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.

Monday, September 15, 2014

The White Flag

Two different people recently asked me if I had someone special in my life. I said no. They went on to ask if I was even looking, to which I also replied in the negative. 

I believe I've posted here where I believe that 'looking' implies a desire to actually want a mate/partner/husband, or whatever the mot-du-jour is. 

I can say, right now, I don't. 

I don't want one, I'm not looking for one and I am completely fine with that. 

Why this attitude?  

Two conversations recently came together in a perfect storm in my mind and then proceded to occupy my heart.
 
In the first one, I heard that damaged people can often employ emotional manipulation to get what they want. Yet, they may be unaware they are doing it, as they've been doing it for so long as a means of either protecting themselves or securing what they perceive they want/need. 

Let's face it, gay men are often very damaged, though many of us have learned to overcome and have repaired some of our damages. 

The other conversation I had was about gay men and sex. I was nervous about getting back out there for I knew I would have to cross that bridge. Someday. With all the STDs out there, it can be very daunting. Downright frightening. 

"Just assume he is HIV+, and protect yourself accordingly," my friend advised. 

"What if he says he isn't?" I replied.

"Don't take his word for it."

"So, I should assume he's lying?"
 
I also overheard two men conversing about their recent dates. Both may have been dating the same guy for it appeared they had the same date. They each met their guy for a meal then headed to a bar where the guy later told them he had a boyfriend who was out of town. So, could they just have a quickie? I happen to know they each met different guys because their dates were on the same day, but at different bars.

So, if gay men are emotionally damaged and may be employing some kind of emotional manipulation, perhaps subconsciously, to get what they want, and some may also be lying about their relationship and/or HIV status, how in the fuck do you know who to trust?

Add that to the string of disappointments I've recently experienced and it should come as no surprise as to the fact that I surrender. 

I give up. 

Yes, I do. 

And let's also not forget the other more rational fears I have if I should actually meet a decent guy, and it does get a tad serious, there's so much more to consider. But, if I've given up, why am I even thinking this? 

Maybe I truly haven't. 

Maybe I'm just extremely disillusioned. 

I just don't know what to think anymore. 

So, maybe I shouldn't.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Because of Her...

People come into our lives in many ways, but always for us to learn something about ourselves, if we're open to it. They may come into our lives for a moment, a day or a season or they may stay for a lifetime.
My aunt, age 12; me, 4 1/2 months

It's often harder for us to learn something about ourselves when that person is a family member, however close the relationship, either generational or in age. Or the geography. We often take a familial relationship for granted as we may see or communicate with that person often.

It's also when we lose something, we realize we never truly appreciated what we had.

I lost my aunt this month. It was sudden, unexpected, and therefore came as quite a shock. What made it even harder to accept is that she was 68 years young.

I was born into her life barely a month after she turned twelve, the first child born among my mother and her siblings.

In addition to lessons, a passing also brings memories and stories to mind. My family tells the story about one time she came over to spend time with her sister and me. We were living in the San Francisco Bay area at the time and I was six months old, if I remember the story correctly, which would set this story in August. My aunt was feeding me, and when I was finished, she did what you do to a baby you've just fed. And I did what many babies do when you burp them. All over her white blouse.

I don't think we've ever looked at strained beets the same way again.

Upon reflecting on our relationship, I realize I've learned a lot from my aunt. Whenever I saw her, she was always smiling, always cheerful, no matter what was going on in her life. I spoke with her by phone a week before she passed. I could hear her in her voice-she was herself; cheerful, in good spirits, optimistic about her life, maintaining a positive attitude.

Because of her, I will take this lesson forward.

Because of her, I learned that coffee is good any time of day, any time of the year as she always had a pot of coffee ready. 
Christmas 1959

Because of her, I've learned to be there for people. When I came out to my parents, my mother cried it was all her fault but told me she still loved me, while my stepfather promised not to disinherit me, he tried to forbid my mother to have anything to do with me. My mom turned to her baby sister for comfort who, in turn, was stunned at my stepfather's rejection, "How could you just stop loving someone like that?"

My aunt was there not only for her sister, but for me as well.

