Mrs. God

mrsgod

Despite the warnings not to, I once picked up an anti-Mormon pamphlet. I was a missionary at the time, and we had stepped into a Christian bookstore, casually browsing. My companion casually glanced over my shoulder as I read.

In poorly drawn comic strips, the pamphlet tore apart the Mormon version of God. Instead of believing in a divine being, it said, Mormons believed in an immortal alien, one who had once been a man before ascending to godhood and inheriting his own planet. God called his planet Kolob, it said, and he had pure white skin, white hair, and a white beard. He created Earth and possibly other planets so that he would have a place for his billions of spirit kids to get bodies and to be tested, so he could sort the good ones out from the bad ones.

More than anything, the pamphlet emphasized that God had millions of wives, a great eternal harem of women. They had all been mortal women like him, and he had claimed them, bounding them to him forever. They were his property, and the billions of spirit children descended from all of them. Though this may not be a direct quote (hey, it’s been 20 years), the pamphlet stated something like “Mormons don’t believe in a God. They believe in a white alien immortal who engages in endless Celestial sex with his millions of goddess wives.”

My companion and I had laughed about it at the time, and then quickly put the pamphlet back. We had always been instructed not to read things like that, because it could cause us to doubt our very testimonies and belief systems. He and I never talked about it again. But the pamphlet stuck with me. It made me give serious thought to the ideas I had around God for the first time. The pamphlet had worded it all in very abrasive ways, but it hadn’t said anything that was necessarily wrong.

I was taught all about God growing up. Above all else, I was taught that he was a loving father, one with infinite and unconditional love, who knew my heart and thoughts, who knew every choice I would ever make before I could make it. He expected repentance when I made wrong choices, prayer, ten per cent of my income, and strict obedience to all of his commandments, and in return he promised me eternal salvation and glory. And, yes, I was promised that the most very righteous would inherit his kingdom, in other words I could become my own god with my own planet someday.

But we were also taught about the origins of God. “As man is, God once was. As God is, man may become,” they taught. God’s name was Elohim, and he was once a mortal who had been obedient to his god, and thus he had become his own God. Which meant there was god before god, and a god before him. It was like one giant capitalistic society, with vast trusts and inheritances built in. Follow the rules, and get the rewards. Don’t, and God will judge you (justly of course) as being worthy of one of the lesser levels of heaven, where you’ll just hang out for eternity. Unless you commit the extreme sin of denying God himself, then it’s Outer Darkness for you. (Those letters are capitalized, cause Mormons believe that is an actual place. Outer Darkness. Where the evil souls float for eternity, no bodies allowed).

And God did live on Kolob, his planet base somewhere in space. And he did look like a white-skinned man with a beard in all the Mormon pictures. And Mormons did believe in polygamy, and they did believe that God practiced it. And they did say that he was our literal father, and he did have billions of spirit children, which probably meant he had millions of wives. And that meant I had a Heavenly Mother in addition to a Heavenly Father. We just didn’t talk about her. I didn’t know her name. But apparently she was once a human too then, and she had gotten to Kolob by sealing herself to God in life, one among millions, and then he had taken her to Heaven with him. That’s how human girls now were supposed to do it. Men got to inherit God powers and kingdoms, and women got to attach themselves to men and go along for the ride. And presumably my Heavenly Mother was just one of those women, and my only Mother, so those other millions would be my Great God-Aunts?

I asked about Heavenly Mother once, when I was a teenager, in my Seminary class. (Seminary was an actual class that I attended during high school hours, in between History and Algebra, at the church across the street). She was mentioned in the Mormon hymn “Oh My Father”, a hymn that had been written by Eliza R. Snow, herself one of the plural wives of Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism. One stanza was clear.

“In the heav’ns are parents single?
No, the thought makes reason stare!
Truth is reason; truth eternal
Tells me I’ve a mother there.”

I had raised my hand and asked why we didn’t talk about Heavenly Mother much. The seminary teacher, a good man in his late thirties, who had been married for six years and now had five children under the age of five, had responded kindly, thoughtfully. “We don’t take the name of God in vain as a sign of respect. In the same way, God doesn’t allow us to speak about Heavenly Mother. She is far too sacred.”

I write all of this at the age of 39. When I try to reason through these logic puzzles of my former belief system, I crinkle up my nose like I’ve just smelled something unpleasant. There is no reason behind any of fit, it doesn’t hold up. Little things make me cringe (like if God is Mary’s father, yet he also fathered Jesus through her, but he is also Jesus…), and images of millions of women lining up in white with their faces veiled so that they can devote themselves to one man, well, that just flies in the face of every one of my values.

I have no idea if there is a God out there or not. I’m kind of leaning toward not. But if there is one, I’m just going to presume it is a she, not a he. Women give birth, nurture and sustain. Men chop and tear, rend and conquer. If I ever pray again, it will definitely be to Mrs. God.

Or is it Ms.?

 

 

 

Advertisements

What to do with Outrage

Outrage

I keep a little list of things I want to blog about tucked into my folder. There are titles for stories, representing key development moments from my past or amusing little anecdotes with my children, there are inspiring topics about human progress, and there are things that inspire me about the world. I’ve stopped blogging about whatever book I’m reading, or whatever little historical nugget I’m learning about, and instead focus on what is in my soul as I sit down to write. This is why I need to make time to blog, I need time with a cup of coffee, a glass of water, and an open computer screen, so my fingers can channel the things that my spirit wants to convey. When I sit down, I then can choose a topic off the list, pick which story I want to tell. Sometimes, though, I don’t end up taking one of these topics, and instead I write from wherever my head is at, from whatever is most relevant in my brain and heart at that moment. (The discipline of writing, for me, is equal parts dedication, healing, and heart. It fulfills me in a way nothing else can).

And that brings us to today.

My older blogs contained a lot of my intellectual thoughts, and a lot about my thoughts on politics. During the Trump/Clinton election, I can see several blogs in a row that convey my outrage and pain at the very idea of Trump being the candidate we were considering, given all he represented to me. Then after he was elected, I climbed within a hole within myself, because talking about it hadn’t seemed to do any good. I processed my pain quietly, instead of publicly, and grew determined instead to focus on change with me, my friends, my kids, my clients, the places that I can have a positive impact.

I keep hoping that we, as Americans, hell as a human species, will come around. We will stop repeating our greatest atrocities and instead learn to love our world and ourselves. I keep picturing the weaving plot lines in Game of Thrones, where all the egotistic murderous rulers battle through politics and warfare for moments of power while the threat to them all looms just over the borders. We are squabbling over Democrat versus Republic, all while war is raging, people are starving, racism and sexism run the world, animal habitats are being wiped out, and the ice keeps melting as the temperature raises.  And even now, it seems my country is the one withdrawing from the ones trying to make positive change in the world, and instead is forming bonds with the tyrants and warmongers, and I don’t know how to process that. I’m having a crisis of faith.

I am exhausted from remaining silent. I am so weary of this temporary outrage culture I’m living in, where whatever is most currently in the news becomes the thing that the entire world rages over, but only until the next headline, when the outrage moves on to something else and the last thing is forgotten, filed away on an unmanageable list.

But the stakes feel so high! The transgender military ban, the Muslim ban, black men being kicked out of Starbucks, the Parkland shooting, the Las Vegas country concert massacre, the Pulse shooting, the gay wedding cake debate, police brutality against black civilians, overstocked for-profit prisons, the latest celebrity accused of sexual assault, the United States pulling out of the Paris Accords, the arrests of Trump’s allies, collusion and obstruction, private Email servers used in public positions, government employees spending fortunes on furniture, the G-7 summit, the North Korea leader meetings, Obamacare, the porn star pay-offs, the floods, the wars, the corruption.

