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On being alone.

Over the last two weeks, my social calendar has thinned out a lot. Everyone is trying to stop the rapid spread of Covid-19, and social distancing is super important for that. In my area, there’s a curfew. Restaurants are not permitted to open their dining rooms- delivery and takeaway are the order of the day there. Grocery stores are limiting their hours. Companies and schools are transitioning largely to work-from-home where possible. For those scenarios that can’t be done remotely, lots of layoffs are happening so that their employees can try to find something else or sign up for unemployment. And so it goes.

While I understand and agree with the reasons behind all of this, I’m very frustrated with the end result. I’ve lost nearly a dozen concerts from my schedule, as venues close in an abundance of caution. I’ve canceled airfare and hotels for two different out of state trips, and there’s another two that may be on the chopping block over the next week. My weekly trivia and monthly karaoke are canceled for the time being. The only thing left on my calendar for the next ten weeks aside from work stuff is MegaCon and one doctor’s appointment. I suspect both of those could wind up canceled before much longer. (Edit: Two hours after this was posted, MegaCon was rescheduled for June.)

For most of my friends, our new weird quarantined reality is a big adjustment. For me, it’s not really all that different than my previous life. I work completely remotely, live alone, and eat most of my meals alone. I actively enjoy not leaving my apartment- I can stay here for days without ever feeling bored or stir-crazy. There’s always something for me to do here. There’s a pitfall, of course- the longer I stay in, the harder it is to break the inertia and get out.

My extrovert friends are losing their minds right now, but for me this isn’t bad at all. Doing stuff alone has always been easy for me. Movies, concerts, trips to other countries: I’m perfectly happy going by myself. Having companionship for these jaunts is enjoyable, but never necessary. I’ve learned over time that while I usually have anxiety about leaving the house, I almost always have fun once I get to where I’m going.

These are the two warring sides of my personality: the loner and the social animal. Am I an introverted extrovert or an extroverted introvert? One of my friends told me a while back that he thinks I’m very social even though it’s sometimes really difficult to get me out of the house- he’s not wrong. Crowds drain me. Too much of that kind of noise makes me glaze over. Too much ambient noise (other than music) depletes me.

There was a brief time a while back where I thought that my loner tendencies might be some sort of personal or psychological failing on my part, so I read a bunch of books about being alone. In “Party Of One: The Loner’s Manifesto” by Anneli Rufus, there is a paragraph about how children played with the original GI Joe doll, the 12-inch version that my brothers had. (This is not to be confused with the four-inch toys that came out in 1982 with all the vehicles and accessories to compete with the similarly sized Star Wars toys at the time. The first GI Joe, the 12 inch one, was only one Joe. They didn’t introduce the snow guy and the ninja guy and the metal-faced guy until later on with the four-inch GI Joe friends.).

Anneli Rufus writes:

“Creating scenarios with only a single doll validates the power and wonder of the individual. Even if this is only a molded-plastic individual with painted-on hair and a mass-produced costume, it is a vessel through which the child projects his own visions of himself as an independent thinker, doer, adventurer, and winner. With only a single doll, the child celebrates self-reliance, learns to strategize, and learns the most potent lesson of all: The doll- or the real person the doll represents- requires nothing in order to do things and have experiences. Its adventures are sparked and carried out through ingenuity, imagination, creativity. In playing with a single doll, the child discovers how to entertain himself. A lone doll gives the message that one is enough.”

— “Party of One: The Loner’s Manifesto” by Anneli Rufus

The book goes on to talk about how the four-inch toys came with their personalities already set, predetermined. Reading this, I thought back to my own childhood. Whenever I was playing with my armada of the tiny Star Wars toys, I didn’t follow the preinstalled personalities or their already-written adventures.

Instead, I would put a blanket on the floor in a blobby unfolded state so that it would make caves. Then I’d select one particular character, never a Luke or a Han- generally some smaller, less important character, and I’d make that character go live by themself in one of the caves. I only chose one, and I stuck with that one. On the far side of Blanket Mountain. Far away from the rest of the action figures. When I was playing Star Wars with other neighborhood kids, this usually led to some frustrating times, because they wanted to interact, and I wanted to be a hermit.

