Saturday, August 25, 2007

Offering to the Döns.

I get so confident with my 46-year-old self, coasting along believing I'm ready for whatever lands in front of me. Ha.

In my meditation practice, I use a set of slogans which, together, form a system of training called lo jong. I won't try to explain, except to say that it's Tibetan and very old. One of the slogans is a reminder to make offerings to the döns. Döns, when you see them depicted in art, are like little demons that pester you and try to throw you off. Sometimes they bring sickness and conflict. They're unpleasant. The instruction is to thank them for waking you up, showing you where your hangups are, reminding you that you still need work, and giving you an opportunity to practice equanimity and compassion.

I've known my friend Z for several months now. We've had a very sweet friendship, unlike any relationship I've had. We're physically affectionate with each other, there's a lot more touching and petting and kissing than getting naked, though we've done that too. Because he travels a lot for work, and because I'm neurotic about preserving time for myself, we typically see each other about once a week or less. He has a close group of friends he spends time with, and I've met them a few times and like them but don't feel drawn to be a part of the group. Our relationship has always felt like a precious thing we keep to ourselves, separate from any social context, like the fluttery first few weeks of new love.

For a while, when we'd been seeing each other for a few months, I grew concerned that he wanted more time, more commitment from our relationship than I wanted to give, but we talked about it, like we talk about everything, and the tension disappeared. I told him more than once how remarkable I think he is and that I wished sometimes that I had met him earlier in my life so I could be the boyfriend he deserved.

Toward the end of July and into August, our traveling schedules overlapped and we didn't see each other for over a month. We were in touch, sporadically. When I came back from my retreat, I had a powerful hankering to see him. We made plans to have dinner Wednesday night. He picked me up. When I got in the car, we hugged and I kissed him. He held back. Not in a way that felt like rejection, but it felt different. We can both be a little moody, so I didn't think much of it at first, but then it dawned on me: Z has a boyfriend.

I told him all about the retreat, and Lizzie Borden, and U.T. orientation. It was his turn to catch me up on his life. He told me about his trip to Arizona with his parents, some new volunteer work he's doing, then he said, "And ... I've ... been seeing someone."

My first reaction, I'm proud to say, was sheer joy, and still it makes me happy to see my friend, who I think the world of, in love. But of course it changes everything. He and his new boyfriend -- they've been seeing each other for about a month -- have decided to be monogamous, which strangely, I applaud. I think even if that weren't the case my relationship with Z would need to change. Just because you agree to have an open relationship doesn't mean it's going to be okay to continue making out with someone you were dating when you met the new guy.

But where does that leave us? Suddenly it becomes obvious that a big part of our interaction was touching. We held hands, we kissed, we rubbed each other's legs under the table. Sometimes it was more erotic than at other times, but I suppose it always had the seed of something sexual in it. So we stop. No transition, no weaning, cold turkey. We can hug, but hands above the waist. We can kiss, but no tongue. It's so fucking weird to suddenly have these boundaries. Weird and heavy and sad.

When we said goodnight on Wednesday, I wanted to tell him that I love him. It seemed like absolutely the right and necessary thing to say. And at the same time absolutely wrong, so I didn't say it. I'd never used that word with him, because, though there's no question in my mind that it is love I feel for him, the expression is too loaded. But now that things are changed, I want badly for him to know how deep my feelings are. I second-guessed myself and worried that if I told him I love him he would think I was competing for his loyalty, which is almost the opposite of the message I wanted to convey, which was more along the lines of, "Because I care so much about you, I want you to be happy." I'm sure next time I see him, I'll tell him all this stuff that's running in my head, but I couldn't put it into words in that moment of saying goodbye. He's leaving tomorrow for another road trip and won't be back until the first week of September. It occurred to me that it would be good to have an adjustment period before I see him again.

