sea change

sea change.jpg

Look at the ocean long enough and you’ll hear it. It’ll be whispered to you as the waves hit the shore or in your ear as an ocean breeze pushes its way by you. It’ll gently tell you as you feel hypnotized by watching the water do its thing. It will remind that you, a white dude in his forties, isn’t really that important. And for this particular white dude in his forties this is something I needed to hear.

The ocean, as we’ve talked about, is one of those massive, overwhelming but really comforting forces for me. Whenever my problems feel too large and never-ending, the ocean says, “Oh no, girl. I’ll show large and never-ending.” As I stood by the water at the rocky tide pools of Cannon Beach this Saturday, that feeling, that reassurance was still there. The ocean and its power had not changed. But me? Honey, that’s another story all together. See from where I stand, ocean in view or not, change is about all I’ve been doing since last fall. From my grandmother dying to moving to Portland to spiritual and creative shifts, my world has been pulled like taffy and rearranged several times over. This is all okay, by the way. I long, long ago listened to some old crusty sober person who croaked out in a meeting, “The only constant is change!” This is usually said by a person who has the same shirt on every time you see him, by the way but his point is valid and one I’ve taken to heart. Besides, I’ve lived a life of stagnant, repetitive alcoholism before and to say it’s depressing as fuck would be the understatement of the century. So the only other alternative is to lean into it.

path.jpg

As we sat jointly sighing, looking at the ocean for an hour or so, it occurred to me that I’m currently at a pit stop between even more changes. Mainly, in the career department. On September 11th, I’ll be starting a new job. Thru the utter magic of the universe, dumb luck and my ability to talk the ear off anyone, I have landed a job as a Peer Support Specialist with a state mental health organization. In a job interview which felt more like a 12-Step meeting, I was able to express my desire to help other while really, really wanting a regular gig with great benefits to help support my creative life. I had a good feeling about the position for the get-go. I mean it’s talking to other addicts which I love and the interview itself was on Madonna’s birthday, for crying out loud.  So it felt like a sure thing. Yet after a recent busload of rejections, no thank yous and straight up professional ghosting, I was cautious. Therefore, I stayed out of the results, I showed up and did my best and attempted to let it go and not obsess over it. Thankfully for Michael, the cats and my nervous system, I got word two days after my interview.  I’ll have this week at my silly cooking school job, a week off and then a whole new adventure begins.

ocean ripple.jpg

But it’s not just work that’s changing–I’m also going to Europe in 5 weeks! This trip is mainly what my husband and I yammered about like excited little college kids while we were walking around the beach shops. Kitschy beach boutiques and food stands, while not as powerful as the ocean are an essential part of any ocean side visit for me. I mean there’s only so much natural beauty I can handle until I need to nibble on fried clams and peruse the finest in local tchotchkes. Luckily, Cannon Beach provides those things very well and in spades. It was a celebratory backdrop to discuss a trip we’ve been dying to take since we started dating over 7 years ago. Plus, it was nice to talk about a big life event, that unlike death or a career shift, doesn’t deal with fear of the unknown or loss. This trip, and we by no means planned it this way, lands nearly 25 years after the last time I was in Europe as a high, hot mess 20-year-old.  It’ll be nice to reinvent Europe, a place whose centuries old buildings have not changed, through the eyes of a person who certainly has.

And yet none of my changes, as the ocean reminds me, are that important. In fact, compared to love, staying sober, helping other people and travel, I’m starting feel like a lot of things aren’t that important. This could be my biggest personal change of all. Maybe I’m biting some of the ocean’s style but I’ve recently felt like the world around me doesn’t have the stranglehold that it once did. I feel dissatisfied with modern culture, social media, politics, celebrity culture, popular ideology, did I mention social media? The thing is I’m feeling like a bunch ways I react, participate and engage in life in 2017 are starting not to fit anymore. This is an odd thing to articulate but I feel like I’m less and less interested in what everybody else is interested in. Not in an alienated way at all. But like I’m being freed from unimportant crap that’s bogging down my time on this little planet. It feels good. It feels like I’m being streamlined to let bigger things in and let little stuff just float out to sea. What any of this means I don’t know. But what I do know about change, especially the ones we don’t understand, is that it can be as magical and surprising as the ocean herself.

 

 

 

Advertisements

The Rise of Politecore

cute guys.jpg

An odd thing happened for seven minutes in downtown Portland on Monday. This in and of itself is a remarkable thing to say, seeing as though a few weeks back in the exact same spot I witnessed a man in a Spider-Man costume playing the bagpipes and riding a unicycle. But this occurrence right here steps away from the world-famous Powell’s bookstore was something that doesn’t happen everyday, unlike the musically inclined Spidey. Because even in a terminally friendly town like Portland, there was something bigger and more profound at work and not just the eclipse, the likes of which we haven’t seen since 1979.

No, what I witnessed was people, strangers for the most part, genuinely being happy with one another and dare I say it, in the era of world leaders dissing one another on the Internet, polite. Whether they were moving out of the way so a stranger could get a better glance or sharing their glasses with each other, something about the sun getting blocked out for seven minutes brought the best out in people. Very quickly you got the feeling that it wasn’t just the eclipse that was special but the behavior associated with it too. As it ended, we all went back to our respective shops, workplaces and cafes. The eclipse was gone and you could assume these moments of politeness, humanity and decency were gone along with it. But I’d argue that politeness is making a comeback and you need look no further than your television for solid evidence.

