Saturday, November 30, 2013

Empathically Introverted

I am soooooo going to get mail on this one!

I grew up watching the original show, Star Trek, and was interested in giving Star Trek: The Next Generation a try when it first came on. After one particular episode early on in the series, I was done. Finished, no more Star Trek for me. (Until Deep Space Nine and Voyager came on and I gave them a try for a while) I loved how, in the original, Captain Kirk had to trust his instincts to make decisions. In this particular Next Generation episode, Captain Picard, a fine Captain in his own right, cheated in making his decisions. Well, in my opinion, he cheated. He had help Kirk did not have. Picard's help was in the form of an empath, Counselor Deanna Troi, who could 'read' or 'sense' other people's emotions. In other words, she told Capt. Picard whom to trust and whom not to. Give me a break.

I have been thinking about Deanna a lot lately. But, why?

Because I have begun to suspect lately I'm more of an empath. Empathy is defined as 1) the identification and understanding of another's situation and feelings; 2) the action of being sensitive to another person's experience and feelings and 3) understanding and entering into another person's feelings. Whenever my dog's kneecaps slipped out of their socket and he limped around the room yelping in pain, I would go into shock and nearly faint until it worked itself back in again. I nearly passed out when the vet removed the sutures from my cat's operation knowing how she felt to have the sutures slide though her like that yet never having had abdominal surgery, nor sutures.
I haven't wanted to start dating for a number of reasons previously stated: lack of money, lack of time, lack of energy, lack of desire, fears of rejection, fears of intimacy, fears of repeating past mistakes, I could go on yet again, but I won't.

Yet, something new has come up in my dating avoidance scheme.

I seem to be more caught up in others' emotions and what I might or might not do that might hurt them. I see emotional issues from their side rather than mine and then think how my actions will affect them; e.g., in addition to the lack of time/energy/money, if I'm not looking to settle down, should I even be available for dating? Is it fair to give someone a false idea or hope? The idea physically pains me.

Yet, some would say its presumptive of me to think he would find me suitable enough for marriage after the first sip of coffee. Maybe conceited, even. There is a chance, I'm not what he's looking for. Plus, I haven't dated in over twenty-five years, I can't possibly expect to have a perfect first date, the first time out.So, I'm bound to make mistakes the first few times out.

And still others would ask me why is it such a big deal? You both might like each other, or not. If you both do, great; take it one day at a time! If you both don't, move on. If he does, but you don't, he's a big boy and can take care of himself. Stop taking care of him and take care of yourself. And if he doesn't but you do, then start taking care of yourself, and move on.

But, am I taking care of myself by not dating at all? One could argue I am. Another could argue I'm hiding out.

And, if I'm still trying to figure myself out, is it fair to drag him through it? A friend I confided all this to suggested he might want to take that trip with me. What if the Universe has conspired for me to learn something from him?
I will just have to learn to live with my empathic sensitivities...but, how? I guess I'll just have to stay in the moment.

In addition to thinking I'm more of an empath, or at least highly sensitive, I'm beginning to suspect my self-imposed isolation has turned me into an introvert, or at least I'm becoming more aware that I could be one and always have been. In the Huffington Post article, 23 Signs You're Secretly an Introvert, I solidly identified with eleven of the twenty-three signs, a bit less with the others and the only one I could not identify with at all said introverts tend to have low blood pressure, I don't. Among the ones I most strongly identified with:
  • small talk is cumbersome;
    • yes, stimulate my mind!
  • parties are to catch up with friends, not meet new ones;
    • more names to remember and what you do and who you're with
    • gods, more small talk
  • I tire easily when overstimulated, especially in social settings;
    • see parties, above
  • I can feel alone in a crowd;
    • see parties, above
  • I don't get energized from my surroundings;
    • too much external energy saps my own
  • I can be "intense";
    • I'm just trying to remember what you said to me
and lastly,
  • I'm a writer.
    • it's easier to express emotion through writing than verbally
      • it's also an Aquarian thing
All this will make it hard to meet someone, especially at the beginning with all the cumbersome, but necessary small talk; and then meeting his friends, and his family, etc. My palms are already sweaty.

So, am I an empathic introvert or an introverted empath? Does it matter which comes first?

But, knowing this also gives me something to work on as I venture out of the safety of my shell.

