An Ode to my Hometown: Happy Again

I’m back from a short break of preparing to leave. It was a great weekend with friends and family, and it was much needed.

To wrap up my series on my hometown, I’m jumping ahead a half-decade. The healing process was so crucial, but it was also slow, plodding, and frankly, not that interesting. It was a lot of painful days, nights, weeks, and even months. Dips back into depression and learning how to cope and pull myself back out of it.

And this is in no way to minimize it. I still go through these spells and struggle with my past. But I handle it differently and know myself better. It doesn’t get easier, you just get stronger.

Parklands Two Suns

So, I’m jumping to the last few months. In hindsight, I can say that I didn’t smile for nearly a decade. Not truly. It was always a fake smile or a smile drawn out by the pain of another. A mask meant to portray a feeling of wellness when all I felt was unease.

Society, generally, doesn’t handle unease well. We want everyone around us to be ok because it makes us feel ok. We are all more empathic than we realize, and when someone is sad or angry around us, we reflect that. Hide those feelings, because you don’t want to make someone else uncomfortable.

And its all bullshit. The saying growing up was, “Don’t talk to people about sex, money, politics, and religion.” The four taboos. The irony, now that I’m an adult, is that I see people, particularly those older than me, struggle with those topics. We were never taught how to handle talking about them, and now we’re too embarrassed to admit we don’t know enough about them. It’s a vicious cycle.

Regardless, after years of putting on the front, it took my being completely broken again to bounce back to a new level.

Parklands Bridge

About six weeks ago, I had my heart broken for the third time. And this one hurt in particular because, for the first time, I hadn’t felt like I had done something wrong. In the past, even as I was deflecting, I knew I was in the wrong. So, I handled this one differently.

I didn’t eat for two days. I cried, sometimes for overthinking things, sometimes for no reason at all. I couldn’t do anything as part of my regular routine. That was on a Thursday. By Monday, I had to rejoin society. I wasn’t ready, but we rarely are. And all week at work, it was fake smiles. I could barely focus.

Parklands TreeBut then came the weekend. I needed to clear my head, and being in nature has always been the easiest way for me to do that. One of my favorite places to do that is a place just outside the city called The Parklands. Eventually, it will be a 100-mile loop around the city of walking and biking paths. I mostly go there because Jefferson Memorial has always been much farther away.

I started walking. And walking. Poem ideas sprung to mind, I was able to take in some of the amazing views, and my heart rate got going. But no vision, no epiphanies, no final puzzle piece. I walked about four miles, feeling ok, but not having the moment that I so desperately needed. And then, I felt happy. None of the fake feelings I had over years of struggle. I was genuinely happy.

I thought it was because I was in nature. It was the only thing that made sense in that first moment. But the longer I walked, the more I realized that I had been in nature many times. That wasn’t it. It was the awareness that I was going to be ok. An assurance I hadn’t had for a long time.

Since my early twenties, I had always felt on the edge of disaster. Always on the edge of backsliding or blowing up completely. But I don’t feel that anymore. I went through something painful, felt it fully, processed it, and came out of the other side largely within a week. There were additional feelings I had to process after the fact, but if that first week had been the end of my experience with those emotions, I would have been ok. It’s more than I can say for myself at any point in my past.

I’m not sure how much of this revelation and elevation of myself I chalk up to The Parklands themselves. But I know that that was the place where I finally accepted myself. Where I was able to grow my worth beyond other people and where I decided that I deserved a life that I was capable of living.

Parklands Me

Thank you for reading this series. I really enjoyed writing it, and while I feel like this was a new beginning for myself, I also feel like I can finally close the book on this stretch of my life.

An Ode to my Hometown: A Toe in the Water

Back again!

For those new to this series, it is meant to tell my story through the places that shaped me. I wanted to show some love to my hometown as I prepare for a cross country journey and potential move.