DGbymEDXYAEFmT3.jpg

Of the hundreds of things to love about The Great British Baking Show (or Great British Bake-Off as it’s known in the U.K.) are the moments when contestants help each other. As a reality tv aficionado (or junkie depending on how you want to spin it) I can tell you this is a weird and unnatural thing in the genre. Sure, we’ll have random drag queens loan one another costumes on RuPaul’s Drag Race but for the most part, the “I came here to win! I didn’t come here to make friends!” is the battle cry of American reality tv. Thus it’s the utter lack of backstabbing and cut throat competitiveness that makes Baking Show so charming. During the last season to air on PBS this summer, I once again found myself near tears as contestants assisted one another in finishing their frosted masterpieces. The contestants genuine goodwill and enjoyment of each other makes the show feel darn near aspirational. They help their fellow contestants not because there’s an endgame or an additional bonus for not being a selfish jackass. They do it because it’s the right, normal decent human being thing to do. Sounds like a revolutionary concept when I put it like that. And perhaps it is.

she looks.jpg

For more proof that maybe  we just don’t act right, look no further that Netflix’s Terrace House. The reality tv hit from Japan became a global sensation recently when Netflix wisely added it to its roster of international delights. Seriously, if you’re not watching at least one crazy-ass foreign tv series on Netflix than you’re doing it wrong. They have a lot of great ones and Terrace House is my recent guilty pleasure. The show puts 6 singles (three boys, three girls) in a flawlessly designed house and let’s the drama (or in this case non-drama) unfold. If this all sounds eerily like MTV’s old standby The Real World than you wouldn’t be wrong. Except in Terrace House there are no manipulated situations, challenges or group jobs. It’s just six incredibly reserved Japanese people living under the same roof. With the exception of adding a room of offsite commentators who offer their own insights on the action in the house, that is literally it. Much has been written about why a show that isn’t just politecore but borderline borecore is so compelling even with its lack of fabricated plots. From the heartfelt discussions of emotions to the intimate glimpse into Japanese dating culture, the show has several layers that makes it a fascinating watch. But for me, watching twentysomethings that weren’t the rude, selfish, loud ingrates that I was in my twenties is utterly captivating. Even when Terrace House has “drama”, usually revolving around food or temporary thoughtlessness, the housemates resolve it in a sincere and tear filled way that would never go down on these drinking throwing, wig pulling shores. Sure, the sometimes snarky commentators offer good-natured jabs at the housemates. But even they spend a fair amount of time celebrating the personalities and emotional triumphs of each resident. Turns out, rooting for people who are considerate is just as easy as rooting for mental unhinged housewives.

While suggesting that we all be the Terrace House we want to see in the world is too ham-fisted and unrealistic for even me, I do think there’s something to be said for politeness. I recently had a job interview where the potential employed asked my philosophy on taking care of customers. I said basically, I try to treat people how I want to be treated. He laughed and said, “That’s so simple but sounds amazing in times like ours.” I agreed but it wasn’t just one of those things I said in order to get a job (which I did get, by the way). It’s a way of life I try to achieve. Try being the operative word. Catch me on a day with no sleep and in between meals while waiting in a long line and you’ll see that sometimes this ideal of politeness is hard to achieve. But for me the idea is to at least give it a shot. Like it won’t kill me to at least attempt not being awful.

This includes online too. Over the last few weeks, I’ve had to do a lot of deep breathing and deleting on social media when replying to discussing about racism, homophobia and all the other nifty thing currently happening in this country. The endless scroll is now home to people yelling at each other, rambling off manifestos and most annoying telling others how they should process. I have come to the conclusion that it’s a trap to even have these conversations online. My rule of thumb now is I can either respond in a way that’s online with how I act in person or not at all. This, as it turns out, is a tall order as it is really easy to act like know it all or bully online with zero repercussions. Instead, I’ve chosen to make good-natured smartass comments, have my beliefs, stay of service in my real life and leave the debating over the head of strangers to those better equipped than myself.

Yet if we listen to the internet just being polite isn’t enough. Just being thoughtful of one another doesn’t qualify you to put resistance in your Twitter bio. Just having compassion won’t help us “rise up” as directed by the song the play on everything from the Olympics to soap commercials. And that’s fine. Part of politecore, the hardest part in my mind, is sticking to a value that kindness means something and that being courteous and loving to strangers is where real change is happening, without hashtags or celebrity endorsements. But the most amazing thing about politecore, about compassion and about love is that we don’t have to wait for another eclipse or to watch it broadcast from a foreign land. We can do it right now.

 

 

 

I die a little

ella-fitzgerald-every-time-we-say-goodbye-hmv.jpg

It’s a sad ass state of world affairs when a chocolate mousse made with love and instruction from the divine being of Julia Child herself can’t fix my broken heart. After all, whipping up such an act of selfless, culinary love on Saturday for a room full of strangers should have made me high for several days. I mean, I don’t snort cocaine(anymore) so the power of a good homemade chocolate dessert should not be underestimated and under normal conditions would have done wonders. But this Saturday was not normal.

Listen, you are smart people with fancy phones that tell you immediately when the world has gone to hell. Bless these little devices right now as they seem to be working like children in factories during the Industrial Revolution. So you know to what I am referring. You know that for the next few days that when we talk about feeling like shit about the world we’re talking about Charlottesville. This nightmare, this hate crime, this racially motivated act of terror and as well as the stomach churning pageantry which proceeded it is already infamous. It’s already another sad, shitty sidebar of American history and what we end up doing with it is anyone’s guess. At the emotional intersection of Bitter Old Gay and Sober Sage, I’d venture to guess not a damn thing will change. This is an awfully negative response. But you know me. This bitch keeps it real. Anyway, this isn’t that piece. This also isn’t that essay about how to fix racism or the world or what people are doing or not doing. This post is about me.

It’s very typical of an alcoholic to turn a national disgrace and tragedy into all about himself. So consider me guilty as charged but in my defense this blog is entitled “the seanologues” so I sort of let you know that I was my favorite topic from the jump. Look,  I don’t live in Charlottesville. I am not a person of color. I was not there Saturday. But what I do know is that the way I process this kind of news is different than it used to be. It seems to happen in stages. For example, when I heard about it, I was at my day job. I work at one of those places where foodies come and take cooking classes while drinking wine. I’m supposed to help the chef instructors but really I just snack, eavesdrop on hilarious Portland food snobs and occasionally get to cook too. Not a bad artist’s gig, as these things go. So when my social media blew up with news out of Virginia, my default is to snort, roll my eyes and shoot off a salty, “Well, of course this is happening” tweet. The more I read, the more annoyed I got. I had to put my phone down. After all, there was a chocolate mousse to be made, dammit.

