Friday, February 27, 2015

Seizing What You Want



Perhaps more than other people, I understand with stark perception the reality of powerlessness; my life has been defined, to a significant degree, by major traumas that were beyond my control. But because I've had the experience of falling under shattering blows and then devising ways to recover from them, I also understand, more than other people, the power a person can wield if he chooses to.  And what's funny is that often those who have been most victimized show the greatest facility for utilizing the resources available to them, however scarce those resources might be. Engineering a total reconstruction, after all, requires one to summon a bit of creativity.

At two distinct points in my life, total collapse was imposed upon me from outside forces and I was obliged to figure a plan for building myself back up. On both occasions, catastrophic bottoming-out (which in the most recent instance resulted in my actual death) was immediately followed by roaring recoveries whose achievements far surpassed what had gone before the crises. We can do extraordinary things if we decide to.

To that end, I've been busy. I've been busy knocking the hell out of some graduate-level writing assignments, busy fulfilling student-teaching requirements, busy learning Russian vocabulary and arranging Russian language lessons to commence this summer, busy enjoying a flowering social life in this new community, and busy losing--as of this morning--eighteen pounds. I never forget what they did, but the people who hurt me have a way of feeling very far away these days. I suppose it's because I'm on my way.

That way has become a lot clearer in the last couple of months. I nixed the option of getting my second master's degree in the history of the Southern U.S., opting instead to pursue either Russian studies or Russian history, the job market depending. I'll not be doing that right away, mind you; I'm living at home while I obtain my first master's degree in secondary social studies education, and though my mother is a very pleasant woman to reside with I don't much favor the notion of imposing upon her until I'm thirty-two. I'll obtain my current degree in about a year's time (May 2016) and will then commence teaching at the high school level, obtaining my second master's degree while working. This path has a couple of advantages. For one thing, it will allow me to stand on my own feet financially and manage what is sure to be a demanding work-load in my own home and by my own rules. For another, it will provide me the time to acquire Russian language skills, which are a prerequisite to the program I wish to pursue. In my first year of teaching, when I'm adjusting to a new career and locale, I won't bother with any master's work, but I will be sure to take intensive Russian language courses for which I'll build the foundation starting this summer. My goal, then, is to begin the second master's program in three to five years, no later, ideally, than my second year of teaching.

And then what?

As I mentioned in an earlier post, analyst jobs are quite lucrative and securing one would amply reward my study. Were I to encounter difficulty on that front, I'd still have teaching, and I'd also have a master's degree in Russian history. Don't tell any Defense Department contractors, but I'd honestly do that just for the fun of it, so even the possibility of a rewarding career in the field is more than enough motivation. The eventual goal, quite a ways down the road, is to, either after serving as an analyst for a number of years or after teaching for a while, obtain my PhD in the subject and teach it at the university level. And I am so damn excited about this.

Every time I crack open my Russian language workbook or attend Russian history lecture, I'm having a total blast. It's funny how fate works, isn't it? I've loved Russia since I was perhaps twelve or thirteen years old, then drifted away from it for a while in my undergrad years only to return to the topic and make it the centerpiece of my career.

"If you love Russia, stick with Russia," one of my wiser professors told me earlier this semester. "I've had a deep interest in geography since I was a boy, and it led me to a wonderful career. Stick with Russia."

When God hands you a jewel, wear it proudly.

In the meantime, I have to go. I stayed after school today to catch a talk on the mid-18th century crisis of the British Empire in North America, and it's starting in about twenty minutes. After that, it's back to my house and a slumber party with Pie. She's eleven now, by the way, and with our mother headed out of town it's going to be just the two of us tonight. We're going out for sushi and then I'm going to bribe her into watching a Disney classic or two.

I'd like all of you to know that I'm not going anywhere. I'm not able to write as frequently as I did before--grad school will do that--but I am and always have been in it for the long haul. I've so valued the experiences I've had here in the last seven years. I hope you have, too.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Thus Far in the New Year


Underneath everything, I'm still the same person I was when we first met. Sure, some things have changed. Some plans have been rearranged, some goals reassessed, some ideals cast aside and new ones taken on, all to, at least by my thinking, positive effect. But I'm still me. And that's why it's so nice to be in the position I am now, because in carrying the little boy I used to be inside me I've come the closest I can to going back in time and letting him know that eventually, down the road, he'd manage to find a path.

