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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

a path to the rainbow’s end

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So long ago
It’s a certain time
It’s a certain place

Not everybody I know who got sober drank at work. Not everybody I know who got sober did drugs at work. But I certainly did. As did my favorite rock goddess Stevie Nicks. Stevie also slept with Tom Petty and wore shawls to work, things I did not do–yet! I mean there’s still time! Actually, the shawls are more likely to go down than the Petty moment(shudder). Still, Stevie is such a longstanding influence on me that I wouldn’t count anything out. In fact, I’m a little shocked that I haven’t blogged about her here after nearly a year in business. She certainly came up multiple times at urtheinspiration. The thing I love about Stevie is that her songwriting has such layers. Beneath the witchy, lace and leather trappings are some real complex, emotional words. Her writing is unapologetic and truthful while always peppered with a little sadness just to round out the flavor.  Yet the song on my mind lately is “Seven Wonders” a song she didn’t even write for Fleetwood Mac.

The song comes from Fleetwood Mac’s Tango in the Night, two albums after their flawless in every sense of the word classic Rumors. Celebrating 30 years in release this spring, Tango in the Night has a spattering of memorable songs and is notable for being the last album the Fleetwood-Nicks-Buckingham-McVie-McVie lineup ever recorded together. Tracks like “Big Love,” the still solid “Everywhere,” “Little Lies”  and the aforementioned “Seven Wonders” were radio hits for a reason. Lushly produced by Lindsey Buckingham, each song is pure Fleetwood Mac and signs of a band who could pretty much phone it in after 14 albums together. This must-read Pitchfork review of the re-issue nails all the delights and disasters of Tango In The Night but let’s just say, as always with Fleetwood Mac, the back story nearly eclipses the record itself.

Knee-deep in a spiraling cocaine addiction co-founder Mick Fleetwood could barely be counted on during the recording of Tango In The Night while Nicks was out of rehab for her own coke problem but now filled to the brim with opiates. In a move that pre-dates the current opioid crisis, Nicks claims her doctor prescribed her Klonopin as a form of treatment for cocaine addiction. Per an article she wrote for Newsweek in 2011:

What this man said was: “In order to keep you off cocaine we should put you on the drug that we’re using a lot these days called Klonopin.” Stupidly, I said, “All right.” And the next eight years of my life were destroyed.

Naturally, Tango in the Night suffered. “I started not being able to get to Lindsey Buckingham’s house on time, and I would get there and everybody was drinking, so I’d have a glass of wine,” she writes. “Don’t mix tranquilizers and wine. Then I’d sing horrific parts on his songs, and he would take the parts off. I was hardly on Tango of the Night, which I happen to love.” Buckingham himself says of Nicks’ performance on the record, “Stevie was the worse she’s ever been.” Reports of Nicks being too drunk to record and having to have vocals patched together by Buckingham are now part of Tango in the Night’s legend.

Yet for all the drug soaked disasters on Tango in the Night, Stevie Nicks and “Seven Wonders” survives. The song had a major resurgence recently when it was featured on American Horror Story, catapulting it back on the Billboard charts. When you hear today in 2017, its pure Nicks. Written by her backup singer and collaborator Sandy Stewart, Nicks receives co-writing credit by default. According to SongMeanings, “While listening to the demo by Stewart (who did not provide any written lyrics), Nicks misunderstood the phrase “All the way down you held the line” as ‘All the way down to Emmeline’, which is what she sang and led to Nicks’ credit as co-writer of the song.” Classic Stevie. Like what the hell does her version even mean but wait who cares? It’s Stevie. We mere mortals are not meant to understand. Clearly, Stewart was well-versed in the mysticism and imagery of Stevie as the track features lines like “I’ll make a path to the rainbow’s end.” As far as Stevie Nicks Fleetwood Mac songs, it’s not one of the iconic greats. It’s no “Landslide” or “Gypsy.” But I love it for the shawl-twirling late 80’s rock sensibility. Plus, it’s catchy as hell. 1987 was the pinnacle for pop song earworms and “Seven Wonders” holds its own among them.  Knowing we what we know now about Stevie during the time the song was recorded, it’s impossible not to view it as a survival anthem.

