my terms & conditions have changed

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On behalf of alcoholics and drug addicts everywhere, I’d like to confirm that we are worse at change than you are. Sure, you might be complaining endlessly about the new Twitter update but some of us are ready to start rioting in the streets over it. Just so you know, we will always win at The Who Sucks At Change More Olympics because we are, after all, a curious creature who can sit in his or her own filth and get high as their world collapses around them and hotly refuse to make a change. We don’t need that meme of the little dog in the hat surrounded by flames– we live that meme, dawg. So it’s even more hilarious that when we get sober, after we have literally changed every thing about us in order to survive, that we still resist and recoil to change.

This morning, my sober friends and I all acted like Twitter was our husband who’d suddenly gotten a facelift and revealed that he’d been sleeping with Sharon Stone. It was a betrayal and one perpetrated by an inanimate object. Insane but that’s how we roll. I panicked then I remembered I hate when anything changes. I mean, I’m still not over Paula Abdul leaving American Idol. I figured I’d eventually be able to get move past it as my Twitter addiction might possibly be stronger than my resistance to change. And after my twentieth morning tweet, my little tech-soaked, oatmeal brain was already used to the new Twitter and we were all upset about something else. It did get me thinking, though. Maybe I have gotten better at change and maybe there are times that I even like it. After all, I’ve certainly changed and not all of those changes gel with the world at large.

At the grand age of 44 (and it is a grand age, lemme tell ya. The new wrinkles, the unexpected gas, the tiredness– all grand!) what I like, tolerate and put up with have all changed. For example, I am going out tomorrow evening after 10pm(!!!) and I am already planning when we’ll leave. Not that I don’t want to have a good time and not that I’m not excited but like I said I’m in my forties and I know having an escape plan is the way to go. This change seems minor but considering I used to not leave my house until 11pm, it’s kind of a big deal. Other superficial changes include rationing out the time I spend annually around big crowds of people and/or waiting in huge lines, not chasing down people to spend time with me and no longer feigning interest in things that quiet frankly aren’t at all interesting. Likewise, I no longer hang out with dramatic people (other than myself), abusive people or untreated crazy people. I am already tired all of the time and these people make me even more so. On a deeper level, some changes have already happened and they all start with my own thinking.

As some of you guys know, I’ve been working freelance as a copywriter and content creator for the last 7 years. It’s a lot of hustle but it is creative and allows me to do what I love. Plus, it’s been good exercise for me as a writer and lets me set my own schedule. However, lately, this part of my writing as a business isn’t thrilling to me and not only that it’s been hard to drum up new work. Don’t think the correlation of these two things is lost on me. I had like 3 rejections in a row in the past week, to places I didn’t even want to write for, that shifted my thinking. It was a lightening bolt: maybe I wasn’t booking these gigs because I didn’t actually want them. More than that maybe I needed to be spending my writing time on something else: my book!

My book, my book, my book. Oh my book. I’ve had this idea for years that many of the essays here and from urtheinspiration need to become a book. Yet it wasn’t a book I wanted to write at three years sober nor one I even wanted to write last year. Intuitively, I felt like I needed my experiences and time to direct it to its best self. Well, I can now say I’m ready. And getting here was a huge relief. I plan on working my side gigs, blogging and working my butt off on my book all summer and letting the universe handle the rest. This seemingly minor change in thought blew my head open. Like the decision some eight-plus years ago to get sober, just making it changed my outlook and perspective. What’s funny is that once I made this decision, gigs from people I love to collaborate with suddenly showed up. There are no mistakes, chickens.

All of my changes, unlike a social media site that is firmly in the category of the “things I cannot change” are part of something bigger, something scary, something called growth. Growth. Talk about the biggest change of all. As I grow up in sobriety, what I want and who I am grows up too. I mean hopefully. That is the actual goal of recovery, as far as I can tell. Keep changing or rot and stay the same. Some of this growth is painful and a lot of it I resist. Still. But at least now I know that I’ll fight it, then embrace it and even grow to love it, only to be met with even more change down the road. I also know that until I’m actually ready to change, I won’t and in the meantime there’s always Twitter to bitch about.

 

over there

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“Nothing is ever really over…just over there.” – Carrie Fisher

“A writer must really be in a bad place if they start their blog posts with quotes.”- Me

Both of the above thoughts happen to be true for me in this moment. Maybe I’m not in a bad place per say. Like the emotional equivalent of Detroit. There’s no immediate danger or lying on the kitchen floor sobbing. But a sort of sad place? Yeah. Which is odd because I had, by all accounts, on paper, a very happy celebratory weekend. Yet here I am drinking coffee, looking at the misty hill outside my window feeling pretty damn fragile. Fragile is a great word and I’d like to take a moment to whoever it was who started using it to describe not just glass and fancy breakable things on your grandma’s mantle but the human condition. Maybe it was Trent Reznor. Let’s just say it was Trent Reznor, for the hell of it. Thank you, Mr. Reznor because that’s what I am today. Not a crying mess but fragile. There are a couple of reasons for this here fragility.

