Growing Up Blind – John Warren (part 5, After College)

This is the conclusion of a 5 part essay for the Essays on a WV Childhood project.  To go to the beginning of the essay and start with part 1, click here.

Growing Up Blind (part 5, After College) 

 

30 years of John's journals, 1980-2010

 

 Ironically, so many Christians befriending me in spite of my struggles had an effect they didn’t anticipate.  I felt intense guilt for being attracted to other men, but I was greatly encouraged that there were people who knew the ugly truth about me and still chose to be my friend.  There was a part of me that began to think, “Hey, if these people will still be my friend, then maybe this is not such a horrible thing after all.”  

In the years after I graduated from college there were many times I felt that I had to choose between my faith and my sexuality, and for many years I chose Christianity. The prolonged conflict between these aspects of my personality, however, took its toll.  At the age of 32 I took a job in a new city and took the next seven years off from church.  

Today, I describe myself as an agnostic.  My beliefs have changed, and I am no longer convinced that it is a sin to act on my sexual desires.  I am now 42 years old and for the first time in my life I am ready to date someone of the same gender.  

Whatever happens, you can be sure I’ll record every major development in my journal.

Image credits: John Warren

Men Who Eat Biscuits

I watched Jeff Bridges in Crazy Heart (2009) Saturday night, and was awed by his performance as a 57-year-old alcoholic “has-been” country singer trying to find a reason to live.  Bridges won the best actor award for this role last year, and I was remiss in not seeing this sooner. 

Jeff Bridges as Bad Black

Bridges is one of my favorite actors, and is a man who (much like my beloved husband) cannot disguise a core of masculine beauty, despite his best efforts.  His character, Bad Blake, somehow manages to shine glimmers of someone uniquely special and attractive, even grizzled, overweight, and covered in his own vomit.  To some degree it feels like he is trying to become as unappealing as possible to repel human interest so he can drink and die in peace, yet he is failing miserably.  Everywhere he goes, the people he encounters still want his attention and his story.  Part of the trouble is that he is encountering fewer and fewer people. 

The movie bills itself as about Bad’s ongoing struggle to deal with the success of a young man he once mentored who now is a mega-star out of Nashville playing to crowds of thousands, while Blake is playing bowling alleys.  I didn’t see this angle as key.  It was mildly interesting but seemed to be only a vehicle to drive dialogue about Bad’s real issues.  He abandoned a young son 24 years prior, and hasn’t written a song in decades.  He has almost no money, and what he does have he drinks.

Crazy Heart is the second movie I’ve seen in which the male lead is drinking himself to death.  The first was Leaving Las Vegas (1995), with Nicolas Cage.  Cage’s character Ben utters one of the most poignant statements on alcoholism I’ve ever heard when he says, “I can’t remember if I can’t stop drinking because my  wife left me, or if my wife left me because I can’t stop drinking.”  In contrast, the line Bad delivers that stuck with me after the movie was his statement to a four-year old boy, “Whole worlds have been tamed by men who ate biscuits.”  This was delivered with humor, but was like a laser cutting through all of his dysfunctional garbage.  Inside, this character clearly was still a gem who would get out if he could, he had just lost his way and had no idea where the door was anymore.

Both films are Oscar winners, and both use alcoholic disintegration as a lens into human pain and struggle.  LLV is a powerful movie, one that successfully explores some very difficult elements of the human condition; but it also presents a man who has no interest in disconnecting his life from alcohol.  It is very dark, and very depressing, and Ben’s problems seem so self-absorbed and self-centered it was difficult for me to have true empathy for him.  The human condition can surely be dark and depressing, but it can also be much more inspiring, and Crazy Heart shows a man on the edge of losing his options who grabs control of his life back in a very intentional and resurrectional way.  Directed by Robert Duvall, Crazy Heart shares some thematic relationships with The Apostle.

If you haven’t seen the movie, I won’t ruin it for you with much more detail.  I will say that it does one of the best jobs I’ve ever seen of honoring characters who make unexpected choices, and of following them through the fallout from those choices to a thoughtful conclusion.  If you love character as the real story in film, you will like this movie.

Buddha v. Papa Bear

My daughter holding, literally, The Teachings of the Buddha at Goat Rope Farm.

Now and again, I read something that just cuts to the chase so well it almost defies analysis or explanation.  But it sure deserves sharing…….  

After a friend cryptically posted a lament that she could not protect her children from heartache and negativity, some well-meaning soul suggested that the Teachings of the Buddha could ease her mind.  Buddha taught that on the path to enlightenment, one inevitably encounters many trials and tribulations, but it is the manner in which one responds to those trials that leads to a higher plane and (presumably) a more enriched life.  

Great perspective.  Excellent life lesson.  Not bad advice.  Except for one little thing.  Enter, Papa Bear.  

Papa Bear proceeded to outline what had actually occurred.  A six-year-old little girl was subjected to demands to do 50 push ups by an older girl/authority figure outside of the observation of her parents.  I don’t have more details, but having a little one myself, I don’t need them.  Papa Bear’s retort to the well-meaning friend?  “Buddha can suck it.”  

Please understand I mean no disrespect to the Buddha or any other revered teacher or religious entity.  But it does have a wonderful quality when people fiercely protect their loved ones to the tune of everyone else — even deities and near such — can, well……what he said.