Spirit 3: the Holy Books

Humans need stories. We have always needed stories. And stories can take many forms, from fables to myths to fairy tales.

I could tell a bedtime story to my children this evening, something about a llama prince in love with a crab princess, and they would laugh and smile, and that story would exist for that moment only, then forever be forgotten. Or perhaps I could tell them this story every night, until it becomes an unforgettable part of their childhoods, something they remember forever, and then they could re-tell it to their own children, and it could take on a form of its own as they alter the details and change it just so. Or I could even write it down, with or without pictures, and then it becomes more permanent, something read and re-told exactly as I wanted it, and then in future generations, it is re-interpreted, given its own life by those who read it. And if I published this story, well, it takes on a life of its own.

I’m much more likely to tell my kids a story I already know. The Three Little Pigs, perhaps. Someone made that up along the way and it became an American staple, this story of pigs being pursued by wolves. The basic details stay the same: houses of straw and stick and brick, but many parts change. Sometimes the pigs have a mother. Sometimes the pigs are eaten by the wolf. Sometimes the wolf is scared away and other times he falls into a boiling pot down the chimney. The story exists in the American consciousness, it is given life by a shared psychic energy, an astral reverence among millions of people. And it all depends on which version is used.

But then imagine they believed the 3 Little Pigs was true, based on real events…

Even stories that are written down are interpreted and absorbed differently by the public. Think of the world’s most famous works, told and retold and retold again. The Wizard of OzRomeo and Juliet. Moby DickLittle Women. To Kill a Mockingbird. The Manchurian Candidate. The Handmaid’s Tale. Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Huckleberry Finn. Pride and Prejudice. And even more recent works: Harry Potter, Twilight, 50 Shades of Grey. These stories are revered, held sacred, they are frozen in time and reinterpreted, examined and taught in classrooms, sometimes they are even forbidden. They’ve taken on a life of their own. Humans need these stories to latch on to. They give us a shared reality, something to think over and whisper about. But we still see them as fiction–what if these were believed to be real, any one of them?

To make it even more complex, humans tell stories frequently about real events and other humans. But the stories change in the retelling… they take on new forms as events shift. Minor characters become major, certain things get forgotten, and we remember events as they were told to us, taught to us. They become fiction in the retelling, yet we often believe them as fact.

And then there is the greatest story ever told, the long epic of the Bible. Some humans, long long ago, gathered stories and put them in a book, and that book came to be revered as mythological canon, as human historical events. The book told of the creation of earth and man, it conjured a loving god who would destroy civilization when crossed wrong. It told of angels and devils, floods and famines, plagues and enslaved races. The book outlines strict laws, harsh commandments, and the laws of god that will lead to salvation if followed or damnation if set aside. And then there is a savior, the son of god himself, who saves all mankind and dies for their sins. Miracles abound for those who follow the rules. This book has shaped the human consciousness for centuries. Wars have been waged in its name, people put to death over it, entire races subjugated or even wiped out in genocide by those who profess to follow it. It’s been rewritten, reinterpreted, and reissued millions of times. It’s stronger than government, than family bonds, than human history. It is sheer power. While the other mythologies of gods have faded away (Norse and Egyptian and Celtic and so many more), the Bible has cemented its place firmly. There are around 7 billion people on the planet, and nearly 3 billion of them believe in the Bible in some form or another. Something around 40 per cent of human revere this historical book and interpret it as fact, in some form or another. But there are another 2 billion or so who identify as Muslim and believe in different books and mythologies. Another 500 million or so lean toward Buddhism, and another 900 million toward Hinduism. And every one of them can be divided down and down into different sects and branches. There are thousands of ways to be a Christian, for example, from Methodist to Lutheran to Amish to Catholic. And they all, every one of these groups, say they have it right.

