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Sunday, November 4, 2018

Smile - even if you are faking it.

Since my move to Boston, I've been less and less inspired to write, exercise, or get together with friends.  To be frank, some of it has to do with the rough transition. David, my husband, and I moved here for my new job at a local nonprofit.  I was so excited with a passion for their work and a desire to make a difference in a new type of nonprofit work for me.  Sadly, the entire thing fell apart within two weeks of my arrival. Unfortunately, in spite of my love for the nonprofit and their work, the job itself and work environment were a really bad fit.  David and I had already quit our jobs, moved everything here, and signed a lease on a very nice, expensive apartment.  Instead of giving up, I decided to put more hours and effort into making things work at the new job.  No matter how hard I tried, things just got worse.

Concurrently, David was trying to find a new job and not having much luck.  The public transit system in Boston isn't as far reaching or convenient as New York.  The people here also have been much colder toward us and harder to get to know.  We've felt both overt racism and homophobia where we least expected it.

Fortunately, after six weeks, David found a job in our building renting out apartments.  This helped David try a new profession and helped us with a rent discount, health insurance, and an easy commute.  Six weeks after he got his job, I ended up leaving mine.  There was no way I could make the job work and still be happy.

The entire thing gave me great pause to evaluate myself and my life.  I became very depressed about my future, my ability to take care of my family, my ability to do my job or work in my profession.

Not one to give up easily, I began looking for work again within one week of starting the job that was a bad fit.  One week after leaving my job, I was offered a new one.  The new job is at a college directing alumni relations.  I love alumni relations and know that this is good work in my field.  I will miss the fundraising aspect of my work certainly, but know I can impact fundraising daily at the new job.

photo from C. Estes-Schwartz
Even with this job lined up and the paperwork signed, I still could not motivate myself to dig out of this depression.  I took five weeks before starting the new job hoping that I could use the time to do things to elevate my spirit.  Unfortunately, my body and mind did not cooperate.  David and I went camping, I visited my family, and I read some books.  Still, all I wanted to do was sleep in a dark room all day and night.  I tried to smile and have fun through all the travel and social time while I was screaming in agony inside pretending to everyone that it was ok.  



My dog kept me company in bed, but also made me get out of bed to go for a walk on a regular basis.  This is my first dog and I think he was one of the main reasons I never sank too far.  He just wouldn't let me.  He greeted me at the door with a smile and licks every time I came back even if I just went to toss the garbage in the garbage shoot across the hall.  




My friend, the Reverend Diane Ellis, said something to me that has stuck with me for a long time.  I can't remember her exact words, but know she mentioned that it is important to let yourself be in the bad feelings and sit with them for a bit in order to help you get out of them.
If you don't let yourself feel bad once in a while, those negative emotions haunt you and never let you truly experience the height of goodness and joy.  
I'm glad to have let myself experience this down energy, but enough is enough.  I know what I need to do to get out of it, and I refuse to let the demons of depression become the dominate chords in my life.

I am fortunate to have so many people that love me in addition to Casper (my dog).  I have been speaking about this with them and that is one big reason I can say things are getting better.  My husband, mom, brother, college friends, Brooklyn friends, Hartwick friends, and people in my life have given me hope that I'm not alone in going through this and that there is a way out.  

I started by starting a running club in my apartment complex.  At least I will be running once a week, even if I'm the only one who shows up most nights.




I know that cooking makes me happy and I have a new office full of people who love food.  I started trying new recipes every week and building up my pampered chef stuff again. Although I don't spend the time to build it into a huge business, it gets me cooking for my family, trying new recipes, and reaching out to my friends to ask them to host parties.  In fact I just bought a quick cooker (Pampered Chef's better version of an instant pot) and have learned a bunch of new delicious recipes for quick dinners.  I've also learned some recipes that I'll never make again and suggest my friends don't try them either (healthy apple bars yuck).  Peach cobbler muffins though, below, are definitely going in to my regular rotation when peaches are local in the market.



I'm also doing what I can to be social.  Just because New Englanders seem to give their cold shoulder at first doesn't mean I should give up.  Between making sure to spend time with my friends, David and I are trying to meet new ones.  I visited my alma mater for homecoming. 

original photo by Vernon Burnett at Hartwick College

I also went to see my sister who now lives an hour away.  Even just walking on the beach with her sometimes gave me the peace, time to think, and conversation that lifted me a little beyond where I was.  


David and I also went on to meetup.com and joined some groups.  We don't know that we've found the ones that are a good fit yet, but we keep trying and going to events.  

Things are better.  I am blessed.  I'm not feeling down every day any more.  This took time though, and energy, thought, and lots of talking, texting, Facebook chatting, crying, sleeping, running, cooking, and not always being my best self to the world around me.  

