When it comes to spirituality, nothing is ‘Transparent’

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I need to pour myself another cup of coffee and take a deep breath before I even begin to talk about season 3 of Amazon’s comedy (which in this day and age actually means half-hour drama) Transparent because to say there’s a lot to unpack with the show is the television understatement of 2016. From white privilege and sexual politics to mental health and of course all sides of the trans discussion, the show is like a Vegas buffet for hot button contemporary issues. Thankfully, that’s not all it is. So beautifully shot, masterfully acted and well-written, we often forget we’re ingesting a show that asks a lot of heavy questions. Among the most brazen are the ones Transparent asks about spirituality and religion.

Since premiering on Amazon on Friday, I’ve already sucked down 7 out of the 10 episodes of season 3. Yeah, I know. I have a problem. (Hi. My name is Sean and I’m a tv-oholic.) Season 2 was a not easy to love journey into the family’s Jewish history while giving Maura (always so touchingly played by Jeffery Tambor) a real life. Season 3 asks the question, “So now what?” and it asks that question of each member of the Pfucked Up Pfefferman’s lives and circling back around to spirituality makes a lot of sense. The finding religion or meditation or prayer in times of personal distress is a tale as old as time but oddly one not often told on television. During a break between episodes, Michael and I had tons to talk about– which is another thing to cherish about this show. How often does TV actually do that? And we started talking about how unapologetically Jewish the Pfefferman’s are. The idea of a TV family and one of a sitcom no less being open about their religion still feels pretty revolutionary. After all, we never knew what kind of church George and Weezie on The Jeffersons went to. Ditto with the Stone family of The Donna Reed Show. Outside of safely assuming that Darren and Samantha Stevens of Bewitched were probably your happy, neighborhood pagans, the spiritual lives of sitcoms families have been kept under-wraps until recent years. Not content with lightly dipping its toes in the waters of a subject, Transparent really goes there as it uncovers a modern Jewish family who struggle to keep their faith while wanting desperately to believe in something,anything.

In a benchmark episode entitled “Oh Holy Night”, the family attends “Hineni” a spiritual event organized by the family’s most lost lamb, Sarah(played with wild-eyed inappropriateness by Amy Landecker) and led by Rabbi Raquel (Katherine Hahn), who despite being kind and optimistic continually winds up being Pfefferman family roadkill. It’s Silver Lake Jewishness for millennials. Pretty quickly we see that things aren’t going to run smoothly. In a classic, very LA joke, the tacos for this hipster Shabbat have been replaced by pupusas. And a highly charged conversation about Palestine nearly turns into a fist fight at the aqua fresca station which hilariously crescendos later with Cherry Jones’ character winding face up in a ditch. But it’s during the event’s candlelight prayer led by Rabbi Raquel that the show’s power,beauty and central message become illuminated. “What if the miracle was you? What if you had to be your own messiah?” the Rabbi asks. The candle is passed around for attendees to share their blessing. From the arrival of monarch butterflies to praying for the LA’s homeless, the thoughts are powerful. Naturally, when a woman says, “Guys, I’m seven months sober” I got teary eyed. Of course, even this moment gets high jacked by the Pfeffermans as Maura changes the entire tone to acknowledge the death of one of the show’s more controversial characters. The word “hineni” in Hebrew means “here I am” and in essence this episode and the season at large is about a seeking, an arrival and a wanting to expand spiritually.

As we’ve talked about before, I’m not a formerly religious person. I belong to the Church of Suck Less and Be Nice to People (All are welcome! Enjoy the donuts!) It works for me. I’m more of a believer in magic and nature then I am in some dude with a white beard flocked by angels. But I tend not to get trippeded up about other people’s religions either. I was told early on if I wanted chance of changing and staying sober I should probably have an open mind and I try to do that. Plus, I think the seeking we all have, religious or not, is universal and this is what Transparent taps into so beautifully. There’s no easy answers when it comes to spirituality and the show knws this. Yes, this family is screwed up and yes they’ve got more issues than Life magazine. But it isn’t just the shows lead character Maura who is transforming. Her journey from male to female is just the tip of iceberg. The road to self. The road to enlightenment. The road to transformations are all messy and filled with detours. These are journeys all of the Pfeffermans are on and ones I, as a viewer, can’t wait to see where they end up.

everything is rigged! everything is a conspiracy!

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I consider a myself a master inventor of excuses. If there’s a lame brained, half-witted idea to get out of something, I have usually tried it and without the visual aid of a vintage I Love Lucy episode to boot. So imagine my dismay when the excuse of “The System is rigged!’ went mainstream. See, over the last several months this idea of the system being rigged has taken off. “What system?” you ask. Kids, it truly does not matter! Washington DC. The electorial process. The debates. The Oscars. The DMV. The line at Starbucks. It’s all a system therefore eligible to be considered rigged. This ingenious and totally testicle-free way of blaming something we have no control over is an excuse that me the bullshitter, er I mean “storyteller” should have thought of decades ago. Alas, it took an orange billionaire to illuminate us on how if we tell the world the system is rigged, we in turn have zero accountability.

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Before we continue, please note: I have taken considerable care to ensure that this blog is free from inflammatory and hemorrhoidal political content because quite frankly it’s fucking boring and currently on every other website therefore making anything I have to say equally as boring. However, I’ll dip my toes briefly into those waters this morning. But have no fear. If all of this goes according to plan, this post will seamlessly loop back around and return to talking about the thing I love the most–me! I will even not soil these pages with images or the name of said orange billionaire. Instead, please enjoy this disco space portrait of Lester Holt. Which is appropriate as I talk about him too. Moving on!

