Waiting Places

In his immortal and inspiring book, Oh, the Places You’ll Go, Dr. Seuss tells of a boy going on a grand adventure that is all his own, with many unexpected twists and turns. And in the center of his journey, he is warned about lingering in the deadly Waiting Place, where people get trapped as they wait for something to happen.

Waiting Place 2

Waiting for a train to go or a bus to come,
or a plane to go or the mail to come,
or the rain to go or the phone to ring,
or the snow to snow or waiting around for a Yes or No
or waiting for their hair to grow.

Everyone is just waiting.

Waiting for the fish to bite
or waiting for wind to fly a kite
or waiting around for Friday night

or waiting, perhaps, for their Uncle Jake
or a pot to boil, or a Better Break
or a string of pearls, or a pair of pants
or a wig with curls, or Another Chance.

Everyone is just waiting.

Waiting places can take many forms.

Oftentimes, people are trapped in place by a seemingly impossible situation: living with a terrible health condition, taking care of a child, or trapped in a terrible marriage; they wait for someone to come to their rescue, not seeing any way out.

Other times, people get trapped by their own emotional states, crippling depression or anxiety, and the world around them seems bleak and dark.

People are trapped by fear, or sadness, or chronic pain, or heavy weight, or responsibility, or a lack of resources, or family traditions.

It seems I spent most of my life waiting, finding ways to be content while standing in one place. I kept waiting for someone to show me hope, or to see right through me, or to help me understand what authenticity was.

And now, at 37, I willfully participate in setting and achieving my own goals. I patiently measure out ways to achieve my goals, and then I must be patient while they are achieved. And while that process is happening, it sometimes feels like I’m waiting again, but I’m not. It’s not the same as waiting. Losing ten pounds takes time and energy, and it happens one workout at a time. Actively goal-setting isn’t waiting, it is patience with consistency. Waiting looks more like sitting on the couch and hoping the ten pounds comes off on its own while I eat a pint of ice cream.

I’m in a period of transition in my life, yet again. And I have to keep reminding myself that it isn’t a waiting place, even when I grow impatient to achieve the results I want. Both of my children are in school now, which means no more day care payments, which means more financial freedom. I have more consistent control over my work schedule now, which means more time to travel, and more time to exercise. I can now do many of the things I have wanted to do for years and haven’t been able to, some of them simple (like getting braces) and some of them more complex (like a long term plan of a road trip across Canada). I greet this period of transition with both welcome and impatience, and it is w9ndertful to feel full of potential and opportunity. I’m also making slow, steady, and consistent progress on a book I’ve been writing as well. It’s a good and healthy space to be in as I watch the days turn to weeks and, in a few days, August turn into September.

Healthy transitions can also be very uncomfortable. I’ve found myself with many of my friends moving into new life stages and less available, meaning cultivating new friendships is necessary, and that takes time and energy. My family is getting older, my parents in their mid-70s and my siblings entering stages of middle age, and I find myself wanting to see them more frequently. And rebuilding confidence after several rocky setbacks takes time as well.

And so… I’m willfully waiting in a place that sometimes feels like the Waiting Place. And while I’m doing that, I’m exercising, and learning, and paying down debts, and raising my children, and reading, and writing, and making new friends, and it feels less like waiting when I am doing it actively instead of passively.

And so, I think I’ll rewrite Dr. Seuss’s stanza my own way.

(Actively) Waiting for gym to open,
and the source to call me back, 
and my chapter to finish,
and the debt to be paid off, 
and the friend to call me back.

(Actively) Waiting to help my sons with their homework,
and waiting for their good night hugs, 
and waiting to see their smiling faces in the morning again.

And (actively) waiting for my resolve to build, 
and new horizons, and unrealized potentials, 
and laughter and opportunity and dancing and every good thing.

Everyone is just waiting. But I’m not everyone.

My version isn’t nearly as catchy as Dr. Seuss, but it feels just right.

Waiting 3

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absolutely electric

Lightning1.jpg

In my most powerful moments
when lightning flashes outward from my fingers, toes, and eyes
and I float evenly in the center
kept aloft in the night sky
seeing over every horizon
in those moments, I am
limitless
bulletproof
invincible
free
I rise higher, willfully
with clouds at my feet
absolutely electric
in time
I grow chilled
and lonely
and weary of the winds and jets and birds
and I return
to mud, to dirt
to safe holes in familiar glens
to roots and dust
to burrowing aphids
to warm damp subterranean space
and there, safe, I dig my toes into the soil
and I sing into the darkness
hearing the life forms plodding on the ground above me.
they have no idea I’m here
not until I’m ready
again
for the sun and song of the surface.

on campus

There is a certain magic on a college campus the first day of a new semester. Even as a teacher I still feel it.

