How I Binge

One of the many buzzwords you hear today is “binge watching,” which is basically watching loads of one programme in one fell swoop. Frankly, I’ve called this marathon watching, but I’m a product of the 80s, when marathons were special events on networks.

A lot of these binges are tied into the success of Netflix’s entrance into the production market, where instead of weekly releases of a programme, they dropped all episodes at once to much success. I’ll be honest with you, I have little interest in what Netflix is offering (and all they really offer the Australian market is esterophilia). 

Recently I read an article in The Hollywood Reporter where Jenji Kohan, creator of one of the Netflix successes, Orange Is The New Black, said that binging is hurting the shared experience that used to happen when things were released weekly. Indeed, it’s quite funny to read the entertainment news websites’ attempts to cover shows whose episodes are released all at once, because the journalists have no idea how to write for an audience who could be at any place in the series. 

Even though none of the new binge shows appeal to me, I do enjoy binging. My current delight is the early 2000s Australian* crime show Stingers. I’m under no illusion that I’m probably one of the very few people watching episode after episode, and that’s fine with me. Binging for me is about personal enjoyment, and I don’t expect anyone else to be on the same page as me. Perhaps befitting my background as a scriptwriter, I’d rather discuss things with the scriptwriters, network executives, and producers.

* I tend to watch a lot of Australian & New Zealand programming simply because it’s new to me. Bizarrely, you barely see any old (as in not currently in production) Australian television programming on Australian television. But that’s another subject entirely

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Talking about religion 

Discussing religion has always been a bit tricky for me, mostly because an old American saying that has stuck with me: “The quickest way to clear out a room is talk race or religion.” 

  

My parents were from two separate branches of Christianity, my father was a Catholic and my mother was Baptist. (I should add that they both frowned upon Pentacostal theatrics.) This created somewhat of a conundrum for them when it came to what branch I’d be raised in. What they came up with was what I’d call “Commercialist Protestantism” although that wasn’t what they called it.

“Commercialist Protestantism,” is basically “Christmas = Santa Claus and presents” and “Easter = candy and the Easter Bunny,” with a belief in The Golden Rule and that you can always talk to God. 

To their credit, they wanted me to establish my own spiritual relationship with the world, although my mother often worried that I was never baptised (oddly enough, Baptist liturgy says that children shouldn’t be baptised as it is a choice one should make on one’s own without pressure). 

I mention my religious background because one of things I have encountered a lot as a gay man are other gay men for whom religion was wielded as a weapon of fear and intimidation. It’s something I really cannot comprehend:  how can any faith sustain itself when it scares others into such trauma? 

Personally, I have no ill will towards any religion, and I believe that there are not necessarily bad belief systems, but rather people who seek to use faith to serve their own biases and selfish ends.

And in case you are wondering if I still subscribe to Commercialist Protestantism? Well, I do…with a bit of a twist:

  

Before 40

The age of 40 is a touchstone, albeit an awkward one. 30 is still seen as the dividing line between supposed youth and supposed adulthood. (A look over at Hikaruland might prove that debatable), and 50 means you’ve lived half a century. 40, I reckon means that you should’ve cast off those last vestiges of youth and become a full-fledged adult.

  

Now why is my 36 year old self pondering 40?

Well, much as how people talk about “Bucket Lists,” I’ve been coming up with a “40 List” of experiences I’d like to have before I hit middle adulthood.

  1. Spend a month in Uruguay or Chile learning Spanish. 
  2. Interview Ben Cousins and tell him in person that his story saved my life.
  3. Visit Mississippi, in particular the area where my father grew up and also visit Jackson (the state capital) to acknowledge my great great cousin Blanche Kelso Bruce (1st Black US Senator to serve an entire term).   (Jessie Mae Hemphill, a blues performer from the area of Mississippi my father’s family is from.)
  4. Find out more about the Irish & Choctaw sides of my family.
  5. See another openly gay NRL player play and succeed professionally.
  6. Visit Australia outside of the East Coast.
  7. See one of my plays performed.
  8. Visit Quai d’Orsay (the home of the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs).
  9. Get married. (The child aspect, is, as per family tradition, going to happen after 40.)
  10. Finally become an Australian citizen (though not until after #6)
  11. Become an advocate for a healthy body image amongst gay men.

So that’s 11 experiences within 4 years. Hopefully it’s doable.

Rebirth…and the fear of writing

I’ll be honest with you, it has been a long time between proverbial drinks.

There was a time wherein I would excuse my absences from blogging as “going out and having a life.” At 36, that excuse doesn’t quite hack it any more.

The real reason most likely is that I got afraid of writing. I started to think that there is really nothing I have to add to the global cacophony, so I retreated inward.

