Sunday, December 14, 2014

Tightrope to Dawn

They say it's always darkest just before the dawn.

Mhm.

Both are in front of me. I can see the dawn in one part of my life, and while it is indeed visible, there is a dark patch just in front of it.

I say I can see the dawn in one part of my life because this one part is indeed coming to an end signaling a new beginning.

In a way.

No, I'm not getting married, ending my singleness. I'm not even dating anyone, nor looking to.

No, I'm not retiring, ending my teaching career; though that, too, is on the horizon, just a little farther out.

No, I'm not getting a pet, ending my loneliness.

Yes, I'm trying to write my next few novels, but that will take time.

I'm talking about my financial struggles. They may indeed be ending, or at least easing up a bit. (No, I haven't won the lottery.)

When my ex left me, I kept the house and had a sizable amount of personal debt. Over the last four years, I have refinanced the mortgage, and am now able to say that by May, 2015, I will have completely paid off my personal debt. And the money I have been sending to pay these bills will not be deducted from my bank account any longer.

Yay, me! Time to celebrate that milestone!

That is the dawn. A new beginning, a new chapter, lessons learned and all the other metaphors I can think of.

Yet, there is a dark side coming first.

Per a suggestion from my tax advisor, I have decided to increase a pre-tax deduction from my paycheck to establish a Healthcare Spending Account. I've had this account for a couple of years, and have made good use of it. A set amount per month is taken from my paycheck before any income taxes are paid. Therefore, I am paying tax on less income. The money deducted is set aside and any qualifying health related expenses are reimbursed to me. As one of my therapists doesn't take my insurance, I pay out-of-pocket and these expenses do indeed qualify. So, I will get this money back when I send in the receipts and subsequently, I break even. One small downside, I will be getting a smaller income tax refund in 2016 as I will be paying less income taxes.

This also means I will be living on less money per month, and tightening the belt even more, until I am reimbursed, which I can do at any time. (I am currently researching recipes for grass stew, if anyone has any to share.) And I will be walking a financial tightrope of trying to get reimbursed before any bills get returned to me. I've managed so far, but as I'm more than doubling the deduction this time, this is a big step even if only for a short while. The deductions will continue for twelve months, but by June the debt payments will be finished and I can breathe a little.

It has been this financial struggle that has been at the core of my decisions over these last few years. While many may see these as excuses not to 'get out there,' this was indeed my reality. If there is not enough money at the end of a month for even one movie ticket, how can there be enough for two? With the price of gas fluctuating, what do I need to give up in order to fill my tank to get to work when gas is high again? Can I afford that extra tank of gas this month if I drive any more than what I currently do? Yes, even my gas is budgeted. My income is limited, and became even more so when my district instituted furlough days cutting my salary. Until I was able to refinance, I had to resort to using my savings just to survive, which then depleted my savings rather quickly, as I didn't have millions tucked away, unfortunately.

Recently, several people have suggested I find a roommate to increase my cash flow. One person was even shocked I didn't already have one being I live in a large four bedroom house. Earlier, I tried, but no one even answered my ads except someone who needed to move immediately! (I saw many red flags on that one.) I knew of two guys I would have considered as roommates, but neither opportunity panned out. So, I have come to accept that I was meant to go through this phase alone in order to learn some lessons:
  1. I am a survivor, I have been through other difficult times, financial or otherwise, and made it. I will make it to May.
  2. I am self-reliant. I have learned to rely on myself and myself alone. I don't need anyone else.
  3. I am strong. I will do what it takes to survive. I may not like it, but I can do it. And I will.
  4. And, perhaps, the fact that since I've gone through this alone, I will appreciate my success all that more.
I've also come to realize that roommates are like boyfriends and pets. The right one will appear at the right time, if the Universe so decrees.

