Nine essential things about me

1.  My greatest belief is to learn from your circumstances.

I try to find a lesson or growing point from every struggle, and I don’t want to know what my life would be otherwise. I don’t think people can give as much to the world as they are capable of without taking care of their own baggage.

2. My greatest fear is failing to fulfill my potential.

I believe that everyone has gifts they were meant to share with the world, but not everybody does. This world has a glut of capable people who are too lazy, too afraid to be themselves, or too weighed down by their demons to fulfill their potential.

3.  I am one of the most self-aware people you will meet – and I’m not modest about it for a minute.

I am more honest with myself than most people are comfortable with, but also harder on myself than anyone else could be. It’s my daily balancing act. It has always been my greatest strength and challenge, and I am proud of it.

4.   I don’t believe in age.

I am more interested in where a person is coming from than how old they are. You aren’t free just because you’re young, and you don’t learn or grow by sitting back and watching life happen or letting the years stack up. I know a lot of people in their forties, fifties, and seventies who have taken less time to learn from their experiences and choices than some folks in their twenties and thirties. I have met plenty of people older than me who have a more youthful spirit than my 20-something peers.

 5. Relationships are the most important thing to me.

Money, success and health can all fail. What helps you through life – and what you will remember in the end – are the people with whom you chose to spend your time.

 6.    If you are in my life, it’s no accident.

I learned at an early age not to waste my time with toxic relationships – it’s the fastest route to bitterness. I am fiercely loyal to those I love, and avoid harmful relationships. I try to choose people who accept me for who I am and call me on my “bs” when I need it.

 7.    Exercise and art are my “reset” buttons.

-I have been running year-round for 12 years and don’t plan to stop until I physically can’t; exercise grounds me.

-I slip into a mild depression if I don’t surround myself with art on a regular basis. Whether it’s listening to music or singing and playing guitar, drawing, or checking out an art gallery, creativity has always been in my bones, and I’m not myself without it.

8.  I have to stay busy.

I used to complain that I was always “too busy” until I realized that it’s in my nature to live this way. I think work is healthy and like to keep my social life just as active. I am always on the go, and always will be until I can’t.

9. I am just as free-spirited as I am neurotic.

If you really know me, you get this one.

“Like” this post on Facebook, and I will give you a number of interesting things to share about yourself.

