical properties but never changing the fact that it is, indeed, chicken. Regardless of the part in which you choose to engage or how you choose to engage it, the chicken-ness of it all remains.

Christian. Jewish. Muslim. Hindu. Wiccan. Roasted. Poached. Fried. Baked. Sauted. Nutritional values aside in this awkward metaphor, all are definitively different preparations but wholly sustaining. Regardless of one’s chosen system of belief the power, the force, the energy that allows it to answer prayers and fulfill prophesies is identical, simply prepared differently, cooked up with psychology, sociology, morality, and philosophy prevalent in its culture (or sub-culture) of origin.

Meaning: The power’s source is not a particular belief system, but the act of believing itself. These systems merely dictate the ways, strengths, and limitations that we allow ourselves when seeking answers or achievements.

 

I Am Confident That You Will Read This Section.

Most of us remember The Secret; that book popularized by Oprah that emphasized the power of positive thinking as a means of getting what you want and being who you want to be. It sold millions of copies and helped tons of people by adding a magical quality to the our confidence in ourselves. Confidence. The belief system that involves faith in our own capacity to fulfill our wishes. Some of it’s symptoms include increased health, morale, and a greatly increased chance of an ideal future. It is a human power we all are capable of and it’s no wonder we re-brand it to the more mystical things like “the secret” or “law of attraction”. It’s symptoms are nearly identical to those drives that lead us to seek assistance from a higher power. Coincidence? I think not.

Confidence is a religion in which the one trusted and being called upon to fulfill one’s greatest desire is one’s self. The energy that fuels it is the exact same one that causes prayers to be answered or cards to reveal a truth about the future or a mother to sense her child just suffered from a car accident. Confidence, in comparison to the rest, is stronger in that it focuses more on a person taking action action being taken upon them. Also in that it doesn’t involve a middle-man (such as a deity or magic runes). On the other end, it can be weaker in that, as adults, we have been conditioned to accept our human limits and religions and the rest allow us an excuse to dream greater than we have been raised to believe we are capable of on our own.

Newsflash: We are all of us capable of remarkable things. Bound to physics, we probably won’t be sprouting wings and flying to the moon any time soon, but there is power inside of us to accomplish nothing short of magic and it comes from us. Change your future. See the future. Become your ideal self. Dream your destiny. Achieve ultimate happiness. Discover great truths. Find love. Know love. Get your ideal job, house, car, body. See the true intentions of your peers. Jump higher. Run faster. Live more fully. And, to Hell with what I said earlier…go ahead and fly.

Believe in yourself enough to act on those beliefs and you’ve got yourself the foundation of true greatness. There is no power greater than that. And it is in, and connects, us all.

This has been Part 1 of How Religion Works: The Magic. Stay tuned for Part 2: The Mystery, where I dive more deeply into some of the subjects lightly touched upon such as “How can you differentiate true magic from people just seeing what they want to?” (is there REALLY a difference?) and Part 3: The Morality, where I’ll discuss…well, let’s keep that my little secret for now.

A Murder of Crow (or “How I Chose the Side of Good”)

It was the Summer of 1993 when my father had convinced my mother that I would be better off with him. Weeks later I was in his car with a handful of my belongings, teary-eyed as we drove across the bridge, the Harrisburg skyline disappearing into the distance (my tears are still something my father enjoys joking about to this day). My new life began in an apartment complex in Cockeysville, Maryland on St. Elmo Court. I was nine years old at the time.

After all had been sufficiently unpacked and mostly put away, my father began his quest to transform me into a real boy. In Harrisburg I lived a sheltered life, locked away in rooms, drawing pictures and things. No one forced me to be this way. It’s just what I liked. My imagination and I, having the time of our life. To my father, always the charismatic social figure and product of a childhood spent playing basketball with boys from the block, my way of life was simply not exceptable. So one day he walked me to the front door, nudged me to the walkway, and told me to explore the complex and not return until I’ve made a friend.