And now, we rage over these children being removed from parents at the border, and the debate turns to border security, family trauma, war crime victims, asylum, criminal prosecution, human decency. And it hurts me, deeply.

But then I realize I will only be outraged about this for as long as these headlines are there, and then it will be on to something else. Lately, I’m almost constantly outraged. Ignoring it doesn’t help, avoiding it doesn’t either, but neither does publicly screaming about it.

Even now, I could scroll through my Facebook feed. Most of my social media contacts are liberally minded, so I will see the same god-damn scream of outrage, cry for validation, over and over again. It’s a constant barrage.

“I am so angry/furious/outraged/horrified/baffled by the forced separation of kids from their families/the Pulse nightclub shooting/the callous murder of Trayvon Martin/the Bill Cosby rape scandal/the Michael Cohen porn star payoff! We need better gun control laws/more women in government/environmental policies/voter security systems! And if you disagree with me/voted for Trump/blame women for their own rapes/don’t support equality, then unfriend me and get out of my life right now! I’m serious! I mean it! I’m moving to Canada!”

Here’s the thing, though. I feel all of this outrage. It physically hurts me. I hate it. And yet, participation in it doesn’t help. Screaming into the air doesn’t make me feel any more validated. Arguing with people I love with endless paragraphs in the form of a comment on social media posts doesn’t help. It doesn’t take my pain away. And I fully realize, when I remove myself from the box and look at the system from the outside, that I’m being manipulated by media machines, by campaigns and ads. I become aware of human trauma, crying children, and insane atrocities, and…

my life doesn’t change. At all.

I still get up every morning, brew my coffee, see my clients, exercise, take care of my children, try to improve the world around me. And that is the privilege talking, because other people don’t get that same luxury. And that fuels my outrage even more.

So I’m a solution finder. I don’t like to just complain about problems. I want to find clear paths forward, and that is what I help my clients do as well. And my solution, for me? I need to do something with this outrage. I want to stay informed, not by drowning in manipulative media, but by being aware of the world around me, and then I want to do what I can to make a difference.

I can support businesses that share my standards, and especially those that are run by or employ women, immigrants, people of color, and LGBT people, and who give more opportunities to women. I can go out of my way to better the world around me with handshakes, hugs, love, and support. I can drive less and recycle more. I can avoid eating meat, and purchase food and goods that come from ethical businesses. I can vote for officials who support an ethical and fair world. I can instill ethics and values in my children that teach them to be themselves, to love everyone, and to live healthy lives. I can donate money to worthy causes and charity. I can write.

And just typing that last paragraph shifted my energy from one of pain and anxiety (what I feel when I focus on the problems) to a space of calm, healing, and hope (what I feel when I focus on the solutions). I choose to use my outrage to create a better world around me. Losing sleep, pulling out my hair, giving myself ulcers, and screaming into the social media void about the terribleness of the world will not help. Teaching my sons about equality and justice, seeing my clients through their pain, and being good to the Earth will.

So come on, outrage. Come join me, and let’s go make a difference in this world.

Seeking Discreet Hook-Up

CL

I saw the ad for “discreet hook-up”, in the Men Seeking Men section on Craigslist. It was alluring.

“Discreet local athlete. Looking for discreet encounter with regular or semi-regular partner. Want someone who is fit, who knows what they want, who doesn’t ask questions, and above all, is discreet. Discretion is a must!”

Three “discreets” and one “discretion is a must”, complete with exclamation point! This guy was more paranoid than I was!

Back in 2011, I had only been out of the closet for a few months, and I was still too scared to show my picture in situations like this. I was only selectively out of the closet at that point, meaning only a few people knew that I was gay. If someone on the other end of that computer screen saw me… what if they knew me? What if they were in my ward, or worse what if they were a former client of mine? No, the risks were far too great.

So instead of sending the requested photo, I sent a description of myself. “5’11’’, 175. Not in perfect shape, but regularly go to the gym. Recently out. Seeking connections and could be fun to meet up.”

And when I checked my Email the next morning, he replied. “If you’re real and interested, send photos. I would send one, but I’m discreet.”

Discreet, okay, I get it already! I sent a quip back that I was uncomfortable sending a photo without seeing one in return. Then he replied, “Fine, but you better be good-looking. I’ll meet you in the front lobby of my apartment building. But don’t tell anyone you are coming. What time should I expect you?”

And so, after getting off work that afternoon, I found myself driving to an unfamiliar address. I’d passed this building a thousand times and never had reason to go inside. As I parked the car, I wondered what I was doing. This could be a woman, a troll, a con artist, an older man. Anyone can use any description from behind a keyboard. But in a situation like this, where we were both scared of exposure, it seemed that we both had a lot to lose, and that equal playing field gave me bravery.

Sex with men was still something very new to me. At this point, I’d only met up with a half-dozen guys, and all of them had been brief encounters with guys who, like me, had a lot to lose. There was the college student who’d looked like a grown-up Harry Potter, the tall model looking guy here on vacation, the rugged carpenter guy. All of them one-time meetings with guys I would never see again.

I was living in a fairly rural area of north Idaho, and meeting guys seemed difficult and confusing, especially since I wasn’t looking to date yet. The novelty of meeting random guys was already wearing off, but after decades in the closet, finding physical connections was proving to be a bit addictive. All those years of holding myself back, and now my adolescent self was screaming, and the hormones just wouldn’t quit. Kissing was amazing, touching was incredible, skin-to-skin contact was bliss. Orgasms now no longer brought with them crippling shame and nausea. Who knew sex could be this fun! All the previous versions of me from every age, 13, 16, 20, 25… they were all celebrating within me with every experience, shouting out, ‘Finally, Chad, finally!’ A quick encounter, even if unfulfilling, was titillating, sexy, a bit risky. But after a few days, I would already be wanting more. It was a little easier to drive west to Spokane, Washington, where they had a few clubs, places I could actually meet guys, but that meant late nights when everyone but me was drinking, and a long drive home. For now, random encounters would have to do.

After sending the stranger a quick Email saying that I was there, I headed into the apartment building lobby. I didn’t know a name, what he looked like, or even if he was married, and I would avoid asking any questions on purpose. If I could just shut down the ethics in my brain, maybe I could kick back and enjoy this. God, I hoped he was cute.

In the lobby, I took a seat, and casually looked at the décor. A minute later, the elevator dinged open and a very cute black guy walked out. I mean, very cute. Frizzy hair, caramel skin, full lips, athletic build, gorgeous brown eyes, lean and muscular with a perfect butt. He was wearing grey sweat pants and a black tank top. He stayed in the elevator as I stood up, looked me over for a minute, then made eye contact. Without speaking, or even smiling, he craned his neck, indicating I should enter the elevator, then he stepped back inside. I followed and looked over at him, extending a hand to introduce myself. “I’m Chad—“ I started, but he just shook his head no.

“Not yet,” he said.

The elevator rose to the seventh floor, then I followed him down the hallway, confused but also very interested. A few doors down, we entered his apartment, and he closed and locked the door behind him. The place looked more like a hotel room, not like a place that was lived in. It was too clean, too sterile, with black furniture and the kind of art on the wall that could be purchased at a place like Bed, Bath, and Beyond. We stood there in the entryway and he finally looked at me.

