A second decade in Charlottesville

A circle is completed as August comes to a close, and I mark ten full years in Charlottesville. I'm beginning a second decade here.

What a long, strange trip it has been. There have been moments of joy, moments of sadness and at least one moment where a gun was pointed at me. I've met many people, have had many chapters, and in general I feel blessed to be here in this community.

"You're going to make a ton of friends here," said my first wife when we moved here. We'd been in Roanoke ever since we moved back from Calgary. I liked the Star City, and was somewhat hesitant to leave because she was in the process of establishing her career there. And, I liked being a public radio journalist working for WVTF.

But, I needed a job, and it was here. And so we moved here, even though she spent the first four months commuting back and forth.

Our first house was up in Albemarle County on the land where the North Pointe community will one day be built. We lived in a house on Pritchett Lane that was actually owned by the Great Eastern Management Company. It was in the middle of nowhere. Moving into Charlottesville wasn't much of an option, we thought, because this was 2002 when the housing bubble was inflating rapidly.

In Roanoke, we paid $600 to live on the top floor of an awesome house with a balcony. We grew plants in the two summers we lived there. This was the house where we both watched the twin towers fall. This was the house we lived in when we got married.

We wanted a nice place to live. And it was hard to find in town. We looked at places that were more expensive and not nearly as nice. Our trip here to scout for places to work was stressful.

The house on Pritchett Lane was remote, but we could see the planes landing at the airport every night. There was nothing to walk to, but there were plenty of places to ramble. Where North Pointe will one day be, there are still trees and unused pastures and pathways that often reminded me of faraway lands.

So, our arrival in Charlottesville was fairly solitary. The downtown mall seemed so exotic and faraway. Going out for beverages was not really much of an option, except on special occasions. So, I spent a lot of time after work completely by myself, as Pippa was in Roanoke at our old house.

I read C-Ville and the Hook a lot. Roanoke did not have a weekly, let alone two.  It was an amazing novelty to learn about my new community through the articles I read. At the time, the community was in the midst of an awful drought. Those of us who were here still talk about how restaurants started using paper plates and plastic cutlery because using water to wash dishes was wasteful and depleted resources.

Reading the weeklies, I had this sense that I was in a very interesting place, but I was so far away from the center of the action. My job was interesting, but it was not downtown. I worked by the Boar's Head Inn. I didn't really feel connected to anything. I didn't have much of an opportunity to make those friends that Pippa said I would.


Flash forward to now. Dan Deacon's new album is playing. I'm wearing swim trunks. I was going to swim 1,500 yards but the University of Virginia's men's polo team had taken over the pool, so I didn't take the plunge.

I just had a talk with my housemate about an issue very important to me. He used the word "manipulateable" and I took delight that I have friends all around me.

I was about to meet a woman for a date the other night and Tom McCrystal was walking towards me and told me he's seen me smiling a lot more since I left Court Square Tavern.

We went to the Local, and I watched a lot of my friends play music during singer-songwriter night, and it's inspired me to get serious again about learning how to play the guitar. I played for half an hour tonight trying to learn a bluegrass progression. I didn't nail it, but I learned a new way to phrase the G chord.

I took the day off today to take care of some paperwork. I finished a book by Paul Auster which I had checked out of the library because I wanted to reconnect to novels. That's because my dear friend Beth Tayloe gave me a book for my birthday called "Writers Talking to Writers" and Auster was one of the first interviewed. I've not read a book by his in a very long time, but now I want to get to know him better. "Oracle Night" is in a lot of ways about writing and about creating reality, and as a writer I could identify with the multiple levels of reality going on in the narrative. I'm hoping I can write a review of it at some point.

I still experience the planes landing near my former house, but only as they pass over me as the pilots come to the end of their flight path.

Tomorrow I'm hoping to crank out two stories about this community we live in. The community I live in. The community I'm fairly certain I'm going to be in when it comes time to post an entry called "A third decade in Charlottesville."

I'm home.


A cleaning journal

Does anyone really need their utilities bills from 2006, when they lived in another house? I'm not sure, but I've decided that things like this simply have to go. I'm sad, though, to give it up, because it's a record of a different time.

I've got to find a way to let go of the past, or I have no hope of making it to the future in style. So, I'm going now to find a box that I can put this all in so I can recycle them.

I used to recycle back in 2006. I was religious about it. Now, everything goes in the trash can. 

Well, not everything. 

I don't want to lose the paperwork from when my children were born. That's a very important paper trail indeed. The hospital were they born doesn't exist anymore. It moved and then was purchased by another hospital, so it can't possibly be seen as the same thing. So, I'll hang on to that.

