To Keep Or To Sell

I won’t lie: money’s been a little tight lately. Despite a few signs of economic turnaround, this still seems to be the case for most of my friends and loved ones. With an eye toward identifying some sellable assets to shore up our savings, I pulled my old trumpet out of the closet—a silver Bach Stradivarius, purchased many years ago when I was a teenage band nerd. I remember that it was pricey then, and by the look of online prices at least, the value holds up well. It’s been almost 18 years since I played it with any regularity, and probably 10 since I last took it out, washed it, and gave it a go. Today when I took the horn out of its case, I could still detect some majesty under its tarnish. Old? Yes. Serviceable, and possibly sellable? For sure.

Having prepped a bath of warm water, I held it in my hands and began pulling the pieces apart. It was a gentle soak—not much debris coming out of the bell, since it had been silent for so many years. Washing it—and watching myself do this—put me in a somber mood, more reflective than I’d been expecting, but reminiscent of bathing a loved one whose time had likely grown short. Many years ago, playing band music was really my only emotional outlet. In my pre-coming out adolescence, the pressure of succeeding in school and band, always being “first,” and making sure no one could find fault in my performances consumed me, and in many ways that pressure boiled over when I couldn’t channel my feelings through that slender, erect, conical instrument. I could be a bit of a dick in those immature years, needlessly competitive and over-sensitive because it really felt like the slightest vulnerability could bring me down and shame me in the eyes of my peers. I didn’t know who I was if I wasn’t “perfect,” and that well-crafted instrument came to feel more like a part of my own body, capable of bursts of brilliance as well as sharp, defensive jabs when necessary to protect my fragile psyche.

When I came to terms with my sexual orientation and new friendships came my way, for the first time I felt safe to share all of who I was—and not surprisingly, my interest in that trumpet declined. College only accelerated that transformation as I found a love for the written and spoken word, community organizing, and social movements. Creativity came pouring out of my writing, the queer college magazine I started, and a novel I wrote in my senior year (but never published). Although music wove its way through everything I did, I felt little desire to pick up the horn. Later when I did, I had fun—playing along to Morphine songs and having spontaneous “bad music blues jams” with friends at parties. Still, as I landed squarely in nonprofit volunteer management, I lost track of the time and seldom felt the energy to dig the trumpet out and see what I could do.

So today I sat in my house, drying off this instrument that had been virtually an appendage for one complex stretch of my life. I got out the silver polish and started slowly working on the metal, and bit by bit the tarnish came off. The horn’s older, no doubt, but it gleamed as the sun emerged from a cloudy morning. I greased the slides and oiled the valves, all while carefully considering any imperfections that might affect its appraisal. Already I was getting excited, as I kept showing parts of it to my partner, demonstrating how beautiful the trumpet really looked. And finally—wasn’t sure I would do this—I put the horn to my lips and a clear, cold sound burst from it. Really not bad—I should take a decade or two off more often. Certain things came back right away—the embouchure, fingerings, vibrato, old ditties that were easy to try. The horn sounded good, but interesting to me was how I felt—different, secure, mindful of what this moment represented, and also aware of the absence of certain feelings—crushing insecurities and performance anxieties, frustration with my physical skills and existential angst. I asked myself if this could in fact be fun, and for the moment my answer was, “Yes.”

So, we still need money but I’m not sure I can bring myself to sell the horn. I also don’t know where this piece of myself fits with all the other parts that are in play right now—grad student, college instructor, researcher, writer, and occasional husband and housemate. But this integration process—taking a look at all the aspects of the self I’ve worked on, considering the pros and cons, and finding ways to make them fit together—feels more solid and secure with the trumpet restored and resting in the dining room. Jaxon says not to sell it, but I might still have it appraised.

Part 2 on Same-Sex Marriage

People who know me well won’t be surprised that I’m especially curious about the “collateral” impact of same-sex marriage fights on LGBT communities, so I’d love to hear if anyone has seen actual data on the issue as I’m describing it here. A couple months back, the executive director of a local nonprofit– one that was founded by and still heavily serves the LGBT community– commented to me that his organization was likely to see about a $200,000 drop this year in charitable contributions. Most of that money, he said, was going to the Vote No campaign, which we both agreed was necessary but raised a really vital concern for me, namely this:  When a community already has limited resources to care for its own, what is the impact on supportive services when capital is diverted to political defense efforts?

