Friday, May 4, 2018

First Days of My Thirties


Sunlight streamed through the living room window, gleaming off the hardwood floors and whitewashed walls. I reflected, not for the first time, that the navy-blue curtains had been an excellent choice for the house's color scheme, and they shone a rich shade in the brilliant light of a springtime Alaska afternoon. The sun is up here now until about 11:30 at night, so at midday we're treated to some truly spectacular brightness when there isn't cloud cover.

"Sometimes I feel like being out here has made me a little bit weird," I confided to Wise Woman, who was seated across from me in the leather armchair and sipping a mug of steaming coffee.

"Yeah," she smiled winsomely. "You get too used to being alone. Sometimes I'll find myself being impatient with people. Someone will be talking to me after work and I'm standing there thinking, 'Can you please shut the hell up so I can go home and do nothing?' And then I stop and tell myself: 'People first, Wise Woman. People first.'"


The approach of my thirtieth birthday was an emotional catalyst in many ways. It capped a year, marked officially on March 2, filled with changes and growth and a surprising amount of self-discovery. In this last fourteen months I've felt, really for the first time, that I'm actually able to explore who I am and what my beliefs and priorities are. A lot of those questions got shunted down the line for later attention when I was hunkered in survival mode during most of my twenties, but finding myself alone on the tundra with plenty of time and no immediate crises opened the door to some unexpected conclusions. 

As that April 10 ticked closer and closer, as 29 ebbed and 30 advanced and I looked back on the time passed and the manner in which I'd passed it, one inescapable thought recurred again and again and again.

I am going to die. 

In a concrete, non-abstract way, I am going to depart this Earth following a finite amount of time, and then my days will be done. Then there will be no more sunrises. 

I can't go so far as to say that thirty years has flown by, but ten sure did. And now I realize, in a way I never did before, that my day is not endless. I can see the continuum of my life the way one sees a weekend, or a long summer holiday you only just began, except now it's almost the Fourth of July and it hits you with a start that you're nearly a month into the thing. Life is like that. Like a week or a month or a vacation. At some point the time is up.


"I'm thirty years old," I said. "And I've been thinking, 'Hmm, Grand Pa Our Family lived into his seventies. My mother's parents both lived into their eighties. Grand Ma Normal Family is still around and she's 75.' I can probably count on hitting eighty. But even if I'm lucky and with medical advances and everything I make it to ninety, I'm still a third of the way through this thing. I've actually used up a good chunk of this time."

"Well," my 22-year-old brother Thomas's gruff voice responded from 4,000 miles away. "That's incredibly depressing."

"No, no it's not," I countered. "Don't you see? I realize the time is limited. So I want to use the time wisely. When I get to that ninety, I want to look back on a life well lived."


What precisely that means has occupied a lot of my time lately. How would one define a well-lived life? For one thing, in the context of a time-limited period whose contents I'll one day have to evaluate, the notion of expending any more effort on the traumas of the past--or, at least, any more than is necessary to move forward in a well-adjusted way--makes absolutely no sense. Those things were terrible enough when they happened, and dwelling on them only stretches out the moments of suffering. And who wants to look back on a life of looking back?

The early part of my existence was very sad, and I spent much of it being unhappy and afraid. But now it's over. Now I want to have fun. Now, as much as I can, I seek joy in life. The things that happened to me are things that happened to me, and need be no more. There's so much in the world to love.

To that end, I've made a few decisions. The first is that, barring something truly unforeseen, I will plan to spend at least one year teaching overseas and will evaluate my options from there. This plane we live on is so broad, and we have so little time to sample its offerings. I could never forgive myself if I didn't go. Which brings me to the second, vaguely radical choice I've settled upon: wherever the going takes me, I will pursue it without fear.


In accordance with this whole imminent-death thing, I sort of dispensed with polite fictions in  conversations I was having with myself, and the clarity that followed illuminated how much I'd been allowing fear to dominate my choices. I very nearly didn't come to Alaska, something that would have been a white-mouthed, shrieking tragedy, and I would have played it safe with a position in Southern State had God not decided to throw me a curve ball (I've never been so happy to not get a job).

