Thursday, May 31, 2012

Coming Out of the Conservative Closet

The following is another in a series of posts that I originally published on my former blog.  This one was initially published in March 2011.

I have chosen to write about coming out of a closet – the closet that hid part of who I really am, a part of me that I always knew was there but never wanted to acknowledge or accept. I guess part of the reason I never came out is that I was afraid of the names I might be called:  “liberal,” “left-wing wacko,” “commie,” “bleeding heart,” and, the worst of all – “Democrat.” It was just so much easier to go along with the crowd, pretending I was something I wasn’t, until the internal conflict became too great – and I snapped.  I could no longer deny who I was, who I am.

As was the case with my gay coming out, my political coming out was precipitated by an event which caused built-up internal conflict to finally erupt. The straw that broke the camel’s back for me was the controversy that erupted in the summer of 2010 over the construction of the “Ground Zero Mosque.” Regardless of the merits of the project, I was incensed that a number of conservative politicians and talking heads were blatantly seeking to make “political hay” by fueling the racist, Muslim-phobic hysteria that was sweeping through seemingly large swaths of America. I was outraged by the assaults launched on (true) religious freedom by the very people who purport to fight for and cling to it – namely, conservatives who happened to be – you guessed it - Republicans (Orrin Hatch being a notable, and lonely, exception).

I guess it took something like this to finally jar myself loose from my inherited political moorings and for me to accept who I truly am. My father was a staunch Republican, as was his father before him. I inherited a loathing of labor unions, left-wing pinkos (i.e., Democrats) and nutters like the Kennedys, George McGovern and Jimmy Carter. Because of the way I was raised, and because of a desire to please my father (it’s complicated), I embraced establishment Republicanism as my own and identified strongly with this party and its policies for most of my life.

While being raised in an environment of establishment Republicanism, however, my hidden truth was that I secretly admired the vision of such great Democratic leaders as Franklin Roosevelt and John Kennedy; I secretly pined to be part of a cause that was more exciting and inspiring than, say, reducing capital gains tax. I harbored largely hidden beliefs in the freedom and liberty of the individual, in the importance of community and the need for a just society. 

I secretly admired Thomas Jefferson, and got goose bumps when I stood in his Memorial in Washington, D.C., and read these awesome words: “I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.” And the goose bumps turned into an embarrassing level of excitement (tongue firmly in cheek here) when I contemplated these words:  “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

I don’t know where these tendencies toward democratic ideals came from; I think I must have been - in the immortal words of Lady Gaga - born that way. They seemed to always be a part of me, to be preset; and try as I might, I could never overcome them. Part of me felt that being conservative was the sensible and responsible thing to do, but another part of me longed to campaign for Ted Kennedy and join Greenpeace; and sometimes the temptation to join the ACLU became almost overwhelming.I never acted on any of these secret impulses, however. I had occasional opportunities to hookup with liberal causes, but I was too afraid to take advantage of them, afraid of living openly who I really was inside.

Then, during the midst of the Reagan years, I moved abroad and lived, until halfway through the Clinton years, outside the United States [in Canada]. During this period, I lived in several countries that some would call “social democracies” [France and Canada]. Here, I had my first really serious identity crisis: instead of seeing mass unemployment, complete subjugation of the individual and a hedonistic society – things I had been told would result from social democracy – I saw networks of community centers, affordable health care available to all, tolerance of other races, cultures and faiths, and a comparative absence of crimes committed with guns. I saw value attached to the concepts of communitarianism, equality and belonging to a world-wide community of nations. I saw secularism and religion existing side by side, each knowing their place, each content to fill it and stay in it.

I became very confused.  I couldn’t understand what I was seeing and experiencing. I had feelings I couldn’t explain.  I mean, I was experiencing strong attractions to social democracy – something I had been taught since infancy was “impure and unnatural.” Nevertheless, I couldn’t deny that something was stirring deep within me. I tried to turn away from these attractions, but they kept becoming stronger and stronger. For the first time in my life, I thought that – perhaps – I could overcome my upbringing, come out of my conservative Republican closet, embrace authenticity and live life as an openly liberal democratic man. 

