White Privilege: The Lion in the Room

I’m a few hours away from another phone interview. The hurdles we clear in the course of starting a new career are stressful and tiring, and we often just long for them to be behind us, with an offer waiting in our inbox.

But for me, there’s something more wrapped up in this particular interview.

When I made the decision to leave my papered academic past for nonprofit work, I knew it wasn’t going to be glamorous, the path wouldn’t be littered with hundred dollar bills. The adage “underpaid and overworked” became my mantra, whether or not I embraced and adopted it. And it was okay, because I felt like what I was doing was worth the exhaustion that nips at most nonprofit professionals’ heels.

Part and parcel to most nonprofit work is educating the public. Whether your organization increases awareness about racial inequality, STI transmission, human trafficking, environmental conservation, planned parenting, LGBTQIA advocacy, or animal welfare, the crux is always education. Because a more informed public is more likely to speak out, stand up, and effect meaningful change.

As a kid, I didn’t always grasp the importance of why I had to do certain things, and why my parents pushed me and my sister to branch out – always reinforcing how crucial it was to be able to relate to people from different backgrounds and respect differences. During those teachable moments, I – like most my age – would roll my eyes and complain about spending yet another valuable weekend of my youth planting trees, cleaning up roadside garbage, caring for injured wildlife, or taking food to people in need.

I’d often think Where’s my freedom? Why do we have to do this? Nintendo and Bonanza marathons were much more appealing.

Little did I know, I was learning exactly what it meant to be free – and, not until I was much older, the problematic, insulating effects of white privilege.

***

Growing up in the Deep South, racial lines were socially mapped and cultivated in our consciousness through school and print media – and unabashedly writ into the landscape of our small Alabama town. In ninth grade, we weren’t taught World History, but rather Alabama History. We came to recognize “the other side of the tracks” or a “rough area” was synonymous with a predominantly black neighborhood or an area of violence. In daily dialogue, describing people without a racial preface was unheard of – there was no “There was this guy” or “That lady at the grocery”; often whispered, black became the most important identifier in a descriptive parable relayed from the day’s happenings. Without fail, that hushed tone conveyed something else – something sinister pulsing through that word and, by association, the person to whom it was applied. Everyone was guilty of such profiling – even if we didn’t realize the implications of what we were doing, we became complicit in widening that divide, contributing to tacit racial tension. But this proclivity wasn’t reserved for towns in the South. Whenever Andy and I talk about growing up, we always touch on how racism was just as prevalent farther north – just cloaked in different veils. We both grew up very differently, but we shared a privilege we couldn’t exactly articulate until now, in retrospect.

Even still, we also shared a nagging feeling that we were somehow different. In high school, I had an odd fixation with The Rime of the Ancient Mariner – the weight of the albatross a fitting analogy for the emotional baggage that’d been weighing me down, something that I was terrified was as obvious as a dead bird strung around my neck. But it wasn’t. And I could pass. Again, not until I was much older, I realized the color of my skin diluted my difference – made it more socially acceptable.

Not until I became more outspoken, and had the privilege of a collegiate education, did I start to comprehend the enormity of the problems humanity faces. We parse and segment as a means to better understand, but in so doing, we lose the connective thread that connects them all: education. And by education, I don’t mean post-secondary. I mean hands-on, face-to-face, person-to-person interaction; getting in the dirt together and finding common ground in meaningful, proactive ways. But many of us must first acknowledge our white privilege – that we have the luxury to obsess over the death of a Zimbabwe lion, while our black friends are under threat every single time they leave their home. Until we understand why black bodies are grossly policed, are subjected to structural violence, and take action to change it, we can’t really move forward to tackle everything that we face.

***

I’m inching closer to my interview, and I’m remembering why I was drawn to this particular organization: its emphasis on early, comprehensive education for every child, every family. And I can’t help but think about what I learned as a kid, and how much I want to teach my child so many of the same things – chief among them, respect.

I hope I’ll be open about difference, and be able to answer hard questions. I hope I’ll be able to appropriately frame how inequality hurts everyone, and how important it is to speak out and stand up for your friends, known and unknown – to speak and to act.

Because if we don’t first take care of our species – prioritize humanity – there’s no hope for those others with whom we share this planet.

Health Kicks

Health trends are so damn annoying, mostly because they follow a painfully predictable routine: you liquefy your diet, center your mind, and poo your brains out.

