Deep Breath

People don't think the universe be like it is. But it do.

People don’t think the universe be like it is. But it do.

When I left that job, it was just the beginning of a longer path, just the first tentative steps in upending the normalcy I’d meticulously built up over the past twenty years. It’s April now. Time flies when the emotional framework surrounding your time is no longer restricted to the artificial timelines of marketing executives, but instead exists to measure the quality, not quantity, of completed tasks. I built an enormous LEGO AT-AT, one day; I gave my kitchen a deep-cleaning; one day I read two books.

One would have imagined that during such a period of weighty thought, I surely could have said hello to the people to whom I had just announced this enormous change in my life.

Apologies. I’m fine.

When I say to people who know me from work that I’m actually a very introverted, quiet person, the shock that registers is honest each time. There are, decidedly, two outward personalities of Stephen Van Doren, and the one that is shown in public–that is, the one that is more frequently on display at work, that ever-growing eater of public time–is markedly different than the one that is more natural when I’m not earning my keep. This, by itself, is not an interesting story; most people experience some degree of the same thing. Where my story departs is that it is positively exhausting to put on that mask that so many others don so effortlessly.

If I were just a step further introverted, maybe onto that list of keenly-eyed neurological disorders, doubtless I would simply discard the mask, perhaps I wouldn’t draw those useful social connections as well, or I might not be as interested in seeing others smile as a result of my actions. Instead, I’m saddled with just enough social awareness to expend considerable energy working those side quests–Make 5 People Laugh During Morning SCRUM; Convince One Waitress to Take a Photo and then Autograph It–while simultaneously progressing the main quest of generating income for my frivolous hobbies. I’m what the gaming community calls a “completionist” in life. (Oddly, much less-so in games.)

So when I step away, I step away. I had to focus entirely on one quest for a while. My natural state is with a book in my hand, the early morning Spring sun on my face, steaming cup of coffee on the table. Probably NPR on the radio inside.

I’ve finished, though. I’ve decompressed. Time to start integrating back into society.

It’s All Just Chemistry

"It functions to increase blood sugar through gluconeogenesis, to suppress the immune system, and to aid in the metabolism of fat, protein, and carbohydrate. It also decreases bone formation." Man, what a dick.

“It functions to increase blood sugar through gluconeogenesis, to suppress the immune system, and to aid in the metabolism of fat, protein, and carbohydrate. It also decreases bone formation.” Man, what a dick.

As I mentioned previously, I’m not exactly a stranger to the idea of a long-term sabbatical. I find removing myself from the ceaseless rat race that capitalism foists on as as the only option available to comfortable living to be a welcomed renewal. More people ought to do it, and the over-worked American society would do well to take my example–this is an uphill battle, I realize, as we can barely rationalize even a week’s vacation as a society.

But I may have neglected to fully explain just how married I am to structure, and just how much I end up flailing about when I am outside of its firm embrace–and flailing I have been. Two nights this week I’ve woken up (earlier than even I typically like) in a cold sweat, worried that something or other needs to be done before some other whosit can whatchamacallit before the thing can happen. Gotta send an email to that guy so those other people aren’t waiting for me because everyone depends on everyone else around here, soldier! (Side note: I would’ve flourished in the military. It’s their goddamn loss that they were so fucking hostile to homosexuality up until the very, very recent past. All that structure, all those uniforms?) It’s not been easy.

Over these past few days since taking this path, I’ve had to remind myself on multiple occasions that I’m just fine, I’m not being chased by a tiger. I’ve had to consciously slow my heart-rate, slow my breathing. Let the pause wash over me, rather than knock me down and take me out to sea. Everything’s okay, Steve; just relax. Always easier said than done, but my therapist assures me that the less stress in my life, the less cortisol in my system, the easier things will become. But here I am, apparently going into withdrawal, generating stress out of thin air.

The First Day

This past weekend didn’t really work for me.

After spending many years collecting little packets of straw–a small project here, a small promise there–I finally collected enough on my back to utterly shatter me. It wasn’t that I suddenly realized I wasn’t enjoying life, I wasn’t going in a direction I was particularly fond of, and my health was deteriorating at a pace that made me fear for the inevitable point of no return. There was no eureka moment, no flood of insight. It was merely a casual recognition of just how much hate I was carrying around in my heart every single day, and how very sad that made me. It was the sadness that did the back-breaking.

People who know me know that I’m only a programmer because that’s the easiest way I’ve found to generate the currency required to live a simple life without worrying about bills. The money has been so typically and continually reliable that I’ve been able to take long sabbaticals from work entirely, for months and months at a time, to pursue my own personal enlightenment. I live simply enough that though I don’t have many hundreds of thousands of socked-away dollars, I do have enough that even during those breaks, I don’t worry about bills.

It’s been a good arrangement for me, and one that helps me to balance my feelings of “my worth as a human is directly related to my worth as an employee” with “corporate America remains the number one murderer of Ameircans.” I spend a couple years generating profit for companies, getting angrier and angrier, then I schedule my next sabbatical, give my notice, and spend a year writing a book (but not finishing–no, no, not finishing) or something.

