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.

 

 

Summer Progress Report

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Summer’s Last Stand

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

An Open Letter to the United States Congress, President, and Vice-President

Dear Members of the Congress of the United States:

Yesterday, I woke up to a beautiful summer morning here in Portland, Oregon.  The sun was shining brightly, there was an anticipation of a gorgeous warmth in the air to cap off what had already been a really stellar weekend.  Though I was up early to go to work, I still felt the sense of optimism and positivity that I greet most of my days with.  It was going to be a good day.

Then, of course, I did what any modern American today does – I checked my phone.  I opened up Facebook, and before I could even swallow my first swig of coffee, I was gut-punched by the news coming out of Orlando, Florida.  Overnight, while I slept soundly and safely in the house I share with my long-term partner and boyfriend, twenty, no thirty, no fifty gay people, mostly men, and mostly younger than I am, were mowed down in a night club in an act of bloodthirsty homophobic hate.

Once again, I found myself clicking through news stories, reading status updates of shock, of grief, of dismay.  It was the same when the AME Church in Charleston was ravaged by hate.  The same when Umpqua Community College in my own state was the killing ground.  San Bernadino, Newtown, Aurora, Columbine…  On and on, and back it goes, back as far as I remember.  Blood and hate and violence when a person with an axe to grind gets their hands upon fully-legal-to-have assault weapons.

Today, after a day full of grief and sadness, where I attended vigils among my GLBT community, while I fought back the tears all day just to get through my day at work – a bus operator here in Portland, and not a space where I can safely be my out-and-proud self – and while my boyfriend and I exchanged words of sadness, rage, and grief, I’m now, once again, reading the headlines in the news.  Of course, like clockwork, it’s full of prayers and thoughts, “it’s not the gun’s fault,” and “it’s a mental health issue” arguments streaming across every news source and place that, just yesterday, mapped out the pain and agony of a ruthless and bloody scene in Orlando.

Today, I’m writing to you, not just as a citizen of Portland, Oregon, but as an active, political, vocal, proud American who has simply had enough with the bloodshed.  I’m tired of thoughts and prayers.  I’m tired of your inaction and inability to shoulder the burden of guilt that rests with you and your defiance with regards to enacting tough, bold gun reform laws.  I refuse to be quiet any longer, and I refuse to be placated with platitudes – “thoughts and prayers,” as you are so quick to call them.

I need you – we need you – to stop the shenanigans.  We, us – the American People – need you to do your job, step up to the plate, take responsibility for what you have not done, and move forward with sensible gun laws.  We need more than your words.  We demand your deeds.  Action.

Don’t you dare quote the Second Amendment to me either.  I know the “well regulated militia” part as well as the “right to bear arms shall not be infringed” part.

Change this law.  Change the direction of this country.

Or, face the real possibility that this issue will run you out of office.  It’s not just the Right with their Tea Party who can make real change happen.  Us over here on the left, out here grieving the loss of so many people, GLBT, People of Color, and the others that are not represented well among your halls of Congress, demand this of you.  We’ve had enough.

I’ve had enough.

Please.  Be a human and have some integrity.  Stop taking money and advice from the NRA and the rest of the gun lobby.  Notice the blood on your hands.

Your Fellow American,

Thomas W. Palmer

 

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.

On a Walk

Today was the first lovely spring day we’ve had in a very long time here in Portland, OR.  This winter busted lots of records with regards to rain and damp, and as you all know, I’m way too much of a princess to go out in the rain and get my move on.  That, coupled with the knee injury last month, has really, really set me back in terms of my fitness.  I was already on a downward slope from the place I was a few years ago, just before I met Ray, but as of today, I really have hit a point I am not proud of.  I’m as heavy as I was at my heaviest last year (circling around 240 pounds), and for me, that’s way, way, way too much.  My body feels just out of control, and even though I’ve been somewhat good about my diet, and somewhat good about exercise, clearly it’s not working the way it once did.

Today, after a nice chat with my pal Andy back in Denver, it sank in that I’ve arrived at my middle-age.  This means, in terms of weight and food and all the rest, that I will never have the same level of metabolism that I once did, even just a few years ago.  Decadence and indulgence now doesn’t mean just a few more reps at the gym, or even another mile of walking or movement.  Now, it means another tick up on the scale, needing a *lot* more effort to correct.

