to all the bros I loved before

Justin Bieber goes for a jog with his PosseWhy is it that the people who push you around, the ones who beat you up and the guys you don’t wanna run into are also the ones you wanna impress the most? Okay, not you. You’re probably pretty healthy. I’m sorry to put this shit on you. I meant me. Why am I like this? Why do I know in the pit of my soul that these men are garbage fires of individuals but I want them to approve of me anyway? Child. This is a deep thing that I’ve been paying a professional to talk about for over a year. There’s binder full of notes somewhere and a large conspiracy theory type of wall map that we could pull together to try to unravel this. The short answer is that my self-esteem was nonexistent for most of my life so I just wanted these dudes, these bros, theses assholes to like me. They usually never did and what’s more guys like this are the kind of guys who bullied me in school, pushed me in the hallway, threw things at me and mocked me. Painful? Sure, but not impossible to overcome. For the ones who hurt me when I was young, through the hours of work, therapy and 12-Step Meetings I’ve been able to reach a place of “Fuck ‘Em” in the most spiritual way possible.

I’m thinking about all of this right now for lots of reasons but chief among them being because asshole dudes who get away with whatever they want are kind of in fashion. We want to put them in power. We still want to give them things. We want to look the other way at the sheer fact of how much they suck. And here I do mean we.  You are guilty too. I listened to that weird dude cry, sniffle and yell during a job interview for a position on the highest court in the land, all the while knowing that even his inherent shittiness wouldn’t sink him from getting the job. Jerks like him always win. Life isn’t an 80’s movie. Wimpy Ralph Macchio in a headband won’t save us. The Biffs, the Johnnies, the Chads– they run this world and we don’t get a redemption storyline. Just ask Anita HIll or anybody bullied by guys like this. The victims of guys like this get to say their piece and put their necks on the line, only to have their lives ruined all over again. There’s no prom or trophies. Yet what we do get to walk away with is a rebuilt version of ourselves that’s stronger and capable of amazing things like even being able to love these jerks, these dudes, these bros.

Whoever is the head writer for the primetime drama that is my life deserves an Emmy because they can really come up with a plot twist. Little did I know that when I got sober in 2009 that my life would be filled with straight guys, ones that even looked like my tormenters from the past. For years, groups of white men would give me a panic attack and now here I was sitting next to them in meetings. The amazing thing about being in a room of addicts and alcoholics is that whoever you were or where you come from doesn’t matter. There have been too many times to count where I see someone who does not look or sound like me start to open their mouths and I think, “Oh this is gonna put me to sleep” only to have my brain blown open and my heart melted because they said exactly how I felt. I now considered myself blessed to have a network of straight men friends who are sober and who I can count on. Oh and it goes deeper than that.

In my professional world I work with a lot of guys right from jail, from rural and not exactly gay friendly neighborhoods and basically guys who in a different time and place who would kick my ass. Yet meeting them addict-to-addict and from a place of support, where we come from really doesn’t matter. I’ve had burly dudes that people might even describe as scary tell me they love me. Not only do I believe them but I love them too. It’s oddly profound and perfect that the types of guys I thought I hated and who hated and tortured me are the very ones I get to help and get the honor of being a person they can lean on. See? I told you it was a good plot twist. If this was a movie from the creators of This Is Us, you’d be crying right now.

The last reason these bros are on my mind is because one that I loved who didn’t love me back recently left this realm. I got news the other day a guy I used to hang out with was killed in an accident. We were friends when I was 20. It’s a gay story as old as time. We met on ecstasy, went to raves, hung out constantly, I fell in love with him but he didn’t love me back becuase he liked vaginas and I don’t have one of those, he fucked my best girlfriend, I did more drugs and cut them both out of my life. You know. These things just happened in the 1990’s. The impact of this non-romance was powerful though. We were never the same as friends, although the meth might have had something to do with that. Nevertheless, we drifted and over the years I wondered about him. I would see posts from mutual friends on Facebook or hear news of him when I’d return home to Denver over the holidays. By not loving me the way I wanted him to he taught me something too: he taught me I deserve more. He taught me that I shouldn’t chase things that aren’t meant for me. He taught me that I could be loveable. His death hit me like a ton of bricks. I mourned him because he was actually one of the good ones. I also mourned for that 20-year-old drug addict version of myself with the painfully low self-esteem.

