A tisket, a tasket- what’s in your easter basket?

I will preface this post with an acknowledgement – there are posts that I spend time editing and structuring until they are not perfect, but good enough. And then there are those like today’s, that reflect far more thought than what ends up being written; that I wish I had the eloquence and skill to resonate more deeply, but ultimately, have to just release and let them be what they will be. Please know, as you read this – I respect, value even, the differences that mark my many relationships.  I have family and friends who have diverging perspectives from me on just about any matter you can name – politics, music, COVID, sexuality, and of course, the “big questions”.   Lately with all the changes that continue to be a part of my life, I’ve had to think a lot about what I truly believe – and I feel it is important for me to write about it.  Maybe some of you will get something out of it, but whatever your own place may be as you make your own way through life, I definitely make no claim to having any particular insight or answers as I work towards finding my own.  

Growing up in non-metropolitan southern California in the 60’s, I think most of the people around me were pretty similar.  White, middle class mostly (although my household was less so than most) – families getting started out bought homes in our little community.  Most probably considered themselves Christian, although there was a Jewish family down the street, and I was grateful they welcomed me into their lives.  And of course, many people were not church folks – but my parents were of a generation where that was routine, and we were regular attendants at the small local Methodist church where the beautiful stained-glass window of Jesus with the lambs shone brightly.   Some of the traditions of that time survive, but I think are practiced less now – having palm fronds at Palm Sunday a week before Easter;  musical pageants; acolytes with candles beginning the service; I remember the warbly voices of the primarily old, primarily female adult choir singing “Christ the Lord is risen today” every year, as we followed in our hymnal dutifully.  My husband remembers that Easter often meant new clothes for the Sunday service – and for both of us, family gatherings, meals, easter egg hunts in the yard, and a belief that there was, for a while, a large bunny who brought wonderful treats for good boys and girls.  Among my treasures is an old “Ideals” publications with photos of baby rabbits and kittens decorating eggs and delivering flowers. 

Over the years, through much of my youth and adult life, I attended many church services – because I am just the kind of person that keeps looking for answers that satisfy some calling within me, even though they don’t really seem to be enough to resolve my own uncertainties.  I have attended evangelical churches that were started by beach hippies in the 60’s “Jesus people” movement; denominational mixed race services that were primarily Hispanic, or Black;  I visited a small church once where the pastor proclaimed, quite emphatically, that they were the only congregation going to heaven (not just their denomination, their location!!)  I have been to the Mormon temple in Salt Lake City to hear the music of praise, to Israel to see the sunrise over the Sea of Galilee, and to deserted pagan temples in the Mideast where other gods were worshipped, in ways very different from my small town.   I have prayed for the Holy Spirit to descend upon me in congregations where speaking in tongues was routine; I have attended teenage rallies to be pure for Christ, and visited group homes where young men were gathered to find a way to be healed from their attraction to others like themselves;  I have had hands laid on me to deliver me from demons, and I have celebrated a different kind of closeness to God in my own times of intimacy with men in a way that no church ever would have considered sacred, or holy – and yet, to me, they are a connection with that which is eternal and divine in a way more real than any church service.  

I have read books, and sung songs, and prayed in the darkness and danced with joy at the fervor of the promise of deliverance.  Last night, watching the recent, and outstanding dramatic film “The Eyes of Tammy Faye” after it’s well deserved Oscar recognition, I remembered many such broadcasts that my mother would watch at home – crippled with debilitating arthritis, her limbs and bones distorted, her heart wounded by griefs I could not understand then, she was looking for hope, for healing, for encouragement.  She surrounded herself with a small group of friends who prayed for one another- and for me.  They brought me, a lonely boy with few friends, delicious birthday cakes for years – they were loving and accepting, to the degree they could be.  I have long since forgiven them for their view of a God whose love could not extend beyond that which they knew, and hope I can grow in doing better on that front as well. And when I attended bible studies at local homes, and was baptized, I believed – not entirely understanding, but still, wanting to take that step, to belong.  I longed for acceptance and love – from my family, my church, my society – but I never felt that I had found it, really. 

I have read and studied, and continue to reflect, but I have no real answers to the big questions. I know many have been hurt by what others consider faith and truth – I know that pain, in my own way, but everyone’s is theirs alone, somehow.   I realized that even the words “God” and “Jesus” and most of the traditions practiced for the past few centuries are adopted from other cultures, bandaged into what some group of men, somewhere, once decided was truth;  that other groups selected from writings what they concluded was holy scripture, and left out other pieces; that translations are incomplete, even wrong, and that the familiar sayings that are easy to spout for simplistic answers to tough questions really do more harm than good.  Ignorance is not bliss, but neither is half witted rebaked magical thinking.  Like Elvis, the genie left the bottle a long time ago. 

I also see in those who practice a different faith – and there are too many for any of us to even know or comprehend, in our own little circles of belief – can be just as sincere and devoted, even more desirous of finding those elusive, yearned for answers.  I recognize that much damage, cruelty, and destruction has been accomplished under the guise of a loving god.  The news is filled with the ugliness of what we can do to one another – and, sadly, I am a part of it, knowing full well that the values I claim to hold dear – love, forgiveness, hope, caring – are not fulfilled in all my walks of life, that I have just as many flaws and chasms within me that show clearly the duality of what I say I believe, and how I behave.  In short-  I know the mess inside me is there, and as much as I wish for some magical force to transform me into someone else – it ain’t gonna happen.  But every day still offers choices for growth, and new direction. 

So when Easter comes around, like Christmas, and I think of the people in my life that I love (and some I don’t, but I try to) – I know they all pretty much have their own beliefs, traditions, questions, and uncertainties.  We may not talk about them much – thinking, perhaps, silence equals respect, or at least keeps the waters calm between us.  Perhaps that is best.  In my own circle of family and friends, there are so many ways of thinking about eternity, truth and what it is to be human, I am both amazed – and awed.  I love these people – I don’t really care if they are agnostic, theists, Mormon/SDA/charismatic Christian, Jewish, Muslim or Buddhist (etc etc)  – I have seen enough of their lives and their hearts to know they are not all that different from me, seeking.  Some see truth in the cycles of the planets and ancient practices that others condemn; others cling fervently to remembered scriptures and emphatic exclusion of anything that lies outside the rites and rituals that were passed down to them from origins that many of them have never sought to understand.   It’s so much easier to stay in our little boxes, safely and comfortably assuming we have the answers, and conclude it’s the others who are blind. 

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Whn someone asked recently if Easter had meaning for me, the answer is, yes.  Yes, very much so – but a meaning that isn’t really easy so to define, or defend.  I think our culture, at least in the “West” as it used to be called, is to have certainty – to know.  To be “right”.  Yet, I think it is a kind of growth, for me at least, to acknowledge I do not have certainty, and cannot claim to be right – only to be open and seeking.  I realize, even from my very limited knowledge of history, that faith can be both healing, and destructive; that communities of belief can bring strength and hope, but also lead to conflict, exclusion and suffering.  I am getting to a point where I can actually, despite the years of wanting to be someone other than who I am, I can be grateful that I am both inclined to seek a spiritual facet to my daily existence, and reconcile that part of me with my own nature as a gay man that many people who have claimed to love me could never accept as coming from a loving God.  Now, finally, I can accept the many tiny little glimpses of a greater loving force moving through the threads of my life; I am working towards seeing each one of us as being a little reflection of that which is eternal, that creative force that exists apart from time and everything we can know and measure, anything we can ever prove or fully comprehend.  

Perhaps some of you reading this may have reached a point long ago where you found answers that were sufficient – I am glad for you.  Who knows? You may be right! Human history shows an amazing variety of systems of belief – rising and falling, evolving or disappearing completely, lost to time – only crumbling remains and museum antiquities we briefly look at in passing. But in me there is still a yearning to know the answers – and a determination to not stop looking.  I am just more comfortable now accepting that I will never fully “know”, at least not until that time that, like all of us, my time on earth comes to an end – beyond that, perhaps there is even greater mystery, rather than “answers”.   If you are a student of the “Bible” as we know it, when you stop and look at the many examples of God interacting with His children – whether it be the Israelites in bondage in Egypt, or the Roman occupied peoples of the Christian era – or even the “Old Testament” prophets – there are countless incidents where the expectations of the protagonists were, if met at all, not fulfilled in the way they expected.  The very presence and life of Christ as depicted as the promised Savior from oppression was the opposite of what generations expected;  the promise of deliverance was in a form far from what the hopes had promised; instead of paradise, people of faith were faced with oppression, rejection, and despair.  Not exactly a salesman’s dream – and the prophecies of end times are hardly a trip to Disneyland.   I think sometimes God, in whatever form we ultimately understand that which is eternal exists, gets a kind of delight in confounding expectations, just to keep us guessing. 

Just as COVID changed our world forever, that which occurred which is commemorated still by many as Easter – watered down with bunnies, historically questionable and completely unproveable by science – has altered the course of human history, for both good and bad. Even for those who never hear any “New Testament” stories of the lone, itinerant teacher crucified without basis while a guilty man was set free, have been affected over the centuries by those who embraced that faith.   There is one aspect of all this that occupies my thinking as I move through this season, and continue to search for meaning and purpose, understanding and acceptance in my own journey – the realization that the ultimate choice is uniquely ours to make.  Because, finally, there isn’t “science” to follow, there isn’t “proof” of any of the essential elements of most faiths – only tradition.  The “evidence”, many say, is in our lives and how we live it – but we each have a choice to make in what we believe, because regardless of what you ultimately conclude, it finally depends upon a leap of faith.   Even a decision that there is no God, no eternity, no life beyond that which ends when our last breath is drawn – is a choice, a kind of faith.  It is yours alone, mine alone – we can be in congregations, we can repeat chants and practice rituals, we can join together in song but when the time comes – we are all faced with choices that are ours alone.  We may be in a choir, but our songs are all solos, in time. 

Max Von Sydow as Christ in “The Greatest Story Ever Told” – Later, he became “The Exorcist”

My own understanding has much room to grow, as does my heart.  I take comfort from what I believe, even though I have no proof – and I respect that others see it very differently.  I don’t have the same need I did, when young, for everyone to agree with me, to prove that I am right – that I have the truth, and you don’t.  I can share in your joy that you have found some degree of peace, hopefully, in finding your way through whatever you believe – knowing none of us is completely right, and no one in history ever has been.  This morning, as I woke up somewhat before my husband, I came upstairs to find him watching the 60’s “Greatest Story Ever Told” version of the life of Christ on TCM.  Having seen it as a teen in our little local theater, I remembered being moved by the reverence and craft that went into it as a traditional narrative of the life of Jesus, and the events of Easter – complete with the “Hallelujah Chorus” and Max Von Sydow appearing in the clouds.  Like any story, it is not complete – just one version.  But another movie comes to mind – less well known, but also powerful.   “Resurrection” with Ellen Burstyn from 1980 isn’t shown much, wasn’t a hit – but it deals with the same questions we all face, or ignore. Is there a God? Is there life after death? What is the truth?  If you get a chance to see it, I recommend it –  the protagonist, having lived a life that defied the traditions and expectations of her community, ends the film by, in her own unique way, showing love, grace and mercy to a child in need.  But – there is a final scene you will never see.  Years ago, in an obscure defunct film magazine called Cinefantastique, in a profile on the film and its creation, there were pictures shared of a deleted ending; I wish I could find it online but have not.  Alone, the camera follows her into a room filled with the symbols and signs of so many ways of expressing faith; of seeking truth; of knowing that which is eternal, but indefinable.  She has reached a place of peace.  

