You’ve (still) got a friend in me

Like many of you, lately I have been missing my friends. I always loved the song “You got a friend in me” by Randy Newman, introduced a quarter century ago (!) in Pixar’s “Toy Story”. Even through all its sequels, somehow the spinners of animated tales still manage to imbue those little toys with heart and personality that capture our own feelings so well.  Joy, hope, loneliness, uncertainty, change – that band of playthings went through it all, and we grew along with them.   Woody and Buzz went through a lot – but not COVID.  That was reserved just for us humans.   

While we approach the six-month mark here in San Francisco of “shelter in place” – I have been missing so many of my friends.  Having moved here in late 2017, most of my longtime friends are now hundreds of miles away. Since arriving, between getting married, work and other adjustments, social life has been squeezed in when possible – until it wasn’t, in March. There are new friendships forming, of course, but being retired and now having no “active” social life – I feel everyone’s ongoing absence more deeply.   As much as zoom and Facetime and google meets and, well, even this blog are ways to stay connected – they cannot make up for human touch, for moments of laughter, for a quiet walk or a thousand other ways we find to be truly together. 

Friendship is kind of an ethereal, mystical force in some ways, coming and going, unpredictable, always evolving. There are all kinds of friendships, they say – some for a season, a few hopefully for a lifetime.  Growing up and for much of my “adult” life, I was never really good at feeling close to others, understandably from my personal history, but I have worked on it and continue to.  It was not that I did not care, but that I did not feel I fit in, or could be fully accepted, or truly belonged.  Yet, over the years, there have been friends that remained close, even now from afar.  Still … as months pass, even pre COVID, those connections are somehow fading … and perhaps that is healthy.  I have never moved away before – never left everything, and everyone, behind to make such a significant change in every area of my life. 

It’s normal that I don’t want to “let go” – I don’t want those long term relationships to end, whether they originated from shared interests like Disneyland and movies, from work relationships that turned into trust, caring and closeness, from church and other community commitments, or from my more recent coming to terms with parts of myself I had to learn to accept, coming out, and making new friends in that process.  Yet – the time comes, we must let go.  And then, continue to reach out again, and again.  I am learning to reach out here, not just to ask, but to give.  I treasure all those friends, old and new, far and close. 

There were, over the years, friends that drifted away, or relationships that ended on less than optimal terms. I realize in hindsight that I held an unrealistic expectation of some now lost friends – and vice versa. Sadly, some ended as I grew into being more of me, and less of what I thought I was supposed to be for others – becoming authentic; coming out was a part of that, but not all of that.  Some wanted care, support, answers from me that I could not give – and likewise I wanted more than others could offer. A few  wanted me to be who I used to be for them; some could not accept my life any longer, I had fallen from grace in their eyes, or lost my way.  It wasn’t always direct – but the undercurrent was clear enough.  And that’s just part of life – we move on.  I hope, for all of them, they are finding their way to happiness still. 

Funny, though, how some of the closest and most long enduring relationships come from my professional life – coworkers that in time became more.  For many of us, we spend more time with our office team than with our family. We recently re-watched “The Office” finale which perfectly portrayed the awkward balance between  tolerating and caring about those people and, then in time, moving from that “home” to a new, beckoning future.  There was a song featured towards the end of the finale, actually written by Creed Bratton, actor and musician – called “All the Faces”.   Here is a bit of the lyrics, and a link to a fan video with Office moments. 

“I saw a friend today, it had been a while. And we forgot each others names.

But it didn’t matter cause deep inside the feeling still remained the same.

We talked of knowing one before you’ve met, and how you feel more than see,

and other worlds that lie in spaces in between, and angels you can see.

And all the faces that I know have that same familiar glow.

I think I must’ve known them somewhere once before

All the faces that I know.

Creed Bratton, “The Office” finale – All the Faces that I know

2020 has been a year of challenge we could never have expected. In the past nearly half year, I have seen friends lose jobs, lose family – yes, even lose their lives, leaving loved ones behind grieving.  Sell their homes, move away to new ones, or risk losing all they had to fire. Some started new lives;  their children graduate without an audience, their spouses have been hospitalized and hopefully recover; others are thinking about leaving the country of their birth in frustration;  one has welcomed a new grandchild to their family.  But I see people turning on one another daily – on the news, in my own circle of relationships, and online.  Sometimes over politics, or faith, or some position on an issue that they feel strongly about – whatever the reason, some doors are closed, perhaps forever. All this and more happened in the lives of my friends since we entered this strange era.  These events would mostly have happened apart from Covid, but somehow, we all seem to be carrying an extra weight, a longer shadow. These are the times they – all of us – need one another more than ever. We must not burrow into our caves, but reach out, even more – it takes work. 

True, some friendships endure a lifetime – but most fade.  We don’t want to let go, sometimes – we need one another; but it happens.  Like the tender strands of a web that stretch in the wind, and in time – are loosed, and eventually unwind except in our memory.  That friendship connection is a force of mystery, it’s lifespan unknown, its purpose uncertain – do we nurture it?  Do we make it a priority?  As we see gaps between ourselves, I can only offer you this suggestion – don’t throw away what you have.  Try to build on it; try to keep it alive.  Yes, there are times that moving on is best – knowing those moments is kind of hard right now, when no one is really themselves, and everyone is in a personal pressure chamber with the steam building every day.  We need each other, friends, now and past, future and yet to be. 

Nearly a year ago now, I took a trip to see old friends down south – not knowing of course that it would be the last trip away from my new home for a yet to be determined time. I’m grateful I had the chance. A kind of reunion tour, not being able to see everyone in that short time, but having moments with many, seeing faces light up, remembering what we shared and setting aside what might have been.  Here are some moments, and faces, from that trip that I treasure – we may not meet again. 

There is a kind of longing, a yearning in my heart and perhaps yours hearts that seems to remain; we may learn in time that others cannot be, never could be, everything we needed or wanted.  We start to see not a glass half full, or half empty – instead, seeing no glass at all, just an appreciation for what is there, now, today. Letting go of the longing for “more”, to treasure what is in our lives at this moment – choosing to say “yes – this is enough”.   And to work on being a channel to others of what we seek ourselves.  We become part of a living network of souls, rising, falling, reaching out and for a moment dancing together, parting and moving on. 

Which brings me back to our friends, Woody, Buzz and all those little toys, and most recently Toy Story 4.  Spoiler alert, folks!  I saw this in the theater last year – in a way, it felt almost like an existentialist reflection on what does it mean to be alive, but maybe that was just me.  In any case – at the end of the film, Woody has to make a choice.  He chooses a new path, but in that – realizes he also must choose to, for now, say goodbye to those who became his family for so long.  In a way, I think COVID, and distance, is forcing that for some friendships.  Here is the end of that film, which, if you haven’t seen it – might give you some joy for a couple of hours. 

My friends – present, and past – I miss you dearly. You have taught me so much; your gentle kindnesses, small perhaps to you, encouraged me to accept myself the way you did.  Your open minds and hearts showed me that people who are different can still truly care for one another without expecting change.  Your courage in the face of trials and challenges inspired me to find strength to stand for what I work for.  Your openness to different ways of thinking helped me to escape my own narrow vision and tinier world for a greater reality.  Perhaps most of all, the fact that you showed me love does not have to be perfect to have worth, helped me to work towards finding my own voice – and now, in the days ahead, to try to share these lessons with others.  God knows there are many surrounding each of us that just need a little love.  

We are trying our best to stay afloat in the winds of change, and we may not be together again, certainly not in the foreseeable future.  So let me say this clearly, from my heart. I hope you are well, and loved, and finding hope.  And, I miss all my friendships that, for whatever reason – deliberate, their choice, my choice, or just “happened” – aren’t there anymore. I wish I could say to them, and I say to you who read this  – thank you.  

Thank you,friends, for being a special part of a chapter in my life, and even though it is closed, you are still there, always in my heart, not forgotten. 

