.org.18: A Battered Old Suitcase to a Hotel Someplace
Now listening to: William Ellwood, Renaissance
Now reading: Shane Dixon, 100 TESOL Activities for Teachers: Practical ESL/EFL Activities for the Communicative Classroom
Now playing: Jackbox Party Pack 2 (PC)
In the early days of the .org — starting today, there are now people old enough to vote in America who were born the same day as this website — I held nothing back here. I was in a very difficult part of my life, where I basically had to reinvent myself to avoid going any crazier than I already had, and even though the year that followed was one of the hardest I’ve ever had to deal with, I emerged at the end of the year with my life back on track. More challenges were on the horizon, but having this nascent website as a place to vent was a definite blessing, back in the days before social media.
Over time, as I finished college and embarked on my professional careers, the need for some discretion here caused the first real shift in my approach to this website. That was about six years into the life of the .org, and then six years after that, when my first novel started generating some press (years before it would actually be published), I had to make yet more changes to how I approached certain topics on here. There have been many design changes here over the last eighteen years, of course, but of all the events during that time which have changed the direction of the .org, finishing university and launching the publicity for my first novel were undoubtedly two of the biggest.
I haven’t always been open on here about every single thing in my life, though, and as I wrote here last year for the seventeenth anniversary of the .org, I didn’t feel comfortable saying anything more than that I was probably about to deal with some big firsts in my life before the end of the year. I was right. Exactly one month after I posted that entry here, I took a plane trip for the first time in my life, I changed time zones for the first time in my life, and I moved out of Ohio for the first time in my life. It’s been eleven months now, and a significant part of me still can’t believe that I did all of that, even though all the details of that day are still relatively fresh in my head.
There will come a time when I can go into greater detail about all the factors that resulted in me making this move, but suffice it to say for now that as I wrote here at this time last year, it was quickly becoming evident to me that continuing to live in Toledo was simply untenable. As critical as I’ve been of my hometown — and I still continue to believe that there is far more bad to Toledo than there is good — I really didn’t want to leave, not only because I was craving stability in the aftermath of Mom’s passing the year before, but because I felt like I had no idea what I was doing. In retrospect, I really didn’t know what I was doing, but that’s just something I’m going to have to get used to as I navigate this crazy world on my own here, without Mom’s guidance to help me get through all these firsts.
I wound up living in Colorado Springs for a little over eight months, with friends I had there helping me make all the adjustments I needed to make there. That wasn’t easy, since I really had to start my whole life over in a lot of ways after I made that move, and I owe my friends there a debt that I’ll probably never be able to pay them back in full. In some ways, the move did me a world of good — I’ll never forget the gorgeous view I had of Pike’s Peak the whole time I was there — but I also retreated into myself a lot, not wanting to worry my friends with the deep feelings of uncertainty I was experiencing. I had every right to feel that way, but I still wished that I could have found some source of confidence there, something to help me feel like I could make Colorado Springs a home for myself in the same way that Toledo had been my home for nearly all my life up until that point.
As the weeks went on there in Colorado, I found myself missing Toledo more and more. When my birthday rolled around in March, and I couldn’t go to the pizzeria where Mom had been getting my birthday dinner from in the last years of her life (and still, in my opinion, the home of the best pizza in the world), I started trying to figure out some way to get back to Toledo for a short visit, not just for the birthday meal I missed out on, but also to visit some of my old haunts, especially the places where Mom and I had spent time together. I wasn’t sure when I’d have the resources for that, but I figured that the Thanksgiving holidays might provide me with the time I’d need to make that trip, and enjoy Toledo as much as I could in the late autumn.
In addition to finding part-time teaching work locally in Colorado, I’d also cast a wide net in my quest to find full-time teaching work. Before Mom’s passing, I’d needed to limit my search to colleges and universities within reasonable driving distance of Toledo (so I could be close enough to tend to all of her needs that kept coming up), but without that restriction in place, I figured that I should apply to openings far and wide, wherever I felt like I would be a good fit. I literally sent applications everywhere from Hawaii to the Yukon, but as summer dragged on, and I kept getting rejection after rejection, I felt like I needed to plan on doing the part-time thing in Colorado for a long time to come.
One morning in August, I got an email from the University of Wisconsin that I figured would be yet another “thanks but no thanks” form letter. I’d just woken up when my phone chirped its announcement of the new email, so I had to read the email through three times before I could even start to believe what I was seeing on my screen: An acceptance. One of the branch campuses of the University of Wisconsin wanted me to teach there full-time, and pay me full-time teaching wages (and benefits) for the first time in my teaching career. Even after reading and rereading the email all that morning, I still felt like something was wrong, that they’d made some kind of mistake or something like that, but after sending a reply back, they confirmed that they hadn’t made a mistake. After a decade of struggling, I’d finally been offered my dream job.
The one problem was that they needed me to get to Wisconsin in less than two weeks, and I didn’t exactly have the resources to do that easily, let alone get an apartment there and set myself up. Those fears were soon assuaged by my future co-workers bending over backwards to help me in every way they could, and so less than nine months after I made the first cross-country move of my life, I wound up making another one, arriving in Wisconsin on the 24th of August and then beginning my teaching career here a few days later. I have my own apartment, I have my own office, and I have wonderful students and co-workers I feel truly blessed to work with here.
As much as my new friends here in Wisconsin have helped me out, just like my friends in Colorado did when I was living there, I have to admit that I’m still feeling a sense of emptiness to it all. Mom and I shared a special bond that I’ll never experience with anyone else, and as much as I feel her spirit with me every day, the fact that she’s not physically here to see what I’ve made of myself still hurts, and that hurt is always going to be there in some form. As I’ve learned from all the losses I’ve experienced these last couple of decades, dealing with the pain may get easier, but it will never be easy. There’s always going to be a part of me that will miss being able to go down the stairs in our old house, see Mom smoking her cigarettes and drinking her Coke and watching her game shows, and ask her the question I always started every day with, a question more profound than its simple language might suggest, more profound than I could ever really explain to anyone except Mom: “What’s going on?”
The strange thing is, as Thanksgiving draws closer, what is going on is that I don’t feel the same need I felt earlier this year to make a pilgrimage back to Toledo over the upcoming holiday break. I still miss Toledo, and I hope that I can get back there before I write next year’s anniversary .journal entry, but even if I weren’t swamped with writing projects right now (including the preliminary research for my next book), I guess that I don’t really need to go get some good pizza, or walk in my favourite parks, in order to feel okay. Maybe that’s a sign that I am adjusting to my new life here in Wisconsin, and as painful as that void in my life created by Mom’s passing will always be, I’m at least doing all the things I need to do here.
The first seventeen years of the .org came to you from my hidey-holes in Toledo, and I’m hoping that I’ll have many more years of writing to put up on this website from my new apartment here in Wisconsin, on top of all the other professional projects I continue to pursue. Wisconsin will never be the home to me that Toledo was, but as I’ve settled in here these past three months, I’m feeling more and more like Wisconsin can be, at the very least, a new home for me. I guess that’s progress, and I’m glad for that, but I know that Mom wouldn’t want me to rest on my laurels here. Making these moves, and getting this job, have all been huge accomplishments for me, but I have to keep working harder here to reach even more new milestones, and to make the next eighteen years of my life even more fruitful than the last eighteen years have been.
Everyone take care and be well. I will see you all soon.