the despair & depression disco dance party playlist

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The road map of my “journey” with drugs and alcohol can be done by venue. Journey is a hilarious word as if it required some old-timey scroll map and a brass telescope. Anyway, the progression for me is easy to chart. What started at teen goth and alternative clubs moved into raves and warehouse parties which moved to gay bars followed by all kinds of clubs and bars in Los Angeles which landed me at dive bars and soon enough drinking seven nights at home on my couch.  All of those locales naturally came with a soundtrack and as a lifelong music freak, one-time record store employee and DJ, I really thought the reason why I went out was because of the music. Knowing what I know now, I can see it was about the music but it was also about getting fucked up. And towards the end, it was just easier to get drunk and listen to music at home on my couch.

2009, the year I got sober, also had a soundtrack. I was riding the bus an hour each way everyday from Echo Park to Santa Monica for college which gave me lots of time in my headphones. Most days, I’d find a spot on the bus and hide in the back to listen to Jenny Lewis on repeat so I could cry my face off. When you’ve recently been evicted, watched you relationship of 11 years implode and quit drinking and using drugs, you kind of don’t give a shit about what people think so crying on the bus came with zero shame. Plus, its Los Angeles. People are so self-involved you’d practically have to be naked and on fire to get people to notice and even then they probably wouldn’t unless they recognized you from a reality show. In addition to my boo-hoo playlist, I was oddly drawn back into the electro music that I loved and played in my drinking days. But this time it happened in my headphones while waiting at downtown LA bus stops.

Although that little iPod I used to clutch onto like Linus does his blanket has long flown off to the electronics heaven in the sky, some of those songs still remain. Thanks to the Cloud and Apple’s inability to let anything go, I still own a lot of what I listened to the year I got sober. I recently looked at some of those songs again as they now follow me on my phone as if it’s still 2009 and was surprised at the soundtrack that pulled me through the hardest year of my life.

Basically everything off M83’s excellent Saturdays=Youth record tells the story of my 2009. Moody, teenage in spirit but adult in loss, the album was the perfect soundtrack for someone whose life was being rebuilt. I specifically remember listening to this beautiful track walking around downtown LA and waiting for the bus.

This is the song that pushed me down the rabbit hole of playlists past. I heard it on Pandora a few days ago and was immediately transported to that year and all of those feelings. Undeniably dancey and catchy, I’m sure I identified on some level with the dark as hell lyrics like:

In the darkness, A killer awaits
To kill a life, And the lies you make
You do another, So this death can live
Just keep on dancing.

Tapping into my 1980’s soul who loved bands Human League and New Order, “Lights and Music” was one of those songs I could just blast and not think about anything. Sure, I was a million miles away from the party atmosphere they talk about in the song but the dance party in my mind was lit, y’all.

Speaking of the 80’s, Cyndi Lauper is so ingrained in who I am as gay man that it would require another post and a box of tissue to really scrape the surface of how much she changed my life as a child. So of course she was there again in 2009 with this track from the tragically unappreciated Bring Ya To The Brink.

Turned up loud enough, this song by Everything But the Girl frontwoman Tracey Thorn was best enjoyed in 2009 while walking at night and participating in text fights with my ex. Like I said, everything has a soundtrack.

Seeing Karen O live on stage is like watching a hurricane turn into a person. I had totally forgotten until I scanned my library how much I played the hell out of this song. Maybe in my weakened state I was hoping to summon Karen’s fierce magic would rub off on me.

The epitome of #Underrated, this rollicking jam sums up every ripped open, pissed off desperate emotion I was going through at the time. Lyrics like, “Oh my god. You think I’m in control” and “Find a cure for my life” still punch me in the gut today and take me back to that place where the world felt like it was ending.

To listen to these songs now is like watching a movie about another person. They vividly compose a picture of a life in peril, a life in progress, a life with no certainty. But it’s a life so alien to the cozy and relatively sane one I have today. I can hear these tracks and sing and dance along to them but the picture of this guy in utter despair is still crystal clear. Nobody told me as I schlepped myself on the bus to school and AA meetings that the chances I’d come out the other end and stay sober weren’t good. Nobody told me that I was walking a thin line between life and death. Nobody told me that the numbers and statistics of a person like me staying sober weren’t exactly in my favor.

Or maybe they did and I just turned the music up and kept walking.

 

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now is the shower of our discontent

Not to be a big flaming fuck you to the recently celebrated Earth Day but I’m going to come right out and say it: I love a long hot shower. And not just the “Ooh 10 minutes instead of 3 minutes” long shower. I like the kind of long shower where my skin starts to prune up and where you can practically hear California go into another drought. I like my shower so long that I soon forget why I’m in there and what I have to do later which let’s face it, it is my MO for just about anything. I mean, why have a normal activity when you can turn it into something that border lines on compulsive addict behavior?

So whatever. I’m a showerholic. This addiction can get in line with the others and at the very least it won’t be lonely. Ooh look! My chocolate addiction brought snacks and my Netflix addiction brought something to watch– PARTY!!! In my defense, (says every addict ever) I don’t own a car, I walk everywhere and I try to recycle. I mean we can’t all be Ed Fucking Begley Jr. Despite my pig behavior I do try to give a rat’s ass about the planet without giving myself some white ulcer or turning into a preachy douche. Also, I’ve had worse addictions (said by every addict ever, part deux). I mean I’m not smoking crack or drinking everyday. Or for that matter I’m not smoking crack and drinking while taking a really long hot shower. For today, I’m not, anyway. Never say never. So comparatively, I’m a saint.