I’m all for being healthy, but I’ll never be able to cut all the sugary sweetness that I love. Still, I’ve been making strides to cut back where I can – not so much because I want to, but because I’m becoming aware that I can’t (1) have my cake and eat two more without repercussions; (2) skip breakfast; (3) process tons of daily sugar; and (4) go long without hydrating.

I’m chalking this up to a combination of being in my third decade of life and my body finally screaming “ENOUGH, GODDAMMIT!” In college, I spent next to nothing on groceries. I shopped at Dollar General for everything – made Venironi (venison mixed with packaged mac ‘n cheese), drank juice cocktail because it sounded fancy, and once subsisted off of generic frozen fish fillets and cheese food product (combined intermittently) during an interim summer semester. And I wondered why I didn’t have washboard abs.

I left most of that behind in graduate school and opted for eating disorders instead. But now I love food, and have a much healthier relationship with it. Still, though, I’ve found myself going off on sugary overloads – and dealing with the consequences. Ups and downs with blood sugar aren’t exactly fun.

So in the vein of downsizing stuff – as we’ve done during our time on this coast – I’m trying to get back to more simple eating. Granted, I’m basically a rabbit and can eat salads pretty much every single day. But that’s boring.

I like combining funky recipes with local foodie scenes and distilling out ideas that I want to incorporate into our daily eating, and developing reliable, healthy food standbys.

Like these summer rolls:

Summer roll deliciousness

Rice noodle salads:

Rice noodle salad!

And cheesy egg sandwiches with avocado-bacon spread (okay, maybe not super healthy, but good):

Sammiches!I’m also trying to cut down on my coffee intake.

I KNOW IT’S ABSURD.

But I can’t keep drinking pitchers of coffee. So after my two glasses of iced coffee (hey, I’m weening myself off…) in the morning, I’m pushing lemon water, which is supposed to have all of these great health benefits. Plus, I’m trying to take better care of my skin – all of that exfoliating, cleansing stuff that I never had time for until my complexion started looking a little off.

Alcohol has been super easy to cut out since we just sort of stopped drinking earlier this year. It wasn’t even planned. We just ran out and never bothered to re-stock. I think if we ever do, it’ll probably be more wine than anything.

But despite all of these cutbacks and whatnot, we have to enjoy some goodies every now and then. Like movie candy and cupcakes and the occasional ice cream truck score.

Turtle power!

Because if we can’t have some good-bad crap, life ain’t worth living.

This is 30…er, 31. Almost.

I’m not gonna lie: 30 hasn’t exactly been easy. And even though I only have a few months until a 1 shoves that 0 aside, I’m not discounting the rest of this allegedly life-changing year.

This new decade feels nice. I have the emotional maturity to deal with life as it comes, with an experiential arsenal chock-full of missteps and tiny victories to help guide me along. With the last plumage of my twenties shaken off, I’m a fully fledged adult – feeling less like an impostor with every passing day.

The associated life knowledge that comes with it severely blunts my ability and desire to blame others or Society or Life for my problems. Because I know, in the big picture, whatever I’m challenged by is pretty minor stuff. I’ve overcome plenty, and I’m more than capable of handling the hard stuff.

Still, there’re also things that I crave with the same ferocious intensity I reserve for my first glass of coffee (yes, a glass – in the morning hours, a cup is a laughably paltry half-measure) – like seeing more of the world, buying a house, adopting another dog, having a kid; not a long list, really.

But sometimes those things become clouded by battling expectations of what I’m supposed to want or do during this transformative decade: traveling to every country imaginable, renouncing materialism, living in a yurt, and finding inner peace while buying a massive house with a matching mortgage, having two cars and two kids, and having matching IRAs. These contradictory ideals often come in rapid fire bursts – shouted through social media posts or those annoying Buzzfeed lists. I’m somehow supposed to become a hippie with a Lexus – a socially aware materialist. Maybe these polar opposites stem from the Millennial context – growing up and balancing a pre-tech, outdoor-fueled childhood with a post-pubescent, office-centric tech explosion. And like plenty of folks, I find myself caught in between.

Do I want to see more of the world? Most certainly – but not all of it; I still want there to be mysterious places “out there” where my imagination can wander. Do I want a massive house filled to brim with kids and cars and stuff? No. But I’d love a small, manageable house with another shelter dog, where we can bring up a human pup sometime down the line.