Spiritus Sanctus in a Leather Jacket

Today, July 26 2020, marks a significant anniversary for me, and you’re invited along. Perhaps some readers may recall Billy Pilgrim, from Slaughterhouse-Five, by Kurt Vonnegut; he became “unstuck in time”.  Like Billy’s journey, I realize that my sharing of my life here is nonlinear,  but I write about what is on my mind, and what I think matters and might have meaning for someone out there today.  Although the overriding theme of my blog is “my journey to authenticity”, today, rather than the “New NormL”, I think perhaps what I have to share is a bit of the “True NormL”.   But before I go on – friends, this is going to be a long one.  I do hope you will agree it’s worth it; this is from my heart, like really everything I post here, but this is the post it has taken me a lifetime to create.   I hope it won’t seem that long to read!!!! 

I asked myself about the present: how wide it was, how deep it was, how much was mine to keep”.

Kurt Vonnegut, “Slaughterhouse-Five”

Like many of my generation, church was a foundational factor in my upbringing. In childhood, growing up in circumstances that brought many blessings but also brought me to a place of separation and isolation, I attended Sunday school, like most “good families” of that 60’s era, even though mine was profoundly broken.  I imagine today that the trappings of those gatherings are mostly forgotten – little “story boards” with felt figures of Bible folk to illustrate stories, songs we would sing together, craft fairs and choir practice.  I was raised Protestant, but in my teens  my mother – disabled and facing challenges beyond her means – sought  comfort in pursuing the Evangelical movement.  She clung to the shouted words of healers and held on for a miracle. I followed, in time – I wanted to belong, and to be accepted.  Of course, the big hurdle in my truly feeling loved, accepted, “saved” or whatever other term you might pick was just one little problem – I was attracted to other boys. 

This is what Sunday School media looked like in 1964.

But I could not accept that in myself; it wasn’t something I could embrace or act upon.  By my twenties, entering the professional world after college, my heart was a lonely cave where the air was thick with shame.  I attended bible rallies and went forth for prayer for deliverance, for laying on of hands and speaking in tongues.  I travelled to the Holy Land and prayed to be changed; I remember asking the leader of the tour, a very knowledgeable, loving and well learned man in many faiths, what I could do to be “fixed”.  His reply – “just stop it”. I recall listening to tapes about demons being cast out where the speaker “saw” frog like spirits beings released from those possessed by homosexuality. When I finally moved in the mid 80’s from the isolation of my mother’s home to have a degree of independence,  my search for what I thought was love got me into trouble; after being held at gunpoint in my apartment and calling the police to report the attack by someone I had brought into my home, I heard their snickering behind my back, and I shrunk in humiliation. Without a car or wallet, I called my father to please come bring me back to my mother’s home. I told them what had happened, but no one else could know – I remained silent and solitary. 

Hallelujah! After the exposure to my family, my secret was “out”, and it seemed that I could finally get help.  I began working with a counselor for “reparative therapy”; I dated a girl from church and to this day regret the pain I caused her with a breakup, but realize I did her a favor.  I attended “ex gay” programs offered by “Desert Stream” at a church in Pasadena, riding from the “Inland Empire” more than an hour each way with a fellow church member who worked for Campus Crusade.  There, I met others, including men who worked for “Focus on the Family”, and a few women – all seeking “deliverance” through Christ.  To somehow become – normal? Good enough?  Or at least, celibate, and less self-hating. I even visited the “Love in Action” program in San Rafael, which became notorious in later years and eventually moved from California. There are many destructive forces in life, and shame is one of the most insidious, and deeply rooted in our souls. Shame is like climbing into your own coffin and nailing the lid shut from inside. Hiding from the only thing that could really bring healing – light. 

The greatest gift you have to offer is the real you – don’t hide it, let it shine!

Thank God (and I do mean that), those programs, books, prayers and meetings – failed.  I didn’t realize this was a blessing instead of a disappointment. For years, I fell deeper into my cave; I did not know any other life, and my existence centered around work and escape. But, in time, particularly after the passing of my parents in my late 40’s and the end of the family structure that I depended on to have a sense of purpose, I realized that I needed to find a way to accept myself.  That unless I did, the loneliness that engulfed my life would only grow until there was no life left. I found a wonderful counselor; he tried to convince me to accept being gay, but I fought it for a long time.  Eventually, the walls that had been built with years of indoctrination crumbled, and I began to see that the love that I sought was already there, it was just up to me to accept it – no one else.  In 2010 that I finally found courage, and reached out to the only two gay people I knew, to ask for help.  

Was Ovaltine really the source? Nope – that was not on our grocery list.

In my 50’s, I joined the “Men’s coming out support group” at the LA Gay and Lesbian Center, driving more than an hour and a half to West Hollywood weekly to share, learn, and listen.  I started exploring the admittedly unfamiliar world of bars and more.  I made friends, slowly – there wasn’t a lot of gay life in Perris, CA!  I would drive nearly an hour to Palm Springs and used to tell people I lived in the Perris without croissants.  Many had never heard of it – especially when I joined the Gay Men’s Chorus of LA in 2012 and started “coming out” to friends and family.  It was both rewarding – and painful.  Because, as I started to be more honest with those around me, along with the new friends I made, and the support I found from old friends and family – I lost dear friends.  People who could not see past the same teachings that had kept me bound and alone most of my life.  Teachings that in spirit were meant to bring life but had been twisted to crush the hearts of many, leading to families that were broken and lives that ended. Many have been deeply burned by actions done in the name of love, and turned away.  I do understand why so many see religion as bringing death rather than life; I am not ashamed to admit that I do not have all the answers, but I still find comfort in reaching for faith, which like me, is evolving. 

Gay Men’s Chorus of LA 2014 concert “I Am Harvey Milk”, Walt Disney Concert Hall

Thinking back on it, there were 3 stages to my “new life” – “Ex”;  “Ex-Ex”, and eventually, yes, XXX. One of the really surprising things, to those who knew me, was that I bought a motorcycle.  Never mind that I didn’t know how to ride – I had seen an Indian Chief parked near my home and I just wanted to take the bull by the horns, so to speak.  I had always thought that bikers were “hot”.  Now, we all have our fantasies, ok? I learned to ride, taking my licensing class in pouring rain just before Thanksgiving, soaked to the bone. I had a deep respect for history and learned that the Satyrs Motorcycle Club of LA – one of the oldest gay organizations in the world – invited all riders to join them on periodic “runs”.  In 2012, I rode my 2001 Chief for the first and only time to San Francisco – my first visit there as an “out” gay man – clumsily making my way to the Castro, and the South of Market area, where my Satyr friends had recommended a cheap hotel.  I visited some of the bars, feeling completely out of place; and then I rode on to the annual “Badger Flat” gathering the Satyrs held in the Sierra National forest; I was welcomed by all. In July 2015 a friend from the Satyrs run invited me to stay in his San Francisco home while he went to the Sturgis Bike Rally.  That visit led to the life changes that today I celebrate. 

The newly “out”NormL with my 2001 Indian Chief near Badger Flat, September 2012

San Francisco was known for decades as a refuge for countless men and women who were “different” in many ways. In the 80’s, the community began to lose thousands of lives to AIDS.  I remember reading about the mysterious diseases emerging in the Advocate, a gay newspaper that my college had in the library, and later in magazines that would give me a (unrealistic) window into the world I wanted to be a part of but was not.  In response, the core gay and lesbian communities around the world – New York, LA, SF and more – turned to fundraising events to support the needs of organizations trying to help the infected, and their families.  One such gathering was held on a small block in the South of Market area in August 1985 – nearly 35 years ago – called “Up Your Alley” on Ringold alley.  It grew – and in 1987, was shifted to nearby Dore Alley, off Folsom. 

Glenn Michael Hughes of the Village People, and yes of course I had a crush on him!

The Castro was what the world saw, perhaps, as the center of “gay” life – certainly it had the bars, the parties, the music, the lights and political focus.  But South of Market – it had its own crowd, flavor, energy – and reputation.  John Rechy in 1977 wrote of the LA chapter of this subculture in his book “The Sexual Outlaw” – more people would recognize it from the popularization of the “Leather Man” Glenn Hughes from the Village People.  It was this community in South of Market that created, supported, and celebrated their lives in Folsom – at the bars, the clubs, the alleys and more. Over the decades, there were less bars, but the reputation still lingered, held up by a few residents and businesses – part of the kaleidoscope of cultures in what used to be called the “Baghdad by the bay”.  And the “Up Your Alley” fair endured, along with the larger “Folsom Fair” held annually – these were the raucous gatherings that evangelicals used to portray the “perversion” that they could use for fund raising and fear mongering, condemnation and shaming those who were different. 

