swim toward the light

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Wander around on a dark beach with two sweet ladies from West Texas long enough and you’re bound to find something miraculous. That or you’ll twist your ankle, whatever comes first. Nevertheless, that’s what I found myself doing on Friday night. While most tourists were shaking their stuff at local nightclubs, the husband, the aforementioned Texans, myself and a guide were wandering around a Puerto Vallarta beach in the dark. The task at hand? Sea turtles. Baby ones, to be exact. The husband saw the “awwww!” look on my face when he mentioned a tour that worked with a sea turtle rescue and responded by booking said tour. From July to about December, big mama sea turtles pop up all over the shores of Puerto Vallarta, kinda like American tourists but better dressed. That guy I married and I often say to one another,”It’ll be an adventure.” This can apply to going into a really sketchy looking discount store or waiting in line at the post office or, in this case, helping sea turtles.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: sea turtles who have been doing their thang on the shores of the planet for thousands of years certainly know what the hell they’re doing so why do they need people to help them? Thanks to our polluting and generally destructive asses, sea turtles are in trouble. So if we can make laying more eggs easier, protect those eggs and then help these little infants back into the ocean, we can hopefully grow the species as a whole and therefore reverse a teeny bit of the fuckery we’ve caused these poor creatures by ruining their oceans and hunting them.

Our five person turtle loving brigade walked along a stretch of beach populated by posh hotels and the obligatory white people who come along with them. Our mission? To see if we could find any mammas laying eggs. The tour doesn’t promise you’ll see this phenomenon and wisely so. These mothers are on their own schedule and won’t pop ’em out just so some family from Pomona can snap photos for their Instagram pages. But we optimistically trudged along the sand anyway. It was warm and quiet, the kind of beach quiet you can buy if you’ve got enough cash. I’m more of a hustle and bustle type so we were staying in a part of the city that actually looked like Mexico and less like glamour Burbank by the sea. After no sighting and with one of our Texas ladies exhaustedly taking solace under a tiki covered patio, we started to head back to the nursery. It wasn’t going to be a complete wash. The rescue had set aside a bucket of flapping baby sea turtles that we could release when we returned.

As we walked, we ran into a 40-something Owen Wilson type and his equally blonde girlfriend crouched down in the sand with flashlights. The pair, along with some Solo cup clenching randoms, had stumbled on a hatching nest of baby sea turtles. Hundreds of them, as a matter of fact. Their ingenious but totally uninvolved mother buries the eggs by the dozens in the sand so when they hatch they spring up, in the words of our guide, “like popcorn.” And boy did they. The little guys kept crawling out of the sand, one by one. The minute you thought it had to be the end of this adorable family reunion, a bunch more would show up with sand covered heads and their itty bitty slits-for-eyes just barely opened. We’d pick them up and place them in the bucket, seen below. With their funny flapping arms and soft rubbery shells,  I fell in love about 300 times that night  as I placed them gently in this plastic waiting room before they went out into the world by themselves.

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We were instructed not to use our flash as turtles use the light of the moon to guide them and a bunch of flashing lights could really disorient the little fellas. All on their own and without parents, these babies would learn to swim, eat and come back to shores like this one. It was all instinct and mystery and had nothing to do with me. What our group of five could do was help them out of the bucket. Turtle by turtle, we watched them flap, stumble and march towards the surf like little soldiers. In fact, they were off to quite the battle. Our guide informed us, because of predators, mainly shady birds which we saw earlier in the night nibbling on turtle eggs, only one in one hundred would survive. Our guide stood in the tide holding her flashlight acting as a beacon to hopefully direct turtle traffic into the water.”They’ll swim towards the light,”she said and gosh darn it despite being only alive for a few moments they did precisely that. Waves rushed in and swooped some of them in the water. Others walked with purpose into the ocean. And a few more sort of meandered, taking their time and often required additional help getting near the water. I think we know which group I identified with.

As we wished them well on their journey, it struck me that really none of our odds are very good but somehow some of us make it. If you’ve beat cancer, you know what I’m talking about. If you’ve come back from the brink of mental illness, you know what I’m talking about. And if, like me, you’ve somehow managed to stay sober you know what I’m talking about. Over the last nearly eight years, I know I’ve had tons of people help me out of metaphorical plastic buckets, brush the sand off me and guide me towards the light. My chance for survival if I try to do anything alone are not very damn good.  Hobbling along alone in the dark, whether human or sea turtle, fucking sucks. Sure, instinct will help a turtle out but we people? We need one another.