I remember that initial rush the first time, when I was 21 and just off my Mormon mission. I had enrolled in a summer term at Ricks College in Rexburg, Idaho. It was a little overwhelming, navigating through the buildings on the moderately sized campus as I tried to find my classrooms. There was a sea of young people, backpacks on shoulders and smiles on faces, as they looked at each other, treading new ground underneath their feet. Clubs had tables set out, looking for other students who might want to play chess or lacrosse, who might want to sing in the choir or play acoustic guitar, who might want to start a comedy club or engage in organized debates. There were organizations for Asian-American students, for Democratic students, for role play gamers, and roller derbies.

Everyone there, every new student, was looking for that sense of belonging as they stepped into an entirely new world of deadlines, syllabi, friend circles, and routines. Gym, this way, library, that way. I remember exploring campus, wondering where I would fit in. I stepped on to the theater stage for the first time, where I hoped I would get to perform in shows. I walked past park benches and gardens and open lawns where I would spread out a blanket and sit to study, shoeless.

Every semester, as I continued my education at Boise State University and Eastern Washington University, carried with it that same sense of newness, adventure, anxiety, apprehension, and wonder.

I can sense it again now, walking through the main campus of the University of Utah, where I’m beginning to teach a new semester in the College of Social Work. I’m ad junct here, teaching one day per week, and that has its own struggles and pitfalls. But I’d forgotten what it feels like to be present.

In the main building, there is a job fair, where students browse the tables looking for temporary employment at ski resorts or coffee shops or retail stores or computer labs, something they can wedge between their busy academic schedules to give them a bit of spending money. College is nothing if not expensive. Food vendors on the next floor sell off breakfast and lunch items to students who settle in at tables with open laptops or phones in hand, still too early in the semester for much studying or books. Most of the students are sitting solo, still working to make friends, still finding their places.

Outside are all the club tables. Two Muslim women sit at a table handing out literature about their religion. Two young men sit at a similar table, handing out flyers about atheism. There is a climbing club, a tennis club, a Pokémon club. There are handsome guys discussing mountain biking and gorgeous girls talking about yoga. There is chocolate and apples and taffy and pencils and bottled water being handed out to passersby. There is an Asian woman struggling to communicate with a Hispanic man, neither of them speaking English well and both trying hard.

I look around, remembering the feelings of outrage at overpriced new college text books and panic at the competing deadlines of class assignments. So much pressure, and so much freedom, and so much potential and opportunity. I watch the new students watching each other, looking for their place, and I find myself with dueling emotions of being so relieved that that part of my life is over, and being so jealous that they get to start now when I want the chance to do it all over again.

Sheer Bitchery

Hedda1

Elda Furry rushed away from her boring life in Pennsylvania in the late 1800s and took herself right to Broadway, determined to see her name in lights.

Before, she had been the daughter of a butcher, she was a Baptist and had had half dozen siblings. In New York, she took the stage a few times, as a chorus girl, as a character actress, and as a traveling performer, before marrying a bona fide Broadway star, DeWolf Hopper, a man older than her father, and Elda was his fifth wife, and apparently he had a type: they all had names with two syllables and ending in A (Ella, Ida, Edna, Nella, then finally Elda). But DeWolf proved to be a bore to her as well, alcoholic and relatively self-absorbed and calling poor Elda any of his wives’ names interchangeably. So she left him.

So Elda took her soon, DeWolf Jr (who later went by Bill) and moved to California, where she vowed to see her name not just in lights, but lit up in the credits of silent films on the silver screens across America. She consulted a numerologist for $10 and, guided by the stars, changed her stage name to Hedda. Hedda Hopper.

Starting in 1915, and for over two decades, she made over 120 movies, generally as a high society woman in the background, but never made it as big as she had hoped, even when she played Mona Lisa herself. Wanting the attention for herself but never quite making it, Hedda grew to resent the stars around her who proved to be great successes.

