Wednesday, December 29, 2010

My Christmas

My Christmas was both anxious and happy.

That seems to typify my life these days: eagerness matched with fear, restlessness with timidity.

It feels almost superfluous to make the disctinctions, though; it all boils down to anxiety, and anxiety very properly describes where I am right now.

Even before the decorations have come down and the holiday music faded from my head, I find myself impatiently anticipating the start of the spring semester while simultaneously fretting over its logistics: I am registered for classes but am on the waiting list for a resident adviser position and thus have nowhere to live.

With no on-campus housing secured and no way of paying for lodgings even were I granted access to them, I'm left to either hope an RA slot opens up or find an apartment in the Goldlands. That prospect, of working out roommates and rent payments and a budget for food, especially bearing in mind that I can expect no help whatsoever from my parents, is a daunting one. Yet the idea of commuting from Mountain Town five days a week is something I find even more arduous.

I hate the uncertainty of this specific situation but also of this time in general. I'll graduate in a year and am still unsure where I'll be going or what I'll be doing afterward.

I'm conflicted. I'm unsure. Everything is in flux.

I live at home still and despite growing discomfort at not only the practical reality but the abstract notion of being under another's roof as I near the age of twenty-three, I recognize it would be foolhardy of me to attempt striking out now with no degree and no real job prospects.

So I'm stuck, stuck in a house that I increasingly feel is no longer mine as I await and in the same breath fear graduation.

It's all made more confused by the ambiguity of my position: I'm no longer a child or even an adolescent, but really not quite a man.

What am I supposed to be?

My parents and I, for various reasons, have essentially not been speaking for months now, and the stiff silence between us makes me feel like I'm living with two strangers.

I've begun to break that silence, or allow it to be broken, cautiously, but cannot let the space between us be entirely bridged. My trust doesn't extend that far.

If truth be told, the experience of handling my parents has imbued me with a coldness I've never known before. I've discovered this fall a remarkable ability to shut down and shut out, to project an insulation that I've slowly extended to Powell, Anne, and even my grandmother.

I never thought I could be so detached and disconnected.

It's like I can just flick a switch and turn myself off. Even as I'm doing this I recognize its inherent sadness, but I isolate myself from any regret by reflecting on the logical soundness of my decision. Objectively, academically, this gradual withdrawal is good for me.

I think it says something about my deeper emotional state that I'm even capable of it, though, or that it would occur to me at all.

On a level I really do hate my parents for this legacy. For everything.

This is the larger context in which my mind has perceived the holidays, though, and deserves a post of its own.

The actual occasion of Christmas was rather pleasant.

On the afternoon of December 24th I headed over to Mountain Town Episcopal Church, where I've spent the last two months or so as a member of the choir and thus a fairly regular parishioner.

It may surprise many of my readers to know that my religious faith is and has for years been a deeply important part of my life. While I have avoided writing about it, both to guard a private aspect of myself and to forestall the perception that I am proselytizing, it is a major influence on me and guides much of what I do.

The idea of Jesus Christ, the gentle redeemer, the outcast, the seeming weakling who counted as His flock the wretched and rejected of the world, carries a powerful appeal for me that has only grown with time. The Son of God wasn't an athlete or a celebrity or a king. He was a poor man. There's something profound about that.

I arrived for choir practice at four o'clock and at five donned the black and white robes that I often feel make me look like a pious penguin.

For the next hour and a half we led the church in the singing of rousing carols and Christmas hymns, something that I found rather enjoyable.

My parents, Thomas, and Pie were there as well, opting to forego their traditional Methodist service in light of the fact that I was singing right in town. Despite everything that's happened recently, it was nice to see them sitting in the aisles, smiling as I walked past with the rest of the procession, marveling over the little-understood ritual of communion ("I can't believe they let the kids drink wine!" Pie later exclaimed).

I've tried out several churches in my time, but feel that in the Episcopal fold I've found my place, or at least the closest thing to it. No religious body is perfect, of course, being as they are human institutions and thus only as infallible as their creators, but the Episcopal Church satisfies much of what I'm looking for.

To begin with, and this is perhaps most paramount, the church has explicitly opened the door to gays and women, going further than any other major religion to achieve the ideal of universal brotherhood that I believe Jesus stood for.

One of the things that turned me away from both the Orthodox and Catholic branches of Christianity was an inherent sexism that denied half of the congregants the opportunity to fully serve their Lord. The idea that women are somehow "unclean" or less worthy than men to minister in the name of Christ is one that disquiets me to say the least.

Even if we turn out to be wrong on this point, I believe our hearts will at least have been in the right place.

Then of course there is the church's acknolwedgement of homosexuals, those like me, as full members of the communion and of humanity, as imperfect beings no less flawed and no less saved than any other Christian.