“I’m going to pretend I didn’t hear your name. And I’m not going to share mine. If this goes well, it could be a more than one time thing for you. I don’t live here, but I come use the company apartment a lot, and can host when I’m here. But if you ever see me out in the streets, you just keep walking. I don’t want a hello, a wave, or anything. I won’t know you either. Don’t try it. Seriously, just don’t.” He paused, looking me in the eyes, then he pulled his tank top over his head. “Now you.”

I unbuttoned my own shirt as I looked over his very nice body. Lean, strong stomach, chiseled chest, a bit of curly chest hair. He kept talking.

“I’m a runner. I take care of myself. And I like the guys I am with to take care of themselves also.” He watched as I slid my shirt off, twisting his lips upward as he appraised me. “Not the kind of guy I usually go for. But I can tell you try hard, and you’ve got a cute face.” His eyes shifted up. “You’ve got some grey hair. How old are you?”

“33.”

“I’m 26. I like that you’re older, that works in your favor. Follow me. Leave your shirt there.”

I followed him into the sparsely furnished living room, avoiding flashing thoughts like ‘axe murderer’ and ‘narcissist’. He took a seat and looked at me. “You can go ahead and take your pants off,” he indicated, and I could tell he was a little bit aroused. I was confused, appalled, and intrigued by his orders all at once. A guy this handsome, maybe he could get away with it.

“If we are going to do this, I’m going to want lots of kissing,” he said as I unbuckled my belt, and I indicated that would be fine. “Before we do anything, I also want to make sure we are both clean. I’d like to shower first. Why don’t you join me.” It was a statement, not a question.

As we headed toward his bathroom, my brain flashed back to my first time at a gay club in Spokane just weeks before. It had been a freezing cold night, and there had been a line to get inside, with the club at full capacity. It had been after 11 pm and I’d been standing there shivering for 30 minutes when a very drunk gay man came stumbling out of the club with a couple of his friends, struggling to put on his own coat. He began talking loudly to the line of people outside.

“Sorry everyone, the club is full! They are only letting hot people in now!” As he walked by, he began rating everyone, in a very effeminate voice. “You aren’t hot enough. You don’t get in. You definitely don’t get in. But you, you can go inside right now! Look at you!” As he’d walked away, I’d been both secretly flattered to be the one pointed out as hot, and horrified at how he had treated the others. The newly out gay man who liked attention, and the social worker part of me that demanded social justice, were at war with each other.

Those parts felt at war again now, as I entered the shower with this man, feeling both intrigued and judged. He kept surveying me, as if wondering if I was worth his time, and that was a terrible feeling, and then he’d smile a bit and seem interested, and that was a fantastic feeling. And he looked very, very good naked.

When the water was warm enough, he handed me the bottle of shower gel and instructed me to wash him. I gave him a confused look, and he turned his head impatiently. Clearly, he was used to giving orders and having them followed. After I washed his back and he rinsed off, he handed me a straight razor. “Why don’t you go ahead and shave my back?”

He turned his back to me and I could see long, straight, shaggy hairs, haphazard across his back and shoulders. “You want me to shave your back?”

He didn’t turn around. “Yeah. It’s not like I can see back there. What, you can shower with me, but not shave my back? It’s no big deal, dude.”

This had to be some kind of joke. I hesitated with the razor in hand, and quickly plotted my exit strategy. I’d have to leave the shower, dry off, get dressed, and run away, ride the elevator back down to my car. I was here already. This was weird, but I was here already.

So for the next few minutes, I shaved his back. The razor was dull, cheap, and I worried more than once that I would cut him. I didn’t know this man’s name, and here I was engaging in this incredibly intimate act. Moderately long isolated hairs washed free, more than I had initially noticed, until his back was smooth and clear. When I finished, he turned around, clearly pleased, like I’d passed the test.

We kissed a bit there, then he pulled back. “Remember, after this, you see me, you don’t know me.” I rolled my eyes, agreed, and then started kissing him again. He interrupted one last time. “All right, daddy, now you’re in charge.”

Thirty minutes later, I left the apartment, after denying the sexy stranger a few very uncomfortable things he’d demanded. He’d been disgusted that I wouldn’t concede to his every request, even though technically I was supposed to be in charge at that point. But after shaving his back, I was done conceding. I never saw him again, though I did see that same “discreet hook-up” ad back up a few weeks later.

I drove away, smiling and teary eyed both over this new secret life of mine, and wondered what it would take to live, out and proud, and find encounters, ways to be true to all parts of myself, without shame. But the entire community seemed to be full of complicated guys, closeted guys, judgmental guys. I didn’t know where I fit in all of it yet. Eventually, I wanted a long-term relationship, but for now, Craigslist would have to do.

Bank Robbers

Bankrobber

The scariest bank robber I ever came across wore a mask and carried a gun. I never met him personally, but I saw the pictures. He wore a Halloween mask (not unlike the one in the picture above, which was worn by an actual bank robber in Pennsylvania a few years back) and he entered the bank aggressively, brandishing his weapon.

The man in this particular robbery hit at least two banks in Salt Lake City, a few years ago. He walked into both banks arrogantly, careful not to touch anything, and he pointed the gun at the helpless tellers, demanding money. He knew what he was doing. He asked for cash from secondary drawers, knew to demand no trackers, and brought in his own bags. He climbed behind the counter and pointed his gun at people’s heads, even into their mouths, promising to come back and hurt them if he was caught. He was gone in less than a few minutes and fled.

Of course, the police caught him, but it took them a little bit of time. The aggression of his actions, with a weapon and threats, escalated the crime to the highest levels with nearly maximum sentences. Bank-robbing is federal crime automatically, but using a weapon and delivering threats escalate the crime, though taking hostages, or hurting or killing someone, would obviously result in a more severe sentencing.

As a clinical social worker, I’ve worked the last 15 years doing crisis response work, on the side from my professional business. Though I’m self-employed, I make myself available to businesses who have been impacted by crises. Tragic employee deaths, suicides, corporate downsizings, industrial accidents, and, yes, bank robberies. Bank robberies, over the years, have been the most frequent crisis I get called out to. At this point, I’ve been to the sites of dozens of them (they happen more often than what people think), and I usually arrive just after the FBI has left). All of them are traumatic in their own way, and it is impossible to walk out of one of them emotionally unscathed.

But this man, this selfish, scary, arrogant man in a mask, he spent two minutes trying to get some quick cash, and then he lost everything, facing decades in jail. But for those he hurt, those half dozen people that he threatened and frightened, for them, this experience lasts forever. He never saw them, he only aimed the gun and then ran. He didn’t see them as humans. He didn’t realize that one of tellers would later break off her relationship with her fiancee because she couldn’t handle the nightmares, that one of the men would turn to alcohol to avoid the flashbacks he was having from the war, that an older single mother would quit her job because it was too scary to return, or the young man who suddenly couldn’t get the image out of his head about how his father used to beat him. The robber didn’t realize that some of them would be forever altered by this.

Most bank robberies aren’t this abrupt or violent. Often the robber is quiet, quick, or even apologetic. They are sometimes under the influence of drugs, or mentally ill, or just plain desperate. They might stand in line like a regular customer, walk up to the counter, calmly, and pass a note. They may or may not imply that they have a weapon in their pockets, a gun up their sleeve, or even, as one robber pretended, a bomb strapped to his chest under his shirt. They might simply rush out of the store as quickly as possible. One robber I’m aware of hung out in the bank branch for nearly thirty minutes, stating he was waiting for someone, before he finally handed his note over.

