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Hands-off Moving

I’m not really squeamish.

But as I watch the 23 year-old crater sandwich two marble slabs together and haul them out of the room–his legs shaking, on the verge of buckling–I nearly vomit.

This is the same crater whose foul-mouthed friend has just regaled him, and me, with his latest family drama.

“My brother, he just got busted. Momma and Daddy found everything. So he’s under, uh, house arrest.”

They both disappear, leaving me to the sounds of ripping tape, boxes banging around, and the thump thump thump of the handtruck lumbering down each entry step.

***

Never did I think such hands-off moving would be this stressful.

Granted, it hasn’t really been hands-off. Having found out only a few days before that a professional moving company was going to be contracted to pack, load, and move everything across the country, we’ve already done a massive amount of packing. And spent the unexpectedly exorbitant amount of money on supplies.

You know, that packing tape and bubble wrap you always convince yourself won’t cost a small fortune? Those boxes that you’ll just “get from the grocery store for free.”

Right.

Now, I think it’s only a tad normal to take a little offense to the amount of re-packing that’s happening in the front rooms. I mean, I could’ve sworn I’ve packed everything to withstand a two-story drop.

But with every box I glimpse being assembled, and tape gun running empty, I realize I may have overestimated my abilities. And underestimated the degree to which moving companies have to protect themselves against damaged goods.

Still, I can’t complain. After all, the whole deal has been an unbelievable boon at an incredibly stressful time.

With Andy finishing his last week of work, and me furiously packing the bits and bobs we have to take with us–like, say, the fire extinguisher one of the movers just handed back to me–it’s going to be a sprint to the finish, whether we like it or not.

As we’ve found, moving across the country is a whole other beast than moving to a neighboring city. I mean, sure, we knew that before. But as I’m watching the movers wrap every single painting–without trying to seem like that helicopter owner–I’m realizing how much time has been invested in this new chapter.

***

Right now, with pallets of boxes on the front porch, and rooms still full of furniture and boxes, it’s hard to believe that in less than four days, Andy and I will be pulling away from the curb for the last time.

That the place we’ve called home will be empty.

That our departure will be another person’s homecoming.

That we won’t get to see the friends and chosen family we’ve made as much as we’d like.

That we will actually be en route to our new life.

Trixxy is ready! Sort of.

A life full of unknowns, save one.

That we will happily make it count.

Together.

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Learning to Swim

There’s something jarring about seeing all of your stuff laid out, taken out of context, and shoved together like some sort of fallen, avant garde Jenga tower.

Moving tableau

There’s a bit of humor in it.

And sadness.

Plenty of mixed emotions you can’t quite pinpoint.

But your resolve to start over unites the amorphous piles. After all, why else is this stuff–the piecemeal, materialistic summary of your life thus far–scattered about?

***

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. And not just because our apartment looks like an episode of Hoarders. (Not really. I don’t think?)

Part of this whole starting over bit is reflecting on what’s instigated it. And since my congested self has been up since 2 AM, I figure it might be a good time to take stock of what’s been packed into the past year.

So, I just started sifting back through earlier posts, gaining perspective on how I’ve changed since starting this rambly little blog.

And I found this incomplete, unpublished post from 31 October 2012: “Drowning.”

Do you ever have those moments when you realize you’ve been slowly drowning, halfheartedly flailing about like some extra in Jaws? When you see that your attempts to stay afloat start dragging others down into the murky depths? And there’s no lifeguard on duty.

Then something clicks inside your head–tells you, Float, you fool!

So you stop fighting, calm down, reorient yourself, and start managing your new course with the current. Gently directing yourself in the direction you want to go, instead of splashing about and making a ruckus. Because, with your mind focused, you realize (1) You’re scaring the fish and (2) The water is only a foot or so deep. You’ve got this.

You just needed to experience that loss of control to realize that you can take the reins at any moment, right yourself, and stand up if you need to.

So it came as an odd surprise that during a recent paddle through tumultuous mental seas, an excerpt from a poem I wrote in seventh grade popped into my head.

“…He pulls me up

And I am relieved

To be saved

From the raging sea…”

Even while I was writing it back then, I wondered who exactly “he” was. My father? Some “He” I’d learned about in CCD? Some Jesse Bradford doppelganger patrolling the beaches, searching for someone to rescue?

But with life’s latest volley of social obligations, work stressors, and health-related issues, I read it with new eyes–some with a bit more experience behind them than the ones in that seventh grader’s body.

He is me.

I’m the author of my life.

I can always re-learn how to swim. Even in vast, stormy seas.

I can make it just fine. As long as I remember I’m my own life preserver.

Now, it’s pretty clear that I was trying to navigate the disgusting depths of my toxic job. I probably wrote this around 6:15 in the morning–about ten minutes after my hour and a half drive to work, and a few minutes after my bazillionth Starbucks mocha of the month jump-started my brain.

But there’re parts of this that still resonate, which is why I find it so interesting. Especially now, as Andy and I are closing up shop in North Carolina.

So much has happened since I wrote that blurb.

We’ve done a lot.

Realized the untenable nature of our jobs–how each has been a complete succubus, draining us of our fun-loving personalities.

Set out on a cross country journey to find what it is that we’re looking for, and ending up in Los Angeles–where we’ll be living in almost two weeks.

Made hard decisions, and took life by the reins.

Laughed and cried and wondered how in the world we were going to do it.

Known that we’ll do it somehow, despite our fears.

And acknowledged that our happiness is worth fighting for, and that apathy and complacency have no place in our lives.

Amid everything, we’ve had one another. And I know I couldn’t have done this without him. I’ve never had someone provide the specific kinds of support, love, and compassion he’s shown me, and I’m still sort of blown away by it all. Ultimately, though, I’m grateful.