First of all, it’s not lost on me that today is June 12th. It marks a year after the massacre at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. I remember expressing to a straight coworker last year how heartbreaking I thought it was and they replied, “Did you know people there?” My first reaction was to sarcastically say, “Yes. Because we all know each other.” My next reaction was to snap, “No but people died and I’m not a robot so can’t I be upset?!?” Instead, I just said, “No” and moved on. What broke my heart then and still today was that it even happened. That it happened to people like me and that because it happened to people like me and it happened at the hand of guns, it would be lessened over time and not treated like other tragedies. Thus far, I’m sad to report I was right. One year later, this tragedy has been quietly swept under the news carpet and rarely brought up, despite being the biggest death toll due to gun violence in the United States. It has not brought about legislation changes. It hasn’t even been over-sentimentalized or over-politicized. It’s been so shrugged off that when people like Hillary Clinton have mentioned it I’ve found myself shouting, “Thank you!” Listen, we all know the reason why and we know had this happened at a sporting event or somewhere involving families it would be a different story. But it didn’t so it isn’t. And ain’t that a bitch. All I can do now, today in 2017, is think about those 49 people who lost their lives and shed a tear for them. My sadness for them isn’t over, as La Fisher said at the top of the post, just over there.

Also “over there”? Me the little kid from an alcoholic home. He showed up this weekend unexpectedly. It happens when I’m around family sometimes. This little kid, being just a kid, still gets his feelings hurt by my parents or siblings. He still feels less than his perfect brothers. He still feels like a big gay weirdo who won’t ever be enough. He still thinks he isn’t okay. Me, the 44-year-old sober man, knows that these old stories aren’t true but also knows, despite the mass amounts of work I’ve done to heal my past, that this kid is bound to show up and have his little heart-broken again. My old sponsor like to remind me that family could push my buttons because they were the ones who installed them. While I’d like to think said buttons have been modernized to a touchscreen, the point is I still have them and they were still pushed over the weekend. But the good news is I didn’t react. I was there to have fun and celebrate. My own emotional baggage or hurt feelings could wait until I got home. Clearly, they did wait and I had a moment to cry in my Starbucks yesterday while on the phone with someone who gets it.

The truth is this kid, this part of me, might not fully ever get over old wounds. Pain and grief? They’ll probably always sting too. And that’s okay. I know for a fact that I hurt less than I used to, that it feels good to cry, to have authentic reactions and that it’s okay that, like the hill from my window, it’s all still over there.

my expectations have expectations

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Me: Also? I’m a 173 pounds.

Husband: But that’s what you said you thought you weighed, right?

Me: Yeah. But still. It’s not great news.

The Husband: Wait. So you’re upset that something you knew was going to turn out a certain way did just that?

Me: Well, I was just really hoping to be pleasantly surprised.

Husband:(laughs and shakes head)

END SCENE

The preceding little domestic scene happened yesterday after a doctor’s appointment. Without getting to my a boring ass account of my medical history, I can tell you what I wanted out of this appointment and what I got were two totally different things. My teeny tiny request that I be told that my T-Cells were off the charts amazing, I was in fantastic shape and also 20 pounds lighter was sharply denied by the Universe and medical professionals alike. Not only did I not leave without the news I wanted, I left with two sore arms. My consolation to being fatter and lesser healthy than I wanted was two Hepatitis shots in each arm. My hilarious nurse, who also informed that space was scary because, “You just don’t know what’s up there. For real, for real.” told me that given my HIV status I get extra vaccination juju meaning it would be more painful. My immediate throbbing arms backed up her theory thus I can only assume she is correct about space too. For real, for real. But more than achy arms, I slumped out of that clinic with the kind of pain only procured by out of whack expectations.

A night at the Oscars or a full-blown apocalypse and nothing else in between. That’s what my crazy little alcoholic mind wants. The humdrum dull boring results of living a normal human life are of little interest to me. Either be covered in glitter or covered in chaos. This, as you can imagine, puts a lot of pressure on everyday living. Therefore, this doctor’s appointment was doomed to fail from the start. There is no way it would ever meet what my mind had built up around that and I know this now sitting calmly with my mug of coffee at my kitchen table. But yesterday, I felt defeated.

The thing is pneumonia almost killed me two years ago. Since then I’ve worked hard to choke down seven pills a day and stay healthy. It’s been a slog, if I’m totally honest. I want any recovery I have from anything to look like the makeover scene from Cinderella. Alas, this has been anything but. It’s a slow-moving journey to feel better which my new doctor reminded me of yesterday. My numbers dropped down really low in 2015 and building them back won’t happen overnight. This also explains my ongoing energy depletion and sudden feelings of wanting to lie the fuck down. I was told that this too was going to tak some more time. Maybe even a year or two. Again, horrible news for an instant gratification junkie like myself. I was also reminded that my HIV has a resistance in it (which of course it does. Even my diseases are rebellious little jerks.) that makes it harder to bounce back. Not hearing thunderous applause for taking care of myself or hearing that I was 20 pounds lighter put a cloud over the truth.

The truth is despite lower numbers, the rest of my health is good. I’m undetectable, I’m trending upward and I’m being moved from seven pills a day to two pills. The truth is it is happening. Just not as fast as I wanted. Therein lies the real bitch about expectations and what my husband found so hilarious yesterday. Despite knowing that I wasn’t going to be 20 pounds lighter as I had recently weighed myself. I was disappointed that some unrealistic magic hadn’t occurred. I’m surprised my laptop didn’t just explode when I typed the insanity of these thoughts. It’s akin to expecting that Mariah Carey will be performing at your house on Christmas Eve even though you know for a fact it’ll just be the holiday classics station on Pandora. Which is to say this is all proof positive that my expectations are rarely rooted in the real world. I mean why have realistic expectations when you can have mentally unstable expectations? Go big or go home and while you’re at it pretend that home is Versailles.