Yesterday (or was it two days ago?) a story broke about how whats-his-face had already declared the debates rigged as he knew in his little black heart that moderator Lester Holt (I’m assuming the normal, non-disco space version) was a Democrat, making him incapable of fairly conducting the debates. Let’s just say this was a reasonable concern. And let’s even assume, although we have no evidence to suggest this, that Holt has a history of being biased and shady. Let’s go a step further and say that the political party of every television debate moderator ever has warped the debates they were in charge of and so we can assume that as a Democrat that Holt will do the same. But the thing is,as we know now, Holt is a Republican. Oops. Yet this little snafu and mild, mistaken character assassination doesn’t even matter. The point is that guy already sent out the loudly cawing, “It’s rigged! It’s rigged!” carrier pigeons into the world and now we’re suspicious of an event that hasn’t even happened. What’s more is, if the little dicked casino owner totally tanks next week, he can blame a rigged system. It’s genius.

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Last night, I read a juicy piece on celebrity conspiracy theorists. These colorful characters believe everything from the relationship of Tom Hiddleston and Taylor Swift (you can’t make me type ‘Hiddleswift’ dammit!) to the hidden romance of two One Direction members is a conspiracy. They are mainly harmless types and often hilarious. The piece highlights how we the people create these back stories and conspiracies to make our own lives and consequently the lives of celebrities more fascinating. As a casual celebrity gossip dabbler, I enjoy a good Illuminati or Katy Perry conspiracy like everyone else. Thankfully, that’s kind of where it ends for me. Ditto with systems being rigged. It may not have occurred to me to blame fucked up systems because as a sober person, I’ve committed to a life of personal accountability. This means, as much as I’d like to blame America, the IRS, the Grammys, Groupon, Southwest Airlines, Apple, my parents, straight people, pot smokers, the LAPD etc. for rigging systems and solely bearing the responsibility for fucking up my life, I cannot. Curses! Foiled again!

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I guess I’m being rather flippant about something as problematic as our depressing cultural default setting for blaming systems and claiming things are rigged and that’s intentional. I mean how ridiculous. Yes, there are systems that are “rigged” and unfair. Thankfully, there are tireless watchdogs policing those systems. I’m a gay man with HIV and honey child, I have done been a part of some for legit fucked up, rigged, bigoted systems. Please. If that reality show hosting twerp thinks he knows unfairness, let him take his orange ass through the public health matrix and get back to me. Thanks. Yet believing in conspiracies against me and that the world is out to get me, that’s old behavior and something I cannot indulge in. As I’ve talked about recently, I just did one of those inventories that sober people do to clear out resentments and hopefully have chance of staying sober. This time around I was reminded of ongoing refusal to take responsibility for how I act. I acted out because I was bullied. I lied because I need to protect myself. I used people because I never had enough love growing up. It was always something or someone else’s fault. This thinking lead me to drugs and alcohol too. “If you had it as bad as me, you’d be drunk too” was my motto for so many years. As nice and easy as putting the blame on some else sounds, it’s a toxic and unsustainable way to live. When I bottomed out, I had to realize most of my problems were ones I caused. Well, that was certainly an ugly realization but one that needed to happen.

Thus, it makes me wonder: what if the system, all systems, are in fact rigged? So what? I mean it. Who cares if they are. Listen, pulling off this daily mental health miracle takes all the effort I can summon from the four corners. I ain’t got time for a conspiracy theory. I reckon no one else does either if we are all doing our best to pursue emotional intelligence, compassion and a little damn dignity. It is appealing, however, to point at something larger as trying to sabotage our every move. Take writing this post, for example. I’m a fan of the midway edit and spellcheck but a few moments ago this was impossible. My website was not having it. The edit button froze and I was kicked back to my post. I laughingly wondered if it was a conspiracy against me. That WordPress knew I was writing a smartass piece about conspiracies and didn’t want me to publish it. That someone gave enough of a shit to continue their evil plot against me, just to fuck with me. Within seconds, the edit was working again. And that’s it. Sometimes, things are just fucked up, with no ulterior motive. And sometimes there are evil forces out to get you. But if I’m working on being a little less shitty than I was yesterday, none of it actually matters.

 

I will survive…but not alone

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On dancefloors. Under discoballs. Next to thumping speakers and kids in furry backpacks. Thru fog machines, cigarette smoke, and puffs of glitter. In empty, burned out warehouses suddenly transformed by day-glo foam sculptures of mushrooms and hearts, evoking a modern Alice in Wonderland. This is where I felt like I showed up. Like this was my moment. It was 1992 and I was 19 years-old and rave culture had caught fire across the United States. By this time, I had already cycled through teen goth clubs, shady underage gay bars and high school parties and all of the drugs that accompany those events. I always had my eye on the next cool thing to walk around the corner. Not because I had my finger on the pulse but more out of an insatiable desire to make the party never stop. So thank god when rave culture showed up. Here were hundreds of other kids who all felt the same way. The music was the draw. I could link videos to rave classic songs for days but really 20 plus years later the truth is revealed: that music? It was pure and simple dance music. A road forged by disco culture nearly 30 years earlier was now being paved by house music, techno and everything else with a drum machine. Back then, it was rave music, now it’s EDM, tomorrow we’ll call it something else. But the appeal, whatever generational version of it, remains consistent. It paired well with drugs, with escape, with sex and with dancing with others who wanted the same things. I took so much ecstasy and danced so many hours it stopped working but I’m persistent, dammit. I rode the rave thing until the wheels fell off. When that party ended thanks to an unwelcome appearance by crystal meth, I moved on to the next which I burned out from and then moved on once again to another party, this time in Los Angeles at age 23 and one that would have incredibly high highs and crash with the worst of lows. And that so-called party lasted until I was 36.

