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Waking Up

Rain cascades through the canopy and pummels my freshly planted mint into the loose soil – bubbles gurgling up from underneath the clods and resuscitating the bound roots.

A lone curl bobs up and down in the wind, occasionally plastering itself across my forehead and funneling rain down the bridge of my nose. I gulp down the cool, heavy air and meander over to a cleared bed, situating myself beneath a few interwoven branches and gazing across the terrace.

When I’m cycling through a toxic welter of anxiety- and depression- inducing synaptic misfires, I stop, look at the sky, take a deep breath, and focus on something – usually Gay Gardens, my cathartic flex point.

Gay Gardens

On heavy rain days like today, the house always appears saturated and dirty, like the moldy yellow sponge my dad kept in his homemade car-washing kit in our crawlspace. Evening is creeping in, and I begin my slow, calculated circuit around the house, all the while mentally scrawling a running list of things to fix. Off the sun porch, a gutter hangs sloppily, channeling a constant stream of water into my shoddily dug French drain below – causing dirt to splash up and pepper the flaking yellow paint sloughing off the clapboard.

Inside, the residual heat and steam from my shower fog the window panes. I switch off the lights and peer out the gradually clearing windows. Moonlight illuminates the yard, and casts shadows into the garden’s recesses. As the furnace clicks on, the house seems to heave – the floorboards creaking, the rafters popping; the labored, forced air knocking the cold and damp down just enough for me to doze beneath the bed covers.

Just as I’m drifting off to sleep, louder snaps and pops from the back of the house rouse me fully awake. I listen closely for more, and then my imagination does the rest – crafting a horror movie sequence that climaxes with an ax splintering my barricaded bedroom door. Heart racing, I deftly slide my hand down to retrieve a concealed hammer I took from my last job, the name “Kate” scribbled in Sharpie along its dented head.

Flicking on light after light, I study each darkened corner and fiddle with the door locks, convincing myself that everything is fine – that my imagination just got the best of me.

I laugh into the darkness to reassure myself, sigh, and squirrel Kate into her hiding place before sliding back under the covers.

I comb back through the day, reciting off each to-do, like sheep leaping over a fence.

Paint floor.

Seal baseboards.

Clear weeds.

And then, I’m waking up the next morning.

Over the past few weeks, each morning has been successively refreshing. With mental cloud banks clearing, I’m steeling my nerves for what I know is going to be an uphill battle.

It’s been over a year since I submitted my manuscript for publication, and received my first crushing “Thanks but no thanks” response. Since then, the manuscript has migrated from my underwear drawer to a top closet shelf – always relegated to the darkest of alcoves.

Like my personal life, I’d deemed the tome complete. Now, it’s time to start again.

***

Sun rays pierce the foggy haze, and the floor vibrates – the slumbering house rattles awake.

And I sit here, feet firmly pressed against the cold floor, willing the warmth to pulse through my legs, propelling me forward – awake.

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Ebb & Flow

Seattle’s hallmark fall mist filters down through brittle leaves to parched soil. From a single, mossy branch at the top of my plum tree, five purple orbs dangle enticingly – the last vestiges of the growing season.

Deterred by the empty fridge, my growling stomach convinces me that coffee and plums will work just fine for a Saturday morning breakfast.

But then, emerging from the shaded side of a rhododendron, an obese squirrel lazily lopes toward my bounty, sniffing at the decimated plum skins and pits he and his brethren have littered around the yard as he nears the tree’s gnarled trunk.

Animal instinct kicks in, and my disheveled fro grows menacingly – my own hackles. The dogs scatter as I run out the back door, dragging a paint-spattered utility ladder in my wake. The ensuing ruckus from the ladder clanging down the squeaky mud porch stairs startles my nemesis, freezing him midway up the trunk, his marble-like eyes fixated on the insane person running toward him, hissing madly.

He flees. I win. Breakfast is secured.

Back inside, I slice my spoils and drizzle them with honey. Coffee steams in my mug, and Joanna sits nearby, pulling at the stitching of my childhood Care Bear turned dog toy.

On the faded, leather-topped drum table above her, a shock of pink from an African violet’s flower catches my attention. Sometime in the night, its tiny buds sprang to life – blooming quietly, elegantly, fully; the cupped blooms fill with morning light – nature’s entreating communion chalices.