And one of the newest and smallest Christian groups is the one I was born into. Mormonism. The founder of the church, Joseph Smith, introduced multiple new books of scripture, words on pages that would take on their own life in the human consciousness. The Book of Mormon (a supposed record of the ancient Americans), Doctrine and Covenants (supposed revelations given to Smith from God), and the Pearl of Great Price (a supposed record of the words of Abraham, Moses, and others). Smith and the Mormons reinterpreted all the rules, put a new spin on it, and said they had everything correct and the others didn’t.

As of 2019, there are an estimated 15 million Mormons on the earth, though clearly not so many active in the faith. An astounding number, it seems, until one does the math. 15 million out of 7.5 billion. Mormons make up… ready? 0.002 per cent of the world’s population. Not even half of one per cent. Not even half of a half of one per cent.

These books, these religious stories, held such a sway over my life, such a thick and heady force they were in my brain, that they shaped my entire psychology, biology, and spirituality for the first three decades of my life. It was only at age 32 when I allowed my doubts to take form and I chose to step away. As with all things, I look back at the things I used to believe and my brain curdles. I’m an educated man, yet I believed in two humans in a garden who were immortal until they ate an apple after being tempted by a snake; the appearances of angels with swords who destroyed cities; an entire planet wiped out by flood waters except for one man and his family who put two of every land animal on one boat; about the righteous white tribe conquering the evil dark tribe; about unseen buried golden plates; about immaculate conception and one man bearing the sins of billions. While I respect the rights of others to believe in their mythos, I see these events as nothing more than stories now. Powerful stories, yes, but not powerful enough to make me sacrifice my own happiness.

I love telling stories. I love reading stories. I love sharing stories with my children. But I will never again teach them that fiction is fact, and I will never place stories above their well-being and my own.

Skeleton of myself

I reduced myself before you.

I sucked in my stomach and puffed out my chest,

Seeking to be both small and strong.

I lay at your feet and cried

At my own unworthiness.

I raised my arm to the square

And demanded you notice me.

I ignored your harsh words,

Convinced they were only for my good.

I took on a new name

And thrust my hands in the air

While I begged you to hear the words of my mouth.

I listened, ever so carefully,

So sure that in the silence

I would find you.

I walled off entire sections of me,

separating them from the rest,

forgetting that they were there.

I held my breath

Until I forgot how to breathe.

then turned blue from the cold.

I tried anger, pain, depression, apathy.

I tried being a martyr.

I gave two years. Ten. Twenty.

I placed a ring on my finger

And made promises I couldn’t possibly keep.

And as the years passed,

I slowly, ever so slowly,

Withered away,

Becoming the skeleton of myself

That you expected all along.

And then one day,

The sun hit my skin just right,

And I realized,

With finality,

That you were there all along

For you were never there to begin with.

the intersection of dreams and reality

As a therapist, I regularly tell my clients that sometimes the best way to appreciate where we are in life is to look back at where we were. 

And I hold myself to this frequently. I regularly look backwards so that I can properly assess my current standing and then look forward to the paths I should be on. But lately this has been a struggle for me, in some unexpected ways.

First of all, sometimes I don’t know how far I should be looking back. Do I consider the lonely teenager who was writing ideas down in a notepad yet never really writing anything, that boy who was so strongly holding tightly to Mormonism that he couldn’t see a future ahead in which he was happy? Do I look back to the married Mormon father, who was running a business and writing comic books, yet feeling completely unfulfilled and wondering when he might be able to overcome life’s challenges and actually come out of the closet? Both of those past versions of me clearly give me perspective in the present. They ground me. I look at how far I’ve come and I see my world around me and love the person I am and the life I’ve created.

But my current struggles are far removed from those, in some ways. They are far beyond. They stem more from five years ago and the risks I took back then, and the ways that they have paid off, or not paid off, into this current present.

Five years ago, I took major stock of my life, and I decided to take some huge risks. I quit my job and I launched a personal business, doing therapy for clients on an hourly, private-pay basis. I began sub-letting an office, I upped my rates, and I believed I could do it. I came up with a formula to keep myself financially afloat, and I set big goals to eliminate all of my debt, and to put savings and emergency funding in place should I ever need them. And with hard work and consistency, I achieved these goals, and then set others, like establishing a retirement account and getting better health insurance.