I went out last night, on the spur of the moment -- I know I won't have time or money to go out carousing much once school starts, so I decided to have one last night out with the boys. I smoked some pot before I went out. I had a couple beers. But I didn't feel inappropriately impaired for the setting. I planted myself on a bench near the bar, and I chatted with a guy I'd talked to there before whose name I don't know. I decided to stroll around.

I was walking from the front bar to the back and saw Z leaning against a wall. I have never once run into him in this bar. He doesn't go there. So it was a huge surprise, but a nice one. I gave him a big hug. He introduced me to his boyfriend. And then suddenly I felt very high and completely at a loss. Every molecule in my body wanted to flirt with Z, touch him, act like a girl, but I checked those impulses. But my brain wasn't giving me alternatives, so I stood there like an alien trapped in someone else's body. And I was stoned, so suddenly even more self-conscious. I tried to chat like a normal person, but I couldn't form sentences. I made a fool of myself, and I think I was probably rude to his friend. They left shortly after our encounter. ("This place is full of freaks, let's get out of here.")

I sent him a contrite email this morning. I hope he didn't have to spend too much time explaining my bizarre behavior to his boyfriend.

Today I thank the döns for reminding me that, as confident as I may be, I am still as squishy as an overripe avocado on the inside.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Against Spontaneity.

Yesterday I went to a workshop called "Don't Sweat It," led by one of the therapists in the counseling department. It was designed for transfer students: a combination of stress reduction and relaxation techniques along with an overview of the counseling and academic support services available at U.T.

When I walked in the door, an older woman, probably in her sixties, with white hair tied up in a red bandanna, was the only one in the room (apparently we "older students" like to arrive early). She smiled big and said, "Hello!" I almost said, "Oh, I'm glad to see I won't be the oldest person here." You have no idea how close I came to saying that. I think I even made a gagging sound as I stopped the words from coming out of my mouth. She was so friendly and bright, and I guess I thought it would be a light, funny thing to say.

I'm blushing.


I passed the math test! I scored 520. You have to get at least 430 to pass out of remedial math. I'll only have to take one math class, but I won't take it this semester.

I Guess I'm Really Going to Do This.

I registered for classes this morning. I was up at 6:30 making coffee, making lists, making sure I was clear-headed and ready to go at 8. (I'm lucky that my name starts with a letter early in the alphabet making my registration access time first in the day.) By 8:03, it was all over, and I was registered for every class I wanted. I'm very pleased, but it was a little anticlimactic, after all the warnings about being flexible, having alternative classes picked out, waiting lists, adding and dropping, pleading with professors, etc.

I'll be taking First-year Spanish, Biology of AIDS, American Government, Environmental History of the U.S., and Masterworks of American Literature.

Periodically since I was last in school, I've had dreams in which I'm starting school, but I don't know my schedule, or I can't find the classroom, or I suddenly realize that it's the middle of the semester and I haven't been going to a class I'm enrolled in. Those dreams keep coming back to me now because U.T. is gargantuan, the room-numbering system in the buildings is completely opaque to me, and I've already gotten lost on campus a couple of times. Thank god I don't have a locker with a combination I have to memorize, because I also have that dream from time to time.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

How'd the Math Test Go?

There were 50 questions on the math test. I felt pretty confident up to about 28. The rest of the questions I didn't even attempt because I had absolutely no idea what they were talking about. I'll find out my score in 24 hours. I wish I would have memorized how to figure the length of the hypotenuse of a right triangle. I think there's probably a formula for that, and if I'd known it I could have answered 3 or 4 more questions.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

It's All Coming Back To Me Now.

I'm studying for a math placement test. I have to get a certain score (470, I think) in order to pass out of remedial math and into something called Applicable Math, which, if I can get into it, will be the only required math class for my degree. If I have to take remedial math, I'll still have to take Applicable Math.

I checked out an SAT prep book from the library, and I've been studying monomials and binomials, equations, and the rest. The test is tomorrow, and I haven't even gotten to geometry yet.