Besides, my time in the shower is really productive. Some of my best ideas come to me while I’m in the shower. Some of my most profound spiritual revelations happen while steaming my face off and rubbing myself big gobs of shower gel. Some things that my mind cannot make sense of in the normal outside world can untangle themselves when I’m alone with the noise of running water. Okay, fine most of these revelations go down the drain with the soap bubbles. But at least I had them and maybe they’ll come back or manifest while I’m walking or writing. Or maybe not until tomorrow’s shower?

The point is the shower is kind of this sacred, space where nothing can interrupt my mind (i.e. my social media addiction). It’s hard to tweet, check page views on my blog, text and cook while I’m in the shower. When it’s just me and the shower, everything else that turns me into a human hummingbird in real life can’t come in. They all have to wait outside the bathroom door and give me a damn minute while I try to work out my shit under the shower head. When I was writing my second full length play four years ago, lots of the dialogue from that show showed up while I was in the shower. Does that mean I was talking to myself in the shower? Perhaps but you’ll never know because I was in the shower! Which is also the genius thing about extended remix showers. I feel more free to blurt out ideas or work ridiculous thoughts out in my mind because I’m alone.

The other thing is I get closer and closer to middle age (weeeee!) I sweat a lot more. Sorry to be gross but fabulous gay men who like glitter and show tunes sweat too. I know. I’m really pulling back the curtain here. But yeah sometimes I’m a sweaty mess and I stink like the giraffe house at the zoo on a hot summer day. Therefore, showers are a good thing. So really by taking long hot showers I’m actually being of service to you and the rest of humanity by not smelling like rotting Hot Pockets. You’re welcome, world.

If all of this sounds like a 800 word justification for a behavior I know isn’t great but I’m going to continue to do anyway that’s because it is. However, I will say this: yesterday during my morning hot shower (which is important to distinguish as sometimes there are multiple showers) something happened. As I was working out my thoughts and feeling water hit my back, it occurred to me that I was really happy. Despite feeling shitty a few days ago and working through emotional pain, I was happy. I think I was even smiling. By myself in the shower. I know. But it took me being alone and away from my thoughts and distractions to realize I was okay and I was even better than okay: I was really happy. When I get out of my dramatic thinking and look at the truth, I can see that my life is actually fantastic. I’m sober, I’m loved and I get to experience life, the good and the bad and my shower yesterday helped me get there.

But don’t worry. I’m not on my way to becoming a self-help guru preaching the gospel of long hot showers (Emshowerment- by Sean Paul Mahoney. Now in paperback!). And I am sure there are a lot of valid reasons and arguments why I should ‘t take long showers but I’m sorry I can’t hear them right now over the sound of running water.

easier

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“I thought it would be easier.”

From a simple errand to the grocery store to a short flight to a neighboring state, we always think it should be and would be easier. After all, we live in technologically advanced times, everything should be easier.  So it’s a genuine shock to our pampered 21st-century selves when daily errands turn into a harrowing epic journeys involving things like –gasp!- standing in line or waiting on hold. We also say, “I thought it would be easier” after we’ve attempted something we weren’t at all familiar with but somehow our crazy ass ego told us it wouldn’t be so hard. “I thought it would be easier” in this case means, “Holy shit. This is hard and I don’t know what the hell I’m doing.”

Either way, we usually only say this once whatever we thought would be easier, turns out to be a colossal pain in the ass. Yet there are a lot of things that I think we can agree on that don’t seem easy at all. They are the sort of tasks that are dubbed as “pretty fucking hard” and therefore if you attempt these things, you know what you’re getting into. Climbing Mount Everest, taking a case all the way to the Supreme Court, childbirth, a marathon, being the leader of a country– none of those things sound easy. And yet if the ego is out of control enough, we’ll try one of these universally known as difficult tasks and be genuinely shocked when it doesn’t turn out to be a cakewalk.

Our president said these exact words in an interview with Reuters, published yesterday when talking about his first 100 days in office. I laughed naturally but let’s be clear I don’t think he’s funny or that our country is funny right now. People keep saying, “Well, he’s at least good for comedy!” No, asshole. Richard Pryor was good for comedy. We only laugh at this idiot to stop ourselves from hurling our bodies in front of speeding trains. I laughed in that, “This muthafucker” eye roll sort of way. I laughed because of all the things I think about being the president it being easy is not even on the list. I’ve always thought it looked pretty hard, to be honest. It sounds stressful, terrible, like a living nightmare. But not easy. I mean have you seen those guys after they leave office? They all look 500 years old with their skin the color of paste and like they haven’t eaten in four years. Yet our dear president thought it would be easier and according to the article, he misses driving and misses his old life. Sigh. Trust us, boo. We miss that for you too and wouldn’t begrudge you if you just skedaddled out of the White House in a puff gold dust, never to be seen again. Alas, that’s not going to happen. In fact, I’m of the Negative Nelly mindset that we’ll be stuck with him for 8 years.

Anyway, all of this is to say that thinking being the president would be easier is hilarious to me. I mean, easier than what? Building your own rocket in your backyard and going to Mars? Learning brain surgery online and performing it on your mom?  I guess thinking things will be easier is symptomatic of the our collective entitlement and as much as it pains me to admit this, I too, just like Whats-His-Face, have started things only to realize how hard they were once it was too late.

