Finding fit – the most important muscle is between your ears

Do you have a quest?  Something you have felt a drive to achieve, but never quite made it? Perhaps we all do. Some define quest as an unreachable goal – a dream – something beyond our reach, but worth pursuing. I have written before, and gotten some surprising positive feedback, on my own quest for improved fitness.  Fitness in more than just the traditional body sense – extending into an overall place of well being, but very much including strength and physical health.   In the past few months I have been slowly recognizing some factors that have helped me – not in necessarily traditionally measurable ways, but more in how I am feeling confident that I am on the right path.  It’s been about 9 months since I posted about my progress – it seems like a good time to update you (and me, too!)

Everyone has to start somewhere …. and we all have our own paths to discover!

You can a find numerous books about lifting routines; technique;  videos, apps, charts and more.  I imagine they are all pretty helpful when used correctly – and I have bought (and given away) more than I care to remember.  What surprises me is that there is relatively little written on the mindset one needs to embrace to move towards fitness, and I am realizing that is where every successful effort rests on a solid foundation.   And that’s what I am going to try to convey with this post – some of the perspectives that have helped me refocus my efforts, creating results –the best of which will never be measured on the scale. 

WARNING!!!  Health advisory – my learning curve may differ significantly from yours!  Were you among the “last picked” in PE?  Have you spent your lifetime feeling like your body is best left unseen by human eyes?  Have you found emotional comfort in food?  Did most of your dating life consist of what flavor ice cream to binge? Then, well – maybe some of what I am about to share will resonate.  Maybe, you too, have spent years yo-yoing between gyms and diets, workouts and guilt, success and failure; maybe there’s more like “us” who never reach their “ideal” – but keep coming back.  Some might call it foolish, or compulsive; even destructive for some, sadly.   But – something in us still calls to keep on striving. To not give up.  

Been there, done that – and probably will again!! Because I am HUMAN!!

My not always effective efforts to become more like the physical ideal I yearned to be were thrown off track at age 60, when I had to be hospitalized for a parasite, and lost a great deal of muscle mass, and required physical therapy to resume first walking, and driving.  When the time came to return to any kind of exercise 3 years ago now, I nearly cried at my inability to lift the bar on the bench without any weights attached at all.  It felt like everything I had ever achieved was now gone – but I began to gradually build back. This spring I just turned 64; I did all I could during COVID to focus on improving, or at least maintaining, my fitness through home workouts and eventually limited gym access.  Thankfully, our gyms are now fully open, and although in some ways I miss the backyard weight bench and adjustable dumbbells, I am so glad to be able to go be among others again and have a great selection of equipment to work with.  But this is not some transformational success story, just yet anyway – I remain today far from an example of a successful gym rat.

Sure, I would like to be the guy in “The 300” – but WEIGHING 300 is easier for most of us!

We need to redefine “success”, and identify our own ideals  

Here in SF, and being a gay man among many, the gyms are a kind of temple to what many hold as the masculine ideal – it’s on parade everywhere.  It is so, so very easy to look at those muscular toned bodies, the tight outfits, the gleaming skin, and feel like a complete failure.  Friends – take my word for it! To go in day after day and swim in that ocean of buffness is a potential recipe for depression!  During COVID I began to realize, especially during the months when we had to stand in line to enter the gym by appointment, for less than an hour, outdoors – the people who truly inspired me were, well, the ones that might be classified as “rejects”.   Not the models; not the gleaming Adonis (although I certainly still admire their physical state!) – but the ones like me.   Overweight; skinny; average;  older.   I came to see that for me, and perhaps for them, because coming in took more determination, more commitment – often without visible results – they were showing me how to find that same energy within me.  In fact, the one I remember most, was an elderly woman, at least in her 70’s, faithfully using cardio equpment, slowly moving her arms and legs, showing up like the rest of us – with greater effort.  She would walk to the gym, and might have lived locally; she clearly faced many challenges – but that did not stop her.  I never spoke to her, and now that things are “open” again, I haven’t seen her in months – but she is to me an example of spirit and dedication.

What do you see when you look in the mirror? What does your tomorrow you look like?

Insight the first – You’ve got to adjust your optics. 

Having recently seen the latest “Fantastic beasts” movie, I reflect on the scenes where one wizard and another shoot the obligatory bolts from their wands – realizing that the setting for their battles has relevance for me!  Now, I am not a “Harry Potter” expert by any means, but it seems to be kind of traditional that when they have these fights, they somehow move into a kind of shadow land, where it is just them, and everything and everyone else around them is kind of in a blur, another reality.  Silly as it may be, I have started thinking of my time at the gym that way – surrounded by all these more physically developed – and younger, for the most part – low body fat percent flexing bodies, I move into a different mindset – where it’s just me, and the weights.  I can’t “blur” them out of my perception, but – it really helps, somehow, to think of this as being my gym!  When I walk in and stow my protein shake and keys in the locker, I walk out into “my” training ground – where I focus on what I need to do, right now, today.  If I walk in with an attitude of not being exactly where I belong, well, I will go through my workout with less results!  Don’t ask me to explain it – call me a kook if you like – but I am truly, finally feeling like I really DO belong there – in “my gym” – working on me, exactly where I am.   

I remember this guy on TV in the 60’s – he was quite the motivator for many people!

Insight the second – Our quest may be solo, but it doesn’t have to be alone.

Over the years, and at the roughly dozen or more gyms I have joined on an off, I have had both good and not so good experiences with trainers.  Having a trainer is not some guarantee of success!  A good trainer can truly help – but they can’t do the work, they can’t help you have the right attitude – although they can be encouraging, or worse – disheartening. Working with a trainer effectively requires trust – and trust means respect, and acceptance.  If you don’t have those elements, you are wasting your time and money – best to move on. It took time, but eventually I found my current trainer, who had some availability, and we started working together twice a week about six months ago.  I am truly seeing results – in part because of his encouragement and helping me with technique.    And for the majority, who can’t afford trainers, or even a gym – you can find a cheerleader, if you look.  And you can BE a cheerleader – lifting up those around you.  You never know how a kind word at the right time might help a friend – or a stranger – find the strength to carry on.   Like the Village People proclaimed in YMCA, “No man does it all by himself; young man, put your pride on the shelf”!!!  

How do you see yourself? Do you love your body as it is today? That’s a good start!

Insight the third – The worst cardio you can do is – running from reality. 

I have never gone to a “boxing” gym – I don’t have to, I have a lifetime of experience in beating myself up!!   Friends, not all of us are going to be calendar models!  Not everyone is going to be anywhere close to the “ideal” we have – but we sure as heck aren’t going to get closer by having unrealistic goals, and then hating ourselves for not making them!  Working out, eating right – these are ways not only of loving our body, but accepting our imperfect selves – and others around us – as we are, and rejoicing, even giving thanks, for what we are able to do with them now – balancing that with an honest assessment of our limits, and the passage of time.   My best won’t be your best – whatever comes of my efforts isn’t entirely up to me, or you – but if we can say “I did my best” today, when we close our eyes, that is cause for celebration, not shame.  We must relish our victory in the knowledge we are on the path!!

Now, when I go to my workout, I tell myself I, too, am a bodybuilder – and this is MY gym!

Insight the fourth – Find YOUR inspiration – and BE an inspiration! 

So now I will be really personal, and maybe a little weird, but … one thing has really made a difference for me in my entire approach to what I call my “fitness journey”.  Maybe it’s a kind of spiritual lens for this part of my experience – or maybe it’s just a mental trick to help me get past my own inner hurdles.  Either way – it’s working – so here goes.  Now, when I look at some of the examples of real bodybuilders around me at the gym – the well developed upper and lower bodies, the chiseled figures, the fat free curves of layers of muscles – I sense a kind of echo within me.  I feel as though, somehow, I am drawn to them because those same possibilities are in me, awaiting to emerge.  Perhaps it is like a kind of “future” mirror – we are, after all, not that different from one another – and somewhere, that new me, the product of the work I do today, all  the yesterdays, and all the tomorrows – is waiting, eagerly, to emerge.  I feel it with every set.   And I see it happening – around me, and within me. 

