Sunday, October 25, 2009

Journal October 25: Looking Back..An Iowa City Recollection

A friend of mine is attending Graduate School on the north side of Chicago.  Until yesterday he worked at the local suburban Coffee Shop, and  is transferring to a new shop closer to his school and home, in the heart of what is known as Chicago's "Boys Town".

We will miss him a lot in Mt. Prospect, Mark and I... Despite some kidding from his colleagues, he is comfortable with the move....and secure in himself.  Perhaps he is availing himself of that first golden moment of self-exploration which is crucial to the education of a counselor/teacher; or, at the very least, he is ready to immerse himself in a culture that may have been unfamiliar to him.  Either way, I am impressed by his maturity and at his non-judgmental acceptance of  Mark and me as a couple during our visits to the suburban shop.

After bidding my friend good luck in his new endeavor, I thought of a time in my own life when I felt inhibited from self-exploration.  That almost changed during a year-long and fleeting contact with someone with whom I could have felt safe, if I wasn't so afraid of being honest with myself.

In the late 1970's while attending the University of Iowa, I knew a student who was one of my charges on the dorm floor where I was a Resident Assistant. He was a wispy, slightly built blonde, and was handsome yet feminine in a beautiful, ethereal way.  I was secretly fascinated,.  He was rarely around the hall, remaining cordial but mostly absent, involved in musical and artistic pursuits.   I took vicarious satisfaction from imagining myself as his talented colleague, spending time with artists, writing and discussing plays, attending or playing in orchestras, and having the appreciation of talented and attractive people who were comfortable being who they were.

I was better able to talk to him by virtue of the fact that I was the floor staff member. I never took advantage of my position and, he was always friendly if remote.  He seemed to like me well enough, and was comfortable with me, more than with others on the floor, with whom he formed no attachments.... It was, honestly, not a sexual attraction on my part, even though I was drawn to him; it was, rather. an attraction to a way of life that I wanted to experience.

On those infrequent occasions when I did see him, a great calm settled over me, as though by his example it was all right for me to relax and be artistic and fastidious and gay. He seemed perfecly confident in following his own path....but I was not ready to risk scorn and uncertainty....I had to live life as a straight man...I was, unbeknownst to me, re-inventing myself in a misguided so many misguided guys back then...

I wished I had followed the path that felt comfortable instead of insisting that I would assimilate into a safe and traditional life.

Now I am at that crossroads...and the stakes for moving away from a safe path are even higher....but that calm that I feel in re-invention is drawing me forward....


  1. Very well written piece, Tom. It kind of taps into a universal fear we all have of taking that proverbial "leap of faith" by stepping outside our comfort zones. It reminds me of a quote by Emerson. He said “To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.” Your courage is showing!

  2. Tom,
    I'm lucky to have such an en-couraging advocate such as yourself... Thank you for being a regular visitor here.