***

After my second cup of coffee, I decide to check in with the rest of the world and open my email. Just a week ago, I’d refresh my inbox every five minutes – hoping for relief in the form of a subject line reading, “Job Offer.” Now that that particularly exhausting, yet satisfyingly cleared hurdle is behind me, I’ve purposefully unplugged – looking skyward, reading, working outside, painting, and relegating my phone to my mental dustbin until I need it.

A property management company rep has responded to my email about altering the lease with a sterile: “We’ll need to ensure that your income alone can cover rent. Please send your most recent pay stub.” Although the response isn’t entirely unexpected, I’m suddenly awash with anxiety – my eyes darting around to freshly painted walls, out the windows to cleared planting beds and newly rooted shrubs.

All this could be taken away with one email, one turn of phrase.

I delete “Thanks a fucking lot!” and reply appropriately, infusing my message with the requisite saccharine subservience most tenants convey to avoid falling out of grace with their landlords. I know this is a business to them, and they couldn’t care less about all of the time, effort, and expense Andy and I both dumped into this heap; that there’s still some persistent electrical problem; that every morning I clear away cobwebs, courtesy of my arachnid roommates; that I’m constantly fighting against some natural element to reclaim this house of paste and popsicle sticks. (#FirstWorldproblems)

But as unintentionally hurtful as the message was, the subtext is nothing new. Just like everyone else, I have to carve out my own niche of existence and defend it.

To live means to fight. It’ll never be an easy ride, and that’s okay.

Living in this cute, rotting house, I’m constantly reminded of the transitory nature of material things. Years from now, will someone be sitting on this sun porch, scribbling away in a notebook or chatting over coffee with friends? Or will these walls and weathered floors be splintered into the earth and overtaken by ivy, or gone entirely and replaced with a McMansion block devoid of personality? I wonder where I’ll be and what I’ll be doing. If I’ll drive by one day to remember my new beginning in this little house.

Part of me accepting the inevitability of change is acknowledging that I’m constantly in motion, colliding with possibilities, obliterating obstacles while creating life, energy, and fulfilling moments in which I feel complete – as though I’ve curled up in my most threadbare, comfy clothes on my weathered sofa with a mug of hot cocoa in hand, watching a storm roll in through the open windows.

Letting the wind blast my face, the cool air filling my lungs – my mind marveling at life’s ebb and flow.

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Leaning In

Life is weird. If being an autonomous agent in this world teaches you anything, it’s that. You can plan and scheme and outline your entire future – or even just your morning – and everything can change without pomp or circumstance, without some clouds parting or an internal voice telling you “This is your moment.”

Things change. People change. We get older and more tired. But something that few of us leave behind fully is a taste for life, for the sweet, sometimes unexpected bits sprinkled into our daily existence like toppings over ice cream. And right as you’re squaring your jaw, drawing a hard line, you break into that bizarre, alien sweetness – an experience that, again, throws you off balance just enough to make you pivot and change course.

This past year has been full of heartache and changes. We’ve said gut-wrenching goodbyes, moved from a desert to FernGully, had plenty of hiccups, and started all over again.

As freeing as moving here and there can be, I’ve found myself waiting for that inevitable push elsewhere, using a bad day or passerby’s glare to fuel some choking ember into an inferno – raging and demanding change, being that ostensible evidence that I belong somewhere else.

Not long after we rooted in Seattle, we both started having misgivings. Perhaps we succumbed to Seattle’s permeating dampness, its seemingly impenetrable gray skies; or maybe we just needed something in the world around us to reflect our internal dialogue. So, yet again, we vowed that perpetual motion was the only way out of this overwhelming, emotionally draining welter. And where better to funnel our efforts than toward the place where we first met, where we first made a home together – on the other side of the country.

Returning to a place you consider home almost seems a given these days. Or maybe it’s just a product of getting older, realigning priorities – all of those revelatory moments you witness onscreen and never imagine actually taking hold in your own consciousness, made audible by your two lips and shaky vocal chords. And for a while, we began to pave our road back to Raleigh, imagine house-hunting around our old haunts, remembering all of the goodness we shared with family – genetic and chosen. But, as I’ve said, life happens.

***

A few minutes into my 90-day review, I know everything is about to change. My director is leaving the organization, and I know with the utmost certainty that it’s only a matter of weeks before the other member of our dwindling department raises anchor and sets sail too. I swallow. I smile. I say all the things a professional would – interjecting humor where necessary, blunting cynicism with sarcasm.

And so the shift begins. A week after she leaves, my other teammate departs, as I’d suspected he would. So, it’s down to me.