To accomplish these goals, though, we’ve both acknowledged that we first must develop greater senses of self, and take care of ourselves. The thing is, prior to this decade, I’d already passed through a lot of mental sieves – left unnecessary, emotion-laden clutter and baggage caught in the webbing, and let thought and ambition and optimism flow through. None of it was easy, and I still have a ways to go.

But as I near 31, I’m at the point of looking in and past the mirror and acknowledging that, yup, this is it. And I’m pretty damn happy with it.

This is 30

So I need to treat myself accordingly, and embrace the all too infrequent senses of calm – of knowing that a decision or thought is true and right.

A few weeks back when Andy and I decided to move back to Raleigh in a year, I experienced one of those clarifying moments. All of the doubt and uncertainty I’d been feeling about making a home on this coast (the costs, the isolation, this and that and everything in between…) cleared. And I could see the future that we wanted. It’s still distant, but we’re inching closer to it every single day.

I’m not going to wax poetic and project ahead – assume that this year is going to be a revolutionary one.

To be certain, it’s going to be challenging. But every year, every decade is pocked with cake walks and welters of madness. So I’m not expecting 31 to be anything more than another year of me doing the best to live the life I want.

Because doing just that is interesting enough.

There’s No Place Like Home

Good morning. Be advised: I’ve had coffee. You can approach.

As recorded in this un-posted post, I found Wednesday a little challenging:

Oh my gods. Do you ever just have those days where everything you do turns into a giant poo ball? WELCOME TO MY TUESDAY!

But really. It’s 11:30 and this is all I’ve accomplished:

(1) Sent a query.

(2) Wrestled sidewalk meat away from Toby.

(3) Sent the WRONG FUCKING cover letter for a particularly interesting job.

(4) Gone Devil Wears Prada on the asshat moving company that still owes us for fucking up some of our furniture.

(5) Deleted yesterday’s three job rejections, including the one for this job.

(6) Repeatedly screamed “FUCK the FUCKING FUCK!”

(7) Guzzled a pitcher of iced coffee.

(8) Realized that some people’s dogs on Instagram/Twitter/Facebook have more likes/followers than my blog.

(9) Read about a stay-at-home gay dad turned writer, checked out his Instagram feed, and was bombarded by shirtless photos that made me want to EAT A CAKE AND THROW IT UP JUST SO I COULD EAT IT AGAIN.

(10) TYPED EVERYTHING IN ALL CAPS.

I’m in such a foul mood. And the most annoying thing about it is that it’s one of those that I know I can snap myself out of, but I sort of don’t want to at the moment. I JUST WANT TO GIVE EVERYONE MY RESTING BITCH FACE AND END IT WITH AN ALL INCLUSIVE MIC DROP.

Not only did everything in the world rub me the wrong way, but I’d completely misplaced Wednesday.

forgifs.com

source

I haven’t hidden the fact that moving to Seattle has been harder than I initially thought it’d be. I figured we’d land on our feet like we always have, and I’d snag one of the bazillion nonprofit development jobs floating around, and we’d live contentedly happy lives smack in the middle of Capitol Hill and marvel at the amazingness of life.

That’s just not how it’s panned out.

Granted, we like where we live and we’re constantly marveling at the amazingness of life, but we’re also aware that this move has drained us a bit. What’s more, it’s reminded us of what we’ve been missing, and what we want.

Last weekend we ventured out to immerse ourselves in Seattle’s LGBT community (after all, one of our goals before moving out here was to get more involved), and we figured we’d do that by going to visit the location of one particular organization that seemed to be a crazy-awesome hub for LGBT activism. So, fortified with coffee, we set out with equal parts exhilaration and anxiety – because starting over in a new place is always difficult, as is meeting new people.

We walked up, got excited by the fluorescent sign, swung open the door, and walked into a tiny room stacked with books – whose keeper was completely passed out at his desk. After tiptoeing around a bit, stoking the now smoldering embers of our excitement with the slightest fuel – LOOK, THEY HAVE AN OLD, YELLOWED COPY OF SUCH AND SUCH – we started heading for the door, at which time the attendant awoke. I asked him where the “larger center with which this place is affiliated” was located, and just got a blank stare in response. This was it. Thoroughly dismayed, we donated the few bucks we had in our wallets, thanked him, and left.