So, what am I doing to help me make it through this dark patch? I will work out a timeline to determine when to submit receipts for reimbursement before bills are returned. I have signed up to do some tutoring after school for some additional pay. It's not much, but every little bit helps. I will continue whatever cost-cutting measures I need to, like shopping at off-chain markets, buying off-brand items, increase using coupons, only buy what I absolutely need, etc. After all, this is only for a short period of time.

Another bit of news is that my union and district are negotiating a new contract, which includes a possible pay raise. And there is an offer on the table from the district, so I'm hopeful of something. However, my instinct is that it will be settled toward the end of the school year when the district sees how much money it didn't spend, if any; and when I've been through the rough patch. So, because my financial picture is improving due to:
  • all my personal debt being paid off soon;
  • a possible raise in the future, and maybe even retroactive to the beginning of the school year,
I'm feeling better about some things.

While I'm not expecting my financial picture to look like this one:












 I'm thinking it will be more like this:



 But, this doesn't mean I'm ready to date.

Yet.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

A Holiday Party and Sushi

So, I was recently invited to a holiday party. After all, it is that time of year. 

When I got the invitation, I seriously debated whether or not I should go. The party was for a gay social group my ex and I belonged to many years ago. After a number of years in the group, and even serving on the board of directors for a while, I got angry, frustrated and bored and dropped out. My ex wanted to continue attending events and I encouraged him to do so, but he didn't. And all of this took place prior to our marriage in 2008.

Post-divorce, I contemplated going back for socializing but chose not to for a variety of reasons; 1) I'd left in anger, was it still there? 2) Did I want to drive into West Hollywood once a week after a long day of teaching and commuting? 3) Did I even want to get involved again in an activity I'd grown tired of? 4) Was there anyone in the group I really wanted to see again?

As I contemplated those questions, I came up with; 1) maybe, 2) probably not, 3) no, 4) yes. But we could arrange to meet outside the group. And she and I tried a few times, but our schedules didn't seem to fit.

It was she who actually invited me. 

As I contemplated going, new issues arose; as I said, this was an organization my ex and I belonged to. Since my life was moving forward, now in vastly different directions- would I be taking a step backwards? Would they ask about the divorce and my ex? Would this bring up other painful memories? Would they even remember me? And these fears weighed very heavily on me, and I really didn't want to go. But I wanted to reconnect with this friend and her girlfriend and maybe this was our next best chance.

On top of all this, my ex had actually returned to the group almost immediately after the divorce, so many of the members already knew of our split. And I wasn't sure I could face them after he'd been there.

Plus, on top of all  this, there might even be *gasp* new people there who didn't even know me then.

I grew up not liking fish. My mother never knew how to cook it well. Years later, a friend introduced me to nori, the seaweed used in wrapping sushi. She ate it plain. It was horrible. Therefore I never ate sushi. Fish and seaweed, together? Ugh

Vegetable sushi
A couple of years ago, a colleague introduced me to vegetable sushi, no fish. Not bad, and I got over my distaste for nori. After all, it blended in with the rice and vegetables, and the soy sauce and wasabi also helped hide it. So, I went and tried some of the fish pieces, and found them to be okay. While I'm not as adventurous as to try eel, sea urchin or jellyfish, I can now enjoy (some) sushi for a meal. 

I got over myself.

I took the step and went to the party.  After all, a step forward or backward means I'm not standing still. And life can be like a cha cha- a few steps forward and a couple back.

Some of the people there remembered me after they recognized me. I mean, it's been about nine years since I was last there. Plus, I was heavier then, my hair was bushier, had less gray and I styled it differently. Also, I didn't have a beard. No one asked about my ex, except to refresh their memory of what he looked like, -Short? Squat? Dumpy? Yes, yes and yes! Their words, not mine!

Will I continue with the group? Who knows- the fatigue of teaching plus commuting and my loathing of driving anywhere beyond the corner market haven't changed. My friend and I have pledged to try and stay more in touch, and see each other more often. 

But, what's important is I took a step forward, I ate the sushi and it wasn't bad. I just didn't care for the octopus. But, I did have a good time at the party.



