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Whale

My brain has gone quiet lately. I haven’t written in weeks. Usually, my head is a landscape of questing, goal-setting, gratitude, frustrations, and rushing thoughts. I divide my time between clients, kids, boyfriend, friends, and self. But lately, it’s all been quieter. I’m just living for moments instead of all the rest.

Today, I stood on the top of a boat and watched the circle of life. I saw northern humpback whales spout water out of their blowholes, the water turning into a little geyser stream of vapor due to the speed of the rushing water. Displaying their humps and then their tails, the whales took great gulps of air as they deep-dived beneath the surface, giving off little echoing sounds that stunned the fish around them. As those fish bobbed to the surface, soaring gulls rushed down to grab them. The whales would disappear for five to ten minutes before coming up for another blow, another gulp, another flip of the tail, and down they went again.

The tour guide explained that the sun and glacier water at this time of year enrich the populations of phytoplankton, then plankton in the water, creating breeding grounds for several species of fish. Enormous schools of salmon, trout, and others return to Alaska to feed in the cold waters, leading the whales to return to feed on them. These particular whales spend a lot of their time in Hawaii, to bear their young. The males race, frolic, wrestle, and sing to get the attention of the females, who carry their calves for a year before giving birth to an infant that weighs a ton.

We saw the brown heads of sea lions poking their heads out of the water, fighting for a place on a small buoy in the distance, hoping to get warm. The males in this species can reach a ton, she says. I hear one of them growl. I check my phone and discover a group of sea lions is called a raft, a group of seals is called a harem. Whales are in pods, crows in murders, ravens in unkindnesses, porcupines in prickles, weasels in confusions, swallows in flights, and eagles in convocations. These seemingly random, sometimes bizarrely clever, names for the groupings of animals swim around my mind, fighting for attention, bringing a half smile to my lips.

As she spoke, I could see sloping mountains, the blue edges of Mendenhall Glacier, skimming Surf Scooters and soaring Bald and Golden Eagles and obnoxious Crows and impatient Sea Gulls all watching for the fish. She described how one island, 1600 square miles, had a vast population of bears on it, nearly one per square mile, while the other across the bay had no bears, because the salmon streams were only close to one, thus humans lived on the other. Helicopters and seaplanes soared overhead, and on the distant highway cars buzzed by, while thousands disembarked from their cruise ships to explore the isolated city.

I’ve only been in Juneau a little over a day, and I’m already realizing how this city is always here, going on with these throngs of people and animals. It’s only different now because I’m in it, here to feel the air and hear the sounds. The sun rose at 4 this morning, and it didn’t set until 11 pm the night before, and the lesser amount of light is messing with my head. I feel ethereal, and I think of how impossible it would feel to be here in the winter, when the light lasted mere hours while the darkness stretched on endlessly. Would I only want to sleep too much, as now I wanted to be awake too much?

I pull my scarf from my bag and wrap it around my neck, then wrap my arms around myself. The ocean air blows against me, around me, as the boat lurches up and down on the wake of other boats. “It’s an Alaskan roller coaster!” our guide shouts, and I laugh, wondering again if she is a lesbian. If she is, I’m somehow more fond of her, and I realize that fact is strange. She seems to love her job, and I realize how rare that is.

The boat is called the Awesome Orca, and on the wall is a long row of certifications and safety protocols. One for safety trainings, life jackets, rafts, signal flares, and fire extinguishers, another for the proper protocol in approaching humpack whales in the wild. This is her job, I realize, looking for whales every day. And it is someone else’s job to make sure she does it right. I ask a question, and she says she can recognize some of the whales by the patterns on their tails, and that astounds me almost more than anything else. She has names for them, she says.

We see six separate whale tails in a row, the entire pod presenting for us as they throw themselves down for more food, yet the thought in my head is “Chad, why haven’t you been writing lately?” My brain is tired, I think. I need sleep. I recount recent domestic distresses at home, how my kids were with me for two weeks straight, the crises I’m managing for my clients consistently, and my failure to meet my nutrition goals and how I keep making excuses. I think of the things that bother me, that stay on my mind week after week, and I wonder how to sort them out again. I wonder about writing, and where this is all leading. I wonder about better ways to be successful. I think of the totem poles looming over my bed in the room I’m staying in, and how I could only see the edge of a glacier that extends for hundreds of miles, and how the entire world used to be covered in ice. I think of how Alaska is bigger than California, Texas, and Montana combined, but they make it look so much smaller on the map. I think of how the ocean, despite its vastness, smells like gasoline from all of the boats and flying crafts.

