because it’s in the music

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Yup. That’s me with the headphones. I am happy to report that most days over the past year, you could still find me with headphones. Luckily for the city of Portland and humanity at large, I am also happy to report I now usually have pants on when I rock headphones. Usually. Sadly, a Donald Duck shirt hasn’t worked its way back into my wardrobe. Edgy, fashion choices notwithstanding the picture captures something deeply about who I am: I’ve always loved music.

A former record store employee and a sort of DJ for a hot minute, music has always been a constant. On a deeper less dance around your room in your diaper kind of way, music also provided an escape from a childhood and an early life that was complicated at best. Like any relationship, however, my love affair with music has been full of ups and downs. So tied in with drug use and my destruction, music wasn’t just an escape but sometimes an enabler. Then when I first got sober, music was my therapist tasked with making me crying or feel supported (thank you forever, Dolly Parton and Jenny Lewis). Even a few years into sobriety, I had a hard time going to concerts or clubs because it still felt triggering and like we needed to reinvent what we meant to one another. We hadn’t broken up but we were strained. Like 2011 Justin Timberlake and Jessica Biel. But I’m happy to report that 2018 saw my relationship with music back in full bloom and we’ve never been happier.

I kicked off 2019 by renewing my Spotify and that was the game changer. With a long commute, I needed something to fill the void. Spotify not only scratched that itch, it reawakened the music lover in me. I wasn’t only just returning to old favorite artist but searching out new ones. Thank god for whatever mind reading analytics that control Spotify because I was able to discover tons of amazing artists. I basically anything that sounds like 1980’s synth pop had sex with a candy store and birth some new weird Euro baby and guess what? Spotify has lots of artist that check that box! My work in the world of mental health and addiction is challenging at best so fizzy but thoughtful pop worked wonders after intense work days. The complete ear cupcakes that are the entire Kim Petras catalogue came just in time. Petras, for those who don’t know, is a world-famous German trans pop sensation who makes the catchiest songs in the galaxy. Ditto the respective confections for Troye Sivan and Arian Grande were just the sweet treats I needed. Added bonus? They even have a stellar duet with each other that has an amazing video!  

But it wasn’t all bubblegum and unicorns in my headphones. Your boy likes it thoughtful and edgy too. Take for example, “Nobody” by Mitski. Maybe the smartest song to capture the isolation of our era with an unforgettable beat, the song is the rare pop beast that is emotionally intelligent and undeniably memorable. Someone on the internet off the cuff described it as the “Creep” by Radiohead for this generation and it’s hard to argue with that. It’s that good of a song.  My favorite record of the year So Sad, So Sexy by Lyyke Li does the impossible: it takes the dark subjects of grief, loss and heartbreak and puts it to 90’s trap R&B. The record is a complete thought and one that feels timely.

Yet if I was to pick an artist whose work reflected my romance and return to music it would be Robyn. 8 years on the making, Honey by the Swedish is so lovingly crafted and deep, that it feels like she wrote it just for the listener. And in fact she did. Robyn has said in several interviews how she took her absence seriously and wanted to make a record for her fans. With Honey’s beautiful beats and thoughtful lyrics, it shows. One track in particular, “Because it’s in the Music”  gets me on the deepest of levels. The track is all about hearing a song that takes you back to a person and moment that was devastating but how you need the song and love it anyway. Goddamn can I identify with that.

My work as a writer has always been deeply inspired by music and the sounds of 2018 pushed it to another level. Not only did music help me finish my book (an odd playlist of power ballads helped me cross the finish line when I was legit losing my shit) but it’s serving as the basis for my new project. A few years ago I wrote a play of monologues called “Your Heart is a Radio” all based on songs. It was structured like a mixtape. It was a solid idea and I’m still in love with that title but something was missing. That something was me and my personal connection music. Long story really short, with the help of my husband, that play is becoming an essay collection in 2019 and I couldn’t be more excited.  But I’m equally excited to keep listening and to keep falling in love with music.

Below find my favorite songs and albums of 2018 and feel free to check out my full playlist of favorite songs of the year on Spotify! Also? Please tell me what you listened to and loved in 2018.

