Monday, March 23, 2009


Dear ______,

It is now 1:30am on a Saturday night and I am sitting at home on this warm night with nothing much to do except pick up a book, read a little, write a little while in the background, my television is blaring. I'm watching an old television series, one that I watched when I was 10. It makes me feel old but reminds me of times less complicated. Every now and then, I sit at my piano and play a random piece. I am finding myself increasingly drawn to Chopin, not because I feel any particular musical affinity to him over any other composer but his pieces seem to allow me to express a frustration and offer me solace as my hands glide from one end of the keyboard to the other to, no doubt, land on the wrong chord. But apart from Chopin, I am endlessly playing Debussy's Claire de Lune, partly because I have it memorised and partly because the chords and melody do something to me; something that I am as yet unable to explain. It makes me feel sad and consoled at the same time.

In any case, I am writing to you because we seemed to have ceased our correspondence, for whatever reason. I'm writing to vent about my failures. I can't seem to write what I want to write. I can't focus on any particular thing long enough so as to give me a sense of satisfaction and achievement. And I think I am unhappy. I don't really know why I'm feeling this way but it's a feeling that is gnawing at me. I suspect it is partly due to loneliness. It is, after all, a Saturday night and I am sitting at home. I also have to go to work tomorrow and with each day that I have to go to that job, I find myself increasingly dreading the prospect. I would like to leave and do something else. Do you remember I mentioned that there was a job I was thinking of applying for? I haven't applied for it yet. I am hesitating because I don't know if I want to leave the comfort of a familiar and steady job, especially in these turbulent times, to move onto a job that I know nothing about. Of course, my friends say, "Just apply for it anyway and see what happens." I know, in all my pragmatism, that their advice is correct. After all, I feel I have spent too long a time in a single working environment for someone so young (although I am no longer as young as I feel, which is another factor that urges me to apply for the job).

But another reason behind my hesitation is that I have decided that I would like my next travel destination to be Peru. When I was 10, I did a school project on Peru and I've been in love with the country ever since. Do you remember a cartoon series on the ABC called 'The City of Gold'? It was about these two kids on a journey looking for a city that legend says is made of gold. I'm not sure if they were Aztec or Incan children but I loved that series. I do remember something about the Nazca lines so that leads me to believe they were Incan. But I digress. If I do start another job, I'll have to accumulate annual leave all over again, which means my Peruvian adventures will probably have to wait for at least another year. I'm not sure if I want to wait that long. But then again, maybe it's time I grew up and started putting career considerations ahead of leisurely pursuits. After all, we all have to face that moment when we decide to grow up and become adults. I think maybe that this is the moment for me to decide such a thing.

In the meantime, before I make my decision, I went out tonight to Borders to buy Lonely Planet Peru. But while I was there, I also picked up Iris Murdoch's 'The sea, the sea'. I have read about 10 pages of it and it is magnificent. It tells of a retired actor who, from what I've read so far, is writing his memoirs. In it is such sadness and resignation, cloaked in a quiet dignity. I immediately related to him. Is that strange, seeing how he is in the 'recollection in tranquillity' stages in his life yet I am not even thirty? In any case, it is so beautifully and elegantly written - so descriptive and picturesque, lucid yet mysterious at the same time - that it evokes in me feelings of inadequacy. I am not gifted or special in any way. Is this what it means to grow up, to fully realise the reality of one's limitations and the boundaries of possibility, even though we've been told all our lives that we are able to achieve anything to which we set our mind? Such a fallacy!

So yes, I am unhappy. But at least this letter seems to give me a few more possible openings for that essay on the disease of the modern age I've told you I've been trying to write. Now if only I can overcome my lack of concentration and focus on it long enough so that I can complete it.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Sorrento Moon

During the mayhem of everyday life, there are many times when I wish I was the only person on earth. For example, even though I'm generally pretty zen, I regularly let loose a fusillade of vehement imprecations when I weave my car through the madness of inner city traffic. In fact, I abhor the chaos of peak hour so much that I absolutely refuse to sit through it, unless it's a matter of life and death. And when family or other tensions arise, I would wish I could be in a far-away place, never again to be bothered by melodramatic displays over inconsequential issues. Well, I had a short and, I suppose, a very insubstantial taste of transporting myself away from human connection but it was definitely enough for me to determine, at least for me, the feasibility of living in complete isolation.