So long ago
It’s a certain time
It’s a certain place
You touched my hand and you smiled
All the way back you held out your hand
If I hope and I pray
Ooh it might work out someday
If I live to see the seven wonders
I’ll make a path to the rainbow’s end
I’ll never live to match the beauty again

Rich in the theme of a missed opportunity of fleeting love and happiness, you’d be hard pressed not to see how this relates to a person struggling with addiction. I can’t speak for Stevie but I know for me there were long stretches in my drinking and using and even in early sobriety, where I thought I’d never be happy again.  Love and happiness seem like fantasies when you’re just trying to stay alive. “Seven Wonders” taps into the this sentiment while hiding under the (presumably lace) veil of unrequited love. Plus, the legacy of the song is one of an artist in shambles, barely keeping it together. I certainly identify with wanting to show up but being too wasted to actually be any good. Equally profound is that Nicks has re-claimed the song in recent years and made it her own by performing it live. Talk about not regretting the past or shutting the door on it.

Upon the recent re-release of Tango in the Night, Rolling Stone posted the stripped down original version of the song. In it, you hear an artist fighting for her life but still absolutely killing it. She sounds determined, fierce and broken. It’s a stunning performance that proves that maybe the 8th wonder of the world is being able to escape our demons and survive ourselves. If it isn’t, than Stevie Nicks certainly is.

a job well done

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Blink and you probably missed International Firefighter’s Day on May 4th. Likewise, you might have missed Secretary’s Day on April 26 or Teacher’s Day this past Tuesday, May 9. But don’t worry. There’s always Labor Day which sort of celebrates all kinds of workers in a big lump. Being a festive alcoholic by nature, I like this idea of celebrating people who just show up and work. Like yay. You contributed something and hopefully it didn’t corrode your soul in the process. Have a cupcake! For those of us who do the work taking care of our various mental illnesses, the work of staying sober and the work of generally fighting against of the demons inside our brains, I think we could use a holiday too.

“International Day of People Working Hard Not to Kill Themselves” doesn’t exactly roll of the tongue but it could all be shortened and worked out through a series of focus groups, I’m sure. Also, I don’t know what kinds of cards are out there in the gift universe applicable to such a holiday but I’m positive the fine folks at Hallmark could come up with something. And we probably wouldn’t get a day off since stopping taking our meds or going to meetings or therapy even for one day is a terrible idea. Okay, so there’s a lot of logistics to work out for such a holiday. But staying healthy, sober and sane is a ton of work and it should be recognized as such. After all, every meeting ends with “Works if you work it” and the general scope of things to do to stay sane and sober is always referred to as “doing the work.” Conversely, we hear when people have come back from a relapse. they usually admit they “stopped doing the work” before they went out. We call it work because that’s what it is. Changing our thoughts, getting better and making an effort all require work and lots of it. It’s the kind of work, unlike the aforementioned highly esteemed professions, that has no time clock and that we need to do forever.

Personally, there are times when it really feels like work. Like a slog. Like another, “Fuck. not again” task. Not to whine like the worst sober person ever but I have to constantly talk myself into doing these things, this work that I know will make me feel better. The fact I need to talk myself out of feeling uncomfortable is sign enough that I really, really need to continue doing this work. Intellectually I know all of this but y’all. I’m an entitled alcoholic. Don’t think I’d continue “doing the work” if there was a magical pill I could take once a day which would have the exact same effects. But even then I’d probably complain about taking the pill too, as my routine with my other medications has proven. I am, at the very core of my being, resistant to anything that makes me less miserable. Hence why the word work feels appropriate.

