An Unusual Closet

I don’t mention it very often, but I am asexual and aromantic. The main reason it doesn’t come up in conversation is that I don’t think about it very much. Just like the other things I don’t do (hockey, quilting, billiards, bra shopping, squash, meditation, etc.), I rarely talk about sex or romance. When people ask me about asexuality, I explain what it means and answer a few questions. People are usually somewhat interested for a while, then we all talk about something else.

However, I haven’t been completely upfront about it. I’ve always told my family that I’m not going to get married and have kids, but I think they just assumed it was a phase. Instead of discussing it at length, I’ve mostly shrugged and moved on. Now that the phase has entered its 25th year, I’ve decided to provide some more details.

I recently answered some questions about my orientation for a freelance reporter, who incorporated three different perspectives (including mine) into one article (on Vice) to provide a general overview of aromanticism. Of course, my personal experience doesn’t perfectly match up with anyone else’s, so I decided to post my complete answers to the original interview questions in order to provide a better explanation.

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(Personal Background)
I never dated anyone when I was a teenager, but I always just assumed I didn’t pursue romantic relationships because I never really “clicked” with anyone. After a while, I decided that I wasn’t missing out on anything by staying single, and I was probably about 21 when I finally acknowledged that I had no interest in romance at all.

(Definition)
Aromanticism is the absence of romantic attraction to other people. As an aromantic person, I’m not interested in romantic relationships because I don’t derive any pleasure from intimacy. I understand why other people are romantically attracted to one another and I can appreciate what makes people attractive, but don’t experience that attraction myself. If you think of romance as a personal interest like golfing or bondage, you’ll understand that some people just aren’t interested.

(Societal Pressure)
I think there is a tremendous amount of pressure for people to get married, particularly women. The expectation that women should avoid becoming “old maids” has definitely lessened, but there’s still a vague implication that women who don’t get married have failed somehow. I think the best way to change those expectations is being more realistic about marriage and parenting. It’s important to remember that spouses and parents aren’t always happy, and not all single people want to marry and have kids. I don’t think anyone should feel bad about being single.

(Past Relationships)
I’ve never been in a romantic relationship, but I’ve gone on a couple of casual first dates with women. Nothing ever went beyond dinner and a movie, and I didn’t experience any romantic feelings. I can’t speak for the women, though. Maybe I’ve broken some hearts.

(Asexuality)
I’m asexual, which means I have no desire to have sex. I know there are people who are aromantic and have sex drives, but I’m not sure how they live. I imagine some maintain long-term relationships and some just have casual sex once in a while. I mostly just stay in my apartment and read.

(Other People’s Reactions)
No one has ever had a very strong reaction when I’ve told them, but there are a few customary responses. Disbelief is the most common reaction. Because people often don’t believe that someone could be aromantic, they assume there is something wrong with me, like I’ve been hurt or I’m afraid to pursue a relationship. Occasionally, people feel sorry for me. Romance is a wonderful part of their lives and they think my life would be better if I were like them. Very rarely, people are jealous. I guess they feel like romance is holding them back from doing something else they want to do. I think the best reaction is when people try and understand aromanticism from my point of view. There’s really no reason to be jealous or sympathetic.

(“Friendship Monogamy”)
I like having a circle of close friends for social interaction and support, but I don’t want an extremely close relationship with one person. Lots of asexuals and aromantics have relationships, though. One major concern with close relationships is reciprocity. Whenever just one partner is asexual or aromantic, there is going to be some conflict about sex and intimacy. One partner might just want a platonic relationship, or maybe they just want to have sex with no strings attached. There are conflicts in any relationship, but I think they can be more acute in those situations. Of course, I’m not speaking from personal experience.

(Nature vs. Nurture)
I think aromanticism is innate, but individuals choose whether or not they pursue intimate relationships. There are people who are aromantic and still get married, just like there are romantic people who never wind up in a relationship. I suspect everyone knows someone single who wants to get married and a married person who desperately wants to be single.

