Forty

And just like that, I turned 40.  Just like that, as gentle as the moment a leaf decides to drop from the tree that’s been holding onto it since the bud break of spring, I advanced another year in my life, to a new cycle around the sun, and to a new decade of my time on this planet.

The moments leading up to this fat number, one with a trailing zero, have been fraught with worry and concern about meeting goals I had set for myself.  Let me rephrase that – arbitrary goals that I’d set for myself based on external expectations I’d gotten for what “being 40” really meant.  Turns out, most of those benchmarks, those tic boxes, were horse shit.  It also turns out that, in fact, I hadn’t really considered all that turning forty might even mean.

Ray also has had a recent birthday, on September 24th, which I have to keep writing down in order to emblazon it into my memory.  It’s a strange block of thought that I can’t keep that number set in my mind, but I think, maybe, I’ve finally nailed it.  Maybe.  No promises.  In any regard, I took him on an adventure a couple of weekends ago that celebrated our birthdays at once.  It was a massive five-day excursion into the east, where we ended up at the Gorge Amphitheater to see Above & Beyond, a DJ group that we both thoroughly enjoy.  It also included a couple of overnights in spots along the way, including a wonderful AirBnB rental at a ranch on a mountain in Ellensburg, Washington – a town we’ve both grown fond of for it’s location and geography.  On the road east, we also stopped to enjoy a bit of wine tasting, and took plenty of photos along the way.  The jeep was definitely up to the task, thankfully, as I’ve had the clutch replaced along with a fresh oil change and differential service done on it.  We were able to enjoy taking the top down for most of the journey, and Ray really got to relax in the passenger seat – something he desperately needed after weeks of being on the run between his new job at the vineyard and the wine bar job and home.  The poor guy was way overdue for some time off, and it was my utter pleasure to bring that to him.

It was there, at that show, after a few glasses of wine, and taking in yet another gorgeous sunset among the other show-goers, that I had a bit of an epiphany.  It’s a bit crude, but truly apt:  Fuck it.

I mean it.  Fuck it.

I have spent most of my life worried about the thoughts and concerns of others, either as the sift out their own lives, or make judgements about the way I live mine.  I have let these pressures from the outside effect how I feel about myself on the inside.  I have allowed myself to push my body to extremes in order to fit in with the “it” people.  I’ve used self-loathing to direct my decisions and posture and presence among any and everyone I come into contact with.  I’ve kept my life compartmentalized in such a way as to limit exposure and vulnerability.  I have also always kept the concerns and worries and judgments of others in the foreground as I struggle to draft the story of my life, as though my single and solitary thoughts on any experience shared with any of them was something invalid or less-than.

There are so many moments where my own fear of rejection, especially when my acceptance has been built upon a fragile definition of self –  one that has invoked chameleon-like powers in order to hide and blend – has gotten in the way of me being authentic, and thus unable to make a deeper connection to another.  I regret these moments.  I regret the ease of shape-shifting for others.  I regret how easy it is to cast off these connections now, as they were never built on anything lasting.  Add in the frivolity of social media and the loose definition of “Friendship” these days, and, well, I’m left with a few key connections but only just.  I know hundreds of people, but I can still count on one hand those who I would consider close.  I regret that.

 

Now, though, as I have sauntered over the threshold of a new decade, I have embraced a new mantra.  Rather than change and become something else, instead, I find myself looking in the mirror and saying, “Fuck it.”

Fuck it.  Fuck what they think.  Fuck what they said.  Fuck what those horrible voices in my head keep chiding me for.  Fuck them for dismissing me, for not bothering, for disrespecting me. Fuck it.  I have better things, brighter things, more enriching paths to wander and explore.  I have given my heart to a man who, continuously, exposes me to the true nature of love and vulnerability and emotional connection.  I have my vehicle, something obnoxious and totally unnecessary, but which carries me out and away from the urbanity that strives to stifle and choke me.  Now, I also have a dog.

Fuck it.  I own a dog.

Rather, we own a dog.  His name is Steinbeck, though he doesn’t really know it yet.  He’s a massive Labrador-mix (we think possibly Dane or Mastiff), with an exceptionally patient soul.  He is a bit stubborn, excitable around small furry critters (including our cat, of course), but generally tries to do a good job.  He takes to his crate with little fuss, and only whines a little when we leave him alone.  He’s really thin, coming in at 70 pounds but with ribs and hips popping out all over the place.  He’s got a bit of a cough we are watching, as well, but that I think he’ll pull through without much concern.  He’s goofy and constantly giving me that “don’t leave me” look as a shelter dog learns to do.  As a second-chance rescue from Oklahoma, he’s been in shelters for a while, and then in a plane, and then under the knife for a vasectomy, and now adopted and re-homed all over the last month.  The fact he’s not more neurotic by all of this is a testament to his angelic nature.  I’m gushing over my dog, and while I want to care, I don’t.  He’s my first dog since I was a kid, and right now, he’s totally stolen my heart. So, I’ll gush a bit more.

Raymond, though all of this transition with me, has proven even more just how wonderful of a man he is.  He is overwhelmed by the dog, to be honest, because, well, he’s overwhelmed by a lot right now.  He’s not sure he can sufficiently take care of another beast, even though he’s not alone in the care of the critters.  We left the house last night, off to visit with a former coworker of his, and all day long, he was fretting about Steinbeck and his crate and would he whine and worry while we were gone.  Would he just howl and bark and be obnoxious to our neighbors?  Would he hurt himself?  Well, we did a little test, kind of unexpectedly.  Ray was in the bedroom laying down with the cat, and I decided to take off and get more dog food and stuff for Steinbeck to have while we were out of the house at work.  It wasn’t a big deal, the dog was resting in his crate peacefully, door closed.  Well, apparently, as soon as I left, he barked.

“Tell me when he settles down and don’t go check on him,” I texted to Ray.  We needed to see how he’d behave.  It was a good test run.

“Ok,” Ray replied, though I knew it was killing him to hear this huge dog whining away just one room away.

Five minutes later, I get the text I was hoping for: “He’s quieted down already.”

The dog, a total stranger in a total stranger’s home, in a crate he’s never been in before, wasn’t carrying on like you’d expect a dog to do.  He’d bonded with me only because I’d fed and walked him a few times – and hugged him for probably his first time in a long time.  His worry about my departure was expected.  His recovery time from my departure was not.  Just that fact, that he was able to calm himself down and settle in while we were “not home” gave us both a huge sigh of relief.  Still, it’s a damned miracle.

___

I have a lot more bridges to cross over during this next decade of my life.  I am still on a fitness streak, but it’s not for anyone but myself.  I’m still dealing with some addictions I need to shake off.  I still have my debts to pay and money to worry about.  I’m still hoping to make progress in my job so that I can provide and even more stable living situation for Ray and our little menagerie of animals.  I’m still hoping to keep learning and growing and settling down more roots here in Oregon.  I’m still working on my commitment to Raymond and helping him achieve the goals he’s set for himself as well.  There’s a lot to accomplish.

Fuck it, though.  I ain’t scared.  I’m excited to see where it all goes!

Settling Into

We are slowly – *very slowly* – turning our little apartment into a home.  The initial rush of getting all of the things from the old place to here has happened, and along the way, we’ve also been dealing with getting our cat, Bailey, up to snuff with her medical needs.  Cats aren’t cheap – no pets are – but because of that, most of the setup has had to slow to a crawl.  We are still on the hunt for a decent bookshelf system, and Ray’s not totally sold on the living room the way it is now, but it’s coming.  Slowly.  Settling into a new pattern takes time, right?

Ray’s also started making the transition he’s been dreaming of.  He’s taken a post over at a winery not too far from Portland, working a couple of days in their tasting room.  He’s also brought with him a lot of marketing and design experience (which you can check out here) which the owners of the winery have already taken notice of and want to put to use.  It’s a blending of his love for wine and design that’s coming to fruition, and I am so damn proud of him.

What this has all meant, though, is that we are now devoting far more energy to our future, rather than remaining focused on the present.  We began this journey together staying very-much-present in our interactions with each other.  It was tough, for me, especially since I’m really quick to want to settle into a long-term arrangement, being the nester that I am, so for years, Ray was always gently pushing back whenever I’d make noises about what our future together might look like.  Nowadays, though, we’re having lots of talks about what the next six months, the next few years, might look like.

For his part, Ray is happy with us.  I check in with him now and again, making sure that our ship is still on a course that suits him.  He reassures me that things are fine, even though I know he’s also missing our more care-free times, when we could just chuck our stuff into the car and take off on a whim.  While it’s not worrisome that those moments are really few and far between, all of this is a total flashback to my previous relationships, especially my marriage – the one that failed – and I’m having to check and double-check that I’m not retreading on ground I already know.  I also, and this is key, need to remember that Ray is not my ex-husband, and to be judged or critiqued based on my own prior experiences in a relationship.  You’d think after three and a half years, I’d finally stop making comparisons between what has happened in my past and what is happening now, but for some damn reason, I cannot.  I always catch myself doing this, knowing full-well that it’s unfair to both Ray and myself.  I need to do better.

_

I don’t know what the future holds for him and I.  I don’t know where we’ll be in a year, five years, a decade.  I guess this doesn’t frighten me too much, because for now, I’m still holding his hand.  While we might not be making any majestic waves or taking off on any stellar adventures these days, we are still making our home, still building our family, still settling into a life of our own.  For this, I am thankful.  These small moments will keep me present and accounted for in the here and now, while everything else seems to be pointed at the future.

A New Home

Oy, it’s been a really long time since I had a minute to sit down and write a post here!  There’s a valid reason for this:  moving.

A little under a month ago, Ray and I signed a lease on a new space, our first space alone as a couple.  Since then, I’ve been here, at the new place, holding down the fort, while Ray and the former roommate undergo the process of disentangling their lives back at the old spot.  This has meant, mostly for Ray, but with me included when possible, a lot of back-and-forth from there to here, a lot of packing, decision-making, and general exhaustion between us both.  Nerves have remained steady for the most part, and all of it has been fueled by way too much coffee.

Still, Ray has been making thoughtful and determined decisions about what he wants to bring here, and what he wants to shed from his life, and it’s been a fascinating observation to make.  Though our current living room is full of boxes and projects to be completed, I’ve been learning to put more trust in his decisions about how to lay out our new home, and for the most part, he’s been really, really good at including me in these choices.  Unlike partners in the past, I have a say in the matter here, and rather than defaulting to my standard “whatever you want, dear” line, I’m taking an active role in the process.  It’s been empowering, to say the least.

We’ve also, somehow, adopted a cat.

I know, I know – I’ve said time and time again just how much of a dog person I am, but for now, while our schedules are as they are, having a dog just wouldn’t be fair to the dog, and the cat that has come into our lives is, well, pretty damned easy.  She’s a six-year-old tabby named Bailey and she’s pretty awesome.  Most of her day is spent lounging on the back of the couch, or on the bed, but on occasion, she’s been known to wind herself up and chase whatever suits her fancy around the place.  Her head-butts are epic, and she’s super-cuddly when it comes time for bed.  She’s also really adaptable to the changes we’re making here as the move-in process continues.

I’ve also been away from the keyboard here because I’m also finishing off two classes at Portland Community College.  I signed up for these two classes with the weird idea that working forty-seven hours a week at my job would still afford me time to have a life and get my schoolwork done.  HAHAHAHAH!!!  It’s been a struggle, to say the least, and so I’m really, really looking forward to getting all of my work done and moving into my summer.  Next fall, if all goes right, I’ll be enrolled in classes at Oregon State University, but only taking one course a semester, which, hopefully, I can manage to fit into my life.  I do like taking the classes I’m taking, and I am learning a TON about programming and such.  We’ve been playing around with C++ and Python this semester, and I’m finally beginning to wrap my head around the idea of object-oriented programing, and what that really means.  Since I started a few semesters ago, things have become weirdly repetitive with each iteration of classes I take.  Programming languages have built off each other time and time again, so noticing the overlaps and such has made things much more smooth as time has progressed.  Eventually, I’ll be able to list out a few programming languages that I have experience with, and can start to really dive deep into software development and bug-finding, which is where I think I want to take all of this gained knowledge.  For now, the roll continues, and I just need to lurch through the next couple of weeks as my courses wrap up.  I can do this.  More coffee!!

I’m really, really enjoying the feeling of having my name on a lease, of having a set of keys that are mine, and a new home of my own that I get to share with the man I love.  Once the dust settles, and we are into a rhythm here, I have a feeling things are going to get much better between Ray and myself.  Not that they’re bad now – not at all.  I just know that his mind and time is completely filled with the move and transitions and all of that, all while the summer season is ramping up at his job, along with the many other plates he needs to keep spinning.

Anyway, enough from me for now.  I need to get back to my homework and polish off this cup of coffee.  Thanks for dropping in and checking in on me today!

XX

Thom

Commitment

The past few weeks have been, well, transitional.  It all started with me going full time at the bus driving gig.  No, actually, it started after I got my first paycheck from having gone full-time at the bus driving gig.  Money, of course, can be the motivation for a great deal of change.

For weeks, we’d been really struggling with the current living situation, especially with having a roommate.  Just little things, like housework, like the sounds of someone else in a space that we have to share, like the expanse of our lives coming up against the walls of our current reality, all started to pile up.  One little thing after another, really.  We’d constantly talked about the kind of life we wanted to have – and the kind of home we’d like to build together – but our finances had always stymied us, not to mention the insanity that is the housing market here in Portland.  We wanted a change, but really saw no way forward in the immediate future.

Then, of course, the money started coming in.

Then, of course, my mind started to ramp up in it’s imaginations.

I have had it in my head that I want to buy a piece of land, preferably with a farmhouse on it.  I wanted a little spot of my very own that I could do with as I please.  I wanted to be a steward to the life upon that soil, and create a space that was a tiny microcosm of what could happen if a person didn’t see the dirt and creatures living on it as only a means for income.  Yeah, pipe dreams like that happen when you’re as much of a dirty hippie as I can be, really.  So, I started looking.  I hit up the land-for-sale websites, scoured the real estate pages, and even found myself daydreaming about a couple of choice spots that might suit me, might suit us.  Before I could make a move though, I needed to see where I stood at the bank.

Well, everything was fine and dandy at the bank, that is, until the question of my student loans was broached.  Turns out, of course, that my investment in my education – all $157,000 of it – was a detriment to my ability to afford a home.  And, of course, this wouldn’t have been a factor had I been seeking to purchase something before the crash of 2008.  Back then, it was assumed that I’d managed my student loans through the proper channels, placing my housing costs at the top of the pile of bills, which is the only way I’ve ever dealt with my student loans, to be honest, but because so many people got into homes and neglected to also consider how to manage their student loan debt in the process, it all came tumbling down and left the banks on the hook for mortgages that had gone belly-up.  So, in the end, student loan debt is now a factor in qualifying for a home loan, and because of my debt load, and the income I’m making, I’m not qualified.  Not yet, at least.

Still, Ray and I wanted a new spot, so gears shifted, and wheels turned even more.

I started looking at the rentals in our town, and had to take about a week or so to deal with the sticker shock.  $1500/month for something akin to a run-down box was not unheard of.  Or, that kind of money came with a ton of caveats.  I knew Ray and I were really interested in finding a pet, so finding a space that allowed for pets was on the top of the list.  If we can’t have land and a small farm, the least we could get was a dog and/or cat, right?  Page after page after page of listings that offered such things as “easy access to public transport” but no actual parking for our vehicles, or “cats only/no dogs,” or “You’re asking me to pay $2000/mo for what???” kept being my experience.  It was frustrating, to put it mildly.

Also, it should be noted, that I really struggled with the idea of accepting that any space we were going to get was at a price that displaced someone else.  Especially knowing that that same space five years ago was much more affordable.

Still, I kept looking, and eventually, I found something that was doable.

$1245/mo, one bedroom, established community (not a new construction), a good deal of room in the unit, and very pet friendly.  It was also only about a mile away from where we currently live, so not much change with regards to commute time or access to the stores and places we’ve become accustomed to.

Ray and I went and looked at the place, and that day, made the move.  We put down a small deposit to hold the space, and just like that, we’ve begun the process of moving into our own apartment.  Just like that, our relationship has taken a leap forward, and now, as I’m typing this, I’m about a week out from getting the keys and starting the actual process of resettling.

___

I’m not going to lie – I’m nervous as hell about all of this.  I’m still wrapping my head around the fact that I can actually afford a space like this, at this cost.  Memories of carrying the rent on a spot that Nathaniel and I rented in Boston back in 2009 ($1100/mo, in the North End), have been flooding back, and the level of anxiety surrounding that much commitment is a reality.  Still, as I constantly check my budget worksheet, all the numbers say, yes, in fact, I can do this.  I can afford the rent, to feed myself, and keep all of my other bills paid up in full, and still stash money away.  I’ve never trusted math (or my ability to do it), but there it is, in black and white, to remind me.

Ray and I have started the process of furniture shopping, getting a feeling for what each other likes and doesn’t like with regards to design.  Some things we agree on, a lot we don’t, so we’ll have to find compromise.  The fact is, Ray already owns a one-bedroom-apartment’s about of stuff, so I won’t be starting from absolute zero.  Still, I want to have a little say-so in what kinds of things we have in our home.  Like the bed.  Like the sofa.  Like the bookshelves.  We’re figuring it out.

We’ve also started the process of finding a pet, and it seems everywhere we look, there’s some gorgeous and lovely creature who would fit really well into our home.  It may be a while yet, as we get settled into our new space and figure out new patterns and rhythms, before we adopt a four-legged friend, but crossing that bridge is also happening.  It’s a lot to take in, really, and I need to keep pinching myself about it, especially given where I was in my life not very long ago at all.

I still remember the feeling of being trapped in an awful back room of a house I didn’t belong in anymore, jobless, penniless, and starving.  I *know* I’m not there anymore, but the idea of all of this newness crashing down around me is still present.  It’ll take time, patience, and trust, but I can get used to this.  I know I can.

In a week’s time, I’ll have a new home, in my name.  I’ll be providing space for us, and not having to rely on Raymond for a roof over my head.  I’ll also be able to give him the fiscal room to get his career moving forward and make the changes necessary to facilitate his own growth and development.  He’s not used to having someone be generous to him like this, and I fully understand and appreciate that about him.  I’m trying to do things that aren’t overt so that he still feels like he’s both contributing equitably to our life, but also doesn’t have to carry the anxiety that comes with monetary commitments.  He’s been held back in his life because of his fiscal obligations, and I want to ease that burden for him in any way I can.  At last, with this new move, I feel like I can start to do that.

Stay tuned for plenty of photos as we make this mighty leap!

I Need

The world seems to be on fire, or drowning, or both.  The recent election, the slew of horror-story memes, contradictions, opposite-land cabinet picks, and the direction that my country is going to be heading over at least the next four years, have all carved away at my eternal optimism to a point where I don’t know how to be anymore.  This lack of hope, lack of light, and lack of focus has me grasping at any and everything that might be construed as positive, but time and time again, those things that bring me moments of joy are elusive and slip through my fingers.  So, I’m back to this space, this darkness.

I took off to the snow and evergreens a little while ago, and for a moment, I found respite.

Tomorrow, I want to go back, back up there, back to where the snow crunches, the air is perfumed with fir and spruce, and the sounds around me are muffled by the blanket of winter that covers every surface that faces the sky.

I need a retreat from this world.

Survival Skills

Since November 9, 2016:

  • I’ve been to the gym.   I know this sound like a trivial detail, but having not gone persistently for months on end, the requirement to have a strong body, coupled with the clarity and surge of energy and endorphins that the gym provides, is now more necessary than ever.
  • I keep writing.  I keep putting down words of frustration, of sadness, of confusion onto pages and papers as an attempt to make sense of it all.
  • I keep going to work.  Not only do I need to just pay my bills, but I also need the distraction.  Sitting here, quietly, staring at whatever is in front of me, only leads to more jaw-clenching and rage.  The act of getting out on the road, and driving around Portland, Oregon allows me to interact with others, even on the most basic of levels, and reminds me that I’m not alone.
  • I keep reminding Ray that I love him, more than ever.  We’ve drawn quite close over the past few weeks since November 9th, and I feel more connected to him than I ever have.  We both have had to face down some real truths about where we came from, and what has been holding us back.  Now, in this current political upheaval, we have each other, and not a whole lot more.
  • I keep looking for things to do, meetings to attend, groups to join, so that I don’t just sit here and idle my way through this mess.

There’s a direct and sincere feeling of having to come to terms with the life I have been leading.  I have actively bought into the New Liberalism that has marked the last few decades here in America.  I have sought the refuge of ever-more liberal cities in order to find a space to exist with limited fears, even when the act of doing so cost the connections I once had to my very-blue-collar past.  I have bought into the idea of higher education as a means to overcoming social injustices.  I have fed into the very machine that voters from places I’ve always been afraid of (middle America, “fly-over,” redneck, etc) have denounced and ridiculed, and now claim victory over.  I gave over my rural identity and politics the day I decided to come out of the closet, it seems. I allowed myself to succumb to the audacity and optimism of living in and among a class of liberal urbanites who never expressed any connection to the world beyond their cities (other than to liken trips to the rural spaces as something akin to safari, or a trip to the zoo), all under the banner of being able to safely exist as my true self.  I’m not sure about these choices anymore.

Today, I’m finding myself questioning this move, and why I didn’t have the strength to be who I am while retaining my rural roots and connections.  What kind of impact could I have made if I had simply gone back home after college?  Is this regret?  Is this me internalizing a lot of doubts I now am holding about the country I live in?  I’m not certain.  I do know this, though – I moved away at the time because of fear.  I chose not to live among those who held deep-seated hatred and bigotry against me, who I was and am, and those like me.  For many like me, I’m pretty certain this is a similar refrain.

I’m also now, more than I have ever been, questioning the words and language used by those of us who live in these urban/liberal-elite spaces.  How have we glossed over, or even promulgated, the challenges of race and racism, along with bigotry and xenophobia, by not actively engaging in the methods and actions needed to come to terms with these problems?  Simply put, I don’t know what to trust any longer, internally or externally.  I need to figure this out.