Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Reflections of a Breakup XII: Full Circle

A little less than a year ago I penned the second of my journal entries "Reflections of a Breakup". It was last January, the day Jay and I took down our last Christmas tree. It was a sad day as we divided all of the ornaments and such we had collected together over the years. Today I've come full circle from that point in time. Today I put up my first Christmas tree.

I moved directly out of my parents' house into an apartment with Jay. I've never lived alone and I've never had my own Christmas tree. Throughout our relationship, Jay was always the one in charge of any décor. It was one of his roles. It was a problem once he left and I had to decorate the house pretty much from scratch, and I did okay with it, but the prospect of doing it all over again with Christmas was simply something I wanted to avoid. I contemplated not putting anything up at all, but as I began to see signs of Christmas lights and decorations all around me, I eventually decided I should do it.

When we dismantled last year's décor Jay ended up with the Christmas balls that give the tree its base look, and he got all of the lights, as well. I'm sure I told him to take them. I just forgot! So I pretty much had to start from only the very little I had for a tree.

I spent the afternoon in my local Target, spending an hour in their seasonal department. The choices of ornaments, lights, garland, etc. was overwhelming. I always have trouble making decisions, and choosing items for display in my home is even harder. I knew the colors I wanted for my tree: blue, with dashes of red, silver and white. After a lot of agonizing, I finally chose my decorations and lights and left the store with my new Christmas décor in search of a tree.

Growing up, we had always had an artificial tree, all nice and neat, no fuss, and no muss. Just place the colored wires of the branches into their matching holes in the 'trunk' and voila!, a perfectly shaped fake tree. Jay, on the other hand, always had real trees, and he brought that tradition into our home. I grew to love real trees over the years. The look and the smell of real trees make them authentic, imperfect and beautiful. A real Christmas tree was the only way for me to go. I headed to a local lot and picked out what would be my Christmas tree.

Upon my return home I put my head down and went to it. I quickly unloaded all of the bags from my car and ran to the basement to dig out the tree stand and any Christmas décor I had kept. For the next three hours or so I labored, first with the tree stand, then the tree, the lights, and all of my ornaments, new and old. I added candles, Santa's, snowmen, and reindeer here and there to round out the feel of Christmas in the house.

I ran out to the garage and grabbed an old box of ornaments belonging to my grandparents. My nana's been gone for a long time and my grandfather passed away last year. I lived with them for awhile in my younger days and they were both very special parts of my life. So I picked out a couple of gems and added them to my tree for good measure.

Looking back on my day, the entire process made me feel better about myself. Throughout my relationship, my self esteem often waned, my ego not getting enough propping up from my other half. I realize that when you're alone, though, you get the same thing because there's no one there to stroke that ego for you anyway. Sometimes you've got to do it yourself. Self image is nothing but attitude, and going through as simple a process as putting up a Christmas tree helped me to realize that I can do more than I give myself credit for. I stroked my own ego, and I've got my head held a little higher today. I did it all by myself, and I think the tree came out just great! What a difference a year makes!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Reflections of a breakup XI: six Months On

It's October...six months since Jay moved out and almost four months since I've written anything on the subject. I think now's a good time to reflect on how life has evolved since April. A couple of weeks ago, October 8th, marked a year since we had decided to split up, but since he moved out in April it really doesn't feel like it's been so long.

Is being single everything I wanted it to be? In some ways it is, and others it is not. I had foreseen the breakup much earlier than it actually happened, so oftentimes I would try and imagine what it would be like to be alone. Sort of daydreams, that are vaguely pleasant, where you don't envision the negative reaches the reality of it entails.

The beginning was hardest. Suddenly I was alone. I found myself dazed and confused. I had to remind myself that I didn't have to plan for dinner for when he'd get home from work. I was suddenly buying too much at the supermarket. I caught myself holding off on watching favorite recorded TV shows to watch together. All of it was hard to grasp. I was really alone for the first time in my life at the age of forty-three!

I lived in a disoriented state for what seemed the longest time, unknowing and not expecting what to do with my newfound freedom. When should I fix dinner? What programs should I watch tonight? Should I be going out, seeing friends, catching up? Nah, I didn't feel much like reconnecting just yet.

I turned to dating sites. Now I don't know what straight online dating sites are like, but gay ones are a world unto their own! I quickly got lost in the endless pages of guys looking for hookups, LTR's (long-term relationships), "chill" guys, or "whatever" as I spent hours with my laptop always within arm's length. I thought I was looking for sex, some excitement with something different, but soon I realized that this had been one of those unforeseen aspects of earlier daydreams come to life. I really didn't want sex. I didn't want a relationship. I didn't know what I wanted. I still don't, really. The blanket of Today, I'm not sure if I need help or just more time.

As the weeks and months passed, things have slowly gotten better. I did some things I never thought I would or could do. I learned there were a lot of things I had taken for granted for a long time. In relationships, each partner takes on their respective role. I was the shopper, the bill payer, and the cook. He was the fixer-upper, the painter, and the decorator. Decorating! It was one of my biggest fears of being on my own. When Jay left the house, he left me with hardly a bauble or piece of wall-art. Faced with my first test, I rose to the challenge and did a respectable job with re-homeifying my house, curtains and all!

The realization that I could tackle the decorating and some of the more fixer-upper, deep cleaning chores jay used to do has helped me immensely. I'm doing things I never thought I'd have the capacity to do. My house is my house, not ours anymore. It's liberated me to where the optimism and confidence has seeped into my life as a whole. I've become a more active person in my singledom, something which I had longed for as I fell into the trappings of relationship stability.

My day to day life has regained some normalcy once again, but I still have my moments. Jay and I are on friendly, yet still uncomfortable terms. I believed that our relationship was such that we could end up even better friends, but I'm not sure if that'll ever happen. There've been good and not so good contacts over the past six months. It seems that every time I see him, I leave the encounter in a sad state. They say the end of any relationship is like a death, and you have to give yourself time to mourn. Contact with Jay has become more infrequent after every encounter. I hate to say it, but I'm thinking that's probably a good thing for both of us.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Reflections of a Breakup X

It's been a very long time since I've penned anything. For the past couple of months, since we closed on the house and Jay moved out, I haven't experienced the happiness I thought I'd feel at being alone. Instead, I move through my life aimlessly, with nagging feelings of discontent. I just don't know why.

I've thrust myself into busy minutiae. I work all the time, whether it's for school or at home. I seem to have forgotten how to relax and enjoy myself. "To do" seems to permeate my daily activities. Any recreational activity is burdensome, not enjoyable. Keeping busy, getting stuff done is all I want to do. I don't like living this way. I'm not sure if this is because I'm always worried about money, if I'm compulsive about getting my house in order, or I'm just avoiding facing the seismic shift that has thrust me into my new, single life. I feel lost.

The final step in the breakup was full of frustration, mixed emotions, and a lot of tears. The roller coaster I'd been riding suddenly accelerated into hairpin curls and unforeseen twists. And like most roller coasters I ride, it ended with satisfied feelings and an optimistic outlook for the future. But that was two months ago!

The end was emotional. From the day we went to the lawyer's office to sign the papers until the day he moved out, a dark cloud hung low in the air for a week or so. Jay and I hadn't been on good terms for a couple of days prior to the closing, which made matters even tenser, but the tending to this business was like going to a funeral. Jay was joking in the way that he does, making light of a tense situation, and it only made me sadder. Jay has a good sense of humor and this was one of the things about him that was endearing to me. It's hard to let go of someone you love. In the car I cried for the first time that day.

Seven days later, Jay moved out. I'd still been smarting about everything he was taking. We hadn't spoken at all for about three days. We still hadn't discussed dividing anything. All I really wanted was the dining room set. I had no idea, but I didn't feel like I would have a hand in deciding.

The morning of the move, I left the house early. I didn't want to bear witness to the final breath of our life together. I couldn't bear it. Somehow, later in the day, we ended up in the house at the same time and finally spoke. In the end I got the dining room set, and felt good about our prospects. He was gone.

Now it's just me (and my two kitties, Dylan and Diego). From here I am solely responsible for whatever shape that life will take. The world is wide open and I'm afraid to make the wrong decisions. I've never had experiences with decision making when it comes to my own life. Though I saw this coming for a long, long time, reality has a way of jolting you out of whatever life you may have had for what would be forthcoming. It's a state I'd been living in all these months and years. I never really thought what life would be like in realistic terms. I'd just imagined it to be just a wee bit more blissful than it's turned out to be.

I don't want to say I'd go back and change things. I wouldn't. I miss Jay. He was more than my lover...he was my partner. But whatever happened, happened. It needed to. We're on friendly terms, just trying to figure out how this will work. It's good. I hope it endures. I'm a big believer in not having to behave like everyone else. Who can say how things should work out? We'll find out for ourselves what will be.

