Monthly Archives: December 2014

The Long Search

We waste so much time looking for what is right under our noses! Look for reasons for our existence, justification for our lives. We need to accept what is, and be thankful for what is given to us every day. We need to learn to appreciate just what is!

At 23 years of age, I went searching for God, and didn’t find him.

I am still looking.

What did I find instead? Well, you can’t hide forever in a monastery, to start with!
I always insisted I had a vocation. Most Catholics do at some stage of their lives. Heavily influenced as I was by Marist Brothers, Discalced Carmelite Fathers and Franciscan Friars, by retreats run by Redemptorist Fathers were such a thrill…not! it is little wonder that I started a drift toward the religious life in my early teens. There has always been this feeling that, as a heathenish Protestant wandering the lowland of faith, once I became a Catholic I was suddenly floating through the rarified air of Catholic piety. I must confess to being humbled at the sanctity that was suddenly available to me through the contemplative monastic life.

Some decisions in life require more emotional input than others. The decision to join the Community of St Thomas Moore was one of those with an emotional base. I am, by my very nature, a contemplative. If I had not been Christian, I probably would have run away and joined a Buddhist Zen community. The decision to enter the tough life of a contemplative monk was one that suited me well. It fulfilled a spiritual side of my nature that I had otherwise found empty. In silence, chant, work and prayer, a huge spiritual chasm was, supposedly, filled.

In the monastery, I found the “Powerhouse of Prayer” that is the essence of the monastic life, and is no better evidenced than in the community life of contemplative monks and nuns. This total overturning of ones self, of emptying out all that was unnecessary in ones life and replacing it with a concept of God I found to be a truly freeing experience. In the community religious life, I found in miniature a model of what the wider community could be, if they embraced ideals outside of themselves. With the rest of the community, I practiced selfless acts of community work, of communal prayer and life, which opened me up to a greater concept of what existence, God, spirituality and religion (both the latter as separate identities) were about.

But they are also good places to hide, to shut out the real world and convince yourself that you are something other than what you really are. I found this out the hard way.

Just short of my first vows, I had a crisis of faith. Why was I really here? What was I hiding from? Was I using spirituality as a scapegoat to shirk responsibilities in the outside world? Was I deceiving myself? This last question was the one that tipped the balance. The decision to leave the community was not made over a long period of time. In fact, the situation surrounding it is as clear to me today as it was on the day that I made it. In retrospect it is almost romantic. The monastery (an old convent given over to the Benedictine monks to found a new branch of the order) was situated at Leura set right at the top end of a valley. I went for a wander around the grounds on a very cold, winters morning. I stopped at the end of the monastery grounds and looked down into the valley. Mists were crawling in along the valley floor and had just started climbing the valley walls. It was there, at that instant, that I realised I was hiding here, trying to make a life that I may have desired, but which wasn’t really ever going to be mine.

I left the community a week later. Life then proceeded to unfold the way it should. I went to Melbourne, and ‘came out of the closet.’ This is what I had always been hiding from, and when I eventually made the decision to take up my place in the gay community, I found it a fulfilling one, though more in a carnal, materialistic sense than a spiritual one. I have no complaints about that.

I miss the monastery still. I probably always will. But I now realise that no amount of devout prayer, no endless chanting of mass and the divine hours, no pious clacking of rosary beads can hide the person you really are. It is not good to hide your light away.

Questioning the existence of God, of the relevance of religion itself comes over time. When you sit down and evaluate what faith and religion are all about, you will find them wanting. When you read, research and assess what religion really is, it fails to come up to expectation. One could blame human nature itself, but when we as people allow what religion dishes out, how religion itself allows hypocrisy, hate, disdain, discrimination, stigmatisation , alienation and false hope to be its credo, then it really has a lot to answer for! As for it being a matter of personal faith, then there are real problems that people are having their vulnerability exploited! Religion has become a conduit for hate. Just look at it’s history!

It is far too easy to say that good people exist within the framework of religion. The reality is that, without religion, these people would still exist. Faith is not the harbinger of goodness and charity! Those traits exist within people themselves! You don’t need God to make that happen, nor for it to exist. And as for being an Atheist? They seem to spend way too much time defending why they don’t believe in anything, instead of just not making an issue of it. There is a standing joke that you can always pick a vegan because the will make sure you know! Atheists are the same!

