Nine

I´m about to visit Tijuana, a city besieged by a seedy reputation.  What is Tijuana?

(1) A narcotrafficer infested metropolis.

(2) A huge teeming pleasure palace for vice-seeking border-hopping gringos.

(3) The nexus of dashed hopes and soul-crushing despair for thousands of would-be illegal immigrants.

Buzzzz!  Trick question.  These days Tijuana is seafood central for discriminating foodies with a fondness for octopus and sea urchin tacos, and the gateway to the spectacular Northern Baja winecountry.

That said, it would be ashame to limit one´s bordertown explorations to high-brow dining and tostada trolling.  Why not take in a temporary exhibition of contemporary Mexican paintings at the Tijuana Cultural Center, thrill to a free performance of Opera in the Street, or, better yet, get down on your knees in a tiny plywood booth and enjoy some of Mexico´s best uncut?

Ok, so yeah, about that seedy reputation.  Not entirely undeserved.  Other habits to indulge include tequila guzzling, coke snorting, and senorita groping.  Or just stick to those art galleries. Your choice.

Personally, traveling makes me hungry and horny in equal measure — and I´ve got a taste for both octopus and young male bodies.  Still, I´m going to try and  keep it clean.  Tentacles over testicles.

 

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Eight

Everybody tells me to lighten up.  Enough, they say, about childhood trauma as a trigger for sadomasochistic fantasy among middle-aged homosexuals with dwindling trustfunds and elevated blood sugar.  Nobody cares.  But darn if it isn´t hard getting out of this depressive rut.  My boyfriend´s a paranoid schizophrenic, my mom has breast cancer, and I can´t seem to find the charger for my laptop.

Like many underemployed gringo ex-pats living in Mexico (the best country, by the way, for cheap tacos and even cheaper sex), I spend a lot of time thinking about myself.  I´ve even started a blog in case anybody else wants to think about me.  So far nobodies following but I´ve been spammed by a woman in Bulgaria and have even received two comments written in what appears to be Japanese.  I don´t understand Japanese but can only assume they´re congratulating me on my brilliant prose and trenchant insight.  Probably offering to buy me an exquisitely over-the-top sushi lunch the next time I´m in Tokyo.  If you´re reading this Hiroki, I´d be glad to.

Speaking of raw fish, wouldn´t you love to be one of those guys who travels all over the world eating insects and goat brains on TV?  I´d do it in a heartbeat if only my diet allowed simple carbohydrates or night shades.  Alas, nobody wants to serve maggot larvae without grandma´s world-famous dumplings.  Authenticity…so overrrated.

Actually, I´d accept any job where they´d pay me to put things in my mouth.  A judge for one of those reality-tv cooking competitions.  A sommelier specializing in big Argentinan reds, ones that pair well with humongous slabs of grass-fed beef char-grilled exactly medium-rare.  A whore. Unfortunately, most guys successful in these fields possess lithe muscular torsos and exceptionally good facial bone structure.  Bodies to get and keep the fickle attention of today´s increasingly shallow and mentally scattered public. Over-fifty fatties need not apply.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Seven

Wheat now gives me diarrea, a sign of advancing metabolic dysfunction not to be ignored if I don´t want to end up playing the slots at our oncology center´s new gambling facility.  My present diet, high in paninis and biscotti, pleases my palate but bombs big-time on a cellular level.  Time to chow down paleo-style: low-carb, no fear of saturated fats, vegetables out the wazoo.

Last December I turned fifty, a particularly sucky age especially for dudes.  The average guy is at the nadir of the happiness bell curve right about fifty. Teenagers think  life is an open road stretching out to infinity.  The over-65 set know it´s not but don´t give a damn.  But fifty blows. Fifty is when you look back over all the fumbled opportunities of life with the dawning realization that there´s probably not enough time left to make good.  So you try to console yourself with a bagel smeared with cream cheese and get diarrea.

……………………………………………………………………………………………………..

All that fretting about the hors d´oerves for the semi-annual overeaters not-so-anonymous awards banquet, and look, brie to spare.  Alfred (his friends called him Alfredo, as in fettucine — not funny) might as well have saved that Xanax. Who knows what perverted, if not actually criminal, shenanigans his pilandering boyfriend and assorted so-called friends were up to this very minute.  He´d need that anxiolytic later and he´d downed his last one in an attack of cheese platter nerves.

 

 

 

 

Six

One good thing about shacking up with a psychotic: you don´t look like the crazy one in the relationship.  I had to dive pretty deep to find someone who made me feel sane but damn, I done good.  Anything wrong with me I blame on Jose.  If I don´t want to deal with my problems, I deal with his.  Ah, the easy life.

Only it´s stopped working.