From there, I started listening to what my internal dreams are. Many of them, those that didn’t directly revolve around my children, focused on travel, research, and writing. I started small, taking short weekend trips and reading about things that interested me more often. And then the goals grew bigger and loftier as I started thriving. Travel became more frequent and more adventurous, and I began making a list of places that I had always wanted to see but hadn’t. As I saw more places, the list grew longer. And along the way, I met my boyfriend, and had someone to share this with.

Then I set a lofty goal. I determined that within four years, I would be making a living as a writer and storyteller. I just had to figure out how to do it.

Channeling my love of research and writing, I started doing daily posts on LGBT history, a huge personal passion. Eventually that turned into themed research, and then I turned that into a YouTube station. I started seeing a vision of the future in which I could share my passionate research, in spoken word format, with audiences who would be hungry to learn what I was learning. So I began putting my personal money into web developers and graphic designers to build a platform and an audience to share with. For the following year, I continued to pour money into this venture, loving every moment of the research, and agonizing every moment when the videos were only getting a few dozen views. I was putting money out, and watching numbers in the double digits roll back, and I took it personally. It hurt that I believed in myself so strongly and it wasn’t paying off in the way I’d hoped. My love of research and writing was becoming dominated by the lack of success, and I began to doubt myself.

And so I closed the YouTube channel down. I stopped researching for a time, and I did a lot of self-assessment as I tried learning tough lessons. And then I refocused and tried again, this time on a new project.

I started researching gay hate crimes in Utah. I found a list of names and I started asking questions. I copied court records, make extensive notes, drove throughout the state, and started looking people up. I found graves, recorded memories. And I felt my passion for research returning. I came alive with joy as I began finding stories to tell. Eventually, my primary focus landed on one case, that of Gordon Church, a young man killed in 1988. His murder resulted in two trials for his killers, and one of them ended up on death row. Months went by as I lost myself in this research, and in time, I began thinking that a documentary about this content would be ideal. I found a film company who began working on the project with me, and we completed dozens of interviews, gathering dozens of hours of amazing content. Over a period of 18 months, I watched the project come to fruition, and a film that would end up altering lives would soon be complete. I was on fire.

Until it boiled down to money. Without funding, we couldn’t go forward to editing the film. We needed a minimum of one hundred thousand dollars to finish, though closer to five hundred thousand would be ideal. Believing I could do anything with a project this valuable, I started holding meetings and pitches, even fundraisers, to find the necessary cash. I asked benefactors, support agencies, film studios, and especially local people who had funds and might share my passion for this project. I had dozens of meetings, with politicians and millionaires and everyone in between. Many turned me down. Many said they’d think about it. And a few said they would love to fund the project, but then kind of faded into the distance. And with every failed meeting, my aggravation, pain, and self-doubt returned. I wasn’t finding the right audience, and again, the passion I wanted to share with the world was being replaced by the reality of the world in which I was in. (Note: the film is still in the editing phase, which will take many more months without funding. While I believe it will be finished, it is on a much longer timeline than I had anticipated).

And so, while working on the film, I began seeking out other projects that would help keep my passion and love for research and writing alive. I maintained a blog (trying hard not to get frustrated with the low numbers of readers). I wrote a book, Gay Mormon Dad, and self-published (and tried hard not to take it personally when sales remained abysmally low despite reviews being incredibly high). I formed a monthly story-telling group called Voices Heard and began collaborating with dozens of incredible local story-tellers to share with assembled audiences (and struggled to remain positive when audience numbers remained small when I hoped we would have sell-out shows). These struggles have been manifesting

And now it is summer of 2019. And I’ve been in an emotional spiral these past few months as I’ve considered what to do moving forward. And so, with a bit of perspective and focused attention, I can boil it all down to a list of facts, as I seek to make sense of all of this.