My favorite Songs of 2018
1. So Sad, So Sexy- Lykke Li
2. Nobody- Mitski
3. Ever Again- Robyn
4. Took Awhile- NEIL FRANCES
5. Picture- Little Boots
6. Breathin- Ariana Grande
7. Lucky Strike- Troye
8. The Drugs- Uffie
9. Heart to Break- Kim Petras
10. Give Yourself a Try- The 1975
Favorite Albums of 2018
1.) So Sad, So Sexy- Lykke Li
2.) Honey- Robyn
3.) Bloom- Troye Sivan
4.) Dirty Computer- Janelle Monae
5.) No Shame-Lily Allen

 

The One With Another 2018 list

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Remember that extreme ADHD era of the internet before every goddamn person wrote a goddamn essay and everything we read was basically a list? Oh those were the days. The early Buzzfeed days when you could feel like you really learned something when you read about the 35 People Who Just Learned Seth MacFarlane is Hot. The list was so popular that it appeared as if we would soon move to a list only form of communication. This would have been fine for me. I could send emails to people titled “The 10 Things You Would Won’t Believe You Did to Piss Me Off!” or start in person conversations by saying “Here’s 16 Crazy Reasons Why I Showed Up Late To Coffee- Again!” Yet it wasn’t meant to be. So folks like myself write goddamn essays and I’m happy about that too.

Nevertheless, I still can’t resist a year-end list. Lucikly, I’m not the only one making lists at this time of year. There’s something meaningful about looking back on the year we had, the year we survived or the year that flew by. Or maybe year-end lists just appeal to my entitled narcissism. Who knows! And lots of things can be true at the same time. Anyway, here are, in no particular order (because that would be like ranking my children!), 12 of my favorite goddamn essays that I wrote in 2018 and that I genuinely love.

The One About Gay AA : I try to write myself into a place of gratitude with a lot of my essays to help combat my natural default setting of negative bitch. This piece I hope does just that while paying homage to the queer sober people who save my life.

The One With Special Guest Star Ariana Grande: My most read piece on Medium ever was one with the most surprising emotional impact for me as a writer and one you can dance to!

The One That Made People Angry: Another one that got a lot of reads along with a lot of opinions! Read it and get your own!

The One About My HIV Anniversary: This one might be my personal favorite of the year and one that got an incredible amount of support and love. I’d thank you but I’m trying not to weep just thinking about it.

The One With A Swimming Pool: This makes the list because style wise it’s a departure and because one of my favorite muses really liked it.

The One Where You Act Like Everything Is Okay: I wanted to write this forever and the time never felt right. So thank god for Pride Month 2018 when I published it on Medium and where it got the reads and life it deserved.  I wrote it for me and other gay men like me and it felt really special.

The One About My Bottom: You wish this was about my butt! Or maybe it is! Read it and find out!

The One About Therapy: Fresh from the frontlines of my own mental health, this pice for Genius Recovery shows it takes a village to keep my ship afloat.

The One Where Someone Overdoses: Sometimes when something fucked up happens, you need to write about it right away. This was one of those times.

The One Where A Celebrity Relapses: Not just about Demi Lovato and relapse, I hope this was actually an essay about compassion.

The One With Bros: Dude. Bro. Buddy. Brah. Bruh. A little something about my complicated relationships with straight men.

The One With Joni Mitchell: An essay about a song which will pave way for a new collection in 2019!

Whew. What a year. I wrote a book, I bought a condo, I travelled but mainly I tried to grow more as a persona and artist. 2019 will see me returning to podcasting, returning to a weekly publishing schedule and collaborating on new things! Stay tuned, m’kay?

Thank you for reading and supporting me and even telling me I suck or that I’m wrong in 2018. I’m an approval whore and any interaction is good interaction. Thank you Genius Recovery and Anna David for publishing my work. Thank you, Medium for growing my readership. Thank you, Paul Fuhr for publishing my book which I swear will be out in 2019!  Thank you Spotify for providing the soundtrack for me to bleed on the page to. Thank you to my husband and cats who leave me alone(mostly) and let me write at ridiculously early hours of the day. Happy New year, kids.

 

 

 

a river I could skate away on

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In case you forgot to watch it, The Very Sean Paul Mahoney Christmas Special from 2017 featured, as all great holiday specials do, a lot of crying in the shower and the music of Joni Mitchell. It wasn’t exactly Bing Crosby in a fucking sweater singing with “A Christmas Song” but it’s where we were. All of that said, I think I should warn you this isn’t about to be one of those fuck Christmas essays. Despite not being Christian at all, I happen love Christmas. It’s a magical holiday that somehow marries my intense love of cookies, glitter and bone-crushing melancholy. It’s also a day that seems to be 1000 times more quiet than other days. Like I love going to a downtown area on Christmas day and seeing all the closed restaurants and shops. The world finally gets sick of hearing itself talk and shuts the hell up on Christmas Day. I guess that’s what they mean by Peace On Earth? I had that moment, that moment that’s so quiet and beautiful it could only happen on Christmas Day, last year and after the month I had, I felt like I earned it.