This weekend, I made an impromptu visit to the small town of Sorrento in Victoria's south-east. A friend of mine has sequestered herself away in a beach-house in Sorrento to write a book away from the hubbub of city life. Having spent a few weeks isolated from society, she invited me over for a visit. Shameful as it is to admit this, I've lived in Melbourne all my life and have never set foot outside the bounds of its suburban limits. So naturally I jumped at the chance to spend my weekend in a house by the sea in the quaint little town. I quickly packed away a few weekend necessities, hopped into my car and began my journey on unfamiliar roads.

It takes about 2.5 hours to make it to Sorrento by car and when I left the house, it was about 8:30pm. By the time I reached the country freeway, the roads were deserted and I was submerged in a thick darkness that dwarfed the small patches lit up by the headlights. Here, in my car, driving along a dimly lit road, flanked by wild bushland that my vision couldn't penetrate beyond the hedges immediately beside me, my imagination transported me into a world where I was the only living soul left on these bare plains. There was no civilisation - only me and the road. Then I entered a state of panic.

As I was driving down that road, I gradually increased the volume of my cd player. I shot my eyes around rapidly to survey my surroundings to no avail due to the impenetrable darkness. And, should I chance upon slight illumination either in front or behind me from the headlights of other cars, I experienced a strange mixture of fear and comfort: comfort because it served as a reminder that, despite the world into which my imagination plunged me, I was not the sole survivor on the planet. But I experienced fear also because I glimpsed in those flashes of light a reminder of the untimely and gruesome ends met by travellers in strange lands à la Wolf Creek.

When I questioned the source of my panic I realised I was experiencing separation anxiety. I've always considered myself pretty independent emotionally, meaning I don't think I have any real attachment to people. That may be a mechanism that desensitises me to the fact of my sparse human contact due to my incredibly unmanageable shyness. In any case, I generally prefer to spend time alone, submerged in solitary activities such as reading and the piano.

But when the country freeway ended at the entrance of the country town blanketed in night, the sight of houses with lit-up windows pushed the balance of my strange feeling in the favour of comfort. I knew that, if something happened, there would be people who may acknowledge my plight and come to my aid. I was with people again. And I was even more comforted when my friend opened her front door and welcomed me with a hug and a warm "Hello."

So this little tryst with isolation has taught me a thing or two. There is a certain danger in being alone. Whether real or imagined, the danger is there because the safety net of being amongst one's kind is removed. I suspect that this safety net comprises of a combination of pragmatic concern, for example, in case of an emergency. But more importantly the other component is the more basic necessity of human connection. It seems that complete isolation, at least for me, is not a possible mode of life. I do have some insights as to why the latter factor of the safety net is important but that's a lesson for another time.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

The Head Or The Heart?

I've always wondered what makes people love. Of course, having no real experience in the matter whatsoever, I'm still no closer to making any solid conclusions. But it seems that it's comprised of a dynamic diad between what's held on your shoulders and what's armoured by your ribcage. Well, for medical accuracy, it really just happens in your head. But nonetheless, contrary to associations usually linked to cerebral function, love makes people irrational. So it's no surprise that people needed to find a symbol for love that's distinct from the brain. After all, that grey slush with all those gyri and sulci is definitely not as attractive or marketable as a cutesy heart when it comes to designing cards for St. Valentine's day. But I digress. The bottom line is, thoughts and feelings both happen in the brain.

Cognition and emotion are the two fundamental element that makes us who we are. But how much does the action of one impinge on the action of the other? Love is definitely a case in which the struggle between head and the proverbial heart seems to be irreconcilable. Many poets personify this struggle in fables where the emotional impulses are so strong that it overrides all practical considerations. Romeo and Juliet, one of the most celebrated love stories, has always seemed to me a documentation of two young fools where, in the end, the heart wins. Beautifully poetic or not, I wonder what would happen if our two star-crossed lovers had given greater weight to their cerebral impulses. That leads me to the question: how much conscious control can we exert over our emotional impulses?

I have met the perfect man. He is a young Italian man with a light shadow of stubble framing his da Vinci-esque chiselled jaw. His frame is solidly athletic and anything draped over his body gives the impression that it was designed specifically to complement his physique. And his eyes shine the shade of sparklingly clear boyish mischief when he looks into the light. So, not surprisingly, when I first laid eyes on such a beautiful creature, I felt my ribs' structural properties challenged by an overly active heart. And that damned circulatory pump got the better of me.