So, I was wrong while “Drowning.”

The duo.

He’s my life preserver, keeping me afloat.

My swim instructor, advising me to stop splashing around.

And current, pushing me forward.

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Leaving

Leaving a place is never easy.

Even if you’re completely disgusted with the political climate. Or the actual climate morphs you into a disgusting sinus-y blob with legs.

Because the reason you moved to Point A was, at one time, just as important as why you’re deciding to leave for Point B.

And every little thing you’ve learned, and every single person whom you’ve befriended along the way has become a thread in the fabric of your life.

(Cue disturbing “Fruit of the Loom” jingle.)

Speaking of those threads, over the next week we’re going to try and sew as many of them together as possible. Into a warm, fluffy sweater.

(Cue Weezer’s “Undone.” No?)

Alright. Enough with the textile analogies.

***

Even though we’re both so ridiculously excited, we also realize we’ll have to say goodbye. Goodbyes are never fun. Because I’m terribly awkward, and probably say things out of nervousness that, in turn, make people want to forget me.

Plus, I’m an emotional Italian. (I can say that!)

Still.

I thought we’d have more time to see everyone, make the rounds. Have a drink here, a brunch there, and we’d be able to leave everyone who’s become so important to us with one last memory and a smile.

But then I look from the calendar to partially packed boxes to all of our furniture to that Post It reminding me to reserve a goddamn Penske, and acknowledge that I’m a gross, sinus-y blob with legs.

And that’s when it hits me: we won’t be able to do everything one last time, nor see everyone for dinner.

But, we’re going to try.

But in case we can’t make it to each and every one of the haunts we’ve so cherished, here’s a non-exhaustive list of everything I will miss about North Carolina. (The everyone’s are, thankfully, too plentiful to distill down to a list. Y’all know who you are, and know that y’all are awesome.)

In no particular order, I give you the things that have made North Carolina home over the past seven years:

The LGBT Center of Raleigh: No words could describe how much we owe the Center, and the amazing friends and chosen family we’ve made there. After all, without the Center, I wouldn’t have met this guy:

Someone's amazing.

Sanford Antique Mall: Jenks and John, Julie, and all of the great antiquey characters that make it awesome (including the Sanford dahlings).

Porch-hopping with the Sanford dahlings. So much wine. So much debauchery. So much fun.

The Borough: Liz and the amazing Borough crew make enjoying Boys Clubs and Uberwisconsins and Boys Clubs that much more fulfilling.

The Borough. Awesomeness incarnate.

Benelux Cafe: Steven and his wonderful crew, and their large soy mocha + banana-chocolate chip muffin = Saturday morning bliss.

Making a home with Andy, and then having it featured on Apartment Therapy.

Oakwood Historic District: A maze of amazingly beautiful houses, each of which makes us want an historic home that much more.

The Rialto and The Cameo: Theaters like these are becoming scarce, but there’re plenty of good memories here with great friends, and a wonderful mister.

Father & Son Antiques: The crew is always great, and there’re plenty of MCM gems just waiting to eat away at our wallets.

Irregardless Cafe: Three words: Challah. French. Toast. That is all.

Irregardless Cafe's Challah French Toast. Yum.

North American Video: As the only independently-owned movie store left in Raleigh, it gets major props, especially since our DVD collection has blown up thanks to their amazing sales.

Early-morning faux zombie attacks. I’m now fully prepared to respond. *Grabs nearby blunt object*

Sugarland: So many cupcakes, so little time.

Sugarland cupcakes=amazeballs.

Moonlight Pizza Company: Best. Pizza. Evahhh. The End.

Moonlight Pizza Company. Best. Pizza. Ever.

Foster’s Market: Baked. Goods.

Quail Ridge Books & Music: One of the only independently-owned bookstores in the Triangle, where I got to meet a few of my favorite authors. Like, Sarah Vowell, Celia Rivenbark, and Amy Sedaris.

Weaver Street Market. Hippie paradise? Yes. But I can overlook that. Especially when there’s olive bread and wine handy.

David’s Dumpling and Noodle Bar: Do yourself a favor and order the Singapore Rice Stick Noodles with Tofu. You’ll be glad you did.

The Cheshire Cat: Our Fiestaware collection has grown from the goodies stocked here.

The Remedy Diner: Best Bloody Mary in Raleigh. And the Flame Job isn’t bad, either. (No, it’s not something dirty.)

***

Now, there’re also things that I won’t miss–aside from the cray-cray state government. Thankfully, the cons are much fewer than the pros.

Again, in no particular order, I give you a few of the maddening moments/things over the past seven years.

The terrifying moment when I realize I’m doing laundry at a laundromat that shares a parking lot with a K&W Cafeteria. At noon. There is no escaping the Le Sabre-Buick- Cadillac pile-up.

That stoplight at Woodland and Hillsborough. Please take longer. After all, I still need to catch up on a week’s worth of news, and listen to a podcast before you turn green. (Actually, most of Raleigh’s stoplights: GET. SENSORS. INSTALLED.)

The Cameron Village Harris Teeter parking lot. Quite possibly one of the worst-designed parking lots I’ve ever had the displeasure of experiencing on a routine basis. Too many dings in my doors to count.

The way I-40 drivers will careen off the road at the first sign of rain, or put on their hazards and drive three miles per hour.

The black mold growing in my basement apartment in Chapel Hill.

The painted-over black mold growing in my Sanford house.

McNutterpants.

Bubba trucks. Sure, they’re everywhere. But at least it’ll be less likely that I’ll have to deal with sitting beside a jacked-up 70’s Chevy pickup with car-sized tires in CA. (I’m sure your penises are sad.)