This time the build-up only took 10 months. To be fair, I hadn’t done a very good job of maintaining my last break, which was interrupted by the flames of personal tragedy and self-employment over-promising, and some kindling in the guise of a convenient job offer at the precise moment I needed distraction from ashes of my life. But the embers were fed by that job, and the tiniest lick of flame was fanned by my martyrdom complex into all-consuming flame.

I’m such a drama queen.

I quit my job yesterday. I had a long conversation with my boss, who is a friend, who supports me because he is my friend (for we all want our friends to do well), and because he is my boss (for what kind of a manager values an employee sipping daily from poison and invective?), and we parted from the office on the best of terms.

And when I stepped out of that building? A hundred pounds lighter, all of it from my shoulders. My jaw unclenched without me having to think about it for the first time in months. A deep breath. When I got home, I slept without remorse, without stress, without manufactured issues floating through my mind.

So today is the first day. I don’t know if this is the first of seven or seven hundred, but when your goal is the removal of clutter your mind, counting the days until returning to chaos shouldn’t be your goal.

Aside

Simply Irrational

Tomorrow is the 14th day of March, 2015. In American notation, we’d call this 3-14-15. Twice, at 9:26 AM and PM (3.1415926), I will go out of my way to be irrational. You should, too.

I’m giving serious thought to inviting some folks over to discuss mathematics, chaos, irrationality, magic, and science. Ponder that pi need only be expressed to 39 digits past the decimal in order to accurately calculate aspects of the size of the universe, yet the digits go on and on and on. Eat circular food. Apply circular logic to complex problems. Perhaps we’ll even discuss tau (τ, or 2π) and hope that one of us is passionate enough about irrational numbers to spark an irrational debate.

The Decriminalization of Sexuality

I’ve been with my partner, Danny, for almost 7 years now. That’s a long time in the world of gay relationships. It’s even a fairly long time for a straight relationship–it’s by far the longest I’ve been involved with. We have dealt with or acknowledged a whole host of standard relationship problems (household chores, evening plans, family and social obligations, etc), but one that we struggled with mightily at the start of our time was the decriminalization of outside sexuality, and I am pleased to say that we more or less conquered that one.

Dan Savage (et al) calls it “monogamish.”

The most important thing in any relationship is open and honest communication. Without that, the rest of the relationship doesn’t really exist, so far as I can tell. We’re social animals, we humans, and we depend on social cues to understand the world and our place in it. These cues can be as obvious as a wife saying to her husband, “clean the dishes, please,” or as subtle as that same wife turning around and rolling her eyes a moment after the husband trundles off to play Call of Duty on the Xbox after getting home five minutes ago and dropping his work stuff on the floor in front of the door.

Some cues, however, are issued by society, and become silently loud third members of the relationship. From these cues we learn how we’re supposed to interact with our partner’s parents, and how long your eyes can linger on a particularly delicious specimen of humanity. Of all the facts this partner brings to the table, the most pressing is the need for monogamy.

Apparently.

All the relationships I’ve had in the past were laid in the foundation provided by monogamy, though I’ve never, ever had a conversation about it. My first instinct, when entering into a union, is to appreciate the presence of this one-to-one situation, consuming the theory that monogamy forges strong bonds and creates an environment where the relationship can flourish and lift the boats of the two people involved. It’s a convenient situation and, in many cases, is completely appropriate.

But let’s not kid ourselves with the lie that monogamy is somehow natural. It is absolutely a social cue that is delivered to us by the same monster that tells us masturbation is wrong, or alcohol is wicked, or any other historical opinion that has no right being described as a fact of nature. In the actual natural world, there are very, very few species that practice monogamy–so rare that, when they do appear to natural behavior scientists, the papers get some degree of sensationalism in the court of public opinion, as though the relationships formed by flamingos and penguins are suddenly validating the structures humans have created to formalize and normalize the lifetime partnering.

Those attempts always looked, to me, like cherry-picking facts to support an unsupportable claim. Monogamy is no more natural than polygamy, and polygamous animals far outnumber the other; there is no evidence that the core of human monogamy is anything more than man’s attempt to own women.

Heck, it’s a very recent invention in marriage that the man be monogamous at all. And scientists are still quite divided on whether or not natural human monogamy exists at all (other than the instinctual “hang around until the babies, who take for fucking EVER to mature, finish learning to hunt on their own”). Some studies claim that, even among modern human societies, only one in six enforce monogamy as a rule. At the end of the day, though, the science is mostly irrelevant to this point.

So one of the earliest, most difficult conversations Danny and I had was when we decided to do away with monogamy.

Do I spend countless hours worrying about Danny, working to make Danny’s life better, enriching my world with his presence? Absolutely. I am madly, fully, wonderfully in love with him, he’s the apple of my eye, the cream of my coffee. I absolutely adore him.