For my working life, that probably was the wisest decision I could’ve done at the time, but for my emotional health, that was the worst decision, because it cut me off from why I so strongly pursued being a writer for many years: a belief that my voice and perspective is valid and will always be valid.

Lest you think I’m sounding cocky, the fact that I believe that my voice is valid does not mean that others aren’t, quite the opposite, it is only through dialogue and interaction that we grow as writers, as artists, and as people.

Confidence, I believe, is something that a lot of writers either have in abundance or scarcely at all. There has to be something driving that urge to write and to publicly share that writing, and writing is itself a builder of and destroyer of confidence.

For me, every time I see a blank screen, I am struck with a high degree of both terror and anticipation. Believe you me, I wish I could separate these two, but alas, they always come in a pair, like sweet-and-sour yin yang,

The terror is somewhat technical: all that empty space that I’m supposed to fill up with my thoughts while a word counter ever so languidly ticks over yet another word. (Aren’t word counters the worst? It’s like a return to those halcyon days of 1000 word essay writing assignments.)

The anticipation is a bit harder to describe: I know something is going to come out, but I don’t know exactly what it will be and what it will reveal about myself.

I do know one thing, though, that the longer I hold it in my internal world, the more crowded my head becomes.

And that is the main reason for why I’m reawakening this corner of the internet. My thoughts have become too crowded inside my head, and that’s not what I want my internal world to be like.

Rainbow

Rainbow

Father-Son Lessons from beyond

My relationship with my father was “civil,” which frankly was quite a minor miracle, because it could’ve been much worse as he was operating with the psychological handicap of being a vet of the Korean and Vietnam wars. The best way to describe it is that there was a certain melancholy around him that happened before I was born, and there was likely nothing I could’ve done to really make it disappear.

I mention the distant relationship I had with my father because this feature from NPR explained so much of my father’s seemingly odd behaviour when I was growing up.

When my parents moved to Mequon (a predominantly white suburb of Milwaukee), my father took it upon himself to introduce himself to the local police, thinking that if they knew him as a person and not just “some black guy” he wouldn’t be treated for being “black in the wrong place” (and honestly in the late 1970s you couldn’t fault his logic).

His strategy did work, as the one time he was racially profiled by a [nervous and subconsciously bigoted local], he had the police very much on his side, and the accuser rightfully had a lot of proverbial egg on their face.

All that said, growing up, I noticed that my father went out to of his way to avoid being alone in public without either myself, my mother, or preferably both of us. Much like the man in the NPR piece, I think it was because of that “thug” perception. He saw himself as a family man, but was aware (presumably from a traumatic experience) that the perception others would have of him would be considerably different. So my mother & I were his armour. Racism terrified a man who was a Vietnam POV.

And not once did he mention this directly, but he taught me to always carry myself in a somewhat deferential (but still proud) manner as a black man.

And even to this day when I’m in public, I feel a degree of anxiety about someone saying something based solely on my appearance, an appearance that I can’t do anything about. Whether it’s from being black, being gay, being American, I can never relax fully as the only black man in the room.

This seems to be unique to black men, as my mother never displayed or expressed any hesitation about being on her own in public in Mequon. Having grown up in Mequon, I was at ease there (it was my home, after all), but in places that are like it, I find myself getting the nervousness and hesitation that I think my father must’ve had.

Still, I manage to challenge my comfort zone–(If I didn’t, I wouldn’t have ever left Mequon!)–if only because I believe that one day I will feel relaxed as the only one whatever in the room.

My father passed away in 2002, so I have no idea what he would’ve made of the Michael Brown shooting. I can say that from the scant bits of news we get on it here in Australia, that a bit of a chill goes down my spine. I know that no matter what I have done and achieved, I can never override someone’s prejudices that they have in a split second. And that could very well be that second which determines if I live or die.

Below: The view out the window on Christmas morning at the house I grew up in Mequon.christmasmorning2008.jpg

When I Think of Home Now

As I write this I’m watching the final of the Rugby League Four Nations. For those unfamiliar with Rugby League this is a biennial tournament between Australia, England, New Zealand, and one other (un)lucky country.

This year the final is between Australia and New Zealand. Prior to last year, anytime Australia or New Zealand play, I have always stayed politely neutral, as I’m an Australian permanent resident and also a Kiwiphile.

After living in New Zealand for a year, however, I’ve changed.

I’m a Kiwi.

Well, I’m an American-New Zealander who lives in Australia.

Having lived outside of the U.S. for almost 6 years, I’ve seen my sense of what nationality I am become a lot more complicated that I ever thought it could be.

The best way I could describe it is with something I call the “warm, fuzzy feeling factor.” When you think of a place that gives you that feeling where is it? (Note, for Dutch speakers think “gezellig” or for Welsh speakers “hiraeth.”)

