Tuesday, September 18, 2012
Now, we are happy to report, we know all of our close neighbors and many others on our street, on the block and throughout the neighborhood. Despite detractors or those who value homogeneity, we have found what we have both been searching for--a true neighborhood: quirky, alive, and sustaining.
We live in what is lovingly referred to as "the Whit"--the most socio-economically and racially diverse neighborhood in our small city--also known as Whiteaker neighborhood or Ward 7 for those of us who like to know who are city councilor is. On our street, there are grad students, families both large and small, retired seniors, and Teri and I are not the only queer people--not by a long shot. Small children draw chalk towns in the middle of the street, an athletic teenager plays basketball incessantly at the end of the block, and seniors do Tai Chi in the nearby park. We can call across the street if we need to borrow a ladder and our next door neighbors give us their house key every time they leave town so we can look after their skittish cat. I recently told a friend that I finally live in a neighborhood that feels like the Sesame Street I fantasized as a youngster. This is the sort of neighborhood where no one is likely to go unnoticed if they fail to emerge from their house for a few days.
As perfect as our neighborhood community is to us, we are well aware (because we hear it often, people write snarky letters to the editor, and politics reflect it) that some of the realities of our neighborhood are considered "undesirable" by others: the train tracks run right through the middle of our neighborhood; because this has historically had some of the "poorest' areas in town, there is a tolerance for the unhoused, newly-arrived, and those challenged with mental health issues. These are our neighbors too; we are lacking wide streets and sprawling lawns--instead there are intentional living communities, renovated bungalows, apartment complexes, and post-WWII tract housing all nestled in together.
Teri originates from the East Coast and when she refers to "the city" she is almost always referring to the city: New York city. She has expressed that The Whit has as close a feeling of pulsing energy and diverse human living as she has felt anywhere in Eugene. The fact that we can chat over the back fence with our neighbors or walk to a nearby brew pub on a Saturday night reminds her of the urban neighborhoods where she grew up. When we had our big snow on the second day of Spring this year, there was an "old school" way that the neighbors all checked in on each other and helped move branches and shovel pathways. Honestly, we never feel the fear that those who don't live here complain about.
I imagine it all depends on what you want out of this short life. I have no desire for a fancy address or a big, brick house--isolated from the surrounding community. I want to know the people who share this journey and I want to be challenged to stay connected, authentic and in touch with the intense and ordinary concerns of life. I delight in the neighbor who sells tamales out of a little red wagon; the sound of squealing from the Head Start classes one block over; the swapping of fruit overload as neighbors share the bounty of their cherry, pear, apple, and fig trees; the curb-side chats as we pet cats; and they myriad other benefits of living in a genuine neighborhood.
Saturday, September 15, 2012
Our kids are attached to us in a variety of ways and while we claim, fuss, and are deeply committed to all of them, we accept that they all have different feelings and levels of attachment to us. They all have other parents or parental figures with whom we have had to come to terms with sharing. Each of our kids (ages: 18, 20, 21, 22, 22, 26) is unique and each one has expanded our lives, our understanding of ourselves, and our capacity for love, compassion and commitment in different ways. We're not going to lie--it hasn't always been easy! They take us in directions we never imagined.
I don't care what anyone says disparagingly about "kids today," I know that our kids get a great deal of pressure from multiple directions to go to college, get good jobs, settle down, shape up and grow up. They are wrestling with all the same identity, education, economic and personal challenges that that those of who are older maneuver and Teri and I figure the last thing they need is two more people trying to squeeze them into a "performance box." Instead, we try to remind them that life is not a race; they only have to be themselves and please themselves; mistakes and missteps happen; they can still be scared or anxious and do what they need to do; there are always options; and we are going to be here no matter what.
Friday, September 14, 2012
We are painting! As two who spend a great deal of time in our kitchen, and in anticipation of the grey, dreary months--we headed off on a search for a color that would be bright, warm and make us smile when we looked into the kitchen from the living room. We came home with paint samples printed with make-or-break names like avocado kiss and orange you glad. We moved them around on the walls, slid them up against the glossy white wood trim, and taped them to the walls until the choices were clear: sunnydale and warm embrace--let's paint!
Honestly, had I been working alone, I probably would have jumped in and had the kitchen "painted" in two hours. I probably would have avoided the scary narrow part around the kitchen window as long as I possibly could and I likely would have just added coats until I masked all my patchy coverage. But, that is not at all how our painting adventure is going down.
