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.

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.

 

long, open road ahead

Dear Fellow Berners,

I get it.

You’re angry.  You are grasping at anything that might justify the possibility of our candidate winning the nomination from the Democratic Party.  You might be holding tightly onto steep math, or even onto some sort of chaos befalling Hillary Clinton and her campaign.  You are sourcing any and every article you can find that echoes how you’re feeling and posting it all over any social medium you can find.  You and your like-minded people are raging against the machine that you swear up and down has been rigged against us from the start (and maybe it has – my jury is still out on that front).  You’re expending so many keystrokes to cut down, to insult, and to scream at anyone you might know who is expressing any sort of support for HRC.

My real question to you is this:  Are there better ways you could be expending your energy and passion rather than all that rage?

Believe me, I’m not going to belittle that rage.  Living on the edge, or even over the edge, for so damn long has left me feeling jaded, angry, and lost too.  Credit card balances way too high, one check away from being swamped, dreading that rent increase notice, all the while attempting to pay down an education that I was promised would bring me economic stability and a rung up on that damned ladder (and I’m a white guy – I can’t even begin to speak for anyone of color or of another gender identity)…I get it, as far as I can.

I have had the opportunity to live abroad, and have experienced a world where a National Healthcare System existed, under Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.  I got to experience life where the election process involved so many parties, so many different voices, all racing to be first past the pole in order to win, which was both raucous and definitely a challenge to wrangle, but also allowed for so many different voices and options in terms of governance and legislating.  I know we can do better here in America than we already do, especially in terms of governance.  Nearly daily, we all read articles of the things that the new government to the north, under Justin Trudeau, is undertaking, and find ourselves lamenting that we should have something similar here.  Governments all over the world provide healthcare as a human right, provide economic safety nets that really do help to buffer against all of the economic instability out there, and treat their citizens with dignity and a sense of human decency without explicitly needing to call out to all of the various protected classes that we still have to both write into protection laws, and have yet to write into protection laws.  For them, a human is a human in whatever form/shape/color that person exists.  To most of us, HRC represents all that keeps us from having that kind of forward-thinking government to support our lives in a variety of ways.

That, however, is the place where I think we as Bernie supporters need to start pivoting.  If we want to drive our country forward, to join the ranks of other countries that are light-years ahead of us in terms of social stability and human dignity, then we need to coalesce into something beyond the Bernie campaign.  For months, he called for a political revolution, for actual action that demands more than just rants and cross-posts on Facebook.  We need to hit streets, write letters, show up, actually shout using our real voices.  We need to find the way to enact the actual revolution and make ourselves a voting bloc that demands to be heard and considered.

Much like the right has its Tea Party, we can be that demanding of our political representation.  If a member of Congress isn’t pushing hard enough to the left, or is compromising on what we value as those who agreed to Bernie’s campaign platform, and all of its various planks, then we should be able to threaten those representatives with being primaried out of office.  I think, truly, we can do something like this, something powerful that will require the DNC to pay attention.  I think we can do it without the ugliness that the Tea Party has wrapped itself in, though, and provide a voice of reason and liberalness that includes all of us who demand something greater than what we’ve got.  I do think, though, that in order to to that place, we need to do a much better job of organizing, of showing up at *every damn election,* and challenging our politicians at every level, from local school boards and city councils to state and county boards and houses of government, and on up to the federal level.  For years, we’ve been labeled as grassroots, but maybe, just maybe, it’s time for our roots to get a little bigger, a little more resilient, and start reaching a bit higher than just grass-height.

If we can put our collective lighting in a jar, I think we really can make a wave of change that would benefit the entire country and bring us truly into the 21st century.

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.

 

18 Months

I woke up this morning with the anxiety-laden realization that, as of May 1, I am exactly eighteen months away from turning forty years old.

Sure, I’m anxious about this, which is a mix of social training and pressures from external forces, but in reality, I’m also anxious about it on the inside.  My body is not that of a twenty-year-old anymore, and hasn’t been for exactly that amount of time.  I have been rather abusive towards the flesh I’m in, bouncing up and down in weight and size repeatedly over those years.  I’ve flung myself from calm repose to panicked insanity more times than I can count, and through all of that, my body has taken on the scars – externally and internally.

This morning, as the weight of all of this pressed down on my flabby, fatty, man-boob chest, I decided to face it down with a walk.  I needed to clear the air, clear my mind, and just get out there and press the pavement for a bit.  Walking, as always, seems to have helped me clean out the cobwebs and set me up for some productive thoughts, increasing with each stride and milepost I passed.