  1. Writing brings me joy. Research, blogging, outlining, interviewing, story-telling, performing, and even editing make me happy. They fulfill a particular part of me. They enrich my spirit. I don’t feel good when I’m not doing them. And writing has been part of me for as long as I can remember, from my very earliest days in childhood.
  2. I can do hard things! And it is good to be confident about those things! I wrote a book, and it’s good! I built and sustained a YouTube Channel for a year, and then made the hard decision to retire it! I researched, and collaborated, and nearly completed a film that is going to be revolutionary! I created, and collaborated, to share stories at a monthly event that I love, and that is so so so good, and I’ve maintained it for over two years now! Believing in myself in crucial, and I’ve shown myself that I can create and sustain things that I ove.
  3. I love collaborating with others. I love forming new friendships with talented people and working together. The men who have made the film with me are among the most genuine and talented individuals I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with, and we have built something special over a period of years together. The story-tellers who perform with me at Voices Heard are so authentic and talented, they leave me stunned with every word; they are enthusiastic and kind and so good at what they do. And every person who has spoken to me about my book, my research, or my writing and has been excited, enthusiastic, and kind in response, to anyone who has believed in me, it has given me a confidence I never knew I was capable of.
  4. Trust is in short supply lately. I hate asking for money, and I hate paying the people for services that they can’t deliver on consistently. I’ve had over a dozen major disappointments over the past few years from people who promised something and couldn’t or didn’t deliver, including offers from publishing companies, major media presences, and benefactors who have offered to cover the costs of the documentary. I’ve reached a place where big offers leave my guard up, and I’m finding it more difficult to take it back down as time goes by.
  5. There are a lot of things I am terrible at. Marketing, graphic design, promotion, and fundraising top the list. Every time one of these topics shows up in my life, I want to scream in response. They bring up pain and insecurity because my failures in these areas directly impact the way I measure success in other areas.
  6. “Success” has become a word that is difficult for me to define. These products that I’m extremely proud of (Gay Mormon Dad, the documentary, Voices Heard, the blog) tend to have relatively small yield in profit, number of readers, or number in the audience. The documentary remains unfinished, I didn’t sell enough copies of the book to cover the costs of printing it (no less the time spent writing it), the blog rarely gets more than 30-40 reads per entry, and Voices Heard consistently only has 20-40 people in the audience (meaning I tend to lose money every month on the costs of putting it all together). It is hard to dwell in the space of gratitude and love that I feel when I write and perform, when I feel the financial and self-esteem hits when not many people are reading or attending the things I’m so proud of.

Writing all of these things down in one place is hard. It’s only after literal months of personal reflection and riding these waves that I’m even able to articulate what is happening within me. The intersection of the joy I get from writing, and the reality that I’ll likely never make a living doing it… sitting in that intersection and feeling both sides is difficult, but its the only way forward. I have to do what I do because I love it. I have to have hope that I can do more, that I will someday achieve the success I someday hope for, while simultaneously accepting that that may never happen, and still be okay and believe in myself while accepting that reality. I can’t give up on my dreams, yet I also can’t keep beating myself up when they aren’t achieved in a particular way. I have to change how I define success. I have to challenge myself at being better while accepting where I currently am. That intersection is uncomfortable, even painful, yet I’m working very hard to find peace with its existence.

And so, today, I sat down to write about it. I wrote about my journey, and what I’ve learned. I expressed my pains and doubts, my beliefs and hopes. And just like every time before, I feel better now that I have. I feel inspired. Capable. And soon I’ll click publish and know that only 20 to 50 people will read it. I have to embrace both sides of that. I knew that going in to this blog.

And I wrote it anyway.

And therein lies my lesson.

So Carefully Contained

Lately, I feel fingers scratching at the edges of reality. 

