Reflections on a conference

Hey guys, hope you’re all well and fighting hard. Today’s blog is going to be more like a diary of my past week, but I want to process it in writing and this is where I keep my personal thoughts.

The one week journalism conference was simply a great experience. It had its highs and lows, but overall I was massively glad to have attended. Beforehand the idea of meeting with 12 other journos and spending a week with them had me scared and wondering how socially awkward I would be and whether everyone would be great friends by the end of the week except for me. Most times when I thought about it previously I was nervous, but, as could be expected, that wasn’t justified.

I arrived on Sunday afternoon after a two hour drive from my parent’s house. Went in and got my room key. I had my own room with double bed and en suite just like a good motel. There was also wireless internet. I mucked around in my room for a bit and then thought I should go out and meet some people. So just chatted with whoever was there for a while. It was funny; we naturally split into guys and girls groups. Then it was dinner and had a couple of other good chats. Each meal over the five days was amazing. It was like a high quality restaurant. At dinner we even had a menu and could choose from a couple of options. Duck breast, barramundi, scotch fillet, chicken breast etc.

Each day rolled out with a couple of guest speakers, oral presentations by us journos on different topics, discussions, morning tea and afternoon tea. I started a routine of exercising (they had a mini-gym and mountain bikes I could use) in the morning and night just to keep fit and also to try to get some better sleep by tiring out my body. Sleep was a bit of a problem due to the intense nature of the experience I needed a couple of hours lying in bed before I had calmed down enough to sleep.

Socially it was weird even though it wasn’t as bad as I expected. There were plenty of awkward silences at dinner time when no one our table of 13 talked. It was kind of funny lots of journos getting together and no one talking. There was no one there I clicked with, which I didn’t expect as it is a pretty unnatural occurrence for an introvert and anxious person like myself. No one else seemed to really click either. I found that a bit weird maybe as the age group was 21 to 51 (with most about 26) people are less inclined to throw themselves into making new friends. There were a couple of other Christians there and we had a few good chats and solidarity because of that.

Socially I don’t know what more I could have done. I had a cough and a bit of a blocked voice, so I was slightly off my game. Tiredness doesn’t help either. I made a big effort to be social. The first couple of nights I went to my room and worked on the computer. But then after that if I had to do some work I took the laptop to the common area and did it there. Another night I came out and played pool and just hung around. I also went out to a couple of pubs on the last night with a few of them. Something I wouldn’t normally do, but I was making an effort. Even in making an attempt I still couldn’t think of things to say sometimes. So I just sat there and when someone said I was quiet I responded I was listening and that I was an introvert, so didn’t talk heaps. People did respect that I went out and made an effort. As an introvert I wasn’t afraid to set boundaries and have some time by myself when needed. On the last evening I was a bit overwhelmed with the intensity of it all and went bike riding for 50 mins and then spent time in my room until dinner.

On the first couple of days you have the small talk/getting to know you chat with everyone. ‘Where you from?’ ‘What you do on your the paper?’ etc. Then during the week you forget it all and on Friday people were asking each other the same questions again. It was kind of funny. I find it difficult to go from the ‘getting to know you chat’ to unforced conversation with people I have just met. In this case lots of others did as well. It was something I noticed about the SSA retreat I went to last year as well. I’d done all the ‘who are you’ stuff, but found it difficult to move into the next phase of discussion. I don’t think that’s much of a problem except for in situations like this. It takes me longer to get to know people and there’s nothing wrong with that. Thinking about this kind of stuff differently, and by being kinder to myself doing it, means I did feel some social competency I wouldn’t have if I was doing this three years ago. I’m a mature 23-year-old and stuff that used to bug me doesn’t and things that are still problems I don’t get all worked up about. I think about things I can do differently and if there isn’t something I shrug my shoulders and accept the situation.

On the facebook group I mentioned about a guy. I’ll tell the story here again. There were basically no hot people there, except for this one guy. Apparently he looked like a young Paul McCartney according to an older man. To be honest when I saw him I thought ‘yay, someone to look at when I’m bored’. But didn’t think much more of him than that. Over the first couple of days it seemed like he would look at me a bit and I wondered if he was interested. On the last two days he didn’t look, but by then he was mildly in my head. I guess what attracted him to me was he was an earnest, friendly, great voice, immature, confident, good looking person whom people liked. There wasn’t much more than that. I talked to him for few mins on the first night, during some group work on the second day and at dinner on the third night and I wasn’t nervous. Other than that we didn’t talk much. He spent a lot of time in his room even though he was probably the most likable person there. But on the Friday I was going to go away and still have a few questions about him. It wouldn’t have been a big deal as I would have forgotten about him by Wednesday. But then at the last minute it was arranged he and another guy would come in my car for the hour long drive to Melbourne. 

