Somebody’s watching us …..

I always wondered what happened to Rockwell.  Back in 1984, Rockwell had this hit song at age 20 – “Somebody’s watching me”. You couldn’t escape it on the airwaves – especially since Michael Jackson (pre-fall) was singing backup.  Remember? 

I actually thought this came out in the late 70’s, but no … fittingly, 1984

Turns out Rockwell was actually the son of Berry Gordy, Motown president and starmaker.  Supposedly he got the contract without his father’s knowledge ….. hmm.  His other hit single which I don’t remember is “Obscene phone caller”, and according to Wikipedia, he was last in the news for beating an “associate” at the Hollywood Magic Castle in 2018.   Ah, stardom. 

But I do remember that song when I think about our world today, one he never imagined – maybe Arthur C. Clarke did, in a way, and Asimov, and other visionaries.  Somebody is indeed watching me, and you, and us all – the question is, what are they doing with what they learn? 

I have been on a little break from writing here, in many ways because of the ongoing challenges in my life, our life together, and our community.  But, something did change, or at least move towards change, since my last post – our election was held, the ballots counted and disputed, the name calling and finger pointing continues but there is movement.  Where it leads, I doubt anyone can fully predict; certainly the polls and the surveys again did not capture all that our country feels or believes, and many sense that even now a full understanding of our collective temperature is difficult to grasp.  Why does anyone even listen to surveys anymore? Speaking of which …

So I have been waiting for that process to end, because I was one of probably a very large number of people invited to participate in a kind of political experiment, perhaps – one I don’t fully understand, and whose results will not be known for several months.  Data from that experiment is being processed and analyzed by those who specialize in that kind of thing – they may or may not have an “agenda” that will spin it towards a predetermined result, but from my little observation point as a participant, I found it – intriguing. 

Of course, this is copyright USA today and all that – link is below

If you take a glance at this story from USA today way way back around Labor Day in early September, it describes the project as a joint study between various think tank institutions to determine how Facebook and Instagram affect the 2020 election.  Somehow, by surveying users who opt out of those services for several weeks, through the election – 200,000 to 400,000 participants.  Well, I was invited to join them.  Here are some photos of the messages I received – and I accepted.  Leaving Facebook during the election seemed like a godsend! 

I received instructions about how to temporarily disable my Facebook account, posted my plans (to varying degrees of disinterest) and awaited the first survey.  I took photos of some of those pages, as shown here on September 15 (before I provided my responses, naturally).   Note, this is just a few of the screens, not all – they wanted to know my attitude about various issues, groups, and more – plus, an exciting offer to get even more “Gift card” payments by participating in “additional studies” by allowing them to somehow monitor ALL my internet activity for the period through the election. 

3 screenshots from the first “survey”

I declined.  I may like gift cards, but I am sure that Google, Facebook, and heck probably even Disney know more about my web usage than I can imagine.  That’s the price of today’s technology – information about us is being sold to direct marketing, campaigns, and more. I can live with that – but, sorry, not going to make my internet browsing history public!!  Would you?? 

About a month later, on October 10, the second more extensive survey arrived (again, these are just selected screen shots, not the full survey).  Of course I expected to be asked about my thoughts on candidates and issues.  But I found the choice of other questions to be fascinating – what are they trying to determine with these questions?  More importantly, why these questions and not others?  Note the last shot, a question more than a month before the election as to whether violence would be justified if one candidate refuses to accept the outcome … hmmm..

Ah yes…. the moment of truth …. I admit, I did not write in Kanye (this time)
Do you suppose someone might see violence as a political tactic? Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that, friends. The clock continues to tick as I write today.

The final survey received in early November, just prior to the election, had some interesting questions as well.  I particularly enjoyed the “fake news” questions asking whether certain statements were factual or otherwise – I thought I would be certain in every case, but there were stories there that I hadn’t heard.  We certainly live in a time when just about anyone can write just about anything and it takes off, and the “disproving” doesn’t always get the same attention as the assertion.   And, of course, there were questions about my emotional state, how COVID was being addressed, Black Lives Matter, and more.

Four Weeks? How about 8 months? How about 4 years? I need chocolate.

A day or two after the election, I was “released” from Facebook isolation – I signed in, and scrolled through what I had “missed” with family and friends.  I did, initially, really feel “left out” of knowing what was going on without my FB fix – I realized that in some ways I was addicted.  But the question that I still can’t come up with a good answer for is  – why was I off FB (and other services, although I don’t use  those).   Was there a “still on” control group that they compare our answers to?  If not, how can they determine what impact “leaving” had on anyone?  Perhaps when, probably in 2021, some report comes out proclaiming the amazing truths that were learned from this study, I will understand – or, perhaps I will at least be in a better position to question than most how those conclusions could possibly have been reached.