Sadly, this will be one of those essays that maybe doesn’t answer the questions posed at the top. The fact of the matter is, I don’t know why we loves these dudes, these jerks, these bros. I don’t know why we love people who hurt us or push us around or who are simply unvailable. And I sure the fuck don’t know why our culture is obsessed with rewarding bullies, rapists and misogynists. This also will not end with me saying that we should try to love and understand straight white males more. God no. Eww. I mean, yes they are not all rapist, bully assholes but that’s the best you’ll get out of me right now.

What I do know is this: the men who’ve hurt me, the ones who’ve bullied me and the ones who couldn’t love me back have only made me tougher, more compassionate and even able to love more. For that alone, I’m grateful for their bro asses.

POZiversary

30420-birthday-candles1 2.jpgWell, that’ll do it. Nobody will love me ever again.

It was an overly dramatic train of thought to be sure but don’t blame me. I didn’t come up with it. As far back as forever, people have been saying they’d never fall in love again(Dionne Warwick) or that they were unloveable (Morrissey) or that they’d never love this way again (Dionne Warwick redux, just sub Burt Bacharach for Barry Manilow). These poor saps usually made these statements after having a broken heart. But people are whores so I’m sure Dionne, Morrissey and countless others indeed did fall in love again. My problem was different. Nobody would love ever again because I was broken. Love just wasn’t something my life would be full of because nine years ago today I found that I was HIV Positive.

I’m gonna go ahead and stop you from writing a comment that includes phrases like, “my cousin’s neighbor is positive and he plays on a softball team and is really happy!” or “they have great drugs for that now and so it’s not really a huge deal anymore!” These things are all true and really great but it’s hard not to feel broken in a zillion pieces when you get that kind of news. It’s fucking weird that since HIV still has the “well, you did it to yourself!” stigma attached to it that we don’t let people feel grief around it. We don’t let people have a journey of acceptance around it because it no longer kills millions of people. We do in fact have wonder drugs that keep people alive so let’s not talk about the difficulty those people still might have and just move on, shall we? So yeah I went through it in August 2009 when I got the news. I felt ripped in half. I felt like it was yet another shitty thing I had to “learn to live with.” But mainly I felt like the timing was really bad.

See, I was only 7 months sober at the time and was using everything short of Scotch tape to just hold my shit together at the time. This kind of news was really inconvenient. The same people who would write those comments are the same ones who would tell you when you get this kind of news, “God never gives you more than you can handle!” Well fuck those people because I could barely as handle being sober and I was given another ball to juggle.  Besides, how does God know what I can handle? I think handling things is overrated anyway. I never signed up for this life gig to “handle shit”. Anyway, there we were and it was something I could accept or drink over. How I didn’t drink over it is anyone’s guess seeing as I drank over (and over drank) everything. So I stayed sober and it was people who helped me, not Scotch tape, keep it together. Still, there was a nagging feeling that love was something that might not ever be in the cards.

But as with all the best parts of my life, I was wrong. Completely wrong on every level and ain’t that a wonderful thing? No, seriously.  In boastful, bullshitter times, there’s something wonderfully, punk rock about being totally, fucking wrong. Because once I’ve shut up and stop being convinced that I know what the outcome on every thing is, magic can happen. And magic did happen. I met a guy who didn’t care about me being HIV positive. Beyond this something else happened- love. Love not just from my beautiful husband but love from family members (even the ones who said shit like, “Well you knew this might happen when you decided to be gay” oy fucking vey). Love happened from other addicts and alcoholics who told they were sorry I was going through a tough time. They gave me permission to cry, they brought me burritos, they took me to meetings and they told me not to drink or use no matter what.  Even more amazing, love happened from other people with HIV.