As I plowed through Julia’s extensive and exhaustive directions, the mousse materialized. There’s something deeply satisfying about just following a recipe. Like I cannot control what hell on Earth is happening right now but i can be damned sure this mousse turns out flawlessly. And that it did. After working all day and obsessively checking my phone for the latest bad news, I was exhausted. I went home, flopped on the couch, nibbled a dinner that wasn’t as impressive as the mousse I made earlier and generally tried to let Saturday melt away. When I woke up on Sunday morning, it was still there. Not just the headlines and the trending topics from yesterday but that aching pit in my stomach.

Another work shift (this time pastas of the world!), another face plant on my bed at home where I took a nap. When I got up, “Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye” by Cole Porter was stuck in my head. Well, still stuck in my head. I sang it softly to myself  earlier in the day on my way to work. I’m lucky enough to live in a part of downtown Portland that a gay singing Cole Porter to himself happens to be pretty basic behavior. Porter’s lyrics are always a touchstone for me. When I need confirmation that beauty exists and that we are capable of truly lovely things, Cole Porter’s songs always provide. That song in particular personifies Porter’s masterful lyrics while revealing his tender heart. It’s a song of longing for a person whose absence is utterly heartbreaking. On a day like yesterday, however, it kind of felt like a goodbye to something else. Like every time I say goodbye to our humanity, our compassion and our love for one another, I die a little. I wonder why, a little. I thought about this as I sat on the end of my and then it happened. 24 hours later after a day of senseless and horrifying hate, I cried. And I cried a lot.

Me crying, as we’ve discussed here quite a bit, is not an abnormal thing. In fact, I consider it win every time I do because I lived two decades as an emotionless drunken robot. I once heard my friend Dennis with 25 years of sobriety say tears from sober people shouldn’t just be comforted but congratulated. And I wholeheartedly agree. When I respond with tears or compassion or humor, I’m working through it, instead of moving around it. In other words, don’t worry about me when I’m crying. Worry about me when I tell you I’m “just fine.” But in this case, I feel like having emotions might be particularly powerful.

Consider this:  currently in this country, we are at the whim of blustery, unemotional, bigoted assholes. These stilted shitbag examples of white men would rather die than show real emotion or compassion for another human being. Thus crying or going to meetings or therapy or helping others are now rebellious acts. The more we express ourselves, the more we take care of ourselves and one another, the less power they have. The first version of “Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye” I listened to yesterday afternoon before the tears rolled uncontrollably down my face was by Ella Fitzgerald. In my sorrow, I had to smirk that the vocals of an angel like Fitzgerald (a black woman and civil rights activist), Cole Porter (a gay man) and Julia Child (a unapologetic liberal and harsh critic of McCarthyism) were the Americans I turned to this weekend for comfort. Even my artistic inspirations from beyond the grave were holding their middle fingers up while also holding my hand.

I guess the thing is this: sure, my emotions and reactions to world events are not the end all and be all. And thank god for that. But at least, I’m able to have them. So if you are upset too and have cried too, know that I get you and know that it’s okay. It feels normal. It feels appropriate. After all, imagine, if none of us felt anything after Charlottesville. We’d all die more than just a little.

action! I wanna live.

feelingsWe are in the era of the topless, body positive Instagram post. We are in the era of the multi-tweet thread chronicling everything from an individual’s heroic battle with a mental illness to a harrowing account of waiting in line at the airport. We are in the era of blogs like the one your reading now routinely using (or abusing) their pages to become a digital dumping ground for confessions, neuroses and run-of-the-mill epiphanies. As a big fan of all of these things, I will say respectively and from the most spiritual place possible, fuck this era. Fuck this false sense of heroism for simply being a human who handles their emotional shit. Fuck this bar for being so low that we now spring to our feet anytime someone is real about themselves. Because for people with mental illness, addiction and alcoholism this brand of self-truth telling isn’t some breakthrough handpicked specially for a Lenny Letter essay. It’s just how we stay alive.

Hopefully, my flagrant flinging of the f-bomb didn’t frighten you off. But I swear all of this is on my mind for a reason (cue the aforementioned confessional in 5, 4,3,2…). While I like to think it takes guts for me to yell into the void of the internet, “Ugh. I feel shitty and I kind of hate myself/everything else!” I know it’s ultimately chicken shit. After all, I could whine for days digitally (and I have and thank you for reading, by the way!) but if it’s not happening in real life and if I’m not reaching out in the real world, it’s all for show. While bleeding on the page and essentially throwing glitter on my hot mess mental health is sort of my brand, it can’t just be a blog or a series of tweets. I mean for me. “For me,” in case you didn’t know,  is what we say so we don’t alienate people who are doing something else to treat their own hot mess mental health. But in this case I don’t know if it is just “for me”. Study after study, book after book has shown that people with the stuff I have tend to feel better when they share it with others who have the same thing. All of this is to say, that yesterday, live and in person without editing or a delete tweet option, I let it out.

The “it” in question is some of the financial and career blahs I mentioned before but then also my general feeling horrible/depressed/over everything that’s been plaguing me for several days.  Plaguing is a dramatic word and not at all accurate when it considering places like Syria or Venezuela or Chechnya. But I described it to my husband as a “baseline of annoyance and depression”. In other words, I’ve been a fucking delight. Completely wrapped up in self and miserable, I forced myself to go to a meeting yesterday. It was a gay meeting not unlike the gay meetings I got sober in Los Angeles back in 2009. Gay meetings are awesome, by the way. Not only do I find them to be a little more entertaining and honest but they are filled with people who get me in a way sober straight people do not. Anyway, after hearing lots of stuff that resonated, I vomited out everything that I was feeling. While the details of this monologue are best left in the magical ethos of the sacred spaces of 12 Step rooms, I will say that I felt better almost immediately. And more than that a few people gathered around me and gave me their phone numbers after the meeting. After a tear filled text session with my sober bestie in LA, who hilariously called me controlling and called alcoholism a cunt, I started to feel human. I calmed down. I ate bread and watched reality shows. I snuggled with my husband, who currently deserves some sort of trophy. I went to bed. But I went to bed knowing that I need to be in a new state of action.