A vividly expressive ad for the 2015 Dore Alley Street fair – perhaps unrealistic?

That July 2015, the Dore Alley street fair – “Up Your Alley” or “Folsom’s dirty little brother”, as it was promoted, was literally outside my door. Of course I had heard of these events – I had visited the bars on prior trips to the city, and similar bars and gatherings in LA and the desert.  But attending was something like this was a first, for me.  The street fair attracted thousands to the small area that bordered on my friend’s home on Folsom.  I was, for the most part, alone – I didn’t know that many people in San Francisco, and even though I could pass for a “biker” in terms of my gear – I could “look the part” – I completely felt out of my element.  I don’t enjoy loud music, crowds, and am a non-drinker – but this was the SF of my fantasies from decades past, and I was “out”, and I was going to take the leap.  As I strolled down Folsom, a young lady asked if she could take my photo – I was flattered and said yes. A few weeks later, a friend in LA said they saw me on the event website – so, here is what I looked like midday on Sunday, July 26, 2015.   

Near the intersection of Dore and Folsom, July 26 2015 … Not my work outfit, clearly.

About an hour after that photo was taken, I walked into a reception at a local boot store, “Stompers”, where party goers could escape the noise, relax, socialize – as long as they had boots on.  Which, of course, I did!  It was crowded with men in leather – everything I had imagined about the San Francisco I saw in magazines decades earlier! Suddenly, I saw a stunning man (yes it was a “lightning bolt” moment), one I immediately wanted to meet – just as a friend called and asked if I could join them outside (they did not meet the boot requirement). I reluctantly left, hoping I might return soon.  Trying to keep my eyes on the door while we visited, I noticed the object of my attention had walked outside … and when I walked up to say hello – he said words I had not anticipated ….  

Stompers Boots as it looked in 2015 – now, shuttered and painted over, but not forgotten

“Norm … it’s Bob”.   In 2013, while on he was in LA on business we had met briefly.  I knew at the time he was married and living in San Francisco, and to be honest, I had not recognized him (we won’t go into the circumstances, folks!).  Bob’s husband had passed just a few months earlier after a long illness, and visiting friends had coaxed him into joining them at a brunch, and then at the street fair, briefly.  He had seen me in Stompers, but lost track of me until, as it happened, there we were at the concession stand.  One year later, Dore July 2016; Stompers had closed, Bob and I had been dating long distance, and I joined him and many friends at the annual brunch reception before heading to South of Market, and the crowds.  As we strolled through Dore together, eventually we stopped near where, a year before, we had – accidentally? – reconnected at Stompers. It had closed a few months prior, but we paused nearby for a burger, where he had invited friends to quietly gather. Moments later, we were engaged.  

The moment Bob asked for my hand in marriage, one year later, July 2016

It’s a lot easier for me to write a narrative history than to somehow discern what from those experiences I am feeling a need to express.  In some ways, like Billy Pilgrim, and perhaps like you or someone you love, my life was largely fragmented into pieces I kept separate, some buried deeply, many that only with time could I learn to accept and even embrace. I am hardly the first human to “come out” late in life, nor fundamentally unique in any other characteristic; but “coming out” applies to all of us, not just GLBTQ individuals who still face unique challenges around our globe. Perhaps my story illustrates how critical it is for ALL of us to reach a place where we accept ourselves perhaps not fully, but enough to say “this is me, I know I am not perfect, I am still working on me but I would like to let you get to know me”.  When we hide in the shadows – when we let shame, or fear, bury us and keep us from sharing our hearts with others – everyone loses.  Our world loses.  

Shame has deep roots, sometimes invisible.  It takes more than any single action to be free of that pile; it requires ongoing and severe honesty; the hearts and hands of people who accept us as we share our truths; and, I believe, faith in that which is larger than ourselves, however we may come to see that source of life. 5 years after that “chance” meeting that changed my life, that has become our life – I am still “coming out”.  Being open with this post today is another step for me; I share my path with you because it has been a curious merging, a graceful dance between desire that I was taught to suppress and deny – and a sense of the power of faith in a greater source of love, grace, and forgiveness.  It took me most of my lifetime to realize that my definition of that power was too small.  I had kept it in a box, and tried to fit my life into it, blaming myself that I could not conform.   But the truth was bigger than my box; bigger than me.  I just had to let my eyes move beyond the borders, and let my heart be open, to move beyond those limits.  I had to have faith in what my spirit heard and what called to my heart.  Now, I continue to work on integrating those fragments of my heart, spirit, and mind into my own coat of many colors. 

Be your own creation – the best of what you are given, and the rest of your dreams.

I am sure there are many more learned minds than my own that can espouse at great lengths the connections between spirituality and sexuality, so I will not even try.  But for me, they are kind of like Astaire and Rogers – each beautiful on their own, but together, truly divine – far more than the sum of their parts, and dare I say, incomplete without one another.  In my church days, much of which I still treasure and reflect on and am grateful for – we often were taught about the “Holy Spirit”, or in Latin, “Spiritus Sanctus”.   It was always mysterious, and kind of pushed away – probably because it could not be explained. I like to think the Spiritus Sanctus just as easily wears a leather jacket and boots as it might for others be in priestly vestments.  We find a connection to the Eternal in our own ways, and we need to respect that others do as well – but the common thread is one of our basic humanity, our need for love, acceptance, hope and forgiveness, as we work our way through a very uncertain world.  I am more at peace, now, not having an explanation, but accepting that it is no longer needed; just like I cannot explain how all the moving pieces of two separate lives brought us together on a crowded street during a leather “kink” festival.  But it did.  And I am thankful for it, and grateful for the love that continues to grow as a result. 

Words of “The Little Flower” of France, one of the most popular saints of Catholicism.

Since that day, I left Perris behind, put my home on the market, said goodbye to what had really been my entire life there since 1962, and moved, as I put it, not to San Francisco, but to Bob.  In August 2018, we were married; our two-year anniversary next month will be a quiet one – no dinner out, no parties.  No gathering with friends and loved ones, or at least, only “virtually” this year.  For many of us, Dore, Folsom, Pride, and other annual gatherings are sometimes half-jokingly referred to as gay “high holy days”.  Like church services, they are gone, for now; there is no Dore “Up Your Alley” gathering in Folsom this year;  there will not be thousands of men and women walking in the sunshine, wearing all kinds of clothing (or little to none), buying and selling all kinds of interesting devices, demonstrating skills you don’t learn about in Boy Scouts (or, maybe you do), and raising funds for charity.  There won’t be loud music or the “Twister” booth, and all the other activities that get covered in the media – you can see all those images from prior years online.  What the pictures cannot fully capture is the energy, acceptance, belonging, joy, and yes, love which brought those thousands of celebrants together, for so many years.  I look forward to coming together again, somehow, some day.  

Theodor Seuss Geisel, aka Dr. Suess – a wisdom that touches all ages.

Dr. Seuss had a gift for sharing truth through simplicity.  I never read many of his books, except when waiting in medical offices as a child.  But that quote from “Oh the places you’ll go” harmonizes deeply with a realization that continues to grow in my own awareness – that only bY being genuinely ourselves – warts, failures, flaws and all – can we offer authentic love, caring, and acceptance to others.   And only in accepting others as they are, can we climb, together.  We have to get there from where we are, not by pushing others down to where we think they are supposed to be.  Early this morning, July 26 2020, Bob and I briefly strolled down those familiar streets – Folsom, Dore and Ringold. There were no crowds, or booths, and the bars were silent.  Others may gather later, not willing to let traditions go – I respect that, truly.  We happily returned to our little blue house with two cats, together.  

With Bob this morning, at the intersection of Folsom and Dore, remembering.

Bob and I are together because somehow the many intricate moving pieces in our separate lives brought us to the same noisy, crowded street during a gay leather festival.  We love each other, imperfectly but truly, and we try to share our love with the others in our lives, when we can.  I am grateful to say that I felt the call of the spirit in a leather jacket, and I said YES to that call, and seek it still. I hope that when you sense something calling to your own spirit, in that deep place only you know, you will find the courage and strength and acceptance to say “yes” – leave that safe nest you know only too well, spread your wings, and fly.  I’ll look for you out there, soaring through the clouds. 

