My parents are taking me to dinner. I’m trying to keep my thoughts suppressed and controlled, because they are already all over the place, and I haven’t seen my parents in a while, and it can be stressful to be around them, especially my father, because we rarely see eye-to-eye on things.
I pack up my backpack, fill it up with books, thinking about an essay I’m reading about homosexuality by Andrew Sullivan, in the Norton Anthology of Non-fiction. I have a feeling my mother is going to say something about me having my backpack, as she always does, and so I prepare mentally for this.
While they are on their way, I’m thinking about how I’m going to discuss, or if I’m going to discuss, my burgeoning sex drive, some of which is geared towards other males, or at least an archetype of a male, a boyish and kind, necessarily effeminate, male … but courageous and strong. Fantasies aside, I grab my copy of Lawnboy, a gay coming-of-age story that I love, partially because of the boyishness and sweetness of Evan, the main character coming-of-age as a gay kid, and wonder if we will be able to talk about these pressing issues: Will I have a wife, will I have kids, will I have a family, why do I have a mental illness, will I ever make enough money to chase my dreams and support myself better, is my writing career doomed, etc.
My mother comes, and I think immediately of a powerful scene in The World of Normal Boys, where Robin’s mother (Robin is a teenager at the time) implies that her overprotectiveness made her son gay. I decide I’m going to resist this impulse of my mother. After all, my relationship is damaged with my father, and I need to have more honest conversations with him.
All of this is going on in the background. My mother comes in, notices immediately my necklace, and says, much to my annoyance, “Since when did you start wearing jewelry?”
I shrug, not seeing it as jewelry, but a gift from my great friend Travis, which is a talisman of sorts, which I wear to bring me good luck and remind me of the beauty in this world, among other things. This comment immediately undercuts my desire to confront my “gayness,” “queerness,” whatever it is you want to call it, and she tells me to leave my backpack at home, which I happily comply with, expecting this response. But I take Lawnboy with me, and she asks, “Is that your treatise?” She’s thinking of my new treatise In Defense of the Mind, my only copy of which was hijacked/stolen by a friend that was obviously eager to read it, even a rough and not fully formed copy.
All of this is going on in the back of my mind as I get in the car. My father is icy as usual, not receptive, so I have to make the effort. I ask him how he’s doing. He says he’s doing fine, though I know this isn’t true.
My parents at this point have effectively put me in the role they always put me in: Subservient, not boyish. I prefer the boyish, but I can’t pull that off because of my insecurities.
Anyways, we continue. They take me to a Chinese restaurant. We go inside, and it’s clear there’s a language barrier, which is frustrating, but clearly the case. This frustrates me, because I want to connect with Chinese culture, and can’t because I don’t know the fucking language.
Anyway: An argument I don’t understand breaks out between my mother and father, embarrassing me. I don’t even know what the argument is about: Something about my father angry because I’m not speaking up for myself on what I want, as my mother is.
I try to tell the server I want a vegetarian plate, she doesn’t understand until much later, and recommends the Veggie Delight, or something along those lines. I decide, for the sake of convenience, to just take that.
All of my fears and anxieties in the background, with me a little mentally sick, I begin to talk philosophy.
I start talking about Confucius and the Tao Te Ching. My mother asks me if Confucius was wisdom; I assume she means, was Confucius wise, which I say he was. I talk about Confucius and his notion of hierarchies, but how it’s not the terrible American kind/brand: It’s built on respect, where a younger brother respects an older brother, where kids respect their parents, and the like. I talk about Yin and Yang, about the phoenix as being feminine in Chinese mythology, while the dragon is masculine (this was something I learned at another Chinese restaurant). I talk about Mo Tzu, and the fact that he promoted a cold utilitarian universal love, something that seemed ironic to me and strange, great in the context of Leo Tolstoy but confusing as I remember it in the context of Mo Tzu. I tell my parents that Mo Tzu was utilitarian. And I keep turning to my book for comfort, to random passages, not knowing what to think in this moment.
My parents ask me why I’m vegetarian. I give them my standard answer. I tell them it’s because of Pater Singer’s concept of speciesism, of making animals a slave to our wants and cravings. They are surprised that it’s not for health reasons. I’m not the healthiest vegetarian eater, but I’m doing better. Then I tell them about the Jains, and their no-harm principle, and how that is the motive for me also being vegetarian. They assume this to mean I’ll let spiders dwell in my apartment because I won’t kill them, and I explain that I’m not a Jain monk (though I wish I was, I tell them). This reminds me of the insane intrusion of spiders that happened when I was a teenager, an ugly breed that I still remember vividly. I told them that the spiders seemed genetically mutated to me, and I tried to save them by always putting them in bottles, but they always came back. Meaning I’m not a Jain monk, and I might have to harm for my personal comfort. Not something I’m proud of, but it is what it is.
