Thursday, April 30, 2015

God Doesn't Hate Gays, People Do

A lot of thoughts have been swirling around in my head for some time about this country we live in, what it means to be a minority in the "land of the free," the hate that seems to permeate sizable portions of our society, the fear mongers that pass for political leaders, and so-called "Christians" who would be the first to crucify Jesus all over again.*

These thoughts congealed into something yesterday when I read an anecdote about an incident that had happened in Tuesday's oral arguments at the Supreme Court. Despite all the coverage, I hadn't heard about it until I read a short essay in The New Yorker penned by Jeffrey Toobin. Here's the relevant passage:
There was a shocking, ugly moment during the argument of Obergefell v. Hodges, the same-sex marriage case, in the Supreme Court on Tuesday. Right after Mary Bonauto, the lawyer challenging marriage bans in several states, completed her argument, a spectator rose from a back row and started screaming, “If you support gay marriage, you will burn in Hell!” As the man yelled, “It’s an abomination!,” guards carried him from the courtroom. That wasn’t the ugly part, though. In the quiet moment after the man was removed, as his shouts vanished into the hallway, Justice Antonin Scalia filled the silence with a quip. “It was rather refreshing, actually,” he said.
How is it possible that the senior associate justice on the United States Supreme Court, even considering the outrageousness of many of his comments in the past, could make such a statement in such a place at such a time? How indeed.

There was a time when I considered myself a part of America's majority. I am white. I am male. I grew up in a solid middle-class home. I was raised in one of America's dominant Christian denominations (Roman Catholicism). My ancestors had lived in what is now the United States since the earliest days of colonial America. I became well-educated. I never had to worry about being discriminated against because of my race, my religion or my national origin. I never had to worry about police brutality or poverty or being intimidated at the ballot box or being sent to the back of the bus.

I knew what "America" meant. I viewed it through the eyes of the majority, because I was part of the majority. Though I could try to empathize with those who were women or black or Asian or poor or ignorant or Jewish or Muslim, I didn't and couldn't have expected to understand what it meant to be part of a minority in America.

I understand now. At least to some extent.

Though I was always a part of one of America's most maligned and persecuted minorities, I was safe as along as I stayed in the closet. A few years ago, however, I decided I could no longer do that; and so I became a minority. And things changed. For the first time in my life, I viewed America differently.

America was not necessarily the land of the free that I had perceived it to be. America was not necessarily the land of equal rights that I had perceived it to be. All the myths in which I had once been so strongly invested were now the precinct of "them" - the people with all the rights, all the power, all the sense of entitlement; the people who defined "right" because they were in the majority and thus is was their prerogative. America looked different because I was different.

Many of the people in the majority project their sense of "right" onto God. It has always been thus throughout the history of the American Republic and indeed in the histories of those nations who peopled America. God was who the majority said he is, at least as far as it relates to America's civil religion; and our laws have historically been based in large part on what this majority said was their God's will. The Majority god ruled. And the majority was happy, content and too often smug as long as things remained this way.

All of the hoo-haa about religious freedom in the country today is, in my view, a reaction to the majority's projected image of God being challenged in ways they do not at all like. But the only thing threatened in America today respecting religious freedom is this image, a projection that has been used far too long by the majority to impose its will upon others. It is also a projection that has channeled hate, disgust and violence from people to their god and back onto American society. 

God doesn't hate gay people. People hate gay people, and they use their god to justify their hatred. 

This is the sentiment that was spewed by the "protestor" inside the Supreme Court. And it is also the sentiment that lay behind Justice Scalia's "joke." It is well known what Scalia's attitude toward "gay rights" has long been and that he is a "devout Catholic." (So is Pope Francis, but I daresay that he and Scalia are miles apart on this issue and their approach to it.) As Toobin wrote in his piece, "[T]here’s every reason to believe that Scalia more or less shared the protester’s view of the immorality of homosexuality, and that he regards the Court’s toleration of gay people as one of the great disasters of his nearly three decades as a Justice."