Then, we moved to Utah. For the first time since joining the LDS Church, my political affiliation (i.e., orthodox Republicanism) became an additional gauge of worthiness and orthodoxy. Suddenly, I knew I must abandon all thoughts of embracing my true identity and instead redouble my efforts to hide what by now I had admitted were latent Democratic tendencies. I knew this was something I could never confess to my bishop. I must maintain my Republican persona for my own sake as well as the sake of my family and do everything in my power to repress these tendencies.

At first, it wasn’t too difficult to blend in with the Republican crowd. But occasionally, comments would be made that would cause anger to swell within me; situations would arise where I felt forced to act totally contrary to my true nature. 

Over time, these conflicts and tensions became almost unbearable – until I finally snapped, deciding I could no longer go on living who I wasn’t. And so, I came out: as a liberal Democrat. 

There, I said it!  I am a liberal Democrat. That is my truth. For years, I lived in denial of who I really am. But I finally came to a point where I knew I could no longer live a lie, and I have (in part) Sarah Palin to thank for that.

For the first time in my life, I put a yard sign in front of my home on behalf of a Democratic candidate. For the first time in my life, I gave voice to my true, innermost political feelings. It felt so liberating! So real! So authentic! I was told I couldn’t live as an openly Democratic man in Utah – that it was one thing to confine my politics to the privacy of a voting booth, but it was quite another to live my politics out loud; but I know others have done it, are doing it, and so can I.

I still haven’t worked up enough courage to actually join the Democratic Party(*) or attend a convention or meeting; I don’t think I’ve been out long enough yet. But I know that day will come.

* I am now a registered Democrat. 

Millcreek Canyon

I learned some things yesterday.  I think I may have crossed a mental and physical bridge to truly becoming a cyclist as well as gained some important insights into my approach to certain aspects of life.

Mark suggested that we cycle up Millcreek Canyon yesterday morning.  The mouth of the canyon is less than two miles from our house, and we have been up there a few times in the past six months, walking the dogs or - once in February - skiing down Porter Fork Road.  I had also been up there a few times over the years when taking various of the older boys to Cub Scout day camps.

But yesterday, we cycled all the way to the top of canyon, and I was blown away.  I don't want to get ahead of my story, but I again marveled at the beauty that has been there all these years that I have lived in Salt Lake, but which I never saw or experienced.  There were a number of reasons for this, but it basically boils down to the fact that I was going through life with blinders on, my nose to the grindstone, oblivious (and almost willfully so) to a landscape and a world that I refused to see or visit.  It didn't escape me, as I rode up and down the canyon yesterday, that this could be a metaphor for my life in general - particularly with respect to my hidden sexuality:  it was always there, a land rich in emotion and beauty, but I refused to go there.

Lower part of the canyon

I found the climb challenging.  Of course, since I had never been very far up the canyon, I had no idea what to expect.  I was pretty winded - ok, very winded - by the time we got to a gate at Maple Grove about four miles up the canyon.  We had been on the road an hour by that point.  I needed to rest.  Mark asked whether I'd like to turn around there or go on up the canyon.  I had no idea that I was a little less than (only) halfway up the canyon.  He suggested we go a mile or so more if I was up to it.  I said that I was, feeling better after a little rest.

The above graph tells part of the story of why I was tuckered.  It was pretty much a steady climb from our house, at 4643 feet, to the top of the canyon, at 7644 feet, an elevation change of almost exactly 3000 feet.

The whole texture of the ride changed as we moved on past the gate at Maple Grove.  (The gate keeps the road closed more than half of the year due to snow.  It won't open until July 1st, so cyclists and hikers have the road to themselves for the next 4.5 miles to the top.)  

First of all, Mark pointed out that I had the tendency to try to go all out on hills, trying to get to the top as quickly as possible.  This burned me out, he explained.  What I needed to do was to try to go as slowly as possible in the lowest gear, preserving my energy and my breath.  I wouldn't get to the top as quickly this way, but I'd get there - with much less overall effort expended.