When I married my now ex-husband, I didn't want a large, lavish ceremony for a couple of reasons. The first one was budget, the second was that I hate being in the center of it all, and the third one was I only wanted those people who supported the idea of same-sex marriage. I knew people who pledged full support for the LGBT community, yet drew the line at same-sex marriage. And sometimes it's better to not ruffle any feathers if things are already smooth. I shared my engagement with my mom, so she could share in my happiness. Soon after, I received an email from my aunt with only three words, "When's the wedding?"
ca. 1987


Not only did she and her husband come down for the wedding, they helped decorate the venue and pitched in wherever we needed it. 

Whenever we talked, or visited, she always inquired about my partner, even before we were legally married, and was there for me when he walked out not even two years later.

I never got to tell her directly how much her support meant, partly because I didn't realize it at that time. She was one of the strongest allies I never realized I had. Because of her, I have learned not to sell people short; give people a chance and they may surprise you.

RIP, Karen. Although, you may not be physically on this plane any more, your love and spirit always will be.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

A Little Paint

Living Room, with Faux wall, before
The quickest and least expensive way to change the mood of a room is to simply paint it.

I recently painted my kitchen.

I'm not sure it's the quickest, necessarily, as it would depend on the number and experience of assistants; I had zero assistants, but plenty of experience, since I had painted every other room in this house. Nor is it necessarily the cheapest. Depending on the color scheme chosen, one might be tempted to buy new furniture or accessories.
Kitchen, before

I bought the house with my now ex-husband. We bought the house as brand new construction, so we were the first owners when we moved into this 4 bedroom, 2.5 bath, 1,700 sq. ft. house with all white walls in the summer of 2003. Over time we ended up painting all the rooms but for some reason never got around to the kitchen. After some INTENSE discussion we chose a cranberry color as the main color for the living room and dining room. For the trim and accent colors we chose a deep mauve and a port wine, and also used them as a faux effect on two walls. Later on, we ended up painting the deep mauve on some of the living room and dining room walls to hopefully lighten the rooms a bit because, with the sun setting earlier and further south in the winter, the cranberry, while still a beautiful color, helped add to the darkening of these rooms since they are in the northern end of the house and therefore losing natural light earlier in the daytime.

When he left in 2010, my first reaction was to paint over all the colors as we had chosen them and now the house was mine. I wanted to erase any trace of him in my house. 

A friend suggested keeping the colors if I truly liked them whether or not he helped choose them. I did, so they stayed.

But the kitchen was still white, with a grape motif stenciled on the soffit for some color. 

Living room, before. I have since added curtains to the window
For a couple of years lately, the kitchen has been calling me to paint it. So, I began entertaining colors and ideas: did I want something different in the kitchen? But it's an open floor plan. Could I find colors I liked that didn't clash with the others? Did I want the same colors I already had? Would that be too much of a good thing? What did I want as this was my house? I hemmed and hawed, tossed and turned and asked friends for advice. 
Kitchen, after






When school ended for the summer, I knew this was it, I was painting the kitchen. I decided to keep the same colors for simplicity as the dining room wall runs right into the kitchen wall. But, I added a new color, espresso to cover the two faux walls and  the soffit.

I began on a Tuesday and finished putting final touches and things back in place that Saturday and stood back to admire my new kitchen. 

I loved it. It felt warm, it felt cozy, it felt intimate.

I felt such a relief it was finally done. 

But I felt something more, though I couldn't quite put my finger on it immediately.

And later that day, it hit me.
 
Dining room and living room from the kitchen, after


It was a release. It was more of a release than a relief to get this done.The relief meant the project was over, the release meant I was letting go. I was taking one more step on the road to making the house mine. One more step to reclaiming me, to moving beyond, to moving forward.


Dining room and Kitchen, after
It's amazing what a little paint can do.

And not necessarily to a room.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Conversations With Trees

California Oak
It is said we don't stop and smell the roses often enough. I believe we don't stop and listen to them enough, or listen to Nature.

I am not a religious man, but a spiritual one. Nature is part of my spirituality which makes Mother Earth my church. A while back I was very upset with someone and not knowing what to do, I went on a hike in my church. My local chapel is a park in the Santa Monica mountains along the southern edge of the San Fernando Valley. While hiking there along my usual trail and musing on what I should do about my anger, I passed through a grove of California oaks. Immediately upon entering the grove, the answer came to me, "Stand your ground. We do." I knew instinctively what they meant.