Later in the evening, me, my sore arms and mopey attitude got something we didn’t expect: compassion. My husband, the aforementioned scoffer, hugged me and told he was sorry I had a rough day. He took me out for dinner, held my hand on our walk home and, most importantly, helped me laugh at myself. He’s good like that and he also helped me realize that things are good. My life is good. And despite fantastical expectations, my health is good. For real, for real.

 

 

you with the sad eyes

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Cyndi Lauper, Gay Pride Parade West Hollywood, 2003

When it comes to life encompassing black holes of depression and despair, it’s helpful to have a benchmark. It’s helpful to have a moment so damn bleak that nearly everything in comparison feels like a Smurfs cartoon. It’s helpful to remember these periods in your current life too so you don’t take it for granted or mistake temporary blahs as the end of the world. I’m lucky, and use that word with a wink and a shoulder shrug, that my 30th year on this planet was one of two personal benchmarks when it comes to despair.

The story goes like this: On November 30th, I turned 30 accompanied by the most over-the-top alcoholic birthday party ever stacked to the gills with drag queens, live bands, cocaine, family members and a trip to Disneyland. It was a happy weekend but that’s where it pretty much ended. By mid-December, I slipped into a depressive state so easily that I didn’t even know it at the time. Okay, okay. I was drunk 7 nights a week at this time so trying to figure out what was depression and what was just the remnants of the daily hangover was darn near impossible. Nevertheless, I was depressed and numb and incapable of feeling my life and when I did it felt like shit. I was working at the big theater complex in downtown Los Angeles at the time and thank god. I’d hide out and watch the LA Opera or listen to the philharmonic and cry in my usher uniform. I watched the touring production of 42nd Street so many times, I feel like I could still perform a one-man-show abridged version of it for you today. 42nd Street in Less Than 40 Seconds! In addition to the drama I watched on stage, there was plenty to be had in my real life. Unable to pay my bills, fighting with my boyfriend and generally being a hot drunk mess took up a lot of time and energy. The ongoing blahness of my life was so commonplace at this time that it was hard to remember when I felt anything else. Yet there are pockets of time that I remember, moments where I was giving it the old college try to feel better or at least feel something.

One such moment was Gay Pride weekend in 2003. By June, drinking and working at the the performing arts complex were all I really did. The social part of my alcoholism floated away with the birthday balloons and now it just served the purpose of erasing my days and knocking me out. Yet when it was announced that Cyndi Lauper was performing at Pride, I woke up. I HAD to go. Cyndi Lauper was everything to me as a kid. She sent me a message in videos like “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” and “She-Bop” that it was okay to be a big, loud colorful weirdo and to be myself. I credit her for letting me follow the beat of my own drum at an early age. Therefore, my attendance at her performance the night before the parade was mandatory.

As sworn Eastsider who avoided West Hollywood at all costs, I sucked it up for Cyndi. I worked a matinée that day and then hopped on a bus from downtown LA. I stopped at the liquor store for a mini-bottle (or two or three) of vodka before entering the festival. While waiting for Cyndi to go on and my friends to show up, I wandered around drinking and watching random second stage acts. I distinctly remember being impressed by the Mary Jane Girls. By “Mary Jane Girls” I mean like one of the originals– the talented JoJo to be precise, along with a few new girls. “JoJo and Some Other Bitches” just didn’t have the marquee value of The Mary Jane Girls though. Nevertheless, I thought they were amazing. I mean if you could survive both Rick James and the blistering midday sun all while nailing a performance of “Candyman”, you deserved all the applause possible.

By the time the sun went down, I found my people. I know there was more drinks involved. I know Cyndi looked incredible. I know we were sort of bummed that most of her set was remixed super-gay dance versions of her most popular songs. I know we left and drank more. But as far as the other details of that night, I can’t help you. That’s a another bi-product of a year spent under the blankets of depression: the precise moments seem to melt into one blob of ickiness. What I am sure of today in 2017 is that I felt let down by the moment, overall. At the time, I thought it was all the gay pride hoopla and circumstance that left me feeling flat. Gay Pride in West Hollywood is always more of a corporate affair that could rub even the most optimistic homos the wrong way. Of course, now I know it wasn’t gay pride. It wasn’t West Hollywood. It sure the hell wasn’t Cyndi. It was me.

The combo platter of raging alcoholism and depression made everything feel like a bummer. There wasn’t enough cocaine, tequila, glitter or 80’s music to make me better. Yet somehow, I hung onto this life of despair, in varying degrees for another 6(!!!!) years. Things got a whole hell of a lot worse before they got better, as is usually the case. I never made it back to gay pride in West Hollywood which had more to do with the headliners than any resentment towards the festival. More depressingly, I haven’t seen Cyndi Lauper again in concert. I feel like I owe myself a Cyndi amends for sure. But as far as feeling and really getting this idea of Pride? I think I know it now more than ever.

