One More Month

Well, it’s coming.That big-ass birthday I’ve been moaning about for the last five years. As of October 1, 2017, I will be a 40-year-old man.

It seem really, really appropriate to do a post in this section of my website, Fit by Forty, because so many of the things I’ve set out to accomplish by the age of two score have changed, adapted, and been altered from where I started out.

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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!

Over Eggs and Bacon

It is a *perfect* day here.  After a stormy evening last night, the air is fresh, the grass is damp, and after the morning mist burned off, the sun is shining in a brilliant sky of blue overhead.  I started my day with some affections with Ray, and after he took off for work, I set to prepping my bedroom for my mom’s visit.  She’ll be taking my bed, and I’m going to set up shop in the basement guest room.  After a bit of cleaning, dusting, and vacuuming, my room feels like a pristine respite from the world.  I decided, while I started another load of laundry, to take myself out for a plate of eggs and bacon and fruit at the Country Cat Cafe, a local hot spot in my neighborhood.

As I was finishing my breakfast and sipping the remainder of my coffee, two women sat down at the bar with me.  After a few pleasantries, we got into a discussion.  One of the women is a social studies teacher for a local middle school.  The conversation led into teaching and such, and I revealed to them that I had aspired to be a high school English teacher not too long ago.  I still have all of the credentials, and could still step foot in a classroom today and teach a lesson.  As we talked, though, it dawned on me, in a way, that perhaps I am happier doing the work I’m doing now than I would be in a classroom.

As a teacher, when I was in England, it was two years (my first two years of teaching) that was spent fully immersed in my job.  I spent upwards of eighty hours a week in work mode.  Grading, planning, prepping, parent meetings, IEPs, teacher workshops, student well-being – all of these things consumed my life.  Then, it was a source of joy, for the most part, but I was young to the profession, and younger as a person.  I was thrilled to have a career, even though I didn’t have much of a life.

Today, while I still am capable of teaching, I am not.  I’m driving a bus for the local public transit company.  I work around thirty hours a week, and after a few months of scrimping by, I’m now making enough money to support myself and my life.  Because of the nature of my job, when I park that bus at the end of my day, I get to simply leave it all there and walk away.  I don’t take any of it home.  The most work I do outside of my actual job that still pertains to my job is make sure my schedule is posted on a shared calendar between Ray and I so that he and I can scheme and plan what we’re going to do outside of our work hours.  In this job, I have a life.  I have a balance in my life that I didn’t have in my early teaching years.  Sure, if I’d stuck with it, not only would I be years into my career, but I’d also have the rhythms and patterns down.  I’d have a reference library full of lesson plans and modifications to meet the needs of my students.  I would have a stockpile of things to fall back on, and would probably, just at this point, start having a life outside of work.

It hit me, over eggs and bacon and fruit and coffee, that maybe I’m contented with what I do to sustain my life.  Sure, it’s not glamorous, but it is a job.  It pays enough to keep me happy (and my creditors happy).  I don’t have the things that other near-forty-year-olds have (house, car, plenty saved for retirement), but I do have a smile on my face.  I had no idea that I’d be driving a bus at this point in my life, but then I didn’t know that being contented might take the shape that it has in my life.

Homesick

I haven’t had a home in a very long time.

In fact, since coming out of the closet, home has been primarily a transportable entity (a variety of cars, trains, buses, and airplanes) that know the thousands of miles between where I grew up and where I am today. In the past fifteen years, I have moved well over a dozen times, either out of need to refresh a situation with my partner, seeking a second (or third, or fourth) chance at reinventing myself, or to simply escape the things in my past I was not able to cope with.

I moved a lot with Nathaniel. Whenever we were getting stir-crazed, or simply couldn’t stand the space we were in, we moved. We were both very capable of attempting a restart of our relationship as it related to location. A new place meant a new attempt at bridging the gaps between us, or so we thought. Each year, signing the lease renewal was a chore. Each year, he would come up with a list of things that he was unhappy with about our home. In order to please him, I simply let him decide whether or not we were going to move again or not. It was easier on me, but not without a cost. Not without a lot of personal loss.

In fact, each time we moved, a piece of me was left behind. Those tiny translucent roots that had just begun to sprout, had just begun to sink into the ground beneath me, were suddenly and abruptly torn up and destroyed, repeatedly. Over and over and over. Each time, scar tissue formed. Each time we had to pack and repack and filter and squabble over what was to be kept and what was to be scrapped, another scab formed over a tear in me. The process of letting go, and falling into a place for a while, felt so disturbingly foreign to me. I was terrified of doing it, terrified of becoming stuck, of becoming stagnant. I didn’t know how to live in a place. I didn’t know how to become entwined in the fabric of a location. All I knew is motion.

The end result of this constant flux meant that I lost the centered, grounded idea of home that I had, though paradoxically, I constantly felt homesick. I’ve had to relearn how to create this space in my own life. I’ve always been told, been forced, to throw things away, to live as a man who can steal away in his car at a moment’s notice. For over fifteen years, this has been my life. Though I think I’ve found a place of permanence, things I have been dragging around with me remain in the battered boxes I put them in years ago. I don’t own any bookshelves. I don’t buy things I can’t quickly pack and chuck in the back of a battered old car or high-mileage U-Haul.

