I just saw the BEST movie. A friend and I spent a lovely cheap Tuesday night watching The Theory of Everything. Friends, run, don’t walk to The Theory of Everything. It’s a movie about Stephen Hawking’s life, which sounds like it might be too science-y at best or boring at worst, but it’s neither. Eddie Redmayne, who plays Stephen Hawking, is really something. As Hawking’s body degenerates over time, Eddie has less and less to work with in terms of physicality and speech, but the character is so well-rendered, you know exactly what he’s thinking and feeling. Anyway, I’m overhyping it surely, but just go watch it because you’ll like it and because what else are you gonna see? Beer Farts? Rage Girl? Dying Tears? Actually, I hear Katherine Heigl gives an amazing performance as Jonah Hill’s mother in Beer Farts.A lot of things will stick with me about the Hawking movie, but one thing in particular about Hawking’s life and work has burrowed in my brain. Apparently, Hawking spent much of his early work as a Physicist promoting a particular theory about black holes. That theory was the basis of his thesis and his early published work. Later on, however, he determined that his black hole theory was probably wrong and set about disproving it. Think about that. Arguably the most intelligent man of our time looks at his own work and says, “Oh, that’s probably wrong. I was wrong. I should try to fix that.” Amazing! I wish more important people looked back on their actions and said, “I was wrong, let’s fix it.” What if Prime Ministers and Presidents did that? What if the Pope did that? Maybe we’ll never get Bush to admit the invasion of Iraq was a mistake, maybe Cosby will continue to insist that dozens of women are just making stuff up, but I can change my mind about some stuff. Let’s do it now.
Dream: Admit that some of my past beliefs, ideologies, opinions were wrong, and revise accordingly.
Goal: Achievable. I’m just a guy. Who cares if I used to think one thing and now I think another? But I do think it’s important to question one’s values every so often. I feel so young in so many ways. I can’t possibly know exactly what I believe about the world when I have had (comparatively) so little life experience.Plan: Think of things I used to think, and think about whether I think that thing anymore.
I used to think night was better than day. I was a night owl for many years. At jobs, I would always take the afternoon/evening shift, so I could sleep in, and the night was mine to do whatever I wanted. Turns out all I wanted to do was eat bad food and otherwise defile myself. It would be a different story were I out on the town every night, trying new bars, going to concerts, socializing and cultivating night-based friendships. But I was on the internet in my jam-jams. Now that I work during the day, guess what I use my nights for? Hours of glorious sleep. I indulge in a different kind of gratification by turning in at 9.30 to wake up at ten after seven. If you’re keeping track at home, that’s more than nine and a half hours of bedtime. I can read for as long as I want. If I fall asleep right away and wake up in the middle of the night, I don’t panic like I used to. If I have a lousy night of sleep, I have the next night to do it over. I do this for all those friends with kids, or spouses that work opposite hours, or have such a full life that this amount of time dedicated to sleep is a ridiculous pipe dream they will never realize.I used to think cream rises to the top. In creative fields, I had faith that the truly talented would prevail eventually, and everything else would fall away. Then I revised that opinion and believe more strongly that it isn’t about what you know, it’s who you know. Now I think it’s a little of both, or a lot of neither. It’s arbitrary. It’s a crap shoot. I know so many talented performers and writers who might not “break out” in any meaningful way, in spite of being incredibly talented. I also know many people who are so good at the game of networking, or making connections. For a long time, I watched the glad-handers, the ass-kissers, and the people who show up to everything, desperate to sell themselves. But I think that desperation comes across.
I knew a guy who was (and I think still is) the Artistic Director of a prominent theatre company. That is to say, I knew him personally more than professionally, and so didn’t consider myself among the networkers and hangers-on, of which there were dozens. People are overly-friendly with him, and slyly working in references to their own ability and wide open schedules. They might say, “So great to see you!” when they mean, “Give me a job, already!” He sees right through it and, while he is gracious, seems pretty immune to the empty compliments. I think honing your talent is just as important as making the right connections, but I also think some people “make it” and some people don’t thanks solely to dumb luck. And lest you think this is a self-pitying diatribe, I make a living writing copy, which is not creative, but I still consider myself among the dumb lucky ones.I used to think whether or not you were gay was nobody’s business. Now, with important caveats, I think keeping yourself closeted for the sake of “privacy” is a dumb cop out. Obviously, there are exceptions here. If you are young, still figuring life out, and you stand to get the shit kicked out of you, stay in that closet until you can safely get out of there. If you are dependent upon parents who are assholes and will disown you, cut you off financially, etc., then of course don’t come out. If you live in a part of the world where identifying as gay puts you in legitimate danger, stay in the closet with my deepest sympathies and open invitation to Canada. If, however, you are an adult, if you support yourself, and especially if you have some poor secret same sex lover, lurking in the shadows, available for trysts, but not invited to the work Christmas party, then come the fuck out. The water’s fine. I regret waiting as long as I did to come out, as I experienced no fallout, but I also wanted to get out of high school first. I went to a great high school with great friends, and probably would have been fine there, too, but it can be a rough road for any teenager. I knew, on the cusp of adulthood, that I had no reason to hide, and no excuse.
