Free

Heaven and hell may all exist simultaneously.

Freedom is found within. To do things with intention and conviction. To feel engaged in the course of one’s life. To feel agency instead of subjugation or mere passivity.

Last night I saw the crescent moon dangle over the Brooklyn skyline and I felt the joy of being alive.

I bumped my head on the stars and floated for the rest of the evening in a run down apartment in nowhere in particular.

I was aware enough in the moment to thank past Vene for believing me worthy of such splendor.

I just want your extra time and your…

Jack and I have been talking on and off about moves and when to make them: do you tell someone you want to kiss them or does it take some of the yummy anticipation out of the not knowing? After all, you can’t kiss someone for the first time twice.

We’ve argued all sides of it, individually and collectively. And I think I’m coming to the conclusion that it doesn’t really matter at the outset. The how’s and why’s and wherefores only have relevance in the context of what comes next.

If it becomes part of the cute story you tell each other (and whomever else you share the story with 🤔) down the road when you’re in agreement that there’s a connection…either party could have initiated at any point and it would have been fine.

But if it’s bad…it doesn’t matter if you did it in the first five minutes or if you waited until the third date or after 10 years of knowing each other. The time and the experience play a part in discovering chemistry or assessing compatibility. But they do not determine the outcome.

Great kissing can lead to terrible outcomes. Bad kissing can lead to good ones. Everything is only elucidated after the tiny filaments of experiences accumulate as they are woven into the cloth of our pasts. It’s all about perspective.

Anticipation is its own reward. It is not a harbinger of what is to come. Our brains are wired and filled with groovy chemicals just for the enjoyment of anticipation.

I have to be careful with whom I talk about this meta thought experiment stuff with. In the wrong hands it can seem like I’m suggesting something or being a tease or who knows what…when, really, I’m just an armchair philosopher in the ways of humans…who also just happens to enjoy making out.

Take Me To The River

Some things are bigger than us. There exist secret, intangible currents that carry us away on journeys we can’t consent to or predict or navigate in the moment. All we can do is trace them on maps from memory once they’ve concluded.

Was there a moment…in the moment…when I knew?

With him, yes. Moment after moment. They said, “You are not in control this time.”

Like when he sat me down between rounds at Franklin Park to show me the research he’d done into the history of his apartment building. Screen caps of census records and deeds. And he lit up with glee.

He wasn’t trying to impress me. And he couldn’t have known it was the type of thing I did as well. I don’t know if he’ll ever understand what it felt like for me to not feel so alone or strange or helplessly plopped into the wrong era, the wrong continent, the wrong body, the wrong gender. To have become tired in my pursuit of kindred.

In that moment, he unearthed parts of me I’d buried deep, and left them bare, exposed and vulnerable.

This current has smashed me against rocks. It has swirled me in eddies that left me exhausted. But it also reminded me that I am alive. And that I sometimes have to put my trust in someone else, even if the very thought is abhorrent and the danger is real.

I couldn’t tell you what it was all about. The map has yet to be drawn that would show me the delta and confluence of waters, where moment meets meaning. But if life has taught me anything, it is that all of this will serve a purpose later on and I will realize what a silly girl I was to want the small at the expense of the big.

I just have to keep reminding myself: I am not in control this time. I must learn to trust. The rest will come as it should.

In a world full of people

While washing the dishes right now, it came to me that the reason people want us to love them, at least when it comes to Mikey and me, is that our love can’t be bought. It can only be earned. To have our love shine on them feels good.

I remember when I figured this out the first time—how giving love had to come without any thought of repayment. Because if you expect to be repaid, then there is a price. A price indicates a finite value. Love should be infinite.

But not just anyone gets it. Certainly not people who just want to be adored. People who go out into the world thinking they are shiny, charming objects. Those people end up being exhausting because they take take take with their neediness. Their need is infinite. Their charm wears off like a cheap veneer.

We know how to charm people. It feels cheap. We want to be loved for something more integral than glamours.

