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Sunday, August 4, 2013

This is 40?


I never thought much about getting older or minded aging until I turned forty this past December, and then I suddenly felt very old and very worn down. This was and is mostly due to everything that has happened in the past few years, and I am only now beginning to feel better and realize that there is still so much life ahead of me, and that forty is not the end of things but the beginning of the next half of my life. And that that life could be amazing and fulfilling and even more rewarding than the life I used to know. I’m not at complete peace with it yet, but I am getting there, slowly and steadily.

As a young kid time seemed to move slowly, and becoming a teenager felt like a goal that would take forever to achieve. Then while in my teens I longed for adulthood so that I could feel less awkward and gangly. I wore that awkwardness like a heavy cloak through my teens, and I never truly felt comfortable or relaxed aside from isolated moments. There is a tension and acute discomfort visible in pictures of me taken at the time. (Let me amend that: There is a tension and acute discomfort visible in pictures of me taken at any time.) I was sure that once I left that torpid decade I would finally feel better and come into my own. Maybe even relax and start being myself.

Alas, it was not meant to be, and my twenties proved to be less awkward but still tense and fraught with insecurities and doubts. I could not wait to enter my thirties, as I saw that decade as a happier and more fruitful one. Surely by then I would have things figured out. I definitely did come into my own in my early thirties. I had a covetable job, drive and passion, and the opportunity to travel and grown and advance in my career. Despite making some choices I regretted and some I still wish I could do differently, it seemed as if that golden age and that growing and sure success would last forever.

It did not.

What happened instead was real life, with ups and downs, triumphs and failures, and while uncomfortable at times, I generally accepted it and my age, and the decade seemed as if it could last longer if I just willed it so. But when things began to get dark and the losses added up, I found turning forty to be traumatic. Suddenly age was quantifiable, and the number forty seemed possessed of great baggage and freight, none of it good. It was a large, lumbering specter that pressed down on me and served as a reminder that I was getting older and there was nothing I could do about it. Forty suddenly meant that the first half - and seemingly best part - of my life was over, and I had squandered it. It was all downhill from forty, and the signs were everywhere. I was examining my life and taking stock, and I worried that I would never be successful or happy again.

Despite scoffing at the concept and thinking it never could apply to me, I realized with cold dread that I was in the throes of a genuine midlife crisis. Not me, I thought. This was not what was going to happen to someone like me. I was too self-aware for a midlife crisis, surely. 

But it happened.

Losing my job and surviving for the past few years on freelance work has led to a more precarious existence, and financial woes have led me to live with my mother in suburban North Carolina until things improve. Add to this the deaths of immediate family members and a lack of security and roots and suddenly who I was and where I was at forty did not match what and where I thought I would be and wanted to be at forty. This was not good news, and turning forty went from milestone to the final nail in the coffin of my old life.

Suddenly mirrors told truths that once before remained unspoken or unseen in happier times. The bathroom scale became a source of shame and injury whereas once it simply told me how much I weighed. After many rough life events, my hair turned grey quicker than it ever had. While I always had some grey, even in high school (thanks to premature graying on both sides of the family), suddenly those streaks and small patches became great swathes. Worse, my hair started thinning and becoming finer in places. The more of my scalp I could see as I readied myself in the morning, the more anxious I became. What was once a thick, unruly mop of hair was changing, and nothing was more traumatizing to me for a very specific reason. My hair had (and has) always been the one thing that I wasn’t insecure about, and here it was now betraying me and losing its youthful volume and color. While beneath the panic there is thankfulness that I am not balding or losing it altogether, it is cold comfort to a shocked system.

My waistline has also expanded, the reckless and indulgent eating habits of my youth no longer applicable or tolerable once I turned thirty, let alone forty. But now it is even harder to lose the weight, to stay in something resembling a youthful shape. The comfort eating I had done in the past few years has taken its toll, and these fifteen excess pounds are my fleshy albatross until one day I am free of them. Once taut, youthful flesh has now started to expand, and like most men, it gathers around my middle and my upper chest. My face is fuller, and when I laugh or tilt my head a certain way, my chin suddenly doubles. Whereas once I was emaciated and begged to eat more by doctors and concerned parents, I am now overweight for my height and frame, and I beg myself not to eat more. Dieting has become a full-time position, and I am worried about my job qualifications (so to speak). Exercising is now something I do and must do if I want to lose the weight and get my body in better shape. If I have to age, I should at least do it as gracefully and healthily as I can.