And somewhere along the way, Hedda learned her greatest talent lied in gossip. Securing a newspaper column in the late 1930s, Hedda Hopper’s Hollywood, she was soon being read by millions as she told the public who was up-and-coming, who was washed up, and what films to be excited about. Hedda Hopper could make or break careers, and most in Hollywood knew to rightfully fear her power: making her angry, reporting a story to another newspaper first, or ignoring her were all very dangerous choices. Her greatest rival was Louella Parsons, another Hollywood gossip with a column, and they feuded for years.

Hedda worked through her own little network of spies (hairdressers and maids and everyone in between), her firsthand sources to pregnancies, affairs, divorces, and marriages, and her scandalous seeds over the next few decades, until her death of pneumonia in 1966, but many in Hollywood remained frightened of her for years after her death. Hedda relished in fear, even calling her home “the House that Fear Built”, and she worried little about upsetting anyone. When actress Merle Oberon asked Hedda why she was writing such terrible things about Merle, Hedda famously smiled back at her at a party, and gave her most memorable quote.

“Bitchery, dear. Sheer bitchery.”

While Hedda danced the night away with her close gay friends in clubs, she destroyed the careers of individuals she outted as gay in her columns. During World War II, while her own son (the actor William Hopper) served in the military, she accused certain celebrities of being anti-American. And after World War II, she listed names of suggested Communists, often leading to intense FBI investigations of the individuals; among the accused was Charlie Chaplin, who she suggested should be banned from the country (and indeed, for years, he was).

Most famous for her enormous and lavish hats, and nicknamed Hedda Hell by Louis B. Mayer himself, Hedda Hopper has been gone for 50 years now. While her legacy remains firmly entrenched in the tabloids and paparazzi of Hollywood, who now use blogs, tweets, and live social media broadcasting to scandalize celebrities, in many ways Hedda Hopper’s worst nightmare has now come true: Her name has been largely forgotten.

Hedda2

 

A Good Person

single white cloud on blue sky

All right, let’s talk about the word ‘good’ for a moment.
Okay, what about it?
I just googled the word ‘good’ and there are several different definitions.
Okay.
I am going to read each definition out loud and I want you to tell me which of the definitions are merit-based, which ones are based in measurements of values and morals.
Okay.
Okay, definition 1. ‘Good: to be desired or approved of.’
That’s merit-based.
2. ‘Good: Having the qualities required for a particular role.’
That’s merit-based, too.
3. ‘Good: Possessing or displaying moral virtue.’
Merit-based.
4. ‘Good: Giving pleasure; enjoyable or satisfying.’
That, too.
5. ‘Good: that which is morally right; righteousness.’
Merit-based.
6. ‘Good: benefit or advantage of someone or something.’
That, too. Are any of these not merit-based?
Almost done. 7. ‘Good: merchandise or possessions.’
Merit-based.

Okay, awesome. Now what does that teach us?
I’m not sure what you wanted me to get out of that.
Seven different definitions of good, all based on merits, values, and morals.
Yeah, I got that part.
So let me ask you a basic question. Are you a good person?
I try hard. I work hard. I care about the people around me. I try to do good things, but it never seems to be enough. I still get my heart broken. I’m not sure I’m good.
But that didn’t answer the question. Are you a good person?
Sometimes.
Nope, try again. It’s a yes or no question.
I’m either good or I’m not? It’s not that simple!
It is that simple. Are you a good person? If you answer yes, it doesn’t mean that you don’t have struggles or heartbreaks or challenges. It just means at your essence, at your core, you are a good person. You have value. Are you a good person?
Yes?
That sounded like a question.
Well, I think that is the answer you wanted, isn’t it? For me to say I’m a good person, even if I don’t believe it?
It’s not about what you think I want to hear, it’s about what you believe. Do you believe you are a good person?
I’m honestly not sure if I can answer that right now.
You and I are both parents, let’s start there. You know what it feels like to hold a brand new child in your hands and see the ultimate innocence and potential there. Can you remember what it feels like to do that?
Yes, with both of my children. It’s a wonderful feeling.
Are your children good people?
Yes, of course! They are kids!
Do they make poor decisions sometimes? Do they challenge your patience sometimes? Are they difficult sometimes?
Yes.
So does that mean they are only good people when they are making good choices? When they listen? When they aren’t being difficult?
No. They are good always, even when they have struggles.
Okay, there we go. And I believe the same thing about you, and about me. I have struggles. I make bad decisions sometimes. I get sad and angry and grumpy and tired and disconnected. And at the same time, I am a good person. I’m not better or worse than anyone around me, I’m just me. I’m just human. And at my core, I’m a human who tries hard and does my very best and who is consistently trying to better myself.
I see it in my children. I see it in you. I just have a harder time seeing it in me.
Well, you’ve had a lot of years with a lot of pain. You’ve had people who have hurt you, who have taught you that you only have value if you follow the teachings of the Mormon Church or if you are never sad or if you do as you’re told. People have told you over and over at times that you are ugly or unworthy or difficult or not worth it. And somewhere along the way, you started to believe that.
But what if they were right?
Would you ever love your children with those conditions? Would you ever tell them they they are only good, that they are only worthy of your love if they are always well-behaved?
Of course not. I could never do that to them.
Okay, so the big goal we need to be working on is helping you believe those things about yourself that you believe about your children.
That… sounds nice. To be able to do that sounds nice.
I know you don’t believe in God anymore, neither do I, and I know being a Mormon was hard for you. But beneath all of the struggles you had in that Church, there is one truth that is the most beautiful that is at the essence of all of their doctrine. That core belief is that you were created as a perfect daughter of God and that He loves you unconditionally and sees you as a being of ultimate potential. He sees you as you see your children. It isn’t based on how happy your marriage is or how many hours you serve in Church callings or how strong your testimony is. It is infinite and unconditional love.
I remember feeling that once.
Can you still feel that now? Can you still see that part, that version of yourself? The part of you that exists, that sees you as good, with potential, the way you see your children as good, with potential?
Yes. I can feel that.
So tap into that, and that is where we begin to heal. We have a lot of work ahead, but that is where we begin.
Okay. I can feel it, it’s there.
Let’s try one more time then. Are you a good person?
Yes. I am. I’m a good person.
Okay. Hold tight to that. Now, now is when the healing starts.

 

Underestimated

Underest1

“People have a habit of underestimating you, don’t they?”

I took a sip of my white wine, my facial expression not changing. “How do you mean?”

Tanner laughed as he flipped over the chicken on the barbecue. “Well, when I first met you, you came across as pretty put together. Confident, smart, like you have a lot of friends.”

I nodded, smiling. “I like to think those are true statements.”

“But there is a lot more too you, isn’t there? People see this guy who loves his kids and reads a lot but they don’t often get much past that, do they?”

I shrugged. “It takes a bit to get to know me, just like anyone. But yes, I would say that that is a mistake people make often. I have a blog, I write poetry, I’m working on a book, I read voraciously. None of those things make me any more or less special than anyone else, though. Everyone is deeper than what they appear on the surface.”

Tanner looked at me, narrowing his gaze. “Do you do it on purpose?”

I laughed out loud this time. “Do I do what on purpose?”

“Let people underestimate you. Is it on purpose?”

I shrugged again. “I don’t know. I guess to a certain extent. It’s not like I’m willfully hiding. I’m just comfortable in my own skin and I’m careful who I share my vulnerability with. That’s like a healthy human survival tip, though.”

This time he spoke without even turning around, cooking the chicken more. “So why are you single, then? I’ve got a husband, why don’t you have a husband?”

I laughed, giving a coy answer, but really the only answer there is to give. “I’m single because I’m not in a relationship.”

“Oh, come on! That answer is a copout!”

“No, really. First off, I’m pretty okay not being in a relationship. If it happens, and it’s right, I’ll give it a shot. Second, I don’t date much. Some, but not much. And when I do give it a shot, it turns out lame. I’m very clear about my communication and I feel like I have my shit together. I’m raising my kids, I’ve got a good relationship with my ex-wife, I like my job, I do what I love, and I travel by myself often. I’m not opposed to finding someone to share that with, but it has to be healthy.”

Tanner stayed quiet and I kept talking.

“I’ve been out five years. I started that with an infant and a toddler. That’s a lot for anyone to sign on for. And the relationships I’ve tried out since then just haven’t lasted, for their own reasons.”

Tanner turned off the stove and moved the chicken into the dish. “Want to know why I think you’re single?”

I rolled my eyes and laughed. “Yes, tell me, please.”

“I think you intimidate people.”

I laughed again, sharply. “Oh my god, I’ve been told that before like five times!”

“See? You’re intimidating!”

“How am I intimidating!”

“Well, what were you told before?”

I set my glass down and ticked off on my fingers what I’d been told in the past. “I’ve been told that I’m intimidating because I’m a good father and my kids come first. One guy told me it’s because I have big arms, but come on, you are in way better shape than me. Oh, two friends told me it’s because I’m a therapist and I make people feel uncomfortable because they feel like I can see through them emotionally. Um, um, oh! Kurt, my best friend, told me that it’s because I am direct with what I say and I don’t play games. And I can’t remember the fifth one. Oh, yeah! One guy told me I’m intimidating because I make eye contact and I compliment people too much.”

Tanner sat down with his plate of food and thought a moment. “Well, all of those reasons are ridiculous. You compliment too much?”

“Yes! I told a guy I had dinner with, on a date a few years ago, that he was handsome. And he told me he didn’t like being complimented, that he found it intimidating.”

“Ugh, that’s terrible. Seriously, I think some of the best looking people have the worst self-esteems sometimes.”

I laughed. “I know! So, what am I supposed to do to be less intimidating? Not be a good dad? Be a shitty communicator?”

“Well clearly not.”

“Honestly, I think a big reason I’m single is because my priorities are different than a lot of single gay guys, at least the ones I seem to meet. I like sex, but it isn’t my primary motivation. I like having a drink, but I don’t stay out and get trashed. I mean, I’m getting close to 40 and I’ve got kids.”

And then we were both laughing.

We stayed silent for a bit, then made small talk, two friends chatting and laughing over dinner, talking about movies and funny stories and life in our 30s. We talked about our families and jobs.

After dinner was cleaned up, Tanner slapped my shoulder once. “Well, when the time and person are right, you’ll make a great husband.”

“Ha, thank you very much, my friend. And thanks for the company tonight. And dinner! That was fantastic.”

I gave Tanner a hug goodbye. As he left, he stood in the doorway, turned back toward me one last time, and gave a ‘tsk-tsk’ sound.

“Yup. Completely underestimated.” Then he closed the door behind him.

insomnia

it happens easily

 

at midnight

when the bed stretches on for miles

and I’m the only one inside it

 

a pillow between my knees

another balled together under my right ear

my toes curled up like elf shoes

one arm wrapped protectively around my abdomen

the other under head extended to its fullest, reaching

the ache of the world rests in my spine, my hips

and my eyes are opened to darkness

 

they show there, when I’m at my most vulnerable

when even sound is distant

they climb over the corners of the bed, burrow through the sheets

they scratch at my surfaces

they cover me, they bury me

the demons

breath soft, in whispers, no fire and no thorns

 

they carry messages of

he said he loved you but he hurt you”

and

“they all end in the same place”

and

“dig, keep digging, it’s bottomless”

and

“this is it, all there is, this darkness, this room, this you”

 

I stay there

for a moment, for forever

because it feels familiar

the doubt, the pain, the angst

after all

I dwelt in it for so long

it’s warm on my skin and cold in my heart

the demons become one with the sheet that covers my naked form

the whispers grow and stay and settle

and then the demons fall like leaves, gently, floating

off

and out

and down

and away

 

and then it is me again

alone in the expanse of the bed

still protected, still reaching, still curled,

still weight-bearing, still silent

my eyes can close now

and the sun soon rises

Lessons in Authenticity from Christine Jorgensen

Christine

“Through the years, I’ve encountered about every attitude and response known to the human emotional spectrum. Some people thought me a courageous pioneer, others regarded me as disgusting and immoral; some of the clergy considered that I had committed an ungodly act. Why these reactions to me should be so explosively pro and con, only God or the Devil knows, and I suspect they are both puzzled.

“Many times, I’ve been accused of living a masquerade as a female, but if I have not already made it clear I will state again that, in my view, the real masquerade would have been to continue in my former state. That, to me, would have been living the lie.

“I suppose another main purpose in this narrative has been to relate the facts of how I adjusted to the world and how the world adjusted to me, now that time has allowed a more objective examination. Though, indeed, my outward appearance was changed, I think I’m basically one and the same person I was in the earlier part of my life-perhaps calmer, more accepting and certainly happier. I’ve found that my eagerness for living has in no way diminished.

“I’ve often been asked if, give the chance, I would make the same decisions and seek the same goals. My answer to that is unequivocal-yes.” –Christine Jorgensen, A Personal Autobiography

In the 1950s, and for a few decades afterward. Christine Jorgensen was the Caitlyn Jenner of her time. In other words, because of media attention making her gender transition a scandal, and because of Christine’s own desire for media attention, she headed newspaper and magazine gossip columns and inspired much public debate about the roles and expressions of gender. A blonde, blue-eyed, almost frail boy named George who grew up in an affluent family through the depression years briefly became a soldier and a photographer before HE became SHE. George became Christine, a buxom and fashionable attention-seeking woman, wrapped in furs and strutting on stages.

Christine was certainly determined. She spent her first two decades of not fitting in. She wasn’t like the other boys around her, not in any way. And even though she was attracted to boys, she wasn’t a homosexual. And even though she felt like a woman inside, she didn’t look like other women. She floated alone, in her own universe, not fitting in with anyone at all. She searched and studied everything she could about hormones and gender transition. She sought out psychotherapists and endocrinologists and she took herself to Denmark where she spent years (literally years) transitioning into a full female, using new scientific breakthroughs to help her adopt a new life.

Christine spent her following decades in the public eye. She starred in plays, interviewed for magazines, posed for photographers, dated famous men, travelled the world, starred in her own nightclub act, and, for a long time, she was a name on everyone’s lips around the world. And yet, a few years later, hers was a name barely anyone would remember, a testament to the true nature of celebrity.

Ultimately, Christine Jorgensen was a brave, talented, beautiful, and trend-setting transgender woman who, for the most part, lived life on her terms, and she deserves to be remembered for the way that she lived and the person that she was.

Christine2

 

small-town Utah

Delta

The museum was set up in what must have been an old department store of some kind. I pictured the building lined with racks of clothes and a makeup counter, cash register up front with a woman in a dress ringing people up, circa 1950s. Now it was arranged into careful and painstaking displays that captured the storied history of the small town of Delta, Utah.

I’d never been to this particular city before. It was a little bigger than I thought, but still felt very much like a small town. I was here researching, and I explored the streets of the little community before stopping at the local museum, figuring this was as good a place as any to start. The walls were covered in old photographs, hand written stories, artifacts from the settling of the city, and items that would have existed among the town’s residents back-in-the-day. There was a display counter full of old items, a mannequin behind it posed as if ready to sell something. One side of the museum was dedicated to rocks and quarrying, important to the development of a community that relied primarily on those industries. Another entire wall was devoted to the stories of military men who were prisoners-of-war or veterans or lost in combat, all of whom originated in the region.

I learned a lot about the city in my short visit. Set up initially as a short railroad switch stop, the train going all the way from Los Angeles to Salt Lake City, the community was called Aiken and Melville and Burtner before they adopted the name Delta. Free land was In the early 1900s, free land was offered to anyone who would come in and farm a 40 acre plot, and the residents began moving in. In time it became a town, then a city, and the population of the place is around 3400 now.

I came across one particular story, a hand-typed account of a man, now deceased, who served as a prisoner of war during World War II in Japan. It looked fascinating but was nearly 70 pages long, so I flagged down the volunteer, an overweight short woman that I’ll call Mavis. I learned she was nearly 90 as we spoke.

“Hi, I was wondering if I could get a copy of this book? I don’t have time to read the whole thing now but it looks fascinating.”

She thumbed through the booklet. “Oh, that is a find. It’s a wonderful story, so full of history. I knew this man my whole life. But I’m sorry to tell you, our copy machine is broken down now, went down a few years ago. There is another copy machine down at the corner pharmacy, but I can’t let you leave with the book.”

She paced back to the front of the store, still thinking out loud. “They used to sell copies of this little booklet at the city library back in the 1980s. I bet they still have a few. But they aren’t open today. Let me think. The man who wrote this is dead, but his brother is still alive. He just turned 102! Let me see.” She grabbed the white pages and thumbed through them. “Oh here he is, hang on.”

And before I could protest, she was dialing the number, which I could hear ring twice. “Hi, yes, Janet? Is Elmer there? Oh, he’s sleeping? I wanted to see if he had copies of his brother’s book, the World War II one. Yeah, I’m sure he has one, too. I can call back in a few hours.”

She gave me a consoling look. “Looks like you are all out of luck for now, but you could try again in a few hours when he’s awake.”