Other people who maybe felt like they’d never feel loved again too, loved me, no questions asked. I shared about it and they showed up for me. They drove me home from meetings and told me it was gonna be okay and I believed them because they were like me. Even more amazingly, the universe put brave beautiful people with HIV in my life without me ever having to say a word. At four years sober, I met somebody days after being in a coma who I got to watch sobriety change his whole world. He turned out to be HIV positive too. We didn’t know this when we met each other but it was just one of a zillion things that latched our hearts together. But it wasn’t just him. Over the years there’s been lots of “him.” People I loved immediately would later share that they were positive too.  Again, we never planned on meeting. Something bigger just put us together and aren’t we lucky? That happened to me just the other day with a new friend who I instantly adored but who got even closer once we knew what we had in common. We exhaled when we shared it with each other. I feel less alone, less damaged, more lovable the more this happens. The thing is we’re able to fill in the blank spaces that the world, society and our broken selves tell us won’t ever be filled with love.

It’s even happened recently at my day job where I get to help other addicts and alcoholics. Again, it’s unplanned and not manipulated but I have certainly come out to my coworkers as HIV positive. In my field, this is an asset. When patients come in with HIV they know that I’ve been there and they can lean on me, no questions asked. Recently, a patient shared his rage that he felt discriminated against at his treatment center when a fellow patient said people like him shouldn’t be allowed in there. I told him that would have pissed me off too. I also offered to come down there and drag this asshole out of the rehab by the hair. We laughed and he said the staff was on his side and the drama subsided. My offer, however, still stands.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that nine years later, the news I got on August 11th 2009, the news that I thought would ruin my existence or make me go out and use again, turned out to be the news that changed my life. Now, when I think about the day and all of the days since, the only thing I can think of is love.

 

 

 

 

 

 

a piece of cake

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I’m a talker, a communicator, a storyteller. I’m a sharer and an over-sharer.  I’m a chronic poster, tweeter and Instagramer. I’m a recovering gossip who occasionally relapses. I’m eternally the 4th grade chatterbox who took the report card note of, “talks too much in class” as less of a criticism and more of a challenge to talk even more. Therefore, when I suddenly fell mute for a few days like Ariel in the weirdest part of The Little Mermaid, I was concerned. After all, there was A LOT going on in the world and now was the moment I chose to shut the hell up?

After Valentine’s Day, you know that sad ass Valentine’s Day where 17 people lost their lives in Florida, I kind of didn’t know what to say. Now, I’ve written about shootings before. From Aurora to Orlando, I have endlessly wondered why and how this keeps happening. I write to process, to vent and to share. More than that, I wrote about these things to hopefully connect with others who are feeling the same way so I feel less alone. Lots of words and tears but virtually everything has stayed the same. I just didn’t know what to say this time. By the way, feeling sad or enraged about shootings is an appropriate response. Otherwise, you’re fucking soulless robot. Yet somehow Florida was different. Sure, this was yet another heartbreaking, head shaking American made tragedy but it felt like it was finally enough. So soon after so many others, this one felt like a shift. Parkland wasn’t going to let us forget it and keep moving with our busy little gun-toting lives. Parkland wanted us to do something. Thankfully, as we all have seen by now, the children affected by that tragedy are leading the charge. Will things stay the same? I hope not but at least we have the right group with a lot to say when folks like me have run out of words.

What I did instead of talking was bake. As we have discussed here before, I’m kind of obsessed with cooking and baking. Baking, in particular, is very relaxing to me. I have an entire ritual: I listen to Sarah Vaughn, I make coffee and I bake. An obnoxious friend of mine once said “knitting is the new yoga” but today I would challenge her and say that baking is the new yoga. But who am I kidding? There have been so many new yogas that by now yoga is probably the new yoga. Anyway,  ever since my home was blessed with a pistachio-colored KitchenAid mixer last fall, my baking game has been taken to the next level. Elaborate Christmas cookies in tins for gifts, biscuits for Sunday mornings, cupcakes for parties, muffins just for the hell of it. The irony in all of this is my husband is not eating carbs, dairy or sugar (and yet somehow we stay happily married!). This means my baked accomplishments often travel elsewhere. I brought chocolate peanut butter cookies to a friend fresh out of detox. I took cookies to fundraiser for Crystal Meth Anonymous because tweakers deserve cookies just like everyone else, dammit. When someone at the clinic I work at suddenly died, sending a shockwave of sadness through my workplace, I brought more cookies and some muffins because I’m a former Catholic whose grandparents taught me that’s just what you do when these kind of things happen. Those cookies and muffins worked out particularly well since death is another hard situation where you don’t know what to say. It was my calorie-laden way of saying, “Holy shit. This is fucking sad. I love you. Have a muffin.”

