For Hire

While executing a 313-point turn to get back into our parking space – yay, garage construction! – I think about everything I did wrong during the interview:

  • Talked too much
  • Said “and the like” 500 times
  • Didn’t stand up to shake one interviewer’s hand

But then I remember what I did right:

  • Had three copies of my resume and cover letter on hand (I anticipated there’d be more than one interviewer, especially since it was a second-round)
  • Maintained eye contact, switching between interviewers appropriately
  • Referred back to the interviewer’s question at the end of my answer
  • Interjected humorous anecdotes where appropriate
  • Wore comfortable, professional clothes tailored to the organization
  • Kept the “umms” and “looks into space” to a minimum 
  • Wove the org’s key mission terms and phrases into my answers  
  • Answered completely and honestly

Back in the apartment, my mind whirls with all the interview’s conversational tidbits, and I reach for the half-eaten pint of Smokey Rocky Road ice cream that Andy and I got for our anniversary. And after scraping the bottom, spooning up the melty goodness, I decide I did pretty well on this interview. Whether that’ll actually translate into me getting the job remains to be seen, but for now, my part is complete.

I quickly rap out a thank-you email to my interviewers, send it, then collapse into a heap while Toby pulls apart a slew of Disney toys.

My assistant. He works for toys. And food.

But before I get too relaxed, I push myself to do something I’ve come to do whilst job hunting – apply for another job immediately after an interview, regardless of whether it’s a first- or second- round interview. This way, should I get the “thanks but no thanks” email in the next few days, I won’t be utterly crushed, wondering what in the world I’ll do.

My strategy is pretty simple: apply for one job every single day. Two if I’m feeling up to it. More if I’m super caffeinated and ready to fly. Persistence and perseverance are the two drivers for any job hunter. If you don’t apply, don’t expect a solution; if you devolve into sobs and squeals and halt all hunting whenever you get an automated rejection, nothing will change. This is all pretty straight-forward logic, but it’s taken me a while to fully get it.

Right after we both decided to quit our jobs, but before we moved to California, I envied Andy’s ability to apply for 10-20 jobs a day while I barely applied to 1. The trick was to have an absurdly strong cover letter and resume that, taken together, could easily be a ticket to any job within your subject area – with just slight alterations per role. After a complete, drastic overhaul of my resume and cover letter, I was ready – which really came in handy while we moved.

Since then, it’s been about me applying in a rapid-fire, consistent fashion so that my options don’t run dry. Because rejections suck (like the one I just got from the nonprofit located a block from our apartment!), and I know they’ll easily derail me if I don’t have other potential prospects floating around out there.

And when job apps translate into a first-round interview, I begin reacquainting myself with my best practices:

  • Print out my resume and tailored cover letter (whatever app materials I sent in), as well as the job announcement – and have them on hand
  • Clear my throat and do a few “1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3″ exercises to loosen up the ol’ vocal chords to prevent my voice from cracking or squeaking during introductions
  • Do conscious breathing for the five minutes before the call
  • Have a bottle or glass of water nearby in case my throat gets scratchy from talking
  • (Per Andy) Use ear buds in lieu of holding the phone – this way I feel less encumbered and freer, which also allows me to talk with my hands (this always helps me think)
  • If I can’t do the interview at home – like this last time when our building’s fire alarm check was scheduled at the exact time of my phone interview – I drive to a park or somewhere quiet and shaded
  • ALWAYS have at least three questions for them – my most favorite being: “How would you define success for this role?” (credit: Andy), “What personality traits do you most value in your staff?” (credit: ME!), “What are the next steps in the process?” (credit: Andy)

And should a killer phone interview spur a second-round interview, I remind myself to do all the things I mentioned above – especially dressing comfortably (and appropriately) for the job.

Of course, there’re going to be foibles here and there with any interview. Like today, I completely forgot my phone, but thankfully I’d jotted down the address with directions (should technology fail me) – and I pulled a few other rookie moves (also see above).

Regardless of whether or not I get this job, I know that I did my best, had some laughs, and met some interesting people. And, I’ll kept my eyes on the horizon and my prospect plate full (apply, apply, apply!). Sooner or later, I’ll take the plunge back into the employment pool.

Until then, I’ll keep Toby company. (And will try to avoid the eye-less gaze of his victims.)

The First Year: Lessons of the Marital Kind

I’m chasing a massive dust bunny across the living room floor when Andy calls for the fourth time in the past minute.

“Hey.”

“Hey. So they need all of our past addresses. This is so fucking stupid. What was our Raleigh address?”

I recite the street number, then quickly look up the zip code. In the background, he repeats everything to the customer service representative, followed by our Koreatown address, and West Hollywood address. The last, it seems, is the ticket. ”Hallelujah! Alright. Hold on a minute.”

He mutes her, and then returns to me.

“Alright, thanks. I think that’ll do it.”

“Okay, breathe. Just think, this is the last time we’ll have to do this.”

We hang up, and I close the accordion binder bloated with our 401k paperwork. My mind drifts for a moment before a crunch-snap-crunch from the darkened bedroom pulls me back to the morning.

TOBE!

The noise stops abruptly. With his tail ducked, Toby pitter-patters into the living room, his saucer-like eyes cooing plaintively, “What can I do for you, dear father? I LOVE YOU SO MUCH. AND I CERTAINLY WASN’T CHEWING ON MY OVERFILLED TOY BASKET AT ALL. NOT WHEN I HAVE BAZILLIONS OF WONDERFUL TOYS.”

He performs his signature “I’m so cute” wiggle, and then investigates the dust bunny at my feet.

No. That’s mine.”

He snorts, then attacks his Woody doll.

I sweep up the dusty blob, and add one more item to my to-do list. The phone rings again. It’s Andy.

“I CAN’T BELIEVE THIS. I have to write a letter proving my current address. So I can request to change my password. So they can send me a new password. So I can roll this thing over…”

I reopen the binder.

This is our first year.

***

Andy and I met rather unexpectedly on May 5, 2012 – while we both volunteered for OutRaleigh 2012. We never exchanged numbers, only a handful of words and a few smiles; and then the sky opened up, and we parted ways in our respective mad dashes for cover. I didn’t even know his name until I asked a friend about him. A few weeks later, we met again, but still didn’t get anywhere. Only after I Facebook stalked him, messaged him, and waited for a week did we finally connect.