“Resurrection” (1980) with Ellen Burstyn – the conclusion of her character’s journey of discovering faith

None of us will ever be able to know all the different paths that generations have taken to find their way to some kind of peace.  For me, my Christian upbringing will always echo in everyday life – I am grateful to have it, but also learning that other wisdom remains awaiting discovery. So I am reminded of the story of the apostle, Paul – a traditionally religiously trained “enforcer” of his faith, who moved from being an oppressor of those who followed the radical teachings of the “messiah” Jesus, contradicting tradition – to questioning his understanding, and becoming open to a new way of thinking, a new pathway of faith and understanding.  In writing to one of the emerging bodies of believers, he talks about their conflicts and disagreements – one of which was about what is ultimately the purpose of spiritual maturity.  In one letter, he says the following about our inability to ever completely have the answers we seek to all these questions, at least while we walk this earth.  In part, he shares about how what little we know today will one day be replaced by a greater understanding – (1 Corinthians 13) –   

Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

My wish for all of us is that we can find a place of peace, however incomplete – if not together, in acceptance; if not in unity, in tolerance – with faith; with hope, and ultimately, with love.  We may not know the way, or even recognize we have lost our way now and then, but … keep on going, and as always … thanks for stopping by!   

Until next time, friends ….

Losing my license, after 40 years

Time is a funny thing.  We measure it carefully, we use our devices to map out every minute; yet when we look back, it is more slippery, evasive – our memories are like kites in the wind, colors flashing, sounds emerging and then fading, forgotten faces and melodies.  My 64th birthday was just last week, and I was happy to hear from people in almost every chapter in my life, so far – a remarkable kaleidoscope.  I know that I am very fortunate, in some ways – most ways – to have been able to choose to stop working more than 2 years ago, when my peers are still trying to figure out when they will retire.  But the unexpected in life is like an imp, relishing its unpredictability, laughing at our plans for everything to work out “just so”.  

Still, most people – at least in our culture – see this time of life as one to step away from the “daily grind” and finally “enjoy life”.  How much better it is to try, at least, to see every day as an opportunity to not only experience joy – but to create it for others; to give meaning, and hope, to those we encounter. I have found and continue to discover new meaning in life now that my days of paychecks are long behind me.  But it’s odd, and to be honest, perturbing to share that I often still dream of work – various jobs, and people, mingling from my past in a kind of alternative universe where they all pop in and out of meetings.  I often awake and come to a kind of relief and realization that – no, I don’t work anymore; I don’t have a deadline.  I don’t have to drive anywhere today, or solve that budget problem, or fill that position. 

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

But today, March 31 as I write, marks a change of another sort.  An end to a journey that started a very long time ago, when I would visit the career center – a glorified name for a classroom with a library and some microfilm readers – at my local high school, taking aptitude tests and awaiting computer reports by mail to analyze my responses.  Those reports would tell me, somehow, where my future lay – what path would be fit for my skills and aptitudes.  I had excellent grades – it surprises me, now, that old classmates remember some tests and achievements which at the time seemed so important but which I forgot long ago; but I strove for those grades, I had nothing else to point to that gave me a sense of worth, or belonging.  And those tests told me I was fit for being a librarian, or a bookkeeper, or some sort of similar administrative role – not the kind of future a lonely, closeted boy would dream of in 70’s California. 

If you remember using these to program … what a change we have seen!

Still, I followed my career center’s advice – and decided my future was to pursue being a CPA.  I didn’t really even know what that meant – just that you had to take certain classes, and then join a “public accounting” firm.  A Certified, public, accountant – promising a guaranteed career path, financial stability, and more.  Those were gleaming dreams in the eyes of a kid who grew up in a one parent family, with no car, little money for clothes, and who had never been on an airplane.  I did well in college – naturally – good grades got me interviews, but my awkward discomfort with myself, much less other people, put me at the back of the line for the “national firms” – the “Big 8” back then – and I ultimately got a job with a firm in the majestically named “Inland Empire” to begin my professional life.  I took my first plane trip, to a training course – I remember sitting on the aircraft, half expecting the pilot to announce as we began our ascent – “Ok, everybody, here we goooooo” just like all the times the recording had played on Peter Pan’s flight at Disneyland.   I never would anticipate where my life would head from there. 

What many people thought accountants did … and for some, it was true!!

Back then, it took at least two years to become a CPA – two years of very specific experience, and I barely made it through the first year with my job intact, but I learned how to get my act together. I pushed – like I still do, when I have a goal – and then, after the two years, came the next hurdle – the CPA exam.  A large room, four tests over 3 days.  Many students took what were called “review courses” then – I couldn’t afford it, so I purchased books from some publisher back east for a few hundred dollars, and spent hours on the little desk in the bedroom of my childhood home, studying the past test questions and materials for hours.  Worrying, as I always did, that I might not pass; I might not be smart enough, not as smart as the rest.  Back then, it took a very long time to get results – you might pass some, or all, of the sections – but I cleared that hurdle. Shortly thereafter, I paid my “license fee” the state of California, and joined the professional associations, and was able to proudly add to my business card, those 3 letters – C.P.A.  

I actually did have to run tapes like this back in the 80’s!!! Ah, technology.

Computers were just beginning to emerge as business tools in 1980, when I graduated college; my own programming classes had utilized punch cards to submit to the computer lab, with a report to be picked up the following day on large computer paper with green stripes.  Fax machines were next, then cellular phones, and PC’s – my first home computer from Radio Shack/Tandy utilized a cassette tape for programming.  Now, these terms have themselves become antiquated – and in a way, so has my knowledge.  Public accounting was, in fact, an excellent career for job stability; even with my flaws and foibles, I was able to maintain my employment through more than a few periods of uncertainty and change.  In time, I even pursued an MBA, which I am glad to say did give me a better understanding of how the technical aspects of the work I provided, moving from public accounting into internal financial administration, could help the organizations I serve better achieve their goals. 

Yes, Bill Cosby sold us our first home computers! Maybe Will Smith can ask him for advice ….

Those 4 certificates were framed and displayed above my desk, proudly, through my last office job in 2017. Every two years, I would complete the required continuing education classes – sometimes at conferences, but often on my own – just enough to meet the state requirements, and pay the fees, and get that license renewal.  Even after I decided in 2019 to end my pursuit of employment, at just barely 61, to prioritize my new life with my husband and other pursuits – I filled out the renewal forms and paid the fee.  But the certificates stayed in the basement – until last week, when after another dream about work, I knew the time had come to close the chapter.  I was a little surprised, somehow, that the papers which I had been so delighted to see arrive in the mail after my efforts, long in their frames, were really just flimsy sheets.  This morning, they were picked up, joining all the other contents of the trash barrels at 4 am. 

Legally, from this point on, I cannot say I am a CPA.  Not that this is not a sad occasion – just a memorable one.  As I reflect on all the memories of all those jobs – calling an old friend from that era, who like me waited anxiously to learn if they had met the standard – I think not of all the financial reports that I wrote, or the presentations, as much as I do about the lives that I was able to somehow, in a small way, encourage.  The numbers were not as important as the decisions and choices they facilitated – and the health of the organizations that I toiled for, served the needs not only of their communities, but the individuals who worked alongside me in the teams, trying to get through their own daily grind.  I know how fortunate I have been – but I still remind myself – to have the ability to live a fairly measured life in retirement. free from that sense of uncertainty that there will be enough.   It is very different from the life of that young boy trying to choose what path to take, what road would lead to if not success, safety. 

Beyond that gratitude, I am struck by the realization that we all define ourselves so much by things like our job titles.  Yes, we are nurses or cops or clerks or dancers, bartenders and barbers, sales reps and janitors – yet, we are so much more.  When the time comes to walk away from that paycheck – we do not stop being significant.  In fact, this is a moment to give ourselves to see new opportunities – ones that we could not take up when we were grasping so tightly onto the horses whose reins we had already taken in hand.   We built well defined, comfortable boxes for ourselves – we look for labels, and present those to others;  we see models and try to look like them, because somehow they represent the pinnacle.  Whether in our careers, our relationships, our schools or our bodies of faith – we try to conform.  To meet expectations; to have that “seal of quality” that say, yes – we have made it! 

Photo by GEORGE DESIPRIS on Pexels.com

That label, at least – CPA – for me – is now history.  The career ended a long time ago; the dreams remain, and I doubt that getting rid of the certificate will end those.  But slowly, like many other “skins” of my life, I am shedding the walls that I gripped so closely to define me, and allowing myself the opportunity to, if not spread my wings, dip my toes into new pools, tenderly.  I am glad that my career gave me the opportunity to contribute to the well-being of so many organizations that do good in our world – in a small way.  I am grateful that for a very few lives, that I worked alongside, I was able to encourage and perhaps even inspire a few to believe in themselves even though that was difficult for me to embrace; I saw in them opportunity and gave them permission to chase it.  And I am moved that some from those many years remember me now, kindly.   Today, those desks belong to others and the computers I used are more than defunct, the financial reports shredded and forgotten; all that pressure and stress, just a dissipating smoke of memory. 

We are so, so much more than a single, limited perspective – even our own is less than complete. When we let go of not only trying to meet the expectation of others, but to free ourselves of the limitations and definitions that have been our own private islands – we can travel to new destinations.   New life can emerge – regardless of our age.  Now just for ourselves, but for those around us – we can start to push through the boxes and find a new world outside, filled with promise and uncertainty just like the ones we faced when we took off our high school robes and filed our diplomas. I am glad that life still offers a chance to me, and anyone facing once again the question of what purpose to make primary, what goal to pursue – a choice.  A chance.  Those doors are forever ahead of us, not just behind; each leading to adventures and discoveries we cannot imagine.  Onward, my friends – onward! 

Join my dozens of subscribers and get my occasional musings – free!! Limited time!!

Until next time, friends … thanks for stopping by!!!

Once upon a time … when we were very young ….

It is never too late to add a new chapter to your life story …

Have you been back to the cinema yet?  I sure missed them, especially during the early months of theater closures and uncertainty – but the past few months, we have enjoyed getting out once in a while to enjoy the ones that we considered a “must see” on the big screen.  Sure, sometimes we were nearly alone, and we had to wear masks – but it was still pure magic, for this movie buff.  Nightmare Alley, Dune, West Side Story – heck, I even enjoyed Spiderman and The Batman – and, most recently, Cyrano (which was truly a work of art, and heart).   And now the Oscars are being voted on – the “buzz” isn’t what it used to be, our world is in turmoil and somehow the awards just aren’t really all that important, if they ever were.  Still, I have a favorite (having seen about half the nominees, and the only half I wanted to!) ….. 

When we watched Belfast, filmed primarily in black and white, and set in the 60’s during the “troubles” between Catholics and Protestants in Ireland, I was surprised by how much this very specific family story, from a region I have never known, still resonated with me about the passage from childhood into a bigger world.  We identify with the emotions of the young boy caught up in events that shatter his small world, and make him see that his parents, his grandparents and friends and neighbors are not all that he thought.  Sometimes, without even words, the images captured his becoming aware in a way that we all do, eventually, how events that seem routine suddenly change, and that our reliance on reality sometimes hangs by a thread.  It is a gem of a film – and well worth seeing on the big screen, and hopefully to be recognized as such by the ages.