But, am I ready to try menudo?

I'm not so sure...

Another step for another day....

Monday, November 3, 2014

Sometimes I wonder...

...if my problem isn't something else entirely.

I've discussed my low self-esteem stemming from an emotionally abusive childhood.

I've discussed my fears;
  • Of being used,
  • Of being hurt,
  • Of being rejected,
  • Of being lied to,
  • Of not being seen for who I truly am.
I've discussed my lack of interest in dating because of all of the above and the lack of money, time, motivation and energy.

I've also discussed the fact I don't know how to date. 

But, what if it's something even more?

I expected to spend the rest of my life with my ex. Well, I mean before he became my ex. Now that he's gone, I'm free to find someone else to spend my life with.
  • Someone who is closer to what I need.
  • Someone who is closer to what I want.
  • Someone who is closer affectionately to me. 
  • Also, closer in values, ideals, age, and maturity. 
Or, am I?

I go through moments where I try and imagine myself with someone else. Someone more agreeable, someone more my type (whatever that is), someone more communicative, someone I'm more comfortable with, someone who can take care of me, and someone I'll allow to do just that.
 
I often imagine:
  • Someone sitting with me at the dining table;
  • Someone sitting in the next room while I am writing, reading or grading papers in another;
  • Someone listening to me share plot ideas;
  • Someone sitting next to me in my car as we go out on a day trip; 
  • Someone lying next to me in bed, just looking at each other;
And then I can't. I can't imagine myself with anyone new and different. Because I had vowed to spend my life with him, I never anticipated being without him. So, I'm finding it difficult imagining myself with someone else. It all feels so wrong, somehow, even if I have maybe, sort of, possibly dated a couple of guys which seemed right at the time.
 
I see couples of all types; male/female, male/male, female/female. And I'm truly happy for them, but it feels so wrong for me. I just don't want to be a part of it.

I'm definitely not still in love with my ex. After I tell people our story and describe what's passed between us since the divorce, they always tell me I'll hear from him one day. He'll realize what he's done. He'll contact me. And I always reply with "I hope he doesn't."

I'm not sure I want to see him again. I don't know what I'd say, what I'd do, how I'd feel. About the contact, not about him. 

It's probably inevitable. I owe him money from our house should I sell it within a certain frame.

It's also inevitable because that's how life is. It would give me an opportunity to check in with myself at that point. 

But, that's all in the future. No need to worry about that now, as it takes my energy away from today, from the now. 

And that's all I need to worry about, focus on: the here, the now.

The me.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

A Shovel

It seems I am in a deep blue funk again and I can't shake it. It began when I returned to work after the summer, so I have a feeling work is the catalyst in play here, though I feel it goes much deeper than that.

Yes, I am demoralized regarding my work, and I can only make the best of a horrendous situation, which is not easy, and the problems regarding being a public school teacher today would be a whole new blog. And many have blogged about them.

So, I'm not going to go there in this post.

I just celebrated four years post-divorce, if celebrated is indeed the right word, for these years have been a grand struggle. There have been losses: my marriage being the first loss that comes to mind; I also lost a somewhat freer social life where I could enjoy my life and be out on the town more often as I had my ex's income to help with expenses; I have also lost a sense of independence as I am now the only one to take care of the household chores and due to limited finances I can only enjoy myself so much while saving for house and car repairs and other necessities, while rebuilding my savings which I also lost.

Mufasa and Simba
There have also been the losses of those who were here for me every day; my two dogs and cat who kept me going when my ex moved out. There was also, most recently, the passing of my aunt who was a strong supporter of me throughout my life. 
Gabrielle and Xena

There has been the loss of sense of self as to who I thought I was throughout my marriage and losing that personality will be a blessing, as I'm trying to find out who I am again. Who I am is not who I thought I was. And until I know who I am, I wander a bit lost, dazed, and confused. I am single again, yet at a different stage of life. Single or not, I am also facing the loss of my youth and perhaps those values and perspectives, now that I'm at midlife.