For me, I think of several places instantly :

A snowy morning in Wisconsin, an autumn afternoon in New York, an evening in Wellington or Rotorua, and a foggy morning in Auckland.

These places and the time I spent in them remind me of times I’ve felt grounded and certain.

That’s home in my book, and yes, it’s odd that with as many years as I’ve lived here in Australia, it hasn’t yet felt like home.

It’s a bit hard to feel grounded when to this day whenever I meet someone and they know that I’ve lived here for a long time I still get asked what I think of Australia. Maybe it’s me, but I think 5 years is a sign that I think it’s pretty nice place.

The next question tends to be do I think I might go back to the U.S. Which is a rather odd question for me personally, since though I’m from the U.S. (and as I’ve also pointed out here before, the U.S. is itself more like 50 separate countries), the country has moved on since I left and so have I. So who’s to say that we’ll be able to get in sync again like we were when I was younger?

Home is where the heart is, as the old saying goes. In my opinion, the heart thrives where it feels supported and part of a greater “family.” (Probably I should say “whanau.”)

This isn’t to say that Australia won’t ever invoke those feelings, it’s just that Australia is not going to make it easy.

And the strange thing, the fact that it won’t, probably makes me love it more.

By the way, as I type this New Zealand is beating Australia 14 to 12.

Āe.

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Reflections in hospital green

During my last full day in hospital, the news of Harriet Wran’s arrest for murder was one of the lead stories. 

The image of Wran (the daughter of a recently deceased former premier of New South Wales) being walked by police in a jumpsuit became briefly–at least in Sydney–iconic

One of the other patients commented “she looks like us.” 

Given that I had spent 3 days clad in nothing but hospital greens, I did feel a bit like a prisoner.

The jailer, in my case, being ideation. 

When I started writing about this, it was partly to reach out for hope from a place of despair.

I feel more hopeful now, even though I can honestly say that being hospitalised for ideation is one of the most terrifying things I have ever experienced.

There is a lot to criticise about the public health system’s approach to suicide, but I do have to say that the nursing staff do their best with a flawed system.

I am personally grateful to the staff who did eventually find time to talk to me and understanding that one size doesn’t fit all. They gave me the first glimpses and steps towards hope that I hadn’t experienced in some time.

Still, I believe that something needs to change if we, as  a country, are to really tackle suicidial ideation.

It’s not just a call to Lifeline, but it’s being willing to be open and honest with our struggles.  

Much ado about a cigarette

It is a gross, but mildly understandable that we spend the vast majority of our time here like zombies, placated by benzos and nicotine replacement therapy.

Indeed, many people in here have angry tendencies and lash out at others.

I, conversely, expressed a desire to harm myself and have been trying to talk to someone about it.

In both cases, the belief is that we are a danger to the outside world.

Understandable.

Inside, the outside world becomes lionised, with the ultimate expression of freedom being a cigarette.*

I have seen women (with whom I have previously had coherent conversations with) turn into “girls gone wild” for a cigarette and lighter from ” the other side.”

“The other side” is not the “outside world,” but a lighter, less restrictive version of the ward. Presumably, the inhabitants are dangerous but not as dangerous as us, because they have 24/7 internet access and occasional leave.

This makes me ponder something about suicide prevention in the public system: is it really about preventing or pacifying?

All I can say is that upon entering it, I keep on asking for and trying to find the tools that will help me get better and to discuss the feelings that I’m having and am met with a stony silence from the staff.

Meanwhile, my surroundings and the unpredictability of my fellow patients somewhat terrify me. (I am the only one here for suicide ideation, or any suicide related illness.)

I’m guessing that’s the intent: to scare straight, but at the same time, I feel like hope is gone as well.

What I want is to have a therapist to talk to, in order to see what to do next. To help me put what I’m seeing into a context that doesn’t sap my will to live.

At the moment, I have a desire to live if only because I can’t picture the rest of my life being here.

For me, the system is strangling.

And perversely, that seems to be the goal.

*Coincidentally, I recently gave up smoking. Seeing what others will do for cigarette in this situation is harrowing.

Don’t Say The “S” word

At the end of every news report about suicide here in Australia, we are given the numbers of places to call if “you or someone you know are having troubling thoughts.”

The troubling thoughts being “suicide.”

At potentially great risk to myself and reputation, I have been having those troubling thoughts for the past 4 years.

For purposes of privacy, I will not discuss my triggers.

And this article is meant to facilitate discussion and awareness of the public system as it relates to those suffering from depression and suicidal thoughts.

Step 1: The helpline and therapy

The staff at the helplines are trained, but not perfect. After explaining my concerns and receiving generic answers, I got ” patched up” to make it through the night so I could make to therapy.

