Saturday, May 30, 2009

Identity Crisis

I may have had an epiphany about what's going on with me lately. I'm having an identity crisis, and my present environment isn't helping me deal with it at all. Let me explain.

Since leaving my job in July 2007, I've struggled to find a new identity as a creative person through my writing. Sometimes, the writing has gone well, and sometimes not so well. Thus far, I've completed no single piece of writing that I believe is worthy of publication, so I continue to work on my craft and to look forward to that day in the near or distant future when what I produce is worth sharing with someone else.

On a personal level, my life often feels like it's all about Chris.
1. We returned to the Lower Mainland for his job, which made him happy but me not so much.
2. I'm dependent on Chris because I no longer have an income. I haven't earned anything since September 2007. This has been difficult for me. I've always made my own way in life, and I've certainly always made a financial contribution to our relationship.
3. I've very much taken on the role of the "housewife," so to speak. To support Chris, our breadwinner, in every way I can, I take care of everything in the house, as I wrote about previously. I figure if I don't earn an income, at the very least, I can contribute to our relationship in every other way possible. I believe I add a lot of value, which Chris confirmed this evening.

But who am I?

I'm not defined by my job at CIBC anymore, and I haven't exactly found my own way in life since. The focus in Chris's and my relationship right now is on him, which is as it should be, because the opportunities have been happening to him lately (just as they did for me in the summer of 2000, when we moved to Victoria because of my promotion).

But I feel, despite my contribution, that I'm still very much a background player. To some degree, I wish I was still upfront. I wish I played a more important role in our relationship, that I still earned an income, this time producing something that makes my spirit soar through my writing.

And perhaps the hardest thing for me now is the transition we're going through--first, moving to __________, and, now, the ongoing renovations that continue to disrupt our lives.

Here's what I think is going on: At the very least, if I'm having an identity crisis (and I don't think there can be any doubt that I am), my physical environment should cooperate. In other words, our home should be settled and comforting and safe, to help offset the confusion and inadequacy I feel.

Instead, our home is a construction zone, everything around us in disarray, and I feel like I'm getting it from all sides: I'm a mess inside and outside. Does this make sense? As a result, I'm even more confused about what's happening to me and what I really want in life. When one part of your life is messed up, another part should offer stability and solace, but that isn't happening, and I don't know how to deal with it.

I need to give this more thought, to understand it better, and to figure out how to deal with it. I have no doubt I'm meant to go through this at this particular time in my life, and, to be philosophical, I'm certain there are all kinds of lessons here, waiting to be learned. I'm just in the thick of it right now, which prevents me from seeing my way through it.

As always, I need to be patient, one of the things I have the most difficulty with in my life. And I need to be easier on myself. I know life will get better. It always does. But, right now, I could sure use some relief.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Housewife Syndrome?

What I have to say today will come across as complaining and whining, and I know some people won't have a speck of sympathy for me. Nevertheless, this is the way I've felt lately, and I think it's worth getting down, even if only to give me the means to let go of some of the frustration.

Those who know me are aware that I left my job with CIBC, after twenty-eight years, in July 2007. The deal between Chris and me was that I would use my newly-free time to renovate our condo in Vancouver (that Chris and I bought in late 1994), we'd sell it, make lots of money (because of the incredible read estate market at the time), pay off all of our debt, live off one income (Chris's) without affecting our lifestyle, and I'd become a writer.

Everything happened as planned. From December 2007 until April 2009, when we moved to ____________, life was settled for us in Victoria, and I was able to focus seriously on my writing. It was during this time that, in addition to other pieces, I wrote an 800-plus page memoir that I cut back to the period between when I was a boy and when I finally came out as being gay at twenty-six (roughly 400 pages). Then I thought I'd work on the next four hundred pages, the period between when I came out and when I met Chris, a time of awakening and exploring and experiencing life in Vancouver (roughly eight years).

By far, the writing was the best part of this timeframe. Perhaps the most difficult part was the change to my routine. I no longer had a full-time job to go to; I no longer earned an income; I no longer had structure or a routine to my days; I was dependent on someone else; and I spent long periods of time at home, especially when the weather was nasty and I had no where to go.

This is when I really felt the change. In some respects, I felt like I imagine a housewife might feel. I focused on Chris--which I wanted to do anyway--because he was earning our household income, and because I thought part of the deal was that I take on more of the tasks at home. So I did all of the cooking and cleaning. Chris rarely picked up a vacuum cleaner or a dusting rag, and I ensured meals were ready when he returned home from work.

In the end, what made it all work for me was that I wrote through most of the day--which sometimes went so well, I thought I was an eagle soaring high in the sky--and I made sure my daily tasks around the house were completed too. In other words, I had balance in my life, with the priority being my writing.

