Thursday, July 24, 2014

Kiss and (Not) Tell

I don't care for my hometown. It's full of awkward memories from growing up. Someday's I'm amazed that I made it out. The world is so much bigger than this place. The people are more open minded and less judgmental. And there is no sushi here. The East Coast has spoiled me with all the fresh seafood that I can gorge myself with. I'm starting to feel like the East Coast is home.

A lot of the awkward memories from my hometown align with my problems fitting in when I was younger. I was always the tall, gawky kid. Oh, and I was also the gay kid. I've evolved though- I'm been promoted to "gay law student". I've come a long ways! I've made peace with the fact that, any title I hold, I will be known in my hometown as the "gay" something- gay lawyer, gay father, gay couple, gay runner, gay writer, gay gay gay. I don't mind it, although I do hate when friends refer to me as their "gay friend". Can't I just be their "friend"? And for that matter, I don't want to be "gay married". I just want to be "married". Not anytime soon, though. I can hardly commit to a cellphone plan, let alone another human being for the rest of my life.

Since moving away from my hometown, I feel like I've started to gain an identity; that I'm growing into the person who I am supposed to be. This is impressive, given that I am usually the type of person who will forsake my identity for approval from another. I used to it when I was a little kid- forsaking my identity so as to gain approval from the other kids on the playground. I would forget about my interests and hobbies and conform to their standards and adopt their interests and hobbies so as to become their friend. As I grew older and started dating, I found myself doing the same thing. Not only would I forsake my individuality and identity for the person I was dating at the time, but I also found myself lowering my expectations and standards of the people that I dated so that they would meet my expectations. It was only with experience that did I (very recently) learn why this didn't work. I was lowering my expectations and standards with the hopes that the person I was dating would grow to reach my levels of expectations. I assumed that whoever I dated would, just as I had so many times before, forsake their identity and conform to meet the standards and become the person I wanted in a partner. Silly, silly, stupid Bradley.

I think that's one of the biggest mistakes I make in the relationships in my life- both romantic and platonic. I tend to think the highest and see the best in everyone and I assume that everyone is at the same emotional, intellectual and spiritual levels as myself. And vice-versa; I tend to assume that I am at the same levels as everyone else, and when these relationships/friendships don't work out, I get frustrated and wonder what the problem is- I wonder what I had done wrong, and then I look back at what levels all of the players were at and it makes sense that the relationship/friendship had come to an end- I had set us up for failure. We were all doomed from the start.

In my year-long journey to become a more balanced and happy individual, I think that this is an important starting point for me to examine and work with: the importance of maintaining your own identity and allowing the other people in your life to maintain their own identities. Before two people can merge together in life, it is important to remember that you were all once separate entities with your own dreams, ambitions, goals, interests and hobbies. Sharing these with other people in your life and allowing them to share in these aspects is a remarkable and beautiful thing, but you should also never give up on these parts of  your identity and you should be able to pursue your individual interests. If you are strong as an individual and your friend/partner/lover/other is equally strong, just imagine how strong it would be when the two of you join together?

That's what this week has been like for me. Remembering my individual divinity and identity; remembering who I am and exploring who I want to become. Who I'm evolving and growing to become.

In the meantime, I'm going to enjoy my final days at home before I return to the East Coast/land of much sushi by watching the West Wing and cuddling with my dog. A little CJ Cregg never hurt anyone :)

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Always the Bride's Boy, Never the Bride

The alarm on my phone went off. The alarm wasn't so much an "alarm" as it was "Black Velvet". You know, that song by Alannah Myles that was huge in the 90's? I love that song. There are few things I enjoy more than belting out the chorus to that song while I drive down the road with my windows rolled down; sunshine warming my skin, the wind blowing my hair and my voice straining to sound as soulful as Alannah. Except the only sunshine here was the sun creeping in from the blinds covering the window. It was Sunday, July 6th, 2014 and I was 24 years old.

I sat up and checked my phone. It was 6:02 am and I was in a hotel room surrounded by sleeping women. Before you get too excited, I should point out that I was in town for a bachelorette party and the women in the room were the fellow bridal party members and the bride. That's right- I was a Bride's Boy in one of my best friend's wedding, a title that I am so honored/excited/touched to have held that I might put it on my resume'. I tried to pull myself together and figure out what was going on with my life. Alcohol had been aggressively consumed the previous night (at least on my part), but I was sober enough to know that I had an 8 hour drive across the state, back to my house where my family was waiting to celebrate my birthday with me. As soon as my headache subsided enough to get my footing, I gathered my belongings and slipped out the door. I dropped my good friend off at her house and I swung by Starbucks for coffee and breakfast. Starbucks on my birthday had slowly become a tradition of mine. I had gone every birthday since I turned 21 for a birthday coffee and today would be no different. I got my coffee and I was off on the road.