A strange boy in a strange land, I wasn’t quite sure what to do as I wandered away, my father smiling, proud of himself, as I did. Constantly alert in this world so different from the urban ghettos I had spent much of my short life in, I roamed the place until I found a playground at the complex’s heart. There were slides and swings, jungle jims, and all that. The paint was chipping off of everything and, as far as I could, tell there was no one in sight. But if there ever was a place for a nine-year old boy to make friends, I figured the playground would be it. Satisfied with my decision I stood there, under the assumption that if I waited long enough something amazing would happen.

“Hey! You!”

The voice seemed to echo from everywhere. I looked around and saw nothing.

“Up here!”

Upon second scan, I noticed a set of squirming shapes huddled in what appeared to be a playground structure in the shape of a water tower. It was just as worn and rusted as the rest of the place.

“Come over here!” The voice was raspy, but feminine. My father’s desires engraved in my mind, I did as I was told.

“Come on up!”

I ascended the metal pipe ladder and entered the faux water tower. Inside were three people, two guys and one girl. The girl was older, maybe thirteen or fourteen. The boys were more or less my age.

“I’ve never seen you before,” she said. She had a coffee complexion and wild short brown hair. She wore denim overalls and sat on her knees. The two boys were pale. One wore thick-rimmed glasses and had short brown hair and a long face. The other had messy short hair, dark circles around his eyes, and a round face.

“I’m Maria,” the girl said proudly. “This is Kenny.” She pointed to the boy with the glasses. “And Mark” She gestured to the boy with the circles around his eyes. “Who are you?”

“Trystin.”

She laughed. “That’s a funny name.”

“Yeah…” I didn’t know what else to say to that.

“Whelp,” she clapped her hands together, “you’re one of us now.”

Just then some other kids meandered onto the playground. They were black and dressed in that over-sized baggy manner I had been used to seeing on the mean streets of Harrisburg.

“Oh shit,” said Mark.

“What the fuck do they think they’re doing here?” grumbled Maria.

Amazingly enough, this did not lead to some sort of turf war. The intruders continued on their way. Crisis averted or so I thought until I noticed the sly grin on Maria’s face and her dark eyes focused on me. See, I really couldn’t care less about those boys. But my eyes opened wide and my mouth hung open the moment I heard mark say the s-word and Maria drop the f-bomb seconds later. I hoped that no one noticed.

Maria laughed. “Trystin afwaid to say bad words?” she asked in her best baby voice. “Fuck!” she shouted, and I cringed. She and the boys laughed. “Shit!” I cringed again. More laughter. I was beginning to see my giant leaps in social progress all flutter away before my eyes.

Then Mark smiled warmly and said, “You try.”

My mom never cursed and since much of my life was split between my Catholic schooling and watching cartoons and the discovery channel, the four-letter words rarely made their way into my radar. I knew they were “bad words”, which was always enough to keep me from exploring them any further. But here, at the crux of a brave new world with all its possibility, I had to decide who I wanted to be. The sheltered little artist from days gone by or…something new. With a deep inhalation and a rapidly beating heart I whispered, “Shit”, and the crowd went wild.

The rest of our time in the tower was spent cursing at each other and talking about the coming school year. Fourth grade for Mark and I. Third for Kenny. Sixth for Maria. Maria asked where I lived and offered to walk me home. We all promised to meet each other the next day. Not only was I able to make friends in record time but, with Maria standing beside me when my dad opened the door, I actually had proof. I can still remember the proud look on my dad’s face.

I also remember Maria coming inside and borrowing some of my dad’s CDs.

T’was a strange time indeed. My new life in Maryland had begun and I, wide-eyed, hopefully, and a bit terrified, was ready for whatever this new world had in store for me…..or so I th0ught.