To read the Huffington Post article, click here.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Separate Ways

It's funny how music can speak to you at different times.

I am not a real fan of rock bands. It's often hard for me to make out the lyrics among the very loud music.

However, there is one rock band I do like.


I mean, I like them enough to get their greatest hits, but not necessarily enough to get all their CDs, though I do confess to having one, Escape.

Shortly after my divorce, I was listening to the greatest hits CD when this line from the song, Separate Ways (Worlds Apart) jumped out:

Someday love will find you,
Break those chains that bind you

I play that song often when I need to remind myself not to give up hope on finding that someone special.

I had the CD on in my car the other day and the song came on. The lines jumped out again and this time a new feeling came along with them:
He's out there, I just need to break these chains that bind me. Not only do I need to break these chains, all these difficulties are something I need to go through to find him. We won't find each other until I do.

So, what are these chains I need to break?

The chains of self-acceptance, self-reliance, control and trust.

Self-acceptance has been difficult for me. As I posted recently, I have always seen myself through the eyes of others. I always tried to fit in at my new schools when my family moved, and invariably I wouldn't. The negative messages I received began to prey upon my self-esteem and now seem to be flaring up again.

Self-reliance is a two-edged sword. I am very good at it and also deflecting it at the same time. When I get sick, I keep going. The laundry and chores don't do themselves. The substitute doesn't do as good a job teaching my students as I do. The world doesn't stop, so why should I? My ex-husband would get a case of the sniffles and call in sick, watch television all day and play Camille. I needed to be on my deathbed to call in sick. Even then, I still fixed dinner and did what needed to be done. So, I can take care of myself when I'm sick. But, what about when I'm not? I have a hard time recognizing exactly how self-reliant I am. As I look back on these last three years after my ex-husband left, I have difficulty seeing the progress I've made. No, I have difficulty accepting the progress I've made. I have refinanced my house, I have reduced the amount of the other debt I have by over two-thirds, I have taken steps to make the house more mine, I have grieved the loss of my two dogs. I am still struggling financially a bit, but I have some breathing room. I have accomplished all this on my own!

Control comes in many guises. I don't see myself as a controlling person in that I want to control what others say or do, nor do I see myself controlling and manipulating others for my personal gain. I want to control what happens to me; I want to know I am safe. I don't go to haunted amusement parks because I don't like to be scared. I want to know what's going to happen. I want to know the airplane I am flying in will land safely. I want to know when I go out I will have a good time. Some of these things are in my control, some aren't. I can't control the weather, so I have to have to let go of that and trust the pilots. I can control if I am having a good time. If I'm not, I can change the situation or the venue, if possible.

Trust is a big issue with me right now. I've been hurt by so many people, both platonically and romantically, I find myself holding back in order to protect myself. It's invariable we will be hurt and often by people we love. Forgiveness is the key, so they say. I disagree, I say there's nothing to forgive, they made a decision to act on something, and we must move on with the consequences. Karma is it's own reward.

But, trust also implies trust of self. I have been diagnosed with GAD, General Anxiety Disorder. Anxiety can be manifested over the fear of the perception of what is going to happen and not being able to control it. Part of the reason I don't want to date right now is anxiety over many aspects of dating. But, I am learning that I can take care of myself and remove myself from an uncomfortable situation. When I realized the User just wanted me for his sexual plaything, I ended it.

Trust also involves believing things will work out the way they are supposed to, whether it's God, the Universe, Fate, Destiny or just whatever. My ex left, and my life is better off without him. I am learning to trust it will all work out for the better in the end.

It all comes down to just being where I am at the moment and accepting I am where I need to be right now, not worrying about the future, nor dwelling in the past.

I'm ending this post with this verse from another Journey song: Be Good to Yourself

When you can't give no more
They want it all but you gotta say no
I'm turnin' off the noise that makes me crazy
Lookin' back with no regrets
To forgive is to forget
I want a little piece of mind to turn to!

And that's what I'm doing, turning off the noise that makes me crazy so I can be good to myself. 

And continue my Journey.

Saturday, November 16, 2013


Everything happens for a reason. 

Or, so they say.

Sometimes we see the reason right away. Sometimes it takes a while.

I have come to believe my divorce happened so I could continue to grow as a person. And eventually be better for it. And therefore, happier.