I think a therapist would have a field day with that one.

How are you handling quarantine and social distancing?

13/52

Photo by Markus Spiske from Pexels.com
Header photo by Markus Spiske from Pexels.com
https://www.pexels.com/photo/crowd-reflection-color-toy-1679618/

That German Thing

Two years ago, in February of 2018, I went to a family wedding in Naples, Florida. My family is large and friendly, and any time a lot of us are in one place, we talk up a storm.    At one point during the festivities,  I was having a conversation with… well, I don’t remember who.  I think it was my aunt, and she put a fairly innocuous question to me.  Two years later, I don’t even remember what the question was.  What I remember is that my answer started with some version of, “I lived in Germany for three years, and…”  Ten seconds later, I was just cringing.

Even now, two years later, I am still wincing at what a pompous, self-important blowhard I can be.  That sentence, “I lived in Germany,” comes out of my mouth way too often.

OK, yes, I did live in Germany for three years.  I’ve been back in the US now for six years, though- twice as long as I was away.  The urge to bring up my time abroad in almost every conversation is a giant lurking, looming thing.  It’s like a pressure valve that I can’t properly close, and it threatens to spew garbage all over nearly every interaction I have with another human being.  It’s infuriating to me.  I replay conversations in my head afterward, over and over, beating myself up about things that I said when I would have been better served saying nothing at all.

My good and dear friend Charlotte wrote a post back in January of 2018 pondering whether being an expatriate was still part of her identity even after being back in her home country for more than three years.  One particular section from her post got me thinking:  “Now I’ve settled down in my life back here. I still feel years behind people my own age, and feel like this is the “this is what you could have won” section of a gameshow.

When Charlotte wrote her post, I had also been back home for about three years, and I was already feeling many of the same feelings and doubts.  Repatriation can be kind of weird and stressful.  I’ve said many times before that living abroad can be like pressing a giant pause button on your life, and it’s easy to feel like the rest of the world went on without you while you were away.  I commented on Charlotte’s blog that I had a similar post in mind and that I would write it soon.  That post is this one-  I’ve been writing it in fits and starts again and again over the last two years, without ever finishing it to my own satisfaction.*  I’ve kept a browser tab open to Charlotte’s post ever since, and I’ve re-read it many, many times, noting different parts of it on each subsequent re-reading.

The plain truth is that my time as an expatriate changed me.  How could it not have?  Packing everything I owned into eleven large boxes and moving five thousand miles to another country where I didn’t speak the language and didn’t have an apartment waiting was a huge adventure.  My brief German life is a major part of the fabric of my current identity, and it’s never far from my mind.   My time there allowed me to grow and become a better person in ways that I didn’t understand fully until I was back home.  I am absolutely not the same person I was before I left, and in some ways, I think that expressing that is a big part of why I keep harking back to my time in Germany.    That doesn’t make it sound any less pretentious when I hear myself saying those four words- I lived in Germany–  for the millionth time, though.

I saw one of those artsy motivational images recently with text that said, “You can’t start the next chapter of your life if you keep re-reading the last one.”  It hit home because this particular worry and frustration has been living rent-free in my head since I came back to the US in late 2014.

I worry that my constant need to tie my current life back to my experiences in Germany is a personal failing.  I spiral through feelings of doubt: Have I become boring?  Am I living in the past?  Is there some deeper psychological failing that keeps me talking about that time? Why do I talk about the past so much- is my present life that uninteresting?  I suspect that I won’t know the answer to any of these questions in the very near future, so I turn my attention toward managing the symptoms instead of fixing the root cause.

In recent months, I’ve been trying to find ways to make the same points during conversations without tying it back to my time in Germany.   While talking about living in a place that is colder in winter than Florida, for example, I’ll just say that “I’ve lived in a place with real seasons,” or “I’ve lived further north than this.”  Sometimes the conversation rolls around to beer and the various types thereof.  I like to say that I became an accidental beer snob because of my time over there, but now I mostly try to just talk about the suds themselves without bringing my personal experiences into it.  This is absolutely impossible if I’m with friends in a German restaurant, though.  When I have a nice order of Sauerbraten and a cold Dunkel in front of me, my stein- and my urge to talk about Deutschland-  runneth over.