2016 has felt like a never-ending process of me swimming towards the light. Despite darkness, difficulty and a brain that really wants to uses drugs and drink until it explodes, I’ve somehow kept swimming. From job stuff and life stuff to Orlando and the election to the recent death of my grandmother, the battle to fend off depression and addiction and alcoholism has kept me on my muthafucking toes this year. Any more time on my toes and the damn Bolshoi will be calling me. Yet it’s all part of the gig called life. A gig I’m lucky to have.

Our trip back to the nursery got delayed–twice. The not-guaranteed-but-wouldn’t-it-be-cool-if sighting of a mother turtle laying eggs happened! Two gals, one successful and one who sort of fell asleep during the process and didn’t really seal the deal (again, I identify), laid eggs. Just like that: more little lives, more daunting odds and more trips towards the light were set in motion. The whole journey humbled me and my own does too. It puts a lump in my throat when I think about how many people have held up the light for me. Inexplicably, dozens of folks in person, online and even people I don’t know have lit the way and told me to keep swimming. If you’re reading this, you are probably one of those people. Thank you for that. Seriously. I cannot do any of this alone. I’ve felt so much love in the most trying and horrible times of this year, it truly knocks me out. Like those little guys on the beach in Mexico, I could do it by myself but your help makes it a fuck ton easier.

And just so you know, I’d gladly stumble around in the dark and hold up the light for you too.

vamos

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Leaving is supposed to be my specialty. Getting the hell out of Dodge is something that I am naturally programmed to do better than the average person. As a Sagittarius, shooting my arrows in the air, the ability to pack up and bounce at a moment’s notice should be second nature. Yet there’s a part of me that’s decidedly cozy and likes to stay put. I hesitate to use words like reclusive or sedentary but yeah I will fully channel my human mushroom, if given the chance. Sometimes, my idea of an exotic destination is a new position on the couch as I binge watch a ridiculous reality show for hours on end. Not moving or going anywhere sounds really damn appealing a lot of the time. It also sounds a lot like another word. The “I” word. You know the one they caution against in rehab and therapy sessions and 12 step meetings? Isolation. Isolating is a big time no-no for folks like me who have the my flavor of mental health specialness. Therefore I gotta keep it in check. Admittedly, living a life under a pile of cats and blankets after the few weeks I’ve had is an incredibly appealing idea. Oh but the Universe, the tricky little vixen that she is, has other plans.

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In May, the husband, the ever diligent researcher and deal hunter, found amazing flights to Mexico. We didn’t think twice about it and we booked a trip to Puerto Vallarta for October. The thought was we’d probably need a little fall break. That turned out to be a really fucking great thought. As many of you know, my grandmother died last week. It was a heart wrenching but beautiful time that left me utterly exhausted. So much family, so much sorting through old cabinets and boxes, so much crying. So much. While I don’t know how someone feels after dying (I’ll be sure to write a blog post about that when it happens) I do know that it sure is an emotional marathon for everyone else. The weirdness around all of it alone is sure to wear a person out. Each day brings about a new WTF conversation and series of revelations that,while oddly entertaining,are certainly trying. Death creates some kind of twilight zone of emotions where the grieving say and do really odd things. It’s all okay because grief is happening and it is all part of the process. Needles to say however the process can really make your ass tired. So me and my tired ass are really excited to step on an airplane on Tuesday morning. If sun, sand, a trashy book, tacos and time away won’t recharge my batteries than I’m not sure what will.

Leaving and getting the fuck out of here is a recurring theme right now for me. Not only did my grandmother beautifully find the right time to say, “Adios!” But other things are leaving too. As if it wasn’t enough that we live on a planet wherein both Bowie and Prince left and are not coming back, other things are hitting the road too. The Obamas are days away from packing up their shit. The leaves are falling off one by one. And some of my old mental garbage has, thankfully, skipped town too. 2016 has forced me to get the hell over myself. Being obsessed about what people think or fighting change at every turn are just worn out patterns at this point that are serving me little or no purpose. Last year at this time I was in the hospital. A skinny and nearly dying bag of bones whose butt had been spanked hard by pneumonia, I had to think long and hard about what I wanted to change and what I want to hang onto. What I came up with is some of my crap needed to be left behind if I wanted to be happy. I couldn’t turn into a human Netflix-watching statue even though I really wanted to.

