I grew up surrounded by women who love language: my mother, with whom I still check if I have a grammar mystery that needs solved; my sister who speaks and reads five languages fluently; and my mother’s mother who went to college in her 50s after raising six children in a remote Bavarian-American hamlet and then taught for several years after that.
So it’s no wonder, as a gay man of my generation from a conservative background, that I admired the women closest to me for their talents and worlds they escaped to in books, languages, and their own writing while they navigated complex family relationships and careers as teachers with great success!
Words became my escape, too. I told a good friend the other day that every time I suffered from low self-esteem when I was growing up, which was often, I’d either head for the tennis courts or write a poem. Soon my poems were entered in contests so that by the time I went to college, I had won more than a dozen national writing awards.
It could be so tough coming of age in the ’80s as a gay man who was too scared to leave the closet, that I frequently asked the heavens for answers.
I remember teaching tennis at a camp after my first year of college when I was still a teenager. Although I had never discussed my sexuality with anyone at camp, most people had me pegged as gay. One evening I fled to an open field with no one around, looked up at the stars, and started asking for happiness and miracle friends to come down from the sky and find me.
I hoped the results would be instant. They weren’t. I spent most of that summer teaching and playing tennis and writing poems! But when I returned to college, my hair was long and blond, I was tan and fit, I rejoined my friends on the tennis team, and became poetry editor of my college literary magazine.
Message for readers of this post and for my young daughter: miracles don’t always happen immediately, but keep the faith, ask guardian angels for assistance, and always go back to that which you love, whether it’s words, your family, or lifelong friends like books and tennis.