As delusional as it sounds, I actually thought it would be easy to get sober. I really believed I could maybe go to two or three meetings, learn how to drink normally and maybe even pick up a new boyfriend while I was there. Surely, there had to be a drive thru version of AA or an accelerated program? My rude awakening came at a meeting in a depressing as fuck library inside of a seniors center in downtown Los Angeles. A nice older man in a red sweater greeted me and even gave me a hug. He later shared that he’d been going to this meeting for 20 years. 20 goddamn years? I wanted to cry. I was going to have to sit in sad, shitty seniors centers for the next 20 years? Where was that speeding train when you needed it? Other people with 5 years, 10 years and even 11 months weren’t exactly helping me keep the dream alive about this being an in-and-out kind of jam.  I left that meeting utterly depressed and if it wasn’t for the cute rocker boy who said hi to me, I probably wouldn’t have come back. But I did come back to that meeting and others. I woke up to the fact around 60 days of sobriety that this was going to be a hard, that I was going to be fighting for my life. In fact, more major challenges were yet to come and things would get a hell of lot worse before they got better.

Sober people and people dealing with mental illness know that it isn’t easy. None of it. Despite time under your belt and doing all of the right things, life can still be hard. I was humbled with this very thought a couple of days ago. Sure, it’s infinitely better than it was before but I’d be lying if I said my existence has been 24 hours of butterflies and rainbows since I got sober in 2009. Sobriety has granted me the gift of being realistic and knowing that some things are going to be hard. Really hard. I’ve also been given the gift of boundaries. I know that it’s okay too say no to things that are stressful and not worth the effort. While I can’t speak for that guy with the powerful job that turned out to be hard (duh), I know that when I think things were going to be easier, it  really means I have no idea what challenges are coming next.

 

burritos & broken hearts

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The burrito in question

It wasn’t the end of the world. Because if it was the end of the world they’re wouldn’t have been burritos. See, Mexican food is at the very epicenter of my emotional core thus if it should suddenly somehow not exist, I will know that we as a society are really screwed. A disturbance in the force looks a lot like a lack of tortillas and hot sauce. So it wasn’t the end of the world yesterday because I gobbled down a burrito at lunch. It was just a broken heart.

Go ahead and mock the humble burrito but if you’re some white person who thinks that just random crap in a tortilla constitutes a great burrito then keep that shit to yourself. Seriously. There’s an actual art form when it comes to burritos. A great burrito is all about ratios (not too much rice, not too little salsa) and amazing condiments (homemade guac and hot sauce only). It’s a delicate balance that begins and ends with a good tortilla and well-made ingredients. Don’t get too fussy and in the same note, don’t half ass it, either. Trust me. I’m not some pinche gringo who pretends to know everything about Mexican food. My affinity for the cuisine started at childhood and carried on through adulthood as I waited tables ta not one but three Mexican restaurants. Also, being an Angeleno for 15 years meant that Mexican food became my religion and people were judged on what taco trucks they were loyal to. I had a mental map of that town based on what Mexican places were where. I even dragged my husband to the Mission district in San Francisco to try what was dubbed the country’s best burrito (totally worth it, by the way). So when it comes to a great burrito, I know what the hell I’m talking about. And yesterday’s offering, while a decent Portland college try at a Mission style burrito with its charred chicken and toasted tortilla, couldn’t erase what was happening inside of me.

Getting sober sometimes means letting things go in order to get better. For me in 2009 that meant letting go of my dog Jake and cat Phoebe. I could barely feed myself and was just trying to get through the day without being loaded. It was a heart wrenching decision but I had no other choice. Jake passed a few years ago loved and taken care of by my ex while Phoebe has lived for the past 8 years with my friend Regina. I got a Facebook message yesterday from her and she told me that Phoebe was being put down. At 17 years old, the girl had a good run and I am eternally grateful that she wound up being cared for.

Nevertheless, the news for some reason knocked the wind out of me. Feelings of loss and sadness bubbled up inside me. My body temperature raised and I felt like I was going to burst into tears. As usual, I’m unable to deal with any genuine emotion unless I turn it into a social media event so I tweeted about it. Yeah, there isn’t anything more 2017 tragic than tweeting and crying. “Tweetin’ and Cryin'”, my new country single. Still, it sort of helped and forced me to go for a walk. I went and had a cappuccino and some chocolate biscotti. But much to my dismay they weren’t prepared by a wizard and therefore couldn’t make all of my sadness go away. As I sat in the cute faux Euro cafe flipping through some shitty free newspaper, I started crying again. “Tears in My Cappuccino”, the b-side. My heart was really hurting and I knew exactly why: even though I’ve been sober for 8 years and even though my life has changed for the better in every way possible, sometimes the past just fucking hurts. And sometimes my heart hurts too. Not just for those two poor sweet animals, either. I was also devastated for me. Poor Sean, who was so mangled by addiction and alcoholism, who had to make that kind of choice. I texted my husband and cried more until I realized I better get out of this cafe before some concerned Portlander asked if I was okay.

After more walking, I wound up back at home. I didn’t feel better but at least I was tired. As if he knew how shitty I felt, Larry came and laid down on my chest. Larry, for the uninitiated, is my rascally black cat and, despite his name, not our building maintenance guy. The miracle of this moment wasn’t lost on me but the pain didn’t vanish either. As I tried to turn the heartbreak off with some Netflix therapy, I finished off the rest of my burrito. A few hours in the fridge did it some good and made it saucier. However, it was still only a 7.5 on the Mahoney burrtio scale at best. To fair, however, the kind of relief I wanted didn’t exist inside of a tortilla or cappuccino cup.  I sat in my bed and watched whatever the hell I was watching until my eyes got heavy. I went to bed knowing that I’d feel better today and I was right.

