Recurring Nightmares

Tags

, , , , , , , ,

During my busiest time of year I’m too exhausted to have many dreams or nightmares!

Even on weekends I log in to my day around 5:30 a.m. Two hours later after two big cups of coffee, two glasses of warm water with a little apple juice, a review of emails and texts from four different sources, a brief cleaning of the kitchen and one soothing shower later, I’m ready for the minor avalanche: guiding my daughter through online learning and holding my head above water at my full-time job, both of which I do from home. A few breaks for my daughter’s snacks, reading poems with her, taking control of the laundry, and a slight guilt-tinged reading of articles to know what’s happening in the world more than fill the day by the time my husband comes home from teaching around 4 during the week. We sneak in a little viewing of Jeopardy and local and national news while we briefly review the day, catch up on a new round of homework for our daughter, and I prepare dinner when we all express gratitude and then sit together before I do another round of laundry, wash dishes, check work emails, watch a show with my husband, and have my one and only meal of the day. (Yes, for a long time now I fast for 22 hours every day although I drink plenty of liquids during those 22 hours. Fasting keeps my mind sharp!) When I’m lucky, I write a new poem, essay, or practice the bassoon a little.

The routine on weekends is pretty much the same although I go outside, with a mask, for a few hours to a park for a walk / run with my family, and we live for two days without Jeopardy!

So by the time I lay my head down on two pillows around 9:30 p.m., I am kaputt, especially in November and December.

But recurring nightmares still find a way now and then through a secret door in my mind.

I’ve had two for several years and they are predictable.

Because I crammed four years of college into three for my undergraduate degree, I still dream that I have another test to take! And because I feared that as a gay man of my generation I would never find a true love with whom I could have a child and a white picket fence existence, I find myself on long, convoluted, sometimes fascinating journeys in my sleep that take me to strange, fascinating cities I can’t quite identify where I’m alone. During those journeys to destinations unknown I realize that I’m getting older and that my chances of that white picket fence existence are dwindling.

Then I wake up, peer in the dark around me, and realize over and over again that I graduated from college with honors, that I’ve been with the love of my life for almost 20 years, that we have a glorious child and are living in a glorious home in Hawaii!

If it’s close to 5:30 a.m., I stumble into the kitchen to brew coffee and start the new day.

Winter Cleaning

Tags

, , , , , , , , ,

It’s my busiest time of year.

Predictable because of the holidays, my job in philanthropy that reaches its apex in November and December, another marathon (my 32nd in a few weeks), the end-of-semester rush at my daughter’s school when finishing well, always a badge of honor in my family, necessitates time and patience, my hopes to keep writing good poems.

Lately, though, with the good fortune of having poetry and essays published that I still can’t believe happened (even though I look at the newspaper and magazine just to make sure!), with slowly becoming a better bassoonist after a long hiatus, with wave after wave of gratitude for my job, husband, our daughter and good health, with our beautiful home, with knowing as a middle-aged guy that time (at least in my current life form) is fleeting, I’ve been cleaning.

The house is looking much better and so are my priorities!

I’ve decided to do just one marathon in December. For several years I’ve always done two, but I’ve known that at some point my legs will need a break. As much as I will miss my running coach for whom I’ve run a second marathon in December, he knows I’m still loyal.

In a similar vein I’ve decided to leave a board where I’ve served my time, and let my passion lead me to a new one where I will find out in a few weeks if I’ve been elected. It’s time and feels right. For once I’ve been not overthinking my decisions!

All this appears to be leading toward resolutions for the New Year. I’m sure I’ll have a few. This month before, however busy, is a pleasant, natural prelude.

The Streak Is Paused

Tags

, , , , , , , , ,

The past several weeks in my family have been eventful. All three of us, my husband, our young daughter, and myself, have been ploughing through many acres of work and homework while still striving to keep the daily gardens of necessary and reassuring routines as free of weeds as possible.

In our own ways, each of us strives for more even during what for us has always been the busiest time of year. On weekends we make time for each other by taking safe walks in a beautiful park, by eating together, by sharing music, learning and as much laughter as possible even amidst a pandemic that is getting worse again.

All three of us are writers. In the last month, our poems, essays, and scholarly articles have been published in newspapers, a magazine, books, and journals.

I was going to write that the publishing streak came to end, but then I decided to change my mindset: it’s paused a bit! We all continue to write, to celebrate words and find new ways to express them. That will never stop as long as we continue to breathe! Our current day is far from over, and my daughter already wrote a short essay. Before I started this post, I completed a brief poem to submit to one of many community groups in Hawaii that has embraced my family. I can’t write that it was my most glorious effort, but it was good practice, and required thinking, discipline, and restraint. It was about gratitude, and this is a good time of year, no matter how busy, to step back a bit and be mindful about how lucky I am.