It also reminded me of a similar story – a different era, another continent, and yet – upheaval in small town where a child realizes their world is so much different than the bubble that has protected them, for a time.  It is one of my husband’s favorite films, and a “classic” – so when the opportunity came for us to see it on the “big screen” at the Alamo Mission, we walked through the bustling neighborhood that seemed to be very different from the rest of our city, and entered the darkened room to again be drawn into a black and white vision.   The music, the acting – and of course, the script adaptation by the not as well-known as he should be Horton Foote – somehow made the ugliness of many of the events in the narrative, contrasting with the innocence and hope of the children caught up in them, more dreamlike. 

I speak of “To Kill a Mockingbird”, which is now in a somewhat reconstructed vision being presented on the Broadway stage.  Scout, the young girl in depression Alabama, probably would empathize with Buddy, the 9-year-old whose family faces danger – and loss – in Belfast. Both learn to deal with death – and wrongdoing, and injustice.  The choices that families must make to balance survival with stability, in the face of circumstances beyond their ability to impact – much as the families of Ukraine are challenged with as I write.  The realization that the stories they were read at night, the songs and games they played, are not enough to answer the questions that growing up will bring. On reflection, one shared observation from both films is how traumatic, and suddenly, childhood can shift from the cocoon of safety to the dawning awareness that life is more complex, and dangerous, than we imagined.  But there is also a kind of resilience even in young children that comes from some inner place to pull us through – although, sadly, not always.  

We never have to give up the ability to dream … and to hope ….

As Atticus, the father in To Kill a Mockingbird, says to his son Jem when confronted with racism and injustice – “There’s a lot of ugly things in this world, son.  I wish I could keep ‘em all away from you.  That’s never possible.”   When the grandmother in Belfast watches as her son’s family leaving their home forever, while she remains to mourn her husband (sorry, spoiler there!), we know that Buddy is facing truths that he never had imagined just a few months prior.   Innocence can never remain untouched – but wisdom can grow from loss and hope arise from disappointment.  

My kindergarten class photo – goodness how things have changed!!!

Both films brought up memories of childhood moments for me, as well. As I have continued to comb through my stacks of family records and photos, I recently came across my elementary school “class photos” from the 60’s – kindergarten through third grade. In a moment of perhaps inspiration, I turned to Facebook and over the course of a few weeks reconnected for the first time with many of the children in those pictures – some who were in my classes all the way through high school.  I learned of events in their lives – as to be expected, most had married or had children, and grandchildren; some were accepting of what I shared of my life since high school, but some closed me off, and I needed no explanation why.  But as I looked at the faces, remembering some names, and others not recognizing at all, I reflected on how much we had all shared, and even though our paths differed, how alike our lives were in many ways – a group of children in a small town, now scattered elsewhere, some remaining fast friends and others lost to time.  It touched me when one classmate I was able to meet in person with after 45 years shared that, more than once, my name had come up and some had wondered what had become of me – it somehow gave me a little sense that perhaps I had belonged, even then, more than I was able to realize or accept. 

Now, spring emerges in our world, again.  Seasons flowing into one another, a rhythm in the earth itself that echoes deep in our souls.  We perhaps mistakenly see our lives as a linear process – certainly we move through it that way, consciously.  We think of our stories in stages – childhood, adolescence, adulthood, parenthood and more.  But a portion of our heart remains forever young, a little piece that still looks out the door on a Saturday morning anxious to jump on a bicycle and explore, meet new friends, embrace joy and spontaneity.  Whether a young girl living in depression era American south, or a boy struggling to understand why his neighbors are turning on one another in 60’s Ireland – or the children of Ukraine today being torn from their homes and families without knowing why – these moments awaken our hearts. Our hearts that somehow exist beyond the reach of time, and even throw off the limitations of age itself.  

A video montage with the musical theme from To Kill a Mockingbird

Listen to that little voice in your being, wanting to be heard, waiting to tell you secrets and hopes that still long to be birthed in your tomorrows. Our growth – maturing, or moving towards it – never really ends, even after a lifetime of missed opportunities – we just need to be open to the possible that our world taught us to question and set aside. That lost inner fountain of joy can still stream freely, the journeys that begin with curiosity and the possibility of new discoveries, and even the strength to deal with the shock of the unexpected with a kind of faith that, beyond the immediate, there is a better day ahead.  The songs and games we played as children are still echoing in our souls, and a smile can break out unexpectedly, if our hearts let us keep a small bit of room for those moments when we need them most. Just as children need parents, our adult consciousness needs to reach out to those little ones inside our hearts to find our way; to join our hands, and together walk toward the future together.  We need one another, now more than ever.  Perhaps, soon, you can invite them to join you, and discover again that which has been awaiting you ever since once upon a time. 

Thanks for flying New NormL – until next time, keep on keeping on!!

“The dreams that stuff is made of”

Dreams can be amazingly vivid; more intense, somehow, than real life, at least for a few moments before you become aware of your “true” surroundings, the blankets over you, the slowly brightening sky.  Perhaps in that moment you feel a kind of astonishment – that something so powerful, emotions flowing that arose from points unknown, only to disappear with the realization that it was all a kind of fantasy.  Lately, most of my own dreams seem to be in an alternate reality, where people from different chapters of my life interact, where business meetings are incredibly stressful and the pressure of deadlines seem to portend doom, until I become again aware that, no, I don’t work anymore; those faces and places are only shadows. Shadows that seem so real before awareness banishes them, often entirely, from memory.

Our dreams call us to wander an unknown land with dark, and light, and all that lies in between.

Then, there are the nightmares – elements added to the brew of deep sleep that were never a part of daily life, even bizarre situations that seem to spring from some unrealized desire within me to write a script for a thriller.  Some are recurring, like the one I have every few years about being awakened by groups of strangers walking through the house with a real estate agent, with me protesting that they don’t belong there.  Others verge on the surreal, with elements of time travel; recently, I dreamt that I was in my childhood home – purchased by my parents in the 60s, and sold after my mother’s passing in 2006, it was a place filled with memory and emotion, even now 15 years after I walked out the door.  In the dream, the neighbors on the “bedroom” side had pushed the rickety wooden fence between our side yards further into our backyard, expanding their own footprint; but they were not home when the workers did this, and I could not find anyone to listen to me.  Finally, their real estate agent (seems like I have a phobia there of some kind!) showed up, but refused to stop the fence building, and as she decided to drive away ignoring my pleas for understanding, a vibrator fell out of her car and rolled onto the street behind her fleeing sedan as I called to her in vain to let her know of her loss. What does that all mean?  I have no idea – but it seemed so real, and my emotions, my frustration and sense of being ignored were real even if the scenario was imaginary. 

Now that I think about it, many films and programs of my childhood were tied to the “it was just a dream” motif – “Invaders from Mars”, the only film directed by William Cameron Menzies, which terrified me; “The boy and the pirates”, a very cheap film featuring a no name cast, but with a boy my age, then, in peril;  “The 5000 fingers of Dr. T” which features Hans Conreid as a megalomaniacal piano teacher; and probably countless others (including, eventually, Bobby in the shower on Dallas!).  Where do my own vivid dreams come from? What is their genesis – my overactive imagination, some Freudian dream machine hiding in my unconscious, or hidden meanings trying to get me to pay attention?  

Now, decades later, this film is considered a classic of childhood paranoia and the “Red Scare”

The answer to those questions eludes me, like so many others from my walking, daily life.  The phantasms of my darker hours may, however, soon become less present.  Sleep is important for so many reasons – not just lying down with your eyes closed, but for chemical reactions that occur in our mind and body when the system is in “pause”, so to speak. I have struggled with restlessness for years, now, and the related exhaustion during waking hours. I often find it difficult to return to sleep after awakening in the “wee small hours of the morning” – whether it is music running through my memory, or plans for the next day, or pondering the great mysteries of the universe – my brain doesn’t want to turn off.  Sometimes I picture a bank of dials and levers, not unlike the wall of controls that Dr. Morbius had at his disposal in “Forbidden Planet”, and I try to slowly switch them all off.  It doesn’t work – whatever “Id monster” is wandering through my intellect refuses to be evicted, only to hide for a while. 

In “Forbidden Planet”, the alien technology was based on 50’s industrial design.

Sleep is important for so many reasons – not just lying down with your eyes closed, but for chemical reactions that occur in our mind and body when the system is in “pause”, so to speak. There is some point where our consciousness moves from awareness into that place of magic where dreams arise like mist, and disappear – and when we do not reach that level of rest, it comes at a cost to our overall health and well-being, in ways that science still works to understand.  After my recent annual physical, my dr. surprised me with a suggestion that we do a “sleep study”, for possible issues with apnea; this was not a welcome idea.  More than two decades ago, when I carried much more baggage – physically and mentally – in my body, I weighed about 25% more than I do now, and had ended up with a device attached to my head that made me feel like Lloyd Bridges in Sea Hunt, and look like Steve Martin as the dentist in Little Shop of Horrors.  It didn’t help then, and I doubted after my weight loss and efforts to gain and retain fitness that apnea could be a factor in my life – could it? 

Technology has advanced, of course, and the device I wore on my finger one night indicated that I indeed had severe apnea – with my breathing interrupted more than 40 times an hour, something related to my nose and throat structure having nothing to do with weight or fitness. So, shortly thereafter, I find myself using a somewhat sleeker device by my head at night, and a noticeably quieter and less bulky apparatus to adorn my head upon the pillow – and I have to admit – my sleep does seem to be improving. Of course, there are still instances of awakening at 2 am for non-apnea factors, including our cat Chaps demanding my service as a trampoline and punching bag, or my husband’s sometimes lively conversations with someone at a work meeting or party in his own dreamland. But the results are undeniable. The “test” for apnea showed I was having more than 40 instances of breathing interruptions an hour; now, it is regularly less than 5 per my trusty electronic monitor.  

I am hoping my new “little friend” will provide my body, mind, and spirit with the peace it needs – although I don’t expect it will completely quiet those dreams, only muffle if not silence the intensity that awakens me back to the daily reality. I hope to “sleep, perchance to dream”, to paraphrase Hamlet – putting sleep first, hoping that this unwelcome diagnosis – and non-insured medical equipment treatment – will bring a better rest to my life, and better balance and health overall. Still, I do not wish to bid goodbye to dreams, not entirely.  Whether they are nightmares we awaken from gradually, or those hidden dreams we do not remember beyond the moment – there are those who say that dreams are the wishes of an older soul, emerging in our quietest hour, demanding to be heard.  Perhaps they have a point of origin that we sometimes cannot quite place our fingers upon; but the shadows that rise and play out in the space between our closed eyelids and our brain, seeping into the night, carrying our bodies into lands that, if they exist, are not on any map – I think we need those too.  Because, sometimes, dreams last beyond the dawn, in ways we do not realize.  

Just like George Bailey lassoing the moon for Mary … we can bring dreams to reality

Perhaps our wishes are born, seeds floating out from those fields of dreams – and the wishes become goals, and hopes, that we hold deep in our hearts, transporting us almost like one of those “driverless” cars that seem to fill the streets of my home here in San Francisco, taking us to places we did not realize our hearts wanted to reach – by roads we did not know existed, or had to build. I am reminded of the biblical story of Joseph, the interpreter of dreams – so amusingly converted into a lively musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber – a child who did not fit in, was rejected by his family and suffered misery because of his gift of dreaming, and interpreting the dreams of others; eventually raised to powers neither he nor his family could have ever imagined, and then – in time beyond his own – leading his peoples into, and out from, desperation.  His dreams – however much is fact, or fable – changed the world.  I do not flatter myself that my dreams, or any of our dreams, will have that effect – but they can change our little, quiet worlds, and our lives, if we pay heed to their voices. 