The thing is I’ve been going to meetings and doing the work I need to do to stay sober since I moved to Portland but clearly I still need more help. This is always a drag for me discover. I really, really hoped that when I got sober I’d only have to ask for help once and only feel shitty for a small period of time and the rest of my life with be like the last 3 minutes of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. What I’ve gotten in reality is a life that actually looks more like the last 30 minutes of Postcards from the Edge which is to say not perfect, challenging and a lot of work if I want to stay healthy and happy. Yesterday’s breakdown/breakthrough was a wake-up call to do more work and to keep going. Therefore, I’ve committed to 30 meetings over the next 30 days. I’m also going to find a sponsor and take on a service commitment. I traditionally don’t like to do any work and will only do so when I’m in a considerable amount of pain so consider this me screaming, “Uncle!”

I guess the point of this yet-another-act of internet heroism is this: my mind was in a dark place. A sad place. A despair filled place. A fucked up place. And was kind of there for a while and was pushing me to feel like, “Why bother?” This freaked me out. Because how long do I think like this until I then start thinking that drinking or using or god forbid suicide all sound like awesome ideas? Yikes. So I told the truth. I told on myself. I cried in front of strangers. I asked for help and I did it not because I wanted applause but because I want to be happy and alive. And because it’s what we do.

 

 

enough of never enough

7372321_14564273372092_rId10.jpgWhen did it start? How did it happen? Was it childhood? Doesn’t it always come back to childhood? Surely, that was it. Although, maybe not. After all, I never went to bed hungry. I always got everything on my birthday list. The lights were never out and the house was always warm. By those standards, I always was taken care and had enough. A deeper, no-nonsense part of my brain that maybe I don’t want to listen to right now on my first cup of coffee says, “But did you have enough love?” Damn, girl.  I don’t know. Probably not. But whatever it is, I have a brain that tells me I don’t have enough.

Scarcity feels like a shameful and dramatic word for an American like me to use. Like here we are in the land of endless crap with more people than ever. How could we possibly feel scarcity? Google news search “scarcity” and you’ll come up with some places that deserve that word.  Places in India with water scarcity or inner city areas facing a teacher scarcity. That’s some real shit. My buried deep inside of me scarcity, and I know this already, comes solely from me. My scarcity exists because I let it. If I am not hysterical and if I am willing to see the truth I know for a fact that I have house, food to eat, regular income, medical care, etc. Still, as an addict, who lived so long waiting for the next high, re-wiring my brain out of scarcity mode is fucking hard.

I promised last year when I started this conversation with you that I would talk about everything. Thus here we are talking about finances, careers, jobs and other sorts of things that make me feel icky. Which is funny because I have no problem blurting out 700 words about doing meth or feeling insane but talking about this stuff feels particularly vulnerable. I don’t know why. I guess because I have this notion that as a person my age should have their shit together financially. My ego wants you to think I’m some baller or that the very least a person who doesn’t have single digits in their bank account. Yet the real truth is I’ve always been pretty terrible in the financial department. Naturally, as an addict I have the myriad of overdrawn accounts, evictions and bad checks in my past. But now 8.5 years sober, I still struggle to balance my finances and currently making enough money.

Since moving, my employment status has been all over the place. Piecing together freelance writing gigs and side job shenanigans has been harder than I thought it would be. Sure, some of it, as my husband reminds me, is the new city deal. I moved here, unlike him whose job brought him here, without a job. Therefore, he assures me, it’s normal that I’d have a period of readjusting. And he’s right. Plus, it isn’t like I’ve had zero opportunities and no money coming in. Just not enough to really cover my bills. I’ve been proactive in the meantime, however. I’ve applied for tons of other jobs, submitted writing to all kinds of places and I’ve signed up for every depressing and bleak job website and their respective (and equally terrible) email newsletters. In general, I’ve run around like a crazy person to make it click, to make this click, to make me click into a place where I feel like I’m contributing and where I don’t have to worry. And the result? Nada.

So many “no”, “no thank you” and plain old no response answers have beaten me into a place of submission. I’ve even readjusted the goals, widened the net and tried different things. And the answer has universally still been the same. Sigh like for two hours sigh. Yesterday, I had a moment. It was a hard moment but a good moment. In this little moment of mine, it hit me. It wasn’t that there isn’t enough jobs or enough money or that the city of Portland is conspiring against me from financially succeeding. It was me. It was this broken brain hell-bent on scarcity that was causing the issues. Damn, girl: the sequel. “Things” were not going to change unless I changed my thinking.

Oh goody. Another opportunity for painful spiritual growth. I’m thrilled. Yet it feels like the only way. The external is not budging and doing what I want it to do, the hateful bastard. So it’s up to me. And to be completely honest I am not even sure what this will look like. More meditation, more faith, more gratitude all seem like the place to start.  Changing my bitch ass attitude about the jobs I do have and about the money I do have coming in is another thing I can do too. But the rest of? Honeychild, I really don’t know. But what I know is this: I’m hitting a bottom around this lie of scarcity and this fraud that I don’t have enough or that I am not enough. And from what I know about hitting bottom, it’s an excellent place to start and the only way from here is up.

 

 

something there that wasn’t there before

If I was that writer I would have called this post “Things Your Kids Love Because of AIDS.” If I was that writer, I’d probably also be selling my soul to some clickbaity site that would be good for my career but would also increase my chances of stepping in front of a bus. Alas, I am not that writer. I am, however, someone who loves fairy tales and really loves Disney versions of fairytales. I know, I know it’s not cool or woke or hipster to like Disney movies. The Disney machine, and not wrongly in most cases, is accused of turning entertainment into a machine and stripping away real character and depth from darker, childhood stories. They are also cited for snatching up beloved properties and sucking the life out of them. Likewise, Disney is notorious for problematic imagery for children and hideous employment practices. Yet the heart wants what it wants and my big gay heart loves a Disney fairytale.

