Two weeks ago I headed off to the Oregon Coast on a personal retreat, with the idea that I would spend some time in prayer and meditation, brainstorming about professional goals and means of obtaining them.
You know, my life has been in a total tailspin for the last five years, since acid reflux forced me to abandon my operatic ambitions. My entire personal identity was bound up in my singing career, and without it, I simply didn't know who I was. I had absolutely no back-up plan, no idea what else I might even want to do.
I knew I could make decent money working as an admin in corporate finance, but it soon became abundantly clear that is a toxic environment for me. I accepted a similar position with a non-profit gay rights organization, but while I loved the work, the compensation just wasn't sufficient for someone entering his 30s who had student loans to pay and, having frittered away his 20s pursuing the limelight, no savings or investments. Also, as much as I loved the organization, I was wrong to have hoped it was a foot-in-the-door that would allow me to transition to a more interesting role. I would never have had the training or experience required for one of the jobs in education and outreach, which is where I yearned to be.
I needed to leave New York. New York was its own complex problem, but largely it was a city haunted by the ghosts of my unrealized singing ambitions, and I needed to put some distance between myself and the glorious, invigorating, exhausting chaos of Manhattan in order to think.
Okay. So, I've been in Oregon a year now. Voila, I'm back to being an admin in corporate finance. Now, I work for a very good company and have a very good job, but...let's be honest. My heart's not in it. The money and benefits are great, but I get no joy from it. Still, in the short term, it's exactly what I wanted, because even if life right now is utterly meaningless, I at least have a decent apartment, am paying all my own bills, paying down the debt, investing for the future, and have a reasonable hope of getting a Honda Civic Hybrid by early fall.
But this can't be permanent. There's no way "up" at this job, either, and even if there were, it's not in a direction I'd want to go.
Some of you have suggested that I'm being rather too vague about my professional intentions, but it wasn't on purpose. I needed to do two things. One, I needed to really clarify in my mind and heart what it is I want to do. Second, I needed to give myself permission to go after it. Maybe that last part sounds strange, but somewhere along the line I picked up this odd notion that what one ought to do and what one wants to do are usually at odds with one another, and that practical, sensible people all value the former over the latter.
So here's my idea. And this, I'm sure, is going to be met with a resounding, "Well, duh!" from regular readers, but what I really want to do is work as an advocate for gay people in the faith community. I see that as having two distinct dimensions: the first is reaching out to gay people who have been either incredibly wounded by the church or to those who are unsure that there are churches who will take them and love them, just as they are; the second is reaching out to more general audiences and presenting a face to them, so that this issue of gay people and faith isn't an abstract one. In particular, I envision myself visiting churches and doing Q&A sessions with skeptical (but not hostile) audiences.
For the last many months, that's all been so much of a lovely fantasy. Let's be honest. I'm a secretary with a master's degree in classical voice. Not exactly the skill/experience set that's going to make me a competitive candidate for such a position. All right. So, what I needed was to try to gain some experience in community organizing and outreach at the volunteer level and just hope that maybe it will lead to something.
But how to even get that far?
Right before I left for the coast, however, I read a letter from my parish rector (currently on sabbatical in South America) who was talking about his own recent experiences and remarked, "But that's the wonderful thing about being intentional about things. Once we decide to do something, the opportunities start presenting themselves."
So, off to the beach I went, where for four days I kept the daily office, and as a part of that I improvised my own liturgical segment of declaring my intention at every session: I want to be a professional advocate for gay people within the faith community.
Tonight after work I went downtown to the cathedral for a meeting to discuss coordination for a delegation from my parish to meet up with their group to march in the Portland Pride parade on June 15. This is the first time that my church will participate in the event.
At that meeting I was invited to join a new committee that will establish an outreach program, sending an LGBT person or ally to various parishes in rural Oregon to talk about gay issues in the Episcopal church.