private chanter

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

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

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

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

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

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

earrings off

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In my days working nightclubs in Hollywood, back when dinosaurs roamed the Earth (Trust. Those Triassic fools knew how to partaaay!) I’d every so often witness an urban legend come to life. One night drinking and doing blow, I mean “working”, at a hip hop night in Hollywood, I saw it.  The earrings came off. Girl B, who had been pushed by girl A, was ready to explode and she handed her earrings to her friend. Suddenly, this fight moved from pushing into Friday Night Smackdown territory in about two seconds. A co-worker and I immediately  grabbed security when the earrings came off and the girls were ushered out of the club in a hair pulling, screaming tornado in less than 3 minutes.

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In the 90’s, the widely spread idea of women taking their earrings off before getting a fist fight started somewhere. Could have actually happened and spread the old-fashioned( no. not through Twitter) from one mouth to the next. Things like this Jill Scott classic certainly helped bring the idea of being so pissed off and ready to kick so much ass that you had to take your earrings off before you beat someone’s ass.

There is a practical reason for this pre-fight ritual, mind you. The idea is you take your big ass hoops out before beating a bitch down to avoid getting your ears pulled off your face. But symbolically, the idea of being angry enough to say “Oh now. I’m really pissed off. Hold these while I kick some ass” is comedic and yet in this day and age oddly appropriate. Which is to say, things recently have annoyed me enough that even though I don’t have pierced ears, to remove the earrings and punch somebody in the neck.

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This all metaphoric, mind you. I’m far too lazy and delightfully fay to ever physically harm anyone. Violence falls under one of those gross, basic things I don’t take part in. This isn’t to say, I don’t get annoyed. 2016 is undoubtedly the year all of my emotions showed up the party at the same damn time and Mr. Bitchy is one of the emotions on the guest list. I’m currently experiencing what you’d call a dull, humming annoyance. Like terrible background music at a grocery store or an itch on the bottom of your foot you can’t get to because you’re wearing boots. My feeling of agitation is not unique, I realize this. But in the interest of not ending up on a roof top of a Wal-Mart in a showdown with police, I think it’s important to let it out and take the earrings off, so to speak.

Not to minimize a subject here nor waste 500 words on something 800,000 people have already wrote about but intolerance is number one on my annoyance list. I guess you could say I’m intolerant of intolerance. Yeah I’m not 5 years old and I don’t think we’re all going to get along. But Jeez Louise (that’s right I said “Jeez Louise.” I told you I was pissed off.) do people have to fight and be racist and generally horrible online at all times of the day? Like can’t we all call out sick from that crap for like ever? Even the simple pleasures, like hashtag games on Twitter, are hijacked by crazy people talking shit about women or gays or minorities. Like hello. You’re ruining the internet. Stop it. This is all entertainment. So if you’re being preachy or bigoted or posting in all caps, you are doing it wrong. Please throw your laptop out the window and go to the library to read books until we’ve decided you’ve learned your lesson and can come back to social media.

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Not being able to tolerate intolerance is undoubtedly a good thing. It sounds ridiculous that we even have to raise our hand and say, “Hi. Just so you know, I’m not with that racist gang of homophobic, xenophobic, sexist assholes.” Yet here we are. People aren’t pinning safety pins to their sweaters, to their jackets, to their faces just to be bleeding heart liberals. They’re also doing it so we can spot one another. So we can nod accordingly at like-minded folk who don’t suck. Yet I realize the irony here. If I want tolerance, I have to practice it even among people I find intolerable. Ugh. Admittedly, that’s some level 8 spiritual ninja shit I have yet to master.

In the spirit of honesty, I will say that I am also currently also annoyed by people in denial, people who walk with their dogs without leashes, people who don’t know how to stand in line, people who don’t return a”hello” when given one, people who drive while high (#DenverProblems), dishonest people and finally, most people who aren’t my cats. Listen, I don’t want to hate humanity right now. I really don’t but they’re making it hard for me to love them, okay?

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Yet an odd shift has happened in 2016, I’ve discovered that I can be pissed off, I can be heartbroken, I can be elated but none of these emotions has to sink the ship. Back when I was drinking and using drugs, emotions were either totally numbed and stuffed down or dialed up to an eleven. There was no in between. It’s an erratic and exhausting way to live. I found myself fighting with a lot of people too. There was always a falling out with someone happening or about to happen back then. I can happily say that today, although I might not a lot of people, I’m not fighting anyone. In fact, if I am in conflict with people, I take it as a warning sign that spiritually I’m pretty fucked up.