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Spot me in this crowd! Hint? I’m the raver in flannel!

The thing I loved about raves or trashy glam clubs in LA or gay bars, in addition to the music, was the feeling of belonging. With considerable effort and dedication to the craft of going out several nights a week, I became enough of a club presence to usually get on the guest list, maybe score free drinks and a bump or two in the bathroom. I was a minor celebrity among club friends and known in a tiny microcosm which was good enough for me. I slid naturally from clubs and guest lists to dive bars to drinking nightly at home. Formerly sparkling and social became sad and the part I loved, feeling like I belonged, vanished along with the smoke and glitter. So then what? What happens to a disco diva when the lights come up, the free drinks stop and the club friends vanish in thin air upon hearing a whisper of the word, “sober”?

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For this disco diva, life got real/real depressing. Things like health, debt and broken relationships were waiting in line outside the club like I used to and just like me they were gonna get in, even if they weren’t on the guest list. In addition to waking up to the shit storm that was my existence, I also had to remove a huge chunk of my social drinking circle if I wanted any semblance of success at staying sober. It had never occurred to me in the 600 other times I tried to stop drinking that by hanging out with daily drinkers I wasn’t exactly giving myself a fighting chance. Well, it sounds obvious when I put it like that but as I’ve mentioned before I’m a slow learner. So fine. I did that. I lovingly detached from the old crew but now what? Turns out the recovery world was filled with people just like me. I didn’t take too long to find my people. They certainly didn’t look like me but honestly the world only needs a handful of valley girl voiced Moby look-alike alcoholics. What was important was they knew how I felt and knew what I was going through. They even nodded their heads when I shared horrible, crazy, unspeakable things. yea-uh-huh.gif

2816 days later, I’m still finding my people and in delightful and unexpected places. Mainly online. There are a lot of debates about sobriety, recovery and anonymity online and as you know I detest digital bickering of any flavor so we will not go there. What I will say is this: just like I did in meetings all over the country and just like I used on dancefloors, I have found other people who were like.My #RecoveryPosse is always available on Twitter or if I’m really desperate on Facebook. Many of them have blogs. Others have podcasts. Others are normal, hilarious folks who make me laugh on a regular basis. Others I’ve even been lucky to meet in real life. The point is thanks to that cursed blessing known as technology, my people are always here and easy to find on my phone. A couple of days ago, I tweeted the opening line to the song referenced in the title. What transpired was the kind of loopy, brilliant, back and forth I’ve come to know and love from my online tribe.

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But it doesn’t begin and end there. When I blogged on UrTheInspiration, I was lucky enough to meet my people like Heather Kopp or my now real-life pal Jen and my friend Paul, who even though he’s in Canada and straight, is someone who always for some reason gets what I’m going through. A few years ago, we started an Artists in Recovery meeting in Denver and every week I run into my people there. By being on Facebook, I randomly will have someone reach out from the past who tells me they are now sober or maybe they are struggling so I meet my people there too. The thing is by speaking my truth, whether in person or online, the world becomes less scary and I’m less isolated. You don’t have to search too hard to find hundreds of studies that say people who have support have a better chance of staying sane and sober than those who don’t. I’ve found it to be true. When I tried to get by all by my lonesome, I never stood a chance. I end every Sloshed Cinema by saying, “You are never alone.” Partly to pass that onto others but mainly to remind myself that no matter how bad I feel, there’s always help. There’s somebody willing to nod their head to what I’m sharing if I just open my mouth.  And there’s always someone dancing to the same song I am, somewhere.

The Waiting Game

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If you have an aversion to waiting for things, please avoid in living in large cities like Los Angeles. In my 15 years in that town, I’d guess that approximately 1/3 of that time was spent waiting for something. Waiting in line at the grocery stores. Waiting in traffic. Waiting tables. Waiting for opportunities.Waiting to get into clubs. Waiting to get into movies. Waiting for drinks. Waiting for drugs. Waiting for pain to end. Waiting to get my shit together. Therefore, the longer I lived there and the more my shit did come together, the better I got at waiting for stuff. Most of it was out of my control anyway so short of figuring out how to bend the time and space continuum, I had to become better at waiting. Sobriety has helped with that too. At 11 months of sobriety, I remember crying at a meeting and wondering why I didn’t feel better. To which a friend of mine replied,”That’s why they call it slow-briety, honey. Takes forever to not feel terrible.” I thought,”Well, now you tell me.” For an instant gratification junkie like myself, the idea of having to wait to feel better was fucking torture. Yet what choice did I have? So I waited for bad feelings to pass and they eventually did. Much to my disappointment, the good feelings passed too. However, I realized that waiting, as long as I was living my life and trying to grow, wasn’t so horrible. It’s a good thing my outlook on waiting is so darn healthy too because the last several months of my life have been filled with a whole lotta waiting.

