The following online journal entries are from September 2002.
MONDAY. 1:20 PM. It has been far too long since I've done anything with my website. Unfortunately, August has come and gone with only one measly little entry. However, I will start September off with a bang and a big email update that I sent to my family and friends (and a few fans):
"This is pure homosexual propaganda, plain and simple..." (AND OTHER TALES FROM MARYLAND) [LONG]
The months have passed. The sun and moon have traveled in their circuit many, many, many times since my last update. Even my web log (http://www.edmondchang.com) has remained still for much of the last month. Life has just been a tremendous campaign of change, adjustment, adaptation, and adventure. Actually, I probably should not have waited so long to send out word. It will be difficult to pick and choose and sum what has transpired. But in my usual style and grace (and verboseness), I will give it my best shot. The chronicle thus continues.
EPISODE II: ATTACK OF THE CRONE
My last update was four months ago. Back at the end of April I was still homeless staying at Kate and Skinner's house. My sister had not yet made her trek across the country. Alas, my time at my friends' house was coming to an end. Two months had passed and I wanted to leave under good auspices before my welcome was worn thin. Plus, Kate and Skinner were gathering their energies and welcoming family for their wedding in late May.
Therefore my only course was to seek accomodation at my father's house. Unfortunately, by the egregiously fickle whim of my stepmother, the hospitality once extended to me was revoked. It was very clear that I was not wanted in my own familial home. (Of course it wasn't surprising to me at all. The modus operandi of my step-mother, though full of caveats and two-facedness, is at least consistent in their certain dislike of me.)
In passing, my father suggested I go back to San Francisco for a visit and to help my sister pack and get ready for her exodus. It sounded like a very good idea. My friends Rob and Murphy were more than willing to house me in their fabulous Victorian mansionette in the Haight. So, I found great tickets on jetBlue and was on my way back to the City.
I spent three weeks in San Francisco. After two months in suburbs of Maryland, I was enthralled by the City once again. I was given the turret room of Rob and Murphy's house. Though dilapidated, the room boasted a semi-circle of windows that overlooked Haight Street as well as oddly angled ceilings and the very character of some artist's or writer's bohemian attic sanctuary. I could have been a Beat writer. Can't you smell the patchoulli and cheap wine now?
It was a brilliant three weeks. I rode Muni. I walked Haight Street. I visited friends, even surprised some of them with my appearance. I helped Rob and Murphy with the care and babysitting of their new puppies. I drank at POW. I stopped in at my old work CompassPoint Nonprofit Services. I traveled down by CalTrain to the Peninsula to help my sister pack. I fell in love with San Francisco again. I felt welcomed, homesick, wonderful, and conflicted all at the same time. I didn't know where my life was bound. I was astride two coasts, to places I could call home, two different lives, and two different worlds.
The three weeks passed quickly. Soon I was back on a plane bound for Maryland to attend Kate and Skinner's wedding over Memorial Day Weekend. I was to be a groomsman. The wedding weekend (for it was the entirety of the weekend) was beautiful, amazing, crazy, touching, lively, colorful, enchanting, and full of sauce and humor. The groomsmen were all dressed in traditional kilt jackets and black utilikilts. We looked amazing. Of course, I dyed my hair to match Skinner's kilt and the bridesmaids' colors. The bridesmaids also looked amazing. The bride and groom were beaming. (Kate was hauntingly reminiscent of Princess Leia.) I had a great deal of fun at the wedding. It was very cool to meet the different people in both Kate and Skinner's life. (Pictures are forthcoming.)
Upon my return to Maryland, I had no place to go other than my father's house. I was (un)comfortably ensconced in the converted garage, which used to be my room in high school. Basically, I cleared an area out from all of the boxes and detritus and paraphernelia saved by my father enough to have a place for my computer and a twin-sized mattress. It was serviceable. I had been used to sleeping on people's floors or far-too-used futons.
But the stepmother (monster) had other nefarious plans. Literally, on the first night of my stay at the house, my father came into the garage like a double-agent sneaking into the camp of the enemy. He told me that I should start looking for a place to live and that he would pay for it. I was being paid to get out of the house, to not be in the way, to not be a more-than-obvious reminder to my stepmother that my father had a life, has a life before she ever entered the picture.
I'm not exactly sure what lies at the root of my stepmother's dislike for me (which is more intense for me than it is for my sister). But I have figured it's a combination of jealousy, of insecurity, of competition, of feeling threatened by the relationship between a father and his children. I fear that she holds my father emotionally hostage. My father has told me that he is no longer happy with the situation and with the marriage. I do not know if he has the energy or the moxie to change things. I hope he does. And I will continue to encourage him to do what will make him happy and what will be good for him. LIFE IS A HOUSE (OR NOT)
After two weeks at my father's, after two weeks of being ignored by my stepmother (though we did have a single, lightning-flash confrontation where she told me I was not welcome in the house and I told her that it was my house long before hers), after two weeks of hearing arguments through the walls about my very presence, I was given a reprieve. My sister journeyed across desert and plain and river and mountain with Brian, her boyfriend, to Maryland.
