Youston

Our flight isn’t until 12:10, but I can’t sleep. The day is swirling around like a Kaleidoscope with one broken spoke… that underlying tension that everyone sees but doesn’t acknowledge. For every family, that’s a different thing. In our case, it’s that I’ve lived in Houston before and Dana hasn’t. I know all the good things that await us, and she does not. It’s going to take more time for her to become adjusted to living in Houston in the first place.

And as she sleeps, all I want is the assurance of her happiness, but there is none. All I can do is pray for her and the path that she’s on to complete herself. What Dana wants is what I will give her, because there has never been anything that I needed where Dana has said no. Turnabout is fair play. She gave me the world. Now I hope it’s my turn.

The Tao of Friendship

If there is anything positive that is coming out of trying to get healthy, it’s knowing when I’ve made a mistake and not letting my first reaction be “stuff and deny.” If you had met me a year ago, I would have told you that I have no problems at all. That’s how I’ve lived my entire life- nothing is wrong with me, let me do for you, let me take care of you, let me let you walk all over me until I can’t stand it anymore.

When you do that, you set yourself on a pedestal that creates a hard fall. If someone hasn’t made the connection that you’re fallible, when they do, they can’t understand it. It doesn’t compute. But that’s not their fault. I’ve never needed anything from anybody, and now I do. Most of that is forgiveness for just being a right jackass in the midst of the most terrible time in my life.

I’ve even gone through it with Dana. The other day she was talking about how completely I’d fallen apart and she didn’t have any support. Was that before or after I called everyone I knew and said, “I’m going down, and Dana needs some help.” I knew this was going to ruin me ahead of time, but in my best hopes, it is breaking eggs to create an omelet.

In order to rise from the ashes, it usually means there’s been a fire. In AA, the first step is admitting you have a problem. In Al-anon, the first step (for me, at least) has been admitting that I am clever and stupid enough to throw the first match. It’s not my fault, and it is. I am responsible for my current behavior, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t reasons for it, stemming back to an age where I couldn’t be held responsible for the kind of emotional system I set up for myself. My outer self is trying to grow up, while my old patterns are trying to say, “come back… this is where it’s safe.” The space between those two ideas is the difference between the high road and the low one.

Going back to what I know is just pure id. I’m too scared to embark on this new life, so I grasp at straws of my old personality when the new one feels like my “clothes are too big.” I have ADD, so my impulse control is naturally impotent when I need it.

Becoming new and whole is a journey, not a destination. I am on the beginning end of learning great emotional tools, not the end. My nerves are frayed in a way that they never have been before. A dream that I’ve had since I was 18 years old may come true quickly- definitely on God’s terms and not on mine, but still. I have a lot of work to do.

And then, even then, the Rev. Leslie Lanagan is still going to be an ordinary asshole with an extraordinary calling. Because even the Rev. Leslie Lanagan will still have all her flaws and failures, because that Leslie is not a separate personality. It is more important for me to show my humanness now than ever, because what parishioner really wants to go to a pastor that hasn’t been in their shoes? Hasn’t understood what it’s like to be entirely, completely wrong and still had someone love and affirm them anyway?

There’s an old story that Leo McGarry tells the President’s staff on The West Wing:

Guy spends all day in a hole 8 feet deep. Guy screams for help, and a passerby jumps down the hole to help him. The guy that’s been trapped all day says, “NOW YOU’VE JUST SCREWED US BOTH.” The guy who jumps says, “I’ve been in this hole before, and I know the way out.”

I have to believe that someday, all my flaws and failures can be used to pull other people out of the behaviors they hate about themselves, because they can see them laid out on the page, here, in black & white. I’m not scared of the things that make me appeal to my basest self, because I know that everyone has those same behaviors inside. I just care less whether you care what I’ve done in my life, because of two things:

If I treat you like a human, in all of your failures, I expect it in return. If you don’t respect me as much as I respect you, I am less concerned with whether I need to answer your needs. I do not want to set up any pattern in which you get complete forgiveness for your actions and I don’t.

