Monday, September 2, 2019

An Untitled Chapter


In my early years here, I said so much. There was a lot to say. Everything around and within me was morphing, changing, revealing, resettling. I was in college, and every day seemed like a new corner of self-discovery and endless possibility. Some of my loquaciousness owed, too, I think, to the developmental stage I was at; that first year I was 20, an adolescent, and I talked through my feelings with the earnestness of someone who needed to figure things out and the candidness of someone who hadn't yet trusted and been burned.

Today I'm much more circumspect. And today, in general, less changes. Most of my twenties were the laying of so much groundwork, all for a career I've now started. I'm still a teacher. I still live in a log cabin in the middle of Alaska. I'm still very, very gay and very, very single and very, very ambivalent about the direction I see my future going. I used to muse endlessly about every potential path, but that's a habit I fell out of around the middle of my twenties. There are too many prospective avenues, and more than a few that might veer unanticipated into your line of sight right before you hit them. Better to report when there's something to report.

I suppose that's a drawn-out way of saying that I'm all right, but in a holding pattern.


As another fall begins here in Alaska, cold and early and yielding swiftly to winter, I have the time and space to sort through some things that have long needed sorting. There are at least five possible career options open to me for next fall, any one of which would take my life in a radically different direction. Which to pursue? Not all of them are in education, as I never saw myself spending my entire professional life as a teacher, and the ones outside the classroom range widely but are each at least feasible. I only get this one life. Just this one span of time. I don't want to waste it.

A further complicating factor, in my life and in the life of this blog, is that some of this work would by definition not be something whose details I could openly discuss. When I was nineteen and my vocational world consisted of lecture halls--led by someone else--and the student newspaper, I was free to divulge every dirty bit. But a job with the federal government? A job in a law-enforcement capacity (strange as that might sound)? If I find success in some of these endeavors, a huge swath of my life will be out of bounds here. But one must advance.

Several years ago, when I was still living on the East Coast, I took a trip into the Goldlands whose nature I never disclosed to you and then had a pleasant lunch with a friend (who's since gotten engaged; what a world). I was, in fact, entering the application process for a federal role about which I felt very passionate, and successfully completed the first round of screening before being eliminated later that year.

"You are a really strong candidate," my assigned mentor told me at the time. I was twenty-seven and had taken the setback well, but it was still a disappointment. "You just need to gain some more life experiences and then come apply again."

Four years later, I'm arranging another trip into a city and shooting for the same goalpost. Working, as well as I can, toward long-term fulfillment. But this is a game that requires patience, and even if I'm chosen it could be more than a year before I learn of it. So other arrangements have to be made in the meantime. Other possibilities weighed.


And then there's just the stuff going on with me, and figuring out the nature of who I am. Coming out on this blog eleven years ago felt emotionally wrenching, but compared to the dilemma facing me now it seems downright easy. I'm not going to elaborate at present because there's nothing to elaborate on, save uncertainty and confusion and a lot of heartache felt over a long time. But you should know that I'm working through some heavy-duty stuff. Trying to get to the bottom of who, exactly, lives in this head of mine. The summer maybe provided some insights.

Way back in January I was planning for a potential visit to a far-off tropical country, but when a number of things on that front fell through I took a hard turn north and wound up in a place I'd dreamed about going since I was twelve years old: Russia.


I had a summer off, a healthy bank account, a near-lifelong ambition, and career aspirations that might be helped by the trip, so I threw caution to the winds and hopped on a plane. There were so many surreal moments during this excursion. Seeing Saint Basil's for the first time, when it sneaked up on me from around a corner and brought tears to my eyes. Walking through an incandescent Red Square at night. Standing before the cavernous entry hall of Russia's largest university, then entering it as a student enrolled in the summer language program. Three weeks in Moscow flew.

For the whole of this near-month I shared an airy, sun-soaked Moscow flat with two Americans, one pursuing a PhD and the other a cultural interest, who quickly became erstwhile friends. On our last day together, after many restaurants and study sessions and museums shared between us, we walked the shiny parquet floor and mused about the strange bond we'd formed.