I came out to my students a month ago. They are nine and ten years old. The world has not ended, no parent has complained to my principal, nor has anyone complained to me and I just held twenty-eight of thirty-three parent/teacher/student conferences.

It started innocently enough. I had not planned on coming out to them, but it had been on my mind. Something was compelling me to consider it. We were beginning a unit on "People Who Made a Difference." Our introductory piece was on Thurgood Marshall, the first black US Supreme Court Justice and I called on a student to read the opening paragraph. He began "Thurgood Marshall was denied application to the University of Maryland Law School because he was....Mr. Ballam, I can't say that word, it's a bad word."

It seems he couldn't say the word 'black' as he sincerely thought he was being disrespectful since he was describing a person. That lead me to start an impromptu discussion on the proper and improper use of words, and that some words used one way can be quite proper or quite offensive when used derogatorily, like 'bitch'. This in turn led me to the saying "That's so gay" when implying something is stupid or uncool. I merely said "And as a gay person myself, I find that very offensive." 

There was some initial reaction, a bit of shock among them, some whispering, but we went on. My coming out generated some interesting questions and discussions from my students:
  • I don't know what 'gay' means.
  • How does a gay person know they are gay?
  • I thought 'gay' meant happy.  So, what kind of gay are you; happy or the other kind?
  • Do you like boys?
And the one I was waiting for: Do you have a love?

I thought I answered the questions as best I could:
  • It means when someone likes another person of the same gender.
  • When they realize they like someone of their same gender.
  • It can also mean 'happy' and I am both kinds.
  • Yes, but grown up ones.
  • No, I don't. (Though I could have used the "That's too personal" escape according to my principal, mostly on the last two, whom I kept abreast of the discussions in case of parent phone calls.)
Two students later confessed to me that they had gay family members; aunts and a brother.

Maybe the reason for my coming out was to generate this discussion among my students and maybe even with the first real live gay person they know.

At the conclusion of one parent/teacher/student conference, as I walked mother out the classroom, she suddenly asked her daughter to take the younger sibling to the restroom and then turning to me, she asked if I had noticed any change in her daughter's behavior since the beginning of the year. 

I thought for a moment and couldn't come up with any noticeable change, either positive or negative. 

The mother went on, "I can tell you this because I feel comfortable with you, but I just entered into a relationship with another woman and my daughter was a bit rebellious, and she pushed me away. But she seems to have settled down a bit recently."

I motioned the woman back into the classroom, closing the door behind us.

I began, "I came out to the class last month, and I want to share with you what your daughter said to me."

The mother looked curious, yet apprehensive.

I went on, "She came up to me privately and said, 'Mr. Ballam, I want to thank you for being honest'."

Mother gasped, "She said that?"

"Yes," I said, "and I was very touched by her comment."

A tear began to well up in her eye.

Maybe the reason I needed to come out to the class was less for me, but more to bring a mother and daughter closer together.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The True Question

Lately, I've been thinking I'm confusing the pull I am feeling towards some men. A man I described in a recent post was very comforting to me during a difficult time. He was also very affectionate in that he hugged me at his place of business, and I later found myself thinking of him as a potential boyfriend when I wasn't even attracted to him physically. Perhaps I saw the potential of a friendship, rather than a relationship and was confusing my feelings.

After all, I hadn't been dating for the twenty-four years of my two long-term relationships and even now I can't say I've truly dated in these last three post-divorce years. I mean, I've only met three men in a kind of dating situation, i.e. online, and a fourth in his place of business and I'm not even sure he was gay. Needless to say, my dating skills are bound to be a bit rusty, if not downright corroded.

So, how do I tell which is which when I'm trying to build a gay social circle and/or maybe, possibly thinking about finding a boyfriend, especially while I'm doing both simultaneously? Is he friend material? Does he have boyfriend potential? Either? Neither? Dare I ask, both?

Add one more conundrum: I believe the best relationship starts out as a friendship and grows from there. Plus, I was not as physically attracted to my partners as I would like to have been, so that aspect of both relationships waned early. This time, I want to be. No. I need to be. So, do I only make friends with attractive men? How shallow can I be?

I think my head is going to explode.