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To illustrate the length and breadth of the waiting in question, let’s go back to the spring, shall we? A magical time before the surface of the Earth turned into a truck stop griddle and when afternoon rainstorms were an actual reality and not something people were desperately dancing for. It was during this season of rebirth that we, my husband and I, got news of a potential relocation to Portland, Oregon. The hubs works for one of those glamorous furniture companies with the drool worthy catalogues and said company was opening a new location. We were curious. Listen, we’ve got a good thing going here in Denver. An adorable house, walking distance to both of our workplaces, my grandmother up the street and my favorite meetings around the corner. Life is good. But we are also in a fortunate place that with no kids, no crazy mortgages or car payments we can sort of do whatever we want. And we are always down to mix things up. So with that spirit in mind, we visited in April. We, of course, loved Portland and decided to go for it. Now, if impatient drug addict me had his way, this is where the story would end and we would have gotten what we wanted and moved months ago. The universe, as it has been known to do, had other plans.

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See, what I didn’t take into account was slow-moving construction, permits, HR manuevers and endless starts and stops. Honestly?I was fine. Like I said, my little is pretty great so if it stays the same, fantastic. If not, that’s cool too. Plus, I wasn’t moving to fix things or to run away from stuff like I had in the past. It sounded like a fun adventure and that was enough. Seeing as I can write and stay sober anywhere on the planet, I’m lucky to be flexible. It’s been harder on my husband. He’s been in professional limbo and had to endure a series of mini interviews and endless hours of workplace chatter. He’s vacillated back and forth from really excited to “Fuck this. I’m over it.” The holding pattern has taken its toll. It’s hard to retain excitement for something when months have dragged on. But, eventually, we both surrendered to the all-powerful force that is waiting.

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Suffice to say, spring ended, summer burned on and now with fall around the corner, the move is back on the table and– there’s more waiting. But just a few weeks. By early October, we will know either way. The amazing thing that has transpired during this long waiting period (which will turn out to be close to a year when all is said and done) is life. Life doesn’t wait. Halfway through our waiting, we looked at each other and decided that we might as well enjoy everything, regardless of the outcome down the road. This has turned out to be a good strategy. In this time, my beloved 18 year-old niece has graduated high school and is now attending college in Manhattan. We’ve had several trips and will also go to Mexico and LA before the year is out. We’ve also seen plays, films, friends and much more of that on the books too. I’ve done lots of writing and collaborated on cool projects with even more on the horizon. I’ve also dove back into some difficult but rewarding personal work in recovery which has pretty much adjusted my entire attitude while stripping down my old ways of thinking.

So I guess the end of this story is not very satisfying, given the fact that I am still waiting. But maybe it’s not the end that’s important. Maybe what matters is what happens while I’m waiting.

hey! shut up.

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It’s the same canned music at my day job, day after day. You know, that innocuous steady bum-bum-bum in the background that plays at every store, airport, cultural destination. Inoffensive enough if you’re just visiting an establishment. Truthfully? You might even not notice it. You might just stroll around and be none the wiser to the sounds that populate my days. You might wonder if music was even playing at all. You might, if you’re not a person like me. I’ve always paid attention to the song in the background for some reason because who knows? Maybe a great song has been paired by the universe to particularly match the moment of what’s going on. Or if by chance its a really awful, wildly inappropriate song for the moment, even better. Sometimes, it’s just a lyric or an idea from the random song picked out of a hat by the digital music gods, droning on the background that inexplicably matches the moment. Like, “Hey! Shut up”, for example.

This lyric, featured in what’s sort of a love song from 1989 by Bonnie Raitt entitled “Have a Heart,” slaps a smirk on my face each time it comes on. For one thing, it’s the very first thing we hear Raitt say at the tip-top of the song. It’s a funny and sassy on-brand way to start a Bonnie Raitt song. Though tiny in demeanor, Raitt’s been to hell and back so if she playfully tells you, “Hey! Shut up” you might wanna consider it. Not only do I find this a hilarious way to start a song, it’s advice I pretty much need to hear all day long.

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A beloved friend I got sober with, who met me when I was whirling dervish of emotions and a category 5 hot mess, once described me as “wonderfully verbal.” Although too much of a saint to admit it, I’m sure he was trying to say I talked too much. This is something I’ve known for decades. “Blurt it out and clean it up later”is how we roll around these parts. As frank and fun as that can be, it’s also frequently insensitive and just stupid. As I’ve aged, however, I’ve tried to run things through a filter BEFORE they blast out of my mouth and for the most part there has been some improvement in this department. My husband, who just last weekend shook his head and tried to get me to stop blabbing my big dumb opinions around friends who may be offended by said opinions, might argue about my progress. Nevertheless, I am at the very least aware that I need to pause before things fly out of my mouth. What I still struggle with is shutting up entirely. Particularly when there are dynamics that have NOTHING to do with me or where my opinion isn’t really necessary. If I’m really real here (which isn’t that the bare minimum that we expect from people who never shut up?) I’ll tell you that I had this lyric in mind and wanted to give you sparkling before and after look at how someone who needed to shut up and finally did. You’d marvel at how my life had changed and soon you’d do the same thing. Yeah, that’s what I wanted to do but just yesterday more garbage flew out of my mouth at the speed of light. Sigh.