We humans are an amazing organism – many parts that are a single whole

Insight the fifth – Blurring the line between the inner and outer you 

Just as I am slowly finding my way to let parts of my own, long suppressed, dormant inner being be expressed, shared, enjoyed with others – so are the elements within my physical shell joining in that chorus of awareness.   I am, somehow, feeling my physicality more now that I accept that the same possibilities that others have embraced are there for me, as well.   I sense my body more completely – I actually feel more integrated within it as I work on the different muscle groups.  There is an energy flowing through me that is a different level of being alive, as I slowly integrate this awareness.  I think it is kind of sad that for so many, the concept of a spiritual aspect to our existence has become something to be avoided, to be denied; it is a loss. Yes, our bodies will, one day, be irrelevant; but they are the vessels of the gift of life, one we must treasure, cherish – and honor in one another.  To care for our physical well being – and that of those we love – is no less an act of faith, love and devotion.  It is a dance with grace. I am finding a new kind of joy, integrating my mind, my heart, my faith and my body – together, growing, and finding peace in just being, today, this moment – and the next after that. 

I like to think every day, every moment, offers a new start – and there is never a final finish.

Insight the sixth – The only “last place” is for those who never leave start. 

We have to let our goals be our friends – milestones, not millstones. Just as this blog is subtitled my “journey towards authenticity”, I view my quest for a better body as one that does not have an end – a finish point.  It’s not easy to balance goals with being realistic – I don’t pretend to be good at it.  But I am a bit more balanced than I was, and – I am moving ahead.  I still sense within me, yes even at 64, that I can do better; and I am not doing this for others, or what they think of me, or how they react to me, anymore.  I am doing this because it brings me joy.  I feel a possibility within me and I am working to give it a chance to become reality. There is no limits to what I can learn about fitness, although I truly acknowledge there are very real limits as to what my body can do, and it’s very different than what I might have been able to pursue 30 years ago.  Does missing those decades of achievement mean taking hold of what I want now is a waste of time? I would say, not at all – but that’s a choice everyone has to make for themselves.  Every goal we say “yes” to means an uncounted host of possible that we release.  

Lyrics by David Zippel, music by Alan Menken, for “Go the Distance” from Disney’s Hercules

Insight the final – There is a hero within each of us – waiting to emerge!!

I love music while working out – not the squealing beat of the gym pop that blares, but my own personal soundtrack. It’s amazing what you can find – including this beautiful cover of the song from Disney’s Hercules, as performed by a male youth and adult choir from Brigham Young University. The video is stunning – but more importantly, the voices are divine, and the words carry me through some of the hard times. Here are the lyrics, and I hope you will find that which inspires you, too, to reach beyond where you are, and where you thought you might never be, to become. Enjoy the quest, friends. I’m there beside you! I’m cheering for you – together, we are becoming – the champions!

I have often dreamed of a far off place
Where a hero’s welcome would be waiting for me
Where the crowds would cheer, when they see my face
And a voice keeps saying this is where I’m meant to be

I’ll be there someday, I can go the distance
I will find my way if I can be strong
I know every mile would be worth my while
When I go the distance, I’ll be right where I belong

Down an unknown road to embrace my fate
Though that road may wander, it will lead me to you
And a thousand years would be worth the wait
It might take a lifetime but somehow I’ll see it through

And I won’t look back, I can go the distance
And I’ll stay on track, no I won’t accept defeat
It’s an uphill slope
But I won’t loose hope, ’till I go the distance
And my journey is complete, oh yeah

But to look beyond the glory is the hardest part
For a hero’s strength is measured by his heart, oh

Like a shooting star, I will go the distance
I will search the world, I will face its harms
I don’t care how far, I can go the distance
‘Till I find my hero’s welcome waiting in your arms

I will search the world, I will face its harms
‘Till I find my hero’s welcome waiting in your arms

Hey, if you see me at the gym, hugz are free!

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Losing my license, after 40 years

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

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

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by GEORGE DESIPRIS on Pexels.com

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

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

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

Not just another valentine

I would never claim to have anything original to say about love.  No memorable new quotes, no revolutionary observations, no insights for those reading this who are asking themselves that question right now.   I only have, as with all things, my story … one still being written; just like yours.  So, for this Valentine’s day, this is just a little piece of my heart in hopes it touches some of you, out there.  By now, if you have read any of my posts, this won’t be much different – Like life, I sometimes know where I start and have an idea of where I want to end, but the road is something I discover along the way.  Shall we? 

I still have Valentine’s day cards from my childhood, and some from later years – from my Mom, of course.  She kept not everything, but bits of most things, and I am glad for that.  Back in the 60’s, kids valentines were pretty routine, you’d buy a box for $2 and give one to your friends in class – maybe themed to pets, or rocket ships, or cartoon characters.  As a shy child, with a single disabled parent, my path to not fitting in was only beginning then; in junior and senior high, my sense of not belonging only grew deeper, there was no dates, there were virtually no encounters with my peers outside of school; and there certainly was no LGBT youth outreach at church, or even adults who I could tell what I was feeling, to seek help through all the confusion and conflict.  The road to “being an adult” was filled with mile markers that didn’t apply to my trip. 

This is what was upheld as ideal in my childhood – what happiness would look like.

I was alone.  Or at least, I felt very alone – like many boys and girls in that era, we had no place to “belong” as ourselves.  So, when I reached the age where dating was expected, I made some awkward attempts, including one at the encouragement of a well-meaning counselor that resulted in deeply wounded feelings for a woman in my church who, like me, didn’t belong; wasn’t part of the crowd.  I think perhaps church groups were a refuge for those who felt rejected – and yet there was still an effort to achieve the standards of, if not perfection, conformity.  I knew well enough that as much as I wanted to be “normal” – heterosexual, straight, whatever words fit – that I wasn’t, and that pretending to be so was something I could not fulfill.  My withdrawal grew deeper. 

Every February, when Valentine’s day would come around, I would give candy to my Mom, and sometimes take goodies to work; I admit there were years I bought boxes of Sees in a tuxedo box, their Valentine’s gifts for men, for myself.  Recently, I reconnected with a friend who knew me from kindergarten through high school – we had not seen one another in over 40 years and had a lot of catching up to do.  She had the most insightful observation – that during our high school years, I had simply kind of disappeared. I was there, but not there like everyone else – not at the dances or the games, certainly not at the prom.  She shared that sometimes, over the years, my name would come up – but no one knew what had become of me.  I had left all those connections behind, because I could not be honest about myself and feel safe or accepted – that was impossible to conceive.  So, too, was the idea that I could be loved for me. 

We all know loneliness during our lives – sometimes we feel like we live in a private wilderness.
Photo by Markus Spiske on Pexels.com

The only source of love that somehow kept creeping through the walls I had built around myself was my spirituality.  Somehow, despite the heartfelt assurances of the sermons in the churches I still occasionally tried to belong within, I found a way to believe that God’s love was bigger than what I had been told. I am eternally grateful to Alan, my straight, Christian counselor who held onto the belief that the creator he knew had a love greater than the one I had come to believe in. Unlike many who are wounded, deeply, by the hypocrisy and ignorance that so many people of faith still embrace, I found a way to see that God’s love could not be confined by the traditions and models and standards that were paraded as the only way to live;  that there was a greater love, and a source, that pushed beyond those artificial walls and shined brighter even though my eyes might be so blind that I could only occasionally see a glimmer through the cracks in my lonely fortress. 

Today, I am gifted, graced and blessed with real, honest to goodness love from my husband.  His life path has been very different from mine – and yet, in some ways, alike, just alternate roads until ours crossed and we realized that our hearts belonged together.  I had never been in a real relationship; he had been with his late husband for over 35 years; he had come out in the 70’s, I had come out only shortly before we met; he had lived in San Francisco through all the changes that eventually brought the right for all to marry and have their love recognized; I had lived in towns where gay was a four letter word, and there were no rainbow flags fluttering from windows.  

Our Valentine’s cards to one another today.