And the rest has become part of our story.

Today is our first anniversary as a married couple. And reflecting on the past year, and the years before, has been an interesting emotional ride.

Lots of people like to pontificate about what it takes to make a marriage work, but they often gloss over the less than lovely bits, making everyone else in a committed relationship wonder if they’re missing something – if their relationship isn’t sparkly-clean. Of course, every relationship has its own quirks from blending life experiences and their associated baggage. But I think there’re common threads for many, especially during the first year – regardless of who you marry. For me, I like to think back to when we first got together – trace our history through various relationship phases, and embody the lessons we’ve learned.

But before I delve into it, in reality, no particular phase was clearly demarcated or bracketed by experiences. Nothing happened in a linear fashion. After all, it’s not like Action 1 led to Action 2 led to Happy Resolution. Life’s not an after school special.

The Honeymoon Phase: Enjoying Each Other, Falling Off Friends’ Radar

Immediately after making it Facebook official, we were inseparable and I was smitten. Because he satisfied all of my major personality requirements:

Smart (we had to be able to have intelligent conversations, so he had to be my intellectual equal or smarter – and yes, I know that sounds snobby, but whatever)

Funny (laughter is wholly necessary to make it through anything)

Mature (emotional age at least equivalent to actual age)

Quietly kind (not all LOOK AT ME, I’M SO SWEET – the little gestures mean more)

Confident (confidence, not overwhelming pride)

So, we were set. And all about the selfies.

Our first movie together.

We did everything together; nothing could go wrong. Everything was popcorn and candy canes and movies and kisses and stubble burn. We were exhausted for all the right reasons.

Our first date...on a trolley pub

But part of being so engrossed with one another – discovering our loves and pet peeves, our interests and dreams – came the necessary reduction in socialization (aka: falling off the friend radar). Friends undoubtedly wondered, “What the fuck? Too good for us now, huh?” But that wasn’t the case. We were learning that maintaining and fine-tuning a relationship took more time and energy than we originally thought. And that came with a price. But that didn’t mean we didn’t love our friends. We were just trying to develop a basis for our relationship. Even if it required a million selfies.

Settling In: Combining Households, Opening Arguments

There’re two schools of thought about moving in together: “Wait until marriage” and “Just get it over with.” For many reasons, we were in the second group. And I’m incredibly glad for it. Don’t get me wrong, there’re plenty of folks I know who didn’t combine households until the rings were exchanged, and they’re just fine. But combining households was a pretty big deal for us, and I know for certain that, had we waited, things would’ve been strained.

Like most people, Andy and I had to reconcile personal tastes, aesthetics, and sentiments in creating a home that reflected us both. I wholeheartedly admit that I’m a hard person to live with because I rarely budge on any of these issues. Thankfully, Andy dove in and we shed furniture, combined DVD collections (major step for two cinephiles), and bought furniture that we felt reflected our synthesized style.

The minute he bought this, I was imagining how great it'd look in the apartment. Our apartment.

But not before we had our very first fight. Over this sideboard:

Oh, sideboard.

We had two sideboards and I was completely vehemently opposed to getting rid of either of them. Because I sure as hell wasn’t going to allow his bedroom set into my our apartment. We ended up in silence (which we both hate). And I started filing through my emotions, and then I took stock of Andy. He was clearly upset – laying prone on the floor, staring at the ceiling. And then it happened.

“We can get rid of it.”

I didn’t even realize it was me saying it. But seeing him so upset triggered something, made me realize that a piece of furniture wasn’t worth bruised feelings.

“No, it’s okay. I actually like it. I was just being defensive.”

We listened to one another. We learned. We apologized. And we moved on. This was compromise. But more than that, each of us was putting the other’s feelings ahead of our own – a critical development point for us both.

We the Couple: Everyone Gets It…For Real. Shut Up.

We didn’t mean to do it. I don’t think anyone really does. But after moving in, after resolving the first fight, we began doing things not as Andy or Matt, but as “we.”

We went to the movies.”

We had a great time at so-and-so’s party.”

We love red wine.”

We just think that’s fabulous.”

We even jokingly called ourselves “Mandy.” This phase coincided with reacquainting with our friends – the ones we thought hated us for leaving them temporarily. Everything was no longer a singular, isolated activity. The “we” was peppered through everything, over-seasoning conversations and eliciting actual or internalized eye-rolls from friends.The perpetual "we"

Everyone got it: we were together, in a relationship, bound at the hip, boos. And as annoying as it was for them, it was okay. We were creating a foundation for our relationship – simply by its recognition by the people in our lives who mattered. So this thing we’d started became more real for us and our friends.

Meeting the Mommas-and-Them

When we realized that we were in this thing, we knew that it was only a matter of time before we met each other’s parents and sister. And we did in time. I went up to New York, and he went to Alabama. We were each examined, questioned, and assessed by the parents and our sisters, and we both passed despite the expected foibles and fretting. One thing that made meeting the families easier was having already moved in together; there was no question of “Is this a passing thing?” There was clearly something substantial there, so those questions could be discarded and replaced with more probing, incisive ones. Really, everyone won.

The two sides!

Now, not only was our boyfriendom validated by our friends, but our families were woven into it too. We started commenting on familial inner-workings, and figured out how we were going to fit into it all.

Working and Living: Financials and Healthcare  

After the green lights were lit, we re-assumed business as usual – but as a bona fide unit. We had each other to confide in, and the everyday hubbub wasn’t quite as bad. We could vent to each other, and we felt like we were making something together. What we returned to each night wasn’t an apartment, it was our home. And part of making that home a solvent, self-sustaining thing was addressing financials and maintaining ourselves health-wise. Without addressing those things, we were really just playing house. Andy and I actually combined finances and apartments really early on – some would say absurdly early. But we did. And it worked.

We’re both incredibly detail- and plan- oriented, so we determined what made the most sense (whose healthcare would we use, how much to put into savings…). These were all very necessary, difficult steps. There was a lot of adulting that took place during this phase, and we both grew up quickly. Each of us swelled with pride – we’d taken these steps together. We were legitimizing this life with as much legal protection as we could.

