I’ve been doing a lot of thinking recently about how our lives end up becoming divided into “periods” in much the same way that art historians describe phases of an artist’s work. Sometimes there are external forces that cause the division of these eras – the divorce of a parent, a cross-country move for work, even a change in political dynasties can have a profound effect on the direction of our lives. But more often than not, those divisions are interpersonal ones. Despite the endogenous origin of these demarcations, they often remain more profound and unexpected than those prompted by something out of our hands. These periods always seem like they’re an expression of personal truth, an expression of quintessence, until they’re over and we’re able to look back at them and see them for what they are: only a partial voicing of our larger story.
As the United States stands on the precipice of a new and (to me) somewhat terrifying government, I’ve found myself reflecting on the fact that I’m standing at the edge of a fence line that I’ve seen in the distance for quite some time. For the first time in 15 years, I’m going to be starting a job with regular hours, a regular desk, and a reasonable paycheck. This sort of thing feels about as foreign to me as I imagine my current lackadaisical sailor life seems to most folks. It is a paradigm shift if ever there was one in my life, though one I feel ready to tackle. I fully admit that I find the prospect of stability slightly terrifying – it is so foreign to me as to be something I actually fear. It helps me to see it as potentially just another chapter that I will someday look back on to see what I learned from it. Nothing is permanent, especially not in life.
Most of my “periods” have been tied to locations. There was my Massachusetts period. My overseas period. My DC period. And now my Baltimore period. But they’re more than just about where I was living – they’re about what I was trying to make of myself by being in those places.
In New England, I was pursuing a somewhat misplaced dream of being able to assimilate into the “yankee” society that I had so idolized for much of my childhood and early adulthood. I spent a lot of time and energy trying to become a proper New Englander – I even dated a trust fund guy from a “proper” old family. I so desperately wanted to become one of these people I had idolized that I overlooked the rather glaring fact that it was not a temperament that agreed with me. It took me years, and a 160 page thesis, to realize that not only would I never truly fit in, but that I didn’t really want to.
This identity-driven revelation was such a shock to my system that I became a nomad for a year, living out of my car, removing all sense of geographic ties from my identity. I moved overseas for awhile after that, further distancing myself from the idea that place makes a person. After a few years of having nothing to tie me down, I found that it meant I had nothing to hold onto either, so I moved to the suburbs of DC to live with a partner I had met during my nomadic period. During those years on the road, I had decided that one of my core traits was that I can make a life for myself pretty much anywhere, a belief I tried to turn into truth by moving to a city full of people I generally didn’t get along with.
My time in the DC metro area was, ironically, arguably more personally peripatetic than the years I spent moving myself around the globe in a more literal sense. I shifted from job to job, hobby to hobby, reenacting impression to reenacting impression, hoping that something would bring me a sense of fulfillment or at least get me a step closer to it. As the years went on, I realized that one of my core assumptions about myself was flawed – as I began to sort out my gender identity, I also began to realize that place does have an effect on how you grow as a person, and DC was like being a plant stuck in a pot far too small for its roots.
I’m sure Baltimore will be a period too. Sure, I do think that I could live here the rest of my life, but I’ve also thought that about most places I’ve lived. Because I was right about one thing from my days as a literal nomad – I can make a life just about anywhere, though DC taught me that such a life may not be one that I particularly enjoy. I like to think that Baltimore has, thus far, served as something of a launchpad for a self that I’ve kept in a box in the back of my mental closet for years. I’ve gotten further in my career and my personal life in 2.5 years in the city than I had in the previous 12 years, and I’d say that the theme of this period is “connection” and, if I’m honest with myself, a certain degree of “fuck it”.
Looking at your life this way tends to remove the element of time from your reflections and ruminations, and in doing so, a greater context often reveals itself. I’ve generally viewed my life this way for as long as I can remember, and it has always given me a large degree of inner peace regarding an uncertain future. I may not know what my next chapter contains, but I know that it will be there, and I know that I will learn something from it.