Your reaction to my flaws and failures is not mine to own. Your reactions are your reactions. You have what you can put up with and what you can’t. I will not live in fear of what you think.

Because you know I’d do the same for you.

The Future Rev. Leslie Lanagan

I am speechless, but I have to type. I have just been told about a program in which I could be a working minister very quickly. I’m going to go for it.

That being said, I have some concerns. The only one I really want to share publicly is that I am in terrible mental shape and no one should let me do any pastoral care at this point. I need to keep going to my Al-anon meetings, because I’m finding that it opens me up more than individual therapy. Somehow, being in a room where everyone has the same story is more healing than one person in which to confide. You have a whole room of people saying, “yup. Been there.” But at the same time, I want a professional opinion from someone who, even in the secular world, ministers to people all the time. I want to know whether a psychologist thinks that I have psychologist-level ways of deflecting so that I am not working fried all day and can’t sleep because Mrs. Gunderson’s son has been picked up by the police for drug trafficking, then, later that day, Mr. Abelard was killed in a car accident, I have four hospital visits, my kid is sick, and my wife is being hateful.

As I have said many times, I tend to take on the pain of others, which is an essential thing that you have to learn not to do. A little bit of clinical separation is what allows you to deal with other people’s problems without them becoming your problems, too. It would paralyze me as an effective leader, and pastors much greater than I’ll ever be talk about this interminable march of organized chaos often.

Being a pastor is only about ten percent getting up in front of people. The rest of the time, people are in front of you. In my dad’s first week at one of his churches, one of the kids in the youth group lost his father, and TWO things happened at that week’s summer camp: 1) Some of the senior highers were caught playing strip poker. 2) One of the senior high girls had found another girl at camp in the directory whose address was the same as her father’s rent house. She found out that her dad had been hiding a whole other family from her.

In his first week at one of his other churches, he found out that his predecessor had been sleeping with some of the women in his congregation, the entire church was fractured in half, and there was a bullet hole in the front window of the parsonage… from a parishioner.

It just makes you wonder, doesn’t it? God, if that was the first week, what the fuck have you got planned for the next one?

That’s why I feel I need to work towards being six feet tall and bulletproof emotionally. Being a pastor means that for the rest of my life, I will see people in the worst moments of theirs. In tragedy, people tend to call out for God, and the best thing I can do as a regional rep is to be there for them without injuring myself.

People, this blog just got more interesting.

God just knocked my punk ass down.

My Houston

I’ve talked a lot about how places become characters in my stories. They may not be expressed in as much detail as there is in my mind, but please know that in every instance, I am very aware of where I am. Places become burned into my mind, because their personalities are just as loud. They just don’t speak English.

I do, though. And what I know is that where I say something is just as important as why. For instance, I don’t just remember that Houston is home.

I remember that the first time I saw it, I thought it was magic. When we actually moved there, I learned I was right.

My church at the time was a huge Austin-stone cathedral and I used to tell it all my secrets. If those walls could talk, it would be a lot more popular than this blog, I assure you. All my seventh and eighth grade secrets are in the recesses of the left transept, where the handbell tables provided my first “tree house.”

I talk a lot about how in all of my current grief, I have gone to the places that we shared and just talked. It is a pattern that developed here, in this time and place. She was always with me, even when she hadn’t arrived. I would sit under the bell table, with its white cloth so that she had to find me if I couldn’t hear her. I’d just talk and talk, because I had to think about what I wanted to say when she got there! My. Day. Was. Full.

When I got older, it was Crossroads bookstore th at held my deepest thoughts. I would go and get coffee alone with my notebook, and together we would explore the world. One of the best moments of my entire life was when my dad came to Crossroads with me. He saw a shirt that said, “I want to be Martha… the bitch can do everything.” He laughed until he nearly fell on the floor. Here was my dad, in a gay bookstore, and he was having a good time. Just watching him interact with everyone made me feel like he was trying really hard to bridge the gap between us, even though it never has been very far. Basically, we are one personality in two bodies, because that personality isn’t small enough for one person, anyway. The fact remains, though, that I’m gay and he’s straight. There’s a lot about my life that he had to learn.