I'm also not sure if I want to get rid of my car insurance payments, which date back 10 years, when I first moved to Charlottesville. So, those I will keep for now. 

Just found a note from a doomed relationship I had back in 2010. I have lived during this time of storms. 

The breastfeeding chart for when my daughter was born was tucked in all the pamphlets they gave us. Her mother updated it for a full week, though my handwriting is still clearly there in some places. It notes so much detail about the first seven days of my daughter's life, and I was there. 

That one gets saved and I'm beginning to realize I need to start a new folder. 

The paperwork from when I left my UVA job in 2004? Don't need that.

Details of my jury duty session from 2007? In the bin.

Receipt from the only time I've rented a car from England? I'll keep that as a reminder as well as to confirm that we drove 363 miles in seven days in a Vauxhall Astra. That was the time I took my daughter and her mother and the first time I knew for certain I would not be moving to England after all. 

I pause a moment, look out the window, and see an important conversation take place, but now is not the time to write it down again.

I thought about cleaning out the rest of that folder, but I want to close it right now because I don't want to get too caught up on missing my English son. I missed most of his childhood, but I had points where I was there.

All this paperwork, each of it a record of days that have gone by. I continue to elect to receive my bills through paper because the ones I get electronically I somehow forget to pay.

All this paperwork signifying momentous times. A card from my daughter's mother's mother and grandmother welcoming her into the world. First birthday card. Second birthday card. Third, fourth, and then no more after that.

All of the records from when she went to day-care and what she did, what she had for lunch. I imagine I could put this all of this data into a computer and somehow recreate that time. I can't imagine the logistics of being a father anymore, not on a day-to-day basis.

I have none of my son's birthday cards.

So much paper is now in a cardboard box. I plan to drop it off at the McIntire Recycling Center tomorrow and to let it go. I have no idea if that will stop the gravitational pull of the pass and the sheer sense of loss that seems to undergird my whole life, akin to the cosmic background radiation that may or may not emanate from the big band.

I'll never fully understand what happened.

I do know that the past three hours of cleaning and sorting has just caused more of a mess, but I'm dedicated to making things better.

I don't blame anyone for anything that happened. Maybe myself a little, but I need to let that go.

Divorce is hard enough, but to go through it twice in one decade sure packs one hell of a wallop. 


When it comes home to roost

Here's what happens.

I'll be having a somewhat good time. In these moments, I feel positive and I feel so excited and happy to be alive.

Then someone will mention something about something I don't like to think about but can't escape.

This triggers a switch.  I have a sudden sensation that gravity has been modified. All of the good cheer is being sucked away from me. I'm left with nothing but all of my negativity. Suddenly I don't remember what it like to feel good and my mind just repeats all of the negative thoughts.

During my birthday week, I was able to keep these feelings at bay. But now that time is receding and I'm a little worried I won't have another sustained period of good feeling for a while.

This is when I have to have faith that things will get better.

This is when I have to fight myself the most.

This is when I have to fight my past and try to move on.

But, dear reader, it's so hard.

I view my life as one big game of chutes and ladders, only there seem to be more snakes than you'd find on a normal board.

I write this publicly because it helps keep me honest. I can't write about the specifics publicly. I also acknowledge that this is no one's fault but my own. Only I can change.

So in about a minute, I'm going to hit "publish" because doing so will be an affirmation that I can get through this, and all the other future days where my entire body becomes filled with sadness. I know how to breathe, I know how to move, and I know how to survive this.

That's what happens.


At 39, a hope for courage

This is that time of the year where my human programming has me looking back at my life because I have grown another metaphorical ring. Another year down, another year to look up at the stars.

I shall take pause for the next few minutes to reflect on what happened, what didn't happen, and what might happen as the next 365 days unfold.

I am most interested at this moment in just being in this moment. I want to realize that I made it here. I made choices that carved out this existence I'm now in.

I want to make sure the choices that come in the next little while are the right ones. A lifetime has taught me to be more cautious, yet I still make poor decisions from time to time. I don't make others one quick enough.

This 39th year shall be one of paring back a little, and concentrating on what's most important to me. I want to find a pathway to being more courageous and more bold about the things that matter to me.

At the moment I am deciding to invest some time into myself and so I'm listening to a recording I made in July 2009 after I had moved back into my house. I'd been on a family vacation and had picked up a guitar for the first time in many years.

I got a guitar in high school, but I never really learned how to play. The whole guitar mystified me completely and utterly. My brother could pick up a guitar and play any song. I could not. I just liked trying to make interesting sounds.