When a dream speaks to our hearts, if a wish is born, and grows into a goal – each day holds the promise that a tiny step can take us closer to the dream becoming a reality.  It can be a very long journey. It can be so frustrating to acknowledge that the destination is not for today – just the step ahead, on a path that takes a lifetime to carve. To grasp the promise in just this moment, this “now”, is ultimately a step of faith – the outcome uncertain, but the act of responding to the call, the vision is our choice, alone.  That response needs to be enough, as results may not be seen now, or perhaps ever; we exist in the imperfect now while the hopes of the perfect tomorrow shine like a momentary rainbow, shimmering and then gone only leaving a shadow in our memory.  We must find the beauty, just enough to hold on to in the now – and balance that tenderly against our yearning for the ideal we can only move towards, never holding fully, yet …. The intangible, forming the tangible, until a new dream emerges and the cycle renews.  

And once made real, our dreams can take us on to new adventures ….

Back in 1941, Humphrey Bogart described the Maltese Falcon, the priceless statue that led to multiple murders and greed and loss, as “the stuff that dreams are made of”;  he was paraphrasing, again, Shakespeare in “The Tempest”, when Prospero reflect that “We are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded with a sleep”.   Not to dispute William, or Humphrey – but I believe we can use our dreams to create reality, not the reverse.  Perhaps we can say that our lives at this moment are the product of not only our dreams, but those before us; our today is the result of “the dreams that stuff is made of”.   We may not be able to choose our dreams; whatever the source, or the meaning if any – they arise, and speak, and move on. We move from a consciousness based on what we think, feel, see and “know” – into a place of mystery, where a new creation awaits to be birthed, or discovered.  As you next lay down your head, and the day slips into darkness, and your breathing slows – I hope your dreams will lead to hopes and visions that you can bring into being, dreams that will last.   With, or without, a mask and a machine to carry you into that place of unlimited perhaps, and a million maybes.  

Until next time, friends ….. sweet dreams …..

Act quickly – subscriptions will end when I run out of paper!!! (Or when I wake up?)

Creating a very good year

It’s a little odd thinking that my last post of 2021 was about how much music can mean to our lives – particularly recalling how my Mom loved the songs of Frank Sinatra – and that my thoughts this week seem to be resonating with one of his songs.   Like many around the world, the last two weeks of our lives have been filled with celebrations of meaning – and the beginning of a new year, with all the reflections and projections that come with the perspective of “out with the old, in with the new”.   It is, naturally, not that simple – but it sounds comforting.  

New Year’s 1910 Saturday Evening Post Cover – a classic Leyendecker illustraion

For some, “Fast away the old year passes” couldn’t be fast enough for 2021. I don’t see it as much referenced “nowadays”, but it used to be common in advertising to have “baby new year” and “father time” marking the occasion.  Of course, thankfully, we do not age that quickly, moving from infancy to “old age” in the course of just 365 days – it creeps up on us, until one day we see gray hairs (or no hair – or hair where we don’t want it!) and wrinkles, and perhaps wince at the sight.  Next week, my husband has a milestone birthday – 75; and shortly after that, I will be the age where the Beatles asked “Will you still love me when …”.   To many, that makes us both old geezers – neither of us is ready to embrace that title, just yet. 

A rather grumpy perspective on the past, don’t you think?

But I have been thinking lately about just what is the truest sign of old age – and I think perhaps I have found the key, for my purposes at least.  Having just last month reconnected with a fellow elementary through high school classmate, and reflected on our lives paths and the unexpected turns they took in the 60 years since, remembering the final years of my parents as their health declined, and being very much aware that it is just 3 years ago my own life was put at risk by a parasite, hospitalization and ongoing seemingly never complete recovery – I realize that as the years add up, the wrinkles deepen, and other effects of aging compete for my denial – no future is guaranteed.  No tomorrow is promised, but the hope will not be set aside that many years of joy, discoveries, love, growth and exploration lie ahead.  Yet there is one indicator of aging that I hope to avoid, and that we can take action on every day – not to defer the passage of time, but to ensure that the days ahead, and today, have as much meaning as those remembered – and maybe more. 

Talk about forced perspective – a completely distorted view of reality!

The surest sign of aging is …… letting your world shrink. 

I see it in my life, especially since moving, and then retiring early – my world is at risk of growing smaller.  Not so small yet that it is like the room my mother spent the last 8 years of her life sharing with another care patient; not as small as the houses and apartments where some spend their days living online, or watching “reality shows” without a word shared with a fellow human being, perhaps for days at a time.  COVID has accelerated that “shrinkage” in some ways, unavoidably to a degree – but it takes effort to fight.  To reach out to those we cannot touch, still, even though silence may be the only response; to force ourselves to meet new faces, move past social insecurities to speak to a stranger and share a smile, or a kind word;  and especially, to dream and then ACT on those dreams, even though some may say your time has passed. 

Many years ago, I sat in the California Theater in San Bernardino – I was probably around 40 or 45 at the time – to see a silent movie.  My own father and grandparents had watched movies there decades prior, and on this occasion, the theater organ was going to be played by, essentially, a very old man.   In a way, I was already older then, compared to now – my world was small, I remained trapped in thinking in ways that kept me alone, closeted, and lonely – but movies had always been a window out of the darkness into a world of adventure, and this was a chance to revisit a moment in time.  The organist was a gentleman by the name of Gaylord Carter – he had begun playing when silent movies were “new”, 100 years ago, and continued performing through his 90th birthday.  You can actually hear his artistry daily – over, and over, and over – in the Haunted Mansion, where his dancing hands created the magical sounds of “Grim Grinning Ghosts” on the ballroom organ where spirits enjoy their never ending waltz. 

Organist Gaylord Carter, and his performance that will outlast us all!

What was amazing to me about Gaylord, and his performance, was his spirit.  He was so alive – by that time, I think he was probably in his 70s – but so full of energy, and joy, and laughter.  I think too of a woman I never met, but who I often read of in the paper in Redlands, California – Hulda Crooks, who a park is named for in Loma Linda, California – remembered for her worldwide hiking including climbing Mount Whitney 23 times between the ages of 65 and 91, along with nearly 100 other peaks during those same years.  I did not know my own grandparents, sadly – but there were many others I met during my time in various groups and organizations, or even just preparing their taxes – men and women who remained more vital and more excited about life than most of the people I encountered on a daily basis.  They did not let their worlds get small – they pushed the limits, insisting on moving forward, and discovering new perspectives. 

How do we retain that fresh outlook, how do we embrace the hope for something beyond what is known?  In part, at least, it means letting go – our hands, our hearts, our intellects can only hold so much, and we must make choices about our energies, our focus and our goals.  Many of us did that, perhaps, as December wound down and the fireworks began to be shown on our televisions and phones and laptops around the world, a celebratory orgy of rebirth and a yearned for optimism for a better year ahead, less dread, more joy, less alone, more together.  But it is up to me, to you, to each of us in a way alone yet in a way together, to set our courses and our desires to deliberately, daily, move ahead – to not just sit where we are, to take the chances and the steps – tiny, or leaps of faith or both at once – into the future we want to make real.  Intentions and wishes, resolutions and dreams – they are only launching pads.  We cannot stay on the diving board forever, or at its foot, imagining that our fantasies will be realized and dwelling in the vision – we must work, we must sweat, we must sacrifice and lift up those around us moment by moment to inch forward and make it happen.  

By this point, you may have wondered (or perhaps forgotten) how I might see any of this as relating to a Sinatra hit from 1965.  I was eight then – soon I will be 8 times that – and my thoughts were of grades, and Hardy Boys books, and piano lessons.   A composer whose name I did not know until I researched today, Ervin Drake, was already well known for a hit, “I Believe” – a song of hope – and this number was originally recorded by the Kingston Trio in 1961, becoming a kind of “comeback song” for Sinatra when he recorded it 4 years later  It is a song of memories and gratitude, reflections – the kind of thing that becomes more a part of life with age, perhaps.  But it is the final lyric that comes to mind for me – “It was a very good year”.  

For me, with all it’s trials (and yes, disappointments too), 2021 was an amazing, wonderful year – and I want that to be even truer in 2022.  How can I make that so?  How can I keep my world from shrinking as the rolling online dial for “year of birth” takes longer to scroll to?  Part of it, I believe, is knowing this – my life is at its fullest when I am the truest, deepest, and best “me” I can be – whatever that is or looks like, but forever imperfect and flawed; therefore, the process of moving towards authenticity is never complete.  You and I will never be “finished”; we can never stop our journey. A page on a calendar is neither a beginning or an end – our beginnings were before our parents met, and our endings lie outside the limits of our knowledge and imagination, but the now, the today, is where will build on one and create another yet to be seen.  

My own desk calendar for 2021 was one of those “page a day” with quotes – and two, from December, seemed appropriate for my own reflection as I worked to shape my priorities and goals for my next stage of life.   The first, by a contemporary author and counselor, Craig D. Lounsbrough,  reminds me that there is work that must be accomplished, there are doors that must be closed, and that the to-do’s need to be done – so that I can move on.  We must finish our business and not drag it endlessly into our future – there is not enough room for new dreams if we are forever reviving the old.  We must choose.

The second, by Danish theologian Soren Kierkegaard more than 150 years ago, forces us to recognize that creating our future takes courage.  We cannot know the outcome, we cannot guarantee anything – the “safety zone” of our childhood, if it ever was even partially realized, does not extend into becoming whatever we choose of the possibilities on our menu of life. The uncertainty, the darkness, the fog of the future that stretches just beyond our nose is not, and never will be, under our control – we must seek reassurance and trust from something more than we can know or measure – but the only way to get there is to leap.  The great something lies awaiting.  It does take daring to enter that universe of perhaps and maybe.

For many, last year’s resolution is this years excuses and regrets. I did not accomplish everything I set out to do a year ago – so what? My resolution as I shared with a friend via text today is simple – keep going and keep growing.  I will work to make my world bigger – not smaller.  More full of life – taking the chances, welcoming new friends into our circle, exploring parts known and unknown – trying new adventures. How that looks and how it ends up will probably be very different than I might wish for when the baby new year toddles out in diapers until his older self shuffles off next winter, his journey over. But just as I can embrace the process, widen my world, and go forth boldly – so can you.  Make your world bigger – or perhaps just realize it is already bigger than you ever could have imagined!  Perhaps as you set sail, and catch the wind anew – whether today is January 1, or March 18, or October 27th – like me, you have matters to be finished, and then leaps to be made.  But staying where we are – that is the surest guarantee of a shrinking world, and the quickest way to a year that we will never remember.  I want to stand at the end of 2022, and look back and say – yes.  Yes, this was a year that mattered – it was a very good year.  Let us make the next one, better. 

Until next time, friends …. thanks for stopping by to visit!

Subscriptions? Absolutely – just sign up below – and I would love to hear from you!

The days grow short … when you reach September

The equinox – a balance of day and night

Summer is dwindling, a few hours left until our globe intersects with the sun and the light of day is in balance with the cloak of night. Do our souls sense this? Or is it just our awareness of the calendar, and knowing that it is just a little darker when we awake. Whatever the case, at last, I have been able to sit and write, and reflect, again.