The first National Coming Out Day I won’t ignore

Friday, October 11, 2013, is a special day for me. But no day in my life has yet been as salient as this past January 12. It was the first time I ever had the courage to admit to anybody — myself included — that I am gay. It took more courage than I have ever needed, but it was also the most natural thing I have ever done. When you hide something you’ve been confused and ashamed about nearly all your life (my first memory of being attracted to another man was when I was four-years-old and had a gigantic crush on Aladdin) it builds up over time. And after a while, it starts to eat away at you. It corroded a lot of important parts of me indirectly — chiefly my confidence, a lot of my personality, and sense of self-worth. Minutes before midnight on December 31, 2012, I quickly thought up silent resolution. I rarely admit to these personal pacts because I claim not to believe in them. I see self-growth and personal development as efforts that know no dates or arbitrary time frames. To me, these efforts are comprised of a mix of difficult, sweet, painful and joyous moments and a lot of hard work. Just eight months before, I had run away from everything and everyone I ever knew –2,332 miles from my Ohio hometown to a dusty little rodeo junction called Pendleton, Oregon, in search this kind of self-discovery, and a new life. I wanted a westward adventure for a lot of reasons — to get out of Ohio, to live nearer to the mountains, and somehow satisfy my need to live unhinged and unbound. But the greatest driving force was my constant urge to go somewhere far away to really figure things out — to give myself a chance to be truly honest about who I fundamentally was and what I wanted. But I could never really get there. I had confronted childhood demons that I bottled up in latent insecurity, started to learn to let things go, and, above all, the value of being honest with myself even when it was very uncomfortable. But I could never quite get myself to feel that sentiment of bliss and security we call “happy.” It was my white whale, and I would go down with any ship if I could only preserve the image I had built up in my head of who I was supposed to be. Kind, scrupulous, intelligent, athletic, and career-driven are a few words that fit the description. But “gay” was not one of them. “Gay” was the word I hid from. It was the thing that I ran from, what I learned to fear about myself sometime around the third grade when I started to realize that something about me was different. By telling myself it was wrong — and hearing a lot of people call it immoral and unnatural — a big part of me began to learn to hate myself. Last New Year’s Eve, all I could think of was how far I had come as a person, but yet how unhappy I was no matter where I lived. Something inside me wouldn’t budge. It left a giant roadblock on my path to that illusive feeling I was chasing. I knew what it was but couldn’t admit it to myself because I had gone so long believing it was wrong. That night, I did not resolve to admit that I was gay. I told myself I would be more decisive — more assured in my decisions and feelings that year. Or in a nutshell, I resolved to be more confident. For two weeks, my resolution was all I could think about. This, and my other subliminal obsession that lasted for about a decade consumed me: that I was gay. Part of me knew I was attracted to other men from the minute I hit puberty. I didn’t understand it, but I felt it. I had become a master at denying that it was true, and even began to believe my lies. But at that point in my life, I had basically run as far away from home as I could while staying in the continental U.S., and was still silently miserable — and damn good at putting up a front to hide it. And I couldn’t stand it anymore. I was wasting a good part of my daily life feeling guilty and dirty for something I simply could not change. And I was tired of throwing away years into a disingenuous existence –especially as I walked around touting those who vilified homosexuality when it was the thing I had learned to loathe about myself. So one Saturday night in January, when my solitary struggle left me in too much of a funk even to venture out with my friends, I tried running errands for diversion. Of course, this was yet another vain attempt to hide the truth. Earlier that day, I had scheduled a Skype call with my aunt that evening. And in the back of my head, I knew it was because I had this one thing I wanted someone else in the world to know so I didn’t feel like it was eating me alive anymore. I got home from the drug store, signed on, hesitated and stuttered, and finally said it to another person for the first time in my life: I’m gay. I didn’t know what to expect. For some reason I had talked myself into believing my friends would disown me for admitting it, that my family might reject me, and that I would have to be very alone for a very, very long time before things actually got better. But all of that was worth not feeling this horrible aching numbness my denial had manifested. Months later, none of the things I feared have happened — although it has been one of the most challenging years of my life and I have learned that educating people about my sexual disposition will be a lifelong process. But I can honestly say that for the first time, I know what “happy” is. And this little feeling in and of itself is priceless compared to what I thought it would cost me. But I have also been far from alone since I came out. People have been more accepting and supportive than I could ever have imagined. And I have made some incredible new friends, to boot. Although I felt alone for much of my life because of how I thought of my sexuality, I am under no illusion that I arrived at this point of openness and self-acceptance without help. The gay rights movement today is perhaps stronger than ever — or at least public sentiment with respect to protecting sexuality under basic human rights has reached its historical nexus. We’ve got Ellen and other television shows which cast gay characters in poignant subplots (Jack McPhee, Dawson’s Creek) that aren’t about sex or drugs or any of the other sad stereotypes about the gay community. These are stories about normal people — like me — who have struggled to come into themselves because they happen to be gay. And I’ve got plenty of research and catching up to do to learn what else has made America so much easier to be gay in than it was even 10 years ago when I first realized my sexual orientation and wondered how I could ever possibly face it. Last October 11 when I heard mention of National Coming Out Day, I quickly scurried out of the room because it felt like a big spotlight was illuminating my greatest insecurity. I clearly remember the feeling of guilt welling up in my chest for all the time I knew I was wasting trying to live a lie. This year, however, is quite different. The feeling in my chest is one that doesn’t mind a little sunshine — or even a big old spotlight. It’s pride for who I am in all the ways that I am me — including my sexuality. It’s gratitude for all the people who have made the world an easier place to be gay, and the incredible folks who held my hand through the challenging months which ensued for the two little words that started this great journey.  It’s all the things I vowed last New Year’s Eve, and so much more. This October 11, I’m not looking back, but I’m also not looking forward. For the first time in my life, I am happy just where I am because I am finally OK with who I am.

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Respite

Runaway Thoughts post #1

12.8.12

Some of my most vivid memories relate to running. It’s something about the way your senses are heightened because the rushing blood brings keener feeling to every inch of your body, from the heaving of your lungs to the air gliding past your cheeks. The intricacies of life become dominant as all work and responsibilities are benched so you can get out and move about the world for a bit, unhinged. You get to run away.

I was in college just a few short months ago, yet it feels like another lifetime when I was slipping out of the Flyer News office to steal an hour of open air on the bike path just off campus. I’d throw on some athletic shorts and an old T-shirt, lace up, and head out the door. Within just a couple minutes of dodging the noisy hubbub of crosswalks and car exhaust, I’d greet the sweet earthy smell of the Great Miami River, reflecting whatever hue the sky donned that day. The brick-and-pine cloisters of the University of Dayton campus, filled with promise and hectic responsibility, fell away to a big sky and nothing but the sound of wind and the occasional ring of the Carillon bell tower.

I solved so many problems on that bike path, and drained so much excess caffeine from many oft-frenzied days of studying and frantic scribbling, typing and page designing for the student newspaper. It was my escape. All the structure and responsibility just didn’t matter for a while. Nobody could call me, nobody could email me, nothing could touch me.