I don't really know where to go from here. Writing is therapeutic. It forces me to relive the events I've experienced, so that I can better learn from them. After a long, long hiatus, I've finally taken a peek. I hope it continues...

Monday, June 23, 2008

Going for Gusto: A New Season of Great Music

With the release of Discipline, by Janet Jackson in February, my iPod has been loaded with hot new music that'll keep me dancing and singing throughout the summer and beyond. Consider picking up one or more of these and make your summer that much more fun!

read more | digg story

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Reflections of a Breakup IX: Realizations and Fears

We closed on the house two days ago. The waiting is over and now my new life is mere days from reality. The day that had always seemed so far away has come and gone, and it didn't bring the relief I had long expected. Deep inside I knew this would be the case. In the days leading up to the event, dark clouds began to gather in my mind, foreshadowing the sadness that would soon envelop my state of mind at the death of my relationship with J.

The end of an era is here, and regardless of the fantasies I'd long had for this new life, this final step towards separation slapped me with the reality of the situation in which I find myself. This is really going to happen! I am going to own a house all by myself! I've never lived alone, on my own. I'm scared, about money, yes, but I'm mostly afraid of being alone. I'm going to miss him and I still can't help but wonder if he's going to miss me the same. I think that's the part that haunts my thoughts more than anything else, but I need to let it go.

Living through this breakup, I'm only beginning to learn about myself. I always thought I knew what I wanted in life. I thought I knew what would make me happy. In retrospect, the notion of an ideal position in life always existed in the back of my mind, but I never recognized it for what it was. I'm not unlike the majority of people. I think what most of us covet more than anything is attention. The craving to be recognized and acknowledged is within each of us. We all need to feel valued, and gaining the interest of those around us helps us to attain that feeling.

A lot of things would make me happy: money, good friends, a good job. What I want most in life is to be loved. I want to be with someone who makes my face light up at the sight of him, and whose face lights up at the sight of me. I want someone who'll finish my thoughts with his, to share secrets and interests with, to impart love upon one another and never leave each other feeling unfulfilled, never starved for attention. Maybe I had that for awhile. Maybe I had it for longer than most. Will I have it again? We'll just have to see...

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Reflections of a Breakup Part VIII: The Beginning of the End

Since my last entry, the frustration with life had come to a climax. Tom Petty once said that “the waiting is the hardest part” and he was not kidding. Living under these conditions, my ex and I still under the same roof, both looking to put the past behind and move forward, has been excruciatingly difficult. Each day seems like an eternity. Home is no longer home. It’s become a place that I dread coming to, and the situation hangs like a dark cloud over life. Unfortunately, we haven’t had a choice. As things develop with time though, the outlook is getting better. Although the upswing is near, the darkest days still have to be endured before we can reach the light of the new day.

This week was a test of things to come for me. My ex left the house for five days to watch a friend’s dogs while she was away on vacation. The situation provided a practice run for what is to come. I’ve never lived alone. Sure, my ex has gone away for periods of time before, but that was different. My mindset was different towards this short week. I approached this opportunity differently than in past. This time, I put it in my mind that I was already alone, imagining a fast forward of sorts to the time when I’d be alone for real.

Looking back, the week was a good experience, one that’s left me anticipating my new life with excitement. At first, it was awkward and uncomfortable. Once I had gotten home from work on that first day and settled in, something definitely felt different. Having lived with another person for over sixteen years, I’d developed an unrealized sense of comfort in not being alone. I always felt safe and secure in having another being in my space.

TV time was the one time of the day we mostly spent together, and I never realized the comfort that I always felt in having these shared occasions until that evening. Once I had eaten and sat down to watch some television, I began to sense the void missing in the house. It was an unfamiliar and uncomfortable feeling. Eventually, the phone began to ring and I found myself passing the time in a way I hadn’t in a long time; catching up with friends. When I hung up after my third conversation, an epiphany came to me. I learned that being alone will arouse a long-suppressed desire in me to reconnect with people I’d neglected as a result of having a significant other.

The diminishment of friendships as a result of romance is an unfortunate casualty of relationships. I commend people who are able to stay connected to friends despite the presence of a significant other. The ability to balance the two makes for a healthy lifestyle and probably a happy and successful marriage. After the phone calls, my unease at being alone had subsided and for the rest of the week I embraced what is to come and I am excited at the prospect.

On Wednesday, I received an email from my mortgage broker with the word “mortgage” in the subject line. Butterflies suddenly appeared fluttering away in my stomach. It was the last in a long list of emails that I opened (I’m kind of wimpy that way!), and needless to say it was worth the wait. Although I had really expected it, I was still pleasantly surprised to find out that my mortgage was approved. One of my mantras in life is always to be wary of the unexpected. No one knows for sure until they know for sure! So now I know for sure. This is really going to happen. Soon this purgatory will be behind us and the rebirth of our lives can finally happen.

I only wish we could fast forward to the day after the final separation. I know as the closing draws nearer, my emotions will run the gamut. My mind has been aflutter with thoughts since I received that email. Closing on the mortgage will be a bittersweet moment that I’ll remember for the rest of my life. On one hand, impending freedom sends waves of excitement and anticipation through me. The future belongs to me! Wherever my life takes me, it’ll be up to me to steer its’ direction. But I have to place those thoughts in the back of my mind, for now. There will be plenty of time for that mindset, once the separation is completed.

In the meantime, there’s all this stuff to go through. The division of our things will be difficult. I really hope there’s not too much trouble there. I’ve already resigned myself to just let go of things, not to cause any further rift between us. I’d like to close this chapter with more of the sweet than the bitter. As it is with life, though, I’m sure unforeseen things will cause some conflict. I only hope that they’ll be minimal, so we don’t walk away from this embittered.

I can already feel that getting to the end will be really hard emotionally. I understand now that this breakup was inevitable. In the six months or so since the breakup, I’ve come to have very mixed feelings towards my ex, but all in all I still love him dearly. I’ve said before that we are kindred spirits. We share many of the traits that I’m proud to possess. We’ve been through a lot together, from difficult times to wonderful ones. The patchwork of our twenty years together emblazons a vivid and sentimental spot in my mind and in my heart. I will miss him, for sure. I only hope that one day we can find a way to remain in each other’s lives again.

I dread the immediate future, yet look forward to its aftermath. Today is the day we begin forging the rest of our lives as individuals. I can’t wait until it’s over!

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Mary J Blige: My Top Ten

Even with all her success, Mary J. Blige is one of the most underrated music artists of all time. Since the release of her breakout hit album, “What’s the 411?” in
1991, the “Queen of Hip Hop Soul” has taken us along on her journey of self discovery, sharpening her talents to unmatched heights, and providing us with great entertainment and inspiration along the way.

Mary J. Blige, or MJB, has always created infectious songs, mixing heart pounding, feet thumping grooves with irresistibly catchy lyrics that beckon listeners to sing along, matching Mary’s inflections with enthusiastic abandon. Mary has created many classic tunes, from heartfelt ballads, to infectious hip hop funk beats, to feet thumping dance grooves. Throughout, fans have come to learn from Mary’s stories as lessons in life. It’s a difficult task to choose ten out of so many, but here are my top ten Mary J. Blige songs:

#1 – No More Drama

The familiar piano of TV’s, “The Young and the Restless” theme provides an appropriate background to Mary’s now classic tune proclaiming liberation from the unnecessary turmoil that comes with the drama that exists in many relationships. She’s clearly experienced the games and commotion and tells us that she’s had enough. The song has become an anthem life. Anyone who’s been in unfortunate situation in life can heed Mary’s words:

“I don’t know.
Only God knows where the story ends for me,
but I know where the story begins.
It’s up to us to choose whether we win or lose
And I choose to win.”

Mary’s learned a lot from her involvement with relationship drama. Her words inspire taking responsibility for the choices we make. We determine our own destiny. It’s some of the best advice ever given in song.

(NOTE - The Thunderpuss remix of the song adds an equally powerful, danceable, and inspirational feel to the classic.)

#2 - Be Without You

Mary’s #1 song from her 2006 album “The Breakthrough” represents a newer, happier phase in the chaotic life of the singer. Both the studio and the remix versions of this ode to love and devotion were major hits on the Billboard charts. Mary’s singing still inspires clubbers to “put [their] hands up” on dance floors across the nation.

#3 - Family Affair

Let's get it crunk upon
have fun upon up In this dancery
We got ya'll open, now ya floatin'
So you gots to dance for me
Don't need no hateration, holleration
In this dancery
Let's get it perculatin' while you're waiting
So just dance for me

What exactly is hateration? Or holleration? I really don’t know, but the catchy lyrics and infectious beats make this an irresistible groove that just beckons us to “get a crunk upon” and “have fun”.