Crossroads bookstore is one of the places I saw it happen.

Jeremy, the clerk, said, “look at you, all nellied out!” We had just come from church, and I was in my Sunday best. Now, every time I wear a dress for anything, my dad tells me I’m all nellied out. What’s really funny is that I don’t think he knows where “nellied out” comes from. It’s from Little House on the Prairie.

Laugh it up, Chuckles.

When I’m in Sugar Land, which is where my parents live now, I have the same set of places that I do in Houston. More than once I have gone to my high school girlfriend’s old house just to lament that it looks woefully inadequate without a huge Canadian flag flying over the driveway.

And now I get the chance to create those places with Dana, the ones we’ll return to just to feel that feeling. The feeling we felt the first time we went there together. Dana has been my home for so long that bringing her to Houston feels like the most right thing we’ve done together in a very long time.

Because it used to be my place, and now it’s ours.

 

Inklings -or- My Montrose

There will always be a hot dog restaurant called Big Frank’s in the Montrose of my mind. It is as if Big Frank’s has defined the neighborhood for me, because I still drive by and am surprised that now it’s a Chinese restaurant… even though it hasn’t been Big Frank’s for a hundred years. Big Frank’s is a fixed point for me as the entrance to Mecca.

This is because the journey from my house to HSPVA ran thusly:

  1. Take Pecore until it becomes 11th St.
  2. Turn left on Studewood.
  3. Take Studewood until it turns into Studemont.
  4. Take Studemont until it turns into Montrose.
  5. Turn left on W. Alabama.
  6. Turn right on Stanford.

I am not the only person that marks classic Montrose by food. Baba Yega. Bibas. Niko Nikos. All the gays have their favorite, and nine times out of ten, we’ve thrown up there. All Houston gays my age will also remember going to Heaven as if it was the Second Coming (or at least, someone’s). I was so tortured and locked up as a kid- so shy and quiet- that if J.K. Rowling’s concept of a Horcrux were real, these places would contain most of mine. Of course, Heaven burned down a long time ago, but I’m sure I’d figure out something.

Some of the greatest moments of my life were walking tours of Montrose after getting out of school, because I didn’t have to have a car. It was easier to spend time alone without one, because if I walked, I didn’t have to tell my Mom where to pick me up.

The first time I made a break for it was to find Inklings, a women’s bookstore that I’d heard about from a friend. It would have been perfect, except that Inklings wasn’t exactly in the neighborhood. I walked from ‘PVA to like, Richmond and Woodhead. It probably wouldn’t be a thing to me as an adult, but I was really afraid. I think it took me two and a half hours to get there because I was walking so slow. Everything seemed alien and it was the first time that I was walking down the street as an openly gay person. Single, but openly gay. I wanted someone to notice, as if there should have been some sort of applause. Keep in mind that by “out lesbian,” I had officially told one person. But that was one more person than I was ready to tell before. I HAD COME OUT. THERE MUST BE SOME SORT OF GLOW, RIGHT? There’s no glow.

I pranced around like one of those idiot people that can’t hide the fact that they’ve just lost their virginity. You and I both know what I’m talking about- that shit-eating grin that you hate to see on the faces of your co-workers because you know exactly what that means and just, ick.

I had the same delirious happiness on my face, but not because I’d gotten laid. I’d found out who I was. I had a word. I had a title. I was walking toward a bookstore that could help me learn about my tribe. They had a great kid and young adult section, and I sat on the floor. I read Leslea Newman’s “Heather Has Two Mommies,” and then I stumbled upon “Annie on My Mind” by Nancy Garden.

I read two pages, and I knew that this was it. This was THE book. I went up to the counter and tears stung the corners of my eyes as I’d gotten my allowance out of my pocket. The clerk put my book in a brown paper sack and I left with my eyes down, the emotional equivalent of leaving the money on the dresser. I was so ashamed.