And yet, love found us.  Love indeed brought us together, like so many from around the world, in ways we didn’t plan or predict.  So on Valentine’s day, today, we exchange cards – mine a Hallmark, his an American greetings – that are from a husband, to a husband.  How remarkable that is to me, and yet, seemingly unremarkable as our culture has shifted, at least here and now; for others, they still hide in the shadows, many alone, fearful of the consequences of sharing their hearts openly, and the risks of being known for who they are at the most basic level of existence and identity. 

I have many friends that are single, still; straight, gay, whatever. Some have found happiness alone, others wonder why they are not finding someone who is their life partner, and still more are perhaps in relationships that have evolved, where the fires of love have cooled but the comfort of being together is better than parting.  Some will have no calls, candy or cards today, others might be looking for a short-term escape from solitary to numb the sense of uncertainty whether they are the problem.  Whether they will ever find someone to say “I love you” to, and hear it in return, and know it is true. 

Perhaps, as Paul writes, Faith, Hope and Love are all gifts – or a single gift with many forms?
Photo by Yelena Odintsova on Pexels.com

I am not an eloquent man, and I have no editor to help me better share something rising from deep within my spirit.  I have only the longings of my heart to find a way to express something meaningful in my entries here.  But those feelings run deep, deeper than my faith or whatever it is that calls me to reach out beyond what I understand factually and yet is just as real to my spirit.  And in my heart, I write to anyone out there reading this on Valentine’s day, or any other day, who is looking for love – trying to figure out what it is, where it comes from, and how to get more of it.  I don’t have those answers, and never will – but if a repressed gay Christian man in his 50’s can find a way to work through the mounds of muck that engulfed my life for too many years, and encounter someone from such a different walk of life and together, discover love and joy, hope and intimacy – not just for ourselves, but giving that through our love to others in our life – then I offer this a just a little bit of light, perhaps a minor miracle.  Not proof of God, or right and wrong; not a formula for success; no Hallmark channel movie.  Just me telling you – it happened; we love one another; we are blessed.  I truly believe – yes, I even dare to say I know – that love exists for all of us, sometimes in ways we don’t realize or perceive, but it is there for us to reach out and know – and to share. There is no perfect love on this planet, just our awareness that something better exists, built into our codes somehow from childhood; if we dare to let it speak to us, it challenges us to step out without answers, and just find a way to give.  Better to give, than receive, someone said; perhaps by focusing on giving, the promise of receiving begins to form.   

I often include links to music here – music has been a way for the better angels of that great unknown to reach my heart.  The music of my childhood in school chorus, and church choir; the music of the men’s gay choruses around the world; old hymns, new anthems, longings and wishes expressed by talents I will never be able to thank.  As I thought of which song I might want to include today, “Where is Love” from the musical “Oliver” came to mind; sung by the title character, an orphan in a seemingly hopeless world of loneliness and rejection, it is timeless in capturing that sense of asking not only where, but why, and when, and how.  I found this version – it may not be obvious from the video itself, but from what I could find online, the young boy performing here is blind.  Filmed in 2009, he would now be a young man – with challenges I, and many of us, will never know.  Perhaps he still sings, perhaps he has forgotten this moment – it has less than 300 views, and there are many others, by well known names, and with more technical polish. It is, in a way, unremarkable.

And yet, it is just that commonality that captures perhaps what my heart and my mind is doing a poor job of communicating; that we all just want love.  We just want to be loved for who we are, and get past all the mountains and all the chaos, we can’t answer the whys, we will never be able to predict the future and much of the time we can’t understand the past – we certainly don’t control the present (and often wonder if anyone does).  We muddle through and when love happens, whether for a brief glimmer in time like a candle that burns brightly and fades, or whether for decades surviving whatever life throws at us – love is worth celebrating and sharing.  It is worth being laughed at for; it is worth fighting for; it is even worth forgiving for.  It is worth giving away without question.  It is worth believing in when we seemingly stand alone. 

Wherever you are, my wish for you is that somehow, today, you can look at your life and see that love has been there, and is there now – mysterious, immeasurable, but real.  It may ebb and flow, but it is alive, and real – and timeless. Whether you read this today, or on a hot summer afternoon, or Halloween or whatever – for the few who read this – you have the power to reach out to someone else and give them some love that they may be longing for, missing, in ways you could not imagine.  This is my little effort to offer you that hope, just as the love I share with my husband was a gift to my life – and ours.  Undeserved, perhaps; unplanned, certainly; amazing to me, always.  I will be reading this to him tonight, as we share a quiet few moments reflecting.   And I will continue to learn how to love, and to be loved – albeit imperfectly – from the heart. 

San Francisco, January, 2022.

Curating a gallery of your lifetime

To start our new year, my husband and I travelled across the continent to Florida, celebrating his 75th birthday. We had a wonderful time – and like all of our adventures in recent years, took a lot of pictures. Recently, I had sorted through my mac photo library for all the pictures that need “tagging” and organization; as I renew my documentation of piles of family photos and letters, documents and memories, it becomes even more critical to, well, not get so far behind. Easier said than done! It’s hard to press “delete” on that 5th picture of the trip to such and such; it’s even harder, for some reason, to put an old print in the trash (either after scanning, or after giving up on figuring out who and what is in that picture!)

As we wandered through two wonderful museums – the Ringling in Sarasota, and the Museum of the Arts and Crafts Movement in America in St. Petersburg – I admired the art of displaying, curating, and describing the works that have been preserved. When I started this blog, I had created a page (as opposed to a post – one of those things I had to learn) with a few pictures. Since the blog “premiered” almost two years ago, my library of images has been expanded – including those in posts here. And I was inspired to do a little bit of “urban renewal” on that gallery of my life, which you can find here …

In revising that page, I realized that the images themselves had no context, no description or setting to explain why they mattered enough to me to share with the thousands of strangers around the globe who might, one day, stumble in to my little blog – and hence, this post. So, without further ado – here are the images in that gallery, a little tour of sorts for you to amble through – those who know me, and those who do not.

My mother shortly before her 1954 marriage, and my father and brother welcome me home in 1958. Their lives were not easy – but they loved me with their best love, as they knew how. Just as I am learning, still. Even from them – although they have passed, learning about my family history – and it’s place in so many changes in our world and nation – has helped me find my path ahead.

For much of my adult life, my getaway, refuge and place of renewal was Disneyland. Even though I grew up less than an hour away, our financial resources didn’t allow for regular visits until I finished school and started working. I was lonely and isolated – the happiest place on earth became a second home. I loved the artistry, the music, and I met many creative giants. I felt less alone there for a while – but in time, I knew I had to make a choice. Here I am with my favorite character, Pinocchio – I wanted to be a “real boy” too! And, in 2006, at the inaugural half marathon weekend – I trained for 9 months just to finish the course (this is from the 5k run). I still love Disneyland – but mainly the one of my memories, rather than that which remains.

Coming out, later than most, in 2012 opened new doors in my life, and new frontiers. Here I am with the Gay Men’s Chorus of LA, “Indoor skydiving” with my family in Perris, CA, and on the glacier of Alaska. I began to travel, and to understand who I was, and who I could be others – being authentic and loving without shame.

But I never imagined I would become a “biker” – albeit only marginally. Getting my 2001 Centennial “Indian Chief” was a real step outside my comfort zone. But it brought me new friends, new confidence, along with a lot of bills! It was big, beautiful, loud – and unreliable. But I rode it to the Satyrs Motorcycle Club “Badger flat” run in 2012, to Vegas, in Long Beach Pride, and to that mecca of gay history – San Francisco. It was my faithful steed, carrying me to new adventures.

As I child, I found comforts in the stories of old – and in the teachings of my faith. Believe it or not, for most of my life we did not have a TV in my home growing up – but going to the movies, and escaping the reality that I could not then change, opened my eyes to new dreams. Two of my favorites, that still touch my heart after decades, in sense represent the same them – that there is always hope. Seeing George Bailey discover that his life had meaning even though his dreams were not fulfilled; and seeing a child who felt different and longed to belong could learn to choose and through that, have some dreams come true – these moments echo in my life daily.