There is always – always – ALWAYS – Hope for new life. Especially – TODAY!!

You must remember this … in 2040

Since my last post (July 5 2020) was the AMAZING “letter from the future” – I decided to write back – to Future NormL! Of course, this raises all sorts of issues with chronology conflicts – has future me (and presumably future you) already read what I am writing now?  If so … did that influence what future me wrote to begin with?  Whatever – here is what I want the future to remember, one day. 

*********************

Hello Future NormL!  Thanks for your note. I just realized – I have no idea when you might be reading this – or already have?  Let’s say … Summer 2040, 20 years from now.  By then I will be in my 80’s and hopefully still vital and functional – I guess that is somewhat up to me right now, and I think I am doing ok on that front.  Mom and Dad both passed at around age 80; now, in this COVID era, well, nothing is certain.  

Uncertainty is not a threat – it is a traveling companion

I wonder what you will remember of these days – memory is such a slippery critter.  It scurries around in your brain, popping up and slides where it will … like a playful dolphin.  Perhaps it laughs as well – at how we reshape our perception, letting go of some things until they suddenly reappear like some Vegas illusionist, or haunting flashback. “The way we were” lyrics say, of course, “what’s too painful to remember, we simply choose to forget” – I have not found that to necessarily be true, but considering how turbulent this year has been so far, setting it aside might be a gift! 

On the other hand … sometimes we learn the most from the situations we wish we could avoid.  Being isolated, cut off from the “busyness” – makes it difficult to ignore those ongoing questions we often sense within, trying to cut through the “noise” of the everyday.  Right now, the world seems to be going through a kind of upheaval – “unrest” is the polite word the news uses mostly.  It’s odd that one can read encouraging stories about where the virus is going – and then turn on TV or go to another news site and be told everything is falling apart.  It isn’t so much that you don’t know who to believe – but you can’t be certain that anyone really has all the facts! Hopefully by 2040, those questions will be answered – but more will arise!

Today, we are inundated by voices demanding change – things that need to stop, things that others want to hold on to – traditions, artifacts, cultural standards, socio political systems, governments, laws.  It is a storm of fervor, energy, expectations being expressed (few in harmony) – one wonders what will be left if everyone got their wishes? What will continue to be celebrated and treasured, and what will be tossed aside as no longer having meaning?  There are certainly plenty of people shouting out there who claim to be the best qualified to make that decision for us all.   Certainly, for all the people shouting they have the answers, there is a time to listen – but eventually, the voice I need to hear the most is probably the quietest – within me.  Perhaps the most valuable discovery from this era for me will be learning to listen to that still, small voice.  

Right now, I’m having trouble making out that voice.  Feeling my way through just what it is that I can say to you 20 years from now that will have some sort or insight or meaning. That’s one of the hardest things about writing, sorting through all the mental and emotional “little yellow stickies” that line the walls of my brain and heart, to make sense of it all, somehow. I realize my perception, my vision is filtered through the lens of time from my ongoing interest in family history – the fascination I have in reflecting on the stream of events, seemingly random, that brought together my own ancestors from all the other lands and eras here to the West, their lives, loves and losses.  They speak to me of what endures – and what is forgotten.  A sobering truth – we cannot know what will be remembered of our lives, nor do much to ensure that we will be remembered at all.  I am the curator of their lives, to a degree – and of their voices. In some ways, the fact that their lives are little remembered for the most part teaches me that perhaps my needs that seem SO important, SO vital today – will be forgotten, their urgency being replaced by the next crisis. Most of what seems so critical in this moment will fade in time. 

Setting my thoughts free to fly again

That may seem like a sad statement – but in reality, it is a freeing statement.  We are free to determine how we spend our time and energy, within of course limits that we cannot change – but still free to choose each new day what matters most NOW.  We can get up, repeat what we did the day before, the week, month and year before – or we can stop, or at least pause – look around – listen – and consider whether there may be a better path.  This singular crisis offers that window to new understanding. Will I – we – gaze beyond? For me, that is what change looks like – giving our eyes a chance to look at things differently, and our hearts a chance to open, again. 

Ultimately, the change that I have the opportunity to put into motion is – mostly, if not solely – about the future I am building, day by day, thought by thought, choice by choice. For us. You, me – and the people who are in my life and yet to wander through. So future me, remember these things as you gaze back on these words – 

Don’t take anyone, or anything in your life, for granted. These family and friends, these moments and joys and opportunities to grow, explore and learn may not pass your way again – so treasure them. The people, the places, and all these tiny shimmering hues and colors that constitute “everyday life” will in time fade.  Whatever seems vital right now, realize that the impermanence of all our momentary crises leaves us with less control over the outcome, but also grants us a choice to work towards a better, more complete life. This is not a drill, not a practice game, not a “pause” button – it is an OPPORTUNITY – an invitation to create an existence that has real meaning. Progress, not perfection! Don’t worry that you have not made it, instead, relax in accepting you never will.  Truth does set you free – you can’t achieve all your dreams, no one will complete you, and you will always fall short of you wishes in countless ways  – but today you can give from your heart, and matter in this moment.  Live – now. 

When you remember this time, yes – recall the sadness and uncertainty, when threats seem to rise taller and threaten to crush out tomorrow, but also see triumph and survival; determination and sacrifice; overcoming – just like our parents before us, and theirs before them. All of us are incomplete people who struggled but loved. Then see in others that shining potential, that glowing hope that with a little encouragement for one another – a smile, a touch, a song or a quiet moment – we will find our way. I thank you for your letter, again – and I will work to keep building.  One day you can thank me in return. 

Will future me have learned from what choices I am making today? I hope so. Aspiration and achievement continue to be separated, but my climbing continues. “Living in the Moment” by Jason Mraz reminds me to keep my focus on where it will make the most difference. Until next time, friends – love always.

I got a letter … from the future?

The Time Tunnel …. Deliveries from the future now offered!

Gee Willikers! I got a letter from the future? Hopefully you will find something of interest in this most unusual missive whose origins will be revealed following. 

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At last! It has taken me quite a bit of time to be able to share these thoughts with you – time being the key here.  Because … this letter is from the future.  Your future.   You can’t imagine how many strings I had to pull to get the ok, and yes, of course, there were all kinds of edits by the powers that be – but I felt it was urgent to make the effort because – you need to hear these words today.  Now, more than ever. 

I know the future right now seems pretty … unpredictable? Maybe at times – bleak. You always were a worrier.   But even though you may feel like there is nothing you can do today to impact the future – You are wrong, so very wrong.  In fact, this is a turning point for you – and others in your life.  

What you do today matters so much, so much more than you know.  And it is a time of hope!!  Just … not the hopes you had before this started. Sure … you thought you knew how things were plotted out – and … hey, you were wrong.  A lot of people are feeling the same way right now.  Your plans – gone.  What you thought was certain … wasn’t really.  

Fact is, all those things that seemed so important … some were, some weren’t. What you though you wanted to have happen – well, it doesn’t come to pass.  Not exactly, anyway.  Of course, I can’t tell you the details – you’ve seen enough time travel movies – they do get some things right.  And I know you have a lot of fears that pop up right now, like those stupid arcade games you try to bash down with a hammer, they just return – I will say, focusing on those is a TOTAL waste of time (pun intended). 

This isn’t a time for fear … it’s a time for dreams, for choices, for hope – and so much more.   This is the moment you get to hit pause and say – where do I want to go from here?  Don’t snicker – I know there are limits to choices.  But it is time to think about choices maybe you have lived with for a very long time – longer than you remember even thinking about them, so that they seem like reality.  

Choices about character, honesty, openness … how much you share of your heart,  how much do you value belonging over authenticity … and what is your place in this world?  Things have changes so much, seemingly overnight … where do you belong?  What lies ahead?   Funny thing, sort of anyway,  is that the answers don’t matter as much as asking the right questions.  Of yourself.  Kind of like picking out what star to navigate by, back when there was no other way to find your way to where you were headed.  