It would be better if I had no need to interject my experience into the conversation at all, though.  That’s the dream.  Keeping my stupid mouth shut and letting other people do the talking is what I aspire to do.  Now if only I could remember the question from two years ago that started this whole thing…

Do you have any topics that you can’t leave alone in casual conversation?

7/52

* – This post is still not completed entirely to my satisfaction, but finally publishing SOMETHING about this after two years will be a great relief to my Checklist Brain.   And, as a bonus, I can finally close the tab that’s been open to Charlotte’s post for the past two years.

There’s No Place Like “Home”

Last week, I found round trip airfare from Orlando to Atlanta for this year’s Dragon Con for only $136.  I posted it to BookFace, saying something like, “The moment when you spot an INSANELY good rate for Dragon Con airfare, but you don’t know if this will still be your home airport. ::sob::”

To my vast surprise, several people had a “wait, what?” type of reaction, and a few messaged me privately to ask if I was moving away from Orlando.  I mentioned in my new year’s post that I was contemplating a move out of Florida, and I’ve been talking incessantly about the possibilities with a few people, so it never occurred to me that so many of my friends would be in the dark.  (Clearly, I need to get more of them reading this blog.)

To address the question more directly:  I still haven’t decided for sure if I’m leaving Florida.   Or where I’m going if I do move.

It’s really difficult to break through the inertia of staying in one place for a while.  I’ve moved twelve times in the last ten years, but I’ve been in this one place for a little while now, and it can be difficult to pick up and go for the thirteenth time.

What I have decided with certainty is that when my lease ends this summer, I don’t want to stay put.  I don’t really like my apartment, for one thing.   Also, it’s fricking hot here.  And it would be significantly hotter in South Florida.

The climate here isn’t the only thing to be considered.   It’s been years since I lived in a place that “felt like home” to me. When I came back to the US after my time abroad, no part of South Florida felt quite right; I felt like a stranger in my own home town- more than I did in Germany.

I traveled back to Germany twice after I moved back, once for work and once just to visit.  During both of those trips, I had the uncanny feeling that I had only just left a few days before.  Aside from a few familiar restaurants closing and new ones opening, and aside from Jenny and Robert’s children getting taller, everything felt the same.  It felt like I had just left, and it felt like no time had passed at all.  I was incredibly comfortable there.  Not so with my return to the US – everything here felt kind of alien to me.

I’m not suggesting that I want to return to living outside of the United States- I absolutely do not. (Although if my job wanted me to be in the London office for a while, I wouldn’t say no.).  What I am saying is that when no place feels like home, it’s difficult to feel settled.  I genuinely don’t know where I want to be.

For where to go next, I have a few main considerations:

  • Is the temperature colder than Florida for most of the year? (Not bloody difficult!)
  • Is there cool shit to do?  Especially the music;  how’s the concert scene?  Is it a constant flow of activity there or do they roll up the sidewalks at 8pm?
  • Is there decent public transportation there?
  • Do I know anyone in the area? Friends or family?
  • Can I get a decent apartment there without blowing my spleen out on rent payments?
  • Is there a variety of delicious food options?

I’ve considered a number of possible destinations.  I’ve considered eastern New Jersey, with easy access to New York.  I considered Austin for the music scene, but moving from a swamp to a desert is not my idea of cooling down.  I also thought about Portland and the Pacific Northwest, or the Raleigh-Durham area, or Atlanta.   My work is completely remote, so I can theoretically work from anywhere.  In practice, it’s best if I stick to the same time zone as the main office in New York;  I am NOT a morning person and moving west would mean working earlier.

The top contender at present is the Washington DC/Northern Virginia area.  It ticks every box I just listed, and then some.   DC has easy access to three airports and the most useful part of the US rail lines.  It has a pretty useful metro system, and a constant flow of things to see and do.  The weather is a lot closer to what I actually want.  I’ve got a few friends and a really nifty cousin there.  Despite having no firm decision to move, I already have tickets to at least four concerts there this year.  I also have a fervid desire to go to at least five more events that were announced, but until I learn to clone myself that isn’t happening.