But then there are those who just find their way into our hearts. We love them from moment one. They never had to do anything. They just were so magnificent that we were and continue to be smitten. It wasn’t charm. It was character. It was soul.

I’m in love with ten different people for their good, their bad and their ugly. They make me swoon for who they are. I get giddy when I know I’m going to see them. It doesn’t wear off with time. I keep thinking it will. I’m so in love with them I think my heart might burst.

Is the heart fickle, or is it just truer than we know in inexplicable ways? Why is mine so selective? Why do I find most people insufferable and boring? Why do I find the idea of tolerance so disgusting? And how do so many people just go through life with lukewarm relationships?

And then I see how people cook and dress and decorate and I realize their lack of passion. And I feel so isolated. So closed off from the rest of the world in my eccentricities and proclivities. I live in the margins of the color spectrum. I may be black and white in whom I love. But I am every shade in how I do it. That intensity is my burden. It is also my blessing.

What, me worry?

Some things shouldn’t be analyzed to death. I can’t say that with a straight face. You know that. All I do is analyze everything over and over until there is no meat left on the bones and the bones have been boiled for broth.

For two years now, the lesson has been to trust myself. Ha! Ha ha ha!!! Me trust ME? Ridiculous. Not when I have this superpower to worry, to second guess, to question what every glance, every touch, every change in tone, every silence means.

How can I trust myself when I’ve got no wins in my pouch? Wouldn’t that be prima facie evidence of an inability to do things right? What’s your trust worth that has yet to be verified?

And then there are weeks like this one, of ambling about my hometown, one I chose, and reaping a harvest I sowed myself. It is no coincidence. No lucky streak.

I am inclined to postmortem the week. To beat a dead horse and then pick over the bones and gristle. But that would take the magic out what I experienced. Some things…some experiences…some feelings defy the clumsy craft of writing.

Some things are meant to just wash over you. You are meant to feel satiated, elated, bathed and reborn, and then merely to go on, a bit more intentional, covered in grace. You go back out into the world knowing you must have done something right along the way.

That is where I am today. This week has been a thing of beauty. From Tuesday to Tuesday, planned for months and then sketched in with more improptu gatherings, I found myself in mirrors. I don’t need to know what I look like. My wholeness is reflected in the way they shine when they look back at me. I have chosen well.

Devil’s haircut

I cut my hair (with craft scissors), bought a Denman brush for curly hair and some curly hair gel, and now I’m starting to get the hang of this hair.

A midlife hair change doesn’t sound like a big deal but it kinda is. There’s a learning curve. There are new habits that must be formed. And then there is the jarring realization that occurs every time I look in the mirror and remember that the person in the mirror is me.

And, as with every other condition in my life, I ask if it’s real or imagined, if I’m making too much or too little about it, when it began and how long did it take me to realize it, and how will I manage this new existence?

Will it be exciting and let me grow in new ways? Who will curly-haired Vene be to people who never knew straight-haired Vene?

Did I lose something or gain something or neither? Did I appreciate straight hair when I had it or did I wish for something that wasn’t an upgrade? Or did I get what I wanted for being a good girl?

Maybe none of this is important. But it’s all in and on my head.

Photo of bed head this morning (sorta filtered)

Nihilism is lazy weaksauce

There is a hubris that I find more and more grating with time. It is possessed and professed by white American men of liberal political disposition. Not all, but almost exclusively.

They know the world is fucked and for their benefit. They didn’t ask for the inheritance and they don’t want to claim it. This knowledge creates a despondency,—a nihilistic worldview—that turns into inaction and bitterness. And unflinching judgment and disgust for the rest of humanity. Only a handful of dead people, Bernie and Chomsky get a pass.

It’s sad and it’s lazy. But the most annoying part is that these enlightened men who claim to have killed their egos balk at the idea of faith. They know with certainty that there is nothing out there and anyone who says otherwise is an idiot. And, because they believe that we are all we have, and they put such little value in humanity that disappoints them, all we have is nothing.