Farmhouse Fraternity. (See “Bubba trucks” above.)

Capital Boulevard. *Shudders*

***

As with everything, I’ve tempered the good with the bad and have managed to stay fairly stable. Life is always a balancing act, and each of us always has to make sure to keep the two sides in check.

To enjoy the little things that much more.

To revel in the tiny victories, glittery or not.

To laugh at the absurdity.

And revel in the ambiguity.

Because each of us has to leave at some point.

And choose which memories come along for the ride.

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File Under “Risky Business”

Tom Cruise terrifies me.

Tom Cruise in underwear is an even more disturbing mental image.

So this isn’t about paying homage to that 1983 classic movie that I have no interest in ever seeing. (Which says a lot, because I love movies.)

But ol’ Tomkins doesn’t have a monopoly on doing risky things.

We all have a few moments in our past that we think back to and muse, “What in the f*ck was I thinking?!”

Oftentimes, without the asterisk.

But playing through those same mental frames are moments of sheer bliss, of taking risks and them paying off. Because, very occasionally, big risks have an even bigger payoff.

Ever since following our gay, man-infested destiny to the West Coast last December, we resolved to make our move to California a reality.

Which has proven harder than I thought.

It’s one thing to say, “Hey, I want to move to the other side of the country,” and another thing entirely to actually make it happen.

But nearly five months later, it’s actually going to happen.

***

I’ve just successfully ripped away the last remnant of re-used bubble wrap to coat a particularly cherished piece of pottery when Andy calls.

He’s been in an all-day training session with his manager, and I know he’s coming back earlier than usual. Which, after a long day of going back and forth with our prospective LA apartment manager and packing, is a very welcomed break in our routine.

“Hey! Are you leaving?”

“I just resigned.”

“WHAT?”

Now, it’s not like he wasn’t going to resign in two days anyway. But I’m still surprised.

He tells me how it came up in conversation, and how he’d told his manager that he’d put in his official two weeks’ notice on Friday.

But the best part for me is hearing how uplifted he sounds. It reminds me of the freeing effects I’d experienced after my sparkly departure from my toxic job.

We chat for a few minutes, taking in the moment and realizing that this is the last big step before the actual move.

Then, the unexpected happens.

“Oh my god.”

“What?”

“Honeywell is calling me.”

“OH, uh, SHIT, uh, GO!”

We hang up.

And I stand at the counter, where I’ve just pulled out vegetables and venison to make yet another cost-effective meal.

And wait.

And chop a bazillion carrots and broccoli crowns.

And start having my own conversation.

“What’s going on?!”

“It’s either a really good thing, or a really bad thing that it’s taking this long.”

I look at the clock. Two minutes have passed.

I haphazardly chop more vegetables.

Then, five minutes pass.

And the phone rings.

And I nearly cut off a finger.

I pick up.

“Hey?”

*Andy laughing hysterically*

“So?”

“I. Got. The. JOB!”

Kittens.

Let me just tell you.

After we both scream and talk and gush and scream and gush and hang up so he doesn’t buy it on I-40 Downtown Abbey style, I have an ugly, cathartic cry.

Like, slumping-against-and-inching-down-the-wall-into-a-sobby-heap-on-the-floor kind of cry.

Because, in that moment, all of his job-searching efforts over the past six months have paid off. Not only that, but barely ten minutes after putting in his notice at a job that’s sucked the life out of him, he hears from a job that’s already changed both of our lives.

A game-changing job.

A job that translates to so many more opportunities.

A job that means we’ll now have a much more solid base on which to build our lives in California.

A job where he is respected as an equal among his heterosexual coworkers, and reaps the same benefits.

A job that means all of the “eventually’s” may be in our near future rather than “one day.”

So, we celebrate. In our favorite way.

Celebrating with carbs!

And reflect on this whole experience.

French fries help.

And smile.

Beyond thrilled. Beyond exhausted.

***

This has been one of the most stressful processes of my entire life. And I know Andy feels the same way.

It’s been fraught with minor triumphs and massive setbacks. It’s challenged us to change and adapt, and lean more heavily on one another.

It’s shown us that taking the road less traveled isn’t a skip through the woods. It’s a long, tiring, draining process that can wear your nerves raw.

But it can also teach you so much about yourself.

We’ve grown so much.

Scrimped and saved.

Overcome obstacles.

Cried.

Dreamed.

And learned to let go.

Now, as we find ourselves looking back, we know that taking big, terrifying risks in pursuit of a happier life can pay off.

California-bound!

That whatever hiccups we may experience along the way can be overcome.

As long as we believe in ourselves.

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Tiptoeing Around Disaster

The past few days have been something.

Equal parts absurd, disturbing, exhausting.

It’s a time chocked-full of uncertainty and competing emotions.

Should I be angry?

Afraid?

Anxious?

Should I lead by example?

Do I even have a say in this?

So many questions are being batted around, bouncing off my mental walls like a pinball game.

And every now and then, one hits me with a ding, ding, ding!

***

I didn’t know anyone in the Boston marathon.

No one I know lives in West, Texas.

I haven’t lost a family member to gun violence.

Our home wasn’t recently destroyed by a ruptured oil line or an earthquake.

Our friends and family aren’t under constant threat of drone strikes.

Worldwide, humanity is becoming more enmeshed, yet increasingly fractured. We’re constantly colliding ideologically–sometimes with disastrous, heart-wrenching results that further obliterate the tenuous ties many are making through daily strides for equity and inclusion.

Even for an atheist like me, keeping faith in the greater good is crucial to pushing forward– to beginning anew, to inspiring change.

But it’s hard.

And takes resolve.