But turning forty also meant I had and have to look at things differently. I had to turn crisis into opportunity. The game has changed. My own personal criteria has changed. Where once I relied on work or achievements or friends for identity and meaning, I must now find these within myself. Where once I equated success with a full-time office job and recognition from many, I now equate it with ingenuity of self and tapping into my talents and abilities in ways that I have not had to or dared to before now. Sometimes I equate with just making it through the day in a good mood. Where once money was spent haphazardly and on the acquisition of insubstantial things, I have learned a level of responsibility and to appreciate what I do have and not look for happiness in things that are material and fleeting at best.

I must work at the things I can control and learn to surrender to the things I cannot. My situation is temporary, even if on dark days I feel like it is the farthest thing from, and eventually I will move forward and there will be many more triumphs in my future (as well as tragedies). I will continue to age, but I will also hopefully fully realize that forty is still young and just a number. That it is not a death knell but a new phase that holds much promise. I get flashes of this, of hope and optimism, from time to time, and lately they have come at a faster rate. When I look in the mirror now I see things that are fixable and things that are not, but I certainly do not see the end of a life. I can lose weight and get into shape. I can color my hair if I am really bothered by all the grey.

What I have written about is nothing new or revelatory or particularly novel; countless people have gone before me and have had the same realizations, or something close to it. It’s simply my turn to face forty and turn it to something positive rather than something negative. Maybe the challenge of turning forty is to do just that, and having faced it head on and seeing it for what it is allows you to then accept it and transmute it into an ally rather than an adversary.

It will be interesting to see where the next few months and years take me, when things improve and I move out of my mother’s house in North Carolina. When I am back on my feet financially, emotionally, physically, and mentally. When I am surrounded by friends and loved ones and even (hopefully) a partner. I have a hunch I will no longer feel old and worn down. I hope I feel full of optimism and know there is so much of life left. I am starting to remember I am still young, and I think soon I will even feel it and believe it. That will be a happy day.

In the meantime, forty still has lessons left to teach me, and I must learn and embrace them. Each time I do so it gets a little bit easier. I am my own worst enemy in that regard, and it is time to change that. I owe it to myself first and foremost. I am starting to see how much of life there is yet to be lived, and my fears and doubts are slowly changing to hope and excitement. Even as I write this I feel as if I am exorcising age and pain and weight from the recent past. Surely that counts for something? If this is forty, let me make it the catalyst for change and moving on. Let me make it the birth of the next phase of my life instead of the death of my old one.

Because when you look at it like that, suddenly you feel young.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Clouds In My Coffee