I hesitate to own this statement in print because it feels so permanent and the movie in question has now become bland and basic due to a live-action remake that I refused to see. Seriously, do not get me started on this onslaught of live-action Disney remakes which by the way can hardly be called live action when 80% of them is done in CGI. I’m still annoyed/traumatized/baffled by that hideous Jungle Book everyone seemed to love but me. I digress but Beauty and the Beast is my favorite of the Disney fairytale canon. There. I said it. And I stand by it. Properly dark, great characters, beautiful animation and knockout songs, it swept Oscar nominations the year it was released and rightfully so. A smart heroine who happens to be a giant book nerd and who gets along with her family plus Angela Lansbury as a tea kettle? Sign me up. However here in 2017 in my forties this movie means something else to me today and mainly because of the film’s lyricist Howard Ashman.

Ashman, the openly gay songwriter and genius also behind Little Shop of Horrors and The Little Mermaid, was dying from AIDS as Beauty and the Beast was being completed. According to film lore, Ashman worked from his home in New York while his songwriting partner Alan Menken and the film’s directors Gary Torusdale and Kirk Wise flew back and forth from Los Angeles during the making of the movie. There’s no question that the movie wouldn’t be what it is if it wasn’t for Ashman’s lyrics. It’s impossible to think of it without singing the title track which also allows you the bonus option of doing either an Angela Lansbury or Celine Dion impression. Rooted in musical theater, the songs seamlessly bridged the gap between Broadway and animation and I’d ventured to say we’ve never gone back. Specifically, however, it’s impossible to deny AIDS when it comes to Beauty and the Beast and its iconic songs. According to the live-action film’s director Bill Condon in Vanity Fair:

“It was his idea, not only to make it into a musical but also to make Beast one of the two central characters. Until then, it had mostly been Belle’s story that they had been telling. Specifically for him, it was a metaphor for AIDS. He was cursed, and this curse had brought sorrow on all those people who loved him, and maybe there was a chance for a miracle—and a way for the curse to be lifted. It was a very concrete thing that he was doing.”

Songs like “Kill the Beast” are more overt in reference to AIDS.  In a few bars, Ashman slyly nails the paranoia and prejudice of the AIDS era. “We don’t like what we don’t…understand and in fact it scares us, and this monster is mysterious at least.
Bring your guns, bring your knives, save children and your wives, we’ll save our village and our lives!,” the song warns. The metaphor is so clear now but at the time no one knew. The lyrics fall in line with Ashman’s other astute observations of the human condition. Songs like “Skid Row” from Little Shop of Horrors and “Part of Your World” from The Little Mermaid surely tap into the feelings of not belonging and wanting to escape that gay people have always felt. But given his skill as a songwriter, he tapped into emotions that anyone, especially children can identify with.

Beauty and the Beast really resonates with folks who feel like they don’t belong. The hideous and withdrawn Beast and the bookish and imaginative Belle are square pegs and outcasts. Fate brings them together and we are all the better for it. Ashman’s songs particularly, “Something There” really capture how unlikely people who don’t fit anywhere else sometimes find and fall in love with one another, despite their own misconceptions and prejudices. Talk to any queer person and they’ll relate a similar story when they tell you about finally finding their people. To think that Beauty and the Beast is his last completed project (he also wrote a few songs for Aladdin)is profound to say the least.

As a person living with HIV and in a very different era, it’s hard not to get chills and feel emotional when reading about Ashman and the horrors that artists like him faced at the time. I started thinking about him this week when it was announced that a new documentary about his legacy was coming out later this year. The film looks to shine a light on his artistry as well as last his days dying from AIDS. Despite extreme hatred and isolation, Ashman and other great artists were able to produce works that people are still enjoying to this day.

This August, it will be 8 years since my own HIV diagnosis. While I’m grateful that times have changed and that I can have meds to help me stay alive with relative ease and low-cost, I’d be lying if I said that I still didn’t think we had a long way to go. Sure, we’re now acknowledging Ashman and his legacy. But look elsewhere, like the new movie about Freddie Mercury, and the story of AIDS is all about erased.  To ignore such a vital part of Mercury’s story and it’s impact seems like a mistake. I guess my point of writing is this to remind myself of artists like Ashman and Mercury and what they contributed as people with AIDS and to know they are not forgotten.

Maybe my clickbait idea at the top was correct. I mean, if you love The Little Mermaid or Beauty and the Beast, then you love Howard Ashman, a man who died from AIDS.  But also if your kids love the literary adventures of Frog and Toad,  they also love a story of AIDS. If you’ve watched Dreamgirls and sang along, you are enjoying a story that is not just a black story or a musical story but the story of AIDS.   So maybe your kids love something dearly like Beauty and the Beast and that’s partially because of AIDS, a monster whose horrors they’ll hopefully never know. Talk about a real life fairy tale ending.

confessions of a dramaholic

72dfb2d2bcf495dfef276e734bd78a01.jpg

For those of you keeping score at home, I have at some point in my life detoxed from the following substances: alcohol, cigarettes, cocaine, sugar (a couple of times) and drama. I slide that last nasty little drug on there because for me it’s precisely that. Conflict, chaos, pot stirring, gossip, backstabbing, general smack-talking and havoc wreaking. I love all of it and it appears to be my default setting. And it’s an incredibly addictive way to live. The highs of a super dramatic life are really high while the lows are sub-gutter level. But it’s readily available, with no hangover and it’s one of the few addictions that can go on for decades, if you want it to. I suppose this addiction to drama is a useful character defect when it comes to playwriting but it’s an exhausting way to live a normal life.

Yes, I’m gay and yes I am from an alcoholic home which are two things that would certainly qualify me as someone predisposed to drama. Growing up in the house I did, you never knew what was on the other side of the door when you came home from school. I didn’t wait for the other shoe to drop, it usually had already dropped, causing 70 flavors of dramatic bullshit in the process. The very nature of living in an alcoholic home requires a lot of intrigue, lying and role-playing. Nobody is who they say they are and nothing is as it appears. Again, great qualities for a trashy Lifetime movie but a fall down tiresome way to live a life especially as a child.