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Without getting into the particulars and blathering even more, let’s just say I participated in a bitchfest, some gossiping, a little character assassination and general asshole-bigmouth shenanigans. It was at the end of my day too. I’d made it several hours without running my mouth and for nothing. 3 minutes of yammering shot it all to hell. I was really disappointed in myself too. Look, I’m 43 and what was cute in the cafeteria at 17 or delightfully vicious in the club at 25, is just plain ugly now. Earlier this week as my sponsor and i talked about my character defects (because we’re at that joyful and not uncomfortable at all stage of our work. Please stab me.), I fessed up to gossip being a big problem for me. What was fun, now feels icky. He pointed out that maybe it feels gross now because it no longer works. I wholeheartedly agreed and assumed that was that. It doesn’t feel good therefore it will go away and I shall never do it again. Roll the credits and cue the triumphant music!  What I neglected to consider is that in order to not feel icky I have to stop the behavior entirely. Double sigh.

As a writer, communicator and lifelong bigmouth, on a cellular level I know the benefits of editing. I know that I need to organize my thoughts for them to make sense. I know that sometimes being quiet and listening is more called for and even for valuable than talking just to hear myself talk. I also know that thinking about what I’m going to say can before I say can often save me from embarrassing or confusing statements.

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Yet here we are at the top of a new day. With more opportunities to say stupid shit and clean them up later. Sadly, I am clearly in no position to give you advice on how to shut up and how it might change your life. What I can tell you is this : noticing the music in the background, being great at conversation, even having frank funny and unpopular thoughts that get you unfollowed on Twitter are actually character assets.

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The other stuff? It’s a work in progress, as cliche as that might sound. I’m taking the fact that I feel terrible when I engage in this behavior as a step in the right direction. Following through and changing is the tough part and it always has been. It’s the part that separates the men from the boys and one where I really have to buckle down and change. Therfore, I wouldn’t be surprised if a post entitled “Oops. I did it again” shows up in your newsfeed soon. But until then I can try, I can listen and I can attempt to shut up.

Bukowski, Booze & ‘Barfly’

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Insanity. There’s a word you hear a lot when you first try to get sober. Personally, I sort of took offense to it. I mean other people who drank everyday were crazy.  But me? I had seen worse. In fact, I know now that I purposely stacked the deck with folks crazier than myself to appear less messy,more normal. The thinking was classic bait and switch. If people noticed what trainwrecks I was with, my own trainwreckness would go unnoticed. Suffice to say, people noticed. People without serious drinking problems are rarely met with phrases like, “Thank god you got sober!’ or “You seemed pretty miserable.” Much of my insanity, as it turns out, was not actually knowing how insane I was. And therein lies the very thing I love about poet and certifiable drunken hot mess Charles Bukowski.

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I started reading more of the man’s work in preparation for a Sloshed Cinema episode about Barfly. The 1987 film starring Mickey Rourke and Faye Dunaway was written by Bukowski and is,my mind, the very definition of alcoholic insanity.At one point, right after they’ve met, Dunaway and Rourke’s characters illegally hop over a fence to steal corn growing in a random downtown Los Angeles lot. The batshit initial idea to the sloppy execution to the police chase back to Dunaway’s apartment personifies the kind of bad behavior we indulge in when we’re wasted. Bukowski, who said the script was inspired by his own life, embraces the day-to-day craziness. His script makes zero attempt at redemption for these characters and in fact at times literally spits in the face of the very idea. Grimy, disgusting, loopy and oddly charming, the world of Barfly doesn’t give a crap if we the viewer likes it or judges it. There are itsy, bitsy glimmers throughout the film that maybe Henry and Wanda might have a chance of getting their shit together but in our hearts we know that won’t happen. Mainly, because Henry, Wanda and the other seedy sleazeballs that hang around in downtown LA shitholes are pretty freaking happy to wallow where they are. It’s a fascinating stance for a film to take too. Movies about drunks, of which I’m kind of becoming an expert, usually have to either make the drunk get better or get his comeuppance. Hollywood draws a very clear line in the sand, especially in classic films. Be horrible all you want but eventually you’ll pay a price. So having Henry and Co. gleefully march towards their drunken, destitute destiny with a “Who gives a crap” attitude is nothing short of revolutionary. Bukowski’s barfly status in real-life certainly helps with the authenticity of the film. He explains, here in a classic interview with Roger Ebert:

“The movie is called ‘Barfly,’ and it’s about me, because that’s what I was, a bar fly,” Bukowski explained. “You ran errands for sadists and let the bartender beat you up, because you were the bar clown. You filled people’s days with your presence, and maybe you’d get a few free drinks now and then.”

We were hunched down with our elbows on the padded edge of the bar, talking quietly, like conspirators. Linda, Bukowski’s wife, was taking down mental notes of everything.

“The way I became a bar fly,” he said, “was, I didn’t like what I saw in the 9 to 5. I didn’t want to become an ordinary working person, paying off the mortgage, looking at TV, terrified. The bar was a hiding place, to get out of the mainstream.”

“Did you decide to become a bar fly, or did you just look up one day and see a bar fly in the mirror?” I asked him.

“I can’t answer,” he said. “It was kind of a subconscious decision. Meanwhile, I was a writer on the side, selling short stories to dirty magazines. I gave up the writing after awhile and concentrated on the drinking. I refused to accept the living death of acquiescence.”