 

This is just the start line … no map for the road ahead yet

I know you have already gone through a lot of changes, more than you thought you could handle, I do remember.  I know it was tougher, tougher than others around you could see, and you felt lonely. Afraid, uncertain.   You recognize now that pretty much everyone around you is in that same boat, in one way or another.   

You want answers to the big questions – so does everyone else. Well, most do.  Some stopped even asking, maybe that worked for them – not for you though.  So here’s a preview – you don’t get all the answers.  Even in the future, we still don’t have those answers.  But keep asking those questions.  The questions lead you to making the choices that lead you at least toward the answer.   Kind of like candles on the path. 

Heres the thing.  We were brought up in a time and place to believe certain truths.  Yep, the “big” TRUTHS!!!   Time passed, and life didn’t seem to operate the way we were taught – it didn’t really fit.  And others … they had different ideas.  I remember all the years of soul searching and wanting to “know”, wanting “Be sure” … well, I can tell you, absolutely, there is a TRUTH that you can count on, right now.  Especially, now. 

You are loved.  You always were.  Even when you were at the deepest places of pain and could never believe you had what it took to be worthy of love – you were, and are, and will be.  There is a source of that love outside you – one you cannot understand, or fully know, or explain – and all the people who say they know the Truth, well, they probably know some of it, but not all of it.  And that’s just how it goes.  The thing is, knowing that truth isn’t just for you to hold on to like some magical wand that makes everything ok –  because it isn’t just for YOU, of course! THIS is WHAT YOU NEED TO REMEMBER RIGHT NOW. 

Every day for the rest of your life, you can be a channel of that love!   You know this now, but hey I am just reminding you, ok?  You don’t have to be perfect, you don’t have to have answers for anyone – just … reach out.  Reach up, outside yourself, open you heart, close your eyes … receive that love that comes from the source of all you know and feel … .wash in it, dance in it, sing in it …. Wrap yourself in it … and then …. Give it away.  Give it away.  Give it life, in the way only YOU can do – not having to be anyone else, in any other place, with any other changes in your life.  Today.  Now.   

Don’t be discouraged …. the way will become apparent as you move forward

It’s ok to not have the answers, not know what is ahead ….. it’s how we walk through the passage before us that makes the difference.   Trying, failing … asking forgiveness, and forgiving … most importantly accepting ourselves and others right as things are today, not perfect, never will be … and doing it together.   In love. 

The very best you have to offer those in your life, now and to come, is the deepest part of your heart.  The part that some told you to hide, to put shields around, to try to conform to what someone else said you “should” be.   It’s time to break out of that cage, because that’s the only way to let that love pour through you like a river of light and life, step out of the shadows, sing and dance and welcome tomorrow. 

We get through this.  Yes, we.  Sure …  not everything ahead is candy and ice cream. That was never the idea, you know.  There’s some more hard times – and like they say, the fire refines.  I know.  I know, because … yep, of course, I am you.  The you that lies ahead, that your choices today bring into being down the road.  I’m waiting for you to catch up – it’s going to be great! The time you have ahead is time of joy.  Joy to share with others. The discoveries you make …. The growth … it’s all good.  

Have faith … even when you can’t see those lights.  Hold on to hope … and share it with everyone you can, even just a little – somehow, giving it away brings it back to you.  And …. Love.  Doesn’t have to be perfect – just from the heart.  Love, always.   

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Back to July 2020! As I write this, we are just over 100 days since CCC (Covid Confinement Commencement). I’ve been posting here on “The New NormL” just short of 3 months, and a lot has happened (and not happened) in that time.  Originally, I’d planned to start months before – but my perfectionist nature had a hard time determining exactly what I wanted to write about. I just had a deeply felt sense that I needed to find a way to put my experiences and thoughts “out there” in hopes they might help some who, like me, was trying to find their way through to a better place.  Over the years I had written periodic little missives to friends and family – generally at holidays – and after all the changes in my life, a blog seemed to be the “next step” in whatever path was calling me.  When I registered the site in late 2019, I was happy with the name –long before we heard the phrase repeated incessantly- but still didn’t feel I knew how to bring out what I hoped to create.  

So I wrote the “letter to the future” to introduce my blog to all the people I hoped to stay in touch with, all the walks of my life.  But as I reviewed it, I realized – it was pretty selfish. Perhaps too cheery. Perhaps- not really what I needed to say.  Ultimately, I set it aside and never shared it to announce my new blog.  

Now, after months of awaiting what we used to call a return to normal, it has been getting to me.   I haven’t wanted to write as much – the accumulation of imminent dooms assaulting us constantly, whether through the news, zoom meetings, the crises that family and friends are experiencing, or nightly fireworks for weeks that invade an already restless night.  I know I am not alone in facing the internal voids which a “busy life” somehow helps us pretend don’t exist – but now are felt more deeply than ever, perhaps.  My personal belief is that openness about what I call my “expensive lessons” may help others somehow; that even though your own challenges, or those of someone you know and love, may be very different from my own – we all share certain commonalities. I am not a paragon of faith or optimism, but ultimately I would like what I share here to offer hope, even though I often struggle to find that myself. 

My June 12 post, “Quiet words of hope to a stranger”, had mostly been written years ago. A friend asked me after that post whether I had looked at it over the years since then – years that changed by life perhaps not completely, but significantly and rapidly – and seen the value in those words still for myself.  The truth is – I wish I had.  Perhaps all writing is primarily for ourselves to some degree, but I try as much as possible to pull out from my writing something that can speak to anyone. If you hear or feel or think about something from a new perspective because of some story I share here, I cannot ask for a better reason to continue – and I do plan to find my voice, to dig deeper, and to continue to build the new NormL. Perhaps this “letter from the future” somehow needed to reach me today, just as the letter to a stranger still echoes lessons and foundational truths that seem fresh again when brought back into focus have a long way to grow and go ahead.  The chasm between who I long to be and who I know myself to be seems to grow larger with the years, but we keep easing on down that road. 

We have a wonderful neighbor who shared with me recently (from a distance, masked) that she sends herself flowers every Friday – a gift from her present self to her future self, with an encouraging note. What a wonderful concept! So perhaps my own “letter from the future” is something you might like to try your hand at as well – just for you. Be aware, though – you may realize something about yourself that you had buried or forgotten, and you might discover something new – but it’s worth the effort. Sometimes the voice we need to hear the most really is our own, it just needs to “break through” all the noise that has buried it for too long. 

Music has always lifted my heart, and somehow the old songs carry with them not only the beauty they held when first discovered, but like fine wine, the memory and realization that our lives have come a ways, and we have much for which to give thanks.  Here is a link to a song from the past that perhaps will awaken renewal of hope for you as well.  

It’s not too late … let’s put our hands out in time ……

My next project- a letter from today me replying to my future self. I have no idea what I will be saying! But I will do my best to be there in the future and hear it when that day arrives. There is a tomorrow. We will meet there one day. Let’s keep climbing, together. Until then – as future Norm says – love, always

Johnny Prisoner: Patrick McGoohan - The Man Behind The Bars
The Prisoner”, Patrick McGoohan – “Questions are a burden to others, answers a prison to one’s self”.

“Sometimes I cry when I see the boys”

Memorial day weekend, 2020

What do we gain by looking at the past?  Some might say, very little.  Yes, we live in the present, and hope and plan for a better future – but the past still speaks.  It tells us stories – sometimes in words, in letters, more recently in videos, and silently in photos, in eyes that gaze into our present from times we never walked in, and people we never knew in life.   

Perhaps you, like myself and many others, look back on your childhood and feel a combination of gratitude, nostalgia, and yearning – some things you treasure, some you wish could have been different. Although we cannot change what happened –sometimes, life gives us an opportunity to see the past through new eyes.  I was given that opportunity, and it helped me understand my heritage, my family, and life in ways that I would not otherwise appreciated.  I feel today’s attempt to share how this came to pass for me will not be fully successful – too long, too personal, perhaps – but if you are willing to come along, let me try to share how seeing the past anew helped me build a better future. 

My Parents – in their only “Non wedding” picture together …..