To the organization’s credit, it was there – present for the community as a resource and support; that’s incredibly important and I don’t mean to minimize it.

But the fact of the matter is, over the past few years, we’ve craved community on this coast and haven’t really found it. We’ve been fortunate enough to meet wonderful people and make a few friends. Still, even in the liberal enclaves, we’ve yet to encounter anything remotely as accessible, opening, and welcoming as the community-centric LGBT Center of Raleigh – where we met, and a place we love.

LA seemed more about appearance and income brackets than community.

Seattle seems more about fragmented, insulated social bubbles into which it’s nearly impossible to break.

Naively, we were expecting that same sense of community from our Raleigh days to be amplified in these larger, more liberal cities. Instead, it’s been the exact opposite. And the very particular sense of loneliness that’s resulted has been what’s been pushing us to move around, to find a fitting answer – even when the most logical solution has been staring us in the face.

Wednesday night, after Andy surprised me with tulips and a sweet card even though I was being a monstrous beast, we chatted over pizza and peach pie. And then watched Revolutionary Road. Whenever we’re thinking intensively about the future, and any big changes ahead, we always watch it.

We watched it when we decided to venture out to this coast.

So we watched it again when we decided to move back.

Wednesday was a big day.

***

So, we’re giving ourselves a year or so before we head back – after all, we just got to Seattle and there’s a lot of interesting stuff here to explore, and things to learn.

But there’s a certain sense of relief knowing that we’ll be returning to a place that’s felt more like home than anywhere we’ve lived – a place where we can make a difference, contribute to the community, and feel a sense of belonging that’s been so lacking out here. Plus, whenever we decide to become parents, we don’t want to raise our kid in a liberal bubble, but we also have to be somewhere where we, too, feel supported and at peace.

Until then, though, we’ll keep our heads up and enjoy our time out here – with our Raleigh goal always in sight. And while our journey on this coast may end, we’ll still learn plenty of lessons while we’re out here.

And gladly take them back home.

Rejection’s Silver Lining

Rejection hurts.

Rejection hurtssource

And lately, my cup overfloweth with rejection from potential employers and publishers. The emailed lines “Thanks, but it’s not what I’m looking for” and “We had so many wonderful applicants, but…” are becoming such expected parts of my days that not receiving one or more after my first cup of coffee has me questioning the functionality of our WiFi service.

No matter how many times I quietly advise myself not to get overly excited about a particular submission, there’s always that little optimistic fairy buzzing around inside my head chirping, “THIS IS IT. YOUR BIG BREAK!” It’s the human condition, undergirded by the absurd notion that we’re each unique snowflakes and we’re all going to do great things.

But the fact of the matter is that I don’t need a particular job or to be published to feel like I’ve accomplished something meaningful – that I’ve succeeded. Would it be nice to have a job right now? Sure. And I’ll have one soon enough. Would it be amazing to have my manuscript published? Undoubtedly. Will it happen? Yes, one day – even if I have to self-publish it at age 84.

Oftentimes, I dwell on the sting of rejection because pushing on and staying strong are so much harder – and no one wants to constantly travel the hard, more pothole-pocked road.

But I’m finding there’s a certain silver lining of rejection: in those first moments after a particularly trying rejection letter, I have to cling to what I do have. I reflect on what I have at that exact moment – a logical mental calculation to offset the defeat with a triumph, or at the very least, a comforting realization.

That’s exactly what I did this morning after I got my first query rejection for my book. It came from my top publishing company pick, the one I was sure would be “the one.” And right after I read the last line of the email, I screamed into my darkening mind, “THAT’S OKAY. KEEP GOING.” I took a breath and closed my eyes.

And then I walked around, and let my eyes stop on a framed wedding photo.

I have a loving husband. He’s mine. I’m his.

I looked around our apartment.

We’ve created this. 

I sat next to a slumbering Toby and hugged him.

We’ve given this furry being a new, fulfilling life.

I thought about our future.

We’ll create a family. Together.

And the rejection’s sting subsided.

Albeit blunted, the sting will be with me until it’s supplanted by a more biting one, or balanced a bit by hopeful words, or even an acceptance letter.

The important thing for me is to first feel it, then absorb it, and ultimately let it go.

Because each day is a celebration of much more than what we do or accomplish, and I fully intend to keep reveling in it all.