I'm one of those rare whack-jobs who makes New Year's resolutions and then sticks to them with fanatical purpose. In 2009 that brought me a social life. In 2010 it brought me a record deal. In 2014 it got me into graduate school. And this year, as I walk forward with a perspective sharpened by the twin crucibles of trauma and achievement, it's brought me a realization: a great deal of my life is within my power to influence. Some things, granted, are outside of my or anyone else's control. Other things, however, can very much be turned to one's advantage if one simply endeavors to turn them, if one decides upon a goal and refuses to conduct themselves in any fashion that falls short of what is required to meet that goal. That's become my mantra: I decide. 

Look at where I was a year ago: lost, devastated, unsure of my place in the world, hiding in my house and piling on weight as I tried to pretend away what had happened to me. Then look at me now: fresh off finishing my first semester of graduate school with a 3.5 GPA, embarked on a second semester with a clear career path ahead of me, and building positive relationships and a positive conception of self-worth. That happened in a year, and it was because I decided it would. So why not decide upon some other things?

This year I decide to return to my university weight. This semester I decide to do well academically. This year I decide to do what must be done to accomplish several other ambitions that are dear to my heart. The knowledge that there is no secret, that all I need is to do what must be done, has been immensely empowering.



Yesterday was the first day of spring semester classes, and by noon I'd reached a critical decision: the inner conflict I'd felt, between obtaining a PhD in either Russian history or Southern U.S. history, was resolved in favor of the Russian field. The reason is pretty straightforward; both subjects interest me, but those holding degrees in Russian studies can serve the U.S. government in lucrative analyst positions.

"I did that in the '80s," Russian History Professor confided. "I got out of school and went to work for the CIA, although you can work for State or any other number of places. It was a tremendous amount of money. With things heating up over there again, they're looking for good people, and you only need a master's to start."

Academia is nice and I see myself there eventually. But the opportunity to reap handsome financial rewards for immersing myself in a subject I love is too good to pass up. The upshot is, of course, that I'll have to learn to speak Russian before commencing my second master's program in several years' time. The thing is, though, that I decide to do it. I will learn Russian, I will earn a master's degree in Russian studies, and I will go on to analyst or consulting work. And that's that. It helps that I already know the alphabet and have at least a rudimentary background in the language.


In the nearer present, I was pleased to be baptized into the Episcopal Church on January 4. I was raised in an irreligious household yet nonetheless always felt a connection to God, and from the time of my early adolescence I searched for the church that was right for me. When I came across the American branch of the Anglican faith and learned of their commitment to accepting and loving all people, including the hellbound gays, I knew I'd found my spiritual home. As far back as 2009 there was no question in my mind that I'd never encounter a more compatible religion, but for various reasons I put off making it official for another five years. Why wait, though? I think in my head I'd wanted baptism to come once a number of other things were in order, but I can only be stronger in pursuing those things with my faith and the community of that faith behind me.

Selecting a church and publicly committing myself to it has been a major step in recovering from the false virtues that were imposed upon me by outside oppressors. In choosing to join such an organization, I am in a very real way proclaiming that I at least nominally hold its values to be my own. I'm pledging myself to something greater than I am, but I'm also declaring just the kind of person I intend to be. Another thing I've decided to do this year? Wipe away the legacy of those who wronged me and deny them their emotional power over me any longer. Given my sensitivity, understandable in light of the history, to aggression or perceived aggression, this has been one of the more difficult things to stick to, but when I need to I remind myself that my worth is independent of others' opinion of or conduct towards me, and that that worth doesn't need validation from, well, anybody. The only being fit to judge my value has "created the Universe" at the top of His CV, and He doesn't care if my tennis shoes don't fit with the latest trends.