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Thus here I am. All of the writing of the last few months, all of the travel, all of the “holy shit this is different” life changes have dropped me in this moment. A moment where I’m leaving for Mexico in two days. A moment where even bigger life changes waiting for me when I get back. The truth is my romanticized human mushroom existence isn’t actually something I want. When I first got sober, I’d hear people say that their lives got bigger. That sounded incredible. My life was so tiny and depressing at the end. I wanted things to be bigger and to be able to leave and experience life, even the shitty parts. Well, I got the big life I wished for. Sometimes it’s so big that it feels like my life is Marmaduke and I’m the sadly drawn stressed out family just trying it reign it all in.

Yes, I am leaving in 2 days and will back in 8. This blog, my podcast and my life where I currently feel like I need a seatbelt, will all be back too. My grandmother and so many others who have left this year, sadly, will not be back. I guess it’s easy to feel abandoned. The heartbreak around that is authentic and appropriate. But the truth is we all leave. The trick is: what do we do until then? How do we savor every second of this massive life in between times of coming and going? I have no idea but I do know sometimes you just have to leave.

For Grams

2015-08 Adam (8).jpgYesterday, I had the honor of speaking at my grandmother’s funeral. My grandmother, Geraldine Magnie was 89 years old and her life, as well her funeral, was filled with love. The husband being an amazing singer and myself being a wordsmith came up with a tribute that hopefully fulfilled Gerry’s love for both of those things. While I don’t yet have a video of the song, I’m publishing the eulogy I wrote here for anyone who was unable to attend or for anybody else who knew and loved Gerry the way we did. xoxo- S.

I’m Sean Mahoney. I’m Gerry’s grandson which would maybe be amazing if I was the only one but the fact is Gerry had 17 grandkids and 10 great grandkids. Therefore, I could never speak about anyone else’s relationship with Gerry as there are so many of us and this eulogy would take about 4 hours if I tried. The truth is she somehow managed to have unique relationships with each of us and some of us even called her by different names. For a lot of us she was just grandma. For the Gregerson girls, she was g-ma. In an act of teenage sassiness for my sister Maureen she was Gerry. And to me in the last years of her life, she was Grams.

I started my life with Grams and my Grandpa Bob just right down the street as I was born in a house on 9th & Fillmore. We Mahoney kids simply got used to having them around. From babysitter and snack giver to sewing instructor and mountain trip facilitator, Grams and Grandpa Bob were just a stone’s throw away for whatever we needed. They were always enthusiastic audience members at school plays and recitals. They were fans at whatever sport we were participating in and genuinely so. These weren’t two people rolling their eyes and begrudgingly showing up. They were always thrilled to be invited and, as all of her friends know, this excitement was something Grams carried into every invitation for every event, big or small for the rest of her life.

We moved out of Congress Park when I was 13 but her love was already firmly cemented. As an extremely imaginative and effeminate child it could have been easy to keep me at arm’s length and not really understand me. But Grams always loved me no matter what. She never tried to change me or steer me into more traditional boy like behavior. In fact, she encouraged me to be even more creative. She cherished every poem I wrote and picture I drew. She took me to plays and musicals to expose me to theatre, a love we would jointly share into my adulthood as she would attend plays that I wrote and productions my husband Michael and I created.

During the last years of her life, I found myself right down the street from her again. In a rental deal that could only be orchestrated by a master organizer like my grandmother, we landed on 10th & Detroit just five houses away from her. My last three years with Grams have been an extreme gift. As a neighbor, grandmother and friend, Grams provided the love support and enthusiasm I had known when I started my life with over 40 years ago on 9th and fillmore. And now I got the chance to do stuff for her. From hilarious navigating the world wide web together to helping her transcribe her writings, any task I was assigned fit my skill set, especially after she figured out I was not the one to call if you wanted things fixed or hauled away. Just over a month ago I helped her renew her passport so she could attend Kay and Terry’s wedding in Mexico. See. I told you she never turned down an invitation. That our relationship had so beautifully and magically come full circle is nothing short of miraculous.