The Next Frontier: Getting Published

Someone’s scraping a shovel against the sidewalk outside, and I’m hugging Toby – much to his dismay.

Usually Andy’s the one coddling The Tobes, but this morning I require a little extra reassurance, and Toby’s blobby self is exactly what I need.

I’m re-reading my query letter for the 400th time, ensuring that the email formatting isn’t going to jack everything up, and double-checking that I did everything exactly the way I was instructed to by the publisher’s website. By the time I get to the last period, I’m exhausted.

My shaky lil finger hovers over the “Send” button for a few seconds.

“Here we go, Tobes!”

He shifts uncomfortably, and hops out of the chair to attack his eyeless Piglet doll.

I send the email, then check my Sent folder to make sure everything looks alright. I exhale, wander around the living room for a minute, and gather my thoughts. This is the first step of many, but getting here has been harder than I thought.

***

It’s hard to believe that over two and a half years ago, I was jabbering about writing a book. And then I worked and worked and worked, and it felt like the closer I got to the end, the longer the process was going to take. Especially when I realized I had to write a proposal on top of everything else.

But after some intense proposal writing and query letter development, I feel as though I’m pretty good to go. It took a while to figure out how best to structure my proposal – mostly because all of the available articles on the Internets tell you a hundred different ways to write one. But I distilled out what I felt worked best for me and infused the proposal with humor – because if nothing else, I want it to accurately reflect me and my personality.

In all honesty, I had no idea that a proposal was so involved – that it’d need its own table of contents. Between the marketing and promotion sections, the chapter-by-chapter summaries, and all of the other goodies, my proposal ended up being 30 pages. And sure, that’s probably way too long. But at least this way I can pull out parts that various agents/publishing houses may require – and I won’t have to reinvent the wheel every single time.

Late yesterday, I finished re-reading the full memoir – whilst spot-editing for little grammatical mistakes. I cut a few things here, added there. But then, around bedtime, I realized I was as done as I’ll be – and not just with one task, but with everything.

And now, I’m in that terrifying phase of shopping my memoir around to see if anyone wants to bite. In many ways, I’m back at the starting line.

But I’m ready to race.

Succulent This!

What a witty title. It’s like I’m channeling my inner hormone-raging teen who doesn’t know the first thing about sexy time.

Anyway. GET YOUR MINDS OUT OF THE GUTTER AND INTO THE DIRT.

Since Andy has been traveling like crazy, I figured a great way to relax him would be to make him help me bring my crackpot idea of an indoor succulent garden to fruition. Especially since all the herbs I planted died in the past few weeks’ heat wave – except the mint, praise be (because if that goes, we’re doomed).

See, both of us appreciate the calming effects of indoor greenery – especially since we haven’t had anything approximating an outdoor space since Raleigh. And even that was pretty hazardous. BUT NOW, we have a teeny succulent garden in an antique dough bowl. Because we’re raging gays who love to incorporate antiques into anything we can.

How do you construct this wonderful, life-changing succulent garden, dearest Green Guru? you’re asking your computer screens.

WELL, let me show you.

Step 1: Get Yo Antiquin’ Pants On!

If you don’t have superfluous antique dough bowls laying around, you’re a loser and you should hate yourself. Just kidding! You should pride yourself on not being crazy hoarders like us. But if you love American Primitive goodies, or want a unique planter, waddle to your nearest antique store and poke around their outdoor stuff, or look for an old utilitarian box like this one that we just sold.

Get an old box or something

So, like I was saying, find this amazing thing and hold it up so that your photographer can take a cheesy, not-at-all-staged photo.

Completely natural photos are the best, aren't they?

(Also, be sure to wear a shirt with a socially conscious message so that Dan Savage will see your blog post and exclaim to his lovely family that they should go out and do this project IMMEDIATELY and then invite us over to ogle it and laugh at the world in all its weirdness.)

Step 2: The Secret Ingredient!

Add obese Chihuahua.

Toby is the secret ingredient

Kidding!

Step 3a: Walk the Line[r]

Since I didn’t want to damage the actual dough bowl, I made makeshift “liners” out of two large compostable bags (got them at Target). And then I nested a small plastic water catcher in the bottom center, on top of the bottom liner. This way, any water that percolates down should get caught in this reservoir.

Dough bowl lined

Step 3b: Start Layering!

