To Be Loved

I’ve always believed that belonging is a recurring act of choice – it takes persistent effort, time and time again. And through my adult life, I’ve wrestled with belonging. I loved West Point and was nurtured in return; I struggled in the infantry, but found my niche doing good; I adored my Appalachian Trail crew like none other; and found a home at a Toastmasters club in Texas.

A home.

Wow.

Being a transient, ‘home’ is a nebulous term. Loc has a definite home; he’s a transient now too, but he grew up largely under one roof, went to school nearby. Those friends still live there; we’re up seeing them this weekend. In the traditional sense, this is home.

I don’t have a traditional home. I went to four elementary schools, one middle school, and three high schools, leaving New York for Idaho my senior year. I claimed New York through that time in Idaho, then realized the depth of my affection for Idaho when it slipped out of my life. I spent all of my senior year and four Christmases in Idaho. That time changed my life. For what it gave me, what it holds, it is home.

And Bavaria, Bavaria will always be a second home, heimat, a deeply special place. I  have been richly nurtured by the land, and Bavaria’s rolling hills, verdant meadows, and streams sound echoes of New York. I might have enjoyed Fort Benning more if I hadn’t read The Roadbefore I got there, but I did, and I saw the whole city in shades of ashen gray. It most certainly did notnurture, and I left it for Germany on the verge of psychological collapse. I flew in to the autumnal foliage of a forested land in transition – it was as if a switch flipped, and I was suddenly okay. Bavaria gave me joy.

Some of my fondest memories are of runs through misty mornings: A body in tune with itself and its surroundings; the patter of a steady stride; the fine sheen of exertion in autumn air; it’s a beautiful thing. Exercise is a discipline, a meditation, a celebration of life: this life, mylife, now. It isa joy.

But it is not home.

After the Appalachian Trail, I had time. I was an Army spouse in an Army town, a radical transition for an infantry officer, much less a gay one. I had friends, but I largely stuck to my own devices. I played the piano; I learned to bake bread; I began my yoga practice. By January, though, I was ready to move on – unemployment, even funemployment, doesn’t suit me well: I get antsy, even in Bavaria. I like being alone, but I don‘t do well in isolation. That, and the winter darkness there is profound.

We knew we were coming to Dallas then; looking forward, I began my reconnaissance. To sing, I picked a church; to work, I picked a bakery; to grow, I picked a Toastmasters Club. Leadership Lambda, club 8631. Only some of this panned out. What did, paid dividends.

I delivered my first speech, my Icebreaker, at the 20th anniversary celebration of my club’s founding: Leadership Lambda, the first gay Toastmasters club in the world.  In my part of town, in Texas. Wow. I had been groomed for the stage – that wasn’t my issue; I could perform just fine – I’d been performing my whole life. My issue was that I’d learned to live a silent lie. And I’d begun to open up – I’d come out, gotten married, kept blog. But that was in Germany, in winter – oh, the darkness. I wanted more; I needed more. I was so lucky to find the club I did; they gave me license to be me.

I went religiously after that. It was my church – a humanistic and happy place, but a communion of souls nonetheless. And who doesn‘twant to laugh on a Monday night? Rain, snow, sleet, or shine, I made every single meeting. I went so often that they made me an officer. And still I persisted – they made me the planner, the VP of Education, a nurturer. I poured my soul into that role. I guess it worked – that club is still going strong.

You don‘t really know how much you mean to people until it‘s over.

This past Monday, I walked into a room full of friendly faces I‘d come to know and love over two beautiful years. I‘d shared my passions with them; they‘d shared theirs with me. I‘d traded baked goods, celebrated courage, and watched people blossom. And there I was, in a meeting dedicated to me. Weird. As I stood up to give my farewell, I looked out over a crowd of mentors, mentees, and dear friends. I realized the full gravity of it then: I‘d built a home. I had, fully and unabashedly, loved and been loved. We had built something beautiful; I charged them to keep it alive. This is what it is to belong. This is home.

But it was the gift that blew me away.

The fine people of LLTM not only held a meeting in my honor, they brought snacks, baked goods, food. And not only did they do that, but they also pooled resources to give me a gift card. A nice gift card. I didn‘t look at it right away – it isn‘t proper. I had goodbyes to say, friends to hug, thanks to share. But when I did, I was floored: I‘m not worthy of this; it was youwho fed me.

I‘m about to embark on a new phase of life. I’ve worked a desk for the past two years, and LLTM has been my best chance to invest in others. I’m looking forward to seeing the same kids day after day, week after week; I think it’s the logical and fulfilling continuity to what I’ve already built, an ability to nurture others often. And guys, I’ll be living among mountains!