These are smart guys who are blinded by their own stupidity. They’re lost in an infinity of loneliness. They’re in free fall. And those same convictions and ethics which led them to see the suffering of the world melt away when they come to the misguided conclusion that nothing matters. They become antisocial.

They stop trying to change things. Their futility leads them to becoming impediments to substantive change. They become apathetic in the very same way that the ignorant are apathetic. Their pessimism makes them worse than the blithely ignorant because they become so invested in destruction of the whole system in a way that the ignorant aren’t capable of grasping. They are intentional in their inaction.

I think a lot of these guys need an injection of Sartre-like optimism. Yes, the outlook is bleak. And, yes, it will require super human feats to make things better. But the only response in the face of this knowledge is to try anyway.

Fight, you bastards, fight.

Why do I say white liberal males? Because they are the last to understand their roles in this whole scheme and still entitled enough that their despondency is based mostly in theory. They’re not the ones suffering…yet. Just the idea of suffering is enough to stun them. Meanwhile, everyone else who is actually putting out fires and pumping out basement water doesn’t have the luxury of pouting. They don’t have time to sit around and be so emo.

So these men kill their egos and try to make themselves smaller. And they think the rest of us should, too. They don’t see how even in their enlightenment they still prescribe “my size fits all” solutions to others whose problems are very different. Even in their meekness, they impose colonization on all whom they behold.

I don’t have patience for these men.

If the future is to be claimed, it will be by all the non-white cis hetero men who actually do know what it is like to be menaced and have freedom taken away. We who have tasted the blood in our mouths will end up leading the way, dragging these overgrown children behind us. They will benefit from the labors of others and, in doing so, repeat the errors of their fore bearers, for whom they have so much contempt. That is the ironic justice of the whole matter. They will become that which they despise most.

Covid disinformation and free speech

If you’re American, at some point in your primary education you were probably introduced to the concept of the “marketplace of ideas.” Basically, you were told that in America we prize free speech so much that we protect it all and let the good ideas float to the top on merit and the untruths sink to the bottom.

So we protect all kinds of speech. Even the Holocaust deniers because we figure people are smart enough to discern truth from lies.

But when you think about it, OF COURSE Americans would believe in a capitalist structure when it comes to truth because that is our religious viewpoint. Capitalism and apple pie. We are individualists who put the onus on the individual to act righteously and sensibly. And when an individual doesn’t act that way, we hang them out to dry for their foolishness. We laugh at them and mock them. Because God favors the righteous and anyone who doesn’t win is a LOSER in God’s eyes.

Market theory assumes a lot, including that consumers have all the available information. But we know people act irrationally in markets. We know that markets in the real world have to be regulated because they are imperfect.

Same goes for speech. We know that people don’t have access to all the information. In fact, Republicans defund education for this specific purpose. So why would we believe that the truth will, on its own, rise above the lies?

I know everyone’s getting a kick out of hypocrites catching Covid. It’s cathartic. And it’s easy to say, “Fuck ‘em. If they’re selfish and stupid enough to use horse dewormer then they deserve to die.”

But that’s just more capitalist-minded, individualistic, Ayn Rand bullshit. We know that their deaths, preceded by their health descents affect hospital staff, healthcare bills, their families who might i beret their debts, the country’s morale, and have and will continue to create all other social costs. We cannot sit around waiting for the willfully ignorant and their less willing brethren to die. The virus mutates. We all lose out in the end.

If we are failing to win over hearts and minds with our messages, then we have to do better about 1. how and to whom we reach out and 2. regulating speech.

I’m no expert on first amendment law. I haven’t practiced law in a very long time, but I have one idea. If Texas can pass a law that allows any private citizen to sue any abortion provider for $10k to get around Roe v. Wade right to privacy protection, why doesn’t New York pass a law that makes Covid misinformation illegal and allows any private citizen to sue any provider of misinformation related to Covid for $10k? And anyone who assists in the dissemination of disinformation?

I know they’re not the same issue. There are a lot more federalism issues with broadcasting and the harm is more tenuous. But they both rely on medical harm as the basis. Just a series of thoughts.