(Other Thoughts)
From the outside looking in, I’ve found that the positive aspects of romantic relationships are usually overhyped and the negative aspects are usually overlooked. Although there are plenty of drawbacks to being single, there are a lot of benefits, too. I think it’s much better to be single than to be in a relationship with the wrong person. Somewhat paradoxically, I’ve noticed that the people who are most comfortable being single tend to attract the most romantic interest, especially from other confident, attractive people.

I also don’t think people should define themselves as half of something. Aspire to be more than just a romantic partner, and have your own interests even if your partner doesn’t share them. You should be your own person, because you will always have yourself, no matter what. It can even be comfortable to be alone.

Relationships seem like they will last forever, but many of them don’t. Even if you’re lucky enough to find a partner for life, one of you will outlive the other, which means half of all married people will be single again someday. It might be bleak, but it’s true. It’s important for people not to be afraid of being single, as long as they have friends and family to rely on.

Difficult But Not Impossible

I should have told you this months ago, but I have a mild neck injury. You might want to get yourself checked.

One morning in December 2012, I woke up with a stabbing stiffness on the left side of my neck. Whenever I moved my head backward or to the left, it got worse, so I ended up holding my neck in a weird hunched position. As it happens, I am an obsessive hypochondriac, and circumstances convinced me that I was suffering from spinal meningitis.

I went to the emergency room, where the doctor told me I had a mild muscle strain in my shoulder. I left with an accurate diagnosis and a bill. After a few days, the muscle strain went away on its own. It showed up again in February 2013, so I saw my regular doctor, who told me I had wry neck and prescribed muscle relaxants. I took the pills three times a day and recovered quickly. In the meantime, it has showed up on and off, but I always took a few more muscle relaxants and it would go away.

About two months ago, my neck started hurting persistently, so I decided to see a chiropractor. He told me I had a virus and some small parasites and suggested that I avoid eating corn. After that, I decided to see a real doctor, specifically an orthopedic specialist in Lawrence. He took X-rays that showed my incredibly straight neck, told me that my shoulder muscles are just strained, and prescribed 12 sessions of physical therapy over the next six weeks.

I saw the physical therapist for the first time on Friday. His office consists of several small consultation rooms and a gymnasium full of elderly people and athletes learning to use the new arms their doctors built for them out of titanium and ass flesh. The physical therapist said that my shoulder strain is the lamest affliction he’s ever seen. He didn’t say it out loud but he was clearly thinking it. Once he located the problem area, he used an ultrasound transducer (yeah) on it and prescribed a few simple exercises I have to do twice a day beef up my lame shoulder muscles. I also had to buy a new pillow at Bed, Bath, and Beyond that was neck-friendlier.

Anyway, it seemed to be doing better on Saturday, and things will presumably continue to improve as I continue the physical therapy. My neck mostly just hurts when I think about it, which includes right now as I’m writing this.

Aside from the dull throb of my trapezius muscle or something near it, I’m doing okay. I am growing steadily more frustrated with the lack of progress in all my endeavors, especially since I currently have more undertakings than a Tarantino movie (yeah). I can’t finish a story, sell a book, or even get my air conditioner fixed. The say that patience is a virtue, but the difference between patience and complacency (or complacence, I can never remember) is not easy to figure out. Am I waiting or just wasting time? More importantly, is everyone tired of hearing me bitch about it?

I’m still looking at all my different pursuits, but none of them seem viable right now. Hunter S. Thompson said that if you have eight purposeless paths to choose from, you have to find a ninth path. In keeping with that risky advice, I have decided to pursue an idea so a ambitious, stupid, and failure-prone that I refuse to mention it until it’s too late to change my mind.