So yes, I’m leaning that way.  Still, the decision is not fully made.

Florida is not without its advantages, and I would be remiss to ignore the things I would be leaving behind:  An established social scene with a lot of friendships that I would miss.  Easy access to the theme parks.   Having sorted out which doctors to see in the area. (Finding new doctors is just a pain in the ass.)  Tijuana Flats and Publix.   Being only about a 70 minute drive from my sister, and only a few hours away by car for most of the rest of my family.   Being able to comfortably wear shorts for eleven and a half months out of the year.

But then there are the parts of living here that are less thrilling.  For example, the great social scene I just mentioned is largely centered around a bar scene, which means lots of beer intake.  (Some people would call that a plus, now that I think about it.)  Also, having to wear shorts for eleven and a half months out of the year to remain comfortable while still sweating is miserable and uncomfortable and kind of sticky.

And Orlando doesn’t feel like home either.

I don’t know if a new city will be any better, but I do think a fresh start would be really good for me.   I’m not worried about making friends in my new location, because I’ve moved to a new city sight-unseen a few times now, and I was able to find a tribe there each time.   For an introvert, I’m really quite friendly and sociable.

And hey, at least I won’t be sweating in January.

When is the last time you moved?  Was it a difficult change?

6/52

Memories of Chris, ten years later.

I realized while going through the remnants of my old blog that it’s been ten years since Chris passed away.   I’ve outlived a great many friends and loved ones, and some people leave more of a mark on you than others.  Chris was like that- he definitely made an impression.

I first met him in the very early 1990s on an accidental double date.  It wasn’t supposed to be a date-  Jade, one of my best friends at the time, wanted me to meet her friend Amy and arranged a meet-up at a local pool room. Amy brought Chris along, and we got on brilliantly.  After we all left the pool hall, we drove to the Lake Worth Pier.   Chris wanted to talk to Jade on the drive over,  so when we reached a stoplight, he got out of his car and knocked on my window.  A brief car switcheroo commenced, and we each drove the rest of the way to the pier in the other’s car.  This was the first of many shenanigans over the span of our friendship.

If you called Chris by his full name, he would say “the Topher is silent.”  After Chris died December 28th, 2009, from complications of pneumonia, that sentiment is truer than ever.

Chris and I were thick as thieves through most of the 1990s. We took classes together at PBCC, before it evolved into its current form. In 1994, we got an apartment in Boynton Beach and spent a year as roommates. We worked at Motorola together making the circuit boards for pagers.  He stayed on at Motorola when I left to finish my bachelor’s degree in Orlando.

A lot of who I am today was the direct result of my time with him. Being around Chris shaped parts of my personality.  Chris is one of the few people I have ever known with a music collection that was larger than mine-  we became fiercely competitive about the size of our CD collections.   It was all in fun, though-  there’s a ton of music in my regular rotation even now that I might never have been exposed to if not for him.

To this day, there are certain things that are indelibly linked to Chris in my mind.  There are certain songs, certain places, certain concepts that will always remain linked to him in my mind.  Whenever I see a Volkswagen Golf, or drive to South Beach near the former location of his favorite pizza restaurant in Key Biscayne, my mind drifts back to the past.

The memorial service was a traditional funeral mass, and I think Chris would have been terribly amused at how much the British reverend sounded like Rowan Atkinson. I kept waiting for him to say “…and the Holy Spigot.”  The only people I knew at the church were his mom, his widow, and my good and dear friend Lorrie. I’ve known Lorrie since middle school, but this was the first time that I’ve seen her in person in over a decade.  I noted a few days later how much it bothered me that it took the death of one friend to bring me back into the life of another friend.  Lorrie and I never fell out of touch again after that.  Even now, she’s a frequent concert-and-convention buddy.

But then, Chris was always a catalyst in my universe. The people from his world and the people from my world tended to get to know one another.  And quite a few of them miss him even now.