Still, it’s worth it. Because for every bomb, every explosion, every disaster, the seeds of a more caring humanity germinate within us all.

We all have the potential to perform great acts of kindness, to extend a hand into the surrounding darkness and feel someone clasp onto it mightily–and not just in times of great need.

Life-changing events force retrospective glances; they make me take stock of the little ways I’ve become the person I see reflected in the mirror–the physical and emotional scars, the maturity and compassion I possess.

***

For some, times like these demand a religion-laden explanation.

For me, I celebrate what is right in the world–the little victories–while being ever cognizant of why they must be celebrated.

Because for every horrible person, each horrendous act of violence, each of us will go on.

We will find a way to put one foot in front of the other.

And help others re-learn how to walk.

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Space: The Final Hair-Pulling Frontier

Yes, I fully admit that I have some Trekkie in me.

And I’ve definitely been channeling Spockisms as Andy and I navigate the ever-exhausting process of relocating to LA.

You know, live long and prosper and Luke, I am your father.

Wait.

Lately, though, I’ve been mixing my frustrations with a wee bit of something else. Just to take the edge off.

No, not Grey Goose.

Positivity.

Positivity is abso-friggin-lutely crucial. Because, as we all know, negativity leads to Revolutionary Road endings.

*Shudders*

Regardless of the highs and lows of this emotional roller coaster ride, I’m so insanely excited to start a new chapter. And while it’s scary to move, the whole pill is easier to swallow with someone by your side.

After all, in this quest to embrace what really makes us happy and develop it into something sustainable, we’re going to go at it full-force–holding onto any jobs we’re able to land and use them as vehicles to get to the next phase of our lives together. And while naysayers or skeptics may think we’re irresponsible or unrealistic, I find myself not caring.

Because this journey is ours to take.

And I hardly think we could ruin our 20-some years of life by exploring a road to happiness.

Plus, we have to do this. Because, as a good friend advised, each of us has to assess how happy we are with three of the big things in life: (1) Partner; (2) Job; (3) Location. And, as she said, “If you’re unhappy with two of these three things, you need to try something else.”

As it just so happens, both of us are tired of the latter two. (Although I probably drive him to think about 1 every now and then. No? Good answer, babe.)

So why not try something new? Something we want to do?

***

While the past few weeks have been excessively exhausting, we’ve learned a lot, and have gotten closer. That’s what experiences do: test your resolve to keep going forward. And, to quote Susan Sarandon in Elizabethtown (again), “All forward motion counts.”

So, as I pull things out of closets, and we reassess how much we really like that chair, or decanter, or set of dishware, we’re becoming much more adept at identifying what it is that we want to define us: not stuff, per say; rather, experiences that bring us together and help us realize how little we need to be happy.

Shipping out the stuff!

And realizing that, in a month’s time, we’re going to be back in California.

California is where we want to be.

At this point, just getting there is a victory. Because we’re doing something important: we’re forging a path set out by no one but us. And, after all of our efforts, “the only real failure would be to stay.”

(Our friend is very wise.)

***

Speaking of being victorious by the mere fact of getting out to LA, let’s talk a bit about space–that nebulous thing that separates this dynamic duo from the West Coast.

Now, I’ve always been fascinated by space and our relation to it. (A fascination that was only fueled by MA thesis research, and reading books like Space and Place by Yi-Fu Tuan, and other lovely things by Tim Ingold.)

So, as we manage downsizing from our massive Raleigh apartment to an LA studio, I’m finding it interesting how we compartmentalize space, and the significance we map onto it once it’s bounded by four walls and a roof.

I mean, really, differences in space are slight, and may only be distinguishable by being coated with pollen or decorated with an Eames lounger.

The arbitrary demarcation of space.

It’s all about what we read into spaces, and how we relate to them. So if we interpret space as not ever being ours to bound and populate, then maybe the best way to respect it is to re-tune our materialistic consciousness away from overburdening space with stuff, and practicing austerity.

You know, keep it simple.

Which is why I’ve become more of a fan of modernist design.

Anyway, I just find it interesting how attached we become to space–something we can’t even touch, but can only describe through feelings we have while navigating through it.

And our responses to it being emptied–unshackled from all of the stuff we pack into it.

And acknowledging, like Andy, that leaving a space is “sort of like a mourning process.”

That, despite our excitement, we’re still mourning the loss of the space’s significance in our lives.

Like the balcony where I pretended to be casually sweeping while waiting for Andy to arrive for our first date.

Like the stairs where he hesitated before walking up to meet me.

Like the rooms he’d later pepper with Mid-Century Modern furniture–once we pinpointed his style aesthetic through antiquing excursions.

Like laying on our bed to share a quiet, reflective moment after we were accosted and called “faggots” by a group of bubbas.

This is the first place we’ve lived together.

The first place we’ve made our own.

The first place I will truly miss.

***

But then, there’re moments of clarity.

Like when I was sitting, running my fingers through Andy’s hair, and suddenly realized that the stuff and space we’d been trying to craft our move around shouldn’t be the foci.

We have to focus on living our lives.

Being true to our feelings.

Encouraging one another.

Learning.

Doing it all in a new space and enjoying the ride.

Knowing deep down that, as my dear friend Norman wrote, we “can work out most anything…even overcooked eggs.”

Knowing that we can always eat around the burned parts and still be nourished.

And keep going.

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Dear North Carolina: It’s Not Us, It’s You.

Y’all know I love letters.

And love letters.

But this one is particularly apropos as I watch, horrified, as North Carolina backslides into history through daily leaps and bounds.

Dear North Carolina:

I have mixed feelings about leaving you.

Mostly because I held you so highly for so long.

You seemed like a place where a southern liberal could find compatriots and a bit of that southern-style flair and hospitality I so cherish.