It was just a gift from God to be given an opportunity to see him as he really was, which is to say a selfish, sex driven, self-absorbed brat. Of course he was charming in all those things as good looking guys who act like they were under parented can be. He was mainly talking to the other guy, but it was good to hear his thoughts on life. It wasn’t so good to hear about his (very straight) sex life, but equally helpful for seeing him as he is. Probably on this car ride I did act a bit stand offish and didn’t say much as an act of self protection, but as I was ‘concentrating on driving’ it wouldn’t have been seen as such. In some ways it was a great journey to be with two other guys who were just chatting about life and love. As I’ve mentioned before, maybe twice haha, I have a thing for driving on freeways in Melbourne and it was a powerful moment.

On the Tuesday night I had actually told this guy I was a Christian as part of me (a very small part) hadn’t wanted to tell him just in case. But he obviously wasn’t into me as he had forgotten and he asked me if I drank alcohol about five minutes from when I was going to drop them off. I said ‘yeah, but I wouldn’t get drunk because of my Christian beliefs’. Then he gun fired questions at me about drinking, sex, love, church, youth group, age of people at church. It was time for them to get out and as I left they stared at the car going away wondering about what was different with the weird Christian guy. That’s what I’d like to think. They were probably wondering how to get to the train station from where I’d dumped them. For a while after I was imagining all the things I should have said earlier and how it would have fitted into the conversation. It was a helpful way to process the trip and the whole weekend. Earlier in the drive they had been talking about homosexuality and it was probably one of those times when it would have been appropriate to pipe up and give God glory. I wimped it, but next time I will be more ready.

The past week I probably had the least temptation I can remember in ages; mild attraction to said guy aside. Maybe the key to beating temptation is to live in a huge share house and have something to do every second. As well as someone else doing the cleaning and cooking etc. One of the topics was questionable taste in newspapers and we had to bring in examples of this and someone brought in a picture of an almost naked man. I looked and didn’t care sexually at all. It was a powerful moment for me. In the whole five days I only had a slight desire to masturbate once. The other interesting thing is usually when I am tired I’m more vulnerable to temptation, but I was tired all week and it went fine. I didn’t feel like I was being quiet for self-protection much.
It’s even made me wonder whether I should make a big effort to ramp up my social contact attempts. If spending non-stop time with strangers can be fulfilling and temptation erasing it’s worth considering. As I mentioned earlier I’m an introvert, but I really enjoyed being with others heaps and just the camaraderie from that.

On the female front no one really interested me. Though I continue to be more aware of the differences between a man like me and women like them. On the night we went to the pub one of the girls got all prettied up. She came out of her room and walked across the common area in a beautiful display of feminine vulnerability. It was probably the hottest thing I saw all week.

So in hindsight what would I have done differently? And I will keep these in mind when I go to the SSA retreat in about five weeks.
Just talk as much as possible. For some reason people find it weirder when you don’t talk then when you say stupid things. There was a guy who talked a fair bit and said a fair few stupid things, but at the end of it a couple of people said he was a good guy. I think their reaction to me was more likely they didn’t really know me because I didn’t talk enough. Maybe before a next time I would even sit down and think of questions and things I can talk about, so in the heat of the moment I can look at my cheat sheet and spit something out. I could probably even think of stuff to say when I’m there. I’m not massively into traditional conversational glue like music, movies, TV or sport, so I have to make a bigger effort to have substitutes. But I’m not the guy who tells two minute stories, but more 30 second soundbites and that’s okay.
Make a bigger effort to talk about God. This is the topic that gets me talking most and I have to remember people are more apathetic in Australia then hostile. I did mention it when appropriate, but afterwards thought I had missed a few opportunities to initiate more on this subject. Also in doing this I would see them as people who need God, truth, Jesus etc and some of my focus on my self would be shifted onto helping them.
Don’t be shy at the start. I spent the first couple of nights in my room rather than the common room and it would have been better to be out and about while the getting to know each other was happening. By the time I was out and about I missed a bit of the early social conversation. Question and answer convos are a lot easier then flowing convos and they happen earlier.
Don’t be scared of people. The other guy I drove to Melbourne on Friday afternoon was actually a pretty neat guy I should have tried to get to know. Somehow we missed the getting to know you talk and even though we spent a bit of time hanging out with others I was a bit intimidated by him. After I went out to the pub with them he must have decided I was an okay guy and he said a few things and was nice to me. I should have just assumed he was a nice guy and went right in and talked to him. Talking to guys who intimidate me has been something I’ve tried to do more of lately.
More broadly; fear will kill you. As soon as I am doing, or not doing, something because of fear I’m in dangerous territory. Fear is worrying about myself and my needs rather then about giving God glory or enjoying others. If I feel like fear is driving a decision I should step back and analyse it and then perhaps do the opposite.