While Bukowski never officially got sober and eventually died of leukemia, the man’s legacy as the “laureate of American lowlife” is firmly cemented and we are lucky it was captured on film. In addition to Barfly, Bukowski’s alcoholic exploits played out on the big screen in 2005’s Factotum with Matt Dillon playing a version of the poet this time around. Bukowski’s own insanity works well on camera in both films and is the very thing he built his brand on. And while it definitely makes for fantastic film discussion, I can’t help feel a little grateful that I’m no longer crazy myself.

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from ‘are you drinking’ by Charles Bukowski

 

love’s labor day lost?

 

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Work. Werk. Waherk. However you say it, we all do it. It’s the one thing we all have in common. We are all simultaneously either looking for it, loving it, tolerating it or having it rob our soul while seeking for more tolerable versions of it. It’s the classic conversational cop-out we use when we don’t know what to talk about. It’s ultimately not that important but important in the whole gotta eat and keep the lights on kind of way. It’s the thing that Americans are accused of by others of doing too much of while being the thing we give one another a hard time about doing not enough of. So fittingly we’d have a holiday centered around the thing we do the most.

This thing called Labor Day started in the late 1800’s and according to our government is,”is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.” Impressive, right? Who knew I wasn’t just working to buy sparkling water and greek yogurt but actually contributing to the strength, prosperity and well-being of our country? I guess I’m really doing my part by working on Labor Day. You’re welcome, America. Yeah as the chips fall, your buddy Sean won’t be doing whatever the hell it is people do to celebrate Labor Day. Sidebar: is it okay to say “Happy Labor Day!”? I never know with these things. Probably not so much with Memorial Day and do even go there with Christmas. But Labor Day? Seems innocuous enough. Unless you have to work, like I do, wherein you may be met with a big “Fuck you!” in response to your Labor Day tidings. But don’t worry. I will gladly accept your Labor Day well wishes. Suffice to say, I don’t experience FOMO when it comes to these types of Federal Monday holiday off events.

In fact, I tried to scan my brain for some witty/heartwarming/amazing story from the cranial archive about Labor Day and I came up with nada. I’m sure there’s a story somewhere in there that involves day drinking, cocaine snorting and generally celebrating my contribution to the well-being of our country but for now it’s buried, like the secrets in Al Capone’s vault. Which is fine as most of those stories, be it Labor Day, New Year’s Day, a Tuesday at 11am in April, are all interchangeable. The older I get and the more sobriety I have, I realize I don’t have to celebrate everything. Not only was Prince correct in saying that life is just a party that isn’t meant to last but sometime’s the party that life is celebrating is one you don’t even feel like you need to show up to. I’m okay with working today. Moreover, my ideas about work and what it means have morphed beyond the realm of celebrating with hot dogs and beer.

Now, I in no way, have found some inner peace with work and love every task put in front of me. Quite the contrary. Honestly, I’m still holding out for someone to pay me six figures to tweet and hang out with my cats. But until then, I’m okay with working. This idea of “work” has changed for me. It’s not all hardships and pains in the ass nor is it always a fulfilling and spiritual experience. Most of the time, it’s just work. Usually, its other sorts of work (read: largely unpaid) that are the most satisfying. When I wrote my first play, I was on an insane deadline which is what happens when you pitch an idea and are then expected to execute said idea (who knew?!). The bulk of the show came together between the hours of 11pm-3am. It was a play about Craigslist romances so I guess those hours were appropriate. Anyway, during that time after several late night sessions in a row I remember my husband saying,”Wow. I’m proud of you.You’re really working hard on this.” Other than people coming to see the show or laughing at the jokes, this was the best compliment I’d received. I was doing something I love and it was paying off, even if it didn’t make me rich. More recently, I’ve been doing “work” of the recovery nature and the benefits of that have been felt too. After a long personal inventory and the subsequent spilling of the guts, I exhaled. I mean really exhaled. Like a huge weight had been lifted and I was about 10 pounds lighter. I was also raw, sore and exhausted, like you would be after anything you’d consider hard work. I’m also, slowly but surely, moving away from this idea that work is something that has to be hard.

Take writing, for example. Whether it’s my own projects, writing for clients or sometimes even a damn email, the idea of writing always sounds torturous. I mean isn’t having clever ideas enough? Do I really have to put them on the page, too? Ugh. I guess that’s not very writerly of me to say. I guess I’m supposed to perpetuate some myth that every time I sit down at the computer it’s all genius and magic and that you too should try writing because it’s a ton of fun! And yeah those things can be true but a lot of time it’s just hard. Especially if my attitude sucks. If I sit down with “a gloom and doom, forget this” outlook, the output will be much the same. When thinking about a project it’s hard not to feel overwhelmed if I think how long it will take and how much work it will require. And this is how I’ve landed on my current remedy for that problem: don’t think about it at all. Like, of course, I have some ideas and I’m always scribbling down notes but I’m more productive if I just sit down and cut loose. If I give myself a break and tell perfectionism to kindly go screw itself, something real and honest might just have a chance to peek its way out. This blog was sort of birthed from that idea, as a matter of fact. Use it as a channel for the stream of consciousness and a place to spew out ideas while talking to myself and not trip about the rest. Hence why sometimes these posts read as though I hired Koko the gorilla as my ghostwriter. It’s also why some of these posts are published at an ungodly hour of the morning. I’ve found that my guard is down and I’m less critical when it’s early in the morning. Without over thinking it, I’m able to really have fun and say whatever is on my mind. There’s something more authentic hanging out here,despite weird grammar or missing words or crazy ideas.It feels truthful to get it all out. Besides, Koko will clean it up later.