And obviously the courts are set up to work slowly. These type of lawsuits could grind the system to a halt. And I’m sure Rupert Murdoch would through a lot of money behind Fox News. But it might work on YouTubers and podcasters.

The bigger problems of capitalist and political disenfranchisement and the nihilism that numbs the white liberals of this country can’t be fixed by the Supreme Court. I was watching Spike Lee’s documentary series on. Covid today and I agree with Jeffrey Wright 100% when he says that we have no spiritual guidance going forward. “Away” is not enough of a direction. We need a new vision. And we need more visionaries.

For now I give you James Burke:

24 hrs/4 acts/Bourdain

I.
Tyler was maybe gonna come over last night but he’s injured and lacking in sleep. Baseball. I was maybe gonna order cheesecake and then started shredding carrots (and two knuckles) to make a cake. But it was hot. And I wanted to see J. Turns out he wanted to see me after he got out of work. We met at Win Son, my suggestion. I’d been there once before in August 2018 with the 🦄 before going to this immersive play called Then She Fell.

The date with the 🦄 had been hot. I only saw him a few times that month I was here. And after the first, I’d fought with him because of something that he waited months to bring up. We met up at the bar; me in this slinky wrap dress that could withstand paint (you are forewarned about comfortable clothes and shoes when you buy tickets to the play). I told him about my date with a Palestinian named Tamer at the Natural History Museum during which I gave the boy a tour in a French accent, never breaking character. The 🦄 thought it was hot and suggested I go on a date with someone else and do the same. We role-played what I would say and where I was from. This was part of the kink–him knowing I would sleep with others and always report back. But that night, even in the midst of this great date, drinking milkshakes at a video game bar, I was texting the Israeli. It’s a bad way to be.

J was super cute last night. He’d showered and changed into a little Uniqlo button down. I kept thinking to myself…are we on a date? This feels like a date. Holding hands walking down the street. Eye contact.

I told J about this crush I sorta kinda have on this girl I met–a writer and a thinker. He was intrigued in a way that he wouldn’t have been if I’d told him it was a guy. And not for the same prurient “Maybe she’s into chicks” macho repressed fantasy bullshit so many straight guys have. He’s been around the block a couple of times. This isn’t new to him the way it is to me. Nothing’s gonna happen. That’s a dead end. She’s very straight and very in love with her boyfriend. She’s just sort of a fan girl. I have them from time to time. I’m the basic girl’s Hunter S. Thompson and William S. Burroughs.

“That’s Joan Didion,” you say. “Or Joni Mitchell.” Well yeah. But apparently I give off those vibes to all the girls out there.

Speaking of Burroughs, J. brought him up later in the night. “Why do I always have a thing for guys who have a thing for Burroughs?” I asked to no one in particular. J. lolled. And I don’t mean that he laughed out loud. He rarely laughs. He actually said ‘lol.’ It’s a habit of his I happen to find endearing because it’s completely sincere and idiosyncratic. Whether he knows it or not, he’s teaching me how to lean into the autism. How to stop with the ingrained ableism. He tests me in ways that force me to grow. He can be irritating but only when you don’t know what’s going on seven layers deep. I’ve learned. Or, rather, I’m learning.

II.
I slept at J’s. And, as per usual standards and practices, we had morning sex. It’s such a foregone conclusion. There’s no discussion. It just happens. It’s the most vulnerable J ever gets. He’s calm; focused; less damaged; tender. And I get to dote on him with affection. Little kisses on his nose and forehead. His curls wrapped around my finger. All that is beautiful between him and me sublimates with daylight and I never know when he’s going to retract into that head of his and resume worrying about everything. So I appreciate it.

I tried thinking about the others this morning, with him curled up next to me. And I couldn’t. They didn’t pull focus. I was there in that moment and not longing for anyone else.