Right now I feel spent. I’m still tired from the week and without anything comparably big on the horizon of my life feel like there’s some empty headspace that had been taken up with worry. But it was a good opportunity to see how I operate in a different situation and be encouraged by who I am now as compared to who I was five years ago. I’m also looking forward to the SSA retreat a lot more. It’s going to be a great weekend.

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Three things

WENT bike riding with the girl again on Saturday. She’s a great person. Afterwards the  stupid things or repetitive comments I made bugged me. Don’t really feel anything beyond companionable agreeableness, but am keeping in mind what Lonnie commented about giving it time. I’m wondering though when does it become ‘leading someone on?’ if I pull out at a later stage. I have a history of chicks getting upset as I must have appeared to lead them on. Like the time a chick looked grumpy and sad after I dropped her home after a movie (there was obviously more to it then that, haha) Or the time another chick was embarrassed (after I told her about my SSA) because people had previously been joking about us being together and she stopped answering my emails. Or the time I was at a park and a chick said ‘how come you don’t have a girlfriend?’ ‘cause I like guys’ ‘isn’t that wrong by God?’ ‘it’s complicated’ then she stopped being interested in me full stop. So I’m wary of it. Though these were all years ago and for the past three I’ve made sure to (almost) never spend time alone with one girl if it could be a problem.

I’m wondering if a teenager I see semi-regularly has SSA. I’ve known him for ages and definitely in the last couple of months there have been plenty of signs that weren’t there before. If someone in their 20s was acting like him I would be ‘yep, 90 per cent probability’. It even makes me wonder if he realises how he appears; maybe he still has to put a name to a desire. From what of I know of his personal background it’s a whitewash as I could make the argument either way. Personalitywise: sensitive – probably, desire to be right – yes, introspective – most likely not. Other people have made jokes about him being gay, so they must have noticed something. I read my journal when I was that age and would have loved for someone to come alongside me and help me deal with this problem. But short of him telling me, the only pathway for me to find out if he is SSA would be to make an effort to say stuff like ‘do you have a girlfriend?’ and watch his reaction. I don’t know; I’m tempted to not push it as it seems like hard work and danger (as in if trying to find out he might misinterpret my interest, if I spend time with him others would think it weird as I never have before or if I try to get him to tell his parents I would be exposed).

Feeling a tad overwhelmed at the moment. As an introvert I usually try to space activities out, but somehow I’ve managed to arrange a full weekend ahead. Then there’s a six day country journalists conference at a conference centre two hours away next week. Then have to clean my house (over three weeks) and move to a new place with new person I don’t know very well (for one week), then two week holiday in New South Wales with same sex attraction retreat up there as well. The journalist conference is my biggest anxiety, so that will be over soon. I’m someone who doesn’t enjoy having too many uncertainties disturbing my mind all at once. Each forthcoming event by itself should be quite enjoyable and manageable, but juggling them all at once is tiring.

Bad ways to love soccer

JUST some scattered thoughts and happenings from the past week. The bit about my soccer blog title is still 652 words away in case you start to wonder.

Come the first weekend in July I’ll be at a same sex attraction educational retreat near Sydney. Probably…most likely…unless something happens. It’s at a beautiful waterside location and should be good. Hopefully…almost certainly…unless it isn’t. So I feel unsettled about it, but there is honestly no good reason why. I’m also uncomfortable about a week-long residential study program coming up in a couple of weeks at a university conference centre a couple of hours away. People I’ve never met, strange surroundings, nights to fill in away from home; not exactly an introvert’s dream.