This year, 2022, marks 10 years since I “came out” to family and friends – sometimes with tears; some, followed by goodbyes. More importantly, I came out to myself – discovering much that I had believed and been taught was not true. And the greatest miracle of all – that something unimaginable to me for virtually all of my life could happen – Love found me, and brought my husband into my life. We were married in 2018 surrounded by family and friends – present and absent – and we continue find new happiness together, sharing joy with others. Is there a greater gift in life? Yes, like a boat out of the blue, fate steps in and sees you through.

So, here we are at the last display area in my little gallery. From this picture of me, nearly 40 years ago – standing on the edge of the sea of Galilee, seeking answers; today, here in San Francisco; with my father a lifetime ago . Still exploring faith, history – still growing. Hopefully, still giving a little to others around me as I muddle through. Dare I say I am blessed? I am.

Good news, folks – there are no posters in the gift shop on the exit. But there is something I hope you can “take home” from this free tour. I encourage you – some slow afternoon, some rainy weekend, or tonight – perhaps with a family member – pull out a box, or a thumb drive. Look at the images – which bring life to your heart, a smile to your face? Which come alive when you see that moment again?

For most of the memories in your life – the stories of your joys and sorrows, the tales handed down from your family, the misty legends that are still in the shadows of your attic of recollections – and for all the images and scraps that you have stuck somewhere, in boxes or bags, or not even on paper but on that drive you never reference anymore – their shelf life ends with you. You and only you can take steps to share them with others, to transfer the custody of those questionable treasures – or to wipe them from history, never to be seen again. As I scan the stacks of photos I inherited that have no identification, and I see the faces and landscapes, the babies and the elderly looking back at me – their lives are literally in my hands. We don’t, as a culture, keep photo albums much anymore – we have videos and data files – and a time will come, my friend, when someone other than you will open that box, or that computer file, and say – I don’t want to bother with these. So as you see these moments from my life, I challenge you – take the time to do this yourself for those stacks. Make the time – for your loved ones, and for those who will not have memories of you or your grandparents. They are priceless, they are irreplaceable, and they have meaning. We are their archivists – they are the true family jewels.

That’s it for this visit, friends – hope you enjoyed, but more importantly, I hope you get a chance to not only revisit past joys – but create new ones, new images, new memories as our world reopens. Thanks for stopping by – see you soon!

PS – Special New year savings on subscriptions – free! Worth every penny!

The Island of Misfit Holiday Newsletters

Do kids watch old TV shows still?  “When I was a kid” (yes, I will go there – it’s the privilege of having survived so far), Christmas shows were few and therefore a major event on one of the 3 networks – and if you had a color tv, even more exciting.  The biggest of all was “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” – created by the unique artistry and vision of Rankin Bass stop motion animation.  Although it was not my favorite – (more on that later) – it was something to look forward to.   The song, of course, is fairly short – so the story was expanded with additional characters, and adventures – including the island of misfit toys, where the playthings no one wanted were abandoned and forgotten.  Very, very sad …. Like Disney, the storytellers behind those specials knew that tales that touched our heart were not filled solely with happy thoughts. 

What was wrong with the dolly? One theory – she had no nose? The debate rages on.

And, of course, not all 60’s homes – maybe none, in fact – were like the tv sitcoms filled with laughs year-round or shimmering with Christmas lights and goodies as the kiddos awaited Santa.  I am grateful for the efforts both my parents made to give us a holiday, in the midst of great challenges; I remember the delight of opening gifts to find unexpected (and hoped for from the Sears wishbook) treasures.  The only picture I think I have with my father’s parents is with a toddler aged NormL holding a styrofoam Santa figure, with my brother alongside.  And I think the earliest color picture of me is at the foot of a Christmas tree, in our then Vacaville California home, alongside my older brother and our new treasures.  I do not remember those moments – but I remember the feeling, the yearning, the hope that “Christmas is coming” brought to my heart, and the carols we sang in the church youth choir, until the big day. 

A very faded photo of my older brother, me in diapers, and our treasures – Christmas 1958

Christmas cards were a mainstay of life then – so many would come, and my Mom would keep seemingly all of them.  Some from friends and family I never knew – some with letters describing what was happening with their own families, kids in school – before technology of mass production enabled the use of the sometimes detested, mass produced holiday newsletter.  I am glad my Mom kept so many of those handwritten notes – I have been able to share them with the children of the authors, bringing memories alive again, like quiet lights from the fireplace of a long-forgotten winter.  I am also grateful to have some of the cards from my Mom to me – remnants not only of her beautiful handwriting, but her heartfelt love.  For a few years, our church youth group tried to raise funds by sending us door to door with gigantic volumes of elegant Christmas cards, that you could order with your name imprinted – I found it difficult to walk up to my neighbors doors, often strangers, knock and show the books, asking for an order – probably the earliest realization that I was not destined for a life in sales or public relations! 

With the broad availability of pcs, home printing and more, Hallmark and other card manufacturers started to lose business to new ways of sharing sentiments. Recently my husband and I enjoyed a classic holiday episode of “Everybody Loves Raymond” – from December 2001! “Season’s greetings” finds exquisite, bitter humor in the family receiving a relative’s holiday newsletter and responding with a boastful one of their own.  We laughed a lot – and I thought about it as I feel the clock ticking on our own communications for Christmas and the holidays.  I am happy to say that we still send cards – receiving fewer each year, but that’s ok – and that we have friends who walk all kinds of paths, so some are about Christmas, some about the holidays, and some are just year-end wishes.  Time constraints seem to get tighter every year – even in retirement – so I suggested that this year we get the cards out right after Thanksgiving, without a newsletter, then follow up with an email which awaits my attention this week, with a little over 3 weeks until Christmas day.  I reached out to my friends who observe, to varying degrees, Chanukah (which came early this year) directly; now my thoughts turn to what to include in a communication to our broad circle of family and friends, that many may only glance at briefly.   And time is running out ….. 

There have been years where I tried to be more creative, taking the rhythm and structure of a familiar holiday carol or song and changing the lyrics to reflect the events of the year behind; one year, I wrote a story that was essentially a follow up to “It’s a Wonderful Life” (my favorite movie), where the older angel and his protégé watched the shoppers in a snowy small town scurrying about their tasks on Christmas eve.  I cannot say what year I initially started the habit of writing – maybe 20 years ago, maybe more – and some years, like now, I resorted to email rather than print.  I imagine both are mostly passé now – we no longer receive many, and even the “family photo card” seems to be less common – many probably depend on Instagram, Facebook and other media for ease of use, immediacy or other reasons.   Yet – there have been years, whether printed or electronic, some who got my newsletter wrote back, saying they were touched, encourage, or somehow warmed by my sentiments – that feedback led me in a way to this blog, and writing to a world of strangers who might enjoy my words – including you. 

I try to avoid this kind of result – I really do!!!

The past few years, since our wedding in 2018, the newsletter became more of a cooperative effort – so I tend to not be as freeform in my approach.  My husband and I have talked about the events of the year that we want to include – nothing surprising there – and I will touch on the fact that he has a major birthday in a month that we look forward to celebrating.  There is much to be grateful for; but my heart wants to put something into that email that I find difficult to define.  Add to that the need to be respectful – rightly so – that not everyone in our lives thinks the same way about the holidays, or may even be in a place where they feel like celebrating – we have several friends that are facing immediate and severe health crises, others who have experienced loss and depression.  And it is somewhat egocentric to think that people we don’t see regularly, who were once a part of our circle of life but who are now less present in every sense, want to know about our lives and the events we enjoyed – or endured – the past year. 