What is ‘home’ for me? I think it starts with a safe space to leave my sword and shield at the door. It’s a space that contains the me who most people, if asked, don’t really know. Some do, and it’s the company of those people that also add to the feeling of being tied to a place, anchored.

Home has become a place where my identity is not called into judgement or question. This extends well beyond the fact I’m a gay man. It means I am also a person who has individualized and specific needs that a place, a geography, a nexus of social interactions need to meet. For me, it means I feel safe. I need to feel as though I can both wrap myself up in the cloak of “passing” in the straight world, but on occasion, have the space and place to shed that protective garment and let loose the man I am beneath it. I can express myself in any way that feels right and authentic in the moment. I can reflect myself in my fashion, the way I walk, the people I congregate with, and not worry about being judged, jumped, or harmed in any way.

What I have learned, as I’ve reached a destination where I can finally end the running, is that home is the place where I feel the courage to turn and comprehend those skeletons that I’ve been dragging around with me over the years. In my life, this means processing loss, grief, anger, and the darker parts that have never sat well with me. Home is that castle, where the walls are strong, and where I can finally take in that deep, long breath only to exhale and ground myself.

Home is more than a geographical location. It’s more than familiar skies, weather patterns, and well-trod paths along the riverbanks of my childhood. It’s where I feel the safest. It’s where I can put aside my armor and fully actualize the me that I have been, am being, and will become.

It is also a place that I am invested in. I can make the choice to remain detached, and disconnected, or I can really start taking part in the things that define the community I find myself among. I can claim it as mine. Making that leap, that promise, that commitment to a certain and specific set of geographical coordinates, however, can be daunting. For a person who has always had his roots ripped out at the slightest thought of settling, I’m still leery. I’m still afraid that I might engage more of myself in a place only to have it become a citadel of cold and isolation. Some towns I have lived in, especially when the nights are long and the air is frosty, have made me feel claustrophobic, or as if I was caught in a rift in time and space. Close-in, tight, drawn.

I have recently moved, and am at a place that I want to start my life over in. I want to settle here. I want to fit in, to make a home for myself. I want to belong here. Right now, I feel right in this place, but I dare not rely too heavy on the pin pressed into the map. Rather, it’s this place as felt from inside. Grounded, centered, balanced. This is a better understanding of home, for me.

Weekend Bliss

The first weekend of May is here, and though I wasn’t expecting this when I moved to Portland, the weather is AMAZING.  Like upper 70s/low 80s, and full sunshine.  I’ve spent all week inside, scraping and cleaning up a bathroom in our house, so to get outside and enjoy all this glorious weather has been really, really nice.  Also, I’ve made my first pair of jorts for the summer.  My official uniform is now intact.

I haven’t held a permanent job in just over a month now, and I have to say, it’s been strange.  Occasionally, I get anxious about money and how I’m going to pay my bills once I get to the bottom of my savings.  Thankfully, though, Caleb is there to remind me of what I do for work these days – I am going to be a landlord.  I’m in charge of running the house – the laundry, the housework, the remodeling of spaces as needed.

Since landing here, I’ve done some pretty thorough cleaning.  The house we live in is a 1900 home, with woodwork everywhere.  One of my first purchases was a jug of Murphy’s oil soap and a scrub brush, and it is with this that I’ve been progressively cleaning and attending to the rooms here.  It’s a big house, and I can see why Caleb might have been overwhelmed by it when he first moved in.  He thanks me all the time for the efforts I do put into this place, and it’s this appreciation that really kills any worry and anxiety I have over the state of affairs in my life.

I didn’t know it was going to be this simple and easy.  Sure, I’ve got more personal challenges to attend to.  I have a graduation to take part in.  I have a book that I’d like to see in print.  I have more and more words in my head that need to get on paper and out into the world somehow.  I want to do more of the thing that makes me happiest – writing.  I have a garden that is all mine.  I have a wonderful home that I share with a man I really do love and respect.  The weirdness inside me has settled out a bit.  I’m not waiting for the other shoe to drop.  I’m not living on a cliff-edge of worry and wonder.  Not on a consistent basis, at least.  That, for me, has meant the world.

I don’t miss the constant running around and go-go-go of my prior life.  I don’t miss not having a place to hang my heart.  I don’t miss the hours of scanning online profiles and dreaming of a life that seemed just out of reach.

I still need to find my way socially here, though.  I know Caleb is worried about me becoming a bit of a shut-in.  I do spent most of my time here, in these four walls, doing the things that are required of me.  I’ve told him I’ll go out and do more once the house is set up and I have an income.  Still, he thinks I need to get out and make friends and do things.  This is the first relationship I’ve ever had where that was even considered, really.  There is trust.  There is respect for the individual.  There is a balance that he and I have that I’ve never experienced before.  It’s very, very refreshing.  Again, it is something I never thought would be possible in my life.

It’s a beautiful Saturday, and I’m going to take a quick shower and get back outside.  I have a garden to weed, and maybe I’ll turn over some more soil to make a flower garden come to life.

In any case, I’m pretty damn content, and it feels pretty damn awesome.