Scalia's remark jolted me. It reminded me that I am part of a minority that is despised in certain quarters (some of which are very powerful) of this nation. And it all, sooner or later, comes back to religion and the great God of the majority. 

But the truth remains: God doesn't hate gay people; people do.
* If the religious right's reaction to a number of Pope Francis' statements and initiatives is any indicator, it's a pretty good bet that Jesus would not be welcome in many places of worship in this country, and he certainly wouldn't we welcome in the what the religious-freedom advocates like to refer to as "the public square," where his views and level of discourse would be, I fear, not at all  welcome.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Love, Life and Michael Tolliver

I've been doing a lot of reading since the first of the year. Among the books I've read in the past four months have been six books in Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City Series: the last three of the original series and the three that have been published more recently.

For those not familiar with the series, Maupin, an openly gay man, started writing the books in the mid-1970's. They feature a core group of characters who live in San Francisco that includes gay men, lesbians, straight women, straight men and trans men and women. Since the original book was written in the mid-1970's and the most recent book was just published, the series follows the lives of these core characters (as well as others introduced from time to time) over the course of 40 years.

My favorite book in the series is Michael Tolliver Lives - the first Maupin wrote after an almost 20-year break (which I'll get back to below). Michael, a gay man originally from central Florida, was one of the original characters whose youthful wit and vitality very much reminded me of the character Emmett Honeycutt (pictured above) from the TV series, Queer as Folk. When the Tales began in the mid-70's, Michael was in his 20's; in Lives, he is in his 50's with the third great love of his life, the first having died of AIDS, the second, Thack, having moved on.

Coming Out and Learning to Love Oneself

Michael had a lot to say over the course of the nine books about being gay and about sex, love and relationships, and I would have loved the novels based on his character and his comments alone. I first truly fell in love with him when, early in the series (More Tales of the City), he wrote a coming out letter to his very religious, very conservative "Mama" back in Orlando who had become involved in Anita Bryant's anti-gay crusade of the mid-late 70's. I wrote about this letter here, and I'll just include the following passages in this post:
"I know I can't tell you what it is to be gay. But I can tell you what it's not. 
"It's not hiding behind words, Mama. Like 'family' and 'decency' and 'Christianity.' It's not fearing your body, or the pleasures that God made for it. It's not judging your neighbor, except when he's crass or unkind. 
"Being gay has taught me tolerance, compassion and humility. It has shown me the limitless possibilities of living. It has given me people whose passion and kindness and sensitivity have provided a constant source of strength. It has brought me into the family of man, Mama ..."
Living and Loving in the Shadow of Death

Jumping ahead to the book, Sure of You, Michael and his lover, Thack, deal with Michael's HIV-positive status. This novel was written in the late 80's, and at that time there was virtually no assurance that anyone who was positive would survive. Life became a waiting game to see if HIV became AIDS. In this environment, Maupin put the following words in Thack's mouth:
"Sometimes I watch [Michael] with [the dog] or digging the yard. And I think: This is it, this is the guy I've waited for all my life. Then this other voice tells me not to get used to it, that it'll only hurt more later. It's funny. You're feeling this enormous good fortune and waiting for it to be over at the same time."
This passage obviously resonated deeply with me. Mark is the one I've waited for all my life. I feel enormous good fortune; but I know he has inoperable cancer and that, at some point, he will leave. We wait to see what his PSA will do, knowing that it will continue to go up. We wait to see how his hip pain will evolve, grateful for days that he is pain-free. We wait to see how he will feel tomorrow, or the next day, or next week, or next month, or in three months. We wait. But we live each day and cherish the love that we have in and for each other.

Michael Tolliver Lives ... and Loves

I suppose Maupin chose the title for this book because Michael Tolliver lived: he didn't contract AIDS, he didn't die. He grew older. In this book, he is in his early 50's. A younger man, Ben, has become his love and his husband. 