He said something this morning: “Well, Keith and Iggy made it to old age, so I guess I might be around for a few more years.” I don’t know if he thinks he’s being cryptic or if he thinks I wouldn’t catch on to what he’s saying. But I know. I know that he has been waiting to die. Pushing the envelope because he feels tragic. Maybe he was told he was no good one too many time and he’s been trying to prove them right. Maybe he’s cavalier about death because he’s so beautifully fucking sensitive under it all and life is just too much. For someone who’s waiting to die to entertain the possibility that he might just make it to old age was him acknowledging a moment of peace…dare I say…happiness. And the boy doesn’t know what to do with either of those things. He thrives on chaos. I should know. I was born into chaos. Generations of it.

III.
It just so happened that we were both headed to the same place. 86th on the UES. J gave me a lift and we crossed into the city via the Queensboro Bridge. It’s the first time since I met him on December 1, 2019 that we’d ever been outside of Brooklyn together. Not that it’s a milestone or anything. Just…well…I come from vast country. It’s bizarre to me that the entirety of my relationship with a person could be reduced to a single part of a single city. This boy and I have spent the majority of our time together either in my bedroom or his. Our safe places are insular. We need more respite from a world not built to our needs.

I was three hours early. I didn’t need to go into the city with J. But he offered. I didn’t want to say no.

I spent time at a toy store I like and bought a squeezy dinosaur egg with a triceratops fetus inside and a bouncey ball. I sat for two hours in Central Park, writing and waiting for a Filipino man to come back for the phone he left on a bench by accident. He, Erwin, eventually did come back and thanked me profusely, even offering me a reward. While I was waiting for him, a rat came within three feet of me, casual as all get out, just creeping along the bench. He looked at me. I looked at him. I shook my head and said, “Nope.” And he scurried away. It was a very New Yorky experience. Really though, what I knew…and this is going to sound trite…is that I’m back. I’m confident. I’m me again. I don’t fear the world.

At the dentist’s, I talked to the dental tech about the Yankees. Four of the players have Covid and they might have to cancel tomorrow night’s game. I filed this fact away to ask Tyler about it later.

I got out of my appointment early and headed back to Williamsburg and straight to The Levee for a drink and free cheese balls. I used to go there with Nathalia back in 2019, when we’d take breaks from all day Ratagast drink fests. It’s divey. It’s metal heady. And, of course, Emily loves the place as much as I do. Emily and I are similar in too many ways to count.

Drink drunk, I made my way to see about an old friend at The Nitehawk. Mr. Tony Bourdain.

IV.
I’m not sure anyone will believe me, but Tony and I are the same in too many ways to count. He was antisocial. He was a born romantic and poet. He was addicted to chaos and melancholy. He didn’t know how to be loved. And he flirted with death his whole life. He loved watching the never-ending human drama play out. By turns he rejected and craved normalcy in a self-inflicted torture.

The whole documentary felt like deja vu, down to the fucking Siberia Bar. I’ve been trying to remember the name of that place for so many years I thought I’d made it up. It was a red lit commie bar down in a train station on 50th and Broadway that NO ONE I’ve met in this city seems to remember. But there on the big screen was Mr. Bourdain, bathed in a ruby glow.

I watched the documentary, taking notes furiously on sheets of paper. I never can go to a theater without feeling this intense urge to write. But my phone was down to 4% and I still had to make it home.

There were all these themes that got echoed back to me from onscreen. Keith. Burroughs. Iggy. Aguirre, Wrath of God.

Really, though, it all came down to this fight between light and dark that I understand in my very marrow. I was already attempting suicide at 12. I can navigate in the dark like a fucking panther. And I feel that this film fed into the narrative that suicide is a weakness or the coward’s way out. It’s a cheap way to go. I get that everyone who loved him felt his loss so keenly. But no more than he felt his own loss his entire life and battled the eventuality for absolute decades.

The first half of this year almost sucked the life out of me. What I survived should have been my undoing. And yet, here I am. No suicide attempt. I white knuckled my way through this bout with whatever residual faith I had that the nights would eventually end and dawn would arrive. I survived by summoning the very elemental forces of nature and using every possible resource available to me to get through it. And I know, as sure as there is breath in my lungs, that it wasn’t the last fight I will face. These things come in five year cycles. I will be tested again. How many victories do I have left in me?