I layered a bit of Cactus Mix (small bag) atop the bottom liner and in the reservoir – just to help absorb any percolating water.

Start layering!

Step 3c: Layer 2 (Take Some Scissors to That Old Bag)

Unlike the bottom liner, I perforated the top liner so that most of the holes were over the plastic reservoir in the second liner layer – so that any percolating water would most likely funnel into it.

Planting with scissors!

Step 4: More soil!

Add soil little by little, spreading it out to leave about an inch of the exposed bag layer around the bowl’s circumference.

Soil, soil, soil

Again, I didn’t want the soil directly touching the wood, so the exposed bag around the edges is for buffering purposes. (Plus, whenever I need to refresh the soil, I can dust off the edges and pull up on these bags – bringing each layer out in one large section.)

Spread it out!

Make sure your hair is perfect

(Also, make sure your hair looks decent.)

Step 5: Succulent Staging!

Unpot, arrange, and plant your succulents as you’d like.

Succulent staging

(Double chin optional.)

Plant'em!

Step 6: Roll the Bowl!

To triply protect the integrity of the wooden bowl, we cut a paper towel roll into strips (length-wise), and then cut those in half. We bent each along the middle and arranged them around the circumference, to (again) direct water to the center and down to the reservoir. (This was totally not part of the original plan, but makes the next step so much easier.)

Paper towel roll border!

Ring around the dough bowl

Step 7: Sprinkle in the Sparklies

Use decorative stone fill (or marbles, or googly eyes) and in-fill the space behind the cardboard pieces, and then cover them – working your way to the middle. We completely filled the outside areas and over the tops of the bags and cardboard first, and then moved inward. We didn’t cover the soil completely around the succulents, just so water could get to the roots a bit more easily.

Step 8: REVEL IN YOUR GREAT CREATION

You’re done! You’ve re-purposed a beloved antique and given it a new life.

It's finished!

And now, our apartment is full of beautiful green things!

More green!

Some of which look like marijuana plants, but they’re totally not. For a second opinion of the marijuananess of our plants, we called Amy Adams, but she was too concerned about her lunatic husband in Big Eyes to be of any help.

Big eyes and eye-popping orange planter

(And pay no attention to that hideous, but necessary fan.)

Now, gaze again upon the beauty and wonder of your creation from another angle. And remember that you did this together. Or solo. Whatever. I don’t judge. You made something cool, and that’s a fun accomplishment.

One last shot

Hopefully I won’t have to write a follow up post explaining that the liners failed and the dough bowl rotted out and all the succulents died.

Until then, we’ll be here in our city garden full of tropical, invasive species that’ll never see the outside world.

Yay, environment! Now, go make something cool – and have fun doing it.

Downsizing Space, Upsizing Life*

The other day I was reading this hilarious tiny house post by the witty blogger behind Hipstercrite, and found myself screaming, “GODDAMMIT, YES!”

Let me first caveat this by saying that, like Hipstercrite, I wholeheartedly acknowledge all the positive things tiny houses represent: environmental conservation, recycling (e.g., you quite literally poo where you eat), de-materialism (it should be a word), blah blah blah good things. Hell, my parents live in a semi-subterranean, off-grid hobbit house in the middle of the woods. (But it’s more than one room.)

The Alabama Hobbit Hole, aka The Mirarchi Homestead

I get it. Being good to the earth is awesome.

But you know what else is awesome? Being good to yourself. Which means giving yourself space enough to think, eat, contemplate life’s mysteries, watch movies, and poo without the smell competing with the chili bubbling on the stove outside the tiny house’s bathroom “door” (it’s a curtain, y’all).

It’s no secret that I love talking and writing about design, mostly because I don’t know the professional ins and outs, and wing it whenever I’m decorating our apartment. But I have to say, if Andy and I ever moved into a tiny house, we’d probably end up getting a divorce approximately 6 minutes after walking through the door. (Although it’d probably make for good reality TV: Two Gays, One Tiny House, and An Obese Chihuahua: Who’ll Come Out On Top…or Dead?!)

We both love having our own space. Which is why our historic apartment in Raleigh was amazing. In fact, the other day Apartment Therapy re-posted our House Tour in their “Pride at Home” series following the SCOTUS decision. That was pretty awesome, not just for its timing and the fact I finally felt like an all-star, but also for the window it gave us into our lives a few years back.