When I was about to turn ten years old I begged my parents for Carly Simon’s No Secrets album for my birthday. I thought it was the very height of sophistication, with Carly posed insouciantly on the cover, her nipples exposed beneath her sheer blue blouse. That’s what adults do, I thought. I loved the flirtiness, the cool confidence I saw in the way she was posed, confidence that I wanted more than anything as an extremely shy kid. That my parents barely batted an eye when I asked for this somewhat unconventional birthday gift is either a testament to their advanced parenting or their ability to roll with my very gay punches. Perhaps both. I had heard a few of the songs on the album already, and I was positive owning it was essential to my preadolescent happiness.
I spent hours listening to the album again and again, standing in front of the full-length mirror in my parents’ bedroom trying to imitate Carly’s pose, a canvas tote bag on my shoulder a substitute for her powder blue purse. I loved “You’re So Vain” in particular, mostly for the word “gavotte,” and I wasted no time in trying to use it in sentences, even if I only had a small idea of what the word actually meant. It just sounded so…adult. And I wanted to be an adult desperately.
I had always had trouble interacting and getting along with peers, and I felt far more comfortable being around adults, people whom I was sure truly understood me and my utterly sophisticated ways. When my parents entertained I always made the coffee, and I usually joined them at the table for a cup or two, listening intently for bits of conversation and words and phrases I could commit to memory for future use. I couldn’t use them with friends, certainly, as I really had none growing up. My crippling shyness was my own downfall, but at least with Carly Simon, I got to escape into a world I thought very adult indeed.
I brought the album with me wherever I went, demanding that our hosts put the record on so I could sing along and impress them with my knowledge of sex and relationships and other heady things that surely they could relate to. I was sure they would be moved by my worldly sophistication and invite me to speak at events and be the special guest at parties in my honor. As I danced and sang to the record, my left hand firmly planted on my hip and my right curled in what could kindly be described as my best Mick-Jagger-with-palsy pose, I awkwardly and most likely embarrassingly gavotted across countless family and friends' living rooms in my hometown. My behavior would be tolerated for one or two songs, but after that the record came off and I was encouraged to go outside and play with the others, which inevitably meant my sitting quietly in the corner as my shyness was an obstacle I was unable to overcome. Besides, I rationalized, I would rather contemplate just what the lyrics for “His Friends Are More Than Fond of Robin” meant. If I could unravel their deep meaning I was sure I would take one giant step closer to being a genius.
No Secrets led to more Carly Simon albums, and soon she became the unofficial soundtrack of my life. I asked for and received her earlier albums, then saved up my allowance for her newer ones as they came out, until I started working in my early teens and could use my own hard-earned money to support my favored artist. Certain songs became inextricably linked to life events or specific emotions. If I was down (which, unsurprisingly, happened a lot) I would play “Coming Around Again” or Carly’s beautiful cover of the Hoagy Carmichael standard, “I Get Along Without You Very Well.” As I've mentioned before, my view of love growing up was informed by ache and longing and the brave suffering of feelings that could not yet be indulged. I’d play “Boys in the Trees” and allow myself to indulge feelings and hopes I’d normally keep stuffed down and vigilant of, my undeniable homosexuality something I was nowhere near ready to deal with. But the song allowed me to hope for a day when I could, and it’s still a favorite to this day.
Good moods or my feeling excited for something meant “Anticipation” played over and over. I danced around the house a lot as a kid, leading my father to nickname me "gazelle," and the infectious “Attitude Dancing” could be heard coming from my bedroom many an evening, my dance routine being worked on and perfected with each listen. “Nobody Does it Better” was for playful moods, when I felt like I could open up a bit with people I felt safe with, and “Haven’t Got Time For the Pain” was my anthem of assertiveness, a mantra repeated when I needed to summon whatever confidence I was capable of at the time, even if I had to pretend. There was a Carly Simon song for every mood, a Carly Simon album for every stage of my maturing. They accompanied me on vacations, during quiet times in my room, or at school when I would scribble lyrics in notebooks or inside binder covers as visual touchstones for when interacting with peers threatened to overwhelm me.
As I grew older I revisited songs and understood their meanings better, some even for the first time, and eventually Carly Simon's music became less of a means of social survival and my desperately wanting to be an adult, to songs on albums that I loved and enjoyed and were special just for the feelings of happiness they engendered. She will always be my favorite.
Sometimes I miss the emotional freight I placed behind the songs I listened to as a child, but most of the time I love those songs simply because they are damn good songs. I suppose one could say that that is because I am truly an adult now, but I like to think it’s more the fact that I have finally learned to let myself gavotte with confidence.
(This essay originally appeared in a slightly different form on www.fredhystere.com)

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Heart is a Lonely (Job) Hunter

In October of 2010 I lost my job when the company I worked for was restructured and my department was effectively eliminated. It was the first time I had been let go of a job rather than leaving one voluntarily. It was a wake-up call that I am still recovering from, but I have also learned much since it happened. 

I've been (mostly) surviving as a freelancer while I actively job hunt for a new position, but it has not been easy. My story is one of thousands, and in the current economy I am far from alone, although most of the time it can feel like it. It has been a tumultuous, emotional, and mentally trying time. 