I wish all my readers a Happy Thanksgiving. Stay safe and well!

Keeping the Family Streak Going

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , ,

For my last two posts, which cover the last two weeks, I’ve written about being in shock with having prose and poetry published in a widely-read newspaper and magazine.

I’ve been a writer most of my life. My newest published essay and poems, though, are the recipients of my most honest, joyful, disciplined heart (and a bit of heartache!). It’s an honor beyond belief when editors decide they want the public to read my writing.

This week I’m in shock again, so that’s three week in a row!

Fortunately it’s not about me! Or my husband, although in part it should be as he was included in prestigious scholarly journal we received in the mail a few days ago.

Last Sunday a widely-read newspaper in Hawaii announced its annual contest. When I encouraged our young daughter to write a poem, she was game. She wrote the first draft in 20 minutes, revised it once and submitted it.

This week it was published. For privacy reasons, I’m not going to republish it here, but she was a winner for the second year in a row. Most winners are adults. A few months ago, she was probably the youngest writer included in a state-wide poetry anthology, so she is likely getting used to holding her own with older, more experienced writers.

Do I sound like a proud father?

Yes, because I am! My daughter was born with an extra chromosome. A few people ask if she can read. In fact, she does so in two languages. In the one she uses most she is two grade levels above her age. When she was born, many people suggested I learn sign language. I was confused. Her hearing is fine. She speaks two languages. But the person I’ll never forget wanted me to enroll her in a year-round learning / living center for children and adults with disabilities before my daughter was even born. I suppose she meant well, but I said to her, “Shouldn’t we give it a few years first and see how she’s doing?” The woman then said people with disabilities make her smile when they pack her groceries. I looked at her for a few seconds and said, “Maybe they would also smile if you packed their groceries. My daughter can certainly work in a supermarket if she wishes, but maybe she’ll want to be a teacher, a writer, or something else.” The woman looked confused and said, “Are you saying you think she will be able to do what you and I do?”

Part of me thought at the time, “Why not?”

I still think that way!

Last year, I submitted three poems to the newspaper. Not one got in. My daughter made it on her first try as she did this year.

Today, just for fun, I tried again. I won’t be surprised, nor really disappointed, if my daughter is the only winner!

In Shock Two Weeks in a Row

Tags

, , , , , , , , ,

Last week I posted about crying tears of joy when an essay was published in a major newspaper in Hawaii that was probably the best prose I’ve ever written.

This week my writing was featured again in a different publication: four poems on their very own page!

I have not yet cried, probably because I’m in a state of shock.

I’ve been a poet most of my life. I’ve had poems published in magazines, although never an entire page, in anthologies, displayed in art galleries, shown in state exhibits, even read at a few literary festivals (where fortunately my nerves didn’t take over when I read them to many people I was meeting for the first time!). As a freelance journalist, I’ve had articles appear in tennis publications and trade journals. I even briefly had a byline in a national magazine as a contributor. I’ve written and edited countless articles for schools where I’ve worked.

But the four essays I’ve had published in the last 21 months for a column that celebrates faith have meant the most to me, and the new poems that appeared this week in a magazine are beyond anything I dreamed I was capable of.

I could never have done it without the advice and support of my husband and two wonderful editors.

The good news: even though I’m still in a state of shock, I have about four new poems in my head that I look forward to writing. It will be exciting to see how they turn out!

Poems, Essays, Figure Skating, and Concerti

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , ,

Most of my life I’ve loved good poetry, figure skating, essays, and concertos (or concerti if I were a true speaker of Italian). I’m gay! Surprise!

I’ve never been a fan, though, of stream of consciousness. I love structure, tight editing, words chosen carefully. I could listen to Mozart concertos forever: music that sounds effortless but for which tones and themes and every note were considered and tested by a genius who devoted his entire life to his craft. The most memorable figure skating performances I’ve watched are like Mozart concertos: athletes gliding across the ice as if they were walking on clouds rather than putting years of hard work, and those of their coaches and friends and family who support them, on the line for a short or long program in which their entire careers are defined in mere minutes.

This week I had an essay published in which I expressed just about everything I’ve ever hoped to about life up to this stage as a middle-aged man who is learning to embrace his autumn. It appeared in a weekly newspaper read by more than 100,000 people, in a column produced by one of the finest editors I have ever known. The column features many writers who are pillars of their communities. I’m … well, pretty much just a regular guy!

Thanks to her, three of my essays had been published before the edition came out this week, but this essay was the one I poured most of my heart into. I wanted to write a decent tribute to my mother, my sister, my daughter, my husband, to parents, to children, to gay men of my generation who had to take great risks to try to find love, to anyone seeking life’s rewards but who treads with caution: a tall order that had a word limit of 325!