#4 - We Ride (I See the Future)

The song comes off of Mary’s 2006 greatest hits album, “Reflections – A Retrospective”. It was originally intended for her previous effort, “The Breakthrough”, but was instead saved for inclusion on this compilation. The song continues on the same vein as the songs on the preceding CD, characterizing Mary’s exhilaration at her current space in being, happy with a husband she loves and pleased with the new direction her life has taken. The lyrics once again inspire the listener to sing along to every nuance of Mary’s vocal range and are a powerful testament to her newfound joy.

#5 - Reflections (I Remember)

“Reflections (I Remember)” is the opening salvo to the previously mentioned retrospective CD. In this song, Mary takes us back to her beginnings, revisiting particular moments of change in her life through her long and tumultuous career. The song is sentimental and comforting. Mary puts her past to rest through contemplation, without regret, and embraces the Mary she’s become. It’s a feel-good trip down memory lane for MJB fans.

#6 - I’m Goin Down

For Mary’s fans, this one is a classic. The tune first appeared on her sophomore effort, “My Life”. It is a cover of a 1976 song by Rose Royce and this rendition convincingly portrays the vulnerability of a naïve and desperate young woman. Mary’s pleads with her man, “If I ever lose you…I’ll be goin’ down…Please forgive me, baby… and come on home”. The haunting, hypnotic melody blends perfectly with the authentic desperation of Mary’s vocals.

#7 - Just Fine

“Just Fine” is Mary’s latest hit. It’s a lively and danceable tune that’s a celebration of the elation in Mary’s life today. Fans are invited to share in the party, singing and dancing along to the catchy and rapid fire lyrics:

“So I like what I see
when I’m looking at me
when I’m walking past the mirror.
No stress through the night,
at a time in my life
ain’t worried about if you feel it.
Got my head on straight,
I got my mind right
I aint gonna let you kill it
You see I wouldn't change my life, my life's just fine, fine, fine…”

It’s simply a fun song!

#8 - Sweet Thang

Mary’s 1991 cover of the Chaka Khan classic puts a contemporary spin on the original. Mary’s sultry voice stays close to the originator, but is authentic on its own. For an album full of great hip-hop songs, it serves as a nice segue into Mary’s soulful side. Both incarnations of the song have earned their own entry into the classic R&B songbook.

#9 - I Love You

Another hypnotic ballad off the “My Life” album, this song is a lamentation to lost love. “I Love You” is a bittersweet reflection on a failed relationship coupled with a longing for what might have been. The melody is haunting and the lyrics, like so many other MJB tunes, make for an irresistible sing-along!

#10 - Let No Man Put Asunder

The closing track of MJB’s 1999 CD, “Mary”, this cover brings new life to a 70’s disco-funk hit with a hands-in-the-air, gospel, funk feel. Unlike the rest of the songs in this top ten, “Let No Man Put Asunder” was never a notable hit, but the continuous gospel-infused hook, “It’s not over…” is a powerful centerpiece to this catchy remake.

Clearly, Mary J. Blige has amassed a large catalog of great music in her stellar, yet still underrated seventeen-year career. History will surely recognize Mary as a legend in her time, and we’re all lucky to benefit from her gift. Choosing a top ten song list was a difficult task, and I’m sure many fans might choose an entirely different set of worthy classics from the “Queen of Hip Hop Soul”. If you’re not familiar with Mary J. Blige tunes, take a listen. You may find yourself inspired to by her words, stirred to sing along, or even motivated to dance!

Check out MJB's artist page on iTunes:

Mary J. Blige

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Reflections of a Breakup VII: Back in the Saddle

It’s been a long time since I’ve written any entries to this journal. My last piece differed from the previous entries in that it may have been a little more personal it should have been. At the time I had written it, I was in a really bad place. Uncertainty about my future hovered over me like a dark cloud, preparing to deluge my life with more misery than I had bargained for. Once again, I’d jumped the gun and overreacted to the possible scenario of not having the ability to buy our home, as its’ valuation came in unexpectedly high. I wrote the essay in the form of an open letter directly to my ex. In hindsight, it was surely an error in judgment, yet it set things in motion to where we are today.

When I first published my “open letter”, I was hesitant, but I submitted it anyway. I don’t know why, but I must’ve had an inner inkling that something would come of it, because I fell asleep thinking about it. By the morning, though, I had pretty much forgotten I had even written it, until he got home from work that night.

“I read your letter!”

(Dumbfounded silence from me.)

“Why? Why did you have to put it on the Internet?” he added, shaking his head.

I didn’t know. I had no answer. I was embarrassed, mostly. I didn’t regret what I had written. It was what I felt. But that question, “Why did you have to put it on the Internet?” kept echoing on and on in my mind. I felt foolish. Why would anyone do something like that? I’ve been thinking of how to answer that question for the better part of two weeks now.

I’ve always been an avid reader. I enjoy reading all sorts of written work. I especially value works that are honest and genuine, ones that come from both the heart and the mind. There is a certain authenticity to the writing that piques my interest, especially when the experiences and feelings depicted in the writing are ones I can relate to.

Writing has come to be another passion of mine, a natural extension of my love of reading. I have a lot of opinions and points of view and I find that writing is a viable vehicle for getting them out. Over the years, I’ve written many pieces on a wide variety of topics. I reviewed museums and cartoon cats for an alternative college newspaper. I’ve penned writing assignments for college on all sorts of both academic and social topics that have won praise from professors and peers alike. My Master’s thesis, “What Happened to the News?” was nominated for an annual university award for submitted dissertations. In recent years I’ve started a blog, “Rants” in which I share my views on issues I find newsworthy. I’ve more recently found outlets on amateur writing web sites, where I’ve found a new audience for my work. Like any other aspiring writer, I want to be successful.

Much of my writing is told from my experience, based on my views of the world. “Reflections of a Breakup” is the similar, in that I tell it as I see it, only it is based on my views of my own world. Writing in this manner is effortless, as I am only telling it the way I see it. It is my truth, right or wrong. Putting my feelings and experiences to paper is my way of working things out for myself.

When I started crafting “Reflections of a Breakup”, I thought I had a good thing going. I had a lot to get out of my system and I hoped that maybe it would be of some value to others, as the stories I read were valuable to me. Although I had seen our breakup coming for a long time, I hadn’t anticipated all of the feelings and experiences that would surface in my life. As time went and things started to change, I thought that it might be interesting enough to be read by others.

I was full of ideas. A twenty-year relationship between two men is not too common in the psyche of the average person. J and I, and all of the people around us, saw that we were not that different from any other couple. I actually consider myself lucky when compared to a married couple with children who are separating. Nonetheless, many of the experiences and feelings I’ve been facing are similar. Maybe some will learn from or identify with my story. Who knows? Like I said, I’ve got a lot of ideas and I’m sure more will come out as my chronicle unfolds.

Upon hearing that he had read the letter, and most likely the rest of the journal, I fell into a pit of uncertainty. Would have to end my little online journal? I struggled with how to move on. I had questions to be considered.

Can I still write as openly and honestly as I’ve planned?

How did he find out about this in the first place?

This one troubled me. Several of my friends know about this journal and have read it. Could one of them have given him the web address? Then again, he’s been successful before at finding things, like a password I had had once for a porn site (How did he figure that one out?) He gave no clue how he found it, just that he did. I can’t help but feel a bit uneasy. I’ve got to watch what I say from now on!

After wrestling with the question of halting this journal or continuing, I’ve decided to move on with my story. For whatever reason I choose to, it is of no one’s concern but my own. It’s my life and this is my therapy. Many bear their souls for the world to see. I share the same capacity for doing so. Why do we keep secrets anyway? We’ve all got these walls around us that we feel we must keep to ourselves in order to fit in. I’ve found that honesty is scary to people and many become hostile towards it. Who knows how we became that way, but we have. I could be naïve, but I think if we were all honest, the world would be better off. And I’m no angel in that regard. But I try!

I still find myself struggling day by day with our situation. It’s been almost six months now and we’re still under the same roof, each of us frustrated and anxious to move on with our lives. After the “letter”, we’ve moved ahead. We sort of came into an agreement and I’ve put my mortgage application in. Hopefully, both the end and the beginning are near.

Now that I can see it on the horizon, my feelings are more intensely awash with anticipation and sadness. On one hand, this is the first time in my life, at forty-three years of age, that I will be completely on my own, and the prospect that I alone will make the decisions that affect my life excites me. The future is what I will make of it. On the other hand, I dread the end, and the time left between now and then. Daily life has been so difficult! We live under the same roof, yet we’re in separate worlds. Sometimes I can’t wait for him to be out of the house and out of my life, and other times I feel nothing but sadness at the loss of my companion of twenty years. As time marches closer to the day when he leaves, I know it will be even more difficult. That day will be one of polar opposites; both the saddest and happiest days of my life.