Ultimately, I’ve found, homeis where I’m known and loved. And to find that, I’ve found, I have to know and love others. I will look back fondly on my years in Dallas. I look forward eagerly to Korea. I get to teach full time!

And in the meantime, I’m playing with my favorite bunch of rowdy kids. We, too, share a silly bond of love. We’ll play the weekend away; it’ll be grand. What comes, can wait. I belong here now.

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James

Big News!

Life’s pretty funny sometimes.

As many of you know, I applied to teach English in Korea in May – I’ll be moving there in August. It was a messy process, but I got it all ironed out and submitted a month ago. My recruiter offered me a teaching position in Dongtan two weeks ago, but because the whole city feels like a spaceship, I opted against it. That was a scary decision, not knowing what would come next, but I didn’t want to spend my day immersed in a city-wide Internet of Things – I’ve lived with an Alexa; I don’t like it.

On Tuesday, my recruiter forwarded a request from CDL, my parent company-to-be:

Did you attend the brick-and mortar-university at West Point or the online university?

What is your MOS code?

I chuckled. What were they fishing for?

West Point is *only* a brick-and-mortar university – you couldn’t begin to recreate that experience online. How is your squad leader going to enforce arbitrary good order and discipline across a screen? Isn’t the screen the gateway to an increasingly undisciplined life?

And my MOS – that’s short for ‘military occupational specialty,’ and while it says a lot about a person’s military background, it also says precious little – it’s largely a vehicle for an outsider’s speculative assumptions. Mine’s 11A – infantry officer, the leader of America’s fighting men and women, self-selected sniper fodder. I also speak French, play the piano, and sing, but you’d never get that from my MOS. You do get some awesome stereotypes though  – solid under pressure, decisive decision maker, capable of managing multiple projects… they got me the job I have now, and that’s borne out alright.

I responded briefly and decisively, then carried on about my day.

 

On Wednesday, I woke up at 6:00 AM to an email from my New York-based recruiter -so early! Its subject line? CDL Placement Issued and Contract Confirmed!

 

I try not to check my email before I journal in the morning, but I’ll admit, I cheated that day.

 

Anyway, this job comes with housing, which is totally unnecessary but kinda cool, and it’s in Cheonan-si, which, she assures me, is far cooler than Pyeongtaek-si. A Google query seems to prove this out – Cheonan-si looks gorgeous, is not an Army town, and has a population of ~10,000 expats! It’s also surrounded by mountains, and it’s a short 25-minute metro ride from where we plan to live! I’m about giddy with excitement – mountains and four seasons? Oh my!

 

I still wonder though… why were those questions the ones that CDL had? Why didn’t CDL ask those questions before the previous soft offer? Am I in for a bunch of Korean ruffian kids a la public middle school? Are there Korean ruffian kids? Do they think I’m particularly well fit to such a bunch? It all seems a preposterous proposition to me; South Koreans take their academic pursuits very seriously.

How seriously?

My brother’s an NYU grad and an Army officer who’s intimately familiar with Korea and its military, and he’s met more NYU grads out there than back here! If that’s not enough, search ‘Korea Cinderella Law’ and ‘PC bang’ – kids game to decompress from school. They game hard.

 

But I’ll let the mystery build – the anticipation is half the fun.

 

I start my CDL training in Seoul in mid-August. From what I read, it can be intense and emotional, but, uh, I’m a combat vet and a practiced public speaker, so I think I’ll be okay – that, and I fly into Korea weeks before I actually start training, so I’ll have a leg up on my jetlagged compatriots, who will have arrived just a day or two prior. Jet lagged sleep deprivation is for the birds.

This is all to say, I’m thrilled. Yay change!

Anyeonghigaseyo! Bye!

James

Three Weeks To Adventure

Happy Sunday, y’all. I’m en route to Mineral Wells State Park with my friends!

I’m now officially in Chungdahm Learning’s teacher pool – this has been my effort of the past few months. I guess this means my twice-stapled diploma passed muster at the Korean immigration office – oh joy of joys!

This past week, my coordinator offered me a position in Dongtan – it’s a purpose-built city about an hour south of Seoul. The city’s amazing, if a bit creepy; the whole city is hyper modern, networked on the internet of things – construction began in 2007. I guess it’s what the future looks like? As an example of what this means, buses communicate with bus stops and vice versa, so you know in real time what to expect from either end of the operation.