A successful concerto flows easily when other members of the orchestra bring out the best in a soloist. The editor of this publication, whom I did not know when I first submitted essays to her, brings out the best in me as a writer and as a person. So does my husband. Were it not for my daughter, my greatest inspiration, I probably would have never written the essays nor dozens of poems I’ve composed after my daughter was born.

I wasn’t absolutely sure the piece was going to be published until my husband took a screen shot of it after the newspaper came out and he found a copy at work. I cried tears of joy when he texted me. I felt like I had skated a clean program without falling or performed in a concert with my head held high the entire time.

I don’t know if I will ever have this feeling again, but I’m so grateful to believe that after all these years I’ve become a better writer.

Out in the Open

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

My husband and I have an unspoken understanding: keep it out in the open.

When he had a stroke out of nowhere at age 41 and was vulnerable, often alone in a stroke unit, he called me soon after I returned home from visiting him in the hospital. He asked that this time I bring our young daughter as he had been told that he would have surgery the next day and might not ever be able to speak again, terrifying news for a linguist who received his doctoral degree from Harvard.

Fortunately, a friend joined me to help me be brave.

After my husband embraced our daughter, my friend took her out of the room. I then asked the nurse if I could lie next to my husband. He and I then said to each other it was time to let any unknown secrets between us be known.

I searched hard. At that time we had been together almost 14 years. He knew more about me than anyone. Finally, I opened up: during a tennis match, I had once called a ball out that might have been in.

He told me that he had language books on order that might surprise me as I am a frugal Quaker.

The doctor came in. I told him, through tears, that my husband and I had said everything we needed to, that in a way we had also said good-bye to each other.

The doctor told us that he had looked at all the scans again and determined no surgery would be needed.

Flash forward seven years later. My husband is pretty much fully recovered. Our daughter, born with an extra chromosome, is holding her own in a college prep school with her age peers, most of whom were born with 46 chromosomes. We live in a wonderful home in Hawaii.

Most window are never covered: no shades or blinds. How we live our lives and our raise our daughter is pretty much all there for neighbors to hear and see. They may watch us pray together and be intrigued as my husband and daughter are Buddhists.

I often wonder if that is because somehow we need to be role models, to give hope to others who may feel unfairly judged, to enlighten those who have never known that being in a same-sex, committed relationship, raising a child, is extraordinarily ordinary.

But then again, I’m a Plain Quaker. I’m used to being different while hoping to be treated just like everyone else!

Hall of Fame

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Life is frequently marked by traditional celebrations, some very public, some private: birthdays, falling in love for the first time, graduations, first jobs, marriages, anniversaries, becoming a parent.

If one is lucky, other moments of glory are given by the heavens for all the training for the many marathons run every single day, month, year after year.

I’ve been luckier than most.

Growing up as a gay guy now in the thick of middle age, I had a sinking feeling I’d miss out.

It wasn’t for lack of trying: I “dated” two wonderful young women in high school who are still friends; in my 20s I married and later divorced a woman who is not; when it looked like I had no chance of becoming a father, I strove to be the perfect uncle for my siblings’ children. Along the way, I became a bit of an overachiever, scooping up bunches of national writing awards in high school; playing three instruments and winning scholarships for music camps; training like crazy to become a decent tennis player and runner; staying late at jobs to prove myself.

And I prayed. Constantly.

After I came out of the closet and failed miserably at dating men, I dreamt of miracles, that my prince would come along; bear with me for the rest of my life; want a child; laugh at my jokes that I never get quite right; watch movies in German and French; listen to music written for the bassoon; let me cook for him and our son or daughter; maybe even move to Hawaii!

In my late 30s miracles happened albeit with a few twists. I met the man of my life. By the time he proposed to me, a few states had made gay marriage legal. We bought a home together. After we became parents of a stunning, smart, strong daughter born with an extra chromosome, the Supreme Court made our marriage valid everywhere. Eventually, we moved to Hawaii, and decided to stay forever.

All the while I still enjoyed putting in miles and getting shiny medals as rewards, whether it was succeeding at jobs, finishing 31 marathons, practicing the bassoon so I could join an orchestra again, having poems and essays published.

Somewhere along the way, fortunately, thanks to my family, good friends and therapists, I realized it wasn’t all about me.

It’s about everyone who dreams and works hard, who dares to find and have his or her voice heard, who prays just as much I do, who has moments of aching doubt but strives to get past them, who gives more than he or she receives, who deserves accolades.

I look out from our beautiful lanai in the mornings and evenings and see thousands of homes that stretch from habitable places in mountains down to the ocean. For every home there are many life stories to be told.

