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Monday, March 12, 2007


A conversation this weekend has helped me to think through some of the priorities in my life. As regular Auto-Gratification readers have no doubt noticed, my posts lately have been severely lacking.

This has been unavoidable, as my life lately has been rather crazy, particularly with my job in a company that is in a tailspin it is unlikely to recover from. Consequently, I am trying to balance the demands of a very full-time job with the fairly-urgent need to find a new job in a more stable situation.

As a smart friend reminded me this weekend, I need to make sure I am dedicating the maximum amount of effort possible to my occupation situation and not allow myself to use other things (such as blogging) to be used as an escape from the stress I have been under for far too long. For, when I spend my time on things less important, I ultimately only will increase my stress and delay its resolve.

So, today Auto-Gratification is going on an indefinite hiatus. Although I have every intent to return to blogging at some point, I cannot today tell you at what point that will be. I will keep the blog up, and perhaps I will be able to give an update along the way. But at this point, I don't plan to post again until my job situation has settled down and I am comfortably-settled into whatever new opportunity awaits.

Thanks to all who have been so kind in your comments and visits. I do hope that I will be back here again soon....keep checking!



Saturday, February 24, 2007

Hope You've Enjoyed the Conversation Thus Far

One year ago today, on Friday, February 24, 2006, I began Auto-Gratification with a post titled "Talking To Myself." This was my third or fourth attempt at maintaining a blog (each of the others dying after a few short posts). But this one seems to be sticking. I have found that the reality of life keeps me from daily postings as I might like, but looking at my stats shows an average of slightly more than 3 posts per week, so I suppose that is adequate.

As is fairly common for new bloggers, it took me a bit to figure out what I wanted to do with the blog, so some of my early posts are rather boring. But, if the response from friends and acquaintances is any indicator, eventually things improved, and I hope I will continue to entertain or inform or slightly amuse you as the weeks go on.

For those who may not have been here the whole time, here's a few of my personal favorite posts that you might want to check out...

  • Mardi Gras Origins (February 27, 2006) - My account of the year I attended the Mardi Gras celebration in the village of Binche, Belgium, where many of the traditions of the day originated.
  • French Sex (April 30, 2006) - As I mention in my blog header, I am half-bilingual, so back in April, I decided to produce a brief guide de terminologie sexuelle fran├žaise. Even if you don't speak any French, it is a fascinating (and sometimes amusing) look at the way Francophones express themselves in the bedroom.
  • How to Help a Friend Who is Dealing with the Suicide of a Loved One (May 8, 2006) - Because of the tragedy that I have experienced and survived, I have posted a number of times over the past year on the topic of suicide. This post I wrote in the hopes of giving some practical advice in the event someone finds themselves trying to comfort a friend who is grieving the suicide of a loved one.
  • Sometimes It Rains (June 28, 2006) - I occasionally write poetry in my journal, but I almost always use poetry to express things that are deeply personal, so only twice have I ever shared something I wrote in that realm publicly. This poem was written as a reminder of the value of friendship when the storms come.
  • The Pink Letter (July 2, 2006) - I had probably more fun writing this post than nearly any other I have done. Being a fan of classic literature, I often am humored as I run across terms whose meanings have changed over time, a wonderful example being the word "queer." This post illustrates a number of classic literature passages in which they\ author employed that word, never realizing the new, humorous meanings their words would have decades later.
  • Rice Queen, Part 1 and Part 2 (July 6-9, 2006) - Some thoughts on interracial romance in the gay community.
  • My Coming-Out Story (October 11-December 10, 2006) - This ended up being a five-part series on my own personal coming-out story. I still intend to write an epilogue as I promised several I would do...perhaps that will be the post to start off my second blogging year.
  • Choosing Our Battles Wisely (February 21, 2007) - My most recent post prior to this one, but something I feel very strongly about. I lived in Africa for a while and love the people there, so it saddens me to see so many critical of people who are sacrificially giving of their lives to help people they do not even know in lands far away.
Well, thanks to all who have read, commented, complimented, and even criticized me over the past year. I hope you will continue to visit my blog (and link to it!). I will try to make your visits worth the time you give to me. Cheers!



Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Choosing Our Battles Wisely

Recently, an anonymous commenter (ah, the joys of anonymity....headstrong statements with no personal consequence) criticized my promotion of the (PRODUCT)RED campaign a couple months ago.

This commenter said:

You might want to note that the Red Campaign, while a great idea, is quite sexist in the distribution of its funds. As stated on the website: the donations go to women and children. Therefore, presumably, gay men will not in any way benefit from the work. Considering how indiscriminate the disease, it is unfortunate that money must be distributed in a discriminatory manner.
Since this comment was just made recently, it is unlikely that my response will be noticed by too many people, but Mr. or Ms. Anonymous kinda provoked my ire a bit, so I wanted to include my thoughts on a separate post here for your consideration. With slight modification, this is what I said in my response:
I think that perhaps you are being unnecessarily harsh on the campaign. The fact that they are raising funds only for women and children is not ipso facto sexist. The thrust of this particular fundraising drive is to raise money to provide the medicine that will keep a mother from passing HIV on to her unborn child, a goal that all of us would applaud. Just because this particular organization does not focus on every single person infected with HIV/AIDS is simply not sexist.

To focus on addressing one part of a complex problem in no way negates or lessens the work of others addressing a different part.It is no different than the Children's Memorial Hospital here in my hometown of Chicago. Is it sexist (or "ageist") when someone raises funds for the cancer unit of that hospital? After all, cancer indiscriminately affects adults as well as children. In fact, probably adults are even more at risk than children in many cases. So should those raising funds for that unit be criticized and rejected? Certainly not! The focus on fighting a problem in one area in no way negates or lessens the work of others fighting it in another area. Both are legitimate, both are essential, and both should receive support rather than criticism for their efforts.

Not only is it not sexist for the (PRODUCT)RED campaign to operate as they do, it also is very likely more practical and efficient than a less-focused effort, for it gives very specific guidance and direction to those using the funding. Rather than arbitrary decisions concerning fund distribution, those involved know exactly what the money is to be used for and can simply focus on getting the medicine out as quickly as possible.

Additionally, if you look into Bono's efforts in Africa, you will find that the (PRODUCT)RED campaign is only one aspect of his involvement with the needs of that continent. He has been instrumental in addressing many issues related to poverty and HIV/AIDS, and nobody who claims he is sexist in his efforts is even remotely fair to him.

And finally, it is a very selfish thing to assume that gay men will not benefit from the work of (PRODUCT)RED. Do gay men not have nieces and nephews, brothers and sisters, whose lives could be saved through the medicine provided by this campaign? Are we not members of a society and world community in which each of us is affected by the well-being, health, and prosperity of others? Are we gay men so selfish that we have to get the medicine for ourselves before we can be excited and enthusiastic about lives being saved? I certainly hope not!
And I hope that each of us will be more determined today and every day of our lives to figure out where the real enemies are and stop shooting at our friends.

(Note: For more information on (PRODUCT)RED, click on the logo on the top portion of this blog's right-screen sidebar).



Friday, February 16, 2007

I Might Take Some Heat For This...

OK, so I feel like stirring up a bit of trouble this morning. I predict, with confidence, that in the (hopefully) not-too-distant future, the idea of an anthropogenic global warming crisis will be seen to be grossly overstated, if not outright false and foolish. Whether or not this happens before an Oscar and Nobel Prize are wasted on Al Gore may be debatable, but I look forward to seeing the entertainment as the lemmings begin to back-pedal and try to save face when the politico-science of anthropogenic global warming gives way to fact.

As US President John Adams wrote in 1770, in the days when he was a lawyer in Boston, "Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence."

Now, I'm sure that my statements here have angered many, so feel free to fire away at me in the comments if you feel the urge. Don't worry; I can take it. Just do me a favor and bookmark this page or my e-mail address so that you can remember where to send your apology note when you realize I am correct.



Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Retread: Hopeless Romantic

A Happy Valentine's Day to each of you. In honor of this holiday, I want to re-post links to the "Hopeless Romantic" series of posts that I wrote last year. I think Valentine's day has the potential to be a wonderful holiday, although cynicism and commercialism are constantly attempting to creep in. But I still see a world in which people fall in love and find passion in producing joy in the life of a partner. So, how is it that we identify the true romantics? Check these out for a starter's guide to romance:

Valentine - Superglue



Wednesday, January 31, 2007

The Brown Dragon

On September 10, 2004, I got my first tattoo. It speaks of the lessons I learned from my "coming out" experience. I wrote about the first tattoo previously on this blog, and you can read about it here if you like.

Now, if you read that post, you will see that I planned out the tattoo's timing and meaning to the extreme. It was a very important reminder to me of a milestone in my life that continues to shape me to this day. After I got the first tattoo, I did not necessarily intend to get another one. For one thing, I did not foresee another event that would be as life-changing as my “coming out," so it seemed that any new tattoo would be somewhat trivial in comparison to the meaning behind the first. Little did I know how wrong I was.

As I have mentioned on this blog before, I lost my boyfriend to suicide on October 13, 2005. And, compounding the loss of my boyfriend was the trauma of being the one to find him hanging from a rope in his bedroom. This sent my life into a turmoil that could have easily become a tailspin. However, through the aggressive love and constant support of amazing friends and family, I survived even through pain deeper than I had ever known.

We are approaching one year since we buried Alfred. Due to circumstances surrounding government regulations and transporting remains out of the country (part of his remains buried in his home town in the Philippines and part at his adopted home here in Chicago), we did not have the burial service here until February 15, about 4 months after his death. As I was thinking about this today, I decided I would share the story of my second tattoo. I have told it to a few close friends, but I think it would be good to share here in hopes that perhaps it can be an encouragement to someone else going through a dark time in his or her life.

I think it is natural, upon the loss of a loved one, to desire to do something to keep his memory alive, perhaps to convince oneself that the person is not forgotten. Even as I was slowly beginning to face the reality that Alfred was gone from my life forever, I knew that I wanted to do something that would remind me of him and the wonderful memories we shared during our all-too-brief time together. I’m not certain exactly at what point the idea of getting another tattoo entered my mind, but certainly by early December 2005 I was seriously considering it. And, the more I contemplated, the more I realized how meaningful a tattoo could be in this situation. So, on December 29, 2005, I received my second tattoo. Here, as concisely as possible, is the meaning and significance of the tattoo:

The design of the tattoo was much easier to decide upon than the first one I got. I knew I wanted something that would be a good memory for me of Alfred, yet I was level-headed enough to know I wasn’t going to inscribe his name on my arm or anything like that. Also, on the slightly more shallow side of things, I kinda wanted a tattoo that would be a little more “exciting” than my first. The idea that quickly came to mind was Alfred’s nickname which I often used, “Brown Dragon.” I am not certain where he got that nickname, but it was one that I thought would be a great memorial idea. A brown dragon would be meaningful to me, yet it would avoid potential awkwardness in future relationships both because the significance would be muted apart from my explicit explanation and because it would just look like a nice tattoo (so I hoped and so I believe).

I intentionally chose to have the size of the tattoo be much larger than my first, symbolizing that this was an experience that overshadows even the most difficult moments of my life to this point. The pain I have gone through is beyond anything I have ever imagined, or imagined being able to endure. And it is this pain and its results that add the most meaning to the tattoo.

