By Scott Ross
I don’t send many Friend Requests on social media, or accept many, unless they’re vouched for, or otherwise recommended, by others. I de-friended someone I didn’t know well earlier this evening for what I consider this uncalled-for rudeness. Clearly, he didn’t know me too well either. As a result, I feel the need to “introduce myself” to newer friends, and family members who’ve re-connected with me. So please bear with this, my own, bastardized edition of This I Believe.
1. I’m gay
I doubt anyone I know, whether in “real life” or Internet reality, does not know this. But I’m covering as many bases as I know how to here, so forgive the epic non-shock.
My sexuality does not define me, but it does inform who I am, and what I feel. I do not believe I chose it. I cannot believe anyone does. I am simply incapable of fathoming the notion, informed by ignorance and fed by inert lack of imagination on the one hand and active, irrational fear and hatred on the other, that most people — especially adolescents — wake up one day and say to themselves, “Gee… I want to part of a sub-group that is in so many places despised, misunderstood, legislated against, persecuted, prosecuted, inveigled against, bullied, assaulted, beaten, and murdered that I’m likely to be miserable, and possibly dead. Yeah, that’s for me!”
I am ill-equipped to understand why anyone’s consensual sex life, with or without a loving component, should be a matter for public discourse, or legislative mandate. Nor do I think that marriage should be for everyone, or that any opprobrium ought to be attached to those who don’t desire it. And while I don’t necessarily believe in marriage itself as a social institution, I do believe that institution, and the benefits derived from it, should be available to any pair of consenting adults. I strongly suspect, should the human race survive what it has done to its earthly home, that in a brace of decades most people will not merely wonder how such a basic right could have been refused to a largely unoffending segment of the population that desired it but will also express dismay that such an expression of love (or affection or even just plain old sex) ever become — like HIV and AIDS before it — so divisive and ugly a political hot potato.
2. I’m an atheist
I was raised Presbyterian, converted to Catholicism, became lapsed, settled into uneasy agnosticism, applied for (and achieved) Excommunication and, finally, after years of spiritual fence-sitting, admitted to myself that I simply am not, and have never really been, capable of belief in a supreme being. Or at any rate, as Quentin Crisp once admitted, “I am incapable of believing in a God susceptible to prayer.” I am particularly antagonistic toward Christianity, in part because, examined in the cold light of day, I find its systems no less fantastic and magic-myth-based than those of the ancient Greeks, and in part because very few “Christians” adhere to the lessons and the teachings of the (possibly real, possibly imaginary) rabbi we call Jesus. Indeed, at least in my own country, the essential—the core—Christian tenets of sympathy, compassion, forgiveness, aestheticism and egalitarianism are as foreign to his alleged followers as a belief in jurisprudence is to the Taliban.
On the other hand, few things in my life have given me more palpable warmth than being named, by several Jewish friends (and one Jewish ex) independently of each other, an Honorary Jew. I have a fellow-feeling with Jews I do not enjoy with any other sect, and a deep sense of the horrors of the antisemitism that has been so pronounced a factor in the history of the modern world for at least the past 2,000 years. That said, I also do not believe in Israel, Right or Wrong. As I don’t believe in America, Right or Wrong, there is no reason on earth for me to put any other nation above my own. I will not, however, engage in debate over Israel and Palestine. That does not mean I give the government of Israel an automatic pass; my emotions on that subject are as complex as anyone’s, but the actions of Israeli leadership is all too often used as the flimsiest possible pretext for deep-seated, anti-Jewish bigotry, and I want no part of it. Would most Americans wish to be judged, as a people, by the actions of our own government? In any democracy, decency does not always obtain in a plebiscite.
At base, my religious philosophy is this: If you wish me to respect your belief, respect my non-belief.
3. I am a radical (Or, if you prefer, a progressive)
As my political mentor Gore Vidal often noted, “radical” means “of or going to the root or origin; fundamental.” My beliefs in the political arena are essentially humanistic. I could never in good conscience, or sanity, be a Republican, but neither do I put any faith in Democrats. We’ve been down that sorry road too many times, and will again. As well, I should say that Politics per se, as practiced by professional politicians, do not interest me. They are, in fact, the most obtrusive impediment to effective political (meaning “of the people”) movement. Social and ethical progress occurs in spite of, seldom if ever due to, politicians. If pressed to define the parameters of my belief system, I suppose I should admit to being a kind of socialist, but with a small “S.” Although I find the very idea of swapping one’s labor for something as ephemeral, imagined, hide-bound and essentially meaningless as money absurd and almost wholly without merit, I am not against the notion of profit. I merely wish the system was no so hideously rigged in favor of so infinitesimally few over so very many.
