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perhaps even incredulously, in those few weeks demand for vaccines has dropped;  state regulations have been withdrawn; infection rates are down, while some cling to a kind of hope, I guess, that the Delta variant will come and wipe out more, justifying their suspicions of the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

Root removal and garden renewal

If you were to look at my facebook feed, or visit any of my homes over the years, starting with my childhood in Southern California reaching now to the chillier climes of the San Francisco bay – you would discover that I always worked to transform whatever spot of soil I tended into something a little more green, a bit more colorful. To create a little spot of refuge that would bring joy, peace, and a sense that here, nature is welcome, and appreciated. I find being in a quiet garden a spiritual experience; digging my fingers into the soil, planting something alive and nurturing it hopefully into bloom, giving the birds and bees a place to feel welcome; it gently reminds me I am a part of something larger, and yet I can still accept that, like all things, my creation is only temporary.

In our SF home – where I have lived a little more than 3 years, but my husband has been for more than a quarter century – over the years, occasionally some trees have become too large, and they were removed.  When I first moved here, the small strip of soil immediately adjacent to the front of the house had 4 large olive trees so overgrown I did not even know there was cement under them;  climbing a ladder to try to trim them from reaching to block out the front windows on the main floor was a joint effort.   Eventually, we decided to have them removed – but, as was the practice in earlier such attempts, the gardener engaged simply cut them back, and cut them down to the ground, where the stumps remained.

In another small spot, immediately by the first few of 30 steps leading from the street to our front porch, a much older stump protrudes from the small rectangle where my efforts to get other plants to prosper have been futile.  In fact, my planting of climbing roses where the olive trees had been failed so miserably I had to remove them, as well – they, of course, left no residue behind.  Soon, I will begin to search for a resource here who will, hopefully at a somewhat reasonable price for this expensive city, come and grind the stumps down, at least far enough to free up some space for new growth. While those roots, lifeless as they may be, remain – new growth will still struggle to make it their own.

I remember as a child of perhaps 6 going with my older brother to the city park in our little town of Corona, California more than 55 years ago, and picking up an acorn from the great oak trees there – I am sure, now, it looks very different but hope some of those trees still stand.  I planted it in our little back yard of that simple 60’s tract home … and it grew, slowly, at first just a little few branches.  I grew, also … into high school, and college, and my first job, moving away. In that 20 years and more, the seedling became a mighty tree, so large it created problems with power lines and neighbors, and had to be removed.  In the years after my mother aged, and became unable to be at home alone, I returned; as she spent her final years in a nursing home, I began the process of renewing  that home, where she, as a disabled parent, raised us with limited income and was unable to keep things in repair.  It gave me a sense of wholeness to create a garden, and to bring new life and comfort to the house itself, so that someone who would follow would be happy to call it their own.

The oak sleeps in the acorn, the bird waits in the egg, and in the highest vision of the soul a waking angel stirs. Dreams are the seedlings of realities … James Allen

Regretfully, roots take a great deal of effort to truly remove – particularly if they are dead, and run deep.  Sometimes, as with our olive trees, shoots emerge from the roots, life struggling to survive, the cells programmed to reproduce and reach for the sun. Cutting off that which was seen resolved the visual issue … but left stumps and roots that I cannot, on my own, remove.   As I have spent time the past few weeks of the new year, trying to use a saw to cut through that deadwood, trying to dig somehow into roots that run at least 15 feet below where the plant emerged from the surface, down below the stone foundation of our home that withstood the 1906 earthquake – I am defeated.  But nothing new can truly thrive there – the opportunity for beauty to bloom anew cannot be fulfilled while those stumps, those roots, dead as they be, take up the limited space that new life needs to come forth.

The same is, of course, true of our hearts.  My heart.  There are still deep roots, as I am reminded constantly by my struggle to channel my emotions positively, to heal the deeper gashes in my soul from the trees that no one can see but which were planted in my spirit from the earliest years of life.   We all have gardens in our hearts; I have always loved the symbolism of “The Secret Garden” children’s story, but also – Oscar Wilde’s “The selfish giant”.  In the first story, a young orphan taken in by a distant relative discovers a walled garden shut off for years, where, by entering and letting in light, love grows within that new family to replace the pain that they had tried to shut out behind locked gates and overgrown shrubs.  In “The selfish giant”,  the title figure returned from visiting his ogre friend to find the local children had been playing in his garden; he angrily shuts it off, walling it away from the.  One day, he finds a young boy visiting there, and his heart begins to open, until … the events of the story are best left for you to discover, it is freely available online.