This is it. There’s no point investing my time or energy here. 

But the departmental chaos reveals a chance to propel up the ladder a few rungs faster than I’d imagined. Coupled with a few other wrenches that’ve been thrown our way, we have a lot to consider, more than a few decisions to make.

***

It’s easy to run away; it’s harder to stay, absorb, learn, grow as much as you can, and have confidence that, no matter what, you’re doing something because you want to – not because you have to, or because it’s what’s expected at this point in life.

So, we’re leaning in. We’re staying in Seattle – for now.

We’re acknowledging that where we are today is incredibly different from where we were in May, when we first set foot in the Pacific Northwest. And that’s a good thing. And we owe it to ourselves to keep making it as good as possible, to let the ink dry on this latest map we’ve scribbled down before wetting the quill again and drafting a new one.

For me, the scariest character in all of our conversations has been that familiar specter – the great and powerful Unknown, which gobbles up fear and optimism, dreams and nightmares. And we never know if what we entrust to it will ever manifest down the line in some guise – vindicating or damning us.

But at some point we have to look beyond the paths we see ahead of us and take stock of what encompasses them – limitless beauty and opportunity and, yes, that terrifying, ghoulish Unknown bathing in a soup of ambiguity.

Left, right, back, or none of the above?

You can yoke yourself to the trite saying “There’s a time and place for everything and everyone” – that when you hit some arbitrary number of years on this earth, you must fall in line.

Or, you can acknowledge that there’re lots of places, and time enough to do some exploring.

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Mint Condition

Dust quietly layers the sideboard as the week-old carnations brown and droop. The apartment still smells faintly of cumin and chili powder and paprika from last night’s chickpea dish, and Toby attacks his new toy before dragging its stuffed carcass into our bedroom, his lair.

I close my eyes, sink into the reverberating sounds from the living room fan, and let my mind doze.

In two days, I start my new job. After a little over two months of applications, rejections, and interviews, I finally snagged a position that I’m actually really happy about. Even still, its imminent kickoff triggers all the typical qualms that most everyone whispers to themselves – all of which boil down to something along the lines of “Don’t cock it up.” But at least this time around, I’m not quite as fretful as I was starting over in LA – mostly because I’m not completely recreating my career. And I now know that mastering nonprofit code-switching is the key to succeeding in Nonprofit World. All that aside, it’ll be nice to get back into the swing of things, and do some good.

***

Lately, I’ve pulled back a bit from the world. Everywhere I turn – and every time I read through my Facebook feed, or peruse some news site – there’s so much ugliness and tragedy and terror that I want to curl into a ball and sleep, or throw a vase against the wall.

It seems I’m lacking a much needed groundswell of inspiration – something wholly necessary to offset the stressful annoyance of trying to bring this whole publishing-a-book goal to fruition. I’ve been hoping that the greasy sheen of oil pastels or the earthy richness of potting soil will jump-start my mind like a drained car battery.

Doodling...

More doodling...

And another doodle...

But there’re no sparks to be felt, no gears shifting around upstairs.

Usually, my recourse would involve complaining and violin-playing, and then I’d get over it. Now – whether it’s a few more years of wisdom, or a few more reality checks under my belt – I’ve found that putting a little good out into the world and having the courage to keep going are more appropriate responses. Because even if these tacks don’t spur some genius idea, or break through that writer’s block, I know that I haven’t fed into the defeatist mentality that lords over so many folks’ minds. My mind is still free.

***

Sirens howl through the afternoon heat, and I reach out and rub the tabletop geranium’s fuzzy leaves, their peppery fragrance steeping under my fingernails.

I look over at the mint plant’s new, fragile shoots bending upward toward the light – growing slowly, silently, and gracefully.

Growing, slowly but surely...

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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...

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A [Wannabe] Writer’s Work is Never Done

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

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

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

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

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

Ah, books.

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

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

What if it’s horrible?

Is it long enough?

What if I don’t believe in it anymore?

What if I have nothing to really say?

What if it’s just not funny or engaging?

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

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

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

Who will want to read this?

Why did I write it?

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

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

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

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

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

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Under the Seattle Sun

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

At least there's a path...

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

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

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

*Shudders*

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

A proper, less hoarder-like living room

Our pared down library

Full of DVDs and dishes...

Much more practical pieces...

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

***

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

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

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

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

Which is why Sandra Oh is my best friend forever.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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