This look back begins with a stack of letters in the 1960’s – from probably my age four to age 8 or 9.  My Mom, as she did with so many things, kept the letters – some would I know question the wisdom in that, but I am grateful she did.  They are undated, for the most part – all but a few typewritten, from my Dad to my Mom.  He would type them at work, I believe – some even on the stationary of the “correctional institution” where he spent his career.  Although I have wonderful childhood memories, I have few of my parents being together; they divorced when I was 7, being separated much of the time before then.  So they are my father’s words, not my memories.  Whether my Mom wrote back is unknown, but I doubt that she would have. 

Here is the beginning of one from I believe 1964, just the first stanza of a poem from my Dad to Mom – 

Ten years ago today, you became my wife

My pledge of love to you was for all of my life

Our honeymoon I remember, so well, so very well

Why did it have to change and become a living hell.

The poem, titled “To Nancy with Love”, continues for 7 more stanzas.  One page, brimming with regret, anger, sadness, pleading – like all of the roughly 2 dozen others.  My parents had married in 1954, my brother born the next year, I in 1958.  She had worked at McDonnell Douglas in Long Beach, her coworker’s husband worked with my Dad at the state prison at Terminal Island; they met, dated and were wed at her mother’s home. They honeymooned in Ensenada (she kept the napkins and matches from the hotel) and ultimately moved into central and then Northern California as my Dad transferred to different correctional facilities, eventually returning to Southern California, where family remained and where I grew up.  

Wedding Day, May 1, 1954 – Long Beach, California

Dad’s letters are filled with pain, but vary wildly, sometimes even within the same letter – one five pages long, typewritten.  Dad revisits arguments, his attraction to other women, medications, group meetings, talking with doctors and counselors and even the priest at the prison; feelings of hopelessness, loneliness, apologies.  Promising that he has always loved her, always will; in one, he blames Mom for the most recent incident, whatever that was, and points out her “unhappy life with your father”, which was true.  Her parents had divorced in the 30s, when that was quite rare, and I know she was scarred by it.  But he also admits to his problems with drinking; of physical violence between them; of emotional abuse. He talks about leaving our home after a heated argument, emotionally upset, and driving the car off the freeway.   “I often cry when I see the boys”. Yes, I realize, he truly did cry.  Nearly 6 decades later, I can feel the pain in his words.  He wanted a better life, but he didn’t know how to make it happen.  

Of course, all these letters were written while they were separated, and in some cases even after the divorce.  Some letters touch on problems at work, staying with his older brother whose wife had died, his ailing parents, his mother’s stroke and hospitalization and his father’s decline.  In his later years, Dad told me stories of his own father’s alcoholic issues – about his mother sending him to “get his father home from the whorehouse in time for Sunday dinner”.  One letter includes a detailed budget, with the notation – “Since there isn’t any money, I will have to stop drinking, but not because of your dramatic performances and emotional feelings”.  She was emotional; she also had severe health problems, exacerbated by rheumatoid arthritis that developed after my brother’s birth.  They struggled financially, like many families.  And I am sure there were other families in our neighborhood dealing with alcoholism, or worse issues.  

It is somewhat revealing to read Dad’s thoughts about my brother and I, referencing regret about missing my birthday, our first Christmas apart, and other events.  In one, he says my brother has “much better control of his temper” and that I am “still full of the devil but is growing also”.  There is a note about taking my brother camping for the weekend with the neighbor boy (their father was a local attorney, also divorced).   In one he talks about plans to go to Disneyland “soon” – I remember a trip, perhaps that was a seed that led to my own love of “the happiest place on earth” – a place I saw as a  refuge from my own pain in adult life, when I had not yet realized the answer to the loneliness and isolation I struggled with, like Dad, lay within, not in escape from reality.  

The only pic I have of me with both my parents together

Mom also had stacks of letters from attorneys; issues about his owing fees, the ownership of the home and property; and Dad’s handwritten will leaving his property to my brother and me.  One attorney letter advised Mom that Dad was going to tell the state, who had financed the home mortgage under a veteran program, that he was abandoning the home and to take action against her; in another, her attorney indicates that Dad was representing their divorce was “off” due to “conciliation” – but that was not to be.  Their divorce was final in October 1965 after years of separation.  In the end, the home was awarded to Mom, along with $150/month alimony and $100/month child support for each of us – $350 a month. Mom’s physical and emotional deterioration continued; she never returned to work.  

In 1966, when I was 8, my Dad married a wonderful woman who did what she could to include both my brother and I in their lives.   We went on vacations to Pismo Beach and Arizona, I spent weekends visiting them a few blocks away.  In time, they had a son, and he and his family continue to be a blessing in my life.  My Dad did all he could, I believe – within his ability – to provide for my brother and I, to support us.  I remember the weekend visits, the trips to work, watching “Seymour presents” and “The Outer Limits” on TV together, and later, support and encouragement in other ways.  But no one has all happy memories. 

Friend, I do not want you to read these words and be downcast or depressed.  But something inside me quietly whispers that whatever value my experience has to offer others is dependent on understanding the depth of what came before.  I literally have only one memory of my parents being together – my coming home from kindergarten with classmate Tina from down the street, to find my father screaming at my mother outside the home, her on the porch crying, and then him driving away.  I suspect it was a form of self-preservation that the rest was erased from my memory.   In a home with little money for anything other than food, I grew up feeling different from all the children in my classes; I remember the pain of 5th grade open house when I was the only child with no one coming to participate, and the loneliness of not being able to talk about TV programs with others because we had no TV in our home, and no car to go to school events. And, in time, I became aware of the other difference, the one that was not allowed, that caused my isolation to become even deeper – from others, and from myself.  I buried my soul so deeply that life without hope, and intimacy, seemed normal. 

We put together photograph albums, we set them aside, with the pretty pictures, the smiles, the happy memories.  They are wonderful to revisit, and good to preserve.  Personally, I do believe there is just as much, if not more – to learn from our family’s struggles and losses.   Growing through them.  Understanding them, perhaps – and maybe, using those lessons to chart a better path ahead.  It may seem contradictory to expectation, but for me – coming to understand the flaws and challenges and disappointments of the past gives me hope.   

Trying to see the world through my Dad’s glasses … even then

When I first found these letters, I was 40; my Mom was in a care facility as I began the nearly 8 yearlong process of what I now call “reclaiming” my childhood home.  She had a bedroom, their bedroom, filled with boxes and things she had shut away.  In them, I found the letters, and … treasures.  Photos of family I never knew.  Family I reconnected with.  And in time, that led to sharing, stories – healing. 

My Dad and I had a difficult relationship for many years.  My own journey seeking help – for a long time, for the wrong problem, unfortunately – led to separation from most of my family other than my Mom.  During that period, I found the letters, and I learned to see that my understanding of the past was, like all of ours, incomplete – I came to a point where I realized that forgiveness was the only door that led to hope.

It took years, help from others, and pain – but in time, I made peace with my Dad. I dare to say we became close; my stepmother passed in early 2006, and my Mom a few months after. Dad outlived them both, and I am glad I could offer him support and care in those days.  After they were gone – I continued to gain insight into their struggles, and mine as well. Eventually the desperation of my own emotional isolation and embedded shame brought me to a place where I found – acceptance, of them, from them, and for myself. Recovery, hope, faith – and love.  And, in a way, I feel closer to both of them now than ever before.  I know them differently today. 

One letter is different from all the others – Dad wrote it to my brother and I at Christmas, with a note that he asked Mom to read it to us.  In it, he writes – “I know that you both will someday have children of your own and my fondest desire is that you will become good, strong men who are loving, and will love your wives and your children. Never become mad or hateful as you only hurt the ones you really love and yourself”. Is that not the wish for every father for their sons?  My mother has two grandchildren, my father four; none from me, but in my imperfect way, I try to share with all four the love that my parents had for their fathers, and I.  And, thank God, I have come to know love, not in the way my parents wished, but one just as real and alive. 

I close the file on these letters from the past; but I do not destroy them. They have shared their lesson with me, and perhaps hopefully with you.  Parents and children, spouses and lovers, hopes and disappointments, sorrow and joy – like the rhythms of waves washing into our lives, generations repeating the longing of our hearts.  With forgiveness, we have the chance to begin again, and build life anew – together.  It is not easy, but there is a way to seek it, and to give it, for us all.  I am thankful I found that doorway, and the life beyond and ahead.  