As far as being gay and dramatic, I wouldn’t say that those two things are always a given. I mean I’ve met some boring, level-headed, normal gay people (they exist!). But for me, it’s a chicken and egg situation. Like am I dramatic because I’m gay or vice versa or did I just happen to win the personality lottery? Who knows. I will say that growing up gay, I certainly had to pretend to be someone I wasn’t and lie about who I was therefore adding even more intrigue to a life that was already a Pat Conroy novel your aunt would read on vacation. No wonder I started drinking at age 14. My dramatic ass life required a cocktail (or 30) just to be dealt with.

a952ba8d5947e1205a6c4ce445e3d5b0.jpg

All of this being said and me being an individual who never really loves shouldering the blame for anything, I think The Young and the Restless and the television canon of Aaron Spelling are partially at fault here. I think of The Young and the Restless every year around this time because me and my sister were absolutely hooked on the never-ending drama happening to the fine folks of Genoa City. A soap opera like Y&R, as we junkies refer it, is a wonderful thing for addict like myself. No matter what day, what month or far into an episode, the drama was always there. It’s like a bar that opens at 6am and what’s on tap is your run-of-the-mill baby stealing, husband stealing, identity stealing antics. If you weren’t careful you could even have your family’s cosmetic company stolen like the Abbot’s did. The Abbotts are the family at the center of all of this dramatic foolishness on Young and the Restless. Through the years, the clan had seen more than its share of drama and certainly qualify as addicts. But when we picked up the drug in 1980’s, there was no one causing more drama than Jill Foster Abbott. The former hairdresser turned rich housewife is a great alcoholic character that was never an alcoholic. Jill, like Erica Kane who was doing much the same thing on another network at the time, was at the center of a lot of problems and yet somehow considered herself a victim of circumstance and in no way to blame for whatever shit show was happening to her. Sleeping with her stepson, hiring imposters to take down her nemesis and paying off the trampy girlfriends of her hot dumb son Phillip were just a few of Jill’s great ideas. Jill miraculously managed to never actually take responsibility for her fuck ups and usually threw someone else under the bus in the process.

anigif_enhanced-8486-1440886510-2.gif

On some level, I must have thought that Jill had a great way of living because for as long as I can remember I had created dramas that would inevitably backfire. Lying, cheating, stealing and light forgery (it’s like original forgery but with fewer calories!) were something I did from early in my teens and continued into my thirties as I drank and used. Naturally, the Jill Foster Guide to Life didn’t work so well in the real world not sponsored by Downy and not airing from 11am until 12pm on CBS. But like Jill, it never mattered who got hurt and I never really owned up to the fact that, as they say in the program, my misery was of my own making.

melrose-1-hp

I’d like to say that I got sober and went through the 12 Steps and I was also cured of my addiction to drama. But that isn’t the truth. More pot stirring, gossip and unfortunately a few finger in the face Real Housewives-style confrontations have happened to me since I’ve gotten sober. Unlike before however the high is shorter and the hangover is god awful. I have had two really dramatic fights in sobriety that felt like the closest I’ve come to relapsing. In both situations, I was out of control and the drama was largely my fault. Coming down from both of those highs shook my program to the core. But please note that it took two times for me to realize that this way of living did not work.  It’s an old mindset that no feels utterly out of step with how I want to live right now.

I’ve recently seen the drama addiction from the other side. Watching others struggle with dramatic thinking or situations that they’ve created is really painful. I wince as a I watch their schemes spectacularly backfire or witness their delusional drama based thoughts spin them out of control. I wince because I know drama is an easy thing for me to pick back up.  In fact, I think it’s the last acceptable drug in sobriety. If you’ve never been around people who no longer drink or use drugs that aren’t more than occasionally embroiled in some crazy drama than you don’t know enough sober people. I think a lot of us take some time to get re-programmed. I think it takes an effort to remember that, “Oh yeah. I don’t have to live like that anymore.” I know for me it’s a choice. One that most days, I’m really good at. But some days whether it’s online or at work or with friends, I seek out drama. Which is okay as long as I’m aware of what I’m doing so it doesn’t go on happening everyday at the same time, 365 days a year. I’ll leave that kind of drama schedule to Y&R. 

what if I was no longer sober?

4999435930_6740a03df1_z.jpg

what if I was no longer sober?

what if I started drinking again?

what if drugs were something that I all of a sudden just did again?

what if this part of me for the last 8 years just melted away and suddenly wasn’t?

what if it turned out to be not a big deal? 

what if it could be normal?

what if I could be normal?

I wouldn’t say I live there. I wouldn’t even say I hang out there. But I would be lying my face off if I didn’t say I still slowly drive by there. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t occasionally look in there and see what I might be missing.  I admit it. I have been known to peak in the windows and wander around a bit just to see what it might be like: if I was no longer sober.

WARNING: This is entire thought process as well as the conversation we are about to have is probably a whole lot of wrong for a sobriety guru and all-around spiritual inspiration to be having. So thank god I’m not one of those assholes. I mean seriously. How exhausting. I’m just some writer jerk trying to be less of a jerk and stay sober while doing so. My brand has very low standards, people, making it easier for me to pass the sassy smartass savings onto you. If I was perfect and had totally nailed this gig of recovery, I’d pretty much have to stop talking about myself which would be a travesty. Also, I’d most likely be a robot because from what I’ve seen struggles and real, crazy thoughts don’t stop happening just because you’ve stopped drinking or using drugs. Bummer, I know. But them’s the breaks.

As you might have guessed the crazy thought popped that in my mind was what if I just stopped being sober? I’ve been sober for over 8 years so the idea of how it would be if I suddenly started drinking again is an intriguing and terrifying one. Based on 20 years of dedicated field research, I tend to think that the experiment would be a catastrophe.  Back in 2008, I had a specific period of time which illustrated this theory nicely. I had been sober for 5 months. And by “sober” I mean dry, pretty much insane and doing it myself all the while hanging out with daily drinkers. This is a god awful plan, by the way and I wouldn’t recommend it. Nevertheless, she persisted and somehow managed to stop drinking. But my life was pretty terrible and got even more so in May when we were evicted from our apartment. I remember texting a friend telling her I was just going to grab a bottle of wine and her words were, “Just be careful.” Well, I wasn’t and the next 6 months were a nightmare from hell which led me to getting sober in January 2009.