And, for a while, I thought you provided exactly that.

I grew academically in Chapel Hill.

I did my share of wine-fueled porch-hopping in Sanford.

I met the love of my life in Raleigh.

But the short time since the Republican majority took hold of both the House and Senate–the first time in a 100 years–you’ve become a shade of that state I personally held as the Southeast’s liberal scion. 

Now, though, you’re being driven into the ground by nonsensical legislation and a hyper-conservative government that attacks me, my family, and chosen family; other minorities–women, people of color, immigrants; individuals’ religious rights; and the environment. Just to name a few.

You’re becoming the laughing stock among your Deep South cohort. And, as a native Alabamian, you should know that some folks in my home state are whispering to their Georgia and South Carolina relatives, “Wow, is that cray-cray transferred by osmosis?”

So, North Carolina, I have a question for you.

Are you worth the fight?

Because the past few years I’ve done nothing but fight, march for equality, speak out against bigoted legislation like Amendment One, and rail against an apathetic majority. And, sure, there have been victories. But the severe degree to which you’re backsliding into history makes me wonder what the future holds.

I’m tired.

I’m done fighting for rights that other states, and countries, recognize as they should.

A life spent fighting doesn’t seem like a life I want to lead.

I want to focus on living.

Every single day over the past few weeks, my partner and I have been reminded why we’re leaving you for California.

Sure, Cali has her own problems. But at least with her there’s probably less likelihood that we’ll be accosted and called “faggots” for merely holding hands in our car while stopped at a traffic light; that we’ll be shadowed and stalked on the road by pickup trucks plastered with Confederate flags; that we’ll hear our legislators repeatedly legitimize unconstitutional, institutional violence and bigotry against us and other minorities.

Maybe I’m just sensitive. Or maybe I’m a slighted Millennial who’s experienced the recession’s pitfalls since its inception, and constantly sees my fellow generational cohort continually screwed through economic and legislative (in)action.

But my partner and I can only defend you so long before we acknowledge that your base does not deserve our economic contributions nor our innovative spirits.

We’re tired of reinforcing Battered Citizen Syndrome. We’re not going to come running back, defending you every single time you punch us, expecting everything to be roses and rainbows afterward.

We’ll do what we can to support our good friends who continue to fight. But know that they, too, are getting tired of your repeated blows. And it’s only a matter of time before your tactics to regulate citizens’ social lives in lieu of effecting positive, beneficial political change backfire–when you find yourself quickly sliding down that “Most Desirable” list, being abandoned by progressive companies seeking a home base.

So, my partner and I will move gaily forward with our lives. In California. And we’ll hope you’ll soon find a brain like Dorothy’s scarecrow, and actually realize that you’re aligning yourself with the wrong side of history. And that, very soon, you’ll know what it feels like to be a minority.

Bless your heart.

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Recession Rubric for Recouped Rubels

Alright, so I absolutely adore alliteration.

Almost as much as I love coffee.

Speaking of coffee. As I was grinding a bag of coffee beans with my great-grandparents’ cast iron mortar and pestle this morning, I started thinking about all of the cost-saving measures Andy and I have implemented since my foray into unemployment.

Grind that coffee! Work those muscles!

(Like, say, salvaging the cast iron mortar and pestle instead of buying a new one.)

And since I’m a giver, I’ve decided to gift you with a short list of how you can cut costs, too. Even if you’re employed. (Show off.)

(1) Cull the Fat.

Y’all may remember that, immediately after our cross country road trip, we culled the bejesus out of our apartment.

(With a little help from Grey Goose.)

We ended up pulling out so much stuff that we devoted two weekends, and a few weekdays, to shedding it. But you know what? Having our apartment in complete disarray was worth the outcome: a lighter, brighter apartment. Which got its face-lift right before its second feature on Apartment Therapy.

(2) Cull More.

Right when you think you’ve gone through every closet, combed through all of your books, you realize that, while beautiful, you don’t really use that vase.

Cull, cull, cull. (Except that vase of cars, and that fabulous green bowl.)

And those piles of books you’ve been wanting to read for years should go to people who will actually enjoy them. And yes, even though you like a drink on occasion, you don’t need all of those glasses. Keep it simple.

(3) The Great Pantry Cleanse.

No, this doesn’t involve copious amounts of paprika and prune juice. But I do recommend doing this while humming or playing Eminem’s “Cleanin’ Out My Closet.” Just because.

We all have that partially used bottle of soy sauce for that stir fry we made last year (what?), or those dried beans that should really be cooked instead of sitting in that cool pottery canister.

Clean out that pantry!

And don’t get me started on what’s in the freezer–the vegetables you couldn’t eat but refused to throw away, the 10 or so pounds of venison from Alabama. You know, the usual stuff.

Well, kittens. It’s time to get your creative juices flowing. Because it’ll surprise you how long you can last on what you have in your house. Sure, you may have to run to the store for one random ingredient. But you’ll be amazed at how awesome the stuff that’s been sitting around can taste with a bit more effort than what you usually cook.

By the time I took stock of everything we had, I realized we were totally prepared in case of a zombie apocalypse. Sure, tangerine-chocolate-chip cake isn’t the healthiest alternative, but it’s better than the brains I’d crave after getting mauled by a zombified Harris Teeter cashier.

(4) Wear Your Heart (and Everything) In Your Favorite Sleeves. 

Yes, this doesn’t really make sense. But you get the gist: wear what you love and get rid of the rest. I’ve read several articles about culling stuff, mostly because I find it fascinating how far we’ll go to justify what stays and what goes. Especially when it comes to clothes. (Especially bonafide or poseurish clubbin’ clothes. FYI, you’re too old for that shit.)