So, I’m relieved that I’ve put the ball back into play. I realize that he’s probably going to read this, but at this point in time, I can’t worry about it. I’m doing what I feel I need to do. It helps me to get it out, and I hope it serves to inform, question, or even entertain anyone out there. This is my therapy and whoever is reading this, I want to thank you for listening to me!

Friday, February 8, 2008

Reflections of a Breakup, Part VI; An Open Letter

I hate the way things are going between us! Being forced to live together has been as rough on you as it has on me, I know that. I’m so frustrated now that I can’t begin to tell you what I’m feeling at this moment. But I feel I have to get them out…

I know I’ve always pegged you as the one who doesn’t communicate, but I have to admit that I’ve been doing my fair share of avoiding conversation, especially the past few weeks. I think my breakdown in communication comes out of fear. When we broke up, I told you that I loved you and I still do. This breakup has caused a lot of unexpected feelings and behaviors between us. I guess I was naïve to think that you’d been feeling the same things I was feeling, and were already at an emotional point in time where we could easily become the friends I thought we’d always be. At the time, I believed we could make that transition. I hate to say it, but right now I don’t believe that may ever happen.

Right now I feel like I’m at a moment where I’m going to find out whether or not my perceptions were real. I’ve questioned your feelings towards me for a long, long time and have always feared hearing the words, “I don’t love you” come out of your mouth. You told me once that you didn’t like me sometimes, and it really hurt!

Jay, I know deep inside that you love me. How could you not after twenty years together? I want to tell you here and now that I still love you and I always will. We’ve had a lot of good times…we were kindred spirits for over twenty years. This is a heartrending situation for both of us, just the same.

For a long time, I’ve felt la lot of guilt. I don’t know how much you regret what’s happened to us, or if you regret it at all. I can only guess. Outwardly, it turns out that I was the one who officially ended our relationship, so ever since I feel like the bad guy. Rationally, I don’t believe I am. I think that inside you’ve wanted this too, so I’m feeling some of the same sorts of hurt as you are.

I ask you here, for the sake of the next guy, to learn to open up more. I’ve always had to guess what you were thinking or feeling. You never really shared anything with me. It often led me to think that you didn’t really love me, that you had accepted what you’d gotten in life. That simply wasn’t good enough for me. I felt unloved, many times. It left me unhappy and unfulfilled, and I guess I’d just given up trying to believe otherwise the last few years.

In a way right now I feel powerless, and sorry for myself. I need to work this out alone, but I wonder where we go from here. When we first broke up, I had feelings that our house was special to you and that maybe you’d find a way to keep it. I wouldn’t have minded. You loved it at first sight, and taught me over time to appreciate its beauty. But I knew I was in a better position to do it, and I couldn’t picture it as any stranger’s home.

I was happy when you agreed to have me buy it, and I have to admit I’ve wanted to get past this quickly, to get on with my life. I’m sure you, too are looking forward to the day when we truly part ways. I dread it and look forward to it at the same time. I’m sure that day will be the toughest of all.

So here and now we face a test. You know I can’t afford the house at the price it was appraised for. We both underestimated the value it would come in at, by a lot. After my initial shock I’ve come to realize that I shouldn’t feel all this gloom and doom. I shouldn’t necessarily have to pay the price that the appraisal came in for, should I? If we put it on the market, do you think we’d really get that much money for it?

I see this situation as a breaking point, either an opportunity to let us part with the opportunity of salvaging some sort of a relationship, or a mechanism that will validate what I’d been feeling and sever our ties altogether. On one hand, I know you are kind-hearted. We share that trait, you know. I’m also scared that you’re going to play hardball with me, inflicting hurt upon me as maybe I’ve done to you. That would be the proverbial last straw on my back, bringing us to a place I never wanted to be, leading us further apart, and erasing happy memories of twenty years. I hope you’ll reflect on our lives together, and be fair with me. I deserve it, and I hope I can still buy this house not for just my sake, but for the sake of salvaging a special relationship with an old friend. That’s all!

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Musical reviews: Wicked

In 1995, Gregory McGuire's unique spin on the legendary Wicked Witch of the West captured a whole new audience for Wizard of Oz enthusiasts around the world. "Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West" casts the notorious character as a socially conscious, misunderstood figure who is a victim of her own circumstances. The depiction of the witch gives audiences an entirely new perspective on the classic tale. McGuire's novel became so popular that in 2003 was brought to the Gershwin Theater on Broadway and has quickly become one of the greatest Broadway shows of all time.

For over 100 years, Frank Baum's, "The Wizard of Oz" has fascinated generations with its mystical characters and magical themes. The characters have become iconic figures in American pop culture. "Wicked" takes a real-life approach to the development of the characters in the original story. In the end, we come to realize that the witch is not so wicked after all, but a misjudged human victimized by the conditions under which she finds herself.

The magical aura of the show hits visitors upon entering the world-famous Gershwin Theater. The far wall of the venue sports a gigantic atlas of the fictional country of Oz, over four stories tall. Ushers are clad in Ozian attire and the set is intricate and inviting to the eyes, setting up the lavish production that awaits the theater-goer.

The show opens with "No One Mourns the Wicked", celebrating the recent demise of the disreputable witch, who has just been destroyed by an innocent farm girl. The song poses the question, "Are people born wicked, or is wickedness thrust upon them?" Herein lies the central question of the production. At this point, the show segues to the time of the birth of Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West. The infant with the green skin and crooked teeth is the product of a lonely mother's infidelities and her lot in life has been thusly forged.

The play takes the audience on a journey through the life of McGuire's sympathetic incarnation of Baum's character. As protector of her sister Nessarose during their days at Shiz University, Elphaba is commonly misunderstood, judged and feared more for her jaded appearance than what lies beneath her greenish exterior. Armed with a strange gift for sorcery and a socially conscious mind, Elphaba attempts to fight the good fight, only to be publicly derided as an inherently evil sorceress by the Wizard and his government, to be feared and scorned by the people of Oz.

The story is a realistic depiction of the characters from Baum's original masterpiece, representing elements of the story in a convincing manner, one to which many can relate. The Wizard is the typical conniving master politician propagandizing events for his own purposes. The Emerald City feels like a real metropolis, filled with all the corruption and excitement, good and bad that depict any other large city. Spectators come to learn how the characters came to their circumstances in the first tale. Answers to unasked questions are revealed, such as: who are the other two witches in the story?; who are the Scarecrow and the Tin Man?; how did the Cowardly Lion become so cowardly?; how did the flying monkeys develop their wings?; and many more. Anyone familiar with the original will surely take interest in this fascinating twist on the tale.

For anyone who's ever been a fan of the Wizard of Oz and enjoys great special effects, great lyrics and a great story, get to the Gershwin Theater in New York or any other venue showing Wicked. And if you see one Broadway show in your lifetime, make Wicked the show you choose.

Wicked Tickets

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Getting control of your credit card debt

Today's economy has put a major squeeze on the wallets of the middle class. Stagnant wages and rising prices have placed millions of Americans in a position of having very little disposable income. Monthly bills gobble up earnings and very little is left for non-essentials, like dining and entertainment. Unforeseeable expenditures, such as the breakdown of an automobile or household appliance, leave consumers with no choice but to employ the use of their credit cards to cover the cost. As a result, credit card debt adds up quickly, saddling the consumer with finance charges that further diminish the financial situations of many.

Once a person becomes burdened with high debt, there is no easy way to reduce or even eliminate the liability, but there are things a person can do to manage credit card debt and put themselves on a path towards eliminating it altogether.

Make Minimum Payments on Time

- Paying minimum monthly payments on time is critical to maintaining a good credit rating. Sustaining a superior rating is vital to managing credit card debt. High-quality credit ratings allow the consumer a wider choice of options, which translates to lower APR's and faster diminishing of overall debt. With the deregulation of the financial industry in recent years, credit card companies have been afforded the option of assessing high fees and exorbitantly high interest rates, with little recourse for the consumer. Maintaining a good credit rating only gives consumers clout in any negotiations with banks, as these are the customers they desire.

Consolidate Credit Card Debt to Lower Interest Accounts

- Lower interest rates mean smaller finance charges. The intent is consolidating your credit card balances to the lowest possible APR available in order to pay down those balances.
- Credit consolidation offers generally come in two forms:

o A balance transfer offer from an existing credit card company, with which the consumer already does business, or

o Offers/invites to apply for a new account

- In reviewing balance transfer offers, it is critical to read the fine print and the disclosures carefully. Balance transfer offers usually come with a fee of 3-5% of the amount transferred. In addition, most offers stipulate that future payments are applied primarily to these transferred balances, further cementing the debt that's already carried at the previous, higher APR. Taking these two factors into consideration, only you should be able to determine whether or not these conditions will help or hinder your goal of reducing your finance charges and therefore your overall debt.