Perhaps, in a way, 2021 has been for many of us like being stranded on the island of misfit toys – feeling alone, forgotten, unwanted.  Perhaps the news, the never-ending voices of panic and dissension, the latest shocking school attack or string of store break-ins, and the seemingly deepening sense that better days are too far off to see has just worn us down.  Thinking back to my church days, even into my adulthood, and the sermons and promises, the certainty and assurances that now seem even more phantom like than Dicken’s 3 Spirits of “A Christmas Carol” or Clarence of “It’s a Wonderful life” – I am not qualified, or even assured within myself, of what to turn to for answers.  Yet – it is a kind of faith to still look up, out, and believe that there is a greater hope – a more real, eternal and powerful source of love – that remains in spite of all the turmoil of this era, and this moment in my little spirit.  

I have set my goal, for this year’s email to family and friends, to not be one that belongs on the island of misfit newsletters – but to say something that reaches from my own heart, and outside of it, to our readers, in all their different paths of life.  But what do I have to offer? Sometimes I get a glimpse of what seems to be a truth, around the corner, just moving out of sight but still calling to me – keep looking, I am here.  Was that truth present in a manger?  Was it more, or less present, in any of the millions of lives and thousands of gatherings of dissimilar faiths, yearning, reaching, crying out for hope – for peace and reassurance?  Do we ignore our desire to somehow, if not grasp with finality, to approach to that sense of a sacred place that some long unused chamber of our being senses but cannot inhabit?  Those childhood wishes for Santa came from a deeper place that I think we all share. Whether the readers of whatever I end up writing have some faith, in something, or not – there is something we have in common, and that together we can celebrate as winter begins to deepen. 

Aaron, the “Little Drummer Boy” from the 1968 TV special, and his dancing animals

As I mentioned at the start, my own favorite childhood Christmas show was not Rudolph. I remember the first Charlie Brown Christmas clearly; I detested Frosty, although I cannot say why; and I loved the Andy Williams holiday shows with “Dancing bear” and the ultra large Williams family (along with the Lennon sisters!) in harmony, sweaters, and all smiles by the fireplace.  But the one that touched my heart was one that wasn’t entirely jolly, built on a foundation of less than happy family – also from Rankin Bass, the “Little Drummer Boy” as narrated by Greer Garson.  Even now, it makes my cry –a lonely orphan, his parents murdered and home burned, bitter at how the world treated him, abused by those who took advantage of him – seeking help, and finding a gathering of wanderers, shepherds, and animals in the night.  In 20 minutes or so, he finds a group of very dissimilar people kneeling in awe before a newborn, not understanding why – and he feels his own gift is not fit for a king, not good enough.  But he gives from his heart – and like all good childhood stories, reaches a happy ending.  The Vienna Boys Choir had a hit recording of the title song, still a standard – but the one I loved is less well remembered.  “One Star in the Night”.  It is quiet, reverent – and hopeful.  If there is nothing else that we can take from whatever holiday observance matters to each of us, surely hope is more precious than ever.  

But I feel a kinship to the little drummer boy, uncertain that I have a gift worth offering.  It took me a lot longer than that half hour show, but after a lifetime of beating myself (and others) up for not being perfect, good enough – I begin to see how much sometimes I am afraid to give my own offering of mere words, lacking in poetry or unique charm,  just to say that I love someone.  Because I have not been the model of love that I was taught I should be, I could be – no angel, no wise man, no holy being – and far from what was modeled as ideal within my little world in a time that now seems so long ago – I fear my heart’s attempt to just share my imperfect love, even though I don’t always call, or haven’t seen them in years, will seem like a lie. I have not lived out the love I feel; perhaps few among of has. I am a poor ambassador indeed. Yet I feel that greater love, outside of me, waiting for me to drink it in, and then let it flow on to others somehow still – and I am aware of it as being bigger than myself, or all of us.  The love that I feel is like a glow that exists outside the range of our vision but surrounds us, unseen but alive, and enduring beyond the moment, beyond the fears and frustrations, and well beyond the limits of seasons and holidays, rituals and the ancient rooted traditions that seem to take up so much energy and attention without our stopping to strip away the veneer to find the life underneath awaiting our discovery, perhaps, even where we are not looking.

Perhaps, giving what we have, simple as it may be, is the greatest gift to offer, in love

I will have to do some digging of my own to put into words something of what I feel to those who receive, and take the time to read, our short email with holiday wishes.  There are many ways of celebrating – and many who just need to know they are not alone, and to be there for them as best we can.  Sometimes, I think that for me, writing – this blog, the newsletter, a short note to a friend – is a form of prayer, of connecting with a larger hope.  Perhaps in our words, and actions,  we get beyond thinking we have “no gift to bring” the act of reaching out and saying we care, we miss you, we love you and we hope all good things for you matters in ways we cannot predict.  I will of course listen to my own favorite carols, and reflect on the teachings of my childhood, and the questions of my current years, and the mysteries in the gaps between that seem immeasurable, but there will be moments when what is now, is enough.  Whatever your own heart speaks, I hope you can listen and hear the sounds of hope, the quiet of peace, and the comfort of joy along your walk.  Thanks for sitting a while with me – I wish you, and those you love, a season of promises realized and dreams reborn – until next time. 

One Star in the night … singing silently …

You can hear the music if you listen with your heart.

One Star In The Night, Shown o’er Bethlehem,

Magic in the moment when that lonely star began its lovely song.

Angel’s lullabyOn that holy night, Sung unto a Savior who was born beneath its glow.

One Star In The Night, Rainbow in the dark,

One night to remember; that peaceful night the King of Kings was born.

“One Star in the Night”, music by Maury Laws, Lyrics by Jules Bass – from the 1968 Rankin Bass stop motion animated TV Special, “The little drummer boy”

My gift to you …. freely offered, and worth at least every penny! And – wishing you, and yours, blessings and joy in whatever celebrations you share, now and tomorrow.

A leather bar in Liberty’s shadow

This past August, we mustered our resolve and our masks to board a plane and cross the country from San Francisco to Philadelphia.  My husband was born in nearby Wilmington Delaware, and I was looking forward to finally meeting his brother and sister in law, and other family and friends. I was also very excited to be visiting the historic location of one of my favorite musicals, in which a number of men in wigs and stockings argued and danced vigorously and sometimes wittingly, railing against the injustice of those in power.   Nope, not “Hamilton”, but “1776”.   As a teen, it was the first “professional” touring musical my Dad and stepmother had taken me to see all the way in Los Angeles from Corona – and I had enjoyed the soundtrack many times. 

The trailer is awful, but the movie and music are wonderful!

But of course, it’s been 50 years since I first heard Adams, Jefferson and Franklin sing about liberty and courage, and much in our world has changed – as have I.  We were somewhat concerned initially about whether it was “safe” to go – interestingly, some of the greatest numbers of unmasked faces in public were to be seen in Wilmington, where the Biden’s are just “folk” like everyone else (well, to some).  Happily, we remained unaffected and enjoyed a wonderful trip, and as we stood in Independence Hall, and then in line to view the Liberty Bell, it had many memorable moments. 

Philadelphia too has changed much over the years, like all big cities – we took a bus tour, visited some museums, and since I had never been to the area, being a gay history buff as well as a history buff, we wandered into the area just a short stroll from where the Declaration of Independence was signed, known affectionately as the “gayborhood”.    We found a wonderful variety of eclectic shops, restaurants, homes along narrow cobbled streets – and I was delighted to pick up a few books at the nation’s oldest LGBTQ bookstore, where a few new volumes are dwarfed by several floors of older books on all kinds of subjects.   

But of all the gayborhood businesses we visited, the one that seemed the most filled with history – even though not my own – was a bar called the “Bike Stop”.   When I had taken up riding a motorcycle in my own early coming out years, I enjoyed going on rides with a gay biker club in Los Angeles, called the Satyrs (read about them here) – like many, they had formed in the years when the emerging communities formed in major metropolitan centers, offering those men who found their way to a new kind of life, and less of a sense of isolation, the opportunity for friendship, belonging, and support – and, in time, the basis of political influence, and impact beyond those areas that few predicted would ever come to pass.  

Yep, that’s me on my Indian Chief, Labor day weekend 2012 …. and yes it was loud!

