something there that wasn’t there before

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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confessions of a dramaholic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

what if I was no longer sober?

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what if I was no longer sober?

what if I started drinking again?

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

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

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

what if it could be normal?

what if I could be normal?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

blow shit up

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Jalapeño Business

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

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

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

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

Pineapple pico de gallo

Half pineapple, peeled and diced small

1 jalapeno, diced

Half a red onion, diced

2 cloves of garlic, smashed and diced

1 cup cherry tomatoes, diced

1 teaspoon of salt

½ teaspoon of oregano

Dash of red pepper flakes

Juice of one whole lime

Generous drizzle of extra virgin olive oil

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

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

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

use your delusion

gato leon.jpgThere once was a kid who ran a hotel managed by stuffed bears.

There once was kid who drew pictures of Snoopy for hours and hours.

There once was a kid who created intricate dramas for Strawberry Shortcake and her friends.

There once was a kid who questioned if the Muppets were just puppets like everyone said they were and wondered if they could be real.

More than that, he wondered if there was a way that everything he imagined could be real and not just for a few hours but forever. Because this kid, you know me, didn’t belong here. This pink glitter crayon trying to fit in the standard 64 Crayola box then pursued a lifetime of escape. Well, midway through my fourth decade on this planet, I have figured out a way to be here and to be present and to face this thing called reality. Whoopee.

Honestly, and I have said this before and will probably say it again because I believe it to be true, I think reality is overrated. I was tough-loved in early sobriety with statements like, “You’ll need to deal with reality at some point.” But do I though? Really? Are we sure? Because I know lots of people wandering around LA who think it’s still 1999 who are living the same life they’ve lived for decades and they’ve never really dealt with reality. Oh sure, they’re fucking nuts and have hollow shells of lives but the point is they did it. They never faced reality. Which at times sounds pretty fantastic. I mean, have you seen reality lately? Reality in 2017 is like if that term “coyote ugly” was an entire year. You know, we took 2017 home for a night of fun and woke up next to something that resembles a hideous mythological she-beast. Each day brings a new batch of global horrors, blood curdling headlines and brain rotting stupidity. With no respite in sight, things like a gorilla dancing to a song from Flashdance feel like a bottle of ice-cold water in the middle of the desert. Basically, I’ve found myself clinging to anything that doesn’t feel real but also isn’t a chemical because I don’t do that anymore.

See, as a sober person I “get to” be present today. In case you didn’t know, “Get to” is this little two-word combo me and my people say in front of pain in the ass tasks we probably don’t want to do but we “get to” do because we are present and accounted for in our own lives. We “get to” be sober for straight people’s weddings. We “get to” show up to events we would have previously been too loaded or self-involved to care about. We “get to” be present even when we’d rather not. So here, in The Year of Our Lord Have Mercy 2017, we all get to watch the shit show of humanity in realtime. Lucky us. To misquote Airplane!, looks like we picked the wrong year to quit sniffing glue. 

Even though I’m doing this whole reality thing now, I haven’t let go of imagination or even delusion. It’s actually come in handy. Sure, I’m no longer playing with dolls (yet. It’s only June) but my imagination feels fired and ready to take on all kinds of creative endeavors. Meditation helps a lot with this and my practice when not entirely missing in action is spotty at best. But when I do it (like this morning) my brain is relaxed and ready to make stuff. I’ve always had an active imagination and once I stopped using my brain as a storage locker for cocaine and tequila, it has slowly reverted back to its old self. This turns out to be amazing news for someone like me who fancies himself a writer. As long as I’m not using imagination instead of like paying my bills or dealing with the real world then I feel like it’s gift and I can spread it around.

Delusion, on the other hand, is trickier. I was delusional for a very long time in the worst way possible. When you think drinking seven nights a week and not paying your bills is normal, delusion is kind of an issue. So much of an issue in that we I first saw the word mentioned in the Big Book, I bristled. It felt like a very personal dig and something I didn’t want to admit that I was. But the longer I stayed sober and the more aware of my delusion I was, the funnier it got and I realized that delusion is not without its merits. I think in order to succeed on some level we have to a have a tablespoon of delusion. Like we need a tiny bump of the stuff to convince ourselves that we’re talented enough for a job that maybe we don’t have the on paper qualifications for. A sprinkle of delusion helps too when choosing to see the sunnier side of situations and people who could otherwise be perceived as a hellish. Delusion could even be something that helps erase parts of our past.