I always wanted to be a singer in a band, but the opportunity never quite gelled. I moved to Arlington in 1998 to sing in a band, but I was terrible at learning songs. I just wanted to express myself in the moment, much the same way I do when I am writing.

So, when I picked up the guitar again while trying to get my life off the ground again three summers ago, I got the desire to want to express myself musically again. So, I used my audio recording equipment to begin capturing those moments when I played and sang, something I'd never been able to do before.

So, for three years now I've been recording myself. At first, this was almost entirely in my house. Living alone has its advantages, and I would play and record and record and play. This was just as much therapy for me as running.

But, when I began working in earnest at Court Square Tavern, I would occasionally bring my guitar in there, and I captured the feeling of me in that place. The recordings are more raw, with no effects, and without the advantage of the solid sound conveyed through my one good microphone.

Tonight, I am listening to the first of these recordings I made, where it's just me at the guitar, trying to figure out intuitively how plucking and strumming the strings in an attempt to create sounds over which I can let myself sing whatever is on my mind and in my heart.

And tonight, as I prepare another edit of it, I'm listening to me from three years ago, when certain decisions had not yet been made, and when I had not begun to really live my life again. I had not meant people who have become dear friends.

But listening now singing lyrics about not how to play guitar, I'm performing to an audience of me, because I'm far too petrified to put myself out there. This has been far too important to me. There are so many in-jokes and references that I'm not sure would ever make sense to anyone.

I've never been able to be a performer, directly. Sure, when I wait tables I like to make people laugh. And when I get a laugh from someone, I feel like I've won the lottery. I can perform when I'm on the radio telling people about what's going on.

Performing for the sake of performing, though, is something I've always been so shy of. I see other people who have gotten over this hump and are making a go of it. But in me, there's a voice that always tells me that it's a worthless pursuit. This voice comes in many flavors.

At 39, I would like that internal voice to go away. I would like to change it into an internal voice that is encouraging. Life is ticking.

I don't know if I'm any good to other people's ears, but I do know that I got through a tough time in my life by having the confidence by myself to commit time to learning an instrument in an attempt to sing songs.

I have so much fun when I'm in the zone, and I have myself recorded in those moments.

In life we have to create places where we can experience joy, turn sadness into understanding, and simply experience the world in ways that transcend the every day.

So, as I grow my next ring, I shall try to keep all of this in mind.

I had originally intended to post the recording from July 2009, but that's too much work right now. So, I'll post again the site where I occasionally get the courage to post things.


Before what happens to Curiosity

I've decided to stay up to see what happens to Curiosity. We may not know what happens until later on in the week, but I want to appreciate a little about why this country is spending $2.5 billion to land a rover onto the surface of Mars.

So, of course I'll stay up a little while, even though I'm a bit tired.

As I type this, I'm reading up on Curiosity on Wikipedia. I'm learning about how the mission was put together, how it was named, how it launched. I'm planning on watching the NASA telecast, and maybe listen to some of the Radiolab show that's going on.

I'm talking to one of my roommates from Virginia Tech. He's staying up as well, I believe. His father has been involved in solar system exploration for decades. We're talking in Facebook chat about what other missions are coming up after Curiosity. As near as we can tell, there are only two major planetary expeditions en route to their destination.

New Horizons should make it to Pluto in 2015. It will have taken 9 years to get there. When it launched in 2006, my life was incredibly different. I'm sure that it will be different again in 2015. At this point in my life, that doesn't sound too far away.

Juno will enter into Jupiter's orbiter sometime in the summer of 2016.

That will be the same time as the next summer Olympics.

In 2006, I anticipated the 2012 Olympics and actually thought there was a chance I might be able to be in London this summer.

Juno will pass by Earth in October 2013 in order to pick up a gravity boost in order to increase its velocity as it makes it truly begins its three-year journey to Jupiter.

We are doing this, fellow citizens of the world.

There are people who look long into the future to plot out missions. There are incredibly smart people who have managed to figure out how to move objects throughout the solar system. There is incredibly important research going on about how the Jovian and Saturn systems work. This is our actual backyard, where we can send things to. We can do this.

But, before what happens to Curiosity happens, I think it's important to remember that if it does not go well, it still will have been a success. We took a step into the unknown in a dramatically elegant way. We tried something awesome and we will have learned from it.

I am not being pessimistic about this. I am simply pointing out that there are risks, and there have been failures in the past.

Here's a report from an English-language Chinese site that documents all of NASA's trips over the past 40 years.

Anything can happen in life. We take risks, they don't work out, and you've been divorced twice.