Alas, it’s half an hour away from Pyeongtaek, where we’ll be living, and it’s a little too big brother for me. Have you heard of China’s efforts to wipe away the Uyghers of late? It employs an overwhelming police presence equipped with the latest in networked biometric data – the internet of things. From what I read, you can hardly go a city block without running into a mandatory biometric checkpoint. It all seems a little Black Mirror to me, a new and exciting technology drawn to its dystopian extreme.

I don’t mind the train ride – I much prefer it to driving. I do mind the cameras and their twisted potential.

I turned down the job offer. There will be others – it is early yet.

Meanwhile, we keep rowing. Loc is winding down his pediatric residency, and I’m chipping my hours away at H&D. Stressors are a unique and funny thing – side-by-side, we share very little overlap – the mountains we create in our minds. I’m excited to teach in Korea because it’ll give me a sense of purpose again – a loss of purpose is common to recently separated military veterans, and it’s frustratingly unsatisfying. This is why I have a dozen hobbies – I’m building towards an idealized future. This present is an amalgamation of temporary adaptations. Humanity is a messy experience.

But teaching is a purpose-rich act – even if it’s for a corporation that’s traded on the Korean stock exchange. A wise man I once consulted advised that I experience the breadth and depth of life before I settle down to teach. This is a stepping stone to that goal, to educate American youth. That clock is ticking. 

Until then, I’m going hiking with friends. It’s good for heart and soul.

Park time,

James

Our Massive Messy Move

I wish I’d taken pictures.

Well, I wish Loc had taken pictures.

Actually, I’m just glad it’s over.

We’re officially residents of a chic Dallas high rise now; a good friend took us in. We even have free passage – I can to go the gym, unattended. It’s a pretty fancy place. My inaugural act? Begin a loaf of bread. Good food cultures community.

Our former place is empty. Our stuff is split four ways. Much of what we own will stay here, kept in the Army’s care. That move came first, and it’s not air conditioned. Most of what we live on, and the delicate things that can’t take the Texas heat, moved next – those things will move by sea; we should see them when we land. That A/C knowledge came a bit late in the game for us, so it was touch-and-go for a bit. It was… scary. Yay lenient movers!

The third will go by plane – it’s the stuff we forgot, the stuff we waffled over during the previous move, the stuff we deliberately planned to set aside. My very lovely Dutch oven landed here, as did my proofing box. Oddly, so did my Sevillan ceramics. Oops.

I had weighed the Dutch oven – ten pounds, totally doable – and was earnestly planning to take it with me: it is essential, after all. I opted instead for a yoga mat and two wooden blocks. Better use of space and weight. My friend has a lovely Dutch oven. Gays… like nice things. Glad to belong.

That leaves me with my bags. We spent the better part of Monday culling clothing and building bags: keep, pack, toss. Keep – everything going by sea. Pack – everything coming with me. Toss – gone. This is my favorite part of a move; it’s the best opportunity to lighten up I ever get. We filled four large bags with clothing for donations this time. Four bags! It was a good haul for a day. We also packed our bags: hoorah for summer moves.

I have four full weeks left at work. I’m the second to leave in recent months; our company’s been bracing for July. My scooter’s gone; my big purple ball is gone; I am a fraction of my former silly self. I’ve been working sales / technical assistance these past two years. I’ve accumulated a head full of theoretical niche knowledge, in a niche I’ll likely never touch again. I’m now mentoring our three newer hires as they learn by arbitrary exposure. The hydraulics industry is enormous and complex; it takes six months to become a competent novice by this method, and there’s really no other way. Our own will assimilate the new guys, coming in the busiest months of the year. Fun!

Packing for June and July was… an ill-informed crapshoot: in the absence of total clarity, conjecture, aspiration, and necessity competed for my space. I think I did a decent job; I’ve got everything from fancy dinner wear to water-mountain-run-and-hike wear – a proper day pack too! And, of course, every manner of shoe. Be like water. 

I learned after I’d made my choice that I’d have a chance to visit the Pacific Northwest – and the proper time to explore it too. My return to Sandpoint has been a long time coming, and it’s been my soul’s chief longing for years: I have a long-delayed date with a very dear friend. Way back in 2015, when I was wrestling with my identity in a Soviet stairwell at 3 AM, she was there. Words alone cannot suffice.

That, and mountains. Magnificent, craggy, gorgeous mountains. There’s a bundle of things I may have to buy anew; I’m trying to stop short of crampons. Mount Saint Helens is on my mind.

I’m so excited for what lies ahead.

I’ll be taking pictures. Lots and lots of pictures.

It’s time again to move.

Happy Sunday –

James