In my postings of 2020, my first year of writing here, I shared about some of the events of my life, very personal events, writing even of things I had not told to many of my closest friends and family.  I titled the blog “my journey towards authenticity” – because that journey is really only begun.  Discovering who we are – especially when, for whatever reason, we have been somehow denied that opportunity, afraid to accept ourselves, and traded the seeming approval of others for embracing what cries out in our own spirits – it is a process that takes a lifetime, much like a great oak takes decades to grow from that tiny acorn I held in my hand as a child.  My shortcomings and foibles constantly remind me there are roots running deep in me still that I have not yet removed – or time, perhaps, has not yet wrought its power to dissolve sufficiently to erase their presence.  I recognize they may always be with me – but in acknowledging they linger, present but unseen, I can at least embrace honesty.  As Pinocchio repeatedly proved, one cannot become real without honesty.

In the past two weeks, I have been graced with the opportunity to join an online book discussion with strangers.  They are all men;  they are all people who, for whatever reason, learned in the course of their lives that, like me, they were different – they had feelings others did not share, and in many cases that they were taught to deny, or fight, or erase.  And, like me perhaps, some erased their own ability to grow, to become the great trees they were born to be in spirit – denying those around them the shade of their caring in times of heat, or the song of birds nesting in the branches above.

Perhaps, like these roots in our garden I cannot dig out without help, we each need help from others to uncover those deeply buried residues in our hearts – they block the ground of our spirit from new life, and perhaps even sprout up in new ways, refusing to be buried forever.  Today, I shared with the group, as we discussed how the factors in our own, unique histories and lives and backgrounds had common threads, that I was learning – slowly, painfully, and unfortunately often at cost to those in my life who loved me, some now gone – only by coming to continue to grow into accepting myself as I am, like you – flawed, imperfect, selfish at times, discouraged and afraid at others – only by believing that others can in fact love us, as we are NOW, can we begin to be the channel for a greater love through us to those around us.   

Photo by Rakicevic Nenad on Pexels.com

So, another year has begun, and the first month nearly over – change is happening around us. Soon, here in the northern hemisphere, it will be spring … new life will start to emerge from the seeds. Daily, we plant seeds in our hearts, from what we read, what we hear from others, what we listen for in the quiet of the night when the wind and darkness wakes us and the distractions that keep us occupied during the day are not as present in our consciousness. And daily, over the years, we reap the fruit of what we planted before. I am working on my own root removal, in both my gardens. Whatever season it may be – a time to sow, and a time to reap – we can stroll in the garden of our hearts, ask what we see there, and begin to dig, and plant anew.

Your comments and sharing are welcome … hope to see you again, friend.

Somebody’s watching us …..

I always wondered what happened to Rockwell.  Back in 1984, Rockwell had this hit song at age 20 – “Somebody’s watching me”. You couldn’t escape it on the airwaves – especially since Michael Jackson (pre-fall) was singing backup.  Remember? 

I actually thought this came out in the late 70’s, but no … fittingly, 1984

Turns out Rockwell was actually the son of Berry Gordy, Motown president and starmaker.  Supposedly he got the contract without his father’s knowledge ….. hmm.  His other hit single which I don’t remember is “Obscene phone caller”, and according to Wikipedia, he was last in the news for beating an “associate” at the Hollywood Magic Castle in 2018.   Ah, stardom. 

But I do remember that song when I think about our world today, one he never imagined – maybe Arthur C. Clarke did, in a way, and Asimov, and other visionaries.  Somebody is indeed watching me, and you, and us all – the question is, what are they doing with what they learn? 