One day in early recovery after I had gotten my HIV diagnosis, I was complaining to a beloved sober friend who said to me very nonchalantly, “Meh. You take your pills, you got to meetings. What’s the big fucking deal?” He was right. It isn’t a big fucking deal but certainly becomes one if I don’t do all of the things that make this mental health miracle sparkle. This morning as I forced myself out the door to a meeting wherein I again forced myself to share all the crazy bullshit on my mind, it felt like work and work I did not want to do. But I did it anyway and one hour later I felt lighter, happier and okay with hanging out with me for the rest of the day. The people in the halls of recovery pounded into my brain this idea of contrary action, of doing stuff that I really didn’t want to do but just doing them anyway. Therefore, I do the work I need to stay sober not because I’m some sobriety olympian but because I’m a still sort of a hot mess that needs all the help he can get.

The more I think about it, we don’t need no stinking holiday to celebrate our work. Let those other hard-working folks have their days. We get to have complicated, beautiful, big, amazing, pain in the ass lives instead. And as Miss America as that sounds, that’s the real reward for doing the work. Plus, when you’re the boss of your recovery and doing the work all the time, you can have a damn cupcake whenever you want.

 

 

 

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.

please talk about me when I’m gone

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What other people think of me is none of my business.

What other people think of me is none of my business.

What other people think of me is none of my business.

Rinse and repeat four thousand times. Sure, sure, sure. I believe this. Or I try to. See, I know it’s true and even for a narcissist like me the very idea can actually be comforting. Knowing that nobody’s opinion of me is actually important is a relief. Like if I am really “there” in that head space of truly and joyfully not giving a shit about what people think, it can provide a whole lot of freedom. Of course the whole idea of social media hinges on what people think about you and this is a tad difficult to reconcile. Still, I know in my heart that what people think about me is none of my business. Well, at least until I die, anyway.

Oh trust me we’re about to take self-obsession to a whole other level so buckle up. The level of the afterlife, specifically.  I do know that I can’t actually control what people think about when I die or maybe I can but that’s not something I’ll find out until I’m like dead. Uh duh. Still, that doesn’t stop me from thinking about what sort of legacy my big ass personality will leave behind. Listen, my real hope is that I’m not so exhausting that I kill off all the people around me. Likewise, I don’t want my departure from this realm to be a “Thank God that bitch is gone!” sort of thing. I also don’t have grand illusions of monuments being erected or holidays being launched in my honor after I die. Of course, I am open to these things but I am not counting on them. This all sounds odd, I know but I have been thinking about it a lot lately. At age 44, I spend entirely too much time wondering about death and old age all the other things I didn’t think would physically happen when I was drinking and using drugs. Not in a morbid way though. More like a “Hmm. I wonder what the hell that’ll be like” sort of way. I know death is a train on its own timetable that I cannot stop and I don’t wish to. But I’d be lying to say that I wasn’t curious about what happens after it picks me up from the station.

My sister, who is sober and living in Florida and therefore proof that those two things can in fact coexist, was telling me a story the other day about a woman she knows from the rooms of recovery. This woman, in her 80’s recently died, causing a shockwave of sadness amongst her sober community. She had been able to cobble together 18 months of continuous sobriety after years of struggling to get sober. It’s an incredible accomplishment at any age. So imagine my sister’s shock and disappointment when nary a mention of this woman’s brave struggle against alcoholism even came up at the memorial. Instead, it was a ceremony rich in religious practices that were more about her family than her own. My sister felt like it was slap in the face to this woman who had by all accounts busted her ass to get and stay sober. We then agreed that if our respective funerals were given an unwanted religious makeover that we would independently haunt this earth in a manner that would make Amityville Horror look like a housewarming. We also agreed “that” part of our story was worth mentioning and honoring in death. After all, it’s a heroic battle that should be celebrated. There’s no doubt that a bout with cancer or time spent in the military would be heralded. Thus we came to the conclusion overcoming addiction should be treated the same way.  I mean for us. You do whatever you want with your funeral and haunt this earth however you choose.