First, Teri announced that we would be doing one room at a time. What?! That seemed awfully conservative to me when we had two separate cans of paint. Then, there was the taping--which I did start, but soon found to be tedious and particular. After all, houses are no straighter than I am--despite their appearance to be made up of lines and angles. Taping is where Teri shines and she carefully outlined edges, doorways and window sills. At last, I got to use the roller--that is where I rock (and roll.)
Thing is, I hadn't realized there was still a specific way to roll AND that there had to be some brush painting all around the edges first. I likened it to kids who outline their coloring page images in crayon first, and then color in the middle. What?! Can't we just roll on the paint until we run out of wall or bump up against the blue tape? That's how I've done it for years.
No. We cannot. And while we are at it, I forgot to mention that the walls, floors and trim are getting scrubbed and cleaned thoroughly, straight edges are being used and switch plates are being washed. This is just how it goes. I want color, and lots of it, fast! Teri wants perfection. While I'm saying, "Oh well, that is where the shelf goes anyway," she is gleefully noticing where whoever painted the kitchen prior to our occupation didn't get close enough to the counter or forgot to cover a nail hole. It is really the best of all possible worlds.
And, in the end, we both agree that there is nothing like paint--affordable, gorgeous and personable--to change up a room (or rooms.)
Thursday, September 13, 2012
I am finding that my view of myself and my place in the world is changing as I age and that seems entirely appropriate. Unlike some of my other middle-aged colleagues, I love working with much younger people, much older people and bringing in perspectives that shake up my world. It is definitely time to move the furniture around! (personally, nationally and globally.)
And maybe we should paint the walls while we're at it? Teri and I are gearing up to paint our kitchen and dining nook--going from a perfectly serviceable creamy latte color to a collection of brighter yellows. I wouldn't mind giving my wardrobe an overhaul, taking a class, embarking on a new career, and finally learning Spanish! Life is short.
I hear the skeptics and pessimists reminding me that things don't always seem to change for the better. I don't know about that--even though the pendulum definitely swings, I DO believe in progress and evolution and the inherent worth and good in everyone. In fact, I consider myself "progressive" in my politics, preferring that moniker to the oft-battered "liberal"--especially since the latter has been appropriated, recycled and used differently in different times and places. To me, they are not necessarily interchangeable terms. That aside, moving forward sounds like a much better option to me than going backward.
Inherent in the reinvention and evolution process is letting go...letting go of the stuff, ideas, assumptions and identities that no longer fit or serve. It means actually cleaning out the closet, garage and cupboards to make room for what comes next. It means a leap of faith, a taking of risk and a willingness to bump into the furniture until one gets used to its new location. Life is short.
Wednesday, September 12, 2012
Whew! Sounds a tad exhausting, doesn't it? We get that it is a little counter-intuitive to what was originally a big part of the "Gay Pride" movement--maybe that is why all of us ordinary people love us some rainbow streamers and dancing feathered queens every June--the rest of the year, the cry to "be yourself" has morphed into "be like the dominant culture (translated: white, heterosexual and categorized in gender binaries)--only more so and flawlessly."
There is a pressure to perform, represent and repent. When my kids were going through school (and to a certain extent, I still go to these places)--and they had challenges, bumbles or stumbles, I would brace myself for the assumptions that it had to be because they 1. had a queer mom and 2. their bio parents were divorced. Well, what could you expect? and How could she have done that to those kids? For those of us who have made the journey of coming out and being out, we've been accused of putting our families through hell, bringing shame, making things harder, and a whole bunch of other not-so-sanctioned behaviors. No wonder we have something to prove. For some of us, there is a feeling we owe it to those who follow to do our part in this long struggle to make things ever better and that can mean taking up the charge to model relationships, parenting, citizenship and gayness with exemplary flair. And, there is certainly an obligation to those who went before to continue to move things along.
We are working against stereotypes, myth, and the continued demonizing of LGBTQ people. We are challenged to be "on message" with the marriage equality and gay/trans rights movement and that doesn't just mean out in public or at the polls. Imagine living with what we know--every introduction, group meeting, dinner party, or trip to the bank is a moment in time to represent. As much as we may try to normalize or ignore, we know full well how we appear, model or manage the most ordinary of situations can be extrapolated out by people to "represent" and that can reflect well or poorly on our fellow gays (after all, you know how they are.)