Went bike riding with the previously mentioned (a couple of months now) girl tonight. She rang me up at work and asked if I wanted to ‘do something’ while we discussed some possible articles. I’m not sure that was the main aim of the bike ride, but she brought along a briefing paper on tourism in rural areas to give me. It was nice in a pleasant way. The bike ride; not the briefing paper. “The precinct is identified as lower to moderate agricultural quality and includes predominately broadacre grazing.” Words only a bureaucrat could love. Near the end of the ride I felt stupid as I always travel on the footpath about 200m to my home, which is illegal. And she has all the proper gear to do the right thing on the road. “Oh no she’s already the more spiritual one.” Then I got defensive. I don’t like myself when I’m defensive. Other people probably don’t either. It was dark; she went home and I went home. I wanted to be really excited about when I was going to see her next, but I wasn’t. Just thinking perhaps she’s making a move and I’ll add her as a facebook friend and wish there was an “interested in” option that said ‘currently healing’ and that it would be totally cool to display to the world.

The weekend was tough. Both days involved taking photos and driving around, which is always draining. A lot of concentration and eye squinting is needed for sports photos. On Saturday I took my first Australian Rules football pics for the 2009 winter season. It was encouraging as I didn’t feel as lustful watching as I imagine was the case seven months ago. Then lustful thoughts bothered me as I tried to sleep. I was at the point where when not masturbating or looking at porn the intensity of my desires pick up a bit. The next day at church when we were about to have communion I was sick of the sin that clings so closely and it seemed to be someone placed the thought in my mind “you’ll always need bread”. Sinful and screwed up me is always going to need the forgiveness of God.
Later on Sunday I was stressed because I needed to be at two photo opportunities at the same time when one ran late. Sometimes I so desperately want to do the ‘right’ thing to please people and keep them happy. This means a situation where both options have negatives stresses me heaps. I was thinking about where this need to ‘do the right thing,’ and the power it has over me, comes from. Unfortunately no breakthroughs this time, but I’ll keep working on it. Funnily enough I made it to the second photo opportunity, a soccer game, just in time to catch the last few minutes of the game and get some snaps.

The game ended and the soccer players huddled, so snap, snap, snap of tired players being encouraged by their coach. Then, and this is a bit embarrassing to talk about, a couple of guys took their shirts off. One guy in particular really grabbed my attention. My mind was shouting at me ‘must look; your whole happiness depends on it’ and it made me unsteady and suddenly I was the world’s biggest soccer fan. So annoyed at the desires within that bubble up at times like this. Yesterday taking photos at a surfing event and more shirtless guys. More power over me and I feel more disconcerted.

At lunch time on Wednesday I used some of the half hour to see what was happening underneath my desire. Firstly just plain lust. Due to my previous lookings I’ve taught my brain to produce pleasure when a guy’s not totally dressed. I liked looking and the feelings that came. Secondly I believe a lie that says the pleasure I can get from looking is healthy and worth the effort. Instead of renewing my mind and trusting God in the midst of same sex attraction. Thirdly by lusting after these guys I’m not treating them with respect. I am using them to make me satisfied and acting like a leering, impulse driven young man. If I had have thought of it at the time I would have gone up to them (when shirt was back on) and done a bit of an interview to help see them as real people. Fourthly the world of shirtlessness is foreign to me. Growing up I wasn’t around regular shirtlessness, and not of decent looking guys, so part of its power over me is due to its exotic nature. Fifthly, as already mentioned, due to a recent decrease in sexual sin my mind is hungry and lower levels of lust are more powerful. Sixthly as they have a nice upper body I see them as having a glamorous life with lots of friends and happiness. “It must be so exciting to be you looking at yourself in the mirror!” It’s silly. Physically I have what they have; almost better. I have good friends and happy times.

So yeah, ugh. Double ugh. And all the broken people know.

An intense desire to obsess about a male stranger happened another time recently. At the supermarket I was about to go through the express check-out and then I saw a good looking guy who smiled at me nicely once waiting to serve at an empty check-out line. I didn’t move cause he was 20 metres away, but at home my mind wandered and I wanted to go back and pass through this guy’s check-out. It was a powerful, pushy, your happiness depends on this desire. Crazy. I even texted my mate I was about to go see, to ask he if wanted anything from the supermarket. My mate wanted ice. Ice melts. My mate lives an hour away and has a supermarket near him. I was annoyed at mate. 

Got a long car ride on Saturday to go with my parents and see the sister for Mother’s Day. More thinking time. There’s no such as thing as too much introspection when it comes to these kind of issues. Okay, I know that’s not true, haha.

Away from SSA the first work experience student of the work experience season arrived at the newspaper this week. Everyone in Year 10 or thereabouts spends a week at different businesses to see what it’s like. All the schools have a different week so we end up with about five different people coming in the next three months. We have the company of a teenage girl right now. So many questions. Argh. “Should I use the White Pages to find their phone number?” Her insecurities make me feel mature and balanced.

“The future belongs to the confident.”