Discontent at Back Cove

BackCove

“Sometimes I wish I could go back in the past,” I said as I looked over the waters of Back Cove in Portland, Maine. A colony of seagulls flitted about over the far shore, and a few large birds of prey, likely falcons I considered, soared over the green horizon.

My best friend, Tyler, walked at my side, hands in pockets, thoughtful. He’s one of the few people I can engage in deep conversation with. “Like to try and change your life?” he asked.

“I mean, yes. But that’s not what I mean.” I scratched my own head, trying to sort out my thoughts. “I don’t mean to relive my own life. Just in a weird way, it would have been amazing to live in a different era.”

Tyler waited for me to sort my thoughts, listening as a few joggers passed us.

“It would have been amazing to live in a time when trends were being set. Back in the late 1980s or early 1990s. To be a gay man in that era, who was on the front lines implementing change. Advocacy, exploration, pushing forward against all odds.” A pang of guilt hit me for even thinking that way, so I clarified. “I love living in this era. I love the skin I’m in. I love my life. And I respect and appreciate all who fought to make this world better. Just sometimes I wonder what it would have been like to be a, I don’t know, a trendsetter. Back then, gay people we celebrate now were still living hidden lives. And then the AIDS crisis happened and Harvey Milk and all the Pride marches. I don’t even know what I’m saying, I just wish–it would have been cool to see all that, you know? To have lived through all that.”

Tyler laughed, but stayed silent as my thoughts raced. These words, these feelings, had been building up in me for a while, and now they were cascading outward, trying to find some sort of clear path from my soul to my mouth. It was jumbled.

And so we walked in silence for a minute. I felt the ocean breeze against my skin, thick with the scent of blooming flowers. It was so green and lush here. My first time in Maine, a new city to explore, new ground under my feet. My soul always comes most alive during these times. I gave thought to what I was even trying to say. I wondered if feminists sometimes wished they could go back to help in the Suffragette movement, or if my Black friends wondered what it would be like to fight for Civil Rights among the Freedom Riders. A sense of nostalgia washed over me. Not nostalgia, gratitude. Not gratitude, envy. Not envy, hope.

I exhaled a deep sigh. “I’m not sure what I’m trying to say.”

Tyler chose a park bench to sit down on, facing the water. A large puddle sat at its base and I carefully placed my feet to avoid getting them wet.

“You wish you could be some sort of trendsetter?” he asked. Tyler understood me in a way most people don’t, and he could somehow sort through the nonsense.

“No? Yes? I don’t know. I want to make a difference. I want to do something huge.”

“That’s what she said,” he responded, and I rolled my eyes and laughed. Then he grew a bit sober. “You already are a trendsetter.” He listed off the things I’m doing, the things I’ve done. The book, the graphic novel, the story-telling performances, the advocacy and interviews, the upcoming documentary, and, above all else, raising two amazing kids. I smiled. Tyler knows me well. And he understands. He works himself hard and dreams big as well, in his classroom, in his advocacy work.

“Thanks,” I responded simply. “I just–I’m all in a jumble. I want to see the history. I want to face it head on. I want a huge success. I want a big win. I want to change hearts and minds. I want to matter. I want to feel it, the quest, the journey, all paying off.”

Tyler gave me the gift of his listening ear as I listed out the things I’d tried, the small successes I had achieved that had relatively low yield, and the many failures and unfinished projects along the way.

“2016 was about learning to follow my passions. 2017 was about doing the impossible, and seeing that I could do it if I put my mind to it. 2018 was about learning that quality goods don’t mean quality results, and that people who say they will show up don’t always show up. But it was about more than that, about pushing hard for myself and realizing that it is within me to build and sustain.”

Tyler nodded, knowing my journey well. “You’ve always been more of a fire-starter than a fire-tender. You still need to learn how to get the right people in your camp and keep them there, and then ask for help.”

I wanted to argue with him, but I couldn’t. I was great at sustaining some things, and terrible at others. Then I surveyed all I’ve learned this last year, and took stock of those who were now in my camp. Volunteers, critics, story-tellers, film producers. I had a lot of plates spinning in the air, and realized I wasn’t spinning them myself any longer. I was platform building, yes, but I wasn’t the only one with a hammer.