I had been transformed. My days locked in a room toiling over sheet after sheet of drawing paper had been replaced, or greatly reduced, by the my new friends, a gang of six or so boys from the apartment complex. Maria, it turns out, was not a usual member of this group. She would appear from time to time with words of wisdom and disappear into a mystical world of slightly older kids we could only dream of. The fact that it had been she that first encountered me and not one of the other boys was a stroke of luck, as I’m sure I would have stood very little chance were their true leader around.His name was Curt. A pale, tall, thin, rough-looking kid with a mop of unkempt strawberry blonde hair. I remember he always seemed to have a scar on his face from some fight that he’d fought in another place none of us had been there to witness.
Upon first meeting Curt I laid the four-letter words on thick. “Hey, Curt. Fuck yeah, I’m ready for school to start and shit. Yeah, PA was a bitch. It was shit. Fuck. This place is fucking the shit, though.” Fortunately he found my awkward stammering amusing and, coupled with the blessing from absent Maria and the support of Mark (his best friend), that was enough.
It was soon after that I learned what was at the core of being a part of Curt’s crew: causing trouble. Whether it involved steeling flowers from a low balcony, kicking decorative stones from their set positions on well-kept paths, or a solid run of ding-dong-ditch, we were an established menace to the people of the complex. It was terrifying and energizing and the most excitement I had ever felt.
On the not-that-rare occasion when some one would see us in the midst of our dirty deeds and shout “Hey! What are you boys doing?!” we’d disappear into the woods surrounding the complex, to our secret spot, laughing and cursing all the while. The secret spot was little more than an opening in the woods, all dirt and mud and leaves, where there existed a large rock under which were salamanders and a stash of old soggy Playboys. According to legend, this was the very spot Curt’s older brother would retreat to with his friends before they grew up and moved on to malls and gas station parking lots. We would sit around, lighting twigs on fire and using them like cigarettes and giggling at the pages and pages of “boobs”.
Meanwhile, life at home with dad was great. Our little bachelor pad with its black furniture and minimal decor. Dinner by delivery or out of cans (creamed corn was my new favorite thing). Omelettes on the weekends. A bedtime story (usually another chapter of a Terry Brooks fantasy novel) almost every night. Days with the gang. Nights with my dad. All was well and my first year at a brand new school was beginning.
While all the boys from the complex attended Padonia Elementary, not a single one of them was in my class. The idea of their being multiple classrooms for the same grade boggled my mind, having come from such a tiny Catholic elementary school. The lack of uniforms and any modicum of religious decor, sensibility, or judgement was even more jarring. This was the wild jungle to my ghetto Catholic garden and I felt turbo-charged with freedom.
I sat between a tiny blue-eyed girl named Rachel, whom I had a short-lived crush on despite the fact that she was obsessed with horses (I had had an unfortunate run-in with a horse in Georgia a few years prior that I would not get over for nearly another two decades), and this frumpy kid who always had snot coming out of his nose. There was also a redhead named Chuckie who will be important later. All in all, it was social slim pickins and I spent every day longing for the afternoon when I could regroup with my real friends.

In the Autumn months I had climbed the ranks in my gang. While Curt would always be at the top, and Mark at his right, I had established myself as number three. Successfully shedding the skin of an awkward newbie, I had adapted myself to meet their deviant confidence and retooled my creativity to be just as effective at troublemaking as it was illustration. Calculated distractions, fake-outs, elaborate heists all became part of the package with me as the appointed Head of Strategic Tomfoolery. Everyone had their part to play as Curt and I made sure all acts of thievery, mischief, and destruction went off without a hitch.

The overall lame-ness of school life took a positive turn when one Brandon Cassel joined our class in October. He was mixed like me, with a strong chin, well-kept curly black hair, leather jacket, and a more solid muscular build than one would expect a ten-year old to be capable of. We became fast friends, plucking a couple others as lackeys and playing the “too cool for school” card, fearless kings of our domain.

My father had started dating one of his coworkers around this time. She would come over with her fancy clothes and giant smile, flaunting her refined grasp of etiquette and forcing me to play along.

“And this is a salad fork, Trystin. It goes here…”

In her I saw the downfall of all my father and I had built and so I dived even further into the abyss.

One day Brandon and I discovered the true meaning of the word “bastard”. And, finding much humor and brotherhood in the fact that we were both born out of wedlock, the two of us thought it would be interesting if we’d find out who else shared that same trait. All day, during classes and lunch and recess, we asked, “Are you a bastard?”, sure to make whomever we asked feel sufficiently stupid if they didn’t know what it meant. Brandon would then put the fear of God into them if they made the least bit of fun at our being bastards.