Clark Kent has left the building

Perhaps you have a secret identity … perhaps we all do. 

I have watched Superman most of my life, starting with the 50’s TV show – black and white repeats at my Dad’s house with the “mole men” and other threats to humanity.  Later, taking my little brother to see Christopher Reeve – about a year after Star Wars, sitting in the theater at Tyler Mall in Riverside – I remember it so clearly, it’s amazing.  Since then, it has been a parade of actors, some pretty bad movies, a few good ones.  They all shared one fascinating ridiculous pretense – that when Clark Kent left the office, no one recognized him as Superman – usually just because of a pair of glasses (although I guess the colorful tights might have distracted some).   No kid wanted to be dull, forgettable Clark – they wanted to fly, be faster than a speeding bullet, and muscles til next week.  I particularly wanted to have destructo vision – still waiting on that. 

But, whenever Clark was gone, no one wondered where he was, usually.  Even smart Margot Kidder set aside her suspicions.  He never seemed to miss deadlines or have performance reviews, or worry about job security.  

And of course, he never retired.  

Perhaps these days you dream of retiring, not having to go into the office (although right now that may be a few feet away from the kitchen), being “free” to do whatever you want.  And, you may worry about money being enough, or health insurance – I did.  My plans didn’t include retiring before 65 – but I reached a point where, for a lot of reasons, I made that choice.  I took the leap – without a cape, without the ability to fly, and without a job – it was just time to stop looking and move on.  This month, my first “early social security check” will arrive, and hopefully that will cover my health care for the few years left before Medicare kicks in – if those programs survive.  And, of course – if I survive.  That IS my intent, but … hey, is your 2020 going as planned? 

What I didn’t realize in this process – from the point where my job search, my dream career in my new home, didn’t seem to be “taking flight”, to the soul searching about budget and goals and what would be best for my new marriage and our lives together – is how much my sense of who I am was tied up in my job.   That it was … my identity.  So much so … it surprises me. 

The past few weeks I have been shredding.  Not the “muscle building” kind, the paper kind.  Destroying records of my past – financial reports, resumes,  representations of the care I put into my work over the decades.  Job reviews, applications; cover letters, offer letters, acceptance letters – resignations.  Going back to the 80’s when I never EVER would have predicted where I would be and what life would look like now.   They all become pieces of trash.  Decades of records that have no ongoing purpose.   

Then, I finished going through my hard drive deleting files … deleting the electronic footprints.  My career, all the efforts to convince someone to hire me, all the reports to demonstrate my contributions; the reference lists that, for the most part, were never called.  It is sobering, a reminder that we have to sell ourselves to strangers, to package our skills and strengths and make it a glossy ad for everything we offer to solve the needs of our employers.   Stacks of “certificates” to show I completed my required education for professional licensing going back more than 35 years … now, all – meaningless.  All those bytes of energy, effort and stress – Zap!!     

The eternal wisdom of Calvin and Hobbes ….

What remains? Of all the things I did in my jobs, the ones that matter most are the lives I touched – the people I hired, or worked alongside to help, to coach, to encourage.  Their careers, their families, their dreams continue, and I am glad I could be a very, very small part of it.  I am also grateful to everyone who had faith in me – in my potential, my contribution – usually they believed in me more than I did myself, hopefully I delivered on their expectation – but whatever the outcome – the door is closed, the desk is cleaned; the “trash” file on my Mac with the old files is empty, the shredder refuse going into the blue barrel. 

That identity – what was so central to my being for decades – is now, just a memory. 

Every stage of life – retirement, unemployment (I’ve been there), every door waiting to be opened –   holds an opportunity to become – maybe not a superhero, but, to go after your dreams.  What I have now that I didn’t while working – is time.  You can earn money, but you cannot earn – or buy – time.  That clock is ticking, and no one knows the final closing time.  What do you want to accomplish before you “leave the office” of life?  If you don’t know that tomorrow will come, how do you live today?  

Time keeps on slipping, slipping, slipping … into the future ……

Perhaps it puts things into a bit of a different focus; maybe not.  I am certainly adjusting my focus (again, where is that destructo vision, please?).  In all this I remind myself that I have much to be thankful for, and the opportunity to share, with my love, good things ahead – quiet good things at home daily, and hopefully, adventures yet to come, in places we now only dream of visiting one day, together.  I am no longer defined by a job description or pay rate, there’s no resume on file, and pretty soon, the suits, ties and Florsheims will go to charity.  Like Clark Kent, I have left the building, but I have no phone booth to change in, no secret identity – but I get to form a new one.  NormL, the new release.  I get to work on choosing it, within limits.  And that is pretty cool.  I hope you too will see that your future still holds amazing promise. 

Will I fly?  We shall see.  But so far, I haven’t bought a cape.  

Look, up in the sky …. who knows what you might find, defying gravity?

The can without a label

There was a time that I studiously reviewed nutrition information for diet control.  It was a lot of work, trying to achieve some balance, consistency between protein, calories from fat, carbs, and all the rest.  It did, in fact, produce results – if I took it seriously.   Then there were the labels on files, whether the card catalogs in the library of my youth, or the tabs on the decades of files I created during my career that went into drawers to be carefully preserved, then just as carefully shredded.  Or the warning labels on weed killers and solvents, insect repellants and medicines, that protect us from misuse and harm.  All these labels help us make good choices.

Then there are the labels that bring … other results. 

In 2013, I stood in front of a high school audience. My nerves were convulsing, heart pounding, my uncertainty whether my words would have meaning for anyone there was only growing greater as the faces of teenage strangers stared up at me, older than most of their parents.  I was trembling, and I probably gave one of the worst presentations of my life.  

I held up a can with the famous Campbell’s logo of red and white, and asked if anyone knew what was in the can – and of course, a few voices spoke out – soup.  But then I removed the label – one I had attached – and held it higher for a moment before I asked – now what is in the can?  Is it the same as the label?   How do you find out? 

Living in a society requires us to use labels for ourselves, and for others.  Some we get from the day we are born – gender, race.  Some our families apply, as roles; others, we are given by our peers.  They can lift us up and tear us down.  They can change – but sometimes we absorb them, cling to them – they become our identity, who we see ourselves as “being”, which may not be anything close to what we try to present to those around us.  We learn to pretend, to stay in our boxes, and – we learn that some labels are to be avoided at all costs.   I am sure you have a list of your own, one you keep deep inside.  Even “forgotten” – their power may resonate in our lives for decades. 

I cried a lot as a young boy, in the mid 60’s; there were reasons.  The pain was real, and I felt very alone.  I remember very clearly once my mother calling me a “pansy”.  That wounded me; she was a loving mother, but also a product of her time and era, and human.  But it stuck with me, branding me as somehow “not what I was supposed to be”.   I remember in 6th grade the other boys in my “mentally gifted minors” program (where girls were the majority) excluding me because they felt I didn’t belong with them. Of course that happens to most of us – but I took in that labeling deep into my soul. In a way, as I went through adolescence and then into college and career, I began to weave those labels into my being.  They were labels that brought shame, that needed to stay hidden. Eventually, I was hidden away too – buried. 

There were labels I tried to display for the groups that I wanted to “belong to”.  Trying to live up to expectations of my family, school, church, classmates – carefully sewing those “labels” deeply into the fabric of the “clothing I wore” for others to see. I didn’t realize others felt the same way, excluded, unacceptable; I thought I was alone. And I learned to I use labels to blame, to exclude, to justify further retreat, burrowing deeper into the dark cave where I had made my hearts home. 

It took decades, a lot of help, self-honesty and pain – but I found my way out of the cave.   It was a long, hard climb.  I perhaps in some ways am still leaving that cave behind – and big part of it was losing the labels.  The labels others had attached to me, the ones I had clung to, and – the ones I slapped on others like bumper stickers.  Losing them all – peeling them off, ripping them out.  They stick deeply in our vision of ourselves and others – you have to keep on pulling away the scraps, the little pieces that cling – to clean away the grime. 