There’s a promise in that program I do which says, “And we have ceased fighting anything or anyone-even alcohol.” I take that as serious as a heart attack. I really want that promise. In fact, I chase that shit. Sure, I can be pissed off and hate everybody (current status) but I really want to live a life free of beating someone’s ass or having a list of people I actively despise. So I end up here. Laughing at myself, telling on myself and blathering on for some 1,100 words about how bitchy I am. My day, if I’m lucky, will move along with ease, without accessories coming off or any faces having to be punched. And for right now, in November 2016, that’s pretty spectacular.

 

new victors

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One month ago, I was a normal Netflix bingeing, Great British Baking Show watching homosexual man in his 40’s. I seek out, I binge and I move on. This is my philosophy for  television in the modern era. I have my things I love, the shows I’m on the fence about and the things that I know are crappy but I keep watching anyway. It all works for me that is until something throws my whole machine out of whack. The something we’re talking about here is the Olympics.

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I swam up-stream with everyone else into NBC’s river of self-congratulatory Go America Olympic Bullshit last week and my carefully curated television viewing habits have been thrown down the toilet. Instead of perusing PBS for documentaries about British castles, I now finding myself saying shit like,”I wonder what time badminton is on.” And it’s actually a lot of fun. I’m a sucker for person-against -all-odds storylines and the Olympics is overstuffed with them. I’ve cried like a baby when the women’s gymnastics team and Simone Manuel both took home gold medals last week. I’ve held my breath while watching incredibly tense beach volleyball matches. I’ve cheered as countries who’ve never medal suddenly walked home with the gold. It’s cool to see athletes and women and people from far-flung nations get recognition in primetime, an era usually devoted to men’s only sports.  While NBC’s abominable coverage could perhaps be bested by the all-stoner audio/visual club at my high school, the only real part of the Olympics that’s left a sour taste in my mouth is the bully narrative. Look to Kim/Kanye/Taylor. Look to that orange buffoon currently running for president. Look in the comments of any Gawker post. Bullies run the world and they are distinctly American in flavor. Sadly, our gnarly gift to humanity can be seen at the Olympics too. For every awe-inspiring female athlete, there was a Lilly King or a Hope Solo to remind the planet that no one does piss-poor competitor like Americans. U-S-A! U-S-A!

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All of this, in addition to a witnessing what a televised week-long Michael Phelps boner looks like, made me start thinking about what really makes a winner in 2016. While I have zero opinion about the participation ribbon generation currently cultivated on the kids’ soccer fields of the country, I do think our idea of a winner should probably change. If you frequent the halls of recovery or spend time with survivors of abuse or have lived through horrific natural disasters, it’s hard to stand up and cheer for entitled white kids from Ivy League schools. Winners, as it were, are actually all around us. A friend of mine who has been watching her husband fight for his life in a hospital for over a week sure looks like someone who deserves a medal to me. Ditto another friend who recently picked up a six month chip after several relapses and false starts. In every American neighborhood in every town, people are overcoming some badass shit and doing so with grace. Yet because of some dusty old stigmas we are still reluctant to talk about these sorts of victories. Hence maybe why during the 150 hour Phelps-fest his battle with alcohol was only mentioned once and only in voiceover by the announcer. His camp, as a matter of fact, doesn’t really mention it at all, as pointed out in this excellent Sports Illustrated piece. Which is too bad given what an openness around it by an athlete of his stature could do for the stigma of alcoholism. Unsurprising, to be sure, but none of it affects the winning going on everywhere, all of the time.

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What I’ve witnessed is that winning happens and not just every four years. Winning happens even without an inspiring Katy Perry ballad. Winning happens without the low emotional intelligence which requires making someone else a villain. Watching the Brazilian men’s team emotionally explode last night as they won their country’s first men’s gymnastics medals, I was reminded the feeling of victory,however, is pretty much the same. They held their breath, they cried, they couldn’t believe it was happening. I felt the same way when I picked up my one year chip after not thinking I could ever stay sober that long. And this, I suppose, is what still makes the Olympics great. We like to see one another win. We identify with overcoming the odds. We hang onto the hope that maybe we can win too. But, it should be pointed out, if you’ve finally gotten out of bed after a long depression, if you left a toxic relationship or if you’ve somehow manged to stay sober another day, you deserve a goddamn medal too.