Therefore, two nights ago I did what I do when I don’t know what to do: I baked. I made a lemon coconut cake. I experimented with cake flour because that’s what people like me do when they no longer experiment with new ways to ingest cocaine. I got to also make cream cheese frosting which is always a good day in my book. I was taking it to a dinner with some beloved sober people. Selfishly, it also helped me get my mind of some heavy shit. Besides Florida, I got some terrible news. A loved one who has been battling alcoholism for a long, long time has taken a turn for the worse. Her poor body cannot keep up with her disease. Alcoholism: 1, The Body: 0. It’s a horrific way to suffer. If it was someone with cancer or an incurable disease, the attitude would be different. Instead, since it’s “just” alcoholism (which is like saying just a tsunami) we act weird, dishonest and maybe not as compassionate as we should. God forbid we talk about it openly and say, “Ain’t alcoholism a bitch?” and then cry over a basket of muffins. So this loved one, this family member, this aunt of mine is losing a battle.

And in true alcoholic fashion, I can’t help but make someone else’s death all about me and take it personally. Like it’s super present to me that this is what would happen if I went out and started drinking again. My death wouldn’t be instant. My death from drinking and drugs wouldn’t be a graceful. It would be a long, brutal nightmare and that scares the shit out of me. Unable to eat and soon maybe unable to speak, a basket of UPS’d cookies would be lost on her at this moment. But don’t think I didn’t consider it.  Instead I make the cake for the ones that are here, the ones who are fighting alcoholism, addiction and depression, the ones who have sprouted up in my life like a magical bean stock. But mainly, I made it for me. I made it for me, the kid who is losing his aunt, the sober adult who is watching the disease in action–and ain’t that a bitch and I made it for me, the grieving person who simply just doesn’t know what to say.

the heart asks for pleasure first

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I guess the idea shows up in your brain when you’re watching an Emily Dickinson movie on Amazon.

The film being A Quiet Passion starring Cynthia Nixon as the elusive poetess. The title doesn’t lie as it’s a quiet little church mouse of a movie but honestly it’s worth the watch for the poetry alone. Long a poetry nerd since childhood, the movie reminded me the Emily Dickinson is overused, over-quoted and maybe even overrated for a reason. The woman was a genius. Her sensitive soul and deep affection for her family mixed with a famously reclusive nature have always spoke to me. Therefore, the film’s choice to have Nixon read her work in voiceover is a brilliant one. In one scene in particular, my jaw fell open when I heard her speak these words:

The heart asks pleasure first,
And then, excuse from pain;
And then, those little anodynes
That deaden suffering;

And then, to go to sleep; 
And then, if it should be
The will of its Inquisitor,
The liberty to die.

Well, that was it. Ms. Dickinson, as portrayed by Miranda from Sex and the City, nailed it. The “it” I’ve been thinking about for the better part of a month: the journey of the heart. Of my heart, specifically. See, without me even trying or setting an intention or making vision board or visiting a witch (all things I approve of, just things I didn’t do) my heart changed. Love changed. Listen, this might sound like a bunch of nonsense so feel free to close your laptop or go read a really important article about the best episodes of The Barefoot Contessa.  But the best way I can describe it is it all got bigger. My heart could suddenly handle more. More love, more heartbreak and more change. And love, dear sweet love whom I’ve tried to push around and control my whole life, proved to me it was the boss. In the world of recovery, we often say “life on life’s terms” but I think we should say love on love’s terms, too.

Maybe it also shows when you hear a Savage Garden song in a Lyft.