Anything can happen in solar explanations. You lose an orbiter or three, but you also have had a satellite in orbit around Mars since 2001 and have had an active rover on Mars since 2004 despite it having only a 60-day initial mission.

So, here we are, just over three hours outside of the first time when we will know Curiosity's fate. I have my fingers crossed, and I am hopeful that this risk pays off.

And if it doesn't? I don't know. I'll be sad. But, I will also campaign immediately for us to increase funding for space science. We need to know more about how to navigate our solar system. We need this because generations that come after us may find the information we find now useful.

But for the next three hours? I'm going to try my best to stay up. Not sure if this will occur.

One last thought.

As humans, we need to take risks. If we don't, we stay stagnant. I am proud that as a society we have determined that exploration of our solar system is worth a tiny fraction of our overall GDP.

Wouldn't it be great, though, if we could figure out a way to evolve our society to become one where we're all aligned to seeing why this is important?

Our entire history as humans has been one of looking up at the stars. Early astronomers quickly learned that planets that were different from the stars. They had movements that didn't make as much as sense. They deduced entire orbits through observations, well before the first telescopes were developed. That's who we were.

Tonight is about who we're going to be.

Tonight, we're landing an orbiter on Mars in the riskiest of fashions than we've ever done before.

If it fails, tomorrow people are going to be wondering why we wasted our money.

This post is to say that I do not feel it will have been a waste of money at all. Because we need bold imperatives.

I'm going to stop this post now. I'm going to find if there's anyway Mars is visible right now. I honestly don't know. I don't think it is, but, right now I know that I am alive and in this moment, when the Olympic games are being played 45 miles away from where my son lives and that there are three hours left in which I can feel as optimistic as I can before I know for certain what will happen next.


On this first Sunday of August, I begin typing under the cloud of severe exhaustion. I worked a wedding yesterday from 4 to 1. This involves a lot of walking. During the day, I'd decided to go for a two-hour bike ride because I didn't want to sit around waiting for work to begin.

Yesterday was the first Saturday I had to work since June 30. Ever since I left Court Square Tavern, I decided to pursue catering as opposed to working at a restaurant. In theory, that would give me time to spend however I see fit.

The experience has been interesting in a way. I'd not been to a wedding since my first in 2001. There are many reasons for this but I'm not sure how many of them are actually worth pondering as I type these particular sentences. It's more important to note that I just don't know much about how weddings work.

Well, now I've been to six of them and each of them has been a rewarding experience in its own way. Yesterday was a marriage between an American man and a Columbian woman. The cocktail hour was presided over by a bluegrass band. A Latin American band played for dinner. I enjoyed working with the crew I was on, and it was good honest work.

However, when I got home to do some work for Charlottesville Tomorrow, I discovered that our new website was down and I had to go to work to reset it. I've not had to do that before, but my boss is on vacation so it's my turn to do whatever needs to be done.

In all, though, I felt like a productive member of society. I helped send a couple off into the world in my own little way, being as friendly and enthusiastic so that all the guests had a good time. And they did!

As did the guests at the other weddings I've done now. I look forward to this fall, and attending more weddings, attending important events in the lives of total strangers. I'm becoming less bitter about marriage watching the energy that goes to prepare for these very special days.

I am fairly certain that I'm supposed to be doing this, and that this is the result of choices I have made in my life. And it's bringing a certain joy to my life.


Overcoming hatred

The national appreciation day for Chik-Fil-A's stance on gay marriage has prompted me to do something I do not do as a journalist.

I'm going to tell you what I think. 

This is a matter that I'm personally affected by, and a matter that has been on my mind very much for the past three and a half years. I may have alluded to it in my writing here, but I've never directly addressed it until now. 

My second marriage ended in part because my ex-wife finally had the courage and support of a community to become who she really is -- a woman who loves another woman.

I watched them falling in love in slow motion. This is not a post where I will talk about that in detail.

But, when the end came, I felt a tremendous sense of loss and pain. At times, the sorrow pushed me in a negative direction. I felt waves and waves of anger. Sometimes I rode these waves of anger. At times, I approached hatred. 

I don't think I ever fully went to hatred, but I could see what it looked like. It was dark and awful.

Some of the things I've seen posted about same-sex marriage definitely look like hatred to me. 

In the first few months after our break-up, I tried to educate myself on compassion and overcoming anger. I read works by the Dalai Lama that introduced me to concepts that get me through and to understand how I had no right to tell her how to live her life. My personal pain could not be used to justify anything. 