I believe in life. I dislike, and distrust, firearms. I do not have an automatic love, or respect, for the Military, or the paramilitary, also known as the police. I am against whatever, and whoever, demeans, or kills, life. I am vegetarian and an anti-vivisectionist. (Isaac Bashevis Singer: “I did not become a vegetarian for my health. I did it for the health of the chickens.”) While I am, and have long been, a devoted feminist, I am uneasy about abortion. But then, I don’t trust anyone who isn’t. Those who maintain that some women are indifferent to abortion are not necessarily wrong; when I was a senior in high school, one of my production assistants (a junior, all of 16) when I stage-managed the spring musical told me, with no discernible loss of aplomb, that she had had three abortions. I do not believe, however, that most women approach the procedure with anything less than dread, and do so, moreover, with considerably more thoughtfulness than their knee-jerk critics; I staunchly abhor the moralists who condemn all abortion with one side of their mouths while banning all access to comprehensive sex education and contraception with the other.
4. I am a chronic depressive
I suffer from the delightful confluence of major depression and high anxiety. Together, they have blighted my life, held me back, stymied my creativity, and rendered me as virtual a hermit. I am a playwright who can no longer write a play. I am an unhappy, and impecunious, state employee who makes a salary laughably, and insultingly, small for a person of my talents and intelligence. With two noteworthy exceptions (see 9 and 10, below) I see only my flaws—especially the physical. I beat myself up quite enough I require no one else to do it for me (which among other things is why my ex is my ex.) I am nervous around, and about, everyone I know. That’s every. One. I am unable, ever, to wholly relax, even with my best friend, whom I have known for nearly 40 years. If ignored for more than a few days I am liable to assume I have caused offense, however absurd that rationale. When placed on the spot, my mind shatters. Complete aphasia. The same holds true when I am forced into an emotional confrontation, with the addition of shaking as violently a leaf in a typhoon. As a result, I avoid conflict, sometimes with disastrous results, ruinous to myself and to my relationships with others. It requires a conscious effort of will for me to do anything: Clean the house, take the trash bins to the street, shower, go to the grocery store, get out of bed. And what makes all of the above so insupportable is that I know, from my own bitter experience with a veritable pharmacopoeia of anti-depressants, that this is not my natural, or normal, state of being. That I can feel, and have felt, my real self, but only once in the past four decades, for a whole six months before I stopped responding to Prozac. I have no doubt my chronic anxiety has taken its physical toll on me and is responsible for many of my physical debilities, from high blood pressure to acid re-flux; one cannot, I don’t think, live with extreme anxiety for four decades without it taking some physical toll on the body.
Depression, like pain, is different for everyone. When the darkness descends on me, when my mood is at its blackest, and bleakest—as it was two weeks ago, when my sister informed me of our mother’s imminent death—I have a tendency to shut down. I become even more reclusive than usual. I speak little. I may withdraw from social media for days, weeks, even months. And even the longest and (seemingly) closest friendships can suffer, sometimes irreparably, particularly when that friend is incapable of seeing that my withdrawal, or my mania (which is a sometime component of my disorder) are not about them, but about my mind.
The past 15 or 20 years have seen the demise of three such friendships. The third case is largely why I wrote this essay. When this friend ran into me last and, after hugging her several times and expressing my delight at seeing her, I asked her to have dinner with me she replied, “That ship has sailed.” Last week, after years of silence, I received a Friend Request from her. I am tempted to send her a message reading, “As someone once said, ‘That ship has sailed. Or at any rate, been cut loose. I don’t see a return to port.”
I won’t send such a note, of course, but the point is this: If you lack that essential empathy, or at least, sympathy, required for mutual appreciation… If you take my depression, and how it affects me, not as a reflection on you but as a manifestation of how I feel… If you aren’t willing to discuss the parameters, and at least allow me to explicate for you the contours, and confines, of my reality… Well, let’s just say I don’t allow anyone, even a close friend, indefinite opportunities to hurt me.