[Finally] the Question: Yes

After being domesticated gays for a while, and moving across the country, we made it official. Planning a wedding is hard, even if it’s tiny. And it frayed our nerves. But both sides of the families met. We said “I do,” and we kept moving.

So many people say, “Marriage changes everything” – even if you’ve already lived together. And yes, there’s a distinct change – you’re officially in this relationship together. You’re no longer free agents – able to do what you want when you want it. There’s a process, a system of emotional checks and balances. The transition can be a little bumpy. Even with everything we’d already experienced, we still had more to learn after the big “M” solidified everything. It was no longer just a partnership, it was a marriage.

Peaks & Valleys: Marriage Ain’t Easy

As exciting as it was to be puttering along together – setting goals and doing our best to bring them to fruition – we had tiffs and spats and hit limits, and questioned ourselves each time.

“Is this argument the end?”

“What will I do?”

“I can do this, right?”

No one is perfect. And we all show ugliness at one point or another. All of those questions bubbled up, and we were forced to answer them. And after every quarrel, after every shouting match, we reconciled. Reconciliation is one thing that any marriage can’t do without. And while we’ve established many tenets for our relationship, one of the main ones is this: Never go to bed angry. No matter how exhausting the conversation has been, we never let the wound scab over without thoroughly cleaning it out. If there’s any shadow of a doubt that there’s still something lurking under the surface, we rip that scab right back off and bleed the grossness out. And then we heal. What I most value in our relationship is the transparency: If either of us is sad or depressed or angry, we address it. There’s no looking the other way.

We all filter our experiences – determining what’s worth getting angry, sad, or frustrated about – and it’s those experiences that matter, those that have an impact, those that’re worth sharing that should be addressed, especially if they’re impacting our moods. Sharing our experiences – the good, bad, horrifically ugly – has helped bind us together, and makes our marriage stronger. Working through the hard shit is totally worth it.

Should I Stay or Should I Go Now?

No matter how much hard shit we’ve both worked through – separately and together – there have come points where we’ve both asked ourselves, “Should I stay?”

This question is scary as fuck.

I’ve been there, and Andy’s been there. It springs from a dark place, or a particularly pointed argument – or some combination thereof. But when I got to that place, I had to disconnect for a moment, and ask some other difficult questions: “What if this ends? Will I be okay? Yes, I’ll be okay. I can manage. I’ll go on. It’ll be indescribably hard, but I won’t crumble. I’ll remain. I’ll live.”

As weirdly horrible as it may seem, this is the healthiest, most reassuring question I’ve ever asked myself. Because I’ve learned that to make our marriage work, I have to constantly maintain myself – I have to be certain that I can be there, that I can be supportive, that I can be my own person outside of being a “husband” or “partner.”

And immediately after that realization, I knew my answer to the overarching question – “Is it worth staying?” – was a resounding “Absolutely.”

Love is complex. Love is hard. And to fully understand it all, I sometimes have to break down my emotions, ask pointed questions of myself (“Am I doing enough?”, “Am I trying my best?”), and rebuild myself to fully realize how much I love Andy, and how much I love our marriage.

Wrinkles in Time: Officially Growing A Year Older Together

Today, we’re officially a year old. Andy and I have traveled across the country three times. We’ve been to the brink and back in every possible meaning of the phrase. We’ve rebuilt and recreated ourselves, and we’ve extended our life together to strengthen the lives of two furry beings.

The dynamic duo

We’ve said painful goodbyes, and heartfelt hellos in the three different cities we’ve called home.

We continue to make peace with ourselves – reconciling our own insecurities, our fears – and share a life, and enjoy everything in our own ways. We’re redefining our individual interests, and are branching out to avoid intense co-dependency – something we’ve experienced, which can lead to smothering and resentment. We’re learning to let go of the past, and embracing what comes with open eyes and minds.

One half...

...and the other half

We’re planning for our future more than ever, and are considering what it’ll mean to extend our lives yet again - this time for a less furry being.

We’re in it completely.

***

Pride was a few days ago, and we ventured out sporadically. The spectrum of life seemed to flood by our building, and we stood there like stones in a stream as Toby did his business. So many people looking for someone special, or looking to be seen – trying to find someone for the night, or for longer.

And there we were, in the middle of it, two veterans with stained tees and a pooping dog. And I wouldn’t trade any of it for the world.

Always look for the beauty...

Mahwage: No Longer the Final Frontier

Y’all know The Princess Bride priest-marriage scene probably got ridiculous play with the SCOTUS ruling regarding marriage, right?

“Mahhhhwage…is wot bwings us togethah todahhh. Mahhwwage…”

Ah, it never gets old.

Speaking of old news, isn’t it nice that marriage is now a non-issue? That our elected officials – or those who fudge the numbers/voting precinct lines/right people to get into office – can now take “gay marriage” off their plates and remove it as the crux of their (re)election platforms? I think I just heard a collective sigh of relief from across the nation. Except from those conservatives heading to that bastion of holiness, that birthplace of traditional values: Canada. Thank the gods Canadians don’t have anything resembling our “socialist healthcare,” and reserve the sacred covenant of matrimony for the majority!

In all seriousness, I’m really excited to see the national lens refocus on much larger, much more important issues than who I love.

Maybe it’s just the thumpa thumpa of Seattle Pride vibrating our windows and walls, or the rainbows veiling social media, but I’m feeling a surge of energy these past few days – like generations are finally coming together to effect meaningful change in this country. But of course, we have a long way to go.

Still, it’s hard not to reflect on these past few days and project forward – and think about all of the great changes we could see in our lifetimes. I mean it was only a few years ago that I was waving an ad hoc canvas-sign with others proclaiming their disgust for North Carolina’s Amendment One at rallies like this one:

Change is coming!

or at marches like this:

Ides of Love

And now, these particular signs are thankfully slipping into artifact territory, but their messages still ring true – harbingers of things to come, of more milestones we may be able to make tomorrow, the next day, and in the coming decades.

It still is!

So, let’s celebrate this victory – hoot and holler and scream, “HOT DAMN! FINALLY!” And play said clip from The Princess Bride until our ears bleed.