"When I first met you I was a little bit wary," the 28-year-old PhD candidate, Radical Guy, confessed. "I thought, 'Okay, this is a roommate who's much more social than I am.' But it wound up being a good thing. You got us to do things we wouldn't have done otherwise."

"What do you mean?" I asked.

"Think about when we went out the other night."

It had been a fun evening, a social mishmash of young professors and international students who had as many reasons for being there as places they came from. Laughter and clinking glasses and halting Russian (quickly mocked in gleeful English) had formed a soundtrack to the gathering.

"Most of those people were there because of you," Radical Guy said. "Engineer Guy and I just kind of showed up. You've really been the social glue of our group."

It was one of the better compliments I've ever gotten, and it happened to be true.

Whatever you're supposed to do, I thought. Whoever you're supposed to be, you are not going to find that person in the middle of Alaska.



I need to find a therapist. I need to make some phone calls. And, in about a month, I need to board another plane, this one taking me to a long weekend and a job screening. Until then, I'm just hanging tight. Trying to be ready to take the right step at whatever juncture comes next.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

The Prince

I am not the peaceful prince
Who wields the sceptered sun
Who came to clear the clouds and to
Shine light on everyone

I am not the scribe of law
Or font of wisdom pure
Not the king to care for all
Or safety to ensure

I am chaos, fury come
The sword on which will gleam
The blood of wailing peoples run
A steaming, tear-streaked stream

I am not release from sin
I'm vengeance crowned with greed
I am retribution with
An army at my feet

I am fire in the night
Arrived in steel-tipped rage
I am pillage, I am rape
I am Death engaged

I will melt the very ground
In sulfurous tides of flame
I will lift a banner proud
Above your smoking plain

I will take no bribe of gold
My only price is life
A mountain of you, stiff and cold
Will be my sole delight

I am starlight beaten black
A wolf borne of a sheep
What you have made you can't turn back
Nor fly from pay you've reaped

Sunday, March 31, 2019

'Round the Unexpected Turns



I'm a planner. Always have been. That stems, I think, from the fact that I am also a worrier, and that from childhood I've been plagued by these episodes of spiralling what-ifs wherein I envision every dark and nightmarish scenario that could play out in my life. That's why I maintained full auto coverage on a twelve-year-old car everyone told me was a clunker. It's why I insure every single flight I take. It's why I double-check locks, memorize phone numbers, and make those doctor's visits sooner rather than later. It's why I plan. The planning makes me feel better; it provides contingencies and, what's more, it provides purpose.

But I've also learned, amply, that the plans sometimes have a way of falling off as life paves unexpected paths. Who would have ever thought, for instance, that I'd be in Alaska? Certainly not me.

I spent most of the spring semester laying carefully constructed itineraries for a summer spent living and working in a tropical country many miles from here, only to have my hand forced by flaky landlords and evasive prospective employers. Unwilling to book air passage across an ocean with neither housing nor work lined up, I instead paid for a flight headed the other way. 

Home. 

Home, which I miss so much.


"I'm excited to see you," I told my grandmother by phone.

"You are not," she teased.

I laughed, but was surprised to find my eyes misting with tears. I'd been facing the prospect of not seeing her, not seeing my siblings, not seeing any of my family and friends or the land of my birth, until Christmas. I hadn't realized how much I was yearning for all of it until the moment I gave myself permission to go back.

"I'm so glad the trip fell through," I continued. "I didn't even really want to go. It just felt like the right thing for me professionally."

There may yet be another trip, a briefer one, that will replace my aborted equatorial junket, but I'll let you know about that when and if it happens. It, like its predecessor, is planned in the service of a career transition--that may or may not occur. 

I don't know much of what the future holds. But I know that, come May 25, I'm going home. Which is great for me, but will provide the readers of this blog and the followers of my Flickr page with dividends as well, in scenic photography if in nothing else. 