Wait, what? There’s more? I guess I can expect an early Christmas present.

We need one another so much now – Facebook, other services, are a mixed blessing.  I didn’t miss the vitriol, name calling – I did feel a little more alone, asking Bob who commented on some pictures he posted of a little outing we took one Sunday, whose birthday I missed, etc.  But online connecting can’t replace real life touching, hugging, laughter (and yes, the forbidden singing).  For now, I will take what I can get – we all just are doing what we can to “get through this” (whatever “this” includes for you, but right now, COVID and the election continue to hammer at our consciousness). 

So if you see me on Facebook, well, now you know why I was invisible.  A week from now, many around the world, but especially here in the USA, will sit down and give thanks – I will write about that next time – but without being able to be near the loved ones, or strangers, that normally fill our lives.  I think, in the days ahead, I have some phone calls to make – or, zooms, facetimes, whatever.  More than texts; certainly more than Facebook posts.   Reach out, reach out and hold someone’s hand, if only virtually – to remind one another, we will meet again. 

Hey folks – don’t miss out on this limited holiday offer – free subscriptions!

The Castro in the shadows

Hello, readers – especially to you followers I do not know, who have somehow found my little corner and signed up to tag along.  This post is just for you! Well, everyone else too – but, I want to play tour guide this week. I have no idea where you live – perhaps you know San Francisco, perhaps not – but this week’s exploration is a chance for you to visit a corner of my world.  Come stroll with me through a neighborhood like perhaps your own, and yet, unlike any other – world changing, in a way, at least at one time – and still revered and treasured, though at the moment a little tattered and bruised.  And still shining through that shadow of COVID.

The Castro has a long history of being home to various ethnic and cultural groups – at one point, it was known as “Little Scandanavia”, and was not the original core area for San Francisco’s emerging gay/lesbian population.  But, in the 70’s, with a variety of factors contributing,  bars and their patrons began moving from the Polk Street area to the Castro, and it became known as the “gay capital” in many ways, particularly after Harvey Milk began his campaign for political office from his camera shop.  There are many wonderful documentaries and websites for you to learn about that heritage – it is somewhat less vibrant today, again for many reasons even before COVID.  But, my stroll this week to buy a birthday gift for family gave me a chance to see how this once, and still, magical few blocks is changing – like us all. 

Today the Castro is revered in the LGBTQ community world wide as an early refuge, a symbol of freedom and standing for rights long denied.  Now, Harvey’s old camera shop is a retail and community center for the Human Rights campaign (although some were aghast at that idea, it has proven to be a reminder of his presence); it would be rare to see anything other than a Democratic campaign event here or anywhere in SF.  Harvey’s restaurant, formerly the “Elephant Bar”, displays posters for the upcoming presidential election; victory parties are already planned ….

Like all of San Francisco, politics are fervently expressed in the Castro everyday.

Nightlife and retail are the lifeblood of many urban communities, even more so here.  The bars are limited to serving alcohol outdoors, with food – so the restaurants, with a slightly increased capacity now that SF has moved into the “least restrictive” color coded compliance zone, partner with bars as well as serving their own customers.  By building “parklets” in the streets – some more extravagant than others – in theory, visitors can comply with mask and distancing rules.  We do not attend these locations – to us, it is not important – but they are well populated, and probably going to be around for quite a while – their version of the new normal.  But the shops still carry unique products that even reflect the current COVID focus that casts its long shadow over all. The heads in one window display made in SF pride masks.

There are businesses that are closed forever – one long time, ahem, adult shop among others; but new businesses waiting to open, oddly enough a second ice cream shop, near the famed “Hot Cookie” bakery, where a wall of photos of customers wearing the namesake briefs welcomes visitors to buy a “butch bar” or a more than suggestively shaped cookie to enjoy. 

Cliff’s variety store is exactly that – a little bit of everything, plus some you never knew about! It’s a mainstay of the neighborhood, with a long history of its own – customers line up to enter now, but on this early morning access was easy.  I kept my visit to enjoying the Halloween display, featuring some very creative garden gnomes. 

Speaking of creative, this local small independent gym was one who adopted the “outdoor training” approach when all else was still verboten – I was impressed with their logistics to providing a complete workout experience.  We used to go to the chain gym down the street, which is now reopened indoors – but, we have modified our attendance to another, non-Castro location which the chain opened, featuring an outdoor tent filled with equipment.  Business owners are struggling to stay open, daily, weekly – following restrictions, hoping customers will be faithful, and adapting – while they can.  