On the same day that I decided to take a look at my old apartment community Fairland Gardens, I ran into her in the parking lot. She was looking at Fairland as well. I told her they were running some great specials. Some units were going as much as two-hundred dollars a month below list. She and Brian ended up getting a two-bedroom apartment. Her apartment is actually in my former building and across the hall from my old unit. A strange coincidence, no?
I also put in a bid to take an apartment in the same community. But as the day drew closer to when I could move in, I really felt that I did not not want to sign a year lease to be someplace I didn't want to be. I decided that I really wanted to live in the Calverton house, the house that I grew up in from third to tenth grade and the house that I lived in while I was in first years of graduate school. My family still owns the house as a rental property. It is the first place I ever moved to on my own and it is the one place that I really can call home. The Calverton house reminds me a great deal of my mother and I had many good memories as a child and adult in those brick walls.
So I asked my father if I could move into the house. He said that he didn't see a problem except that the current tenants would have to be given notice to vacate. I suddenly felt like a dubious San Francisco landlord. But what had to be done had to be done. If I was going to be remaining in Maryland, I wanted to create as best a life here as I could. The Calverton house was part of that imagined life.
My father gave the tenants notice; they are colleagues of his. They did not seem to balk at the decision but asked for two months to look for a new place. Therefore, I agreed to wait two months and to turn down the apartment at Fairland. Meanwhile I would stay at my sister's new place.
The days passed. The weeks passed. The months passed. My sister started her graduate assistantship in the College of Letters and Sciences at the University of Maryland. Brian had to return home to California to gather his life together and trek it out East. I busied myself as best as I could. I tried to write. I tried to work on things. I tried to go out, hang out with friends, participate in weekend trips. But nothing seemed easy. Everything seemed lackluster. I couldn't really concentrate. I was feeling the onus of my extended limbo. After five months of living out of a suitcase, I was ready to be settled and in my own place, in my own space.
A few days before the first of August, my supposed move-in date, my father leaves a message with my sister saying that the Calverton tenants want more time. I eventually talk to him and he tells me that they had not found a place yet. I got very angry. I told him that I had waited two long months only to be faced with disappointment? He said that he didn't have a good answer for me and I actually demanded that he find an answer before too long. I felt cheated. I felt like my father was letting me down (again). It wasn't a very pretty time.
August first came and went. Within a few days, my father said that he had given the tenants an ultimatum to be out of the house by the tenth. I asked him in all honesty whether he was certain they could be out by then? He said he didn't know. And I know he wouldn't call the cops to come and kick them out. So I settled. I bit the bullet. I grinned and beared it. I walked back into the rental office at Fairland and asked when their next unit was available. They said they hand one that would be ready by the tenth of August. I said I would take it.
I had considered finding a place in Washington, DC. But after looking through list after list of possibilities, I decided that staying in the suburbs would be easier, faster, and ultimately more economical. I really do miss city living though. But with my car, my commute to the university, my circle of friends living predominately outside of DC, my close proximity to my sister and father, and my inflamed impatience at being without an address, I decided to take the path of least resistance.
Two months later, at a rent two-hundred dollars more than I was offered the first time I applied, I had a place to live. For sure. For certain. For myself. Again by some fate, my apartment is in my old building though on the second floor. I live two floors down from my sister's place. I am glad to have a place of my own even though it isn't want I originally wanted. My father is helping me with rent (though at times begrudgingly) and there is peace finally. And now I can go on Trading Spaces...
A MIDSUMMER'S NIGHT DREAM
The summer has been a dream. A blur. An indistinct smear of color and light on the windshield of my life. But there are moments of clarity, moments of highlight, and moments of actualization.
I really didn't think that the path of my life was going to take such a twisted and rocky direction. In the months leading up to my departure from San Francisco, I was sure that I was going to go back to school, I was going to put myself on the track to becoming an established writer and teacher, and that I was going to probably wend my way back to Maryland. I didn't know that there would be so much rejection and disappointment and ultimately reevaluation.
People have asked me if I am happy to be in Maryland and my answer has always been less than concrete. But I know now (again) that I have to maintain stewardship over my life and my feelings and my insecurities. A friend of mine even told me in so many words that I was a drain to be around. I was always so unhappy, so discontent. I knew that I had to find some happy medium and some much needed resolution so I could return to a more even countenance.