- Another important consideration in analyzing consolidation offers is the length of time offered at the lower rate. Many agreements offer a choice of either a super low rate (sometimes even 0%) for a limited time or a slightly higher one that will be in effect until the balance is paid off. The lower, limited rate can be tempting, but should only be chosen if it will help remedy the specific financial situation of the borrower in the long run. Oftentimes, the low rate offer for the longer period is more beneficial.

Seek Professional Advice

- One benefit to arise out of the debt crisis has been the advent of debt counseling services. The notion of debt counseling, as opposed to debt consolidation, is providing people to manage their debt without ascertaining new debt. Quality debt advisement businesses offer a wide range of services to help consumers manage their debt. Such services include, but are not limited to:

o Offering budgeting advice to consumers who have difficulty managing their expenditures.

o Negotiating with credit card companies on their behalf, to help alleviate the burden of high payments as well as finance charges, in some cases. In most cases, multiple monthly payments can be consolidated into one, more manageable sum.

o Professional analysis of one's overall financial situation to determine the best options for you.

- As with any other business service in the market, many predatory businesses exist within this booming industry. They offer promises to those in need, preying on those who could least afford to be victimized by such actions. It is vital to perform some thorough research in finding a valid credit counseling service. Determining the legitimacy of any debt counseling company will only serve to benefit you in your search for some valid help. The National Foundation for Credit Counseling (http://www.nfcc.org/) is a nonprofit agency that provides links to all sorts of services related to credit counseling.

Cut Back on Spending and Cut into Your Debt with a Small Daily Expenditure that You Can Afford

- Have you ever heard the quote, "Pay yourself first?" A couple of years ago, renowned financial adviser Suzy Ormon was on the Oprah Winfrey show giving tips on financial health. During the show, she suggested taking a small sum of money that you might spend needlessly on a daily basis, such as for lunch or coffee and putting it into a savings account. Ten dollars was her recommended amount. With this measure, a person would save $3650 in just one year without putting too much of a strain on their wallet. For people heavily in debt, this is surely a beneficial way to chip away at that large stone of debt, whether it's ten dollars daily or even five.

Clearly, credit card debt is a major issue in the lives of millions of Americans. There is no magic pill for eliminating it all at once, but there are several options to help you effectively manage that credit card debt and make your way towards financial freedom. Above all, it is important to take a step back and explore all options thoroughly and decide on a plan that's best for you.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Reflections of a Breakup, Part V: The Friends

Within a week of the breakup, the phone stopped ringing. At first, I hadn't really noticed, but eventually the silence of the telephone became louder and louder to the point of being deafening. One day, all of a sudden, it hit me. People had become afraid to call the house.

I can certainly understand the reasons people have hesitated dialing our number. I've come to realize that an unexpected consequence of our breakup has been the effect it's had on our friends and family.

During a relationship, especially a long one, the circle of people who've come to view you as part of a couple grows and grows with time. Longtime friends of one partner forge relationships with the other. Each becomes a welcome and loved member of the other's family. Along the way, new friendships are forged with people you've met together and all of these people become an important facet in the lives of both individuals.

The dissolution of a relationship is a loss, much like the passing away of a loved one. Friends and family members need time to adjust and grieve the loss of these individuals as a couple. Friends who hold no loyalty to either individual probably have it the hardest. Although they end up gaining two 'new' friends, there's no question that the loss of the couple is lamentable especially to them. We've got two such special people in our lives.

Probably the one friend who's kept his head through all of this is our friend 'Dit'. Dit was a friend of a friend of mine from before our relationship, but we had never met until during the early days of my relationship. My friend Blanche used to bring Dit around for nights out at local gay clubs. Eventually club nights turned into dinners, plays, and other excursions for the four of us. Over the years, each of us has gotten closer to Dit, and when we broke up he was surely one of those friends neither of us wanted to lose from our lives.

For me, Dit has been a shoulder to cry on, an empathetic ear, and a source of endless laughs to make me forget my problems. He's made it clear through his actions that he has no intention of losing either one of us as a friend, which is admirable. Unlike family members and past friends, Dita is the non-partisan of non-partisans, making an honest and true effort not to break the link he's made with each of us.

He makes time for both of us and that's the way it should be. As a matter of fact, he's one of the first people to call the house phone since the breakup. I know both my ex and I are glad he'll still be around in both our lives. He's a true friend!

Ms. T and Miss Margaret are two ladies we met when we bought our home. They are a very cool mother/daughter duo. They lived across the street from us and soon after we moved in they rolled the venerable welcome wagon to our doorstep. They had both recently taken an interest in gay people and wanted to make some new friends. They had met another gay couple from the neighborhood and invited us all to a barbecue. From the start, the two of them gave us nothing but love and kindness and the four of us have been like family ever since.

Like everybody else, our breakup has been saddening for these two, especially Ms. T, who still lives across the street. Like Dit, Ms. T has maintained a steady line of communication with both of us. She's made it clear from the beginning that she has no intentions of losing either one of us from her life. And that's the way we'd both like it to be. She's always been a dear and caring friend, often sending over some extra food she'd been cooking up, inviting us over for a drink or a chat. The only thing that's changed since the breakup is that now the visits are with us separately.

A breakup is difficult for everyone involved. The grieving process is not only for the separated individuals, but for those who knew and loved them together. Mutual friends have the most complicated of dilemmas, and we've been lucky enough to have two friends like Dit and Ms. T who work to maintain their relationships with both of us. So, to them I say bravo and thank you.

Push and Pull


Like many who came before
From distant corners of the globe
Pushed from home
Fleeing calamity
Hunger, Poverty, War

The United States
Land of Dreams
Pulling those seeking a better life
Offering hope and optimism
To the downtrodden, the desperate

They’ve come to this New World
For several hundred years now
In crashing waves from different places at different times
Only to face new struggles
In a new land

“They’re taking our jobs.”
“They’re stealing our money.”
“They don’t want to speak English.”
“Send them all back to where they came from.”
They’ve all taken turns bearing the brunt

Eventually each group melds into the giant pot
Becoming a part of a new America
Time and time again
And the wave we have crashing over our shores now
Will, too

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Reflections of a Breakup, Pt. IV – In a Daze

I’ve been somewhat at a loss to know where to go from here. I want to be careful not to sound too much like a broken record, reliving the same experiences over and over again in my writing. I feel like I have a lot I want to get out, yet the ups and downs of daily life have clouded my focus of late.

For the past couple of weeks I’ve been contemplating two issues that envelop the situation I find myself in. The state of affairs concerning my friends and getting back into the dating game are each worthy topics for discussion, and both deserve individual consideration. For now, I’ll just preface the two issues and save the more focused discussions for another time.

The parting of my lover and I after such a long relationship has had a profound effect on the people in our lives. I hadn’t anticipated the kid gloves that had been placed on anyone who knew us as a couple. The issue has been a dynamic one, changing from day to day. Naturally, we’ve both got friends in our respective corners, but that’s hasn’t been a major issue. The people who harbor no loyalty to one over the other are the ones that have presented the most challenging of situations.

Getting back into the singles game is another topic that has consumed much of my attention and driven me to the emotional highs and lows I’ve been experiencing. I think that the conditions surrounding this situation are unique to same sex relationships. I see a dynamic that exists when two people of the same sex enter into a romantic relationship. There is a certain level of competitiveness that exists both during the relationship and after. I’ve never been known to have a high self-esteem, and this has done nothing to help.

These two conditions have become all-consuming and have worked to put me in a really dark place. It has long been my hope that keeping an online journal such as this would help me to get some of my feelings out there, to help me heal. Unfortunately, at the moment my mind is in somewhat of a hazy state, and hopefully soon I’ll be able to continue what I’ve started.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Gayspeak: Is There a Gay Language?

Can you tell if someone is gay by the way they speak? Are there any types of physical, or linguistic, characteristics about certain people's speech that would make one think that person is gay? Or is it the words they use? What they say? Is it their body language? I asked these questions of ten people to find out what they think. Many of them had trouble pinpointing just what makes certain people sound "gay", but were sure that they would recognize it when they heard it.

As a student of linguistics, I find this subject quite interesting. I had never contemplated the possibility of a linguistic aspect to gay speech until I started thinking about it. If there are physical characteristics of gay speech, do they have an effect on how people view gays? In his collection of essays, "Gayspeak: Gay Male and Lesbian Communication" (Cheesbro, James W., Ed., 1981), James W. Cheesbro argues that "Communication-how gay men and lesbians relate to one another as well as to heterosexuals-is the major factor that determines public opinion about homosexuality."

