Friday, April 7, 2017
Every year I say it, but every year it's true; I can't believe how quickly the time has gone since I began writing here on April 7, 2008. I was nineteen years old then, and a college sophomore. My brother Thomas was only twelve, my sister Pie only four. Eighteen-year-old Powell was still a senior in high school, and my parents were still married, still living in the same Mountain Town house to which they'd moved two years earlier. George W. Bush was president. Everyone was getting excited about this hot new underground artist named Lady Gaga. The economy was slowing down, but the bottom had not yet dropped out. And I was a child.
Now Thomas is twenty-one and contemplating a return to college himself, thirteen-year-old Pie begins high school in the fall, twenty-seven-year-old Powell is still struggling under the burdens that have weighed him down for many years now, and my divorced parents have both found new relationships, while I am 4,000 miles away from all of them.
So many changes.
In looking back, one of the most bizarre things to me about this entire blogging enterprise is how serendipitous it was. A routine Google search on an unrelated topic brought me to Writing as Jo(e), a remarkable storyteller whose warmth and compassion were exactly what I needed during a deeply hurtful period of my life. She encouraged me to commit my thoughts to digital paper. And I did.
For the last nine years, this blog has been witness to the most consequential chapters of my life, to the joys and growing pains of a young person transitioning from boy to man in the context of substantial obstacles--but also of amazing victories. I began this blog carrying so many demons, and nine years on I can look back at a long list of personal and professional accomplishments that have been enriched by the self-reflection and community this place offered. Who ever would have thought I'd get a master's degree, or move to the Far North, or teach history in a village of 400 people and get paid a damn good salary to do it? Who would've thought I'd be an openly gay man who accepts himself and arranges dates in Iceport? And a group of wonderful bloggers have been with me every step of the way. I've always been so thankful for that Google search.
Nearly a decade on, I have no doubt there are many more twists coming in the plot. But for now, a year in review:
April 2016: I turn 28 years old.
May 2016: I complete a difficult student-teaching assignment and begin a well-deserved month off of school.
June 2016: A two-week sojourn at a Northern State monastery teaches painful but needed lessons.
July 2016: I begin a summer course, the last class of my graduate career.
August 2016: I finish my master's degree in education, move in with my grandmother, and start work at Native State Public Relations.
September 2016: I weigh whether to enter teaching or continue in the public relations field.
October 2016: I decide that I will apply for teaching positions for the spring 2017 semester.
November 2016: I begin applying for jobs, and also commence research on teaching in Arctic State. The 2016 presidential election results give added impetus to my job search.
December 2016: My time at Native State Public Relations ends.
January 2017: Most of this month is occupied with job searches--and with some much-needed rest after four hectic months.
February 2017: Following an unexpected opening, I interview for and secure a teaching position in Arctic State.
March 2017: I fly north.
For the first time since you've known me, I am doing that thing I've been talking about since we met: standing on my own two feet. Paying my own bills. Earning a steady paycheck, and in a field that gives me fulfillment. I still have problems, sure. But who doesn't? And being in a stable financial place means that the handling of those problems can proceed way more smoothly than happened when I was twenty and my whole future hung in the balance.
I've done a lot of heavy lifting these last nine years. Now, professionally at least, I can do some settling in. Knowing that feels so incredibly good.
Sunday, April 2, 2017
Where is it? I mused. Where, where, where?
This was a month ago, and I was meandering around Iceport International Airport shortly after my arrival in Arctic State. The object of my pursuit was the Starbucks I knew to be hiding somewhere in the facility and which, as my departure time to Riverville crept ever closer, I knew I needed to find pronto. This would be my last iced caramel macchiato until the middle of May.
I spun around in an exasperated circle, luggage in tow, when a familiar voice sounded from the row of chairs behind me.
"You're not lost. You're right where you need to be."
I turned my head to a pretty blonde wearing a cashmere sweater.
"Well, fuck me," I said. "Fuck me running."
The woman cocked an eyebrow from behind the oversized newspaper she'd splayed in front of her like a secret agent in a mid-century spy movie.
"You didn't used to curse so much," she observed.
"And you didn't used to read the Times."
That brought a smile and the lowering of the parchment wall.
"You know, there was this time," she explained. "In about 2009, when I convinced myself I didn't need to keep such close tabs on Evil anymore. Not my most insightful moment."
"And you find him there?" I gestured with skepticism at the Old English font.
She jiggled a front-page story on the dismantling of the Paris climate-change agreement and smiled her weary smile. "Every day."
I plopped happily into the seat beside her, my caffeine craving momentarily forgotten.
"It's been a while," I noted.
Good squeezed my knee with her free hand.
She looked tired as always. The kind smile that came so easily to her face seemed to struggle against the weight of all she knew, all the same mistakes she saw repeated over and over again. Some of those, I realized with a start, were mine. I'd been short sighted, self-absorbed, reckless. But also a child. I didn't blame myself for those years, and knew she didn't, either.
"I missed you," I said.