Bank robbery notes themselves are fascinating. Some are short and direct. “THIS IS A ROBBERY! PUT ALL THE MONEY IN A BAG AND DON’T SAY ANYTHING TO ANYONE!” Some are apologetic. “I’m so sorry to have to do this, but my family is starving. Please give me $2000 in twenties and tens as fast as possible. And don’t call the police!” And some fill an entire page with detailed instructions. “This is a robbery. Do not call the police. Do not signal anyone for help. There is a gun in my left pocket. Before you read any further, raise your left hand in the air to indicate understanding, but do not look up at me. After raising your hand, I want you to take the bag I am placing on the counter and then…” The notes might be legible in lined blue ink, monstrous scrawls in black marker, or even pre-typed on carbon paper.

Bank employees go through a rigorous training in order to work in banking institutions. They learn protocols for how to handle it. They are taught to remember as much as possible, to comply with all possible requests, to focus on safety first, and to get the robber out of there as fast as possible. They are told not to argue, to keep their voices calm, and to call the police in a calm manner afterward, giving them all the details possible. But no amount of training can prepare you for the moment a man (they are almost always men) comes in with a note, an implied weapon, and a threat. Adrenaline kicks in, trauma is triggered, and the heart rises in the throat, and sticking to the training is not always easy.

Immediately after the robbery takes place, the bank tellers have to notify the police and authorities, check on the customers who have been impacted, shut down the branch, and then write down everything they remember. They have to be interviewed by the FBI agents who arrive, provide descriptions and details, make camera footage available. This can take hours, and generally they don’t have a chance to even call their families before that is over. Regardless of whether they are angry, scared, anxious, panicked, numb, or triggered, they have to follow these protocols. And then they have to deal with the trauma for the following days.

Imagine going home to your car after a robbery and having to drive home. Imagine getting home and facing your family. Imagine closing your eyes for sleep that night, images flashing in your brain as you wonder if you locked the door or not. Imagine having to walk back into the bank branch the next morning to start the new shift, all over again. Imagine checking the news repeatedly to see if the police have caught the guy yet. Imagine worrying every time that you leave your branch that your coworkers might get robbed while you are gone.

I enter banks differently now. I view the tellers, young and old, with new respect. They aren’t paid well, and often don’t have a lot of support, yet the put themselves into these dangerous situations generally because they love customer service and they are dedicated employees. Sitting with them in the roughest moments, after their traumas, is difficult, but it is my supreme honor.

Skunktrap

The air in Leamington was clear. Sometimes I forget how polluted the skies in Salt Lake City can be until I drive outside of it. It’s like my lungs just adapt to the smoky congestion, and when I get away I remember how to breathe.

Leamington is a little stretch of nothing in the center of Utah. There are no businesses. I saw a one-room post office as we drove into town, turned onto a dirt road, drove round some bends through farmland, and parked in a dusty outcropping of the house’s driveway.

Like the rest of Utah, Leamington was settled by the Mormons a few generations ago. I pulled up the Wikipedia page and read about the original settlers, establishing farmland, growing sugarcane to make molasses, rerouting water through a canal, and growing crops, which they would take to a local mining town (appropriately named Eureka) to sell. (I drove through Eureka later. It has a few gas stations, and more homes. The closest business to Leamington was a few dozen miles away). Eventually, the settlers built a little branch of the railroad. The Mormon church and the local cemetery are the only things listed as noteworthy to visit. Still, a few hundred people live here, which seems like so little until you realize that a few hundred is still a lot of people when you line them all up.

My friend Tyler and I got the kids out of the car and surveyed the rolling farmland around us. We could see cows in the distance, crops, shades of green and brown. I could hear songbirds and the sound of many buzzing insects.

“What kinds of animals live out here?” A, my 6-year old, asked.

“Well, lots,” Tyler answered, having grown up in the area. “Owls, birds, lots of voles, tons of bugs. Mule deer.”

“And what kinds of predators?”

“Raccoons, coyotes, red-tailed hawks.”

We knocked on the door of the farmhouse where we would be sleeping for the night. I’d confirmed this reservation weeks ago when we first planned to come to this remote area of the state. As I reminded the boys to be on their best behavior, our host opened the door.

She was a plump woman in her late forties, her hair pinned back, her granddaughter on her arm. She wore an apron over her white shirt and black pants. Beyond her on the wall, I could see a large picture of a Mormon temple, and a family portrait with she, her husband, and their six children. This was a salt-of-the-earth, hard-working family. I knew from the online profile that the husband worked nearby as an engineer, and that she was a housewife, though the older four children were all out of the house now.

“Hi, I’m Chad!” I said, enthusiastically, waving at the grand-daughter. I saw the woman’s smile slowly drop as she realized there were two men there with children. Her eyes flashed between us, one to the other, and her mouth dropped open. Her face paled. There was a long, pregnant pause as she tried to figure out our relationship. (I would later explain that while Tyler and I are both gay, we were not a couple and would be sleeping in different rooms. It’s quite possible we were the first gay people she’d ever met.)

After the initial awkwardness passed, she greeted us with a forced smile and invited us inside. She showed us the rooms where we would be sleeping in the basement. The shelves down there were packed with thirty years worth of clutter, almost hoarding levels of clutter. It was organized, but it felt like it would cave in on us. Board games, books, notebooks, old art projects, and Tupperware containers full of knickknacks. The beds were lacy and plush, with names of children stenciled onto pillows. Family photos, pictures of Mormon prophets, and pictures of Jesus lined the walls. Somehow, it was all incredibly comfortable, being in the home of this family, one who had carved out their entire existence in this stone farmhouse in the middle of nowhere.

After the kids settled down, I walked back outside to grab the suitcases and came face to face with a skunk. It was less than ten yards away, and I immediately felt my heart rate go up. It was quickly gobbling food up from a cat food dish, and it lifted its head to meet my gaze. I could see its jaw working, up and down, then it ducked to get another bite. It was strangely beautiful. It’s face was majestic in a way, and the pattern of black and white shaggy fur ran down its sides, with a thick tail flowing behind it. It was right in front of the car, and I stood watching it for a minute, calculating the risk of getting sprayed if I stepped toward it, but it scampered away after another bite, rushing down the driveway and up a hillside. It flowed as it moved somehow, and I had images of Pepe Lepew from Looney Toons rush through my mind, jumping gracefully as he chased the female cat.

After a good night’s sleep, the four of us woke to a hearty farm breakfast. As we sat to a meal of banana chocolate chip pancakes, sausage, fried eggs, fresh fruit, milk, and juice, the farmer’s wife told us about getting her degree in biochemistry before she chose to stay at home and raise her children. She talked about how much work it was to maintain a home this size in this location, and how much she loved living out here, yet how isolating it could be. I talked about my documentary project, Tyler quipped about science with her, and my sons bragged about how they wanted to grow up to a geologist and a farmer, respectively. It was a lovely meal,  and I could see her relaxing around us, perhaps realizing that gay people are just, well, people.

As the kids finished their breakfast, I packed the suitcases and went outside to load the car. I looked back over toward the car, and skunk was back but this time it was in a cage. The cage was small, triangular, and barely big enough to contain the small creature. It was panicked, scratching at the ground, unable to get free. It raised its head and I swear it made eye contact as it made a helpless little squeak of a sound. My heart pounded as I went the long way around, loading my suitcases in the trunk before heading back inside.

“There’s a skunk out there! In a trap!”