Through it all, I've had my friends and family listening, supporting, and usually understanding.  I'm grateful that David, in spite of his own challenges here, has been my rock. 



With my current state of being, I'm limited in my wardrobe.  I cleaned out my closet yesterday to get rid of things that I can't wear any more and found that I needed one or two more pairs of pants that fit around my belly for work.  This was part of doing what I need to to dig out of my depression, find clothes that fit and I like as well as donating still awesome clothes to people who need them.  While there, I spent quite some time waiting for a dressing room.  The woman at the counter scowled at everyone and was anything but polite.  I tried to be overly kind, but let my snarky self get the best of me when I walked away saying "thanks for smiling."  As I drove back to our apartment, I started wondering what her day and life is like and that maybe she was struggling. I wonder how often I gave my jerk self to people during the past six months.

I like to smile even when things are down.  I try hard.  This has helped me a lot in life and in my work.  I'm not always successful at it, but when I am, the world feels like they are getting the attitude they should from me.  It also helps people treat me better which in turn lifts my mood.  May I always find a way and a reason to smile.

I hope you find reason to smile today, lift yourself away from the bad feelings, even just for a bit.



Sunday, June 17, 2018

Not a Pet Person

I've been asked many times over the years if I was a dog or a cat person.  I've answered time and time again that, "I'm not a pet person."  The responses have varied:

"You must not have a heart."
"How could you not love dogs (cats, bunnies, fish, etc.)?"
"You just haven't found the right pet yet."

My husband, David really wanted a dog.  I explained that we should start with a fish.  That's when Zi came into our life.  He was a beta that we had for about four months before a tragic filter accident.





Prior to our poor little Zi's departure, we started looking for a dog.  Neither of us knew what we wanted.  I made up my mind that I wanted to get a rescue instead of going to a breeder.  I also wanted a dog that I felt was going to do well in a small apartment and love us both.  We started by going to the local rescue one or two times a week and walking the dogs that they had.  I fell in love with one after our first visit, but she didn't impress David.  For the next three months, we walked two dozen or so dogs.  Some of them just didn't like either of us and some only preferred one of us.  I still wasn't sure that I was ready for the responsibility of a dog (I'm still not sure today).  



One day in January, I ended up parking our car near the rescue.  Living in Brooklyn at the time, we parked on the street.  When I walked in, one of the volunteers said I had to meet PJ.  When I walked over to his cage, I wasn't impressed immediately.  He seemed like a scruffy little white dog.  I was really looking for something more regal.  As I approached the cage, he started licking outside of the bars and not barking at all in spite of the cacophony of noises from the other dogs.  Normally, they ask you not to get close to the cage, but the volunteer said he was friendly, so I stepped forward to let him lick me.  I decided to take him for a walk in the snow before going home.  They took him out and put him on a leash and he was so excited he wouldn't calm down.  He ran up to me and started pawing my pants and nuzzling my head quite like a cat. 




I was excited to show him to David, who was coming home for a quick change before going to a fashion show.  I knew that David needed to meet him and a photo wouldn't do him justice.  Sure enough, PJ was just as, if not even more, lovingly excited to meet David.  We walked him around the block and David said we should get him.


As David rushed off to be in a fashion show, I filled out the paperwork and paid the fees for PJ.  He was going to the vet to get fixed and get his shots.  I found out that his family had a fire and had to surrender him to the rescue.  While PJ was at the vet, David and I were headed to Washington, DC for an event.  On the way, we talked through names that we liked.  We were not a fan of PJ, so we tried other names.  The rescue said that the dog really would easily respond to a new name.  After two hours of talking through names, we settled on Casper.  Having never lived with him, we didn't realize then how much the name would be so cute on him. 



After coming home from DC, we purchased the supplies we thought we needed.  The next day, I got a job offer to move to Boston.  We picked up Casper and tried to get him settled into our apartment.  Even though he is estimated to be 3-5 years old, he clearly didn't want to go into a crate and preferred peeing on our carpets to outside or anywhere we suggested.  He hated chew toys and didn't want to be left alone at all.  

The first week was really rough and that weekend, he joined us as we drove to look at apartments here in Boston.  Fortunately, he was great in the car.  He slept on David's lap the entire trip and did his business when we needed him to at rest stops.  It was tough to listen to him bark as we put him in a crate in the back seat while we ate all of our meals in the car.  

We found a dog friendly apartment and then went back to Brooklyn to pack.  The last month in Brooklyn was full of learning for us.  We ended up throwing out our carpets and leaving Casper in a pen with pee pads during the day.  Our neighbors said he barked a lot.  



