Of Desire and Longing: Christmas Letter 2012

Bring me my Bow of burning gold:
Bring me my Arrows of desire:

–William Blake

Dear Ones,

I write you this letter to let you know that the last year for me has been eventful and full of changes, but that I am very well. I hope this letter finds you well also. Blessings and peace be with you all, my dear ones.

Around this time last year, I examined my life and realized that several things about it were out of joint. My life as it was then simply did not fit the person I was. So, for the first time ever, I started off a year with an agenda. I would say that I made “New Year’s resolutions,” but the items on my agenda more serious than the “resolutions” so many of us make but scarcely regret failing to achieve. The things on my agenda were things I had to do in order to recover my sanity.

My agenda had three items:

1. Move to a new apartment.
2. Come out.
3. Get a different job.

As it turns out, I completed all three, in whatever sense such projects are ever completed, by August.

The first was the easiest and also the one that had a built-in timeline. The lease on my comically swank former apartment ran out in mid-April, so I would have to find a new place by then or endure another year there. Diligent efforts paid off in this case: I found a place I love in a neighborhood I love for less rent than I was paying before.

The second was, as you might imagine, more complicated. Part of the complication is that “coming out” is not a singular, discrete event. It is rather a series of comings-out, of awkward conversations that are never quite the same twice, of “closets” that are built differently, each with its own door. Not to mention that the very notion of “the closet” is objectionable, since its existence derives from the universal assumption that people are cisgendered heterosexuals until they contest otherwise, made to forge their sexualities and gender identities into keys to unlock closets others built. “The closet” is an artifact of oppression that someday we will dismantle. All the same, coming out is something I had to do, especially to the people in my life I care about the most. And, while I am not “out” everywhere, and am differently “out” in different spaces, I have a warm and supportive core of people who accept and affirm my identity. Coming out set that part of my life aright, and it has been a source of great healing.

The third item was, for many reasons, the hardest to bring around to a shape that feels right. After leaving my academic career in mid-2008, I struggled to land somewhere that felt like a good fit. I needed work, as we all do, so by an aleatoric set of events I ended up as a paralegal in the litigation division of a law firm that specializes in consumer debt collection. From the first day there I doubted the justice of the interests our clients used the legal system to advance, but I needed a job, and they certainly had one for me. More than one, as it turned out. I was still there in late 2011, having worked my way through many duties that ranged throughout the entire practice, the scope of which was rather large. The attorneys I worked for were represented their clients’ interests ethically and with great sensitivity. But my fundamental qualms with the business had only grown during that time. After a good deal of soul-searching and many frank discussions with my superiors, I left the law firm in July. I am now working a combination of jobs and doing well. I have even been teaching a bit again, this time philosophy and religious studies at Indiana University-Southeast in New Albany, Indiana. My professional life is still an unfinished story, but by the middle of August I had landed in a situation that allowed me to declare my original intention of transitioning out of my former job complete.

So, by mid-August, I completed my agenda for the entire year. I think I must not have put enough projects on it. All the same, I am gratified to have done what I wanted.

2012 taught me that there is simply no substitute for living on purpose. I made it to the end of 2011 without ever attempting to live in the way I wanted to live. I say that as a plain statement of fact, not as hyperbole or a plea for sympathy. My failure to try to live the life I wanted was largely due, I think, to plain ignorance: I simply didn’t know that one can really do what one wants to do. Up until then, I had lived on the understanding that, well, there are just certain things that are expected of one. One marries, one gets a job, one has kids, one buys a house. These were what were expected of someone of my place and social location. Never mind that, deep down, I couldn’t have cared less about many of the parts of the package: they seemed to come on a prix fixe menu with no à la carte options. Now I know that it doesn’t have to be that way, that one can put together a life that, while far from perfect, doesn’t go utterly against the grain.

I know that a lot of people face constraints that make it difficult, if not impossible, for life to meet their desires halfway. I know that my successful year was underwritten by a boatload of privileges I enjoy. Being divorced and queer notwithstanding, I am still a white cisgender man with loads of formal education and access to good support systems. I can look back and point to multiple, very specific ways in which the privileges that come with those identifications have smoothed over what could have been a very rough year. While I am obviously pleased that I am in a good place, I find it hard to celebrate that good fortune without recognizing that so many folk have all the same yearning and discomfort I did a year ago but still live lives out of joint for no other reason than that they fall on the other side from me of those axes of privilege. This disturbs me, mainly due to the utter and complete pointlessness of it, the subtle way in which it multiplies the misery of human existence.

Sometimes I feel like my current way of life is selfish. In a way it is, because it involves care of my self. But, having lived otherwise, I testify that living without responding to the wellsprings of desire and longing is a kind of living death. I now believe that our desire and our longing are the raw materials out of which God seeks to coax out a world worth living in. Desire and longing are sacred, the most fragile and precious inch of us; and when we cut ourselves off from them, when we ridicule and condemn the desire and longing of others, when we fail to mourn longing that withers on the vine and goes bitter, we curse what God has already looked at and called good.

So, in my own way, my care for myself is an attempt to care for others. We none of us can give to others out of a dry well. We can, I hope, in our own lives show one another how to honor the desires and longings of our innermost hearts and to value and treasure the world others long to create. This is the world in which I want to live. This is the world I want to help make for my son, who I love bigger than the sky and the stars, and for all those others who are dear to me. And this is the world I want for you, dear reader and friend. This is my Christmas wish for you, for me, for us all.

I am not sure what 2013 will hold for me. I suspect I shall set another agenda, but I am not sure what will be on it. There is a lot I would like to do before I die, whenever that will be, but I am not sure what most weighs on my heart to accomplish. Thankfully, I have a few more weeks to figure that out. In the meantime, be well, everybody.

Much love,
Brian Cubbage

2 thoughts on “Of Desire and Longing: Christmas Letter 2012

  1. Pingback: 2013, and Back to the Keyboard | Thought Required; Pants Optional.

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