“Oh!” The farmer’s wife looked delighted. “Good! It finally worked! My husband placed cat food in the skunktrap several nights in a row to catch it. The darn thing keeps eating all of the cat’s food and scaring the grandkids. We used to get a lot of skunks around here, but this is the first one in a while.”

“What will you do with it? Do you take it out in the woods somewhere and let it go? Do you kill it?”

She grimaced. “Well, neither. If you get too close, it gets scared and sprays. In fact, as it starts to get hot outside, it will start to spray in panic. It’s going to smell around here today. But we will just wait for it to die. Skunks are nocturnal, they burrow during the day to stay cool and hunt at night. It won’t take long for it to overheat.”

A look of disgust crossed my face. “You let it cook to death?”

She frowned, sympathetic. “I don’t like it either. But if you see a spider in your house, do you step on it? Living in a place like this, we have to protect our space, and that sometimes means letting creatures die.”

When we left, I walked the kids the long way around, and told them that the skunk would be let go later. The looked at it with fascination and fear. It was getting warmer out, and it was sitting calmly now. I could see it breathing. We loaded ourselves into the car, and as we backed up, I took a long last look at it’s flowing tail, it’s frightening beauty, its helplessness. It was facing its inevitable end after seeking an easy food source in a dangerous place. And it had been caught. I humanized the creature, determining that it was facing its own fate.

We drove down the hillside, through the dusty farmland and back to the highway. I left Leamington, thinking of history, of humanity, of skunks, and of traps.

Skunk

Write Night

Blank

“All right, so we open with our heroine tied to a chair. She’s disoriented. Close-up of her face, there is dried blood on her forehead, pan back to reveal a gag in her mouth. She strains at the ropes, moans in fright. She looks around the room and sees its contents, wood floor and walls, creepy paintings, old furniture. A good 45-60 second establishing shot as we see how frightened and helpless she is.”

My voice had an air of drama to it as I set up the scene.

“Then we flashback to earlier in the night. We have to call her Amy Knox, right, and she has to be an investor? So she is out on a date with Jason, the handsome guy she’s been seeing, and they are having wine with a few friends, toasting Amy’s new accomplishments, a major acquisition for her non-profit. Charming dialogue, laughing, wine sips. Then we cut back to the present.”

“Wait, so there would actually be a flashback?” Amber, the gorgeous actress in her early 30s asked, applying makeup in a mirror.

I wrinkled my brow. “Um, yes. We only have one day to film all of this, right? So we can do the house stuff in the morning, and we can film the double date stuff later and then edit it together.”

“Oh, okay.” She rubbed her lips together, spreading the lipstick.

“So we are back on Amy and she’s managed to get her hands loose. She rips the gag out, considers screaming, changes her mind. Gets up and is searching the room, knocks over a candelabra. (We have to use a candlestick in this, right?) The floor creaks, the light hits the walls in frightening ways, she’s disoriented, there’s blood. The door is locked, the window won’t open, she enters the kitchen and screams. And then flashback again!”

The director, Tony, a thin man in his mid-forties, his hair tied back in a ponytail, wrinkled his nose. “The genre we drew was thriller, correct? This should be a suspense thriller. There should be dialogue. Very smart dialogue. There should be a lot of nuance and psychology behind it. Major revelations. Perhaps this woman, Amy, this is all a dream? Or, oh! Maybe she has the power to, um, see what is ahead. What is that called?”

I cocked my head, confused. “Precognition?”

“Yes! Precognition!”

“Wait, wait,” I muttered. “I’m open to ideas, but let’s finish the basic outline first. This is just a rough sketch, a skeleton I put together in ten minutes. These are just loose initial ideas we can build on.

“So Amy and Jason leave their date, and he mentions how things are going so well between them, and he asks if maybe she’d like to come back to his place, and she nods. They get to the porch and they are kissing and–”

“Wait, wait,” Amber interrupted, closing her make-up mirror. “I can’t kiss. I act in shows and plays and commercials and stuff, but that is the one thing I’m not allowed to do is kiss.”

I simply looked at her, dumbfounded for a moment, then went on. “I, okay, so it’s implied that they are kissing. And they head inside his house, where she has never been before, but there is a man in the shadows. Then we flash back to the present and she sees Jason in the kitchen, on the floor, dead, and then there is the scream.”

Tony furrowed his brow. “Wait, so who tied her up if Jason is dead?”

“The intruder. The guy in the house.”

“So there are two guys?”

“Yes!”

“Well, but, why would he tie her up?”

“We can figure that out. Maybe we never tell the audience that. Maybe he fancies her, maybe she jilted him. Maybe he’s just a robber.”

Amy interjected. “I don’t feel like I understand my character’s motivation. What is she doing there? And she just doesn’t seem to have a lot of depth. I think–oh! I love-love-love the idea of her having a dark side! What if she was secretly the killer!”

Tony picked up her idea and ran with it. “So she has precognition and she’s a killer. Do you see this picture of this creepy old tree hanging here? I have to use that in the show. She sees the tree when she’s tied up and it alludes to a larger tree outside, one that hangs down with heavy branches and–”

“And that’s where she puts the bodies!” Amy punched both fists out in front of her in enthusiasm.

Tony turned, wild with ideas. “And maybe this whole date she is on with Jason is just all in her head, and we see it play out there, and we can hear her thoughts in a voiceover, and she’s scared, and she realizes that if she never went on the date in the first place, then she would never be tied up and Jason would never attack her, and at the end she calls the police to have Jason arrested when he knocks on the door for the date because now she never goes on it.”

“Guys, I–” I tried to get back on track, seeking to finish laying out the story points I’d put on paper.

Amber slapped her leg in excitement. “Oh! And there is that creepy old church down the road! What if she is like running from her intruder and she is running through the church yard at night!”

Tony stroked his chin thoughtfully. “I do like the symbol of crosses and what they represent. Maybe we use a cross instead of a tree. Also, if we are doing scary, I love involving kids in that. There is nothing scarier. Maybe some kids are ding-dong-ditching at the house and one of them goes around back and never comes back.”

Amber pulled her hair back. “But why is she killing the men in the first place? Is this an Arsenic and Old Lace thing where she is putting guys out of their misery? Oh! We have another actress! What if instead of Jason, we have Julie? What if Amy is a lesbian, and she invites her date home and–”

Tony clapped. “I like that, very progressive. And the lesbian can confront Julie about the money she stole and then when she denies it there is a wine bottle across the head and then she wakes up tied up and gagged, back where we started.”

I had a wide-eyed look on my face when they finally turned, remembering I was in the room. I sat back in my chair, the outline papers having fallen from my grip and to the floor.

“I, wow. Just wow. Look, I think this might have been a bigger ask than I realized. We are supposed to make a 4 to 8 minute movie in 48 hours, right? We have the assigned elements, and the randomly assigned genre of thriller. And we have this old house. And I was asked to swing by for a couple of hours to help put an outline of ideas together. For a friend. But this is an awful lot of ideas.”

Amber picked up her phone. “Oh! Super sorry, but I have to go. I’m doing a photo shoot, but I’m back in the morning. If you get any of the dialogue put together, send it over, that helps me get into character. See you guys tomorrow, so excited to work with you!”

Tony sat back, propping his chair against the wall, folding his arms over his chest. “I think if we can pull an all-nighter, we can get this puppy in good shape. This is going to be award-winning shit. We just have to figure out what her precognition powers are doing first.”