And let’s absorb these amazing feelings, and pay them forward through everyday acts so that we can continue shaping a future that’s more complete and a Union that, to quote the President, is “a little more perfect.”

Dream board!

(And yes, our “dream board” – what we want out of life, etc. – is attached to the other protest sign. Fitting, no?)

Same-Sex Marriage? Must Be the Fiery End Times. (But I Don’t Even Have A Sunburn.)

My brain is still a gelatinous blob of nothingness when Andy calls.

“Isn’t the news exciting?!”

With my mental hourglass still turning, waiting for my responses to load, my mind thumbs through options.

Did we have a baby?

Have we adopted another geriatric dog?

Did we win the lottery?

He senses my uncertainty – probably tipped off by the prolonged “Durrrrrr…uhhhh…

“GAY MARRIAGE IS LEGAL!”

Toby smells himself. I awaken.

“HOLYFUCK…SHIT!”

Of course this would be the morning when I’d convinced myself not to immediately open Facebook. No, cut the cord a little bit. Give yourself some mental space to think. And so I’d stared at the morning light filtering through the windows, thought about my impending phone interview, and watched Toby drag his ass across the floor – ending at his food bowl where he waited expectantly.

So the SCOTUS ruling had been mentally supplanted a bit by my concern that Toby’s anal glands needed to be expressed again.

But now I know. And Andy gives me a minute to collect my thoughts, cry, and call him later.

Online, a giant rainbow cloaks every news page, and I can’t believe this day is actually here. We’d been on pins and needles before with DOMA, and every other time something idiotic was passed down from on high – on both federal and local levels. But now, we were equal in the eyes of the law.

And, most certainly, conservatives are soon to be calling this the END TIMES, what with “post-racial society” statements being tragically disproven, Confederate flags being removed, and LGBTQIAers being able to marry. Surely, society is caving in on itself like a dying star. Only rapture will save the righteous. But we’ve been through the End Times a couple times before, and I don’t even have a sunburn.

The enormity of this decision can’t be overstated. Not only is this a legal victory, it’s a moral victory. Now, rather than being demonized and dehumanized by legislation – by talks from hyper-conservative pundits, by stupid business owners given airtime – we FINALLY have something more substantial than DOMA being stricken down a year ago today. Today, we have the beginnings of a delicately balanced playing field – a harbinger of societal change and restructuration. Now is the time to celebrate, but also to remember there’re so many more fights to wage for fair housing, benefits, and everything in between.

It’s time to reach out and promote peace and understanding across the spectrum of humanity – while there’s this victory, there’s still a long way for this country to go on minority rights, and acknowledging racial tensions, climate change, a living wage, on and on ad nauseum.

We still have a long way to go as a country, but at least now our national whole is a little more colorful.

YASSSSSSSSSSSS.

A [Wannabe] Writer’s Work is Never Done

After applying to another job, I decide to call it for the day. The worn leather sofa gives under my weight with a familiar umphah - an auditory reassurance that translates to “No, I’m not going to buckle beneath you. Even after those cupcakes.”

Toby whines to get on the sofa. His paw misdirects just so that he punches me in the nuts. I inhale sharply. Nonplussed, he stares expectantly, grunting a bit and trying to propel his stubby legs and body up onto the cushions. I acquiesce to cuteness overload and pull him up, excusing his gas as I do.

Our tower fan hums quietly, pulling in the chilled air and amplifying street noise filtering up through the open windows. Somewhere below us on 11th Avenue, a man uses a loudspeaker to rap about a cat, his score full of bellowed meows blended with a synthesized ice cream truck jingle. Toby pricks his ears at the loud meows, but seemingly remembers that he’s well enough away from the street to be comfortably unimpressed. A police siren pierces the jingle’s chorus, and the song is no more.

Unlike earlier in the week, the sky is an overcast grayish-white – giving the appearance that we’re floating in a cloud bank. Despite the lack of sun, it’s pleasantly soothing – preferred, in fact, to the hot days. The smell of steaming pretzel rolls from the restaurant downstairs fills the living room momentarily, and I salivate to such a degree that Pavlov himself would applaud. I think about the ramekins of cheese sauce that usually accompany the hearty, salty rolls and close my eyes. The granola bar I just ate doesn’t quite stack up.

A small pile of books sits on the kitchen table, and I’m nearly done with one of them. I bought them earlier this week for both pleasure and research. Because it seems that writing a memoir isn’t just that – there’re all sorts of comp background checks and other things to be done. Which is understandable, but somewhat deflating. Just when I think the hard part is over, it just means the real work begins. And that’s fine. I just have to keep going.

Ah, books.

Post-move writing is always a bit difficult. Moving is hard, regardless of whatever I tell myself and no matter how exciting the new place happens to be. In a way, writing now becomes more of a chore – because at least with moving prep, I had an excuse for being a bit lax with the whole process. And every now and then, we all need breaks – welcomed respites from the grind of trying to achieve a long-held goal. But now that the dust has literally settled, it’s time to get back to it.

Re-reading my “final” manuscript draft yet again is terribly anxiety-inducing. So many questions bubble to the surface:

What if it’s horrible?

Is it long enough?

What if I don’t believe in it anymore?

What if I have nothing to really say?

What if it’s just not funny or engaging?

I’ve answered all these before – whilst gutting former iterations of this manuscript and reassembling the salvageable chapters into my own version of Frankenstein’s monster.

This time, it has to live – breathe with what I’ve given it.

And I think it does. Sure, I’ll have to give it CPR once the lovely agent I’ve yet to convince to believe in me returns it with plenty of red marks and a few “Gurl, you crazeh! Work on this shit” comments in the margins. But for now, I’m trying to focus on the less fun parts of getting an agent to notice me – developing a query letter and proposal. These things aren’t nearly as fun, mostly because they require me to look back down my long road of writing and ask myself more hard questions:

Who will want to read this?

Why did I write it?

Why am I the best person to write about this stuff?

Will anyone buy this, and how is this going to be marketed?