"And I missed you," she replied. "It was hard to just watch. But you were in so much pain then that your heart didn't have much room for me. You couldn't see the good in the world." She had this marvelous way of expressing emotions with just her hazel eyes, which gleamed for a moment and then resumed their usual warmth. "So you couldn't see me."
"I guess that's why I saw so much of Fate back then," I mused.
She nodded thoughtfully.
"You saw doom," she offered. "Which is one aspect of him, and explains why your last meeting was so...eventful."
True. On that occasion, I'd punched a primordial being twice in the face and compared him to a piece of fecal matter.
"I hope you'll tell him I'm sorry about that," I said. "I wasn't...you know. I wasn't myself."
"I think he knows that," she replied. "He's not one to hold grudges. You see enough and you get some perspective on that."
"How is he, by the way?"
She smiled, but didn't lie.
"Okay," she said. "In his city. There's always plenty of fate for him to attend to there."
"I hope I don't see him again for a long time," I noted. "Nothing personal. Just..."
Her eyes crinkled with the pleasure of a teacher whose student has just realized something important.
"It doesn't do to see too much of him," she told me. "Some people are tied tightly to him, others barely bound to him at all. But no one should dwell on him more than they have to. His work isn't conducive to living a day-to-day life."
"And where do I fall on that spectrum?" I asked. "Bound tight or not at all?"
She appraised me evenly. "Somewhere in between."
I sighed. "I'll take it."
"And you're not seeing him a lot," she observed. "Good sign."
"But I am seeing you," I countered. "So what does that mean? Happy ending? All sunshine and rainbows from here?"
She threw back her head and actually laughed, a sound like wind chimes blowing in a summer breeze. It occurred to me, with a shock of surprise, that I'd never heard her do that before.
"You know it doesn't work that way," she said, but her tone was all mirth.
"I do," I agreed. "Worth a shot, though."
She laughed again and I wondered absurdly if immortal forces of elemental power had friends. She seemed like she'd be great fun at a cookout.
"So why are you here, then?"
"Because you realize it doesn't work that way," she responded, folding her newspaper and dropping it to the floor. "Because you're here. Because you've chosen to engage in the world and accept what it brings to you, even if that's difficult. Because you've realized that finding something worthwhile requires sacrifice and risk. Because you've decided to get a little messy. All Good comes from that."
She had a way of laying it out there. And she was always right.
"When I was younger I made so many decisions based on fear," I admitted. "For years. And then at some point I realized I was twenty-eight, and if I didn't change it then one day I'd have just that fear. And nothing else. Because it all keeps moving forward, whether you're on track or not."
She lifted her chin like she'd just figured something out, too.
"You're feeling a little bit of Time," she said. "Pressing on your shoulder. Most people are immune to her in youth. But you've passed from that, haven't you?"
"Gettin' old," I pronounced, my hand running down the teacher-appropriate sweater I'd donned for the trip.
She guffawed. "'Old' is a relative term."
"Which I guess you'd know if you hang out with Time. Another friend?"
"Well," she pursed her lips. "More like a colleague. You probably don't want to meet her."
My eyebrows shot up quizzically.
"She's...disconcerting. Even for us. I tend to interact with her only when I have to. Like the last time you and I saw each other."
That occasion, more than five years ago, was on my very last day as an undergraduate. It also, as it happened, involved a brief episode of time travel.
"I always wondered how you managed that," I said. "The bit where I popped back into 2006 for an afternoon."
She picked up a tray of cinnamon buns that had appeared literally out of nowhere and offered me one.
"Yeah. I called in a favor."
"A favor? No disrespect, but what could you have done to make a 14-billion-year-old chick owe you one?"
She pointedly sucked some cream from her index finger.
"First of all, she's older than that. And second of all, I made her chicken-noodle soup."
"I'm sorry, what?"
She looked just a little affronted.
"Well, my chicken-noodle soup is amazing. Which makes sense, since I did invent chicken-noodle soup. Just saying. But beyond that, it keeps really well, and she's always going on about how 'nothing lasts, nothing lasts.' So reliable heat-ups are a big hit with her."
I stared and didn't care that I was being rude.
"I am not. I once made her a macaroni-and-cheese casserole that got her through the Middle Ages."
"But macaroni and cheese wasn't invented until--"
"Don't dive too deep on this one."
For a while we just surveyed the bustling airport, and, from the observation window, the sunlit snowy city beyond.
"I'm really here." I said finally.
"You're really here. On the journey."
"You know, the toilet I'm going to have lights your poop on fire instead of flushing it."
"Well. That's part of the journey."
Before long, it was time for me to head to the gate through which I'd depart for Riverville and White Venice.
"You're doing the right things," she said as we stood and hugged one another. "Keep doing them. Even when it's hard. Even when it's scary. Especially then."
"I'll do my best."
I'd walked a good distance away when she called after me.
I turned around.
With a grin, she lifted a venti iced coffee she hadn't had a few moments earlier.
"The Starbucks is just around the corner."