Being sober, HIV positive, married and expressing myself like I always wanted to as a kid is a life I could have never imagined. I feel freer at 44 on zero drugs than I ever did bombed out of my mind in my 20’s. I’m actually proud of myself as a gay man and sobriety has truly helped me get there. Not sure if that’s what Cyndi had in mind when she sang, “Your true colors are beautiful like a rainbow” but that’s certainly what it means to me today.

Previously On The Seanologues

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You know what I miss the most about old Aaron Spelling shows like Dynasty or Melrose Place, I mean besides the shoulder pads and catfights? I miss the voiceover before each episode, usually done by a cast member like John Forsythe or Heather Locklear that said, “Last time on Melrose Place” or “Previously on Dynasty…” It was this 45 second way to catch up on everything you missed or forgot over the last week. So dramatic and cheesy and so something we wouldn’t do today because we just sit down devour a whole series in one sitting like Garfield does lasagna. Wow. A Garfield reference and Aaron Spelling references. Way to keep it current. Anyway, I was thinking of recaps and more specifically recapping this here blog. It’s on my mind because today the is the year anniversary of The Seanologues! It got me thinking how in the world would I ever recap the last year?

“Begin at the beginning,” the King said, very gravely, “and go on till you come to the end: then stop.”- Lewis Carrol

Okay fine, Lewis. That’s where I’ll start. I sat down last spring with an idea that I wanted to talk about everything. My old beloved blog was mainly recovery based and I loved it dearly but I wanted a new space to say more. The upshot to getting older for me is that I now feel okay saying whatever the hell I want, whenever I want. The more years I have, the less fucks I have to give about what people think. Thus, The Seanologues as an idea was born. My first posts I wrote about pop culture and while they’re fine posts, I don’t really cut loose until two weeks into the journey. A real, real shitty thing happened in the world, that thing being the attack on a gay club in Orlando on June 12th. The news, unlike any headline in a really long time, devastated me. It felt personal. It felt awful. And I felt hopeless. I turned to this blog and wrote down my feelings. I wrote it just for me. I cried when I wrote it and I released it. This blog was suddenly more than just a blog to me but also a tool to channel what I was feeling. Turns out, this thing I wrote the day after Orlando struck a chord with other people too. I’m forever grateful to anybody who commented or read that piece. It gave me the motivation to keep going and changed the course of this blog.

After the doors of honesty had been blown open, there was no looking back. Which is fantastic because the last year of my life has been a roller coaster. From travel to death to moving and lest we forget major world news, the signs were clear that I pick one hell of a year to write honestly about my feelings and my life. However, just being a blah, blah, blah space to whine about my life wasn’t enough for me. As a writer, I wanted these pieces to be entertaining and able to stand on their own. To the best of my ability, I tried (and sometimes failed) to keep pushing the content to say more. I didn’t want to repeat myself or write things just to make other people happy. Time and time again, what I learned was the pieces that sounded the most like me were the ones that were the best.

I bring this up because if you are thinking about blogging or writing and don’t know where to start, be a good narcissist and start with yourself. Seriously. Your tone, your story, your perspective. Ain’t nobody got those things but you. For me, the honesty thing works best when I can have a laugh at myself. As the year went on, the posts I felt the best about were the ones that told some truth I never said out loud but were also really funny. Two benchmarks for this blog happened when I talked about being a drunk mess at summer barbecues and when I talked about my ass. These tell you all you need (or perhaps more than you ever wanted) to know about me as a writer and human being. By making these uncomfortable things to talk about more amusing, I let myself off the hook as an imperfect human being. This is integral for me as a writer and person in recovery alike. I need reminders to lighten the fuck up on a regular basis so if writing one liners helps me do that than so be it.

I continued to write about pop culture and the more I did it, the better it felt and sounded. Finding a way to interject my voice into a topic I love was tricky at first but with more time, the pieces got stronger.  Again, if it was something that moved me and I was passionate about it, I could really have fun writing about it. This came into focus in April as I blogged everyday. Forcing myself to create new works each day utterly changed me as a writer and it’s something I cannot recommend enough. By the end of the month, I felt my voice was more defined and I could talk about anything including pop culture in the most Sean way possible.

So what happened over the last year? I grew up. I fell apart. I leaned in. I moved on. I changed. I stayed the same. But mainly, I kept going. And The Seanologues will keep going too! In fact, many of these essays you’ve read over the last year will make their way into a collection I’m planning on publishing as a book. This means I’m starting at the beginning, as suggested by the King, but I’m far from reaching the end.

it takes a village, people.

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Seven pills a day.

Three to four meetings a week.

One guided meditation, three times a week.

Four other addicts who I call/text regularly.

Five afternoon naps during the course of a workweek.

10,000 to 18,000 steps per day walking.

As of May 27, 2017 those are the numbers. The numbers I need to keep this mental health cruise ship afloat. They will undoubtedly fluctuate and change. The meds for example will probably go down this month. Which is good news as I’m currently on some combo that has given me the bladder of a 68-year-old woman. The meetings should probably increase but will likely dip at some point because I am, after all, me. The steps, the naps, the mediation all subject to dip or increase depending on how fucked I feel on any given day. But in general, this is an honest equation I’ve come up with for today. I am realistic with my rebellious, stubborn ass. I know there are days when the “But I don’t wanna”s will take over. This is fine and I try not to beat myself up. I’m balancing a myriad of manageable but deadly diseases and sometimes what they all want me to do is lie the fuck down. Yet despite my best efforts to find the precise numerical equation to make me all better there’s something I need more than anything else: other people.

