Reading is good

For the record, by “reading” I mean “reading more than just the inflammatory headline and then sharing it to display your sense of moral outrage and to ‘prove’ your point.”

I came along at a particularly lucky time in American history. Despite the fact that i grew up in a small-to-medium city in a moderate-to-conservative region, I always had access to good reading material and usually took advantage of that fact. It’s what helped me survive my teen years and make it to my senior year in high school (1982), which was the point where I realized for the first time that I could successfully invent the person I wanted to be and that I deserved better than the losers I’d been hanging around with up to that point. By the semester I graduated, I’d finally seen that it was OK to be smart and to have friends who were smart too.

A decade or so later, when Borders and Barnes & Noble became major retail forces, to criticize the way these chain bookstores were destroying local, independent stores. I was very conflicted about this because I remembered growing up in a place that didn’t really even have viable independent stores that sold the kind of books i wanted to be reading. Most of the independent stores around here were either religious in nature or were of the “books and stationery” variety, which meant that they sold primarily inconsequential and uncontroversial titles.

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(Waldenbooks, Thomas Hawk, CC BY-NC 2.0)

In fact, it was the Waldenbooks branch at the mall where I found books about cities and about subcultures, and (gasp) books and magazines that told me it was OK to be the homosexual I was…ahem…practicing to be. Without the big chain store and its broader perspective, there’s no telling how long I would have had to wait to read messages that challenged the everyday bullshit of the early Reagan-era South. It’s all well and good to criticize the chain bookstores when you live in a big city located in a region with options. The chain were the only option here at the time, and I’d argue that stores like Borders and Barnes & Noble were extremely important in providing this function for the generation who came along in the pre-Internet 1990s.

Of course, the library was important as well. In the early 1980s, the Greensboro Public Library had a surprisingly large collection of titles from among the “gay liberation” classics of the early 1970s. When I look back at them now, I find a lot of this stuff sort of cringeworthy (though many of these books presented a much more open-minded and diverse notion of what a gay person could be than much pf the “gay culture” crap that followed) but it was precisely what I needed to be reading at the time. It goes without saying where this love for the library took me, although it was a rather long and circuitous route.

Reading (and realizing that doing so was a good thing) was also what prompted me to seek out used book stores like the original Browsery, which was on the second floor of a dumpy building near UNCG and only seemed to be open at night, and newsstands like the International in Charlotte, tucked away in the back of a mall hidden in an apartment complex off Providence Road. It was harder to find the things you needed then, but it was not impossible…assuming you cared enough to bother.

I’m sort of babbling and don’t really have much of a point here, I guess, other than to reiterate that I was luckier than a lot of people my age and older who grew up in less urban and bookish areas. My parents did not read a lot of books but did read a lot of everything else, so they were good role models. Being in a sort of college town (though not a college-dominated town) also helped. Having access, though, and the desire to seek things out, was the key.

There’s a lot of access now too, which is amazing and wonderful, but I wish there were more propensity to filter out the crap and be selective in a world with a major signal-to-noise deficit.

Ushering out the old

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This very nice girl was my New Year’s Eve date thirty-five years ago when I was a senior in high school. She holds the distinction of being the last date I had as a heterosexual impersonator.

I don’t think her heart was in it any more than mine was, really, as evidenced by the fact that the minor traffic accident we had earlier (not my fault and not alcohol-related) was the biggest excitement of the evening.

I guess it’s time…

This seems like the day to finally confess after all those years that the song (both times) was Careless Whisper.

I was not a big George Michael fan, but dang, that song sure did surface at some pivotal points for me.

I know I left something…

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Since a friend recently made a joke about it, here are ten things I left in San Francisco that were not my heart:

  1. My cardiologist: He was a great guy who wore little plastic animals on his lab coat. More importantly, he was very generous and treated me at bargain rates when I found myself uninsured and facing a thyroid-generated emergency.
  2. My ex: He was a native Californian and I actually did take him with me when I moved back east, but I returned him after a few years. Unfortunately, I did not take him to an authorized redemption center so I never collected my CRV.
  3. My car: Someone set it on fire in an alley off Harrison Street twenty years ago. It ended its days in the old impound lot off Third Street.
  4. My “essence”: OK, this is just a polite way of saying I got laid a lot in San Francisco.
  5. My (ahem) career with Kinko’s: Leaving SF was how I finally cut the cord. Great move, that.
  6. My nicotine addiction: Left it out on the deck one night in 2003 and haven’t missed it.
  7. My account with Wells Fargo: Hated them. Loved saying goodbye. And now, as fate would have it, I am POA over my mom’s account with them. So I once again have an ATM card with a fucking stagecoach on it and a message that reads “customer since 1992” as if I’d never left.
  8. My long (and sometimes big) hair: Chopped it all off just before I turned 30, which is, I think, a wise move for just about anyone.
  9. My twenties and my thirties: Not much more I can say about that.
  10. My willingness to be in San Francisco: Even for a visit. Which makes me a little sad.

 

Nicotine no longer fits

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I present this photo of me as a 17-year-old premature smoker (though smoking at 17 was legal in North Carolina at the time) in observance of the fact that I quit smoking thirteen years ago today.

I don’t miss it. That’s interesting, because a lot of people do.I guess I’m just one of the lucky ones; the thought of smoking a cigarette now is actually pretty repulsive to me, and I can’t even stand to be around other people when they smoke.

