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

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.

 

 

work self

Passing

Now that Trump is our president, now that his supporters have had their victory, there has been, and continues to be a persistence of fear among those I know and love, those who saw his victory as more than just a change of face in the Oval Office.  This fear, this deep-seated anxiety that has ravaged my collective family for a nearly a week now, comes from somewhere else, somewhere none of us were prepared to have to revisit.

When Trump spoke, it wasn’t his words that we were all paying attention to.  It was the voices of his supporters.  His rallies consisted of people who felt empowered and emblazoned by the rhetoric of their candidate, especially when he spoke of disadvantaged communities.  Communities of color, of people with disabilities, of women, of the people who identified other than “normal” on the gender/sexual identity spectrum, all of them (us) were used as fodder to amp up the crowds.  This act of sifting us out, of separating us from “real” people was used time and time again across every space that Trump spoke, as means of suggesting that too much attention has been given to these marginalized people at the expense of those who stood before him in the crowd.  We were his cannon fodder.  His supporters finally saw a man who would say the words about these communities that they had perhaps kept to themselves, at least publicly.  Trump gave them the answer to the question “What about me and my needs?” in a way that no other candidate could or did. He gave them a scapegoat for their rage and feelings of fear and inequity.  Through his own rhetoric from the campaign stump, Trump pointed at the collective left and shouted “There! There is the target for your rage!”

His followers, as we’ve now seen in the reports of assault, violence, graffiti, and the like against the people and communities he targeted in his campaign, are acting as they were directed.  They feel empowered to take their deep-seated fears, grounded predominantly in economic insecurity, and act upon them.

Yesterday, I was asked a question that surrounded the expression of my self.  A dear friend of mine, who lives in an area of the country that went for Trump in the election heavily, was wondering about my thoughts on being “out” versus simply “passing.”  She wanted to know my thoughts on this because, in all truth, I can and do pass as a straight man every day.  I put on my jeans and flannel and boots and can walk down any Main Street anywhere and hardly get noticed.  I don’t look or act flamboyant, or any express any other stereotypically gay behaviors.  I drive a bus, I have a belly, I have a beard full of grey hair.  I’m bald.  I wear simple glasses.  I fit in.  My friend has similar abilities, as she is fully capable of dressing and using makeup to express herself in public as just another white female, even though she too has multiple identities that make up the person she is, much as I do.  Her question was one of personal safety versus being seen as a member of those extended communities as an act of solidarity or support.

I suggested that, for now, she follow her guts and ensure her personal safety.

It really stung me to suggest that she keep her actual/other selves in hiding.

She mentioned that we no longer know the boundaries of where it is safe to express our full and other selves.  We don’t know where the lines are anymore.  Trump supporters are everywhere, even here in the epicenter of liberalness known as Portland, Oregon.  These people walk among me every day, and I interact with them on the job every time I open the door.  Or, at least, that’s how I’m approaching every interaction.  As a matter of personal safety, I see everyone who isn’t a person of color, who isn’t a woman, who isn’t visibly a member of any of the communities that Trump targeted and demonized in his rallies, as a potential threat.  Jaw-clenching, breath-holding threat.  It’s a coping skill as much as a life-saving reaction.  I honestly don’t know who I can trust anymore.  Those lines are gone.  Not even my geographical location is any form of protection any longer.  750,000 Oregonians voted for Trump.  Every one of those people could be a threat.  I simply do not know.

As I gazed at my reflection in the mirror this morning – a middle-aged man with too many bags under his eyes even after a decent night of sleep, with so much grey in his ever-bushy beard – I found myself looking at myself in a very different light.  Instead of an out-and-proud gay man, I saw myself, my passing-safe-self, as easily identified as a Trump supporter instead of a member of a community that is targeted and under assault by his actual supporters.  There is nothing about me and my presentation that would suggest that I’m anything more than a white man.  As this realization came over me in the glare of the bathroom light, suddenly, the memory of the passing glances I got yesterday while I was at work came back to me.  More than once, I got a shadow of fear, a pause, between my rider and me as they boarded the bus.  This is a typical thing, really, as they present me with their bus pass or fare and there’s a moment of validation or not that I must undertake.  That sort of interaction happens in my job.  Yesterday’s moments of pause, though, had a certain pregnancy to them that I couldn’t quite put my finger on, at least not until today.  As I sit there in my company-standard uniform, a white guy behind the wheel of the bus, there is no assurance that I am not a member of the groups who now, emblazoned by our next President, are out to hurt those who are not like them.