While I don’t hate Christmas, one thing is for certain, I detest unsolicited advice. I work actively to not to be that guy who says shit like, “Well, you know what I would do…” or  worse “What you need to do is …” Ain’t nobody wanna hear advice from me that they didn’t ask for. But I will hand out this nugget for free: maybe don’t start therapy for long simmering PTSD around the holidays. Take my word on this one, kids. No, Burl Ives. There was nothing holly or jolly about my mood leading up to the holidays last year. (By the way, Christmas is the only time of year we take a moment to pause and  honor the vast talents of Burl so that’s another thing to love about the holiday.) But it all needed to happen. Revisiting old physically violent parts of my past just so they’d finally make sense sounded like a horrible idea. Frankly it sounded scary and hard and like the reason why I drank and used drugs for 20 years. Yet I was ready. I’d been sober almost 9 years, I felt loved and protected by the people in my life and I had bad ass health insurance.

Still the timing was undeniably sucky so thank god for Joni Mitchell. While I couldn’t convince Joni to go to therapy for me (she’s a frail woman, people! I’m sure she would if she could!) she at least provided a soundtrack that made my Christmas life livable. I guess this could have also been an essay about how “River” by Joni Mitchell is the best Christmas song ever. I have at least 800 compelling words to argue that point. Yet that would mean I couldn’t write about myself and that would be unacceptable. Anyway, last year that song came on at the wrong time (or the right time) just a few days before the holidays. By this point, I had been in therapy a few weeks. We had already unearthed some of the hardest, most brutal parts of my past. It was a rough but cathartic journey which resulted in a lot of tears. Insert several of the aforementioned cries in the shower here.  I wasn’t crying because I was still afraid. I wasn’t crying because the wounds were fresh. I was crying for poor, old Sean of the past. I was crying for all the things he went through and all the years he avoided feeling anything at all. I was mourning a life that was broken and that never felt like it deserved a chance to get fixed until 2009. It was all appropriate but it hurt like a motherfucker. So when Joni sang, ” I wish I had a river I could skate away on” I was like “Yeah, bitch! Me too!” Per her request it need to a be so long that it could teach my feet to fly. I needed to fly far away from this shit.

But that’s the thing,  I couldn’t. The beast of an examined life of accountability (which sounds awful when you put it that way, tbh) is that I get to walk through the fire head on, regardless of how hard an unsavory it is.  There’s no skating away or moving around it. When you listen to “River” its clear Joni had done fucked up at that point in her life and she wanted to skate away from all of it. A renowned wine drinker and cigarette smoker, I’m sure La Mitchell used the same ways to “skate away” that I did.  Drugs and alcohol were terrific for that. A few shots, a few lines and the things that I put off feeling for years were put on hold indefinitely. Yet despite all odds there I was: a person who hates facing shit doing precisely that. “River” contains a riff of a deconstructed jingle bells beneath it’s heart wrenching lyrics which fits that moment perfectly too. Here it was Christmas, a time I love with people I love and my heart was imploding. “Jingle Bells” but make it devastating.

To get outside of myself, I baked an obscene amount of cookies.  I mailed tins filled with treats to family around the country. I took cookies to work. I brought cookies to AA meetings. Maybe Mrs. Fields went through PTSD therapy too and thus her business was born? The point was I got through it and I would even say really enjoyed my holidays.  The tears still came but I talked to a network of people who got what I was going through. My sister reminded me that by looking at this difficult stuff and finally healing, I was giving myself the Christmas present of freedom. Sigh. I had really wanted a waffle iron but I knew she was right.

When Christmas 2017 finally showed up, so did the perfect light dusting of snow, just like it does on the holiday specials. My husband and I walked to a movie, like we do every year and there it was: the quiet. We were in downtown Portland but it felt like nobody else was. It was beautiful. I had more work on this journey I needed to do but in that moment everything was okay. “Peace on Earth” means something in moments like that when you’re not exactly at peace yourself.