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The biggest thing I’ve figured out about work, be it spiritual, writing or the kind that gives me rock star insurance, is that I need it. I’m one of those people if I’m making stuff or working on stuff, I am more pleasant to be around. It’s very Sagittarius of me. If I have things to do and projects to look forward to, I’m less likely to wreak havoc on the human race. Despite my aspirations to become a human mushroom who hangs out in the dark and survives on Netflix alone, I’m grateful I have work that keeps me busy and sane. So think of me as you have your hot dog or do whatever it is you people do on Labor Day and know I’m right where I should be: at work.

10 Things About Summer That Didn’t Suck

Well kids, if we are to believe advertising, summer is over in a few days. I mean screw what the calendar and mother nature say. What’s important is what it says in your local Walgreens which is currently saying summer is half-off and Halloween is like in 8 minutes.  So what better time than to slap together a list of things I loved about summer? As we have discussed, I’m not a woo hoo summer person. And this year seemed particularly tough however joy peaked its head out all over the place and you know what? I actually liked the darn season, more than I have in years. I traveled a little, I wrote a bunch, I ate outside and did all of the things people say you should do and I enjoyed myself, genuinely. I also, was able to do some tough fucking work on myself, tap into creativity and change some old thought patterns so fucking rock and roll to all of that. That said, here’s a list done with images and in no particular order of things I loved this summer.

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lemonade(the beverage)

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hummingbirds

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Denver daisies

GBBO

Great British Baking Show

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sunsets

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Out of context comics. Why did it take so long for me to find these?!?

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Stranger Things

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these two (also? that’s my favorite chair.)

Retro poster - The Sign No Smoking in Vintage Style - Vector illustration

Despite being smoke free for 5 years, I really, really wanted to smoke this summer but didn’t so yay!

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duh!

Oh but there was a lot more! Of course writing here has changed my life while podcasting is the most fun ever. And I loved Simone Biles and gymnastics and all the dramatic Olympic-ness. But mainly, the miracle of summer or any damn season is staying sober and facing demons and continuing to grow and we don’t need the stinking marketing team at Walgreens to help us to that.

So please– indulge me! Post a picture of a favorite summer thing or moment in the comments. And then we can get down to the important business of Halloween candy.

What Can You Lose?

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What can happen in 30 minutes? Turns out, a lot of things. A pizza can be delivered. A commute can be completed. A sitcom can be ingested. A meal with Rachael Ray can magically come together. Some highly-touted, super efficient workout can be finished. And a brilliant blog post can appear like a glittering Pegasus from the sky. Or that’s at least what I’m hoping will happen in the next 30 minutes. It’s helpful for me to think of it like this. Like if a whole pizza can be ordered, made and delivered in 30 minutes, surely I can vomit out some thoughts on a page, no? Yet it’s funny how paralyzing just the mere thought of doing something, hell, anything, can be for me. Like, “Wash those three plates AND put them in the dishwasher? What is this? Some kind of internment camp?” The sheer force of my Jedi-strength complacency can really make the idea of doing things really sound impossible.

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But 30 puny little minutes? I can do that. And maybe that’s the secret to stuff and by ‘stuff’ I mean success. I don’t know why just writing that word, success, makes me squirm a little but yes, success. And not necessarily in a I’m totally buff and make 7 figures a year kind of way (which I’d be totally down for if I could achieve those things by eating brownies and watching Netflix) but in a I’m satisfied and happy with my life kind of way. On some cellular level, I know that this is true. I wrote two full length plays both of which enjoyed happy, packed runs and I’ve also written dozens of short plays, a slew of articles, a spattering of short stories and some other stuff. And none of it has happened in a single sitting. Thank god. Can you imagine? “Honey, I’m gonna go sit down and write a script. See you in four days.” No, all of it has been quilted together minute by minute, a page at a time and over the course of several days. I do, however, do better with deadlines, as the additional terror tends to bring out the best in me but even then I know that the bulk of the work comes together in itty, bitty chunks. The toughest part of anything that looks like work, for me, has to be conquered with my attitude before I get started. If I don’t immediately reject the thought of doing something, anything, progress might just be possible.

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I recently shared with my sponsor that I was afraid of success. He pointed out to me that I was in a happy successful relationship, that I had successfully stayed sober for the last 7 years and that I had a roof over my head and jobs which regularly paid me. He was gently trying to pound into my head that I was, in fact, already successful. Moreover, all of this success had happened in little increments. And so, why couldn’t even more success happen in the same way? There’s no reason and as usual the only getting the way was me and my old nemesis fear.

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All this brings me to the title of this post which also happens to be a Sondheim song which Madonna sings in Dick Tracy (it all always leads back to Madonna. Duh.) But yeah, what can I lose? So I lose 30 minutes writing a post that maybe no one will read? Big deal. Or I try something and it doesn’t work out? Okay. Or I submit pieces and people say, “Sorry. Not interested.” Fine. But I at least did it. If I can shut fear up and just keep moving, even for 30 minutes, who knows what can happen? This is all on my mind today because I’m toying with pitching new ideas and putting myself out there creatively in different frightening ways. I guess it’s scary but no scarier than quitting drinking or leaving a relationship or standing up for myself in professional situations– and I’ve done all of those things already. So what can you lose?  30 minutes later, I still can’t come up with anything and that might just be my answer.