Near the end of the day our teacher sat us in the corner and questioned us about our little game. It turned out some snitch couldn’t keep his mouth shut, a British boy named Billy who, at absolutely any other time in my life, would have been one of my best friends. Instead we spent the next few months ostracizing him and making fun of his “stupid” accent.

While Billy was one of our favorite targets, none was more enticing than that odd redhead Chuckie. Chuckie (who looked eerily like the doll AND the Rugrat) was a stuttering goof who never had the right answer and spent a decent portion of the day mumbling to himself and scratching harsh doodles into his notebooks with violently chewed pens. Brandon’s jibes were relentless. He went out of his way to make Chuckie feel miserable, and I, though never as vile, was right by his side. And then Chuckie snapped.

It was recess in the earliest days of Spring. Chuckie was sitting at a picnic table, coloring in a coloring book when Brandon approached him, laughing at his being alone and without friends. Chuckie let out an otherworldly scream and jumped to his feet. And then, I kid you not, with monstrous strength he tore a piece of wood from the table bench, all splintered, and swung it at Brandon’s head, making hard contact. Chuckie was taken home that day and never returned to Padonia Elementary again. I looked at Brandon’s bloodied face and saw the fear in his eyes and could not help but feel for myself.

It was April when I found the bird, chirping in the tall grass just beyond the sliding back door of my apartment. All gray and fluffy, I figured it had fallen from the tree above. Looking up for a nest or its mother and finding neither, an old piece of me woke up and I decided I would take care of it.

I brought the bird into my house and sat it on a few open sheets of newspaper. Certain it was secure I then rushed into the woods and found a couple worms squirming under a fallen branch. Back in my house I squashed the worms in a bowl with the handle-end of a spatula and then sucked the resulting mush into a small turkey baster. Completing my performance as impromptu mother bird, a gently placed the baster in the baby bird’s beak and squeezed the contents down its throat.

Realizing that my father would be home soon (possibly with that woman in tow) I decided to create an outdoor living space for my feathered friend. Grabbing a number of the larger of my encyclopedias (“A” and “S” and “T” and the like) I went to the flat concrete slab that acted as a back porch and built from them a walled and roofed fortress, two books thick on all sides. Taking a towel from the bathroom closet, I lined the fortress floor and placed my bird within. There it would be safely through the night.

The following morning I woke up, showered, dressed, had cereal with my father, all the while excited for him to go off to work so I could check on my secret friend. Off he went and, to my relief, the bird was still alive and kicking. I fed it and thought about what I should do with it next.

It was a beautiful Spring day. The sky was the clear and the sun especially beaming for it to be so early. Beside the building that housed my apartment grew a small tree, no more than six or seven feet high. Comprehending the affinity for trees that most birds have, I removed my own from its dark fortress and placed it in a low branch of the tree, making certain it was strong enough to hold on and achieved maximum amount of sunlight. Satisfied, I left the bird and made my way for the bus stop.

I recall school that day being one of the longest in my life. Math, science, bullying, or even Brandon himself could not compare to the joyful anticipation I had to be reunited with my animal pal.

Eons later the clock struck three and the bell rang. Within minutes I was on the school bus home. A half-hour later I climbed off and ran at full speed to check on the bird.

Purest confusion was my initial emotion upon rounding my building to find six or so boys surrounding the small tree. I recognized most of them. Curt, Kenny, and those strange ghetto boys who had somehow formed an alliance with us in the past year. My quick trot reduced to a curious crawl, I quietly slipped through their circle to see what all the commotion was.

There was a bird, on the branch right where I left it. But instead of being alive and alert, it was hanging upside down, burnt to a crisp. At the base of the tree was a small can of gasoline. Curt stepped forward, beside me now, and lit a lighter under a Wal-Mart bag, causing beads of smoldering blue to drop onto the black charred bird, trickling like tears much to the enjoyment of all there to see it.

“Wh-what’s this…?” I muttered, voice smaller than it had ever been in thier presence.

“Hey, Trystin,” Curt said with all the power, confidence, and pride I had admired in him. “We found this bird in this tree and we set it on fire! Isn’t it cool? Come on!” He tried to hand me the lighter and the Wal-Mart bag. “Try it!” Snickers popped and fizzled all around, peppered with KFC jokes.

