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.

 

 

Listen to Sloshed Cinema Season 1 Now!

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Once upon a time,  a gay man obsessed with films and sobriety living in a marijuana filled forest reached out to a podcasting wizard. This wizard, wizard in like a magic kind of way not like a KKK kind of way, specialized in creating stimulating conversations about recovery and hence Sloshed Cinema was born! 

I mean. That’s basically what happened. We (we being me and Chris of the Since Right Now Network) thought wouldn’t it be fun/entertaining/provocative to talk about movies that talk about drinking? I’d pick a different movie every week and for 30 minutes, I’d ramble on about the film and how it relates to recovery and all the while I’d really be talking about myself. 10 episodes later, this show that was an idea, is now a reality. And now you can listen to our entire first season! In it I talk about new films like Burnt with Bradley Cooper and I Smile Back With Sarah Silverman, classic films like The Days of Wine and Roses and really campy films like Less Than Zero as well as the latest news and views from the corner of pop culture and recovery.

Listen to our first season here or here!

And Sloshed Cinema will be back in July with all new episodes.

Shoshanna On My Mind: Hearting HBO’s Side Characters

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Perhaps all of this is Samantha Jones’ fault.

My husband recently watched all of the seasons of Sex and the City. He’d never see them combo’d with the fact we just got HBO Now. The show has done some really fucking weird aging, by the way. Like nearly everything Carrie and Big do, which I once considered romantic, is kind of the most deplorable behavior ever which makes people the globe over despise American straight people. I used to want a Big and Carrie kind of love but now I realize I used to also really hate myself. The show also has some,shall we say, “whimsical racism” and backward homophobia- which is fucking bizarre considering the whole thing was pretty much written by gay dudes. I had a hard time rewatching the episodes for these reasons but I’d get stuck in an episode, thanks largely in part to Samantha Jones. Samantha Jones to this day remains the sole survivor of the group who you’d actually want to hang out with and who wouldn’t make you want to step in front speeding New York City bus. She’s the only one who tells the truth, she’s the only one whose personality doesn’t make you die inside and of course, she has all of the good one liners.  All of this Samatha-ness made me think, in a very Carrie Bradshaw way, “I started to wonder did I love HBO shows or did I just like the side characters?” Cue the burning cigarette as I type on a vintage Mac.

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I suppose I should give you some background info: The reason we went down the HBO Now rabbit hole to begin with is because of Game of Thrones. Look, I didn’t want to nerd out over some goddamn fantasy series. Really. But the storytelling is so good I had no choice. And now I’m some sheep all invested in these sword wielding weirdos. Such is life. Instead of getting cable or waiting until the series comes out on DVD(which we had been doing) we chose HBO Now. It was a good choice. I am invested in Game of Thrones despite really hating the poorly plotted mountain of misogynistic garbage that was season 5. A lot of that has to do with the characters too. Just so we are clear- a great Game of Thrones episode for me contains one or all of the following:

  1. Direwolves
  2. Tryion Lannister
  3. Dragons
  4. Brienne of Muthafucking Tarth

I don’t have time for 45 minutes of Sansa whining or John Snow brooding in a corner. Ditto whatever bullshittery they’ve cooked up with the Red Woman or the assortment of a-holes currently ruining the North at a snail’s pace. But I will put up with these things however if an episode has some great, juicy character stuff. Four minutes with Lord Varys or Davos, for example, can make some other not terrific scenes easier to digest. In general, I think season 6 is back on track because of that very thing. We are getting more character stuff and faster moving storylines that push along the action. And this season has had some incredible (if not heartbreaking) scenes featuring all of my favorite GOT things. And 10 minutes of Brienne with a sword goes a long, long way in my book.

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So the side characters aren’t the only reason I heart GOT but what about other HBO shows? We’ve also added Silicon Valley to the rotation. While I think Mike Judge is probably the best comedic chronicler of the mundane, this show has a lead character problem. Richard, our protagonist programmer waffles between endearing dorky and “Oh. My. God. Dude. Get it together”-ness. His dorkiness can also morph into uppity and judgey (says the guy judging fictional characters from his computer) and he can be hard to root for when you want to smack him in the head. Thank god for Jared, Dinesh and Gilfoyle. These side characters mixed in with an assortment of Silicon Valley tech misfits make Richard palatable. When the show is brilliant (and it frequently is) it lets these geniuses with zero social skills flounder in the real world and finds big laughs in parodying this universe that creates tech superstars. Plus, every single line that Kumail Nanjiani as Dinesh delivers is comedy gold. The guy can say more with his eyebrows than any other actor on the planet. This is a compliment, by the way. Dinesh and Gilfoyle are the frenemy, genius progression of Judge’s own Beavis and Butthead and utterly entertaining to watch.