But this novel, although it explores the relationship between these two men, is primarily concerned with Michael's relationship with his family of origin back in Florida. His father is dead and his mother is dying. He journeys to Florida with Ben to visit his declining mother and his brother's family. Against this backdrop, below are some of the passages I highlighted as I was reading this book.

"[L]ove is always on loan, never the nest egg we want it to be." 

Michael has realized that love is not something we can cling to. We must hold it, gently, as a butterfly in our hand that may fly away at any moment.
"'The thing is,' [Michael] said, 'Thack did me a favor by leaving. I might never have noticed how little [love] I was getting if he hadn't taken it away.'"
Michael had learned his lesson. So have I. So have others. Sometimes, we cling to a love because it's all we know. We invest ourselves in it, thinking it's all we deserve. Or we want it so badly to be real and authentic and nurturing. But it's not. And we only find that out until after the relationship has ended.
"My folks still love me alright, but they saw that love as cause for forgiveness, not acceptance ... My life had been conveniently reduced to a 'lifestyle' by then, something easily separable from me, that they could abhor to their hearts' content without fear of being perceived as unchristian."
In this short passage, Michael gives voice to what so much of us feel but can't quite express. We know in our hearts that "love the sinner, hate the sin" is deeply hateful ... of the person, not the sin. We sense that what we are offered is not real love, but "compassion," i.e., tolerance tinged with a bit of forgiveness.

Michael's older brother is everything Michael is not. He is a real estate wheeler dealer, lives in a monster house somewhere in the Orlando area and is a deacon in his church. Many of us have relatives like that whose lives appear - on the surface - so charmed, so perfect, so "right." After visiting for a few days in Florida, Michael says of his brother and his life (as well as his own):
"[I] realized that I envied nothing about my brother's [conservative, 'Christian'* and straight] life ... none of the the things I once worried I might be missing if I committed fully to a life of homosexuality. That life hasn't been perfect, but it has been my life, tailored to my dreams and safely beyond the reach of God's terrible swift sword. My brother can't say that. Never could."
Isn't that what so many LGBT people have had to face at some point on their journey: that if they were true to who they are, they thought they would be missing out on what our culture overwhelmingly values? How many people, on the other hand, can say that their life - with all its imperfections - "is MY life, tailored to MY dreams?" [*Am I the only one who is sick of conservative evangelical Christians claiming for themselves the label of 'Christian' - as if mainline Protestants and Catholics aren't really "Christian?"]

Michael had a difficult relationship with his mother. I could relate very strongly to their relationship. When "Mama" was near death in a nursing home, Michael had a choice to make. As he and Ben were waiting for their flight to Florida, they received word that the woman whom Michael viewed as his "true" mother, Anna Madrigal, was in a life-threatening situation. He chose to stay in San Francisco to be with Anna (who often quipped that she and all her "children" - none of whom were related by blood - were a "natural family" rather than a biological family. When my mother passed, I was faced with a similar decision: I was needed at home. I had said my goodbyes already.

Of his decision, Michael explains:
"People always say, 'Of course you love her, you have to, she's your mother,' but that kind of love can die as easily as any of the others. It has to be fed by something ... I let her go a long time ago. I've done my mourning already."
I could have said the same thing.

Thank you, Armistead Maupin, for creating Michael Tolliver.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Looking Beyond the Pro-Forma of Life

In the early years of my marriage, I occasionally wrote in my journal about my struggle with homosexuality – though I invariably, at some point or another, would go through and redact these passages for reasons I explain below. My journal was reflective of much of the rest of my life:  keeping it was a commandment (of sorts), so I sought with zeal to fulfill that commandment.  

Keeping a journal is something that President Spencer W. Kimball - who was president of the Mormon Church when I joined in 1983 - greatly emphasized as a commandment. It sprung out of a Mormon tradition to be a “record-keeping people” which finds its origins, in part, in the mythic tradition of the Book of Mormon. Though still taught in the LDS Church, however, journal writing (like other things taught by President Kimball, such as the importance of gardening and the abominable nature of homosexuality) is not emphasized today the way it was 30-40 years ago.