I like these people. I like this faith. I feel that joining them would be the best path I could take to Christ.

Christmas Day itself proceeded as most Christmases before it have, though this year without Powell, who spent the holiday with Anne visiting our cousins in Coca Cola City. What's funny is how little his absence affected anything at all; my younger brother has gradually grown coarser and less tolerable, has bit by bit made himself into the kind of person who is not missed. I certainly did not pine for him.

We rose around eight (me haggardly, as I'd been up until one-thirty the night before ensuring that the Chocolate Monster stopped in for Pie) and piled into the sitting room to open presents.

In a tradition we honor on the one day each year that this parlor is used for anything at all, we children took the couch, my father the chair, and my mother the floor as we commenced with the unwrapping.

I didn't receive much: some items of clothing, a package of Axe products, and a few hundred dollars, but sitting there in our pajamas while one of my parents takes haphazard video footage and Thomas and Pie tear through their packages is a ritual I enjoy.

The rest of the day consisted of our assuming hosting duties for Uncle Car Salesman, Aunt Ostentatious, Blonde Cousin, Pretty Hair, Aunt Eighties-Hair, Hick State Cousin, Grand Pa Hick Family, Aunt Lesbian, Aunt Sunshine (Aunt Lesbian's partner), and Aunt Sunshine's teenage daughter.

Finally, after everyone else had left, there arrived a visitor whom we'd all been eagerly anticipating: Beautiful Cousin.

You will likely remember my nineteen-year-old cousin, about whom I've written in the past.

She came to live with us as a high school graduate in the summer of 2009 but left to move into in with her boyfriend, Hick State Guy, just after this Thanksgiving. She was a member of our household for a year and a half, and seeing her again was like being reunited with a departed sister.

I think I've actually missed Beautiful Cousin more than I've missed Powell.

She and Hick State Guy brought a surprise with them: Weya, their new wolf puppy.

We all naturally exclaimed over this beast and pondered aloud how long it would be until the little monster killed our cousin, but she and Hick State Guy assured us that their wolf-owning friends have demonstrated the effectiveness of proper training.

On the day after Christmas Thomas and I left for Grand Ma Normal Family's house, where the dire predictions of a blizzard that would surely leave us snowbound proved to be unfounded.

I've not much enjoyed my stay here; my grandmother is a like a strong heaping of sucrose, enjoyable in small doses placed far apart but a bit sickening in any large amount.

Naturally, none of this has been explicit or open, but I've felt it quite acutely.

We return home tomorrow.

I'm not entirely sure what I'll be doing for New Year's Eve, but I know that shortly thereafter I'm heading up to spent Little Christmas with Anne (that's a tradition I'll have to explain later).

I hope that Christmas has been warm and happy for you all.

Friday, December 17, 2010

The Closest Thing to Home

Those of you who've come to know me during the last two and a half years will already recognize that I attribute great importance to milestones.

Every man, in my view, is built by his past, and he who acknowledges that instead of fighting it can have a better understanding of who--and why--he is.

That's the line I try to walk: drawing on the past without being drawn into it, understanding its significance but only through the context of the ever-important present.

December 17th has unique importance for my family.

It was five years ago today, on December 17, 2005, that we moved to Mountain Town from Rich Town.

Then, as now, the roads were covered in snow and the air stung with cold. Then, as now, I took issue with my parents on many counts; that Saturday evening was, in fact, punctuated by an tumultuous argument between my mother, my Aunt Lesbian, and me.

A few examples notwithstanding, though, very little seems to be the same.

Five years ago I was seventeen and Powell just turned sixteen five days prior (his birthday is December 12th). Teenagers then, we've both been out of high school for years now and have taken very different paths: I should have graduated in May but an opportunity with a major record label, among other things, interfered to keep me in school; he's been through rehab, bounced from job to job, and made a few abortive attempts at community college before deciding higher education wasn't for him.

Thomas was ten years old five years ago, but a child and scarcely older than Pie is now. Today he's stepped into being a teenager and everything that comes with it: dating, thoughts of sex, experiments with drinking and marijuana, dreams of rock stardom, and the first ambitions to attend university.

Pie, only two years old in 2005, is now a strong-willed and rambunctious seven-year-old girl. A toddler when we arrived here, Mountain Town is the only reality she's ever known.

I've become better, smarter, and infinitely more self-confident, the consequence of a social flowering experienced at college. If anything my relationship with my parents has grown more fractious, but that is the result of my growing assertions for basic fairness and respect, and so in a way is a good thing.

I've spent five years here now, and I know I won't remain here five years more. It's interesting, and a bit terrifying, to think of where I'll be in a half a decade's time.