Like most people, I took my job for granted and assumed it would be around forever, or at least something close to it. I would leave when I was good and ready to, and for something even better. I got complacent and used to the comforts of my position, and when the writing was on the wall I should have been far more proactive than I was in finding a new job. What happened to my company was perfectly normal in today's business world, and there was no taking it personally when I was one of many who were let go. But it was hard not to take it at least a little personally, as it was my job and financial security, after all. I had enough freelance work lined up to keep solvent for the immediate future, but emotionally I was dealing with things I had never had to deal with before. It was and has been a roller-coaster, but the longer the ride goes on, the more I learn to adjust and deal with life's unexpected twists and turns.

I did panic at first and move in with a friend in California for a brief stay, but after that initial panic I moved back to New York and tried to make it work as long as I could with freelancing while searching for a full-time job. I had not managed my money as smartly as I could and should have before then, and there was no nest egg or financial cushion to land on, which made my situation all the more painful. I had never planned for an occasion such as this. I made some choices based on panic and pure emotion rather than calm logic, and to a very large degree I am still paying for them now. I was my own worst enemy in that regard. However, I was lucky in that I had some wonderful freelance work with some wonderful publishers. It helped balance things a bit when my family life was so full of traumas. 

In the months that followed my leaving the company, the family dog was put down as he was old and his quality of life was poor, my maternal grandmother was put into a home as her Alzheimer's and dementia had advanced to such a degree that she could no longer live on her own or take care of herself, and my father's illness was confirmed as terminal. These were all blows that left us reeling, but I was grateful for the distraction of the freelance work I had. I held on to what little stability I could find, but life had more changes in store. 

After the birth of my first niece in the summer of 2011, my parents moved from our childhood home in Westchester, NY to a suburb outside of Charlotte, NC to be closer to my brother and his new family. It was unsettling and very sad to leave the house and town I grew up in, and it was one more indicator that life had changed dramatically. Later that year I moved to Portland, OR, as surviving in New York as a freelancer was not financially possible given my situation, and Portland offered a relatively urban experience that was much easier on my finances. I had some friends there as well, so I moved with the hope of being able to save and flourish.

Which I did, with a very healthy, challenging, exciting amount of freelance work, and for a nice stretch I was doing well. I would visit my folks every month in North Carolina, especially when my father's health declined and the end was near. I was grateful that my situation allowed me to spend so much time with my family, and to be with my father when he passed away last August, as well as when my maternal grandmother passed away last December. There are silver linings on even the darkest of clouds. 

Toward the end of the year, alas, the freelance work started drying up, and I could not even get a part-time retail job. Like most cities, Portland was feeling the effects of the bad economy. When I turned forty last December, it was certainly not what I expected, hoped, or wanted my life to be at that landmark age. But when is life truly ever the way you think it will be, or sometimes even want it to be? This was my life at forty, and I had to make the best of it.

Faced with dwindling freelance work and almost nothing in my bank account by the time spring came this year, I had no real choice but to move in with my mother in North Carolina. I have been here since late April, and while I am glad to spend time with my mother and help her move into her new house, it is a very lonely and isolated life. I know no one here aside from family, and making friends is difficult in a sleepy suburb where a car is necessary and the nearest social network is forty-five minutes away. I know my situation is temporary, but sometimes it is a cold comfort when all you want to do is move on and rebuild.

The struggle of the past few years has taken its greatest toll emotionally, and how could it not? I am sure this is the case for almost everyone in my position or similar. When dealing with a full plate, and as is often the case when you lose all the security and surety you once had, your emotions get the better of you. The work, financial, and family stability I once enjoyed and took for granted is gone, and it is up to me now to make my own. It is a daunting, scary experience. Freelancing is a lonely life, especially when you are living far away from friends and urban offerings, and one I freely admit I am not ideally suited for. It takes a lot of willpower to remain confident and positive, and both are things I have been struggling with for two-and-a-half years now. However, I am determined to learn from this experience and make it count. I try to keep busy and stay in the present. I check four online job sites daily, reach out time and again to friends at different publishing houses for freelance work or job leads, and focus on the freelance work I do have while trying to secure more. Freelancing is perilous in the best of times, and I do not have enough right now that I can make a reliable living on it. I still have to hustle, and I still worry if I will get more. But what I do have I make the most of, and I am truly grateful for.