There have been the losses of those men who might have become good friends, or something more.

And all of these losses have left me drowning.

Yet, In spite of all these losses, there have been gains. I kept the house and its accompanying mortgage, and have paid it dutifully on a single teacher's salary. I had to provide a place for my four-legged children, right? I have successfully refinanced the loan to give myself more financial freedom. I have also successfully paid down over eighty percent of my personal debt in these four years and should be debt-free in seven months. I have successfully published a novel and began a couple more, one of which could turn into a series. I have made some new friends along the way, yet none local enough to just hang out with. I have taken more steps to make the house more mine and less what-used-to-be-ours in the last couple of years.

Mi Casa
Why is it with all the positive, I focus on the negative? Am I such a negative person in general? Or is this just an overwhelming amount of loss and change to deal with all at once, however slowly I tackle it all? Or is it just safer to stay where I'm used to?

Or, is it that all these many years of negativity, including the emotionally abusive childhood and the struggle to accept myself as gay, I'm finding it all so hard to overcome despite the years of therapy?  Or am I getting down to the real core of who I am, by digging through all the bullshit I've piled and allowed to pile on me, and getting used to a new me is harder than I anticipated since I'm not used to being positive or recognizing my strengths due to years of being told I had none.

And believing it.

Well, whatever the reason, it's here and I need a shovel.

I better keep digging.


Saturday, October 18, 2014

Innocuousity

The most innocuous item can spark a deep emotional thought-provoking soul search.

In this case, it was a pair of curtains.

A friend came by for breakfast today. She hadn't seen my house since my dogs and cat had passed; so, she hadn't seen the many, many changes I'd made to my house. Therefore, a tour was in order.
Before

It was in my ex's ex-office that the innocuousity occurred. 
Before

When my ex left, his office was a bright orange color. It's now my library/meditation room, painted an ash gray, with a cobalt blue trim and a difficult-to-describe brownish-red accent color on the doors. It's a very dark terracotta color called Mayan Red, if that helps any. 



When he left, I was determined to not keep anything that was his or connected to him. That later proved impractical as I'd have to replace quite a few items, including the house itself. Eventually, I moved my recliner upstairs to the new library (as the color matched), leaving his downstairs, which also matched the color scheme downstairs. When I looked at the curtains he had bought for his orange office, I realized the colors matched the trim and  accent colors I'd chosen to paint the room. I decided to keep them as the match was perfect and I couldn't afford new ones right then. 

I shared this story with my friend and her comment was that for some reason they were meant for my new room. Since his old curtains were a perfect match for my new room, there had to be some reason for it all just to be a coincidence.

Maybe the colors of the curtains imprinted themselves on my brain and when I chose the colors, I chose them to match the curtains. Or, that for whatever reason, the curtains ended up matching the new room so well, that I needed to look at the good in the relationship, as opposed to the negative space I'm in right now, especially regarding him and the entire relationship. And  that may be why I'm having a hard time moving forward. I haven't acknowledged what good I got from the relationship. In other words, if his old curtains ended up contributing to the overall peaceful feel of my new room, it's time I look at what he contributed to the relationship, instead of what he contributed to the divorce and the aftermath.

After; (yes, it is gray, it just goes lavender in some light)
After all, I chose to be with him for over fifteen years.

So, what did I get from him?

To start, I can name some of the tangible items:
  • He treated me to my dream cruise to Alaska for my 50th birthday.
  • He bought me several nice gifts; like some DVD sets of my favorite programs.
  • He wanted to get the two adorable kittens we raised, and later the first dog. (I wanted the second one.)
  • And perhaps the biggest item of all, my house. It was money from his mother's estate that allowed us to make the down payment.
or it goes blue.