There are still people who will say, “But it’s nobody’s business who I sleep with!” I completely agree. But there’s a big difference between saying, “I have a boyfriend named Greg and this is his home address and we have sex on Tuesdays and Fridays” and telling someone that you identify as gay. Consider, for instance, a person of ambiguous ethnic origin who is learning English as a second language. Maybe they are Japanese or maybe they are Korean, but it’s hard to tell. Another person might ask them, “Are you from Korea?” Maybe that’s a little forward, but it’s not an invasion of their privacy. The person would likely respond, “Yes I am” or “No I’m not”, and that would be that. It would be rude to say to that person, “What are your parents’ names? What do they do? Where do they live?”
Maybe I’m getting too activist-y, but I don’t think telling someone you’re gay is personal; I think it’s political. It helps out. The more straight people know gay people who are cabinet ministers, construction workers, Moms, Dads, colleagues, best pals, and douchebags, the more we’re just part of the world. That’s why I always wake up mad at Kevin Spacey, who plays the “Nobody’s business” game. Or Queen Latifah who “won’t discuss it.” Why not? You’re rich and famous, but made terribly insecure by this part of you that’s supposedly “nobody’s business”? The famous person who made me the angriest was Sean Hayes, who played the flamboyant Jack on Will & Grace. That was the most progressive show on television at the time, he was obviously gay, if not as stereotypical as the character he portrayed and he “refused to discuss it” until finally coming out for The Advocate several years after the show had been off the air. What does that do to the gay kids watching your show, buddy? Man up. And actually, the reason I’m mad at Queen Latifah was that her show was playing in the dentist’s office the other day, and she was taking a picture of her audience with her phone to put on Twitter. She said, “That’s not a selfie! That’s a somebody-elsie! We invented something new, y’all! A somebody-elsie!” The audience laughed and clapped while I seethed. YOU DIDN’T INVENT ANYTHING! A SOMEBODY-ELSIE?! YOU JUST TOOK A FUCKING PICTURE! YOU’RE SO STUPID!
I used to think the world was a magical, wonderful place. I don’t mean that it’s not from a poor me, doom and gloom perspective, because I have been a lucky person for whom the world has been a magical, wonderful place. Everything has been sunshine and lollipops for me because, as a white male, I was born on the sunny side of a lollipop field. Loathe as we are to admit it, much in our lives are dictated by privilege and circumstances, not our positive attitudes. I’m not explain myself well. David Rakoff said, and I’m paraphrasing, that you can believe in all the positive thinking that you want. You can have the sunniest attitude, and a “relationship with the universe”, and the belief that, by putting positive vibes out into the universe, positive vibes will be returned to you. But, Rakoff continued, if you’re a labourer in Bangladesh making 10 cents an hour at a fucking sneaker factory, you can think all the sunny thoughts you like, you’re still going to wake up tomorrow and have to work at the fucking sneaker factory.
I’m finding it hard to transition out of the “magical, wonderful place” model, especially because, as I say, my streets are paved with gold. I’ve got a job and a nice fella and have never been followed around a store, let’s say, or turned down for a job based on anything other than my qualifications. As a white dude, I’ve never felt vulnerable walking alone at night, or standing alone at a bar. I’ve never turned on the tv and not seen myself reflected back a hundred different ways. I haven’t seen hundreds of young white people go missing or be murdered, and if that happened enough times that it was noticeable as a larger trend, it would be on the front page of every newspaper every goddamn day.
It makes me heartsick when well-intentioned people like me say, “I just prefer to see the good in people.” Someone on my Facebook feed, in response to a Ferguson post said, “This whole situation is so negative! There are so many good things happening in the world, why not focus on that?” When someone says something so inane, what they’re really saying is, “It doesn’t affect me.” War in Iraq? “Doesn’t affect me.” Missing and murdered Aboriginal women? “Doesn’t affect me.” Unarmed black teenager shot dead by a police officer? “Doesn’t affect me.” It should affect you, it does affect you. To pretend otherwise is to be at best, a shitty person, and at worst, culpable in the injustices being committed.
It’s so tempting to deal in absolutes. I always do this, I never do that. I believe in this, but not that. I’m not a religious person, and I used to think that was a trait of religious people—the world is black and white, good and evil, etc. But now I think that’s true of only pious people, and the truly faithful struggle as much as the rest of us do.
In the course of proving and disproving his theories, Stephen Hawking became known as the most brilliant mind of our time. David Rakoff, in spite of his pessimistic nature, wrote some the funniest and most elegant prose I’ve ever read. I still can’t read his last book, published shortly before his death from cancer at 47, because the idea that such a writer has nothing left to be read makes me incredibly sad. The point is, neither man was content to say one thing and leave it there, they were furious and curious. Furious and curious aren’t bad things to be these days. At least that’s what I think.