Back in 2013, standing in front of a bunch of students as a fairly new members of the Gay Men’s chorus of LA, really not having a lot of friends even in the chorus because I lived 60 miles away – I felt pretty alone, still, on that stage.  I had only been “out” for less than a year.  But I told them – the best I could – that labels limit life.  Not just labels that are given us, or we take on ourselves – but also the ones we put up to block others away, to keep them from hurting us.   But – we don’t need to allow other’s labels stick to us, nor must we use labels on those near us. Unlike a can of soup or a chemical table – we are more than just a list of names, characteristics, measurements.   No one is a “fixed value”, unchangeable; sometimes the journey of discovery is about letting ourselves come forth. And learning to let others reveal themselves outside the boxes and labels we use on them.  Together, we become something different over time, through choice, and especially through our relationships with one another.

Today, our journey brings us to a place where things we took for granted seem uncertain. Perhaps this is an opportunity as well as a challenge. Every one of us has a universe of possibilities ahead.  Every single one, even if we only have today to live.  Letting go of the walls we put around ourselves – the limits we set by embracing some idea that we do not measure up, we are not good enough – so what?  We are walking miracles.  Your very existence today, the fact you are here, is a wondrous mystery, swimming with promise – perhaps buried under years of labels that you have lived with, but it is time to tear down.  To toss away, not just for us – but for everyone in our life.  Those around us we have boxed away with our judgments and set aside because they didn’t meet our standards, they don’t look the right way or vote the right way or believe the right way – those walls keep us from becoming what we can, together.   When we stick those “unwanted cans” in the back of the cupboard – we all “go hungry”. 

I doubt whether my little speech to those students registered, and my time with the Chorus was short – but it was a step in my becoming.  We can work towards becoming more like the labels that we want to live up to. Yes, there are labels worth using, and worth keeping.  Yet, perhaps it is worth taking some time to reconsider whether some of the labels we “wear” in our thinking – and those we have “stuck” to others in our lives – need to go.   There are enough limits in life without them.   If we can look beyond them, perhaps we can discover new flavors, new possibilities, and new life.  Together.  

Forgetting what was not

Wow, April is just barely half over, and it’s already been a very busy month!  We started off with our monthly “Mah Johng” group dinner and play – it’s not the easiest game to win but we do have a lot of fun and have made new friends there.  Then we attended a wonderful live program at the newly restored Presidio theater – a tribute to Billie Holiday – preceded by a delightful dinner at “our” restaurant, Arguello’s (we had our wedding near both).  The following Tuesday, I finally saw the famed “Book of Mormon” which Bob had seen more than once – it was hilarious, and we really had a great time.  The next weekend brought the 150th anniversary of Golden Gate park – I had volunteered to help with a very memorable “AIDS Quilt” display and will share those pics another time, it was very moving, and I am so glad I could support it. We enjoyed a visit with our friends from So Cal that same weekend, and took just a few days off before seeing a local production of the 50’s musical, the rarely seen “Pajama Game” by 42ndstreet moon – I had seen it once when my 6th grade class went to the Corona Civic Center to see our teacher, Mr. Compton, in the lead role.  Love that “Hernando’s hideaway” number!  Bob enjoyed the NY Met Opera streaming of Tosca, one of his favorites, and this weekend we will be attending the SF Symphony as they welcome a very special international orchestra – part of our subscription that has really been a great experience.  We really need a break from all this fun!   Before the month ends, we have a special tour of the Sales Force Tower complex by SF City Guides, a weekend getaway to nearby friends, and yes, a dentist appointment (ugh!)

Of course … all that was only on our calendar. They were our plans for the month – but, they never happened.   Most never will. Along with your plans and all the routine, ordinary events of what we considered everyday life. What we took for granted.

When I established this blog several months ago, I wanted to share my thoughts about life as I dealt with constant changes.  As I became the “new Norm L”.   But just weeks ago, no one really envisioned how drastically life would change and how soon.  Now, it seems like there is some sort of expectation that people want to hold on to – I know I do – that things will “return to normal”. 

Time to let go of that expectation, at least from my perspective.

In order to take hold of something, first, you must have a free hand.  Letting go of hopes, expectations – long held dreams and goals – is almost like a loss.   But letting go of what your life was already like – all the things you took for granted, that seemed guaranteed to just be the way they were forever – that is a different kind of difficult.  My friends, we MUST face that challenge, individually and together, to build a new life that has meaning.

Our future will be much better, and we will find our way to it easier, by not expecting it to be “what it used to be”.   What do you, or I, need to release from our expectations?  Maybe that is worth thinking about for a while.  Because being a prisoner to what “ought to be” prevents us from enjoying what is, and what can be.  It takes strength to hold on – and strength to let go – but it takes wisdom to know when to do either. And faith.

It is not easy to practice gratitude for things that aren’t the way you want them to be.  But for me, this is the time to do just that.  To be thankful in the midst of all this, to express hope for an uncertain future – that is a light in the murky greys ahead.  A light for now, and for tomorrow.  

Welcome to – and from- the new NormL

What on earth am I doing?

This is a deeply personal blog – that I am sharing publicly.  Why? And why NOW??  Read on. 

Most of my life, I just wanted to be like everyone else.  To be what I was “supposed to be”.   To meet the expectations of those whose approval I so craved but felt I never lived up to – family, peer groups, social norms.  

But try as I could, I never felt … good enough.  I never lived up to what I though was my potential.  I suffered from depression, low self esteem, loneliness – those grew into other behaviors that drew me further away from really connecting or belonging.  I was always trying to be … someone I wasn’t.

“NORMAL”.     

As the one panel comic once illustrates in 50’s advertising style, with a mother telling her daughter … “oh honey, normal is just a setting on a dryer”. 

Over the years, I have been through a lot of change.  Not always the change I sought, not always the destinations I would have picked.  Some would say I grew, matured; some would say I lost my way and strayed from “the Truth”.   One thing is for sure … my life is very different now.  And … a lot better. Not all easy, but … on the right path, finally.

So, in late 2019, I decided I wanted to start a blog.  A place where I could share whatever lessons my life had to offer, and my adventures, and maybe some humor.  Over the years, when I have written from my heart to family and friends, there have been times I know my words somehow touched them, and I guess my ego was nudging me to put whatever I had “out there”, perhaps in hope that the life education that came at a high price for me might have benefit to someone, somewhere. 

I decided, since my last name  starts with L, that I would call my blog … the new NormL.  Not trying to be normal … but learning to be me.   To somehow through my small little voice among the billions of words flying through consciousness, say something that might help others going through the same questions I was.  The big questions.    Dealing with change, reconsidering priorities, sharing discoveries.  

Being somewhat of a perfectionist, one who never achieved anything close to it but still deludes themselves into the illusion of it’s possibility, I put starting off  “The New NormL” for several months.  Truth is, I wanted to present my blog with all the bells and whistles, learn all the keys, make a splash.  Like we all do with dreams …. Wait for a better day, when you can do it right.  Wait until it’s too late.  

Then, in the last month for many of us, abruptly – our world changed. Maybe, as some say, “the universe” had a different plan.  Maybe not.  Bottom line … all that was before stories started to circulate about an illness in China.  And you know the rest.   

So most of us are holding our breath right now, spring 2020 … waiting.  Waiting for answers.  Wondering what life will look like on the “other side” of all this – will we return to normal?  Well …. Were we ever there?   Or did we accept what was, as what “should be”??   Whatever the truth is about the world before 2020 … I don’t think anyone can honestly say it is going to be the same, someday down the road.  

So now … my blog is finally kicking off without me having learned how to use the software or graphics, without backgrounds and really without much of anything except my thoughts.   This is a place where I am going to write about what I am learning in life, and what I think I learned – in hopes it might help some out there dealing with change.  Maybe you. Maybe someone you love. It will be worth the effort, the honesty, the openness if what I paid a high price for can bring good to another life, in some little way. Change is possible but it doesn’t come easy, and it doesn’t happen alone – but with the love and support of others.  If there was ever a time we cannot ignore the need for change, it is now.  

So, here we go.  I have no plan, just lots of ideas, thoughts … a place for me to share, and maybe for some of you to get something out of what I put out here.  Whether you come along from the start or discover me down the way a bit,  I hope you find your way to your best and truest self – because that’s what our new world needs.  I’m working on it, just like you.  Love always.