RAISE YOUR GLASS: Story Arcs of 2013, Part Deux

BusanWhen this year began, there were a lot of things I’d never done before. I’d never spent more than two weeks outside the United States. I’d never been left to my own devices with a classroomful of children. I’d never lived in a real city (sorry, Tulsa). I’d never been to Asia. I’d never held a full-time job. I’d never had a boyfriend. I’d never kissed a guy. So, yes, as should be obvious by this point, I’ve experienced a lot of firsts this year.

I’m not sure how anyone else’s 2013 went, but mine was pretty fantastic, if I do say so myself. People seem commonly to arrive at year’s end and experience mostly mixed sentiments. To be honest, I don’t really understand why. I’ve long believed that one of the principal keys to, if not happiness, then contentment is the robust management of expectation.

(Note: This is part 2 of a two-part end-of-year post. If you missed the first, click here to read it.)

If a person started this year having resolved to find a hot boyfriend or girlfriend, land a great job making wads of easy cash, and acquire rock-hard abs and a stellar ass then didn’t get any of those things then, yeah, I can see how that person might be disappointed with 2013. At this point, in the interest of full-disclosure, I should admit that I now do have a pretty cute boyfriend and a great job where I do pretty well for myself; I’ve also lost about fifteen pounds since January, too. But, before you label me a hypocrite, just bear in mind that I didn’t launch into this year with any of those things as goals. So, had I not gotten them, I wouldn’t necessarily be disappointed right now. If you did have those things on your Resolution List–that paper which you may or may not have yanked off your refrigerator and crumpled into a tight little wad back in late April and which is now probably buried somewhere in your local landfill–then you have my sincerest condolences.

Home for the holidays.

As I started writing these words, I was on vacation at home, sitting in the bedroom that has been my own since that house was built nine years ago. It looks much the same now as it did then. Every time I go home, I feel a mixture of surprise, frustration, and slight disheartenment at how little all the things that comprise “home” have changed. I mean, sure, people are a little older, the red plum trees in the backyard are a little taller, the carpet has a few more yellow stains from the dog’s aging bladder, the little hamlet of Atoka has a few new tourist traps, but most things are still very much the same. It’s frustrating, as I feel I never return home the same person I was when I left. The predominant culture of small rural towns seems to be one where most people have sacrificed any semblance of a zest for newness at all for the comfort of mundane familiarity and mind-numbing predictability. There’s no freshness, no growth, and no community to which I could ever really belong. I’ll concede that some of that assessment might be subjective but, anymore, returning home has taken on the effect of reminding me of all the reasons why I left in the first place.

Going home also brought back to the forefront of my mind the fact that I will never belong there. Indeed, I have never really belonged there. I envy people who were born in a place they love and want to live for the rest of their lives. I also envy people who have a solid network of relationships in their homes and hometowns with lots of quality people who accept them as they are. But, alas, perhaps it was not meant to be. I left Atoka after I graduated from high school, never once looking back, and, all things considered, it was without a doubt for the better. After all, had I not felt a profound sense of alienation from my hometown for quite a long time, maybe I’d have been less inclined to leave it behind and move first to Tulsa and then to Korea to do something new, exciting, and demonstrably strange. Maybe if home were the sort of place that continually tempted me to move back and settle into that life of mundane familiarity, I wouldn’t be currently seeking the sort of job that would involve my relocating to a new country every other year or so. If I hadn’t built relationships with people outside the stifling conservatism of home, I might never have found the strength to search for love. It’s never possible to draw conclusive answers from hypotheticals, but, nonetheless, it’s definitely worth considering.