And I think of how I’m standing here, and how no one else is sure I’m here at all.

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Saskatoon Shines!

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Years ago, I learned to find peace when I traveled, respite from life. Parts of me would come alive when I left my home in Utah and stepped into a new and unfamiliar place, where I could place my feet upon new streets and breathe new air. Travel became crucial for me and for my development, and my soul cried out for it. I traveled to survive.

Now I travel simply because I enjoy it. I like frequent getaways to new places. I enjoy walking and seeing what I can discover.

Saskatoon snuck up on me. It was a word that merely escaped my lips after a stressful day at work, and suddenly I had booked plane tickets for a few months later. And now I’m here, looking out at the expanse of the flat Canadian prairie country and farmland around me. I’m staying on the 21st floor of a tall building, and my view overlooks the river and a few bridges, into the distance and over the city. The skies are grey and I can see the Earth curve on the far horizon.

There is something about being somewhere I haven’t been before, and with a place like Saskatoon it is likely a place I will never be again. The city isn’t particularly magical. It’s drab, all browns and greens and grey and blues that seem muted, like Kansas in the Wizard of Oz. The people are kind, and funny, and go out of their way to be helpful. The architecture is normal. A cold breeze blows across the river. It feels like a normal metropolitan western city, with many of the same restaurants and department stores that I would find back in America.

But for me, it isn’t about the city, it’s about the experiences.

It’s wandering into a city government building to explore and having a long conversation with the security guard about canola farming and the changing temperatures of the northern farm land and the tax incentives for farmers who are looking out for their families’ well-beings generations down the line.

It’s stopping in the tourism office and chatting with a delightful potato bug of a person named Debbie about her passion and love for the city.

It’s stepping into a random restaurant and having a friendly Asian man with much too long fingernails serve you thick noodles in vegetable broth with freshly sliced mushrooms, eggplant, and cabbage, and talking about how good life is with your best friend.

It’s seeing Canadian geese on a Canadian river in Canada.

It’s sitting down and clutching a cup of coffee for warmth as two women loudly cackle while another man rushes into the place looking like he forgot where the bathroom was, and then realizing that look never quite leaves his face.

It’s going out to a nightclub in the late evening and hoping to interact with locals and then leaving two hours later, having been the only ones in the establishment.

It’s repeating a joke to a Canadian woman: “I heard that in Saskatchewan you can watch your dog run away for three full miles.”

And hearing her take it far too seriously: “Well, I suppose, but that is more in southern Saskatchewan, we get a few hills here and there up here.”

It’s complimenting a woman on her niceness, and indeed the seeming niceness of all Canadians, and having her respond, “Well, we are nice, yes, but we are sarcastic too!”

Travel sings to my soul. It takes me to a spiritual place in my own head where I can be anonymous in a crowd and just absorb. I didn’t travel, much, until just a few years ago, and now the memories I can capture in my journal or blog or just in my own head resound within me constantly on a playlist. Ocean Beach and Provincetown and Missoula and Reno and Fillmore and Little Armenia and the Castro and Pike Market. The list extends, and each place brings a smile to my face, though nothing note-worthy happened in any of those places except for long walks and life on my own terms. Community theater, vegan restaurants, saloons, beaches, live music, coffee shops, book stores, and strangers.

Travel releases me. It puts me in tune with myself. It gives me voice. It sings to my soul and through my fingertips. It slows me down and brings me back into my own self.

Yet travel also exposes me. It strips me bare. My insecurities, fears, doubts, shames, regrets, and worries work themselves out of me. At some point on every trip, I feel small and scared. I worry about insurmountable tasks. I think of my children and get tears on my cheeks. I grieve for losses. I think of the unfinished: the book, the documentary, the fitness goals. I shift to gratitude and I wonder if I’ll lose all I’ve gained. But even these parts of me are valid, vital, crucial. They are always within me, the bones upon which I build myself, and it is freeing to feel them there and let them breathe.

When we landed in Saskatoon, the welcome sign said “Saskatoon Shines!” But I haven’t seen the sun yet here. On the first night, the sun was setting, and pinks and oranges blended in with the grey clouds.