This worked, and I couldn't help but think, as we cycled on up the canyon, able to ride side by side and talk (not having to worry about cars), how symbolic this was of my approach to life and its challenges.  For most of my life, I have been in survival mode - starting when I was a child, trying to just survive the situation in which I found myself.  I adopted survival techniques in which I just tried to pretend I didn't exist, or in which I would simply put my head down and try to get through whatever crisis or challenge I was facing at the time.  I would go all out, trying to just get to the top of the metaphorical hill.

These techniques worked when I was young - at least on the surface.  But as I carried them into adulthood, they became increasingly unsustainable the older I became, and the collateral damage associated with such techniques also became increasingly apparent as I aged.  Pretending I didn't exist, for example, helped me to dissociate myself from the physical and emotional pain of being abused, but it also separated me from myself.  "I" was separate from "me," and I lost "me" over the years.  I would go through the motions, functioning, performing, but I wasn't a whole person.

I also, by putting my head down and focusing on the "top of the hill," missed out on the journey.  I didn't care about the journey.  All I cared about what the destination.  I had to "get through" the next challenge so that I could then "get through" the next challenge, so that I could then "get through" the next challenge, etc., etc.  In the process, I exhausted myself.  I crashed and burned.

So, as we climbed ever closer to the top of the canyon and I met those particularly challenging ascents, I would slow down and meditate, controlling my breathing, willing my legs to work harder, allowing myself to take it slowly.  But I also meditated on my life and realized that I needed to apply these same lessons to challenges I face in my journey.  Mark has repeatedly told me that I shouldn't expect to overnight work through everything I have been and am dealing with.  It will take time.  And during that time, I need to slow down, control my breathing, and focus on the here and now.

The other thing that dramatically changed the texture of the ride was the scenery.  It was stunningly beautiful.  I felt like I was not in Utah but in some alpine area of Switzerland.  I half expected to meet Heidi around the next bend in the road, herding a group of goats.

Finally, after cycling for an additional 40 minutes past the gate, or about an hour and 40 minutes into the ride (illustrated by the following chart), we reached the small parking lot at the top of the canyon.  It took 100 minutes to get to the top and only 30 minutes to go down, all the way to home.  The speed difference is illustrated by the second chart.

At the top
"Joseph," Mark exclaimed as we came to a stop in the parking lot, "I'm flabbergasted!"  He told me that, upon starting out that morning, he thought that we'd (I'd) be doing well if we made it to the gate before turning around.  Instead, we (I) had gone all the way to the top.  He was proud of me, as I was of myself.  

A patch of snow off to the side of the parking lot
On our way down

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Emigration Canyon

Yesterday marked another first in my evolution as a cyclist:  I cycled with Mark to the top of Emigration Canyon.  This is considered one of Salt Lake's easier rides, and it really wasn't bad until we reached the last hill.  

It's about seven miles from our house to the mouth of the canyon, just above Hogle Zoo.  We ride up 3900 South to Wasatch Boulevard, then north, across the spaghetti bowl formed by the intersections of I-80, I-215 and Foothill Boulevard, then through a residential area to the mouth of the canyon.

The climb up the canyon is fairly gentle as we pass open fields, groves of trees, and stretches lined with homes of various vintages, sizes and imagined price tags.  We see butterflies flitting by and hear birds chirping.  It is a beautiful morning with little wind, a bit on the cool side.  As we rode, Mark comments that riding early in the morning is a good thing for many reasons - it's cooler, there is less canyon wind, it's quieter, there is less possibility of thunder storms, and we approach the ride with fresh legs and lungs.  We will try to keep up this practice.

I was managing the climb just fine, but was starting to get a little winded after about five miles into the canyon.  Mark assured me that we were approaching the summit; all we had ahead of us was a "little hill." Note the first hairpin turn in the above screen shot; that is the beginning of the "little hill."  It commenced at the first hairpin and ended where the red line stops.  As the screen shot below shows, the mouth of the canyon is approximately 5100 feet above sea level, and I'm guessing that the base of the last climb to the summit is at 5700'; the summit is at 6300'.  That means that we climbed half of the total elevation change in the last couple of miles.

I didn't swear at Mark, however, because he patiently and lovingly coached me all the way up the hill.  My legs were fine, even my breath was fine - relatively.  What wasn't fine was my tailbone grinding away on the saddle.  By the time I got to the top, my butt hurt so bad I could hardly get off the bike.  Paying my dues.  Mark assures me that the butt pain will subside ... eventually.