The wonderful Brothers Four – their voices blending like honey flowing.

Although my posts have been less current of late (goodness – 6 weeks!), I think about tidbits and wonderings all the time, and write down ideas – “to be explored”, like the pathways of an unfamiliar garden, rather than my mind, or history, or my city.  In fact, I have been able to get out a little more, taking walking tours of neighborhoods that I have only driven through – you discover hidden sides of this city by walking.  I do admit, though – it has been difficult to sit down and work on putting thoughts to screen (can’t say paper anymore!)  What makes it difficult?  Of course, my excuses are easy to reach for, when I remind myself that I want to work on writing – but one overrides all the rest.  I am just not sure that I have something meaningful to say. 

Sometimes you need to leave the familiar to gain perspective – now, we have all left that which we know.

When I paid WordPress nearly two years ago now, in late 2019, for the name of my blog, storage, and more – we were all in a different place. I certainly was. As I have shared, I had come to the conclusion that it was time to end my career (or, end getting paid for it, at least), after a health crisis and many changes in my personal life.  Friends had often said, kindly, that my periodic letters with news via email had meaning for them – and, having spent years trying to work through various issues, coming “out”, finding love, and leaving my southern California life behind to move to San Francisco – I thought, perhaps, there might be some value in sharing my experiences, lessons if you will, with strangers, and friends – that the price I had paid might benefit others to find courage and hope to move beyond, unlike me, before the parade passed by. 

Some might be shocked to hear me say that phrase – it’s not that I do not have joy in my life, or that I have not continued to have amazing life experiences in the nearly 10 years since I made a decision to work towards finding a way to be happy in life as I was, instead of swimming in shame over who I wasn’t.   I know I am very, very lucky – to be alive; to be loved; to be relatively stable and relatively healthy, especially in this era of constant uncertainty and shifting “truths” that drive our everyday behavior.  So it is not that the parade is over – but the band is a little quieter, a little more distant – and I am coming to a kind of peace with accepting that I cannot catch up, nor could I ever have – only try to stay in step, and raise my banner in time. 

But recently I was reminded that sometimes there are old boxes in the basements of our memory, dusty and filled with things we don’t need anymore, and they can pop open at the most unexpected times.  For me, several came together at once, starting with a film I saw listed last month on Netflix, but have not yet viewed, about various leaders of the “ex gay” movement that was at its strongest in some ways during the years I was pulled into its relentless gravity – looking for freedom, healing, holiness, and all those other tasty promises that were held out by the cheery Willie Wonkas claiming to represent the will of God.  I eagerly gobbled their candy, and sang the songs, and shouted my huzzahs and hallelujahs, but still knew only emptiness inside.  I had thought after all that I had come through, and come towards, in the past decade, that the feelings associated with that era were vanquished; that I had only happiness to work towards now.  So it was shocking to me that in just mentioning the existence of the documentary to a friend – one who, like most in my life, did not share that experience but knew that it had molded – nay, mangled – my heart – I felt a well burst open, of pain, and regret.  I spent decades wearing masks, before Covid – those were deeply embedded in my face, so that when I looked in the mirror, even I could not see who I was underneath. And the boxes stayed, not fully forgotten.

I am certain you too have some buried wells, and although I will someday, soon probably, watch that documentary – and learn, and remember, and move on just a little more – it was not time, just now, to air out those old boxes.  The geyser of feeling, and pain, had taken me by surprise – I thought I had put all that behind me.   As some have told me, trauma never fully heals – but we learn to deal with it, and to balance the future and the gifts of the present against that past.  I sometimes feel deep regret that the process for me, which continues, impacts the lives of others who love me but who cannot relate, cannot understand – only in part.  This is a wounding of the soul, so deeply, for so long, that is perhaps blessedly only fully known by those of us who swam in that dark pool.  My regrets cover me like layers of old blankets, sometimes they weigh a little less, but for whatever reason, I cannot leave them by the side of the road. 

But I have been surrounded, carried and comforted by those few angels on earth, others who walked that path and who stand with me when I crumble.  Along with the counselors whose words even know come back to me, encouraging me, letting me be in that pain and yet holding open a window to a blue sky that I might not otherwise remember is also ahead. A close friend has commented on some of my posts that they are therapy for me, and she is correct.  But I hope somehow by sharing this journey, for which I have no map, and no truly identified endpoint – it lets others find hope too. 

There is a way to climb out, and there are more around us than we know, waiting to help us climb.

Oddly connected in ways that may not make sense to anyone but me, as my husband recently traveled out of state to see dear friends who had moved to a new home, I found myself looking for something to view in his absence – we share many tastes, but not all – and I settled on the Netflix reimagining of Shirley Jackson’s “The Haunting of Hill House”.   Of course, yes, it is a horror series – but under the narrative is a theme of a deeper horror than the whispers of ghosts – it is the seeping poison of secrets, and bitterness, and judgment that drives loved ones apart, leaving us on islands alone instead of together in our imperfections.  Watching it, I realized I have my own ghosts – as does my husband, my friends and family – even this city, foggy, has spirits hovering in it, trapped in another time, which we do not see but whose legacies, not out of ill will or threat, still weave into our conscious and unconscious daily life. 

I found myself thinking about what I really want to make the priorities of the uncertain amount of time I have left, here or wherever – what really matters.  I respect deeply that for many the very notion of faith, or inspiration, or varying belief systems and religious practices, have left scars – and yet I still find comfort in seeing things through a prism of a larger reality beyond my ability to grasp, measure or comprehend.  And I realized that the threads of faith which have been woven into so many of our lives, in confusing ways as well as creating little glimmers of hope, remain very much a part of how I process my experience – particularly in this age of bubbling chaos and the winds of rumors and fear that buffet us as we try to stay upright.  And I know that even though I lack answers and will readily confess my own perspective does not necessarily hold any value for others – that I need to write about that, here, moving ahead.

Sometimes it is not that we need to see something new – but for our heart to see what we know, anew

Not just that, of course – but it colors my vision.  We all have filters over our eyes, whether we are conscious of it – politics, values, memories, culture, stresses and wounds that over the years can fog our perceptions, closing our hearts and our intellects.  I know for all that I think about love and forgiveness and hope, any words that I write could be easily held up against my daily actions toward others – those dusty boxes in my basement have voices of their own that I have listened to, silently, for over 60 years.  

I also want to write about my family history – having the documents, photos, diaries and paraphernalia of so many ancestors piled into boxes and files – they have spoken to me over the years, like the other ghosts.  Their lessons, their sacrifices and joys – they are like little tarnished forgotten jewels that only I can shine, polish, clean and present to those who will walk on after I am gone.  If I do not take the time, no one will – and those images and voices will be gone forever.  And I want to write about the little slices of life that we walk through, my husband and I, gradually getting out a little more, like so many others – realizing that what we did before COVID may not be how we really want to use our time and energy as we gingerly step out and gather.   For many in my life, some of those may not have meaning at all – but I want to write about my new experiences and explorations, nevertheless.  I am blessed to know wonderful people of all walks of life, many who have no connection to LGBTQ history or culture – some may not like all they see, or read – but where I see beauty and hope, I want to share it, even if for some it seems a contradiction. 

And then there is the learning curve of technology, speeding past our ability to keep up. I am frustrated, intimidated and flummoxed by my lack of technical understanding of WordPress, how to lay things out, how to index and make them “discoverable”.   When I began, I just thought posting and using keywords would be “enough” – now, I realize anyone visiting would have to randomly scan through to find anything of interest – and why, with billions of words being generated around the world daily on blogs and websites, would anyone take the time to do that?  So, another goal will be to restructure this website – to make it easier to find similar posts.  Will that be easy?  Uh, no – but, just like exercise, that which is hard is usually that which is most worth doing.  If I don’t take the time to learn how to use the tools, I cannot expect my work to be as potentially impactful – circling back to my uncertainty that the time and effort I put into writing these occasional posts has the appropriate “cost/benefit” relationship.  “Partitioning” the nearly 40 previous posts; exploring the guts of WP mechanics; and refocusing what “The New NormL” is about – moving ahead – is a priority as fall begins to creep forth and the sun drops below the horizon a little earlier each evening. 

So, in that moment coming soon, when the sun and earth balance the hours of night and the hours of day, we too try to find our balance. Think about it- for half the planet, spring is approaching – for “our” half, fall. But we all move on in our cycles, and my journey also continues toward authenticity – to fullness; healing; frustrations occasionally, but hope bouncing back eventually, round after round.  My season is changing, and something new, and wonderful, is waiting to be discovered, shared, and celebrated. Here in San Francisco, most faces still remain under masks much of time, but the process of peeling those layers of old masks from my heart takes more than just permission from authorities.  I have no idea how far the road stretches ahead but staying put is not an option.  Yes, we still face many threats – political, social, health; economic, interpersonal, and weaving through all that, however you may put it – spiritual.  That which is bigger than “us” or “me”, the mysterious stuff of time and timelessness, the longings of a deeper part of my being and, I dare say, yours as well – albeit on a different path.  

I find myself frequently turning to music as a touchstone to my feelings and my longings.  Today, the song that comes to mind was written by Hoagy Carmichael, whose work is remembered perhaps more than his name,  but you can learn about him here.  I think I first heard this reverie as the opening credits song for a film which was about memory, and longing – love, and joy, and forgiveness, and hope; all the things my heart is drawn to as I walk along my path, with time slowing my pace.  The movie was “My Favorite Year”, with Peter O’Toole, and it retains its charm 40 years later.  I guess in a way, even at my advanced age, I relate to the character of the young writer – a fictional blending of the experiences of writers like Mel Brooks, and Woody Allen, on 50’s variety television – working through life’s dreams and illusions to find the deeper, and more meaningful, reality at the heart, what we long to hold and to know.   Perhaps my deeper discoveries lie ahead – I will do my best to share them with those few who find their way here.  Until next time – stay safe as “the purple dusk of twilightime … steals across the meadows of your heart.” 

Finding my fit – part 3 – Working out our invisible muscles

My previous two posts have been about my ongoing, lifelong journey – struggle, battle, triumph? what have you – with “fitness”.   It isn’t over; I haven’t “made it”.  And that’s actually kind of exciting, in a way – the process of learning about our bodies never ends; just as age is inevitable, there is always more we can know, understand and practice.  I also wrote about lessons that I am learning, and relearning, about how my thinking impacts not only my workouts, but my outlook in general – and the principles I can follow to be more effective in this quest.  But there are some insights that take time to root within our understanding, to be revealed in our growth – and to emerge into our awareness, gradually, like a slowly blossoming flower.  So, this last entry about my fitness journey – for now, at least – is about a realization emerging and unfurling its own petals in partnership with my workout regimens.   

For many years, I felt somehow not at home in my own body.  What on earth do I mean by that? It’s hard to explain; I believe I am not the only one who has had that experience, a kind of disassociation, or lack of cohesion.  Certainly, my body was not something I felt proud of, or confident in; like many aspects of my deeper identity, I tried to literally cover it up, instead of accepting it as is. Strangely, during this past year or so at the gym, feeling my muscles move and sensing them more fully, has given me an added awareness of my physical being that I lacked before.  From this, I began to develop an appreciation, and a kind of awe, at the complexity of our individual “selves” – physical, inside, outside, and everything in between.  Somehow, working on my body has evolved into a sort of integration of things that were not fitting together as well before; pieces of a puzzle fitting into place for a larger picture.  I began to feel a glimmer of understanding ….. but I still wasn’t grasping it, but rather – sensing it. 