“It’s beautiful,” I muttered, and a woman nearby took notice.

“Oh, that is pretty, yes, but we get much better sunsets than that one. That one is just okay. Sorry ’bout that. Keep watching, no worries.”

She apologized for the quality of the sunset. And somehow that single moment captures the essence of this trip for me.

As I type this, the sky is still grey, and river still flowing, the colors still drab.

And the Earth is still curving, and me with it.

Saskatoon may not shine much, but it shines for me.

millennials making millions

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It’s a different world than the one that I grew up in.

This will being as one of those “back in my day” stories about how the times are changing before the older generation can adapt to the new one. (Subsequently, the older I get, the more I realize that every generation becomes the ‘older’ generation relatively swiftly).

I grew up in the 1980s and 90s. I recorded television shows on a video cassette tape and watched them on the VCR. I put music cassettes into tape recorders. I used rewind and fast forward on both. I played the original Nintendo video game and marveled at the advances in technology, because before that playing computer games required entering code on the T.I. Basic or playing a pixel-laden Atari.

Then in high school, technology advanced. I got my first Email address and could browse the Internet through AOL dial-up, where you paid per minute that you were online and being on your computer meant your phone-line was busy. I could jump into chat rooms and talk to people anywhere in the world and it was incredible! Communication and media were forever replaced with Email instead of snail mail. Now news and television shows and movies could be viewed online, pornography could be downloaded instead of purchased in a store, and shopping could be arranged through websites and products sent through the mail. Everything was different. And companies launched along with it that soon became media enterprises: Yahoo, Google, GMail, America Online, and many more.

Then in 2001, as a young college student, I bought my first cell phone. It was only $200 per month, and I could make calls in a local area, up to 200 minutes per month! There was no data, no camera, no internet, no long distance, and no texting (those would all come in the next few years), but I could carry a phone in my pocket and use it whenever I wanted! And the cell phone companies expanded to epic proportions. Verizon and Cricket and Sprint and

Obviously, technology has skyrocketed since then, the inventions of the last few decades dominating nearly every market. And now, as the Millennial generation grows with it, everything has changed. Social media has now become the primary form of media, television looking more to us now like radio did to me as a kid. And the company giants that dominate the international landscapes are all associated with the internet: Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Reddit, YouTube, ITunes, Paypal, Tinder, Amazon, Craigslist, MySpace, Ebay, WhatsApp, Airbnb, Uber, and on and on.

A few years ago, an app craze spread across the country, and downloadable games and programs made millions for quick-thinking, technologically-savvy entrepreneurs. Angry Birds and MyFitnessPal and apps of every genre and type came out by the hundreds of thousands. Apps to help you turn poetry into music, to allow you to save your photos with new filters, to turn your car into a taxi cab, to find live music near you, to count your burned Calories as you walk, to find local singles for sex.

And suddenly, there are millions of home-based businesses out there, people making thousands of dollars per month by uploading _____ (fill in the blank) and running advertising on their content, which generates a small amount of income per click. There are people sharing recipes and parenting tips on blogs, there are jokes or photos or tips of the day on websites, there are news commentaries with millions of followers.

On YouTube itself, there are thousands of individual channels that make their owners tens of thousands of dollars (and in some cases millions of dollars) per years. A woman who does make-up tutorials, a man who records himself playing video games, a man who plays pranks, a man who dances in his underwear to pop songs, a doctor with medical advice, a massage therapist who gives self-massage tips, a girl who runs lyrics to songs through translation technology and then sings the songs in broken English, a scientist who melts things, an adult woman who plays with kids’ toys, a man who records people from other countries eating American foods for the first time. With just the right amount of sound and video quality, an energetic personality, and some basic editing skills, there are thousands of Millennials running successful companies out of their living rooms.

And this, in many ways, is the new America. Which leads me to wonder, what kinds of ideas have yet to be discovered? And where is technology going from here–what is it about today’s advanced social media culture that is going to seem archaic in ten years time? What companies will still be launching, what new forms will advertising and television take, what millions have yet to be made?

And what mark will I end up leaving along the way?

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.

Let me take a selfie

I blog. Obviously.