I am going to set up a personal fitness challenge for each month.  For the month of May, to mark the start of my eighteen months of crunch time, I’ve set a goal to walk at least 100 miles.  Walk, run, skip, hike, or whatever movement with my feet underneath me – but a 100 miles by May 31.  I did some quick math, and that works out to twenty-five miles a week, and if today’s walk is any indication of the speed and time that will require, I can do a five-mile walk in just over an hour.  I now, as of today, have a loop that is measured out for me, and that I can do, and add in variables such as taking different side-streets, adding in a stop for coffee or the bathroom, or even run at parts.  What I need to do now, though, is commit to doing this five times a week.  My days off, Monday through Thursday, will allow for this to be a morning ritual.  What I do need to do, though, is pick a day during my work period – Friday, Saturday, or Sunday, to complete one more loop.

I can do this.  I can fight back the urge to just collapse at the end of a day and say goodbye to the world in it’s entirety.

Alongside this walking goal, I’m going to pay closer attention to what and how much I eat.  Right now, even though I’ve had spurts of “healthy clean eating,” basically, it all breaks down at least once or twice a week and I reach for the pizza, peanut butter, or beer/liquor.  While I could promise myself that I’m going to not do those things, the reality is I’m not going to give them up.  I enjoy them too much.  What I can do, though, is mitigate them and their caloric grandiosity by countering those richer days with leaner days.

What I don’t need to do, though, is make this whole experiment stressful.  The other night, while Ray and I were having a “reset conversation” about the state of things in our relationship, he called me out on my obsession with my weight and size.  It bugs him that do it.  It bugs him to hear me go on and on about how fat I am or how weak I’ve become.  The fact is, he loves me in all of my various states and shapes.  He is supportive of me and my efforts without castigating me when I slip and fall.  He’s the first person to offer a glass of wine after a long, awful day, and while I know it’s not the most healthy way to deal with that kind of stress, I will not deny the deliciousness that is a fine red wine.

I can do this.  I can find a balance.  I can make the next eighteen months count.  I can make them as enjoyable as I dare.  I can’t wait to see where this takes me.

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.

Spring Renewal

Spring is definitely in the air out here in Portland, Oregon, and as is usual, this time of year has spurned a lot of changes and transformations outside and inside.  While I’m still trying to keep up with everything in my own head, I thought it would be a good idea to write some of it down.

I’ve had most of the month of February off, but not intentionally.

On February 1, I decided to lace up and go out for a run.  I’d been feeling a bit panicked, a bit anxious about the fact that the scale hadn’t shifted for me in a while, even while my measurements were going in the right direction otherwise – muscle growth, reduced waistline happening (slowly – but happening).  The sun was bright and the air was cool and damp.  It was a perfect day for a jog.  I set off with a basic idea of where I wanted to go, but because I wasn’t 100% sure I’d make a loop or just a straight line to a distant point and need the bus or light rail home, I stuck my bus pass in my pocket alongside my phone.

I stretched for a bit, and then took intentional time warming up with a little bit of brisk walking.  I wanted to activate all of the things needed inside.  My feet felt good, and as my breathing went up, I could feel that drive to move faster building, as it always does.  Soon I was doing a slow lope, kind of a fat-man-running movement that lives just above a walk, but not a full on jog, and about two or three steps beneath a full-out dash.  I am, after all, just getting back into the saddle of putting pavement under my feet again, and I don’t want to hurt myself.

I made a right turn, and proceeded up a street I hadn’t gone running on before.  I love taking side streets that I’ve not been on because it keeps my interest piqued – and keeps me from focusing too much on the pace of my breath or my body’s natural tendency to want to stop.  Up the street, there was a piece of sidewalk that was closed off to foot traffic – a very, very common occurrence here with all of the new construction and rebuilding that our housing market is fueling.  So, like I good pedestrian, I crossed the street, ran up the half of a block or so past the construction, and then went back to my side of the road.  As I hopped back up onto the curb and sidewalk, I also pivoted left.  In that moment, in that act of taking a step and then attempting to turn on the ball of my foot – something we all do unconsciously when we walk – a huge pop sounded off in my knee, followed by a flush of raw agony that spread down to my foot and up my thigh.  Immediately, I stopped, almost falling over.  “Shit!” was my first word.