How does the general public observe gay and lesbian communication? Is it through daily interaction with gays? I don't believe so, for the majority of people anyway. I believe that the prime exposure to gays for the general public is in the media. Inclusion of gays and lesbians in movies and television shows is now more common than ever before. Does the portrayal of gays in movies and television give an accurate view of gays and their communication characteristics?

These and other questions will be addressed herein. For the purposes of this essay, I will analyze these questions as they pertain to gay men only, as it is their speech "characteristics" I wish to uncover.

What's In a Name?

1924- "The NY Times first uses the word 'homosexual'".
1950's- "The NY Times routinely uses the word 'perverts' to describe homosexuals."1969- "The Los Angeles Times is boycotted for refusing to allow the word 'homosexual' to appear in any advertising."
1984- "The Wall Street Journal begins using the word 'gay' as an adjective, followed by the NY Times three years later."(Source- www.glinn.com/index.htmhist1)

Clearly, journalistic language has changed over time in talking about homo-sexuality. Many wonder how the word 'gay' became an adjective for homosexuals. Its origin and use as an adjective for homosexuals has always been fodder for discussion. After all, the word historically signified lively, happy, joyous, and bright. Traditionally, the derogatory words 'pervert', 'pansy', 'faggot', and 'queer' had been used by heterosexuals to describe homosexuals. It must have been a homosexual who came up with the use of this word, which has a more positive connotation

"The homosexual meaning of the word 'gay' actually goes back to the late 19th century. It happened during London's Cleveland Street scandal of 1889, during which a male prostitute, testifying in court, described himself as gay." (New words For Old- Howard, Philip-1977) It cannot be proven that this is the true origin of the word relating to homosexuality. Regardless, the word gay is now a part of all of our mental dictionaries as referring to homosexuals and not 'happy', 'joyous', or 'bright'.

A Gay Language

One of the questions I wanted to address in this essay with regard to people's perceptions of gays was the use of words in the gay community. I think that most people are aware of a gay slang, just as other slangs like African-American, Jewish slang, Hispanic slang, or any other slang. Usually one must be in the group to know its slang, but there are many words in gay slang that are known to all of us, such as drag queen, butch, or bull dyke. Do the words in this slang contribute to how gays are perceived by the general public?

In my research, I came upon a web site dedicated to a gay slang language that I had never heard of before. It's called 'Polari', and it originated within the homosexual subculture of late 18th century England. These homosexuals mixed with "the gypsies, tramps and thieves of popular song to produce a rich cross-fertilization of customs, phrases and traditions. As the Industrial Revolution dramatically changed settlement patterns, more and more people drifted away from villages and small communities and moved to larger towns in search of work and opportunity......A linguistic culture developed, feeding into that profession traditionally associated with poofs and whores: theater." (http://www.polari.com/)

So, at first 'parlarey', was known as a travelling showmen's language. It was never clearly defined as a language. "An ever-changing collection of slang from various sources including Italian, English, circus slang, 'canal-speak', Yiddish, and Gypsy languages." Although now considered a dead language, Polari has left behind many words still used in the gay communities. Here's a small word list from Polari of words still in use today:

basket- the bulge of male genitals through his clothes
bod- bodybona-
goodbutch- masculine lesbian
camp- effeminate
cottage- public loo (sex in restrooms)
dish- an attractive male; buttocks
drag- women's clothes
fantabulosa- wonderul
fruit- queen
hoofer- dancer
ogles- eyes
shyker- wig
trade- sex
troll- to walk about (looking for trade)

Some of the words on this list might be familiar to the average person, such as drag, butch, camp, etc. But most of the words on this list are still in use by gays today. Gay slang, however, does not owe all of its words to Polari.

Just the other day, a popular radio talk show carried on a long discussion about the word 'breeder'. A news story had run about a heterosexual man who had been fired by his gay boss. He was claiming wrongful termination and says he was let go because he was straight. He claims he was repeatedly called a 'breeder' by his predominantly gay co-workers and boss. As it turns out, this word is used by homosexuals to describe heterosexuals. The radio show hosts questioned the very existence of this word and asked listeners to call in if they had any information. Within a couple of minutes, a gay man called in and confirmed the existence and use of the word.

Other newer words have also come into today's gay slang dictionary. Here's a short list:

fag hag- straight female who prefers the company of gay men

PLU- acronym for 'People Like Us'

queer- used by gays as a positive connotation for homosexuality

dish- gossip

Communication between gays, what they say as opposed to how they say it, is quite unique. For instance, many gay males use alternate "lady-names", used as a form of address within gay circles. It's quite common for gay men to use the names of women when they are in social settings. I once knew a group of friends who named themselves after each of "The Golden Girls". (Blanch, Dorothy, etc.)

Portrayal of Gays in Television

As I noted earlier, the most common place to see a gay person today is either in the movies or on television. With each passing year, more and more gay characters come into our lives through these mediums. I believe that the public's perceptions about gays are most influenced here. Just as labels of gays and gay slang have changed through the years, so has the media portrayal of homosexuals.

Over the last 25 years or so, gays have mostly been portrayed as a source of comedy, both in television and cinema. When Jack Tripper (played by John Ritter) had to pretend he was gay on the hit 70's TV series "Three's Company", we all laughed at his 'gay' antics in his interaction with the landlord, Mr. Roper.

The 80's brought the sketch comedy series, "In Living Color", which featured a regular skit entitled "Men On...". This vignette centered around two overtly gay hosts of a talk show who reviewed movies, television shows, and travel spots. The skits were very funny and they coined many a phrase for the water cooler. ("Then we went back to Greece!", "Two snaps up!", and "Jewel, the gum that explodes in your mouth!") However, these men were outrageously portrayed as very effeminate and came to be known as 'typical' homosexuals by many a viewer.

The 1990's brought even more gays into our living rooms. "Will and Grace" has become a hit show with not one, but two main gay characters. Although a little different than their portrayal in "Three's Company" and "In Living Color", these characters still seem to have the same 'gay' qualities as they did before: flamboyant and effeminate. These words seem synonymous with the word gay, partly from television, but even more so in film.

Homosexuality in Film

The documentary, The Celluloid Closet, chronicles the history of gays and how they have been portrayed in movies. It's a good documentary, with some excellent points of view narrated by stars such as Lily Tomlin and Whoopi Goldberg. Some excerpts of narration from the film, which relate to this paper, follow:

-"In a hundred years of movies, homosexuality has only rarely been depicted on the screen. When it did appear, it was there as something to laugh at---or something to pity--or even something to fear. These were fleeting images, but they were unforgettable, and they left a lasting legacy. Hollywood, that great maker of myths, taught straight people what to think about gay people.....and gay people what to think of themselves."

-"From the very beginning, movies could rely on homosexuality as a surefire source of humor."

-"The sissy---Hollywood's first gay stock character. The sissy made everyone feel more manly or more womanly by occupying the space in between. He didn't seem to have a sexuality, so Hollywood allowed him to thrive."

-"The production code didn't erase homosexuals from the screen.-----Now they had a new identity, as cold blooded villains."

-"Hollywood had learned to write movies between the lines. And some members of the audience had learned to watch them that way."

-"Whenever the subject turned serious, and actual sex was suggested, out came the blue pencil, the scissors and the scene."

-"The long silence is finally ending. New voices have emerged, open and unapologetic. They tell stories that have never been told----about people that have always been there."

The award winning documentary tells us a lot about how Hollywood has shaped the public's views on homosexuals. The film takes us to the late 1980's, around the time of Academy Award winning Philadelphia, starring Tom Hanks. Since then, even more movies have been released featuring gay characters in lead roles. Such hit movies as Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, The Birdcage, In & Out, Love, Valor, Compassion, and countless others have shown gays to exhibit the same stereotypes, for the most part. Much of what makes up this stereotype that I speak of is clearly the way gays talk, which brings us back to my original question:

Can You Tell If Someone Is Gay By the Way They Talk?

I did not pose this question on a survey. Rather, I randomly asked a handful of people, from students at the university to other friends and relatives, during the course of normal conversation. With each conversation, I became more and more interested in their answers. Here's a synopsis of what they said:

-Can you tell if someone is gay by how they talk?

Not one person answered yes. All of them either said no or sometimes. To those who said no, I asked them to think of a time when they've ever overheard someone talking and thought that they were gay. Each time I said this, the person acknowledged that scenario at one time or another. So, the final consensus among my subjects is that 'sometimes' is the right answer.

-When you can tell, what is it about their speech that tells you that they are gay? (I was attempting to get some answers that I could put into linguistic data).

It is here that I got the most interesting answers. Many of the subjects had to think hard about it. Some of their answers are as follows:-

"They talk high."-

"They speak with lisps."

"They use [s] a lot."

"They stress things"

"They make words longer."

