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.

was it the movie or was it the moment?

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

Dorothy Gale, The Wizard of Oz (1939)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

the despair & depression disco dance party playlist

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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