“Is the music okay?” my sweet 50-something year-old driver asked me. “Perfect,” I said. Sometimes you just need to lip synch, “I’ll be your dream. I’ll be your wish. I’ll be your fantasy” in the back of a stranger’s SUV. Last week, was one of those times. For that 10 minute ride, I was happy to listen to Savage Garden and give my brain a breather. It was an emotional rollercoaster of a weekend. From a joyous evening to celebrate with new friends to watching a loved one suffer, it was clear early on that my role was to just be wherever you invited me. The fact that I’m even able to do that still blows my mind after 9 years sober. Had you known me before when sending me a text message was akin to tossing a folded letter down a dark well, you’d be impressed too. Sure, I wasn’t doing as directed by Savage Garden and standing with you on a mountain or bathing with you in the sea,  but I was showing up for you last weekend and it felt good.

What happened by just showing up, is it availed me to some amazing experiences. One of which was sitting in a room with fellow addicts where someone I love was sharing their story. I scanned the building and noticed that 95% of the crowd was gay men. Gay men of all ages and varying lengths of sobriety. This is special for me because I never in a million years would have ever thought I’d have groups of gay men across several states that I felt  loved and accepted by. But here I am, gifted with male friends who are more than just fucks, adversaries or exes. We are connected to one another by the heart and by a common journey. What these people do, with varying degrees of success, is just show up and support each other and hopefully get better. The fact I get to be a part of something spectacular like that isn’t lost on me. By the end of the night, I soon didn’t feel like I needed my retreat into Savage Garden nor was my act of showing up all that remarkable. I felt honored just to be there.

It’s probably present too every time a friend picks up the phone.

The pursuit of being the cool bitch with a whole gang of friends has taken me to dark places. In the name of “cool” and on the never-ending quest for approval, I’ve done everything from shoplifting to trying heroin to snorting Special K with drag queens. Now at age 45, I am finding myself again seeking, finding and cultivating new friendships. It’s humbling to put myself out there, call people and be open. On some entitled level, I feel like I should just get a group of new friends each time I move to a new town without having to do any work. Like can’t we just have a casting agent take care of it? Can’t we hold auditions? Sadly, no. However, I have somehow found cool, funny, brilliant people to hang out with who I want to get to know better. I’ve rallied and pushed aside my shitty attitude to make friends. What’s more, and this is that expansion of love at work here, is I am open to be vulnerable and real with people I barely know, cool kid status be damned. I don’t take people hostage anymore and force them to get wasted with me. I’m just letting friendship happen. Already, I’ve been gifted with more than one phone call to a friend who somehow always gets what I’m going through, despite us not knowing each other for that long. This person speaks my language, lets me be myself and I try to do the same. It’s an incredible gift especially for someone newly back in the friendship game. Yet my heart is also grown up enough now to know that I can love these people in this moment, without expectation and somehow that feels like enough.

Maybe it’s always there.

Coming home the other night after being out with friends, my husband was already tucked in bed. A sleepy, funny random conversation that only couples who really like talking to each other followed, despite it probably not making a hell of a lot of sense. My heart and the rest of me wanted to go to sleep but it was later when I thought about those snuggly seconds before passing out that I realized that my pursuit of love and friendship begins and ends here, at home. The beings who live here: my cats Maeby and Larry and mainly, my husband Michael are the ones who teach me how to love all day long and who remind me that no journey my heart wants to take is too dangerous or too scary. No friendship too risky, no act of kindness without reason. Because every road leads back here–home. As Emily herself once wrote, I dwell in possibility and where I live is filled with precisely that.

 

Bateau Ivre

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Since I got back from Paris, I’ve become one of those people who starts off a lot of sentences with “Since I got back from Paris…” because the trip turned my thinking upside down. I know, I know this idea that “Since I got back from Paris, my point of view has totally changed” all sounds very PBS low-budget travel show but it’s actually true.

We got home on October 16–or was it the 17th? All I know is it was an odd time of day and I was hungry. But that could very well be said of any day for me, travel or not. It was one of those days that started in another time zone, in another country but somehow miraculously ended on the same day in a different time zone, even though 15 hours had been spent somewhere along the line. All this travel math and 8 hours of airplane movies turned my brain into mush. By the time we returned to our little abode in Portland, I just wanted to collapse and hang out with my cats. I did just that for the better part of 2 weeks. But the longer I’m back from Paris (and Amsterdam and Vienna who I also hung out with on my voyage) the longer I’ve realized a few things about myself and the country I grew up in: America.

