slumber-kitty

Wintry Mix

It’s been a strange winter this year.  Warm temperatures in January had lulled me into a feeling like spring was going to come early up here in Portland, Oregon, but alas, I was duped.  The last two days have been full of ice and snow, and while it’s not going to last very long – daytime high temperatures are well above freezing – the mornings have been stunningly beautiful.  Clumps of fresh snow are captured in all of the branches, and little budding leaves, and line every thing that’s near-horizontal.  Not having to operate a bus in this weather has been lovely, and while I still have concern for the well-being of my coworkers, I’m taking great pleasure in being able to cozy up to this cup of coffee, a lazy puppy, and even lazier boyfriend, in our warm, dry home.  I’m very thankful.

It’s been a huge minute since I posted here.  I haven’t had much time to gather my thoughts, let alone put them down in any sort of fashion, because my work-life has been totally upended and changed.  I’m now a MAX Light Rail Vehicle Operator for TriMet.  I’m swinging the handle from stop to go on 200,000 pounds of steel and electricity, winding my way across the alignment that stretches from just about end-to-end of one county, and spills into two more.  Since the end of last year, this transition from operating a bus – something I’d been doing for the previous four years and getting better and better at doing – to something so vastly different and far more technical – has been an utter challenge.  I’ve had my share of panic attacks, anxiety, and worry, as well as a few moments of bliss and pure enjoyment, while at the handle of my rail vehicle.  I’ve gone home from work exhausted and frustrated, but also really happy with my decision to make this kind of move in my career.  It is a challenge that I accept and look forward to conquering, all the while learning and growing along the way.  I can and will be a good rail operator, someday.

Growth like this is good for the soul.  Sure, it might seem small and petty, highly-boring and certainly non-Instagramable, but for me, it’s precisely what I need to keep adding into my life.  Growth, change, questioning everything I’ve learned, over and over again, just to expand my thoughts and capabilities.  It’s a skill that I cherish, and one that I intend to build upon as I make my way through midlife.

_

Beyond that, things are going really well with Ray and me.  We’ve just celebrated four years of being together, of building a life together complete with our own cat and dog and warm, stable home.  We’ve both been taking on a lot of career challenges as of late, and it’s been rather amazing to have my boyfriend at my side to prop me up when I’ve been beaten down.  I’ve been trying to do the same for him, and more than once, he’s definitely expressed his appreciation for all that I do.  For me, this was the thing that had been missing in my past relationships.  Being appreciated, thanked, and acknowledged for giving a shit matters, even if it also makes me feel awkward and dismissive of the praise.  I thrive best when I matter, to myself and to others, and Raymond is really, really good at making sure I know I matter.

We are off to Mexico in a few weeks, finally taking a long-needed vacation away from both of our jobs.  I can’t wait to share a bunch of photos of us being goofy and sunburnt on the west Mexican coast.  We’ve never taken a trip abroad (apart from Canada) together, so this will be quite an adventure for us, and especially for me, given how little Spanish I know.  Thankfully, I’m not *that* American abroad, and can quietly respect when I don’t understand something or need to ask for help.  Humility and politeness are universal, and I intend on being as gracious as possible.  Where we are going is used to English-speaking tourists, so I’m happy about that, but I still look forward to the challenge.

_

I have a lot more I want to say, especially around the current politics of America, the mess we are in as a country, and more, but for now, as the snow clumps start to fall off the branches, as the grown warms up, as the birds sing, and as Steinbeck looks up from his slumber to inquire about getting breakfast, I think I’ll just keep to myself.   Morning time, peaceful and sweet, is something I need to treasure more and more.  It keeps me humble, thankful, and grounded.  I hope today brings good things to light, and casts out darkness in corners as needed.  Good morning, indeed.

full coffee mug

New Year’s Eve 2017

Scratch.

Scratch, scratch, scratch.

It’s 4:30am, December 31, 2017.  She’s hungry.

Scratch, scratch, scratch, scratch, scratch.

She’s also persistent.

That’s why I’m awake at this dark hour.  Our beloved Bailey-cat has set her little eyes upon mine, watching for any minute twitch or semblance of soon-to-be-awakeness.  When she does spot the difference between a deep sleep and the verging of being awake, she springs into action.  First, onto my chest, each paw pressing down as hard as feline-ly possible.  Then it’s the grinding of her face and head into my face and head.  Jump up and down off the bed.  A gentle mewl.  It’s breakfast time, damnit, and SHE MUST BE FED NOW.  So, she presses the door to the bedroom closed, and then uses it as an excuse to panic, to cry out, and start to scratch.  Incessantly.

It turns out, between the hours of 4:30 and 5:30 in the morning, the day before the start of another calendar year, is probably not the best time to dive head-long into a deep article about the state of things for Millennials and the overall American economy, especially before coffee.  While I can’t proclaim to be a Millennial, as I’m too old, nor can I call myself a GenX as I’m too young (someone coined the term Xennial and I just rolled my eyes and said “Sure, Jan” to it, but that’s kinda stuck), I can absolutely identify with the issues and struggles the article outlined (Article you say?  Oh, tell me more!). Succinctly put, and after shoveling some kitty kibble into the bowl for my Morning Menace, I feel like I’ve been gut punched.

How the hell did we end up with an economy and politics in such a state as it is today? How on earth was I ever okay with letting a full generation (and some, if you want to count early GenX) lay out this golden path toward a successful life for me, only to rip it away when it became suddenly inconvenient for them? I’m talking about the buy-in to mortgaging my brain on college, or on watching way too much HGTV that left me with a rabid-dog desire for a home, or even suddenly becoming a statistic directly reference in some article I read way before coffee – a well-trained, highly-educated soul who ‘settles’ for a bus driving gig because it’s steady pay with benefits.  I mean, when did I truly give up my life to the whims and needs of others and their scheming plans?