But yeah I think when I die, it would be nice for my whole story to be told. Not like I plan on dying soon, as I am from a decidedly salty stock of people who tend to hang on for 90 years and act sassy until their very final moments. Still, I fought hard for this whole story, dammit and would like it all to be remembered. The idea of having people who only knew me sober at my funeral is a nice one. The idea of people being there who saw the whole journey is even nicer. And since my cross to bear in this life as a chronic bullshitter is telling the truth, these testimonies to my character might as well be as honest and funny as humanly possible. It would be very “off brand” to have it any other way. Might as well celebrate the whole picture, warts and all. As long as it’s not in a church and there’s 80’s music and tacos, I think there’s nothing from my personal life that couldn’t be talked about in death.

Sure, I can’t control what happens at my funeral, although my grandmother who had everything from the readings to the food and the location on lock well before she died would argue with this sentiment. But I can control what happens until then. I can try my best to be less of a dick on a daily basis. I can try to tell people I love them whenever and wherever I can. I can take minute and smile and think, “Wow. I’m fucking lucky to be walking in the sunshine right now” like I did the other day as I strolled home after buying flowers.

Therefore, consider this my official notice that you can say whatever you like about me at my funeral as long as it’s the truth and as long as you say a lot of it. Also, conditions and terms of the aforementioned haunting are subject to change depending on what kind of shit goes down over the next few decades.

private chanter

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If I have unrealistic expectations, don’t blame me. Blame Tina Turner. Witnessing Tina Turner live and onstage at age 12 has forever warped my expectations of what mere mortals should be able to do. I thought that every woman could dance and run around for 90 minutes in 7 inch high heels (they cannot). I thought that every person in their 50’s looked and acted like her (they do not). Much to my dismay, I also thought that every soul diva to come after her would be just as excellent and as we know they are not. In fact, I really blame Tina Turner for me not loving Beyoncé. Had I never seen Tina Turner live and experienced her funky rock and roll voodoo in person maybe I’d be more impressed with Beyoncé. Alas, I did see her on tour (with Stevie Wonder no less!) and therefore I am decidedly not. This is not Beyoncé’s fault. I am just rewired differently because of this experience. Having not seen many live performances at that age I still knew on a cellular level that this firestorm of a person was incredible. Every song, every dance move, every interaction with the audience was a masterclass on how rock and roll should be done.  On spiritual level, I think needed this cosmic interaction with Tina Turner as a 12-year-old. Maybe her resilience and survival were subconsciously telling me to hang in there or maybe she was just incredibly fierce and ran around non-stop in leather.

Either way, my expectations were high and made even higher when I saw What’s Love Got To Do With It? in theaters in 1993. Please watch this immediately to properly find your way to the Church of Tina Turner. Anchored by two of the best performances of the 1990s courtesy of Angela Bassett and Laurence Fishburn, the film tells Tina’s life story and her escape from her abusive marriage to Ike Turner. It’s a phenomenal film made even better by the packed house of primarily black women where I saw it on opening weekend. The scene in the limo where Tina finally leaves is powerful on its own but gets rocketed into a whole other dimension of amazing when the audience is hollering at the screen, “That’s right, girl! Leave his ass!” Yet the scene that really stuck with me was when Tina gets introduced to Buddhism by one of the Ikettes. She is shown chanting, “nam myoho renge kyo.” I was almost 21 when I saw that movie and seeking something else. By then, I’d already done enough ecstasy that it stopped working and moved my car over into the meth lane to disastrous results. So this 3 minutes of spirituality on film was powerful for some reason.

Flash forward to the summer of 2009. I had moved from the East side to the West Side in Los Angeles which is a cultural faux pas akin to leaving the Democratic party to become a Republican. But I did it to get sober. Thankfully, my roommate at the time  was also sober and practicing Daishonin Buddhism. The religion, as it turns out, is primarily based on chanting “nam myoho renge kyo.” When she asked if I was familiar, I of course acted like an expert. But the reality was all I knew of nam myoho renge kyo was the 3 minutes from the movie. Still, it worked for Tina Turner and it looked like it was working for my roommate and her friends so I thought I’d give it a try. She taught me how to chant at home, took me to Buddhist events and I started to read more about it. Listen, I was in bad shape after 20 years of drugs and alcohol and I was pretty much open to anything. It felt good when I chanted and it didn’t seem like it couldn’t hurt. The idea to go get tested for HIV came to me while chanting. It had been years and it was way past due. Chanting also brought up strong and difficult emotions about the past. When I got my positive diagnosis and other parts of my life started to fall apart, I realized that maybe I was a tad out of depth with this chanting thing. Maybe my Tina Turner expectations around my newfound spirituality were unrealistic too?