If I wasn’t so lazy I would be able to find you study after study that point to the power of support for folks like me. By folks “like me” I mean people with addiction, alcoholism, depression and HIV.  But these studies floating out there in the internet say people dealing with grief, cancer and trauma also benefit from leaning on other people. It’s odd too because when hit with one of these conditions we often hear, “You need to take care of yourself.” Which is certainly true but sounds solitary.  Like “Just figure it out on your own and make yourself all better. And could you hurry up because you’re a drag to be around?” However time after time, I’ve learned that when I take care of myself by myself, there is very little care involved. I’m tortured, isolated and filled with a grab bag of shitty self-sabotaging ideas. I second guess everything and feel like I’m the worst person on the planet. In other words, it’s a party for one and it sucks. Thus, taking care of myself involves me reaching out to other people.

This is not second nature for me. Kids like me from alcoholic homes suffer from “I got this!” syndrome maybe more so than any other kids on the planet. We in some ways raised ourselves and figured out stuff by on our own so reaching out and asking for help is a foreign concept. As a person in recovery for the past 8+ years, I’ve had to learn how to lean on other people and open my mouth. This week, I had HIV clinic appointment. It’s my first since moving to Portland. Thanks to the miracle of the private sector and little to no help from the government at all, HIV positive folks like myself with no insurance have a plethora of resources including free meds available. I am eternally grateful but in order to tap into that stuff I have to take the action. I have to make the appointments. I also have to show up for those appointments. I have to bring the documents and answer the emails and do the work. All of which I did this week but it wasn’t lost on me that just taking care of myself and asking for help is still no small feat. Overcoming my self-sabotaging, I got in and handled my business but it was far from a solo act.

After a morning dealing with incredibly nice nurses, case workers and receptionists, it hit me how many people I actually need. Beyond that setting which also includes therapists and pharmacists, there’s all of the people in my recovery life I need. Sponsors, sponsees, all the people who share their stories with me, all the people who listen to my story, the people who set up meetings, the people who make coffee at said meetings, the people who just smile or say hi and know exactly what I’m going through and on and on. Oh and this does not even include all of the friends, family members and co-workers who lift me up, encourage me, walk with me, laugh with me and generally help this baby bird out of the nest on a regular basis. Yet it doesn’t stop there. There’s also you.

You who exist in this digital realm that somehow I was lucky enough to find. You who despite never meeting in person we are linked together by our joint experiences. You who share my pain, joy and warped sense of humor from wherever you are. You who are also damaged but recovering. You who read my rambling, crazy nonsense and even say nice things about it. The point is it I feel proudly connected to you and all the other dozens of people who help me along the way. Like I said, it’s been proven countless times that I cannot do any of this alone and now I know I don’t have to. While you may not be cops, Indian chiefs or construction workers, you are my people and for that I’m eternally grateful.

was it the movie or was it the moment?

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“A place where there isn’t any trouble. Do you suppose there is such a place, Toto?”

Dorothy Gale, The Wizard of Oz (1939)

If the world right now seems like an overwhelming, horrible fucked up place, that’s because it is. And let’s get it out of the way- I won’t be the one to ever tell you to channel your anger and sadness and go make a change. I mean this isn’t “The Man in the Mirror” and I am not Michael Jackson. While I am already trying my damnedest to write the least motivational post of all time, we might as go for broke here and I’ll give you my advice for dealing with a world in turmoil: don’t. Seriously. For a moment or perhaps a day or even a few days why not take your voice out of the chatter and go sit in the dark and watch a movie.

Sure, it sounds like stupid advice which it probably is, considering I’m a person who hates advice. I’m also a drug addict who loves avoiding life so naturally I’d go tell you to run and hide from anything unsavory or depressing. But hear me out. Whether it was monster movies on in the middle of the afternoon on local tv or sitting and watching Redford and Streep in Out of Africa on the big screen, I was always able to find what I was looking for as a kid when I went to the movies. Growing up in the dawn of cable and the VCR era of the 1980’s meant we suddenly had access to all kinds of movies and for a cinema nerd like me, it was heaven. I’d basically watch whatever was on as I tried to figure out what I loved and didn’t love. I wanted to see every movie that books about movies talked about. I wanted to see movies like Jaws and Flashdance that were R-Rated and therefore forbidden to my Catholic soul. I wanted to see every movie that came out during the summer, even if I wasn’t excited about them. I wanted to see every movie. Period. It was how I learned about the world but more than that movies were also how I dealt with the world. At an early age I figured out that movies provided a safe space, a respite and a relief from the real world. Growing up in an alcoholic home, my real world was realer than a lot of other kids so movies gave me something the real world sometimes couldn’t: hope.