My journal was voluminous; I kept it faithfully for over 25 years and it filled several shelves of binders. However, it was, generally speaking, as dry as the paper on which I wrote, devoid of life. I was going through the motions; even though I loved to write, this love was masked and controlled by my overarching desire to “do what is right” and fulfill the commandment, regardless of whether doing so brought joy.  

I also always had President Kimball’s admonition in mind to only write things that would be edifying to my descendants when, someday, they would read my magnum opus and find therein inspiration as they faced struggles in their own lives. This of course only encouraged me to be more wooden and stilted in my journal-writing. I omitted many thoughts and feelings, e.g., those dealing with the constant marital difficulties my ex-wife and I experienced and those dealing with homosexuality (and redacting those I occasionally wrote). I also colored what I did record to be suitably appropriate for other eyes to possibly read someday.

I came to see how journal-writing was a metaphor for much of my adult life after joining the Church.  I sought with zeal to fulfill the commandments, regardless of whether doing so brought me joy.  Frankly, it never brought me joy. 

Of course, I told myself that there truly was “real” joy underneath the layers of unhappiness that I only dimly allowed myself to feel. I told myself that if I applied myself with even more fervor to living the “Mormon life,” I would indeed experience the joy and happiness that comes from “living the Plan of Happiness.” If I only persisted in applying myself day in, day out, the mere act of doing so would produce – somewhere, sometime – happiness. 

Until that happened, I had to exercise faith and “do my duty” (as we men were constantly admonished to do), always living my life for others, for externals, believing that in doing so, my internal self would – in some mysterious and indefinable way – be blessed and benefitted and I would find fulfillment and the ever-elusive purpose of life (according to Nephi):  to have [experience] joy.

Which brings to me to the second way that journal writing was a metaphor for my life, i.e., President Kimball’s admonition that we write only those things that could be edifying. Even in recording the things of our soul, we were encouraged to not be in touch with our feelings, with our real selves, but to put up the “Mormon wall” between the person whom we were supposed to be and that whom we really are. 

Furthermore, members of the LDS Church are encouraged to live for the benefit of others, their lives finding their truest and most sublime meaning only with reference to what we do for others. There is no value, per se, in merely being, or in our unique individuality. One's purpose is defined in terms of doing, and that doing must meet a suitability test.

And so, my dry (mainly dry) journal was really a reflection of and metaphor for my (mainly) dry life.  

About the time I came out, I stopped keeping a journal and instead took up blogging. On my blog, I truly did write the “things of my soul.” Will it be for the “profit of my children”?  I don’t know; perhaps. It will most definitely (I hope) convey to them – or at least some of them - should they ever read it, that their father finally became a real person and set out on a journey for true meaning and authenticity after living most of his adult life as a cardboard cutout; and that he sought – finally – to give expression to his true thoughts and feelings. 

I have continued to blog over the years since then, but I also started keeping a journal again after I met Mark. He had kept a (real) journal for years and inspired me to begin anew. This time around, however, the journal would not for the benefit of my children nor would it be kept to fulfill any kind of commandment. Rather, I would keep it willingly as a means of meditating upon my life, of discovering myself, of coaxing answers and eliciting questions.  

That was the theory, but I have still had to work at overcoming a legacy of merely looking at life instead of seeing it, of merely chronicling life rather than querying it. I rediscovered, when recently in San Francisco, that blogging helps me to do these things. As I wrote in my journal, 
"Blogging forces me to look beyond the pro-forma of life, to behold it, to engage with it. In that engagement is found life, insight, truth and humanity. In the past, I have told myself that I needed to 'stop writing about life and start living it'; but I have realized that, for me, that is not true. In order for me to see and truly live life, I need to write about it. And so I shall continue to try."

Thursday, April 23, 2015

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Bus and a Gay Jew

They were on the bus when we got on at 24th and Castro in Noe Valley. But I didn't want to associate the Castro or Noe Valley with these women. So I thought of choosing the name of the street toward the end of the bus ride: the Divisadero Ladies Society. But they weren't ladies. (No, they weren't men in drag, either.) So I settled on the name, the "Sisterhood of the Traveling Bus."

I'm about to describe the one unsavory experience that Mark and I had during our recent trip to San Francisco. There were a lot of people on the bus when we boarded, and - a first - a transit cop was on board. When we stepped on, he motioned for us to wave our pass card in front of the beeper, then turned aside. We had a paper pass, which I made an effort to extract, but he was by then engaged in other matters, clearly not interested in whether we "beeped" or not.

We moved to the back of the bus and sat down. It wasn't long before we realized our mistake, for we were sitting in the midst of a half-dozen or so African-American women - some, like the one in front of us, quite large. Now, ordinarily I wouldn't have thought that a problem at all. But these women immediately started exchanging some of the most vulgar and unbelievably coarse comments I've ever heard (and I don't use the word "vulgar" lightly). 

As soon as the bus moved away from the stop, the conversation - which was very loud - turned to male genitalia ...

Meanwhile, I had gotten out the paperback book I've been reading entitled, An Underground Life, Memoirs of a Gay Jew in Nazi Berlin, by Gad Beck. I'm not sure now how I was led to this book. Considering the subject matter, it is fairly light in tone. I am sure this is due to the nature of the man Gad Beck was. In his memoirs, he writes about how he accepted his homosexuality at a young age as if it was the most natural thing in the world. And despite the time - the 30's - and the environment - Nazi Berlin - he appears to have been pretty open about his sexuality and fairly, shall we say, randy.

Gad Beck (right) and his first love, Manfred Lewin, who perished in a death camp.

But I wonder how many people - heterosexual or homosexual - would have had the courage to do what he did when he was only 18 year old in a detention center on Rosenstrasse in Berlin. He and his father had been rounded up in late winter/early spring of 1943. (Goebbels initiated his Factory Operation to rid Berlin of the last of the Jews as a birthday present to Hitler.) Beck quickly found a young man with whom he was simpatico. But then the boy's father pulled some strings and got himself and his son out. Beck then writes:
"After my young friend and his father had been released, I looked around for someone else I liked. My eye caught a really tall guy! I always managed to get close to him at night. When the lights were turned off, easily, effortlessly, we slid closer together. With so many people in one room the nights were anything but quiet anyway ... I refined my method of making love when there are other people sleeping in the same room. No one should notice, but satisfaction should be possible nevertheless. Affection, gentleness and letting go are the key words ..."
Beck's first love had been Manfred Lewin. He had been taken one day, along with Manfred's parents. Beck writes of an extraordinary scene when he learned what had happened. Manfred's two brothers, Schlomo and Rudi, having been at work during the round up were at the Lewin home and greeted Gad. They told him they planned to voluntarily join their parents in the morning. Beck wrote:
"The atmosphere within the Lewins' four empty walls was strangely mixed. I was in absolute despair, almost panic-stricken ... It was one of many goodbyes, and for me it was without a doubt the hardest of all ... I screamed and cried, and they couldn't calm me down. I hardly even registered that they were there until Schlomo took me in his arms to comfort me. He started to cry, too. What happened then was not all that surprising; we made love ... [H]e was facing an uncertain fate, and this was perhaps his last chance to experience closeness, unguarded and without danger. For me it was like a farewell from Manfred, a goodbye I never had the chance to say ... The graveness of the moment aroused a desperate passion in Schlomo and me."
Extraordinary. Powerful. Moving. And it involves two men.

I had read the above passages before getting on that bus in San Francisco. What I was trying to read while we were graced with the company of the Sisterhood of the Traveling Bus, came a few pages later, as their coarse comments about oral sex and ensuing laughter continued. Once we were actually down in the Castro and approaching Market Street, the subject shifted to gay men, or "little muscle boys" as one woman said. But their other comments were far, far worse, some of which involved "midgets." At length, the transit cop (who was also African American) turned to them and said, "Man, you ladies are vulgar!" (as in VULL-ger). They laughed even harder. Somewhat poignantly, one of the women said, "What do you expect? We don't have a life."