Going into our move to ____________, I knew our lifestyle would change. For example, I knew Chris would have a much longer commute to work downtown, requiring him to go to bed earlier, to get up much earlier, and to spend most of his day in transit or at work, leaving just a few hours for us to be together at night. I knew I'd feel resentful that we didn't have as much time together Monday to Friday, but I remembered when I worked full-time and was away from home and Chris roughly the length of time he is now, since my job was demanding and time-consuming.

I also knew the move to __________ would put more pressure on me to complete most of the renovation work we wanted to do. With Chris away so much during the workweek, I didn't want him to feel had he to spend his limited home time working on renovating the house (who wants to work all day downtown, then come home and work all evening renovating?). And I knew that I was already home during the day, looking after all aspects of our household, so I could logically complete the lion's share of the renovation work.

But something happened along the way. Over the past four weeks or so, my focus has been more on the house and less on my writing. In fact, whole weeks went by when I wrote nothing at all besides my daily journal (and not even that during our moving week). And I began to feel resentful of that. While seeing the changes in the house were gratifying, my spirit felt unfulfilled. I knew if I could get back to my writing--in other words, create a better balance in my life between what I had to do (work around the house) and what I wanted to do (my creative outlet through writing), I'd feel much better about my life and myself.

These last couple of days have been tough. I've fought with utility companies on the phone over all the screws up they've made after our move. I've had more than a few frustrating moments with the hardwood floor installers, who had their own idea of what should be done that didn't mesh with mine. I've spent most of the day dragging myself along the floor and up and down ladders, trying to repair all of the marks on the walls from the previous owners and taping up the largest room in the house so we can paint it. I've rushed into the shower at the end of the afternoon to clean up before hurrying downstairs to make dinner so it's ready when Chris comes in the door at 6:10 p.m.

All of this might sound like a breeze to some, especially since I don't have to get up early in the morning, travel long distances to and from work, and put up with difficult employees and customers. I realize my situation is different, even enviable, and there are times when I'm thrilled that I no longer have to work for someone else and everything that goes along with that.

But here's the crux of it: I never imagined my life would look the way it does at nearly fifty years of age.

Chris is completely supportive. He keeps telling me to lay off the renovations and focus on my writing. He repeats that the renos will get done over time, that everything doesn't need to be done right away, that if we have to wait until autumn or later to accomplish what we want to around the house, that's fine.

But that's not good enough for me. I don't want to live in a construction zone any longer than I have to. I don't want to live with all of our furniture bunched up together in the recreation room downstairs, just like one large storage facility. I don't want to live with the sofa covered over in a plastic sheet to prevent the dust from drywall falling on it. I don't want to look at the mess and disorganization around me any longer than I have to. When I was growing up, I never knew my aunt and uncle's house in Kelowna to be anything but a construction zone (newly plastered walls, plastic sheets hanging all over, construction debris all over the floor), and I swore that would never happen to me.

So, yes, I'm in a rush to get on with the work and get our lives back to normal, so I don't have to look at the mess and so I can return to my writing, knowing there aren't months of renovation work ahead of me. I have goals with regard to the renos: to complete the great room, the kitchen, and what we call the "soccer room" upstairs (a kid's room painted like the wide open sky, with a huge tree in one corner, a soccer goal post in the other, and a soccer ball heading for the goal post). Once these areas are done, the extent of our renovations won't be complete, but we'll be able to live with everything else and set up our home roughly in the order we want to.

I never imagined a year ago that I'd do what I'm doing now. And what frustrates me is that I'll have to be the one to complete most of the work on the house because Chris works full-time and doesn't have the opportunity to do a lot of the work himself. And I want to protect him from doing more of it because he already works hard at his job, and he doesn't need to do even more work when he comes home at night. We have only a few hours together, and I don't want to spend it doing more work around the house.

If someone were to ask me what I really want from life right now, I wouldn't have an answer. I know I'll have to do what I'm doing for the foreseeable future. That's part of the deal, part of the bargain. We bought a used house, and there's a lot of work involved in making it our own. And it will be wonderful when it's done. We just have to get it there first. I know the renos won't take forever to complete--it just feels that way.

But, sometimes, I'd like to spend time out of the house, writing at a coffee shop maybe, mingling with people more, being a part of the real world. Sometimes, I want to earn an income again, not be dependent on another human being for my livelihood, not worry that if something happens to Chris and he's no longer able to work, I'll have to find a job at fifty years of age. Who would hire me? What do I know how to do? What do I really want to do with the rest of my life?

As long as I find time daily to write, I'm okay, even if it's just my blog. But if all I do is look after Chris's needs and the house, then I feel I've lost myself, and who I want to be in the world. I feel time is running out, that there's an urgency around what I do now, because I won't live forever, and there's no time to waste.