So, does one really need faith, really nerd religion to fill in a spiritual yearning, a need to find something greater than ones self? I don’t believe so. I truly feel sorry for the religious fanatics who believe that this life should be an absolute misery, a bleak, desolate preparation for the life to come after death! Really! That is our sole reason for being here? A dark, cold crawling toward something that, in all probability, doesn’t exist? What a sad state some have come to. Like those who see life as a burden, or as something to be lived with no joy or light, they never take the time to stop and look. Our true spirituality can be found by doing nothing more than being ourselves, living our lives to the fullest, drawing from experience, causing no one harm, letting people get on with their lives as they allow you to get on with yours.. Look for the beauty and goodness around you. Live your life for the now, not for the unknowable! Spirituality lies within the simplest things – the unconditional love of a dog; the beauty of a flower; the caress of a lover; a feeling of fulfillment for a job well done, or a small act of charity towards another. It lies in bird song, butterflies wings, sunlight, and in just being! You need look no further than yourself! To quote Neil Diamond – I am, I said!

I never did find God. I did find myself!

Tim Alderman
Copyright © 2014

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Seasons Greetings

To all the followers of my blog, Benji and I wish you all the best for the holiday season, a merry Christmas to those who partake, and a happy, prosperous, safe and fulfilling New Year. Thank you for liking what I do. It’s appreciated. XXX. Hugs, kisses and a few growls.

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Weighted!

According to the 2013 report from the Bureau of Statistics, 63% of Australian adults are overweight or obese. An estimated 280 Australians develop diabetes every day. The 2005 Australian AusDiab Follow-up Study (Australian Diabetes, Obesity and Lifestyle Study) showed that 1.7 million Australians have diabetes but that up to half of the cases of type 2 diabetes remain undiagnosed. By 2031 it is estimated that 3.3 million Australians will have type 2 diabetes (Vos et al., 2004) – stats from Diabetes Australia. These statistics are nothing short of frightening. Every day we are inundated with conflicting impressions – both in reality and in the media – of body image. On the one hand we have a population becoming so obese it is bordering on terrifying. If the trend is not halted, the cost of health care is going to spiral up at a frightening rate. On the other hand, we are inundated with images of sculpted 6 and 8 packs, biceps and pecs that are almost impossible for us to obtain, let alone maintain. They fill my newsfeed with promos from gyms, supplement companies, models, celebrities, health and fitness magazines, clothing and underwear companies. What seems to be missing is a healthy norm. As gay and HIV+ people we are not exempt from the fat/thin dialectic. And some of it seems to be based in history. The problems of being at both extremes affects us as a population in general, and I think it heeds to be tackled from as many angles as possible.

I am just staggered by the number of over-weight (anywhere from obese to chronically obese) people I see every day. While I had a coffee at Brookside a couple of days ago, and at my local cafe today, I made a point of observing people coming and going (referred to as being a flaneur), and a good 90% of them were over-weight, and in the older age group where this is causing the most problems. Considering the constant emphasis on our increasingly over-weight population, and the regular medical bulletins on problems associated with obesity, nobody seems to be particularly alarmed about it. It really is frightening!

And the gay community is not exempt from this problem. In fact everything but! We have developed a sub-culture that celebrates over-weight men, which is certainly nothing worth celebrating!. Not only are they celebrated, but encouraged, and that is the most worrying aspect of this unhealthy adoration. An acquaintance of mine is a bear (I am not going to debate the rhetoric behind the terminology). The fact that his obesity is disguised by the use of cultural terminology, and the acceptance of this as “normal” has far-reaching implications that will only be changed by a huge cultural shift away from this behaviour. Eventually everyone subscribing to this culture will develop most, if not all, of the illnesses associated with obesity. There is no “might happen” about it. This acquaintance regularly posted pictures of himself in various stages of undress, and all the comments were of the “woof” variety. I have yet to read a comment from anyone encouraging him to start losing weight for the sake of his health. And I’m sure any negative comments would be met with a barrage of abusive comments about minding your own business, and what is “wrong with this normal guy”! Nothing like an unhealthy obsession to put the blinkers over peoples eyes. For the last twelve months I have kept my mouth shut – I really can’t see any sense in leaving myself open to abuse, even though a friends welfare is uppermost in my mind. I quickly flick past his massive underwear-clad posts on my newsfeed. After several months of health issues that had seen him avoiding medical help because he knew he would be told to lose weight, he has now been diagnosed with Type-2 Diabetes. Naturally, all the comments about his health update have been sympathetic. Not one person has said…you didn’t expect this! I think he is very lucky it is only diabetes. I was expecting a heart attack. Only months ago his status updates on FB informed us of his driving to a nearby supermarket to stock up on pavlova or marshmallow flavoured ice-cream. That has changed rather quickly. To his credit, he has taken the scare seriously, has changed his diet and is losing weight. He now also advocates change amongst his peers.