In moving to Boston, we ended up having a lot more time with Casper.  Fast forward 90 days, and we have figured out a schedule that includes a few days of daycare and lots of time with us.  He no longer needs to be in a crate when we go somewhere at home an is usually pretty good.  He will do his business on the carpet outside of our apartment door, but no longer does anything in the apartment.  He still doesn't like most toys, but we have found some that he likes.  He has also been in training with us and a trainer and is a good learner.  



When things have been tough for David trying to find a new job and me having problems at mine, Casper knew that he needed to comfort the one of us that needed him most.  He follows us everywhere.  We have to be careful stepping out of the shower or the bed so we don't step on him.  It is easier to leave the bathroom door open because he would rather sit at your feet than bark at the door for you to come out.  He seems to do ok when we are gone as long as we play the tv for him.



In the end, I wouldn't say I'm a pet person, but I AM a Casper person.  This little bundle of fur and licks has brought me laughter, joy, peace, and comfort almost every moment that I am with him.  Even as I type, he is next to me waiting for me to wrap up so we can cuddle again.  

In spite of some continued frustrations with the little bugger, I can't imagine our lives without him.  The good far outweighs the challenges. 

I thank God that David wanted a dog so we could invite Casper into our lives. 




Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Apologizing Even Though You Were Right

Just before leaving my last job, I was asked to apologize for speaking up about something I did that was not wrong or incorrect.

A person felt slighted by my manner of speaking to her.  The person who asked me to apologize admitted that the person I was apologizing to was actually the person in the wrong.

Here's the thing.....if I do something wrong, I admit it.  I may struggle a bit with doing so, but it isn't as painful as apologizing when I was RIGHT.  My supervisor asked me to apologize to this lady.  I wrote an email apologizing about how she felt, not about what I did.  I was then asked to write a sincere apology.  I countered that a sincere apology is one that comes from a place of truth and honesty.  If my supervisor wanted an insincere apology where I admit that I am wrong, then I would do what I was told. 

In the end, I wrote a half sincere, and half completely false apology.  It was, frankly, one more straw on the camel's back which encouraged me to pursue other work.

My parents sometimes would make me apologize when I fought with my brothers growing up.  What they always made me apologize FOR was for hurting my brother or hitting him or fighting.  I do feel like my mother always listened to both sides of the argument before making us both apologize for the wrong we had done.  I can't remember one situation where I was asked to apologize for something that I hadn't done wrong.

What about you?  What would you do?  Would you lie just because someone felt hurt?  Make up an apology?  Only apologize for making them feel bad?

Just curious.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Finding Humanity Where I Thought it Was Lost.

On Friday morning, I visited the Barbershop near work.  It's a colorful place to say the least.  I'm usually the only caucasian there.  The barbers, who are four guys from Trinidad, frequently make comments about white folks and how terrible they are around me.  The other day they were talking about getting basketball jerseys and the guy cutting my hair said, "why would any of us want some white guy's name on the back of our jersey."  Everyone looked at him bug eyed and then did the eye sweep down to me.  He apologized a dozen times, even calling me later to apologize.

Additionally, the gents are pretty homophobic.  I'm not surprised by it.  Although it is against my nature, I haven't revealed that I'm gay.  I never say the gender of my spouse, and they assume that David is a Nigerian woman.  They frequently speak in pigeon and I know that they are talking about me on occasion and not in such a nice way.

I keep going there because it is close to work and every other place I have tried is just not convenient and doesn't do a very good job.  I get frustrated every two or three months and try another place, only to return here.

There is one barber there that all the mom's who drop their kids off at the shop flirt with.  I've flirted a bit too and poked a bit of fun at him.  He is the most muscular and handsome man in the group.  He is always talking sports or women with all the guys waiting for cuts on the bench.  He is the alpha male of the shop and everyone knows it.

I haven't seen much goodness out of the guys in this shop.  The guy talk is as all guy talk is in lockerrooms or barbershops I'm guessing.  Only on occasion does a woman come in.  It's usually an older woman who the gents all treat like a grandmother.

On Friday, a lady who was about 50 years old came in.  She was dressed in very baggy clothes and had a hoody on with the hood up.  I was in the chair getting my cut and there were four guys on the bench waiting and all talking basketball loudly.

Alpha barber was leading the conversation.  A guy popped in and asked him for a cut and how long the wait was.  He said that guy was next.  Then the lady said quietly, "I was hoping I was next."  He looked a bit surprised and told the guy that she was next, he thought she was waiting for whoever was open.

