I Live In The Park

For the past six years I have lived in the park.

When, in 2013, I left the hospital, the clinic in which I’d spent two months of treatment, I went to the park at least twice a week. And I lived there.

I had come from the hospital with a new outlook. Be mindful, I had learned, and everything will be okay. That’s the definition of mindfulness, perhaps, that everything is okay even when it’s not, because everything is as it is and that’s the only way it can be.

And when I ventured into the park with this outlook, I became aware that I had never up till then lived in the park. I had always walked through it with my mind set on leaving as soon as my dog had had his fill of parking, and I felt vulnerable on my own with my dog, among other people and among nature where I might get bored or judged or feel depressed. And so, one day while walking through the park, I decided to be okay, to be there in that space where I might be bored or judged or even depressed, and I became alive.

I finally lived in the park. I was not focused on the past or future, or of being in any moment other than the boring, vulnerable moment I was in right then, and it was then that I looked around and saw the trees and foliage in full 3D, and everything became clear. I was alive, and the world around me reflected this. I did not feel “good”. I did not feel “bad”, although I did feel sad and vulnerable. And I did not feel bored, because one cannot feel bored when one is not focused on the past or the future. Time does not stop, so much as it becomes now. Actually, it does not become anything. I became aware of being alive in that now, that now which is the same as this now, even though I’m in a different time and space.

Quite simply, I lived, and that cannot be described in any explicable way. My life in the park cannot have any adjectives, because adjectives are judgments, and judgments take one out of the moment. I simply knew I was alive, and that intimate knowledge was enough to let me see in 3D, to access infinity, the connection between the trees and the grass and the air and the me to everything else in the known and unknown universe. I became aware of all of that, all in the now, not in the then, but the now, the now that is the same now as this now, except in a different time and place. I learned that now is not a series of moments, but simply the unmoving time of being in which we exist constantly, whether or not we choose to be aware of it.

And yes, I say choose as if it’s a simple choice, and I know very well it’s not, and that most people are unequipped to make that choice, and even I struggle to make that choice these days when my life is perfect and wonderful and I don’t want it to last for only a moment and I forget that now is not a moment or a series of moments and I don’t have to hold on to anything in order for it to remain as is and be what it’s going to be no matter what.

I know that I haven’t lived in the park for a while now, contrary to what I said before, and when I do live in the park these days it’s more haphazard and unexpected and spontaneous than it was back then, when I started living in the park. I know that I need to focus more on living at home as well, and not only in the park, so that my lived experience is broadened and that I live more often than not.

There’s no reason I need to live, neither in the park nor at home. Except that, aside from living there really is nothing else. Nothing else worth doing in this world of existence. Nothing else that makes sense in this world of being. That it’s the whole point of it all, to live, and that there’s not really a point of it all, but it is something, and something I can dedicate my life to.

I live in the park, albeit less these days than I’d like to, and I live at home, also less than I’d like to. But there’s always the choice, and the choice to become better equipped.

I’m trying, right now, to make that choice. That choice that keeps me sane, no matter what is happening around me.

I will become more equipped, and I will once again live in the park and everywhere else.

Can Identity Politics Save Men’s Lives?

In February I went to see a trans-activist and spoken word poet perform. Alok Vaid-Menon, presenting and identifying as neither female or male, said stuff that made me feel a lot of things.

Anger. Confusion. Shame.

The contempt they showed for cisgender feminists seemed over the top and gratuitous. It was hard to stick to their grammatically troubling gender pronouns – them and their. And, of course, the anger against white, cisgender males – like yours truly – made me very uncomfortable.

Obviously, this was their goal. To leave their audience slightly less sure of themselves than when they arrived. Which is not generally the goal of identity politics. In many circles, you need to be certain of your pronouns and adjectives in order to feel comfortable.

Alok subverted that trope.

They succinctly exposed the damage we can do to each other by placing expectations on who they are supposed to be. And there was one group in particular, against whom a subtle violence is perpetrated every single day, simply by reinforcing gender binaries:

Men.

Masculinity does not only endanger women

Their point was that, while women and sensitive men are typically considered the victims of what becomes toxic masculinity, we forget about what it does to the masculine man.

Many of us envy the man who fits into the masculine ideal. He does not have to question who he is. He faces no discrimination due to his gender. And, in much of the world, he has access to far more opportunities than the rest of us.

But masculinity is also a prison. And we see that no more clearly than when it comes to mental illness.

Mental illness is man’s biggest threat

Almost twice as many women are diagnosed with depression as men. In South Africa, psychiatric clinics have a ratio of about 4 women for every 1 man in depression and bipolar wards.

However, men are twice as likely to commit suicide. Suicide is the biggest killer of men under the age of 45 in the UK.

Why don’t the numbers match up?

There are a few reasons for this, including the fact that men are likelier to use deadlier weapons than women and therefore have a higher success rate. But the main reason should be pretty clear:

While more women are diagnosed with depression, as many men suffer in silence.

There is much less of a stigma for a woman to seek out help for depression and they therefore get treated for it.

However, the problem starts at an earlier stage.

Femininity encourages speaking about emotions. Masculinity all but demands the opposite. Because men don’t acknowledge their emotions, they become toxic and turn into depression.

We need to break down gender norms

Alok was spot on about what masculinity does to the masculine man. But, while they advocate for the abolition of gender entirely, I’m not going to go that far. It’s not that I don’t agree with them, necessarily (I might! but it’s a topic for another day). I just don’t think we need to go that far in order to confront this problem.

Maybe we can keep separating boys and girls into sports teams and have gender-specific bathrooms. But the binaries have to be weakened. Boys need to know that emotions are not weakness. They need to feel comfortable talking about them, and share the burden when life gets too difficult to handle alone.

In that way, they can manage their emotions before they become toxic. They can get help when they suffer from depression.

Weaker gender norms will lead to less men feeling they have no other option than to take their lives.

Masculinity is, in some ways, a violence perpetrated against men. It is time we stop perpetuating its artifice.