In the vein of establishing myself and rejecting anyone else's definitions of me, I will either this year or next be exchanging the common name my father chose for me from a 1980s sitcom for the meaningful one my mother took from the annals of Roman history. To all of you, I'll still be BB.



I am thankful for all of the opportunities and revelations that have come my way recently, and for the path they have paved for my 2015. I'm thankful that you guys have hung around through some black days and some long absences. I'm thankful for my growing circle of acquaintances and my group of really great close friends. You'll notice the glittery plastic monstrosity above. Black Dress Girl and I, bored on New Year's Eve, could not figure a way to stream CNN's coverage of the Times Square celebrations, and so to compensate we wrapped a yoga ball in garland and threw it off the balcony at midnight before immediately taking shots. That seems an auspicious beginning to me.



Thursday, January 1, 2015

Halfway Through the Decade

This seemed an appropriate way to begin 2015.

"Roar"

I will shatter every wall
I come a titan, soaring tall
The mountains break before my scream
The sky's my lighted purple dream

The oceans quake and shorelines fall
I'll have nothing or have all
The very core shakes with my thrust
I rise in dazzling beauteous lust

The Earth can't hope to bear my wrath
And so must yield before my path
I command the ground to bend
My reign will roar until my end

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

New Year's Eve


As we come to the last day of 2014, I look back on a year that's seen me break through a terrible trauma and move on to accomplishments that would once have been unthinkable. I have successfully completed a semester of graduate school and charted a career path, have made a new group of friends (proving to myself that what happened at Major University wasn't a one-shot deal), and have generally asserted my control over my own life in a way I once thought was permanently lost to me. At the close of last year I had nothing to celebrate save my near death; the year before that, a full twelve months of unemployment.

Things are much better than they have been in a long, long time, and I look forward to turning this stride into a sprint towards a future I can be happy in.

Monday, December 22, 2014

The Same But Different


My first semester of graduate school occasioned one of the longest absences from this blog I've ever had, but I wanted to assure everyone that I am very much still here, albeit in a different way than perhaps you are used to--or perhaps than I'm used to. I haven't written because I've been so busy. But I also haven't written because I haven't known what to say. You met me at such a different time of my life, when I was only nineteen, and immediately after we made one another's acquaintance I rocketed out of a terrible valley and up a glorious peak. You met me in an era of sunshine like I had never known before. I was young and beautiful and happier than I would have ever believed possible. It's tempting to leave it at that, to let this blog stand as a memorial to the joyous peak of my youth. But that's not in my nature. It's always, as you know, been my instinct to write, to reflect. So I'm still here. I'm not what I was, though.

It's funny how, when you're quite young, you somehow manage to convince yourself that that time will last forever, and as befits the end of my youth the feeling I have often these days is one of profound oldness. I don't say age because I can't claim it (I'm only twenty-six), but I can very much claim oldness. I struggled in childhood and adolescence against debilitating illness. I weathered coming out and defending my identity. I fought my way to a college degree despite the relentless financial obstacles thrown in front of me by my own parents. I endured long-term unemployment. I died at twenty-five and then came back. I've soared and been shattered. I've been degraded and exalted. I've collapsed and rebuilt, twice now. I'd had more hurt by twenty than most people will know in their entire lives. I'm so enormously old.

What you would like to hear and what I would like to tell you is that everything is amazing, that through the storm I came out stronger. That last part is true. But what's also true is that there's still a great deal I'm bothered by, and my melancholy nights are still more numerous than I'd care for. The loneliness, for one thing, weighs heavily on me. When I was a club-going college kid I don't think I felt this so acutely, but now as I proceed through the second half of my twenties I find myself, more and more, hoping for a real bond and a partner. Whoever he is, he seems elusive. A sort of pre-date I went on recently was a bust, though the fellow in question was nice enough. And because I've sworn off any more one-night stands, which satisfied a base need but left me so empty, I've not been with a man in well over a year. I don't know when I will be again.