Why do I always choose to do such difficult things? Not only that, why do I complain when I fail at something difficult when I could just do something easy? One reason is that I’m an exceptional complainer; the other is that there truly is value in failure. Successful people always talk about the importance of failure without ever addressing its shittiness. Failure in retrospect is kind of quaint, but failure in progress is heartbreaking. Honestly, I’m not afraid of failure unless it keeps going indefinitely. Fail me once, shame on me, but fail me a few dozen times and the shame gets kind of unbearable.

One way to address failure is by moving the goal posts, or as I like to say, “adjusting” them (yeah). Denial is a great approach, too. To quote the boss said in the Dilbert TV series, “We’re calling it a success because that’s just what we do.” In the end, no matter where I put the goalposts, the odds are thoroughly surmountable. If I didn’t believe persistence were key, I would strongly consider moving on, but I have a lot more bad ideas and plenty of failure left in me.

A Deluge of Nothing

When I still lived at home, I naturally spent most of my time in the basement, far away from human eyes. In order to give the place a personal touch, I put a plethora of video game posters on the walls. For the benefit of my occasional guests, I also installed a crappy, $5 analog clock on the wally by the window. I never checked it because I always wore a digital watch.

The clock tended to be fast by at least 5 minutes (or maybe 15), even a few days after setting it. After a while, the battery started to die, so it got further and further off, until one day, it stopped keeping time altogether. The second hand had started twitching instead of making a complete rotation. It would move from the 43 second mark to the 44 second mark and immediately drop back down, over and over again. I thought it was far more interesting than a regular clock, so I just let it tick endlessly. I called it The Futility Clock.

Right now, I’m having a hard time telling whether or not I’m making progress or just twitching in place. I have a million different potential opportunities, but whenever I take a tentative step in a given direction, nothing changes. When I decided to write the novel, it was because I needed to focus my effort on one thing. Now I have to focus a little on everything to find out what works out and what fails. I’m trying sci-fi conventions, opinion letters, political essays, blog posts, short stories, children’s stories, poems, twitter and facebook updates, reddit discussions, and of course, dozens of emails.

I used to send emails to people all the time. Amazingly enough, they’d reply! My brother and I played correspondence chess via email. I even won a game once. Now, email has become the incarcerated uncle of the internet. It came from a different time and has a lot of flaws, but it’s still part of the family and everyone has to visit it once in a while. I’ve given out a lot of business cards, but I never get any phone calls. I was convinced that I had to be missing some important phone calls, so I exchanged my 4-year-old flip phone for a brand-new flip phone to be sure. It made no difference.

When you start out as a writer, your biggest concern is whether or not you’re good enough. It’s a meaningless concern, because those who lack confidence will always have some doubt, and those who are overconfident will never have any doubt. Ideally, writers should strike a balance: confident enough to sell themselves but modest enough to accept and utilize criticism. I’m always trying to find the balance, and whenever I receive a critical response, I try to make the best of it. I’m always prepared for responses, but at this point, my concerns are less about insecurity and more about ontology. Am I real enough to warrant a response? Do I even exist? Time will tell.

My goal as a writer is to communicate ideas, so nothing is more discouraging than shouting into a silent void. All I get back is a deluge of nothing. How long can my voice hold up? How many different things can I shout? I rarely quote Jesus, but here I go: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and answers the door, I will come in.”

One day, I looked up and saw that The Futility Clock was running normally again. The time was still way off, so I knew no one had changed the battery, but the second hand was going all the way around.

My Bonfire of Vanity Publishing

Now that my self-published book has been out for nearly a month, I might as well explain the process to my literally dozens of readers.

First of all, I didn’t spend a whole lot of money to publish the book. I’m not that vain. I did the editing and formatting myself with input from people who read the book in advance. I bought a custom ISBN for $10 and commissioned a digital painting for the cover for $500. Besides those upfront costs, the process was free. I bought a physical proof copy to verify the layout, and if I want to buy copies for myself, I can purchase them at a discount. The copies that other people buy are printed on demand at no cost to me.