There are many times when I wonder if I am washed up and done, over at forty, but then the fog lifts and I realize this is fear rearing its pernicious head. I struggle with feelings of inadequacy, irrelevance, and worthlessness a lot of the time, but they mostly pass and I remind myself that I am capable of so much and possess unique talents and abilities. When I feel my life has not amounted to much I focus on past experiences and triumphs, and I know I have done much to be proud of. I think of all the amazing things I can still do and want to do - and will do. When I feel that I am lost and alone and far from everyone, I force myself to stop and breathe and take stock of all the wonderful people in my life. I work on things that I can control, and I try to remind myself not to worry about the things that I cannot. There are enough things to truly warrant worrying about without me adding unsupported fears to the pile. 

I have learned to appreciate everything and to not take a single thing for granted, and every job opening I apply for I hope will be the one that opens the door to the next chapter of my life. I am not the same person I was before my life changed so dramatically, nor could I go back to the life I had before. It no longer exists. But a new one awaits. I cannot make friends I have not talked to or seen in a long time reconnect with me again like before, but there are new friends to be made one day in addition to the older ones who are an essential part of the fabric of my life. I cannot look for the security I once had. That is gone forever. But I can create my own and enjoy it as long as it lasts. Nothing is forever, and neither is my current state of affairs. I just know now to make the most of what you have when you have it. I do not look for the job I will eventually get to answer for everything, but it is the first thing I need in order to make the next chapter of my life possible. The rest is up to me. I hope it happens soon, as I am more than ready to move on and put a lot of pain and struggle behind me. And when I do find that full-time job and I take that first step, it's going to be full of change and uncertainty and without any guarantees. But that's life. When you move forward, you move on. 

This blog post is by no means the permanent expulsion of the feelings I have been struggling with, or some great coming to terms with my situation. It is not about generating sympathy or indulging self-pity, but sharing my story in the hopes that I will feel less alone, and make those in a similar situation feel less alone as well. I am a work in progress, and the fears and doubts and worries and hopes and anxiety and panic will undoubtedly occur again and again. I just have to remind myself that this is normal, that there will be ups and downs until things do change. And that things will change. Life has certainly presented me with much change the past few years, so there is no reason to think it won't keep on presenting me with change. 

How I meet that change is up to me.

Monday, July 15, 2013

The Importance of Being Earnest

"He flung down all the barriers—not at once, for he did not live in a house that can be destroyed in a day.” - E.M. Forster, Maurice

I never not knew I was gay, I just didn't quite know what to do with the fact that I was. From earliest memory I had always felt different, but it took me years to realize what that different thing was, and then a few more years to accept it. I knew I had something that made me separate from everyone else, and I knew I had to keep it a secret. To my mind there was no other option. However, it was apparent to anyone who met me what my secret was, even if I was convinced otherwise. The person I was really trying to keep it a secret from was myself.

For me being different meant being an outsider, and being an outsider meant that acceptance was not possible. I also knew that being different in the way I was different put everything on the line. If I acknowledged what I was it would involve too much of the unknown, and that was too frightening at such a young age. What if no one would love me?  What if no one accepted me? Worse, I felt that I could not love or accept myself because I was different. 

Even though I tried to hide my sexuality, I did not succeed, as I could behave no other way than myself. I hid in plain sight, and it was apparent to everyone who met me that I was gay. But it wasn't talked about, wasn't addressed. And I worked overtime at not addressing it as well. It was too large and overwhelming a thing to tackle at that point.

It didn't start out that way. As a very young boy I behaved how I wanted to, said what I wanted to, and felt what I wanted to. It was others who made me feel this was wrong, who told me to act another way, avoid talking a certain way, avoid saying certain things. I learned that while I was different, my kind of different wasn't good. I learned to fear who and what I was, and then I believed I had no choice but to hide it and hope it would go away. But it didn't. It couldn't.

I was picked on daily in elementary school. Emotionally, mentally, physically. I was teased mercilessly, assaulted and met with outright hated for who and what I was. I was picked up and thrown down hills. I was punched, slapped, pushed, tripped, and poked. I was called "faggot," "fag," "homo," "queer," and "pussy," all with so much venom and animosity I was left frozen in place. Speechless with shock and fear, unable to defend myself or attack back. My school uniform was once urinated on when we changed for gym class, and my teacher made me put it back on after it dried. When I returned to class smelling like urine and was laughed at, I felt like shriveling up until I just ceased to exist. I felt less than human. A particularly persistent bully approached me at recess one afternoon and called me a faggot, then backhanded me so hard my glasses went flying. And I said and did nothing. 

