I See You On The Street & You Walk On By: 30 Years Of True Blue

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30 years ago today, True Blue by Madonna was released which makes it official: It was a really long ass time ago when I was a teenager and there’s no turning back. I was 13 that summer. If I seem spastic and kinda wacky to you now, multiply that by 80 and you’ll get me at 13. Awkward, effeminate and a neon glitter crayon in the box of Crayola primary colors. I hadn’t really started to think about sex and I’m sure on some level I knew I was gay but at 13 I was still holding out for the possibility that I might develop magical powers and would be able to forgo life’s more difficult moments. I was always a realist.  Thankfully, the music of the era facilitated escape while being properly dramatic in a way that 13-year-old me could really identify with. True Blue fit that prerequisite like a lace fingerless glove.

Take the first single off the record, “Live to Tell”, for example. As kids we honestly wondered, “What the hell is she talking about?” The song didn’t make sense but by the music video but by her dowdy appearance, we knew it was serious. Don’t take my gay card/Madonna card (active duel member since 1991!) when I tell you I don’t always love Madonna ballads. There often too mopey. Her vocals grating. The lyrics goofy. And I felt that way about “Live to Tell”. However, the song’s legacy has endured. Madonna said,”I thought about my relationship with my parents and the lying that went on. The song is about being strong, and questioning whether you can be that strong but ultimately surviving.” Definitely the kind of stuff “the kids” who were buying records at the time could relate to. Later, Madonna used the song for people with HIV and AIDS and to represent political oppression. When I listened to it for this piece, I still don’t love it. It’s still melodramatic. It’s still kinda silly and way too long but I can appreciate it for what it is.

The song we were all really talking about that summer was “Papa Don’t Preach”. An upbeat dance number about teen pregnancy (only in the 80’s). The song was escandalo for me and my group of catholic school friends. Just hearing it on the radio, I worried about going to hell. But to be honest, I didn’t worry too much about it. I thought just being a Culture Club fan had sort of sealed the deal on that end, not to mention the whole being in love with boys thing. The song, in 2016, is harmless but the moxie and attitude Madonna was cultivating at the time still blasts through the speakers at full force. Plus, who doesn’t love those strings in the intro?

For me, the song that captures the isolation and invisibility of being a thirteen year-old is “Open Your Heart”. Despite the stripper-peep show-dancing with a child video, the lyrics of the song as well as her delivery just nail that feeling of wanting to be noticed and paid attention to. Lyrics like, “I follow you around but you can’t see. You’re too wrapped up in yourself to notice”describe my relationship with pretty much every older kid I wanted to pay attention to me or boy I wanted to be friends with. Although nearly 28 at the time, Madonna got it and knew that my 1980’s tween struggle was real. The song describes wanting to loved by someone emotionally unavailable and given what we know now about her then relationship with Sean Penn, the tune might be more autobiographical than we gave it credit for back in 1986. “Open Your Heart” is a peek at the songwriter Madonna was on the way to becoming that speaks to the loneliness and desperation of teens everywhere.

True Blue is often called Madonna’s most girly album. The title track certainly reinforces that label. Bouncy, poppy and sugary, it’s the musical equivalent of a jelly donut. By the way, peep actress Debi Mazar in the video above! Ditto for two other songs on the record “White Heat” and “Jimmy Jimmy”respectively which show Madonna’s love of old movies. “White Heat” features Jimmy Cagney samples while “Jimmy Jimmy” tells the imaginary tale of a teen romance with James Dean. Keeping in line with femininity and high drama, “La Isla Bonita” was a huge hit. The sing predates latin pop songs by the likes of Jennifer Lopez and Ricky Martin by over a decade and remain a karaoke favorite by white girls everywhere. As she twirls her dress around in the video by all of those candles, you worry about her safety (Stop, drop and roll Madonna!) but the song is still a spicy guilty pleasure.

Like thousands of gay kids from the 80’s, Madonna was big part of growing up and coming out of the closet.True Blue predates those two things by a few years but at the age of thirteen spoke to my soul. Today, in my forties, It’s still a solid listen. It serves as timecapsule for sure. Hearing the lyrics and watching the videos, I was transported back to those awkward 13 year old days. As an artist, her best days were ahead of her (Like A Prayer, Ray of Light and Confessions on a Dancefloor being my top three albums were yet to come.) and as a teenager, my tastes would shift to the darker and even more emotional (the Smiths, Siouxsie, Bowie) but I always came back to Madonna.

While researching this piece, Orlando was all over the news. These silly songs didn’t feel so silly. But then again nothing did. I’m lucky to have grown up and come out in an era where artists like Madonna were saying “Be who you are and love who you are and fuck anyone who doesn’t get it.” So for all it’s dated synthy pleasures and theatrical lyrics, True Blue and message of its artist, might be something we need now more than ever.

 

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My Week In Pop Culture: Simply Red

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My week in pop culture probably looked a lot like yours. It was spent gobbling down episodes of season 4 of Orange is The New Black. Truth? I resisted this show in its early days. I was repelled by the very idea ( I mean another prison show?) and interviews with the author of the source material had me rolling my eyes into the back of my head. But two summers ago, I gave it a shot and I’ve been hooked since. The writers do some pretty magical stuff when it comes to having us not only relate to but fall in love with criminals who are far from model citizens. Season three was criticized for not having enough action and for being too literary and melancholy. Which is exactly what my Irish bookish ass loved about it. I thought the season finale was pure poetry.

