On the Los Angeles Magazine story

As a quick glance will reveal, I haven’t updated my blog in many months. I am in the midst of what will be a very long break from public writing. The promise of an extended hiatus is one I made many times last summer, but invariably failed to keep. For some time now, however, I’ve been able to stay away from doing interviews, publishing articles and blogposts, and otherwise unhelpfully inserting myself into the conversation.

The April issue of Los Angeles Magazine includes a long article about my fall from grace. Written by Mona Gable, it’s based in part on interviews she did with me in late August of last year while I was staying with my mother in Carmel. These interviews were given during a time when I was in an emotional tailspin, fresh off a psychiatric hospitalization, and heavily medicated on a cluster of psychotropic drugs.

Though I stand by what I told Mona in our conversations, I deeply regret having spoken with her and the many other reporters to whom I compulsively repeated my story. One of the most unpleasant and unfortunate features of my breakdown was an irresistible urge to talk about myself and my pain to anyone who would listen. I wish I had heeded the counsel of those who urged me to stay silent and away from media. I am able to practice that restriction now, but was not able to do so last summer.

There is no way at this point for me to have a healthy public presence. Both my recovery and my amends to the many, many people whom I betrayed and hurt are contingent upon my staying out of the public eye for the foreseeable future. I am (briefly) breaking my silence now to make it clear that while this painful piece in L.A. Magazine is almost entirely accurate, I am so very sorry both for having done these interviews and for having behaved in such a dishonest and shoddy manner to so many people for so long.

The strange evolution of cowardice

And one more: my post today at Times of Israel looks at the misuse of a familiar word: Why do we call terrorists who are willing to die for their cause “cowards?” Excerpt:

Coward is the epithet of choice when referring to terrorists, even when it so regularly seems misapplied. American comedian Bill Maher was famously forced off the air after the September 11 attacks. His offense? Daring to suggest that calling the hijackers “cowards” made no sense, as a willingness to give up one’s life was an inoculation against the charge. Chastened by his example no one has dared point out the obvious problem in continuing to use the term for men who are prepared to die. Coward is such a necessary word that its use must not be questioned. But why?

It was Homer who introduced the idea that cowardice was the worst of all masculine failings. Heroism, he argued, was indistinguishable from physical bravery – and to be seen as lacking courage was the greatest disaster that could befall a man. “How can I face my fellow Trojans if I walk away from battle like a coward?” argues Hector to his wife, shortly before he meets his doom. Odysseus reminds himself that “Cowards flee the fight, but a hero in war stands stubbornly, whether he be smitten or whether he smite another.” It’s not that cowardice meant something different to Homer than it does to us – Odysseus’ remark could be uttered nearly verbatim by a contemporary MMA fighter. It’s that Homer believed cowardice, especially a cowardice that was seen by others, deserved elevation above every other failing.

Read it all here.

Beauty and Weakness: Reprinting a Relevant Magazine Piece

This piece first ran in Relevant Magazine in April 2012. Following the revelations about me, the site chose to take the post down. I am reposting it here for anyone who might still find value within it.

It’s spring again; time for some to talk baseball, others to talk graduation or prom or taxes. For some Christians, springtime is also the favorite time to lecture girls about keeping their hemlines long and their necklines high; it’s the season for the “modesty wars.”

If you’ve been around the Christian blogosphere long enough, or been in a youth group any time in, oh, the past 30 years, you know what I’m talking about. You’ve heard or read the usual catchphrases and snatches of proof texts: “don’t cause a brother to stumble;” “don’t let your vanity be a man’s undoing;” “faith matters more than fashion.” Don’t get me wrong; I think these discussions are important. How we dress – and more basically, how we carry our bodies out into community – matters. Yet these discussions (or lectures) often end up shaming rather than encouraging the young people who are their targets. That shame falls on both sexes, albeit in very different ways.

