Of Supernovas and Falling Stars

Once upon a time, long before pro(zach)nation was a blog that billions (well, hundreds) read (and long, long, waaaaay long before I got too damned busy to remember to update this blog more than once or twice every, oh, six months), I was a writer.

And…not just a writer, mind you, but a pretty decent one. Back in the day – when the Great American Novel™ wasn’t only a pet project I was procrastinating from writing by maintaining a blog and working on several silly memoirs – I was a Writer. Capital W. I wrote stuff that was huge, tragic, epic, and beautifully, achingly, heartwrenchingly good. Every evening, a tall glass (or ten) of cheap, really crappy wine (Carlo Rossi by the jug, thank you very much) accompanied me on the patio while I spun pure magic from my keyboard. The words came hard as supernovas and fast as stars spinning and falling from the sky and where they crashed down, there was the brilliance of ten thousand suns. The sheerepicawesomeness of my words gave me a great big literary hard-on. And I was hardly almost never full of hyperbole.

Really.

Fast forward.

These days, it’s hard to remember to write. Pro(zach)nation came about in the waning days of my writing ‘career’ as an exercise in keeping a struggling writer’s flame burning and as a distraction from those aforementioned creative nonfiction projects, which were in themselves a diversion from a novel that was quickly becoming too heavy to contemplate – much less add meaningful words to – on a daily basis. And now, with a career and a busy home life (heavy emphasis on the home with husband, light on life as it once was)…even this humble little blog is lucky to get much action. In the list of life’s priorities, writing – which used to be so essential to my identity – just seems to…slip. Sad, but whatcha gonna do?

Well, in this case, I’m gonna slam and lock the door. Then I’m gonna spend some quality time finding that lost identity.

Tonight – for the first time in I don’t know how long – I am writing. Yes, I actually am (see?! writing!!!). No, there’s nothing ominous or cataclysmic about this: Boyfriend (scratch that…’Husband,’ though after a month that term is still a hard one to etch into my vocabulary) and I are still giddily attached, and I haven’t found myself underemployed and scratching at my navel lately. There’s no existential quacking. But it’s September, and that means that Boyfriend is back in school. And – since travel season at work doesn’t yet have me schlepping hither and yon (stay tuned on that front…I’ve got a doozy coming) – it means that one night a week, I find myself left entirely to my own devices.

And know what? This is a good thing. A very reallyveryfuckinggood thing.

Don’t get me wrong: I love the time I spend with Boyfriend. More than I ever imagined I could enjoy spending time with any one single person, in fact. I love the person I’ve grown to be while with him, even if that’s someone a little different than who I was before. (and come on, let’s face it: I just love me, period). But that doesn’t mean that I don’t equally appreciate the infrequent times I find myself on my own. It’s MY time. I can jam out to MY tunes (not that I mind Britney Cyrus or Jason de Bieber), wander around in my underwear (well, not that I don’t anyway), and drink milk directly from the carton (and eat oreos on the couch, even!). I can drink myself under the table, if I’m so inclined. And yes, I can write.

It’s pure unadulterated bliss.

But also, when Boyfriend is done with class, I will gladly serve dinner (yes, to those longtime readers, the kitchen and I have somewhat declared an uneasy truce), banish the acoustic rock (or what Boyfriend calls my ‘weepy suicide music’) or thrashy screamo (my ‘noise’), and play nauseatingly-doting husband.

See, that’s the key to a happy and healthy relationship, I think. Now that I’m all settled into matrimonial harmony, I seem to more often than not find myself in the weird position of dispensing relationship advice to people. I’m no Dan Savage, mind you, but I can hold my own.

As a coworker and I were discussing today, sometimes you just need your own fucking time. That’s not to say you aren’t completely, blissfully happy with your relationship. It doesn’t mean that you are so adverse to spending time connecting with your significant other that you start developing a rash after spending twenty-four hours together (though if that happens, Urgent Care does offer STD testing). It isn’t a diminishment of your relationship. It doesn’t mean you’re an asshole (even if you are). It just means you’re a healthy, well-adjusted human being.

Know what else? It probably means your relationship will be stronger.

Finding yourself in the company of nobody? Embrace the motherfucker.

Thus ends this week’s little bon-mots in domesticity. If you’ll excuse me, there’s a bottle of wine calling my name and two beautiful hours before Boyfriend gets back, and it’s time to go be myself and try to write something a little bit fucking sublime.

Now, thanks for coming. Go away.

