Thursday, June 30, 2011

I am a Rock

When I first saw this rock on Catalina Island, it screamed, "Blog Me!" Literally. Well, maybe not literally, perhaps it was the ocean crashing against it. But still, I saw its potential.

In the rock I saw life; life's layers, texture, resistance, and growth.

The rock, in its formation, remained strong, as rocks do. We see them as solid, sturdy, heavy. Yet, the outside forces of the earth eventually forced the rock to bend, ever so slightly and then violently upward, and yet, the rock still continued to remain strong and seemingly resistant. But the external forces did eventually win and the rock broke, ending up here on the Pacific side of Catalina.

As I go through this rebirth, I am also re-examining the layers in my life and bringing in my new found sense of self into them. I am a man, a teacher, a family member, a gay person, a friend. They run parallel to each other, and in some cases, crossover. When I plan lessons, I am a teacher; when I am working with students, I become a male teacher, ever conscious of the dangers of being alone with a student which doubles because I am gay. Some of my colleagues are also friends, so conversations can run between school and our personal lives. My friends have commented on the changes in me. I hope with the passing of summer I can put the added sense of me as a teacher and improve on my lesson planning and then beginning in September, in the actual delivery.

The different people I meet and the interests they bring add varied textures into my life. They have come into my life for a reason. And it is now up to me to discover why.

In my life I have been the rock. I have been resistant to the many outside forces pressing in on me. And I let them work me until I finally gave in and accepted the change. I resisted accepting my being gay for awhile, because God didn't make His followers gay. I resisted seeing the truth about my marriage for fear of admitting it had failed, or I had failed at it. Now, while I am not beckoning them to come and get me, I am finding myself a little less resistant to the forces of change; maybe still a little guarded, after all change is difficult and never comfortable. But without it, there is no growth. And while rocks don't 'grow,' they do change. They have no choice. They are inanimate. The forces of nature will eventually wear down this beautiful, solid rock, into millions and millions of grains of sand. Or this rock will go through its own cycle, converting it from one type of rock to another; from sedimentary to metamorphic or igneous, yet still remaining strong.

As I work through the sediment of my past, I am finding fossils buried deep within. Fossils of both pain and pride; fossils to pick up and examine for clues either to overcome or to celebrate in order to be able to move on. Fossils such as the abandonment issues of my parents' divorce, the loneliness I felt moving from school to school nearly every year, the fear of being called names or ostracized for being gay. And there are fossils of pride and strength: the strength of coming out, first, personally and then to my family and eventually my students; the strength of surviving a partner's death; the strength of past accomplishments; and the strength of just being where I am today in my life.

Rocks cannot resist change, as they are inanimate, but humans are sentient beings. We can choose to resist or accept change. Many of us resist. Perhaps because we are afraid of it and believe fear equals weakness. But, resistance to change should not equal weakness, for change can bring strength. I felt I was being strong because I was standing against the changes I faced, but it was actually fear. I was afraid of the unknown, afraid of being vulnerable. As I continue to mentally and emotionally process my divorce and adjust to a new life, I am finding myself growing stronger, and actually enjoying rediscovering myself, watching myself reawaken to who I once was and am now becoming again, though with the added wisdom of a few extra years. And as I contemplate my future with the Man Across the Bridge, I will change again, change to accommodate our lives together, not surrender my life to his. Because I am a rock, strong in the face of change.

Friday, June 24, 2011


I had the opportunity, responsibility and pleasure of accompanying 30 sixth graders (half of them from my class) to Catalina Island for 4 days of Marine Science Camp aboard the American Pride, a three masted schooner docked in Long Beach, California. The ship, in conjunction with the Children's Maritime Foundation, offers these school-year adventures to schools across California. (They also offer summer camps as well.)

On Monday, we sailed from Long Beach, for the 4 hour crossing to the island. As many of the students hadn't sailed before, they got sick. It was very primitive, as the ship is a replica of the Pligrim, which Richard Henry Dana sailed in along the California Coast from 1834-1836. Dana Point in California is named for him. Sleeping arrangements were tight, no adult privacy, and no hot water for bathing. But, that was how sailors lived back then. (Fortunately, we had much better food!)