The term currently in use may be different – I think recently it was “un housed” – or something similar.  Perhaps there is another term this couple might use for their classification, but, for the moment, on this weekday morning, they find shelter in a nook of the entry to the GLBT Historical society museum, up the street between “Harvey’s” restaurant and two of the remaining gay bars.  This museum, small but well curated, would normally be a spot I would recommend visiting – but for us, for now, we are content with our virtual visits, and supporting the society and other causes financially until, one day, we feel the reward of a visit outweighs the risks. 

Our “gayborhood” represents more than business – in some ways, it is a Mecca. I recall my first visit as an out gay man in 2012 – I rode my Indian motorcycle up specifically to be in the Castro. Among the traditions – the memorial to lost loved ones, which began during the AIDS crisis early years by posting pictures and other tributes on the walls of the Hibernia Bank (long gone, but this corner still referred to as “Hibernia Beach”). And, not far away, the community “bulletin board” – empty, but formerly filled with event flyers and posters for all kinds of things that you don’t find in Kansas city. The “angels” above still circle, waiting for those days to return.

A couple of blocks up Market – perhaps not the traditional “Castro” but one of my favorite little spots, Giddy’s candy store has a few Halloween treats available.

Yummy treats at Giddy Candy – imports from around the world, always fun!

Once upon a time, Halloween in the Castro was a major street party, but that ended before my arrival and long before COVID, due to public safety concerns – the costumes were, of course, fabulous in their day. Some may appear this week ….

From years past – Halloween in the Castro – no social distancing back then!

Our last stop, for now. The famed Castro Theater, which I referenced in my column last week about the slow return of films to our cultural menu, is completely walled off – the organ, presumably heard occasionally but only by a few, was in the process of being replaced by a new, sophisticated model.  It almost doesn’t matter what the first movie to be shown when those doors open is – it will be crowded, and those in attendance will gladly sing along with the traditional “San Francisco, Open your golden gates” introduced by Jeannette MacDonald in that MGM epic of 1936.  Of course, that depicted a city torn by earthquakes and fire – and then, rebuilt. Ours is facing a different onslaught – but renewal can come, as it did more than a century ago. What will that look like – and who will take up the challenge?

Take a peek at what Castro theater lovers treasure!

Our world will look different a year from now. The future is something we can create – you, me, all of us – can build it. Your neighborhood may have seen changes already, as well. The Castro may look very different in a decade; this is just a moment in a stream of constant energy and life. For many of us, our local places, whether routine or world famous, are still – sacred, in a way. A part of our hearts lives there, even after we move on. But what gives our communities life is the spirit of those who are there today (and tomorrow), building, creating, celebrating, sharing, loving – giving. You may not have a drag queen on your main street USA, but that doesn’t mean you can’t shine. Let our hope shine. The shadows will pass, others will come – we must hold on, to one another, and build, today. And we will.

Wherever you go, there you – are?

Now some may consider that to be a philosophical statement; and, I guess, like any statement, you can find a way to insert something you already believe to be true into that space and make it fit.  For me, that phrase was a throwaway line in the initially obscure, now somewhat cult film “The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai across the Eigthh Dimension”.  It was a flop when released in the 80’s, with a great cast and wild storyline full of what now would be called “geeky” “easter eggs”.   I think it was making fun of a lot of cultural sacred cows, but … what do I know? 

Still, the phrase comes to mind now that fall is here.  When this blog was conceived, it was winter; spring when it burst forth, now two seasons later and six months into a still strange world that I continue to resist embracing as the familiar.  My goal when I began was to share elements of my life, and ongoing journey of discovery, in the hopes that it might have meaning for others – certainly more than it would just being kept in my own head.  I didn’t have a destination in mind – I just knew I wanted to write about those things that were key to a lot of personal transformation in my life, knowing that process still continues. 

But there were goals I set during this period, that I put effort into; some have been achieved, others not.  There are those nights I wake up frustrated wondering what I am doing wrong; why I am not seeing more progress on things that I claim are priorities to me, but to which I devote little time, while eagerly chasing some diversion that requires less effort, devotion and discipline.  Days go by that seem wasted, and I think … wow, I am now more than halfway to my next birthday.  My last birthday was the first weekend of shelter in place; will my next birthday be all that different? 

One of the ways I dealt with my frustration at feeling cooped up, trapped, cut off from so much of what I enjoyed in life and buried under a constant avalanche of dire, doom and gloom news – was to exercise.  I was fortunate to have some personal fitness equipment.  Some of you who have known me wayyyy back when know that I was at one time over 250 pounds, a consequence of seeking comfort from food or other sources that could never provide it, and the mindsets that kept me trapped in self rejection and hatred.  Hopefully, some of what I have shared here of my journey away from that point have helped some readers look at their own caves and realize that they need to get out, and there is a way out, but it takes time and effort. Well, I figured I could finally transform my body into the ideal I have held it up against for 45 years, or at least get closer.   People were going to gasp in awe and amazement at my transformed magnificence!  (well, something like that). 