Like a good drug addict, I wanted all of my recovery and spirituality to work fast and make me instantly feel better. So when chanting brought up difficult stuff, it scared the hell out of me. At the time, I felt like I unleashed a whirlwind with this spiritual tool and I was freaked out. Pretty quickly, I dropped chanting as a practice. However, the reality  was my life was fucked up thanks to the damage I did. Chanting just brought it all to the surface. The shit was destined to hit the fan (and continue to do so for several months) and chanting just expedited it. Also, those three minutes in the movie, although powerful, don’t tell the whole story. Any good Tina fan knows that her battles with Ike and struggles to get her career back were just beginning so chanting was just a practice and not some cure-all for her either. She continued chanting and her life, as we know, gradually improved.

Even though I stopped chanting, my life improved too. Feeling like I fast tracked a religious life too quickly, I just went to meetings and tried to keep my life simple. It was going to take a lot of time to get honest, to change my thinking and to stop feeling horrible. My spiritual life was stripped down to the basics. Prayers in the morning and at night and that was it. That’s all my little drug damaged head could handle. I introduced more meditation at a year and a half sober but I naturally did that alcoholically too at 30 minutes a day and was forced to make that easier as well.

This morning, I meditated while the sun came up for ten minutes as the cats took turns walking across my lap. I giggled at them and took sips of coffee and gently pushed my thoughts back to meditation. I’m not exactly levitating these days or being sought after for spiritual advice. But my prayer and meditation feels honest which for a lying addict like me is huge. What’s more is the thing I really loved about Tina Turner, her spirit of survival and ability to come out the other side of horrific times, is something I get to see in real life when I hang out everyday with other sober addicts and alcoholics. And I even get to see it in myself and I don’t even have to wear leather or high heels.

Lessons from Blogging Every Day in April

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I know, I know. It’s not April anymore. Why the hell am I still talking? Trust me. I’m as shocked as anybody else that I still have anything to say. If April went on for any longer, I’d be forced to write posts reviewing YouTube drag queen videos (Um that actually sounds entertaining now that I think about it). But I did want to spit out some thoughts on writing everyday this month before I binge more Hulu shows and forget what I wanted to say.

Writing every day last month was an unexpectedly informative journey. I basically decided to do it because I was bored and needed a project. I had no end game and wasn’t trying to build a fan base or rough draft a book. But those two things accidentally happend by the way!  I just knew on some level that writing everyday would be good for me. So I hopped into this whole endeavor with zero plans or expectations. To my surprise, this little 30 day exercise taught me a whole bunch about myself. Here now are a few of the lessons I learned along the way.

Marathon Not a Sprint: Fairly quickly, I dunno maybe around April 5th, I realized the breadth and scope of what I was doing. It felt overwhelming and more than that it felt like I was going to struggle to keep it fresh and entertaining for 30 days. Luckily, I didn’t think about it too much and just wrote everyday. I did make little notes on things I wanted to talk about and came up with a calendar of posts that was flexible enough if decided to write about something else. All of this helped the project feel less overwhelming and allowed me to just do what I could do everyday and that was simple: write.