Postscript: in case you haven’t noticed, the look of pro(zach)nation has changed a bit. It will probably keep doing so for a little while until I’m completely happy with the look. Love something? Hate something? Let me know…I might listen.

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Year of Hell: A Retrospective

Well folks, this is it: the moment I’ve yearned for, fantasized about, and sometimes feared might never actually happen has arrived. I’ve returned, like a triumphant Odysseus from a decade-long romp lost in the Aegean, to the happy familiar shores of gainful (and non-soul-sucking) employment.

It’s for real now. At exactly 10:13 AM yesterday morning, I officially and enthusiastically accepted an offer to become a member of the national recruitment team for Arizona State University’s Undergraduate Admissions office. Emails are flying to and fro and paperwork is being generated as I write this. My name is being placed on an office door. A year of patio slacking, couch potatoing, fry slinging, and job hunting is coming to a grinding halt. Two weeks from yesterday I will put on my pretty big-boy clothes, smoosh my unruly spikes back into a grownup hairstyle, dust off my trusty old Starbucks coffee travel mug, and re-enter the land of academia.

Now that my glorious return is at hand, it’s time, I suppose, to reflect on the long and bumpy journey.

While I won’t say the past year has been nightmarish – it hasn’t been, entirely – it’s certainly been…interesting.

A year ago today, I was racing across the Utah and Arizona deserts toward Phoenix with Boyfriend, Kitten, Bird-Bird, all our earthly possessions, and grand notions of settling into lives and new careers. Lee and I were deathly bored of life in unglamorous rural Eastern Washington, I was nursing the fresh wounds inflicted to my ego by an administrative downsizing, and we were excited to start a new chapter of our lives in the sunny Southwest.

It was going to be wonderful, amazing, and the fulfillment of all our dreams. No more dreary, wet, snowy winters! No more boring small-town weekends with nothing to do! I was going to rise through the ranks of student administration at one of the largest universities in the country and Boyfriend was going to finally go back to school and finish his degree. We would spend weekends sipping cosmos and margaritas by the pool clad only in skimpy swimwear, hop from trendy club to trendy club by night, and generally live a fucking fantastic life.

Like life ever goes exactly as planned, right?

While Boyfriend was able to transfer into a full-time position with his company and go to work two days after our arrival in the lovely Valley of the Sun, employment was a little slower to come for me. The one thing we’d neglected to take into account when planning our great epic move, it turned out, was the worse-than-abysmal state of the Phoenix economy. Yeah, that should have been a no-brainer, given that our lovely city was Ground Zero for the housing bubble crash, but…with five million people, an enormous thriving university, and thousands of community colleges, university work had to be plentiful.

Right?

Well, no. After five months of watching the red Arizona dust settle into my belly button, I finally went to work in October as an insurance rep. For one day. Then, in December, I traded my slippers and sweatpants for UnderArmour polos and morphed into a fitness nazi. After a month of peddling overpriced memberships to undermotivated housewives and cheap-ass wannabe muscleheads, I decided it was once more time for…well, if not greener, different pastures. After the hectic hours and stultifying dreariness of gym membership sales, fast food had to be nice and easy, right? Especially since it would only be a momentary placeholder – days or weeks at most, most likely – until I landed that prime university position?

Riiiiight. The fast food industry is like a parallel dimension, it turns out – whereas a mere six months passed in the real world, I figure a good decade or two of my life disappeared into that dismal vortex called the McFranchise. And I might permanently smell of fry grease now.

Still, the journey has not all been bad. This past year has given me time (loooots of time) to explore parts of my life that had fallen by the wayside gradually over the years in the rush of career advancement.

For one thing, I’ve had time to write again. Aside from my occasional ramblings on pro(zach)nation, I’ve roughly outlined and began work on not one, but two memoirs – one of which is inspired directly by what I’ve come to call the Year of Hell. All the existential ennui brought on by the prolonged underemployment has allowed me to tap into the angst and dark broodiness necessary to dither about with my long-neglected novel project, too. And McDonalds? The sheer level of insanity and dysfunction there practically begs to be turned into a novel, too. Lee and I have even seriously talked about me taking a break from the career once he’s through with school and paying the bills to turn my focus full-time to writing and publishing. A year ago, publication was one of those ‘wouldn’t it be nice’ pipe dreams. Now, it seems like an eventuality. Five years from now, maybe I’ll be swinging by your local Barnes & Noble on my spring book tour. You never know, y’all.