It’s like those moments when you first wake, 

when you slowly come aware, 

when you remember you have a body and a bed in the darkness

when everything downloads itself back into your brain

and then you pick up where you left off. 

There is more to all of this

(there has to be)

meaning behind the madness

not God but… something. Something out there that I can make sense of. 

 

I created these walls around me. I painted them brightly. They protect me. 

When I grew weary of boundaries, of need, of being hurt by others, 

I changed myself. I made it so that I would reduce hurt, 

so I could expect more from myself and less from others

I set my own terms and began dreaming bigger and achieving more. 

And here I am, in the dwelling I desired

Full, ripe, plentiful, rich

So carefully contained in this space

the one I created

and wondering what else is out there to be discovered. 

I love it here, but I’m outgrowing it, I can feel it. 

The old itch is returning, the one that tells me I need to change. 

I need. To change. I need. More. I need. (What is it I need?)

Desire, lust, forgiveness, sanctification, release, horizons, animal passion, to be seen, to be heard, to feel loved, to forgive, to change the world.

I need. 

 

Lately, I feel fingers scratching at the edges of my reality. 

They mean something. Some success, some discovery, something

Right around the corner. 

And it’s going to require me spilling over the edges of this container I’ve built and embracing.

Embracing. Risking. Trying. 

It’s right there. 

(I need.)

 

 

Milk

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Calgary Loft 3

wolf.jpg

In America, I’m often asked if I’m really from Canada

There is something about the way certain words leave my mouth

The mix of Missouri and Idaho on my tongue

“See you ta-mohr-ow” or “hey, I’m soar-y”

Seem unfamiliar

 

And now I’m in Calgary and they sound nothing like me

 

It’s strange here, in a good way

Everything is the same, but slightly altered

Like looking at my world through a different lens

 

Cinnamon tastes a little different

And the air breathes a little cleaner

Product labels bear the same names with different words and designs

And things seem to cost a little more but actually cost a little less

I don’t speak metric or Celsius, I don’t know how to measure in kilometers

And the trending fashions seem like something out of 1995

 

Last night, a drag queen yelled, 

“Anyone here from the East Coast?”

And she meant Halifax and Charlottetown, not New York and Boston

 

I think perhaps I’m suited for these colder climates. 

I feel at home in my flannel and jeans, my knitted hat with the floppy strings

Conversation comes easily, and people laugh at my jokes

 

It doesn’t feel upside down, just a little tilted

Slightly sideways

 

Yesterday, I drove through a nearby national forest

And had to lurch my car to a sudden stop

When a large grey wolf ambled out into the road

She wasn’t in a hurry

She trotted across the highway, as if she were out for a stroll

And disappeared into the trees

I sat stunned, blocking the cars behind me

But no one honked impatiently

They simply waited for me to gather myself

And then continue driving

Into the trees

Ones that smell just a bit differently than the ones I’m used to

 

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.

In Monster Life

27858291_10160117274245061_4633234525172819479_n“Dad!” A, my 6-year old son, bounded into the room with excitement. “I forgot to tell you! At school today, I was designing a brand new game to play! It’s going to be epic!”

I turned toward him with genuine excitement. I loved when he got this excited. “Oh yeah? Let me see it!”

He put his hands on his hips and looked up at me with a half-roll of his eyes. “You can’t see it yet. It’s still up here in my head. I didn’t actually design it yet.”

“Oh, pardon me, then tell me about it.”

A began talking animatedly. “Okay, so you know how people love fighting games, like Injustice or like that Pokemon fighting game, or, like Mortal Kombat. This is one of those games except it is full of monsters. I’m going to call it In Monster Life!”

He paused dramatically, and I gave a ‘Whoa’ sound.

For the next several minutes, A followed me around the kitchen, telling me about the different monsters he would design, and how they would all have different skills and special moves. I could tell he was making some of it up as he went, but his rich stories had always been rich with details, and he never forgot them once he spoke them out loud. I had always called him my little story-teller. He was brilliant at coming up with original ideas, and he put so much drama into his stories, using voices and inflections. He’d been doing it since he was two, and I constantly wondered how this talent would blossom when he grew up. I’d gotten my story-telling skills from my mother, and it seemed A had inherited them from me, but he certainly had his own spin.