As I fumbled through my workouts, seeing the calendar models physiques surrounding me whose weight loads are twice mine and more, as well as their biceps and chests – I found myself thinking about whether I was focused on the right muscles, in my workout regimen. Because my visible results weren’t meeting my expectations, I wondered – was I really on the “right” path to develop the important strengths? What was I failing to incorporate? What was I doing wrong? As I began to look beyond what my eyes saw, and what all the fitness and diet apps focused on – the “chest/back/shoulders/legs” type of workout breakdown – to what lay beneath; I realized there was something I was missing, something essential to incorporate alongside all those practices.  I needed to train what I came to consider as my invisible muscles.  

Our bodies are miraculous creations, wondrously complex, infinitely mysterious, and constantly evolving.  Just as our physical selves depend upon a structure of organs, muscles, and nerves to functions, there are networks supporting other aspects of our awareness and existence. Perhaps these invisible muscles are just as amazing, working in harmony with those we see, but remain hidden to our eyes, immeasurable. But just like our bodies, these muscles really aren’t that much different; they need stretching and challenge to gain strength, and nourishment to grow.  If we tend to one set in our training and neglect the other in our thinking and practice – we will be imbalanced, no matter what our bodies look like to those around us. 

Maybe the concept of a correlating network of invisible muscles sounds ridiculous to you – perhaps it would help of them as not physical, but, spiritual or psychic or whatever word works for you. Don’t get hung up on verbiage – rather, consider this invisible muscle structure as just operating in tandem with those in all the exercise videos. Even though no one at the gym can see these muscles, building them will have a more lasting effect, than I can develop solely by pumping iron and pulling cables.  It doesn’t mean that seeking physical health – strength, fitness, whatever term you prefer – is a waste of time.  In fact, I am coming to understand that the outside reflects (and even depends upon) the discipline of what I am embracing inside – I am building from the inside out, not just the walls of a beautiful edifice, but the “whole” of me  living within that physical structure.  Think of it as inner bodybuilding, the hidden strengths humming along silently underneath the outer facade. 

At the gym, we train our legs to carry us farther and faster; our arms to lift heavier and higher; and our chests to be stronger and broader.  The workout of the inner muscles is focused on different parts of our being; to name a few – compassion; forgiveness; grace; faith; tolerance; choosing joy; opening minds and ultimately loving hearts.  Only with these can we accomplish feats of strength like reaching out to others in need; stepping forward with conviction to stand for what is right; carrying a burden for loved ones and even strangers that has left them broken.  And, for many of us, instead of merely lifting weights, we learn to let them go – inside ourselves – through forgiveness and reconciliation.   The unseen muscles direct the efforts of our bodies to accomplish the vision of our hearts – together.   

Why do we need to exercise these internal muscles? As with the rest of the amazing bodies we are given, if unused, they become less enduring; weaker; atrophied. Yet they are just as fundamental to a whole life, if not more so.  The muscles in the workout videos depend on many hidden inner muscles to be fully realized – discipline; consistency; patience; acceptance; courage; community; hope.  These are critical to power the motivation, and the creation of our intent, to accomplish almost any goal – physical or otherwise.  Working them doesn’t come naturally but requires intent – purpose – commitment. Our inner muscles need reps too!  Qualities of character that take time to build, just like all those physical muscles don’t transform overnight.  But these muscles give us the ability to accomplish feats of strength that don’t call upon our bodies as much as our hearts. This inner “fitness” will help us push beyond obstacles and barriers to new life and joy.

I sense, but I cannot prove, that both the visible and invisible muscles are designed to work together, to be integrated. There are probably philosophies and theories about the nature of identity and “being” that address this better than I can explain. But I think, maybe, building them both involves some of the same key principles that I wrote about in my earlier entry – letting time do its work; accepting ourselves and others “as is”, while still moving towards a better reality; finding joy in where we are, right now.  One thing I am certain of – focusing solely on building the muscles others see – without also doing the “reps” on our inner muscles – would leave only an outer shell lacking the inner strength that is waiting to be birthed in us all. 

I am, ultimately, encouraged as I continue my personal quests – knowing I have not “stood still” and wanting to cheer YOU on as well!  Whatever mountains we face, sometimes seemingly alone – we are sharing common dreams and hopes, and seeking the better lives that our dreams call us towards.  I recently found this wonderful zoom music collaboration created to raise funds for the Actors Fund – featuring amazing jazz musicians on one of my favorite Nat King Cole songs.  It rings true for me – sometimes, when we are down on the ground, we need the strength – the inner AND outer muscles! – to get up, and get going, stumbling maybe, but back on track.  If you look around, you will see me cheering you on – and others – you are not alone.  I hope this brings you a little joy and encouragement, as it did me. 

So, friends, my fitness journey has broadened, and deepened, and continues to be a path of discovery and understanding on many fronts. “Working out” through this pandemic has certainly opened my eyes in unexpected ways.  I started with a dream that I could transform my body – and instead, or alongside, I am transforming my mind and heart. Realizing that I need that inner workout has become more apparent with the consistent practice of an outer workout! Somehow, in trying to recover the strength I lost – as well as gain the kind of acceptance and confidence that I never had to begin with – I am building more than just my body.  I am training and building my whole being – and discovering the wonderful possibilities that still lie ahead.  They are there for us all – waiting – taking work and effort to dig through, but well worth the quest.  Until next time, friends – keep reaching for your dreams. The journey continues, for us all.

My journey literally takes to the air for a flight across our continent. For the next chapter, whenever I can set down whatever captures my imagination, register below for free notifications, and stay safe, friends! See you next time, and thanks for stopping by!

Finding my “fit” – part 2 – keys to a new kind of success

In my last post, I committed to sharing with you the results of my renewed journey to fitness, post pandemic.  I described my results as being better than I could have hoped for or imagined.  But – the outcomes I want to share with you, the ones that matter – have nothing to do with the ones that I set out to achieve.  In the process of chasing one goal, I am realizing the reward of my efforts may never show up on any weight scale, or in the mirror. What do I mean? It comes down to a question I was asked when I took those first, tentative and hopeful pandemic steps to focus on fitness, seriously.  The question I was asked – and that we need to ask ourselves constantly – is what is my goal?  What did I want to accomplish?  Or, as I think of it now – what is “my” fit? 

Photo by Victor Freitas on Pexels.com

There are endless articles on how to get fit – some even talk about the dangers of being overly focused on exercise, muscle, body fat %, dysmorphia and addiction (yes, even healthy habits can become unhealthy obsessions!).   And, there’s just as many personal definitions of what “fit” should be; just look at the endless parade of bodies on television, websites, media and advertising.  There, it seems like the world is full of idealized bodies that few of us see on a daily basis around us; fewer of us still can say we approach those measures of physical beauty.  Perhaps for you as well, those images influenced my own goals and expectations, and not always constructively.  But before any of us can find the “how” that gets us the results we seek – perhaps we need to spend some serious time asking ourselves a little less about what changes we seek, and a little more about out why we want change. 

If my goal is truly health, well – my doctor told me I have the heart of a teenage girl (now, she meant it in a nice way!).  She didn’t know my history, which I mentioned in my last post; she wasn’t my doctor when I went through one of the most difficult periods of my life. About 3 years ago, at age 60, an intestinal parasite was attacking my body from the inside out – and no one knew it. Fact is, I was kind of happy I was losing weight – but other things seemed “off”, somehow. In January 2019 I was hospitalized, and when I got out, I weighed nearly 60 pounds less than six months prior; my muscle mass was lost to dehydration and other side effects. I had to retrain my legs to walk, and in time to drive.  I remember sending a photo of me waving, to let my niece and nephew know I was doing better – and my brother told me they had cried when they saw it.  When I looked in the mirror after my first shower at home – I almost cried myself. I have come a long way since that point – but still was fundamentally unhappy with where I was still.  

Photo by Markus Winkler on Pexels.com

About a year ago when I had my first opportunity to return to the gym – out of the house! – the only way to get “in” was to work with a professional trainer.  They asked me what my goal was – and I said what I thought was the best answer – to “be my best”.  The non-verbal reaction I got was, I think – this guy doesn’t know what he wants.  On the contrary – I realized that I needed to just get better.  Just get out, just get started. Essentially, I wanted to transform my body in a way that I never had been able to achieve, and I felt optimistic that this was the time, and training was the vehicle that was going to get me to the finish line – and beyond.  

Well, friends, to be honest – I am not entirely happy with the physical progress I have made to this point.  You might think looking at my photo in my previous entry that I am doing great; compared to a few years ago, yes, absolutely.  I practice being grateful for what I have received since I was wheeled out the hospital in early 2019; I know every day is a gift I might not have had.  But I am realizing that it isn’t enough to build muscle and lose fat;  more and more, I think the fitness that I want to grasp, and to evidence on the outside, has to start on the inside – with how I think about myself, and others.  As I waver between another cardio session or a box of chocolate caramels from Trader Joes – too often, the immediate self-satisfaction of something I should be avoiding has a stronger grip on my decisions than the awareness of its cost to me on this ongoing journey.  For many of us, short term happiness comes at the expense of long-term dreams. 

Over the past few months, as I have questioned my own focus and goals; looking outward on the gym members who more closely exemplify the physical perfection that I have never really even been close to achieving – I have asked myself why I haven’t gotten more results after all the efforts, the training, and yes, the whining.  And I have begun to think of myself beyond just how I “measure up” in comparison to that longed for ideal.  I don’t know how to explain it, or even describe it – but as I lift the barbell, and strain on the machine, as I grasp for just a few more second, really, on that cardio machine – I am aware that where I really need to focus is on my thinking. Thinking about my identity; who I am, really; and who I dream of becoming. 

Photo by meo on Pexels.com

It is in our thoughts, not at the gym, that we first give birth to a vision of transformation; and it is in our thoughts, our practices, that we develop the habits that lead to true “success”, however we define it.  I realize now my thoughts have been defeating me rather than setting the stage for results.  My immature expectations of some miracle transformation, of being able to walk out post COVID and see people I have not met in a year or more and have them say – wow!  I didn’t recognize you – you look amazing! – have not been met, and in a way, the dawning awareness of that truth is a greater achievement than being able to say my body fat is down x % and I can lift this much.  Because the REAL growth that will help me move ahead is in adjusting my expectations and my focus on what I will, for the moment, believe are my key takeaways from this period to date.  If I had simply transformed my body, I would never had realized that it was my mind, my spirit and my whole being that needed to “find my fit”.  

I am absolutely still studying, learning, stumbling and rising again in my practices and workouts.  I am not “giving up” – rather, supplementing or expanding the purpose of why I want to grow in strength, in self-discipline, and in character.  The physical fitness will be a side effect of a renewed awareness and acceptance of not only myself – but extending that towards others; just as my weight loss after that first half marathon was a side effect of simply wanting to achieve a goal that I had never thought possible, by putting one foot in front of the other, step by step, day by day.  In the process, there are some insights that I have gained that help me maintain balance – just as critical as tracking reps, and weights, and getting the calories counts on the elliptical. I offer you these lessons – obvious as though they may seem, yet oh so difficult to embrace and stand on – hoping perhaps they will help you refine your own vision and goals into something that is the rocket fuel for your quest to success. 