Which brings me to God. My conception of God has been completely enveloped in the transformative experience I had as a boy of twelve or thirteen, when I reached out unbidden to that deity and begged him: "Save me." And He did. That sense of liberation, of gratitude, was so profound that somewhere in my mind I had linked any questioning whatsoever of my Judeo-Christian beliefs with a personal betrayal of the God who pulled me up from the pit and brought me here. But the doubts were there anyway, and they were gradually eating away at my faith in a way far more corrosive than outright critical analysis would have done. 

And so I asked Him for a reprieve. Some space for honesty, not that I might turn away from Him, but that I might come back.

"I'm looking for my faith," I told Him. "Please help me find it."


Now I'm looking, with no prior assumptions and no self-judgement. I'm following truth wherever it takes me, and I believe that with an open heart and an active summer reading list I'll just kind of get there when I'm supposed to, and how I'm supposed to. I'm not too far into it yet, but I can tell you one thing: that Buddha guy knew what he was talking about.

My quest for some kind of clearer understanding is emblematic of my approach to a lot of things lately. I'm aware of the agency I have in my life and believe that agency is critical, but beyond doing what I need to best position myself for positive outcomes, I can see much value to letting events unfold as they will. If you're doing what you should, that meandering path seems to get you, one way or another, to good things. Setbacks don't change that. Self-doubt doesn't change that. Temporary flares of anxiety, which I can promise you I still have, don't change that. And in the quest for a partner, for a professional trajectory, for the right place, I'm building the best foundation I can and then seeing where things take me.


The end of the school year fast approaches, and before long I will return to the Lower 48, where the house above awaits me. Teaching work is effectively over--students here check out, and hard, right around the first of April--and after two more weeks of leisurely school sessions we will officially dismiss for break. I'm hanging around in Gori for a week after that to get my house packed and my things shipped to Point Goldlace, where I've accepted a job for the fall. After a week to say goodbye to my neighbor, to this town and to this beautiful house, I'll stop over in Iceport for a few days and then jet back to the East Coast on June 4.

This summer I was fortunate enough to rent a house in Western City, far closer than last summer to the region where I went to college and grad school, so family and friends will abound. I miss my brother Thomas, who will turn 23 in little over a week; and my sister Pie, who will be 15 in June. She's now a teenager whom I feel I don't know, and I'm eager to get reacquainted. My birth-mother, Anne, has been too long unseen, and I've invited her down for a stay. Thirtieth-birthday shenanigans are already in the works with several old and new friends. A visit to a long-time blogging buddy will occur in June, and a beach-side drop-in on a co-worker is set for July. 

It's been such a long winter here in Alaska. I can't wait to feel the sun on my face.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Monday, April 9, 2018

Last Night of My Twenties

It's tonight. 

What an extraordinary period that’s ending this evening. So much growth, so much understanding, so much improbable achievement has taken place over the course of the last decade, and in surveying that I find I can’t quite bring myself to mourn the years passed. Their beauty was in what they gave me, and those gifts were borne of struggle. It was a necessary struggle, and a fruitful one, but I am glad that many parts of it are now over.

I’m happy to stand where I do. I’m happy to welcome a new chapter, even as I bid fond farewell to an old one. I’m happy to move forward. I’m happy to embrace thirty, and I pray God will bless and guide me in this new age with the same constancy He did in the old one.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Ten Years


It's been a decade since the sunny spring afternoon in April 2008 when I wrote my very first post on Blogger. I was nineteen years old, bursting with creativity and angst and longing, hobbled by a difficult past, buoyed by hope, and newly possessed of the perfect medium through which to give voice to all the roiling emotions of late adolescence. Ten years have followed that day. Ten years that, as I approach my thirtieth birthday in several days' time, I now realize constitute one-third of my life. You've seen, I would argue, the best third. The third where I grew up, and moved from a boy to a man.