All these and more. To reconsider them is incredibly daunting and frustrating to say the least. Because it’s hard to critically assess my manuscript as a commodity – as something to buy and sell, as something other than memories and lessons sandwiched between [nonexistent] covers. What’s more, I have to have confidence and sell myself and it. I have to toot my own horn without overdoing it, clearly understand my competition and where this manuscript fits in, and stand by it no matter what. It’s all easier said than done.

But tripping over the what-ifs and fretting about its appeal are exercises in madness. Because what writer or wannabe hasn’t had the exact same concerns? From what I’ve read, it seems that this is the stage where most people fall off the wagon and never get back on – their fears and apprehensions get the better of them, and they don’t pursue this dream; or they think they don’t need to put in the extra work, and let the subsequent criticism sideline them indefinitely. Or worse, they remain in the “Oh, it just needs a little more work” purgatory and never escape.

Writing, and aspiring to be a writer, are two very different things. But as long as I keep this passion going, keep stoking these fiery-hot embers, I’ll make it. I’ve got to.

Under the Seattle Sun

Some wise traveler once said, “The more you move, the less difficult unpacking all of your shit becomes.” I’m paraphrasing. Or I may have made it up.

Much like our man-infested destiny out to the Left Coast, we expected a certain catharsis associated with our move from West Hollywood to Seattle. Mostly because we’d been all stressed out in LA, what with the traffic, and the traffic…and the traffic. And plenty of other things.

We were ready for a change, and we got it.

Sure, we went from living in the heart of Boystown to the heart of Capitol Hill, which is sort of the same thing. But at least here we’re not constantly bombarded with Ken dolls coiffing and puttering around in the middle of the day. Or jogging with their shirts off, making the rest of humanity feel like they’re at least 80 and pale and unkempt. Not that I’m projecting.

On the upside, being pale and frequently unkempt and less involved about how you look are three attributes that describe the average Seattlite. We win!

But seriously, we moved here for a change, and we’re enjoying all that comes with adjusting to our new home. And one of the first things we had to do was something we thought we already did: cull.

Our new-old place is great. But it’s a wee bit smaller than our WeHo place, which is saying something. And we have one closet. One. Uno. Which is why our apartment looked like the set of Grey Gardens 2: The Gays Next Door.

At least there's a path...

Big, open spaces. Big, open spaces. And breathe.

So we resolved to do the hard cull. The one you really don’t want to do. But we did.

Out went ALL THE THINGS that we liked but didn’t love, that were cute but served little to no purpose. Anything that wasn’t displayed in WeHo was immediately tossed/shoved into the Donate or Sell pile. We gutted our wardrobes and pared down our furniture. We went through every damn thing, even those fun financial accordion files we all have.

*Shudders*

And after multiple trips to the thrift store, and plenty of rearranging, we reclaimed our space.

A proper, less hoarder-like living room

Our pared down library

Full of DVDs and dishes...

Much more practical pieces...

And now, we can refocus on the goals we set for ourselves when we made the decision to move.

***

Last night, whilst Facebook arguing with idiots about the Charleston hate crime and the Confederate flag, I was listening to Under the Tuscan Sun, specifically Sandra Oh’s come-to-Jesus dinner with Diane Lane.

S.O.: “You know when you come across one of those empty shell people, and you think ‘What the hell happened to you?’ There came a time in each one of those lives when they were standing at a crossroads…”

And Diane interrupts and is like, “Crossroads, PAH!” And Sandra and I are like, “SHUT THE HELL UP, DIANE! GAH.”

S.O.: “…someplace where they had to decide to turn left or right. This is no time to be a chickenshit, Francis!”

Which is why Sandra Oh is my best friend forever.

Every single time I watch that scene, I smile. Because Andy and I have made concerted attempts to not become those people, and our efforts have paid off. It still takes work, just as anything does, but we’re starkly different people than the angry, exhausted shells we were in North Carolina (re: horrible jobs, that glitter incident), and were becoming in LA.

Later on, after listening to her BFF, Diane is Gaying-and-Awaying through Tuscany and is daydreaming about Bramasole, the Italian villa advertised in the real estate office window. And then the fabulous Lindsay Duncan walks up and counters Diane’s woe-is-me self.

D.L.: “I mean, who wouldn’t want to buy a villa in Tuscany. But the way my life is going, it’d probably be a terrible idea.”

L.D.: “Mmhmm. Terrible idea. Don’t you just love those?”

Which is why Lindsay Duncan is my best friend forever. And Diane Lane just decides to buy an Italian villa. (Sidenote: one of my life goals is to be a famous enough writer that I can just buy an Italian villa should Lindsay Duncan sidle up beside me with delicious gelato and say, “Gurl, just buy it!”)

We always think that doing the comfortable thing is the best – that it’s less stressful, more expected. That going against the grain, or venturing outside your comfort zone, is more trouble than it’s worth. But sometimes you just have to look past the terrible what-ifs of any endeavor or dream, and just go with it.

And when you go with it, you should – again, per the advice of our BFF, Lindsay – “Never lose your childish enthusiasm, and things will come your way” and “You have to live spherically, in many directions at once.”

Hell, when Diane finally listens to Lindsay and is all, “WHO NEEDS MARCELLO?” and gives in, she suddenly cooks five course meals for lunch and feigns disinterest when the cute Polish hottie is like, “Here, let me feed you poached pears.” And we’re all like, “JUST EAT THE GODDAMNED PEARS, DIANE! GAH.”

The gist of it all is simple: give in, stop trying, and embrace what comes. Because, as Sandra says later, “Life is strange.”

So while we’re here in Seattle, we’re going to keep working on ourselves – enriching our minds, and following our passions. And enjoying the twists and turns along the way that Diane remembers at the very end, when she’s written another book and is glitzing it up with her new beau and all her fashionable friends in her villa:

“Any arbitrary turn along the way, and I would be elsewhere, I would be different.”

I’ve already got some herbs growing (my green thumb goal for Seattle), the house is in order, and my mind is tuned back to writing – and, you know, looking for a job.

So, here we go again – another turn, another adventure.

Under the Seattle sun...the view from my s-i-l's apt!

A Heritage of Hate

Just when I think I’ve heard every absurd argument for keeping the Confederate flag flying, I’m treated to the latest – which I’ll paraphrase: “Well, the flag didn’t do anything wrong.”