More silence as I let the frustration seep out of me. I visibly sighed, then put my head in my hands with my elbows on my knees.

“Ah, the plight of the artist,” I said dramatically, and Tyler laughed. “There are a thousand alternate worlds out there. In one, I’m the faithful Mormon father, unhappy in my skin. In one, I’m the successful author, never home. In other, maybe I own a coffee shop or a bed and breakfast. But in all of them, I’m discontent, wishing for more, even while loving the life I have. I don’t think that part of me changes.”

“Well, maybe the quest, the search for a fire to start, is exactly what keeps you going. Maybe it’s that desire for something more that keeps the artist in you alive.”

And I kept those thoughts in my head as we continued walking around Back Cove. I thought of blue herons and mosquitoes, tides and shorelines, cloud and city skylines, of all I’ve done and all I’ve yet to do. The sun fell on the water and on me in equal measure, and for once, I welcomed the discontent, letting it grab hold of me and push me forward.

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Cracked Earth

CrackedI forget to look up sometimes

Clouds, horizons, sunsets, if only I’d raise my eyes

The cracks in the earth distract me

and I rage at the imperfections of the ground

for feeling unsafe beneath me

It should be whole, solid, unbreakable

and I wonder what kind of world this is

when even the ground cracks

At my center, my spine curves, and my foundation with it

skeletal structures compensating with distentions and altered planes

crooked all the way through

It leaves me wondering at my very existence

Sometimes, at least, I seem able to find only

the broken, within and without

And then I remember

that the ground breaks apart and the earth extends

for everyone, and not just me

And then my head raises forward

And I move, aware of the broken

and choosing to forge ahead

Calgary Loft

IMG_3531

I’m on the 17th floor

It’s dark outside

I’m standing in a pair of black briefs

looking at the neon city against a dark sky

as the cars drive on bridges over the river

But mostly I catch my reflection in the glass

I can see through myself and into the city

and that awakens the poetry corners of my brain

I’m only renting this penthouse

but for many this would be the realization of a dream

Hardwood floors, marble counter tops

a grill on the balcony overlooking the river

It’s easy to picture red wine in goblets on coasters

laughter as the sun sets

lentil pasta in steel pans, fresh flowers in vases

and homegrown coffee in the morning

And the vision of all this haunts me in its way

because its all so fleeting, so temporary

Those preconceived ideas

about happiness, joy, success

Because some day, someone else would own this space

and make it theirs

and the landscape would change. 

I can see through myself and into the city

and then the light flicks off

and I can’t. 

Quiet Love

Heart

Going into these types of things

You learn to expect fireworks

And fields of flowers

And big bass drums.

But he doesn’t love like that.

He loves in small gestures,

Carefully, steadily.

A hand on your leg during a film,

An ‘I miss you’ on lonely days.

He doesn’t write poems,

But he listens when you read yours.

He loves with tomato plants,

With homemade risotto with red wine,

And by taking up half the sock drawer.

And so, in those moments

When threatened by the silence

Remember

You fell in love with his sweetness,

His consistency,

With good morning hugs

And your hand resting on his hip as he falls asleep.

Remind yourself

That because he loves differently, quietly,

Doesn’t mean he loves less.

And it’s still okay to need fireworks sometimes.

A Mermaid in the Shark Tunnel

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“Chad, it’s Meg. Look, you know how I was getting married next summer? Turns out I’m getting married next Friday night. At the aquarium. And no, I’m not pregnant. It’s a small invite, family and a few friends, and I need you there. Will you be there?”

“Hell yes I’ll be there!”

And so, the following Friday, the boyfriend and I arrived at the Aquarium at closing time for a very Meg wedding. She wore a beautiful form-fitting white dress, cowboy boots, and a tiara that she made herself out of seashells. Her children, his children, their parents, and selected loved ones lined the walls of a narrow shark tunnel. Sharks, sea turtles, stingrays, and colorful fish swam on both sides and above us as Meg’s father played guitar, and Meg’s daughter sang “First Day of My Life” by Bright Eyes.

“This is the first day of my life. I’m glad I didn’t die before I met you. But now I don’t care, I could go anywhere with you, and I’d probably be happy.”

Meg’s new step-daughter officiated, using the words that Meg wrote, perfect and authentic, in the voice that only Meg has. Then she and her husband pledged their commitments to each other. The crowd took sips of sparkling cider from plastic cups. And then it was done. Five brief, life-altering minutes.

In the time leading up to the wedding, Mike and I walked through the sleepy aquarium. I’ve been there many times before, but never so late. The otters were all curled up on each others tummies and tails in a woody corner near the window, and I could see their breath in their stomachs. The penguins were all perfectly spaced across their tank, as if they each had an assigned space to stand during the evening hours, with heads tucked into wings. The light was different. It was magical.

In the shark tunnel, a giant sea turtle looked as if he’d crashed into the ground. His head was on the floor, and his giant shell rose up into the air, like he had a balloon tied to the back of his body. I asked the attendant about it, and he informed me this was a medical condition that they jokingly called the “bubble butt syndrome”; the turtle was fine, the back of his shell just floated like that. I watched the majestic sea life flowing around we mere human spectators, and thought, “This is the perfect place for a mermaid to marry.”

Meg is half-fish, half-human. She doesn’t dwell in one place, or in one form. She gracefully flows through multiple worlds, seamlessly existing in both. She is both elegant and white-trash, mother and lover, ethereal and grounded, confidence and confusion, writer and dreamer, wisher and hoper. Meg both buys and sells magic beans, both tells and receives the stories. She’s a true original. She’s the mother who volunteers to help judge the poetry slam at her kid’s school, and she’s the woman who places snarky comments on certain forums under the pseudonym Tits MacIntonsh.

She’s a mermaid.

I’ve known Meg less than a year. As part of a New Year’s resolution at the beginning of 2017, I set a goal to do more reading performances, to share my stories and hone my skills and talents as a writer. I created an event called “Voices Heard”, and established a format of me, with two other writers, sharing two stories each on a particular topic. I wanted to keep a steady influx of writers passing through, and I saw Meg’s name, at random, in an online group dedicated to local writers. I sent her a message about the program, asked if she might like to be involved, and she responded with an elegant and enthusiastic, “I would love to share! I am so on board!”

And so I drove to her home on a random evening to share stories on betrayal, a topic we would explore in readings just days later. Her home was decorated with a bizarre assortment of knickknacks, collected from thrift shop shelves and eclectic galleries. She had a food tray of fruits and meats ready when I arrived. We became acquainted, laughed a bit, and then read about raw painful stories from our pasts in a way that made us both want to laugh and shed tears at the same time. I read about being mugged, punched, and left unconscious as a closeted gay Mormon missionary; she read about losing a child to stillbirth and making the decision to end an unhealthy marriage while eating a meat sandwich. It was a match. Meg and I have been reading together ever since.

After her wedding, I gave Meg a huge hug. “You’re married!”

She gripped my shoulder, almost scandalously, and leaned in for a whisper. “Did you notice that the bubble-butt turtle got up and started swimming the second my husband and I were walking down the aisle?”

“Well that is a god-damned miracle,” I laughed.

After more hugs, greetings, and handshakes, Meg, in her dress, boots, and seashell tiara, left the sharks behind and gathered her family for a celebratory dinner. At the Old Spaghetti Factory.

And I drove home, thinking how fortunate I am to be friends with a mermaid.

Published

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I clicked ‘Publish’ on the final edit of my book, and then sat back, tempted to slam my laptop closed.

I expected a rush of elation. I wanted to rip my shirt open, incredible Hulk style, and smash my fist down on the ground in triumph. Instead, I felt my heart rate increase. I was nervous, and I felt an ache inside. It felt a little like exhaustion, and a little like heartbreak. Why?

I thought my book might be ready for publication about one week prior. Nervous that it would come out with typos or mistakes, I asked a few key people to give it one last look over, and I did one more myself. I quickly realized it wasn’t ready. Instead of publishing then, I gave the book a final edit. I pored over pages of vulnerable material, right from my heart space, cutting out paragraphs, deleting references, and combing over it line by line in order to make the book more effective, more readable.