As for the non-tangible items, I know I had his love and companionship for the time we were together. He was the one who proposed marriage, which means he wanted to spend the rest of his life with me. He was the one who initially pursued me, with a little encouragement from some mutual friends. He saw something of value in me to want to meet me in the first place. But, these mostly focus on what he saw and wanted. I'm still looking for what I got other than love and companionship.

Perhaps, all that happened between us then and now was part of my destiny to be where I am now; introspecting nearly every aspect of my life and coming to know my true authentic self as a single gay man at midlife, eying retirement and a possible new career as a writer, while examining my values of what it means to me to be gay and single at midlife at this time in the community with all the rights we have won and the advances in gay men's health.

After
Perhaps, I'm not ready to look at how I benefited during the relationship. Perhaps, I didn't benefit and don't want to acknowledge it. Perhaps, there's something deeper I need to learn about myself during the relationship that I need to examine. Perhaps the struggle I am going through now is all because of that relationship, it was the catalyst. Perhaps I have too many questions and not enough answers. And perhaps that's just how it's supposed to be.



All that from a pair of curtains.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

National Coming Out Day

It seems we never cease coming out.

To ourselves
To others and sometimes, as teachers
To our classes

I came out again this year. I hadn't thought about it. In fact, I was leaning against it. I came out to my class last year and it was no big deal. No parents complained either to me or to the principal, that she told me. Yet, at the end of the year one of my students who caused a lot of trouble for me said some of the others told her that was why they gave me the trouble they did, because I was gay. 

Really?

Did I want go through that again? No. My life is in a bit of a flux right now and I didn't need any more stress. And this group seems rougher; okay, just three of them do. And by rougher, I mean outright malicious. And, it's directed directly at me, they've openly said so. To my face and in front of the class.

And, they're only nine.

And yet, I did end up coming out. A colleague told me one of my students was calling some of her male students 'gay' because they were sitting next to another boy. She asked me to talk to him. After all, I'm his teacher of record and therefore a bit more responsible for him. I decided to address the entire class. I decided to use the "there are words that used appropriately are fine, but used inappropriately can cause someone to become upset" approach. 

In past years, I used the word 'bitch' for this lesson, but chose not to this year due to the maturity level of the class. I simply said that calling someone 'gay' when you don't know if he or she is, is inappropriate. One of my boys, a very challenging child, raised his hand and said, "People say you are gay." 

Without skipping a beat, I simply said, "I am." And gesturing to the next person, I took her question. I don't remember what it was.

In retrospect, I felt I had no choice but to answer as I did.

There was some tittering among the students. Some giggles. Some surprised looks. The boy who was calling the other students 'gay' offered this gem, "Gay has two meanings. It can also mean happy." 

"Yeah, and we don't use it that way much anymore." So, don't tell me you were telling those boys they were happy. Your argument is invalid.

Some of my students were impressed by my actions, "It's no big deal. You are who you are." "We all live our own life." 

My most difficult student challenged me, "What kind of gay are you? Are you happy or do you like a boy?" 

"I'm happy with my life."

"But you said you were gay."

"I am."

"Do you like a boy?"

"No."

"But you said you were gay."

"I am."

"Do you like a boy?"

"No."

This loop went on for a bit and I finally said, "There's no one in my life right now."

"Ah, so you do like a boy!"  She doesn't let things go.

I reminded the students my job was to teach them and that was what I was there to do. My personal life will remain at my house. 

Upon dismissal, I raced to my principal to forewarn her in case any parents call. She was very supportive and receptive to why I came out. Why would I lie and deny myself especially in front of any students who might be gay themselves, possibly sending a sense of shame about being gay? But, I wanted to talk with her as I do have some difficult parents this year. And possibly, one mother who came to Back to School Night with her girlfriend.

As I am moving through this new phase in my life, I am learning that what will be, will be. That every action happens for a purpose, a reason. Who knows what will come of this? At least any student who may struggle with his/her identity later on, will see I was not ashamed to be who I am.

While I didn't actually come out on National Coming Out Day, I did just two days after. So, does it still count?