The bars these men frequented, were the “infamous” leather bars, and not everyone visiting rode bikes – many just wanted sex.  Movies like “Cruising” and magazines reported a distorted view of that time and way of life – I was not part of those days but being closeted and far removed from anyone gay in my own circle, I was fascinated by the portrayals and pleasures it seemingly offered.  Now, having met men whose lives were intertwined with those events, I realize the gift that such bars and clubs offered to so many who had been rejected and left out, were deeper than the brief encounters portrayed then (and now) in more salacious publications and films.  They offered family to those that had none – to those who felt they did not belong anywhere else.  Although that history was not a part of my own – the feelings certainly were. 

Walking through this darkened bar, opened in 1982 (but with a history stretching much further back in time as shown in this excellent article), I was deeply moved.  I had known that loneliness for much of my life, and not found any sense of real community until I let myself accept those regions of my heart that others had encouraged me to crush.  Seeing the pictures of these men, relaxed, having fun, standing unashamed were more than moving to me, they were in a way, sacred.  I knew that many of these men probably, within a few years of the pictures on the wall, died of AIDS – and that others lived, and with friends and growing acceptance in other communities, worked hard to raise money for the care of those ailing, and the search for a cure. 

Various cases around the bar are barely visible – especially in the darkened corners – but the photos are still striking, fully of life and energy and joy.  The pins from various clubs and bike runs are framed;  the artwork that 30-40 years ago was cheap bar promotional material now sells for thousands of dollars in galleries, and the banners and awards that were bestowed upon those deigned representative of the aspirations and values of this niche community may no longer even be noticed by the current denizens.  Yes, bars have changed, and technology changes how like-minded people connect (or isolate); but they are also adapting to the changing populations of the city, and the mindsets and priorities of those who, different perhaps in what they seek on the outside, still long for belonging inside (click to read)

Another photo of the bar denizens in the dusty display cases – where are they now, I wonder?

I realize as a “maturing” white gay male, of my era – even though I did not take the same steps in life as the men in those photos, or many who are in my circle today – for some, serve as a bridge from that era to the future.  What I find fascinating is that no matter what the issue is, there are always going to be people who are “outsiders”, and always going to be others who label and exclude; it is to be expected, if not accepted.  And yet, within a short stroll from this building, where the numbers of men and women who congregate here, and neighboring businesses, are less dense than in the era of the cabinets filled with mementos – a very different group of men gathered and argued and debated and ultimately created a model for a society that could be more inclusive, and offer greater freedoms, in time.  It is far from a perfect union still, but it moves toward being more perfect – just as we do in our own growth. 

The August evening is settling in as we leave the Bike Shop, and return to our family’s home, soon to board a flight back to California.  The voices of the American Revolution, and the voices of the gay liberation front, and the voices of today, clamoring for change, inclusion, respect and justice, rise from the streets of Philadelphia, and our world.  I will remember the men in these photos, whose faces I never saw, but whose courage and resolve, and need, gave me a chance at a better life – and I realize I too have a responsibility to continue that pursuit of happiness for others. 

The National Aids Grove in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, California

Although I had thought the prior paragraph was going to be the close for this post, about 4 months after my visit to Philadelphia, I find the forces of life and time that are impossible to predict remind me that December 1 was Worlds AIDS day 2021. Started in 1988, this annual commemoration of the ongoing efforts to prevent and treat AIDS, and to bring attention to the needs of those impacted by it in now 4 decades of international loss. It was the first world health day, and now, in a pandemic that again sweeps our globe, people are coming together against seemingly insurmountable hurdles, lifting one another up, just as the patrons of the Bike Stop, other bars in other cities, and an emerging community nationally and around the world built bridges. The National Aids Grove is a memorial, like so many others, to the losses and sacrifices and courage of uncounted thousands. Can we take inspiration from those who reached across their differences to offer hope? Can we set aside our expectations and our limits, our walls and our blinders – shedding the scales from our eyes – to offer love and encouragement even when we do not have answers or “fixes”? Perhaps the greater question should be – how can we not?

William Daniels – as John Adams – in 1776 – a dream for a better tomorrow – for all; we go on.

So, folks, we have reached the end of today’s journey … but more to come. See you around the corner – and remember ….

Hey, here’s a late Cyber Monday offer – heck, its good year round – if you want to stay apace with my wanderings. I love to hear from strangers who, for whatever reason, find their way here and find something that resonates. Hope you find joy today!

Looking for Lorenzo ….

Sometimes, our family history has loose ends – blind alleys, unsolved mysteries.  Perhaps you took advantage of the post Thanksgiving “Black Friday” sales which offer DNA tests to reveal our hidden secrets – or at least that appears to be the appeal for many.  An easy way to find out where we are from, and what our ancestors were like.  Sometimes, it is easy – but not always.

The “percentage match” we get from online sources gets rapidly smaller by generations

The “matches” that flood our email for tiny percentages of DNA connections are dependent on so many moving pieces – who submits a test, the “odds” of shared segments, and how each testing company samples from your own submissions.  The databases are constantly changing; the “ethnicity estimates” are only as good as the data that the company uses which can be misleading.  Think about it – even your “full” sibling – a brother or sister from the same two parents – will never have more than 50% shared DNA “markers”, much likely less – and with every generation, the percentage declines. 

When it comes to researching my own heritage, I was fortunate, in a way – my father had written a letter to my brother and I with his notes on various family members.   Dated April 16, 1965, shortly after my parent’s divorce, and during a period that he was facing many uncertainties, it offered some facts on his mother and father’s heritages, with scribbled notes and typos – but it was at least a jumping off point for my journey. Another page appears to be a request for further information from perhaps a distant family member; and, as I would learn in time, it was not entirely factual.  As you too may discover in digging into your ancestry, the “family lore” is often vague, rife with errors and misspellings, and incomplete or shaded by time. 

Because I grew up so isolated from most of my family – and because I was not in a home where there was a lot of visits from friends or neighbors – when I started to dig through boxes and found the diaries and letters, I felt like I was discovering family I never knew.  In time, my new “family” members became more real, with each new revelation, or old photo identified.  On my Mom’s side, there was a lot of documentation – less on my Dad’s.  I had known his parents only when very young – but now, as an adult, I found gaining an understanding of their lives to be very meaningful, and I wanted to learn more.  I sought out cousins, and using websites like Ancestry, found distant family on both sides around the world. 

Christmas time in the 60’s – with my paternal grandma Bela, daughter of Jim Grey (I’m with Santa!)

But one branch of the family remained a mystery – the parents of my paternal great grandmother.  My father’s great grandmother, Ramona Pereida had married my great grandfather – alternately referred to as James Grey, or Jim Grey, or James Gray in various documents; in fact, on her death certificate, even her husband misspelled her maiden name as “Perryda”.   They had met in southern Mexico when he was working on (no music, please) the railroad – he had been born James Gronso Jr., but changed his name when he left his parents (purportedly after fathering a child out of wedlock) to seek his fortune in the expanding west.  I had been able to find his family’s descendants – they were thrilled to learn what had happened to him, lost to time – but in Arizona territory, and Mexico itself, records of family were not as extensive in the late 1800’s, and I had little to go on. 

My father’s letter described Ramona’s parents briefly; Lorenzo, her father, “lived in Nogales; his father or grandfather came from Spain and was executed during the reign of Maximilian”.  Her mother was “Ligrada Corrella De Pierada”; they had “married in Hermosillo Mexico”, and supposedly had 13 children, practiced medicine, but “was not a doctor”.  Other “facts” about siblings and history were scant – and in time, I realized, erroneous.    But I was fascinated with the old pictures of Jim Grey on a desert landscape, and his wife and two older daughters, Dora and Bela.  I never was able to talk with my grandmother Bela about her knowledge; she passed when I was quite young. But, I am sure some if not all of the notes my Dad made were from her memory. 