Therein lies the issue with suicide, you’re always getting a boost to last you for a little bit as opposed to finding long lasting help.

Therapy somewhat helps, although the necessities of life (work, mostly) intervene.

Step 2: Police

Welcome to “duty of care” land. The police are the first group that many encounter whilst under “duty of care.” In this instance, it means ” you can’t harm yourself under my watch.”

In my particular case, an officer making small talk to prevent me from “suicidal ideation” actually had the effect of strengthening my internal resolve.

And it’s the internal resolve that is rarely addressed, but is the most dangerous and influential.

A medical professional once said to me during a hospitalisation that “you cannot stop someone who wants to kill themselves, because they would have done it already .”

Step 2: Hospitalisation

Often, the next step is hospitalisation. Again, “duty of care” is the keyword. Actual discussion about the circumstances causing the ideation is rare.

My experience has been to be thrown into a psychological ward, where I found myself more scared and that inner resolve grew in leaps and bounds, and calls to get someone to talk to about it fell on deaf ears as I was expected to “resolve it myself.”

Another person in the ward said “just say that you no longer wish harm to yourself and you are closer to rejoining the outside world. Be positive.”

Step 3: Life outside

Life on the outside after a suicide attempt is different. Food tastes sweeter and things feel fragile.

Therapy is somewhat of a salve, but one thing that isn’t is how we all talk about suicide.

It is consistently framed in two harmful ways: Firstly, as “your” problem that you’d better deal with in these ways we have provided.

Secondly, suicides and memorials tend to be reported in a selfish way, which is to say “I miss [deceased person] because of XYZ they did made me felt good and it’s such a waste.”

It’s such a waste you have to scream out how much pain you’re in when it comes to thoughts of suicide in order to get help.

For some of us, suicidal thoughts do not come in a massive wave, but rather like a cup that is just a little bit overflowing.

We need to be aware that not everyone experiences it the same way.

We also need to really re-evaluate how our public health system treats people with suicidal ideation, because there are people falling through the cracks who might have been able to be saved.

The Martin Luther King Jr. Day Post 2014

The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in DC

The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in DC

Recently I’ve taken to reading the tablet version of the New York Daily News every day as part of my morning ritual. Given that today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day in the US, a fair amount of the articles dealt with the legacy of Dr. King.

Yet, it was one ad in the paper that stuck out for me: It was for a 2014 Australian silver dollar targeted to US coin collectors.

Most non-coin collectors like myself would pass by that ad without thinking twice, but given that I live in Australia,  I lingered. Alas, I have been struck with the infamous “Ooh! It’s about my country” bug.

For all intents and purposes, I am Australian. I am also–and will always be–American as well. (I’ve lived here for 5 years now, so I think I’ve officially turned the corner from dalliance to full on relationship.)

The fact that I can live here of my own free will and volition is partly due to the work of Dr. King.

Many Australians are surprised that Australia has somewhat of a reputation of being somewhat inhospitable towards people of colour, due to the history of the “White Australia policy” that limited immigration to those of European background. Interestingly enough, the cracks in this policy started when a Black British man applied to come here.

What many in the US do not know is that Dr. King’s legacy of non-violent protest inspired Australia’s own Freedom Riders.

From The ABC’s “Discovering Democracy” website:

“In 1965 a group of students from the University of Sydney organised a freedom ride to towns in NSW to publicise the discrimination experienced by Aboriginal people. Discrimination took different forms, such as not being allowed to live in town at all, not being allowed into certain shops or clubs, having to sit in the front few rows at the cinema or not being allowed in the public swimming pool. Charles Perkins and Jim Spigelman led the students, with the support of Reverend Ted Noffs and Bill Ford.

“The students hired a bus and travelled over 3,000 kilometres through country towns of northern NSW which had large Aboriginal populations. Two journalists travelled with the students and recorded what they saw. The students interviewed Aboriginal people about discrimination in their towns. They picketed the swimming pool in Moree, where Aboriginal children were allowed in only if they were with a school group. Many townspeople were hostile to the students. They threw things at them, spat on them, threatened them and tried to run their bus off the road.

The freedom ride attracted great publicity in city newspapers and made the front page of the Bulletin magazine. The reports and photographs shocked white Australians and made them aware of the conditions under which many Aboriginal communities lived. The publicity generated by the freedom ride persuaded many Australians to vote for constitutional change in the 1967 referendum.”

Interesting parallels with the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

We hear quite often about how the world is ever more connected, and often times that just refers to trends, and not so much to ideas.

Dr. King’s legacy is not the sole domain of the US, nor should it be. The legacy of the late Nelson Mandela is not the sole domain of South Africa, as his recent memorial service proved to the global audience.

We are all more connected in our shared humanity than set apart by differing skin colour and cultural background.