So I know from firsthand experience what it looks like when I go back to drinking. I’m lucky to have this incredibly painful and shitty experience to draw from and to remember whenever I see glamorous people in their damn sunglasses drinking their damn frozen drinks on their damn patios. Yet I have the brain of an addict and that brain is going to ask me, “what if?” I mean, hi. Drug addicts and alcoholics think about drinking. It’s what we do. So sometimes, no matter how happy we are in our sober life, we will do just that. And wondering what life would be like if I just was no longer sober seems normal too. While I have no crystal ball or physic abilities (again, bummer) I know for sure that if I wasn’t sober I’d lose connection with people.

First off, I’m pretty sure that I wouldn’t have time or patience or the stomach to put up with my sober circle of friends and family. Relations with them would be counterproductive and annoying. They know too much and therefore they would have to be removed. Secondly, the re-established connections I have since I got sober would once again be wobbly due to the fact that I was no longer who I said I was trying to become when we got reconnected. Lastly, I know for a fact the actual circle around me would shrink. I needed people less, the more I drank. I couldn’t handle their perfect lives or judgement. Being alone is just easier.

But how long could I go on? Or how long before it got out of control? Or would it ever get out of control? These are things I don’t know and things that, for today, I don’t actually want to know. I’ve recently watched a few friends drift further and further away from their sober selves and that’s probably where this post comes from. Despite the near-click-baity title which suggests I’m on the verge of a dramatic relapse, I’m mainly curious. What happens to the brain to bridge it from passing thoughts of drinking to slipping right back into your old life? What happens to the soul to make it shrug and think “Eh. Why the hell not?” Again, I don’t know. But I do know being honest helps.

Recently, three people I love have had really open conversations with me about not feeling inspired by sobriety and not really wanting to do the work anymore. These conversations have opened the door to very real, “Oh my god. You too?!?” types of exchanges that suddenly help the task of staying sober feel less daunting and more fun. These people are alcoholics like me whose first instinct is to tell you they are fine and that everything is wonderful. So the fact that we’re able to get real with each other and laugh about our insane thoughts is really powerful and an antidote to the very thinking that ails us. These thoughts become less scary and more funny and our bonds become tighter. Plus, and this is really worth mentioning, we’re all still sober.

Conversely, I’ve also witnessed a few folks whose worlds have gotten smaller, whose connections are less and less. These people look like they’re drifting away. They don’t seem like they’re doing all that well. But they also haven’t opened their mouths and they haven’t reached out. They seem okay going back to ideas that got them drunk the first go round with hopes that it might be different. Seems like a scary game to play but like I said, I get it.

So what if I’m never “normal”? And what if I have thoughts of drinking or using for the rest of my life? Okay. But what if I could still be happy too? What if my world could still get bigger? What if I could still feel more love than I had ever dreamed possible? And what if there’s even more magic coming if I just stay sober and continue to try to get better? Now, that’s a “what if” truly worth pursuing.

 

 

blow shit up

f668173593c7cec4896203f7be81ad14.jpg

From about May 1st through September 1st, my old neighborhood of Echo Park would explode. Most of my neighbors participated in ongoing illegal firework marathons from sun down to sun up. I’d say it was a Latino thing but it also just felt like an Echo Park thing. Everybody made stuff explode and even if you weren’t into it, you got use to it and learned to ignore it. Even our Echo Park ice cream man sold actual bombs hidden in with the Bomb Pops. I was too busy with the 24 hour a day, 7 day a week job of imploding my own life to ever really light fireworks, aside from a few sparklers. Even a drunken disaster like myself knew that literally playing with fire while inebriated was a terrible idea. But there’s one thing I did love during Fourth of July in my old hood: the fireworks at Dodger’s stadium.

Perfectly visible from out balcony, the fireworks at Dodger’s stadium lasted a few nights on or around The Fourth, depending on the game schedule. Here was a beautiful, big budget, house shaking display of fireworks practically in our house.  It was a front row to all things festive without ever having to leave home. This was key since the Fourth like everything else centered around getting loaded. The problem (or one of the problems, anyway) was that since the fireworks lasted all week, the partying was usually kicked up into a higher gear too. Naturally, when you drink like a lost Barrymore, celebrating the Fourth of July soon becomes not so fun and kind of a hot mess nightmare like the other 364 days of the year. In fact, the holiday is so associated with blackouts and drunken brawls in my mind that I can barely hear the words “Fourth of July” without shuddering.

Flash forward to a 8 and half years sober and in Portland, thousands of miles away mentally and physically from my old LA holidays, I feel more inspired than ever to blow shit up. True, you still won’t catch with matches next to a pile of explosives but the desire the explode is strong in 2017. After two decades of being self-destructive, the way I blow things up has thankfully changed. But it’s certainly still there. I mean so far this year, I’ve moved to a different state, had job changes and a major creative shift. Plus I have a big trip to Europe coming up in the fall and a few more plans to shake things up before the years ends.

Creatively is where I’m feeling this the most these days. I have so many pursuits I’m interested in(more podcasting, more public speaking, more food writing) and things I’m excited to work on (my book!!!) that I’m a little like a kid trying to pick out a toy– EVERYTHING LOOKS COOL AND I CAN’T MAKE UP MY MIND!!!! This kind of excitement is good, in my opinion.When I stay here and focus on the joy of storytelling and making stuff for me and not for some premeditated result then it all feels really cool and fun. These days, I have an overwhelming feeling with creative endeavors of, “Why the fuck not?” Like why not go after things that excite me? Why not try new stuff? Why not make as many cool things as I can? Thus far I haven’t found a good answer.