The only photo I have of great grandma Ramona, and her daughters Dora and grandma Bela – c. 1894

Fortunately, in time – thank you Ancestry and the Internet – I found a Pereida relative (and the correct spelling!) and through him, a distant cousin – descendants of siblings of James’ wife, Ramona.  Like many Hispanic families, they had named children after parents – and so, there were records for a Lorenzo Pereida in Arizona – just not “mine”.  Together, we visited Nogales, and found the gravesite of his wife, Librada (not Ligrada) – or, “Liberty” – and other members, neglected in a long forgotten plot.  And, another cousin – descended from my grandmother’s sister Dora – had a video recording of the youngest sister, Aunt Monie – in which she made a startling claim that Lorenzo had come to San Francisco from not Spain, but Portugal; returned there, and then emigrated to Mexico where he met Librada and married her. 

The 3 adult daughters of James and Ramona – Dora, Bela and Monie

So many questions – where did this Lorenzo come from? Was he indeed somehow a practitioner of medicine, and did he cross the ocean multiple times?  Had he emigrated to San Francisco prior to the gold rush (I would love that, as it would make me eligible for some rather distinguished associations here!), and if so, why did he go back?  What if any was the family connection to Maximilian, Emperor of Mexico, killed in 1867?  My hope was that if I could find even more living descendants of Ramona’s supposedly dozen siblings, they could provide some answers.  And, yes, secretly, I harbored a hope that there would be a chest of rubies and gold that was being held for my share of the family (well, one must dream, sometimes!) 

As of today – I don’t have those answers.  The DNA tests that I purchased through 23 and me, Ancestry, Family Tree DNA and My Heritage sometimes provide “connections” that seem promising – I write, but there have been few responses and no real information.  I am glad I connected with the cousins that I did find online – we have shared what little we know.  I search the archives of the Newspapers.com website occasionally finding Pereida references, sometimes to a sibling, but mostly of dubious shared heritage;  there is evidence to suggest that the family name has closer ties to Portugal than Spain, but I have found no contacts there as of today. 

There were two “finds” in the past year, courtesy of the indexing and online references provided by the Latter Day Saints FamilySearch.org website.  It is free to all; and because their faith tenets emphasize the importance of tracking down family, they devote many resources to indexing and sharing records from around the world.   Being “trapped” – oops, sheltering in place – gave me more time to poke around, and I was very excited to finally find a formal record naming Lorenzo Perieda and his wife Librada Corella de Pereida – from July 26, 1887.   The civil registry of Nogales recognized that James and his wife, Ramona, brought their 3 children (!) of varying ages to be formally recorded as legitimate offspring (I guess people weren’t in a big rush back then!) 

A friend in LA and his friend who was more familiar with “traditional” Spanish handwriting and language helped translate the wording – which revealed that by that point, Lorenzo was deceased.  And just last week my sister in law helped me “walk through” a marriage record of “Santiago” Grey and Librada Pereida, in Spanish of course, from the civil registration records of Sonora Mexico.  It states, among much “legalese” (yes, even back then) that they wed in her mother’s Guaymas home on February 6, 1882, with witnesses present – including Librada.  But there is no mention of Lorenzo.  From the Nogales gravesite and other records, we know that his wife, Librada, passed in 1908;  my father’s letter only mentioned that Lorenzo died in Ures, Mexico – whether his grave exists today, I do not know.  

I found this 1851 illustration of Ures, Mexico, by John Russell Bartlett from the “John Carter Brown” library online in Rhode Island …. this is the life my great grandparents would have known.

Why does any of this matter?  I cannot answer that, other than a sense in my heart.  Perhaps it is because I, as a childless man, know the probability that I will be forgotten in time; I would like to preserve the memories of Lorenzo, his family and more relatives for my nieces and nephews, and their children – hoping that they will find some value, as I have, in understanding what our forebears went through for us to have our lives here today.   I had this interest long before Pixar’s “Coco” used the Day of the Dead to urge us to “remember me” for our lost relatives; I can almost relive sitting in my mother’s bedroom, going through boxes, and the sense of wonder I had at the old pictures and letters, and the lives of those who came before.  I wanted so desperately to have a sense of belonging as a child; to have the family that my schoolmates talked about; perhaps in a sense I am still trying to rebuild what was lost.  And, maybe, in a way, I will save a little bit of me for those who remain after I am gone – just as those who wrote the letters, took the photos, and saved the family Bibles did from decades past. 

A few years back, with my Pereida cousin Rudy, when we visited Nogales in search of heritage

I would love, one day, to visit the point where Lorenzo began his own journey – to know why he made the life changing choice to board a ship and cross an ocean, perhaps more than once, and how he came to Hermosillo,  and where Librada came from, and her parents.  The DNA tests might one day provide, if not a connection, a clue or a confirmation – or it might just be luck.  But I do think I will stand there, and be in awe again at the mysteriously woven tapestry of my life – all our lives.  I hope my own digging inspires some of you to consider what you can do to preserve your stories, your ancestors, for the future generations; their voices speak to us, their wisdom and their sacrifices, their love and their hopes.  We may not seem them clearly – but they are worth remembering and honoring, and from that, carrying forward in our own lives.  I wish you well in your quests. 

If you haven’t seen Pixar’s Coco, it is well worth a visit …. and remembering ….

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Where gratitude leads us

A lovely thought from a treasured vintage postcard, gifted by a good friend

In a little less than a week, many in America, and others around the world, will celebrate by giving thanks.  You probably have your traditions – perhaps they include special foods, or sports – perhaps online shopping, or a hike, far removed from the daily routine.  As we approach that day, I have been thinking about the role of thanks not only in that upcoming day, but every day – and what I hope to gain by being a better practitioner of gratitude.  Perhaps you, too, have reflected upon Thanksgiving a bit more this year, after all the hurdles of recent times.  There have been years for me where I questioned what it was I was supposed to be thankful for; in recent days, the gatherings of my past seem to be offering a lesson for the future; I cannot quite make it out, but perhaps together we can find some meaning to share. 

I cannot tell you my first memory of Thanksgiving, as a family gathering.  Some do have those “Norman Rockwell” images and memories; there were years that my family, in various configurations, tried to achieve that.   Although the years of my parents being together were few, I am certain they tried to give my brother and I the “turkey and fixings and pumpkin pie” kind of meal. But, probably not with family, because in those years we were together, we lived far from any close relatives.  I do, however, remember – and had to confirm with my older brother, whose recollections are a little clearer – after my parents separated, my father picking us up and driving us to his workplace for a dinner – at the Chino “Men’s rehabilitative state institute”, or, state prison, simply put.  I remember driving through high, barbed wire topped automatic fences and eating in a large community room (with inmates and guards and families)  – I think it was all he could afford, in those early years of separation and divorce.  It wasn’t “pretty” or picture perfect – but he wanted to spend that meal with us, and that is what I choose to remember, now. 

My Mom’s health issues were many, and she was not a cook (and neither am I!) But, when I was a little older, Dad remarried – a local elementary school teacher, single and older, who loved cooking (and was darn good at it!) – who prepared everything and more for Thanksgiving and just about any occasion. In time, their son was born – I was in junior high – and on occasion, a cousin or other family member might join as well. Years later, of course, both my brothers married, and had children, who joined the tradition now and then.  My stepmother (who, confusingly at times, had the same first name as my Mom, creating two women with the same name in our not so large back then city) was always kind to prepare a plate for me to take home to my Mom.  The other part of that tradition I remember – not so fondly – was the focus on hours and hours of football games.   They seemed utterly boring and pointless to me. 

In my college years, I would come home for Thanksgiving from the dorms; as I began my professional life, I often returned to those family gatherings, until a period of several years, after I moved away from my roots, when my own personal struggles led to more isolation and searching for understanding.  I would sometimes spend the holidays alone, or going to see movies, or escaping for a “feast” to the “happiest place on earth” – Disneyland – where the music and energy would provide respite, briefly, from my inner uncertainties.  I had long since stopped going to church – the gulf in my spirit between what I felt and what I had been taught was too wide to ignore.  But, being raised as a “good church boy”, I often brought to mind the hymn that often had been sung in my childhood services – replaced later at more contemporary evangelical gatherings by “praise singers” – ever constant reminders that we “should” be thankful for our many blessings. 