I was frozen. I couldn’t speak. I couldn’t comprehend. I looked at these boys, these people I had allied myself with, who I had transformed myself for, and all I could see was something evil. All I could see were my enemies. So, eyes wide, I said “I have to go home” and faded away into my room where I cried long and hard, making certain that any trace of the bird and my emotion had been purged completely by the time my father got home.

During that last month of fourth grade I felt like an entirely different person in an entirely different world. The Tuesday following the incident with the bird caused me to meet Brandon’s bullying with utter distaste. In his belittling of others I could only see the same darkness that permeated those responsible for the previous afternoon’s atrocity. I remember clearly him picking on Billy and his accent and me just watching blankly, waiting for it to end. And when it did and Brandon marched off after his new prey, I knelt down beside Billy and said, “Hey Billy. I’m sorry. Do you want to have lunch and play at recess with me today?” At first he thought it was a trick, but we did have lunch together and we did play at recess and in those last weeks unleashed the potential for friendship that the both of us had felt all along. As for Brandon, rendered mostly powerless without my constant back-up, he turned down the “tough guy” and became a pretty nice kid himself.

The apartment complex was a different story. Curt had a stronghold and if there were any pure souls around they were keeping away from him gang, smartly enough. I lived the following weeks as I had back in Pennsylvania, locked in my room, drawing up a happier world of my own imagination. When Mark or Kenny or Maria would inevitably come by, asking for me, my dad would call my name and I would tell them that I was busy…or, if only just to ensure I didn’t end up on their bad side, I would hang out with them up until the point where they would get into trouble.

The school year came to a close and change was afoot. My father had gotten engaged to the woman who would visit us on occasion and they married and remain so today (by the way, she is the super coolest). I received word from my father that I would be returning to Harrisburg and living with my mother by the start of the fifth grade. My grades had dropped substantially from the straight A’s I had enjoyed and would enjoy again.

It was an interesting year, fourth grade. One that to this day stands out amongst the nine that preceded it and the nineteen that follow. Though I did not fully grasp it at the time, its importance in my growth as a human being, one that still rings true today, was overwhelming. I realized my power. Though it emerged in the tangible forms of violence and vandalization, I was a respected leader of a group. I could sway others with my words, bring forth emotions in them with my actions. I realized the importance of stepping away from your norm in order to learn more about yourself. While my moving in with my father for that year was not my choice, I to this day make great effort to experience life outside of my comfort zone in order to grow. Lastly, going down that dark path and emerging, thanks to the baby bird, in opposition to it, made me aware of my own morality; my own goodness that was less gleaned from the words of my parents or commandments from God, but what I felt to be right in my own heart. I often feel that something greater than myself sacrificed that little bird so that I could, no matter how bad things got later on, hold on to the knowledge of and confidence in what I feel to be good.

Oh, and Curt ended up in a juvenile detention center for beating up some kid really bad that Summer, 94′. Fourteen years later I would get my first full-time job in New York City as a Youth Support Counselor for troubled kids at a similar place.

Life.

 

I Hate Myself (And So Can You!)

Alright, I’m going to keep this nice and short, but it’s important nonetheless:

Complainers. We all know them. These are the people that, instead of taking many any actionable responses to the less-than-perfect pieces of their existence, turn to people around them and whine about it. These people are lazy, attention-hogging, and/or self-loathing sorts who, by merely existing, bring down the world around them.

Obviously, this way of living isn’t healthy. They’ve set themselves on a downward spiral with only an explosive impact with rock bottom to look forward to. But I’m here to talk to you about you; the one who has to listen to all this crap. Just like surrounding yourself with happy people boosts your morale, allowing this sort of person to cling to you is toxic. They will drain you of your joy, your ambition, slowly but surely, no matter how strong you are. By prolonged exposure to them you are becoming more and more like them. We’re like sponges to the emotional energy of others. It is what it is.