Some four decades later, film does the same thing for me. Yet thanks to recovery and plenty of time dealing with this here real world, I have a healthy relationship with movies. On Friday afternoon after discovering it was on Amazon Prime, I decided to watch The Wizard of Oz. The movie was on my mind after me and some of my twitter buddies started the #30DayMovieChallenge. This is one of those list challenges where everyday for  a month you come up with different films for different categories. It’s a blast and currently providing a break from the shitstorm of bad news to be found online. When my pal Susan said The Wizard of Oz was her all-time favorite movie, something hit me. Maybe I need to watch it again. I hadn’t seen it in decades and due to early childhood flying monkey trauma, the movie had always kind of freaked me out. I even sluffed it off on the “hate it” pile for a while. Sure, I’m gay and love Judy Garland but I didn’t get the never-ending love for The Wizard of Oz.

Now being older and of (slightly) more sound and open mind, I really wanted to watch it. Suffice to say, I thoroughly enjoyed it and marveled at the tricks it was able to pull off for being made in 1939. There’s a sadness and desperation now found in all of Judy Garland’s work for me so that made her already great performance here even better. Plus, the music is really clever and well done. But it triggered something that I forgot: I really loved Glinda the Good Witch as a kid. Sure, in her pink sparkly gown with her coy one-liners and shiny hair it seems obvious that 7-year old Sean would love her. But somehow my brain forgot that and only remembered those flying monkeys (still creepy AF, by the way). Billy Burke is a delight and I was happy to reunite childhood me with her. This little matinée in the merry old land of OZ got me thinking: maybe the movies are magic but maybe the moments in which you see them certainly help.

Nursing a terrible cold with really spicy pasta arrabiata and The Philadelphia Story. Ditching class to see Natural Born Killers only to walk out halfway through (Woody Harrleson has that effect on me). Watching Almost Famous with my grandma and both of us crying as we talked about it on the bus ride home. Feeling heartbroken after my grandfather died and numbly binge watching 80’s movies like St Elmo’s Fire. I’ll never forget these films nor will I forget what was going on in my life those moment.

Elsewhere in my brain live movies that were really important because of who I was at the time: Top Gun being a film I saw with a group of new friends as an awkward tween, Reality Bites with my first real boyfriend and The Fantastic Mr Fox during my first year of sobriety. In every case, the importance of the actual life milestone and of the film itself bleeds together. They become one big sticky, sugar-coated memory which as a person who doesn’t like to feel their life I really enjoy. The movie and the reality of the moment are now gilded together forever making them both easier to remember. This is incredibly helpful for a person who did so much Ecstasy they’ve been left with the memory of a goldfish. The movies and the moments help one another out in the watery vortex of my brain.

Yet movies (and moments too) end. Therefore, my dear Toto, there isn’t a place in the real world where there isn’t any trouble. We do get to lean on movies, though which on the day after the senseless tragedy in Manchester means a lot. We get 90 minutes or so to see something else, to be someone else, to feel something else. And that sounds pretty valuable right about now. But mainly, we get to remember that, despite the horrible fucked up shit in the headlines, humans are capable of beauty. Movies are proof of that.

The Battle of Bitterville

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A pot of lavender on your patio.

The guy who stands on the corner who sings Motown covers.

A shaggy black dog in the elevator.

The smell of waffle cones wafting out of a downtown ice cream shop.

A text from another sober person who just wants to let you know they’re thinking about you.

At the little side job I have currently to keep the flow of income happening while I await that big paycheck from an anonymous billionaire who wants to pay me to watch Netflix, there it was, the Ghost of Bitter Homosexual Future. The “cranky old queen” is a trope for a reason. This old bitch has been sipping martinis at bars and verbally assassinating anyone in her sights since time began. Wilde was maybe the first one. Capote was definitely one. Warhol? Certainly qualifies as do Crisp, Kramer and Savage (best law firm of all time, by the way). This particular real-life Bitter Betty tried to convince me how much I’ll hate Portland while also encouraging me to follow him on Facebook where he “does nothing but complain about politics! It’s fun!” Uh. Hard pass on that one, home skillet. But thanks for the offer!

There was an aggressive and salty quality about him the rubbed me the wrong way from moment one.  Which was a bummer. There is nothing I love more than when two gay men get the “hey, sister” vibe right away and are able to kiki with each other immediately. But that was not happening here. Being contrarian for no reason other than being the biggest hater in the room is a very bitter old queen thing to do and this one was rocking it hardcore. Everything me and my other coworker laughed at, he sighed or walked away from. Even when trying to be nice to me, he seemed annoyed that I was in his presence breathing. Listen, I really wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt. I mean I discovered he’s a vegan who smokes cigarettes (lol) so I was willing to cut him some slack. But by the end of the night, I wanted to run screaming out of my little side job. Primarily, because I know that the role of bitter bitch is one I can instantly slip into myself.

The feeling you get when you talk to your mom on the phone.

Listening to your husband jam out to old school Mariah Carey in the next room.

The birds that land on your window and drive your cats insane.

So let’s get this out-of-the-way: my name is Sean and I’m an alcoholic, an addict and a sometime bitter gay man. Look, I’m not proud of it. But it’s like being bitter is one of our factory settings as gay men. We can all “go there” without blinking an eye.  What can be charming, biting, smart and truth-telling can also easily turn into bitter and unsavory. For me, it’s an ugly outfit I slip on and don’t even realize I’m wearing it. After all it’s comfortable. It fits me. It’s easy to find. More than all of that, it feels like something I’m entitled to wear. But like I said, it’s fucking hideous. Still, there’s a huge part of me that feels justified for being bitter. Like you’d be bitter too if you had my lot in life. Didn’t I earn the right to be bitter after the way straight people had fucked with me since I came out of the womb in a poof of pink glitter? And maybe I’m not being bitter. Maybe I’m just discerning or critical, in the same way a one-eyed pit bull is discerning or critical. Now pass me the cigarettes and vegan meatballs along with my martini!