I smiled and said thank you, leaving some money in the “Donations Only” box on the counter, and asked her for a place to get a cup of coffee. She directed me a to a small diner down the street, and soon I had black coffee and a slice of homemade banana cream pie, set on my table whose hair was styled right out of a 1980s fashion magazine. I ate and sipped and listened to snippets of local conversation. A new dog, grandma’s new marriage, a planned visit from a cousin, an exchange of recipes. I watched the locals bond over pie and French fries and eggs and sausage and stacks of pancakes and just absorbed it all.

My brain flashed back again to that time in New Orleans when I had my fortune told, and the man said that I walk into a place and absorb its whole history and then carry it with me. I wondered what Delta must have been like in 1947 and 1975 and how those times differed from now.

I decided that in places like this, the roots were not far underneat the tree, easily exposed and firmly planted.

Thoughts on thinking

Freeway

Sometimes I don’t have anything to blog about.

Some of my best blogs come from deeply painful places, from emotional barbs that have to be worked out from my flesh with sharp grips. Or sometimes they represent self-discovery, a breakthrough I’ve been chewing on for a few days like a leathery piece of turkey jerky. Or sometimes they come from a place of righteous anger, a sense to vent about the social injustices of the world. Often they come from places of inspiration, bonding moments I have with my sons or my mother or a close friend.

But sometimes, I just don’t have anything to say, even when my brain never stops working.

I’m flooded with inspiring ideas that will never bear any fruit.

The other day, I drove away from Las Vegas at 3 in the morning and planned out a blog in my head about the desert at night with all the drunk people casually gambling with no concept of time. Then I turned on the radio and heard an old favorite song. I sang along, turned off the radio and sang it two or three more times, getting the idea to put up a YouTube channel with me singing a different song every day that inspires me, and then I deleted that idea because that would be one more thing I begin that I would be proud of but never know how to promote. Then I turned on a book on tape about the life story of Jerry Lee Lewis, and I spent the next few hours laughing and annoyed and outraged and inspired by his very weird life, and thought about writing a piece about him and wanting to buy and listen to all of his music now.

I kept driving and I thought about a getaway, something long and enduring, a few weeks where I could have pure, uninterrupted creative energy, but deleted that idea because I would miss my children and I have bills to pay and clients to see. Then I thought about how confident I felt just a few months ago, determined and sure that my LGBT History channel on YouTube (also called Snapshots) were going to take off and be successful, how the quality of the video and the content would just keep gaining and expanding, then I thought of how quickly that confidence had dissipated when I realized that even the people I was paying to support the product didn’t really believe in it, and how the failure to launch was really teaching me a lesson in humility. I thought about efforts to expand or reduce content, wearing a suitcoat to make myself more presentable, generating taglines and mission statements, and even throwing it all into a podcast that went nowhere, and how even though I’m still putting out the videos, my dreams for the project feel like they are tucked into a cardboard box I’ve placed into the attic.

I thought about other ways I might feel more successful with my writing. I thought about making inspiring music videos, or humorous blurbs about animals with unfortunate names, or posting daily images of terrible comic book covers from decades ago that are incredibly hilarious now, or reading my blog entries out loud and putting them online. I think of people who are doing what I want to do, like Anne Lamott and David Sedaris and Mary Roach, and doing it so brilliantly. I thought of all the people who make money on YouTube melting things or blowing things up or doing make-up tutorials or instructing dance steps or looking pretty while interviewing people.

I thought about writing books, and making documentaries. I thought about the graphic novel that I worked for five years on and that I was so proud of and how there are now boxes of them sitting in my closet, unread. I thought of getting in shape and the excuses we use to stop ourselves. I thought of the last guy I tried dating and how the early magic of the relationship had become weighed down by the human realness of adult life: jobs and kids and family and distance and communication, and how that made me sad. I thought of ghosts. I thought of constantly struggling to find our places in the world.

Then I sang, and listened, and thought some more. And the sun came up over the red hills and I stopped for coffee and sat on a curb and drank slowly as I willed my brain to be still. I saw the sun in the sky, the cars speeding by on the freeway, the isolated homes in the distance, and the small ants climbing near my feet.

I thought of silence, and ambition, and adventure, and independence, and my children.

And then I filled my car up with gas while I thought about thinking, and got back in the car to think some more.