Of course it didn’t. Symbols can’t do anything. But we can – mostly because we give symbols their power. After all, symbols are malleable things.

When we really get down to it, a symbol is a nexus – where the tangible world meets abstract thought. Symbols are time machines – allowing the past to inhabit and co-mingle with the future. They can embolden and destroy inasmuch as we allow them to.

Tragically, our society is light-years behind other nations in doing as much as we can to right the insidious wrongs of the past, including the long overdue retirement and removal of certain symbols from government-controlled, public spaces. What’s more, one of the only ways we seem to collectively act is when some horrific incident triggers a shock wave through our social consciousness. And even then, oftentimes nothing of substance is done. All that’s left is anger or confusion surrounding the memories of the dead – as with the cases of Rekia Boyd, Michael Brown, Kimberlee Randle-King, Trayvon Martin, Natasha McKenna, Eric Garner, John Crawford, Dante Parker, Ezell Ford, Freddie Gray, and all of the other women and men – LGBTQIA and straight alike – whose lives were cut short. We have moments of silence to remember. And then we forget. And we go about our days until another victim’s name reverberates in our heads, until another Sandy Hook or Aurora happens and we shake our heads and say “Something has to be done.” Just like I did when I woke up last Wednesday, opened Facebook, and wondered aloud, “What in the hell happened in Charleston?”

What we can do is this: face the facts. Who cherishes the Confederate flag and believes it honors the nation? I can think of a few groups. And there’s little to no racial diversity among them. Of course, when I’ve said that, I’ve heard the other argument (it’s more like a whine, really): “Just because I’m against taking down the Confederate flag doesn’t mean I’m a racist.” Actually, in all likelihood, it does. Let’s face it: anyone against this can only bumble through the semantic shuffle so long before the ugly bits that’re so often veiled are brought to light, or are woven into the tired, moldy chestnut about “heritage not hate.” Whose heritage exactly? Oh, right. The slave-holding Confederacy’s heritage. (And yes, of course there may have been some wonderfully decent people who thought slavery was as disgusting as it was, but got lumped into the rank-and-file and fought for the Confederacy. But you know what? I’m pretty sure those folks would be okay with removing the flag.)

As a born-and-bred southerner, I have to say I’ve never associated that flag with anything good or positive. It always elicited a visceral reaction – one of disgust and fear; it was (and still is) a tacitly understood warning. It’s a symbol whose past is drenched in blood, whose meaning has become so enmeshed with the disgusting atrocities of history that it largely fails to represent anything other than the violence and racism that wove it into existence.

If this country really wants to do something to start mending race relations, we have to start back at square one and remove symbols that celebrate dehumanization and subjugation.

The flag has to come down. It’s the only option.

We owe it to Cynthia Hurd, Susie Jackson, Ethel Lance, Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor, Rev. Clementa Pinckney, Tywanza Sanders, Rev. Daniel Simmons Sr., Rev. Sharonda Singleton, and Myra Thompson.

Saying I’m Not Allowed to Call My Dog Whatever I Want is an Insult to Pet Owners Everywhere

Last night whilst scrolling through Facebook, I happened upon this lovely POPSUGAR article, whose author spent one too many paragraphs shaming pet owners – giving them a gut check for daring to think that they have the right to call their beloved fur…four-legged creature-animal-adoptee a “baby.”

I. KNOW. Stop the presses. This is some serious stuff. Call Anderson Cooper.

Just for kicks, here’re a few things about it that make me want to shake my favorite toy until the stuffing comes out:

(1) There is no “local ASPCA” – every SPCA is an independent nonprofit; there is no parent or umbrella organization. (And no, the ASPCA doesn’t practice “trickle-down” donation-granting – the money you donate to them stays right in New York; it does nothing for animals in your area.)

(2) If, as the author alludes, the process of adopting a dog is as simple as saying “that one,” I’m guessing her road to parenthood was also rather impromptu – with a Pinot preamble, perhaps? Reputable animal welfare organizations usually have robust, somewhat involved adoption processes to ensure that the animal is placed appropriately – so that the fit is right for everyone involved. (Obviously, city shelters are overburdened and might not be quite as hands-on, but they’re still much more involved than a point-and-adopt strategy.)

(3) While I’ll never know the pain and discomfort of childbirth – or carrying a child – the author opted for it, so I’d really love it if she’d drop the look-at-me-look-at-me crap. Congratulations, you’re fortunate enough to be able to spread your legs, do YourTango, and nine months later, voila! Baby time. You wanted it; you got it – so drop the mother martyrdom bit. I fully support anyone who wants to be a parent – but I think it’s absurd to consider everything else, every other form of “child”-rearing, to be inept or unequal. If a relationship is meaningful for someone, it’s meaningful. Period.

(4) And yes, you can leave your dog, cat, or parrot with friends, family, or loved ones. Or at daycare. Come to think of it, as a kid, I recall spending most of my summers with my grandparents. And at this thing called – gasp – public school during the day! (*Cue Psycho music*)

(5) Relegating pets to a lower rung than kids is perfectly normal. Sure, if a firefighter has to choose between Sally and Sugar Bear, Sally will probably get priority – as she should. (Unless the firefighter has a furry kiddo and read this article; then Sally better learn how to aim for the trees.) But here’s the problem with the tone of the author’s message – she’s acting as if pets are here as placeholders, that they’re not enough. Not everyone wants kids. Some people can’t have them, or can’t afford the long, circuitous adoption process. And many capable adults have, for years, been prohibited from becoming parents by outlandish, outdated laws.

(6) As a former animal welfare professional, I can say with absolute certainty that my coworkers and friends worked tirelessly with the animals in our shelters. From intake to adoption, they were there every step of the way. They were there when the dog formerly used as bait was rescued, her legs allowed to heal; the cat thrown from a window had her bones reset; the dog left to starve was nourished and reborn; the puppy locked in a trunk was freed and given a new chance. And as we heard their stories and watched their progress, many of us came to consider them “our kids.” Step by step, day by day, they grew and changed and became a new being with the staff’s help, and the help of donors – and went on to lead lives with loving pet parents. So when the author simply glosses over the time and effort shelter staff put into re-raising each animal – before they’re even able to be on the receiving end of a “that one” comment – it’s a slap in the face to those whose professions are geared toward helping our furry brethren.