Today, high school is the topic of discussion. For those of you not in the Louisville area, high school is a big deal here. It’s one of the qualities of the city that I always disliked. Essentially, in a big Catholic city, if you didn’t go to one of the big all-boy or all-girl high schools here, you were judged, at least by the upper to middle classes. I’ve seen this ease up in recent years, so maybe it’s getting better. Then again, I’ve also seen middle-class families struggle to make ends meet just to send their kid to one of these schools.

So, in case it wasn’t clear, I didn’t go to one of those schools. All of my friends from grade school did, but I was the only one from my class that went to Seneca. Which meant I was transitioning from a small Catholic school of around 250 total, grades K-8, to over 2000 in a public high school, 750 just in my freshman class. But the drastic differences didn’t stop there.

The cultural change was huge. There were a small handful of black and Asian kids in my grade school. Again, spread over 9 grades. And being that it was a Catholic school, there wasn’t much in the way of religious diversity either. Jump ahead to high school, where there were people of all races, sexes, religious backgrounds, and cultures, and my world scope was opened up massively.

It made for a rough freshman year, adjusting to a totally new way of life, but I made it through and made a few friends along the way. And that was…about it. For four years, I barely recall much. There were definitely moments.

I remember some of my teachers, who I learned a lot from. One math teacher, Mr. Adams, who actually taught math in a way that made sense to me and that I enjoyed. Mr. Cooksey, who taught English, but fundamentally changed the way I watch movies. He taught us about symbolism and the intentionality of everything that a director chooses to put in the background of scenes.

But high school was largely uneventful. I hung out with my grade school friends a lot, I got mediocre grades and I made it to graduation. It was fine. The main things I took from high school was how sheltered I had been in grade school, and how being the small quiet kid doesn’t pay off.

I still got picked on a lot, but with fewer allies than grade school provided. It taught me about my own independence and possibly fed some of the isolation issues I experienced once I got older. But at that moment, high school was fine. A slightly bigger bubble of protection. It wasn’t until later that I started to experience what life would really have in store for me.

Thank you again to everyone who is following this series. Most don’t have much context for these posts, but they’ve been fun to write and interesting to dive into.

An Ode to my Hometown: The Foundation

Hey everyone,

This is a series about the places that shaped me and got me to where I am today. On Tuesday, I wrote a bit about my childhood home, the beginning of my journey. You can read it here. Today, I want to talk about how influential my early school years were.

I went to a small Catholic grade school called St. Barnabas. It was literally one house away from where I grew up. I could see the swing set and playground from my backyard. And, until they installed a huge floodlight on the side of the gym, I liked to sneak onto our roof and look at the stars at night during the summer. The stars disappeared with the light pollution.

The school was so important to my development, and I say that intentionally. Absolutely, I met lifelong friends there, and I still value those connections. But even the building and grounds had their effect.

In school, I tried basically every sport. Baseball, basketball, football, track, everything. I spent a lot of time in particular on the basketball court. It was my first true love. I was too small to play football legitimately, and basketball just felt like home. I played intramural basketball for them in high school, not skilled enough to play for my high school.

But being so close to the school also meant we spent a lot of time there at nights and on the weekends. Pickup football and baseball, sledding during the winter, and games similar to hide and seek were always on the agenda and it helped to grow our friendships with the kids in our neighborhood. 

But it wasn’t all positive memories. I got hit by a car one morning before school when a parent wasn’t paying attention after dropping their kid off for school. I went through a lot of growing pains in the school as well. Outside of my core group of a few friends, I struggled in social settings. Definitely didn’t fit in with the “cool” kids.

But I was happy. Life had barely started and I was learning a lot, despite my middling grades. School always bored me, though not because I didn’t like learning or find (most of) the information interesting. I actually love learning. The problem was the system. A system built to have students hear information, remember it for a few weeks until a test, and then never have it be relevant to you again.

It was also here that my wary feelings of authoritative figures bloomed. Not because they’re bad people, but because they, whether ready and willing or not, are the gatekeepers. They control your environment, the speed at which you are given information, and ultimately can determine your success. And I’ve never enjoyed that feeling of a lack of control.