But one of the best articles detailed a month-long experiment that went something like this: after you wear an article of clothing, turn its hanger around; then, at the end of the month, get rid of everything on the un-turned hangers. (Unless it’s that really expensive job interview outfit.)

Rinse and repeat Steps 1-4 until desired results are achieved.

***

Now, this isn’t an exhaustive list. But as Andy and I figure out our next steps, and become increasingly envious of those who can move everything they have in a 14-foot rental truck, we’re glad to have these mad skills under our belts. Because, regardless of where we end up or how much money we make, we’re still going to implement these lessons.

Why not?

Sometimes a simpler life is the way to go.

Because as amazingly bright as our material possessions shine, they can never trump the glow we get from unshackling ourselves from the past to take steps toward a lighter future.

From realizing how little we need to carry on our journey.

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Millennial Blues

These days, it’s hard not to think about getting the short end of the stick.

Whether it takes the form of a pink slip, a bullying boss, or an increasingly high credit card or student loan payment, Millennials are being forced to face the harsh realities of life in an economically upended America.

Rather than the American Dream many of our baby-boomer parents and their parents sought to realize, we’re left with the collective dregs, the American Nightmare: high unemployment,  higher costs of living, and uncertainty around every bend in our life journey.

To be sure, no one–not our parents, nor our grandparents–has had an easy ride. Unless you’re born into a royal family, everyone has to struggle for what they want out of life.

But somewhere along the way, we got complacent.

We figured that things would fall into place. That we wouldn’t have to work overtime, that our weekends would be wide open. We’d be able to visit family whenever we wanted, and would have that future we’d imagined and were always told we’d have.

But then the Great Recession swallowed up that utopian image, regurgitating back a bleak future for those preparing to enter the job market, to make tremendous strides toward those lofty goals.

***

January 2008 found me mulling over the idea of leaving graduate school. It turned out academia wasn’t for me, and I began to hash out logistics for my atypical departure from a traditional PhD program.

Whether it was because I was so tuned to my graduate career’s rigors, or because I let myself be lulled into a false sense of normalcy, I didn’t really think much of the fact that “recession” was becoming more widely discussed in the media.

Several months later, right after my funding was dropped, I found a job. And I was immensely lucky–more so than I realized.

Immediately after I was brought on, the recession’s impact hit home.

Friends began hearing rumors of funding cuts. Others lost their jobs. But my coworkers and I kept our heads down, our noses to the grindstone, as we hotel-hopped to various contracting jobs.

During the evening downtime, I’d allot dinner to the world news before returning to my defunct laptop to rap away the findings of my MA research. Oftentimes, dinner left me hungry for brighter days. Still, I told myself that things would get better. I would finish writing my thesis, the economy would rebound, and things would be okay.

They had to be, because this life wasn’t what I’d signed up for when I’d chased my childhood dream of becoming an archaeologist.

***

The next months didn’t get easier. My thesis had to be gutted and re-started, and the contracting jobs became more widely distributed, leaving little time at home, and even less time to act like the young twenty-something all of the movies portrayed.

Living in a hotel for nearly six days out of a week wasn’t glamorous, and wasn’t me. But it’s what barely paid the bills. Savings was nearly all devoted to school, and what couldn’t cover it came out of my pocket.

It was all worth it, though. I had to keep telling myself that.

After all, what was the point of putting myself through the wringer if it wasn’t going to literally and figuratively pay off?

As more time passed, and “furlough” became a common word whispered throughout my office, I revisited that question over and over again.

December 2008 found me scrambling for hope and a full paycheck. When I found out my grandfather was transferred to hospice, I took what little time off I’d earned by working overtime. Regardless of the economy, family still came first.

But when my grandfather passed Christmas Day, I watched from my office window multiple states away as three children spilled out of a car in front of a nearby house and ran up to their waiting grandparents. I’d had to tell my grandfather goodbye while he was still fully cognizant. And while we’d had our disagreements in life, I still felt cheated that I’d had to leave prematurely before his permanent departure.

“Well, I guess the next time you see me, I’ll be in a tiny box.”

That was one of the last things he ever said to me. And he was right. All because I had no benefits, and no paid time off. Had I stayed, I wouldn’t have been able to pay my bills.

***

As the nation watched its economy crumble even more, and the war wage on, I was revising yet another MA thesis iteration, and was hoping for something to change. Anything.

A few months later, I went to the doctor for biopsy results.

“It’s cancer.”

The spot I’d noticed a year before on my face was, in fact, a basal cell carcinoma, the most common form of skin cancer. Albeit common and relatively innocuous, I still couldn’t quite wrap my mind around that C-word. And since my funding was cut the previous year, and my current job afforded me no benefits, I certainly didn’t have the healthcare coverage to cushion the blow.

With a bandage covering the test site on my face, I walked into the cool air and couldn’t comprehend that I wasn’t even 25 years old and had some form of cancer. That I didn’t have healthcare. That I’d soon have a degree that I’d been killing myself over that’d be all but useless in the economic cesspool in which everyone was reaching for a life jacket.

***

Unlike so many, I was fortunate enough have my parents’ help. Because of my age, I was still able to be covered under their health insurance.

Two days after I defended my thesis and turned the final copy into the graduate school, the right side of my face was cut open to remove a half dollar-sized chunk of cancerous flesh. The resulting scar has always been a reminder, not so much of my brush with cancer, but of how close I’d come to disaster over the past year.

***

About six months later, the rippling waves from the development markets began lapping at my company’s doorstep. Construction projects that’d been in the works were no longer funded. Other projects were cancelled indefinitely. And furloughs became a reality.

And when our boss held a meeting, we all knew it was that meeting.