The process of getting the tattoo applied took about 2 hours. During the application, it feels as if the artist is taking a knife and cutting you open. It struck me that, out of this rather intense pain came a thing of beauty. If I had not gone through the pain, I could not have seen the beauty of the artwork. As with the tattoo (though on a completely different scale), Alfred’s death has brought intense pain into my life. And yet, I have seen beauty emerge even from that pain. I believe the experience has made me a better friend, son, brother. Where I have had a lifelong tendency to be somewhat self-absorbed (perhaps not actively selfish, but just so much in my own little world that I don’t notice the needs of others), I have found myself more actively looking for ways to show kindness, friendship, and love to those in my life. Relationships that had been strained I have sought to restore. I have written letters to my family for no other reason than to remind them that I love them and am thankful to be in their lives. The experience has helped me to re-evaluate my life, and goals that had faded have come into sharper focus. I have determined to make major changes in my career, aiming to return to school to enter a profession that will help people and make a difference in a way that marketing and advertising never could. And, I remember daily the preciousness of each moment I have in this life and attempt to make the most of the time I have been given. None of these beautiful things would have happened had I not gone through the pain.

When I look into the mirror of my life, it will not be the pain I see; it will be the beauty that has resulted from the pain.A tattoo is permanent. It becomes part of who I am. In a sense, it changes me. If I bleached my hair or had a nose job, I would in some way be a different person. The tattoo is similar. For the rest of my life, when I remove my shirt, people will see something different that was not there before. It will become an element that, combined with the rest of my body, defines me. In this case, the size of the tattoo causes it to be a quickly-noticeable element of who I am. However, its location (on my lower torso) makes it so that it will only be seen when my shirt is removed. I will go through much of my life with nobody seeing it. When I am dressed up and the “real” me is covered by colorful clothing, those around me will not see the tattoo. But, when the shirt is removed and I am at my most “real”, unhidden moments, it will be clearly seen. The parallels to my recent experiences are easy to see. I am a different person because of Alfred’s suicide. That is permanent. This trial has been so deeply imprinted upon my soul that I have been forever changed. Sure, in much of my life, I will go about my business without those around me noticing the change. But, in those “real” moments of life, when I have the opportunity to help a hurting friend, when I can reach out to someone who has lost hope, when I express to my future lover how much he means to me and how much I value every moment with him, the impact this has had upon me will be as clear as the tattoo on my body.

The first several days after the tattoo is applied, that area of skin is very tender. Just slight pressure would bring back the pain of the application. For a week or two, it is even ugly, as the area scabs over while the body heals itself. For the first month or so, the tattoo is thought of often, both because of its novelty and because of the pain that is felt. But, as time passes, the skin heals, the pain fades, and the novelty wears off. Active thoughts of the tattoo diminish. Yet, although I will think less and less often and long about the tattoo over the months and years to come, it will still be a part of me. As with my first tattoo, the subconscious reminders will continue long after the novelty wears off. Again, the comparison should be clear. The initial days and weeks of dealing with Alfred’s suicide were extremely painful. It took almost no pressure for me to feel the pain and fall into tears. There have even been some very “ugly” moments, where I have made decisions that were hurtful to myself and others, allowing the scabs to obscure the beauty that would eventually emerge. But, every day, as I learned to stand the loss, the pain lessened, and even became bearable. Now, my thoughts are less and less consumed by the heartache, but the reminders will always be there, and they will come to mind on occasion for the rest of my life.

But, as time passes, when I look into the mirror of my life, it will not be the pain and scabs I see; it will be the beauty that has resulted from it. Certainly I will never be thrilled about the pain I went through, but I will grow to be grateful for the beauty that it produced.

For my friends and family, I trust it will be the same. The reality of my losing a love to suicide is a permanent part of my life and who I am. Alfred, my love for him, and the loss I have felt will have an influence upon the rest of my life. But this does not have to be a “scab” that repulses or holds people at arm’s length. Instead, I hope they will see the beauty that has resulted.

I hope they will understand that, when I express my concern over their pain, heartache, and struggles, it is no longer the casual, flippant words that we so often toss about with our acquaintances. Rather, I really want to know how I can be an encouragement, and my concern over my own convenience has lessened dramatically.

When I ask “How are you?”, I actually want to know. I don’t ever again want someone I care for to think he is alone, or to be without hope and in despair. I want others to know that, if nobody else is there, I will be a true friend.

This is not any sort of self-aggrandizing Messiah complex. Rather, it is just a perspective change resulting from a deep, dark trial that I am determined to see ultimately result in beauty.