For instance, one such Chihuahua, my “little girl,” helped countless kids learn empathy and compassion during her nearly year-long stay at the pet adoption center. And when she passed away, my husband and I mourned her as our little girl – not our dog.

Her ladyship.

Now, I know I just came across as equally as patronizing as the author. But, quite frankly, I’m sick and tired of these holier-than-thou authors castigating everyone who can’t relate to the trials and tribulations of parenthood. All because we didn’t choose that path, or aren’t able to roll around in the sack and make a little bundle of joy. (See, I did make it germane to my discussion! The author’s parental mind reading powers were right!) One day, my husband and I will probably be those annoying parents – but I hope I maintain a bit of perspective while my kiddo is upchucking on my sweater, and her/his furry sibling is weaving around underfoot.

The fact of the matter is pets aren’t children. Children aren’t pets. Sane people know this. If, like the author, I wanted a little being that peed in the toilet, or someone to lisp “I wuv you,” I’d travel back in time and visit myself in third grade speech therapy class after a massive tumbler of Kool-Aid rather than adopt a pet. But you know what I want right now?

An obese, furry blob who wiggles and flashes a toothless grin when he sees his other daddy coming home from work; a stinky furblob under the covers on a Saturday morning; a little man who we call our Baby Boy.

Our lil man

At the end of the day, who cares what I call my little boy-dog? As long as they’re cared for, loved, and tended to, who’s to say your biped trumps my quadruped?

Bottom line: If your purpose as a parent is challenged by what I call my dog, you’ve got bigger problems.

Begin Again

Like most folks on Moving Eve, we sleep a combined total of two hours before agreeing to capitalize on our insomnia. It’s sometime around 1:30, and we’re throwing the last remnants of domestic detritus into our over-packed SUV. Toby prances around anxiously, and we load him into his blanket-plumped crate while we wrestle our behemoth 1980’s mattress and box spring to the curb.

Andy loads up Toby while I make a final sweep through the apartment, turning lights on and off one last time and flushing the toilet for safe measure, before pulling the door closed and listening to the last echo of our WeHo existence reverberate on the other side. I lock the deadbolt, and gather and fold the dog hair-caked welcome mat into the brimming garbage bag.

Minutes later, we’re winding up through Laurel Canyon toward the 101 – onward to Seattle.

***

Our cliff-side perch affords a scenic view up the rocky coast to Big Sur. Gravel dust blows from the occasional passing car and rustles the leaves of our broken bamboo plant – nestled in a hoarder-esque pile of luggage on the narrow shoulder.

Lefty loosey. Righty tighty. Right? Right.

Roadside ass-istance

I twirl the jack and ask Andy how everything looks.

“Alright, I guess. I just don’t want the car to plummet off the edge.”

“You and me both.”

We repurpose one of our massive potted succulents as a wheel wedge, along with a large chunk of petrified wood Andy’s toted around since childhood.

“HEY! Don’t put this under the tire, it’ll break.”

I roll my eyes as he shifts it out from under the tire, and rearranges Toby, whose fat rolls drip over Andy’s forearm like jewelry.

Sliding the donut on and tightening the lug nuts feels oddly rewarding, and I cross my fingers and toes that the whole thing doesn’t pop off and fly into the road, sending the car and most of our prized Fiesta finds into the crashing waves below. A cool breeze whips the three of us in the face, and clouds clutter the sky.

“It looks a lot like New England around here,” Andy muses, eyeing the sky and redirecting his gaze to the donut.

It’s the kind of weather that makes you envision Angela Lansbury rounding a mountainous bend on her bike, pedaling her way into a murder mystery. The gravel crunches under the thin rubber as I lower the jack, and we reload everything, casting aside the latest handful of destroyed plant stalks and fronds.

Before we know it, we’re back on track, glancing out at the water-enveloped boulders offshore – the former monoliths now resembling crumbled cookie bits. We putter through wind-eroded canyons and up mist-shrouded mountains as the line of cars behind us quietly grows. By the time we get to Big Sur, we’re praying to the gods of cell phone reception for a few bars so that we can slot ourselves into an appointment at a nearby auto maintenance shop.

We slow down when we see a gas station sign peeking above dense foliage, and pull into the service station – only to be told snippily by the hippie station attendant that there’s no maintenance shop close by. Judging by the crowd waiting in line at the small “Naturey Center” kiosk for homemade granola and hemp dream catchers, I surmise such requests are tantamount to kicking a puppy while eating a medium-rare hamburger and throwing the wrapper on the ground.

A half an hour later, we’re navigating through a maze of auto body shops and pull into the one whose manager has assured us that they have “exactly one tire” that’ll fit our car. After unloading the trunks’ contents yet again, Andy and I stand awkwardly while passing Toby back and forth. A few passersby eye us suspiciously, and then review our pile of possessions. I wait for them to haggle for the broken aloe plant, or the dollar store broom that always seems to make it through every move. But they just walk on. I try not to take it personally, and wonder aloud why it’s taking over an hour to change a tire.

“Hell, my incompetent self changed the flat in forty-five minutes,” I huff.

“Yep. Their service is for shit. Nice bathrooms, though.”

Toby grunts and struggles to get down, so Andy takes him on a short walk to the most well lit areas of the parking lot. I stare into the garage as a technician lowers our car from the lift, and pulls it around front.

And we roll along.

***

Our hotel for the evening has recently undergone a renovation to make its standard interior appear chic. And nothing says “chic” more than a Jacuzzi next to the bed. I motion to the yellowed bath mat suctioned to the bottom.

Ooooh, classy. Let’s make some memories.” *Wink*

Just to put in his two cents, Toby lifts his leg on the bedskirt. Andy opts for a shower, and I devour our random assortment of Whole Foods impulse purchases – spicy sushi roll, veggie lasagna, and mac n’ cheese.

Early the next morning, I crouch in the hotel parking lot and collect dented canned goods and cracked bottles of rubbing alcohol and hydrogen peroxide – the enclosing bag for which ruptured, spilling everything into a messy pool behind the car. As Andy returns the room key, I sandwich everything together with two soaked paper bags, and cram it into a garbage can.