So if you’ve got a complainer in your life you’ve got a couple choices. If you really care about this person then tell them to make a change. For every complaint, tell them to take action and work to resolve it. If you really care about them you should be doing this already. Don’t enable. Don’t coddle. You’re messing things up even more. The second choice is breaking off the relationship. If you tried your hardest, or they’re not even all that close to you, break it off. Move on. Surround yourself with people who will grow you, not screw you up.

Is this pretty obvious? Sure. Do I see and hear it occurring around me so much that I felt the need to string together a quickie-blog about it anyway?

Ohhhhh, totally.

A Black, a Gay, and an Artist Walk Into a Bar…

…and his name is Trystin.

Labels. Names we give to generalizations that we attach to people so that we can easily digest them like swallow-able pills. Using my experience with the three that light up the title of this very blog (black, gay, artist) let’s take a look at the uses and abuses of “the label”, shall we?

Black.
Of the three, this is easily the first label that was bequeathed upon me. I mean, it’s a no-brainer, right? As clear as the skin on my face. Black. Also known as “not white”. White people get the jobs and black people get the shaft. This is more or less the vibe I got from my Southern-bred grandparents and, to a lesser extent, from much of their offspring (my parents, aunts and uncles). Perhaps the most interesting part of this is that I am an ethnic puree of African, German, Native American, and another unclear caucasian source that is possibly Irish. That, of course, is of very little consequence, because genetic make-up is secondary to physical appearance when race labels are involved.

Fortunately, my life experiences were in direct opposition to the “anti-white” way of thinking and thus it never stuck. Those life experiences include, of course, the racial cornucopia that is my family, as well. I got that one’s skin color should not be a factor in who is an acceptable acquaintance, friend, lover.

The second part of my Black Saga kicked off not too long after the first, this time the focus being less on what I was and more on what I wasn’t…or should be. It was brought to my attention by various children on the streets, classmates, and a handful of lackluster relatives that being black wasn’t simply a color, but also a complete “YOU”-in-a-box, encompassing fashion, religion, demeanor, interests, manner of speech and all sorts of things so you don’t have to come up on them on your own!

Much to the dismay of many, by the time this wave of pressure washed ashore I had already formed the foundation of an albeit young, but strong and individualistic personality. A personality that was not tough, sports-oriented, or sexual enough to be “black” and so I was pelted with questions like “Why do you act so white?” or “What’s wrong with you, white boy?” for years and years. It was in high school, when an enormous football player singled me out with this sort of talk, threatening me and whatnot, that I became decidedly anti-label. In my angry rejection I rebelled against anything that was seen as “black” or “white” or “male” or “female” or “old” or “young” and decided to form my own opinions on the individual. Taking it a step too far, I also rejected anyone who seemed to have given into their label. The stereotypes. The whole thing infuriated me and I swore that I would be my own thing and make sure others knew that it was okay to be, too.

Gay.
Then this came along. And by “came along” and I mean “came out” because it was most certainly bouncing around in me since I could feel romantic feelings.

Always socially awkward when it came to prospect of love, I was a slow bloomer. Raised and schooled Catholic I was taught that homosexuality was a sin…a mortal sin…but due to my War on Labels I didn’t really care about what they had to say. I remember thinking during one class, “If it turns out I was gay, that’d be fine. Because I’d be so much more as well. It’s just another piece.” Keep in mind I had been crushing on a dude from my Art class and two from my theater crew at this point so there was no “if” about it.

In 2006 I met a guy who made me feel like no one else did. Awkwardly I expressed these feelings and -POOF- I had a boyfriend. I was g- No. That was a label and I was against those to the point of having a complex. Seriously, people. A bristly chill of anger would creep over me if someone called me “black”, “white”, “mixed”, “Pennsylvanian”, “male”, “American” so when the “g” word (and everything that goes with it) became something that could be associated with me, I freaked out. But on the other hand I was so happy that I found love that I had to tell all my closest friends and family and coworkers and teachers that I was…an individual person who “had a boyfriend.”

And when I was forced to label myself; when someone cornered me with a “Trystin, what are you? What do you consider yourself?” Once I’d responded things like “I am Trystin” or “A guy who is in love with another guy” more times  than they would accept, I would satiate those label-hungry beasts with “bisexual” for while it was a label it didn’t come with much assumed cultural and behavioral aspect other than a shroud of confusion and the general idea of “not being able to trust them”. I could handle that.