After one year of crafting situations and opportunities to bask in his presence, dismissing other prospects as unworthy compared to this embodiment of masculinity, I ultimately learnt that it was not possible for me to induce the same engulfing emotional impulse in him that possessed me when I'm in his presence. Why? Because he isn't gay. When faced with such a devastating discovery, what's a poor smitten boy to do? At that stage, I still did not give priority to what my cerebral cortex told me was the best course of action: to forget him and move on. I stupidly languished in thoughts of him and continued to grasp voraciously at any chance to catch a glimpse of him for a further half-year.

But a friend frustrated and fed-up with hearing about my futile encounters with my perfect man simply told me (and very wisely so), "There comes a point when things lead to dead-ends and you simply have to make the decision to let go, then let go." I knew my friend was right. My infatuation with my man was completely insane, unproductive and detrimental to my person in more aspects than one. So one day, I simply got up, decided that I will no longer give in to my vain impulses and forget about him. And from that day, I slowly learned to let go. Since then I have not gone to see my man and have not thought of him nor felt any of those once-frequent warm feelings towards him.

That was one year ago. Since then, no other man may have been able to arouse that same intense joy in me but I have moved forward in my search for love. I am extremely proud of the little steps I have taken towards finding my happiness. And I have been able to do so because I refused to give-in to the irrational and instead listened to reason. But the other day, I happened by chance to glance upon my perfect man again. I felt that familiar stirring deep in my chest, and also in a region slightly lower, once again, although much attenuated in intensity compared to the previous occasions. Despite this, I have made allowances for these involuntary impulses. I am choosing to acknowledge them but since no amount of effort on my part would bring any real connection between my man and I, I am consciously choosing to dismiss these impulses and move on. So, while the eternal struggle continues, I know that the more worthy (albeit less poetic) contender will win in the end.

At A Crossroad

So anyway, my 25th birthday is coming up and unlike most people who bask in a sea of festivities and gifts to commemorate another year's survival, I sink into a state of complete depression when this time of year comes around. In the few weeks leading up to it, I can't pull myself out bed, none of the music I play comes out right (unless it's Rachmaninov's Prelude in C# minor - a study in agitation) and all my friends try to avoid me because I am definitely not good company to say the least. I suppose I get like this each year because I feel like I haven't really achieved much with my life.

When I say achievement, I guess I really mean career movements. Yes, like everyone else, I have a degree with honours but after completing my degree, the thought of pursuing a path in that direction makes me, even now, shudder in complete disgust. So for the past few years, I've been working a menial office job that isn't going anywhere and spending my spare time mulling over thoughts of what I should do with myself. And now, 3 years after my stint at university life, I'm pretty much still no closer to deciding what to do with myself.

Actually no, that's not true. I have always felt a calling towards medicine. But even so, given that it's such a huge commitment and the job is wrought with responsibility and obligation, I still have huge reservations about stepping down that road. And while I've signed myself up to sit the entrance exam more than once, I brain seems to resist absorbing any information when studying for it. And with the exam coming up in 3 weeks, I definitely have no hope of passing. So perhaps my body is telling me I'm not ready to commit myself to medicine. So I guess that means I'll be putting off the exam for another year. But having made that decision (yet again), I still can't help but feel I'm dilly-dallying, wasting time. Time is definitely not on my side but I can't force myself into doing something I don't feel ready for.

So instead of sitting around brooding over the exam and medicine for another year, I've decided to use 2008 to get things out of my system. For example, I have to learn to get over this debilitating shyness of mine and date more, to put myself out there more and meet new people. Who knows what would come my way if I do but I think it's definitely a step in the right direction. Another thing is I have to leave my relatively well-paying part-time job and find something more productive and developmental in terms of gaining experience for future career opportunities. And lastly, I have finally decided that I would like to experience the European lifestyle later this year. Sure, I'll be spending my savings but it is something you should do young and while you have the chance. So Europe, here I come. It definitely is a scary move for me. In fact, I regret writing it already because I fear I won't put my plans to action. Nonethelss I need to be shaken out of my comfort zone and saying it puts it one step closer to reality.

Everyone is afraid of getting older. And justifiably so because as age increases, time decreases and you realise that things aren't what they used to be. I think I put off doing a lot of things because while I know the number arbitrarily assigned to me which denotes the amount of time I've been on this earth slowly grows, I can't seem to shake the feeling that the number is supposed to be a lot smaller than it really is. And I become a train-wreck each time my birthday comes around because it's a very painful, cruel and incontrovertible reminder of the incongruence between what I am and how I feel. But maybe that's not such a bad thing. At least this way, I am jolted from my state of stagnant complacency and will venture out there and see what the world might have in store for me. Maybe then, I'll be one step closer to being happy.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Is It Better To Have Loved?

I'm a strong proponent of the school of thought that art enriches our lives. As such, I very much disagree with Oscar Wilde's sentiment that 'all art is quite useless'. Now, I don't approach art from a rigourously intellectual perspective. Rather, I let the art envelop me and affect me on a visceral level. It is through art that we can experience different planes of consciousness and dive into pools of emotions and thoughts that one thinks oneself quite incapable. And so, one of the cultural events of 2008 that has me gripped with anticipation is the theatre adaptation of Timothy Conigrave's book Holding The Man. And sure enough, it will be, for me, one of those rare experiences that will seep into my viscera and grow into an emotional epiphany. That's why I'm writing an entry on a play I haven't seen and a book I haven't finished.

In his memoir, Conigrave invites us to share in his memories of how a teenage friendship in the 70's evolved to become a great and timeless love story. The book recounts and explores the trials and tribulations but also the intimate and cherished moments between the Timothy Conigrave and his love John Caleo. Through his unsophisticated prose, the memoir offers such a microscopic examination of their intimacy that it imbues Conigrave's words with excruciating poignancy. Their's is a story of a love that endured despite encountering every adversity imaginable; separation, temptations, deceit. When the AIDS crisis hit Austalia in the 80's both Tim and John were diagnosed HIV-positive. But even in the face of death, the ultimate separation, their love endured to the end. But when John died after a long and complicated illness, Tim was left with an absolute emptiness. "You are a hole in my life, a black hole. Anything I place there cannot be returned. I miss you terribly." These are the despairing words that conclude Conigrave's elegy to his love.

Since I haven't seen the play or finished the book, my knowledge of Conigrave's story doesn't extend much further than the summary given above. But even so, each time I read the description of the play, my eyes well up with tears, mourning the loss of two men who found such deep and unwavering love but were ravaged by disease and death. Each time those closing lines echo in my mind, I am transposed onto Conigrave's soul and live the desperate isolation he experienced in his final years without his love and I am engulfed by such despair and anguish that it paralyses me. I wonder if I would have the strength and tenacity to survive that penetrating loneliness if I had a love that was lost. Now I reconsider my own personal journey for love and doubt the value of love in my own life. Is the love worth the pain it leaves?

This year has not, so far, been auspicious for love. St. Valentine's Day has just passed and amidst the conflagation of romantic gestures, none of that residual heat, let alone fire, extended its warmth to me. But more importantly, earlier this year, two of my closest friends, who were in what seemed like a happy relationship ended their romance after 8 years. They were the model couple, a sort of archetype by which others looked to for a yardstick to measure the success of their own relationships. They were the high school sweet-hearts that were happily engaged. I was to be their best man. I have their wedding speech written. They were my beacon. Now that light is extinguished and I mourn its loss.

Even so, I can't help but have this yearning for the closeness and understanding I read in Conigrave's words and saw between my two friends. I want to live for myself what appeared to me like the most precious connection between two people. But can't help but think that love is a hopeless situation, inevitably spiralling down a path paved by hardship and loss. And as I read Conigrave's elegy, love's worth is diminished and I lose all hope. Is there no hope?

But wait, I lied in my quotation of Conigrave's final words. The words that seal his love letter are actually, "Ci vedremo lassù, angelo." And while these final words resonate with loss and separation, I see within them a faint glimmer of a thread that ties Tim to John, that their love is not lost. Their love did not just endure until death, it endures beyond because I see them both clasping each others' hands, never to part again. It is this love that makes the history of their lives and everything that it has touched more precious and the importance of what existed between them is beyond any doubt and question.

Friday, February 15, 2008

A Small Bid Adieu Retroactively

Given the huge gap between the date of the last entry and this one, you might've guessed that I've been somewhat neglecting my blog of late. Unfortunately, I'm in a strange state at the moment. I described it to fellow blogger The Melburnian as being caught between moods, like suspended breath. And the result is complete incapacitation.

So I have to extend a most sincere and humble apology to the 2 or 3 regular readers of my blog for not providing them with the new and exciting accounts of my life (not that I've experienced much excitement lately) that they have hopefully grown to love through this journal of mine. It is selfish of me to be missing without informing anyone of my absence. So I apologise and post this small notice of my previous absence and a hopefully very small extension of this absence into the future.