All of this is to say, it wasn’t the end of the world. There’s more burritos and more heartaches to come. But there’s more miracles to come too. In the end, I’m lucky to experience all of it even if it doesn’t feel like it at the time. So for now, pass the hot sauce.

 

‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ Is Now Everybody’s Tale

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The incredible thing about living in a an era where our television cups runneth over is that digital networks are forced to up their game. Long gone are the not too distant days where a site like Hulu could get away with showing reruns of network shows and do it for free. Now, everything is a paid subscription and every channel has a signature show worth the price. For Hulu, that show is the mind blowingly good The Handmaid’s Tale and it couldn’t be more timely.

Call it a byproduct of the times or call it human beings wallowing in fatalism but dystopian stories are so hot right now, y’all. In fact, dystopian books like 1984, Brave New World and Fahrenheit 451 aren’t  just being quoted by every pretentious turd you know on Facebook but have all experienced a huge bump in sales since the beginning of the year. So naturally the timing of a big-budget adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s novel seems perfect. After all, Atwood’s work has always shown a fucked up future where women’s bodies, minds and reproductive rights are devalued. Yeah, that certainly sounds relatable. In fact, it’s hard to divorce yourself from the current headlines while watching this brilliant miniseries, of which I gobbled up the first three currently available episodes this morning. During a scene which showed hanging bodies one of which was that of a gay man, I felt my jaw drop open and chills form on my arm. It’s horrific and made even more so given the current headlines. Atwood’s vision of this future has remained terrifying since it’s publication in 1985 because it doesn’t feel entirely implausible. Clearly, I’m not the only one out there who picked up on this. Even though it was just released last night, The Handmaid’s Tale has already spurned dozens of feminist think pieces and critiques and it’s safe to say we can expect more. Atwood’s work has long been a book club favorite for this very reason and now a new generation is getting exposed to The Handmaid’s Tale and they have a lot of thoughts about it. This is fantastic however I think there’s something we shouldn’t forget as we pull apart and chew on the story’s meaty subtext: it’s just really kick ass television.

Another thing about living in a television era where everything is just so damn good? A show has to nail it in a matter of minutes otherwise they’ll get lost in the digital junk pile. The Handmaid’s Tale does precisely that. Told through the eyes of Offred (played brilliantly here by Elisabeth Moss) the story grabs us by the throat from the first scene and refuses to let go. Written by Atwood and Bruce Miller, the three episodes I watched aren’t just politically thought-provoking, they’re a fast-paced, thrilling viewing experience. The dramatic tension mixed with the sheer “WTF IS GOING ON!?” stress of the storytelling make for a hell of a ride. The writers wisely tease us with plot bits, flashbacks and character histories while moving everything forward at breakneck speed. Plus, they give Offred great inner monologues. In this narration, Offred isn’t just telling us what’s happening but her blunt and often funny thoughts. There’s a well paced “Fuck” in particular that gives us great insight to who Offred is.

Oh but it’s not just the writing. The first three episodes are directed by Reed Morano. Not being familiar with her work, I IMDB stalked her. Her resume as a cinematographer is evident here as each scene looks beautiful, haunting and iconic. For example, there’s a stunning shot of Offred flanked by other handmaids all dressed in red and crammed in a white bus that I won’t soon forget.

Naturally, the acting is equally impressive. Real talk? Elisabeth Moss doesn’t always do it for me as an actor. When the scripts are good (early Mad Men) she sparkles. When the scripts are bad (later Mad Men), I find her grating. But in this role, she’s at once fierce, terrified and funny. She evokes Sigourney Weaver in Alien or Linda Hamilton in Terminator 2 while tapping into some very relatable vulnerability. It’s a home run and solidifies her power as a great television star. But the real knockout performance here, so far for me, is Alexi Bledel! Who knew that little Rory Gilmore had such an intense, heartbreaking and beautiful performance inside of her? As lesbian Ofglen, we get to see a side of Bledel as an actress I frankly didn’t know existed. Again, I’m not the only one who noticed. 

All this being said, The Handmaid’s Tale is a success for another reason too. I’ve always found Margaret Atwood to be underrated and maybe sluffed off to the female sci-fi writer section. This must-see adaptation will hopefully turn on more people to her work. And perhaps the real gift of this television treasure chest we find ourselves in is that old stories worth telling and stories that still resonate can find powerful new lives.

 

everybody hurts (but some people are just assholes)

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“There’s a lot of people out there hurting right now,” a friend of mine said a few months ago. Sigh. She’s probably right. Given if you’re a woman, a person of color, LGBT or disabled and an American it’s hard not to feel hurt by the current state of the country. The insane collective thought is so disgusting and disheartening that you’d have to be made out of steel not to feel the slightest bit disheartened. Knowing this and taking my friends’ words to heart, I have tried to consider that perhaps maybe some bad behavior can be chalked up to people being in pain. Likewise, I’ve tried to let people off the hook and avoid inflammatory conversations. Being a little extra nice to people behind the counter at coffee shops and grocery stores can’t hurt either so I have made a conscious effort to do that as well. The truth is many people are hurting and therefore they might lash out and act erratically. You know, the old “hurt people hurt people” adage is true. Yet I also believe some people just suck.