While our individual time together as grandchildren with Gerry was unique and special the one thing we all had in common was The Sound of Music. Whether playing on local tv on holidays during the 70’s & 80’s like it was for us Mahoney kids or on VHS tapes for the McClellan and Gregerson kids, the hills were always alive with the sound of music on 945 detroit. And if you think about it: what a perfect movie for Grams to love. It has incredible songs, an inspirational story, a slew of children and of course lots and lots of nuns. So now, please enjoy the Sound of Music as performed by my husband Michael Emmitt and my Uncle John Magnie. The last time these two played this song was at Thanksgiving two years ago after dinner. As they sang, I looked over to see Grams tearing up and wiping her eyes. It was incredibly touching that some fifty years later she was still moved by this song and it’s message of hope. So Grams, thanks for always making me feel like the most special person in the room and this one is for you.

everybody’s a little bit Liza

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Maybe it’s because we’re both adult children of alcoholics of the elite ninja level. Maybe it’s just a rite of passage for every gay man transitioning out of youth and into uh, shall we say, more mature years. Maybe it has something to do with he fact that her whole life seems to be covered in rhinestones and glitter. Whatever it is, the older I get the more I love Liza Minnelli. As I watched this week’s Sloshed Cinema film, Arthur from 1981, I found myself waiting for her to pop back up on-screen. Sure, some of that had to do with the film’s now downright offensive screen portrayal of an alcoholic and craving an escape from Dudley Moore’s buffoonish performance but mostly it had to do with her sheer Liza-ness. It’s the throwaway sassy girlfriend role so frequently found in 1980’s comedies to be sure. Minnelli, at this stage of her career already a Broadway legend and an Oscar winner probably just needed the paycheck .Yet it doesn’t matter because within seconds of appearing in the film, in that red cowboy hat and yellow raincoat, we’re smitten with her just like Arthur is. There’s just something about her that crackles on every level regardless of how underwritten the role is. Granted, razzamatazz was something she was probably born with. I mean she can’t help it. Even sitting at a piano singing on a talk show in the 1970’s, she’s dialed up to an 11. And gloriously so.

Being the daughter of Judy Garland sparkly showbiz just runs through her veins. Yet there’s always been more to her too. A sadness. A desperation. A loneliness and usually along with those things comes addiction and self-destruction. Liza’s battles with drug use are well chronicled (probably another reason why I’m drawn to her). According to lore, her dependency on Valium kicked into a high gear when her mom died in 1969. There’s even a legendary Warhol diary entry where he writes Liza arrived at Halston’s apartment in 1978 and declared, “Give me every drug you got.” My kind of girl.

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photo by Warhol, dress by Halston, drama by Liza

By the mid-80’s when I was massively consuming pop culture and not drugs (not yet anyway) Liza was doing guest spots, tours and lesser film roles (Rent-a-Cop with Burt Reynolds anyone?). Like any good addict, she’d been in rehab a few times and had a few terrible, short-lived marriages. Thus she wasn’t really on my radar. In this time frame obsessing about Madonna, Cyndi Lauper and Boy George were full-time jobs, leaving little room for a Broadway star from yesteryear. It wasn’t until I moved to Los Angeles in the 1990’s was I quickly educated by older wiser gay men that Liza is a genius and must be revered as such. I watched Cabaret for the first time in adulthood and had my mind blown open.

I was also sat down in front of her classic Bob Fosse directed television special Liza with a Z. 

I was even turned on to her Results record, a guilty pleasure of the highest order that she recorded with the Pet Shop Boys in 1989.

Later career Liza wasn’t always the prettiest. Like this call-your-sponsor worthy performance from the Michael Jackson 30th Anniversary performance from 2001.

But time and Liza Minnelli both march on. Last year, she was in rehab once again for painkillers (she was pill popping way before we called it opioid addiction, y’all) and like clockwork the minute she got out, she was spotted singing at clubs and on stages. Back and forth from legend to camp to trainwreck and back again, the woman is human teflon. And this might be her real appeal to me.

In my old home group, we had woman who, god love her, could not stay sober. She would get 4 months and relapse. She’d get 6 months and relapse. She’d pick up 30 days and go back out. After a long disappearance, I heard this gal is now sober and recently celebrated 2 years. I wanted to burst into applause when a friend told me this. What can I say? I love a good comeback story, including my own. Humans,especially addicts and alcoholics, can crawl back from some pretty gnarly times. Given her heritage and where she comes from, its remarkable Liza has been able to survive. Turning 70 last spring, she’s already outlasted mama Judy Garland by 23 years. She’s changed a tragic family legacy, even with stumbles off the wagon and bumps in the road. This is miraculous not just for Hollywood royalty but for anybody.The fact that we can change inevitable tragic endings and changed doomed old behaviors is truly magic.

So maybe I love Liza for just the razzle dazzle. Maybe a fucking great film like Cabaret is enough to cement a person’s superstar status. But maybe it’s more. Maybe all of our collective comebacks and failures are actually helping other people too. Maybe we keep just trying and that alone is enough.

Listen to my thoughts on Liza, Dudley Moore & Arthur on an all-new Sloshed Cinema!