This experience was a struggle for me. But underlying the struggle was the knowledge that I loved her, and that she is the mother of my two American children. I wanted the children to be happy, and that meant their mother had to be happy. She was miserable living a lie and it was quite an unhappy life for both of us. 

But, enough of that. Let's focus on where we are now. Let's focus on why I feel it's necessary for me to say a few words about the Chik-Fil-A appreciation, and how this entire incident alarms me. 

I believe that all of us are created equal, and that we must respect other's beliefs. None of us can ever fully know what's going on in the minds of others, but we have evolved as a species and as a nation to have a system of secular beliefs that draw upon all that has come before. We trust each other to do the right thing. We cannot lose that.

I believe in human progress and the notion that we can solve our society's problems. I am proud to have been born in a country that has consistently sought to live up to the values. Those values are good. I believe in this country. We can do great things here. 

So then we come back to why I'm concerned about the Chik-Fil-A civil war. What should be a rational discussion among adults has become yet another over-simplified narrative that is being fought through Facebook status updates and mass gatherings at fast food restaurants. 

And it's not that simple. We're talking about people who have made brave choices, brave choices that have caused heartbreak. 

If you click through, notice the beautiful picture that is listed there. Look at how the author of the post has two pictures, 18 years apart, and tell me that they are not in love. 

If we believe in the notion that "all men are created equal" shouldn't we respect their right to be with each other? I look at that picture, and I think of pictures I've seen of my ex and her fiancee. You cannot deny love. 

I'm still recovering. I won't lie. But, the majority of me knows that they are in love, and I believe they have the right to be together, and to enshrine that love through marriage. I want my society to accept that as a true union that reflects the love they have for each other. 

So, back to the post that compelled me to write this. The author of the post writes this:
There are times in your life when you have the opportunity to stand up for your friends. When you let that opportunity pass, your friends notice. It doesn’t mean we can’t be friends, but it diminishes you, and it diminishes the friendship. That’s how it is, no matter what the issue or what the venue.
My ex-wife is my friend. Her fiancee will be my friend at some point in the future.

So, I am saying right now that I am proud of both of them for taking a massive risk in order to be who they are. I am proud of them for having the courage to do what they are doing.

We're all individuals. Some of us are gay. Some of us are straight. Some of us are damaged. Some of us are not. Some of us know how to rise above. Some of us do not.

The end of my marriage has been the hardest thing that has happened to my life to date. But, I rose above. I became a runner. I learned to play guitar. I dedicated myself to work. I tried to be the best father I can to my children. I have made the best of a situation. I reacted. I adapted.

I am more whole now than I ever have been. I am prepared to be awesome.

Life is successfully navigated when you can avoid being trapped in simple narratives. I have no doubt that the people who feel so outraged about gay marriage sincerely believe it's an abomination. Maybe some of them have personal reasons to do so.

Maybe I did once, but I chose not to take that path.

I believe that people 50 years ago sincerely believed that black and white people shouldn't marry, or even spend together.

I believe that 160 years ago, there were people who died defending what they felt was a right to own other human beings.

I cannot demonize or hate the people who helped Chick-Fil-A set a new sales record. I can be sad that there's no way of talking with the people one-on-one.  But, I am hopeful many of them can take a step back and reconsider their stance.


Daybreak of August

Last night I finished watching Battlestar Galactica for the second time. The first time I'd watched it was in the initial months following the end of my marriage.

Without going into the details of the show, I'll just say that the final season is heart-wrenching. There's a lot of death, a lot of despair, and at times it feels that the word "hope" has been erased from the dictionary.

I began rewatching the final season about two months ago. This coincides with what has been a pretty rotten time in my mind as I fight off another bout of depression tinged with anxiety over my future.

Well, enough. I don't want to wallow in those details. I want to stay positive and not give in to the poisonous thoughts in my mind that seek to skew me towards the negative. I get to choose how I want to be. I don't understand the forces that seek to pull me down, but I am hopeful that I can use them to sail to new shores.

So, this month I will be reflecting on this, and publicly posting how my navigation attempts fare. I have some ideas.

First, I will catch the reader up on my attempts to stay positive despite overwhelming storms. I shall not describe the storms themselves, for that only encourages them.

I have dedicated myself over to fitness again. I've run the last four days in a row, which is having the effect of alleviating some knee pain I have had. I've been swimming at least twice a week.
I've not reacted when bad news hits. I've made it through every day. I've stayed above the clouds.

Now, though, I want to reintroduce this public element to it. I want to write publicly again, even to a handful of readers. I have skills that need to be sharpened. This little white box shall serve as my stone.