We arrived in White's Landing, in between Avalon and Two Harbors, and anchored off-shore. The students were given brief instructions in kayaking and then kayaked to shore, while the adults were ferried in a small motorboat, along with those children who really didn't want to kayak at this time. Once we were all ashore, the students were given various activities to do and played games. Half of the group went out to play with the kayaks and the other half stayed on the shore and after about an hour or so, the groups switched.

I laid out in the sun for a while, a headache was creeping in as I had had two hours' sleep the night before due to the anxiety of "What did I get myself into?" as well as the magnitude of the responsibility I had with all these students, and the hurriedness of getting to school, and checking in all the students. Plus, the normal anxiety of any school trip. (This was the first time we had undertaken this trip so it was a big unknown for us at the school.) I sat there on the beach watching the students and my colleague, and headache notwithstanding, wondered why I wasn't living to my potential; why I wasn't happy. And it hit me.

The kids would ask me, "Mr. Ballam, are you going in the water?" "No," I would reply, "I have a headache." or "I don't feel like getting wet." The truth was I was struggling with Responsibility vs. Fun. How can I be the responsible adult, the teacher-in-charge and still have fun? They seemed to be like oil and water, they just didn't mix.

I think that in my last two relationships, well, my only relationships, I took on the role of the parent, the responsible one, the caretaker and didn't learn how, or better yet, wouldn't let myself have fun. And this in turn led to my depression. One of us had to be responsible. One of us had to make sure everything was going okay.

The second day on the ship I was watching these kids fearlessly jump anywhere from 15'-25' off the ship into 80' deep cold sea water. I must admit here I have never liked swimming in water where I couldn't see what was around my feet. I had stepped on a mossy rock as a child and freaked out. And once, I had also brushed my ankle against the bedspread at night while getting up to go to the bathroom, and felt the monster-under-the-bed reach out with his (or her) razor sharp claws slashing at my foot. (I have always had an active imagination. I still do, and it still gets me in trouble, though not with monsters.) Watching these kids and their fearlessness, I knew I had to do something, because I didn't want to let my fear of squishy stuff under my feet, along with my irrational fear of being eaten by sharks to keep me from truly having fun. There were other responsible adults around. The captain called "Closing Swim call in 15 minutes." It was now or never. I missed out on the kayaks (for now), so I drew my breath, stepped to the rail, steadied myself and encouraged by the chants of "Mr. Ballam! Mr. Ballam!", took a step and jumped 12 feet down into the Catalina Channel. I surfaced and began to tread water, which I was never good at, kept bobbing up and down, when I felt the cold water beginning to compress my lungs, making it harder to breathe. I swam to the inflatable boat waited my turn to get out, and climbed the ladder to the deck. I felt exhilarated, I had conquered a fear, I had pushed myself beyond my limits. I began to dry off.

One of my students whom I had taught for three years, came up to me a few minutes later and asked why I wasn't going back in. "I'm dry."

"But, you're still a little wet."

"I don't feel like getting wet again, I want to dry off."

"But you can dry off after."

My colleague was going through similar fears of her own. And she screwed up her courage and actually jumped from one of the rattlings, the ladder-like steps in the lines going from the railing of the ship to the top of each of the masts. If these kids can do it, and if she can do it, then I can do it. So, I climbed up on the rattlings, adding about another 5' to my previous personal record and.....

The exhilaration of having done this second jump has opened my eyes to the necessity of not giving in to fear. And whether that is a fear of jumping into an ocean, stepping up a ladder, handling a snake, or approaching a new relationship, fear is all around us. And always will be.

This entire experience has also opened my eyes to the possibility of exploring new adventures, providing the budget can support it. (I am, after all, a newly single person on one paycheck managing what used to be a two paycheck household.) And while I may not be ready to conquer the Antarctic, or go scuba diving along the Great Barrier Reef, I might be ready to conquer camping in Yosemite or eventually snorkeling in the Catalina Channel. Hey, it's a first step.