I hate when it's my birthday and people ask me, "How does it feel to be 24?" or "Do you feel any different?", as if the stroke of midnight hits and you suddenly have this life-altering experience. Except, while engaging in some much needed self-reflection on this drive, I realized that I did feel different. I felt many things. On a literal level, I felt hungover. On a spiritual and emotional level, I felt closure. I felt as if a period of my life had come to an end. The Bradley Story, Chapters 0-23 had been volume 1 of my memoir and I felt like I was embarking on a new volume of my life. As I drove around mountains and over plains, I began to realize how redundant my life had been up until this point. I felt like I was a song that was being replayed over and over. I was predictable. Who am I? I am Bradley. I'm 24. I'm a Cancer. I'm a law student. I'm a son, brother, grandson, friend, nephew, etc... I love dogs. I love sushi. I sing loudly to the song playing, even though I don't know all of the lyrics. I'm a Democrat. I'm #ReadyForHillary. I'm gay. I'm funny. These are all labels; characteristics of me that collectively work to comprise me in my entirety. But as I drove the long drive home, I reflected on how predictable my life had become and, rather, how predictable I had become. I felt that I had started to settle into a role of normalcy- a role that was familiar and comfortable to both myself and the others in my life. I knew what to expect of myself, but so did everyone else. I was in a rut- constrained in a box of my self-imposed limitations and lackluster expectations and goals that I set out for achieve for myself. I felt typecast. I felt like I was only known for a few things, specifically that I am the funny gay guy is more comfortable being the sidekick instead of being the star. My stunted identity was warm and familiar- a blanket that I wrapped around myself constantly because it was safe.

Somewhere into hour 2 of my journey home, I had a panic attack. I'm 24 and I haven't lived my life. I'm almost a quarter of a century old, and what do I have to show for it? I've seen and done remarkable things. I've met incredible people. So why am I unhappy? Why am I feeling this way? Oh my god. That's it. I'm unhappy. I'm not satisfied. I'm displeased. There is more to life, right? There has to be more than just going through the motions. I wake up, I shower, go to school, study, come home, go to bed and repeat. I'm 1/4 of the way to being 100 and I'm doing the same damn thing over and over again. What am I doing?

I love the book Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. I love the wisdom on every page. As I continued my drive home, I began to think that maybe I needed my own Eat, Pray, Love experience. Maybe I need to experience life? Maybe I need to live? Maybe I need to go to Italy, India and Bali? One problem. I live in Springfield, Massachusetts, which ranked on the FBI's top 10 most dangerous cities to live in. I'm also a poor grad student who can't afford to travel. Then it hit me. I don't need an Eat, Pray, Love experience. I need an Eat, Gay, Love experience. Now that you've stopped laughing enough to continue reading, allow me to explain this rational.

Actually, there is no explanation. I thought it was a funny title because I'm gay. You caught me. I want my 24th year to be one of change and excitement- one of growth and achievement. For starters, I want to run a half marathon. 13.1 miles. I want to lose 27 lbs. I want want to learn to cook something amazing. I want to develop a authentic and meaningful relationship with someone. I want to cut back on alcohol consumption. I want to look and feel better. I want volunteer more. I want to be an advocate for LGBT rights. I want to help get Hillary Clinton elected President. I want to excel at school make my dreams come true. I want 24 to be a pivotal year for me. I want to make this count. I don't want to go through the motions anymore. I want to walk through life instead of being dragged through it. I want to be....happy. I don't need to travel to be happy. I need to work on myself to be happy.

What is happiness? I believe that happiness is a byproduct of divine intervention and willful effort on our part- it is what we choose to do (or choose not to do) with the opportunities and blessings placed in front of us. I don't fuck around with my blessings. I celebrate them. And I need to celebrate life. I need to celebrate myself. I need to become an active participant in life rather than a passive bystander.

So here I am. Two weeks into being 24, with a lot of work cut out for me. But I'm excited and I'm ready for the journey- the journey of Eat, Gay and Love- volume 2 of the Bradley Story.