I now refer to the grove as the Temple of the Oaks. I have been a couple more times since.

More recently, I had been in a funk for sometime and knew what I needed to do. 

I went to Temple. 

Once there, I looked for a safe spot on the ground to sit where I could meditate and connect with the Oaks. I had to be careful because this grove grows near a creek and where there's water and oak trees, there is often that other oak, the poisonous kind and yes, it is present in my Temple. And this also being a  wilderness area, other creatures abound. 

On various hikes, I have seen coyotes, ground squirrels, a doe and Western Fence Lizards in addition to various birds; scrub jays, crows and the occasional Red-Tailed Hawk circling overhead. Signs warning of rattlesnakes are posted on the bulletin boards at the park entrances, and the nature center, though I have yet to see one in this park.

As I entered the Temple this time, I was reminded of my inner strength which I often overlook and to remain grounded in my reality, the here and the now. After all, aren't trees?

Once seated, I closed my eyes and immediately felt the presence of a rattlesnake in my lap. Okay, not the physical presence, but a spiritual one. One of my spirit guides is Snake, an anaconda to be precise. So, why a rattlesnake in this meditation? Simple, I was in his domain. Anacondas are not native to the US, let alone the Santa Monica Mountains. Rattlesnakes are. 

As Rattlesnake was slithering into my lap, I received this message, "All this pain is part of your growth, you need to shed the skin of your old self to continue growing. Come on, I'm here, let's start." As I began to envision myself slowly shedding the old me away, I heard rustling in the bushes behind me. Coming out of the meditation, I turned, saw nothing, and decided I would meditate further with Rattlesnake at home, not necessarily because it was safer, but because the trance had been broken. 

Broken Concrete
I decided to continue walking in the park, into areas I had recently begun to explore, as I usually went to one or two particular spots to meditate, and I had brought my camera and wanted to take some photographs. While walking along a trail, I saw a pile of broken concrete reminding me of some bizarre landscape; a foreign desert or a strange distant world. The impression it left on me was that anything human-made could be broken. 

I immediately connected to my fears. My fears can be broken. They are human-made, are they not? Did I not make them?


I continued on, and eventually came upon a solitary picnic table under a tall evergreen tree. 

"Please come sit a while."

I did.

"Thank you for sitting."

"Thank you for inviting me. May I take your picture?"

"Yes. But I look much better in color, not black and white."

"Okay."

"Why are you in such a hurry to meet someone?"

"I'm not."

"Oh, really?" (I didn't realize trees could be sarcastic.) "Did you not think the two gentlemen you glimpsed along the trails might be someone coming into your life? The one that later had a family with him and the one with the two dogs?"

Guiltily, I answered, "Yes. But I believe I'll meet him through some chance encounter. Some friends have agreed with me."

"Perhaps you will. But, your friends have done you a disservice, not because they agree with you, or that they share their love and thoughts for you; they do have your best interests at heart. But because you then focus on what they have said. Focus on knowing and being yourself, not on what they say."

"I understand."

"And there's more to your hurry, isn't there?"

"Yes. I'm not getting any younger. And I am tired of being alone. Four years is a long time."

"Time and age are irrelevant. I did not get this tall overnight. There is nothing wrong with being alone. But, first you must learn to enjoy being alone, unless you don't want to learn the lesson from your past. Did you not feel alone within your last relationship? Did you not settle for less than what you deserve? Again, I say time is irrelevant."

"I understand."

"Please be patient. Remember Rattlesnake's message, 'Shed the old.' And what did the Oaks tell you before?"

"To stand my ground?"

"No, the other message."

"He is coming?"

"Indeed he is."

I sighed. "Thank you. May I ask one last question?"

"Please."

"May I take one picture in black and white? I love the texture of your trunk. I think it would make a great shot."

"Yes. Go ahead." (I could swear he giggled.)

"Thank you for everything." And I placed my hand gratefully on his trunk.

"Thank you for listening, please come back. And call on me when you need to."

I will.