I never told teachers or my parents about what was going on. I was too afraid to. I was told that if I did that things would get even worse. What was currently going on was so bad I buckled at the thought of what constituted worse. I believed my tormentors and took them at their word. It would have been hard not to when you were told almost daily, "You're dead after school." By the time the school day was over I had already worked myself up into such a state of fear and panic that those that picked on me didn't have to do a thing. I had crippled myself, and I spent my school day trying to be safe as well as trying to learn. I would dread being dropped off in the mornings and rejoice when I was picked up in the afternoons. It was a brutal, wearing, and stressful existence, but it was the only one I knew. 

Worst of all, I was mad at myself more than anyone else. Because I took it and never fought back, because I let them treat me this way. Because I was gay and different. I didn't have the courage or self-confidence to fight back or to extricate myself from this bad situation, but I punished myself anyway. This would not happen if I was the same as everyone else. I couldn't deal with being gay. I could do nothing but steel myself and wait for my time at that school to end. 

By high school things had gotten better. I was still picked on and taunted, but it was only a fraction of what I had endured in years past. And I still did not acknowledge my sexuality, to myself or anyone else. High school was still not a safe or thriving place for a young gay kid to be in the early Nineties. There were no LGBT groups or clubs, and those of us that were different kept to ourselves, desperately wanting to acknowledge each other but not willing to risk our safety or break out of our little shells. Guilt by association. I kept my head down and got through.

College was better in turn, but I was still not ready to deal with my sexuality, although there were cracks in the facade that grew and spread, quicker and quicker. I harbored secret crushes and yearned for love, but the amount of courage and bravery it would take to come out to myself and others was something I did not possess yet. 

During a trip to England the winter before my last semester Senior year I finally acted on my homosexual impulses, and it was scary and liberating and wonderful and awful, and I returned home more determined than ever not to acknowledge my sexuality. I had gotten a look at the real me, had finally acknowledged an intrinsic and vast part of who I was, and it frightened me. It was too risky, and while I really wanted nothing more than to be fully myself, I just couldn't do it yet. I knew I would be completely changed by it.

But I had changed already, I had acknowledged things, and it was only a matter of time before I could not deny or ignore what was the truth any longer. I moved to England the year after I graduated college to pursue my Master's Degree, and it was there that the facade not only cracked but was destroyed. It happened steadily and gradually. A look here, a feeling there. A desire. A thought. A realization. A want.

One afternoon I went to see the film Maurice, an adaptation of E.M. Forster's novel, and I emerged shaken to my core. The movie itself was a look into my being, into what I believed and wanted, and my heart would not stop pounding and I could not stop crying. I cried because I wanted to be who I was, I wanted to stop living half a life. To stop hiding from myself. On the way out I saw a gay couple holding hands, and looking at this simple act of love, of what was one of the wonderful possibilities that life could hold for me if I let it, I began crying harder. I cried all the way back to my dorm room, and once in my room, I closed the door behind me. I looked in the small mirror that hung above my bookshelf and said out loud, "I am gay." I said it again, then a third time. And it felt true. I had finally acknowledged it. I lay on the floor of my room, exhausted, and cried myself to sleep. The next morning I looked in the mirror and knew my truth and believed it. It had not killed me. It had not made me unlovable or unacceptable. It had changed me by making me who I was. By making me face the truth and love the truth. And from that moment on I started living the truth.

I have been living the truth for so long now that the "old" me seems like someone else. Another person in another life. Sometimes I mourn for what once was, for the lost opportunities and for how much I held myself back. For what I went through as a kid. But there is no use in dwelling there too long. That was part of who I once was, but who I became and who I am now is what counts and what is genuine. I may have lived part of my life halfway, but there is still so much of life left to live as fully and as honestly as I can. And I intend to live it.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Anglophilia, Part I


“One is certain of nothing but the truth of one's own emotions.” - E.M. Forster

I have been obsessed by and in love with almost all things English from an early age. I don't remember when it started, but I cannot think of a time when I was not enamored by literature, films, music, or even food from "across the pond." My mother is European, which probably accounts for some of my natural attraction to foreign cultures, but the English obsession is something that by this point has become uniquely my own in both my family and social circles, and something of an identifier to those that know me for longer than a few hours.