I blinked, as if I hadn’t been heard at all. “I’m a writer, yes. I blog. I have a book. I’ve done comics, and I just finished a documentary. I’m not– you want a screen play–But I–I can’t hang out with you here all night to write this. I work in the morning and it’s already late here.”

“Well, if you have to run home, just load us up on Skype and we can keep chatting and generating ideas. This is the hardest part, but it always turns out the best product.”

I sputtered, my brain spinning. “But it’s a date, and then lesbians, and the candlestick, the body in the kitchen, the old church, the tree, and the buried bodies, the fundraising scandal, the-the future powers but it’s all in her dream, and–”

“And the best part?” Tony looked over, smiling a wicked smile. “We probably won’t use a lick of this. We are only just starting. But isn’t this fun?”

“I–I gotta go home. I’m sorry. I can’t help.”

A few hours later, I lay in my bed, baffled by the long evening. What had just happened? What this what professional writing was like? I closed my eyes, determined to shut my brain down, but I found myself worried about Amy, and how she was going to get out of a predicament that I’d never gotten her into in the first place.

Envying Happy

34459640_10160572618885061_4541135369499836416_n

Last weekend, my partner and I attended the Pride parade. We walked down the road, holding hands, my sons J and A gripping our hands tight. To all, we looked like a happy family. Many, seeing a gay couple out and proud, with kids at their sides, gave ‘oohs’, and ‘so cutes!’ as we walked by. (They were right, we are cute.)

One friend, though, messaged me later that day. “I saw you with your family at Pride and I couldn’t say hello. I was too sad.” He went on to explain that while he was genuinely happy for me, and that he knew I had worked hard to be where I am in life now, but that he envied the things I have, implying that happiness may elude him forever.

To this friend, one I care about a lot, I want to say ten things.

  1. I know how you feel! I spent so many years watching others be happy, and feeling like I could never be! I remember as a teenager, seeing straight guys get to actually date girls while I could never date guys. I remember seeing people who were fit during the time when I was obese and envying how ‘easy’ it came to them. When I was closeted, I remember seeing happy gay couples, just knowing that would never be me. When I was in debt, I saw those with financial freedom with absolute heartache. When I was single, I saw happy couples sometimes almost with derision, wondering constantly why I could never find that. I know how you feel!
  2. Things aren’t always as ideal as they seem. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’m happy with my life. But you saw us around, what, 10 am? The morning before that consisted of breakfast for four people, showers and getting ready, and packing bags, the kids both having separate fits because they couldn’t play longer, one kid sticking his hand inside a garbage can and subsequently putting it in his mouth, the barista being completely untrained and not understanding what a drip coffee was, and me forgetting the sunscreen. In fact, the reason we were walking like that, with the kids on either side, was to keep them from fighting. What I’m getting at is, yes, I’m happy, but it is a lot of work. (I mean, the child support payments alone). I’m just saying, the richest people still have problems, and the happiest couples sometimes fight the most.
  3. Ten years ago, I was depressed, obese, childless, in an unhappy marriage, and broken. I believed I could never be happy. My path ahead sixty hour work weeks, debt, empty church service, health problems, and more depression. My journey forward started by exercising, then coming out, then learning how to be an out gay man with children and debt. Even after that, I was single for 6 years. I turn 40 this year, and happiness was hard won.
  4. Even now, I’m happy, but I’m not. I have things I’m dissatisfied with. I set goals constantly. Bad things happen to me, I have bad days, and I get sad, angry, and scared quite often. I’ve learned to be kind to myself on tough days, and I’ve learned to accept that being dissatisfied is part of being human. I love parenting, but I don’t love everything about parenting. I love my job, but I don’t love everything about my job. I love being in a healthy relationship, but I don’t love everything about being in a relationship. I’m consistently striving for bigger and better. I am constantly working on my own happy.
  5. Happiness is fleeting. It comes in short bursts. It takes effort and consistency, just like fitness and financial freedom do. It means a lot of hard internal work. Healthy doesn’t happen without good nutrition, a whole lot of physical effort, and consistency. It doesn’t take personal trainers or the perfect genes, it just means super hard work. I did that work on my outsides (I still am!) and I did that work on my insides (I still am!)
  6. Everyone’s happy is different than everyone else’s. There is no perfect recipe for happiness. A boyfriend or husband, a better job, a million dollars, a home, a child… those all bring their own struggles and concerns. Happiness needs to be found in the present, and then it changes with us as we grow and alter and age. You don’t want my life, or my happy, you want your own. And that means figuring out what that is for you.
  7. Before I could be in a relationship, I had to learn how to be single. That meant learning how to be my own favorite person, my own best friend, my own motivator. I used to go to parties or events and feel pathetic for being solo; I got over it. I started to date myself: plays, movies, concerts, trips. I was honest with myself, I held myself accountable. I worked on goals (getting braces, paying off credit cards) and I was kind to myself when I made mistakes or had bad days. I still like my own company. I genuinely like myself and I’m my own favorite person. This was the best work I ever did.
  8. To be blunt and honest, the world is frequently a shitty place. We humans complain about most anything, from the weather to how long our coffee is taking to brew, but the world is full of real problems and struggles outside ourselves. Just scanning the periphery of my brain, the words human-trafficking, rape culture, school shootings, lava flows, and immigrants having their kids taken away pop up. You can’t scan the news without abject horror clouding your landscape. Happiness has to be a choice in spite of all of that, whether the pressure comes internally or externally. The only thing you have control over is you. And happiness can’t be found by ignoring the world, only by embracing the world with its flaws and being happy in spite of it, all while trying to make the world better around us.
  9. Depression is a real thing. And when someone is depressed, happy not only feels impossible, it feels like a real chore. It feels like ‘it’s impossible’ and ‘what’s the point’ all at once. Depression hurts, and it’s miserable, and it sinks into your soul. But it can be temporary. It takes work to climb out of it. I did, once, and I try to help others do so. And if you have depression, well, then, you can too. I’m here anytime you need to talk.
  10. Lastly, I wish you could see you the way others see you, the way I see you. No matter how sad you might feel, it doesn’t make you any less amazing. You make art, and you see the world with an artist’s eye. You have survived unbearable things, and you have gone on to inspire others. You have restarted your life, shed your past, and began again with a new name and a new beginning. When a friend was hurting, you gave of yourself to help this friend in a way that very well may have saved his life, and that meant a lengthy healing process for you afterward. What you did for him is super-human. You have an enormous heart, and endless potential. Take a moment to look outside in, and do so with love and understanding, because you are incredible.

Don’t envy my happy. Instead: Be happy! Be you! Find your happy! Start today! I’m here, and I’ll be watching. And next time you see me walking down the sidewalk, don’t be sad. Instead, come out and say hi. I’ll have a huge hug waiting for you.

Pride, Prejudice, and Protest

34510298_10160567110560061_6910724678457753600_n

HOMO SEX IS SIN

BELIEVE TRUST FOLLOW OBEY JESUS

ASK ME WHY YOU DESERVE HELL

The signs were tall, large bright capital letters on bold backgrounds, yellow on black, black on white. The word Hell was bright red, the letters dramatically lapped in flames along the bottom. There were no exclamation points, but they were certainly implied. (At least there was no ‘God Hates Fags’ signs this time. That one makes me angrier than the others, somehow.)

And the protestors looked like normal people, men and women in shirts and jeans. They were relatively peaceful as they stood there with their signs of condemnation, their T-shirts (ordered out of the back of some fundamentalist magazine somewhere, perhaps) with similar messages of hate and judgment.