“And there is also Birdman! I think he is my favorite one. He’s, like, a human guy who had some science stuff happen and now he is part bird! He has like human feet and huge wings so he can fly cause they are connected to his arms, and he has some feathers and skin both, and he can grow beaks and shoot them at the bad guys! Well, no one is the bad guy totally but he can shoot them at the guy he is fighting. He can shoot so many beaks!”

After a while, I got out a pen and paper and started making a list of the different monsters he was describing, making effort to spell them as he said them, as in the case of the ‘Abomiddle Snowman’, who “has so many muscles and fights best in cold places!”

A told me that he wanted 12 monsters total, and as we got farther down the list, I could tell he was making up creatures on the spot.

“I guess there should be maybe one girl monster, so there can be Hyper-Girl. She’s really funny looking and monstery, like part-monster, and she has crazy teeth, but she can shoot off some energy stuff from her eyes that makes people around her crazy because she is so hyper!”

As we finished the list, A grabbed a huge stack of paper and sat down at the table to begin designing the monsters. I wrote the names on top of each page, from Hoomanji to Hydro-Fire, and spent the next few hours carefully designing each one, using intricate detail in his 6-year old style. There was a “robot cube” monster, who looked like a cube but could transform into different shapes. There was “like a lobster monster except he is like a cyborg and can shoot stuff and stuff”. He designed a “demon that is also a snake” and a “ghost that can turn into not-a-ghost and fill the air with steam and that is the only time he can be attacked”.

When A wanted one of his characters, a “robot-barbarian with a big sword and a little sword” to be named “He-Man”, I told him that was already trade-marked. After he learned what a trademark was, he decided to change the name. “We can just call him ‘He-Guy’ then.”

A then came up with six different battlegrounds for the monsters to fight in, including a “lava jungle” and a “water desert,”, and he giggled as he wanted one silly battle-ground, calling the last one “Clifford’s playground”, as he looked at his toy version of the big, red dog himself.

Seeing his creations down on paper only energized A more. I found him baffling at time. He could sometimes struggle to get through a single short book, and he could barely focus long enough to put his own shoes on, sometimes taking as long as 6 or 7 minutes, but he could focus on a task like this for over 2 hours and not run out of energy. He asked me to assign him some mock battles, and I wrote a few out on paper, choosing two to fight and a battleground for them to fight in. He then assigned a few drawing assignments for me, and I worked extra hard to match the details of his creations in my art, to his utter joy. Soon, we pulled my 9-year old, J, and my boyfriend in on it, and we had a stack full of drawings of the different characters. Later, I made sure to spend one-on-one time with J, playing with toys and giving him plenty of attention. It’s always necessary to balance the dad scales so both boys feel loved.

Before bed that night, A gave me a huge hug. “Thanks for helping me with In Monster Life, daddy. Are you proud of me?”28168173_10160117274285061_1163685287753908127_n

“Buddy, I’m so proud of you. You have such a great brain. It’s always telling stories.”

“Yeah, just like yours.”

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Asking for Money

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I hate asking for money. I’ve never been the type to ask for money. I’ve always been the kid who paid his own way and who contributed to others.

As a teenager, I worked after school to save up money for my mission. On occasion, I would slip extra money into my mother’s purse to help her pay for groceries. Sometimes at work, I would clock out early and keep working because I felt like it would help the owners out. I even made a deal with my local comic book shop where I would work for free and be paid in comic books, so I could keep reading them without spending money.

In college, I used student loans for my tuition and books, and I had a full time job to pay for my housing, meal plans, transportation, and leisure. It took me years to pay all those off. Even now, in my 30s, I run my own business and pay all of my bills on time, helping out others when I can.