I spent days, moving from one makeshift workstation to another. I would read a chapter at my kitchen table with a cup of coffee, then lay down on the floor in front of the fire place for the next chapter, then move to the hot tub for the third, propping my computer up on a towel placed on the folded back covering to keep it dry. I went through the book a full time, then again. I trimmed the book from 300 pages to 230, then had friends give it another read through. I saw the book shift from something dense and overly done to something succinct, smart, sharp, and wonderful.

Yet publishing felt so sudden, so jagged. Needing to chat with someone who understood, I messaged my writer friend, Meg.

Meg, I did it. I published.

Chad, that is huge! You did it! How do you feel?

Weird. Numb. My brain is empty. I feel purged, yet proud. I’m anxious and confused, yet accomplished and powerful. 

I’ve been there and I understand. It’s weird, right? What’s going through your mind?

Ugh. Everything. Will anyone read it? What if no one reads it? Oh my God, what if someone actually reads it! Is it as good as I think it is? Did I price it too high? I priced it too high. I’m so proud of this! Did I say too much? Did I say enough? Will it resonate with anyone? 

Chad, that’s normal. You basically just gave birth to a child. Stay calm and focused. This is all so good. And it’s going to be amazing. 

I’d been talking about writing a book for years. Something I, um, talk about in my book. I remember all the conversations I’ve had with those who read my blog about how they’d love to read a book by me. I thought of my mother saying she knew I’d write a book one day, with my best friend where he told me to make a book happen. I did it. And it felt amazing.

But there is something about a blog entry. You just type it up and click publish, and then people read it or they don’t. It feels like a journal entry, and it doesn’t even bother me if there is a typo or two. But a book, a book has promise and potential. It has permanency. It’s an entirely different caliber. It feels… amazing. Frightening.

I once published a comic book, the Mushroom Murders. It took me years to get it finished, coordinating with busy artists who also shared my passion for the book. Four years, actually. Then I had to work with a small press publishing company to help me market the book. I paid around $5000, a charge that went on my credit card, to print the book, and several boxes of product arrived at my home. I spent years selling it at conventions, in stores, to friends, and on Amazon. It got amazing reviews. And now, the final few hundred copies occupy dusty cardboard boxes in my storage room. I didn’t want that experience again.

This time, I printed my book per order, through an organization called CreateSpace. It markets the book through Amazon. No initial costs on my part. The book is printed per order. If only one copy is ordered, only one will ever be printed. Will it sell one, none, dozens, hundreds? Will anyone care? And because CreateSpace is the one to list the book, I don’t see until days or weeks later if any orders have taken place, or how many total. There are no little messages that indicate when a sale has happened. Not knowing if it is selling fills me with a different kind of confusion.

I had to shut my computer down and take the night off. I saw a movie. I grabbed a drink with friends. My boyfriend ket gripping my arm, squeezing, reminding me that things were fine, it was going to be okay. I breathed, calming myself. Writing didn’t usually feel this way. Such a weird stew of emotional ingredients behind all of this.

Well, I did it. I wrote a book. I designed a cover, edited it, and put it out there for the public. Years of life experience. Dozens of hours writing. A finely honed talent (I hoped others would agree). A stirring, powerful, and inspirational message. It could be… well, this could change my life. Or it could wind up in a box in my storage room, untouched within a few years.

Regardless, I did it. I accomplished one of my lifelong goals. I have no idea what might happen next, if anything. I’m powerful, vulnerable, and strong, and I wouldn’t change a thing.

And, in order to sort out my feelings, I decided to write a blog. About the vulnerability of writing and publishing. And maybe that tells me more than anything.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Missoula

View of Missoula from Mount Sentinel, in Missoula, Montana.I could smell the smoke in the air the second I stepped off the plane. Wildfires in the hills nearby, I’d heard, and the wind had shifted the direction of Missoula. But soon, heavy rain came in, and I found myself driving in my rented car toward my rented room with the windshield wipers on full speed.

I was staying in the basement of a home that had a backyard full of chickens. When I entered the small room where I’d be sleeping, I killed a giant spider first thing, with a hastily grabbed paper towel, and I watched it kick its legs for dear life as it flushed away.