It can be a tiny tightrope to maneuver and an invisible one that only those on this journey can understand. There is no room for error and trying to hold on to what is at the core an authentic, soulful, complicated human takes every ounce of effort we've got--or, at least, what is left over after striving to show the world what model gays we are!
Tuesday, September 11, 2012
I have learned a few things in my five decades. One is that "work ethic" is not a static or singularly defined term. It is subject to family heritage, gender, culture, age, politics and myriad other factors. We tend to want to use "good work ethic" to define how we work and to pass judgement on how others don't. Even with that understanding, I have also come to realize that I bring what I bring in terms of my "work baggage" and what I like to call "grandparent voices" to how I approach every single day.
When I was getting to know Teri, we had quite a few chats about values, belief systems and personal philosophies. We realized that we were kindred spirits in terms of our solidly working class backgrounds and that while we both managed to get ourselves educated in ways our parents or grandparents never did, we strongly valued and appreciated some of what had been instilled in us. I remember a story Teri told about how as a young child, all she understood about her dad's work as a machinist in the U.S. Navy was that he had to work with a bunch of idiots and slackers. As we chuckled with understanding, I recognized that high standard of what it means to work a full day...plus.
In order to live in the real world and work with a variety of people, I've had to figure out what values, voices and assumptions I bring to each day and to acknowledge these are not carved into stone anywhere, but they are part of how I work and who I am. Some came from my upbringing; but some were also developed out of response and resistance; through education and travel and evolution:
- Be reliable, follow-through on promises and commitments, don't let people down
- The more you do, the more you can do--do your part and more
- If you don't know how to do something, learn or find someone who can do it better
- Don't take things personally
- Learn from mistakes (but making the same mistake multiple times is irresponsible)
- Surround yourself with awesome people, whenever possible, and try to hire people who are smarter, better and more or differently skilled--then learn from them
- Enjoy the effort, as well as the end-product
- Take pride in work well done
- Thinking is work...sometimes...other times it is avoidance of what really needs to be done
- Working as a team means doing your part and being appreciative of what others do
- Your team is only as strong as the weakest player
- Rest is earned
- Live within your means
- Approach problems with the assumption that they can be solved, and that there are probably multiple ways to solve them
- You'll never get this day back, so make the most of it
- Balance personal goals and efforts with what is best for the good of the order
- You don't have to like everyone you work with, but respect is imperative
- Know when to step away, move on or let go
- Work and effort are equally valuable, whether they are paid, volunteer or for home, community and family
- Don't try to make other people responsible for your personal stuff
- Avoid excuses, defensiveness and rationalizations
- Do a job as well as you can so you won't have to do it again
Sunday, September 9, 2012
I think she was teasing us a bit as we were sitting out in our garden sometime in early August on a weekday night. Our black Austalorp hen was scrunched in the cat bed laying an egg with little regard for the bustle of people coming and going from the kitchen door and we were serving up dinner to our kids in what has been dubbed the weekly "Drop-in." Lu surveyed the scene with a bit of humor and declared: "This is some deep living you've got going here." Indeed.
We like living in town. In fact, we live incredibly close to DOWNtown. We can head out our front door and within 15 minutes on foot, find ourselves sitting at a coffee shop in the parks blocks in the middle of downtown. I love just about everything that urban living has to offer--public transportation, street fairs, art galleries, and neighbors who get all up in each others' business. But, we like some other presumably non-urban stuff too.
Our 3 chickens are pretty spoiled city chickens. They get to "free range" the back yard all day--which includes 2 happy apple trees, a cherry tree, a fig tree, a persimmon tree, several garden beds and a 2-bin composter that works overtime providing worms, grubs and rotting treats. In return, they offer up some pretty ordinarily amazing brown-shelled eggs. All of this thrives on a typical urban lot that takes about 20 seconds to walk from end-to-end. We live in an ordinary post-WWII ranch-y tract house on a city street where all the houses are the exact same distance from the street (or at least they were originally before modifications and add-ons.)
So, if this attempt to get real, make use, make do, grow things and give back is part of a greater movement to live more deeply, we are so digging it...
Thursday, September 6, 2012
While I am of the opinion that all families are created equally, there are still many different ways to do family. When Teri and I came together as a couple nearly four years ago, all we knew was that we wanted to figure out how to blend, create and commit to a new version of us as a couple and an evolving concept of family. We talked about it, we argued and cried and strategized about it; some things evolved organically, but there was a fair amount of intention as well. While people and families are always changing, we are also finally starting to feel a solid connection and steady acceptance of this is who we are.We have definitely realized some things about ourselves along the way!