I could bear a little weight on it, but something was really, really wrong.  I started to panic and called Ray, but I knew he was busy picking up our roommate from the airport.  I remembered my bus pass, thankful that I’d stuck that little jewel in my pocket, and set off towards the nearest bus stop.  About a half-hour later, I was home, on the couch, leg elevated along with my heartbeat and anxiety level, so damn mad at myself.

That started off the medical journey that culminated in yesterday’s arthroscopic surgery to remove a piece of torn cartilage in my knee – a corner of the medial meniscus – three weeks after the injury occurred.

In the down-time between the injury and the surgery, I’ve been plagued with frustration, a heightened sense of anxiety, shame, and rage all surrounding the way my body looks and how I still feel like such a blob in my own skin.  I had more than one moment with Ray, crying, admitting how mad I was at myself for pushing myself too hard because I’m so angry at getting so out of shape since he’s come into my life.  I’m mad at getting old.  I’m mad at my wrinkles, baldness, and waistline.  He, being the angel that he is, has more than once reminded me that he’s not with me just because of my looks, and while he still finds me exceedingly handsome, he knows that beneath this messy outside, I am a decent man within.  Him telling me this directly, and holding me close, really has done a number to soothe my nerves.

His support has also led me to using my downtime pretty effectively with regards to my writing.  I have been able to work my way through a redraft of about four chapters of my memoir.  This time around, it’s really up-close-and-personal, first-person, blow-by-blow.  My writing groupies have praised this massive turn around in my words, and I’ve even sent off a couple of query letters to possible agents regarding their interest in my story.  I haven’t felt this confident about any of my writing in a long time.  The words now are coming from an authentic, unhidden place.  I roar onto the page in very detailed and intimate flashbacks coming straight from my point of view.  The act of putting the reader right there, in that moment of time, has such power, and is *exactly* what I wanted to produce for a story.

Now that the surgery on my knee is over and I’m feeling like I can get back on both feet again, things will resume their normal course of events.  At least for a little while.

Ray and I have been also discussing the shifts in his life, especially with regards to his future job plans, and what that means in terms of our living situation.  Later this year, in July, he’s going to be taking his Level 1 Master Sommelier exam up in Victoria, BC.  It’s the kind of test and certification that will bump up his resume, especially as he also starts to transition away from table-side serving of food and wine as he currently does, and moves into tasting room/vineyard work out in wine country.  The Oregon wine industry is growing in leaps and bounds these days, and will continue to do so as the climate shifts and wine production done in central and southern California has to divest of cooler-climate grapes – grapes that will do extraordinarily well up here.  Ray wants in on it, as it is a huge passion of his.  He’s also working to incorporate his skills in design, with an eye to work on label and marketing material for vineyards throughout the Willamette region and around the Pacific Northwest.

All of this, for us as a couple, translates into moments of transition, possibly out of Portland, Oregon.  We both have dreamed about having our little spot somewhere, where we could raise a garden, chickens, and have a dog or two.  Right now, in the current state of Portland proper, those kinds of things are way out of our reach.  The average home price here is up in the $300k range, and rentals on single-bedroom spots (most without any outdoor access or pet options) is over $1500 for anything comfortable.   Given our love for the outdoors and access to the stars and trails and mountains and ocean, we are keeping our eyes out for spaces that would accommodate us both better without being too much of a burden on our wallets.  This year will see us both focusing on getting our credit card debts down, getting our finances in further order, and figuring out our next move forward, as a couple.

The fact that I have him in my life, to share in his exploration of self, watching as he comes into his adult form, is amazing.  I saw great potential in him when we first met, but now, two years in, it’s clear that we’re sliding into a far greater, stronger place as a couple.  His friends have started ribbing him about marriage, and it’s adorable to see him squirm about it a little.  I’m not driving that conversation at all, and have told him it’s all in his court – I’ve been there and done that and I know that if we do get married, it’s going to be unlike anything either of us has ever experience.  He’s making grown-up decisions about his career, and is deliberately seeking a balance between making the money to pay the bills and having a life that brings him joy daily, where he doesn’t always feel like he’s just feeding into a machine, but taking an active role in growing and shaping in cooperation with a team of like-minded people.

So, yeah.  2016 has started with a lot of shake-down, a lot of shifting away from the old and transitioning into the new.  While I loathe that I’m older and can’t beat up on my body like I always have, I know that this month to reflect and change gears has done me a lot of good.  Ray has also had to shake off some of his own doubts and fears and is making some earnest moves towards the life he envisions for himself.  The daffodils are blooming.  The crabapple trees are too.  Spring’s renewal is a welcome thing this time around.