Meanwhile, my eyes bored into my book. The contrast between what I was reading and what I was hearing could not have been more surreal. 

Some time after he lost Manfred, Gad formed a relationship with another Jew in hiding, Zwi Abrahamssohn, pictured left. He too, was eventually rounded up, handed over by Jewish snatchers and tortured for information. Beck explains:
"When Zwi got arrested, I nearly lost my mind ... Little by little the noose was tightening around our necks. We had to find new hideouts, new ways to get food ... Berlin was getting increasingly dangerous for all of us, since the Gestapo was installing more and more Jewish snatchers. [Having read Harry Potter 7, I wondered if this is where J.K. Rowling got the inspiration for the snatchers in her novel.] One of the most notorious was ... Stella Goldschlag ... [who was] blackmailed [by the Gestapo] into working for them by threatening to send her parents ... to a concentration camp ... Stella quickly became a merciless perpetrator ... as she hunted down illegals and had them arrested, usually accompanied by her fellow snatcher Rolf Isaaksohn."
By then, we had crossed Market, gone over the hill and had veered onto Divisadero. I kept hoping that the women would get off the bus. They didn't. I kept hoping they would, frankly, shut up. They didn't. I kept wondering if we should get off and walk. We didn't. I didn't personally dislike those women. I did, however, strongly dislike hearing what they were saying. It wasn't a matter of "disapproval" in any way remotely relating to religion or "morality," though I have to admit that did briefly arise like bile. I felt sorry for them. I felt sorry that they, by their own admission, didn't "have a life." And I felt sorry that everyone else on the bus had to listen to them.

What made that experience more bearable for me was what I was reading. Despite the degrading atmosphere of that bus and the Sisterhood of the Traveling Bus, I felt inspired. I thought of how Gad and his groups of friends, despite the degrading and degraded world in which they lived, found love, courage and hope. They, in spite of everything, "had a life."

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Of Ballgames, Athleticism and Self-Perception

I hadn't been to a professional baseball game since about 1968, when I went with my dad, my brother and some friends to a Cardinals game in the old (then new) Busch Stadium in St. Louis. So when our friends Chris and Jason invited us to a Giants game in San Francisco on Sunday, it might as well have been my first time.

My relationship with baseball when I was growing up was only slightly warmer than was my aversion to basketball and football. I was a boy, and I was expected to be involved in at least one sport. So I tried Little League.* The picture below is the only one of me in some time of sports-related uniform. I think my parents probably sensed this unique opportunity; thus the photograph.

(* I was also on a swim team for several years in 4th-6th grade. I enjoyed that partly because it was an individual sport, and I didn't have to worry about not catching a baseball that was hurtling toward me in the outfield.)

Oh. There was one other picture that is baseball-related. When I was in second or third grade, a father-son banquet was held at our Catholic elementary school. (My dad was out of town, so somebody else took me.) Somehow, through some connection or another, our parish priest had arranged for Lou Brock, the famous Cardinals' player, to come to our banquet. Thus the picture below of me getting an autograph from him. I'm in a sports coat. I think that is my older brother Danny partially hidden behind me. Notice he was handing Brock his baseball, whereas I had a piece of paper. Somehow that seems significant to me.

But I digress. Back to Sunday afternoon. The weather was beautiful, the views were gorgeous, the company was excellent. But the Giants sucked. They lost the game 5-1, and the most exciting part of the whole game was when an Arizona Diamondback player got caught between the third baseman and the catcher. Apparently, that is called a hot box. I may have known that at one point in my life.

Mark, Chris and Jason. We attended their wedding last month.