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What any of this has to do with old disco Jazzercise ads from the past, I have no idea. But please enjoy the spandex and we’ll sort it all out together. This has been on my mind a lot in 2017. I am über aware of my own short fuse these days and I try to stay in a more spiritual place in my day-to-day dealings. But sometimes, I’m a human being and I’m insensitive. More often than not, stupid shit just inadvertently flies out of my mouth and I have to clean it up later. Such is life. “We are all doing the best we can” or so I keep telling myself especially when dealing with assholes. There is no better place to remember this mantra than the internet.

As a paid social media professional and copywriter, arguing with people on the internet falls under the BBB (basic bitch behavior) category and I try to avoid it as much as possible. When I started doing social media marketing back 7 years ago, the industry rule of thumb was if you wouldn’t say it at coffee or at a party then you shouldn’t say it on Facebook or Twitter. Obviously, that unrealistic, fairytale has flown out the window but I do try my best not to yell in all caps or get involved in threads started by mentally unhinged people. Despite my efforts, however, shit happens and somehow you just wind up there. And that’s exactly what went down the other day.

Without getting into the exhausting, BBB details of this internet altercation, I will say I disagreed with a popular media commentator with a huge following and a person who’s writing I actually enjoyed (up until this point, anyway). I tweeted my thoughts in a conversation that one of my online followers and friends was involved in. Holy shit. This already sounds like the most terrible junior high bullshit ever. I apologize and I’ll wrap this portion up soon. Basically, the dude with the published articles, big following and fancy scarf in his profile photo put me on blast and sent two tweets quoting my tweets and verbally dragging me which then caused his followers to tweet-beat me like I was a human piñata. While not pleasurable, it’s not like being mugged or getting the gay bashed (two legit terrifying things that actually happened to me long ago) so I sort of laughed it all off. I mean, let’s get real. Being in a fight with someone you never met on Twitter is not a tragedy or reason to get upset. Plus, and here’s a pro-tip for you, I turned all notifications off on Twitter forever ago so I had no idea what other people were or weren’t saying about me. Time went on, someone famous died, our president said some stupid shit and my moment was quickly forgotten.

This being 2017 and me being a guy who really does try to be less of a dick on a daily basis, the first place my mind went was, “Well, this dude is probably in a lot of pain.” After all, he’s part of a group currently being marginalized and attacked right now so no harm, no foul. And then I read his other tweets about this topic. Turns out, he’s just kind of an asshole. I wasn’t unique that morning and he lashed out at sevreal others in the same juvenille bitchy way. Him being a just an asshole was actually a relief.  Sure, maybe this asshole-ness is a biproduct of being in pain but none of that was my business. This asshole and his fancy scarf were quickly unfollowed and I’ve probably followed a dozen more assholes since then.

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The moral of this story, other than “The Internet is Fucking Stupid” is the only person’s behavior I can worry about is my own. I have to check my motives when I reach for the dangling carrots of drama and conflict. What’s missing in me, what’s hurting with me that fighting with a stranger on Twitter sounds like a fantastic idea? When my impulse is to read someone or put someone int here palce, the bitch I actually need to be concerned about is me. Because, yes many times my bad behavior is born out of emotional pain but more often than not, I’m just being an asshole.

 

surrender becomes power

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Maybe there’s no such thing as a 100% terrible movie that you get absolutely nothing out of? No, really. Hear me out. There are many, many epically bad films out there but is there always at least something redeeming we can pull out of a movie? For example, there are lots of films that I love which are really awful pieces of shit that no human being should sit through. Yet due to their campiness and sheer horrible nature they somehow become accidentally hilarious and genius. I mean watch Starship Troopers or Showgirls or Center Stage and tell me didn’t enjoy them in the same way you enjoy a bag of Cheetos. It’s not good for you but you sort of don’t care. As a lifelong movie nerd, I came to the hard realization years ago that not every movie is supposed to save your life. Maybe the writing is atrocious, the performances ridiculous and the entire production a bloated mess and you can still get something out of it? Or maybe not. But surprisingly, I did actually get something out of Suicide Squad when I watched it the other night.

Oh, this isn’t to say that I thought Suicide Squad wasn’t a bad movie. It’s a really bad movie. It’s a movie so bad that I found myself shaking my head in disbelief for the entire overstuffed 2 hours and change of the film. It’s so bad that it comes real close to becoming the kind of camp Camille Paglia wrote about. The kind of camp kids get stoned to watch and make fun of. And perhaps in time it will become that sort of camp. But for now it’s just a really big budget film where seemingly everything went wrong.

The film, in case you didn’t know/didn’t care, is based on a DC comic where a team of popular villains is brought together to fight against, uh I think, it’s alien terrorists? Sure, let’s go with that. Bless the poor person at Wikipedia who spent 1,100 words writing about the plot of this film because trying to describe it is like trying to describe a cup of noodles that got spilled on a compost bin which was then accidentally set on fire. But if that poor soul at Wikipedia can do it, I’m willing to give it my best shot, dammit! Anyway, this group includes Will Smith as Deadshot, a human machine gun who’s real superpower is making Will Smith the least annoying actor in the cast, Harley Quinn, a twisted sledgehammer wielding riot girl who looks like every girl you smoked crack with at a rave, a crocodile guy, a cholo who can set stuff on fire and some Aussie a-hole with biceps and a boomerang. They were recruited by Amanda Waller (played by Viola Davis who must have lost a bet to wind up in this shitshow) who now–get this– controls their lives by an app on her phone which can kill members of the squad if they step out of line. From there, it’s a whirlwind of explosions and guffaw inducing plot twists until the big action packed showdown at the film’s climax.