Then things get interesting. We start talking about The X-Files. I tell them I love the episode “Hell Money,” which features Chinese-American culture. They tell me the new X-Files were cheesy, and I tell them I vehemently disagree with that proposition, because of how much I like it. We don’t get anywhere, though I try to point out how great the conspiracy theories were: Though I’m unable to really say this, if I recall correctly.
I then have the delusion that I’m eating a spider. The old breed that I always saw at home, in fact. I assume this to be Karma, for killing the damn spiders at home back in the day. It’s all strange, but it is what it is. My world is insane.
Some time as all of this is happening, I go to the bathroom to listen to the band 10 Years, and their songs “Miscellanea” and “Moisture Residue,” two songs I love. I listen in the bathroom for a while, and then go back, thinking of an image of two horses reflected in a piece of paper artwork I pass.
Anyway, eating the spider leaves a bad taste in my mouth, and I get frustrated when I get a strange raisin drink (I hate raisins and they reminded me at the time of the spider I’d eaten or thought I’d eaten), when I wanted orange juice. I assume this was intentional, but it’s frustrating.
We walk out, not really talking about what I want to talk about, but I notice that the fat happy Chinese Buddha looks happy, with a dollar bill taped to his belly and candy all beside him.
A couple more details of the dinner, before I move on to the heavy stuff.
I used chopsticks, because I read that it was traditional and thus respectful on the wrapper.
I also imagined Chinese butterflies, wondering how Chinese culture would affect the natural selection of butterflies in China.
Such beautiful thoughts, though me also having a bad taste because I think I’m eating a spider.
We get in the car, drive back to my apartment. We talk for a little while. I read them a poem from my novel in poetry The Beautiful Mythology, and then I tell them that the movie Kes inspired that poem, as well as the book. I show them a picture of the beautiful actor with a hawk, where he looks content and at peace with nature. I subliminally tell my parents, this is what I dream of.
My parents then leave in a rush, catching me off guard, and then I decide to go on a walk.
I go on a walk, taking new routes to see new things and get a taste of new scenery, and my mother sends me texts, asking me if I was okay. I tell her I’m lonely sometimes, she says she gets lonely too, I’m not sure what to do so I tell her I had fun.
And then the tragedy strikes.
This was the night where there were riots and a police shooting at the shelter where I do homeless outreach work with the non-profit The Legacy Initiative.
I arrive at the scene, not knowing what’s going on and saddened by the scene. I begin to cry. I just cry. I cry, and nobody cares, everyone that passes is apathetic and distant, increasing feelings of alienation.
I decide, I need to do something. So I make a video, with me still crying, about my feelings. I’m thinking of a kid I had just helped the night before, who broke my heart. I said in the video I prayed he didn’t have to be there, to witness this crime against humanity and goodness, greatness.
In the meantime, my mind is going, because I’m wondering, what happened? What the hell happened?
And then my mind just stops. I’m already sad, I’m already beaten. I hear that a homeless kid got shot, by a homeless guy that I end up feeding (I buy him strawberry milk and Raisin Bran cereal, and give him my only cash, a dollar), and later, I tell the guy that I’m mentally ill, that I’m not okay. That I could get delusional all of the sudden and end up homeless on the streets because I randomly leave home looking for an adventure. I try to put the details together, failing miserably, but doing the best I can.
And wondering: Why, when I already feel hopelessness, do things continue to get worse, rather than better? And I’m not just talking about for me: I thought my delusions were making the world a better place, at the Chinese restaurant. But they weren’t. They just got worse, in fact, for people around me.
And so, I close this essay. Not really with any grand philosophical conclusion, but to say that, I’m still trying to find balance in my life. How can I come to terms with my confusing sexuality, how can I admit I find beauty in the most unexpected places, how can I reconcile my passion with the destruction people do to each other, how can I help the homeless, how can I balance my mind, how can Yin help Yang? My mind needs to be balanced. I need to balance my mind. Because I don’t know what I’m doing. I don’t know why I’m here. But I’ll keep trying. I’ll keep pushing forward, waiting for the dragon to come guide me, lead me, as the dragon is my necessary opposite, because I am a phoenix …