First of all, we ain’t shit. Look, I know that’s not poetic but that was the overwhelming theme I left Europe with. After nearly 2 years of emerging Trumpism, bombastic headlines and daily reminders from every digital platform that the world is fucked, it was a breath of fresh air to be on a continent that legitimately did not give a shit. As I checked Twitter while in Europe, it shocked me that Trump or Mueller or any other thing we were freaking out about were not trending. Case in point: dark alternative rock god Nick Cave was trending while we were in Amsterdam on a week where the US was still shocked from the horrific shooting in Las Vegas. Speaking of Las Vegas, it barely came up while we were there and while I can’t be sure, I’m guessing it’s because from a foreigner’s point of view, events like that happen all the time in the US. Hard to argue with that logic, sadly. Horrible redundant American tragedies aside, it felt good not to matter. It felt good to not have the impending shit storm of dread that so many of us have woken up with for months. It felt good not to be the center of universe for 5 minutes and realize that nobody cared about my paltry American nonsense.

IMG_2563.jpgWhich brings me to the other realization I had, and one as an alcoholic I need to remember regularly: other people are going through stuff too. France, a country which has arguably seen more than its share of heartbreak and violence over the last few years, maybe couldn’t be bothered with our hot messes because it’s still trying to heal. Michael and I attended a life altering exhibit chronicling the life and work of Christian Dior. The exhibit had dresses, designs and the art behind the famous designer. Told exhaustively on several floors of the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, it was an uplifting and inspirational journey into the birth of what we know as modern fashion and fashion branding. But what knocked the wind out of me and gave me goosebumps was the reaction of the french speaking visitors to the museum. Filled with pride and curiosity, each person seemed personally invested in the works. After a massive line to get in and packed galleries, the spirit was unwavering and I think that says a lot about the French and perhaps humans in general. Devastated together by heartbreak but united by a love of art and beauty, the Dior show felt less like a fashion exhibit and more like a window into the French soul. In those moments watching them take selfies with the mannequins or devour the text about Dior’s life, I finally got it. These people needed this show and they needed each other. And I needed it too.

The other thing that hit me is that despite traveling several countries over the course of over two weeks and getting far, far away from Sean at Home, I am still me wherever I go. This is an unfortunate but inevitable fact. My carry on luggage comes equipped with my own personal baggage and ain’t that a shame? I will say that it is lighter these days and as a travel companion, I am pretty fantastic. The gorgeous photo at the top of the post was taken by husband the last night we were in Paris. It was a perfect, sun-kissed moment while amazing music played in the background. This was a snapshot, unlike the dozens of photos of cake that I took and posted to Instagram, that needed to happen. Such a significant moment, the image has since served as our screen saver since we got back from Paris. Out of curiosity and since my junior high French only took me so far, I wondered what “bateau ivre” meant. I cackled when the magic of Google revealed that it means “drunk boat.” Perfect. That’s me–bateau ivre, a little drunk boat floating around the globe. Except now this little drunk boat has safe harbours like the meetings I went to in Paris and Amsterdam (spoiler alert: alcoholics are the same everywhere), the sober friends I messaged from random locales and the moments of peace I got by staring at views like this one.

Lastly, since I got back from Paris, I haven’t felt like an American or just an American, I should say. Listen, I’m  not unpatriotic or a spurned former lover of the USofA. I just feel like more of a human. You know, a person who lives in the whole world, instead of in just his small American bubble. I feel like a person who is lucky to have these adventures and people who I love to come home to. But mainly I feel like if I love myself and help other people than this little drunk boat is safe to dock pretty much anywhere.

*This is the first in a three-part series about my recent travels to Europe. If you hate travel posts, I apologize but I promise to fill each of them with my signature brand of neurosis to not deviate from my brand too much. hearts–S.

 

 

 

 

 

sea change

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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.