Honestly, I’m feeling like I’ve been played like a tattered old fiddle, and as I sit here, sipping the warmed-up remains of yesterday’s coffee (with a fresh pot brewing), I’m grinding my teeth.  I’m setting my jaw and resisting all of it.  I truly loathe fitting into someone’s demographic chart.  I hate being a subset, a factoid, a typical anything.  While it is comforting, in a twisted way, to know that I’m not the only one out there who’s caught at this massive generational crossroad, where, suddenly, the voice of my parents and grandparents is outnumbered by a younger, more vibrant, more diverse voice of a new crop of people who have the capability to be influential and policy-breaking/making, I still hate being lumped in with anything.  I want to choose and follow my own damn path, my own Road Not Taken, except, the longer I’m seeking that direction, the more I’m realizing most directions have already been trodden, most ways forward have already been discovered.  In short, I’m sitting here, frustrated, and highly decaffeinated.  At least I can fix one of these two situations immediately.

The other, however, will take some time.  Some resolution.

I guess this will be a New Year’s Resolution Post.  Ugh.  Another one.  One of a million-billion.

2017 hasn’t been all terrible, so it’s fairly easy for me to come up with some pretty decent things to reflect on.  I mean, Ray and I have our own space – our own overpriced piece of the Portland, Oregon pie – replete with shitty IKEA furniture and a total lack of decent space to house guests – but it is ours.  We are on the dotted line for it, and the rent is paid in full on time.

I’ve made a few thousand dollar dent in my car loan, and, as of now, haven’t missed a payment, so that’s a victory, in and of itself.  I’ve also definitely cashed in on the extended warranty I bought with the Jeep, having replaced a massively expensive electronic module and the entire transmission housing and clutch, which means, in theory, I should be good for a minute on that front.

I have, however, dug myself in deeper into stupid debt.  I was up on things until about September of last year, when I pulled out all the stops and took us on a massive adventure to see one of our favorite groups, Above & Beyond, at the Gorge Amphitheater.  While the debt remains, I will say this in my defense: How many times does a man turn forty years old?  And, while the trip was vastly overpriced in so many ways (like $2000 to spend the weekend in a “fancy” tent right on site, and only a few hundred feet from the actual amphitheater), it was utterly priceless to give my beloved a moment of time in a truly strenuous year where he could just exist and not think or worry about anything.  It was debt worth amassing, and I have no real regrets about that.

Still, the balances remain on my cards, and they need to not.  I know, for a fact, that I’m weighed down by this dumb debt.  In fact, another thing I really need to be grateful for is the fact that I am, actually, making more money than I ever have in my entire life.  My job – the one I’m highly over-qualified for and that, for years, was something I aspired to be better than – is actually quite stable and strong.  I’m a really good bus operator.  I get my job done, without much drama, and I can get home and provide for my family in ways I’ve only ever been able to dream about.  I need to dial back the stupid-debt, the money spent on credit cards that doesn’t need to be spent on a damned credit card for date nights, a quick lunch, a spur-of-the-moment ride into the mountains, and get myself back to a mostly cash-based life.  It would alleviate a lot of angst, most assuredly, and get me to a better fiscal spot for the actual life-goals I still have yet to achieve.

Last year, I was swatted away by a mortgage officer at my bank.  I was told, by a Baby Boomer no less, that I was too far into student loan debt to even think about affording a house on my own, let alone qualify for my own mortgage regardless of size.  In that moment, it was as if an entire generation had looked at me, judged me for following their explicit instructions, and when their scheme hadn’t worked out as directed, simply wiped their hands of the matter and showed me the door.  Maybe that’s hyperbolic in a way, but as I sat there, gripping the vinyl arms of the shitty bank chair, mad as hell, it absolutely felt like I’d been betrayed.  It set my jawline tight.  More resistance.  More rejection of the word ‘no.’  While I sat in the jeep with Ray after leaving the bank, weeping in rage, I knew that whatever that grey-haired man in the grey suit under the violent fluorescent lights had said, his was not the last word.  It couldn’t possibly be.  I’m defiant like that, if I must be honest.  I really, really can’t take no for an answer at first.  It takes me a while to let it sink in.

This upcoming year, I want to defy the odds on that front.  I want to secure a space for us to live, with Ray at my side.  I want to give our lovely dog Steinbeck his own back yard.  I want the cat to have space to chill the hell out, where she can claw at a door to her heart’s content without bothering the hell out of me at 4:30 in the damned morning.  So, that’s one resolution, I guess?  I don’t know if I can keep it, but I can keep at it.

Overall, though, I think 2018 will be the year I start to truly un-define myself.  I don’t want to be labeled or categorized at the whim of anyone else.  I want to give those who need to interact with me a reason to push deeper, to ask more questions, and to reframe their initial assumptions about me.  I don’t know exactly how that’s going to happen, or what shape it will take, but it’s my 40th trip around the sun and, goddess knows, I’m done with being mediocre.  I’m done with falling in between anything.  I don’t care what people think of me, truly, anymore, but I do care about how I see and present myself.  Freeing myself of stupid-debt, getting my house in order, and taking on the massive physical challenge of getting into some form of muscular shape will be the things I focus on primarily over the next twelve months or so.  I mean, my own personal new year started back in October, so I’ve had a couple of months to get up on this horse of mine, which I have on some fronts.  I’ve already got my budget lined up for the next year, I’ve signed onto a decent fitness program that I’d walked away from (more like limped – I had to quit it back when my knee gave out a couple of years ago) in the past, and I have my jaw set, defiantly.

2018 will be the year of Defiance, Resistance, Persistence, and Dis-categorization.

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!

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.

Continue reading

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