If all goes well, in the next month I will have an essay and a three poems published that tell parts of my life story, that are tributes to my mother, sister, daughter, husband, friends, guardian angels. How lucky I am to have editors encourage me to write those stories, to strive for more in my writing, to share my stories.

This past week I took part in fan voting for candidates for the International Tennis Hall of Fame. I chose players who are not household names but sure worked hard for decades to become eligible.

I dream that everyone who has felt that his or her fate is to go the extra mile or 100 miles to be accepted and embraced by the world makes it into a Hall of Fame.

Earthquake

Tags

, , , , , , , , , ,

This past week, with its smattering of minor eruptions, made me grateful for long stretches of calm.

I love working from home as I have been these past 19 months during the pandemic. I’m focused, productive, more adept at multi-tasking.

My young daughter has benefitted from distance learning with extra attention I’ve been able to give her more than at any other time of her life. Although I will feel relief after she receives her vaccinations and returns to school in person, I will go back to imagining how she is navigating her pre-teendom rather than be side by side with her most of the way.

I’ve become a better writer and musician as the pandemic has given me more time for reflection and the joy of creating new poems and essays and hitting the right notes on my bassoon!

For the first time in years my husband and I have regular date nights. Yes, they are at home, but, miracle of miracles, we’ve found movies and series we both like and watch together, sometimes with our daughter.

But for all the unexpected benefits of making it through the pandemic, it’s not always smooth sailing.

The days have a sameness no matter how rewarding. I’ve often thought about the movie Groundhog Day.

Because our daughter was born with a preexisting condition, I rarely leave our house except for weekend walk / runs with my family when we all wear masks and pretty much avoid people.

When my husband returns home from his job as a teacher, I don’t always give him enough space. I’m thirsty for news about the world beyond our beautiful home, savoring tidbits from his conversations with students and colleagues, even eager to learn about his trips for curbside grocery pickups!

Throw in a few extra deadlines during the week, parent-teacher conferences, a roof that began to sport a minor leak, and a slight rise in temperature that disappeared within hours and was confirmed by a COVID test to be nothing but allergies, well, my Quaker equilibrium was thrown off.

And then, a few hours before I wrote this post, our house actually shook. Within minutes notices appeared on neighborhood websites on O Ľahu about an earthquake that registered 6.1 a few islands away.

After realizing what happened, we waited for half an hour, then gathered ourselves for our family walk, grateful to be with each other and for the universe’s reminder about how lucky we are.

Absolute Values!

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , ,

Early morning one day last week was like most mornings during the pandemic. Family awakes at 5:30. Coffee made. Daughter (who is not yet eligible for vaccinations against Covid variants) set up by husband on her computer for distance learning. Husband leaves for work. Daughter has light breakfast before learning. While she is eating I take a quick shower, shave, and dress professionally for my full-time job even though I work from home. Disclaimer: in Hawaii many of us working from home can wear shorts and still dress professionally with a nice Aloha shirt. Daughter and I discuss our day together as we have for over a year now. Daughter begins her classes on her computer, I dive into my work on mine. Daughter, eager for companionship, volunteers eagerly and loudly during math. A short distance away, I gasp, knowing math is not her strength, fearful that our many discussions about holding back unless you really know the answer, which she usually does for language arts, have again fallen by the wayside in her desire to impress and join her new friends in sixth grade, most of whom are sitting in an actual classroom.

Then unexpected, brief silence. Hearty praise from her teacher. Loud applause from her classmates. My daughter raises her arms in victory. I’m stunned.

After her class is over, I ask my daughter what she answered. She gives me a careful explanation about absolute values. Now I’m really stunned.

My daughter was born with an extra chromosome. My husband and I, though, have raised her to believe that with hard work and perhaps putting in more time than many of her peers, she will be able to hold her own in regular classroom settings. Our philosophy has been to believe the sky is the limit. If she does, too, others who meet her will share that belief.

Apparently they do.

This past summer our daughter was accepted to a prestigious college-preparatory school with no learning accommodations. Her teachers have challenged her in kind ways that bring out her strengths. Between us, my husband and I have four college degrees, have completed many additional courses for our professions, and are published authors. We coach our daughter but make sure she completes her school work independently.

And now I know for a fact that my daughter will in some ways have a knowledge base beyond mine.

I had to Google Absolute Values. I read three articles about them in English and German.

Even after my crash course, I never would have received the round of applause my daughter earned. I’m still clueless!

My understanding of Absolute Values is rudimentary: stay faithful to your faith and yourself; know that everyone deserves to have a voice and be treated with dignity; practice peace; aim high and enjoy striving for more even if the results do not immediately correspond in ways wished for; never take love for granted; strive to learn every day.

And be humble when you discover your child’s knowledge has surpassed your own!