The elation was gone when I had to go to the counter to pay. I was trying to put my big girl pants on, win one for the Gipper, pick an analogy. But in the choke, I got anxious and almost cried. The strength I felt a few moments before was gone. Now I had to get a novel about lesbians into my house without anyone knowing.

 

How Things Are Going

I don’t really have an article planned for tonight, just a general catch-up. Sometimes, being disconnected from my keyboard is a good thing, and sometimes I need it just to feel like I’m real… or rather, that I’m being real. Typing is literally how I learn about the way I think. I have tried to dictate notes, and it does not work for me. The digital sensation of my fingers on the keys actually propels me. It sounds like a sewing machine, and sometimes, the analogy translates. Sometimes not. I try to bring things around, but I’m ADD.

You’re laughing because you knew that. I get it. I’m not offended. Laugh it up, Chuckles.

I haven’t had my second interview with AlertLogic, but I’m glad I have it in the future. It’s something I can focus on to help me keep from freaking out about leaving Portland. It’s not just the people. It’s the place. I am a Virgo, which I choose to use in the very best sense of the archetype. I am tied to the land. I collect rocks. I remember the places where I have had amazing emotional transformations and I go back to them, even if it’s years later.

I do not have that connection with Houston yet, because I grew up in a culture that told me being outside was kind of weird. Seriously, if you are doing anything outside in Houston, people naturally think that you are just too poor to afford adequate housing.

I have big plans for myself in this area. Because I am the type person that loves being outside, I’m going to look up what it is that people do to be outside when it’s hot. It can’t be that hard. People have been doing it for millions of years. There’s so much more to do in Houston than complaining that it’s hot.

Although, I have a theory about that, too. I don’t even think Houstonians care that much about the heat. You can spend birth to death only experiencing Houston heat from the time it takes to get from a car to a building (or vice versa). The heat is just something we collectively bitch about so that even when we don’t have one damn thing to say to each other, we can still talk about sumthin.’ Portlanders have the same relationship with the rain.

Which brings this to my attention: in terms of weather, I hate Portland and Houston equally, because they’re annoying in the same way. The air is wet. In Houston, it’s hot. In Portland, it’s cold. But it’s all wet, all the time. It’s hard to regulate temperature because you can’t stay dry. It feels shitty to walk around in wet clothes. In Portland, it means that you can’t warm up, even if you add more layers. In Houston, it means your clothes feel like you should have left them in the dryer for ten more minutes EVERY DAMN DAY. And let’s not even talk about how that translates with underpants.

Dana is snoring so loud that I can hear her from the living room. Dana’s breathing is the antiphonal rhythm section to my typing fingers.

I am starting to think about other things. The grief that has upended the last three or four months is stabilizing into a different shade of normal. I talked to Dana today about how I knew that in some ways, this type of grief had been building for many years, but that I was afraid to go through it. I was afraid to experience this level of pain. I was afraid to see if I could take it. Until four months ago, I didn’t have the courage to talk about my life experiences, and only some of it was due to my own emotional ability.

I didn’t want to hurt anyone, and I knew that these stories would explode my life and the lives of others in a way that God only knew what would happen. This knot of fear has been building in my stomach for 25 years, all of it related to not being able to talk to anybody about anything at any time.

And then I became that age where not resolving your childhood issues becomes damaging enough that you realize it’s why you’ve been damaging yourself. And if you don’t release yourself from your past stories, two things will happen. The first is that any shot you have at focusing on anything else is nil. The second is that the knot of fear just keeps getting bigger.

I waited a lot longer than I should to realize that fear was passing into anxiety. Anxiety is the emotion in me that I like to talk about the least, because it is truly laying my cards on the table. I am mildly socially anxious all the time. I am clever enough to be funny, so I will always have a witty comeback. Inside, I am usually trying to figure out how to get out of talking to you. You is plural, and can mean anyone. Usually, it’s Dana, because she’s the one that’s most often around me. It is nothing personal, it’s that if I don’t interact with you, I can’t conflict with you. I go out of my way to make sure that our interactions are as pleasant as possible because I want you to think I’m the type person you can talk to.