I hate to end on a sour note because the majority of my time at the school was great. It was a tiny nest to help build the necessary skills I’d need going forward. And I left with a lot of positive memories that I still think back fondly on today, especially if a group of us gets together and reminisce.

But I can also safely say that a lot of my insecurities with myself and how I was being percieved started to form here as well. More tales for a later time.

Thank you for reading. I know these posts won’t mean much to most, but every moment that someone takes to read anything I write means the world to me.

An Ode to my Hometown: The Beginning

With my road trip fast approaching (three weeks!), I wanted to reflect on the places and events that shaped me into who I am today. My family and friends are obviously my biggest influences, but I love them. I haven’t always loved my hometown.

From a very early age, I wanted to leave Louisville. It was never so much an issue with the city, but more the allure of other places. When I was a teen, it was Boston. In hindsight, Boston is an interesting choice for me to have wanted to live. I can say now that my teenage years were perfectly suited for the edge and angst in Boston. I would have been a perfect fit in Boston as a teenager.

But that transitioned pretty quickly in college. I was a part of the equipment staff at the University of Louisville, and we got to travel to road games. One of those road games was to Corvallis, Oregon to play Oregon State University. And it left a necessary impression.

We flew into Eugene, then drove the hour or so to Corvallis. I had never been on a plane before, but once we got into the air, I felt a lot better about the experience. The drive to Corvallis was beautiful. Tall evergreens surrounding the road; the hotel we stayed at designed like a log cabin. It was the first time I had really gotten away from the deciduous hills of the midwest. And I fell in love.

The west suits my developed laid back style better than my teenage dreams, and I knew I needed to, at the very least, make it a habit of venturing out there with some regularity.

But this post is not about why I need to go on this road trip. It’s the beginning of a short series displaying my appreciation for where I grew up because it was only recently that I began to feel that appreciation. And what better way to kick this off than with the beginning: my childhood home.

We moved there when I was maybe 5 or 6. It was the house that my grandfather built, that my mom and uncles grew up in, and it was where my brother and I spent all of our formative years. It’s where I had my first kiss, met some lifelong friends in our neighborhood, and wrote my first poem.

The location of the house is very intentional in my story. If we hadn’t moved there, I would have gone to a different grade school for sure and probably high school as well. I would have never met the friend from the neighborhood that died just this year from cancer. Hell, I might not have gotten my first job, which I stayed at for ten years. I had a terrible interview, as most 16-year-olds probably do, and until the manager mentioned that he had grown up around the corner from where I lived, I was definitely not getting that job.

All of this is why I wanted to start here. With this location. It truly was the beginning for me. It unknowingly set me on this path toward this trip, and while I’m grateful and privileged to be taking this trip, I will always have that love and appreciation for the places that got me here.

Thank you for reading. I know these posts won’t mean much to most, but every moment that someone takes to read anything I write means the world to me.

 

Dirt Church

Sunday comes again,
same as the week before.
My shoes firmly on my feet,
I reach the sacred temple.
I see the same people every week,
wearing their Sunday best,
searching for absolution.
The wood is firm,
holding us in place,
keeping us focused.
We are both preacher and choir,
our breath, call and response.
The longer the service,
the closer we come to truth.
And only when we’ve found our higher power,
and confessed our sins for the week,
do we feel complete, whole again.
Next week will come calling,
same as this and those prior.
And we’ll congregate again,
our dirt church calling us home.
~     ~     ~     ~     ~

I want to live

Photo

~     ~     ~

I want to live
where the wind howls at night
around the crackling fire.
Where the trees keep their color,
and the rivers flow,
cascading down to me.
I want to live
where the mountains surround,
towering above the rest.
The rain coming down,
pitter-pattering on the windows,
calming the soul.
I want to live
where the air is light, crisp,
and the sunlight is pure.
My heart aches for this place
where I have only been once before.
But I knew it was home
the moment I saw it.
I want to live.