Maybe it´s the writing.  When my first therapist asked me, so many years ago, about my goals for our work together, I said I wanted to be inside my body.  To get myself, quite literally, together.  I´m finally making headway on this self-embodiment project, but a guy can take only so much touchy-feely neuromuscular release before melting into a puddle of psychic goo.  If you write daily morning pages, sooner or later you tell yourself the truth.  Usually in a blubbery voice with snot coming out your nose.  Eventually you tell other people the truth.  Oh yeah.

Here´s the thing.  Most people don´t want to go all kum ba yah.  They don´t want to sit in sharing circles digging through childhood debris. They´d just a soon pass on that riveting crayola incest portraiture opening at the local psych ward.  We´ve got liquor stores and casinos and strip clubs and too many shoes.  Big-screen tv´s and a vast array of obesogenic beverages.  All to avoid intimacy.

It´s not silly to feel skittish when you start to consider knocking down long-standing psychological walls.  They might be walls between different parts of yourself, or between you and someone else; it´s terrifying either way.  Shadow work first changes our internal selves but the chaos soon spirals to a person´s outer life. There´s nothing so irksome as someone newly released from neurotic bondage — no longer codependent and free to dump partners, quit jobs, and generally wreck havoc. The septuaginarian fatty at the nude beach with the body shame deficiency.  The aging queen dancing solo at a pickup bar catering to muscly gay twentysomethings. The old woman not afraid to die.

 

 

 

montage

My boyfriend Jose´s nuthouse fears mess with both our lives.  We reside in a pleasure-sucking colonial knock-off of a pueblito because that´s where Jose´s money-grubbing family lives; he´s comfortable here; yadda yadda.  And  I am too weak or too nice or possibly just too stupidly hopeful to bail.  Meanwhile, Jose worries about religious loonies who believe we´ve purchased nonrefundable, one-way tickets for some butt-fucking faggoty hell-realm (helpfully illustrated in the pamphlets they hand out downtown), religious loonies only too willing to kill if that will get Satan´s train out of the station early.  Jesus Christ.

It would be easier to bolt if Jose was merely an abusive asshole.  I´ve left abusive assholes before — with great reluctance and great difficulty, sure — but still, I´ve left. As paranoid schizophrenics go, Jose´s a keeper.  Smart, loving, kind-hearted.  And did I mention cute?  A great guy really if only you can get past how he peeps nervously through the curtains before leaving the apartment. If only you can get past his conviction that the murderously unsmiling dude sitting on a park bench over there, the one chatting suspiciously on his mobile phone, has plans, later on this very evening, for his dismemberment.  If only…

But I can´t get past any of those things.  Believe me, I´ve tried.

What causes schizophrenia?  Modern researchers favor strictly biological explanations.  All that retro psychodynamic crap about twisted family dynamics is no more popular on today´s college campus than bell bottoms or tie dye shirts.  Too bad.  I´ll take R.D. Laing over  biochemistry any day.  Still, even hopelessly positivistic lab nerds acknowledge the unfavorable influence homicidal family members might have on gene expression.  When Jose was nine his stepdad ran after his mom with a machete. Makes you wonder.

My own father´s wife-battering style featured greater subtlety and nuance.  More Jewish intellectual mindfuck, less Rambo.  Except for that one day when he wanted to hit mom but punched a hole in the pantry door instead.  We taped a Christmas card over the splintered opening and moved on: happy holidays!  I´m telling you this so you´ll think I´m special, a uniquely fragile and vulnerable flower, but, quite honestly, it´s not such a hard story to beat. Got trauma?  Chances are you do.  So many strangers on the street casually walking through life with flying sleighs and jingling bells covering their wounded hearts.

And so I am here at Starbucks typing Artists Way style “morning pages” into my laptop with my eyes closed, grabbing onto words the way a capsized kayaker might reach for an overhanging branch. My feelings swirl around me, chaotic and inchoate, threatening to sweep me away into some murky emotional hell zone… and so I reach for words. Language is blissfully, gloriously sequential: first one thing happens, then another.  Verbs follow nowns.  What is it the Buddhists say: Chop wood, carry water.  Sometimes a person needs that.  Writing in a journal, you can put your little toe into the stream of the unconscious without getting pulled under. Well, most of the time.  No gaurantees.

Five

What causes schizophrenia?  Modern researchers favor strictly biological explanations.  All that retro psychodynamic crap about twisted family dynamics is no more popular on today´s college campus than bell bottoms or tie dye shirts.  Too bad.  I´ll take R.D. Laing over  biochemistry any day.  Still, even hopelessly empirical lab nerds acknowledge the unfavorable influence homicidal family members might have on gene expression.  When Jose was nine his stepdad ran after his mom with a machete. Makes you wonder.

My own father´s wife-battering style featured greater subtlety and nuance.  More Jewish intellectual mindfuck, less Rambo.  Except for that one day when he wanted to hit mom but punched a hole in the pantry door instead.  We taped a Christmas card over the splintered opening and moved on: happy holidays!  I´m telling you this so you´ll think I´m special, a uniquely fragile and vulnerable flower, but, quite honestly, it´s not such a hard story to beat. Got trauma?  Chances are you do.  So many strangers on the street casually walking through life with flying sleighs and jingling bells covering their wounded hearts.