Then there was the entertainment provided by the gravelly-voiced older gentleman a row behind us and (thankfully) a half-dozen seats down. He quite often expressed his opinion of the game through a powerful voice that had obviously had some practice at this activity. A fierce Giants fan, he was growing alarmed after the Razorbacks had scored five runs in the first three innings. At the beginning of the bottom of the fourth, he yelled, "Somebody DO something!" Later, he pinned his hopes on a Giants batter: "I may be a crotchety old fart, but I like this kid!" The player struck out.

After the game, we made our way across town to the Castro for dinner with Jason and Chris. The food was good, the wine - a Pinot Noir from the northern coast of California - was delicious and the company excellent. I suppose because all the other diners in the restaurant were gay men, we felt free to talk and laugh about subjects that we would not have felt free to do in another setting.

Monday was our last full day in San Francisco. We topped off our activities with a dinner with one of our cycling friends, Kathy, whom we had first met in Corsica in the fall of 2012. In the photo below, she is in the midst of all of us on the concluding night of that tour. (Mark is seated behind her and I am seated to her left.) We were also together last fall on our tour in France and we will meet again this September on our tour in Italy.

In Annecy last fall: Jim (tour leader), Kathy and Bob

I have thoroughly enjoyed cycling these past three years, and I have particularly enjoyed our cycling trips. Kathy recently shared with me what one of our mutual friends wrote of these tours we take: “It ends up being so much more than just biking on little roads through incredible scenery racking up the elevation and the miles. It’s the challenge of putting yourself out there day after day, physically, emotionally, and socially with almost complete strangers who end up feeling like best friends.” That's the way we feel about Kathy and others such as Tom, Michelle and Malcolm. We can't wait to see them again this fall.

I started off writing this post about how sports was not a big part of my early life. It continued not to be until relatively recently. In 1999, I started walking, then moved into running most days. I ran two marathons in 2002 (that cured me of ever attempting another one). 

But it was only after I came out that I started going to the gym and only three years ago that I started cycling. I capped that first season with our cycling trip to Corsica. When word got out in the group that it was my first season, people couldn't believe it. They thought I'd been cycling for years. 

Mark helped me to discover something in myself that I never knew I had. He actually told me - with a straight face - that I was/am a natural athlete. No one had ever told me that before (with perhaps good reason). It wasn't until I was in my 50's that I began to perceive of myself differently, that I allowed myself to belief something about myself that I had always been told - by myself and others - was not true. I'm thankful for that opportunity and for all the other opportunities I have had during these past five years to learn that I'm not what other people have told me I am and that I am what other people have long told me I'm not.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Breakfast in Noe Valley

If I had three or four months to spare from responsibilities, commitments and life in Utah, I think I'd move to San Francisco and blog about breakfast restaurants all over the city and the perambulations I made to reach them. I don't have three or four months to spare, but I have spent the last week doing just that, and I've loved it - both the experience and the food.

On Saturday and again on Sunday morning, we walked down to a restaurant called Savor at 24th and Sanchez. We went back because there was so much on the menu we wanted to try after our first visit.

On Saturday, I had the "Baja Scramble," featuring chicken apple sausage, mushrooms, spinach, onions, chipotle peppers with roasted jalapeno, cheddar cheese & salsa fresca. Delicious. (I've had chicken apple sausage in several forms since being here and am definitely going to have to check my gourmet food store (Costco) when we get back home.) Mark and I also shared Savor's French toast "Parisienne" (pictured in the lead photo above), made from raisin walnut cinnamon bread. This became Mark's favorite French toast of the trip, but mine remains the Cinnamon croissant at Chloe's, topped with strawberries and maple syrup, pictured below.

That did not stop me, however, from ordering it again on Sunday morning (to split, of course). To go along with this, I ordered their Rio Grande scramble, comprised of eggs, grilled chicken breast, mushrooms, sun-dried tomatoes, spinach and goat cheese. Again, delicious, and a protein extravaganza. Couldn't get to the potatoes.

And then there was the walking part of the experience. Here are some of the photos I took as we wended our way through the streets of Noe Valley:

A poinsettia bush, the first I've ever seen. It was gorgeous.