Below you will find my diary entry for December 19, 2005. I was halfway through twelfth grade and had moved to Mountain Town only two days earlier.

December 19, 2005

Of the five transitions I've gone through in the last four years, Saturday's was by far the worst.

In the days leading up to our move, our parents allocated us one full week in which to pack. In practice, however, we had much less time to gather our things; after seven hours of school and a full night of homework, there was perhaps one half hour left before we went to bed, and no one wanted to spend it sorting through piles of clothes and such.

Then, on the night before the move, I was home just long enough to fill a single tote before Mom made me go to the store with her. We came back to the house, stayed there for about five minutes, and then went off to Mountain Town for some last-minute unloading.

Oh, that's right; Mom and Dad decided that, to save money, we would move most of our things, leaving only the "really big stuff" for the movers. The result was a laborious few days spent lugging endless totes, prolifically heavy boxes, a good deal of our own furniture, and even Betsy (Dad's motorcycle).

I can't tell you what fun it all was, getting up in the early morning to drag as many things as possible into our trailer, driving to Mountain Town on roads of pure ice, unloading the objects in frigid winter air, and then returning to Rich Town after several burdensome hours to start the process over again.

Really, just peachy.

We moved in on the 17th of December, and then began the tiresome task of digging through all of the boxes for our possessions. My stereo and computer, initially displaced, were located within a day of our relocation, but the green binder containing both my English and Physics classes remained unaccounted for.

Obviously, this caused me great distress, and I was adamant that it must be found.

Dad, thinking perhaps he had seen it in a pile of trash in Rich Town, asked Aunt Lesbian to check. She dug through our garbage and found a purple binder that I'd intentionally thrown away.

The mere act, however, made me feel inclined to view Aunt Lesbian in a much more positive light than I had before. This more amicable attitude towards my aunt was dissolved literally within minutes.

Frantic over the lost binder, I tried to get Mom to tell me the day and time at which the trashmen would come.

After answering a single question, she told me she'd "had enough."

When I tried to ask a second question, she went into a fit of screeches.

"Answer my question!" I yelled over her screams, at which point she exclaimed, "Fuck you, BB!"

Furious, I stalked into the kitchen, where Aunt Lesbian eyed me sharply and said in a dangerous tone, "Don't you talk to my sister that way."

I was already emotionally charged by the whole experience of the move and angry at Aunt Lesbian for earlier rudeness in the weekend, and so I said the first thing that popped into my head: "Shut up and mind your own damn business."

It was as if an atomic bomb had gone off in our kitchen.

The next thing I knew, my mother, Aunt Lesbian, and I were facing off in an explosive three-way screaming match that shook the polished countertops and sent Pie into hysterics.

Tomorrow I'll find out if I got into Major University!!!

Monday, December 13, 2010

First Snow

The weather here during the last week has been the quintessential embodiment of Southern State winters: a long belt of frigid and bone-dry days broken, when the temperature finally edged above freezing, by pitiful showers of icy rain.

This region is often snow-starved despite prolonged stretches of bitter cold, but last Friday we received a glorious surprise.

This paltry dusting--which took until December 10th to arrive--was nothing special, and must certainly seem irrelevant to my many Northern readers used to far harsher climes, but for us it had significance. When you've suffered through a freezing couple of months without so much as an ounce of snow, you'll take what you can get.

Friday's sprinkling of white was not the only sign of the season.

On Saturday, December 4th, thousands of heavily layered people converged on Mountain Town's Main Street to enjoy the annual Christmas Parade.

Young men resplendent in white carrying gleaming bronze instruments, teenage girls wielding fluttering scarlet banners, town council members in an open wooden cart, and countless others (some of them on horseback) processed through streets and waved to the thick crowds on either side.

The sound of cheering intermingled with the Christmas music playing over the town's PA system.

Mountain Town, with its festive decorations, isn't the only place that's been bedecked lately.

This has always been my favorite time of year. As the landscape outside deadens but, typically, offers no sheen of white to redeem the sunless skies and leafless trees, we turn for cheer to our homes, the sparkling Yuletide realms of our own creation.

At the holiday's approach, I try as much as I can to dismiss my worries, which the logical part of me knows I have amplified but which vex me nonetheless. I focus on the fine food, and my friends, and visits to family. I focus on heartwarming music and the birth of my Savior, and the many small things that I have to occupy my time and draw forth my gratitude.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Going for the High Notes

When I posted my last singing video, one reader commented that my upper register had more clarity than my lower register.

High notes have always been easier for me, so I decided to post a song that plays to my strengths. The following is my cover of Kelly Clarkson's "Don't Let Me Stop You." Be warned: the high parts are very high and very loud.

I hope you guys like it.