But, what I think I learned most of all, is that I can be a teacher in charge and relax and have fun with the students, or a husband and jointly share the responsibilities and have fun. The balance is knowing when to move between the two.
And let's face it, when I meet the Man Across the Bridge, that could be the biggest adventure of all.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

The Man Across the Bridge

"You are in a meadow, and you can hear the distant sound of running water. You walk toward the water and come upon a stream. A bridge crosses the stream to allow you to get to the other side. The other side of the stream shows your heart's true desire."

I have been wanting to write this post for a couple of weeks. Actually, it's been gnawing at me. The above words were part of a guided meditation in order to help heal the past and open myself up to the future and its abundance. And for what I deserve. And while the picture is not of a stream, meadow or a bridge, it captures the serenity of the meadow in the meditation. I took it along the Taiya River outside Skagway, Alaska along the Chilkoot Trail.

Across the bridge stood a handsome, smiling man, his hand reaching for me.

It's true. I desire to be in love again. But I feel I am still emotionally challenged at this time. I still find myself in moments of hurt and anger over my divorce and having to see my ex can bring anxiety, though I am having moments of both less and less. Thank the gods. And along with the emotional challenges of the recent past, come those fears of the distant past; the fear of rejection, the fear of how do I approach him, the fear of moving too fast/too slow and the biggest one of all, the fear of being hurt all over again.

I had a discussion with a dear friend who was advising me to learn to love myself first before moving on to someone new. Her argument was "You're a teacher, you give and give to the students, and then transfer that to your personal life. It's our nature as teachers. We are givers, we are caretakers, that's why we got into the profession. It's intrinsic with us. Learn to give to yourself first, damn it." And she's right. But, how can I learn to give to myself when I am alone when not at work with the kids? I can love myself at home by making what I want for dinner, by seeing the movie I want to see at the time I want to see it, by playing the music I want at the volume I want. I can give to myself all summer, but will that translate when I am eventually in a social situation or may have met a potential Man Across the Bridge? Maybe I wasn't loving myself because I was too busy being too many people to my exes. And while I can't pre-order The Man Across the Bridge, I know what I want in him. I want someone chronologically, educationally, and emotionally more my contemporary. Ideally.

But, what is more important here is what I want for myself in this next relationship. I want, no, I need, to learn to let someone take care of me. That is just one way I can learn to love myself.

While I feel I may not be emotionally ready now, I never know when I'll meet The Man Across the Bridge. And I may never be completely ready. I just hope he's ready for me.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Patterns, Doors and Windows

I love this building!! It's a shame it's not in use anymore, except for film shoots. This is the old ticket lobby in Union Station, Los Angeles.

I was challenged last week in my meditation session, not by the leader, but by another participant. He believes, as do many counselors, that we humans select a mate that reminds us of one of our parents. I could understand that in heterosexual relationships, but in homo- ones? I was skeptical. I looked at my ex and didn't see him in any of the parent figures I have; mother, father, or step-father. But, I saw something else. I saw my mother, but in me.

My parents divorced when I was young, about 5, and she remarried just after my 7th birthday. In that short time, I don't recall her having dated any other men, but then I was very young, and while many things may escape the young, we do pick up more than adults might want us to. And I just can't recall any other men in her life. My first partner died, and I settled with the first man I dated afterward, just like my mother did after her divorce. Now that I have seen the pattern, maybe I can break it. But, old habits....And dating now is different, since it seems so electronic, with all the apps, lists and chat rooms available. I'm still an old fashioned guy. What happened to chance encounters (and not in bathhouses, or bars) or meeting through an organization? I guess they're still there, I'll just have to look when I'm ready.

This has been an interesting month, and I do go back because it started about a month ago. In the past month, I have reconnected with three friends from the past. I find it interesting that all three happened at about the same time. It seems the Universe does indeed take care of us. It will be nice to catch up with these friends.

Now that I have opened the windows and seen the patterns, I wonder where all the doors will lead me?