Our contemporary cultural dialogue about men emphasizes the decisive role that biology plays in driving behavior. Evolutionary psychologists, brain researchers, and TV doctors regularly produce studies “proving” that men are hardwired to be visually stimulated or to cheat on their wives. The emphasis is on men’s helplessness in the face of their own physiology, an emphasis that many women find disillusioning and many men find disheartening. Continue reading

A Wayward Son and Absent Father, at Home

Since July 30, I’ve been living with my mother in my hometown, Carmel. Through four hospitalizations and much emotional turmoil the past two months, I’ve called this house home once more. It is not easy.

One of my pledges for a return to writing was that I wouldn’t engage in exploitative memoir any longer. I wrote too many pieces about my exes that, while accurate as to fact, needlessly exploited private exchanges for page views. So in the spirit of contrition, I won’t write about the breakdown of my marriage to Eira. The root causes of what are now divorce proceedings are essentially public knowledge now.

On July 30, a counselor told Eira and me that we needed to separate as soon as possible as our marriage was over. Three hours later, I was on a flight to Monterey. I have not seen my soon-to-be ex-wife or my children since.

When that flight landed and the taxi came to a stop, I was home. My mother bought this house in 1974, when I was seven; I lived here until I was 18. And for the first time since I was 18, I’m living under my mom’s roof again, sleeping in the same bed I called my own as a boy.

Mom is 76, on the cusp of being genuinely elderly. She has her moments of great energy offset by those of lassitude. What doesn’t vary is her concern for me, a concern as comforting as it is oppressive. I’ve been the designated patient in my family since I was a teen; for nearly 30 years, my mother has worried about my mental health, my addictions, my penchant for self-destruction. Continue reading

Remembering the Rav: on the passing of Kabbalah’s Philip Berg

One of the things about psych meds is that there are brief windows when it is possible to work and write. My first piece since my breakdown began runs today at Times of Israel.

I’ve left the Kabbalah Centre, but wanted to pay tribute to the kindness of its longtime leader, Rav Berg. An excerpt:

I studied Kabbalah at the Centre’s Los Angeles flagship location for a decade. The Centre drew me, a patrilineal Jew with Anglican impulses, and it drew my wife, a cradle Catholic. We joined the Centre a year before the Rav had his stroke, and were privileged to hear him lecture. Our children were given their Hebrew names by Rav Berg, and my son received his brit milah on the lap of a then-frail but still lively spiritual master.

While some will remember Berg as a divisive charlatan and others will revere him as a saint on par with the Lubavitcher Rebbe, I will remember the kind and gentle man who stroked my son’s cheeks during his brit. I will remember the man who, when I asked him to bless my wife and me with a child, replied with a kiss and the words “I’ll be hearing your good news soon.”

The whole thing here.

Goodbye

I wrote nearly two weeks ago that I’d be taking a break from online writing. I intend to continue to do so. I want to be a bit more specific as to why.

For one, the toxicity of take-down culture is exhausting and dispiriting. The cheapest and easiest tweets and articles to compose are snarky and clever dismantlings of what someone else has worked hard to create. The defenders of this culture of fierceness call it intellectual honesty, but it is an honesty too often edged in cruelty. I’ll admit It: I’m a most imperfect man. I have an absolutely dreadful past, one for which I continue to make quiet amends. I’m also frequently a smug and sloppy writer. But despite that past and my glib prose, I don’t think I’m wrong that when it comes to a concerted effort to drive me off the internet, I’ve been more sinned against than sinning.

So I’m done. I surrender the field to the critics who wanted me gone from feminist spaces.

Secondly, my family and I have been through a very difficult time as late, the details of which are saved for close friends but which are linked to this internet business. Contrary to rumors, I have kept my sobriety but it has been a near run thing. My fragile mental health and my relationship with my wife and children must take first priority.

I’m not “flouncing.” I’m not mad. I’m sad and hurt by a culture in which what we can say online is policed by clever cynicism masquerading as progressive outrage. I’ve tried for ten years and I’ve had a little success and a lot of failure and made many wonderful friends. I wish you all well.

And perhaps, in a long time, in a different capacity, I’ll be back to a public life.

UPDATE: Perhaps ill-advisedly, I did an interview with Kat Stoeffel at New York Mag yesterday. She captured my words almost verbatim, and as self-absorbed and tone-deaf as they may come across in spots, it’s an accurate interview with which I can have no complaints. The unflattering portrayal is my doing, not Kat’s.

As a personal update and partial explanation, I am out of the hospital after a psychiatric hold and I’m on a cluster of drugs that affect my mood, my judgment, and my capacity to engage. While I stand by the interview, those drugs (including heavy doses of Lithium, Klonopin and so forth) played a part in the poor way I framed things. Nonetheless, I take full responsibility for every word I said, save for the unkind remark about XoJane publisher Jane Pratt. I’d also like to clarify that the Good Men Project has changed substantially since Tom Matlack left, and has become a more feminist-friendly site than when I was forced out.

Through all this public career, I have carefully (or not so) concealed a serious mental illness that has once again come to the fore. If nothing else, I ask for prayers for my wife Eira, my daughter Heloise, and my son David. They are innocents in this story.

Also, this.

And I will be doing no more interviews. I’m gone.

Taking a break

For a host of reasons, it’s become necessary for me to take some time away from both social media and regular online writing. I’ll soon be leaving my most recent contributing gig at The Atlantic, and I’ll be off Facebook and Twitter and so forth.

I started blogging exactly ten years ago, and switched to writing columns at various sites three years ago. It’s time for an extended break.

The Declaration of Sentiments at 165

This coming Saturday, July 20, will mark the 165th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Sentiments at the 1848 Women’s Rights Convention in Seneca Falls, New York. Most historians choose to mark the beginning of the organized American feminist movement from this moment, which had its antecedents in the abolitionist and temperance struggles that had begun earlier in the nineteenth century. (Parenthetically, I’m feeling old: it seems like five minutes ago that I was talking to my summer school students about the 150th anniversary. Fifteen years have flown by.)

The Declaration is elegant, powerful, and beautiful. Modeled in part on the Declaration of Independence, the document sets forth a list of the various ways in which a male dominated society has deprived women of what is naturally theirs, just as Jefferson’s declaration contained a long list of grievances against the British Crown. And though many issues were on the table at the Seneca Falls convention, the document makes clear that three causes, above all others, were of paramount concern:

1. The Right to Vote
2. The Right to Own Property
3. The Right to Education.

None who signed the document in 1848 would live long enough to see all of these rights won, though we can say with some satisfaction that for the vast majority of American women today, what were once distant goals are now common-place reality. But I always point out to my students that the Declaration of Sentiments wasn’t just concerned with winning political rights for women. It was also a call to transform how women thought about themselves. The last of the grievances listed:

He has endeavored, in every way that he could to destroy her confidence in her own powers, to lessen her self-respect, and to make her willing to lead a dependent and abject life.

In other words, three hallmarks of patriarchal and misogynistic culture are a lack of self-confidence, an absence of self-respect, and an unwillingness on the part of women and girls to embrace independence from men. Read positively, our foremothers at Seneca Falls, eight score years ago, saw that real liberation was not merely about providing political, economic, and educational rights for women — though of course, those rights were indispensable. Real liberation had to be internal as well as external. And what the framers of the Declaration knew was that real freedom for women would and could only come when a culture had been created that was as psychologically empowering as it was politically egalitarian.

Winning rights has proven easier than changing cultural values. The popular culture, with its tyrannical insistence on female physical perfection, has undermined the confidence of (by now) several generations of young American women. The pressure to live up to impossibly high familial and societal expectations has robbed just as many of their self-respect. (An old post on “respect” is here). And 165 years after Seneca Falls, after three successive waves of feminism, we still find ourselves combatting cultural forces that promote the most noxious lie of all: that for women, more so than for men, the most profound happiness is always contingent upon a heterosexual relationship that has been blessed with children. We teach women, in countless ways, the lie that dependency is liberation, that true freedom lies in sublimating your own wants to that of another. We still teach far too many women that the pursuit of self-sufficiency is a recipe for loneliness and isolation, and that in order to have meaning and purpose for one’s life, one must be willing to surrender completely to love and its dictates.

Self-confidence, self-respect, and independence (emotional and economic) are vital feminist concerns. It was 165 years ago on Saturday that the framers of the Declaration of Sentiments first centered these three goals in the struggle for women’s freedom. And though the political goals of 21st century feminism have changed quite a bit from those of 1848, the essential struggle for women’s self-confidence, self-respect, and independence continues. The personal is indeed political, and even more importantly, politics needs to be concerned with the intensely personal. Public freedom is a good, but so too is private happiness. And feminism, at its glorious and transformative best, is concerned with winning both — for women, yes, but, ultimately for all of us.

On Saturday, raise a glass to the women (and their many male allies) who came together 165 years ago this weekend to launch a movement whose achievements have transformed our world for the better, and though the struggle may yet be long, whose final victory is assured.

Some notes on the Los Angeles Trayvon Martin Protests

Last night, I decided to participate in the Los Angeles marches for justice that followed Saturday’s “not guilty” verdict in the Trayvon Martin-George Zimmerman case.

I live-tweeted as best I could from two locations: first in South L.A., near the intersection of Coliseum and Crenshaw and then in Hollywood. (My twitter feed is here.)

Some of what I posted ended up being picked up by my former colleague at Jezebel, Laura Beck, in her updated story.

I uploaded some video I shot here.

In stories like this, individual names get lost. While marching, I also tried to do some amateur reporting and chatted with some of the folks I encountered. In South Los Angeles, I watched as the LAPD officer in charge at the scene, Captain Paul Snell, engaged, mollified, and listened to the crowd. While his cops watched warily, Captain Snell repeatedly let himself be surrounded, berated and challenged by angry marchers, showing himself willing to understand the anger and pain that the throng was expressing. Here’s his LAPD bio.

A similarly impressive role was played in Hollywood by Snell’s counterpart in that part of town, Captain Cory Palka. The march there had begun at Hollywood and Highland, traveled east to Argyle, and then south to Sunset and back west to Cahuenga. The rally terminated in front of CNN headquarters, and at one point, threatened to turn violent. LAPD on scene received backup from the California Highway Patrol, infamous for being much more quick to deploy heavy force than the police. Captain Palka defused the situation with an impressive speech, noting that he was “shocked and grieved” not only by what had happened to Trayvon Martin but by the verdict itself. Several members of the crowd expressed astonishment that Palka was willing to say publicly that the jury had been wrong; I can’t recall hearing a uniformed officer ever say something remotely similar. Thanks to his efforts, the Hollywood demonstration ended with only a handful of arrests and no violence.

It would be wrong to see the police as the only heroes, of course. I met a young organizer named Sharlia Gulley, a recent graduate of Cal State Los Angeles. She physically pulled back several angry young men from charging at the police; she was the one who stopped protestors from breaking windows at CNN. Gulley was Captain Palka’s liason, and extracted from him a promise for a community meeting that will be held this week. My phone battery had died by the time the march reached its climax on Cahuenga and Sunset, and I’m sorry I didn’t get a photo of Gulley and Palka as they negotiated a peaceful end, hands on each other’s shoulders, Angeleno to Angeleno.

I left the march filled with a sense of enduring sadness about the loss of Trayvon Martin and of so many young black men like him. I also left with a deep appreciation for the way in which the marchers expressed anger and grief without resorting to violence. I left grateful for the restraint and proactive engagement of the Los Angeles Police Department and two of its captains. I lived in Los Angeles during the Rodney King and Daryl Gates era; this is not that police department. I am very proud of this city.