After all: Alaska is beautiful, but there's nothing like Virginia in summertime. 

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Meeting Fate in the Forest


The crack of the branch was just loud enough to alert me that something was there. It's a peculiarity of his; he likes to let you know he's around, but doesn't want to announce his presence. In our previous encounters it's been a creaking floorboard, or an open door, or a window left ajar. Maybe it's just his British understatement--despite his being incontrovertibly not British--at work, or maybe he just wants to imbue these deeply weird visits with some sense of normalcy. Whatever the reason, he always pops up in the most mundane ways.

I had decided to go for a walk because of the unseasonably warm weather--highs nearing 20 degrees had turned the clouds soft and prodded them to release flurries of pillowy white snow--through a favored path near my house, and I spun quickly at the sound of snapping wood, fearing I'd encountered the wolf rumored to be prowling outside the village. My long hair in the falling snow made for a shimmer of gold and white as I turned about--and there he was. The same as he'd ever been.

"Hello, BB," he smiled, his ample stomach covered in a blue cashmere sweater and his grey curls peeking out from beneath a pageboy cap.

I suppressed a gasp as he came into view.

"Fate."


His grin faded but his eyes still twinkled. "It's good to see you."

In all the years we'd known each other, and through meetings at turns teasing, adversarial, even, once, outright violent, he'd never looked at me the way he was looking at me now. Like he was seeing something he hadn't noticed before.

"Fate," I said. "Last time..."

I let the apology hang in the air and he waved it away.

"You were young last time," he said, putting his hand on my shoulder. "And in a great deal of pain, most of which was not your doing."

I laughed against the shame that burned beneath my cheeks.

"I think I'll always be young to you," I said.

The smile returned to his face.

"Even so."


"Thank you," I responded, deciding for once to accept compassion when it was offered to me. I resolved to do that more often. And what could I say, anyway?

I'm sorry I fell so far. 

I'm sorry I lost my hope. 

I'm sorry I became someone else for a while. 

I'm sorry I hurt you. 

I'm sorry I hurt myself.

The last time we'd seen each other was five years earlier, in the context of a life-consuming crisis that ended with my attempted suicide in October 2013. Childhood demons had risen to devour me, and in the spiral of despair and rage that followed my fate felt like a black hole of anguish--and he, Fate, the master of that anguish. When he'd appeared in my parents' kitchen in Mountain Town I was drunk and wounded. I spoke in a way that made me recoil to remember. I hit him.

His dark eyes in my present offered understanding, forgiveness, some measure of respect.

"Do you know why I'm here?" he asked.

"Yes," I said, then cocked my head in genuine surprise at my own answer. For once he didn't have a leg up on me. I started laughing. "There's something I never thought I'd say."

He loosed a full-throated guffaw and kept taking me in with those impenetrable eyes. "So you've figured it out."

I nodded. "I'm leaving, aren't I?"


"In time," he responded. "Along a path unique to you. But yes."

He clapped me on the back. "You're not meant to linger, my boy. Not here. Not yet. Too many strands for you. Lives to be lived. In some ways you see and some you don't."

I considered that.

"I think I've always known," I said after a long pause. "That it wasn't going to be the white-picket thing for me. I've been chasing that because I never got to have it as a kid. But I can't ever replace my own childhood. All I can do is build my adult life. And maybe I will have the white-picket thing. Maybe it just looks different for me."

"It looks different for everyone," he offered. "Happiness wears many colors. Sings many songs. Each tune lovely to the ear for which it was made. It's something that gives me comfort in difficult moments."

I gazed at him a while, tried to imagine myself through his eyes.

"I know now why you come," I said. "Well, not why you come. But why you come when you do."

"And why is that?"

Memories, memories. Years floating by.

"When I was getting ready to graduate college," I said. "You came then. When I started working in publishing, with all that opened up. All that taught me. You've visited at touchstones. Moments of realization. Or reckoning." My eyes went hard, and his went cloudy. "Last time..."