I am happy to be in Maryland. I know I would be happier to be back in San Francisco. I realize that I should have fought harder to remain in the City. But I have the tremendous opportunity to engage life here on the East Coast with the same tenacity and impressive fierceness that I showed and wielded on the West Coast.
For much of the early summer I had a lot of trepidation at what my "return" to the DC area meant. How was I going to adjust? How was I going to live? How was I going to change (or change back to the patterns of the past)? How was I going to be received? How was I going to be liked or disliked? How was I going to fit in to a timestream that had been flowing and coursing without my presence for so long?
I think what I really was looking for was unconditional (re)acceptance. Of course, I was welcomed by some, engaged by some, sought out by some, and ignored by others. And when I came to terms with the fact that I cannot define my return in terms of my departure three years ago, then everything became so much easier, so much lighter. I have to make friends again with people. I have to suture myself into the timestream and start making new history with people. I have to give myself permission to make new friends and to let go of old ones.
I have already done things that I haven't done ever or in a very long time. I have explored more of DC and tasted food and drink at various places in Adams Morgan or Dupont Circle. I'm always on the lookout for my new favorite bar or restaurant or club. I have joined Kate and Skinner and a number of my old friends along with their extended circle of friends in a semi-weekly potluck dinner night. Through the dinners, I have met a few new faces. In July, I went with aforementioned new friends to the Baltimore Artscape festival, which I had never been to in all my years living in Maryland. I took two weekend trips to my friend Meredith's mother's house in Pennsylvania with a number of people: the first for a live-action role-playing weekend where we played Call of Cthulhu and the second for a summer fling at a waterpark called Camel Beach. In August, I took a break from my unpacking and decorating to venture out to Darkon (a live-action game I used to play many moons ago before I started Archaea) for a weekend campout in the Shenandoah Valley. Most recently, I joined a number of English 101 teachers at a local College Park dive called Town Hall for drinks.
All of this bustle of activity is the cure for inertia. I remember while I was going to therapy in San Francisco, one of the biggest difficulties I had in my life was inertia. I felt unable to change, unable to grow, unable to push past rut and routine and more importantly my depression. Now, I'm not saying that I'm a hundred percent better but I have managed to cope. I have managed to change some. I have managed to find some happiness. (I think I say that a lot. I think I measure my happiness in portions and endowments. And I know that I need to change how I talk about my happiness and no longer use the language of scarcity but the language of abundance. I know this and I chew on it every day.)
I think the greatest change for me has been my transition from homeless to homeful. Like, duh, right? But, boy, is my home full. I moved nearly fifty boxes and piles of insundry things from storage at my father's house (of course this had to be done in almost near secrecy or whilst my stepmother was shopping) to my apartment. Most of what I own are books. Even though I tried to keep my spending to a minimum, I have quite a stack of receipts from Mattress Discounters, IKEA, Linens and Things, Home Depot, Office Depot, Best Buy, and most of all Target. Ahh, Target. The bane of my non-existent bank account since there is a lovely store just down the street from me. I bought a bed, a bevy of shelves, curtains, and basic furnishings. I took back a handful of pieces of furniture from my father's house. Kate and Skinner gave me my old futon back (which has seen quite a tour of duty since I left for San Francisco); now it is home again. I sewed and embellished and hung artwork and put up curtains.
My goal was to create a space that was radically different than my old apartment. Because the layout of the units are exactly the same, I wanted to make sure that I created and decorated a space that was not simply a shadow of three years ago but a living, breathing, vivid creation of the present. The furniture is arranged differently. There is a much clearer sense of design and personal style. (Pictures are forthcoming.)
At the end of August, I threw a housewarming and welcome back to Maryland party to inaugurate the new place. I used an old 1950s pulp novel entitled "Scandalous" to create the invitation. The theme of the evening was the V.I.P. chill-out lounge of an upscale bar and club. The fictitious club flyer on the door as you came in read: "The EDIFY Group presents 'The NEW Lounge' featuring slick grooves by DJ Austin Gregory of San Francisco. So wicked...it's SCANDALOUS. Located at 1905 Treetop Lane, Suite 24. Free parking at the front of the club. Appropriate attire required. 18 or over. Cover $5 before 10PM. $10 after midnight." I played two CDs my friend Jay (a.k.a. DJ Austin Gregory) made of a couple of his sets. The bar served three house specials: the Antidote (borrowed from POW, pine-apple infused vodka, cranberry juice, and a fresh lime), and two of my own creation: the Red Devil (cherry schnapps, cinnamon schnapps, splash of vodka, sprite), and the Angel Hair (rum, ginger ale, bitters, and a fresh lemon). All of the drinks were consumed with great delight. The night was a shining success and I thank all the patrons of The NEW Lounge. Pictures are here.