The journey for me, and for this blog, has been strange. I've zigzagged between righteous fury, audacious hope, cloying self-pity, drunken harangues, and, eventually, quiet reflection. Eventually, I hope, some kind of understanding.

You saw me when I was twenty and filled with that strange mix of rage and joy common to so many abuse survivors who make the first tentative moves towards normal life. You saw me in the long slide of blackness and nihilism that ended in a suicide attempt when I was twenty-five. You saw me taking disjointed steps in the fragile recovery that followed the suicide attempt and then, for a while in 2016, you didn't see me at all. For a while I needed to step away from the attention, step away from the rehashing and, in fairness, step away from my own narcissism, to evaluate my own choices. Being victimized, even legitimately, can predispose us to victimhood. In can make us cast a mold in which we trap ourselves and become our own abusers, all while justifying our misbehavior on the grounds of what was done to us.

When I was ready for you to see me again, at the opening of 2017, you saw me bearing hard-won achievements. And then you saw me head north, and learn important lessons on the tundra.


It has been an amazing privilege to be a member of this community for ten years. When we're young, so many of us just need someone to listen. And you did. I told my story, then kept telling as it changed. I've always been so thankful for that first chapter, but, ten years on, I find I no longer recognize its author. And that's a good thing.

I'm happy I can no longer empathize with that deeply troubled nineteen-year-old boy. I'm happy I've grown and learned and shifted. I'm happy I'm older. And, what's more, old enough to realize that I'm still young.

So for those of you who don't know, my name is BB, and I am a 29-year-old history teacher living in rural Alaska. Back on the East Coast, where I grew up and where all my family remain, are my father David and his new wife Robin; my adoptive mother Marie and her new boyfriend, Tall Man; my birth-mother, Anne; and my siblings: 28-year-old Powell; 22-year-old Thomas, who's finding his way and playing metal shows in the meantime; 14-year-old Pie, a high school freshman; and many assorted others, including colorful friends you've met or will meet yet.

The last year has been among the best of my life. This is how it went:

April 2017: I turn 29 years old.

May 2017: I am offered and accept a teaching position in Gori, Alaska for the 2017 - 2018 school year. I depart Alaska for Southern state.

June 2017: Summertime leisure gets a bit too leisurely, but there are at least friends along for the ride.

July 2017: I decide it's time to take a hiatus from the drinking. A good call.

August 2017: I return to Alaska and take up residence in Gori.

September 2017: The fall is a little bit difficult as I adjust to my first full school year in Alaska.

October 2017: Gori's first snowfall comes on October 18.

November 2017: When Thanksgiving arrives, there is a much to be thankful for.

December 2017: After some Christmastime excess, I forswear alcohol entirely. Wish me luck with this one, because it's ongoing.

January 2018: Everyone said the second semester in Gori would be easier. They were right.

February 2018: I learn that my position in Gori will be eliminated and that I will not be able to return following the conclusion of the school year.

March 2018: I secure a new job at Point Goldlace, north of Aurora City.

It's been a remarkable ten years. Here's to Year 11.


Monday, March 12, 2018

Beauty and Tears


Several times during this last year I've looked around and wondered, How did this become my life? March 2, which marked the one-year anniversary of my arrival in Alaska, provided another such occasion. On that particular week I was chaperoning a school trip--my first as a teacher--whose aim was to introduce high-schoolers to state government. As such, on the second day of March I found myself in Queen-of-the-Gods, Arctic State's absurd capital city nestled on a mountain cliff that hugs tight to Canada but has no road access to the rest of its own state.

The quaint size of the state, from a population perspective, means leaders and people share a closeness that can be disorienting to Easterners, accustomed as we are to the concentrated nexuses of wealth and hierarchy in which we grew up. In both Southern State and Native State, between which I split my childhood, state chief executives live in palatial residences that are gated and heavily patrolled. In Queen-of-the-Gods, the governor's mansion is just a house in a neighborhood. It's an awesome house, granted. But it's still just someone's home, where you can sidle right up to the front door and ring the bell.