I will be back in action very shortly, pending the lifting of this paralysis that has overcome me, which, for my sake, I hope will only be for a little while longer.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Cape, Tights & Undies Outside

If I could be any superhero in the world, I think my name would be The Rainbow Warrior. Even though I'm not one of those loud-and-proud kind of guys or even a flaming queen by any means, I'm very proud of being gay. When Chip and Reichen, two gay lovers, won series four of The Amazing Race, I leapt out of my seat and let out a triumphant roar. And when Anthony Callea finally came out (seriously though, who didn't know?), his act of courage so filled me with pride that my eyes welled up with tears. While I wouldn't be the first to volunteer to front the gay pride march, when it comes to defending the gay commmunity, you can't shut me up because I find every argument against homosexuality completely spurious and motivated by either lack of understanding or hatred.

But yesterday, I stumbled upon a subject that completely made my stomach turn and, dare I say it, feel shame for the gay community: Bug Chasing. No, Bug Chasing does not involve entomologists scouring the Amazon for new species of creepy-crawlies. It's when guys go out and bareback with the intention of being infected with HIV. You have the Bug Chaser (the HIV- guy who wants to be infected) and the Gift Giver (the HIV+ guy who will infect the Chaser). The whole concept is completely insane. But that's not the worst of it. This is where it gets really sick. There are events called Bug Parties. At Bug Parties, there is the host and the participants. There are a couple of variations to the set-up but a particularly sickening one of is where there is one HIV+ man amidst the crowd, whose status is only known to himself and the host. The remaining participants are HIV- but are aware that there is a Gift Giver among them. The crowd then participates in an orgy of unprotected sex. And so the night ends with one or more participants possibly contracting the virus.

There are cases where men deliberately place their partner at risk by not divulging their HIV status to them. One such case is Michael Neal, a 48 year-old Coburg man who not only lied about his HIV status but also admitted to deliberately attempting to infect other men with the virus. The reason for his actions? To breed the virus and widen the pool of men with which he can engage in unprotected sex. To me, people who deliberately infect others should be immediately castrated as punishment and prevention of further infection. But this case is different to Bug Chasing in that his partners did not actively seek to be infected.

So why on earth would anyone want to be infected with HIV? There are a number of factors that may explain why there are Chasers out there. One theory postulates that some men live with significant anxiety and feel that HIV infection is an inevitability. So they actively seek to be infected to 'get it over and done with'. In The Gift, a documentary about the Bug Chasing culture, one character says, "I was relieved, I didn't have to worry anymore. Do I need to be careful? Not anymore."

Another possible explanation attributes the Chasers' psychology to upbringing. Gay men grew up as boys who have always felt isolated and different from everyone else. Since HIV is almost synonymous with being gay, they feel that having the virus is like an initiation into an exclusive club; a matter of feeling like they belong. Then there's lack of education or a misunderstanding about the nature of the course of HIV/AIDS. Since the advent of antiretroviral therapy (ART), many people perceive HIV infection as a disease that can be held in check simply by taking a few pills. So fear of the illness has slowly dwindled over the years. Unfortunately they don't understand that there are different strains of the virus, with different levels of susceptibility to ART and can lead to different degrees of the disease's severity. Furthermore, the virus may become drug-resistant, therefore leading to a disease-state that is very difficult to manage or no longer manageable.

The culmination of these latter two factors is embodied in Doug, a character also featured in The Gift. Doug moved from America's homophobic mid-west to San Franscisco in search of the gay community. There, he became a Bug Chaser and when he was infected with the virus, he felt a sense of finally belonging to a community. Unfortunately he is now trying to cope with the unexpected severity of his illness.

The fact that there is this sickening sub-culture amidst an already ostracised and misunderstood community brings up so many mixed emotions in me. Many gay men feel or have felt an intense angst of loneliness, guilt and self-loathing when coming to terms with who he is because he was raised to believe that he is 'incorrect'. So on the one hand, I'm saddened that this bottled-up angst manifests itself through self-destructive activity. But on the other hand, I am angry that instead of building a positive and constructive face for the community where we are each others' keepers, there are those that choose to self-destruct, adding fuel for further misunderstanding from the rest of society. So this vicious circle continues.

I once said that I am a happy gay man because I refuse to accept society's irrational doctrine that gay men are warped and twisted (see entry: BB & P'n'P). But I shouldn't blame all of the gay community's problems on the way we are receieved by the rest of the world, especially now we are more widely accepted and welcomed than ever before. After all, we have to accept at least partial responsibility for our actions. But I wonder, what would happen if the blanket of disdain was lifted from us completely? Until then, I only wish I could don some tights and a cape and fly all over the world to protect my brothers from harm.