They occupied a prominent corner in Salt Lake City, on a major intersection, right in front of a hotel and restaurant, right where the parade began. Just across the street from the protestors, a large booth blared happy, peppy music like Born This Way by Lady Gaga and Holiday by Madonna, songs about embracing who you are and celebrating life. The streets were full of people assembling for the upcoming Pride parade, a lengthy procession that would last over two hours and would include lavish floats and huge groups of people. Those marching in the parade would include everything from men in leather with whips, mothers holding signs that said they loved their gay children, huge processions from local businesses in matching T-shirts that embrace diversity, Mormons holding signs like ‘Jesus Said Love Everyone’ who were trying to seek change from within, the local gay swim team in speedos and roller skates, mayoral and Congressional candidates with throngs of supporters, and drag queens in flowing gowns on the tops of trucks and busses. Every one of them would march past those signs as they were cheered by the thousands upon thousands of those there to cheer them on.

ASK ME WHY YOU DESERVE HELL.

My little family hovered in the shade across the street from the protestors, waiting for the parade to begin. My sons, J and A, ages 9, sat on the ground, talking back and forth about the adventures we had been having all morning. The night before, we’d rented a hotel room downtown in order to be closer to the parade route, and I had assembled a team of bird toys as super-villains, calling themselves the Bird Brigade. The bald eagle, flamingo, chicken, goose, cassowary, and others all had villain names and super-powers and they had been led by a cartoonish looking Baby Bluebird. The kids had made hero teams out of their animals and they had spent hours laughing at the antics of the Bird Brigade, who, of course, lost every battle. Now, after coffee and breakfast, they were still talking about the adventures and cracking up. (This quality time with them was my very favorite thing about being their father).

My boyfriend reached over and scratched my back. “Are you sure we should stand here? Do you think the kids will wonder about those signs?”

I shrugged. “Well, if they ask questions, it gives us an opportunity to talk about it. They’ve been at Pride every year, and there are always protestors here. They’ve never asked questions before. But I don’t want to move. I am kind of determined to stand my ground.” I put my arm around him as he understood.

Just before the parade began, one of the protestors grabbed a megaphone and began shouting over the music and the crowd. As I looked over to watch him, trying to make out his words, I noticed three policemen standing right behind him, against the wall. They were there to protect us, of course, but they were also there to protect the protestors who, I realized again, had every right to be there, every bit as much as we did.

“God condemns sin! Those who do not repent will all be burned! The Bible is clear in its condemnation of sinners! Turn back from sin now or burn! All sinners will burn in Hell!”

In response, the music was turned up louder. The protestor went silent, then he tried blaring a Christian song over his own megaphone to drown out Rihanna. Ultimately it was ineffective and he gave up, returning to standing there quietly.

I found myself voicing my thoughts out loud, my boyfriend listening as I sorted through my complex feelings. “The thing is, I believe in their right to protest. Freedom of speech and all that. They deserve to have a place to stand and protest. But it’s just… gross. It’s gross! Then again, they think that we are gross, for being a couple out here in public with my sons at our side.”

As I talked, I watched a Latina drag queen with bright purple hair, in a corset and skirt, with bold make-up, walk out in front of the protestors and raise her middle fingers in the air as people cheered her on and photos were taken. “We are responding to their hate with hate,” I thought to myself even as I found myself clapping for the drag queen.

“I just don’t understand why they are here at the start of the parade in such a prominent position,” my boyfriend said.

“Honestly, they probably just got here really early and claimed a place where they would be seen. In past years, they are usually at the entrance to the festival after the parade. In fact, they will probably be there, too.”

The parade started, and went for hours, but my thoughts kept going back to the protestors. Who were these people? Are they just locals who hate gays so much that they want to voice their fury in this way? Do they think that they are saving souls by turning people away from lives of sin? Do they do this professionally? Are these T-shirts their work uniforms, those signs their gear? Do they travel from city to city  at various Pride festivals, paid to promote their cause by a various church or business? There is a website at the bottom of their signs, I noticed. Is that it, are these just paid groupies of some kind? They seemed so calm as they stood there.

I thought back to a few years ago, when some of the protestors chanted hateful rhetoric at a group of gay people. I watched a furious young lesbian couple screaming at the protestors, who stood there silently.

“It’s people like you who fucking ruined my life! You’ve turned my family against me! My whole church disowned me! And you stand here saying that God hates me! God created me this way, you fuckers! How dare you stand here hurting people while you say you love them!”

And she was right, of course. Except her fury was misplaced. The protestors and their messages reinforce messages that most LGBT people hear growing up, over and over again. I was given those messages, and I still am. “If you work hard enough, you can cure yourself from being gay.” “I like gay people, I just don’t support your lifestyle.” “I’m happy you have found someone, but I still think being gay is a choice.” “Love the sinner, hate the sin.” “Homosexuality is a gross abomination.” “You say you are born this way, but God would never do that to anyone.” And are any of those messages any better or worse than “Ask me why you deserve Hell” or “God hates fags”?

Yet what good does it do to stand and rage at these (likely paid) protestors, screaming in pain and vulnerability at strangers?

Still reasoning out loud, I turned back to my boyfriend. “How different would the news coverage be if we gay people made giant-ass signs like this and we stood outside churches every Sunday with hate messages. ‘Judge not, lest ye be judged.’ ‘God said to love, not condemn and disown.’ Or worse. ‘You aren’t true Christians!’ ‘Burn in Hell!’ ‘God hates you!’ Or, even, perhaps, ‘Ask me why you deserve Hell!’ The media would label us haters, disgusting, sinners, anti-Christian, and the world would leap to support them.”

I looked back at my children on the ground, still laughing over Baby Bluebird. Then I looked around at the crowd of people, all of them, in leather, in purple wigs, in make-up, in tight shorts, in jeans and t-shirts and dresses and tank tops and body glitter, all there to celebrate life. I recognized the change happening in the world.

And I came to my own conclusion. “We are the future. My sons are the future. They are the past. I support their right to protest, and I protest them in return, and I have no desire to sink to their level. I choose to celebrate life rather than hold signs.”

 

I paused for a moment, speaking to myself. “I can’t do much. But I can write about it. I can live my own truth. I can help others. And I can raise my sons to live in a better future.”

Later, my boyfriend and I held hands. J held my right hand, A held his left hand, and we formed a little chain, walking down at the road, a different family, but a family all the same. We took up a whole sidewalk, my little family. And if that made me deserve Hell, well, I’ll see you there.

A Matter of Endorphins

I was uncharacteristically sad yesterday. There wasn’t any reason for it, I was just plain sad. I wasn’t down-in-the-dumps sad. I wasn’t depressed, or grieving, or heartbroken, or lonely. (My word, but there are a lot of beautiful shades of that emotion). I was just… blue. Down. Maybe a little melancholy.

The sadness continued this morning, meaning it lasted around 36 hours. I woke up and went through the motions of using the restroom, washing my hands, brewing my coffee, then reading a bit in a biography while it brewed. But the whole time, I felt like looking out the window and just giving a sigh, like those two kids on the opening page of the Cat in the Hat who can’t play outside because it was raining too hard. A breakfast of Greek yogurt with blueberries, a hot shower, a clean shirt, a hug from my boyfriend, still sad. I blended my lunch of protein powder and fresh vegetables (spinach, carrots, broccoli) then headed into the office, listening to NPR on my way, still sad. I saw my first client and talked about overcoming depression with him, still sad. And then I thought, “Okay, that’s enough. I don’t want to be sad anymore.”