The song that I associate with giving thanks, with lyrics – sung now for 5 centuries, in various forms

As a history buff, I’ve come to realize, perhaps by coincidence, how the origins of the celebration crisscrossed my journeys. More than 30 years ago, on my solo and only drive through parts of American history on the east coast, I visited the location of what is now recognized as the first Thanksgiving by colonists – in the Jamestown settlement of Virginia.  And nearly two decades later, I had the opportunity, courtesy of a friend, to visit Provincetown, Massachusetts – the first landing on what became American soil by the pilgrims, seeking refuge from religious oppression.  Some now see these moments in human history primarily as infringement on indigenous peoples; certainly, their lives and world were forever altered by these events.  The picture books I loved in my childhood and youth, and stories of heroes, are seen differently now by many.  But as I reflect on the essence of what Thanksgiving means to me, if not to all – I remember those moments on my own journey to new life; recognizing that there were many sacrifices made for what we now enjoy.   And realizing that I was fortunate, indeed, to never know true hunger. 

For all of us, the years of family gatherings can never last forever; my Mom spent her final 7 Thanksgivings in a care facility a short drive from our old home, where she would sit in her wheelchair sometimes outside in the sun, and the occasional visit from my brother’s family was a welcome distraction.  It was during those years, cleaning her home through the paraphernalia accumulated over decades, I started my own discovery of family history through the letters, photos and mementos she had stored in forgotten drawers of her home of 40 years; my digging led to new connections, and renewed family sharing with many cousins. I remember another holiday during that period where I had asked my Dad if he was open to having me drive his cousin Bill, now a widowed gay retired hairdresser living in a trailer park in the desert, back to Corona for Thanksgiving.  Dad was not open to that – after 30 or more years, he held on to his reasons for separation, and they were not to see one another again. For her final Thanksgiving in 2005, facing treatments for pancreatic cancer, my stepmother did not prepare her traditional feast; I drove her and my Dad to a Marie Callender’s for Thanksgiving buffet.  She passed that winter; my Mom followed in spring 2006, and Cousin Bill in fall 2006. Dad outlived them all – he had his final Thanksgiving while living in a care facility near my younger brother, and while at a family gathering that day with both my brother’s families, he asked me to drive him back to the facility before we ate dinner together.  That was the last time we were under one roof before his passing the following spring of 2007.  

Those next few Thanksgivings felt very empty.  It was a season – several seasons, cumulative, folding upon one another like a line of dominoes – of grief, and memory, and healing.  In time, the process of working through the old, and accepting the new, opened doors in my own life to move ahead; the growth and understanding I came to embrace, through many lonely holidays, brought me to a very different – and better – place, in time. There have been many gatherings with family since then – at Thanksgiving, and more – and with friends, old and new, including one memorable Thanksgiving feast with something like 20 hungry gay men crammed into a small San Francisco home, wolfing down gourmet dishes.   Like most of you reading this today, I spent Thanksgiving 2020 eating at home – happily no longer alone, but with my husband, something I never envisioned a decade before.  This year, since neither of us fits the mold of being great cooks, we are looking forward to a sumptuous buffet at a restaurant, with masks suitably lowered but readily at hand. 

All of these prior Thanksgivings are swirling in my memory, and those who prepared the food, and who sat with us, although not present still are nevertheless still at our table, in my heart. I will be surrounded by memories as we go through our day – bravely enduring the Macy’s “parade” from the comfort of our den, with calls to and from family and friends, and Facebook posts, and a feast where our regrets begin probably before we put down the fork and put on our masks.  I can assure you, however – NO FOOTBALL!  But there is a deeper lesson to be learned and shared, even if we cannot – or choose not – to be “together” on that day; a lesson of what I am coming to think of as the destination we seek to reach on a road paved with gratitude.  Where does our gratitude lead us?

I am coming to understand that the “injunctions” I heard from the church school of my childhood, and the pulpit of my later years, about giving thanks, and prayers, and acknowledging our blessings – whatever your own faith or views may be – have a greater end and purpose than just rote performance.  When I reflect on the many graces and gifts that have come into my life from all sorts of people, not always in moments that traditionally might have been classified as “holy” or spiritual – I am humbled.  I begin to see things differently –  that the practice, consistently, of giving thanks opens my heart and my awareness to a greater peace and a living hope.  Not born from my intellect, but from a connection outside my own being. 

For me – giving thanks broadens my perspective in a way that I find difficult to describe, but feel deeply. Acknowledging that I have been given so many good things in life helps me to accept that I can never have all the answers, never control all the outcomes, and – at least on this earth – never understand the many “whys” that echo in my soul.  It reminds me of my limits, certainly – but also helps me see the many miracles, dare I say, that have visited my life – and those of my family, now and in the past.  That is one of the treasures of discovering ancestry – realizing the struggles and sacrifices, joys and daring choices that my forebears took to survive and build and create, which they gave me.  Childless, I can only look on my family and friends and imagine the bond that they share with the next generations, and realize that legacy is priceless, and I try in my small way to add to it with love and encouragement.   Our love is woven by unseen hands into something that lasts.

The practice, the habit, the discipline of giving thanks consciously leads to many outcomes, and the discovery and awareness of deeper truths than just what gifts I have received. It leads to humility and acceptance of my own limits, and others; to a peace and faith that the things I cannot know or see will be brought together for good, in time; and to an empathy and compassion for the lives I encounter once, or often along the way – wandering, as I do, on a path that none of us fully comprehend. Developing slowly, with effort, an “attitude of gratitude” opens my heart to knowing – I have been loved, I am loved, and those around me are loved and this moment, this day – whether filled with cooking meals or watching football or practicing music or sitting by the bedside of someone otherwise alone, and wondering what lies ahead – each moment is one that I can give love.  Not answers – just love.  A touch, a word, a smile, in between all the traffic jams and gas lines and news of conflict and ongoing threats that barrage our awareness and try to drown out the silent, patient hope. 

Every step we take, as we build our path moment by moment, matters.

Whether your own life has brought you to a place where you believe there is a force out there, larger than us, who listens – or whether it is enough to realize that the power of community caring can lift us all to a better place, regardless – Thanksgiving is a day of hope, and realization, as much as celebration and remembrance. If you are with family – perhaps for the first time in a while – this could be a time for you to share and preserve your memories, histories, and lessons.  They are worth celebrating, and sharing, for those who will walk past our days here.  If you are alone, as I was for many years, this could be a chance to reach out to another and say, simply, I appreciate you, your caring for me, and I care about you too.  What a joy it can be to find an opportunity to say that, in a brief moment, whether to a loved one or a stranger, and know it may mean the world to them, too.

My distant cousin, Susan Applegate, is an artist in rural Oregon, where our Applegate western pioneer roots were first established.  Years ago, she did a painting of the “Old House” – indeed, the oldest house in original family hands, in Yoncalla – the home of my great great great grandfather, Charles and his wife Melinda.  Her art showed multiple generations of family – dozens, over the many decades of life there – gathered around the fireplace, celebrating across the bonds of time.  That thought – of our timeless connections, even among strangers – resonates with me as the nights start earlier and the leaves fall. Next week, I will be here in SF with Bob, feasting (and regretting) – but I will also be in that quiet now ancient home in Yoncalla, and in Denver with my grandparents I never knew, then in Corona with my parents, and also at that men’s prison in Chino, and smiling with my cousin Bill alone in Palm Springs; knowing again, somehow, all the moments of time, and life, and the echoes of their souls, laughter and love.

My times of giving thanks are not quite this photogenic, but they feel like it sometimes!

I invite you to join me on the path to gratitude and more; to give thanks tomorrow, and the day after – forgetting on occasion, I am sure, but returning again – in the morning quiet.  Finding peace in accepting that as there have been joys and disappointments through every year of life, more lie ahead – but we will never be truly without hope, and without much for which to be grateful.  And we will be reminded that those gifts have come, to know that greater love – from all the sources and all the hearts – is flowing not just to us in those moments of reflection, but through each of us, to others, like a timeless river of life.  

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The days grow short … when you reach September

The equinox – a balance of day and night

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by Total Shape on Pexels.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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