Season four picks right up where it left off and the ride is nonstop from episode one. More intense, higher stakes and the no-holds-barred discussions on everything from rape to race to homosexuality to transphobia are fast-flying and brutally honest. But what the show is really about is people and relationships. As we started the season last week, Michael said, “Aww. I’ve missed all of these people!” Flaca, Sophia, Gloria, Lorna, Taystee aren’t just prisoners. They’re people, which might be the bigger point the show is trying to make. And people we’ve gotten to know and enjoy doing time with over the past four seasons.  For me, the one I find myself missing in the long year in between seasons is Red. Galina Reznikov, or Red, played with tough as nails Russian intensity by Kate Mulgrew, is the bad ass prison mama we would all want on our side if shit got real. And we’re lead to believe that Red is amazing cook which endures her to my heart even more.

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For all of her toughness and drolly dished out one-liners, Red is also a hotbed of raw emotions. From heartache to betrayal, we’ve seen Red go through a lot over the last four years. Mulgrew gamely takes on the task of letting Red become a three-dimensional character. She rarely lets her guard down but when it comes to addict and perpetual hot mess Nicky Nichols, she a fiercely protective mama bear.

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Nichols, played by Natasha Lyonne, is Red’s “daughter” on the inside. Red has seen Nicky struggle with drugs and is continually heartbroken when Nicky does what addicts do and lets her down. A lot of Nicky’s struggles with drugs are based on Lyonne’s own which I’m sure makes the performance even more powerful. Naturally, I identify with Nicky and Red. Who didn’t I let down when I was loaded? Who hasn’t had their heart-broken by an addict? And aren’t they’re thousands of us who want to help someone struggling with drugs or alcohol but don’t know how? As relapses sweeps through my own recovery community this summer, Red’s helplessness over Nicky’s addiction feels more timely than ever. Without giving anything away, I will say having this dynamic back is one of the few reasons I think this season is one of the best.

Another thing to love about Orange is The New Black is how it’s given a lot of overlooked actresses a real chance to shine. Mulgrew was previously known to most as Captain Janeway on Star Trek Voyager gets to sink her teeth into a character with a lot of layers. But it’s not just Mulgrew. Laura Prepon and Lori Petty’s characters are thrust head first into a really juicy storyline in season four which gives both actresses a chance to really knock our socks off. Prepon uses some dramatic chops we never saw coming when she was on That 70’s Show while Petty’s portrait of a woman struggling with mental illness is at once hilarious and devastating. The show also gives dozens of amazing Latina and black actresses a platform to do incredible work and become stars in their own right.

I have a handful of episodes left and I’m savoring them. By now, I’ve learned my lesson. I’m no Netflix novice. It’ll be a year until I get to spend time with the women of Litchfield again. Therefore, I’m taking my time. Elsewhere, in pop culture I’m reading my first Stephen King book. Okay. That’s a lie. I read On Writing like 15 years ago but nothing before or since. Yup. No The Shining. No Carrie. No Misery. But I’ve seen the movies? I know. It’s not the same thing. That’s why when I saw the first Dark Tower book and I grabbed it. Not usually my genre but I’m kind of open to whatever that isn’t the news these days so I’m giving it a shot. It’s good page turner stuff and has a bunch of wryly placed thoughts about God, revenge and isolation.I’ll let you know how it turns out.  Of course I watched the Game of Thrones finale and I loved it. Listen, this season is getting some flack about setting too many plots in motion but I feel like it set out to entertain and deliver the goods on long burning storylines and for me it did just that.

But what are you guys watching? What are your thoughts on OITNB? Tell me your GOT gripes! And lastly, give me a good juicy somewhat trashy summer book recommendation!

Long Train Running (or not)

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This is a train story.

This a travel story.

This is a horror story.

This is a love story.

This is a train story.

We, the husband and me, decided we needed to get the hell out of Dodge. Okay we don’t live in Dodge and I’m too lazy to look up where that expression comes from. But we needed to leave town. Not because we’re on the lam or because we accidentally murdered someone. We  simply needed to GTFO of Denver for a few days to breathe. A couple of months ago, we booked a train to go up to the mountains. Me the lover of old movies and reader of books has always romanticized the train in my mind. I have ridden trains in the past and somehow I always forget their kind of sketchy, sort of smell bad and pretty unreliable. My mind, instead, shoves trains into some unrealistic Ingrid Bergman Movie folder. Just hand me a magically never-ending cigarette and a jaunty hat and I will be on my way. All aboard!

This is a travel story.

In this, our fifth year of marriage, we made a decision to travel more. The thought hit us last winter when we were freezing our asses off that maybe we should go somewhere warm. Since then, we’ve made it a priority. Or more of a priority, shall I say. Travel has always been a part of our relationship. When we first met I was living in Los Angeles and he was living in the town I was born in Denver. After a few months of mutually bouncing back and forth between the two towns, we decided we had to make a decision. We picked Denver because of my family being here as well as Michael’s job and because of the ridiculously cheaper rent in comparison. From New York and San Francisco to Santa Fe and several times back to my old stomping grounds in Los Angeles, travel has continued to be something we love to do together. I mean without tooting our own horn (blowing our own train whistle as the case may be) we’re pretty good at the whole travel thing. We don’t yell at each other in airport terminals. We know when to shut up and let the other one read or nap. We keep each other sane during some of travel’s more mundane and annoying delays.  And during this train ride, we needed to pool all of those talents to hang onto our sanity.

