I feel unfocused lately, thrown off balance by the events shaping my personal life to the extent that it's a little difficult for me to put words even to what I'm feeling, much less to anything outside of my immediate and somewhat overwhelming experiences. Don't get me wrong: I feel absolutely insanely lucky. I am, at least for this moment in time, living the dream. Some dream. But which dream? That depends on who you talk to. A middle-aged businessman's dream of twenty-something threesomes, a gooshy adolescent's dream of love, a horrified parent's nightmare, a queer utopia: all of these and more are possibilities, as are the adverse and generally less positive alternatives. So much remains to be seen. The future is so full of possibilities that blanket statements are not only ill-advised but virtually impossible.
But in spite of--or because of?--all of that, my mind has been on receptiveness, on the things that we share between ourselves and why we do or don't value them. It's a rather obvious time of year to be thinking about both generosity and change, but it isn't just Christmas or the new year that has giving and receiving, renewal and growth, on my mind. It doesn't hurt, though; holidays are just days, perhaps, but the things with which we imbue especially these two--forgiveness, redemption, renewal, a kind of carte blanche for whatever comes next--are cultural and deeply ingrained, hard to divorce from religious celebrations or the turning of a calendar page regardless of how much or little we may care about those things. Certainly the last month has been full of a lot of things that could easily become metaphors in this particular context, if I wanted to go that way; it's easy to see it as highly symbolic that my relationship(s) have resolved during the full swing of holiday mania. Personally, I'd rather check my symbolism at the door and just try to remember what I've learned so that next year will be even better.
Giving is something I've always valued about myself. I have, so often, given too much, physically and monetarily and emotionally, that even saying that feels like a warning sign, a red flag that I'm going to repeat past mistakes and everything will shortly go to hell because I'll get lost on the road to somewhere different yet again. It's possible; anything is possible, but what makes me feel good, what really makes me hopeful, is that I don't actually believe in the inevitability of fucking up. I've spent this last year learning more about something that I sensed and to some extent followed through on before, the idea that there are different ways to give: the ways that matter, and the ways that only seem to matter. I remember learning as a child that monetary expenditure does not automatically equal love and that's true enough, but I failed to understand that not only are the two completely separate entities but that "monetary expenditure" can be replaced by phrases such as "pointless and unnecessary martyrdom" and "extreme self abnegation" to the same effect. I've spent money on things that led to significant happiness or seriously helped people I loved--a pair of new glasses, a dinner or a concert ticket or a pair of used snow boots in February--and I've made things myself for next to free or simply extended a hand to another, and none of these are more or less valuable as long as the reception and ultimate outcome is the same. What matters is your intent. If your intent is to spread goodness and you do, it doesn't matter at all how you got there.
The thing is that, while I've gotten better at giving, my progress at being receptive has been much slower. I've always had a hard time taking things readily from others: gifts, compliments, friendship. I've talked and written about this before, but like everything else this is a progression and I've been thinking about it in different ways that hopefully shed light on new aspects of what this can mean for me and my life and my happiness. Lately I keep coming back to the idea of religion, which is perhaps odd for a halfhearted atheist, but then I read something like this text from a book about snake handling in the South, words from a deeply religious speaker who identifies himself as "the End-Time Evangelist," and I feel a little tremor of recognition: "You can have as much of God as you want... These seminary preachers don't understand that. They don't understand the spirit of the Lord... They know the forms of godliness, but they deny the power."
I'm not religious but there are concepts that I find in discussions of religion that resonate deeply for me, things like ecstasy and rapture and faith, ideas that I feel can be applied to my own queer godless life; I reject the forms, but in some ways I can't deny the power, of the language and the rhetoric and the potency of surrender. All I have to do is replace “god” with something like “love” or “joy” or some other buzz word and suddenly religious narrative makes a good deal more sense to me. The idea of receptiveness as part of the way to enlightenment--by which I mean greater joy and openness and general lovingkindness towards both others and myself--makes more and more sense to me as I try to allow myself to relax and just appreciate what is offered to me. It feels somehow powerful to allow myself to accept what others extend to me; what I experience when I truly thank somebody, when they give me something, tangible or not, that has worth to us both, is what I suppose I've always hoped they felt towards me when our roles were reversed. It feels deeply good.
This, I think, is part of what will ultimately help me to redeem myself now from the shadows of my past relationship missteps; if I can be strong enough to accept what my lovers wish to give me and feel deserving of it, then I can be strong and whole enough to give what needs to be given within my relationships. I can keep living the dream, and if I fuck it up it won't be because of this but because of something altogether different. And so I'm trying to remind myself, to remember that if there is a proper and joyous way to give then there is also a way to receive that allows me to be a happier and more complete person, and that this is what I want now for myself and for my friends and lovers and family: to uphold each other, to feel the power and strength that comes from both offering and accepting, to feel the warmth that our connections, brief or extended, generate and to be happy with the joy we bring each other.