I need to get on with my purpose in life, but is that doing what I do now? I don't know. Maybe life is happening exactly as it should at this point, but I don't know the end result. I don't know why I find myself where I am and what it all means, but I know in the grand scheme of things, it means something. And that meaning will become clearer to me in time. In the meantime, I must have faith.

In the end, Chris is completely supportive of my needs, including writing. In fact, after we talked about this last night, he cautioned me about ensuring I put writing first before doing anything else this morning. He wants me to be happy, I know that for sure. I'll just have to figure out what that looks like, and how I can make it happen (while still meeting my current obligations).

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

How Much Of Me Is Too Much?

Sometimes...sometimes I wonder how much of me is too much.

Last weekend, the Victoria day long weekend, Chris and I spent three full days together. I was grateful to have the together time. With Chris's new work schedule, including long commute times to and from downtown Vancouver, I don't have as much time to spend with him as I did when we lived in Victoria. Three full days together is a complete luxury. Or is it?

Saturday, we went looking for night table lamps for the master bedroom, after the new furniture arrived from Modern Country Interiors on Thursday, and I set up the entire room. By car, we took the Albion ferry (soon to be defunct) over to the other side of the Fraser River and drove to the Langley Bypass, where we looked at various furniture stores. We didn't find suitable lamps, but we may have found a sectional sofa for our recreation room that we liked.

The following day, Chris and I walked on the Albion ferry and strolled to Fort Langley, where we met Chris's sister, Connie. The sky was clear and sunny, the temperature was summer warm, and we sauntered up and down Glover, poking into small shops, enjoying lunch at Wendel's, a few sweets from Ruby Slippers, and letting the day pass us by. I'd never been to Fort Langley before and really enjoyed myself. Then all three of us walked on the Albion ferry and took the ride over to the _________ side, where we walked back to the house, made home-made pizza, and sat outside on our wooden deck to enjoy the last bits of daylight, dinner, and each other's company.

The following day, Victoria Day, Chris and I drove to Richmond and South Granville, again on the lookout for lamps for the master bedroom. Unfortunately, we didn't find any, but we found the perfect lamp for the second bedroom at Pottery Barn (pictures of both rooms will follow in a separate post). The search for lamps for the master bedroom continues.

Monday evening, with the hours of the long weekend fast waning, I decided to map out the dimensions on our living room carpet of the sectional sofa we saw at Jordans Casual Home, using a measuring tape and masking tape. The goal was to ensure the large leather trunk we bought a few months ago at Chintz & Co. would work with the scale of the sectional if we decided to buy it.

Karen, the helpful saleslady at Jordans, had provided us with the measurements of the two pieces of furniture that would make up the sectional sofa, and I thought I understood exactly how much tape to stick to the carpet to approximate the size of the sofa. With Chris at his laptop computer at the island in the adjoining kitchen, checking out emails from work so he'd have a leg up on the following work day, I was on the floor in the living room, measuring out the various distances.

But I became confused, not fully understanding the dimensions Karen had recorded, and I kept interrupting Chris, asking him to help me. Chris has patience far beyond the average human being, but I knew from the tone of his voice he was getting fed up with the interruptions. He tried to explain what I needed to do from his seat in the kitchen, but I still didn't understand, and I was becoming frustrated.

Finally, Chris got off his stool, came into the living room, and took over, reading the dimensions of the sectional sofa from the sheet Karen had provided us, measuring out the distances, and telling me where I should stick the masking tape to the carpet. Within a few minutes, we had mapped out the full size of the sofa, incorporating our existing sofa--roughly the same scale as the sectional--and we'd placed the leather trunk within the L-shape, ensuring it would work as additional seating, as a foot rest, and as the centerpiece of the arrangement.

Because Chris grows frustrated with me, and everyone, infrequently, I knew that if he was frustrated now, he'd had enough--either of the situation or of me not understanding how to complete the task myself and interrupting him too many times.

As I pondered the theoretical size of the sectional with the real trunk, I looked over at Chris, back on the stool at the island, trying to get a last few minutes in reading work emails before he had to shower and get to bed early at the beginning of another workweek.

I was very low key afterward. While the two of us had spent some wonderful time together over the weekend, talking, laughing, planning, really connecting and enjoying each other's company, I began to wonder if he'd had enough of me over the three days, if he was grateful to return to work the following day so he'd have some time away from me. Couple time is great, but so is time away from each other, I assume, so that when you come back together, you really enjoy being with one another.

Of course, there's an element of low self-esteem in the question of how much of me is too much. It implies that there's a limit to how much time couples, even attentive and loving couples, like I consider Chris and me to be, can spend with each other. And that time away from each other is not only good but beneficial to the relationship.