The view over Mountain Dell Reservoir to the southeast of the summit.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

South Temple: The Keith Mansion

David Keith made his fortune on a lucky hunch. Born in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia and orphaned at the age of 14, Keith went to work as a miner in his native province before heading to the western United States. 

At the age of twenty, he left Nova Scotia, traveling to California by ship via Panama. He moved on to Virginia City, Nevada, where he worked as a miner, met his first wife, Ettie McLeod, and became proficient as a pump operator in the water-plagued mines of the Comstock Lode. His skill with mine pumps brought him to Park City in 1883 to help install the great Cornish pump; and he then continued as foreman in the Ontario mine.

1880 Census, Gold Hill, Nevada
He eventually became a foreman in a Park City silver mine where he met another hard-working miner, Thomas Kearns. Keith and Kearns leased an undeveloped Park City mine after noticing a rich ore vein headed toward the property. Their hunch about the ore proved correct. The two men became multi-millionaires and remained lifelong friends, business partners, and neighbors.

1900 Census, Salt Lake City
The newly-wealthy Keith and his second wife, Mary, hired Frederick A. Hale to design a stately mansion on fashionable South Temple Street. The mansion’s Neoclassical façade features a pedimented portico supported by four colossal columns. The interior is organized around an octagonal rotunda of polished cherrywood with a beautiful stained glass skylight made by America's most famous glass company - Louis Tiffany & Company. 

The mansion also had a ballroom and an ice box large enough to hold one ton of ice. The Keith Mansion's carriage house was probably the biggest on South Temple. Inside the carriage house were a bowling alley and a shooting gallery, as well as servants’ quarters.

The Keiths lived in the mansion until 1916 when they sold the property to their neighbors, the Ezra Thompson family. Members of the Thompson family lived in the house until 1969 when Terracor acquired it and adapted it for office space. After a fire caused severe damage to the mansion in 1986, Terracor conducted an extensive restoration and continues to operate in the building today.

Next:  The Gardo House, Home of Brigham's Youngest Wife and Utah's Silver Queen

Big Cottonwood

Mark and I went for a 32.5 miler yesterday.  A new record.  For me anyway.  We also broached the canyon.  Big Cottonwood.  Two miles in and back.  A psychological barrier breached. 

Mark says the mile just beyond where we turned around is the most difficult (steepest) ascent in the canyon.  We'll approach that with fresh legs ... next time.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Memorial Day Weekend With the Quints

The Quads near the top of Big Cottonwood Canyon Sunday morning
This past weekend presented a lot of firsts.  It was the first time that I've ever had all five younger kids at the same time, and it was also the first time that I've had any of the kids for more than an overnight:  I picked up the Quads and Nathan late Friday afternoon and took them home late yesterday afternoon, and Nathan stayed Sunday night as well.

The weekend had its ups and downs.  The Quads started bickering as they sat, four abreast, in the back seat of my Corolla on Friday afternoon as we waited for my oldest son Adam to arrive so that he could give Nathan something he'd been waiting for.  Things were going downhill by the minute, but we managed to pull out of a death spiral as we drove south toward Salt Lake.

After pizza, we all watched The Incredible Hulk.  Things were going pretty well.  Then it came time for the younger kids to go to bed.  Mark and I had set up a tent on the deck in back, where Aaron, Esther and Levi (the "Triads") were to sleep, while Annie was to sleep inside.   The Triads were having a great time out there.  I kept hearing fits of giggling.  The old me would have told them to quieten down so as to not disturb the neighbors, etc., but I resisted this temptation and just let 'em have fun.  I even went out on the lanai and read for a while.  Eventually, Levi decided he'd rather sleep inside, and after he came in, Esther and Aaron settled right down and went to sleep.

A grainy shot inside the tent Friday night
Saturday morning was pretty low-key.  I had my ups and downs.  Adding Annie to the mix always makes the situation a little more challenging, in a number of ways.  Plus, the weather wasn't great that day - as would be the case all weekend - so I had planned on indoor activities.  By the time we left for Hollywood Connection - an indoor amusement center out in West Valley City - around noon, I was pretty stressed, but was trying to chill.