4/52

Chris and I goofing around in the early 90s. Please disregard my mullet.
Chris and I goofing around in the early 90s. Please disregard my mullet.

Another year has ended. Hello, 2020!

As 2019 ends and we enter the roaring 20s, it’s time for my yearly wrap-up and review post. This was an eventful year for me, with the passage of my father and a significant job change that I haven’t really talked about on the blog.

It’s also the closing of a decade, and for me, that’s much more momentous-  at the start of 2010, I owned a condominium in South Florida, lived with my girlfriend and her adorable cat, and had been with the same company for eight years.   I stayed with that same company until they dissolved in 2016, but during that time, they sent me abroad, and I worked for them in Hong Kong, Tokyo, and Bavaria.

At the start of the 2010s, K and I split up amicably and I short-sold my condo.  I moved into my brother’s spare room for a short while, then I began a string of moves that would take me to Germany and back.  I started this blog, visited twenty-seven new countries, and saw countless concerts and musicals.   I dated other people after K, and stayed with someone for about four years who ultimately wasn’t right for me.   I’ve been single since that relationship ended, and I have no interest in changing that status- I’m not entirely closed to the idea of love, but I’m not looking for it either.  As long as I have friends to go with me to concerts and cons and restaurants, I’m doing just fine.

At the end of 2010, my newest niece was a newborn, and now she’s an adorable nine-year-old lunatic-smartypants.  The lunacy runs in the family, and it’s entertaining as hell to watch my brother coping with fatherhood.  My sister and I have started an annual tradition of taking a trip every year during her summer break from teaching.  This started when I was overseas and we went to Rome and Venice together, but in recent years we’ve taken trips to other places we hadn’t been like Boston and Philadelphia.  The rest of my very large family has spread geographically, in interesting ways.  My sister’s branch of the family all moved up to Orlando before I moved back up, and various aunts and uncles all moved from northern climes down to Florida.  Some of my cousins are closer than ever before, and some are further away.

In the past ten years, I’ve strengthened and reinforced some of the deepest friendships of my life, and I’ve made many, many new friends all over the world.  I’ve traveled extensively, and I’ve seen things that have enriched my soul in ways I can’t even fully quantify.   I would call the past ten years a wildly successful part of my life.

theycantalk.com is really great! go there now!

Let’s get back to the regular year-in-review stuff.  I started doing goals instead of resolutions last year, after realizing that resolutions are kind of pointless and they never last the entire year anyway.    How did I do on last year’s goals?

2019 goal – Be healthier: Eat better, sleep more, and get some damn exercise.

I did ok on eating better, but my sleep and exercise habits are still basically rubbish.  I let my gym membership lapse this year, because when I do work out, it’s either in the apartment gym or at home.

For 2020, I obviously need to keep moving forward on this one.   Working from home warps my sense of what time and what day it is and getting out of the house regularly helps recalibrate that.

2019 goal – Travel more: I’ve decided on a try to make at least three out of state trips and at least one international trip for the year.

I didn’t make it out of the country this year, but I flew to New York three times, as well as trips to Dallas, Philadelphia,  Chicago, and Washington DC.  I’d call this one a success despite the lack of international travel.

For 2020, I still have no International travel on deck, but I already have plans for a few out-of-state trips.

  • My cousin is getting married in the mountains about forty miles from Portland, so I’m going to spend a few days in PDX before the wedding.  After the festivities, my sister and I will be taking our annual summer sibling trip by going to see Seattle.  (We’ll already be on the left coast, so it makes sense to try to fit that visit in while we’re already most of the way there.)
  • I’ve got tickets to a concert in Nashville later in the summer, so I’ll be checking out that city as well.
  • For the first time since 2003, I plan on going to DragonCon in Atlanta.
  • I almost pulled the trigger on airfare to the Waikiki Spam Jam (I’ve wanted to go for years,) but my Portland/Seattle trip will eat a lot of time and I don’t want to ridiculously overdo the time-off requests at my job.

2019 goal – Feed my inner introvert: Spend more time with books and less with little screens, whether they be my phone or my television.