I found something new there sometime during my sophomore year. If I ran about two-and-a-half miles away from campus, I’d find a spot where the path dipped down below the level of a dam into a sort of flood plain area. If I went about a half mile further, the road curved so that I couldn’t see anything of the modest, but charming city skyline behind me. The signature cross and blue dome-topped chapel and all other mainstays of campus faded to trees and grass and flowing water.

I’d stop. I’d take out my headphones. I’d breath. And in all the madness of tests, papers, girls, extracurricular activities, work and my future, I’d find some quiet solace.

I was a four-hour drive from my tiny Northeast Ohio hometown, and a good twenty-four minute run away from the culture and demands of college. Out there, I was just myself, unattached to any of the expectations I felt during most waking hours of the day.

My thoughts were my own. I wasn’t clumsily trying to find my place in the complicated maze of a Catholic school that in many ways was polarized by distinctly separate religious and party cultures. I was never a frat boy — or a “bro” — and was beginning to learn that the quintessential guilt complex associated with Catholicism was no longer working for me.

In those rare moments on that bike path I think for the first time I really connected with how lonely adulthood can be. I had nothing but time and space to reflect on what I was doing in school and how it fit with my goals for when I graduated. Nobody could or would say anything in response to my thoughts because they belonged only to me and that river before me, as they flowed on as naturally and honestly as its swift currents. And everything was for me to decide or figure out on my own when I was there because I had to run another three miles before I could reach another soul worth confiding in for feedback or affirmation.

It was in that spot that I challenged my beliefs, talked myself down from countless hours of anxiety, thought about my family and what life would be like when I finally had to graduate and leave the kind of true friends I never thought I’d find before I went to UD, even in a social scene that wasn’t always easy to relate to. It was the place where I just dreamed, wide awake to the possibilities and challenges before me, and it was perhaps in that nook of the world, away from all the noise of campus and rushed visits to my hometown, that I saw life most clearly and objectively.

I didn’t immediately find the benefit of escapism when I started running 11 years ago. When I was in high school I ran for a very competitive cross country team that had won or placed second at the state meet for at least 15 years in a row. A big part of me was determined to be one of the top seven runners so I could compete at the state meet. It was this crazy, surreal concept to me, that spot on the winner’s podium. It was the place I’d seen in pictures speckled with the faces of people whose names had become that of local legend, and they wore the same high school jersey I’d found in my perhaps otherwise inconsequential Midwestern hamlet.

In a small town – one square miles in my case – high school sports are everything, and a state title is a golden piece of immortality that guarantees bragging rights and pride well into any of the dull and sleepy years following graduation day. But I wasn’t after that. Part of me, for a lot of different reasons, always wanted to leave town and move far away as long as I can remember. I wasn’t after lifelong bragging rights, but a feeling I’d seen on the faces of so many great athletes who had gone before me, who trained on the same roads, and dirt and gravel paths as I had.

So I dedicated myself to running. A lot. I knew I wasn’t a natural athlete, so I trained through cold winters and hot summers to get faster, and a few times I was one of the top members of my team. I would have stayed there had it not been for a couple nasty stress fractures that benched me for a total of six months throughout high school. I always got up to fight my back again, but it was hard. My ego took a huge hit every time I found myself having to struggle to regain all the hard work I’d already done. And after a while, I think it broke me mentally a little bit.

Running wasn’t much of an escape for me. Fighting back from injuries while I watched my teammates excel on what seemed like far less effort than it took me to get back to the spot I had before – ahead of many of them – was too much to make it fun.

I accomplished plenty for myself as a high school runner. First of all, I didn’t have a prayer in hell to be anything resembling a contender when I started as a chubby seventh grader. Just finding that fire within me to say “hell no, I’m not settling with this,” and making the choice to get better was my first victory. It changed my life. It taught me discipline, and helped me realize my strength behind a lot of insecurity and self-doubt. I broke five minutes in the mile and several races at small meets my senior year. I got under 18 minutes for a 5K, a meager victory at best for any elite runner, but a huge milestone for me after climbing back from several months of injuries.

What started out as the best thing I ever did became a major source of stress for me in high school.

But in college, and especially on that bike path in Dayton, Ohio, I finally found some peace in my running. There was no pressure to beat anyone, no clique to try to ignore or occasionally strive to fight my way into. It was just me, breathing and striding and figuring things out on my own. I discovered something new and special about running when I stopped taking it so seriously. I realized that it was something I could do just for myself, and no matter how much things changed, when I ran, I always just felt like me, untouched by any of the changes happening in the world around me.

Now, 2,000 miles away from Dayton, my feet propped up to alleviate legs tired from the first week and a half of the five months of marathon training, I still have yet to find a spot like that barren spit of Ohio flood plain. But training for this long-held dream of completing 26.2 miles has helped me rediscover that this passion — like an old familiar friend — will be with me wherever I go.