The only thing that stops me here is fear. Fear tells me I have no talent. Fear tells me I have no time. Fear tells me why bother because there’s already a million people doing what I’m doing. Ugh. Fuck fear. And fear should be the first thing we blow up. Without it, shaking things up, making big life changes and blowing shit up doesn’t seem scary. After all, we need a little smoke, fire and debris when we blow stuff up. It’s part of the process. Nothing changes unless there’s an explosion first. This very planet that you read this here blog on is proof of that. Sure, there is uncertainty after an explosion and sure there are some things that won’t ever be the same. But this is good. To be honest, I think America, on the day where its citizens are all blowing stuff up, is currently blowing up too. And it isn’t cute. But the more things evolve, I think it’s necessary. Lots of times when things explode it’s because the current way of operating is no longer working. I know that was definitely true when my own life erupted in 2009. Each time a personal shakeup has happened, regardless of how painful its felt in the moment, I’ve desperately needed it. And even thoguh my life is good, I need to keep blowing up the stuff, the ideas, the behaviors that no longer works and let new stuff in. And maybe you need it right now too?

So Happy Independence Day. Here’s to blowing shit up. I’ll bring the matches.

 

Jalapeño Business

jalapeno business

Blame it on 15 years in Los Angeles and growing up with green chili loving parents, but my obsession with all things spicy is nearly at the point where I become one of those people. One of those hot sauce collecting, chili pepper printed apron wearing, spice obsessed people. These people are well beyond the hot sauce in the bag meme of 2016. These people heard that joke from Loni Love 10 years ago and were armed with their own long before that.  These people can identify chillies from sight and cooked in with other ingredients. These people aren’t screwing around when it comes to spicy stuff. I am not yet among them but I could be in the forseeable future.

But I am also not one of those food rules people. Those assholes who say that in order to be human and show your face in public, you have to cook and/or eat in a certain way. In fact, that whole idea of food being only okay if you do it by the way someone on the internet tells you to do it, negates the beauty of food in the first place. A recent, idiotic, local foodie kerfuffle over (deep sigh. help me sweet baby Jesus) “food appropriation” recently proves my point. The openness, adaptability and interpretation of food and how we all choose to prepare it is the one damn thing we have left to help bind us together. We all need to fucking eat and in my mind however we choose to do that is terrific. This said, I do feel bad for those souls out there who have not, as dictated by Sporty, Posh, Baby, Scary and Ginger, spiced up their lives. I wouldn’t tell these people that they had to learn to love hot and spicy and, by the way, goddamn delicious food but I do feel sad they don’t or cannot.  I get why many can’t due to disagreeable stomachs or just plain dislike and I am sympathetic. This week, however, I personally needed spicy food in the worst way possible.

“I just want to burn my face off” was the first thing that came into my mind on Sunday. Over the weekend, I picked up the congested and wheezing summer cold that my husband was laying down. Of the many incredible gifts my mister has given me over the last 7 years, this one was not one of my favorites.  I felt wiped out and sort of unable to enjoy anything including food. For someone like me who loves to eat, not being able to taste food is a particularly shitty side effect of having a cold. So I called out from the day job and sat on my couch armed with reality TV from Hulu, chicken wings from the grocery store deli and two bottles of hot sauce from my refrigerator. In times like these, where breathing is impaired and my energy level is lower than the current White House approval rating, spicy food is the only thing I want.

I guess the old wives, whoever those clever bitches were, say that spicy food when you’re sick loosens up the sinuses. While the hot sauce on the wings assisted in that mission to the best of its ability, the main goal for me is always flavor. Now, I don’t put hot sauce on everything as I believe most dishes are best enjoyed the way they were initially seasoned and prepared but there are foods (lots of them) that benefit from an additional kick. Naturally, my beloved tacos and burritos are such items but fried rice is helped out by a big squirt of sriracha and a bowl of chili comes alive with some red pepper flakes. And eggs in any form, for me, are merely a vessel for Tapatio. After devouring my wings, chugging a gallon of water and sleeping most of the day, it was time for dinner which was of course also spicy. It was time to take matters in my own hands. Desperate sinuses call for desperate measure so I channeled my old boss who was a master at Mexican cuisine and who made salsas and hot sauces that were downright awe-inspiring. She taught me that a genius pico de gallo (literally meaning the beak of the rooster) can be had if you had the skills and the right ingredients. Hence our taco salads for the evening were getting a proper punch in the face with homemade pineapple pico de gallo.

Pineapple pico de gallo

Half pineapple, peeled and diced small

1 jalapeno, diced

Half a red onion, diced

2 cloves of garlic, smashed and diced

1 cup cherry tomatoes, diced

1 teaspoon of salt

½ teaspoon of oregano

Dash of red pepper flakes

Juice of one whole lime

Generous drizzle of extra virgin olive oil

Place fruits, veggies and spices in a large bowl. Top with lime juice and stir. Drizzle with olive oil and stir until the salsa is incorporated.

It’s that easy. The stirring and the olive oil are both super important because they take it from being just fruit with some stuff in a bowl to becoming a legit badass condiment you’ll want to put on everything.  I had half of a jalapeno in mine to start but given the sorry state of our sinuses, the husband and I figured we’d throw the rest of the pepper in there and we were glad we did. Turns out, we picked a really sweet pineapple which could have thrown Operation: Burn My Face Off out the window had it not been for the remaining pepper.

5 days later, I’m still sniffling and not 100%. Thus, the quest for spice continues. Last night, I made our favorite chickpea curry in hopes of a different culture holding the key to cold relief thru cuisine. While delicious, I still feel the same. Still stuffed up and lagging in energy. But better overall. More importantly, I realized something bigger happened in my pursuit to burn my face off: I was having fun being creative and cooking. I’ve been working a lot over the last two weeks and feeling like my summer and my life aren’t big enough or festive enough. No beaches or fancy vacations or summer Instagram moments. From a superficial standpoint, it felt like I wasn’t nailing life these last couple of weeks. Yet these adventures in the kitchen, feeding the people I love and having a hell of a time, they feel bigger and more significant. They feel like enough. After all, my old idea of spicy was buying drugs from a stranger in an alley in downtown Los Angeles and having my nose burn for entirely unnatural reasons. No, thanks. I’ll stick to my delightfully, dull, domestic pursuits. And if needed, I can always had more jalapeno.