I have been on a little break from writing here, in many ways because of the ongoing challenges in my life, our life together, and our community.  But, something did change, or at least move towards change, since my last post – our election was held, the ballots counted and disputed, the name calling and finger pointing continues but there is movement.  Where it leads, I doubt anyone can fully predict; certainly the polls and the surveys again did not capture all that our country feels or believes, and many sense that even now a full understanding of our collective temperature is difficult to grasp.  Why does anyone even listen to surveys anymore? Speaking of which …

So I have been waiting for that process to end, because I was one of probably a very large number of people invited to participate in a kind of political experiment, perhaps – one I don’t fully understand, and whose results will not be known for several months.  Data from that experiment is being processed and analyzed by those who specialize in that kind of thing – they may or may not have an “agenda” that will spin it towards a predetermined result, but from my little observation point as a participant, I found it – intriguing. 

Of course, this is copyright USA today and all that – link is below

If you take a glance at this story from USA today way way back around Labor Day in early September, it describes the project as a joint study between various think tank institutions to determine how Facebook and Instagram affect the 2020 election.  Somehow, by surveying users who opt out of those services for several weeks, through the election – 200,000 to 400,000 participants.  Well, I was invited to join them.  Here are some photos of the messages I received – and I accepted.  Leaving Facebook during the election seemed like a godsend! 

I received instructions about how to temporarily disable my Facebook account, posted my plans (to varying degrees of disinterest) and awaited the first survey.  I took photos of some of those pages, as shown here on September 15 (before I provided my responses, naturally).   Note, this is just a few of the screens, not all – they wanted to know my attitude about various issues, groups, and more – plus, an exciting offer to get even more “Gift card” payments by participating in “additional studies” by allowing them to somehow monitor ALL my internet activity for the period through the election. 

3 screenshots from the first “survey”

I declined.  I may like gift cards, but I am sure that Google, Facebook, and heck probably even Disney know more about my web usage than I can imagine.  That’s the price of today’s technology – information about us is being sold to direct marketing, campaigns, and more. I can live with that – but, sorry, not going to make my internet browsing history public!!  Would you?? 

About a month later, on October 10, the second more extensive survey arrived (again, these are just selected screen shots, not the full survey).  Of course I expected to be asked about my thoughts on candidates and issues.  But I found the choice of other questions to be fascinating – what are they trying to determine with these questions?  More importantly, why these questions and not others?  Note the last shot, a question more than a month before the election as to whether violence would be justified if one candidate refuses to accept the outcome … hmmm..

Ah yes…. the moment of truth …. I admit, I did not write in Kanye (this time)
Do you suppose someone might see violence as a political tactic? Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that, friends. The clock continues to tick as I write today.

The final survey received in early November, just prior to the election, had some interesting questions as well.  I particularly enjoyed the “fake news” questions asking whether certain statements were factual or otherwise – I thought I would be certain in every case, but there were stories there that I hadn’t heard.  We certainly live in a time when just about anyone can write just about anything and it takes off, and the “disproving” doesn’t always get the same attention as the assertion.   And, of course, there were questions about my emotional state, how COVID was being addressed, Black Lives Matter, and more.

Four Weeks? How about 8 months? How about 4 years? I need chocolate.

A day or two after the election, I was “released” from Facebook isolation – I signed in, and scrolled through what I had “missed” with family and friends.  I did, initially, really feel “left out” of knowing what was going on without my FB fix – I realized that in some ways I was addicted.  But the question that I still can’t come up with a good answer for is  – why was I off FB (and other services, although I don’t use  those).   Was there a “still on” control group that they compare our answers to?  If not, how can they determine what impact “leaving” had on anyone?  Perhaps when, probably in 2021, some report comes out proclaiming the amazing truths that were learned from this study, I will understand – or, perhaps I will at least be in a better position to question than most how those conclusions could possibly have been reached.

Wait, what? There’s more? I guess I can expect an early Christmas present.

We need one another so much now – Facebook, other services, are a mixed blessing.  I didn’t miss the vitriol, name calling – I did feel a little more alone, asking Bob who commented on some pictures he posted of a little outing we took one Sunday, whose birthday I missed, etc.  But online connecting can’t replace real life touching, hugging, laughter (and yes, the forbidden singing).  For now, I will take what I can get – we all just are doing what we can to “get through this” (whatever “this” includes for you, but right now, COVID and the election continue to hammer at our consciousness). 