Chris and I shower together at night, because I consider it to be prime time to be together, but I wondered if he really needed to shower by himself Monday night. Sheepishly, I asked him if we could shower together, even though I was sure he'd reached the limit of how much time he wanted to spend with me over the long weekend. As usual, he said he was fine to shower with me, but I remained quiet and out of his face as much as possible for the rest of the night, even in the shower, hoping I hadn't turned him off me altogether.

I wonder if other couples feel this way about each other. I wonder if they ever think about whether or not their partner has had enough of them, not forever, hopefully, but just for now, until some time apart has passed, and they're happy to be back together, doing the things couples normally do, enjoying their common time.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Meeting Other Monogamous Gay Male Couples

Before Chris and I moved to Metro Vancouver, I was concerned that we'd be the only gay people in a neighborhood largely comprised of families with children. Well, I can confirm since arriving here that the majority of the houses in the area where we live are occupied by families, and most of them have children, particularly under ten years of age. On more than one occasion, I didn't feel like I belong here. We certainly don't fit the local demographic, that's for sure.

On Sunday, when Chris and I left the house to get in the car to drive to Port Coquitlam, I noticed a man on the other side of the street, walking a large dog and turning to look at us repeatedly. I wouldn't call what he was doing "cruising," but his interest in us was unmistakable. And when one man shows an interest in another man--that is, repeatedly looks at him, and they don't know each other--then there's a good chance one or more of them is gay.

As we pulled away from the front of the house, I turned in the front passenger seat to look at the man. He was looking at us through the rear window of the car as we drove away, and was that a smile I saw on his face?

All of this helped me to believe that other gay people live in our neighborhood, somewhere, and that Chris and I aren't the only ones, which I found both comforting and frustrating. It isn't easy for gay people to meet each other, even on a social level, and I wondered if the man had a partner himself, and if the two of them felt isolated in a heterosexual neighborhood, and if they'd like to meet us as much as we'd like to meet them. Maybe we'd become good friends and spend time with each other on weekends, going out for dinner, seeing a movie, enjoying walks along the Fraser River.

Chris and I have always wanted to meet other monogamous, gay male couples, and we've been fortunate enough that that's happened--with Chris (my former boss) and his partner Justin, and Steve and Mike (who now live in Saskatoon), and Bill and Lloyd (the older gay couple I wrote about previously). But, as far as having friendships that bloomed into people we could get together with on a regular basis for outings and good times, that hasn't happened, and, to a large degree, that's isolated Chris and me from the rest of the gay community.

I think Chris's and my relationship would be richer if we had close friendships with other monogamous, gay male couples, but I also worry that, despite how secure our relationships are, we might feel threatened in the company of attractive gay men, that one or more might be sexually attracted to each other, and that could signal the end of what Chris and I share, or severely damage it. I don't think this is insecurity talking, I think it's reality. Chris and I don't have an open relationship. In fact, we both defined our relationship from the beginning by our faithfulness to each other. But that's not necessarily the case with other gay male couples, and I would feel very uncomfortable being around them if that were the case.

At any rate, there's a considerable distance between wanting to meet a presumably gay man walking a dog on the other side of the street, and Chris's and my relationship falling apart because we're friends with another gay male couple who like to play around with other couples.

I wondered if the man walking the dog would make a special effort to walk by our house again in the near future. If he'd cross the street next time and walk on the sidewalk directly in front of our house. If he'd linger nearby, waiting for us to leave the house, finding an excuse to run into us and to talk with us. After all, plenty of straight people in the neighborhood have talked to us since we've arrived. It seems to be the thing people do here. Perhaps gay people would do it as easily as straight people would, with none of the hang-ups of encounters on big city streets, the flirting, interested one minute and not interested the next, lots of eye contact--but not a word spoken.

I also wondered if Chris and I made an effort to frequent the neighborhood coffee shop, easy walking distance from the house, we might see the gay man there, dog in hand, eager to introduce himself, to talk about himself and his partner, and how conveniently close they live to us.

The weather's taken a turn for the worse this past week, and Chris is still trying to get used to his new work routine--rising early and going to bed early, so he can get to and from work--so we haven't had the opportunity to be social butterflies in the neighborhood. But I suppose the opportunity to meet other gay people is always there, and, if it's meant to be, we might just find ourselves face to face with another gay male couple, who will make our transition to the neighborhood a little easier, and who will help us feel more like we belong.

The other day, I saw a lesbian couple walk their dog on the same side of the street as the man previously. One of them was unmistakably masculine, in a way that even I'm not, while the other appeared more feminine. I have to assume they're from the neighborhood, too. I can't imagine that they drive their dog all the way from Vancouver just to walk it in a pastoral setting.

If there's a gay male and a lesbian couple in the neighborhood, there have to be other gay people too, right? I'm sure it's only a matter of time before we meet some of them. I look forward to that.