Update: One funny anecdote out of this, my most challenging student made some comment about me and my girlfriend the day after my coming out. One other female student corrected her, "He's gay, he doesn't have a girlfriend, he has a boyfriend."

Bless her.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Vacation Tremors

I follow a few different pages on Facebook, many are LGBTQ themed. One page I follow shows different LGBTQ families, usually in various forms of 'familyhood' accompanied by either an engagement, marriage or adoption announcement.

While I am genuinely happy for these families, I tremble in fear at the thought of that for me.

I recently saw some photos a friend posted on Facebook and they, too, sent shivers up and down my spine. 

These were not photos of any grotesque figure, no warning signs of the alleged zombie apocalypse, no bloody corpse.

My friend and his husband had simply posted pictures of their weekend getaway together.

I couldn't find the joy in their getaway. Yes, I was happy they were recently married. Yes, I was happy they had found time to go away together, away from their respective jobs and household chores. 

Yet, the fear of the getaway and the togetherness was overwhelming. For me.

But, I needed to know why.

Why was my friend's vacation with his husband upsetting me so? 

Then it hit me.

The planning, the organizing, but above all, the compromise.
"Let's go to San Diego."
"No, I want to go San Francisco."
"But, I've already been to San Francisco."
"Not with me you haven't. So, how about Santa Barbara?"

Sigh. Resignation.


I hated shopping with my ex, I hated doing anything involving compromise with him, because our tastes were so different whenever we compromised, neither of us got what we truly liked. It's very hard to tastefully blend Arts and Crafts/Mission styles (me) with Retro 50's/Modern Design (um, yeah). More often than not, I simply let him get what he wanted to avoid the drama of the Dance of Compromise with him and his Cancerian moodiness especially when disappointed (Can you say 'sackcloth and ashes?'). I ended up hating most of what we bought together:
Him: "What about this bedspread?" (Holds up a very floral pattern with a lace trim.)
Me: "Too frilly and feminine. I may be a queen, but I'm not a girl. And the colors don't even go with our wall colors. What about that one?" (I point to a solid color with some minor geometric pattern.)
Him: (Still holding the floral one) "There's green in the stems of these roses, and that's too boring. This one's nice." (Points to a solid dark brown spread with a few light green stripes, and it actually does go with the room colors; two different greens and a cinnamon accent wall.)
Me: "Fine." (It was the first thing I threw away when he left.)
It was later I realized I'd compromised myself away during most of the relationship. And not only with him and the bedspread and in other aspects of our relationship, but also with my partner before him. It seems to be a pattern I have.

One other aspect of all this I'm just realizing, now that I'm single, I'm relishing my independence and making my own decisions regarding my house and my life. I decided on the colors to paint his office in order to turn it into my library/meditation room, and I chose the colors for the powder room, as well. I have made changes to every room in my house except my bathroom and the guest bath.  I don't want to have to compromise that much with anyone. Anymore. Ever again.

Perhaps, it's more than the fear of compromise, perhaps even more than the independence. Maybe it's the fact I'm discovering who I truly am and beginning to like who I see, who I am becoming and am terrified of giving him myself away yet again.

Or, perhaps it is something else entirely. Perhaps it goes back even further. If I keep him happy, he'll stay. If he gets what he wants, he won't leave.

Yes, these are newly uncovered fears of mine. I admit I am unjustly comparing any future relationship against my past marriage and previous relationship. I may even be punishing myself now for not standing up for myself then, as much as I could/should have. I'm also fearful of falling into the same trap with someone new.

Then there's also the conundrum of getting to know him and his likes/dislikes while figuring out who I am, which could leave me even more confused, which in turn is also unfair to him.

But, maybe all this fear and confusion is a blessing, just in disguise. It's showing me what I need to look out for in myself as I meet new people in my life, whether as friends, or potential boyfriends on the path to finding someone special. Some day.

I'll just have bear all this in mind.

And if he does leave, he obviously wasn't worth it.