These answers were similar in scope for each of the subjects. Many of them said that body language and the content of their words were also signs, but I would make it clear to each of them that I was specifically referring to their speech. Before I began my research, I tried to find my own ideas of what makes a person "sound" gay. I must say, the subjects seemed to concur with my ideas.

I came up with three factors, or characteristics, of gay speech. One of them is that they seem to have a higher pitch than the average masculine voice. As mentioned in one of the excerpts from the Celluloid Closet, "the sissy occupied the space between manly and womanly." I believe that this pitch, or tone, difference is accounted for in this statement.

The next physical characteristic of gay speech is phonological. I'm not sure exactly how to describe it, but it seems that gay men who fall under the category of speaking 'gay' emphasize fricatives, especially [s] and [z]. Or they make them longer than the average person would. There's also an almost dental quality to these sounds, commonly associated with a lisp, as one of the people I spoke to pointed out.

Finally, gays seem to stress words more emphatically than most. One of the main characters on Will and Grace, Jack, tends to do this often. The strongest word stress is usually on the last word in a statement. I'm not too familiar with the patterns of intonation, but I'd hazard a guess that a different intonation pattern exists here as well.

Obviously, these characteristics of gay speech are not characteristics of every gay man's speech. Not all gays speak in this manner. In fact, there are many heterosexual men who seem to possess these physical characteristics associated with gay speech. Unfortunately, a good portion of the general public believe that this is indeed how gay people talk. Yet another stereotype that exists in this world! The better part of blame for this rests clearly on the powers that be in the film and television industry. In order to make us laugh, these, and other stereotypical characteristics of gay men, have been quite often exaggerated by Hollywood. From the high pitched wails of Nathan Lane in The Birdcage, to Blaine and Antoine's 'Sssuper Bowl Sssunday Ssspecial' on In Living Color, to "Just Jack!" on Will and Grace, many of us believe that all gay people talk in this manner.

So, can we tell if someone is gay by how they talk? Not really. Of course, the depictions we see of homosexuals in the tv shows and movies are based partly on fact. So realistically gay speech characteristics do exist, but not in all gay men. Many gays do speak in a higher pitch, emphasize their s's and z's, and use different patterns of phrasal stress or intonation. It is these common characteristics in their speech that we have now come to know as Gayspeak.

A Moment of Change

Ever since I was a young boy, I've always dreamed of traveling around the world. Far away places like Europe, Australia, the Far East, Egypt, India, and even the American west, especially California, have always intrigued me. I come from a lower middle class socio-economic background, so I never really had the opportunity to travel much as a child. The only family vacation I ever went on was to Lake George in upstate New York.

As a young adult, I had my first opportunity to take a first excursion to an exotic place. After deciding to take a trip, a friend and I visited a local travel agency. We were excited at the prospect of travelling, yet not really sure where we wanted to go. We just knew we wanted to go somewhere fascinating and different than Long Island. Upon entering the agency, we immediately noticed an advertisement for Aruba, an island off the coast of Venezuela. The picture in the advertisement was your typical 'tropical paradise' advertisement, featuring white sandy beaches, crystal bluish-green water, palm trees, and of course, beautiful bikini-laden models sunning themselves with bright smiles on their faces and frosty margaritas in their hands. It was inviting, to say the least.

As the travel agent invited us to have a seat at her desk, we were immediately taken in by the alluring poster. She asked us where we wanted to visit, and we both simultaneously pointed to the picture. So, it was decided. We were going to Aruba. I've been hooked on travelling ever since.

Since that first marvelous trip in 1985, I visited Aruba twice more, both times with my ex-"other half." But overall, travelling has always been difficult, as I inherited poor money management skills from my parents and could never really afford to take the exotic vacations I always dreamed of taking. I have however managed to take small trips to places I could visit by car. This mode of travel is less expensive than flying, but the destinations were not as exotic.

There was a weeklong rainy holiday in Virginia Beach, a couple of weekend trips to Boston and Vermont, and a pilgrimage to the roller coaster capital of the world, Cedar Point, in Sandusky, Ohio. (Roller coasters are my second love.) I've taken many trips to Florida, to visit old friends who became some of the many a transplanted New Yorkers living in the state. Finally, in 2000, we took a spectacular cruise to Bermuda. That has been the extent of my travels, until 2002

Life Change: Dare to Reach for Your Dreams

The year 2000 was a spiritual awakening, of sorts, for me. In January, I left a stable, yet unsatisfying job after fifteen years, to escape what was a miserable vocation. Unfortunately, I went from a job in the financial field to one in the insurance field. In other words, I jumped from the frying pan into the proverbial fire.

Five months into my new 'career' in insurance, I was still unhappy. My partner and I drove down to Virginia to meet up with some old friends and a relaxing weekend away from our jobs. It was during this weekend that I had a revelation. One of our friends had graduated from law school about a year earlier, and he had just left his position at a Washington DC law firm because he was unhappy with being a lawyer. He was returning to school to learn the library sciences, something he had been interested in for a long time.

On the ride home, I began to think about our friend's perennial quest for happiness in life. I envied him. I wished I had the know-how and the chutzpah to take such daring risks to find my own happiness. I was sick and tired of unsatisfying jobs which didn't even provide me with a comfortable life, financially. I decided to quit the very next day.

I cashed in my pension fund and my 401K to go back to college. I delved back into the past twenty years of my life to try and figure out what I needed to do with my life. After much soul-searching and introspection, I decided to pursue a career in teaching English to speakers of other languages. This would be the perfect vocation for me, as I have the patience, intelligence and personality to be a good teacher. As an added bonus, a teaching career would give forth a lot of time to travel.

This decision was a turning point in my life. As of the time of this writing, I am closer than ever to realizing that dream of becoming a teacher. During that momentous summer, I gained a new outlook on life. I began to believe that life is wasted if you don't try to reach for your dreams. Also, the time is never too late to start. I've seen far too many people giving up on their dreams without ever trying to reach for them, and I think that's sad.

Go to Italy, Are You Crazy?

With this new attitude, I decided that I wanted to pursue the ultimate vacation: Italy. My father was born in Italy some sixty-one years ago, and my mother's grand-parents came from there at the turn of the century. As such, to me, Italy was not just a land of beauty and splendor, but the place from which I have descended.

My true inspiration for this voyage was my Aunt Vi. Aunt Vi is now ninety-nine years of age. She is the sister of my mother's mother. She's a widow, surviving Uncle Tony for over twenty years now. About seven years ago, Uncle Tony's grand nephew was getting married in Florence. His mother, Uncle Tony's niece, was financially well-off at the time, and invited aunt Vi to the wedding and to spend two weeks with her and her husband travelling around Italy. Aunt Vi was then eighty eight years old.

During her lifetime, Aunt Vi had never traveled outside of the country. This trip was to be her first foray to Europe. And she was going to Italy, the place both of her parents came from. I was very excited for her.

Needless to say, her trip was fabulous. I couldn't wait for her to come home so hear all of the tales of wonderment of the things she saw. She began her trip in Florence, (for the wedding), then wandered southward towards Rome and Naples, and finally the Amalfi coast and Capri. The Amalfi coast intrigued me the most, for the pictures she brought back were spectacular in nature.

During her journey, she chronicled her adventures in a journal, which became the source of inspiration for this book. She not only saw the best Italy had to offer, but she did it first class all the way. I was happy for her, and it gave me the initial hunger to want to visit this ancient land of beauty and splendor.
My parent's families hail from various parts of Italy. Dad is from Trieste, a seaside city nestling the Italy's northeastern border with Slovenia, not too far from Venice. On my mother's side, southern Italy is represented. Her father's families, the Randazzos, hail from Sicily, while her mom's family, both the Piccarellis and Caratus called the region of Campania Salerno home. So naturally, I wanted first and foremost to see these places.

When I first brought the idea up to Joe, he thought I was crazy. I just quit my job to return to school full-time and his salary was meager, at best. But, I felt determined. I planned the trip to take place two years later, giving us plenty of time to plan and save. We fought about it a couple of times, and he finally told me, "Fine, you save and make the arrangements and I'll go."

I knew he didn't believe I would do it, but for two years, I scrimped and saved a dollar here, a dollar there. I broke bills to make change for rolling coin. I worked extra deejay jobs for whatever money I could make. I stole singles from my partner's pockets each morning. Within a year, I had saved over three thousand dollars. By the first day of our trip, we had enough saved to enjoy it comfortably.

And so, we went to Italy. All because I believed! Dreams can be turned into reality with a little faith and a little perseverance. The trip was the most spectacular of both of our lives, and I hope to return in the next couple of years.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Teaching English as a second language

English language learners are becoming more and more populous in today's classrooms. I work in a school district where only five years ago there were only two ESL students. Today there are over forty. In the past five years, many of the mainstream teachers were faced with new challenges that they had never had to deal with before. The following is a short, handy guide I've written for the teachers in my school for whom non-English speaking students presented a whole new set of challenges in their teaching. I hope this will be handy for any teacher who's new at dealing with the ESL population in their classroom.

