Category Archives: memories

How The American Dream Nearly Destroyed Me

Reflections On A Wasted Life, And Why I Don’t Regret It.

They really should have seen it coming, my parents. After 4 years of college, my mother graduated with the ability to speak, read, and write French, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, and Latin. Imagine the opportunities available to a woman with those skills!

Unfortunately, this was 1949. But she did get hired – as a receptionist in an import/export firm that needed someone who could speak both English and Portuguese.

Still, that didn’t keep them from “knowing” that the best path for my life included a college education. So that’s what I was groomed for from the start.

The first crisis came at the end of 7th grade. For the first semester, we had to take a class called “mechanical drawing.” I guess we’d call that class “drafting” or even “CAD/CAM” today. Regardless, we were given a blueprint to copy. I did so and excelled at it.

The second semester included “Wood Shop,” where we had to take the previous semester’s drawing and bring it to life in wood. Again, I excelled at it, despite never having used a tool in my life. The teacher said I had a natural feel for the wood.

Now it was the end of the semester. Time to choose which classes to take the following year. I signed up for every shop class on offer and handed in my choices, which had to be approved by my guidance counselor. If he were alive today, would it be possible to sue him for malpractice?

He called me into his office. “You don’t want to take these classes,” he said. “These classes are for the dummies. You’re going to college. Besides, there’s no future in wood.”

“Really? What about houses?” I thought but didn’t say.

Good advice. The highest-paying job I’ve ever held paid $18 an hour—and that was in a field where I was making electromechanical repairs. A job that didn’t require a college education.

Meanwhile, when I had a plumbing problem last month, I had to call a “dummy” and pay him $65 an hour to fix it.

I lived for a few years in the San Francisco Bay Area. One of my favorite pastimes was visiting some of the shops on Fisherman’s Wharf and Ghirardelli Square, looking at the price tags on the hand-made wooden armoires and jewelry boxes: $850, $1200, $925, $18,000. No future in it, my ass.

I’ve gone to college on 6 separate occasions. Although I have enough credits for a bachelor’s degree, I have yet to remain at one college long enough to graduate. But I’m still saddled with over $100,000 of student loan debt. And at my age (70), I’m afraid that when it’s my turn to go, much like Tennessee Ernie Ford, I’ll have to say, “St. Peter don’t you call me cause I can’t go. I owe my soul to the company store.”

Then there’s the problem of gender identity. At the age of 59, after years of therapy, counseling, failed marriages, suicide attempts, and self-medicating within illicit drugs, I finally discovered the proximate cause of my problems: I had been living a lie, trying to be something I wasn’t.

As soon as I decided to stop pretending I was male, things got better. And worse.

The Better

  • I was able to go off four of my six anti-depressants
  • I was able to be – and live – my authentic self
  • I met a woman who accepted me for who I am. We’ve been married for 11 years
  • I no longer have to hide my tears
  • Younger people accept me as I am

The Worse

  • I’ve lost jobs because of who I am
  • Because of that, I had to take early Social Security
  • I still avoid using public restrooms whenever I can
  • I still get misgendered by people who should know better

But Still, I Persevere

I knew when I stopped pretending, I’d lose friends and possibly family. But the friends I lost weren’t worth having in the first place if they couldn’t accept the authentic me.

There were rifts in my immediate family, but over time, they’ve healed.

Now, as the real me, I have more and closer friends than ever before. The LGBT+ community where I live is vibrant and thriving. Our city – Rochester, NY – has ordinances protecting us. I can, for the most part, use public restrooms safely, although I don’t push it. I rarely used them before my change, anyway.

But I still wish I had been able to take those shop classes.

 

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Filed under Catching Up, Education, family, Gender, Hope, memories

Some Shockin’ Good!

St. Paul's Anglican Church, Harbour Grace

St. Paul’s Anglican Church

St. Paul’s Anglican Church, Harbour Grace, Newfoundland

The Internet is a Strange and Wondrous Thing

Especially for people with Attention Deficit Disorder, like me. I woke up this morning wanting to text my daughter, to share a memory. Some background is in order:

My family’s ancestral home is in Harbour Grace, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada. Several years ago—decades, really—my father, his mother, a sister and a brother, visited the town. One of the souvenirs he brought back was a vinyl recording of Newfoundland songs.

One of our favorites was Dick Nolan singing “Aunt Martha’s Sheep.” It was that song I wanted to share with my daughter. So I fired up Google and entered the song title.

One of the hits was the link above, which will take you to YouTube so you can watch it. Another one takes you to Wikipedia, and I hope you’ll read the entry there, especially the part under “The Rest Of The Story,” where you’ll learn of the song’s connection to Harbour Grace.

Anyway, after the “Aunt Martha” video finished, it went on to the next song, “Some Shockin’ Good.”

Naturally, I Googled that phrase as well, which took me to the newest blog I’m following, Some Shockin’ Good.

And that, in a nutshell, is how the Internet works to bring the world together.

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Filed under Catching Up, Communication, family, History, memories

Picking up the Pieces

It’s been over three years since you left me. Three long years of self-reflection. The first six months were the hardest: full of thoughts of suicide, of self-harm, of self-destructive behavior.

I simply couldn’t see how I could go on without you, or if I even wanted to.

But I muddled through, found a new place to live, made new friends. And stayed on my meds. I finally put the pieces of my shattered life together again.

Until Last Week

When you told me you were seeing someone new. I congratulated you, and even meant it. But I was glad we were talking by text, and that you couldn’t see my facial expressions.