In a film packed to the gills with awful stuff, I’ll narrow it down to two elements that were noteworthy. First off, the acting is really, really bad. When Viola Davis, whom I always find to be a tad over the top, gives the most nuanced performance, we are in trouble. Margot Robbie looks the part but she’s sports a Jersey accent that fades in and out from every scene. Let’s just say she does better in scenes where she kicks ass. Jared Leto as the Joker has already been given a place in history as one of the worst Jokers of all time and rightfully so. Nicholson is still the best movie Joker, by the way, and this is not open for discussion. Every scene he’s in is cringe worthy which is too bad because I’m a fan of Leto, the freaky androgynous sensitive actor/musician. But decked out in gold pants, bad tattoos and a grill(!), his Joker is a joke.

Secondly, the music. Oh my god. Look, I could have picked the script, the direction or the editing to talk about but the sheer shittiness of this soundtrack tell you all you need to know about Suicide Squad. I mean it has an Eminem song on it, for crying out loud. Eminem is musical late night Taco Bell. Sure, lots of people must do it but nobody talks about it. Yet here it is right in your face: an Eminem song and an old one at that! But given that the track shares soundtrack space with “Fortunate Son” by Creedence Clearwater Revival, “Super Freak” and “Spirit in the Sky”, we can only assume that the film’s music supervisor was a wedding deejay from Orange County.

I spent my two hours with Suicide Squad laughing and rolling my eyes and occasionally checking the time readout on HBONow. It’s a slog and a disaster but I had a good laugh watching it. I won’t recommend it unless you’re like me and enjoy a really bad movie from time to time. In which case, please watch it and report back to me so we can make fun of it together. Still, believe it or not, I actually got something out of it and it came from Jared Leto’s bling covered mouth:

“Desire becomes surrender. Surrender becomes power.” – The Joker

He says it in a scene, which in an act of some kind of movie PTSD I’ve forgotten, but it’s a line I couldn’t forget. After all, the whole idea of surrendering becoming power is what recovery is all about. I didn’t get my power back until I could surrender to the fact that I had a problem. And the amazing thing about this power of surrender is that once you do it, you surrender all of the time and get even more power from doing it. Omg, Joker. Mind.Blown. But in all seriousness, this is an incredible concept and when I’m in a spiritually fit place, I can still surrender. I’ve surrender about financial situations, relationships, my physical limitations, my character defects. Through this act, I get power back which sounds nuts. But it’s certainly been my experience. If I’m in the right place, I’m surrendering all day long– even if it’s just surrendering to how terrible a movie is and enjoying it anyway.

a hot mess, now at room temperature

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You really need to get your shit together, they told me.

“They” were friends and family. “They” were coworkers. But “they” didn’t exactly say it in so many words as so much gently imply that perhaps maybe there were better ways to conduct my life that didn’t make me feel like a walking, smoking human dumpster. No, I was the one who said it to myself over and over again. “You really need to get your shit together” is pretty much the through line of mental thought I had for the last 5 years of my drinking and using. Let me tell you, that’s a bummer of a message to play on repeat.  Thankfully, drugs and alcohol make it go away very quickly. “You really need to get your shit together.” Oh yeah? Lemme pour tequila and cocaine on you until you shut up.

See, nobody ever wants to hear that their shit isn’t together. Nobody wants to be told, even by themselves, that they are a disaster. We all live a delusion on some level that we are absolutely nailing this whole life thing. Besides, compared to, like, a serial killer or somebody living with kittens under a bridge, my shit was together. So I couldn’t pay my bills and was hung over 7 days a week. At least, I wasn’t wanted by the law or trying to hide a body. These are admittedly low bars to set for the whole “getting your shit together” thing. Alas, with that message playing for so long and things getting progressively worse, I had to “get my shit together.” 8 and a half years later, my shit is together. But is it really?

By telling my story and writing about being an addict and alcoholic, I’ve landed in a magical yet bizarre place. I am incredibly lucky to get to write about my past and my recovery. Each time I do, I feel the burden of my old life loosen and it all gets more progressively ridiculous and more funny as time goes on. It is indisputably a gift and I cherish being connected online to so many other writers in recovery who day after day share their story of getting better. For me, writing about this stuff is therapeutic and if somebody else happens to get something out of it, fantastic. I think of it as a way of being of service so I try not to get fucked up about comments and page views and collective digital approval, which is a drug in its own right. We who write about this sort of stuff are part of a community online which is truly amazing. This community has spilled into my real life and lifted me up in the most unexpected ways.

Yet it ain’t perfect. I don’t share many of the popular recovery stories out there. I’m not a high bottom drunk. I don’t hate calling myself an addict (please do not get me started on that). I don’t do inspirational memes or go on yoga retreats. All of those things are fine but that’s not my sobriety. I’m also not straight (spoiler alert lol) so I’m kind of the lone gay, pink wolf in this pack which is actually fantastic as lord knows miss thing likes being unique. The other thing? I’m not a sobriety expert or sober coach or life coach or life fixer. God no. I’d be terrible at that. I am simply an experience sharer which all brings me back to the top of the post. Sometimes, most of the time, the experience is that I’m still a mess and far from being some sort of mental health icon.8 years in, I really wish I could tell you I never acted like an addict ever again and all of my character defects disappeared in a poof of lavender glitter. Likewise, I wish I could tell you my self-esteem is rock solid and I’m just insanely in love with myself. Sadly, I cannot.