We re-toured it, and remarked about how most of the stuff we saw has since been sold or gifted away. (And it also gave me an opportunity for ample self-loathing when I saw myself in those skinny pants, and my hippie hair. Oy!) Then we looked around our Seattle digs, and realized just how much we’ve downsized since moving from North Carolina to California to Seattle.

I mean, when we first landed in California, we were in a 450 square foot studio apartment in Koreatown, and most of our stuff was in a Gardena storage facility (oh, how little we knew the geography). Which, coming from our 1,100 square foot historic Raleigh duplex, felt like a glorified walk-in closet.

Ah, yes. The living-bed-work room. All in one tiny space! Bah!

Thankfully, the only thing we did right with that apartment was sign a 6-month lease.

And then we were off to West Hollywood – a step up space-wise with an actual bedroom and generous living-dining room. Still, it was maybe 850 square feet – quite a bit smaller than what we were used to. Thankfully, it had a great deal of built-in storage – so all of our random crap (and some furniture) was stowed away.

More space!

But then Seattle happened. We loved the new-old space immediately. But when the boxes kept coming and coming and coming, and the movers bid me a “good luck” with nods to the cardboard box forest behind me, I realized that this apartment was quite a bit smaller than our WeHe digs. (We never knew how big our WeHo place was, because the square footage was never listed.)

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

Not only that, but we have one closet.

And when I mean one closet, I don’t mean one walk-in closet and five other closets.

I mean one closet in the whole apartment. Granted, it’s a walk-in, but when you factor in all of the random domestic detritus you always need but have to store (towels, blankets, clothes, coats, umbrellas, ironing board, cleaning products, that one box of holiday decor you allow your husband to have…), you need at least two closets. The only other “closet” we have is completely occupied by our stackable washer-dryer, for which I’ll gladly sacrifice the space.

Honestly, though, as annoying as it’s been having only one closet, it keeps us honest. No hoarding clothes or shoes or furniture. Our space is full enough now, so anything new we bring it means something else goes out.

Except for Fiesta. There’s always room for rare I-will-cut-you-for-that Fiesta pieces. (One of the main reasons why we could never live in a tiny house.)

Always room for Fiesta!

We’ve culled a lot. And when I mean a lot, I mean that the only decorative stuff we have is what we see (except for some framed art under the bed – that ain’t going anywhere). And the only furniture we retained are pieces that pull double-duty, except for those necessary chairs. So our sideboards and cabinets hold dishes (all of which we use) and DVDs, and all of our clothes and shoes and coats and tools and gardening supplies are stored in the bedroom dressers and walk-in closet.

Even though this move was exhausting because of majorly downsizing, it was totally worth it. Do we love stuff? Absolutely. But we don’t need more of it to feel like we’ve succeeded in life, nor do we need a tiny house to convince us that we’re leading a quintessentially “simple life.”

And while this is the smallest apartment we’ve ever lived in (and will probably ever live in), it goes without saying that it’s still more than most folks in the world have. There’s something about living in a small(er) space that anchors this in the fore of my mind; it reminds me to be thankful for this little slice of life, and to cherish everything in it – because what we’ve chosen to retain is what we feel matters most.

Plus, it’s sort of fun transitioning formerly decorative stuff into the functional realm (e.g., the dough bowl that used to hold pine cones in my parents’ house, looked Spartan and old and beautifully empty in our WeHo apartment, and will now be turned into a container for a succulent garden in Seattle).

But there is such a thing as too small a space, and I need more than one pan to cook with.

My ideal is to have another bedroom for guests (or, you know, a kid) and another bathroom. (I also like to occasionally channel Mary-Louise Parker in The Client and tell Toby that all I want is “A little white** house with a walk-in closet.” (Nix the white.) It’d also be great not to have to design everything along a wall in our living room, but I’m done worrying about “design rules.”

Our pared down library

I think our space works just fine, and doesn’t look half bad either. So while we won’t be investing in a tiny house anytime soon, I’ll take some of the tenets from that ascetic lifestyle and map it onto our slightly more material-bloated, less claustrophobic 745 square foot Capitol Hill perch.

After all, Toby’s not about to pare-down any of his toys.

Toby isn't letting a single one go. No tiny house for him!

(*I’m pretty sure upsizing isn’t a word. But it should be.)

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...