“If you haven’t started looking for other jobs, now is the time.”

Many of us had seen the writing on the wall, but we didn’t want to read it. To fully digest the words.

But with that single sentence ringing in my head, I knew I was dancing around the corner of another pitfall.

And through fortuitous happenstance, I was able to abandon the sinking ship with a fortunate few others. We’d made it onto a lifeboat. Many others did not.

***

My lifeboat delivered me to a military installation, at which I docked for nearly three years. But this was a job with no benefits and a nearly three hour round-trip commute. And after enduring years of lackadaisical management and emotional abuse from putative “supervisors,” I couldn’t take it any longer.

Two months ago, in anticipation of the sequester and contractual cuts, and even though I didn’t qualify for unemployment, I left my job. It wasn’t an easy decision. But my partner and I decided that it was for the best. After all, at a time when everything is in limbo, home life takes priority. It has to be shielded from a constant in-flow of work-related toxicity.

Managing our lives is the most important thing in life. But Congress often quantifies us in monetary terms–how much we’re costing them, how much we’re “free-loading.” But what Congress doesn’t see are the effects that their measures have on you–the person, the citizen.

They don’t see you go home and cry. Nor do they hear you tell your partner, your parents, your friends that you’re going to lose your job. They don’t feel the humiliation, the hopelessness. They don’t wonder what will happen, and where that “happily ever after” went hiding.

They don’t hear a flight attendant say, “I can’t afford to start over now.”

They don’t see the charity of the elderly woman in a laundromat who, after refusing $.50 for a complimentary stint at the dryer, says, “At my age, this small money not important. I need big money like a lot.”

They don’t understand how much less a dollar can be stretched when gas, food, prescriptions, and lodging costs continue to rise.

They don’t understand the compounded inequality nested within a crippled economy.

Because my partner and I are gay, it costs me $40 for a prescription that he gets for $5. His employer could fire him for merely being gay. We cannot file joint taxes. And, this year, that may have been helpful, especially since almost everyone got walloped with a significant payback to the government.

Coupled with LGBT inequality and our generation’s dystopia, he and I have talked at length about our future. About how we’ll make it.

We’ve crafted some life goals together and, through hard work and dedication, will strive to achieve them.

But we also know that our generation is fractured.

Wherever I look, I see people unemployed or underemployed. And I hope to soon join the ranks of the latter to escape the confines of the former.

I see a growing schism between the realities of the past and the expectations of the future.

And I know I’m not alone.

“What’s happening to your generation is awful. Just awful. Everyone’s in debt, there’re no jobs. How are people supposed to make it?”

My mother surprised me with that statement after I called her and my father for advice and help. Again, I couldn’t imagine not having their support. But I know that that’s not the reality for most Millennials.

You’d think that the repetitious sound of doors crashing closed would resound in our heads, triggering an innovative, entrepreneurial spirit to guide us to a more fulfilling future–something approximating that which we were promised.

But leaving a paycheck isn’t an option.

Most must acquiesce, choosing to be miserable and underemployed rather than railing against and escaping overbearing, opportunistic employers. And even if we escape, the most many have to look forward to is hanging an advanced degree on a parent’s basement wall, or competing with high school-aged kids for part-time work at the neighborhood grocery.

***

This isn’t a happy story.

It’s one that most people choose not to read, because it’s not energizing, nor is it comforting.

But it’s ending is one that’s continually evolving with the ebb and flow of national tides.

It’s one that has the potential of a phoenix–rising from the ashes of a former body to take flight into a new day.

And it is my hope that that day dawns soon.

And that we all can find our wings.

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While You Were…Away in LA

Alright. So this isn’t the terrible sequel to the horrendously nineties, horrendously wonderful While You Were Sleeping.

But it does involve some nineties celebrities, and celebrities in their nineties.

***

You may recall that I dropped the news that Andy and I are moving to LA.

And I’ve been deathly silent ever since.

Like a boa constrictor.

Mostly because, right after we decided to go for it, we got scrunched and twisted, and felt like things were tightening around us.

Taxes hit the fan big time (I’m sure plenty of y’all feel the hurt), and we had to entertain “what ifs” before damning the torpedoes and fully steaming ahead.

Have there been tears? Yes.

And doubts? Hell yes.

Did we start to think that our lives really were mirroring Revolutionary Road? That our Kathy Bates-like apartment manager would tell the new gay tenants some lamentable story about how we lost ourselves, ran down the road screaming, and were never heard from again?

Of course.

So, yes, there have been some dark days.

But then: Mom to the rescue.

“Honey, look at it this way. If you’re in a pit of despair, the only way you can look is up.”

And, poof.

Up I looked. To a clearer, albeit cloudy sky.

So we’ve chipped away at the negative, have balanced it with the positive, and have continued to move forward.

Sure, there’re still unknowns, but they’re kept in check–always tempered with a bit of optimism and underlain with fortitude.

Because that’s all any of us can do: salvage the good from the bad, shore up a cracked foundation, and keep building.

***

After pulling ourselves out of our funk with the help of a few amazing friends, we set off for LA apartment hunting.

Now, similar to the Powerpoint-driven cross country road trip, we go equipped with Excel spreadsheets chocked-full of various information about neighborhoods, prices, parking, freeway proximity, amenities, and all the other fun stuff.

I venture out a few days before to ensure I have a couple of appointments under my belt before Andy makes it out later in the week.

Once I get the rental car, get a quick lesson on LA driving etiquette, and find the hotel, I steel myself for the coming days and whatever they’ll bring.

Settled and ready.

***

Earlier in the week, I’d spoken to Kaz, sl-landlord of the first apartment I’d planned to tour. After clarifying things a bazillion times the morning of, and him changing the address at the last minute, I fully expect the apartment to look nothing like what he’s described.