Two days ago, after shopping for new clothes, eating a delicious meal and having time with friends, I still felt empty. That old hole in myself that needs to be filled but given its endless nature can never be, popped back up.  I wanted something, anything to fix me. But today I know the truth about that hole. No amount of Netflix or chocolate or dick or drugs or alcohol can fill it. I should have laid down or reached out or went to a meeting but instead I just drove myself nuts for while until I got tired and went to bed. Yesterday, when I woke up I had an emotional hangover. I prayed. I meditated. I ate a great breakfast and I vowed to be nicer to myself. Lo and behold, I was nicer to myself and I felt better. I woke up today happy and well rested. Yet I realize that this is all a moment-by-moment proposition all contingent on how I take care of myself.

It’s also why I can’t be a sobriety or mental health guru. I’m just some idiot who was fortunate to get help from other addicts and alcoholics and managed to stay sober, one muthafucking day at a time. I no longer drink when life gets hard or annoying (and it does frequently). I have tools I can use and will begrudgingly do so when I’m in enough pain. That being said, there’s a recipe to a happier, more Sean that even if I follow to the letter doesn’t ensure total daily bliss. Even with money in my bank account, a roof over my head and years of sobriety under my belt, my shit isn’t necessarily together. I am still a hot mess but now I’m served at room temperature.

never let me down

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I’m still not convinced that David Bowie is actually dead. He was such a never-ending force of artistry and bold creativity for so long, that it makes accepting the fact that he’s no longer on this planet a hard pill to swallow. Nevertheless, he is actually gone from this realm. But he hasn’t stopped inspiring me.

With a mere 8 days left of my daily blogging fest, I’m slogging towards the end and feeling creatively zapped. I sat down this morning with coffee in hand and knew I had to start reading and listening to things that inspired me. I can’t summon these witty, wise wonderful posts on my own, people. So I had to act fast. If I let a feeling of “Oh, screw it!” takeover, I will be paralyzed and ain’t nothing coming out of this keyboard, honeychild. After falling down, the Google/YouTube rabbit hole, I landed, as I have before, on Bowie. I’m toying with idea of writing posts about different records from 1987 (like I did with True Blue and Tidal last year) so after perusing the Wikipedia page from that year, there he was: David Bowie. How could I forget that Bowie had released Never Let Me Down in 1987?

The record, considered a flop by many, was one I owned and in my 15-year-old brain didn’t think was that bad. Sure, it wasn’t the Changes One, greatest hits cassette that I burned a hole in. Nor was it Let’s Dance. But it was still Bowie for crying out loud. Bowie to me is like that saying about bad pizza- it’s still pizza. Besides, there are some great tracks on the record. Like the title song, for example. It’s Bowie does Motown or Motown does Bowie does 1987. Whatever it is, it’s decent track that holds up today. Also, you can do a lot worse in an 80’s song than “Day-In Day-Out”,the lead single from the record.

And even Bowie himself considered “Time Will Crawl” to be one of his all time favorite songs. The homoerotic dance moments in the video alone prohibit it from being a throwaway track.

Yet the album is far from perfect. Many of the songs are way over produced, a quality Bowie blamed himself for as he handed off the project to other people and didn’t stay involved. Some of the songs songs should probably not exist at all. I mean nobody, least of all our dear David Bowie, needs a song featuring a rap by Mickey Rourke. I swear I’m not making that up.  Plus, the timing of the record is notoriously crappy. After the mega success of Let’s Dance in 1983, Bowie struggled to find his footing. The followup, Tonight, was a commercial failure which breaks my heart to no end considering it features Bowie and Tina Turner singing the title track. That alone should shield it from any negativity.

Couple that with the tanking at the box office of Labyrinth, a fate unimaginable to kids who grew up loving that film and its music, and Bowie couldn’t catch a break. Things didn’t get better in 1987 as Never Let Me Down, despite decent sales, was seen as a flop, critically. Listening to it this morning, and I know this is a mega-fan speaking so my opinion isn’t exactly untainted, I found it to be really good. Charming, experimental, observational about societal issues yet tinged with Bowie’s cosmic optimism, Never Let Me Down, is far from a bad listen. Yet the real reason, I believe, I stumbled on it this morning, is this quote from Bowie in 1995 about the record:

“I felt dissatisfied with everything I was doing, and eventually it started showing in my work. Let’s Dance was an excellent album in a certain genre, but the next two albums after that [Tonight and Never Let Me Down] showed that my lack of interest in my own work was really becoming transparent. My nadir was Never Let Me Down. It was such an awful album. I’ve gotten to a place now where I’m not very judgmental about myself. I put out what I do, whether it’s in visual arts or in music, because I know that everything I do is really heartfelt. Even if it’s a failure artistically, it doesn’t bother me in the same way that Never Let Me Down bothers me. I really shouldn’t have even bothered going into the studio to record it.”

I got chills reading that. Why? Because it felt so relatable and shocking at the same time. There is something incredibly human and reassuring about David Bowie struggling to find his footing in his work. This man, this god, this inspiration to millions, had bad times where he felt like his work sucked. What a relief. If David Bowie can feel disheartened by the creative process and hate what he’s doing but somehow still carry on, than goddamnit, I can keep writing for the rest of the month. I can let myself off the hook. I can breathe and laugh about things that weren’t that great. And most importantly, I can keep going.

So thank you, David Bowie. As always, you never let me down.

Betty & Veronica: Queens of ‘Riverdale’

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If I had to, I’d read Archie Comics when I was a kid. I’d rather read Betty and Veronica but I’d do it if that’s all there was at the drugstore.

Look, comic books in the 70’s and 80’s didn’t have this annoying-ass culture that they have now. Everybody read comic books. It wasn’t geek chic or cosplay or anything else. It’s just what we all did. Sure, there was always “that” kid who read them obsessively and rambled off facts about them at the drop of the hat. But I wasn’t him. I was just a kid who liked comic books because it was smooth storytelling with fast results. Ever the addict. Plus, I couldn’t be a full-fledged comic book junkie because what I was attracted to was pretty specific. I didn’t like things that were dark or scary. I didn’t like comic books that had a billion parts and took years to finish a story. And I loved comics with female leads.

As my Wonder Woman obsession is well chronicled on these here pages and my comic book heart belonged to her, first and foremost, there was always room for others. She-Hulk, Batgirl, Supergirl and Betty & Veronica. I was always drawn to female lead characters and heroes. I’d play them in games and dress up like them but there was never the sense that I was in the wrong body or that I shouldn’t be a boy. I just wanted to be a boy who loved Wonder Woman. Dammit. So I’d read Archie Comics if I had to but the whole time I was waiting for Josie and the Pussycats or Sabrina the Teenage Witch or Betty and Veronica to show up. With the new reboot of Archie’s world Riverdale currently airing on the CW, I find myself doing the same thing. But in this case, it’s certainly worth the wait. enhanced-12232-1491342073-1.jpg

Much has been written about Riverdale and it’s obvious (and welcome) nods to Twin Peaks. The show unapologetically takes Lynch’s dark, campy small town and tweaks it for millennial viewers. But the most 2017 thing about the show are Betty and Veronica themselves. After a rocky start, involving Archie naturally, the pair implode the decades long frenemy troupe over a pair of milkshakes: Betty and Veronica decide to never let another boy come between them.

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And just like that, B&V 2.0 is born, bitches. Gone is the life blood of every Betty and Veronica comic ever since 1950. The very thing that made Betty and Veronica tiresome and problematic has now vanished. Instead of bickering over a boy, this new version of our favorite girls is fierce, complex and empowered. The girls, decked out in seriously gorgeous Emmy-worthy costumes from Rebekka Sorensen-Kjelstrup, have a new mission: being there for each other.

Self-involved rich girl Veronica Lodge has changed since I hung out with her in the 1980’s. First of all, girlfriend is no longer rich as her daddy, a Bernie Madoff type, is currently in prison on embezzlement charges. Secondly, she’s now Latina because why the fuck not? Lastly, and most importantly, she’s a girl who’s seen who she was and wants to change. In a great scene in episode 9, Veronica reveals that she was a bully back at her posh school in New York and how she really hurt a classmate of hers’. It taps us into a deeper character than we ever got a glimpse of on the comic book pages.  Yet Veronica, the fierce bitch who always get what she wants, the girl I wanted to be as a kid, is still here too. Just more emotionally in tune and smarter. Think Blair Waldorf after a 12 Step program. In a star making performance, Camilla Mendes creates a reformed bad girl for the ages and who doesn’t love that?

Sweet girl-next-door Betty Cooper, on the other hand, is more twisted than we could have ever imagined and I am here for it. At 10 episodes in, we’ve gotten a glimpse of Dark Betty and let’s just say she’s not just your student council president or favorite babysitter. The show is dancing with a mental illness storyline with dear sweet Betty. As of yet, we don’t know exactly what Betty has but we know her mama Alice (the perfectly campy, unhinged Mädchen E. Amick) isn’t all there either so it promises to get juicy soon. A steadfast friend and believer in the truth, Betty Cooper is still a golden girl but now she’s super interesting because she’s also sort of fucked up.

It’s not just Riverdale’s besties who have gotten a makeover for the better. Josie and the Pussycats are back. After a guilty pleasure 2001 big screen abomination, it’s safe to say their legacy is restored. This version of the Pussycats is an all black girl group (because again why the hell not?) who dishes out the fierce diva-ness required for every good teen show. Plus, the musical numbers are fun and filled with old school Archie references.

Elsewhere in Riverdale, it’s a mixed bag. Archie is still a dude-bro douche but at least this time he’s got great abs and the producers wisely have him shirtless in as many scenes as possible. He’s still clueless about women and kind of a disaster of a friend too. He’s hard to root for but as I noted in the top of the post I never really did. Also, the less we say about Luke Perry as his dad, the better. The new edgy homeless angsty Jughead is a great twist and he makes for a decent narrator even though the casting of his father (the one facial expression Skeet Ulrich) is equally unfortunate. By the way, I officallay feel 5,000 years old when people like Skeet Ulrich and Luke Perry who I used to watch play teenagers are now playing parents to teenagers. But at least Molly Ringwald is playing Archie’s mom!

Some of the storytelling gets cheesy and veers into old CW cliches but having established itself in a surreal camp realm at the jump makes me be a bit more forgiving as a viewer. Riverdale, with the openly gay Kevin character and a non-chalant kiss between Betty and Veronica, is queer in a no big deal sort of way that feels modern. After slogging through 2 episodes with bland, adult-heavy storylines, the series redeems itself in the latest two epsiodes. Mainly, becuase they’re filled with meaty, interesting things for Betty and Veronica to do. I’m going to stick Riverdale for the rest for the season because when it reallt goes there to full dark, weird and female positive place, it’s pretty darn wonderful. Besides, I’m positive my 10-year-old self would do the same.