So if you see me on Facebook, well, now you know why I was invisible.  A week from now, many around the world, but especially here in the USA, will sit down and give thanks – I will write about that next time – but without being able to be near the loved ones, or strangers, that normally fill our lives.  I think, in the days ahead, I have some phone calls to make – or, zooms, facetimes, whatever.  More than texts; certainly more than Facebook posts.   Reach out, reach out and hold someone’s hand, if only virtually – to remind one another, we will meet again. 

Hey folks – don’t miss out on this limited holiday offer – free subscriptions!

Six months, 25 posts, and the future

Do you ever put off doing things? I sure do. Especially the things that I think I don’t know how to do, or may not do well. I put off starting this blog for a long time after the idea entered my head; I put off actually posting for nearly 4 months after I paid the WordPress subscription in November of 2019. I had just the month prior made the decision to end my ongoing job search and retire early; in large part that was driven by my desire to spend more time with my husband and building our life together rather than another few years of professional employment.

Photo by Darwis Alwan on Pexels.com

But, I finally started writing – six months ago, yesterday. And I knew that there were a few other things I had put off – like getting more familiar with WordPress “mechanics”, how to show things on the table of contents, how to make it a little easier for visitors to see what I was sharing. So, this morning, with a goal of getting that long on my to do list item finished, I toyed with WordPress a bit – exploring, getting lost, getting frustrated but … getting back on board and sticking with it.

You know, it’s a good feeling to do something you have put off. This summer I spent many hours on a home improvement project that most will never see or notice; but it’s just about done, and our life is a little better for it. I have a lot left to learn about using WordPress, and writing; about guiding people to my site, or promoting it (thank you, followers I have never met, I am humbled!).

But learning is what keeps life challenging, I think. As we have political discussions with friends – which unfortunately seems to be the gigantic gravitational center of all thought these days – I often remark that questioning what we believe, our priorities and choices is a lot harder than just doing what we did the day before. And hey, maybe that’s great for now – maybe that’s all we can do. I am grateful, and challenged, to have the luxury (or burden?) of time to reconsider my focus – how to spend the precious hours of this day, and the unknown number of days to come.

We cannot take the number of days ahead for granted – never could, but maybe we believed it and now realize that untruth. Last week, my husband and I were exposed to Covid, six months after all the guidelines we followed, and precautions we took, by a visiting home improvement representative who felt ill the next day and went for a test. Less than 48 hours after his short stop to check out our kitchen needs and plan for the beginning of work, we had each received a call from SF City health that we needed to quarantine for two weeks, and test; less than 6 hours after that call, we were at a Kaiser drive through for a memorable swabbing session, and soon on our way home.

For whatever reason, my husband’s negative test results arrived a little more than a day later – but mine did not. More than 30 hours after his email, I finally got a notice at 3 am on a Monday morning that I too was negative; it was a relief, but that gap in communication left me with many thoughts about its implications. Thankfully, we have no symptoms, and in roughly 6 more days we will again be “free” to roam our still mostly shuttered streets, and visit the socially distanced by reservation only gym, and maybe even in time to go see a movie. These are all things we took for granted a few months ago, and yet for some on our globe, are pleasures they might never know. If nothing else, this is a time to nature our appreciation for the gifts we hold today.

But I thought during those 30 hours, and since, again about my priorities. One of our cats has a habit of “campaigning” for his canned food dinner earlier each day – wandering, following, and letting us (mostly, me, since I open the cans) know that he is ready. For up to two hours ahead of time, some days – and then, in moments, his enjoyment of the food itself is over. And I see this in myself, and perhaps we all do it – waiting, yearning, longing and dreaming for something we so desperately want, or think we need – and then, perhaps that experience comes, that dream comes true – and it is over. We put so much time into it, and it passes – and life goes on.

Today, we are all longing for something imminent – maybe for some it is the election and a hoped for change or end to whatever antagonizes us most at the moment; for others, a “return to normal” that probably is never going to be fully realized – the new world is going to be shifting in ways we cannot predict, and in ways we may not even see as they come to pass. I certainly have my frustrations with both; and yet the best I can manage my life right now, for me, my husband, and my loved ones who I cannot be with at the moment, is to just do what I can do now and move on.