My “passing” is as much an act of personal safety as it is a wall between myself and those people in the communities that are now facing such dire consequences for simply existing.

There is no visible line to spot where civility and common decency to another human ends.  There no longer exists an agreed upon demarcation of what is acceptable behavior towards another human being, and what is not.  Trump’s election has blurred all of that.  Instead of looking at another person in the eye and assuming that they will not act out violently against me because that’s what we’ve collectively agreed upon as a basic standard of life, I find myself in a constant state of preparedness for battle.  As a white, passable, male, I recognize that if I’m feeling this way, that same feeling is exponentially greater for anyone else who is visibly part of a marginalized group.

What I am left to decipher, what I am left to navigate, is how to both keep myself safe and at the same time show members of marginalized communities that I am on their side.  Yesterday, an idea adopted from people in the UK who are undergoing a similar struggle as they reconcile the vote to leave the EU – and simultaneously now have to deal with a more vocal and outspoken anti-immigrant, racist, vitriolic presence of people in their society – was to wear a simple safety pin.  It is meant to show to the world that the person wearing it is an ally, a safe person to be near, and someone who will stand up for you, whoever and whatever you are, in a time of crisis or conflict.  I wore one on my uniform, and will continue to do so, but I don’t know if it’s enough.  It certainly doesn’t feel like it’s enough.

Not when I look at myself in the mirror and can’t tell from the man looking back at me if he’s a Trump supporter or not.

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.

 

A Lifting Fog

For months now, probably since my knee blew out in early February, I’ve been living in a state of pause.  I stopped going to the gym.  I stopped chasing health goals all around, and found myself looking at my list of things to do and achieve, and simply turning away from them.  Each one of these goals felt insurmountable, unattainable, and requiring way too much focus and effort than I could muster.  I don’t think I realized just how depressed and sanguine I’d become as I spent the month on the couch nursing my injury.

Summer has come, and I’m not any closer to reaching those goals – fitness, fiscal liberation, and the like – but something has snapped and broken inside me, for the better.

Earlier this week, I got news from a dear friend about a situation that has set him back on his heels in terms of his own life-trajectory.  He’s facing a steep challenge over the next few months, possibly years, and while he reached out to me for support, I felt myself reverting into Oldest Sibling mode, planning and scheming and laying out a framework for how to help him move forward.  I listened with intent to how he was feeling, and will continue to do so as he moves forward, but what this has done for me personally has been the gear-shift I’ve been needing.

I found myself able to sit down and go further with a chapter and section of my memoir that has been a huge challenge to face and come to terms with.  I found a pathway forward in my own health journey that, for the first time in a long time, felt deeply close to my heart and something that I could claim as my own, rather than buying into someone else’s system, and ending up poorer and just as out of shape as when I started.  I am seeing myself for what I am, right now, but I’m also once again visualizing where I want to be in a year’s time, when I turn 40, and what kinds of things I can do on a daily and consistent basis that will bring me to that place.  That lamp in the dark, the thing that I am making my way towards, became clear, as though a thick bank of fog finally lifted and blew away.

This has been a good week.

It’s good to be back in my skin again, rather than feeling like an object in orbit around this lump of flesh that seemed to exist without purpose.  I’m looking forward to see where this new-found drive takes me.  Right now, though, I’m going to pour myself another cup of coffee and enjoy a quiet Thursday morning.

It should be noted that through all of this, Ray has been a steady rock.  I’ve been able to lament to him about my stasis, and time after time, he reminded me that it’s okay to pause, to stop obsessing, to stop beating myself up for needing a break in all that I’ve got going on.  We took off on a camping trip to Walla Walla, Washington, and even then, while I was dealing with a cold and full of snot and ick, he remained constant and life-affirming, all while I was feeling so dejected for seemingly ruining our trip.  I am reminded daily just how lucky I am to have him in my life.

 

February Was

Last month was a slog.  I didn’t really post much here, or anywhere, that was of any consequence.  For the most part, I was sequestered to sitting down, to remaining still, as my knee was dealt with in due time.  The stir-craze was real, and my thoughts were racing.  As you all know, I tend to deal with my feelings and thoughts through movement, and since that was impeded by my aging and breakable body, it was really hard to get a focus on what I was supposed to be doing.