My life has taken an interesting turn in these last ten months. Many interesting turns, to be more accurate. For example, I’ve decided that my first preference would be to spend the foreseeable future working abroad in one capacity or another and, eventually, I want to settle somewhere in the Pacific Northwest, most likely Seattle. My current efforts are focused on getting a job with the State Department in the Foreign Service so we’ll see where, if anywhere, that goes. I’ve also unexpectedly found myself in a relationship with an absolutely adorable Korean guy; when we don’t have our lips locked together, we’re constantly sending each other lovey-dovey text messages of the sort that would induce nausea in most people. I’ll spare you any more details. One of the more famous reasons people go abroad for life and work is to embark on a nebulous “finding oneself” sort of endeavor. The lone journey of self-discovery through a foreign land is something highly romanticized in the West, as Elizabeth Gilbert’s notoriety among those aspiring to the society of self-enlightened bourgeoisie unequivocally demonstrates. Notwithstanding the reality that most people who work abroad do so because of a lucrative financial incentive, I don’t see how some people manage to fail to learn more about themselves or the world once they’ve begun living in a foreign culture. Some do, though, and it’s one of the saddest, most mystifying things I’ve ever encountered.

Ever the Agitator

Coming out was the most consequential decision I’ve made–not just this year, but in my life thus far–and this year-end entry would be incomplete without addressing how much has changed since as a result. As I realized one day not long ago upon giving it some thought, I’m the sort of person who has never been without a cause. When I was a freshman in high school, I pushed the school to let me organize a political group that had meetings on campus coinciding with the run-up to the 2004 elections. The “Youth Conservative Coalition,” as it was called (because, at that time, I was still the good little Republican my family had raised me to be), served no real purpose other than for me to get a bunch of people together so we could argue about politics. My senior year of high school, I leapt at the chance to lead a campaign to improve our school’s cafeteria, an effort which involved organizing a petition and student opinion survey before, ultimately, addressing the school board and an assembly of concerned parents with a slide presentation of the dismal meal options that were being served. I made the front page of the county newspaper with that one. In college, I started to focus on slightly more important causes, such as freedom for the student press and greater tolerance and acceptance of people questioning their sexuality (as I was at the time). I’ve essentially resigned myself to the presence of something innate that pushes me to challenge conventional wisdom. Depending on the severity of any particular instance, my response to entrenched privilege, incompetent leadership, and institutionalized injustice can range from persistent annoyance to moral outrage. I suppose, in light of that, I may just have to devote myself to political and social activism merely so I can keep my sanity but who knows.

Had I chosen to continue concealing my sexuality, there would’ve been few real systemic challenges I’d have had to face in life. After all, I am a white, middle-class, college-educated American male from a laughably red state. If that hasn’t been the face of entrenched privilege in the United States from from the very Founding of the Republic, I don’t know what has. Now that I have acknowledged it, though, I’ve also become a part of one of the defining minority civil rights struggles of our time. It’s strange to think that I, myself, could become a victim of discrimination based on an aspect of my being beyond my ability to control. It’s surreal in a sense, and it’s made the plight of all people subject to prejudicial treatment more poignant to me. I’m happy to say that I was pro-LGBT a good while before I had my own dog in the fight, which is one against institutionalized bigotry, against antiquated prejudice, against tacitly-sanctioned violence, and against those people who would really rather us just sit quietly in the back of the room and not make a scene. In this, as in past fights, I’m sure I will continue to be just as obnoxious and in-your-face as I have always been. Agitation for fairness and equity and fixing broken systems is part of what makes me who I am.

In any case, it will be 2014 in just a few days. I will soon be back in Korea and back to work, where I will remain for at least another eleven months. I will be back to the cute Korean guy who is fast becoming more than just a friend. I will be back to my life of taking banter-filled early morning commutes on the work shuttle, making adorable little Korean children laugh, navigating the complexities and occasional absurdities of Korean culture, figuring out what to do next, and, ultimately, continuing on what will probably be a life-long quest to make sense of it all. I do not make New Year’s resolutions for the simple reason that I find the premise ridiculous. How can a person possibly make resolutions to last a whole year? That’s a recipe for disappointment and crumpled-up paper. As for me, I’m in favor of the daily resolution, of which I make several every morning when I awake and they’re generally always the same. For one, I resolve daily to be as honest as I can be about myself, both to myself and to the people I love. I feel I owe at least that much. And, most importantly, I resolve to be as joyful as possible, if for no other reason than to spite the people who believe I can or should never be truly happy, for whatever reason. I find people like that amusing because I don’t understand how my happiness can be so offensive to them. But, it’s whatever, I guess, and I really only have one thing to say to those people: watch me go, bitches.

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