Between my extremely meticulous (some might say nitpicky) formatting and the professional cover, I think the book looks legitimate. If you saw it in a store, you wouldn’t know it was self-published unless you knew what to look for. The e-book was free to publish as well, but the format is a little bit different. The two versions are connected on amazon.com, which makes it easier to consolidate reviews and offer combo deals, etc.

I’ve criticized self-published authors in the past and those criticisms aren’t without merit. If you want your book to be taken seriously, you have to be confident and professional, no matter what. For authors who intend to self-publish, I’d offer this advice: get an editor. Nothing makes you look less professional than poorly-edited, poorly-formatted text. It always looks bad. I’m a professional copy editor who once earned no less than $25 a day to do that job. As for my book, there is one minor typo on the first page and there are a least a couple of others throughout the book. I obviously left those in to keep myself humble.

The distribution process for my book is still ongoing, but I’m hoping to get it stocked in local bookstores. The KU Audio-Reader program is going to broadcast an audio recording of my book to visually-impaired listeners in the Midwest. I’m trying to establish a presence online and at some upcoming science-fiction conventions. I’m trying to meet and connect with people, and I hope that the more I get connected, the more copies of my book I’ll sell.

In the meantime, I’m going back to work writing future projects. I’m currently working on an illustrated children’s book, a few short stories for competitions, and another novel called The Remnants. I’ll keep posting updates and links as I work on things.

The Button

Today marks the 5-year anniversary of my most serious suicide attempt. On February 1, 2009, I poisoned myself with hydrogen cyanide gas. I don’t have much to say about it that I haven’t already said, but I will mention a few things to commemorate the occasion.

First of all, I’m not depressed anymore. Many of the persistent problems I thought would never end have finally ended.

One benefit of not being depressed is my ability to handle day-to-day problems without getting overwhelmed.For me, it takes time to process anything emotional. It’s sort of like bailing water out of a canoe. After a certain amount of time, you can get it all out. If there’s a little water, it won’t take long. If there’s a lot of water, it can take a while.

Depression is like having a hole in the canoe. Until you fix the hole, bailing out water will never stop you from sinking, no matter how much time you spend on it. In other words, in the absence of depression, my emotional problems are surmountable.

Second, I no longer want to die. Oddly enough, this is distinct from depression. There are depressed people who want to live, and there are non-depressed people who want to die. One of the many things I said when I was first committed to a mental institution was this: “Not having a reason to die isn’t the same as having a reason to live.”

It’s hard to explain suicide to people who aren’t suicidal, but I usually start by describing “the button.” The button is instant, painless death. Furthermore, it guarantees that all the people who rely on you will be okay. When you push the button, all of your problems immediately die with you.

Some people would push the button no matter what. I was one of them. Some people would push the button on bad days and leave it alone on good days. Most people only have a few overwhelming moments when they might push the button. Some people would never push the button.

The hardest part of my recovery was getting past the point where I was just “okay” to a point where I wouldn’t push the button. I was rarely “suicidal enough” to develop and execute a true plan, but between ages 11 and 23, I would have pushed the button. I just didn’t have a reason to live.

Finally, I learned from the experience. When I was depressed, I thought improvement meant that I had to become a different person. Once I was no longer depressed, I realized that improvement meant becoming the person I had started out as. I wasn’t starting on a new road, but the same one I had been on before depression forced me to detour.

Having said that, a detour that lasted half my life (so far) definitely had an effect. I’m not afraid of death anymore. I’m more cynical than I used to be. I’m more aware of my bipolar disorder and attention deficit disorder. I learned the art of getting by and the true meaning of the word “subsist.” I lost a lot of memories from 2009 and 2010. Are those all negative things? Maybe they are, maybe they aren’t. Depression is a part of my life I can never forget. I have to use it.

