Saturday, August 23, 2008

When do you own your own life?


I remember anniversaries, particularly when they cycle back to the same day of the week on a perpetual calendar, as affected by leap years. Five years ago yesterday, Friday Aug. 22, 2003, I drove away (back to "The Fifth Dominion") from the six years of a very interesting and productive life in Minneapolis, living in the Churchill Apartments downtown, across the street from the main Post Office, two blocks from the Mississippi River. From the penthouse pool room and gym, I could watch the river, with its barges and bridges (one of which has had to be replaced) on one side, and look at the downtown skyscrapers on the other. For 52 months I had worked for ReliaStar and ING, and had a 1000 foot walk, very convenient in 1998 when I recovered from a broken hip. Even after the “retirement” I could walk to a part-time job at the Minnesota Orchestra, in the Oakwood Apartments near Symphony Hall, fifteen minutes by skyway from the Churchill. That summer, I had worked two months as a debt collector, and actually driven to a location near the airport.

I had driven away from an independent life before, back on Tuesday, June 28, 2008, from my Pleasant Grove condo in Dallas. I had lived there for 9-1/2 years, during the whole Reagan era. But the oil price drops and the “epidemic” of leveraged buyouts and hostile takeovers common then had made my own IT career questionable. I had worked for Chilton for six years, but had accumulated a technical background outside what was thought to be readily marketable. So I could not stretch my luck. When I found an opportunity closer to my “home of origin” I had to go. I wound up renting, then selling the condo for a loss, then having to deal with an unqualified assumption. I eventually got a lot of my money back., and as the military gay ban became a political issue in 1993, my own personal story became interesting publicly. I imagined a “second career” as a writer, and started planning and writing my first book, which came out in 1997. The potential conflicts from that (I’ve gone into detail elsewhere) led to the transfer to Minneapolis and six very interesting and eventful years. For one thing, the independent film community in the Twin Cities is quite strong.

The second time around, the re-relocation resulted in large part from mandatory “family responsibility.” That can occur even for those who do not beget children, and provides a flip side to a quite existential moral debate. That’s one of the reasons why the “gay marriage” debate is so important even to single people not personally wanting a legally recognized relationship, but it seems that only Jonathan Rauch and maybe the California state supreme court are willing to admit that.

When returning to my condo in Dallas or, in more recent eras, my ample highrise apartment in downtown Minneapolis (whether from “home” or from a personal trip, even Europe), I felt a certain pleasure when unlocking and opening the apartment door and viewing the accoutrements of a life that, however modest by 21st century standards of rampant materialism and consumerism, was mine. My property. My connections with people. My values. I could look across the living area and see the computers, books (including what I had authored), CD’s, speakers, and even, for a while, model train set, a kind of miniature Imajica. I would bring up the cable TV and computer, and in a few minutes be back to “normal”. The apartment would disorient some (and suggest "no family responsibility") but at least one celebrity journalist's apartment on television looked a lot like mine. How many people have stuffy "workrooms" that they never show to company (or to television cameras)?

To do what was morally necessary, I had to give up some of that personal sovereignty in 2003. In the sense that “logical consequences”, when applied to radical individualism, demand if carried out mercilessly (even Al Gore criticized taking “Reason” too far), I became a second-class citizen as I drove away from the Churchill garage, back through Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, etc. The trip out over Labor Day weekend in 1997, on the other hand, had become a personal celebration (a police officer in Chicago even let me off a speeding ticket when he saw my authored book and coffin picture in the back). This time, my life had melted away. The Kimball piano, now badly out of tune, had been donated and taken out a week before. The movers had come Aug. 19 and I had even signed a gypsy moth declaration. I had spent the last three nights cleaning up in an empty apartment, with just a laptop and dialup for connectivity. Wednesday night, I had gone to my last event at IFP and watched (at the Bryant Lake Bowl) a documentary film about blogging, which warned that employers would soon start firing people for what they write in blogs. Yes, now in this Myspace era, that has happened.

I say “second class citizen” and the California supreme court explained that in its May opinion. I don’t want to be too overbearing with this, because I had long known that at some point my life would have to take a “time out.” So, indeed, at age 60, this would happen.

I grew up during the Cold War era, when personal sovereignty started to come to be respected, not only as a result of the Civil Rights movement and Stonewall, but because of the practical realization that a free society needs cultural diversity to nurture the talents it needs to preserve itself. It needed its nerds, and started letting them off the hook from the demands of a macho, patriarchal “moral” system designed to guarantee stability for the “average Joe” as he accepted his marital and familial commitments and a personally "competitive" arena. During the Bush years, we’ve seen the pendulum swing back. The cycle has happened before. One thing to remember: marriage, through implementing complementarity, does answer some basic moral questions about individual karma.

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