***

While crossing the Sacramento River, an errant, spring-loaded curl flops behind my glasses and I tuck it back into the tightened welter atop my head. Drought-drained lakes and rivers pockmark the browned landscape, and hot air balloons drift up into the sky like forgotten fair prizes.

En route to Oregon, we listen to Sue Grafton’s “K is for Killing” and take in the local scenery. A semi trailer sits in a bed of overgrown weeds just inside a pasture fence, with faded lettering beneath crucified hands reading “His blood, your sins.” But the crimson droplets’ paint has flecked off, giving the appearance not of blood, but confetti.

We take some time in Portland to peruse antique stores, and snag a piece of Fiesta – all the while having Toby tucked in a tiny shopping cart. Then we pull into a service station to top off.

Conditioned by LA’s typically unpleasant gas station excursions, I expect to be accosted for money and check my wallet to see if I have any singles. A man with a 76 shirt approaches the car, and I plan to deploy my auto response.

“I don’t ha…”

“Ready to fill up?” he asks.

“Oh, uh, I can do it. But thanks.”

“Well, this is Oregon. I do it.”

Flustered, I stare blankly at Andy, who suddenly remembers that it’s against the law in Oregon to pump your own gas.

“Ah, right. Uh, then regular. Please.”

I feel rightly disappointed in myself for assuming the worst, and whisper conspiratorially to Andy.

“Do I tip him?”

“Of course not. It’s his job.”

The attendant re-tightens the gas cap and waves us on.

***

Seattle’s green hills are welcomed changes to LA’s browned, scorched earth – and the distant Mt. Rainier seems out of place and alien-like. Winding through Capitol Hill’s relatively uncongested streets, we ease up to our building, write the requisite checks, and get our new keys.

We dance around our new place, despite realizing that it’s a tad bit smaller than we’d remembered. But we’re too tired to care, as is Toby.

Hours later, we literally get a crash course in Seattle living by the driver of a Chevy Lumina, who doesn’t see us yielding to the highway traffic. With only minor scratches to the underside of the bumper, we endeavor on, order our mattress, and sleep fitfully on the hard floor – tossing and turning while Toby dozes contentedly in his plush bed.

Once our mattress is delivered the next morning, we traipse about and try to source most of our needed items from local stores – turning the usually annoying process of getting basic move-in essentials into a reasonably interesting game. Here and there we collect what we need, all the while wondering where in the hell our furniture is and how long it’ll take to get up here.

We get back and I futz around the building, trying my hardest to figure out what’s recyclable, compostable, and trashable – in that order. Three individually marked bags later, I feel like I’m becoming a local – especially when I smack cups and napkins out of Andy’s hands and into the correct containers.

***

Sun fills the apartment, and we sit in the empty living room, listening to the sidewalk conversations drifting up through our open windows.

A new start

We’re at the starting line of a new day.

And we’re just waiting for the bang – so we can take off and begin again.

Call’em Out. The Haters, I Mean.

Y’all. I think it goes without saying that we’re all thrilled for Caitlyn Jenner. And by “we” I mean my friends and family and everyone in my life who matters.

The haters, however, can suck it.

It never takes long for willfully ignorant trash to voice their opinions, concerns, and general lack of social awareness and tout it all as sound, reasonable feedback. Alright, I’ll go ahead and admit it: I let Facebook fools get to me. There you have it. I’m one of the ones who bites when people say dumb shit, and I let my blood boil at their insidiously inflammatory commentary after the fact.

But you know what? I never regret biting. And you know why? Because those idiots need to hear an opposing view. They’re the kind of people who take silence to be passive affirmation – they’re of the ilk to think everyone’s on their side. When, in fact, most of us are laughing at their ignorance, or being the bigger person and letting it roll off us – using it as an example of “not stooping to their level.”

Well, it’s hard for me to let some things go. Especially when I know first-hand the social isolation, fear, anger, and debilitating sadness that can rack a person who’s questioning their identity. And I can only imagine that such feelings are multiplied exponentially for trans individuals, especially youth.

As I’ve said before, the “T” of LGBTQIA often gets lost in the shuffle – trans lives are so often talked about relative to the periphery, rather than in relation to the whole. But I hope that with more education, as more prominent figureheads (like Laverne Cox and Caitlyn) and local leaders speak up and legislation is passed, that being and identifying as trans will no longer have the added social stigma within and outside the LGBTQIA community.

I hope that people will think before they say completely debased, idiotic things that they think are funny or witty or cute, and really register what those callous remarks translate to, and how much damage they can do. It’s no wonder that so many kids are committing suicide – no matter how closely knit their supportive web, it only takes one horrific, monstrous comment to undo so much. Especially when one’s internal dialogue is already so exhaustively ongoing, stress-inducing, and debilitating.

When I was in high school, identifying as gay – much less trans – wasn’t an option. Liking art, or being overly involved in drama, or just being quiet and reserved had a way of casting you in a less than acceptable light. Anything outside the mainstream was never talked about, and if it was, only in hushed tones. There was only one kid in my grade who came out, and his senior year was made a living hell for it. He was even on the front page of the local newspaper.

Years ago, I reached out to him and told him how much his bravery meant to me – and that I was sorry for not being myself back then. By the time I reached out to him, I’d already put myself through my own trials and tribulations, had already pulled myself back from the suicidal brink, and vowed never to let myself sink back into that darkness. So when I see or read or hear people gleefully, playfully pushing anyone around or making intensely insensitive remarks – even virtually, even about celebrities who will always be in a realm all their own – I open my big mouth, or rap away on the keyboard to let them know that they’re not in high school anymore. They can’t bully and not expect resistance.

Haters will always hate – because, really, that’s all they have. That’s the only way they feel relevant. But decent people can always be decent. You can always speak up, you can always push back; you have a voice, so use it – and use it for the right reasons.

Speak up for those who could use a friend. Speak up for those who don’t have the glitz of Hollywood on their side. Do something to help them find their voice, and help them hear it over the ignorant prattle.

And always tell the haters where they can stick it. And remind them that they’re a little fish in a rapidly drying pond.