Another Queen-of-the-Gods house, this one private and castle themed, has been officially dubbed "the fanciest building in Arctic State." It's just down the street from the governor's mansion and widely billed as the more impressive structure.



"Well, Arctic State is basically a big small town," mused Athena, a Queen-of-the-Gods native and one of our grown-up companions on the trip. "People who try to get above themselves don't do well."

Which explains why, in a state with fewer people than Charlotte, North Carolina--741,000, if you were wondering--a certain former vice-presidential nominee with aspirations of cable-TV stardom is poorly regarded.

"We were ready to welcome her with open arms," Athena confided. "Even in Queen-of-the-Gods, which is really blue. We're always excited when a new governor comes in. But the feeling wasn't mutual."


I love Alaska.

And, as with most things I love, I fear it will be taken away from me. The process of getting laid off has been especially stressful because it has played on my worst and most pervasive fears that I will never be able to sustain happiness or independence. I feel perpetually on the verge of collapse, perpetually at risk of having the things I've worked so hard for ripped away from me. And the underlying assumption there, one I'm aware of but struggle to alter, is that I would somehow deserve the tearing-down. I understand, of course, that I am an empathetic and caring individual, someone who possesses a master's degree and substantial content-area knowledge, in addition to an even-keeled disposition that would serve any educator well. By any objective measure, I am highly qualified to be a teacher. But they're going to find me out, because somehow I'm really not worthy of any of this.

Psychology is a hell of a thing.

I've worked very hard in the last couple of years to tell myself that the abuse I suffered as a child and young adult was not my fault, that I am in fact a good person who merits happiness and respect. But those internalized lessons are very hard to unlearn, however much you logically know they're wrong, and part of the growing self-awareness I've had since graduate school has been understanding the degree to which hurtful voices still command a lot of space in my head.

There have been a few real nuggets of wisdom that have come my way since 2014 or so. That I am a funny and outgoing person whom others, for the most part, like to be around. That, despite those qualities, certain people will just not like me, and that it is okay if they don't. That my parents were flawed and frightened people who did not mean to inflict the damage they did. That anger is justifiable but forgiveness is good. That I am a person who cannot drink in a healthy way.

And, most recently, that I didn't get away from borderline personality disorder nearly as unscathed as I had imagined.


Bummer.

There's only one thing for it, which is to recognize the problem and work at it systematically until it improves. I'll do that. And it's very easy for me to be equanimous about this right now, sitting in my house after a more-or-less restful weekend, sipping on coffee and pondering the abbreviated week ahead (spring break means a trip to Iceport, sure as sunrise).

But there are moments when it is not easy. When I was passed over for a job I'd had my sights on, when despair at my own ineptness fought with panic at the blacklisting I was sure I'd experienced, it wasn't easy. When I couldn't believe my principal's praise, it wasn't easy. When I harbored suspicions that the elimination of our history position was not a budgetary measure but an elaborate ruse to be rid of me, it wasn't easy. When my neighbor failed to answer a text and then also didn't respond to my knock at her door, it wasn't easy. When I knew that she wasn't just busy but hated me and was hiding inside, hoping I couldn't hear her, it wasn't easy. The waves of intense emotion are not easy. And they have been with me for a long time.

The more I read on the subject, the more I understand that much of what I experience is typical of a person working their way through borderline personality disorder. That's something I have been loath to admit in the past, because doing so would be to admit similarity with Anne, my deeply unwell birth-mother. But it is what it is.


I wouldn't go so far as to say that my worldview is inherently negative. But I do, often, misattribute ill intent to people around me. I wouldn't say I hate people. But I do temporarily hate almost everyone, and wonder if they hate me. My cousin, who has never done me a single unkindness. My boss, who has likewise been straightforward and fair. Mentors and priests and co-workers and perfect strangers. I've perceived spite in so many innocuous words and social niceties, and I've sometimes "retaliated" for these imagined wrongs with a level of vitriol that has left people baffled and hurt.