Isn’t this the reverse? Why would the “new me” see the “now me” in the mirror?

Six months later … I have not been transformed. I spent hours on the back patio, with the bench, clumsily following video guidance, listening to music for that upbeat energy.  Recently, our city leaders allowed outdoor training at the gym to return, so I spent a significant chunk of money for me on a training package a little more than a month ago; in the weeks since, the doors opened a little more, first with a tent filled with equipment in the gym parking lot, then with one hour appointment only blocks indoors, masked, with various other restrictions.  I will say my trainer knows his stuff – but so do all the well-toned muscular men (and some women!) I see surrounding me with much heavier weights, and, well, all the rest.  Are gay men necessarily more obsessed with fitness than others? I cannot say, but there are a lot in this gym who have reaped the rewards of years of devotion.  I fight depression when I leave, knowing I might as well be planning a trip to Mars. 

Grieving this apparent lack of results and vowing that the next six months will not be a repeat – I began thinking about what I need to make more of a priority in my life, and what I need to drop. Being forced to reflect a little more on what exactly I want to achieve, how to structure my day to be effective, and what else to set aside – I am coming to realize another surprising truth about my inner compass.  I seem to be driven by some deeply buried but unachievable desire to accomplish change; to become more like the ideal that has always haunted me, taunted me, whether it was a matter of character, maturity, personal skill or interpersonal success – I never seem to be ok with where I am.  I was never “good enough”. After all the work I had done with those who helped me to get somewhat beyond the shame I had embraced over some of the deepest parts of my identity, I still was trying to get to some place that I simply could not reach. 

And this song came to mind …

Written as instrumental by Vince Guaraldi as part of an album related to the film “Black Orpheus”, in time lyrics were added and “Cast your fate to the wind” was covered by many artists, as well as convincing the production team behind “A Charlie Brown Christmas” to commission the trio for that soundtrack that forever will remind of us of Charlie, Lucy, Linus and Snoopy.  But why was this song coming to mind? 

I have always longed for a map.   Whether in my youth it was the teachings of the church, or the grades on my report card telling me I had gotten it “Right” – I sought absolutes.  I remember only half-jokingly telling friends after I came out that I needed to find “The Big Book of Gay” to figure it all out.   I never found that book, and although I read many, many others on life, happiness, spiritual principles and personal growth – I remained deeply unsatisfied with myself.  It’s not a pleasant place to be – surely you don’t blame me for wanting to get out of it! 

But those quests, although worthwhile, did not bring me to the place I sought. Quietly, slowly, my awareness is opening to a new possibility. I am beginning to think that the challenge is not how to become someone I am not – that idealization physically, emotionally, relationally, spiritually and intellectually that I hold myself up to.   Rather … I need to not necessarily just accept where I am as where I am going to end up – but to, for now, “own” where I am.  Who I am, my flaws and my little shiny spots, my cold empty corners and my hallways of the heart filled with light and music – all of them.

Could it be that one cannot leave a place until one has made it their own? I do not recommend casting my fate (or yours) to the wind – but the reality is that much of what comes our way is completely unexpected and out of control, and to pretend we can somehow take the reins and maneuver all those forces to get us to some specific point is in itself a fine madness.  When a friend says “it’s not the destination, it’s the journey” …. Maybe it’s both?  I try every day to do something that when it is over I can say – I reached out.  I touched someone else I care about in a way that made a difference to them, however small.  To not go to bed without having made that day, somehow, matter.

Treasure your yesterday with gratitude..

Embrace your today with joy …

Create your tomorrows with hope.

The New NormL

I am not giving up on my quest; in fact, as I write today, I admit I haven’t really determined what it is I am still questing for.  Does your heart long for something more than what you hold today? Can you feel that, or have you tried to quench it – to say, shut up, heart, I don’t want to try anymore – I just need to get by.  It’s not for me to say which perspective is healthy, but I guess what I am realizing is that until I make peace with who I am today – my whole person – I will be forever trying to cut off something that I will always be carrying with me, wasting time on trying to be someone who I am not instead of finding ways to let the person I am do what I am able while still here.  Wherever I go, they will be coming along – might as well love them! 

To live each day as though what we do matters, because it does;  to see each person we encounter as a little piece of the wonderous something that brought all this into existence, because they are; and to simply let our hands be open in case a butterfly decides to drop by for a visit, even though they never have.  We awaken each morning to a day filled with the unknown, promise, possibilities and dangers – we are here, now.  Take a deep breath, enjoy it – and onward, friends. 

Thank you, followers – I always love hearing from you (well, almost always!)