Our first activity at Hollywood Connection was miniature golf.  I think the kids enjoyed it.  I continued in a low cycle, partly due to frustrations over trying to teach - fruitlessly - Annie how to putt the ball.

Things didn't improve much when I took Esther and Annie roller skating while Nathan took the boys and played laser tag.  I was envious.  Annie didn't really enjoy skating; it was proving more challenging for her than the ice skating we had done last winter.

It was once we moved to the amusement park rides that things started picking up.  We all had a lot of fun riding the little rides.

Levi on the carousel
Annie and Nathan
Levi and me on the bumper cars
That evening, Mark and I prepared a Memorial Day cookout of cheeseburgers, hot dogs, salad, roast potatoes, etc.  We had planned to eat outside, but it was simply too cool and threatening rain.

All the kids had to sleep inside that night because of the rain, and I guess I had done a good job of wearing them out because they all went immediately to sleep and slept past 8:00 yesterday morning.  In fact, I finally had to awaken Esther and Annie.

I was experiencing another low yesterday morning.  As I thought about it, I think my discussions with the kids on Friday evening and Saturday morning about me being gay and about Mark and me had taken a bigger emotional toll on me than I had expected or realized.  And, to be frank, having all five kids for the first time in a relatively confined space with two active dogs thrown into the mix, was challenging.

I had planned to go to the gym yesterday morning for a bit of psychic recharging, but decided at the last minute to instead go ahead and take the Quads on a hike I had planned in Big Cottonwood Canyon.  The skies looked threatening, but the radar indicated that the afternoon would be worse - which indeed ended up being the case - so I decided to go ahead and take them.  I was also thinking that perhaps this is what I needed as a psycho-emotional boost.

I was right.  The trip up the canyon proved to be lightening and invigorating.  We stopped for a short hike in the lower part of the canyon, and the kids enjoyed walking along the trail until they got too cold and were all too happy to return to the car.  They all said, however, that they would look forward to future hikes that summer, when the weather is more accommodating.  Esther was particularly keen.  She, as well as the others, said they had never been on a hike before, and indeed I can count on one hand the times I have been on hikes along the Wasatch Front.  

After the hike, I drove them all the way to the top of the canyon.  As they looked out the window at the snow-dusted forests of pine trees, they started saying, "It looks like Christmas!"  It was near the top of the canyon that we took the lead picture, above.  I had to coax them out of the warm car by promising that I would just take a quick picture, then they could all get back in.

Mark had been attending teachings that morning and had invited us to meet him for lunch at Appleby's at the Gateway (an outdoor mall west of downtown Salt Lake).  So we picked up Nathan at the house and headed down there. This represented another first for the kids:  the Quads had never been to the Gateway, and all but Annie and Aaron had never been to Appleby's.  It was also one of the first times they had ever been to any kind of sit-down restaurant.  I had to keep explaining to them why it took so long to get the food, why we paid at the end of the meal instead of the beginning, etc.

Lunch at Appleby's.  (Nathan took the picture.)
Lunch was a lot of fun.  Mark then headed back to teachings while I took the kids to the new Natural History Museum up by the University of Utah.   We had been there before, late last winter, and I had purchased a membership so that I could take them from time to time, in groups or individually, and we could stay as long or as short as we'd like, depending on the circumstances.  

Yesterday ended up being one of our shorter visits.  It was just too tall of an order to manage all the kids (especially with Annie in tow), even with Nathan along, and have a meaningful experience.  So we went back to the house and watched a movie until it was time to take the Quads home.

It was a very full weekend.  As I wrote at the beginning, it had its ups and downs, its challenges and its rewards, its serious moments and its lighthearted ones.  

Like the time Sunday morning when I had told Aaron that he sounded like a broken record.  He looked at me with a puzzled look on his face and then said, "What's a broken record?"  I stood there, momentarily stunned, then started laughing.  Of course, I thought, he wouldn't have any idea what a vinyl LP even looks like, let alone what happens when the record gets scratched.  Mental note:  can't use that expression any more.