In with the new. Refurbish the old. Out with the crap and the crud and the junk.
SCHOOL FOR SCANDAL (OR A SCANDAL FOR SCHOOL)
The third of September is the first day of classes at the University of Maryland at College Park. I am totally ready for the first day. I love the first day. Again, the promise (and responsibility) of teaching is bringing me great satisfaction and excitement. My syllabus is done. My books are ordered. And I'm ready to face three sections of English 101 students.
Of course my hair is freshly dyed. Pink, this semester. Traditionally, I usually go with a blue or green -- they're different enough but not shockingly so. This year I'm pulling no punches. Brave and bold is the order of the day.
Last week I went to a professional day for continuing teachers. It's funny that I can say that about myself. It's been a while since I've been in Susquehanna Hall, where the English department is housed. It's definitely a little bit surreal to be walking those halls again. I ran into a handful of people that I recognized or who recognized me. In fact, one of the coordinators for Freshman Writing declared that I was "famous." That was a nice stroke to my ego. But for the most part I didn't know anyone. And no one knew me. I don't know how many times I was asked, "So, are you new to the program?" or "Are you a Ph.D. student?" or "Is this your first year teaching?" I got great delight in explaining to them in a hundred words or less that I had been an undergrad and grad student at UMCP, that I had bailed on my MA to move to SF, that I had taught English 101 for four and a half years, and that I had just returned for reasons as complex as any Pythian sooth to teach again.
I talked to a number of the teachers. As I said earlier, I even went out with a handful of them later that same day for drinks. I remarked that people seemed much friendlier than when I was in the program years back. But I think that's probably more of a product of that I have changed as a person, that maybe I'm friendlier, that maybe I'm simply more outgoing and extroverted than before.
The semester should be an interesting one. I get to flex these muscles I haven't used in so long. I can already envision the days and nights of grading papers. I cringe but that is the deal I struck when I signed on.
My syllabus is difficult. Or maybe I'm just becoming soft. When I laid it all down on paper, I realized how much work my poor students have to go through. Not only do they have to complete the six paper assignments within the course of fifteen weeks, but they have to workshop, write ten to twelve short response papers, read John McPhee's "Levels of the Game," and participate in six video days. They've got a lot on their plate. I've got a lot on my plate.
And as both a curse and blessing, this year at the University the First Year Book is Moises Kaufman's The Laramie Project, a play about the town of Laramie, Wyoming after the murder of Matthew Shepard. Every year the University chooses a text to distribute to the incoming freshman class as well as hold special programs and lectures related to the book. I haven't decided how to use the book in my classroom as of yet. I think we will probably tangentially read it and talk about it. But we will definitely talk about the "scandal" and debate that is arising from UMCP's choice to use the book.
Already, radically conservative groups like the American Family Association are threatening to sue the University saying the book promotes homosexuality and is part of the "homosexual agenda." Fascinating. Of course, this means a busy semester (and year) for me -- since I cannot keep my big mouth out of the fray for too long. I had one of the English 101 teachers come up to me and say she remembered me from 1998 when I spoke at a vigil for Matthew Shepard. She said I did great work and hopes that I continue to do more.
I'm sure the University is braced for the worst and hopefully prepared for the best -- an opportunity to talk, to dispel ignorance, and to change a few minds. The debate will be hot. And I fear there will probably be some backlash, hopefully not violence. I'll be there though. I'm glad to be there. And my students, I think, will be glad I'm there to talk, to teach, to listen, and to lead by example.
THE YEAR OF LIVING DANGEROUSLY (OR AT LEAST COURAGEOUSLY)
I am not sure where I picked up this kernal of thought, this mantra of living, but I think it came from a conversation I had with my friend Kate. She was talking about how she wanted to do something everyday that was new, different, or a little bit scary. The intent I think is to push limits, to test boundaries, and even to cross a few.
Somehow I remember this little snippet and I recall it from time to time. The summer has been about doing little things that scare me or that are outside of my ken of experience. It is how I am challenging my intertia and it is how I am challenging my spirit.
As the next year unfolds, I hope to live it courageously. I know that it is the only way that I am going to survive, to grow, and to manifest the happiness I am also longing for.
So look for some things to come. So ask about the things I've done. So do some of them yourselves. I intend to finish a few major projects -- namely Tellings and my second book of poetry. I am reapplying to MFA programs this winter. November is coming up quickly which spells National Novel Writing Month for this crazy 50,000-words-in-a-month-one-time-winner-hoping-for-two-times! And we'll see what else the year brings.
Maryland, I'm here. I'm queer. I have a fabulous apartment. I write. I wish. And I shape the minds of the young.
Till next time,
© 2002 Edmond Y. Chang. All original material. All rights reserved.
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