Photo by George Becker on Pexels.com

Discover your “Flow” – Make time your ally, your friend, your secret weapon. You can’t get lasting results without being consistent – by “showing up” over time, regularly, and sticking with it.  I look at it as every day I am planting seeds. It takes a long time for seeds to take root and grow, sometimes many years; I think of the old “Johnny Appleseed” cartoon from Disney, how this one man wandering through the emerging American states and giving seeds to others left a heritage that he never saw come to fruition. Whatever your age or physical shape, or “invisible” muscle fitness – change will only come if you move ahead. I try to remember to focus not on “where are the results” TODAY,  but rather, did I take the action that I needed to today.   I need to let taking the steps be my first priority – the results will come, whatever they are or are not. They certainly won’t come at all if I don’t keep on keeping on.  Plant the seeds of the life you want tomorrow – many tomorrows away – each and every day.    

Change your vocabulary – Reconsider what YOU consider to be success and failure – not someone else. Setting a standard for what you “should be” able to accomplish by looking at the people around you is POINTLESS and a WASTE OF TIME.  Success is a process, not a destination; failure is our coach, not our nemesis. I need to be open to learning; to not assume what I am doing is right, but study, share, try the new; dare to stumble and look awkward because, hey, that’s just how it works.  When we were children, it was easier – we didn’t have these facades of pride to maintain, we built those up and now they box us in – but if we break through, we can embrace the new, and discover, and create, something better.  Failure happens; success without failure is a myth, move on knowing that the next step is what matters now.  Embrace the rhythm and romance of the dance between striving, falling, and rising again, renewed. 

Photo by Skitterphoto on Pexels.com

Be your own cheerleader. All the coaching and training or encouragement from others cannot supplant what we must provide for ourselves;  beating yourself up for all the things you failed to do, to be, is kind of like being offered the “get out of jail free” card in Monopoly and saying “no, I think I would rather be unhappy”.  You have to be 100 percent on your side – no books, no apps or trainer or videos or diet can replace your choice to believe in your own potential. I didn’t grow up in a family of cheerleaders – most of us did not – so, perhaps like Genie in Aladdin, we all need to just build an army of inner voices saying “Yes I can” to find that boost.  So grab the pom poms and start your own squad!  Be your own torch bearer in your daily Olympic opening ceremony – hear those trumpets, listen to the cheers, and rejoice in what you can do. Only you are the judges, you hold up those numbers on cards, and you hand out the medals. 

Photo by RODNAE Productions on Pexels.com

See the dream, not the chasm. The gap between where you are and where you wish to be has a strong gravity, and an endless hunger; if you let it, it will suck you in, you will wallow in darkness and discouragement, and you will never be able to enjoy the progress you made to date – or to build on it and move ahead.  It’s so easy to fall in; to see something you cannot get beyond. Instead, see the next step, and take it in faith. Let that step be enough! Some days just let it be enough to celebrate being where you are, knowing every day offers a new starting line, and holding on to certainty you can move ahead. Goals and dreams are wonderful but be realistic and celebrate every victory (just not with ice cream).  If there was not a gap between where you are and where you want to be, we would never learn to stretch, to gain strength, to get up and keep going.  The bridge between you and your destination is built one step at a time.

Photo by Trace Hudson on Pexels.com

Find joy in yourself as you are today.  No, this does not contradict the power of dreams; but yearning only for a different tomorrow robs you of celebrating the imperfection of today.  Guess what? You are ALWAYS going to have something that isn’t what you wish it to be. And no matter how you grow or what you achieve, there will always be something beckoning beyond.  Your dreams and goals should be a beacon for hope, inspiring you to reach forward – not a burden of guilt and shame that buries you in a bleak despair. Whatever “fit” means for you, this journey does not have a finish line; you are building a way of life, not to “arrive” but to travel on. This is not the Olympics, or even high school PE; there is no clock timer at the end of your run reporting “the final result”.  We only, ever, have the now, blended from what we were given and that which we created; tomorrow offers the yield from those seeds we plant today;  and yesterday is just an old photo album with memories, some good, some bad, but none as alive as the moment that we are in right NOW.  Look for, discover, and share today’s joys. 

Photo by Bekka Mongeau on Pexels.com

Those are the lessons I am learning each day as I get in the car and drive to the gym, and struggle through my workout, going home exhausted.  It’s funny, perhaps, and I have no idea how many other people might have felt this way – but I never really felt “at home” in my body.  Surely not in those junior high PE classes; decades later, still, not in the gym where bodybuilders seemingly have achieved Adonis physiques and Hercules strength.  I hate to admit it, but Olive Oil might beat me at arm wrestling!  Still, somehow, this process of exercising has helped me sense a greater integration between body, mind and spirit.  A weaving together as I accept the limits of who I am, while still reaching to achieve what I can.  That scared, hurting little boy is finding new wings, and you can too.   

I am still “finding my fit” – and I hope my wandering thoughts give you some encouragement to keep looking for your own.  It’s worth the quest – even if at 63 I am beyond being able to achieve the outward results that my quest initially saw as the goal. It’s kind of exciting to realize the true treasures awaiting me will not be visible to the eye but will be of far greater value.  I will talk about that a little bit more in my next post.  In the meantime – I’ll be at the gym tomorrow, and many thereafter. Growing in mind, spirit, and body – together. Perhaps I will see you there – let’s give each other a boost.  Keep on keeping on, friends. 

Finding my fit part 1 – Reaching for a dream ….

I am old enough to remember seeing the then famous, and ridiculed, “90 pound weakling” ads in my childhood comic books.  I kind of remember being skinny as a young boy, but after puberty – and all the associated issues – I ballooned up.   Still, for many like me, ads like those of Charles Atlas showing a muscular man awakened a sense in me that I was – inadequate. 

I was not the only boy in the 60’s who saw these ads and began to feel there was something wrong with me …..

Our culture has only exaggerated those messages over the subsequent decades – now, there are so many standards for “measuring up” that the media touts incessantly.   I certainly absorbed it all – being a typical “picked last” guy for the PE class teams, uncoordinated, and ignorant.  Everything about my life marked me as not belonging – I had no father to teach me how to play games, I turned to my intellect for achievement – it serve me well financially, and in employment – but I always felt like the outsider.  For the most part, those around me reinforced that belief.  In time, I knew my attraction to other boys was not mainstream either – so my sense of not fitting in, not measuring up, only intensified.  

Skip ahead from my teens to my late 40s – I was severely overweight, used food to deal with my emotional needs, and still deeply closeted.  One of the ways I escaped reality, besides food, was seeking happiness at the happiest place on earth – Disneyland.  I had many wonderful memories there – and when I learned that they were going to have their very first half marathon in 2006, 15 years ago, I decided to start training.  I figured if I couldn’t lose weight by trying to lose weight, maybe I could do it as a side effect by just taking on the challenge! 

At Disneyland, December 2005 – singing in the annual Candlelight Processional.

And I needed something to focus on – because my world was crumbling, in a way.  By the end of 2006 my mother and two other close family members had passed; a few months later, my father joined them.  I worked with a trainer, who endlessly encouraged me to just go a little longer every week – it was a goal, a task I could do, gradually.  I didn’t have to set any records – and I thought about my family cheering me on, there on the sidelines, in spirit.  I crossed the finish line in October 2006, after losing 40 pounds, and a lot of tears.  I followed with the half marathon in 2007 and 2008, and several others – but with age, the physical strain reached a point of more cost and less benefit, so I gave that up.  Like any major goal that takes time and effort – it built my confidence.  It showed me I could do something new, something no one expected – maybe not perfectly, but well enough. 

I have written before how it was the loss of that family dynamic that in time led me to realize I needed to accept myself, and find a way to live, with being gay, and being out.  That process too was a different kind of challenge – one that continues.  I continued to have periods of success with my fitness and weight, and was doing pretty well – until a very unexpected and uncommon health issue emerged and gradually put me into the hospital at age 60, and when I got out, I was emaciated and weak.  My priority was just regaining the ability to walk, and getting back to being able to live – it was frightening and traumatic.  Without the love of my husband, family and friends, I would not have made it.  So it was a little more than 2 years ago that I decided having time to enjoy life was more important than my career, and I ended my professional pursuits, looking forward to enjoying time in my new home, with my husband, building new friendships, travel – all those goals we tell ourselves we can look forward too. 

Photo by Total Shape on Pexels.com

Well, of course … it was just a few months after that we started hearing about Wuhan and strange reports of infectious disease, and before you know it – all those doors were shut for everyone, not just me.  I had already been slowly returning to working out at a local gym, with mixed results – I felt inadequate, barely able to lift the barbell itself, and there were lingering health concerns as well to take into consideration.  As an early birthday gift, I had ordered some adjustable home weights to supplement my gym visits, which was helpful in hindsight as they soon became unavailable as millions of us learned we could not continue to attend gyms or work out together.   Little did we know, of course, how long that would continue.  

Working out on the back patio with intermittent breaks for gardening was my only outdoor escape for several months.  I thought I was doing pretty well, researching workouts online – there are zillions of workout videos and websites with advice, often contradictory, and variations galore.  I have never felt at ease with my body – a kind of innate awkwardness that I wasn’t doing things “right” – but I was at least regular about it.  I learned, sadly, my gym that I had enjoyed prior to all these events went out of business permanently, like so many small companies.  When the larger regional chain gym announced in August that they could now permit trainers to work with clients – at a hefty price – outdoors on the sidewalk, I was one of the first to sign up. 

What I imagined I could become during COVID …..
Photo by Anush Gorak on Pexels.com

It was weird, to say the least.  I couldn’t go into the gym; my trainer, who I picked solely because he was the one on site when I signed up, would bring out the weights or bench or whatever for each exercise and we would be on the sidewalk where cars, bicyclists and pedestrians (including the occasional “unhoused” as they say here in SF) would glance over and wonder what on earth we were doing there.  But it was an outlet, one I desperately needed, and a confidence booster in a way.  Eventually, the state and city relaxed their restrictions, and put in more equipment on the parking lot, fenced and covered; then, allowed members to work without trainers – so more bodies competing for the equipment – and finally, indoor workouts with masks and sanitizers.  I was truly impressed with how the gym management functioned through all these changes, and the employees were nearly always positive and responsive, when everyone was dealing with the same stress and uncertainties, constant change, and upheaval.  I previously wrote about how I actually received my vaccination because of the kindness of a stranger at the gym.  Finally, just a few weeks ago – masks became history, and going to the gym is not really all that different from what it was two years ago, although trailing evidence lingers.  

I had signed up for training – and spent a healthy sum – in part as a kind of therapy during the isolation of pandemic.  But I also had, admittedly, a dream – maybe even more of a fantasy. We need dreams to cope with darkness; I am a goal driven individual, and I needed something to work towards – to “redeem” this era, to come out of with some result, something concrete to show for the time lost, in a way.  As the gym reopened, and even just during the months where we were limited to outdoor equipment for 50 minutes, waiting in line – I had seen the men who were like so many of the others over the years.  Men with defined bodies, muscles to spare – all the hallmarks that my own peculiar history had engraved in my thinking represented the masculine ideal.  

Actually, I never feel like whoever that is on the left – but he would fit right in at my gym!