As we talked, I realized that I had been holding out hope that we would someday be together again. I mean, that’s what you once promised me, wasn’t it? That you always wanted me in your life?

But I finally realized that what I was still hoping would happen wasn’t going to.

And I finally had to accept that fact.

And I have. Yesterday, for the very lasting time, I cried and mourned the death of Us. The unit we had become.

This morning I determined that no matter what the future brings, you’ll always have a place in my heart.

And I’ve also determined that no matter what happens in my life, I will never again love someone who doesn’t love me as much as I love them.

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Filed under Love, memories

How I Handle My ADD

It ain’t ADHD, by the Way

(Originally published on Medium)

Photo by pina messina on Unsplash

Attention Deficit Disorder. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.

There’s a fine line between the two. I used to have the latter, but it matured into the former. And much like my depression, it’s been a lifelong companion.

Consider: I have pictures of me as a child of 3. I am connected to my mother by a chest harness and a leash.

Before you start screaming “Child abuse!” you need to understand it was the only way she could keep me safe, short of keeping me in a stroller. Put me on the ground and I’d take off running.

That phase — the ADHD — lasted until I was about 7. “Your child can’t sit still in class.” “Your child is so fidgety that it distracts the rest of the class.”

Fortunately, I outgrew the hyperactivity. Or rather it matured into something else: ADD.

My mind still made lightning-quick connections between random thoughts and ideas.

It still does.

There are medications now that we didn’t have in the 1950s. And I can’t say how grateful I am for that. Not that we have them, but that we didn’t have them back then.

My Creativity is Dependent on My ADD

I enjoy having ADD. It’s part of who I am. I appreciate the way my mind zips from thought to thought, making connections which at first seem random but in the end come together and make perfect sense.

A professor at uni once told me, “ It’s amazing to see your mind at work. It’s like a lightning bolt, zipping from cloud to cloud. But eventually it hits its target. All in about 3 seconds.”

That’s Why I Write

My ideas come faster than I can write them down. Writing forces meeting to focus on one idea long enough to commit it to the screen.

Since I know that what I’ve written is probably incoherent to anyone else, I set it aside for a time. Then I go back and massage it until it makes sense, until it’s right.

Consider: since I started writing this piece, I’ve gone back and changed the title at least 3 times. I’ve edited the story so many times I can’t remember how many. And I’ll keep editing, massaging, until it’s RIGHT.

And that’s a benefit of ADD, and how I cope with it.

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Filed under memories, mental health, Writing

The Cremation of Sam McGee

“There are strange things done in the midnight sun
By the men who moil for gold;
The Arctic trails have their secret tales
That would make your blood run cold;
The Northern Lights have seen queer sights,
But the queerest they ever did see
Was that night on the marge of Lake Lebarge
I cremated Sam McGee.”
The Cremation of Sam McGee, by Robert Service
From “Songs of a Sourdough

There is no Lake Lebarge anywhere in Canada. There is, however, a Lake Laberge. Robert Service used poetic license in order for it to rhyme.

It was in late April of 1973 when my friend Larry and I camped in the campground at Lake Laberge.

labergeAlamy Stock Photo

The Northern Lights

Have you ever seen them? “Those bright dancing lights that are the result of collisions between electrically charged particles from the sun that enter the earth’s atmosphere.” (Northern Lights Centre)

I had first seen them in Anchorage, and then in Fairbanks. But here, with the sound-absorbing three-foot layer of snow, I could actually hear them crackling and popping. I had always thought them to be silent, but “there on the marge of Lake Lebarge” I learned otherwise.

Larry, sound sleeper that he was, slept through the whole show. When I woke up the following morning, he was gone! Sleeping bag, back pack—everything. He had packed all of his gear into the car and left a note on the windshield saying we was restless and decided to hike along the (Haines Highway) road we were following.

So I packed my gear, collapsed the tent, and headed down the road. I caught up with Larry after about 5 miles. I’ve never seen anyone so glad to get in out of the cold!

We continued on into Haines (Alaska), only to find that the border crossing was closed. No barricade or anything, just a big sign that we would be committing a felony if we entered our own country without checking in with Customs. Even back then, it was harder for a U.S. citizen to re-enter her own country than it was to enter a foreign country. So after weighing the pros and cons, we decided not to take any chances. We parked and waited the 2 hours it took for the Customs dude to show up.

I don’t know what his problem was, but he wanted to know just about everything about me. Where I was going, where I was coming from, why had I been in Canada, did I have a job in the US, and just about everything but my shoe size. Larry (who was a Canadian citizen), just had to show his driver’s license and was waved in. I wondered if the fact that both Larry and the Custom guy both had short hair and smoked a pipe had something to do with it while I, a citizen by birth—and with long hair, a beard, and smoking a cigarette—was put through the wringer.

So On To The Ferry

Once you enter Haines, the highways end. There are no connecting roads to the rest of Southeast Alaska. The only way to go any further is by boat or by airplane. And that meant the Alaska Marine Highway System. You’ll forgive, I’m sure, when I admit that as I write this, some 45 years later, I can’t remember which ferry we took.

After a stop at Juneau, we continued down to Petersburg, our destination. Larry later left to go commercial fishing, while I found a job, got married, and had my first daughter.

I never saw the Northern Lights in Petersburg, but I do remember snowshoeing across the muskeg by the light of a full moon reflecting off the snow.

Thanks for reading!

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Filed under Alaska, Klondike, memories