The other factor, though, that has come to light while I have been arriving at this little place in my life, is the comments that I get from those around me who have seen me change over the last two plus years.  Things like, “you look so much happier/healthier than you ever did before” are coming up in conversations across many of my friends, none of whom talk to each other.  I find this striking, considering that when I thought I was at my sexiest, I was also at my leanest and meanest I’d ever been.  What is the x-factor there that they’ve seen grow and develop even as my waist has expanded and my energy level is coasting at best?  What is that thing that they see when they look at me that I simply cannot see when I look in a mirror or catch my reflection in a passing storefront while I’m out walking?

I set off on a short jaunt this morning – about two and some miles – because it’s just so damn lovely outside and my vitamin D levels have been tanking for so long.  Out there, wandering through the neighborhood and taking in all of the glorious spring flowers and smells that come when the sun shines on land that’s been forever soaked by deep rains, I had a moment of epiphany.  Yes, another one.  YES, I know that these often come while I’m out moving around, and I know know know that they are the things I need to keep discovering as I meander along on this little path of mine.

Beneath this exterior flesh of mine, beneath the curves and stretch marks and dimples in places other than my face, there is a beast.  He’s hairy, he’s powerful, and he’s always been there.  For some damn reason, all this time, I’ve been really afraid to let him out.  I did see glimpses of him just before I met Ray, when I thought I was looking the best I’d ever looked in my life, but again, he’s slipped back into the shadows, back beneath the surface.  I wonder, perhaps, if he was revealing himself to me then as I was bracing to embark on a very, very solo journey, and preparing to have to take on the world all by myself.  Like some sort of protective shell, looking powerful and strong as an outward avatar of myself meant that I wasn’t going to take any shit from anyone, that if you approached me on the street, you might think twice about talking to me, or that you might see me as a person who was very self-involved, and therefore not needing your intervention, or your commentary.

The fact is, though, when I was at that point, I was at one of my lowest emotional levels in my life.  I had gone from living in a gorgeous house, with a man I had fallen in love with, and had this actual life of a big back yard, a full-size garden, a home to make my own, and was watching my dreams come true-to-life, to living in the back bedroom of a friend’s house who took pity on me, and wanted to help me find my feet again in this town of mine.  I had given over so much of my life to the will of another person that I had no idea who I was, or what I really wanted for myself.  My life with the now-ex-boyfriend wasn’t my life.  I was a mere accessory to his life, and facing that all down as he and I split up was gut-wrenching.  Of course, being me, I took it all out on myself – and my body.  I ran and ran and ran.  I hit the gym like a fiend.

I had given up on ever finding a person to share my world with, especially considering just how much of a mess it was – I mean, really, who could possibly want to be with a man who was only making about $1000 a month and couldn’t even really afford his own groceries, let alone a nice dinner date or a trip to the movies?  At that point, I had resigned myself to needing to be ultra-self-sufficient, and having to just say no to everything else but work and my bills.  I needed to protect myself, I needed to look strong, and I needed to wear the armor of a muscled man just to face the day.

Then, of course, I met Ray, and I was able to let down my guard.  In the process, I also let down my rabid need to wear the aggressive solo muscled look.  Ray re-introduced me to the world of eating pleasurably.  He supported us both, taking us out on dates, out to the bars and restaurants around Portland, and allowing me to enjoy cuddling up with him rather than one more hour at the gym, or even one more mile on the road.  I gladly accepted the offer to get lazy because, let’s be real, attaining a muscled, chiseled body takes *lots of effort*.  It also can be super consumptive of one’s time and mental energy, and Ray constantly reminds me that there needs to be a better balance in my life than being so obsessed about one thing or another at any one time.

So, while I am not blaming Ray for the extra pounds I’ve put on since knowing him – about 60, if I’m totally honest – I am saying that he’s helped me get to where I am today.  I am happier.  I am more contented in my life.  Instead of having my dreams given to me, I’m having to earn them the right way.  I am still carrying around that inner beast – the protective, muscled, furry, foxy man that I had started becoming as an act of defense.  What I need to do, and what I think is the health journey before me now, is to find a way to let that side of me out, without feeling like I’m doing it as an act of personal protection.  I don’t need the rock-hard chest, the powerful thighs, the narrowed waist to defend me.  What I’d like, though, is all of that as a statement of defiance against the demons of my past.  I want to have that kind of look as a way of saying I have overcome things and I have achieved a better, stronger life.

I know this is rambling, and I know it probably makes no sense, but it’s what I’m feeling, and it’s where I stand today.  I do have a massive health journey ahead of me, but I now know the goal.  I now know what it is I’m seeking.  IMG_3287