Take, for example, dear Axl Rose. Lovingly referenced in the title of this here post, Mr. Rose had a long and storied slip into big time delusion about nearly everything. His career, his music, his popularity, his face. Yet like a rock phoenix in jeans two sizes too small, Axl is back on tour with Guns N’ Roses and even sings with AC/DC occasionally. Though big career bellyflops, legendary wack-job behavior and the music industry going in the toilet had left Axl and his music in the dust, his personal delusion that he was still the rock god of yesteryear put him back in the spotlight. Sure, nostalgia has a lot to do with that but Axl being one of those deluded people I mentioned who thinks 1999 never end doesn’t hurt either.

As a both a writer and a sober person, I can have it both ways. I get to show up and I get to be honest about being an addict and alcoholic. Also? I’m not delusional about my past and now think it’s all sort of amazing in a harrowing, awful but fabulously funny sort of way. In a second act twist I couldn’t have ever written, I’m now even more creative and imaginative than I ever was on drugs or while drinking. Despite being lost, I found my way back to telling stories and being creative. I’m sure the little kid who ran the hotel managed by stuffed bears is thrilled that I did.

 

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.

Up in the air 

So here it goes. A post born at 20 thousand feet, which is about the recommended distance anyone should be from Reno, the place we just flew over. Not that I recognized it from the window. Some little animated plane on my phone let me know that I was traveling over “the biggest little city in the world.” And thank god no one has me in charge of direction. I get hopelessly lost in places I’ve been 100 times. Nearing my 3 month mark in Portland and I am not out of the woods as far as being completely lost on a daily basis. Or, for that matter, I’m not out of the woods for getting lost in the actual woods.
Therefore, I’m better off as a passenger. I like Iggy and Siouxsie, am a fabulous passenger. (La la la la la la) I show up on time, I sit down, I try to be nice other passengers and then I quietly fall asleep and drool on myself with the inflight magazine I just spent 20 minutes making fun of in my lap. I wake up for peanuts, pretzels and Satanically hot coffee and then fall back asleep. Like I said, I’m good at this.
I’m one of those weirdos that likes flying and I like it somewhat out of spite. After September 11th, it was chic for like over a decade to bitch about flying and airports. After 600,000 conversations about how much everything related to travel sucked, I stopped participating. The truth was I liked travel so if I had to stand in line with huffy middle aged men or try to slip off my shoes without falling on my face, then so be it. Im gonna love it just to piss you off. So there.

But I also like it because travel, especially for enjoyment, feels important. It feels like I’m participating in my life. It feels like I’m enjoying a world outside my cozy cat and coffee filled cocoon. Quiet simply, it feels fun. What placed me in the clouds and over Reno was precisely that. I spent a too-short 36 hours in Los Angeles with my family for my nephew’s birthday. He’s a great kid with fantastic grades and he was even the valedictorian of his class. All worth the 2+hour flight for sure. But that’s not the only reason I came.

This kid, who is now of voting age and whom we old people can rely on to fix our fuckups, is something more special than a great athlete or amazing student. He along with his two sisters and my sister’s two brilliant kids pretty much saved my life. In 2009 the year I got sober, this kid was 10. Smart, competitive and virtual one-liner factory, he and his sisters were a perfect antidote to the harrowing world of new sobriety. I babysat them a lot over that first year which is hilarious to say because they certainly took more care of me than I ever did of them. Most evenings consisted of epic games of UNO followed by even more epic debates about which movie we should watch flowed by snacks and more debates about going to bed. Under normal circumstances, these evenings would be special but not anything out of the ordinary. Yet when most of your days are spent crying and trying not to drink, these little babysitting moments carry more weight. The amount of joy that all of the kids in my life provided for me that first year feels profound and significant.

And that’s why I’m here, now 20 minutes away from Portland. I get to show up for them today. I can say, “I’ll be there” and actually be there–physically and mentally. Now only a few hundred feet above ground and minutes away from wheels squeaking on the tarmac, I feel really lucky. Lucky that I get to travel, lucky I survived my dance with drugs and alcohol and lucky that this kid helped me so much, even if he didn’t know it at the time.

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.