And one of the ways I show my love is by not claiming to hold ownership over him. Right now, I can type a few characters into the browser and in moments I can be face to face with a pair (or more) of people who are cheerfully fucking for my entertainment. I can read long accounts of passion in books (some of which are major motion pictures, now). I can watch politicians maneuvering to be photographed holding hands with their Stepford wives. I can listen to pastors praising a godly relationship as the closest mankind can get to the divine. Clearly, as a species, we don’t agree with each other on the definitions.

I consider myself a feminist in this regard, in that I consider the birth of modern monogamy to be steeped in the man’s desire to control the woman. I think the removal of these ridiculous restrictions on human sexuality will have a larger impact on female sexuality, but this tide lifts all boats. And if you don’t want to play in my pool, you’re welcome to your own. I don’t say that I’m in an “open” relationship (that euphemism sits in my mind like a lead ball, a lecherous demand to copulate as much as possible without ethical restriction), just that I am in a non-traditional one. Sex outside of marriage, an activity that happens across all groupings of humans, is just sex. If we were all just a bit more honest with ourselves, I think it’d do us well to admit that. Sex–like eating, sleeping, and socializing–is a human need.

Given how much pain and suffering comes from those bonds breaking under the normal strain of human interaction, I’d really appreciate getting rid of the restriction at all.

An Introduction of Sorts

The blank page is an intimidating thing. I’ve met many over my years, and each one begs to be purified with the magic of words.

My name is Stephen Van Doren. I was born, raised, and currently reside in Denver, Colorado. I’m in my thirties. I play games, flex my brain around scientific discovery, follow news stories, adore good food and cooking, read books, and have a general interest in nearly anything if you can explain its wider significance; it is cheering to think that one’s opinions are only of the highest quality, referring only to the most important of stories. My parents raised me in the Anglican Catholic faith, though by my teenaged years I gleefully shed the weight of religion and forged my own path forward. I am a programmer, much to my chagrin, and it is basically all I am professionally capable of doing these days. I am engaged to a wonderful man with whom I have shared many years, tears, and fears, and with whom I hope to share a great many more. I’m a steel-eyed liberal, and I actively fight against the demonification of the word ‘liberal,’ as well as the general belief that liberals are weak on security and defense, and that our elevation to national stature pressages an oncoming spate of apologies to cross the world.

I make no apologies for my opinions–and many of them are considered quite extreme today, just as many were in the 60s when some radicals had the insane idea that Black people should probably have the same rights as White people, and maybe we should all just back off a minute and smile at strangers for a few days.

I find Aristotle was right: It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it. It is in that spirit that I start this little publication, that I might have an outlet into which I can pour all my various thoughts, talk them through with myself–perhaps even get some dissenting opinions from those whose eyes find themselves digesting my words. As a lifelong holder of minority beliefs, it’s all too easy for me to wallow in the fear that I am alone in my thoughts. Perhaps this can act as the beginning of a conversation with you, gentle reader.

I make no promises of timely publication schedules–I recommend subscribing to an RSS feed to handle that. I’ll do my best to provide what words I can, when I can, and I will attempt to do so as frequently as possible. I’ve been a “netizen” (are we still using that word?) of the Internet since the late 90s, this isn’t my first horse race. I’ve had blogs, I’ve written for monthly publications, I’ve composed prose and poetry, I’ve helped strangers on forums, and I’ve engaged in those heated flame wars that burn so brightly for so brief a moment–tiny digital novae.

Mostly, though, I’ve been a casual observer, an anonymous voice easily lost in the tumult of the 21st Century and its interminable echo chamber. The great tragedies of my adult life I’ve shared with faceless strangers, that a burden shared is a burden lessened. When the towers came down that September morning, I shared my pain with strangers. When the nation elected its first Black President, I shared my joy with strangers. For each new video of a beheading in the Middle East, each new state issuing marriage equality, each child gunned down by over-zealous police or neighborhood watchmen–I share these events with friends, family, and, yes, strangers, and the pains are lessened and the joys are multiplied because they are shared.

As we become ever-more polarized in our political, social, and economic strata, it has become more important for there to be more voices in the fray, not fewer. And I choose to add mine to the chorus, throwing my hat in as best I can, to provide my perspective on topics that interest me and, in so doing, perhaps introduce you to a point you might not have known was there, or a topic you didn’t know you had interest in.

Perhaps you’ll note that I haven’t got anywhere here where you’re encouraged to comment and discuss topics with other visitors. This is purposeful. I believe the anonymity of the Internet is both its strongest weapon and its weakest link, a way for the disenfranchised to speak out against their tormentors, and a way for bullies to flex their pathetic muscles in the mirror as they break down strangers. That won’t happen here. You’re welcome to send me a letter at any point–I assure you I will read it. I take this method from the great Andrew Sullivan, whose recent retirement from blogging is definitely part of the reason why I’m dipping my toe back in. I know I can’t replicate his genius (I don’t have the time or interest in being a curator like that), but I am interested in forming connections with anyone willing to spend a moment to say hello.

So enjoy yourself, thank you for reading, and I look forward to getting to know you better.