Feed The Beast: Although writing as an activity happens, cue the Celine, all by myself, it very much relies on the outside world to survive. After all, you can’t write about food unless you cook all of the time. You can’t write about art unless you look at art all of the time. So for me as a writer of pop culture and recovery, I had to lap in as much of that stuff as possible. This past month, I needed every tv show I watched online, every movie, every walk with friends, every conversation, every meeting I went to and most importantly every single thing I read. Without any other stimulation, I become dry, dull and repetitive. I know for a fact if I’ve run out of things to say there’s a huge problem and usually that problem can be fixed easily with reading. Reading brilliant and funny essays by Lindy West, Melissa Broder and Phoebe Robinson helped me so much as that’s the kind of stuff I want to write. By keeping myself “well-fed” creatively, I had more inspiration and energy to continue.

Look Out Weekends: It’s always interesting to look at when my blog gets the most reads. Until April, I just assumed it happened randomly. Like people stumbled on it whenever as if it was a dollar they found in their pocket. Turns out, thanks to WordPress’ algorithm tools, there are actually times and days when more people look at my blog. Thus it would make sense to publish on those days. Duh. For me, y’all like to read me on the weekends. And I’m okay with that and being the people pleaser I am will take that into account from here on out.

Reader Knows Best: That handy-dandy data also helped me figure out what kind of posts people liked to read too. The one common thread in popularity in my posts? The truth. When I let go and let you have it, the posts did really well. The more honest the post, the more readers. Pre-calculated and overwrought pieces rarely did well. But then again, my readers also like stuff that deals with life right now. So posts about a current tv show or movie or life change did in general better than the ones that dealt with a memory. These are good things to keep in the back of my mind when developing new essays….

But Also Write Whatever The Fuck You Want: I can’t get too tripped up about what people want to read or what I think they want. Talk about exhausting. Sure, it’s helpful to see what’s trending and gained popularity on my blog but it can’t be the whole reason I write certain posts. Readers see right through that nonsense. Instead, this month taught me to go with my gut and write posts from the heart that oozed honesty. 9 times out of 10 people responded when I stayed true to my voice.

Burn Out & Breakdown: Halfway through the month, as I have discussed here and on Twitter, I had a meltdown. Not like a Mariah Carey on a 5150 type of meltdown, mind you. But after days of spilling my guts on the page, I felt raw and like an exposed nerve. I thought I was breaking down because I’d hit something really personal in my writing and unleashed a mess of emotions. This was in fact part of it but not the whole story. I was also just burnt out. I was tired and out of gas. I needed to refuel and relax. This minor bump in the road was incredibly helpful because it made me prioritize self-care(things like rest, eating well, walking) and make it work in tandem with my writing practice.

Rehash & Recycle: Another thing I learned in this process? Some days the brilliant thoughts aren’t gonna come. Some days the well is just dry. So for these days I have plenty of drafts with a couple of sentences of half-formed ideas to help form new posts. Also I have an old blog filled with hundreds of posts and some of those ideas could use a fresh take or new spin. While for April I did write each post fresh every single day, there were a couple of posts who were born from an old draft, old post or just a simmering idea I jotted down a few words about. The challenge of breathing new life into an idea that was DOA is a good one and helped a few posts turn into something cooler and bigger than I could have imagined.

Trust It: Without a desired destination or preordained specific goal in my mind when I started this project, I really had to write with a whole shit ton of faith. I had to turn fear and preconceived notions off and just keep writing. I had to be creative and simply trust that creativity was enough. Which is not at all easy. Just trusting yourself as a writer and a creative being is some ninja bad assery. Still, when I let go and trust this process that’s when magical posts appeared out of nowhere. More than that, it’s these posts that I was the most proud of and that were the most meaningful. No, I didn’t sit down in the begininng of the month wanting to write about potatoes, showers, burritos, Mavis Staples and my ass. But by trusting the process, I did write those posts and I’m really glad I did.

So would I recommend writing a blog post every day for a month? Absolutely. It’s a really great way to get your writer muscles in shape. Would I do it again? Absolutely. But not in May. I promised you guys I’d shut up for a bit. And by “a bit” I mean I’m now only publishing three times a week.

 

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the despair & depression disco dance party playlist

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

now is the shower of our discontent

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

easier

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“I thought it would be easier.”

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

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

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

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

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

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