The ride was supposed to be a little over six hours with a nice view of the mountains and little towns on the way up. After a delay, leaving the station downtown we were off to a slow start chugging slowly through train yards and downtown outskirts. I hadn’t been on a train in a while but it didn’t seem like this old fella was running at full capacity. But what the hell did I know? My actual knowledge of trains existed only in fiction.

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My instinct was right. Something funky was going on with our train. About two hours into the ride, around 11am, we stopped. Stopped like completely stopped moving. An announcement, the first of thousands, came on to inform us that something with the engine went kaput. We were going to have to wait for someone from Denver to come up on another train to bring a new engine. Shouldn’t be more than an hour or two. At this time, I’d like to direct you, dear reader, to the photo at the top of the page. That’s my husband looking at the pile of rocks and mountain scenery we would be staring at for the next 6 hours.

This is a horror story. 

Somewhere around hour five when the girl in front of my was picking unknown matter out of her arm with turquoise colored tweezers, I feared I had lost my mind. We left our house at 6am and it was now 5pm. The other passengers marched around the train cars like the undead from some zombie movie. I’m vague with the reference here because I’ve never seen a zombie movie. No, really. I haven’t. The concept of zombies just doesn’t scare me. Things that could actually happen like getting killed by a freak who escaped from a mental institution while you’re babysitting on Halloween or a shark eating you or aliens killing everybody but Sigourney Weaver. Or getting trapped in a train with no cell service. Those things scare me. Zombies? Not so much. But I digress. The point was people walked aimlessly from train car to train car. Some passed so many times we wondered if there was more than one of them, like twins or clones. Like the white guy with cornrows who must have done the Amtrak equivalent of a half marathon. The idea of multiple white guys on the train with cornrows was hysterical to Michael and I. But then again, everything was funny after looking at the same pile of rocks for hours on end. The never-ending announcements for dining car reservation were hilarious. Ditto the guys with bowl cuts and carpenter jeans and suspenders who were clearly having a walking competition with Cornrows. A kid outside on a scooter, who we joked rode all the way to Denver and back while we stayed in the same place, was also comedy gold. Even for our sad face selfie, I couldn’t stop laughing.

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I had to rally,accept our utter stuckness and lean into the ridiculousness of the day. I mean if the really angry guy behind us with the perm, mustache, jorts and Pink Floyd t-shirt could keep it together, so could I. With no cell service and the inability to tweet (the horror!) we had to laugh and lean on each other in lieu of totally mentally collapsing. Somewhere around 7pm-ish, our luck started to change. The engine from Denver showed up! We finally made it to our first stop! And the amazing full moon and sunset were happening just as well pulled in. As the smokers who looked as if they were ready to murder someone puffed away furiously, I snapped this picture.long train.jpg

We finally got to Glenwood Springs at 1am. We were supposed to get there at 2pm. Our sense of humor saved us as did our ability to adapt but mainly I was saved by being stuck with my favorite person on the planet.

This is a love story. 

Being ninja travelers, we know shit like this happens. We’ve been stuck in airports and bus stations. We’ve had to not just move to plan B but like plan H or plan Q. Yet Michael is such excellent company, I didn’t mind. Sure, the train started to stink and I worried that the walking zombies would soon revolt but the guy next to me made me laugh or held my hand at all the right times and that’s all that mattered. Once we arrived at our destination, we collapsed and our hotel. We spent the next 3 days soaking in hot springs, eating and generally loving each other’s company, just like we did trapped on the train. It’s safe to say our three spa days melted away the stress of travel. It might have also melted away my romance with trains too. But my romance with travelling with my favorite person? Very much alive and better than ever.

 

 

‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?’ 50 Years Later Drinking With George & Martha is Still Terrifying

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Everybody has shown up to a party and immediately thought, “Maybe we should go.”

50 years ago today, in movie theaters, Nick and Honey wondered the same thing. Nick and Honey are nice young couple who are new at the university, so when the president of school’s daughter and her professor husband invited them to attend an after hours party, they jump at the chance. But upon entering the pair see their hosts George and Martha arguing, they wonder if they made a bad choice. And so begins the cocktail party from hell that has been inspiring movie-watchers for five decades to think twice about late-night invitations.

I watched Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf a few days ago in preparation for the season 2 premiere of Sloshed Cinema. My podcast “that talks about movies that talk about drinking, drugs and getting sober” has had the film on its list for quite some time. A writer friend of mine,who is not an alcoholic, argued recently that the film and the play it’s based on aren’t really about alcoholism and certainly not about recovery. While I agree on the last thought, I have to disagree that it isn’t about alcoholism. Sure, it’s about A LOT of stuff and alcohol is certainly the lubricant for gnarly topics to come up. But George and Martha don’t drink like people in search of good time. They drink like people who want to forget. They drink like a couple who wants a way out. Edward Albee, the author of the play, from all accounts certainly grew up around alcoholism and is an alcoholic himself. After a bout of really bad behavior at a dinner party, Albee wrote,”By nature, I am a gentle, responsible, useful person, with a few special insights and gifts. With liquor, I am insane.” Sounds like me and every alcoholic I’ve ever known. Certainly sounds like George and Martha.