I don’t think I’ve ever, as a standard, asked for a cent or expected anyone to provide for me.

But making art is impossible without money.

Years ago, I wrote a comic book. I hired artists myself and printed the book myself. But when expenses ramped up, I asked for financial help for the first time. I ran a campaign through the website Kickstarter and promised people prizes in exchange for donations to printing the book. I was able to raise about $1000 of the $5000 I needed to print the book, then I charged the rest on my credit card. The money I made from book sales barely paid my card off. Overall, it was an exhausting process, but I got to see my book in print and share it with others, and it was one of the best experiences of my life. Now, a few years later, the Mushroom Murders remaining copies fill boxes in my basement.

And now I’ve reached a place where I’m not asking for $5000, I’m asking for a few hundred thousand dollars. I’m making a movie, and movies take money.

A few years ago, I discovered a forgotten man, a gay Mormon guy who was violently tortured and killed for being gay, back in the late 1980s. No one remembers him, and I want him to be remembered, because he was special and authentic and his life was cut short, and because no one ever deserves to die like that. I started seeking out his loved ones. I researched the lives of the men who killed him, and I started meeting their loved ones as well. The story is insane, with so many twists and turns. It’s a story about being gay and Mormon, about murder, about the death penalty, about miscarriage of justice. It’s a story about people whose lives were altered forever because they lost a loved one, or they saw a loved one go to jail, and it’s a story about how they moved on with their lives and yet how they never moved on.

The last few months, I’ve travelled all over Utah, and into Nevada and into Montana (where I write this from) to interview these amazing, brave people. I have a professional film crew at my side, talented filmmakers with top-notch equipment, and they believe in the project too.

Making this movie fills me with passion and creativity. All of my skills, as a father, as a social worker, and as a writer, come to the forefront as we tackle this wonderful and painful project. I shed tears and my heart aches as I weave these pieces together, but I come alive doing it because it is work that simply must be done.

This is a story that has changed my life, and has placed an entirely new path before me. This is a story that can change the lives of others, one that when they view it will alter their views, make them reach out to their loved ones with messages of ‘I love you’, one that will help them live for today and want to make a difference in the world.

Yet, without money, I’m self-funding the project, charging trips to my credit card because I believe in it, because I believe in myself. With this approach, the project will take years instead of months. And facing that fact gives me angst and anxiety.

And so a big part of my journey in 2017 has been learning how to ask for money. I’ve had dozens of meetings with influential people who I hope will share my passion on the project. I’ve enthusiastically and passionately described my journey and the told the story with conviction. And literally every one of those dozens of meetings has ended the same way. Every person has said some variation of this:

“Wow, Chad, this story must be told, and you are the one to tell it. I don’t think I can help you, but I think I know someone who can. You need to speak to this person. Let me get back to you.”

And then crickets. Silence. Attempts at follow-up resulting in avoided phone calls, unanswered texts and Emails, and general silence.

Yet still, I’m moving forward. The interviews we are gathering on film are so authentic and powerful and real, and we will keep going forward.

Asking for money is painful and aggravating. It’s so difficult to not get discouraged. I keep finding ways to maintain my passion and enthusiasm. It feels like going through an endless maze and I just keep hitting dead ends, requiring me to retrace my steps and find new paths only to hit more dead ends. I’m determined, and I won’t quit, but I find myself regularly stalled and flummoxed when I want to be moving forward, ever forward.

And this, I realize, is the plight of the artist, the dreamer. Every writer, actor, musician, conductor, filmmaker, painter, sculptor, public speaker, and inventor who has a similar passion has to find a path forward against the odds until they find someone who shares their passion. They want a platform, an opportunity, and a benefactor to help them live their dreams.

I won’t quit. And I’ll keep asking. Because the alternative is not asking, which means the dream dies.

And this story must be told. I’m honored to be telling it.

Storytime

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“You guys wanna play storytime?”