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The one thing that all of these HBO shows have in common is fantastic casts. Casts so fantastic that they can, at times, make up for the weak parts of the show as a whole. Which brings us to Shoshanna. Shoshanna Shapiro, for those uninitiated, is quirky, motor-mouthed mess of early 20-something emotions who steals every scene in Girls. According to tv trivia, Shoshanna was intended to be a single episode character but I’m glad she’s stuck around. There’s a lot of feelings about Girls out there on the internet and a lot of feelings about Lena Dunham. While I don’t want to wade in well-tread waters, I will admit I certainly fell into the “this whole thing annoys the shit out of me” camp when the show first came out. But we’ve watched the first three seasons and I gotta say I’ve changed my mind. I mean yes the narrative can be shrill and annoying but I think that’s really accurate for the age of people they’re portraying. And when Dunham finds the funny in situations, the show actually soars. Shoshanna, played with comic precision by Zosia Mamet, personifies what’s brilliant about Girls. Simultaneously a parody of 20-something girls as well as a lost lamb in the New York City woods, Mamet pulls off a hell of a hat trick by creating a character that we both laugh at and root for. For the 40 scenes where you want to throttle Marnie and Hannah, you get one scene with Shoshanna and all is nearly forgiven. Point being, I’m sticking it out with Girls through its current season because I hear it keeps getting better and because it means I’ll get more Shoshanna time.

So wait. Did I even answer my own question? Did Carrie ever answer her questions? Who the hell knows. What I do know is an overflow of good side characters means there’s quality writing happening out there in HBO land and in TV land in general. Writers are clearly doing their thang if they can create people we want to see week after week, even it’s only for a few fleeting moments.

Cue the jazzy saxophone over the end credits.

 

Embracing the Rosiness of Catastrophe

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An odd thing happened to me yesterday as I watched the first three episodes of season 2 of Catastrophe: I laughed. Not like I’m some fucking humorless rock with no soul but I ACTUALLY laughed. Listen, I’ve tried to see the humor in Melissa McCarthy riding a scooter through cement. I’ve tried to laugh at Andy Samberg movie trailers. I’ve even forced out a snicker during a Kevin Hart monologue. I’m not proud. I just want to belong. I want us to say “Holy shit is that latest Sandler movie the bomb or what?” over a couple of beers, even though I no longer drink. I want to laugh at what you laugh at. But goddamnit. I cannot. I’m sorry. So when the laughs came out of me as I roasted tomatillos (seriously who isn’t roasting  tomatillos on Tuesday and if you’re not, well we might be done here) and watched episodes in my kitchen, I was shocked but relieved. Shocked because despite my best efforts I apparently can’t laugh at anything anymore. And relieved because I remembered season 1 being a brilliant, laugh out loud treat and these episodes, now available on Amazon Prime, didn’t disappoint. In fact, they might even be funnier and it’s where these laughs come from that makes Catastrophe unlike any other show on television.

The premiere episode of Season 2 finds us against all odds laughing at dementia, a dog dying, postpartum depression and sobriety. Not the things big ha-ha jokes are made of but just what you’d expect from a show this smart. The setup for Catastrophe is an easy one: American guy named Rob visiting London meets an Irish woman named Sharon they have sex Sharon gets pregnant and the two are forced to fast track a relationship and figure out what the hell they’re doing. Like everybody, Rob and Sharon (played by and written by Rob Delaney and Sharon Horgan) come with considerable baggage. He’s a recovering alcoholic with an insane mother (played by my spiritual godmother Carrie FIsher). She’s slightly neurotic with a father experiencing dementia and a brother who seems prone to financial drama. As a couple Rob and Sharon are in uncharted waters and we the audience are along for the ride. The second season starts roughly a year after season 1 ended which is smart because the real life time between the two seasons was about a year. In that time, their first child has been born and Sharon is pregnant with baby number 2.  Sharon’s transition from career gal to full-time mom, Rob dealing with temptations at work and familial insanity on both sides are a few of the pots simmering on the range for season 2. In Catastrophe-land there are no sitcom tropes like the wacky mistaken identity episode or the misheard conversation episode or the stupid camping episode. Instead, we get to laugh at (and identify with) the real. Created by Horgan and Delaney, many of the storylines are pulled from their own lives– she got pregnant late in life, he has been sober for years. And that might be the secret to the show’s success. Part of what makes me not laugh like some communist gymnastics judge is the jokes usually ring hollow. Here, I’m laughing at what Rob and Sharon are going through because I’ve been there or know someone who has or I can at the very least feel compassion for these characters while chuckling at the fucked up-ness of their lives. As a person who’s sat through countless 12 step meetings, I can tell you part of what “keeps me coming back” is the ability to laugh at dark horrible crap and watching people get on the other side of that. Catastrophe embraces much of that same spirit. Life is not perfect for us the viewer and it isn’t for Rob and Sharon either. We identify with them. We root for them. Most amazingly, we laugh at them. For this stone faced, barely  smirking television viewer, this is the miracle of Catastrophe and it’s these catastrophes the make the show so deeply funny.