So, there are several issues here. One important one is the quite deliberate action of contracting Type-2 Diabetes, a condition we know is avoidable by adopting healthy diet and exercise lifestyles. The incidence of this type of lifestyle-related diabetes is rising at an alarming rate. To actively be a member of a sub-culture that actually promotes this lifestyle aberration defies imagination. The cost to the healthcare system from the combination of this group (which is rising), and smokers (which is decreasing) is going to be staggering, and we will all have to bear the costs of both these irresponsible and selfish behaviours. It has nothing to do with personal choice, as much as these groups like to harp on about it. As soon as your lifestyle choices start to infringe on my health, or my ability to easily access good, affordable healthcare, then your choices are no longer personal. They are far-reaching.

I guess one can’t address the issue of bear-culture without looking at how it has come into being. The opposite extreme also has a lot to answer for. I, for one, am sick of looking at guys on fitness and health magazine covers, in gay magazines, in modeling, in movies, in advertising and even in pornography whereby the now accepted norm is over-emphasised washboard abs, and over-developed musculature that has nothing to do with a healthy body image. The sudden move towards this portrayal of the male physique as “normal” is as frightening and concerning as the move towards obesity. We don’t seem to be able to find a happy, healthy middle road. Given that maintaining this type of body is both time and money consuming – does in fact involve almost daily doses of gym and supplements (and for some, steroids) – and is not sustainable in the long term, it is surprising that it is promoted as much as it is. Whatever happened to men wanting to look trim, fit and healthy? Why the move away from developing lean muscle mass? Why a move away from diet and exercise that is both low maintenance, and sustainable long term? I really have no answer to that, other than to hope it is just a current “trend”. It certainly makes no sense to me. At my own gym I regularly see guys hefting huge amounts of weights, grunting and groaning and banging their way through routines, with no different an end result than my routine of combined isometric/Swiss exercise ball/body weight exercises, a method that does take longer to show results, but is easier to maintain and add to over a long period of time. As to diet, in our household it has been low-sugar/low-fat/portion-controlled for so long now that it is now lifestyle.

So, back to my acquaintance. If he had listened to the warnings, if he had seriously thought about the consequences of his choices, the outcome may have been – positively – different. To date, I have seen no signs of his fan club encouraging him. Indeed, I have to wonder just how many of them will hang around, just how many will give him a “woof” if he were to suddenly become fit and healthy. It has become notable that if parents who are obese have children who are obese, it is seen as normal. Society as a whole really needs a good kick up the arse. We don’t need to spend as much as we do on fast-food; we don’t need to eat as much as we do – we don’t heed to fill our dinner plates; we have to stop making excuses like time-poor, time-consuming and too hard as far as healthy food choices and preparation goes; we need to stop seeing exercise as something hard; and we need to stop looking at each other and thinking “they are bigger than me, so I must be all right”. We need to think of the health implications of decisions we are making NOW! Do we want to be fat; have mobility problems; increased risk of diabetes; coronary heart disease; risk of stroke; circulation problems; high blood pressure; loss of flexibility; breathing problems; low bone density; joint problems and replacements due to just wearing the joints out from having to carry all the weight around; and a multitude of other problems all of which are preventable by some simple lifestyle changes. Given the choice of a fit and active old age, or a quick decline into bad health and misery I know what my choice is! There are 168 hours in a week. Surely it is not too hard to devote two or three of those hours every week to exercise.

The HIV community is also faced with problems of obesity. There is some research into the problem that indicates that for many long-term survivors the problem is a flow-on from the dismal days of the 80s and 90s, when emaciated bodies were a common site. To them, over-weight means healthy. It appears that the longer people are healthy, the more common it becomes to end up over-weight or obese. This trend signals a need for doctors to change their approach to caring for HIV positive people. It’s time to shift the focus to the prevention of heart disease, high blood pressure and weight gain.