When we moved in to a home together, I was still grieving the end of an era as all of my bio kids (or "baby heads" as I choose to call them) had pecariously launched themselves. Teri was pretty sure that while grown kids were fine, she was done with the whole parenting thing. I wasn't sure what the next chapter of my life would look like, but I knew there was still plenty of undefined mom-ing to do. Teri had learned that middle-age single socializing and the neo-adolescent drama that went along with were not for her and we both knew we had lots of energy, passion and playfulness left in us--even if we are both responsible grown-ups. So we embarked on an ordinary quest to figure it out.
Here's what we've learned about our couple culture:
- We are clean, tidy, and organized--in an easy, comfy sort-of way (our house just never really gets messy and we both tend to clean when we get cranky)
- We like a bit of earthy family chaos: kids, cats, chickens, neighbors, etc.
- We feed people.
- We are determined to work on our baggage--unpack the "isms;" challenge unproductive behaviors; and be as authentic, open and present as possible.
- We grow things.
- Community matters--so much that we want and need to be involved, volunteer and work for change and livability. We like knowing and helping out our neighbors.
- Our kids will always be a priority and they have direct access at any time--we work to encourage, support and pay attention without enabling, invading or judging. Now, we will always be learning as we go so we still make mistakes!
- We are out and accept that informs our politics, spirituality, and presence in the world. It is not all of who we are, but it is part of the work we get to do in this lifetime.
- We value diversity, differences and the vibrancy that comes with living in a diverse neighborhood, working with all different sorts and embracing the messiness of the human experience--and we have bigot-radar.
- We love holidays.
- We are both competent and fearless fundraisers.
- We don't really like the same movies or the same books--usually.
- We have low threshold for self-absorbed, inconsiderate or immature "grown-ups."
- We are surprisingly compatible in the parenting realm.
- We can both keep secrets.
- When in doubt, stressed or overwhelmed--make it funny and add chocolate or cheese puffs, followed by a big dose of forgive and forget.
- Camping rocks.
- Adult kids will spill their guts IF you feed them bacon or home-made mac & cheese (and always keep ice cream in the freezer.)
- We give each other veto-power over our respective schedules/calendars.
- and, finally, there is always room for more.
We are still growing, changing and building what will likely be the work of the remainder of our lives--our relationship with each other and our connection to family, friends and community. As we negotiate letting go, hanging on, and making room, we find ourselves solidly grateful for finding each other. As we tell the kids when they bark at us that we better not "ever get divorced:" we just fit and, besides, no one else would have either one of us!
Tuesday, September 4, 2012
In mid-August--almost a month ago--we celebrated the one-year anniversary of our ceremony. While we sort-of celebrated, we also breathed a big 'ole sigh of relief that this August we could do fun things like go camping and sit out in the backyard and watch our chickens run around instead of having to negotiate house guests, napkin folding and flower deliveries!
I don't know that things have changed much in the big world. We are in the midst of a jagged and polarizing election year; we are still second-class citizens (at least) when it comes to marriage equality and other basic rights and fairness issues; and the two of us are still working to carve out what is to be the culture, mission and purpose of our lives together. Some things have changed and some have not.
Our family continues to expand and contract--with 6 young adults (plus) to fuss over, we stay busy with what is a primary focus of how we are in the world. There is always room for more, but that doesn't mean that we don't get a little exhausted now and again! We are still figuring it out right along with everyone else.
What we do know better now is who we are as individuals. I definitely know Teri better and she knows me pretty darn well too. We realized after the fact that our wedding ceremony really wasn't about us. Because of who we are in the world and our queerness, our ceremony was more for everyone else. It didn't change the way we felt about ourselves or our commitment to each other (except that we realized even more awesomeness in the other), but it seemed to change the way some people could or would view us and our commitment to each other and our family--at least on a personal level. We still have to file separate federal taxes, we don't have a marriage license or certificate to file away in the fireproof lock box with our birth certificates, and we still deal with people's assumptions, misunderstandings and aggressions--and we know full well that we meet people every day who will staunchly cast votes this November to make sure that we continue to be discriminated against. On the flip side, our extended families try to remember to send birthday cards and anniversary cards and can manage to get the word "partner" out with some evolving level of comfort.
So a year has passed and rather than viewing our wedding ceremony as a life-altering event, we have it categorized away as something we did for the good of the order--on the road to becoming the comfortable couple and loving team that we are today.