My strategy was as follows:

  1. Stop smoking inside the house. This cut down my consumption pretty drastically and forced me to think about every cigarette I smoked.
  2. Choose a specific “quit date” and observe it.
  3. Use a little of the nicotine gum (though I only remember buying two or three boxes).

After a few months of unpleasantness, everything was fine. I lived through it.

You can too. It may be harder for you. It may be easier. Either way, it will be worth it.

Two weeks from today might be a good choice.

No fair

It’s been six years now since the chain of events that led to the collapse of my nine years of coupled bliss. It was an astoundingly difficult period, but I’m largely over it now and I’m pretty danged happy with my life as I’m now living it. I’ve let go of most of the little frustrations and resentments, I don’t hate my ex, and I have some perspective on the while thing, although I’m the first to admit that this perspective is a bit skewed in my own favor. But I’m pretty well past it.

There’s one nagging thing I can’t let go of, though. He ruined the fucking fair for me.

I always loved going to the the fair. It was one of the things I was most excited about when we moved back to North Carolina. The fairs here are in October, which is the only correct time of year for them. It’s cool out, and I always used to go at night, just like my family did when I was a kid. I loved it all, from the Methodist barbecue tent to the giant pumpkins to the midway to the weird booth-size dioramas in the exhibit hall. It was always my night to feel like a kid again.

I haven’t been to the fair since 2010. The ex and I were already confronting some big problems at that point and were trying to negotiate some compromises. Unfortunately, the ex chose “fair night” to do something that made me very sad in general, and also revealed to me that even though I was trying to make some compromises, a few of the lines I’d drawn were going to be crossed whether I liked it or not. It made me feel like my wants and requests were not really being acknowledged at all, which in turn made me suspect for the first time that our relationship was doomed.

This was something that probably needed to happen. I just wish it hadn’t happened at the fair, thus pretty much casting a pall on something I’ve always really kind of loved and making me associate it with one of the saddest nights of my life. It’s  like asking your spouse for a divorce on his birthday, or running over his puppy on Christmas morning. It sucks and I’ve never quite been able to forgive him this one thing. The whole night bothered me so much that I even deleted all my photos and videos of it so I wouldn’t run across them by accident…which is something that I just don’t do.

It’s funny the little sad things you hang on to even as you manage to eliminate most of them from your life: a song that reminds you of a failed romance when you were twenty, a note from your dad apologizing for something that both of you still remember vividly though you don’t want to admit it, your last photo of a friend before a fatal argument, etc. That this should be the one heartbreaking thing I take away from a failed long-term relationship is both surprising and completely appropriate. As a couple, we both felt and acted like big kids. This was the night that pretty much ended for me.

Happy anniversary to me (another one)

It may seem an odd thing to celebrate, but as of today, I have been single again for five years.

Today in 2011, I was in a pretty rotten place. I’d pretty much known where things were headed for several months; deciding that we weren’t going to live together anymore (or even live in the same time zone) was a pretty unmistakeable sign. But I was still unprepared for how hard it hit me on that Wednesday night when I realized that it was really over after nine very happy years and six really shitty months.

Being “coupled” has never been my natural state, even though there were some times that I really wanted it to be…and even though there was one time where it really did feel right. By the time I met Mark in 2001, I was pretty comfortable–hell, even enthusiastic–about the prospect of remaining a confirmed bachelor for life. One very serious case of love changed all that and I do not for a minute regret that it happened. All in all, it was a very happy time in my life and I was very sad when it ended.

The fact that it ended at a time when there were a lot of other things going on in my life made it much harder, and the fact that I didn’t feel entirely comfortable talking about most of it even with close friends made it even harder.In the end, I was not prepared to make one really big compromise that might have (at best) delayed the end, but would have done so at the expense of my sanity and my emotional health–which looks in retrospect like the very moment I started my recovery. It didn’t seem like it at the time but ultimately, I realized there was a bigger problem in my life/brain/body chemistry/whatever and I began working on that. Pretty successfully, I think.

But I’ve also spent the past five years learning how once again to be that single person I used to love. I think I’ve been pretty successful at that, too. Frankly, I like myself better as a single person. I think most of my friends like me better that way, too. I’m more adventurous, I generally have more fun, and I don’t have to have anyone else along for the ride when I travel (which in itself is justification enough). And the introvert in me has more time for my friends now that most of the limited time I’m willing to allot to other people is not dedicated to just one other person.

I’m also more independent. In retrospect, I gave up a lot of that when I was coupled, just because it was easy to do so, and he was willing to take over a lot of things and make a lot of decisions. And, of course, that really wasn’t fair to either of us. It took me a long time to get back in the habit of taking care of things on my own. I’m still working on it. I think the task of building a very successful and satisfying new career while I was pretty much in “the depths” is what saved me. In fact, I didn’t even miss one day of work, which either means that I really loved my job or that I was scared to stay home the next day. Or both.

Again, I don’t regret having spent nine-plus years in this relationship. Not for a second. I do have some regrets about the end and the aftermath, but that’s to be expected.

Five years later, though, I also don’t regret where I am today. I’m happy, I like my life, and I finally gave the goddamned chair to Habitat.

I think that’s worth celebrating.