 

 

Four

Jose´s nuthouse fears mess with both our lives.  We reside in a pleasure-sucking colonial knock-off of a pueblito because that´s where Jose´s money-grubbing family lives; he´s comfortable here; yadda yadda.  And  I am too weak or too nice or possibly just too stupidly hopeful to bail.  Meanwhile, Jose worries about religious loonies who believe we´ve purchased nonrefundable, one-way tickets for some butt-fucking faggoty hell-realm (helpfully illustrated in the pamphlets they hand out downtown), religious loonies only too willing to kill if that will get Satan´s train out of the station early.  Jesus Christ.

It would be easier to bolt if Jose was merely an abusive asshole.  I´ve left abusive assholes before — with great reluctance and great difficulty, sure — but still, I´ve left. As paranoid schizophrenics go, Jose´s a keeper.  Smart, loving, kind-hearted.  And did I mention cute?  A great guy really if only you can get past how he peeps nervously through the curtains before leaving the apartment. If only you can get past his conviction that the murderously unsmiling dude sitting on a park bench over there, the one chatting suspiciously on his mobile phone, has plans, later on this very evening, for his dismemberment.  If only…

But I can´t get past any of those things.  Believe me, I´ve tried.

 

Three

The problem with doing “morning pages” is that sooner or later you´ll say the truth.  Writing every day,  it´s just too hard not to.  For instance, I´m starting to touch on a terrifying anger, though many questions remain unanswered: at who, why, what could possibly be done about it now?  I´m an emotional archeologist carefully dusting psychological debris away from an ancient relic.  This, I sense, could be an important once-in-a-lifetype, career-making find. Very exciting stuff.  The kind of find that changes everything we´ve thought about who this person really is.

I wonder if anybody ever hurts themselves typing.  Like you might hurt your hand punching someone in the face?

Two

What scares me most about my mom´s cancer is this: that she might die before she´s finished her job.  I felt insufficiently mothered as a child and even now (I´m fifty!) part of me keeps hoping she´s going to tuck me in and bring me my blankie.  I don´t want her to leave and force me to give up by fantasy of being totally and unconditionally nurtured, protected, and affirmed.  I don´t want to grow up.

 

One

I am writing with my eyes closed, grabbing onto words the way a capsized kayaker might reach for an overhanging branch. My feelings swirl around me, chaotic and inchoate, threatening to sweep me away into some murky emotional hell zone… and so I reach for words. Language is blissfully, gloriously sequential: first one thing happens, then another.  Verbs follow nowns.  What is it the Buddhists say: Chop wood, carry water.  Sometimes a person needs that.  Writing in a journal, you can put your little toe into the stream of the unconscious without getting pulled under. Well, most of the time.  No gaurantees.

My boyfriend Jose has paranoid schizophrenia, or at least I think so. His psychiatrist calls it “disorder of paranoid thought.”  Only he says it in Spanish because we are living in Zacatecas, Mexico: trastorno de pensamiento paranoico.  Whatever.  Basically it means that he´s terrified to go outside and thinks that “spies” are about to kidnap, torture, and kill him.  He´s thought that thing about the spies for the last five years but so far they´re no-shows.  I guess there´s always tomorrow.

Dixie, my octogenarian psychologist friend, says I can´t fix him.  Don´t you hate that about so-called mental health professionals, how they always tell you to stop fixing other people and start focusing on yourself?  So smug.  As if it were so easy.  Anyway,  Dixie moved out of Zacatecas to a small university town in northern California where she sits-in on college classes for free and almost everybody speaks English.  Good for her. I´m assuming nobody hits her up at Starbucks for advice about dealing with psychotic spouses anymore.  Like I say, good for her.

Meanwhile, mom has breast cancer.  (Yep, it´s been a banner year for serious illness here at casa de Jesse.)  I´d like to fix her too but if anything she´s even more resistant to my health-care suggestions than Jose. She´s nixed all my best ideas — Chinese herbal teas, acupuncture, even western-style naturopathy gets a thumbs down.  I know that she´s right, that she has to make her own treatment decisions.  Makes sense, yes?  That´s the first thing you learn in Being a Patient 101.  Still, she´s my mom and I can´t imagine a world without her in it.  How does everybody else go on functioning as if this were anything like normal, including her, when I can´t?

I want to trust that people are being real with me but I´m just not in a very trusting place.  I feel shaky, unstable.  Sometimes a smile is an open doorway inviting you in; sometimes it´s a locked doorway shutting you out.  More to the point, sometimes a smile is a ploy designed to protect a loved one from a hard truth.  And given a choice, I´ll take honest pain over forced cheer.  Just so everybody knows.