The thing I hate about math is that people who like math say how beautiful and logical it is, how, unlike life, it's rational and perfect and orderly. But it's not. Granted, if you follow the rules, it all unfolds exactly like you expect. But the rules don't make sense. Like, why does a negative number multiplied by a negative number equal a positive number? Negative 3 times negative 3 should equal negative 9, not positive 9. Math is all "because I said so, that's why," and that's why I hate it.

The last math class I had was Algebra II in 1977, and I know enough math to figure that that was a very long time ago. I got good grades in math in high school, but I struggled and studied and fretted and cried. Everything else in high school was easy. Math nearly did me in. I knew I had to get A's to keep my 4.0. If I didn't have a perfect GPA and graduate as valedictorian, I wouldn't get the scholarship money I needed to get me the hell out of Greencastle, Indiana. My parents helped as much as they could, but they weren't rich. I still have my final exam from Algebra II. I was right on the border between an A and a B all the way up to the final. If I got below an A- on the exam, my final grade would be a B+. It felt like my whole life hinged on that final. In a way, it did.

I'm not going to completely re-learn algebra and geometry in three days, so I need to relax and do the best I can. If I end up in remedial math, so be it. I'd rather be in remedial math than struggle in a class that is beyond my capability. I have a hunch I'll be taking advantage of the free tutoring.

Monday, August 20, 2007


The retreat was like a dream of what life could be. Rise at 9 or 10, walk up to the big house for coffee. (Tim and I worked and slept in the caretaker's house about a 1/8 mile away from the big main house, where the rest of the group stayed.) Maybe somebody would be in the kitchen making a pie, and we'd chat a bit, wake up, then back to the caretaker's house to work for a couple hours. Lunch around 1, informal, but usually a group would end up eating together at a big table outside. After lunch, a long work session until dinner at 8 or 9.

We all ate dinner together in a big, low-ceilinged dining room with heavy beams and a wrought iron chandelier with candles. (The house was built in the mid-1800s and expanded in the 1920s. It was huge but unassuming, a little rundown, and very comfy.) We ate like kings. Each artist was responsible for preparing one meal, so of course everyone was showing off, making our most impressive, delicious dishes. After dinner, a couple hours of wine-fueled, free-wheeling conversation about art and politics around the table. Then Tim and I made our way back through the pitch black night to the caretakers house for a little marijuana and 2 or 3 more hours of work until we were so tired we couldn't keep our eyes open and we wandered off to bed.

We re-wrote the show pretty much top to bottom. We kept all the original songs and most of the text, but re-arranged everything and wrote three completely new songs, along with new verses and other changes to the existing songs. We did an unbelievable amount of work in such a short time -- really only five full working days. It's always a surprise and a miracle to me -- though it shouldn't be -- how quickly the work gets done when there are no other pressures, no distractions, none of the daily discomforts that derail the process.

The weather was perfect: 70s and low 80s during the day, sunny and breezy, 50s at night. We must have been at a fairly high elevation for it to be so cool and lovely, but the views of the mountains made it seem like we were low. There was no internet access, or I would have looked that up. I also had no cell phone access. It was a little eerie to be so cut off for a week, but I was glad for it.

I got back late Saturday night, and yesterday I attended an orientation event for students "older than 25." It started at noon, and I left my house in plenty of time, but I couldn't find it. I walked around for an hour, getting more and more lost -- for some reason I always get completely turned around on campus -- and finally called J at home and asked him to look up the location. It turned out to be in the basement of the building I had gone to in the first place. Since it was Sunday, none of the usual offices were open, places where I could have gone for information. I was almost in tears, it was so hot and I'd been walking around for an hour in the blazing sun, in bad walking shoes. I was so overheated I felt sick and almost panicky.

The orientation session was great. It was a diverse group, mostly much younger than I. Even people in their thirties look like teenagers to me, so I felt like an old man even among the older students. There was a talk on how to study effectively, which was enlightening, and a session on staying sane. (U.T. offers free individual and group therapy!)