Or like the time we were on our hike and Levi wondered whether we'd see any deer.  "What would we do if we saw one?" he asked.  "Say hello," was my off-hand reply.  "Hi deer," he said, then turned and smiled at me.  "Oh!  Like you and Mark!"  [referring to our habit of occasionally calling each other "Dear"].  Now that was a heart-warming moment.

My heart was also warmed when the Quads were jealous of Nathan staying an extra night.  They wanted to do the same.  I was entitled to this, but I had already told their mother that they'd be back Sunday evening.  I also knew my limits.  This was, after all, the first time I had had them for more than 24 hours.  I told them that they could stay a third night on Father's Day weekend, and this placated them.

For me, the weekend was both challenging and rewarding.  I continue to redefine my role as father and forge my relationship with each one of the children.  And Mark and I together continue to create our own family with the kids.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

South Temple: The Wall Mansion

When I was in Maui, I was challenged by a friend to write occasionally as a tourist in my own city, i.e., to write about Salt Lake.  I decided to take up this challenge and set out on a quest to learn more about the place I now call home - Salt Lake City.  

Meanwhile, I wrote last week about how I have finally reached a point and a place in my life where I feel like I have a home, where I feel at home.  And because of this, I have an interest in learning about this home.  In particular, I want to learn about aspects of it that I never knew before (read:  primarily non-Mormon aspects).  And I decided to start with South Temple.

Salt Lake City was laid out on a grid system, and South Temple is the street that runs along the south side of Temple Square, in the heart of the old city.  The wide avenue stretches out primarily to the east (it coming to a rather abrupt stop a few blocks to the west of Temple Square), toward the mountains, and in the latter part of the 19th century, newly-rich mining barons, along with others of Salt Lake's elite, built mansions that lined the street.

Unfortunately, as a pamphlet published by the Utah Heritage Foundation points out, South Temple suffered a period of decline from the 1930s through the 1960s. Changes in zoning laws, waning family fortunes, and the demand for commercial space near downtown led to the demolition of 30 of the 40 grand mansions built on the street.  "The loss of important historic buildings on South Temple," the pamphlet explains, "galvanized support for Utah’s young historic preservation movement in the 1960s. Because of its outstanding historical and architectural significance, South Temple was designated Salt Lake City’s first historic district in 1975 and a National Register Historic District in 1982."

Last week, I stopped, while on my way to Bountiful, to take some pictures in the area of South Temple just east of the downtown core.  Here is found the beautiful Cathedral of the Madeleine and the old First Presbyterian Church, and here is where old South Temple - what is left of it - starts.

This old photograph of South Temple shows the Cathedral and the Presbyterian Church under construction.

Just to the west of the Presbyterian Church is the old LDS Business College, the heart of which was the old Enos Wall residence.  

Enos Wall staked mining claims and managed mining operations in Montana, Idaho, and Utah. He also invented several pieces of ore crushing machinery, but is best known as a co-founder of the immensely profitable Utah Copper Company in Bingham Canyon.  This world-famous open-pit mining operation, now owned by Rio Tinto, eventually became Utah Kennecott Copper Company.

Enos Wall
Wall eventually sold his holdings, receiving $2,700,000 on the New York market and in 1904 purchased a two story adobe home at 411 East South Temple, which had been built in 1880 by Mormon Bishop James Sharp. He hired architect Richard Kletting (who designed the Utah State Capitol) to transform the home into a palatial dwelling resembling a Renaissance villa.   

The lavish interior featured delicately gilded frescos, beautiful woodwork, and handsome marble. Several of the guest bedrooms opened onto the rooftop promenade.

The Wall Mansion stands at the top of 400 East.  They would have had a panoramic view looking
south down 400 east as it stretches toward the south end of the valley.
Enos and Mary Frances Wall lived in the house until their respective deaths in 1920 and 1923. Between 1926 and 1950 the mansion housed the Salt Lake Jewish Center. The Pacific National Life Insurance Company bought the mansion in 1950 and added the rectangular west wing in 1956. In 1961, the building was purchased by the LDS Business. The college constructed the building’s east wing in 1975. Aside from the addition of the two wings, the mansion’s exterior appears much as it did in 1914.

Next Stop:  The Old Keith Mansion