 

cat hugs, drag queens & everything in between

Today’s question: If a sad tree weeps in the forest do the other trees go and get chocolate?sad tree.jpg

I ask because on Friday, I was a sad tree. Maybe sad is the wrong word. There’s some legitimately sad people in this world who have earned their sadness. On the Syrian orphan scale of sadness, I didn’t even register. No, I was just kind of ‘blah.’ I woke up blah. The things around me felt blah. Projects I’d been ticking away on suddenly felt blah. I just felt down which morphed into being vaguely (okay, totally) annoyed with most things and people around me. In other words, I was a delight. I have,however, acquired enough emotional intelligence to know that when I feel like this, I’m usually just tired and I need to go away. Like far away from human contact where I won’t say or do horrible things I need to clean up later. It had been a weird Friday and my tiredness was squishing it all up and making it even more irritating. Earlier in the day, I had gotten “one of those phone calls.” See, if you’re in recovery and around addicts and alcoholics, you get to see people whose lives were in shambles and now have totally transformed. But other times, you get “one of those phone calls.”These calls usually involve someone who has relapsed or died because of the disease of alcohol or addiction. On Friday, I got one of these phone calls. It was a relative of someone in my sober family and it sucked. And it always sucks. It never stops sucking, as a matter of fact. You’re heartbroken but also really grateful that you are not in that place and that you have tools to keep you out of that place. But that takes awhile. And the feeling of devastation never really goes away. Compacted with the general blahness that my Friday was already flavored with, I was pretty over it. It was days like this that reminded me that I should maybe start seeing a therapist again. But given the late hour in the day, I was lucky to at least have this goofball waiting at home.

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Look, my love for my cats and for Larry in particular is well chronicled on the internet. And I straight up don’t care. You don’t have to search far to find oodles of studies that say living with an animal can help with mild depression and as person with mild or sometimes  even spicy depression, I can attest to this. Animals are just a fuck ton cooler than people. They don’t want to hear your life story. They aren’t judging the crazy outfit you put together. They just want to hang out. Now, being the big animal weirdo that I am, I’m convinced they know when you aren’t okay. Like last year when I had the 10 week party known as pneumonia, our two little muffins, Maeby and Larry followed me around the house like doting nurses. Promptly showing up for every nap time and popping by for soup and terrible daytime tv on the sofa. So like clockwork on Friday, these two were there. During my “Thank God It’s Over” Friday afternoon nap, Larry stretched his lanky long legs across my belly while resting his head on my chest. True, he probably just thought I looked like a good pillow but I like to think of these as cat hugs. I refuse to see it any other way, actually. It feels deliberate and intentional or that is how my crazy ass has interpreted it, and so it’s a cat hug. End of discussion. He purred melodically and wouldn’t let me roll over and I leaned into it. Moreover, I needed it.

Post nap time, I watched some weird ass PBS news thing, as dictated more by my status as an older, liberal gay man than an actual desire. I grilled some amazing eggplant, ate said eggplant along with roasted red peppers and couscous and watched more unmemorable television. Soon, however, the husband showed up. He was at a post-work drinks kind of thing and didn’t get home until much later. But it wasn’t too late for drag queens. Like clockwork and like my cats, the television oeuvre of RuPaul was here to save the day.

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As the planet of pop culture knows already, RuPaul and several seasons of drag queen television fierceness have made the world a better place. Endlessly creative, completely glamorous, instantly quotable and hilarious, surprisingly inclusive and highly addictive, RuPaul’s Drag Race is, as the Washington Post recently said, not just a tv show but a movement.  The latest incarnation of the show, All Stars 2 pits former season favorites against one another for a shot at $100,000 while camping it up, posing and lip synching along the way. RuPaul’s Drag Race premiered the year I got sober so it’s always been a touchstone of joy and inspiration for me.  It’s one of the handful of television shows that always lifts me up (even the seasons that aren’t so good, cough, cough season 7, cough,cough.) This latest drag queen battle royale doesn’t disappoint. Filled with big twists, big lips and bigger personalities, it’s all the things you want to order off the Drag Race menu in one place.

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Also incredibly helpful? Marrying someone who cares when you feel blah. It’s a whole new grown up world for me to be married and say, “Today I felt like shit” and to have that person genuinely say, “I’m sorry.” Sounds simple, I suppose but for an emotional kindergartener like myself, it’s major. In fact, just being present for blah days is major. Not that long ago, the minute something felt real or sad or blah, I’d douse it in alcohol so I wouldn’t have to deal with it.

All of this brings us back to the random question at the top of the post and the answer is maybe. Maybe other people will bring you chocolate when you feel blah or maybe not. Maybe you gotta get yo own damn chocolate. Or maybe if you’re like me, you just get to go home. You get to lay down and feel embraced, by felines or friends or family or drag queens or maybe even something you can’t see. Because the real gift is you get to feel terrible, know it’ll pass and know that you’ll have help along the way.

 

Psst! If you’re looking for something to cheer you up, why not try the newest epsiode of Sloshed Cinema here?