And while there is a kind person at the core of me, many of the idiosyncrasies and predilections that make it to the surface are constructions. At about 20 years old I literally picked certain personality traits, sometimes modelling acquaintances or celebrities, and decided they were mine. I wanted to make myself likeable. So I did. At this point I've been faking so long that the act comes as second nature, but it's still faking and the truth is that I don't know what the hell is under there. Sometimes I really, really do not care about other people's problems, but because "BB" is nurturing and empathetic I have to pretend for an appropriate amount of time. And just as often as not, I'm thinking about the YouTube video I want to watch when this person shuts the hell up and I can go home. The artifice is exhausting, then.

Which is not to say, by the way, that I don't care about other people. I do. And helping them makes me feel genuinely good. I was subject to a lot of neglect over the years, so being the one to open a kind door and bring someone else in still gives me this cosmic thrill of rightness. But sometimes I'm not sure what my true feelings are and so I fall back on that prefabricated character who knows how to act. Sometimes I hit this weird threshold where other people just become too exhausting to endure. I go off by myself for a while, and relish being alone, and then am okay.


This is really liberating to talk about, by the way. A lot of these qualities, like the way I can swing from a throttling tailspin of despair to a state of bored emptiness in the space of a few hours, have felt like markers of my unique brokenness. But I am not uniquely broken. I have a personality disorder from which millions of people suffer, and my symptoms are completely normal and predictable within that context. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders (DSM) catalogues these utterly ordinary facets of the illness and recommends methods of treatment. I am not unnatural or alone. And, like many before me, I can get better.

My life has been unusual. It is like to continue that way, because of my vocational choices and because the obstacles I've had to navigate. Because, too, of my uncommon talent in certain areas. I am an astute analyst of geopolitics, a quick student of languages, and, let's be honest, an exceptional writer. I am also a survivor of abuse who has had to manage disability, mental illness, and the hurdles of being a gay man. Will it all work out in the end? You know, I'm not sure. It may be that I never find a partner, never have children. It may be that I don't even want those things. Or that I think I don't, then find I do.

But I am determined to meet whatever comes with as much grace and ability as I can. That means honesty and self-care. It means reaching out to friends and family who can't read my mind. And it means, sometimes, taking a deep breath.


Sunday, February 11, 2018

Detour


"I want you to know that you're leaving here with a positive evaluation and my endorsement," our principal said. "You are really solid. I've seen you with these kids. I will absolutely be a reference."

I bit back a laugh.

"You know, I'd just decided to stay," I told him. "I was on the fence all fall, and I just committed to it in my head. Kind of funny."

It's an odd conundrum when everyone involved in a professional relationship--the employee, the employer, the co-workers, the supervisors--is happy with a working arrangement and then it has to end anyway. When our site administrator first pulled me into his office to tell me that everyone but me would receive a contract for the coming 2018 - 2019 school year, I naturally wondered what I'd done wrong.

"Nothing," he said. "Nothing. If you had, we'd be having a very different conversation."

Budget cuts are happening everywhere, though, even in freewheeling bush Alaska, and after paring things down to the point of cutting choir and several other subjects, the district decided that the next thing they had to eliminate--in a horrible game of musical chairs that no one involved, district included, wants to be playing--was the social studies teacher. My area being a core subject, and required for secondary education, the remaining staff will have to divvy up amongst themselves the five separate subjects I'm currently teaching.

"Man," I posited. "I must have been really bad if I put you guys off on ever having a history teacher again."

The principal, Military Man, smiled.

"That would be something."


I'll depart Gori with good references, bankable bush experience (which is invaluable in this turnover-heavy part of the state), and a job market that can't afford to ignore me.

"There were schools last year that started in the fall with vacancies still unfilled," Military Man said. "Some of those vacancies from last year are open now. You'll have no problem finding a job."

Which is a huge advantage that I don't want to minimize. Most people who get the equivalent of a pink slip don't have the virtual guarantee of ready employment within a few months, nor priority with their previous employer for any new jobs that open up. But the fact remains that, had the decision been up to me, I would have stayed. Had the decision been up to my superiors, I would have stayed. Had the decision been up to anyone but the balance sheet of an accounting department, I would have stayed.

It's been a good thing here. Though I didn't want to remain indefinitely, I wanted to remain for a little, and I wasn't ready to go at this particular juncture, with niches carved and relationships established and the trust of some very wary kids earned. I wanted to be a positive in their lives. I wanted to be the kind of dependable presence that is so vital to adolescent well-being, and that is sometimes lacking in this challenged place. I wanted to be someone who came back. And now, however the situation arose, I'm going to be one more person who leaves. That kills me. The prospect of that conversation, which I'll have to have at some point, kills me.

"That's the whole teacher thing," said Goat Farmer, a middle-aged navy veteran and one of my co-workers. "That's why people come back even after an excruciating year. Because some kid came up and sat next to you at the pep rally and you realized they trusted you. And then you're like, 'Man. I kind of wish you hadn't done that. Now I'm invested in this.'"


Indeed.

I'm trying to be both positive and realistic. Yes, this hurts in the short term, but I'm just not important enough to be a make-or-break in these kids' lives, even if the prospect of occupying Number 1,000 on a long list of their disappointments is not one I relish. This could, furthermore, be an opportunity to find a community about which I'm really excited and where I can do really well. Which will be kind of necessary, because if I leave here disappointed--and I will--then I have to be enthused about the next destination. Nothing lukewarm will do.

To that end, I've decided that the fall will see me either on the road network, in one of Alaska's highway-connected cities; or in a part of the bush where the financial reward is substantial. I've already applied for one job hundreds of miles north of here, in a little town that straddles the Arctic Circle and pays about $5,000 a year more than what I make now. The daylight hours there are perilously short in the winter, but 11 a.m. sunrises didn't bother me here. Some people can deal with that and some can't. I think maybe some part of me was always supposed to come to Alaska.


It's strange. I spent my whole childhood moving, hopping up and down the Eastern Seaboard, and I looked forward to grown-up years when I could be settled in one place. Here I am, though, a grown-up, and through no fault of my own leading a decidedly migratory existence. I've been in Alaska less than a full year, and come August I will, seventeen months since moving to the state, have lived in three separate towns. Once again I'm packing up and shipping out. Once again I don't know where I'll be in six months.

And you know what's weird? I kind of like that. Am banking on it, even. I've known for a while I didn't want to stay in the bush more than a few years--there's just too much life to be lived yet--and known furthermore that I planned on teaching a year in Russia several years into my career. So I've been presuming a fair amount of jumping around without examining too closely why that is. I spent a long time agonizing over where "home" was, but maybe now I'm beginning to see the peculiar way I grew up as an advantage in certain respects. That restlessness. It's one of the things that has surprised me as I've gotten to know myself this last year.

That is not to say, by the way, that I can't stay put. I would have stayed put here, at least for another year, and been very happy about that. Even as I mourn being forced to look once more to the horizon, though, some part of me, however small, feels excitement rising in his chest. Old habits die hard, I suppose.

If life in bush Alaska has taught me one thing, it's that sometimes you just have to go with things. I'll let you know how that going carries off.

Monday, January 22, 2018

An Assessment


One of the things on which I've always prided myself is an unusual degree of self-awareness. Maybe it's because as a child I was surrounded by destructive people who made the same awful decisions again and again and again. Maybe it's because I was the oldest of four siblings and got to see how different personalities walked differently down paths I'd approached earlier. Maybe it's because I struggled with a disability that forced me, for survival's sake, to get inside my own head and figure out what was going on there. Maybe it's because I spent years in therapy examining how my traumatic past informed my present behavior, whatever it was at the time. Maybe I just got lucky and happened to be a bit more observant than the next guy over.