I did, however, get to spend a great deal of time writing.  Specifically, I got to bust through a few more chapters on this sixth rewrite of my memoir.  My writing group, a fantastic bunch of gals here in Portland, have been super helpful in getting my motivation back to where it should be, and through their cheerleading, I feel like this book has taken on a new and renewed life.  It’s cutting deeper than I’ve ever been brave enough to let it, and I’m getting down the words that I’ve struggled to write for almost two decades.  It’s been good.  I can’t wait to share more about that here, to be honest.

Since the surgery – a mere two weeks ago – I’ve been absolutely astounded by the recovery that has occurred.  Honestly, I thought I’d be lamed up for quite some time, but not two days after the cuts and bandages, I was up and walking around without the use of my crutches or any of the mega-strong pain pills that the doctor prescribed me.  In the past two weeks, I’ve managed to go on some decent walks, get back to the gym (THANK ALL THAT IS HOLY FOR THAT MIRACLE), and actually go out on a short hike with Ray to a part of Oregon we’ve never visited before.  I was still able to take the jeep out for drives while my knee wasn’t up to par, so I was able to get out, technically, but to feel the movement of the ground beneath my feet, the crunch of gravel, or the contours of terra firma beneath the pads of my feet meant the world to me.

I remember back to a strange and lovely poetry/literature class I took in my undergrad, where the professor took us outdoors and had us just walk around in a mindful manner.  Feeling and experience each step on the soft grass of the land surrounding the old brick English department meant slowing down, taking one’s time, and tracing the energy threads and movement of the ground beneath our feet and up through our legs.  It was a lesson in slowing down and noticing details, and for me, that’s what hiking and walking and any other movement of my body has become.  To have that faculty back, to be able to walk again and feel every step, has meant a return to some sort of balance for me.  I’m not feeling broken or trapped, lost or misplaced.  My anxiety about all things has subsided a bit, and the fresh air has been so damn good for me, especially on the rare spring days up here where the sun shines.

February was also a good month for Ray and I to sit and talk about what we actually want to be doing over the next few years.  For his part, he’s decided to make some real steps towards life beyond serving tables.  For my part, I’ve realized that my skills and resume need a brush-up.  I’ve taken a few steps towards getting back into the classroom as a student, and as of just a few days ago, my FAFSA was approved and I’m looking at taking classes at my local community college, with an eye towards learning Computer Information Systems, possibly a degree in Computer Science.  Being adept on the computer, and not just as a user of the technology, has always been a curiosity of mine, and I’d like to see what I can do with that going forward.  Having done a little research online for the kind of pay and positions that exist – especially in the rural areas where we might end up living – I’ve learned that I can make it a thing.  I can make a decent salary while taking onboard the rural life that Ray and I want for ourselves.  What that means, though, is I need to build a bridge from here to there, and that means more education.  It means shaking up my brain a bit, and challenging myself.

First up will be a revisit to math.  I squeaked by in my college math course, but it’s been two decades since I’ve actively sat and did mathematics as homework or to study for an exam.  Beyond that, my first semester would be exploratory.  I kind of know what I want to study, but I don’t know if I’ve got the aptitude to really dive into it the way I should.  I don’t really know where to begin, so I’m hoping that, with an academic advisor’s guidance along with a network of friends who are already in the field I’m considering, that I can figure it out.

Now that March is here, I’m ready for adventure.  I went to the gym last night and was happy to experience a pain-free workout, even with a teeny-tiny bit of running on the treadmill.  My weight and size remain an issue for me, but now that I can get back at the program I was on (and seeing some real results), I plan to stick to it and see where it takes me.  We’re taking off to Seattle, WA next week for a little mini-vacation, and plans are already in play for major summer travels.  Victoria Island, BC is one destination.  I still need to make my way back east, back to see my family.  I do have a week-long vacation coming up around the end of May, and I still only work three days a week, so there are almost limitless possibilities.  Ray is as adventurous as ever, and now that he’s finally looking forward in his own life, the conversations between us while we are out and about have become quite deep and meaningful.  It’s as if our relationship has grown up too, and that, to me, is really exciting and energizing.  I can’t wait to see where we go over the next year or so.