This past year has left an indelible mark on my relationship with Boyfriend, too – and in a good way. There were rocky times – very rocky times – for a bit. Remember those vicious digs at his roommate in earlier blog posts? Moving down here – with me moving in with my best friend and he with his – certainly presented a few obstacles from time to time. We’ve moved beyond those now and come to understand and appreciate each others’ relationships with others better, and we’re in a much better place for it. And I even like his roommate.

Since finances have not exactly allowed us to hit the town every weekend, Boyfriend and I have learned to enjoy the simple things in life. Instead of getting our crunken party on, there have been home projects with visits to Home Depot and the local plant nurseries. We re-landscaped my front yard. We bought our first set of real furniture and made a pretty little sanctuary of the back patio. We re-furnished and re-decorated Roommate’s house, re-did the irrigation system in her yard, and even managed to re-vamp her wardrobe, teach her to walk in heels, and get out on the dating scene. At the end of the day, we stroll through the neighborhood or have a drink or ten on the patio. And sometimes we just talk. Sure, we love hitting the town now and again, and Phoenix has some great bars when we want to get all gayed out and play Dancing Queen. But all things considered, these little moments of domesticity have been surprisingly satisfying, and our relationship has benefitted from it. And maybe, just maybe, we’ve both managed to (gasp!) grow up a little bit.

And then there are all the little lessons that this year has taught me. Like the fact that Target can, in a pinch, be an acceptable place to buy clothing that doesn’t totally look cheap. That underwear need not always come air-freighted from Australia at hideous cost per garment. That I am physically capable of shopping the clearance racks, or going more than a few months without a new pair of awesome shoes. That I won’t die if I can’t immediately download the newest single by Justin Bieber or Lady Gaga (and that the radio actually plays music too), and that it’s not really that inconvenient to watch my shows on Hulu instead of buying them on iTunes or DVD. That a seven-dollar bottle of wine from Trader Joe’s, when paired with chocolate-covered fruit gummies and enjoyed over the course of a leisurely afternoon on the patio, is just as nice as a good vintage of Veuve Clicquot or Fonseca. That sometimes, it’s okay to simply have a laptop repaired instead of rushing out to buy a new shiny one (and that I can actually survive for two months without a laptop of any kind, even). That happy hour appetizers and cocktails with good friends and loved ones makes for as nice a birthday as a weekend secluded away at a really posh hotel, and that an evening of board games and beer with said friends and loved ones is as fun as spending a night dancing and preening in front of strangers at the hottest gay bars. And that a photo scrapbook filled with pictures of my childhood and home can be the best Christmas present to receive, and that pizza and a marathon of classic Star Trek movies can make for a cozy Christmas day.

So…in the end, no. The journey wasn’t all rotten. It certainly hasn’t all been for nought. There were good points – many of them, in fact. Still, it’s not all fanfare and celebration and easy streets now that the Year of Hell is officially over. There’s plenty of re-building to do. A year of constant stress and soul-deadening part-time jobs have taken their toll on my once-firm physique. There’s some…ahem… de-squishifying and re-sculpting to be done. There are the financial setbacks to recover from. And last but not least, I’ll have to get used to getting up consistently at a god-awful time of morning to commute the thirty miles to work.

But really, that’s all small shit. The Year of Hell is O-V-E-R. I survived it. Exactly one year after I arrived in Arizona ready to start a new chapter, it’s finally happening. It’s all occurring a little later than I’d imagined, but hey…it’s all part of the journey, right?

Here’s to that.

Now please, hand me a margarita. My days of drinks before noon are becoming quickly numbered.

A Leaf Blower Is Not A Sex Toy (And Other Landscaping Lessons)

‘Tis the season for outdoor projects, folks. It’s perfect – the sun is out, fruity summer beverages are flowing, and hawt shirtless guys are playing with their dogs in the park behind my house.

Also, the last update Google Street View did of my neighborhood showed a nice aerial view of a dark tangle of weeds and overgrown vegetation that would do Lost Island proud. Considering this is a desert climate, that’s quite the accomplishment. Lastly (and this might be the most important thing), the two foreclosed houses down the street finally sold and have been cleaned up, threatening to leave the title of least-kept front yard on the block to…me.