George and Martha(played with pitch perfect acidity by Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton)are bubbling volcanos of emotions who the run gamut between deep marital love and total disgust with one another even before their guests show up. Their house is messy and ramshackled. Martha does that half-assed version of drunken cleaning we alcoholics know so well. Dirty dishes shoved in a drawer, rumpled clothes shoved under the blankets before the bed is made and generally trying to make something presentable that hasn’t been so in a while. This goes double for their marriage. But the effort there is even less inspiring.

From moment one George and Martha set out to, in their words, “get the guests” meaning everything vicious, uncomfortable and unpresentable is now on display and at times gleefully so. In true alcoholic fashion, Martha takes particular delight in tearing George down in public and George can go toe-to-toe with Martha all without spilling a drop of his drink. The writing in those first scenes is solid gold. There’s no wonder the play is performed almost daily on stages of all sizes around the globe. Alcohol, in my mind, is almost the fifth character in the film. It makes George and Martha go wild. It pushes poor Honey to the point of vomiting. And it loosens Nick’s lips and clouds his judgement. The whole charade and destructive dance is familiar to anyone who has ever been in an alcoholic relationship. Sure, in the film you could walk away with the idea that this was a one time thing but for those of us who’ve been there, we assume this is just another Saturday night for George and Martha. There came a point in my drinking that I wasn’t fun to be around. That me and my significant other at the time were toxic and not a couple you wanted to drink with. George and Martha are at that point. There’s something that happens with alcoholics who drink together. They live with lie after lie and pour alcohol on these lies in hopes of having them vanish. Yet at the same time they really want to tell it like it is and let their version for the truth shoot out of their mouths. It’s vital. A lot of this happens in the film. George and Martha want these virtual strangers to know their truths or their lies and they both want to be seen and heard. Albee himself said the title means “who’s afraid of the big bad wolf, which means who’s afraid of living life without delusions?” I’m probably not alone when I say fear and delusion were huge parts of my drinking.

As a sober person, I found myself cringing a lot when I watched this movie again. I’d seen it dozens of times, mostly when I was drinking and caught it a few years ago on stage. It struck me how sharp Albee’s language is 50 years later, how breathtaking the performances are and how Albee, whether he set out to or not, perfectly painted a marriage destroyed by regret, anger and yes, alcohol. I, myself hosted or participated in more than one cringe worthy cocktail function or as the B52-s called them a “party gone out of bounds”. My intention, I thought anyway, was simply to have a good time. But now I’m not so sure. It’s pretty clear what Martha’s intention is which I won’t spoil if you haven’t seen it. I didn’t want to feel my life and I wasn’t having a good time. Like ever. Liquor never made it all go away. It made me crazier, sad and terrible to be around. Just like our hosts. I think it deserves a place in the conversation about movies that talk about drinking because it nails the insanity that a couple who drinks together feels on a regular basis.

Yet there’s a lot to talk about when it comes to this film. Some fantastic trivia, Liz and Dick alone could eat up 2,000 words and all of the crazy ass symbolism in the text has been chewed over by drama nerds for decades. So it’s a good thing that Sloshed Cinema is back! There’s so much to gab about with this film, I’ve even invited my buddy Amy along to the party. Join us, why dontcha? I promise you won’t regret it.

Listen to the season premiere of Sloshed Cinema here & here! 

 

My Week in Pop Culture: Crap Therapy

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Kids,

My Week In Pop Culture is a new feature here on the Seanologues. Since I consume film, television, books and music like Pac-Man does little dots, I thought one weekly ramble about it would be cool. Each Sunday, I’ll tell you what I’ve been reading, watching and listening to and hopefully you’ll be inspired to do the same.

xo, S.

It’s been a week since my heart basically fell out of my ass. It’s been 7 days since I went to a meeting on Sunday morning feeling like a lost lamb with crying the only thing I was capable of doing. It’s been a week. Fuck has it.

 In addition to the people in my life who’ve graciously nestled me like a baby bird for seven days, I’ve relied on a lot of outside help. Meetings. Meditation. Prayer. Animals. Flowers. Chocolate. And lots of bad television and a juicy, trashy novel. I’d say they’re my guilty pleasures but in the words of the immortal Barbra Streisand, “We’ve got nothing to be guilty of.”  I mean I also love highfalutin arty stuff too. But it’s all about balance. Back in the day, in order to ease the pain of modern life I’d simply drink enough tequila and snort enough cocaine until I couldn’t feel anything. This is obviously a healthier route. After all, hours of reality TV never made me throw a shoe at someone or get kicked out of a bar. My Sunday ritual of Game of Thrones and Silicon Valley was entertaining although I kind of don’t remember them because I still felt pretty sad and numb.