The answer to my first question is time. I have to both make it and give it. I have to make time to get out and socialize. I have to give time to let friendships develop. I have joined a couple of gay groups to get out and socialize but for now it all seems so infrequent. The groups meet once a month, and usually during the same weekend. I do need one day a weekend for household chores and such. So, I have to choose which group to attend.

The answer to my second question is instinct. I'll know by my instincts if he has BP, boyfriend potential. I do want to say here that the very first man I felt had great BP did not fit my 'ideal' type of man. Usually, I'm drawn toward tall, muscular, dark-haired men. He was tall, skinny and (gasp!) blond! We just had an amazing mental/spiritual connection which made him very sexy. I guess I'm not as shallow as I may appear.

The third answer to this question is trust. I just have to trust it will all work out in the end and at the time it is supposed to. 

It will.

I just need to let it.

Thursday, November 7, 2013


I recently had to write a short biography for a reviewer who was reviewing my book and I called a friend to get her opinion on it. When I was finished, she commented, "Ive never heard you talk about yourself like this. It's great!" First, I wondered if she meant the bio was great, or the fact that I was looking at myself from a different perspective. That got me thinking.

I realized I've never seen myself before. I mean I've looked in the mirror and seen my reflection, but I've never seen myself through my own eyes. I've always seen myself through other people's.

I saw myself as the ugly kid because that's what they called me.

I saw myself as the nerd because that's what they called me.

I saw myself as the faggot because that's what they called me.

I saw myself as the child responsible for his parents' divorce because they separated.

I saw myself as the abandoned child because my father left and rarely contacted me.

I saw myself as the child who was never good enough because I could never live up to my stepfather's standards.

I saw myself as weak because I never learned to stand up for myself.

I saw myself as the mediocre teacher because my students weren't always understanding my lessons, and doing poorly on the standardized tests.

I never saw myself as a decent writer because I never made the connection that the writing I was learning in school could lead to publishing, or that the adventures running around in my head were good enough to write down and perhaps even publish.

In his song, "Outlaws of Love" Adam Lambert sings the line "Scars make us who we are."

Some scars heal easier and more quickly than others. I can barely make out the one on my wrist from when I changed a manual transmission! That was quite an accomplishment! I am very proud of that scar. All of the other physical scars I have came from injuries, hardly something to celebrate. Yet, none of them proved fatal.

The emotional scars above have not proven fatal, either. Still, I have not come to accept or celebrate all of them. 
My nerdiness I have embraced as a gift. I love useless knowledge, and foreign languages. In fact, I am such a language geek, one year in high school I went directly from my German class to my Latin class to my Spanish class. In some of my language classes, if the teacher graded on a curve, my work was taken off the curve as not to skew it unfavorably for the rest of the class. In another class, when one student scored 1/2 a point more than I did, the class went into shock. I mean it was a careless error on my part, but the fact my test wasn't perfect astonished them. And that's who I am. A nerdy geek!

I have learned the truth behind my parents' divorce. It wasn't my fault. Okay, let's move on. My father didn't always call me, and I saw him rather infrequently as we lived all over the western half of the US, while he was somewhat stationary in Southern California, except for the short amount of time he lived in Oregon. I've learned my mother wasn't the quickest to get our new address to him when we moved. So, it wasn't his fault completely. I'll work on this one.

As for my stepfather, even his own son, my half-brother, couldn't live up to those standards. My brother later rebelled, I retreated into my room and read. And while he never berated me for not meeting his standards, perhaps it was his praise I was seeking, which was not as forthcoming as I felt it should have been.

As for the faggot comments, maybe they were aware of something I wasn't back then, but later came to accept and celebrate. Maybe now that the issue of full marriage equality is threatening others, the new bullies are spewing forth their hateful diatribes and that has stirred up some of my internalized homophobia and self-doubt many of us gay people still have. Or perhaps I'm finally accepting my singleness and stepping into a community I no longer recognize or feel I fit into which has me nervous and fearful. I'll take baby steps.

In terms of the writing, it is all very new to me. Writing is emotional, the author exposes his/her emotions and creativity to complete strangers. I have always been more logical in my approach to life and emotions can be frightening. I've never had a class in creative writing, I've never learned how to be creative, or how to structure a story. So, in my mind, how can I just be good if I never learned how? Yes, there are books to read and classes to take so people can develop a writing style and learn story structure. Right now, I don't have time or money to pay for classes or read more books, so I need to trust in myself. Not an easy thing to do.