So, six months in to my little blog, after 25 entries, and countless hours of thought and reflection, I feel a glimmer of anticipation of where “The New NormL” goes from here. Between thought, writing, reflection and the mechanics of creating a post (along with the learning curve), the amount of time I spend on these posts is, well, more than you might guess. Foremost, my priority remains our shared lives, building what we have and like everyone else just trying to manage the details; but writing here, for you few who read these words, has been in a way both clarifying and freeing for me. So, there will be more to share, although I sense I may be shifting my focus, or my approach, a bit over time. There is much to explore in our world, wonderful things to discover and give to others in turn, when we open our eyes. I will continue to write from the heart, about the present, past and future, and my weird little questions and peculiar explorations – in the hopes that some of what I share will resonate with those few who may find encouragement from my words.

A friend asked me recently if I had changed my blog format a bit, having noticed some of the photos, links etc. that I was tweaking (and which will continue). I think the most noticeable is probably the now routine inclusion of the portrait you see below, although I think I often used the words shown in closing many posts. Those words are both a sentimental wish, and an imperative I try to achieve – imperfectly. We all strive towards ideals we cannot reach, but in that effort, we get closer. Keep on climbing; lend a hand to others near you on that path, or their own – you may not share the same goals, or much else, but we all share the same hopes and needs. Thank you for spending some time with me here – I look forward to our next visit.

Wherever you go, there you – are?

Now some may consider that to be a philosophical statement; and, I guess, like any statement, you can find a way to insert something you already believe to be true into that space and make it fit.  For me, that phrase was a throwaway line in the initially obscure, now somewhat cult film “The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai across the Eigthh Dimension”.  It was a flop when released in the 80’s, with a great cast and wild storyline full of what now would be called “geeky” “easter eggs”.   I think it was making fun of a lot of cultural sacred cows, but … what do I know? 

Still, the phrase comes to mind now that fall is here.  When this blog was conceived, it was winter; spring when it burst forth, now two seasons later and six months into a still strange world that I continue to resist embracing as the familiar.  My goal when I began was to share elements of my life, and ongoing journey of discovery, in the hopes that it might have meaning for others – certainly more than it would just being kept in my own head.  I didn’t have a destination in mind – I just knew I wanted to write about those things that were key to a lot of personal transformation in my life, knowing that process still continues. 

But there were goals I set during this period, that I put effort into; some have been achieved, others not.  There are those nights I wake up frustrated wondering what I am doing wrong; why I am not seeing more progress on things that I claim are priorities to me, but to which I devote little time, while eagerly chasing some diversion that requires less effort, devotion and discipline.  Days go by that seem wasted, and I think … wow, I am now more than halfway to my next birthday.  My last birthday was the first weekend of shelter in place; will my next birthday be all that different? 

One of the ways I dealt with my frustration at feeling cooped up, trapped, cut off from so much of what I enjoyed in life and buried under a constant avalanche of dire, doom and gloom news – was to exercise.  I was fortunate to have some personal fitness equipment.  Some of you who have known me wayyyy back when know that I was at one time over 250 pounds, a consequence of seeking comfort from food or other sources that could never provide it, and the mindsets that kept me trapped in self rejection and hatred.  Hopefully, some of what I have shared here of my journey away from that point have helped some readers look at their own caves and realize that they need to get out, and there is a way out, but it takes time and effort. Well, I figured I could finally transform my body into the ideal I have held it up against for 45 years, or at least get closer.   People were going to gasp in awe and amazement at my transformed magnificence!  (well, something like that). 

Isn’t this the reverse? Why would the “new me” see the “now me” in the mirror?