Monday, I needed an extra heaping helping of brain rot. Enter Food Network Star. Now, by all accounts this show should probably be against the law seeing as it is solely responsible for thrusting the food and television plague that is Guy Fieri onto the global consciousness. Yet I can’t stop watching this bizarre combination of Star Search and Top Chef. The idea is that the contestants should be able to cook and be able to present themselves like cohesive human beings in order to win their own show on Food Network. Weirdly enough, they’ve cast some people who can barely do either. It makes for foodie trainwreck complete with the douchey guy obsessed with bacon, the scary skinny lady who wants to teach healthy eating and the sassy girl who speaks in Internet clichés. (Yaaasss, Tregay!) The whole thing about reality TV (spoiler alert!) is that they often pad the cast with people who make for good television but some of these people are so boring and so untalented that it almost has the opposite effect. Like Anna, for example. She apparently was a Real Housewife of Wherever the Hell but what she really wants to do is be  a chef. Uh. Okay. So boring and uncharismatic, Anna’s food must taste really incredible or she’s using some Miami via Stepford sort of mind control to stay in the competition. Really though, I think I actually watch Food Network Star to see itty-bitty judge Giada De Laurentiis make a stank face while she chokes down disgusting food and raise her perfectly waxed brow as the hot mess contestants try to present garbage to the camera.

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Speaking of food reality shows, I should probably attend a 12 Step meeting for Gordon Ramsay shows. Listen, I don’t even love Gordon Ramsay. I think his whole goofy empire of yelling at people cooking shows is really ridiculous. And people who think he’s sexy?gag

I’ve somehow managed to quit watching his other 187 shows but every year I get pulled into MasterChef. This summer is no exception. I caught the premiere and I’m toast for the rest of the season. Unlike the aforementioned culinary sideshow, MasterChef presents normal folks who can really cook. Or they tell us they can. This being television we can’t actually taste the food so the whole thing could be a big Milli Vanilli style lie but we trust our judges Christina Tosi and Gordon Ramsay. This season they’re doing faster eliminations, head to head cook-offs and have trimmed it down to just two judges allowing space for guest judges. This Wednesday kept the action moving while trimming the fat of contestants that seemed to be taking up space. It’s a better format so far but honestly if they held it in a swap meet parking lot and had six weeks of contestants frying corndogs I’d probably watch it and still love it.

Elsewhere this week, I watched more Girls reruns on HBO Now, continued my brain-sizzle with America’s Got Talent, caught up on movies for the new season of Sloshed Cinema and tore through a really juicy book. The novel in question is 2014’s Little Big Lies by Liane Moriarty. This Australian based potboiler is one party mystery, one part suburban confessional and all parts addictive. I haven’t finished it yet but am looking forward to doing so as I take a little train ride up to the mountains today. After reading several depressing ass books in a row about rape or World War II, Moriarty’s little elixir is just what I needed plus it’s really, really funny. Next year, you’ll see it as a series on HBO with Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman and Laura Dern. Can’t wait.

I’m writing a piece celebrating 30 years of Madonna’s True Blue so I listened to that a few times. This was a wise move. As a gay kid from the 1980’s Madonna is often my musical therapist during times of strife. From lip synching “Dress You Up” in my basement as a kid to voguing at gay dance clubs as a teenager, Madonna has always been there for me. This week was no exception. It occurred to me was that True Blue was the very beginnings of Madonna starting to develop a narrative as a pop artist and songwriter. I’ve got lots to say on this record but we’ll get into it (as well as the groove) next week when I publish it.

So the answer is no. No, the candy-coated dance songs of Madonna nor the delights of reality tv didn’t make my pain go away but they did help me move through a tough week. But that’s enough out of me. Please. Tell me what you’ve been reading, listening to or watching over the last week. Also, I wanna know what’s your go to movie or album when you feel terrible. Also, share with me some hidden pop culture treasure you’ve recently discovered. Finally, share with me your guilty pleasures. This your safe space to tell me the crap you unabashedly love. No judgement.

 

Hey Ninety

Old people. Everywhere. All over my life. For like the last three years. I am not kidding. I live in the world’s longest screening of the movie Cocoon. This not me being unkind. It is just a fact.

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My 89 year-old grandmother lives one block away. The 102 year-old man and his 90-something year old wife life across the street. My blue bathrobe rocking, loud talking, Bronco fan landlord in his 90’s lives next door. My sponsor? In his sixties. Every person who volunteers at or visits and a lot who work at my non-profits arts organization day job? Most of them are 60+. Lord knows why I’m now participating in this real-time version of On Golden Pond but I am. And I love it. Beyond all of the cliché things were supposed to get out of old people (The wisdom! The in-depth stories of the past! The accidental racism!) I kind of just like hanging out with them. Listen, I have found people in their 60’s, 70’s, 80’s and 90’s(which sounds like an amazing oldies station, btw) are just a lot cooler than most people. People in their 20’s are essentially babies. They need our love and support. We should have a telethon for them and hold them close to our collective bosom as we read them Lena Dunham stories and rock them to sleep and pray they don’t wake up until they’re 30. People in their 30’s are freaked the fuck out. We need to get out the way and let them go thru it, honey. While people like me, in our 40’s, are starting to change our minds. The things we cried over. The things we thought would end us. The people we invested a lot of stock in. All mean nothing and it’s a freeing and mildly fucked up place to be. People in that kick ass mixed tape age bracket, however, kind of don’t give a fuck.