5. I am obsessive; also compulsive
I’ve always been peripatetic. My mind, and my enthusiasms, flit from one thing to another, from one creative artist to a different one. (Doubters need only peruse my personal libraries of books, music or movies.) This in itself may or may not be cause for concern. But the contours of my romantic and emotional life have all too frequently been limned by obsessions with unobtainable, uninterested men (boys when I was a youth), leading to a sense of rejection and lack of worth that, taken as a flood, forms a perfect circular linearity: Rejected, I am unworthy; reject me.
6. I am highly critical, and of myself most of all
I do not suffer fools gladly. I am not predisposed to make small-talk, and have no facility for it. I am an elitist. Like Harlan Ellison I maintain a passion for liberty and a healthy distrust of equality; I believe that there are those who are simply brighter, finer, more creative, more compassionate—more worthy—than others. Not worthier of life, or of opportunity, but of our approbation and esteem. The humanitarian in me believes in the sanctity of life and in the essential rights of all living beings. The realist in me isn’t too wild about the mass of humanity. (Linus Van Pelt: “I love mankind—it’s people I can’t stand!”) I believe, also with Ellison, that everyone is not entitled to his or her own opinion, but that we are all entitled to our informed and enlightened opinion. An opinion based on circular logic, or religious mania, or irrational prejudice, is no more worthy of my consideration (and considerably less worthy of my respect) than a house erected on a foundation of quicksilver. Therefore, my critical thoughts, ruminations and opinions, when set into words, is, however harsh, informed and considered. By living, reading, and by the evidence of my experience.
7. I cannot abide personal betrayal
Either of myself, or anyone I love. If there is a single unforgivable sin in my personal lexicon, betrayal heads the list of candidates. I’ve cut off relationships of long standing over this. I’ve also walked away from lucrative and, potentially, fulfilling freelance situations over unconscionable meddling by editors. I never shy from, object to, or resent serious editorial assistance. I cannot abide having my copy altered on a whim, or in an attempt to change my style.
8. I use profanity
Which expressive expletives very possibly include the taking of your lord’s name in vain. The only true obscenity in my personal lexicon is hatred.
9. I am a writer. (But I love to sing)
I am with Gloria Steinem when she observed, “Writing is the only thing that, when I do it, I don’t feel I should be doing something else.” What value I place on myself, I place on my ability to parse a readable sentence that, when I am at my considerable best, flows with what this non-musician knows in his bones is a form of grammatical music. If actual lyricism eludes me (and one of the things I most wanted to be in my youth was a lyricist) I am not satisfied unless and until my cadences scan. That which is worth doing, is worth doing well. Or at least, to the utmost of one’s prosaic abilities.
I am proprietary about my words. To paraphrase Iago (and yes, I am aware that he is not the most savory character to cite, but hear me out):
Who steals my purse steals trash; ’tis something, nothing;
‘Twas mine, ’tis his, and has been slave to thousands;
But he that filches from me my good WORDS [emphasis mine]
Robs me of that which not enriches him,
And makes me poor indeed.
If you cite my writing, give me the credit. Re-post my Facebook posts without attribution or the courtesy of an acknowledgment and I may be disappointed at your thoughtlessness; re-post my writing on those posts without naming me, and you have stolen the only thing I possess of value. If you don’t wish to be un-friended without explanation… just give me the goddamn credit!
So: Whatever else I am, or am not, I am a writer. But, o blessed Muse, how I love to vocalize on a stage! My range and expression would never give Rufus Wainwright a sleepless night, but I would almost rather sing than do anything else. (Yeah, even that.)
10. I try to be kind
I believe, finally, that the gravest of all human sins is a lack of imagination. Call it a refusal to empathy, if you will. The ability to see, or examine, suffering by a human being or other animal and not experience a twinge of anguish — or worse, to countenance and even to cause, such suffering — is to my mind, evidence of sociopathy so extreme (and, sadly, so common) as to make us marvel at the human capacity for atrocity while at the same time leading us to wonder it isn’t even more frequent. I cannot abide deliberate cruelty — physical, mental or emotional. I have been on the receiving end far too often in my own life to accept it when it’s meted out to others. Om social media, my rule of thumb is to refrain from commenting in a negative fashion on my friend’s posts, no matter how strong the urge, or how deserving the aperçu nor how witty the bon mot. In return I ask only that my friends extend the same courtesy to me. Those who do, are cherished. Those who don’t, are let go.
That’s it. My credo, or credos. So now you know. Fair warning has been given. Please don’t behave as though you were never warned.
Text copyright 2014 by Scott Ross