I took a long walk through the park during a quiet hour from work, my office being just a block from a major city park. The birds were singing, there were hot shirtless runners, there was a light breeze, and the sun was shining perfectly. There was a lot to be grateful for. As I felt my body slowly come awake, I felt a familiar stiffness in my bones, and the blood flow through my muscle groups felt amazing. My bones popped, my spine expanded, and my head cleared as I breathed it all in, quickening my pace a bit.

I took a moment to take stock of my melancholy. On Sunday, upon leaving Philadelphia, I’d woken up sad. The night before, I’d had dinner (an incredible mushroom shepherd’s pie), drinks (two Old-Fashioneds), and dessert (chocolate creme brule) with my boyfriend as we listened to incredible live jazz music. I’d felt so alive. But then Sunday morning I’d woken up sad. I packed my suitcase, showered for the day, and then spent four hours at the local art museum before heading to the airport. A two hour wait and a four hour flight basically meant six hours of reading (a new biography on Tennessee Williams), and then finally home. Yet sad the whole time.

And then Monday, healthy food, several hours of work, and then a long evening of play time with my sons, who I hadn’t seen in five days. I gave them new animal toys to add to their toy zoo, a harpy eagle and a sun bear, and we played together in the backyard, laughing and having fun. I made them dinner, we played Twister, they were hyper and silly and it was a wonderful night. But the entire time, still, blue, and knowing it the entire way.

As I walked through the park, I did a little therapy on myself, as I often do when I have something to puzzle out. Were I to come to myself for therapy, with this set of problems, how would I counsel me as a client? What would I have to say? I would ask me to describe the sadness, what kind of sadness it was, and what I had to be sad about. Then I would remind myself that sadness is a natural state, that all humans are sad, even when life is really good.

It’s a matter of endorphins, I would say.

I would remind myself that the brain produces endorphins (serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine) naturally, but it produces best in optimal conditions, with healthy nutrition and hydration, ample sunlight, low stress, and good sleep. And I would remind myself that if the brain has been producing endorphins at high amounts for a few days in a row, then it is natural for it to produce lower amounts for a period of time afterward, as a balancing measure. It is also normal to have a low when one hasn’t been sleeping well, or has been drinking a lot of alcohol, or has been eating a lot of sugary or salty foods, or has not been exercising. No one gets to be happy all the time, and blue has its place. Blue is safe. Blue is okay.

I just got back from vacation. I ate a lot of food, drank and danced, traveled, and hadn’t slept a full night in several days. Blue was normal, and it didn’t make my life any less wonderful. Even when sad, all of my joys were there: my children, my partner, my work, all of the things that give me balance and happiness. It was a blue hour, or perhaps a blue day, not a blue life.

I finished my walk around the park, ready to resume. I felt a little bit lighter (meaning my brain was producing just a few more endorphins), and I knew that after a nice meal, I would feel even better still. The world around me remained beautiful.

Blue sky, blue water, blue blood, and me.

Blue

300 Biographies

I’ve read over 300 biographies.

The last several years of my life have been dominated by biographies, in fact, in all their forms. Some are slanted political narratives, meant to illustrate pros or cons in the life of a certain person. Some are densely researched tomes of knowledge, with 200 pages worth of sources and cited works at the end. Some are fluffy, feel-good autobiographies, written by a famous person who wants to keep their secrets, while other autobiographies are caustic tell-alls.

I hand-select many of these books, setting goals for myself to learn about key individuals from important times in history (examples: Joe McCarthy and Chairman Mao), or to learn about people who have become my personal heroes (examples: Sally Ride and Barbara Jordan), or to uncover areas of personal passion like feminism (examples: Bella Abzug and Coco Chanel) or LGBT history (examples: Freddie Mercury and Bayard Rustin). Yet other books, I choose completely at random, closing my eyes and pulling them off a library shelf. Some of these are fluffy life anecdotes by people trying to capitalize on temporary fame (examples: Bristol Palin and Caitlyn Jenner), others are forgotten tomes on former celebrities (examples: Christine Jorgensen and Richard Wright), some are fascinating historical epics from unique voices (examples: Natacha Rambova and Guglielmo Marconi), while others are slap-your-knee hilarious and leave me devouring every word (examples: Minnie Pearl and Davy Rothbart).

I could write one hundred thousand words on reading these stories. Every shade of humanity from every corner of the globe, the only thing these 300 individuals have in common is they have either taken time to write their stories or someone has been interested enough to write about them. And they, strangely, all share a commonality, whether they are an Iraqi war refugee in the present, a 1950s American movie star, a prominent Civil Rights activist, or British royalty from the 1800s: they all encompass a simple yet complex human life. No matter what their lives were or are, no matter how consequential to human history, I learn the same lessons from every book.

  1. All human lives are temporary. Every passion, problem, struggle, endeavor, and conquest is relegated to ‘something that happened’ at the end. Nelson Mandela’s decades in prison, Rock Hudson’s wrestle with AIDS, Hillary Clinton’s loss to Donald Trump, Judy Garland’s pill addictions, Gilda Radner’s battle with cancer… all things that just happened.
  2. Everyone gets older, one day at a time, until they aren’t there anymore; we all start and end somewhere. Brigham Young was a carpenter before he was a religious leader and statesman, Patty Hearst was a lonely heiress before she was kidnapped, and Gypsy Rose Lee was the forgotten child before she perfected her stripping act.
  3. We all see the world through our own eyes, and we all generally believe we are right during the time we thought it; we all usually change our minds as well. Slim Keith married Howard Hawk before she divorced him, Tig Notaro suffered through the cancer before she told jokes about it, and Gloria Steinem had to learn about women of color and their struggles through hard education.
  4. There is a lot of sad in the world, and there is a lot of happy, and this leaves me wanting to learn from the sad and to embrace the happy. I feel the heartbreak of the parents of Trayvon Martin and I celebrate the legal victories of Ruth Bader Ginsberg. I ache for the once kidnapped Elizabeth Smart and I rejoice at how hard Tina Fey can make me laugh.
  5. Our heroes tend to be those who triumph over difficult, even impossible, odds and inspire us with their stories. Greg Louganis won his Olympic medals, Charlie Chaplin made incredible films against all odds, and Sonia Sotomayor inspired a generation after being appointed to the Supreme Court.

I tend to get through about one book per week. I read when I travel, and some of my favorite books have become tied into my personal experiences. I can’t think of Kay Graham taking over the Washington Post without remembering that six hour flight with the crying baby, the execution of Joe Hill makes me think of coffee and rainy Utah days, Evelyn Nesbit’s tragic rape takes me to the sidewalks of Liberty Park, and the deportation of Emma Goldman brings back the hot sun of a Mexican beach.

I’m learning from history. I’m finding new heroes. I’m learning to be outraged at history and injustice, and I’m learning how to live in my own now and create a better life for myself. Books and stories make me want to be better, be more, to live my dream and to make a difference. I have learned to love writers and their craft, and I let them fuel my own writing and research. I love libraries. I love the pressure I feel to get through a stack of new books. I love learning about both my heroes and the unknown. I carry books with me pretty much everywhere. I read between sets at the gym, over breakfast, and before I fall asleep. I usually have a book-on-tape playing in the car. I want to absorb everything I can, lose myself in the stories of others, and I want to emerge a better person on the other side.

I want more books. I want to read them all. One at a time, as I live my life, I want to read each and every story out there.

library