Six months later … I have not been transformed. I spent hours on the back patio, with the bench, clumsily following video guidance, listening to music for that upbeat energy.  Recently, our city leaders allowed outdoor training at the gym to return, so I spent a significant chunk of money for me on a training package a little more than a month ago; in the weeks since, the doors opened a little more, first with a tent filled with equipment in the gym parking lot, then with one hour appointment only blocks indoors, masked, with various other restrictions.  I will say my trainer knows his stuff – but so do all the well-toned muscular men (and some women!) I see surrounding me with much heavier weights, and, well, all the rest.  Are gay men necessarily more obsessed with fitness than others? I cannot say, but there are a lot in this gym who have reaped the rewards of years of devotion.  I fight depression when I leave, knowing I might as well be planning a trip to Mars. 

Grieving this apparent lack of results and vowing that the next six months will not be a repeat – I began thinking about what I need to make more of a priority in my life, and what I need to drop. Being forced to reflect a little more on what exactly I want to achieve, how to structure my day to be effective, and what else to set aside – I am coming to realize another surprising truth about my inner compass.  I seem to be driven by some deeply buried but unachievable desire to accomplish change; to become more like the ideal that has always haunted me, taunted me, whether it was a matter of character, maturity, personal skill or interpersonal success – I never seem to be ok with where I am.  I was never “good enough”. After all the work I had done with those who helped me to get somewhat beyond the shame I had embraced over some of the deepest parts of my identity, I still was trying to get to some place that I simply could not reach. 

And this song came to mind …

Written as instrumental by Vince Guaraldi as part of an album related to the film “Black Orpheus”, in time lyrics were added and “Cast your fate to the wind” was covered by many artists, as well as convincing the production team behind “A Charlie Brown Christmas” to commission the trio for that soundtrack that forever will remind of us of Charlie, Lucy, Linus and Snoopy.  But why was this song coming to mind? 

I have always longed for a map.   Whether in my youth it was the teachings of the church, or the grades on my report card telling me I had gotten it “Right” – I sought absolutes.  I remember only half-jokingly telling friends after I came out that I needed to find “The Big Book of Gay” to figure it all out.   I never found that book, and although I read many, many others on life, happiness, spiritual principles and personal growth – I remained deeply unsatisfied with myself.  It’s not a pleasant place to be – surely you don’t blame me for wanting to get out of it! 

But those quests, although worthwhile, did not bring me to the place I sought. Quietly, slowly, my awareness is opening to a new possibility. I am beginning to think that the challenge is not how to become someone I am not – that idealization physically, emotionally, relationally, spiritually and intellectually that I hold myself up to.   Rather … I need to not necessarily just accept where I am as where I am going to end up – but to, for now, “own” where I am.  Who I am, my flaws and my little shiny spots, my cold empty corners and my hallways of the heart filled with light and music – all of them.

Could it be that one cannot leave a place until one has made it their own? I do not recommend casting my fate (or yours) to the wind – but the reality is that much of what comes our way is completely unexpected and out of control, and to pretend we can somehow take the reins and maneuver all those forces to get us to some specific point is in itself a fine madness.  When a friend says “it’s not the destination, it’s the journey” …. Maybe it’s both?  I try every day to do something that when it is over I can say – I reached out.  I touched someone else I care about in a way that made a difference to them, however small.  To not go to bed without having made that day, somehow, matter.

Treasure your yesterday with gratitude..

Embrace your today with joy …

Create your tomorrows with hope.

The New NormL

I am not giving up on my quest; in fact, as I write today, I admit I haven’t really determined what it is I am still questing for.  Does your heart long for something more than what you hold today? Can you feel that, or have you tried to quench it – to say, shut up, heart, I don’t want to try anymore – I just need to get by.  It’s not for me to say which perspective is healthy, but I guess what I am realizing is that until I make peace with who I am today – my whole person – I will be forever trying to cut off something that I will always be carrying with me, wasting time on trying to be someone who I am not instead of finding ways to let the person I am do what I am able while still here.  Wherever I go, they will be coming along – might as well love them! 

To live each day as though what we do matters, because it does;  to see each person we encounter as a little piece of the wonderous something that brought all this into existence, because they are; and to simply let our hands be open in case a butterfly decides to drop by for a visit, even though they never have.  We awaken each morning to a day filled with the unknown, promise, possibilities and dangers – we are here, now.  Take a deep breath, enjoy it – and onward, friends. 

Thank you, followers – I always love hearing from you (well, almost always!)

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. 

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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.