At this point, I'm in the barber chair next to alpha barber.  I was there when he came in.  I greeted him with, "Good morning, sunshine."  That made him glare a bit because the gents waiting for him thought it was funny.  Needless to say, I was advising my own barber on how to get his daughter more involved in medicine.  She is only 12 and he wants her to be a doctor.  Given my work at a medical school, previous work at Hartwick, and other involvement with youngsters as a Sunday School teacher, I'm happy to talk about how to get any youngster more engaged.

As alpha barber finished up the cut in his chair, my barber started shaping my beard.  As this lady sat down, she started to talk in a very quiet voice to alpha barber.  She put down her hood and her hair was falling off in patches.  She took a deep breath and held it in for a moment as if steeling herself up to talk to him.  He continued to talk loudly about basketball and the current players and teams.  She then let out an almost inaudible sigh and her shoulders slumped.

I was pretty pissed off at this thinking what this poor woman must be going through and here this muscled jock alpha barber was just going to brush her off.

I don't think anyone else heard her but me. He kept up the banter with the guys while having a very quiet conversation with her that made me tear up a little.

Lady: "I wanted to come to you because I knew you'd do a good job for me."
Alpha: "What's going on?  What do you want?"
Lady: "I've just finished chemo.  I don't know quite what I want.  I just want it to look ok."
Alpha: "Don't worry, I'll help you out.  How was chemo?  Are you ok?"
Lady: "It hurts a lot.  I'm still in pain, but I'm here."
Alpha: "I'm going to fix you up.  Don't you worry."
Lady: "What are we going to do?"
Alpha: "I'm just going to shape this all up so you come outa here shinin'.  Do you want to talk about it?  Are you ok."
Lady: "Thank you.  I trust you."

I wish I could have captured the other talk he was having about basketball loudly with the other guys while he did this.  I frankly care so little about sports that I didn't pay attention.  This all happened as my haircut and shave was finishing up.  The timid lady who looked like she was having a terrible day when she walked in seemed to be at least being cared for.  My heart melted a little for alpha barber.  I guest you can find a bit of humanity in some surprising places.


Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Death Threats are NOT the Answer

I know what is like to get death threats because of something you do.  My husband, David, and I got a number of death threats after our wedding photos were leaked to the Nigeria press.  To say that it was disheartening is the understatement of the century.  We were threatened with torture and death, and had curses put on us that we get cancer and die.  Why?  Because we are two men who fell in love and got married in front of our family and friends by a pastor who blessed us.



You might wonder why I'm bringing this up now.  Recently, I've been having a debate with my best friend who happens to be a straight, conservative, Christian, Republican.  We've been best friends forever even though our political and religious views don't always align.  My friend is concerned that the law is forcing people to do things that are against their personal religious beliefs.  I do agree that the law is forcing people to provide equal services to people regardless of race, gender, or sexual orientation.  This issue has blown up in the case of the couple who are bakers (and other cases) that refused to make a gay wedding cake.

When I brought up that this was the same as not providing a wedding cake to an interracial marriage, my friend said that he disagreed.  I explained that religion and personal beliefs were also used to deny service to black people for many years.  Most business folks today are much more sly if they personally don't want to serve you and instead just make you uncomfortable, raise the prices, or provide sub-par service to discourage you, but some stand by their religion and beliefs to deny service.

When we started having this discussion, my friend said that the people were being "killed" for their religious beliefs.  I challenged that assumption saying that they were by no means killed, but might have lost their business b/c of refusing to serve gay people the same way they would serve straight people.  He explained that the couple in question received death threats from the gay community because of what they had done.  

I wasn't aware of that, but to me it is the same as me receiving death threats for marrying David.  NEITHER ONE IS RIGHT! 

I implore any of you who think that violence and threats are an answer to ANY problem you are facing to look into the long history of conflicts to see that it rarely if ever has ANY positive impact.

If you are a Christian like me, or my friend, you know that we have to love each other even when we disagree; to respond to hate with love.  Jesus said if someone hits you, turn the other cheek.  That can be interpreted a lot of ways.  I choose to walk away from violence and pray peace and blessings on anyone who wishes it on me, usually.  Every time I respond by yelling back or snapping at people, I only regret it later.  Regardless of your religion or beliefs, anger and hate only make things worse. 

WE CAN BE BETTER THAN THEM.  Anyone who is violent is losing at life.  We need to do our best to either stay out of it or respond in love.  If nothing else, walk away from any violence or hate.  If someone won't bake your cake, do your flowers, or host your wedding, pray that God give them guidance and open their hearts and minds AND find a place that will do whatever you want in a LOVING way.  You don't want any part of your marriage or your life to be tainted by the hate and curses of others.

Thanks to the people who have shown me and David love in our lives.  We keep you close and hope you are blessed 10 fold.  We won't respond in hate to haters.