"A touchstone," he pronounced, his smile sad. "When you teetered between death and life. Between a closing of all your fates, and the opening of many possible ones." 


Truth hit me like a gust of subzero wind.

"You didn't know," I gasped. "You didn't know what would happen."

"I knew what could happen," he answered, his mouth a thin line. "Not what would. In so many ways I am only a steward. It is easier stewarding for some than for others. Your openness has always made you..." He waved his hand in a circle. "Confounding. All these potentialities spiraling off. And one or two so very black. As I said, it's good to see you."

I pondered the drifting snowflakes, each frozen sparkle unique. Each a possibility, never replicated. Falling all over and dancing on my fair face.

"It's good to see you, too," I said, and realized, again to moderate shock, that I meant it. His past visits had so often portended another milestone on the black road to death along which I raced for the first half of my twenties. Today his presence just confirmed I'd figured out something that needed figuring-out.

"You threw off a measure of fear when you came here," he said. "Continue throwing it off. Follow the voice that calls, even when it doesn't tell you what you think you ought to hear. Your road can encompass so much if only you will embrace it."

I thought back on decisions made, plans laid, e-mails sent, phone calls placed. A friend mourned. All within the space of about a week, last week, when I'd taken stock of things and chosen to pursue an ambition I'd laid aside for timeliness' sake.

"So you do know some things," I said.

"What can be," he answered. "What might be. The balance in many particulars is up to you."

"That's what Good said," I noted. "She appeared in the airport when I first came here. She said I was more tightly bound to you than some, less tightly bound than others."

"She's wise," he mused. "And she likes you."

I snorted. "She should come around more often. Maybe send a few winning lotto tickets my way."

"I'll have to mention it to her," he said dryly. The winter sunset had colored the sky in rapidly fading hues of subdued copper and scarlet. He appraised them like they were an approaching bus. "That'll be me, then. It's been good to chat."

He lifted his hand to wave, but before I could stop myself I'd stepped forward and wrapped him in a hug.

"Thank you for my possibilities."

He surveyed me with genuine surprise. Again, not something I ever thought I'd see.

"You know, given how our other discussions have gone, I expected a somewhat different reception," he pronounced. "I seem to recall your pushing me out a window twice--no, three times. Two of them at a considerable height. In light of all that I'd been keeping my eye out for a wood-chipper or a renegade snow machine. Perhaps a rabid moose."

I laughed. "Two of those times you jumped--" He glared. "--Under duress, fine. Point conceded. And I looked into it, but you need a permit for a wood-chipper, so..."

He stepped back with crinkling eyes.

"Eyes and heart open, my young friend. And mind disciplined."

The last blades of sunlight folded behind the evergreen horizon, and Fate vanished into the twilight.


Sunday, February 3, 2019

Suspended Animation


In certain ways I feel like I've been chasing an ideal since I was about twenty-one. From that age, roughly, I've had this fantasy of living in a nice little apartment or townhouse, commuting to a job I at least reasonably enjoy, and doing things as self-indulgent as dating and having friends over on the weekends. Having, in essence, a normal life. And at various moments of my experience, that simple image has seemed in different ways not something I could attain, but more of an exotic apparition in need of being chased down. When I was young I had neither money nor employment, and was surrounded by interpersonal opportunities but constrained by financial dependence on toxic actors. Now I'm in my early thirties, financially and professionally sound (ish), but at the cost of deploying like some sort of academic paratrooper into the frozen wilds of the Arctic.

What gives?

"I don't feel like I'm asking for that much," I vented to my stepmother Marie recently. "Just for things to be settled. Just to be able to sit for a while. For things to be easier."

"I don't know if anyone ever gets to have that," she responded.

"But within reason, yes they do. I just want a house and a job and a social life. Just the basic elements of life. That's not unreasonable."

"You're right. It's not."