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Their company is relaxed because, and I am guessing here, they’re expectations are lower and they’re not tied up in all of the shit I get twisted about. I also like hanging out with them because they tend to have a more developed sense of humor. In their twilight years, the lucky ones, have moved onto a Jedi-level of smart assery that I find truly aspirational. My grandmother, although certainly more frail and slowing down, drops one-liners and blue jokes with the casualness of the guy who delivers her paper. (Yes, she still gets a newspaper and reads the whole thing everyday even though she can barely see.) Laughing with her and making her laugh is a delight so satisfying I can barely put it into words. It’s deeper than laughing with friends. It’s like the soul food version of laughing. It’s like the Nietzsche version of laughing. The shit lifts all the clouds and I feel like I’ve reconnected to this person who’s been here my whole life. Plus, being around all sorts of examples of aging on a daily basis gives me a crystal ball into what it could look like for me, how I could choose to live and that happiness doesn’t have to expire. There’s also a level of acceptance and one-day-at-a-timeness relationships with older people require that I as a person in recovery can totally get down with. They are who they are. They ain’t gonna change at 90 years old so you can love and enjoy them as is for however long or you can struggle and fight. What’s it gonna be? I choose the former (or at least try to) and spiritually it teaches me a shit ton about unconditional love and expectations and letting go. Also, when you regularly chill with old people, you get over this “OMG you guys I’m so great because I helped the elderly” bullshit we tend to tack onto these kind of relationships. The way I see it, THEY’RE doing me a favor by putting up with my confused ass, not the other way around.

But really all of these relationships are a gift. My grandmother, who by the way, is not the easiest person to get along with, has always been in my corner. She not only came to my first play which was basically 90 minutes of dick jokes and Internet humor but loved it and brought all of her friends. She has poems of mine I wrote in the 5 grade. She’s in love with my husband and cried when he sang the “Sound Of Music” (her favorite movie, natch) a few years ago at Thanksgiving. She has told me to keep writing and keep helping people, no matter what. She has also recently decided to stop seeing her doctors or take meds and just ride this thing until it ends. Which I totally get and respect while selfishly feel terribly sad about. After 15 years in Los Angeles, the universe plopped me block from the house I was born in, down the street from my grandmother and smack dab into an ongoing Golden Girls episode. I don’t know why. I don’t know why I get to read emails to my grandmother. I don’t know why I routinely get to wait for an old lady to find the exact change in her purse while I’m at work (which she almost always has but it takes a minute and sometimes things that are pennies are actually buttons or bus tokens). I don’t know why but I do know that it’s exactly where I need to be right now.

 

Your Permission Slip

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Yesterday sucked. I know this late-breaking news for you. But yeah. Yesterday was horrible. And there’s something freeing in just saying that. For me,anyway. I spent a long, long, long, time acting like everything was okay and dealing with the toxic fallout from that kind of delusion. So now when things are really sad and fucked up and totally senseless like yesterday’s shooting, it’s a gift to be able to say, “I am in pain and this sucks.”

And that’s what I did all day yesterday. My morning started with me at a meeting. I did not want to share. I just wanted to be with other people used to drink or use drugs whenever terrible shit would happen so that’s what I did. Thankfully a woman talked and ended her share by saying, ” I just want to take 10 seconds of silence for the people who died in Orlando.” Well that fucking did it. The tears ran down my face and I straight up did not care. I cried the rest of the meeting and cried when I thanked her for her share. She looked at me like I was crazy/like she felt really bad for me. Again. Didn’t care. Later on, at home I sent out text message carrier pigeons to all the people I knew would get what I was going through: My sponsor, who told me that crying was a good thing. My bestie in LA who was devastated and told me not to be alone. Another queer person from the program who told me they got. And all of my online homies who were crying alongside me. I cried at work as texts from playwright friends came in which also said how sad they were and how awful they felt. A lesbian couple came into my work and we were all mutually really nice to one another. We were laughing and generally chatting like we’d known each other for decades. But what it felt like we were saying is , “I know. This is terrible. I love you.” Much later back at home with a chocolate bar in hand and Game of Thrones on my television, I got a text from a family member who just wanted to say they loved me and that they always had and they were thinking of me and Michael all day long. More tears.*

The point is, despite my years of acting like everything was peachy, I felt my emotions yesterday. No it wasn’t fun but it felt appropriate. It felt appropriate to mourn the lives of 50 people I did not know. It felt appropriate to feel scared and angry and depressed all at the same time. It felt appropriate to reach out. This is still new behavior for me. Back in the day, everything from September 11 to the death of someone else’s family member was dealt with at a bar. Not coping was my way of coping.  That’s a hideous strategy, by the way. It only means that you’ll numb yourself into being an emotionless, alcoholic cyborg and when you finally do deal with your shit, it’s turned into some kind of demon that multiplies the longer it’s left in the dark. Yet I feel like we all still need permission to actually feel shit like a human being. At least I do. Having my sponsor tell me to keep crying yesterday immediately poured gasoline on my old cyborg circuitry. Being a human is some messy ass business and yesterday I felt like I was given a pass to do that.