Accepting compliments for me is not always easy. As a society we are all too often looking for the negative, when we should be focused on the positive. During this new stage of my life, I've been focusing on positive quotes and inspirations. I try to keep this idea in my head:

    When people are trying to bring you down, it means you are above them. (And they don't like it!) [Parentheses mine].

So, how do I see myself now:

I see myself as a kind man, a good person -as I try to treat others as I want to be treated.

I see myself as someone who likes to nurture his brain, they say it wards off Alzheimer's.

I see myself as a gay man, and if you don't like it, you don't need to be in my life.
I see myself as a gay man who is striving not to be a WeHo cookie cutter processed clone longing fit in to some subgroup, but choosing to stand out on his own.

I see myself as a survivor because of the tribulations I have overcome.

I see myself setting my own standards, and living up to them. If I don't, it's not the end of the world.

I see myself as a person discovering his strength as he learns to speak up.

I see myself as a teacher who tries his best to bring his students to the learning, but, unfortunately I can't make them think. I may not be the best teacher to reach that child, and can only hope my best has been a foundation for further progress.

I see myself discovering my gift of writing as I continue, and learning to trust that it is good to those who tell me. All that matters is that I like it. If others do as well, that's extra. Just as I'll never reach every student, I won't connect with every reader. I'll just have to learn the mechanics as I go; after all, isn't that what editors are for?

I see myself learning to balance my emotions and my head, and if I can validate my nerdiness and language abilities as a gift, isn't writing a way of working with language? I see myself as a man learning to trust his emotions. And they're just fine.
I see myself as someone coming to terms with a lot of change at once, and learning to adjust to a new life, one step at a time.

After all, isn't life one big learning adventure?

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Daddy Dearest

It seems lately I'm either catching the eye of some young man, or I'm finding myself drawn to younger men. I'm not saying young men aren't attractive; youth can be very alluring, very tempting, very sexual. After all, they're approaching their sexual peak. Yet, many of them still have their training wheels on and don't know how to handle a relationship.

Not that I am an expert by any stretch of the imagination. I mean, I've at least been in two long term ones, but I'm feeling a bit rusty having been out of the dating loop for a few years.

Many young men are drawn to older men for a variety of reasons; and let's face it, money is usually one of them. As soon as I suspect that may be a factor I quickly tell them this daddy has no sugar because I am a single homeowner trying to live on a public school teacher's salary. I can not afford to be generou$. I put myself through college, you can too!

Younger men also like to go out and party all night. As I'm up before the sun, I am beginning to wind down just as the night life is beginning to take off!

But, many young men are also looking for a mentor, someone to help them explore the nuances of a gay relationship, or helping them understand their gay selves. As understanding as some straight parents are, helping your son or daughter understand the special nuances of gay relationships and gay sex can be very uncomfortable.

As I am coming to understand myself in the context of sex/dating/relationships at midlife and find myself re-emerging into the gay male community, I am in no place to help someone else come to terms with himself as well. It would be a case of the semi-blind leading the blind. I'd accepted myself as gay long ago. But now, I'm trying to understand where, or if, I fit in the community now.

I think I've touched on this before, but as I have now come to recognize I might be ready to move on, I'm finding I don't like what I see in the community at large. Some men believe in love at first sight, others believe in love at first sex, and still others, possibly the smallest group out there, believe in letting love find them. I am now a card-carrying member of the last group, if not it's founding president.

When I was last available to date, there were no cell phones, there was no internet. (How did we survive?) Now, how he messages you tells you what he thinks of you. If he texts you, that's great. Email is second after a text, and then actual voice call. Or, is the voicemail superior to the email? I forget. Maybe I need my own daddy to help me learn the new rules of dating.

But, as I'm actually older than Anderson Cooper, does that qualify him to be my daddy? In the gay world, it's more of the attitude than the age, though thirty-five does seem to be the threshold into being called a "daddy."

As so much in my life is changing, and the myriad of changes has brought on some recent anxiety attacks, maybe it's best I just continue to move forward slowly. I'll be on the lookout for some nice man to talk to, and let things go from there. (And try to stay in the moment, and not project into the future.)

In the meantime, this is the only sugar daddy I'll be needing, or if some cute young thing starts chatting me up, I'll hand him one of these: