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.

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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.

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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.

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.

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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!

Eleven

Since Thanksgiving, I’ve managed to hit the gym eleven times.  That’s eleven more times than I went all summer long (apart from the one-off from time to time) and eleven more than I was expecting.  While I realize that I still have a long way to go with regards to my fitness, I have been finding myself gaining back lost strength since the last time I was hitting the weights regularly.  I feel my legs and arms swelling, growing muscles yet again.  It feels good.

I’ve also noticed that my body is definitely aging.  I’ve got a creaking right shoulder, stiff neck, and other parts of me that aren’t functioning as they once did.  I am definitely noticing the effects of my sit-down/stress-laden job of bus driving.  I have been reading over and over again just how bad my job is on a person’s body, with repetitive motion injury, stress, constant high levels of cortisol and the like.  The gym, much as it always has been, is a proving ground for all of these things, and also an antidote to it, I hope.  I hope it’s not too late for me to regain what I’d given up the moment my right knee gave out just under a year ago.  I hope I can continue with this streak of going-and-doing the exercise that my body definitely needs.

Movement, as it always has been for me, is a method to sorting out my thoughts.  I still don’t fully understand the chemistry or biology of it all, but I know that once I start putting my body into motion, suddenly, I can feel my thoughts stretching out into palatable lines of comprehension, rather than remaining a lint-ball of cross-purposes within me.  I can take one idea and follow it to a logical and reasonable conclusion.  I can ask myself the questions and do the reasoning that fully thinking something through requires, all while walking a fifteen-minute-mile on the treadmill, or bench pressing a few sets.  I think it’s this dual purpose of exercise – not only to gain strength and stamina, but to also help process my thoughts with an added level of clarity – that keeps me going back.  Sure, I’d like to once again be the skinny pretty man that I have been from time to time, but that might need to just be a by-product of it all, rather than the sole purpose.

It’s nice to be back there, back at the gym, back staring at the weight racks and noticing the fellas around me with the massive chests and multi-faceted arms and legs.  It’s nice to feel my own personal power growing again, to allow myself the surge of endorphins that comes from a set well done.  I’ve already got my eye set on the conditions outside so that I might make a return to running.  I do need to purchase a couple of new pairs of sneakers – one for the gym, one for running outside – so hopefully I can find some good deals once the holidays are over.  I want to get myself some new gym clothes too.  It feels good to have something to focus on that I have complete control over, all while the political world that I find myself now inhabiting seems to be burning down around me.  The gym is a respite from all of that, and I’m realizing that fact more and more these days.

 

 

Summer Progress Report

As of this writing, I’m officially down twenty-four pounds since June 21st, 2016.

That’s almost half-way to 200, from the 250 I was at.  It’s been two months.  That’s twelve pounds a month.  If I can keep this up, I will be around my goal weight of 175 pounds, which is where I was when I met Ray, by the end of the year.

I’m really having a moment about this today, and really needed to get it out of me.

I still am not ready to share what I’ve been doing, mostly because I had a bit of a revelatory moment back in June about how I’ve been approaching health and weight loss.  For me, it seems, the more I announce things online, the more I share my gains and goals and plans with those who know me online, the more apt I am to falter and fall off the wagon.  This time around, though, instead of posting about it (though I’ve come *really* close at times), I’m just sharing photos of myself.  I think, in time, the weight loss will become more evident, and if asked about it, I might share my secret.  It’s really no secret – it’s just a better system of eating that works for me – but because I’ve imbued it with a little magic – a little bit of my inner pagan self who finds power in concoctions and potions and recipes – I can’t talk about it.  Doing so will dissipate the magic.  It’s a little like Fight Club in that the first rule is that you don’t talk about Fight Club.  So goes this new journey I’m on.

In any case, I feel a ton better.  I’m feeling way more alive, more energized, and more in tune with the animal-creature-being that I am.  I’m figuring out what cravings actually are, what hunger actually feels like, and how best to respond to these needs.  It’s really a re-learning of the things that have always been inside me – the biofeedback loops we are all born with – that have been muffled by years of eating incorrectly and responding to cravings in a way that is detrimental to the rest of my health.

I’m anxious to start exercise again, especially since I haven’t done much since I had surgery on my knee last February.  I really put myself in a hole after that, afraid of pushing myself, afraid of hurting myself more, and psychologically, it took a massive toll on me.  I found myself justifying the pizza, the beer, the constant naps and lethargy to just compensate for how awful I was feeling about being broken and not being the young and elastic man I once was.  Right now, I can feel those emotions sliding back, dissipating, leaving my body, and what’s replaced it is a new-found confidence.

I still have quite a few milestones to arrive at.  I still have things I’m not quite doing right, but overall, I have to say I’m really, really enjoying this little journey of mine.  Who knows.  I might actually be Fit by Forty.

Summer’s Last Stand

It’s been a really interesting summer.  I went into it, with a very open work schedule, expecting to be able to get out and do a lot more than we have this year.  My knee injury earlier this year, coupled with Ray’s ongoing shoulder problem, has kept us a little closer to home than I had anticipated.  We haven’t gone camping as much as we did last summer, it seems, nor have we taken as many long-distant journeys around the Pacfic Northwest.  That all said, it’s not like it’s been a bad summer at all.  It’s been a lot more transformative than I expected.

We did get up to Canada, and celebrated Ray’s success at passing his Level 1 Sommelier exam.  This act underlines his abilities to suggest and serve wine, and demonstrates on his resume and at future job interviews, that his knowledge is real and verified.  It’s been a huge bump to his feeling of justification and personal security, and I’ve really seen a lot of worry and tension and depression start to wane in my boyfriend.  Because of this, we’ve started actively exploring our next step, looking at employment options, housing options, and having longer discussions about what happens after living here in Portland.  To that end, for myself, I’ve taken the steps to re-enroll in classes at the local community college in an attempt to learn new and different skills that can help me in my own job placement outside of Portland.  It’s caused me to reconsider getting back into the classroom, to start the process of obtaining a teaching license, and as of tomorrow, has me registering for introductory courses in Computer Science.  I’m starting to put more stock in the idea that Ray and I do, in fact, have a future that goes beyond the here and now, but I’m having these feelings and reacting to them in a way that isn’t going against Ray at all.  Instead, there’s a synergy, a parallel, between him and I that has really sparked a new level of connection between us both.

I’ve really enjoyed the summer of the Jeep, even though it’s been a bit bumpy as a car owner.  It has been broken into twice and has ended up back at the dealer twice now for repairs, but all in all, having that vehicle, my dream vehicle, with the top down and the tunes up, flying across the grasslands of central Oregon, or winding up through the mountains on either side of town, has brought me such joy and happiness.  I love the freedom, I love the ability to throw the top down and just feel the world around me, and I love what being able to afford this vehicle has done for my feelings toward myself.  Three years ago, I was an absolute fiscal mess.  I had no job.  I was stuck in a world that wasn’t of my design.  I had nothing and no one to really turn to, and was allowing someone else, outside forces, direct me.  Now, only a short while after, things have really changed for the better.

This summer has seen a real push with my writing, too.  Having joined the small writing group that I belong to has been a real blessing in my life.  Every other week, I now have a wonderful gaggle of people conversing with me about the book, about their own work, about the struggles we all face as we try to hone our craft.  It’s super supportive, super engaging, and really reminds me that there is more to me than my ability to drive a bus and do the laundry.  I’ve seen this sixth revision of a story I began back in 2011 really take some amazing shapes, and plumb a lot of depths that I was once too afraid to explore.  In doing so, I am constantly feeling the loosening grip of darkness and fear that has always plagued me from telling a story that was as authentic as possible.  This feeling of liberation has really expressed itself outward in my daily life, and I come back to the house, to my job, and to my boyfriend every other Wednesday night feeling renewed and resolved to go further and do better.

To that end, this summer has also been a lot about overcoming my insecurities with regards to my relationship and the faith I have in it.  Ray and I have come up against moments that have required trust and commitment, as well as honest (sometimes brutally so) conversations about fear and worry that we both have.  In being able to hold space for these kind of talks, though, and seeing the promises we’ve made to each other act out in real-time between us, has had the cumulative effect of really deepening the bond he and I share.  Every day, it seems, he’s reminding me just how unlike any other man I’ve ever been this close to he truly is.  I expect rebuke, I brace for antagonism, and a constant stream of doubt towards the choices and actions that I make for myself and the direction of my life.  Instead, I keep getting more support, more love, more optimism from Ray.  I had no idea that this is how a healthy relationship was supposed to work.  I’m still learning and man – it’s such a valuable lesson.

Summer might be coming to an end soon, but we’ve still got lots going on this year to look forward to.  I have school.  Ray’s doing more and building out his resume in ways that will really set the stage for us soon.  We’re also planning a joint adventure for our birthday that is shaping up to be a lot of fun and will bring us back to Denver, where I can reconnect with past friends and remind myself of where I’ve been.  There’s also the chance that one of his dear friends will be joining us for Thanksgiving this year, so I might have the opportunity to put on a full-on feast, which I adore doing.