Then there's my beauty, which took a beating in the aftermath of my death. In my university years I gloried in my trim body and youthful prettiness, but six months on powerful medications resulted in a substantial weight gain from which I have only slightly recovered. I haven't looked in a mirror and been satisfied with what I've seen since at least a year ago, and there's no way that's not hard. I find myself saying "I was" and "I used to be." I think about the weight yet to lose and it feels like a mountain in front of me. My great fear is that I'll never be beautiful again. Sometimes I weep over it. Sometimes I think I'll die alone.


For the issues that remain, however, there can be no question that my position is immensely improved now from what it was. I completed my first semester of graduate school with a 3.5 GPA, have eliminated from my life all those who are not constructive, recently finished a student-teaching practicum that I loved and for which I was lavishly praised, and am in the earliest stages of investigating a subject on which to obtain my PhD. It's years in the future, and it will come after teaching for a bit, but it's there. Those are all very good things.

My hope is that the enterprising attitude with which I took charge of myself and laid out a career path will enable me to confront, then remedy, the remaining concerns I have. You met me as an enchanted boy. I can never be that again. Even the platforms through which we first communicated, Blogger and Flickr, have materially declined since the days in 2009 when I flowered with such magic and majesty. But if you care to, we can still be friends. I'm at sort of a weird juncture where I'm figuring things out and adjusting the blueprints I'm working off of, but the foundation I'm building is solid. I'm doing everything I need to do now to ensure that one day, maybe as soon as three years in the future, I'll be stable and happy, self-sufficient and aware of my place, content with my body and content in a partner. Graduate school will be an interregnum of sorts, a two-year twilight in my mother's now-welcoming home. Afterward? The world I've longed for, whatever that is.

I'll still be here if you will. Maybe you can help me brighten up the place.

Monday, December 1, 2014

The Golden Boy

He’d sung the song a thousand times, of course. It was the song, the one that had started it all. Before, he’d been a kid in a garage, a suburban teen with a dream. And after: the magazine covers, the television interviews, the roaring concerts, the world tours, the whirlwind surrounding an endearing young man at the twilight of an innocent era. Or maybe he’d only seen it that way because he’d been innocent himself. It was all because of that song. People had connected with it, felt it stir something inside of them, and then there he was, a golden boy with a golden voice singing a golden tune. He could have performed that song asleep and one legged. There was no reason to have butterflies. But it was here. This was the stadium where he’d first sung it live on a summer night in 1976.

He peered out across the throng, gathered in that same green field, and for a moment through a beam of light and out of the corner of his eye, he saw them as they’d been. The young girls, unadorned faces shining; the young men, pretending they didn’t want to be there but secretly mouthing in their heads the words their sisters and girlfriends shouted aloud. And him, mounted atop a metal throne, screaming into a sceptre, one voice rising above all the others like a tidal wave of beauty. The man he loved had been behind him wielding a guitar. Man, hell. They were 16. But they became men together.


The shaft of errant light shifted and several hundred grey men and women stared back at him. The eyes were the same, though, the same as all those years ago. He looked down to his hands, wrinkled now as they held the microphone. The famous mane of auburn hair, what one journalist had called “silken fire,” was gone, the remnants faded from copper to grey. And the man he loved was gone, too. He had the memories forever, though.

“I don’t know if you know,” he told them. “But this was the first place I ever performed this song. Some of you might have been here.”

He recalled the man behind him, the hand on his shoulder anchoring him to the world so he wouldn’t soar to Heaven on the wings of his melody. Absurdly, his eyes stung.

“I’m a little different now,” he said after a pause. “It’s been a little while. But I still know the lyrics. And if you do, too, will you sing them with me?”

Then he closed his eyes, and he sang.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

November


The fire of October
Is ember in a ditch
It glows in desperation then
It blows out into pitch

October gets the portraits
October gets the songs
But life after October
Endures painfully long

November stretches cold and grey
And dull and brown and dead
November's wisdom blooms in spades
Not 'till its leaves are shed

November somehow carries on
Once red and gold have died
Once what remains upon its stems
Attracts no gleaming eye

November holds not for the joy
It holds because it must
It alone can know the pain
Of sunlight turned to rust