Therefore I would like to extend the favor. Please cut out the slip at the top of this page and use it to feel whatever the fuck you want. If you are heartbroken, use it. If you are angry, use it. If you had something really good happen and feel bad about being happy, don’t and use it. But mainly don’t let people, including my bossy self, tell what you need to feel. This slip also allows you to be a white woman who identifies with Beyonce’s Lemonade even though they tell you cannot. This slip lets you cry for people in a foreign land whose lives are torn apart by war even though you are thousands of miles away. Finally, the slip lets you feel anything you want for the people killed at a gay bar in Florida yesterday even though you might not be gay or from Florida or even American. Plus, it never expires.

Which is good since I plan on using the hell out of mine.

*Actually crying when I wrote that sentence.  

a seanaissance

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find myself.

lose myself.

find myself.

lose myself.

be myself?

That’s a taller order. I’ll warn you right now that what’s about to go down could be a total narcissistic shit show. I mean seriously. This could be navel gazing of the highest order but this is blogging. We love this sort of crap, right? Thing is, what’s on my mind is me. I know. An alcoholic obsessively thinking about himself. What are the odds? Other than “because I’m awake” or “because I’m breathing” there’s a reason I’m on my own mind.  Change the “you” to “I” in the following song and continue:

Since I got sober in 2009, I have honestly tried not to chart my progress or beat myself up for not being perfect. But for the most part I’ve failed. I’m an addict, for crying out loud. I want results and I need them yesterday, thank you very much! I want my whole life to be the last scene of a home makeover show wherein a former shitbox suddenly becomes the Palace of Versailles and I want it in 30 minutes, with no commercials. Needless to say, progress is always slow-moving and never immediate and it all takes time and blah blah blah. Intellectually I know this but my inner Veruca Salt doesn’t care how and just wants it now.

And yet despite my impatience, things have changed. Life has changed. I have changed. But I’ve also stayed the same. In a good way.  Let me explain. I am currently writing a lot more in both my professional life and my personal life. This is a return to the kid I’ve always been. In my first year of sobriety, I for some reason wound up watching a lot of that crazy ass Discovery Health Channel. The channel, which is now deceased and reincarnated as the Oprah network or something, had the craziest shows ever. Things like I Didn’t Know I was Pregnant or The Man With the 132 Pound Scrotum were these wacky television oddities that I couldn’t take my eyes off. Plus, anything more dramatic and fucked up than my current reality of getting sober, I was instantly a fan of. But somewhere in this medical sideshow was a program about the human brain and the developing of personality. A doctor charted how the human personality fully developes around the age of 7. This was like a lightbulb going off. I remember that awesome 7 year-old. The kid who liked to tell endless stories and create imaginary worlds for his stuffed animals and dolls. A kid who drew until his hands were sore and looked for a billion ways to pretend to be someone else. That kid was incredible. Despite being teased for being effeminate and despite not fitting into what a normal, white american boy in 1979 should be like, that kid was his own person. He somehow stayed true to himself no matter what. So as I watched that show, I remembered that kid. that person I was. And I felt bone-crushingly sad. I all but obliterated that kid with drugs and alcohol.

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So I wanted him back. Not in some learning to give your inner-child a purple balloon bullshit way. I wanted to live that awesomely, sparkly, imaginative personality and be that kid, no matter what. Slowly, he has come back. My love of storytelling returned and sobriety has afforded the luxury of seeing some of my own words on stage, in print and online. But hanging onto this magical storytelling kid isn’t always easy, even in sobriety. Last fall, I got really, really sick. My ass wound up in the hospital for a few days and I was told it would be months until I felt like myself again. They were right. Goddamnit. My energy was zapped. My brain felt like it was asleep. The rest of the world moved around me and being exhausted was the only thing I could do with any success.

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I am elated to say that 7 months later, the spell has been broken. I feel more creative awake and grateful than I have in a long time. I have more ideas than I know what to do with and I’m saying yes to all sorts of cool collaborations. My committment to keeping that kid alive, safe and creating stuff is stronger than ever. Yet I know that if life deals me curve balls and I fall off track, another “Seanaissance” is just around the corner. Inspiration, for me anyway, is always simmering on stove somewhere in the background. I trust it. It’s always there. And I know that creative kid knows just what to do with it.

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‘Love & Friendship’ & Me

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The wonder of looking at a CGI dinosaur lumber across the screen has long worn off. We now yawn while watching superheros battle it out high above a city landscape. Bubbling volcanos, the Earth splitting open, mythical beasts. Seen it. Over it. Next! We’ve been bombarded by so many big budget digital blasts that they no longer look cool or memorable. So when a movie like Whit Stillman’s Love & Friendship comes along with dialogue that crackles and jumps off the screen, you truly savor the moment.

Stillman, the underrated genius behind indie classics like Metropolitan and Last Days of Disco, tells us right away that the special effect of Love & Friendship is the words. Clever captions done with his signature wit adorn characters’ faces as introductions, not just to players of this biting, heartwarming tale but as a technique he’ll use throughout the film. Letters, poems, items read aloud are also given a visible onscreen scroll. But ever the master of taste and manners, Stillman doesn’t let this trick overstay its welcome. He instead dishes it out at precisely the right occasion. And in the world of Love & Friendship, timing is everything. Based on a forgotten Jane Austen novella entitled Lady Susan from the late 1700’s, the movie shows up long after the 90’s trend of Austen movies has run its course. Instead it arrives at moment when the movies need gleefully bitchy and delightfully snarky conversation more than ever. Given the twist of Stillman’s pen, Austen has never felt so alive or of the moment.