I found a trendy little coffee shop full of hipster students, all plaid and beards and nose rings, and I did some writing, tapping into a story from my adolescence, one about not knowing how to receive. But my mind kept wandering. My entire married life had been just hours from here to the west, just a few hundred miles. I’d passed through Missoula a dozen times without ever spending time here. A quick Google search of the town revealed that no historian was quite sure where the name of the city originated from, that the city boasted over a hundred thousand people and was the second largest in Montana, and that there were two universities and a decent acceptance of the LGBT population here.

Back on the road, back in the rain, I drove north, passing through the city and turning onto a state highway. The clouds clinger to the hills here, soft rolling white against the deep thick evergreen rows, all against the grey sky. It took my breath. The rain washed out all of the smoke and the land felt new. I drove through small towns, one that boasted it’s wide diameter trees on the welcome sign, and soon arrived at a bar-and-grill in the middle of nowhere.

I stepped inside and found everything made of wood, tables and chairs and walls and bar and decor. A few old cowboys in ten-gallon hats and boots sat at the bar with drinks in hands and three 30-something plump women in tight T-shirts and jeans waited behind it. I took a table in the corner, somewhere private, and set out my laptop and a pad of paper.

I moved back to the restroom where a sign hung over the urinals.

“PLEASE

Don’t write or Carve on walls

Or 

Spit Chewing Tabaco in the 

urinals, it plugs them up. 

Thanks…”

I laughed out loud with delight at the sign, so perfect and characteristic. It captured the ambiance of the place better than anything else. I wondered if they meant Tobacco or Tabasco, with a grin, and thought that these things must be actual problems in this establishment to warrant an actual laminated sign.

Back at the table, the waitress, who had a name tag that read “Mayzie” delivered a menu and a glass of water, then told me about the beers they had on tap. I had some light conversation with her and learned she was a mother of four, and I noticed that she didn’t have a ring on her finger, leaving me assuming that she was a single mom.

My eyes scanned over the menu, where everything seemed to be either alcohol or some beef product, with many variations on steaks and burgers in every form. Steak salad, patty melt, twelve different burger options, steak and potatoes, steak and coleslaw, steak and corn. I saw one item on the menu called the Vegetarian, that replaced a beef patty with a portobello mushroom cap, so I ordered that with a side of slaw. Mayzie seemed disappointed, but jotted the order down. A moment later she returned.

“Oh, I forgot. We are all out of mushroom caps. Almost no one orders that. But what we could do is chop up a bunch of little mushrooms and just put them in a sandwich?”

I laughed, un-enthusiastically, and accepted her offer. The sandwich came out thirty minutes later on toasted bread, and it was strictly mediocre, but I was hungry and consumed it quickly.

By then, I was deep into the interview that had brought me this direction in the first place. I was talking with a woman connected to a thirty year old homicide in Utah, a story I was working hard to make a documentary about. It had taken me months to earn her trust, and she was now openly discussing this ancient history that had taken place when she was only 21. She talked freely about her life, even the hard parts, and about the impact of the homicide on her family and path. She talked about the different directions life could have taken her with a mix of pain and clarity, and shed tears as she talked about it.

When I drove home, the skies had cleared, and I wound the same highway curves in the dark. I arrived back at my rented room and did a scan for spiders as I turned the lights on. I showered, then wrapped myself in the covers on the bed for warmth. Outside was silent. No cars, no electric buzzes, no chickens. My brain was struggling to stay awake, buzzing with the experiences of the day and all the new information I’d gathered, but the body won out and soon i settled into sleep, leaving the brain to work out its obsessions with bizarre dreams that flooded my consciousness.

Hours later, the rooster outside crowed, and I brewed coffee, rushing to my keyboard to capture my thoughts.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Origin

 

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Zero

My mother wrote songs as she rocked me

Singing lyrics aloud, her eyes blue on mine brown

A song of the mother Mary rocking the Christ child

A lullaby that soothed until heavy eyelids closed in sleep.

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Five

We cut holes in shoeboxes

Then covered them in paper, pink and red mostly.

Scissors sliced thick paper into hearts and letters

While scented colored markers etched our names

In grape purple and lemon yellow and licorice black.

On super hero valentines,

I wrote To’s and From’s to each member of my class

Except I wrote two for Michael, the boy who made me laugh.

I liked-him-liked-him

The way Chris liked Michelle and Jason liked Desiree.

At the Valentines Party, I placed each small card in each small box

And two in Michael’s.

But I only wrote a From on one of his cards, leaving the other blank.

If I gave two to him, the other boys would know I was different.

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Fifteen

“You are indeed one of Heavenly Father’s choice sons.

Do not in any way disappoint Him.”

The patriarch spoke kindly, firmly,

A direct message from God to me on his breath.

Weeks before, when I had told the bishop my shameful secret,

the message had been the same, kind and firm.

“God loves you, He does not tolerate sin.”

The words of the prophets, kind and firm again.

“Pray, do everything God says, and He will cure you,

Make you straight,

Because He loves you.”

And so I ket my eyes just that, straight

Focused, unerring.

Dad was gone,

And my stepfather spoke with fists and angry words.

I was a fairy, he said. I would never measure up to a real man.

But God, He heard. I just couldn’t disappoint Him.

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twenty-seven

She looked at me sincerely, tears streaming down her face,

And asked why, why after six years of dating, we hadn’t kissed,

Hadn’t held hands, not even once.

I thought of the familiar excuses, used again and again,

About trying to be moral and righteous,

About saying it wasn’t just her, that I’d never kissed anyone,

Never held anyone’s hands.

Those were true words, but not the whole truth.

She needed the whole truth.

“I’m gay,” I said. “But I’m trying to cure it.”

And she didn’t mind. And so we kissed, finally.

There was affection and regard and kindness behind it,

If not chemical attraction,

And relationships had been built on less.

And for her the feelings were real.

And so, three months later, we married.

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thirty-two

The day my second son was born, I got that same sense

Of holding my entire world in my hands.

That word again, Fatherhood,

Overwhelming in its possibility, its responsibility.

Here, a new miracle, different from his brother in every way.

But this time, our lives were different.

Early drafts of divorce papers sat on the desk at home.

I was sleeping in the basement now,

And her heart was broken,

While mine, though sad, had come up for oxygen

After three decades of holding its breath.

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thirty-eight

Pen to paper, I think back on six years of firsts.

First authentic kiss.

First try at an authentic relationship

And first authentic heartbreak.

First time dancing, euphoric and free.

First friends, real friends, finally, friends.

First realization that I like myself, powerfully,

And that I have no need to be cured of something that was never wrong.

First freedoms, from religion and deadly self-expectations.

I live now, loudly.

My sons thrive in two households, and they will tell anyone who asks

That their mother likes boys who like girls

And their father likes boys who like boys.

They are thriving, and smiling, and real.

And so is she.

And so am I.

Bully

Bullybully

When I was 9, I consoled a girl from my class on the school bus
About her recent break-up.
“How could he do that to you?” I patted her back.
“You deserve so much better.”

Deep down, I wanted to be that boy,
The one who broke her heart, who tossed her aside.
The popular and callous straight boy who didn’t have to hide.

He confronted me on the same bus the next day.
Told me to stay away from his girl.
He, smaller in every way,
Told me to watch out at recess,
That I was a nerd
And that he had more hair on his balls than I ever would.

How strange that it took so many years to offer myself the same words.
“How could he do that to you?”
“You deserve so much better.”

the unintentional hypocrite

door

before i went on my first date with a man, i did marriage counseling for dozens and dozens of couples

before i knew what i wanted to do with my life, i successfully completed six years of college with a 3.8 grade point average

before i considered myself authentic, i wrote hundreds of pages of journal entries and poems exploring my soul

before i knew how to tell my story, i published a book

before i had my first real kiss, i had a successful marriage to a woman, and everyone thought we were the perfect couple

before i knew what being mentally healthy was, i was the director of a community mental health center

before i understood my own spirituality, i completed a two year dedicated missionary service and baptized several into the faith i was born into

before i understood how to take care of myself, i was taking care of two sons who required my everything

before i lived well, i merely lived