White Hydrangea in glass vases.

Afternoon naps while it rains.

Remembering to meditate in the morning.

Yet as a sober person, being bitter is a big no-no. That literature that lots of sober people read says the grouch and the brainstorm are dubious luxuries for normal men but no bueno for drunks and drug addicts like me. So I’ve had to find a new way to live which means I can be a little bitchy but not full for bitter old queen. For example, I gleefully like to say, “I hate everyone/everything.” Yet I don’t actually mean this. I spout it off in a salty, sassy way. Like in a “Aww. Isn’t Sean adorable? He hates everything again. Go get him a cookie,” kind of way. Believe it or not, I actually see and encounter things I like and even love. And nearly every hour of the day.

As we’ve talked about here before, I write gratitude lists every day and have for over 7 years. I find five things that made life a little better and I write them down. That’s it. That is the whole practice. Its a kind of magic that does not require special oils, a wand or even an ancient spell. Listen, I don’t know why it makes me less of an insufferable asshole. That’s why it’s magic. All I know is that it does work. A little daily flow of positivity and love helps keep the bitter old queen away. Or maybe not entirely away but less bitter.

When I was 24, I worked at a Mexican restaurant where old gay men would sit and drink margaritas and bitch about their lives. Bobby, the bartender at that place, smoked cigarettes and told me stories of his days on the MGM set as an assistant. He even went to Korea with Marilyn Monroe. I loved dear Bobby but she was a bitter old gal who drank a lot. I just naturally assumed this would be my destiny. Drunk, bitter and unhappy. But in the ultimate plot twist, I’m no longer drunk and I’m certainly not unhappy.  I’ve already defied my gay programming and started to erase the writing on the wall. So hopefully, one day at a time, I can be a less bitter too. In the meantime, I’ll settle for sassy and salty.

what we mean when we call you girl

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Girl.

It’s the four letter text message that says it all. Add a “u” or a few rrr’s but it still says everything. It says, “Oh my god.” It says, “Can you believe this shit?” It says, “I’m exhausted and I can’t get it into it.” It says, “I agree with you.” It says, “I’m sorry.” It says, “My mind is blown and I need to resort to one word that expresses everything.”  But to me the word girl when spoken among gay men means, “You belong and I get you.”

When I turned 21, I was dating an older guy (who was like 25 at the time but being the hateful little queens we were, we all acted like he was Grandma Moses) and I spent a lot of time with his friends. To each other, they were all “girl.” It was a term of endearment and while I don’t remember the precise moment, I do remember how I felt when I was called “girl.” When dishing and drinking cocktails or playfully making fun of each other, the word bounced around the room with each person catching it and tossing it back. My natural social nature mixed my extreme people pleaserism helps me acclimate fairly quickly to any situation so soon enough I was being called girl too. Getting the moniker “girl” and addressing others with it too meant that I had arrived as a young gay man and in that moment it felt important. After spending my teen years bullied and in the closet, I felt like myself finally and the being able to drink like a grown up didn’t hurt either. The girl had arrived and she wasn’t going back.

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Through nightclub life in Los Angeles and hanging out with drag queens, I had found my girls in the mid-nineties and me and the phrase were off to the races. It was said in rage, it was said in gossip, it was said in concern and it was said instead of getting into deeper uglier details. It could also be said in the realm of gay superficiality, one as a creature of the night I was exposed to a lot. You’d call someone girl instead of remembering their name or call them girl to feign a closeness that really didn’t exist. Regardless, girl cemented itself into my language which is interesting given the origin of the word. According to this fascinating piece, the word has a bizarre and storied history. In the 15th Century, both men and women were called girl. Women, believe it or not, were referred to as “gay girls” while young men were called, “knave girls.” In my mind this sort of makes sense. I mean what if 15th century homos were just walking by one another and saying, “Knave girl!” which would later become “Hey Girl!” Okay, I’m totally making up my own etymology myth here but it could have happened. What struck me about this little blip of a factoid is that at one point we were all girl. I know. “We are all girl” sounds like some horrible feminism lite campaign started by a lip gloss company. But still it’s cool to think that back in the day sexualizing the moniker wasn’t even a thing. That we were all called girl.

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At age 44, it’s now just part of my gay vernacular and something I say all of the time even when I talk to straight people. The women in their fifties and sixties who I used to work with loved when I’d exhaustedly call them girl.  But the word isn’t even so much about gender as it is the perfect every occasion word to perfectly nail a myriad of situations. Thanks to RuPaul’s Drag Race the gay context of the word has gone mainstream and people now know how we use it. When I was thinking about this topic before I sat down to write, I wondered if for me the word had even further power. During my childhood, I was always called girly or sissy or gay (even though I was the least sexual child on the planet) or having everything I do from walking to talking described as “like a girl.” So it would be natural to shun the word. Some gay men work overtime with the masculinity to avoid the word and the negativity associated with it. Yet I think what we, as gay men get to do, is reclaim it. We take what was negatively labeled on us and turn it into a word of power, of humor and most importantly a word of belonging. My best gay friends and I call each other girl and when we do it’s like a verbal hug. It’s code for, “I love your big gay crazy ass.” When my bestie from the recovery texts me girl or bitch (a word we’ve also reclaimed and that I adore), I know that I’m loved even though he’s a few thousand miles away.