Today, I am happy to report that while it is decidedly still coming on Christmas and they are still cutting down tress, my feet are firmly planted. Skates hung up and face forward, I don’t have the desire to skate away. I will still bake excessively. I will listen to Joni Mitchell. I will still probably cry at some point. But maybe this year, I can remind somebody else struggling of the gift of freedom, too.

but I’m already so tired

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If we hang out together more than once, you’ll undoubtedly hear me sigh, “My phone’s about to die.” If I work all day- “My phone’s about to die.” If you’re about to launch into a really good story- “My phone’s about to die.” How have you been? “My phone’s about to die.” What’s my go-to order at Popeyes? “My phone’s about to die.” It’s not personal. It’s just now at the every fabric of who I am.  Due to obsessive compulsive tweeting, general forgetfulness and a blissful laissez-faire that can’t be bothered to learn how to run fewer apps, my phone is always on the brink of near death. It’s so perpetually in low power mode, I often wonder if there’s a setting that can just alert me when it is actually charged instead of wasting its breath to always tell me that my phone’s days are numbered. Yet as with those phony tweets announcing Betty White’s death, my phone is alive and well. Just in a perpetual state of low energy. My phone battery, myself. Neither me or my phone is actually about to die but we’re certainly usually not running on full power.

Being gifted with an immune system that behaves like a dainty Southern belle who fans herself while her suitors fetch her lemonades means my baseline is just sort of exhausted. Like not exhausted in a way that actually dying people with hardcore active illnesses are but in a way that I’m certainly not gonna hustle just to prove that I can. Much like that phone battery, I gotta conserve my energy. When it comes to HIV and the meds they give you to handle it, exhaustion is a puzzle.  Like is it the HIV that makes you exhausted or is it the meds or is it the still stupid societal prejudice and misunderstanding of the disease that makes us positive people exhausted? Who knows and I’m too tired to even Google any of this. Truthfully, it’s probably all those things but what I know is that I’m not the only tired bitch with HIV roaming the Earth. This is comforting. We the people with teeny tiny immune systems march forward with coffees in hand and we’re too tired to put up with your bullshit. This right here is the ultimate gift of being tired all the time. “Tired All The Time” is the sequel to Eddie Murphy’s hit song “Party All The Time” but he was too tired to release it.  

When you have a smaller bandwidth, you have to be selective about the things you let ruffle your feathers. Admittedly, in an era with overt racism, contestant nuclear threat, sexual predators in positions of power and every known system collapsing, ruffling feathers seems like a delicate way to put it. Feathers ruffled feels like something we could easily get over. Most of this shit? I’m not too sure about that.  More accurately described as world in decline as per my talisman in black eyeliner Chrissie Hynde, society today could really flatten you if you let it all get to you. Therefore, I’m grateful that my rage, disgust and depression has to be selective. It’s express lane outrage, 9 items or less. The reality for me is that a lot of it is going to bother me and get me down. Congratulations to those folks who tell you any chance they get that they’ve stopped reading everything and that their lives are so much better and that you should really try it. I’m happy for them. But I am not them. The world bugs me and that feels healthy for me. After all, what would I write about if I didn’t sort of low-key hate everyone/everything? So I pick and choose what to angry about. Likewise, I get to pick who and what I put energy into.

I recently spent a lot of time chasing someone. Not romantically, mind you and certainly not literally as in running, dear god, no. But I was trying to a get friend to hang out with me, to spend time with me, hell to even call me back. It was an exhausting place to be. Like what the fuck was I doing? I’m already so tired and now I’m spending time running after a friend who clearly doesn’t want to spend time with me? Girl. What is this? Seventh grade? I eventually released this friend without a bunch of conversations or drama(shit I’m really way too tired to do). One way relationships of any kind fall firmly into the “I’m too tired for this shit” folder and I have to remember to keep them there. Also in that folder:

* people who dominate conversations

* late people

*flaky people

*standing in line for lame events

*entitled people

*arguing with people

*people in general. Kidding. Sort of.

Writing this list, it doesn’t escape me that most of these things that make me more tired are things that I myself am guilty of. Whomp, whomp. Naturally, the bullshit that I am the most sick of and that makes me the most tired is my own. Oh self-awareness. Way to fuck things up once again. Nevertheless, it’s true. I am very tired of my own flakiness, my own entitlement, my impulse to argue with people even when I know better. While the president, the people of planet earth and basically any time I have to go to a store like Home Depot can make me exhausted, it’s my own stuff that really gets tiresome.

Of course, it’s also the stuff that’s easiest to change. Like, Sean, maybe not argue ? Maybe not open your mouth for five minutes? Maybe let someone go ahead of you in line? While my phone is currently at 53%, my energy is considerably less than that. Yet I’m actually okay. Maybe running on half a battery provides me the reflection that I can be less horrible and conserve personal energy. It certainly can’t hurt. I can take the focus of my own exhaustion and try to mediate on being a spiritual being that doesn’t make other people tired.  I need to be the enlightened, tired being I want to see in the world!

But I’ll take a nap first.

Written in summer 2018, this essay, along with other brand new works, will appear in the collection Now That You’ve Stopped Dying, available soon!