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James Wilson Writes…”Reframing: Where Are You From?”

September 6, 2020

My better half spent a chunk of Saturday writing a piece for his blog Chickadee Ear Muffs. Last evening he posted it and I am pleased to link and share two paragraphs here.  The entire read is most worthy of your time.

I was terribly bullied as a child.  I was different.  The schools recognized it and called me ‘gifted and talented’ at one point.  My parents were told that this might account for my inability to fit in, and also my strong-willed desire not to do things just because everyone else was doing them.  I had absolutely no athletic skill whatsoever, so why would I try out for the local baseball team with the other boys?  I wouldn’t look good in a cap turned backward on my head, nor would I ever get off the bench and actually play in the sporting event.  Why waste my time?  I didn’t like the idea of getting dirty and having greasy stuff on my hands (I still don’t), so why would I give a crap about what sort of engine was under the hood of the car that I didn’t want to drive in the first place.  (I still have never owned my own vehicle, and I am now pushing fifty).  I also didn’t fully understand at the time why I didn’t find it easy to form relationships with my peers.  As it turns out, I am a gay man, but then, I tried hard to pretend to like the particularly perky breasts of one of the girls in my class—I even wrote about them in my diary at the time, in case anyone ever read along and though differently of me.  I listened to family and friends alike decry the ‘homos and lizzies’ who were actively infiltrating our schools and indoctrinating us—though in reality, actually having a gay role model growing up would have been so beneficial!  I heard about the ‘faggots’ and how they deserved to be thrown over a bridge to their death (“Gentle Charlie” met his untimely death in Bangor this way, just as I was hitting puberty—the thought of which was terrifying to me since I knew something was different about me even then) because they didn’t lust after women like the other boys did.  I was hopeless in not understanding that a little conformity on my behalf might have made my life easier.  Except of course that that conformity would have come at a cost.  That cost, me, would have been too great.  I could have easily lost myself in others’ conceptions of who I should have been, but I would have been miserable.

            Instead, I became very good at ‘nesting’, building my ‘home’ around me and surrounding myself with those things and ideas which made me feel safe and valued.  I still do this, which is why Wisconsin feels safe but not like ‘home’.  Of course, that ability to shut off the outside and retreat to my interior space also came at a cost.  I have often said that the bullies didn’t only steal those school years from me, but also the years after I finally was able to break free.  I didn’t know any better how to form relationships with others when I got to college than I did in high school.  The difference was that I was free to restart and shape those boundaries on my own terms at that point.  Liberty.  I realized over time that my etiological story, my beginning, was really limited to that area around my childhood home and the places I could get to on my bicycle, those roads which lead to where my Mother grew up, the cemeteries where ‘our people’ were, and the stream where we could go to cool off in summer.  Mom and her friends who grew up only a couple of miles away from where I did referred to the area as the “East Ridge”, which references the horseback left behind in the last ice age, which was excellent farm land where our grandparents had settled and raised our families.  When I was a child, the Jehovah’s witnesses used to come to the little valley where our home sat.  Mom would talk to them at the door, but motion for me to go in and call Grammy, who lived a bit further up the Hudson Road from us.  Grammy would call in turn to her neighbor Chris and let her know, and so on.  One day, I answered the door to one of them on Mom’s behalf, she undoubtedly busy in the kitchen with her fall canning chores.  “You know it is strange,” this faithful follower said to me.  “It is strange how you are always the only ones home in this valley!”  If only she knew what our local phone tree looked like.  No way anyone else on the Hudson Road, Wright’s Hill or otherwise wanted to engage for an hour with these outsiders.  We already had the Methodist Church for that!

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