I hate that people look for meaning in Bourdain’s death and, finding none, call it a waste. There is no meaning in suicide. Don’t judge a man by the way he died but how he lived in spite of that trajectory. If you understand the biological underpinnings of depression that can upshift into suicide then you know how much suffering has led to an irrational act. He left no note. He had no plan for his beloved daughter. Those aren’t the actions of someone who was thinking rationally. He was in such pain that he couldn’t see straight. I know. I’ve been there.

The film fails on that account. Survivors told their tales of anger and bewilderment. It’s the one part of his life that Bourdain couldn’t narrate himself.

I ask myself, now that I am back, why I am back and what makes the difference? I spent the ages of 36-41 rebuilding myself from rock bottom and learning to love myself in defiance of everything I was ever taught, always knowing I could be reduced to rubble in an instant. When things got really bad this Spring, I had to remind myself of that defiance. I had to sit on my hands and wait for the most gut wrenching pain to pass because I knew there was more out there waiting for me to accomplish.

Now that I am better, that I am back to February 2020 Vene, unafraid to the point of staring down rats in the park, how do I hook in the next phase of my purpose?

I told Nicole recently that I don’t care what people think about me or if they think about me when I’m dead and gone. I just want to leave the world a kinder, gentler place. Or at least engender that legacy in others who will carry it on as I did when I inherited it.

The difference between Tony and me…the difference between J and me…is that when my constructive and destructive forces battle one another I don’t come out a nihilist. I believe. Reluctantly. Amateurishly. Recklessly. Hopelessly. Passionately.

Party girl

Back in college I used to write notes on the back of my hand and down my arm. Not for cheating, but just little things I’d learned that day that I wanted to share with D. I loved lectures when the professors were good. If I loved a class I never missed it. If I didn’t…well…let’s just say I dropped more classes than I took. But then again, I’d go to D’s classes with him just to be a part of the things he was learning. I even went on a field trip with his English class to the Arizona Historical Society and answered all the docent’s questions.

It was important to share that stuff, ya know? I’m not a know-it-all and I don’t need to prove to anyone that I’m full of facts. That part of me comes through so strong that I inevitably get called Encyclopedia or Wikipedia or some variation on the theme. I share things because I love people and I want them to love the things I love. It makes the experience more real when I get to share it.

I started looking into a couple of programs today at the Pratt Institute. Masters of Science in Library Sciences and Museums and Digital Culture. How I got on that track was a bit circuitous. I thought about going to the library tomorrow. I love libraries. So I looked to see which ones were open in Brooklyn. And then I looked to see if they had any jobs available. It could be nice to be surrounded by books. I can name my favorite places in about four different libraries throughout my life.

And museums! Oh, how I love them. I have a ticket to MoMA PS1 on Friday. I was that kid who was fascinated on field trips to look at mineral formations, dioramas, artifacts, rockets.

Favorite museums? Natural History and Space & Air in D.C., Natural History and The Met in NYC, the British Museum in London, the Orsay in Paris, the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, Center For Creative Photography in Tucson and the Tubac Presidio State Park down in Southern Arizona.

I never stopped being that kid. I still feel that same sense of wonder when I learn something new. And what a better city to live in than NYC where museums and libraries are all around?

It’s expensive. I’d have to find the money. I started looking at scholarships. And maybe I’d be limited in what I could do. But I’m not going to sell myself short before I even try.

I told three people. Emily liked museums over libraries. Celia thought is was an excellent idea and really got excited. J said I’d be right at home in those environs because I’m an information hound. J had thousand of books organized by Dewey Decimal system at his place. He’s an information hound, too. It’s why we love each other. We appreciate the nerdy stuff.

This time right now…I’m changing. Not in obvious ways. Not so you’d notice from the outside. I’m not driven by what got me to NYC. And I’m not interested in other people so much. They fascinate me and always will. I just don’t care about impressing anyone. It’s too easy to do. I’m ready for a new path. A quieter one. With a little more grounding. And maybe some very cool glasses.