Clearly, this could not be allowed to happen. Therefore, these past few months have been a whirlwind of Extreme Home Makeover, Yard Edition. Not only have I obliterated all those weeds that sprung out of nowhere this winter – when it was cold and rainy and I was therefore too lazy to do anything, despite Willow and Lee constantly reminding me that they’d go to seed and be ten bazillion times worse (and they were right, dammit) – but I’ve trimmed shrubberies, pruned bushes, fertilized cacti, and blown all the assorted leaves and debris clean out of my yard and into Mr. Ass-Crack of Death’s yard next door.

And since I’m such a nice and sharing guy (I’m so sharing I let Lee do over half of the work) and have really learned quite an astounding bit about landscaping these past few months (hey, did you know organ-pipe cactus spines are really effing sharp and spiny and painful???), I figured I should pass on a few nuggets.

Without further ado, I present Zach’s Most Important Landscaping and Gardening Tips (or, Don’t Be Like Dumbass).

Landscaping Tip #1: When Boyfriend is attaching new head fittings to the irrigation system, do not play around with the timers and settings on the sprinkler box. This may or may not result in Boyfriend getting a faceful of Phoenix tap water, which is not a good thing – there’s a reason we get bottled water around here. Also, this means Boyfriend will be in sour mood and not feel sorry for you when a cactus thorn becomes impaled in your butt several hours later.

Landscaping Tip #2: Beware cacti bearing thorns. Especially when free-balling in basketball shorts. ‘Nuff said.

Landscaping Tip #3: When getting a nice ambitious start to the morning in order to beat the heat and sun, do not blast that Miley-Gaga-Justin Bieber iPod playlist out the open front windows. I don’t think Mr. Ass-Crack appreciates it as much as you do at six in the morning on a Saturday. Or ever, most likely.

Landscaping Tip #4: Before attacking the front yard with the leaf blower, it might be a good idea to move the freshly-washed-and-waxed-and-buffed-to-the-tune-of-forty-friggin-dollars car off the driveway. If you don’t, you fully deserve to have Roommate come along and write ‘Dumbass’ in the dust on the hood. Along these same lines, don’t blow pebbles down the sidewalk toward the neighbors’ Jaguar. They get all squinty-eyed about it.

Landscaping Tip #5: Unless you want a sunburn visible at night from the moon, put on sunblock before going out for that ‘quick’ little project. Four hours later, death might feel preferable.

Landscaping Tip #6: Speaking of leaf blowers (and death), they are great for hurricaning dust and pebbles off the back patio and out of the river rock and landscaping gravel out front, but are not so amazing when it comes to blowing junk out of the tiny gravel in the back yard. Unless you want to have a giant dust cloud blocking out the sun over your house for three days. This is probably a fair approximation of how the dinosaurs died.

Landscaping Tip #7: If you leave dog poop alone in the Arizona sun for a day or two, even the biggest Great Dane dookies desiccate and shrink down to the size of Chihuahua chips. Then you can blow them into the corner behind the citrus trees with the leaf blower until Boyfriend discovers the pile and makes you bag them up four months later.

Landscaping Tip #8: When you chase the dogs around the yard with the leaf blower, they don’t like it. They so dislike it, in fact, that they don’t run up to give you feel-better kisses when, while chasing them, you trip on the cord and embed gravel in your knees.

Landscaping Tip #9: Though bougainvillas are very hardy plants, they don’t especially like it when you forget to plant them for two months. Also, they don’t stuff well into tiny impractically-sized cars. And finally, they have big-ass spines, a fact they conceal from you until the moment you try to wrestle them into that tiny impractically-sized car. At this point, they viciously launch their inch-long daggers straight at your tender fleshy parts, exactly the way city folks figure porcupines throw their quills.

Landscaping Tip #10: Finally, when the landscaping is cleaned, the bushes trimmed, the new plants put in, and the yard generally looking kick-ass, don’t suggest to Boyfriend that you’re so glad it’s done and you don’t have to worry about any yard maintenance for the next eight months. Because aside from getting that twitchy thing going on in his right eye, he might very well pour what’s left of the industrial-strength weed killer into your next margarita.

There. Now that I’ve shared my hard-earned lessons and landscaping tips, I encourage you to put them to good use. In my yard, next season, when it’s time to do this whole process all over again. Told you I was good at sharing!

All About the Boy, Part One: I Heart My Boyfriend…

Earlier this week, one of my favorite readers and a good online buddy and I were chatting and the subject of relationships came up. Specifically, we were discussing our mutual aversion to commitment and relationships, and the crush he had on my boyfriend simply because Lee had been able to sneak past my anti-boyfriend and anti-bullshit filters and wormed his way into my shriveled little heart. Continue reading