The story, like most good ones, is easy: Lady Susan (played with career-best finesse by Kate Beckinsale) is a widow who couch crashes in English estates while breaking hearts and pissing off uppity ladies of the manor wherever she lands. Lady Susan needs to put her puppet master skills to work if she wants to keep food in her belly and roof over her head. Turns out, the gig of widow isn’t really a high paying one.  Lady Susan also has a train wreck of a teenage daughter recently bounced from a private school she has to figure what to do with too. Don’t let the publicity stills of ladies in costume grasping each other’s hands fool you: the work of Love & Friendship is dirty business and delightfully so. Lady Susan can handle the task of securing a rich husband for herself and her daughter but she needs a collaborator. That’s when American gal pal Alicia(Chloe Sevigny) comes in. Sevigny and Beckinsale played frenimies back in 1998 in Stillman’s own Last Days of Disco. Here, however, the pair personify the “friendship” part of the film’s title. Banned by her husband from seeing Lady Susan, Alicia nevertheless always finds a way to help her buddy move the chess pieces in any way she can. Their affection for one another is so genuine that when the pair triumphs, we rejoice right along with them. With all of the shady letter passing and life manipulating going on in Love & Friendship, it’s hard not to think of Dangerous Liaisons. But this film uses humor instead of destruction as its way in. And boy is it funny. Stillman peppers the script with so many great one-liners you might feel inclined to watch it again just to catch the ones you laughed over the first time around. There are two or three really smart on-going inside jokes that thread through the movie which let us laugh along with the characters too. Throw in some truly great comic performances (Tom Bennett as Sir James is a real standout) and you have a film that’s as funny as it is devious.

Personally, as both a word nerd and a movie fanatic, Love & Friendship checked all of the boxes. I’m my happiest at a film when smart characters are saying smart things. Stillman assumes we the audience can keep up and that alone, in the age of Marvel-ization filmmaking, feels revelatory. From knockout performances and gorgeous costumes to great pacing and yes wonderful dialogue, the film’s unheard of 99% rating on Rotten Tomatoes is no mystery. There’s a lot of chatter online from fans of the film that Stillman should go back and direct versions of all Jane Austen books. Given his fresh take on Austen, it’s hard not to hop on that bandwagon. Yet what makes Love & Friendship so good is how individual it is and that’s something, like a good friendship, to truly cherish.

 

 

To be real

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I want everything to be pretend. I want everything to be shiny. I want things to be plastic. I don’t want things to be messy. Or genuine or uncomfortable or awkward. So god only knows how I’ve been able to get sober. After all,the whole process of recovery is a series of shit-eating humbling events where you have to ask a billion times over, “I need help.” Somehow, thankfully, my circumstances were terrible enough to have those words fall out of my mouth. What I didn’t know was that I would have to continue to get honest if I wanted my life to stay fabulous.

I lived in plastic for years. Hiding out in the worlds of nightclubs and restaurants with other misfits who weren’t to keen on this whole real world idea either afforded me the luxury to play make-believe for as long as I wanted. My partying (which as a verb I think is hysterical, by the way. Like it implies I made party an action and turned every moment into a party. Uh yeah. Let’s go with that.) had a specific goal of erasing currently reality. For the better part of two decades(!!!!) I achieved that goal. I know. I’m really proud. Therefore when I got sober this idea of “getting honest” felt impossible. I’d bullshitted, lied and avoided for most of my adulthood. It was what I knew and how I operated. Thus this new practice in sobriety of being honest and telling people I wasn’t okay, instead of acting like everything was all sunshine and roses, was foreign to say the least. After seven years of sobriety, I still slip into a robotic refrain of “I’m fine. I’m fine. I’m fine.”

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I bring all of this up because last night I had the opportunity to share my story at a meeting. As usual, I had over thought it in my brain, planned out a bunch of jokes and also went to the trouble to plan out what the reactions to this speech I had yet to give would be. Yup. Totally sane behavior. The thing is when I finally got up there and opened my mouth all of my genius ideas and all of my witty banter just dissolved. What came out instead was the truth. That thing I had hid from for 20 years. That thing I thought I’d never be able to embrace. That thing turned out to be what saved me last night. Just like it did seven years ago. And thankfully, the truth can be really funny. Embracing reality is something I have to remind myself to do. La La Land is my default location so being real and present for work, my health, my marriage, my family still doesn’t always come automatically these days.  But I know now that even if it sucks and it’s uncomfortable being truthful is always the way to go, even if it isn’t glamourous.

So this great inspirational talk that I had over-planned turned into a truthful, hilarious sharing between people who all suffer from the same thing. I’m sort of at my best when I’m just chatting with friends and once I let go of my crazy ideas that’s exactly how it felt. Dark stuff, sad stuff, funny stuff. All of the stuff came out and it felt like an exhale. And a complete honor too. The fact that anyone would ask me to talk about getting sober still boggles my mind. Each time someone asks me to speak, I think, “Wait. Me? Are you sure?” But last night several people came up and said they could relate and thanked me for telling my truth. Incredible. Listen, my sincere hope when I got sober in 2009 was maybe I could stop being a mess for a little while and then I could maybe drink again like normal people. That never happened. What did happen was something tangible. Something beautiful. Something hilarious. And something real.