Let’s not forget those times I was accused of “not understanding what it’s like to be gay” because I didn’t go through “enough pain” or I didn’t “lose enough.” You know the stories where kids come out and they get disowned or lose all their friends or get mixed up with the wrong gay crowd or bullied then rebel in a sexual fabulous frenzy. I sorta bypassed all of that and thus, according to some, I missed a key chunk of what being gay means.

Now today if the question of my sexuality ever comes up, I answer with a matter-of-fact “I’m gay” and that’s that. What changed? What broke through the bonds of my operant conditioning and anti-label zealotry?!

Find out after the next section.

Artist.
Truth be told, I was going to leave this out. Why? Because it kind of went against everything I said about labels up until this point. Then I decided I had to keep it in…because it kind of goes against everything I said about labels up until this point.

I was raised in a sporty family. Basketball this and football that. Meanwhile, I spent my free time escaping into a magical world of imagination through my drawings. From a very young age I was “the creative one”, “the artist”. This followed me through grade school, high school, and continues into today. It was a label…and I never had a single problem with it. Here’s why:

First, the artist label in itself is an anti-label. To me it was always a symbol of one’s creative individuality and ability to sidestep society’s mainstream views and ideals to the beat of their own drum. It was a label that allowed for such a spectrum of interpretations that I never once considered it for what it was. A generalization.

Another difference between the “artist” label and the labels of “black” and “gay” is that actively being an artist is a choice; something I had power over sharpening, honing, and ultimately delivering to the world. My race and sexuality, not so much. My skin color is there for all to see 24/7 and unless I want to live in a romanceless Hell, lurking in the shadows from those I’m close to, there’s no way I was going to keep my homosexuality hidden.

So that’s how I justified my OK-ness with being called an “artist” and my aversion to being called “black” or “gay”. But in my OK-ness with one and not the other two, appeared the fatal flaw in my perception of the situation…

In the Dark Ages artists certainly existed. They would make paintings and things that were in line with the powerful hand of The Church. Were they to produce something that diverged from the hyper-religious mainstream they would be punished. Potentially severely. Excommunicated. Killed. For producing something different.

The general idea of an artist in 433 AD Holy Roman Empire did not include such lovely thoughts as individual thought, going against the grain, and forming one’s own beliefs about things. Such traits fell under the label “heretic” and “Off with his head!” followed shortly after. From there I thought, “What if I was labeled ‘heretic’ instead of ‘artist’?” Suddenly, the very traits I enjoyed, positive and open, have become a negative means for which to generalize and persecute me. Suddenly, the “artist” label seems an awful lot like the other two and my avoidance of acknowledging them starts to seem an awful lot like fear; a lack of acceptance of those parts of me.

Do not remove this label under penalty of law.
I realized that my war on labels was more or less as effective as completely ignoring their existence in myself. And, taking the “gay” label today especially, ignoring the label pretty much makes it look like I’m ashamed of the label…that being gay is wrong. And in this absolutely crucial time for same-sex rights it’s all hands on deck or nothing at all.

Labels can suck. They tend to come as these neatly wrapped sets with all sorts of parts that society has deemed inseparable from the trait itself. Like black and “droopy pants”, “ebonics” and “unprovoked violence”. Like gay and “limp wrists and lisps”, “sex-pervs”, and “crimes against nature”. The fact of the matter is that in rejecting these labels so completely because of the parts attached I was also rejecting my total embracing of those parts of myself. That’s not to say I was ever ashamed or afraid, but that I spent all that time avoiding them completely when I could have been out there saying “I’m gay!” and then proving to the world that myself and people like me were more than many people’s image of us.

It was a gross miscalculation , founded on the frustrations of a child and left to build, now something that I have made a point to override and rectify in these past years.

I suppose that if this post had a moral, that moral would be to embrace yourself completely; to share yourself completely.

Or even better…

Define your label, don’t let it define you, and then give it to the world.

Carry on.

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