A lot of factors fed in, no doubt, but the end result is the same: more often than not, I've been able to call myself on my own nonsense. I've been able to make an honest assessment of myself and act accordingly.


The status report these days looks better than it's looked in a long time. Independent, financially stable, moderately sane, driven more often than not by logical considerations. After a long time and much anguish, I have come to a peaceful understanding with all three of my parents, at last feel a forgiveness and genuine affection for them that in my early twenties I never imagined would be possible.

All good things, of course. But I've never been one to sit on my laurels, at least if recent experience is any guide. It's a funny thing, that; up until the age of 28, I lived under someone else's roof and rules. It's hard in that situation to know what your own predilections are because you're never able to give them full rein, and the last ten months--my Alaska-versary is coming up on March 2!--have been full of little revelations that have at times disappointed and at times pleased me.

I am, for one thing, something of a slob. Terrible, and I'm the first to admit it. You know when my house gets cleaned? How it gets cleaned? Frantically, and in the few hours before I'm about to host a group of co-workers for (store-bought) cake and (Keurig) coffee.

"I need a maid," Wise Woman groused earlier today as we stood talking in her kitchen.

"Not as much as I do," I countered. "And what's awful is that now we can actually afford help, but..."

She laughed. "There's no one to hire."


Other surprises have been of a more happy nature. It seems, for instance, that I am something of a goal-driven person (who knew?), and I have noticed a tendency on my part to set benchmarks for future achievement even when I am pretty satisfied with my present condition. The idea of not moving, not doing, not achieving, bothers me in a way I never thought it would. What sort of Southern gentleman am I, anyway?

I had this really terrifying moment over the weekend. I was putzing around my house, enjoying the moments of leisure that are all too rare here, when my nose shot out from the book in which it had been buried and I stared, full of existential dread, at the oven before me, utterly convicted of a single truth: All of this is pointless. Most of what I do each day is pointless.

Waking up at 7:15, putting the kids through their paces, making lesson plans, giving lectures, preparing dinner, enjoying a book or cribbing together the parts of a story in my spare time. Taken cumulatively, all essential to life. Taken individually, one disposable moment after another.

So much wasted time.

What does matter, then? What is worth our precious hours and minutes? And this is what I thought of: Feeling like you've reached your true potential. Feeling as if you've created something of genuine beauty. Being as happy as you can be.

Three things. Distinct, but intertwined. So what does that mean for me?


It means that, within the year, I will need to complete or make significant progress on the writing project for which I've been doing research since the summer of 2017. I approached this prospective manuscript, a young-adult fantasy about two teens thrown into a conflict involving Norse gods, with the intent to draw on my own publishing experience and write something commercially viable. I am, I feel justified in saying, rather a talented writer. My failure up to this point to have completed a publishable project has becoming a gnawing self-critical tick in the back of my mind, and I know that, lest I continue to feel I'm cheating myself, this is something I must achieve. So I will. I'll keep up on the research and mapping through June, then commence actual work at that point. The goal is to have a great deal of the book completed before summer's end.

What else does meeting potential mean? It means that, in the middle term, I will need to relocate from Gori. Right now I'd bank solid money on my returning here this August, but I am as yet in my twenties (for the next three months, at least) and as yet unwed. Hell, as yet uncourted. My string of embarrassing sexual encounters aside, I've never had an actual boyfriend, never once trusted anyone enough to let that wall come down. I want to give myself that chance during these prime years, want as well to know the happiness of easy socializing and easy conveniences. So I will be back in the fall. But come next spring, my gaze will turn to Iceport and Aurora City.