I can see a couple areas worth exploring. The first is charitable donations, which in a highly politicized climate often go to the most visible and widely covered causes. Second is health outcomes, where I know some research has been published previously on HIV/STI incidence in states that passed same-sex marriage bans. Recently when I did some historical research on early gay and lesbian social services (post-Stonewall through pre-AIDS), it really stood out that these charities survived on small donors and volunteers (often service consumers) until big grants arrived, but the private support would then become precarious because donors would move on to the next big problem area. With just my anecdotal observations to go on right now, it doesn’t seem all that different from what I see today.

I do think that the moment presented here is interesting in that same-sex marriage is closer to becoming a fact in Minnesota (and across the U.S.) than ever before. Yet, how much impact will that have on queer people who experience multiple stressors such as family rejection, homelessness, poor health, addiction, etc.? Forty years ago, activists were making the case that services were needed “by us and for us,” yet the resources to fully sustain them were overwhelmed by the sheer amount of need that turned up. Today– 31 years after AIDS was discovered– there are some channels for funding LGBT-affirming services, but not many. Aside from this point, I think that as queer communities continue to develop– in physical as well as online spaces– there is an inevitable conversation looming about what we most need in order to adequately take care of each other. I just hope that we don’t lose sight of these numerous health disparities in the public arguments ahead.

On the Minnesota Marriage Amendment

Although my academic schedule kept me out of the action for this past election, like most queer Minnesotans I watched the results with a mixture of anxiousness and anticipation and felt deeply proud when we became the first state to reject one of these divisive ballot initiatives.  I’m especially in awe of the organizers, volunteers, and donors who pulled off a smart, well-focused campaign.  A few thoughts linger with me in the aftermath, which I’ll try to share here as fully as possible.

I remember when my home state of Michigan passed one of these amendments, after I had already moved away.  Seeing the returns and the wide margin by which it passed felt like a shocking punch to the stomach– something that left me unsettled on several return visits afterward because I couldn’t help but wonder– who would be part of that 60% that voted to permanently deny same-sex couples equal marriage rights? On those trips I would quietly look around at strangers, at family members during reunions, at fellow football game attendees, and absorb that they had likely voted with the majority. It felt creepy– undermining my confidence in a number of ways and making it difficult to spend time in the state for very long.

Fast forward to the present, when yesterday my partner and I walked our dog through the neighborhood and noted several lingering orange “Vote No” signs lining the blocks. I wondered, how would today feel if Minnesota had followed the 31 other states to put LGBT marriage rights to a popular vote? Together we couldn’t quite come up with the words that would describe our feelings if this place– where we met, bought a home, and started building our careers– had made discrimination a constitutional mandate. There is still a lot of work ahead to get same-sex marriage legalized here, and I have lots of opinions on the other “unfinished” work of building a community that raises and nurtures healthier queer people from youth through old age. Today though, on a sunny afternoon with pleasant fall shadows hanging around me, what lingers is the sensation of a close brush with something deeper and more jarring, a narrow escape from the perilous prospect of waking up to question whether this home was still truly a home.


A New Home for Myself Online

Hi, I’m Michael.

I finally broke down and created a blog– not that I’d been resisting, but it always felt like I had neither the time nor the energy to write when I was working full-time in the nonprofit world. But, the last couple years have changed that as I have worked through my graduate program and started teaching. So, now I feel like I need to get my habits back into shape– in this case, getting into a routine where I just put down my thoughts, organize some ideas, maybe share some past materials, and hopefully get into good conversations with everyone I know and love, as well as the friends I haven’t made yet. 

So, welcome. I’ll try to add content regularly. The blog name, by the way, is meant to be a (hopefully clever) pun, riffing off the fact that many of my best times occur when I’m surrounded by good food, good wine, and good conversation. I live in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in a beautiful old farmhouse shared with my partner of many years, our two closest friends, one dog, and four cats. I attend and teach at the University of Minnesota, but my deepest love and loyalty will always be to my first alma mater, Michigan State University. Both are very good universities and both are land grants, but they are very different as well. I’ll try to stay balanced in my praise and criticism of each. 

I want to write a couple more posts before I send this site out to everyone. This seems to be a good way to organize my thoughts when I need more motivation. I hope you’ll read and comment back as well, as that seems to keep me on my toes with my writing. More in a bit.

%d bloggers like this: