I didn’t feel anything. Maybe I need more.

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For a platinum level drug addict like myself, remembering specific times that I was high is difficult to say the least. That’d be like our dear president trying to remember the people he’s blocked on Twitter. There’s just too damn many of them, darling.

As I sat down this morning and sipped coffee, I scanned the internet for prompts, inspirations and something to write about.  Turns out, today is kind of a fucked up day to look for writing prompts. Yeah 1,000 words on Hitler’s birthday? I’m gonna pass on that. Ditto with the 18th anniversary of Columbine. Although as a Colorado native, I certainly have thoughts on all of that but I feel like I covered them pretty well back when the Aurora shooting happened in 2012. After briefly considering a post that would simultaneously have paintings by Joan Miro while talking about Jessica Lange movies, both of whom were also born today, I remembered it was “420.” That “holiday” gets all the eye-rolling and air quotes from me because I think it’s ridiculous. Having just lived in Denver and seen 420 stupidity up close and personal, let’s just say I’ve had my fill with poorly dressed stoned white people people dancing in the street. Still, I was sure I could come up with a funny story about smoking pot. After all, I smoked it for a long time so there had to be fodder in there somewhere. But again, when you’re were high as much as I was it gets rolled into some big cerebral blob and none of it is all that entertaining. What I did remember, though, was the first time. The time it didn’t work.

At my late 80’s mountain brewery town junior high, there were a lot of “Jens.” You know, Jennifers who turned 13 and after trying out a heart over the “i” in 5th grade, suddenly landed on a more casual approach to their moniker. My first time smoking pot was at Cool Jen’s house. Cool Jen is not to be confused with Theatre Jen or Jen Who Wore Her Collar Popped Up On Her Polo Shirts. Cool Jen wore denim jackets and acid wash jeans, lots of lip gloss and listened to Mötley Crüe. Although certainly more stoner/rocker than my new wave listening self, Cool Jen’s appeal was universal. Me and my best friend along with a bunch of other randoms wound up at Cool Jen’s house. We were going to smoke pot. By now, at age 14, I had already drank enough times to consider myself a seasoned partier so pot was the most logical step and it was a big deal.

We’d all talked about it endlessly, trying to figure out what our exit strategies were, how to deal with our parents and basically how and what it would feel like. It felt extra risqué for me because not only was my dad sober but he was also a narcotics officer on the police force. Plot twist/irony alert/of course he was. It would be like if Gwyneth Paltrow’s daughter Apple secretly ate Wendy’s and shopped at Old Navy. The rebelliousness of the act was certainly part of the appeal but smoking weed held the promise of getting outside myself and that’s what really excited me. I already knew that drinking made me disappear and was now open to any and all other substances that would help me do the same.

Thankfully, one of the Marks were there to help guide us new pot smokers through the experience. Like Jens, there were a lot of Marks at our school. Unlike Jens, I think they all of them had long hair and smoked weed thus making them truly indistinguishable. Mark lit what I’m 82% positive was a joint (but can’t really remember because drugs) and passed it around. A smoker of stolen Marlboro red’s already, I knew the basics of the act so when it got to me I knew what to do and I was already instructed to hold it in. Some kids coughed and wheezed. Other held it in and let out massive clouds of billowing smoke. Someone lit it for me because I was (and still sort of am) was as coordinated as an aging walrus. I held it in and let it out and passed it on. It went around and round and then it was done. We hung out in Cool Jen’s yard and listened to music. And everybody laughed and had red eyes. Everybody but me. It didn’t work. I was pissed. Maybe I did it wrong? Maybe it was bad weed? Maybe I needed more? Another girl (not a Jen. Maybe a Megan?) there assured that it was normal for a first time and that it doesn’t work on some people. Other kids told me I should try it again sometime. And that’s all I needed to hear. I went on to try it again soon after that and it worked. So did acid right after that and so did ecstasy and cocaine a few years after that.

Some 30 years later, this the part of the story I find really funny. I know there are non-addicts out in the universe who try drugs and alcohol and it doesn’t work for them so they never do it again. This fascinates me! Because every drug or drink, even the terrible ones that made me want to scrape my skin off or puke my guts out, I tried again. Some several times, you know just to make sure. Special K, Gin, Crystal Meth all things I really hated but did for extended periods of time because maybe I was doing it wrong or maybe I just needed more? This is not normal. It would be like continuing to eat Pad Thai even though you had a peanut allergy. What this memory really does however is shout at the top of its lungs, “YOU ARE AN ADDICT AND YOU ALWAYS HAVE BEEN, DUMBASS!” which is something I need to hear and remember on the daily, especially on 420.

 

God probably sounds a lot like Mavis Staples

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Whatever you believe in that happens to be bigger yourself, that happens to be something you can’t explain, that thing that I just call God, because even though I am about as non-secular as you can get, I am also lazy and God is easy. That that thing, God, shows up in the most unlikeliest of places. Like a Rolling Stone article about a recently released live track from 2014 where the Arcade Fire and Mavis Staples cover a Talking Heads song. The song, which may be proof of a higher power in and of itself, opened a whole can of worms for me. Mainly, the undeniable miracle that is Mavis Staples.

The same article linked to the above disco gospel ballad by Arcade Fire and Staples released in January as a protest song which benefited the ACLU. As I listened to the lo-fi electro beat and the lyrics, which talk clearly about giving power and then taking it away I thought, “Of course, Mavis Staples would be here for us now.”After all, here’s a woman, who alongside her family, provided the soundtrack to the Civil Rights Movement.Angry, teary eyed and yet somehow relieved, the song knocked me out.  Not one to slow down, Mama Mavis was also just featured on a brand new Gorillaz track. The song is another one with a powerful message made even more so when delivered by that incredible voice.

I have to be honest. Hearing these two songs back-to-back was incredibly emotional. Not only was I reminded of the fucked up times we live in but I was comforted by knowing that if there’s any hope Mavis will be around to help carry us through all of it. Raw, powerful and honest both songs pack a punch and one I didn’t expect just hanging out drinking coffee at my kitchen table. Speaking of things divine, the timing of my musical Mavis binge was certainly other worldly. I was planning on watching the documentary on her life Mavis! directed by Jessica Edwards, currently airing on HBONow, later that afternoon.

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The documentary, which was filmed in 2014 and made the rounds at festivals the following year before winding up on HBO, couldn’t be any more timely. While I am definitely not that annoying person who tells people they will or won’t feel a certain emotion when watching a film, I will say it wouldn’t be the worst idea ever to have a box of tissues nearby when viewing Mavis! Nearly 20 days of personal blogging has left me a emotional mess so my weepiness at the film could be considered suspicious however you’d have to be a Nazi Cyborg to not be moved by Mavis Staples and her incredible message.

For starters, the film profiles Mavis and Staples Singers incredible rise to fame as gospel singers who wound up singing songs of hope and message for the Civil Rights movement. The band’s personal connection with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is incredibly powerful. Pops Staples was inspired by King’s message and wanted to make music that did the same thing. Coming from Chicago, Mavis and her clan were shocked while touring the South to see the hideous racism and injustice happening to black people. And as Mavis herself notes, the struggle is sadly alive and well today and she’s vowed to keep singing about until, “Dr. King’s dream comes true.”

Staples’ list of collaborators and famous fans reads like a who’s who of rock and roll history. Bonnie Raitt, Curtis Mayfield and recent collaborator Jeff Tweedy are all mentioned or interviewed in the film but the dishiest celebrity dirt comes from Bob Dylan. Dylan, a huge fan of the group, apparently at one point asked Staples to marry him! She reaches ninja-levels of cuteness when talking about their flirtation which “may have included some kissing.”

Yet the tissues came in handy when the film showed footage of Staples working with Prince. The two made a record together that never saw the light of day, sadly, due to his all out war with Warner Brothers Records. As Staples describes Princes genius, we are treated to shots of the pair working in the studio together. While sobbing, I was reminded that nearly a year later, I’m still fucked up about that one.

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Near the end of the film, Staples and Tweedy listen to a newly restored recording of a song by her father from an album he never got to complete before he died. By this time, I was just a full-fledged tear waterfall and embraced my crying fest. It’s a beautiful moment and one Staples herself is touched by too. And of course she is because like all shining divine beings, she’s also incredibly truthful and human.

And that’s the thing about her voice. Far from the smooth voice of  an angel, Mavis gets a little rough and raspy. At times, she looks as if she’s exorcising some demons in the clips of live performances featured in the film. Mentioned more than once in the film, is her desire to keep telling the truth and to keep spreading a message and I’m convinced that’s what gives her voice that edge.

That’s why I’m pretty sure whatever my non-secular unicorn glitter god is it probably sounds like Mavis Staples. Raw, real, not always pretty but comforting to the depths of your soul. Yeah If God sounds like that than hallelujah. Plus with a career pushing past the six decade point, Staples certainly seems eternal. At the end of the film, the artist herself even hints at her own angelic future. “If you don’t see me singing here, look for me in heaven,” she says. “I’ll be walking those streets of gold and singing around God’s throne.”

my therapists poop in a box

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18 days in and it’s come to this: a post about cats. Between yesterday’s post about my ass and today’s about my cats, I’m clearly on a downward blogging spiral. Buckle up!

However, these little creatures are on my mind today because with my husband out-of-town for six weeks, let’s just say that me and the cats have spent a lot of time together. So much so that my older cat Maeby can often be seen sitting by the front door as if she’s planning her escape or at least waiting for another damn human to walk thru the door. You can almost hear moan, “Really? Are we sure the other guy isn’t coming back?” To be fair, Maeby has a special affection for Michael. When he was home over the weekend, she slept by his side and followed him from room to room. I don’t begrudge her that at all. Trust me, I’m sick of me too. Still, I’m grateful for their little furry behinds because believe it or not they’ve helped me a lot.

Maeby, whom we inherited from Michael’s old roommate and who is named after Maeby Funke from Arrested Development, is the shy but sweet and thoughtful type. Happy to say hello but happier still to give you some space. Larry, on the other hand, whom we inherited from a suburban Denver alley, is more in your face. Unlike his older and more reserved sister, Larry will come darting from whatever part of the house he’s napping in just to say hi and hang out the minute you come home. He’s a little more type A and outgoing so it’s no mystery which cat truly gets me. These two are both survivors in their own right, Larry being an orphan and Maeby getting shifted from multiple owners. They know something about adapting to new surroundings and getting settled.

Carefree, crazy Larry and relaxed af Maeby don’t really give a crap about my existential non-crisis of being new in town. After all, they’ve somehow managed to make themselves right at home despite being basically snatched from their old lives against their will, shoved on an airplane for the first time and dropped off somewhere totally foreign.  I think I can handle not knowing where the dairy aisle is at a new grocery store.  When we were first planning this move, Michael and I were a tad worried about how Maeby would react. The last time we moved it took her 3 months to stop hiding and resenting us. Like the good cat of an alcoholic, she can hold a grudge. We were not, however, concerned about Larry. After all, this is the goofball life of the party who actually likes the vet’s office and sleeps in his carrier. Turns out, we were wrong on both counts.

In a feline plot twist, our older lady took to apartment living like someone’s recently divorced mother-in-law while Larry had a total meltdown. Within our first 30 minutes here. We lost our damn cats. We went to the grocery store and when we came back, they were gone. Like vanished, which is nearly impossible as it’s a large loft-like space with almost zero places to hide. As Michael panicked and ran down the massive hallways, I heard a little meow. The little rascals had wedged themselves behind the refrigerator and snuggled up together. Flash forward to a few hours later upon returning home from IKEA, we were greeted with howling coming from a unknown source. One of our critters was obviously in distress but they weren’t back in the refrigerator hiding spot. With a visual on Maeby, we knew it was Larry. After another panicked search, we discovered that somehow the lunatic had fallen in between our two upper kitchen cabinets. The physics of all of this is still perplexing one month later but all I know is after I hopped up on the counter, I spied his skinny long black legs pointed toward the ceiling. I tried to grab him but my arms are too short and I was afraid I’d hurt him. After mulling over the idea of making the world’s most embarrassing 911 call, Michael was able to somehow pull Larry’s lanky, disheveled body from the depths of our fancy modern cabinets. And this was all in the first 4 hours.

I wish I could report it’s been smooth sailing ever since that ridiculously traumatic day but I cannot. Larry still cries at night as if he’s wondering where the hell he is and where all of his old stuff went.  He’s found other places to hide but is thankfully keeping himself out of peril. But they spend their afternoons together watching birds from our huge windows and nap with me during the day. They chase each other and sleep for 14 hours. While none of this may sound very therapeutic or relaxing for me, I swear it has been.

As an alcoholic and drug addict who’d usually forget to feed himself, it still blows my mind that I can care for and keep other living things alive. Therefore, having Maeby and Larry to look after has been a relief. “Turning our thoughts towards others” is a tool of recovery and nowhere does it state those others have to be at all human. Feeding them and cleaning their litter box gets me outside of myself which is always a relief. In fact, cats are often referred to as the “Unsung Heroes of Mental Health”. Animals for people like me who also struggle with depression, are great for the soul, self-confidence and reducing stress. The simple act of them being here when I return from a day out running around my new city, makes me feel more at home. Just by being present for these two, I’ve reaped the benefits of their magical powers and I’m a better person for it.

Maeby is back to snuggling up to me during morning meditation and Larry is, well, still the Larryest. As I was turning off lights last night getting ready for bed, I couldn’t find him.”Oh terrfic. I lost Larry again. ” I searched all the usual hiding places and some new ones to,just in case. Nowhere to be found but I was tired enough that I headed by to my bedroom. After one last-ditch glance around the room, I found him. He was snuggled up inside a basket by my side of the bed. Turns out, we’re both a little more comfortable than we were just a month ago.

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eventually, you’ll think about your ass

tumblr_mdm66xNgHD1rrajnno1_1280.jpgEventually, you’ll think about your ass. And by think about “ass”  I don’t mean, ass in general, like “ass” as a greater entity. As in getting yourself some or a piece of. And I am also not talking about thinking about someone being an ass. If you are awake and reading this, you’ve already done that 40 times today. Nor do I mean you’ll think about someone else’s ass which again has probably already happened today. No, I mean “ass” as in the one attached to you. Eventually, you’ll think about your own and wonder where it all went wrong.

Someday soon or maybe it’s already happened, you will walk by your ass in a full length mirror and say, “Well, fuck.” You’ll give it a double take, questioning your first glance. Surely, that whatever that is can’t belong to you. Or you’ll wonder if there’s a lightbulb burnt out in your bathroom. Or perhaps it’s the angle you’re staring at it which it makes it look so depressed. Maybe it has dimples where it didn’t before. Maybe weight changes have left tiny tracks across it. Maybe it was happy and now looks sad. Maybe it used to be solid and now jiggles. Or maybe if you’re like me, you’ll notice that what was once high, tight and smooth is now a flattened, saddened shell of its former self. Like if 2016 was an ass, it would be yours.

In an act of aging gay male rebellion, I do not however spend a lot of timing romancing my younger self. When your younger self is a glitter and cocaine covered coke whore and not a male model this is easy to do. Nevertheless, I don’t spend hours looking at myself and wondering if there was a twink wandering around nearby whose youth and life-force I could suck dry in between spray tanning sessions. I’m okay with my impish, Moby-ish looking self and know what my physical strengths are. I have nice blue eyes. I have dreamy dimples. I have soft and attractive hands that proudly tell a life story free of physical labor. I have good skin, nice legs and calves, thanks to walking everywhere and I have a great ass. Or I used to, anyway. In fact a random drunk guy at a beer bust at a leather bar in Los Angeles once said I had “the best ass in the city.” Which me even remembering is remarkable for lots of reasons, primarily of all the compliments I’ve ever been given this is the one I’ve cherished? Sigh. So much for not being a vapid, shallow gay man. Anyway, the point is my backside was my magical power in the gay world. Sure, I didn’t have abs or massive biceps but none of that mattered when you got a glimpse of ” the best in the city” ass. So imagine my surprise when I noticed at age 44 it didn’t exactly look like it would win any awards.

What it is about tragedies that happen in the bathroom that make them harder to deal with? Is it the lighting? The intimacy of the setting? Or the fact that you went in there to do one thing and discovered something awful instead? Whatever the case may be, it happened last year as I stepped out of the shower. The old mirror with the shitty brass frame that lived in the linen closet broke the bad news: my ass had flopped down. Gone was the “you could bounce a quarter off of it!” posterior of the past and here was this butt that looked like it gave up. Like it just decided to quit. Suddenly, I had the “I can’t even” of asses. I went to bed and woke up with middle-aged white man ass and I was not happy about it. Like what the hell? Didn’t the goddess of great body parts owe me a few more years of great butt-ness? I didn’t know it would just vanish at midnight like Cinderella’s coach and horses. I thought we’d have another decade or so together. Just to make sure, I put on my glasses and checked out the situation in two different mirrors. Son of a bitch. After, failing the three mirror test the writing was on the wall, or on my ass rather, I was getting older. Despite having multiple people (all of whom I promise I do not pay) tell me regularly that they thought I was in my thirties, my ass knew the truth. I was a forty-four year-old gay man who’s last free pass in the hot to trot gay world had literally gone south.

But really why did I care? I’m married and not out there shaking my stuff five nights a week trying to land a man. So who gives a crap if my butt had seen better days? The answer lies, as it often does, in a Google search.  In preparation for this piece, I Googled, “How a butt ages.” The search results are as hysterical as they are depressing. “My Butt Keeps Going South As I Age-Help!” an article from Prevention was my favorite. Titled with the same urgency as say, “My Husband is Cheating on Me-Help!” or “My Teen is Addicted to Crack-Help!” it says everything it needs to about how we feel when we find out our ass has fallen into a deep sleep and probably won’t wake up. Other results like, “Ways Your Butt Changes, By Decade” from Cosmopolitan and “Spending All Day On Your Butt Ages You By 8 Years” from Men’s Health are so damn sad sounding that I considered just buying big, billowy men’s caftans and riding my days out left on this planet with my ass in hiding. This little search tapped into the bigger reality: aging is hard and unavoidable.

One of the things we people who’ve stopped killing ourselves with drugs and alcohol do  is practice “accepting the things we cannot change.” Aging, despite what Men’s Health and science might tell you, certainly falls into that category. Despite having the interests of a 13 year-old girl and the mental focus of a 22-year-old, I have to accept that I’m aging. Granted, I know I’m only 44 and not 87 but time is marching on, and to paraphrase Dolly Parton’s line from Steel Magnolia’s eventually you realize it is marchin’ across your ass. For me, accepting this is easier than say, getting butt implants or-gasp- doing lots of exercises to reverse the aging of my ass. I am trying, as a whole, to be a person of quality. A person who has rolled with the tides of adversity and come out the other side. Therefore, my state of my rapidly sagging butt can’t be something I freak out too much about. Now that the shock has worn off, I do know that when I die and people get up and say nice things about me (again totally uncompensated to do so) the guy who said I had the best ass in LA won’t be there. Instead, or at least, I hope, people will talk about how I wasn’t awful and that I tried to do nice things or that I at least made them laugh.

So yeah, eventually you’ll think about your ass. Or maybe it’ll be your arms. Or the skin around your eyes.  You’ll wonder where it all went wrong. But then you’ll move on. I promise you will. You’ll wonder about important things like what you’re having for dinner or when’s the next time you’ll get to lie down.

Sunday Reads– Again.

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Oh hey, Sunday.

Well, here we are smack dab in the middle of the season of bunnies & tulips. The sniffles, exhaustion and pure Sunday-ness of the current moment are prohibiting me from saying something about spring and renewal and religion and or even chocolate. I mean. Me not coming up with 500 words on chocolate? There is clearly a disturbance in the writing force. The old battery pack is drained and my body is sending me a clear message to take it easy or suffer all week-long. Message received, body.

However, I’m carrying on and much of today will look like me resting, nibbling on candy and reading. Here’s a list (I promised you it would happen!!) of things I liked and read or want to read:

Rachel Syme on Cynthia Nixon Playing Emily Dickinson: Ever since I read about A Quiet Passion, a new film about Emily Dickinson starring Cynthia Nixon, I’ve been dying to see it. Here, in The New Yorker, Rachel Syme talks to Nixon about the film as well as her career.

Alex DiFrancesco on Disappearing Before Coming Out: Whoa. This is a tour de force about disappearing and coming out as transgender. I was blown away and cannot recommend it enough.

Alison McNearney on Fabrege Eggs: Okay, so I am a straight up nerd for art mysteries and I will be gobbling down this story about the missing Fabrege Eggs along with some Cadbury Mini Eggs later.

Emily Nussbaum on Colbert: I don’t always agree with Emily Nussbaum and that’s a good thing. Her analysis of television comes from the place of a fan who wants to see it at its absolute best and sometimes it’s peppered with some harsh truths. This piece about Colbert will be devoured and enjoyed by me today (and probably tweeted about later.)

Yours Truly on Lots of Shit: If you can’t promote yourself, how the hell are you gonna promote someone else? Can I get an amen up in here? RuPaul misquoting aside, I’ve been writing everyday this month and if you’ve missed a few, Sunday is an excellent day to catch up. Why not read about my man crush on Aquaman? Or my take on the new documentary Strike a Pose? How about taking in spring flowers even as the world collapses around us? Or maybe read an unexpectedly popular post about potatoes?  In all seriousness, I’m so grateful for the new subscribers, followers and forwards that April has gifted me. I’m glad this crazy ass idea of writing ever day is paying off. So thank you for that.

That’s all for now. Back tomorrow with an essay about, well, my ass. So that’s something to look forward to. Enjoy your own Sunday and as always tweet me or leave links in the comments section of what I should read!

halfway

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You know you are officially out of blog post ideas when the first thing that hits you when you sit down to write is, “Maybe I should do a list.” Immortalized and then quickly beaten to death by Buzzfeed, lists are a blog’s way of telling you, “Look, we have to make new content everyday and you have the attention span of a crack addicted squirrel so please enjoy this list about why we are all Kelly Kapkowski from Saved by the Bell.” I’ve been paid by online publications to make lists and it always feels a little cheap and dirty. Like really, I didn’t know I was this much of an easy whore that I’d take money to make a list, but okay.  I’ve even had well-intended and constructed essays get sent back to me with the note, “Is it possible to turn this story into a list?” Which of course it is and I do, like any good whore would. Well, darlings, 15 days into this little write everyday project, I’m now rethinking my snobbish stance on lists and could be turning this entire blog into an “all lists, all of the time” format until further notice.

Okay, that’s dramatic and I enjoy talking about myself far too much to ever let that happen. But y’all. Being creative is hard. As one of my favorite poems says, Consider shy Cezanne. Withdrawn, cranky Paul Cezanne created 900 some oil paintings, 400 watercolors and thousands of drawings, not to mention dozens of incomplete works. Plus, he worked in the field as a farmer. No wonder he dropped dead at age 67. Motherfucker was tired. Cezanne is often considered “an artist’s artist” and the guy who inspired everyone who came after him. His impossible creative work ethic mixed with his hipster dislike of people make certainly him #ArtistGoals. But it is indeed work and hard work too.

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A few days ago, I stumbled on a the above tweets talking about creativity. While a lot of the time I spend on Twitter is spent trying not to hurl my phone across the room, this thread was the reminder and confirmation I needed that being creative isn’t as easy as we think it is. The creator of this thread is Nneka M. Okona who writes beautifully about travel, food and matters of the heart. Inside these tweets, something magical happened. People from all over we’re saying, “OMG. Me too.” Sounds simple but creativity and writing in particular, is more often than not solitary work. Our little one man bands run on nothing more than inspiration, our own creativity and a shitload of coffee. Tweet after tweet told my story of feeling like it’s hard not run out gas. One tweeter brilliantly described the exhaustion that comes with being creative as a “vulnerability hangover.” Perfection and it received and deserved multiple hand clapping emojis. But once, I’ve acknowledged that writing is hard work what exactly do I do to take care of myself and feed my soul?

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This week, walking, talking to friends and watching documentaries about creative people has helped immensely. My pal Claire who is also a writer (and a damn good one) has been an invaluable sounding board when it comes to talking about all things writing and she also enjoys a good walk so that kills two birds with one stone. And god bless Netflix and HBONow for currently having tons of incredible documentaries about all sorts of artists (one of which I wrote about here a few days ago). But the one that spoke to me as a writer was Everything Is Copy, currently on HBONow.

The film documents the life of writer and director Nora Ephron. The title, “Everything is copy” is an old family saying that Ephron’s mother coined meaning everything that happens in your life is just fodder for stuff to write about. Ephron herself adopted the saying and certainly used it as a career mantra. From her hilarious personal essays for Esquire to her hit book Heartburn, nothing was off-limits from Ephron’s life as long as it made for a juicy– and funny story. The concept is a good one and certainly one that between her and Carrie Fisher I have adapted in my own style. Telling the truth and laughing about it in my writing is my never-ending amends as a lifelong liar and delusional bullshit artist. The film pulls an emotional punch, however, when it comes to Nora Ephron’s death. Of all the things she talked about, death was the thing she kept to herself. Dying for months of leukemia, Ephron stayed uncharacteristically silent about what was happening. So much so that when she died those closest to hear were shocked and hurt. As it turns out, not everything was copy and some stories we need to hang onto for ourselves. It’s a fantastic watch and helped fuel me through several more posts.

Halfway through my daily blogging bonanza, I wish I could tel you something positive and inspirational about creativity and writing that would help you go write that novel you always wanted to write but I can’t. All I know is it’s a slog and it is hard work. But it starts when I sit down and just do it. And comparatively to say being an ice road trucker or washing windows on a skyscraper, it’s not that bad.  So I’m going to keep writing, one day at a time, like everything else. But tomorrow, you’re getting a list, dammit.

 

 

 

crawl out or stay buried.

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By now, crawling my way out, is second nature. I’ve crawled out of addiction, physical illness, toxic work situations, bad relationships. Likewise, I’ve crawled out of mental states like depression, self-pity, despair and delusion. With all of this crawling, my life is sort of like that scene from Die Hard where Bruce Willis crawls through broken glass. Yes, I just referenced Die Hard. And that concludes the entire macho contents of this blog for 2017. While all of this crawling and pulling myself up from my bootstraps (which I’ve never had but I’m open to if they come in style) sounds heroic and worthy of that Willis reference, the truth of the matter is I don’t always crawl out, I get pulled.

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I think I should start by saying I think feeling depressed about the world is valid. Toughening up and pretending that it’s all good in the global hood is some fucking crazy bullshit thinking. Last night, the combination of late night coffee and fear of more mothers of all bombs kept me tossing and turning. I mean we went from zero to holy shit in the war department in a matter of days and the world feels pretty fucked. Therefore, tossing and turning at night concerned about humanity is progress for me. After all, I spent 20 years thinking only about myself and not feeling anything.

Yet as a person who also struggles with depression, I have to keep it real. I need to be careful I don’t let legitimate sadness be the door to debilitating despair where my chemical imbalance ends up driving the neurological bus. So how do I crawl out? Moreover, can I even crawl out if things feel really bad?

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While becoming the ruler of CatAndBlanket Kingdom and never leaving my bed feels like a great option, especially when shits getting blown up, it isn’t realistic. Therefore I have to do the opposite of what I want to do. When I want to sleep all day, I force myself to take a walk. When my life feels overwhelming, I tackle one small project like cleaning the bathroom or answering emails. When I feel really useless, I start writing. And when I just want to soak and simmer in sadness all by myself, I reach out to people. If you’re like me all of this sounds like work and it is. It’s “taking action” as they call it 12 step programs. Taking action. What a drag of a phrase. It makes tired just typing it. Mainly because it implies that I’ll have to do actually something and can’t rely on magic to make it all better. Damn you, magic.  But I now have tools and after the requisite griping and feeling really terrible, I do finally take action. Doing things that make me feel good and just being nice to myself go a long way in helping me crawl out. I know I have options today, which given the alternative, is a real blessing.

I was promoted to write this today, from a bakery that’s testing my serenity by playing Enya and Norah Jones, because my heart is breaking for all the people who don’t feel like they have options. I heard from my AA BFF the other day that many people I loved from early sobriety have gone out recently. This sort of news never stops being terrible. People you loved who gave you hope are now suddenly out of hope and gone. Elsewhere, I have friends and family members also trying to crawl out their own mental illnesses and addictions. Some are fighting and crawling as fast as they can. Others have paused but are hoping the strength will come while others still are stuck and might never come out. So many beautiful people who deserve more are all feeling like they’ll have to stay buried. Like I said, heartbreaking.

I guess my point in writing all of this, other than posting pictures of animals crawling out of holes, is to let you know that today I’m okay. Today, I’m better than okay. I’m sober. I’m safe. I’m loved. And I’m strong enough to pull you out if you need a hand.

‘Strike a Pose’ Strikes a Chord

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“Look, around. Everywhere you turn is heartache. It’s everywhere that you go.” Madonna,Vogue, 1990

It wasn’t the scene of Madonna simulating oral sex on a bottle. Nor was it the many scenes of her openly discussing her love life. It wasn’t even the scene where she turned “Like a Virgin” into a masturbating with a crucifix blasphemy filled ballad that people were talking about when they talked about 1991’s Truth or Dare. It was the scene where two of her male dancers kissed each other while playing the game in the title of the film. The sight of two men making out on the big screen was so nonexistent in 1991 that jaws dropped around the world when the film was released. Now over 25 years later, the story behind that kiss as well as the all the dirt on the tour, the film and the diva herself can be seen in the new documentary Strike a Pose, now on Netflix.

As a Madonna fan, I’ve been dying to see Strike a Pose since I read about it last year. The main reason being that Truth or Dare was seminal in my life as a gay teen trying to find the courage to come out. What that seemingly simple scene did for me and others like me was show that who we were was okay. Madonna and her dancers were presenting a life where you could be yourself and not give a fuck about what people thought. Sure sounded good to me, the terminally effeminate and unique soul that I was. Yet according to the film, that scene and the glamorous carefree life that came with it also came at a price.

Strike a Pose profiles the lives of six of Madonna’s dancers from the Blonde Ambition tour who were also featured in the “Vogue” music video. Luis, Jose, Salim, Carlton, Kevin and Oliver became instant stars during the tour and their fame exploded when moviegoers met them a year later in Truth or Dare. The movie takes an unflinching look at the past and pulls no punches especially when talking about the AIDS crisis. Two of the dancers, Carlton and Luis, tell heart-wrenching stories about how they were terrified to tell Madonna and other members of the company that they were HIV positive. Carlton found out in Japan while Blonde Ambition was getting ready to take over the world and Salim was diagnosed in 1987 but kept it hidden. Their stories are incredibly sad and ironic given that Madonna was vocal advocate for HIV and AIDS, having just lost her friend artist Keith Haring to the disease. These dancers were very young and I can’t imagine how terrifying that world was back then. Thus the story of Strike a Pose, after it gets done dishing the showbiz details, quickly becomes to a story I can really relate to: a story of survival.

How do you deal with the fall outs of instant fame? If we are to believe Strike a Pose, the answer is, not very well. These kids thrust into the spotlight were given all the drugs, booze and VIP access that they could handle and they rightfully took advantage of it. Naturally, things got ugly pretty quickly. Jose and Luis, who became minor club sensations with a record of their own, both got hooked on heroin and parted ways with Madonna after their addictions got out of control. For Carlton and Salim, the battle to stay well in a society where everyone with your condition is dying is a very real one, not helped by collective shaming and ignorance. In one of the films, more devastating segments, we’re introduced to Gabriel, the dancer featured, along with Salim, in that famous kiss. Gabriel died from complications of AIDS in 1995 at the age of 26. According to his mother, Gabriel wanted Madonna to cut the kiss from the film and after she told him to “Get over it”, he  went on to sue her for forcing him to come out. It’s an unsavory moment but not the only one. Kevin and Oliver also sued Madonna for compensation from the film. Yet the movie goes surprisingly lite on the Madonna bashing which is surprising given that her reputation as a difficult  boss and coworker is legendary.

It’s because of this however that Strike a Pose is effective and moving. By avoiding being a victim, bitchfest, Strike Pose turns into a portrait of growth. It isn’t about Madonna anymore. It’s about the six dancers and what happened since their worlds were turned upside down. Against the odds, these men have somehow stayed well, gotten sober and survived. Salim’s story, for me, is the center of the films’ heart and message of resilience. Still dancing and living in New York, Salim speaks  publicly for the first time about being positive and the result is a raw, tear-jerking emotional moment.

As a fan of Madonna and Truth or Dare, the movie delivers on the serving the desired nostalgia of the time. With clips of the film and access to the songs, the movie gives a fan what they want. But as somebody sober with HIV, the movie goes a lot deeper and soon becomes relatable and courageous. Gay men like myself have always been attracted to women who survive. Cher, Elizabeth Taylor and Tina Turner all had been through the ringer and counted out but somehow came back. It’s a glamour and toughness that we as gay men latch onto and find aspirational. Yet what Strike a Pose does beautifully is finally give gay men the fierce, empowered, truthful comeback story of their own.

at least there’s potatoes

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By my own admission, I am that food person. You know the one. The food magazine reading, reality food competition watching, restaurant obsessed, cooking gadget collector, straight up food nerd. I think I was born into the role.

Cooking and eating in the house I grew up in was a way to learn new things, express creativity and share love and gratitude. My mom was the 1970’s lady who baked her own bread, sewed our groovy outfits and gave all of us haircuts. No, we didn’t live on a religious commune nor was she trying to be hip. We were just a big family who needed those things and my mom was endlessly crafty. Thus one or more of us was put to work in the kitchen as soon we got old enough. And the tasks I remember the most revolved around potatoes. Peeling, chopping, boiling or baking- you could count on at least one of us Mahoney kids pitching in and doing our namesake proud. In fact, some of my favorite food memories– summer steak dinners, meatloaf night, Easter brunch– have little to do with the main course, if I’m honest and more to do with whatever potato was being served. I mean, who could remember anything about the nondescript ham someone brought over when there was my mom’s cheesy potatoes on the same table? Forty some odd years later, the potato obsession is alive and well.

Love makes you do crazy things and my love for potatoes is no different. I will confess that when I invite you to brunch because I miss you that’s only partially true. While your company is cherished, brunch for me, especially since Bloody Marys and mimosas are thankfully out of the picture, is actually about breakfast potatoes. The same can be said for the burger place I might casually suggest. Don’t be fooled. I have a hidden agenda. I’m suggesting this place most likely because I read somewhere about their fries. I recently started a heated Twitter thread by proclaiming my new-found love for potatoes on pizza, which I discovered in Portland. It’s delicious and I will hear nothing to the contrary. There are even places whose names escape me but you better believe I remember what sort of potatoes I ate there.

Since I don’t eat out 7 nights a week, this love spills over to my own diningroom table. Not to toot my own horn but I can cook. And I can really cook potatoes. To paraphrase 90’s R&B sensation Ashanti, “I’m not always there when you call, but I’ll always bring potatoes.” Potato salad? I’m your boo. Mashed potatoes? Um, yes. Three Thanksgivings ago, I was entrusted with making mashed potatoes for 30 people and it was a job I took very seriously.  So yeah, I got this. Baked, fried, croquettes? Check, check and check. But the best potatoes I make are ones that aren’t even mine.

If you ask my husband which potato dish I rock the most, he’ll say roasted potatoes. And he isn’t wrong. They’re freaking delicious but like most fantastic ideas, they came from someone else. Ina Garten to me is like the unsung Obi Wan Kenobi of vegetable roasting in this country. Miss Ina was roasting vegetables and spreading the gospel of their deliciousness since the 1990s. While people in 2017 are just discovering roasting and doing their cute little sheetpan meals, Ina’s been killing it for years. Thus my award-worthy roasted potatoes are her’s and her’s alone. Simple, perfect and applause worthy at brunch or dinner or whatever, the potatoes in question go like this:

3 pounds small red or white potatoes
1/4 cup good olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons minced garlic (6 cloves)
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Cut the potatoes in half or quarters and place in a bowl with the olive oil, salt, pepper, and garlic; toss until the potatoes are well coated. Transfer the potatoes to a sheet pan and spread out into 1 layer. Roast in the oven for 45 minutes to 1 hour or until browned and crisp. Flip twice with a spatula during cooking in order to ensure even browning.

Remove the potatoes from the oven, toss with parsley, season to taste, and serve hot.

There’s something artful about simplicity that my more-more-more addict brain finds soothing about this recipe and all of Ina’s giant white Hamptons kitchen existence. People like her and Mark Bittman were sort of the cornerstones for me as a cook and a student in cooking. They have this very relaxed but chic and smart approach that makes me think, “Okay, I can do that.” Unlike Martha Stewart, whom I also love but I watch her when I want to feel shamed and like I’m living a shabby life by not using enough parchment paper. It’s more of an abusive relationship and best in small doses. Plus, her recipes are really difficult and even the ingredients seem to be judging you. Yet sometimes I can’t resist watching Martha Bakes wherein she has pastry chef guests whom she bosses around and makes sweat profusely. It’s oddly uncomfortable and the post-prision, post-daytime show depressing production value of it makes it a must-see.

All of this leads back to potatoes, as it usually does. This morning, I was making breakfast for myself. Cooking for myself is something I also do well. Like a good recovering Catholic, I can make ingredients last forever or develop guilt about not using them. I chose the former and I decided to make breakfast tacos using some potatoes that I needed to cook. Throw in some eggs, salsa verde and cheese, serve on warm corn tortillas and you’ve got a breakfast party for your mouth. This little ceremony is insignificant in the sense that people everywhere eat breakfast all day long. But for a guy who didn’t really eat breakfast when he was drinking, it’s kind of important. The act of cooking, which I find meditative, and the art of cooking something perfectly is cause for satisfication. It feels like I’m being nice to myself. Treating food and cooking like gifts also helps me keep my relationship with it in tact which as an addict is key.

This morning as I made the homefries pictured in the glistening skillet above, my thought was at least there’s potatoes. I’ve been battling the blues a little bit. Maybe not the full-blown blues or a big depression. Perhaps just “Lite Blues.”Half the calories and despair as Original Recipe Blues. I try to shift my brain into gratitude when I go there. So my thought was at least there’s potatoes. At least there’s small joys sprinkled all throughout my day. At least there are gifts everywhere that are accessible when I look for them. And at least when those gifts are potatoes they’re also delicious.

Au revoir, Louis. Au revoir, Chappelle

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“There is nothing to apologize for. I made a joke, that’s what I do, “- Joan Rivers

Last year, my act of pop culture rebellion was I wasn’t going to pay to see any more Hollywood remakes or reboots of old films. This was brought on by that Ghostbusters. And no, it’s not because it was an all-female cast. What kind of misogynistic a-hole do you think I am? It was because it looked like a poorly written mess. Like I get it they bust ghosts. What else about that universe do we need to know about? Plus as a storyteller and film lover, supporting rehashes over fresh new stories felt hypocritical. I’m pleased to report, my little rebellion went very well. Nary a remake in my 2016 movie repertoire to be found. After just watching the Netflix comedy specials of Dave Chappelle and Louis CK, my 2017 pop culture rebellious act became crystal clear: I’m done with straight, male comedians.

There’s a two-minute joke at the beginning of The Age of Spin, one of two new comedy specials by Dave Chappelle on Netflix, where he looks like he’s going to go there. By “there” I mean the giant pink elephant in room of his widely chronicled bizarre behavior. He starts this hour-long special by addressing a TMZ story wherein he was booed off stage for being drunk. He wisely corrects the story with a great punchline: he wasn’t drunk. He was high. And he wasn’t booed offstage. Sure, people booed but he stayed on stage. It’s a great joke and hints at a self-aware special that promised to address all of the stories and do it in a way only great comedians can, by making fun of himself. Sadly, that hint is all we get. We instead get rape jokes, gay jokes and trans jokes.

Which would be fine. Let me be clear. Comedy doesn’t offend me. It never has. I grew up in the 1980’s where HBO and Comedy Central were flooded 24 hours a day with comedians many of them telling jokes that made your jaw drop. I like hearing comedy that tells the truth and sometimes the truth has to be dirty, raw and unpretty. That quote at the top of the post was made by the queen of offending people Joan Rivers who made a zinger about the women kidnapped in Ohio back in 2014. Rivers’ joke was a funny one but she was also able to roast herself first and foremost. This is the missing ingredient from The Age of Spin. Chappelle mentions he hadn’t performed in Los Angeles, where the special was taped, in over ten years. He also casually talks about a comeback. The subversive, hot topic jokes feel desperate. When he gives us a look into Dave Chappelle, the troubled and beaten down entertainer whose over a decade away from his groundbreaking show, he lights up. He provides belly laughs. He feels relevant again. Yet it’s fleeting. Part of what made him so good back in the day was his ability to tell it like it is. See his amazing SNL opening monologue for proof.

But without the self-reflection, the rape jokes, the gay jokes and the trans jokes fall flat. Instead of an hour of watching a comedy great return to the top of his form, we’re trapped watching a desperate and at times criminally unfunny attempt to claw his way back. Had he been able to take legendary public bellyflops with mental illness into a funny, confessional hour, it’d be something to actually talk about.

Yet Dave Chappelle alone doesn’t shoulder the responsibility of me swearing off straight dudes telling jokes. Louis CK’s dully titled special, Louis CK 2017 isn’t exactly something to write home about either. Also on Netflix, CK’s issue is similar. When reflecting on society as a whole and taking himself out of the equation, it feels like we’re watching an overpaid Vegas headliner doing their greatest hits. But his material absolutely soars when he talks about his family, his personal fears and his children. CK also goes there with trans and gay jokes and why these are even part of the straight man’s cannon is completely baffling. Like aren’t straight men horrible and fucked up enough to draw plenty of jokes from. Keep our names out yo’ mouth! While not as ill-conceived and tasteless as Chappelle’s, they are a cheap laugh and at least CK incorporates himself into them. His Magic Mike joke which finds him obsessing about the movie and questioning his own sexuality. It’s the best joke of the set which leads to a hilarious penis/microphone bit. As a fan of the sitcom CK walked away from, this mildly entertaining special doesn’t feel like a return to form as much as it does a people pleasing exercise meant to elicit hoots and hollers from other straight dudes.

Me being done with funny, straight guys is unlikely to make a difference and I know this. It’s the dominating source of things mainstream funny. One glance at the primetime sitcoms of the moment and we know that straight men still rule the playground. And to be honest, my latest act of rebellion has less to do with their straight-dudeness and more to do with my exhaustion with the genre. Much like the busting of ghosts, I know what to expect. I’ve heard it all before. I get it–women are hard to get along with, being a dad sucks, blah blah blah. Mainly, I don’t identify with their “struggle.” I resisted the urge to throw my computer out the window recently when reading about Tim Allen complaining how hard it is to be a straight white conservative in Hollywood and comparing it to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, for fucksakes. Boo fucking hoo, Tool Time. I don’t care which is fundamentally my issue. At my core, I just don’t give a crap anymore about the narratives of Kevin James, Tim Allen, Seth Meyer, Jimmy Fallon, Dave Chappell or Louis CK. So I’m giving up straight guy comedy for 2017. I will let you know how this experiment goes.

However, John Oliver gets to stay. Primarily, because he only talks about the news, he’s brutally funny, unapologetic and I might be the only gay man who knows who he is.