Working with ESL Students

What do you do when you get an English Language Learner in your classroom? Quite often, they don't understand anything that's being said around them, which can result in frustration on both your part and the students'. Unfortunately, in our real world, there is simply no magic ESL school where they can spend their entire days learning both English and content area domains under the teaching of a trained specialist. Under our educational system, they must be in your classrooms.

People ask me all the time, "What other language do you speak?" My reply is always, "I speak a little Spanish, but that's not important."

In my career as an ESL teacher, I've had students from many language backgrounds. Turkish, Vietnamese, Haitian Creole, and yes, Spanish! It's just not possible, though, for someone to be able to speak all of these languages. The following is some of what I do in my classroom and hopefully you can take into account when you have any of my students sitting in yours.



-Make use of graphic organizers, charts, diagrams, TPR (Total Physical Response the use of commands with physical modeling- think of "Simon Says".)

Write it down

-If you're giving an assignment out, without the use of a ditto, its sometimes critical for ESL students to have that little extra.

Keep it Simple

-If an ESL Student doesn't seem to understand what you're saying, try and find another way to say it. Here are some examples:

Contractions use "you are", as opposed to "you're" -Simplify the language, not the concept -Ask Yes/No or other simple questions, not open ended ones.

The Students

-Don't confuse English language proficiency with intelligence -In many cases, ESL students (including some in this district!) come from countries where school is not compulsory and they've missed out on chunks of school time.

The greatest bit of advice to any teacher with ESL students in their classroom is to keep these tidbits in mind, and STAY IN TOUCH with the ESL teacher. Remember, ESL teachers are trained in teaching these students with effective and proven methodologies. Not only are they responsible for teaching these students how to read, write, speak and understand English, but to support them in what they do in your classroom. So do yourself a favor if you haven't done so already, say hello to the ESL teacher in your school!

Friday, January 18, 2008

Reflections of a Breakup, Pt. III: Moving On

Tonight, I'm a little tired, mentally and physically. After having experienced the euphoria of some much needed attention the past couple of weeks, I guess I'm experiencing a little bit of a letdown. It's funny how your moods change with time. It seems a week ago I was full of hope and excitement, and today I feel tired and weary.

Being single and in my forties, I can't help but feel a sense of loss for the years spent seemingly wasted on a relationship I always knew deep down inside would end eventually. Why didn't I act sooner? If I had, I wouldn't be dealing with all this worry now. Who knows where I'd be?

I guess I'm not all that different from most. I am of the human species, after all. Neither the things that I want to be doing or the things that I should be doing ever seem to get done. I've become a serial procrastinator, focusing my attention on distractive activities that prevent me from thinking about the decisions I need to make. I need to act. Soon!

I've seen the breakup coming for a long time. I cannot wait until I am living on my own. At the beginning, I believed that when that day came I would have feelings of regret for making such a rash decision. I realize now that although it will be difficult at first, I will finally be able to make my own decsions about anything. The worst thing about being in a cohabitational relationship, to me, is having to answer for everything that I do. I don't like to having to answer for why I turned on certain light, why I'm watching a particular program or why I took an extra long shower.

At this moment, we are both on our laptops looking for appraisers to help start the process of me buying the house. He seems as eager as I to move things along. It's another singing reminder that the breakup was, at it's heart, a mutual thing. I feel eagerness still, but also sadness and fear to get moving on this.

I long with anticipation to be alone. I've yearned for it a long time, much longer than the elapsed time since our breakup. I want to spread my wings, the wings that have been motionless for far too long. Yet, the melancholy aura that presented itself in the aftermath of our split still surrounds me I feel sad that this division of two lives is not only the dismantling a relationship, but the eradication of a friendship that I believed would always be there. I've come to realize that I've been incredibly naive in thinking that it would. Ultimately, buying the house opens a scary, and potentially uplifting or disastrous new world.

Right now, I'm struggling, financially. I make a good salary, yet my bills practically take it all. Fortunately, I've managed to keep good credit due to the decisions I've made to pay my bills and not spend my cash. I worry, though...how am I going to do this? I can say with honesty that at this moment, I still don't know.

So he's searching for appraisers, too. Maybe he's just as eager to move on as I am. I can understand that, but it's still a harsh reminder that only validates my feelings of being unloved and my subsequent decision to end it all...he wanted out as much as I did! His self-depreciation is stronger than mine, so I think he could just never bring himself to do anything about it. My feelings of guilt at being the victimizer have subsided. I have to live through the realization that it was more of a mutual thing.

So, it's time! Tomorrow I'm going to make that phone call and order an appraisal on the house. It's time to take that leap over the edge and into my new life...

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Personal Diet Secrets

I hate the word diet! Going on a diet brings to mind images of people suffering through the unpleasant experiences of portion-rationing, skipping favorite foods, and consuming eccentric foods that they wouldn't normally eat. Any person who entertains the idea of dieting would fare better by taking a good look at how they arrived at their unwelcome body image in the first place, then committing to changing the habits that got them there.

In my experience, the only true way to achieve the body you desire is to make pledge to changing your adverse body-affecting habits. The key is not only changing your eating patterns, but to also commit to getting some exercise. Only a combination of the two will result in a lasting effect.

There are all sorts of diets out there. Many of them deliver on their promise of weight loss. Unfortunately, though, the weight loss is usually short-lived. The problem with most diets is that they stress the means to lose weight, but don't help to change the habits that will keep the weight off. Yes, the dieter does adhere to some sort of a routine, an eating schedule that can only last for so long.

I learned bad eating habits at a young age. I was always told I was "big-boned". During my formative years, I would spend my afternoons in front of the television eating any kind of cookie or chip I could get my hands on. It wasn't until the tenth grade that I realized I was heavy. One day, in gym class, we were given our yearly physicals. Part of the examination included height and weight measurements. When my weight was read at a whopping 256 pounds, I was devastated.

In the ensuing years, I tried many diets, shedding pounds only to regain them eventually. My self-esteem ebbed and flowed throughout. Although I never reached that weight again, I never attained my ideal body until I realized it wasn't about diets, it was about the desire within me to make some changes. The changes were twofold: change the way I ate and get some exercise.

Tips for Better Eating

- Stay away from fast food Did you ever see the movie "Supersize Me"? If you did, you'd realize that fast food is nothing but poison, threatening both your health and your look. I know we've all indulged in the familiar tastes of Big Macs and Whoppers, but they're not good for us on a regular basis.

- Cook more I've discovered that another contributor to obesity in America is fast food of another sort. Today's supermarkets are filled with foods designed for quick and easy meals that can sit in your freezer for months, to be eaten on a lazy night long after you've forgotten it was even there. Keeping the frozen lasagnas, Salisbury steaks, and pizzas to a minimum is a good thing. Try cooking with fresh ingredients. Take a good look around and you'll see that there are plenty of quick and easy things you can prepare which are much more healthy and tasty to consume.

- Eat regularly - To fend off the hunger impulses, munch on small snacks throughout the day. The key word here is small. If you eat one or two cookies between lunch and dinner, you'll find that you'll be less likely to reach for a second portion of a delicious meal. Maybe even exchange something healthier for the cookie, like a granola bar. Small steps like this one set the tone for a bigger overall change.

- Eat Slowly I was always a fast eater. (The reasons why could be the basis for a whole other topic. As such, I was always able to fit more food into my mouth and stomach before I realized I'd really had enough. I've made a conscious effort to slow it down, and I've found that I've become less likely to reach for seconds as a result.

Get Some Exercise

Exercise, or expending calories, is a must for anyone looking to take weight off and keep it off. I love to eat all kinds of foods. I decided a long time ago that I wouldn't deprive myself of the foods I enjoy just because I wanted to look good. About three years ago, I became turned on to getting off of my couch and getting some exercise by a program I had seen but never watched.

"Gilad's Bodies in Motion", on Fit TV, is a show that's been around for years. It was filmed in the late eighties/ early nineties on the beaches of Hawaii. I soon started to exercise every day with Gilad and his friends. It was fun and not too strenuous. I kept at it and though the results were not immediate, eventually I began to notice results. The show's workout is well rounded and short enough not to be something I dreaded doing. The compliments soon started coming my way, and motivated to keep going.

I've since expanded my at home workouts. It's become a new habit.' As I haven't give up eating the things I love to eat, I can attest to the fact that committing to any exercise is a necessary addition to any diet.' I am 43 years old and in the best physical shape of my life. I only wish I had come to this simple, yet obvious realization sooner.