HIV positive people who need to lose weight must follow general weight loss recommendations. You must eat a balanced meal that does not exceed your caloric needs, and you still need to exercise and avoid junk food. If you are overweight and HIV positive, where should you start?
The best place to start a weight loss plan is a food diary. Knowing what you are eating, how much you are eating, and when and where you are eating can help you adjust your diet and eating habits. Each time you eat, be it a snack or a full meal, write down what you have eaten, how much, and under what circumstances. For instance, if you eat a bowl of chili at a party, write down how much chili you have, what’s in the chili, and the circumstances surrounding your eating the chili. Was it your dinner? Were you hungry? Or was a bowl offered to you and you ate it so not to insult your host? Enter your meal into the diary as soon as you can after eating. It is difficult to keep accurate records if you wait too long after eating. Not to mention we often underestimate the amounts we eat after too much time has past.
Like anyone who is overweight, adjusting what and how much you eat is the first step to weight loss. An all-too-common problem is that we try fad diets and quick loss diets that may work in the short term but do nothing to keep the weight off. The key to an effective diet is one that teaches you healthy eating habits that will serve you a lifetime. By learning healthy eating habits, you will take the weight off and keep it off for the long term. The bottom line: Watch your calories, your fat intake, and your portion sizes to maintain a healthy weight. If you find your are eating for reasons other than hunger, talk with your doctor or a dietitian. They can help you lose the extra weight and keep it off — and in turn that will help you live a healthier live with HIV.*

I wish my acquaintance well, and I’m truly sorry that his lesson had to be learnt the hard way. Should I have thrown caution to the wind and spoken up? Truth be told, it wouldn’t have made an iota of difference. His fan club would have beaten me down, and the cries of “woof” would have drowned out the voice of reason. People only hear what they want to hear. Until these attitudes change, until these sub-cultures are given their proper place and are not seen as ‘normal’ nothing is going to change, and stupidly, more people will get seriously ill. Time for a rethink people, before it is too late.

*HIV dietary information from http://aids.about.com/od/nutrition/a/obesity.htm

Tim Alderman
(C) 2013

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The Tunnel

This was inspired by the long pedestrian tunnel linking Central station in Sydney to the UTS Campus and Sydney TAFE.

Green tiled umbilicus
Linking the silver rails
To the city streets.
Louder as I walk
The sound of digeridoo,
The sharp click of rhythm stick
I pass.
Overhead, the distant rumble of train passing on
To a destination unknown
Taking people to places unseen.
Sound of Koto and Japanese pipe
I pass
People rushing pass
Never taking time to listen
To the sounds that can transport them
To a world outside themselves.
Sound of singer never destined to be
I pass
Should I tell him?
Drop a coin in box and say
This is not to be.
Loud raucous music from guitar
I pass
Never stopping.
Never looking.
I pass.

Tim Alderman
(C) 2002

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Expurgation

A number of years ago, I spent some time as a monk in a contemplative monastery. I thought I may have had a vocation. It was a cleft in the rock of life to hide away while I found myself. Hidden away in that silent cloister I saw that I was just denying myself the life I needed to lead – as a gay man – and also saw abuses of power, subjugation of sexuality, and betrayal of trust! For someone who was already doubting belief in God – more so as the years rolled on – it was the straw that broke the camels back. By the time I came out, I was an Atheist. It is a position I do not regret!

Cloister arches, dark and cool
Within the breath of God.
Fire lost, extinguished, I search
For light, a leading way.
Sanctuary lamp sputters
Within the sacred choir
Haze of incense smoke from
Thurible
Now unmoving, chains tangled
Upon the altar top.

Monstrance
Held high in adoration,
Throne empty of Body of Christ.
Chant of monks
Mea culpa, mea culpa
Rustle of robes,
Clack of beads,
Clang of sanctuary bells,
Unfeeling, I’m lost to faith
No longer blinded,
No longer blind,
No longer.

Chalice of blood held high,
Bowed heads, mutter of prayer.
Break the bread, genuflect,
Strike your breast in fear
Of retribution while living,
While dead.
Choices to make,
Made
In an instant of time.
Desert the dorter,
Flee from the frater
Washed hands over lavatorium bowl,
Sprinkled water from asperges
Like raindrops upon
The sacred ground.
Behold
Tabernacle thrown open,
Its emptiness shines within,
Without.
Cowled head bent in silent prayer,
As a soul slips quietly by.

Meditation upon a valley rise,
Hail Mary, Hail Mary,
Rest in green pastures.
Thy kingdom come,
Not mine.
A world awaits,
A life,
A time.
Close a door,
Another door beyond awaits.
Cast aside robes,
Cast aside faith.
Believing,
Yet not,
Praying,
Yet not.
A sigh, a whisper,
An echo in the nave.
Lost to God, lost to man.
A wanderers journey begins.