Yesterday morning, we ate at another place on 24th: Griddle Fresh. It was the lemon ricotta pancakes that caught Mark's eye and lured us in. We shared those, and I had the garden scramble featuring "garlic, tomato, fennel, eggplant, Kalamata olive, basil pesto, grilled asparagus, and Grana Padano sprinkle." I couldn't eat it all, but it was good.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Japanese Tea Gardens: Of Seeing and Seeking

Mark and I took a long loop walk on Saturday through Golden Gate Park, just about from one end to the other. Neither one of us had ever been there before. The most satisfying part of the walk for me was being able to now better picture scenes from one of Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City novels. That is, until we arrived at the Japanese Tea Garden.

My "serious" pose looking over Ocean Beach (which seems somehow like an oxymoron). 

Flora in the park

They don't grow rhododendrons like this back in Utah.

When we entered the Japanese garden, we both felt like we were back in Japan (where we trekked for three weeks on our honeymoon back in September 2013). For me, to walk into a Japanese garden is to be transported into a place that exudes peace and the invitation to contemplate and appreciate beauty that is mindfully created. Almost every square foot exudes meaning - sometimes hidden from unappreciating and/or uncomprehending eyes. 

A sign with a hidden, metaphorical meaning. Stay on the path that leads to enlightenment. Self. Community. World.

I like the imagery of the path. It brings to mind a dirt trail, hard-packed from the passage of many feet, but in the forest and its periphery, removed from the much more heavily-traveled highways. It also brings to mind pilgrims, wanderers and wonderers, who seeking, see, and who seeing, seek. May I always be counted among such numbers.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

San Francisco: Out and About

One of the reasons I love coming to San Francisco is because I am able to experience what it feels like to be just another gay man among many. Wherever we have gone in the city, there are other gay men, gay couples, trans people and lesbians (not to mention, I'm sure, bisexuals). Not just in the Castro, but everywhere. That is not something one experiences in Salt Lake City ... although that is changing somewhat.

On this trip, we're staying at a VRBO in Noe Valley. These are some of the views from near our place.

Another reason I like coming to San Francisco: friends and food. I wrote a bit about the food yesterday. We spent Thursday and Friday evenings with a couple we met in January on Little Beach in Maui. One of the highlights of this trip for me will be the memory of watching Mark holding Rob and David's little girl, Kimaya, on his lap as Rob and her (and Mark) "read" books. Both Rob and Kimaya had the lines memorized, and it was like watching a dance of love between the two of them. Precious.

On Friday night, we had dinner with Rob and David and another gay couple - Eric and Doug - who are friends of theirs. That was so much fun. There was an instant rapport among all of us, but especially between Eric and myself, due partly to the fact that we were both Mormon - he coming from a large multi-generation Mormon family (and I an adult convert). Among other things, we exchanged stories of what it was like to be a closeted missionary, which will have to be a subject for another post. Today, we are going to a Giants game with friends - another gay couple and some of their friends; and tomorrow, we are having dinner with a woman we met on our cycling tours. We will have done more socializing in a week than we normally due in several months back home.

We also love coming to San Francisco because, well, it's San Francisco. We've enjoyed - for the most part - doing a lot of walking since being here, averaging about six-seven miles per day. Fortunately, the weather's been wonderful. (We were even able to walk around in T-shirts one day, it was so warm.) We're definitely sore from walking up and down hills, but we've enjoyed ambulations through various neighborhoods, taking in the architecture, the flora and ordinary San Franciscans going about their day.

 View from the top of Dolores Park

A neighborhood garden we walked by on our way to Cole Valley on Wednesday.

The man in the blue sweatshirt told us that the garden had been the creation of the man sitting next to him over the course of a number of years. Their doggie walked over for a pet.

Sunrise from our balcony

The best part about being here, however, is the time that Mark and I have spent together. As he said last night as we had cocktails in our condo, he writing in his journal, me reading:

"Everything about this moment is appropriate."