I've been asked often and for many years why I am such an Anglophile and what it is exactly that appeals to me, and it's almost always impossible for me to give what I feel is a satisfactory answer. It's hard to articulate something that is such a primal, driving force. It's hard to condense the incondensable. And I don't feel that I particularly want to. How can you possibly do it justice so that both parties are satisfied? This post is an attempt to scratch the surface, to at least share a little bit of why and what I love about England in terms of some of its literature, which is where it all springs from anyway. In future posts I'll focus on other reasons and specific times in my life that all reflect or enhance this love of England. Because it is absolutely a real and true love.

My mother had a lot of books about the kings and queens of England on our bookshelves growing up, and as a young child I would stare at them for hours, fascinated by a civilization so different and glamorous and ancient from what I knew and was exposed to. It ignited a deep interest and fascination in England and its workings, its changing power, and its part in the fabric of history. When I got older I read lots of English classics in school and even more so at home, especially Shakespeare, Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, The Brontes, Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf, D.H. Lawrence, and my favorite, E.M. Forster. Worlds were opening up to me through these books, and I felt connected to all this material in ways I could not articulate. I was discovering a larger existence, and I wanted to step into it that existence and tap into its collective consciousness. I wanted to be shaped and changed by it, to feel its life force.

Literature was - and still is - the most powerful way this love of England manifests. Shakespeare was one of the first examples of real literature I was exposed to. I read Macbeth in eight grade and fell in love with language and words and the world it suddenly opened up to me. Then I read Hamlet and Henry V and quickly I became passionate about Shakespeare and read most of his major works by the time I got to college. Once in college I took many Shakespearean courses, along with those focusing on his contemporaries, and later got my Masters Degree in Renaissance Literature. Shakespeare still remains a great passion, and I still marvel at the language and storytelling. 

I loved Charles Dickens and the robust, dense, and richly populated Victorian England he made come alive and breathe for me. The integrity and compassion of his heroes and the pure calumny of his villains. I loved Jane Austen and her deft and wise handling of love and the human spirit, and D.H. Lawrence and the emotional, tortured souls that drove home the changing face of England more vividly than any textbook could. 

But it is perhaps E.M. Forster who resonates with me most, who has left his indelible mark on me. I had read A Room With a View first in high school, and its beauty and intelligence stayed with me permanently after that. When I was a sophomore in college my English professor gave me Howards End to read, telling me she had a feeling it would have a powerful effect on me. And it did. It was transformative; it opened my mind to life and beauty and language and cemented my love for this author whose books seemed to mirror something fundamental about my own search for truth and meaning. When I read Maurice I wept, as no other book had expressed what was in my soul, and no other author had captured so well for me what it meant to love and be loved as a gay man. A Passage to India and The Longest Journey soon found themselves added to my essential reading list as well, and they all remain there still. I don't see them ever not being there. They are woven too much into my DNA now. They are a part of me.

I first visited England in my senior year of college, and it changed my life. I felt like I had come home, even though I had never set foot in the country before that trip. I had - and have - never felt as connected to a place as England, and every time I go back it is a joyous homecoming, just as profound and intensely personal as it was that first time. When I lived there for a year while getting my MA at Queen Mary College (part of the University of London) it was among the most special times of my life. I discovered who I was in England, and I became connected to the country in a way that I never felt in any other place. I don't know if it is, as Margaret Schlegel says in Howards End, "ancestral voices calling to [me]," but I do not question this connection and trust in its truth and validity. It is not to question or doubt, it just is

We all know when we are home in some way or another, and England may not be my physical home, but it is certainly my home in every other sense. I miss it every day, and I am determined to eventually live and work there permanently. It may take some time, but it is a goal that has not waned or changed for many years, nor do I suspect it ever will. I look forward to the day I can return to the home I love. To do what I want most and heed those ancestral calls.