I'm not happy in Point Goldlace. And that's hard for me to say, because there are parts of living in Point Goldlace that are absolutely, unambiguously awesome. My students are precocious, hilarious, psychotic goofballs with actual intellectual curiosity. The town itself is gorgeous, and the great majority of the residents are welcoming and warm. The little coffee shop that I fell in love with in the fall is run by a local church, the denizens of which have become a focal point in mine and the village's community. Church Girl and Church Guy, the twentysomething town barista and youth pastor, respectively, got engaged in December. Today, they invited me to their wedding.

The charms of Point Goldlace are real, and not least among them is that going into work tends to actually brighten my mood. But I am so lonely. Lord, am I lonely.


Last weekend I was in the big city--Iceport, the only community in Alaska that can really claim the title of "big city"--for work and I found myself opening up. I organized discussions with colleagues. I got friendly with the local barista and started comparing hair-care tips. I was friendly and witty and fun, and I liked it. God, I thought later. I'd forgotten this side of myself.

I know that I will eventually leave Point Goldlace. The two big questions are when, and to where? The when weights pretty heavily just now. Cutting and running after a single year would make me feel pretty awful, particularly in light of the students who have found, and who would be losing, a supportive and positive adult role model in me. But is that a price I'm willing to pay? Sacrificing my own happiness out of a sense of obligation to these young people who will, one way or another, trudge on regardless of my choice?

And then there's the where. I have no way of knowing what sorts of positions will be available for the fall. Two are currently up, one in an area of Iceport where I'd like to work but carrying with it a gruff principal, the other in a coastal community that would make for much easier living but that is nearly as isolated as the town I'm in now. Why trade one remote dot for another? And why, if I shoot for Iceport and the socially illiterate boss, trade personal dissatisfaction and professional fulfillment for personal fulfillment and professional dissatisfaction? I hate that these decisions always seem to involve impossible trade-offs.


So I don't know if I'm staying or going. And if I'm going, I don't know the destination. That's really frustrating. Sometimes I think I see signs, or think an opportunity sounds absolutely perfect, and then it falls through. The stars don't align. Something just doesn't fall into place, even when it was so obvious that it should. In those moments, it's like God is dangling a vision of a future in front of me only to cruelly pull it away.

Today in church the pastor shared the story of Habakkuk, a prophet who struggled with what he perceived as God's injustice and inconstancy.

"When we first become Christians, it's like we're on a roller coaster," Church Man explained. "We're connected with Jesus, and everything is great, and we keep going up and up and up, and we expect to just continue in that direction. Getting higher and higher. But roller coasters don't work that way. Eventually, Christians reach a point where we go down that hill."

The gist of this sermon was that feeling abandoned by God is normal and all right, a part of the faith life cycle the same as any other.

"Sometimes God gives us hardship so we can develop perseverance," he added. "And come out on the other side of that with a more mature understanding of Him."

It's not all unicorns and rainbows. Not all golden bells and soaring melodies. And I'd kind of been expecting those bells, because that's what it was like when I was young. When I needed it. Maybe He's testing me now. Maybe He's preparing me. All of my other trials, including the one that took me from Gori to Point Goldlace, seemed terrible at the time, and all eventually worked to my benefit, whether that was to improve my material condition or make me into a stronger person.

So I'm trying to believe, even though it's hard. Even though it's scary. Even though sometimes I feel abandoned. My dearest hope is that want now will teach me gratitude later. That will have to be something I send up in a prayer.


Tuesday, January 1, 2019

New Year's Day


A new day with new choices. Old friends celebrating old achievements. And a present that just keeps flowing along. How quickly the time has gone to 2019.

Monday, December 31, 2018

New Year's Eve


 

I end 2018 surrounded by people I love, buoyed by a year of professional success, and reveling in the small pleasures of familiarity. The year 2019 will require growth, reflection, honesty, and and map-making. But those things can wait a little bit.

A happy New Year's Eve to you all.