As a lonely, shame filled and isolated teen who never really grew out of that mindset – they were everything I aspired to be. Seeing them was partly inspirational – but to a greater degree, discouraging.  Another reminder of my “differentness”, in a way. And I wanted to come out of this experience looking just like them.  It may be a stereotype that gay men are obsessed with physical appearance, but that doesn’t make it false – and culturally the message is still, regardless of sexuality, that your appeal to others and your worth is often perceived as related to your physical appearance – first impressions are based on visual data, of course! 

Would it surprise you to read that things did not go as planned?  In my next post, I will share the results to date.  In a way, they were better than I could have hoped for or imagined, as I began moving on from dream to reality.  

The New NormL, December 2020 – not the end of the story! To be continued …….

Sign Up below to get the next edition absolutely free – before prices double!

Seeking directions

Friends, I want to apologize right off the bat.  This is not a “well written” blog post (if any of mine are, but this certainly is not).  It lacks structure and focus; it has no theme; it is more for me, than for anyone reading it. But my feelings are jumbled, my focus blurred, my questions drown out the answers that used to be enough; and if it has no worth to anyone but myself, well – no one paid for this blog but me. So, I added this paragraph at the beginning, just to say – I am not editing this. I will not screen my feelings, my wandering mind, or my questioning heart.  This is where I am today; read on. 

Summer is opening its doors, two months since my last post – about my relief, and gratitude, at getting a COVID vaccine, due to the kindness of a stranger.  Miraculously, perhaps even incredulously, in those few weeks demand for vaccines has dropped;  state regulations have been withdrawn; infection rates are down, while some cling to a kind of hope, I guess, that the Delta variant will come and wipe out more, justifying their suspicions of the end of restrictions.  Sadly, I have friends that seem to almost want COVID to resurge to justify their fears and precautions, and to enable them to gleefully declare they were right, and we got what we deserved.  Perhaps we will. 

In many groceries and other stores I visit, there is a mix of folks with masks, and those without – it is kind of eerie.  The same with restaurants, the gym, and I suspect bars and theaters, although I haven’t visited either lately.  Many just want it to be “over” – I saw a headline implying that, like the AIDS pandemic, this will be with us for years to come, but people just don’t want to make it their focus anymore.  And, the finger pointing and blame shifting will be with us interminably as well, I think. 

Regrettably, I haven’t been very disciplined about writing, instead, kind of swimming in thought and reflection, mostly alone. I do talk with friends, my husband, and family, a bit – but somehow, it’s like being in a big indoor pool at night, alone, just feeling the water envelop you, the quiet, the darkness.  Perhaps it makes the shadows bigger and the silence deeper.   Perhaps it is not the best place to go swimming right now, that sea of uncertainty – but I think avoiding it is worse.  To pretend we are all just going to shake off what happened, collectively and individually, is to both fail to grasp the opportunity to find and create new meaning – and, to embrace denial and avoidance and just pretend.   Pretend is comforting – but it is not life. 

I talked with my husband last weekend about how he felt COVID had changed him, or us; I don’t know that I can provide any better answer than he, or someone else.  But I do feel changed, somehow, and if I am changed, so are my relationships, and my heart.  So I have been quiet here on “The New NormL” because ….. Norm L is feeling a little bit unanchored as I survey the waters around me, like a sea captain of old, but lacking the compass and the knowledge of the stars to guide him. 

I imagine you, like me, had some very painful experiences during the past 18 months or so.  For me, the repercussions, the reverberations of those moments, those feelings, those encounters, are still echoing, perhaps a little quieter but not silent, in my thoughts, my feelings.  Returning to the seafaring analogy, I am trying to get my bearings.  I got knocked off my feet here and there, and as I write, I think – I need to find a way to “shake it off”.  To say, yes, those things happened, and I didn’t like them, and I can’t do a thing about it.  As the British bobby in the old movies used to say, “Move along, move along – nothing to see here”.  And the crowd may move on … but I am still trying to get my feet back on the ground, and walk again. 

When I started this blog, early in the confinement imposed by COVID, it was a response to a longer held calling in my heart – a sense that, somehow, by writing, my experiences could maybe add some hope or insight to someone else’s life – the way I wish someone could have reached out to me during the years my heart cried alone.  I honestly know only a few of the people who read my blog – I am not even sure where the other followers come from, why they read it or follow it – I don’t hear from them, mostly.  And they are all few;  so when I take the time to write, I wonder if I am using my time well, or wasting it.  I wonder, too, if I am just spilling my guts, so to speak, for a kind of self therapy as I try to make sense of my existence, and sift through all the promises and certainties made to me by “those in the know” over the decades, not always finding many that I can still cling to for reassurance; for comfort.  

I have thought often about what I would like to write here – but I always end up thinking it won’t mean anything to anyone.  I don’t start out trying to be negative; perhaps it is a function of the lingering effects of isolation, but I think it goes deeper than that.  I have written about how I struggled to come to terms with a lifetime of alienation and shame because of my “differentness” – there are lots of people with those feelings, not just repressed gay men of the baby boom generation.   When I share my heart, I feel exposed;  yet, as I often tell friends, and sometimes strangers, I do believe that the struggles we each have offer the most for others to learn from. 

In many cases, I think about my ongoing exploration of what I term spiritual understanding and growth.  I readily admit greater minds than mind over centuries and throughout many cultures have done more on that front than I could ever offer;  but I often reflect on what I was taught, and what I know to be true, and how they differ.  I ponder what prayer is about; I question the tendency that many people of faith have to avoid questions, to want certainty, and their – our – willingness to cling to just about anything rather than open the door a crack to the possibility that the answers they embrace might dissolve and they would be left with nothing to hold on to.  That fear has driven much oppression and ugliness, and still does – not just in the form of traditional religion, but in new forms, technological battlefields and socio political shouting matches. 

About two weeks ago, I had the opportunity to drive a few hundred miles and see the faces, and touch the hands, and hug quietly, friends and family who I left behind, physically, when I moved north.  The drive seemed longer; I was alone, my husband of nearly 3 years now stayed behind to tend to things at home while I reconnected.  We had spent a great deal of time together, with occasional interactions with others, mostly very limited; in a few weeks, we will travel together on a farther journey by air, to see his family on the other side of the continent, and then he will have a similar trip away while I tend to the cats demands here. 

I thought about writing a column on that trip, called something like “Lessons from old men” – because I spoke with several during the visit, and I have to admit, I am becoming a bit of one myself. I knew that this was possibly the last time I might see any one of the loved ones I was hoping to visit; but some, more than others, have been facing health issues and uncertainty. Yet as I talked with them, rather than the stories they shared or the feelings that they expressed, I was struck more by the silences.  The words they did not say; the questions I did not ask; somehow, it was the silences that brought us closer together, perhaps for the final time.  That which is unspoken is perhaps more deeply felt, and more rarely sensed – but most powerful.

I think the disruption, the chaos that COVID created for so many of us – really, all of us worldwide, but everyone has their own story – has been hellish.  Many of us are still dealing with a kind of shock, and fear – it was drilled into us incessantly, and as we learn where that fear was justified – and where it was not – resentment boils up for some.  Who to blame? Who lied? Who can we trust?  We want safety and certainty – but perhaps the most valuable lesson might be that those are illusory.  As the “Serenity prayer” of many twelve step recovery groups states – we need to be able to accept what we cannot change, know what we can change, and have the courage and power to focus on the latter while giving up on the former – even though we may hate that truth. 

I’ve lived through more than a decade of disruption in my life, career wise, relationship wise, spiritually, economically and endured a severe health crisis.  Yes, Covid, but also another – dating back more than 4 years now, and at its most terrible point almost 30 months ago.  I have been gifted at the same time with undeserved love, tolerance, encouragement and support – by my husband, my family, and friends – and strangers;  I have also been kicked down by people who claim to care about me, and experienced selfishness on almost unbelievable scales by those who would label me as the one to blame.  In have been beaten down and lifted up, I have had dreams and seen them crumble, I have opened my heart and have been wounded, and I have asked questions without finding answers.  Join the club, as many might say. 

I am sure that many brilliant minds and more loving hearts have written inspiring words that shake the clouds themselves from the sky; that songs have been sung and legends told about heroes facing peril, seeming doom, and rising above.  I think often of the versus from the Bible, in all its translations – that among the spiritual gifts are many to be desired, but the most desirable, the most precious, the most sought after are faith, hope and love.  These words, documented as written to an early group of believers in what was then a radical and heretic belief in a deliverer who most never met in person, by a convert to that belief who previously had prosecuted and hunted down its proselytes, were trying to communicate that within a body of believers – a church, a family of people who were coming together in faith – the most important things were not certain abilities, or powers, or strengths.  Much is written about faith; even more about love; but perhaps we need to think a bit more about hope. 

I am not sure what my own definition of hope might be;  it would not be traditional, as of course my strange way of looking at life doesn’t ever take the simple route.  Hope is, perhaps, a force – no, not like star wars.  A force we channel, that we let ourselves step into, that we tie a string to like a kite and as it soars it carries us along, rather than we anchoring it to our gravity.  Does that make hope a fantasy?  Perhaps, or at least certainly there is that risk.  But without hope, can we really have faith -whether in a loving power beyond our knowledge, or in another human walking alongside us?   Without hope, can we really know, share, or receive love?  

Where do we get hope?  Some would say, from a belief in ourselves.  From acceptance, from a certainty that “we can do it”.   I have heard that is how some cultures see Americans – as confident, self-sufficient, and building through teamwork.  Well, friends, that is not me, I have to look for hope not in myself – not solely, anyway, but somehow, along with faith, and clinging to love, as coming from beyond me, and yet awaiting me, like a laughing breeze swaying the blossoms in my window box, crying – come play.  Come be my friend, come dance in the sun.  Yes, the moon will be back tonight, the rain and wind will return as well – but the sun remains still, and we dance.  

I am looking for hope; I am trying to offer hope to others, with a smile, with a hug, with a kiss, or other small kindnesses, even to strangers. Hope is not to be kept to oneself, but to flow.  My hope needs an anchor outside of myself, just like a pipe needs a connection to a water supplier to be functional when the knob is turned to on.  I am not the water; but I can share it, when I have it.  But if I don’t have it, I don’t seek it, I don’t conserve it and treat it with respect – there is nothing to share. 

I realize that much of what I turned to in the past for hope – much of what I defined as faith, and more of what I saw as love – were not what they promised.  Surely, in a few cases, I was deliberately deceived, but not the majority.   What I was shown as truth, was the best that others had to share, and the best I could find, then.   Today …. I need to be open to a better way.  I can cling to the old – or I can at least open my heart, mind, spirit and body to the possibility that what I held as certain was only an illusion;  and that my ability and willingness to ask questions without knowing answers, without being the one sitting in class waiting to be called on to show I am right.  

The elders I saw – some in person, some only in shadows of times past and images on paper seen again – they know a truth that they cannot share with me, yet. May I suggest that you avoid anyone who claims to have the certainty to know answers that they cannot be certain are true?  I am not old by some standards, but ancient by others; I have lived a longer life than most statistically will know, not always happily, and sometimes clumsily and perhaps somewhat wasted as well.  But, like you out there, strangers perhaps reading my meandering thoughts, I do not know how many days are left.  And so now that the shadow of Covid, not vanquished but perhaps pushed farther away, does not loom so large as to darken all that I see – I need to find that compass.  I need to read those stars and guide my ship to shore.  And there, to dance with the breeze, and sing with the flowers, in the sun.  Will you join me there? I will save a place for you.  I think there is room for all of us.  Let’s go looking – I will see you along the path. 

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com