There have been times over the last few years of my blogging that men will flirt with me or chat with me a bit. I’ll invite them out for coffee, and they’ll respond with a ‘no thank you. I saw your blog, and I don’t want to be someone that you write about later.’

This is absolutely hilarious to me. I share of lot of myself on my blog, but anyone who thinks they know me well by reading things that I’ve written, well, they will be surprised when they actually get to know me and realize I’m much more complex than some words on a screen. I write about things, and about myself, but I am much more than the things I write about.

When I write about others, I do one of two things: I change their names and a few key components of their identity, and only share things that are sanguine to a topic or that I know they would be okay with me sharing; OR I get their permission to tell stories about them. I’m not a passive-aggressive individual who vents about strangers on my blog, naming them by name and publishing for all readers to see. That would be downright cruel.

I also share openly on Facebook, and on my YouTube channel. I share things I am comfortable sharing. I try to keep my Facebook page one of positive energy, wit, and inspiring thoughts and ideas. It can at times be a delicate balance. Oversharing is uncomfortable, as is public whining.

Recently, in a conversation with a 15 year old male, I was told that Facebook was for the “older generation”. “Kids are using Snapchat now. Facebook just kind of. It’s not really for us, it’s more for your age.” I was startled by this. But as I scrolled through my Facebook feed, looking at my friends and those who posted often, it did indeed seem to be primarily those in their mid 20s to late 40s. Funny videos, random statuses, and selfies.

Now I take selfies from time to time. I might send to a friend or two or I might post one on my Facebook wall in an attempt to, again, be either inspiring, witty, or funny. I’ll make a thoughtful face, snap the shot, post, and write some sort of line underneath.

In thinking about selfies, I realize there is a certain amount of ego involved in taking and posting them. There is an assumption that if I take a selfie, I not only like my face, I assume that other people will want to see it also, and that they are interested in what I have to say and show. I suppose there is some desire for validation and reciprocity.

Honestly, that’s a lot of the reason I blog. I have something to say and I assume people will want to read my words and share in my experiences.

Today, I made myself black coffee and, as I drink it shirtless, I snapped a selfie, contemplating how such a delicious drink is zero calories. Yesterday, I had a flat tire. While I waited for the tow truck, I snapped a selfie of my frowning by the tire. A few days ago, I snapped a selfie of me cuddling with my four year old. The day before that, I asked a woman to take one of me with my children in the swimming pool.

There is no hidden agenda when I post a photo of myself. Just like anyone on Facebook, I enjoy getting ‘likes’ and comments on my photos. It’s fun to have the ego stroked a bit. But the fact of the matter is, I have no idea if other people want to see my face, if they don’t want to see my face, if they are ambivalent to my face, if they are tired of my face, or if they wish my face was on their Facebook feed more often.

Again, I like the validation. But I post the selfies, well, for me. Which is another turn of ego I suppose.

I’ve written on Ego before, but I see it as a pretty healthy thing. I spent a bulk of my life kind of hiding in plain sight. So to be at a point in my life when I like who I am, when I like how I look, when I like how I present myself… well, I’m pretty damn okay with that.

So it turns out, at nearly 40, I might just be a “millenial”, one of that dreaded generation who texts too much, has too many apps, and is glued to their phones, posting statuses and Emojis and images of themselves on social media. I hashtag things. I share, comment, like, view, Tweet, Imessage, Snapchat, and download apps. It isn’t so complicated, it’s just this new generation, and I’m fully a part of that.

So as I engage in social media expression, at age 37, as a dad and a social worker and a writer, I’ll keep sharing what I choose to share when I choose to share it, and I’ll be just fine with having a bit of ego about it.

But first, let me take a selfie.

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Resolute

Resolute

Seven hours remain in 2015, and I sit, engaged in my favorite pass-time: writing. And I realize at this moment, I am resolute (defined as admirably purposeful, determined, and unwavering).

I began 2015 in Seattle, Washington, where I had moved in a grand gesture to find myself. I had been there since September the year before, three months of intense personal growth where I dated, found new employment, and explored every corner of a new city. Now far away from my children, I found new ways to stay connected to them, through drawn comic strips, nightly webcam calls, monthly visits, and little mailed gifts and postcards.

In January and February, I found myself with new friends and new support systems, yet working in a difficult job with high stress and low satisfaction. I spread my exploration of Washington to varying corners, looking at rainforests, islands, mountains, and beaches, and I grew to love the climate, the people and the area, and to hate the traffic, the parking, and the cost of living.

As March approached, I came to a few powerful realizations. 1. That in Seattle, I was the same me that I had been in Utah, just a lot farther away from my children. That sounds like such a simple realization now, but it was a powerful one toward my journey. 2. That I was losing all interest in dating, and that I no longer wanted to put my energy toward it. I learned to spend time with myself, and had dinners, saw independent films, and went to plays and movies on my own. 3. That I had all the building blocks for a powerful life already in place: a love of history and books, a kind and strong heart, a curious and careful spirit, a great smile, talents for helping and understanding others, and a consistently developing skill of writing.

And once I knew all of those things about myself, I was able to return to Utah, stronger than before, and ready for the change. I left the difficult job behind, and seized a new life in an old place. I moved into a downtown apartment, renewed old friendships, and started brand new life initiatives.

In June, I opened up an Airbnb in my home, welcoming guests from around the world, and had some great and some not-so-great experiences. I began doing therapy part-time, and crisis work on the side, and I made the decision to work only for myself from now on, for as long as possible, so that I can love what I do and give it my all. I taught a few college classes again, and realized that I didn’t enjoy it like I used to, and I was peaceful with the change in myself.

I spent every waking moment with my sons. We drew, we played, we swam, we explored, we read and wrote, we laughed and screamed, we wrestled and snuggled and lived, and one night, one of my sons looked up at me and said “I’m so glad your back” and tears came to my eyes, and I knew that even though I had had to leave, I also had to return. I began volunteering in their school classrooms, and I learned how to be friends with their mom again.

I stayed in Utah for several months without leaving, and I tried my hand at dating a few times, though I didn’t really mean to. And against my better judgment, I fell just a little bit in love a few times, and I had my heart broken just a little bit a few times. And I learned that I was stronger than ever, better at taking care of myself, and independent, all qualities I had wanted for myself for so long.

In September, I made a surprise connection with someone from far away, forming a new and binding friendship, and it gave me foundation, hope, and strength, and I realized my own potential as a writer, a father, a counselor, and a man once loneliness was gone from my heart. I learned how wonderful it was to have someone care about my day-to-day life.

I went to my family reunion and found peace. I attended my sister’s wedding to her lovely wife in Massachusetts. I went on a wonderful weekend trip to New Orleans and awakened my wanderlust. I spent Thanksgiving with my mother and sister. And I ended the year with a surprise trip to Palm Springs. I realized again that my world is more full when I travel.

When gay marriage passed, I celebrated. When reparative therapy was shut down in courts, I rejoiced. And when the Mormon church put policies in place that called gay couples ‘apostates’ and turned children against their gay parents, I grieved.

I discovered more than ever my love of expressing myself through writing. I wrote about social justice, politics, zombies, dating, and my children. I wrote my observations on the world, on people around me, on ego, on courage, on the social work profession, on parenting, and on provocative and titillating professions and mindsets. I began a daily post on LGBT history that quickly became a personal quest with future potential.

I joined a Men’s Choir and began singing again.

More than ever, I began dreaming of the future, and realized that at 37, I am now just beginning to realize my potential.

In 2015, I danced, drank coffee, laughed until I cried, cried until I slept, and slept until I awoke with new hope. I set boundaries, made new friends, and grew closer than ever to some of the most important people in my life. I learned to say I’m sorry when I need it, and to ask for an apology when I need it. I learned to forgive. I learned how strong I am, and how things that I once perceived as weak are really just parts of my overall strength. I learned to relax, to work hard, to put myself first. I learned that the world has a long history, and I am only part of it for a brief time, and that I want to live that part as powerfully and authentically as I can.

And as I approach 2016, I vow to take care of myself in every category: physically, spiritually, emotionally, and mentally. I vow to feed and foster the important relationships in my life. I vow to get out of debt. I vow to push my limits professionally and to learn just what it is I’m capable of. I vow to travel. I vow to let myself believe that love is possible so long as I love myself. I vow to embrace every emotion in its entirety, in safe and healthy ways: gratitude, fear, anger, sadness, peace, security, guilt, happiness. I vow to live, more than I ever have before, with my life and the lives of my sons as my primary priority.

And thus I enter the New Year not with resolutions, instead I enter the New Year… Resolute.

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