And I find myself hatching long-term plans, too. To pursue, in perhaps five years' time, a second master's degree that would allow me to become a school principal or assistant principal. I've seen the teacher pay scale, of course, and know what the very robust number at the top is. But what do I do when I get to that top? Sit there? Forever? Unchanging? How could one do such a thing? I only have this one life, these eighty or ninety years, a hundred if I'm lucky, and I can't bear the thought of wasting them. If I could live several centuries I would, because there's so much to see and do and experience in the world, and one career just isn't enough. One lifetime isn't enough. There is a bit of frenzy within me concerning this topic, and sometimes I wish I could defuse it, but it resides there nonetheless.

My long-term eyes see books published and languages mastered and Russia visited and rungs climbed on professional ladders. Of late, however, my short-term eyes have had to do some focusing as well.


Anyone who's followed this blog for more than a year or so will know that I have long struggled with what role alcohol should play in my life. Innocent partying became not-so-innocent numbing in my middle twenties, and after a mortifying incident at the start of 2016 I gave up drinking for the rest of that year. When that deadline expired at midnight on January 1, I joined a 2017 New Year's party with gusto, only to take it too far and wake up ashamed and missing some memories, though thankfully without having humiliated myself. I allowed that I would permit myself to drink "moderately," but a voice of worry lingered ever in my ear.

"What will you do this time?" it whispered. "Will you be able to control it? How far will you go tonight?"

Alcohol possession is a felony in this part of Alaska, so it's thankfully off the table here. But back home, my summer of 2017 was something of a personal dumpster fire where drinking was concerned. I'd learned bitter lessons about drinking to the point of insensibility in front of others, but doing it alone gave me all the gratification and none of the consequences. So I holed myself up in my apartment, sad music playing and wine bottles uncorking and liquor flowing, and got utterly and incomprehensibly smashed several days in a row. After the second of these benders, from which I still carry a scar on my left knee, I forswore alcohol for good. And I meant it. But then came Christmas break, and then came the justifications.


All of them plausible justifications, by the way. That alcohol had brought positive things into my life, which it had. As a college sophomore fighting to overcome some pretty big inhibitions, I found in alcohol a useful and healthy tool for opening doors and making new friends. In moments where nervousness around men might otherwise have overwhelmed me, I found comfort and confidence. So I gave it one last try. I wanted to keep those positive things in my life, if I could.

And I can't.

I just can't. It's that simple.

I didn't do anything crazy. Didn't vomit in anyone's bushes, or drive drunk, or yell at someone and then later have to offer a fumbling apology. But I went too far. I went beyond what I said I would do. I spent several days of an invaluable mid-year respite being violently hungover as opposed to enjoying my family, and in the harsh moral clarity of one throbbing morning I realized two things: 1. I cannot control this; and 2. This is not worth it.

So I'm done. Done for life. Not "taking a break and seeing how it goes." Not "taking care of some emotional stuff" before I let myself drink again. Just done.

Because here's the thing: by and large, I've attended to the emotional stuff. I've actually accomplished a lot of what I want to accomplish in life, and many of the impediments that caused me such constant distress during my earlier twenties are gone now. Yet I still drank six glasses of wine in a single sitting on the night of December 27. Why? Because I have a drinking problem. Or, to put a point on it, can have one. I am fortunate in that simply not drinking at all is pretty easy for me. Once I get started, though, I want to keep that party rolling.

It's just in the genes. There is also, as it happens, something else in the genes that conflicts with my desire to guzzle myself into oblivion, and that something is called an ALDH2 deficiency. To make a long story short, I am missing an enzyme involved in the processing of alcohol, the result of which is that I cannot metabolize booze's central component. This makes me an exceedingly poor alcoholic. My tolerance has a sharp ceiling, regardless of how frequently I drink, and fairly small amounts elevate my heart rate, make me flush dramatically, and bring on cold shivers and sinus congestion, in addition to getting me absolutely plastered. I'm hardwired to not be able to handle drink, though Lord knows I tried. Those six glasses of wine left me hungover for two days.

This really is something best left in the past. Best left with 29.


Thirty-year-old me will never know alcohol abuse. Thirty-year-old me can feel pride in his many achievements and work forward to his many goals. To happiness and fulfillment.

What wonderful things those are to pursue.