Tim Alderman
Copyright ©2002

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The Promenade

This poem was entered in a competition back in my uni days. The Bondi History Society were after piems on Bondi beach to use in marketing. I received a note from them to say it had nearly won. Nearly!

Promenade walkers gaze to sea

Many only see the sand

Browned bodies worshipping
In the Heat
And waves washing ashore.
They do not see
The beauty of a sunrise
Over distant horizon
Or the grandeur of a sunset
Spreading its setting rays
Over the still, summer sea.
They know not the history
Of this place where indeed
Many of us call home
Of ancient rush-filled lagoons
Now covered by bustling roads
Of the rocks tossed by waves
On its northern side
Nor the story of the mermaids
Who on the rocks
Damaged by rain and tide
Reside still.
Indigenous carvings hidden on rocks
Now aged by time.
This is my Bondi
Not a home to aimless seekers
Nor those who care not why it is here.

Tim Alderman
Copyright ©2001

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The Edge

Fine line
Forever walked along
An Edge
Sharp as a razor
Dividing life in two.

The edge
Keen yet blunt
Hot yet cold
Light yet dark
We walk it everyday.

The edge
Life yet death
Balanced yet not
Smooth yet rough
It gives substance
And meaning to our existence.

The edge
Loud yet soft
Heavy yet light
Quick yet slow
We know not its deciding mind.

I have walked the edge
And know the fine line
Between death and life
Finely balanced,
Honed to jeweled brilliance.
One side darkness
The other side light.

Tim Alderman
(C) 2010

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The Monastery

Cool, crisp morning air
Wrapped in mists from the valley below
Flickering light of candles through stained window glass.
Soft clang of cloister bell
Raises a community to prayer
Before the sun rises to chase the mists away.
Soft rustle of heavy habits
Draping cowled figures in the gloom
As they kneel in contemplation
As the morning Office intones.
Clack of rosary beads
Tinkle of communion bell
Clouds of smoke from censer, soft click of brass chain
All bow before powers greater than themselves
Each lost in a world of meditation
Within this powerhouse of prayer
Another day at ‘Mourilyn’ begins.

A lone monk stands at the head of the valley
Watching the heat send the mists rolling away
Smell of pine, of fir, of eucalypt
Snowbells blooming through the grass.
He watches, hands clasped into sleeves beneath flowing scapular
And contemplates the unseen.
He is unsure
Is he here for himself
Or for others?
Is this silent community his home?
Or is he just hiding from himself
A truth always known?
It is time to be free
To flee from this security
He will find himself
Elsewhere
Without.

Tim Alderman
(C) 2010

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Ruins

Ruins
The bare bones of glories past
Of abbots and priors
Discalced footsteps in prayer
Scapulared monks clack rosary beads
Singing mea culpa to the sky
Desecrated altar bare
To the midday sun
Bleached now to eternal beauty
Clerestory windows open
To the winged flight of birds
Grand crossing floor now grass
Green softness under foot
Nave once holy
Now a foxes lair
Choir echoing pater nosters
From an era long gone
Monstrance blessing
Host raised no more
Yet
A rare embracing of exposed bones
Shivering in the cold
I raise my eyes to belfry
Where tolls no more a bell
I turn my back and walk away
Overawed by the graciousness
Of the ruin

Tim Alderman
(C) 2014

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To A Brother (3/8/1958 – 8/12/1965)

Our time together was brief
My Brother,
Our lives intertwined for a short time.
I want you to know that I miss you still
And wonder often why things had to be so.
I remember our romps with the dog
And our antics, stealing sweets from the corner store
Even though I always blamed you,
Isn’t that what brothers are for.
Nobody understood you except me
No one else seemed to care
They all thought you were slow
But I knew that the talent
To love and care was within you
And that you had no control over who you were.
I have never forgiven our father
For the outrageous, sudden death he thrust upon you
Have never forgiven the housekeeper who nagged him
Till his actions became uncontrollable.
I have never forgiven his family
For trying to pretend you never existed
That lying with our grandmother in her grave
Your memory should be obliterated for all time.
I wonder still and often
What fun it could be to have a younger brother
Someone to share my life with
Someone else who understood
Everything that went before.
Growing old together, and wondering
Just what you would have been like,
Are the things I miss about your passing.
But fear not, my little blond one
I write about you still
I remember.

Tim Alderman
(C) 2010

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https://timalderman.com/2012/04/23/kevin-pickhills-the-unspoken-name/