Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The City of Bridges, Rivers and Irregular Angles.

I've never been particularly sentimental or nostalgic about my relationships with people. That may sound a bit cold, but I don't mean it that way. The thing is that I have always felt fairly free to give myself over to disparate parts of my personality. That means my approach to life has seen radical changes over the years. Although it's hard to be objective about that, I can only imagine that it has caused problems for some folks. There are certainly more than a few friends that I've known who have resisted validating such changes. There's a certain personality type that likes to keep its associates in a generally fixed focus. They are the sort that have a tendency to constantly remind you of who they think you are. That can be an obstacle to personal growth.

If I step back and look at my life, it's easy to understand any confusion others might have about my trajectory. I was a little hot-head right from the start. Being completely willful, I fought against everybody's attempts to define me. Sometimes I would do something extreme just to shake people up. It would be easy to shudder from too much remembrance. I gave hell to several of the closest figures in my life. Then when I anticipated blow-back, I abruptly changed. I pursued the martial arts and JROTC. All of a sudden I was disciplined, controlled, and very conservative. This phase took me through most of high school. It was an effective way against shielding me- both from my wilder instincts, and failure.

I could have easily ended up in the military, such was my embrace of that persona. In retrospect I feel fortunate to have gained acceptance to a large university in a city far from home. That circumstance provided me with a new opportunity to remake myself. I didn't know anybody in the new city, and could take the time to build an identity I could live with. Strangely enough I joined a fraternity. This experience was valuable because it wasn't the typical date-rapin', beer swilling, chest-pounding club that most of these organizations are. In fact, I learned to become tolerant of people who were radically different from me. Some of the brothers were metal-heads, others were hippies, and some were the product of the suburban upper middle class. There were athletes, stoners, Republicans, poets, musicians, and even guys that came out of the closet.

In the circles I ran with in college, you had to be tolerant of young adults who would profoundly shake your perspective. If you weren't comfortable being around individuals that were completely different from you, then you wouldn't stick around very long. Not only did this arrangement serve me well, but it launched me into another decade and a half of wide-ranging exploration. My twenties were a haze of activity, very little of which ever led to my material advantage. On the other hand, I always felt empowered to chase every single repressed aspect of myself out into the open. I tried everything that occurred to me. I'm lucky that there were no long term negative repercussions. And I don't regret anything.

Nowadays I am venturing into what some might see as a conventional path. I've got a house, a decent career, a wife, and a young child. I've been in this place long enough to feel like I belong. Pittsburgh is a small city, and contains the record of a lot of the experiences I've gone through. Still it's also big enough to contain corners where its inhabitants can hide for years. Like ghosts from memory, they can pass by you when you are least prepared for it. I can go to virtually any part of town and run into someone I've spent time with in the past. They reflect back on me the meaning I've taken from the periods I've passed through. They help me form a composite of the varied faces I've worn over the years I have been here. That's pretty extraordinary.

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