And I’m right.

It’s perfectly fine. For someone else.

Next.

An hour later, I find myself en route to the next place, which happens to be in the same area where we ran into Sandra Oh.

And while I doubt Ryan Gosling lives across the way, the apartment itself is super cute. Minus the slightly disturbing glorified anorexia photos on the tenant’s refrigerator, and her rambunctious dogs.

The agent is pleasant, and her name isn’t Kaz.

And after a few laughs, we’re like, “Gurl, she said whaaaaaat?”

Double plus bonus.

***

The next day, after three dry runs of navigating LAX, I finally pick up Andy.

Then we buzz into Hollywood, lunch on some comfort food, and start walking around, reminding ourselves that we’re not on vacation. That part of the point of this entire trip is imagining ourselves here.

The next day we pop into an apartment complex on our list.

Mostly because of the neighborhood, my internal monologue immediately switches into Daria mode. But then we walk inside.

And our jaws drop.

It’s like an Art Deco explosion everywhere.

I pee a little.

And then the hipster apartment agents show us one of the units, leading us up ornate staircases and into crazy-ass-cool Deco elevators.

Surely, I think, the apartment itself can’t be this nice.

But it is.

And so is the rooftop pool. The first of its kind in the nation.

And I think to myself, “I can totally swim here.”

So we say our thank-yous, shoot each other ohmahgerd looks, get into the car, and explode into dialogue.

And we keep it going to the next place.

The one with Deco moldings dripping down from the corners. With etched glass built-ins. With original hardwood floors. With the original Deco vanity the hipster apartment agent “wouldn’t think of removing.”

And I start feeling weak in the knees.

Then, after that one, we go to a wild card.

And wonder if Adam Levine might be our neighbor. (‘Cause y’all know Andy and I would be running each other over in the hallway to ask him for a cup, or gallon, or handful of sugar.)

Oh hai, Adam! Can we borrow a handful of your sugah?

And try to keep it together when the hipster apartment agent (sensing a trend?) says, “Yeah, it’s sort of crazy around here during the Oscars. So, here’s the kitchen.”

And then, after the appointments end, merge onto one of the main freeways and not mind the slowed traffic. (Because one good thing about enduring extreme commutes for several years is that we’re used to traffic. And delays. And more traffic. And we realize LA isn’t as bad as most people make it out to be traffic-wise. Which then reminds us that most people have never had the commutes we’ve had.)

And we think, “Hey, we could live here.”

***

As part of our quasi-decompression time between appointments, we venture to the same mall where we saw Brad and Gary from It’s A Brad, Brad World.

And right as we get to the top of an escalator, a curly-haired guy casts a glance our way.

“I think that’s Ben Savage.”

“Who?”

Boy Meets World. Like, critical show of my adolescence.”

“Oh. I never watched that show.”

“WHAT?!”

“Isn’t he sort of not in anything anymore?”

Which Andy says right behind him.

And I realize that, yes, it’s totally Cory Matthews writ real. Sporting a baseball cap and stubble.

I fight the urge to blurt out, “WHERE IN THE HELL IS TOPANGA?!”

And succeed.

We leave Ben Savage to validate his parking, then go to Pinkberry as a reward for spotting a celebrity. And so I can say that I went to that place that was in that viral pro-gay marriage video.

Pinkberry is our reward.

Not so long after I demolish my praline salted caramel yogurt, Andy spots Edith Flagg.

“Who?”

“The old woman from that reality show about selling houses.”

“Uh.”

“She’s worth a lot of money.”

OH. Well, push her down that goddamned escalator.”

(Kidding! She had helpers. Dammit.)

(Sidenote: Then I read about what she and her family did during WWII and feel really dickish and horrible about the escalator comment.)

Soon enough, we pack it in and head back to the hotel. Rejuvenated with yogurt and celebrity sightings, we prep for the long trip back.

***

Which isn’t too bad.

Minus the sadness of the Las Vegas airport. (Meaning, watching people flush money down the toilet. Which, if I’m not mistaken, is an actual slot machine.)

And the running commentary of the mother with the fussy child.

You know, the one who just has to come to the back of the airplane so that her seatmate will stop being angry. Who’s fine not making her seatmate angry, but is perfectly content to keep the rest of us awake.

Including Flashy Grandma, who, bless her heart, keeps accidentally taking flash photos while scrolling through her digital camera, then yelling back to her friend Louise.

Coupled with FG’s antics and the turbulence, the baby-centric conversation booming over the jet engines behind my head nearly pushes me over the edge.

Chatty Mother to Dribbly, Screaming Lump: “YOU’RE SUPPOSED TO BE A SLEEPY GIRL!”

Then, to Macho, Straight (STRAIGHT!) Flight Attendant: “What’s your daughter’s name?”

MSFA: “Lyla.”

CM: “OH, we were going to name her Lyla. But she’s Clara. But we’re still not over Lyla.”

FG: *Photographic misfire, awakening nearby drunk couple with heads down on tray tables*

*Turbulence. Seatbelt sign.*

AG: “LOUISE!”

CM: “Do you have a name for your son?”

MFA: “Kalon.”

CM: “Caden?”

MSFA: “KALON. Like ‘talon.’ But with a ‘K.’ It’s Greek and Irish. So, like I was saying, the Concourse baby stroller is like the winnebago of strollers.”

Me: *Looks for sharp object. Finds random fortune cookie. Opens it for life-affirming advice: “An entertainment event in the near future will yield great rewards.” Destroys cookie.*

***

We land.

We drive home.

We collapse.

We talk about the great things ahead.

And we sleep.

And we wake up.

And we talk about the great things ahead.