February 1, 2009 was Super Bowl Sunday. When I was at the hospital, everyone asked if there was a reason I chose that day. I told them it was a coincidence. It happened to be the weekend after I had gotten all my supplies together, but there was one other thing. Super Bowl Sunday is a meaningless, obligation-free holiday. There is no pressure to get organized or take things seriously. You just try to have fun.

Most of the people I knew didn’t have any fun that day. Now that five years have passed, I hope it will be better for everyone. There’s no need to worry about me.

Crushing Disappointment

I found out yesterday that I won’t be presenting at the Life, the Universe, and Everything convention next month. Right now, I’m still deciding (discovering?) how I feel about the whole thing. (I suspect the appropriate response is “FFFFFFUUUUUU–“) Besides that disappointment, I’m also feeling a bit of relief. I have to concede that the trip was an ambitious undertaking, and while I would have enjoyed teaching about cryptography, it isn’t exactly what I want to do.

A great bit of writing advice from the man himself, Mark Twain, goes like this: “The author shall … use the right word, not its second cousin.” His advice has a wider application than just word choice. When you have a goal, one of the best ways to placate yourself is by doing something sort of similar, especially if it’s less work. You can be a roadie instead of a musician, or an editor instead of a writer. There’s nothing wrong with working your way up in the field, but you can’t trick yourself into thinking that you’re actually reaching your goal. After working for 20 years as a roadie, you might be excellent at setting up stages, but you won’t be any better at performing on them.

What do I really want to do? I want to write. It’s not the same editing, teaching, public speaking, or pitching a book. I’m exceptionally bad at that last one, in fact. The truth is, I’ve always sucked at writing assignments. I could never quite meet the requirements, because I was always a little too interested in writing what I wanted to write. I don’t know if it came from being a stubborn, contrary person (probably) or if I just couldn’t force myself to do something I didn’t want to do.

When I was told to write about a person I admired, I chose Proto Man from the Mega Man video game series. There’s a slight chance the essay kept me from being a presidential scholar, but in 2006, the president was George W. Bush, so I regret nothing. When I was told to define art, I refused to. When I was told to name a time when I was completely satisfied, I suggested that complete satisfaction is impossible. I once wrote an “environmental” essay asserting that whales didn’t deserve human efforts to save them because whales did so little to save themselves.

It’s easy to lock yourself into one view. “This is how I will succeed. If I don’t do this, I will fail.” My views are still very traditional: “find representation, then a publisher, then market the book, and after a while, start writing another one.” The strategy might be a bit archaic. If nothing else, traditional publishing will take a great deal of time, and I’m fairly sure I can spend that time in better ways. And yes, self-publishing is one of my options.

Last week, I heavily criticized writers who self-publish. Does that make me a hypocrite? Yes, sort of. My biggest concern with self-published authors is that they take an unpolished first draft, slap a generic cover on the manuscript, and throw it on amazon.com. I can self-publish and still hold myself to higher standards. This book will be well-edited, and I will hire a professional illustrator to do the cover. Am I settling? Maybe. Then again, I need to create my own definition of success, even if that does involve rationalizing away a few of my concerns.

When it comes to publishing, my current goals are to 1. expose myself and 2. make money doing it. If self-publishing will allow me to focus on writing while I do those things, it might be the best option. After all, instead of queries, I would rather write more books, stories, and poems. I may only be a so-so essayist and pitcher, but I’m far better at writing other things. If I’m being completely honest, this novel might not be cut out for mainstream success. It’s light, fun, and short. I believe it will make people laugh and (hopefully) think. Even if it could be a mainstream success, I don’t want to spend 2 years trying to publish this one book before anyone reads it.

So I’ll probably publish Favor as an e-book. Naturally, I’ll let everyone know when I do. After that, I’ll attend a few other conventions and try to meet people. Like Boxer, the ill-fated draft horse, I will work harder. I don’t need a break when I’ve had so many. I don’t need any luck when I’ve had so much. I just need to keep writing as much possible.

And no matter how I publish it, I’ll make it good.

(“–UUUUUUCK”)