I take a seat on the couch as my sons sit on the ground in front of me, eager. It’s nearly nap time and they have full tummies. J, age 6, starts first grade

in a few weeks and is growing more mature and creative every day. A, just barely four, looks up with bright blue eyes, his imagination already spinning tales.

I look down at them, my eyes growing wide to convey excitement, and begin.

“Once upon a time, there were, well, three grasshoppers that lived in a beautiful patch of grass, where they ate leaves. They–”

“What were their names?” J interrupted.

“Well, Ernst, Ferdinand, and Gilgal. And one day a really nice old lady who lived in a house nearby was working in her garden and she saw the three grasshoppers, who were brothers. The woman, whose name was Clementine, thought they were the most beautiful grasshoppers she had ever seen so she asked if she could take them home and they agreed. She put them in a little jar and carried them home, and she made them a nice big home in an aquarium where they could hop up and down all around the aquarium as they grew older. She decorated it with plants, grass, leaves, and sticks, and they were so happy. She fed them every day two times.”

“And then what happened?” A asked, intent.

“Well, one day Clementine got sick and she had to go to the hospital and she couldn’t be there to feed them.”

“Use their names!” J reminded.

“She couldn’t be there to feed Ernst, Ferdinand, and Gilgal. They were so hungry, they were too tired to hop. But the next day, she came home and said ‘I’m home and I’m okay!’ and she fed them some delicious eucalyptus leaves as a special treat and they were so happy, they lived happily ever after.”

Both boys seemed to want more, looking at me expectantly.

“Well, what did you guys think? What were your favorite parts?”

J thought for a moment. “Well, I liked when they ate the leaf.”

A made no effort to hide his disgust. “I didn’t have a favorite part. There wasn’t any bad guys this time.” He’s particularly fond of toothy creatures.

“Okay, J, your turn.”

J and I traded places, he taking his seat on the couch and me moving to the floor next to A.

“Okay, this is a good one,” J started, and he looked up, pressing his lips together tightly like he does when he’s thinking hard.

“Once upon a time there were two sisters named Elsa and Aana, but not the ones from Frozen, some different sisters. They lived with their mom and dad who were gone. And when the sisters were playing one time, a giant giant attacked and the sisters runned into their rooms and were hiding until their mom and dad came home and they had turned bigger than the giant and the house and everything and they stopped the giant who ran away and the sisters were okay. The end.”

I clapped my hands. “Great story! My favorite part was when the sisters were smart and hid in their room.”

A stood up, knowing it’s his turn next. “I liked when the giant mom and dad came in and punched the giant right in the nose and killed him dead!” He punched a little fist into the air.

J, looking proud of himself, climbed down. “Okay, A, your turn!”

A took more effort to climb up onto the couch, pulling himself by his arms and bringing his knees up, pulling his body up, then twisting himself around. I smiled at him as J took a seat by me. A is so big for being so little.

“Okay, here we go. Once upon a time, there was two boys named J and A and a mom and a dad. They lived in a big house. One day, a big big big big big mean mean mean shark came over. Oh, I forgot to tell you that the mom was a mermaid and the dad was at work and the brothers was twins who lived in their mom’s belly. Then the big shark came in and he had a lot of teeth and he was mean and he tried to bite them a whole bunch but the kids popped out of the mom’s tummy and the dad came home and punched the shark til he was dead a lot and then they winned. The end.”

I clapped my hands for him again and J looked up at him proudly.

“Great job! My favorite part was when the dad saved the day!”

“Good job, A! My favorite part was when the brothers came out of her tummy.”

The boys, knowing the routine, climbed up onto my lap for some snuggles, one on each arm, winding down for naps. J, my compassionate and intuitive son, patted my shoulder.

“Aw, you’re a good daddy. You make us breakfast, snuggle us, tuck us in, and play with us. Thanks for everything.”

And soon they are sleeping, and I’m watching their little prone faces breathe peacefully, soft music in the background, and I’m thinking once again how this part of my life is the best thing in the world.