 

I’m willing to accept that I’ve spent some 1,000 words gaysplaining the word girl and its personal meaning to me. See, in the brewing intolerant times we live in, being as gay as humanly possible has become something of a personal mission. Like, I’m inches away from performing a non-stop Judy Garland lip synch routine in a park while covered in rainbow body glitter. Owning my big girl self isn’t just good esteem-wise but it’s a pink neon middle finger to the world at large. As gay men are currently being put in concentration camps and trans people are being murdered, I can’t hide. As LGBT suicide and addiction rates explode, I can’t look the other way. In fact, as a person who is out and healthy and expressive I have a responsibility to keep the lights on for those who are still in hiding and in pain.

So girl, when we call you girl, it means something. It means we get you. It means we have your back. It means we love you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

standard bitch

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The Google image title of this photo is actually “White Standard Bitch” which could make an excellent book title, btw.

Everybody has something they bring to the table. Even people who are awful have that one thing they contribute, even if it’s just their general awfulness. Personally, that thing I can bring to the table is my sense of humor. Look, this is not some passive aggressive outcry for compliments. Jesus fuck no. I just know that being funny is something I can contribute. So when that contribution goes tragically awry and gets misinterpreted causing all sorts of bullshit Facebook comment fallout, what I’ve wound up bringing to the table is basically a big turd salad.

There is no more special of a hell than that in which I am forced to explain a joke or intention behind what I said. I take this personally as a funny person because it means I’ve belly-flopped on this whole “aren’t you clever” gig. As Erykah Badu would say, “Keep in mind I’m an artist and I’m sensitive about my shit.” Yet that’s exactly what happened last week when I made a joke about hurling myself into a volcano based on my pre-existing conditions being problematic to the recently passed by congress ACHA. Sigh. Before we go any further, I know that it’s a buyer beware situation with stuff like this on Facebook. Notoriously lacking in a sense of humor and ready to pounce with unsolicited advice at a moments notice, I know that I get what I deserve when I post on Facebook. Yet I did it anyway. As a HIV positive man with mental illness who is also an addict/alcoholic in recovery, my joke was that I should just save myself some time and hurl my body into a volcano instead of trying to get healthcare. I mean if I can’t make fun of my pre-existing conditions than I’m really screwed. Plus one of my other pre-existing conditions is being a sarcastic bitch so I felt like the joke was well warranted and more than that it was what was on my mind at the time. To no one’s surprise, this joke went over like BLTs at a Kosher meal. Some of my comments were left by people who laughed and made jokes in return. These people can stay and are reason why I friended them on that mind-sucking social media hell hole in the first place.  Everybody else? Not so much.

These folks fell into two camps: people who told me to rally or people who were “internet concerned” about the state of my well-being. The first group of people can, and I mean this in the most Christian way possible, eat a bucket of dicks. The ones who did this it should be noted are affluent folks with no pre-existing conditions who are also white and straight. So yeah. One bucket of dicks, coming up! I’m sorry I don’t tell you how to detail your Volvo because, gee, I don’t know, I DON’T OWN A VOLVO. So zip it with the “go rally and call your senator” battle cry. Unless you plan on magically becoming a HIV positive drug addict with depression than I kind of don’t give a shit. Plus, I wasn’t wallowing. I was doing what I always do: making a joke instead of stepping in front of a bus. It felt healthy and appropriate given the bad news.

Which brings me to the second camp of people, the ones who thought I was really serious and upset. One friend worried that I was going to relapse. One shared a story about a loved one struggling with mental illness and suggested an online support group for me to join. Insert a deep sigh that comes from the bottom of my toes here. I mean first of all, if you’ve followed me for more than a week on social media, than you know that I’m not serious about anything. Ever. So that I would put out a Facebook status message with serious thoughts of suicide is freaking ridiculous. Secondly, none of these people were that concerned. Like they didn’t direct message me or call me or text me. They just posted to make themselves feel better which is fine and it’s something we all do. But girl. Don’t pretend my dumb post made you go pray or call 911.

After a few hours, I decided to just delete the damn post. The fault here was not my friends. It’s not even Facebook’s fault. It was my own and I knew it. Insert another gigantic sigh here. I was feeling feisty and bitchy which led me to momentarily forgot the whole “restraint of pen and tongue” thing. Lesson learned or at least temporarily learned. It’s one day at time with this shit too, people. For the next few days, I wondered if maybe I should exam my bitchy, cynical nature. Maybe this attitude was toxic. Maybe I should use my voice to share motivational thoughts or inspiring words.

Well , thank god those thoughts quickly passed. Because that’s just not who I am. I didn’t stop killing myself with drugs and alcohol only to censure myself. I’m big, beautiful smart ass me. Despite one joke tanking, I really like who I am. I think humor can be really powerful and the people who make me laugh save my life. Therefore, if I can do the same for someone else, I feel like I’ve made a difference. And that’s about as inspirational as this standard bitch is gonna get.