This was a mixed bag.   I read enough books to meet my arbitrarily chosen Goodreads reading challenge goal.  I had a significant decrease in screen time,  but I still watch too much television.   I have spent lots of quality time on my own, though, and I definitely not let my inner introvert starve this year.

For 2020, I will set the same Goodreads goal and keep reading for pleasure.  I will try to clear some of the things loaded on my Kindle before acquiring new titles.   I will try to reduce the amount of television I watch.

The networks have been helping me out by not making too many new shows that I actually want to see.  And also by making shorter seasons for the things I DO want to see. The Mandalorian’s first season was only eight episodes.  Watchmen wrapped up with nine episodes.  I feel a lot less guilty about a show that only eats eight or nine hours out of the year than one which runs 24 episodes, with a third of that being filler.

2019 goal – Write more in this blog.

This was an utter failure.   I only wrote four blog posts all year, despite having plenty to talk about.

For 2020, I have a more specific blog goal than just saying “write more.”  I am setting myself a goal to do a minimum of 52 blog posts- that’s one per week, with this post serving as my first one.  If I have a busy week and can’t get a post out the door, I will have to double up the following week so that I don’t fall behind.  If I manage to do better than 52 posts, then that’s groovy too.

2019 goal – Listen to more music, live or otherwise.

I did really well on this-  I started the year off with Hamilton on their Orlando tour stop, and I followed that up with the Boston Pops, the Fixx, Waitress twice, Fiddler on the Roof, Aurora, Muse, Alice Merton, Tom Jones, Weird Al, Information Society, Hugh Jackman, Howard Jones, Men Without Hats, A Flock of Seagulls, Carly Rae Jepsen, Queen + Adam Lambert, Billy Joel, Bishop Briggs, My Life With The Thrill Kill Kult, Alice Cooper, Dennis DeYoung, Night Ranger, King Princess, Sara Bareilles, and Beetlejuice on Broadway.  And that’s just the live stuff- I also listened to hours of recorded music.

For 2020, I realized that I don’t need to set a goal for something that I am already compelled to do.   I’ve already purchased tickets for ten or eleven shows through this summer, and I’ve got another eight or so on my radar with loose plans to go to them.    Music is as vital to me as breathing, and I don’t really need to set a conscious goal to do either one.  I plan on buying a new gadget or two sometime soon to improve the soundscape in my apartment as well.

2019 goal – Let go of rage.

I am much improved in this area, although I still find it challenging at times.  The passage of time helps a lot- the things that were a source of anger for me in 2018 are all well into my rear-view at the close of 2019, and I had a few perspective-setting events throughout the middle of the year, like the death of my father.  I also made a change this year from a frustrating and unsatisfying job into one which is much more challenging and enjoyable.

For 2020, I just need to continue on my path toward being centered and easygoing.  I’ve kept an active social life with local friends this year, and that has helped me enormously-  being around people I like helps to keep me happy.

Aside from the other goals I’ve listed for 2020, there are a few more things I want to accomplish:

  • I want to see more live Shakespeare.  I used to love watching the Bard’s plays, but I haven’t seen one in ages and I miss it.
  • I need to make a firm decision about my geolocation by the start of this summer.  I’ve been saying for a while that I hate the heat in Florida and that I’d like to go further north, but I am not decisive on this point.  Inertia is real, and it’s hard to move again now that I’ve been in one place for a while.   I have family and friends and a social life here in Orlando, and it’s difficult to think about what my life might look like in another place.  I was capable of making friends and gaining a social life when I moved to Germany though, and I’m sure I could do the same somewhere else in the US.  My Aunt thinks that DC is where I should go, and it’s on the short list if I decide to relocate after all.  My lease here is up at the end of the summer, so a decision needs to be made with enough time to set a move into motion if that is my choice.
  • I have long felt that I own too much “stuff” and I’ve been going through cycles of decluttering and offloading things I don’t use for years, and I want 2020 to be the year that I finally get rid of all the extra crap.   I don’t own a lot of stuff, but somehow it still feels like too much.  Then again, I might be a little psychotic on this front-  this photo looks too cluttered to me:

Do you have any goals for the new year?  How do you feel about entering the roaring 20s?