The truth is, I am. But I am such a fallible person that it means a lot to me that my  friends be able to handle emotional fallout. I choose to be friends with people who have large emotions so that I don’t have to feel bad when I start talking about myself. I want to make sure that you’re fucked up enough to understand how fucked up I am and to be able to call me on it.

However, the problem with doing that is you get dumped on by a lot of psychos who have so much story to tell that there’s no room for yours. In time, you start to feel that of everyone in your life, your story is the least important of all.

My past pattern has just been to sit there and listen to you until I’m so full of emotion that I can’t see straight and then I let you get away with just saying, “well, goodnight!” I have a long fuse for “they’ll get me next time.” Nope. If you let them, people really will use you as an emotional trash compactor. Learning boundaries for me has been learning to say things like, “we only have half an hour and I’ve listened to your life for 25 minutes. Call me later, because I need an ear, too.”

The benchmark for me in friendship is set by the people who call back.

 

I Come to the Driveway Alone

I have written about death and grief a lot. What I haven’t written about is why I’m personally grieving. People that know me in an offline way have details, but no one knows everything… except me… and that’s the entire problem. It feels like I’m locked up, and when I try to express my emotions, I get a range from “God, I am so sorry” to “get over it.”

Because that’s how grief works, right? You just say “snap out of it” and people get it. People have been CURED over “snap out of it.” Yes, that was extreme sarcasm. I have a hard time not screaming at the people who tell me to just get over it. Seriously, who the fuck has the right to say what my process is or should be? Relationships take a long time to get out of your system if you’ve known the person for one year, much less 25.

So while you’re saying “get over it,” I’m saying “I will… but in my own time. Shut the hell up.”

My favorite way to grieve is to go to the places that the person I lost would meet me. The places that are “ours.” When I get there, I just start talking. It doesn’t matter that they’re not there. My grief is not *for* them. I know that sounds funny to say, but especially since my grief is for a friendship that ended and not a person who died, it doesn’t matter to me whether my friend is with me or not. I just talk, anyway.

I have to feel that in some small way, the universe is holding my stories. I have to believe that by getting them out of my body and out into the ether that one day, I won’t have to hold onto them anymore.

But I don’t just talk about serious things. Sometimes I tell myself jokes and stories between us that make me roll on the ground with laughter, and those are moments I cherish, because that means that it is *just* grief. I am not also trying to be angry, because why be angry? What’s it doing for me? I have been angry about this situation for years, and it’s never gotten me anywhere. That’s how I had to decide to let go of the friendship altogether. I realized that I was putting someone else’s happiness above my own, because that’s what I thought I needed to believe.

We met two months shy of my 13th birthday. I am now one month away from my 36th. There was an 11 year age gap between us, which we both did our best to bridge. Because of this, information passed between us as equals. Because we are both so damn funny, it covered up some real emotional scars for many, many years- I was living vicariously through an adult, and a lot of it scared me.

When I got scared, I would do what I could to protect her, which wasn’t much… but it was what I could do.

I could listen.

I thought I was helping her by being that friend she could always go to for comfort and solace. In retrospect, I realize now that it helped me to grow up too fast. I felt like I was becoming responsible for her behavior instead of it just being reported. I took on the mantle of trying to take care of her, but she didn’t realize that her stories had that kind of impact on me.

I was so young when the pattern started that it is just now occurring to me to stop. It is excruciating, this major emotional surgery. It is my life’s work to unpack 25 years of memories and take them all in stride.

Because that’s just what unconditional love does. It allows you to look at all sorts of memories without being threatened by them. It allows you to see yourself as you are in your interactions with others. It allows you to love yourself as much as you love everyone else.

Which sounds so hippy-dippy and weird for someone who’s moving back to Texas.