Friday, January 30, 2015

How To Get Away With Murder Returns and the Crazy is Crazy Good

I didn't get home from dinner last night until nearly midnight, but I couldn't go to bed until I'd watched the #January29th return of How To Get Away With Murder. I mean come on. I'd been waiting for the show to return since November. Do you think I could sleep? Not a chance!

I didn't want to cancel my plans last night, but it did cross my mind that I could ask my dinner companion if she might want to have dinner at my apartment and watch How To Get Away With Murder with I know what you're thinking: Who watches live television anymore? Well, watching live television is the old new thing. I mean with live tweeting and live blogging one is setting themselves up to be spoiled if they're not immediately (or shortly thereafter) in the know.

Suffice it to say, I did not cancel or change my dinner plans, but I couldn't even think about going to sleep until I saw how Annalise Keating and the "Keating Five" dealt with the immediate aftermath of Sam's death. I was not disappointed. Viola Davis is marvelously flawed and human leading a cast of characters I still love to watch divide, resolve, dissent, and compromise for their lives.

Last fall How To Get Away With Murder was a roller coaster ride that kept showing us the hill we were going to plunge down even while its initial climb was in the case-of-the-moment present. There was an over arching storyline--those lurches you feel as the chain is pulling you upward--and its murder mystery would eventually consume everyone. It was teased and taunted in flash forward images and dialogue that made one feel the need to watch the episode again because they were certain they'd missed something. I was one of those people. I watched every episode twice and savored every moment as the unravel took us to the November finale episode, which finally put all those flashes and pieces together and showed us exactly #WhoKilledSam.

We were left at the top of that hill last fall, just going over the edge. And we're in the present, free falling at high speed without the bar across our laps. I'm dying to raise my arms in the air, but I'm afraid. I'm screaming and holding my breath. The anxiety, the fear the characters on my television are feeling is present in the lump in the my throat as I sit on my sofa, glued to their every breath, eyebrow arch, and explanation to the police of what they were doing on the night Sam went missing.

Most of the time when you're on a roller coaster that's plunging down the first big hill it's just a straight to the bottom plunge. This hill, while steep, is not straight to the bottom. It's got twists and curves. It's like we're skiing down a mountain avoiding all the trees and boulders in the way, but can't get out of the car and can't stop the dive. You might need to invest in a neck brace for all the I-didn't-see-that-coming whiplash.

There are only 3 episodes left before the first season finale. I don't see the tension letting up, and I doubt the pit of my stomach will feel anything less than sinking as the ground remains elusive during the hour of 10-11pm on Thursday nights.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Resolving the Conflict Starts With Me

A few days ago I read Kevin Thornton’s HuffPost blog, “I Was a Teenage Fundamentalist: How I Resolved the Conflict Between Jesus and My Sexuality.” (You should read his before you read mine.) I was immediately taken with his ability to draw such a distinct portrait of my life. I mean, he doesn’t even know me, yet there I was beginning to take shape in the words I was reading. I knew he was telling his own story (and that his story, like mine, is not unique), but the similarities were uncanny…at least through the first paragraph. 

Churchgoer…check. Singer of the Baptist hymn Just As I Am…check. Early 90s…check. Dark secret…check. He’s from small-town Southern Indiana I’m from small-town Kentucky. There I was coming into focus. I was standing in front of my pew in the church building where I attended worship services with multiple members of my family, singing my heart out for Jesus, concealing my truth, hiding my secret, scared to be me.

I had no one to talk to about any of the desires and feelings that were bubbling just under the surface, struggling for freedom, trying to take a breath in the light. I couldn’t talk to my pastor who would pound on his pulpit while his raised voice told me of the fire and brimstone that God rained down on the Sodomites of Sodom and Gomorrah for their sins — the major sin being homosexuality. (Uh oh. He’s talking about me. I’m beginning to feel those homosexual desires.) I couldn’t talk to my friends at the time because they would just as easily call me queer or sissy as come to my birthday party (then call me queer or sissy at the birthday party). I couldn’t talk to my parents. Oh no. I didn’t trust them to understand or accept that their son was gay. (I didn’t know what my parents would do with the information, but I was so riddled with fear that I couldn’t find out.) So I kept pushing those desires and feelings down, keeping them at bay. I was tormented, alone, scared.

I never experienced any “pray away the gay” organizations like Thornton’s referenced Exodus Ministries. But I spent more time on my knees behind the closed door of my bedroom, crying, pleading, begging, praying to not be gay than I can even remember. I created my own hell of trying to “pray the gay away.” The gay feelings never went away though. I attended worship services three times a week. I prayed. I sang. I had asked Jesus into my heart and believed my soul was saved from eternal damnation in hell. But I was still gay. Those homosexual desires never changed except to grow stronger. 

Thornton says that going away to college saved his life. I never thought of college as saving my life. That’s probably because it took so long for me to start living my life after I got there. Getting there did help. It got me out of my small town. It opened my eyes to other ideas and beliefs. It helped me start questioning and forming my own opinions. I was drawn to and surrounded by people living the life I wanted to be living — I was on the five-year plan with a double major in Performing Arts and Advertising — but still it took me until the summer before my fifth year to finally achieve enough courage to come out. I didn’t get to college and suddenly find my freedom. I was thinking differently, yes, but I still felt the heat of that fire and brimstone keeping me restrained. The truth is: I still feel the chains that want me bound to those beliefs that were so rigidly instilled in me in my youth. I’m still afraid of that fire and brimstone hell.

I’ve recently come to realize that that scared child is still very present inside me, and he’s been responsible for many of the fear-based choices I’ve made in my life. He’s also very responsible for the fears that I still allow to prevent me from living my adult gay life to the fullest without concern of parental disappointment and eternal damnation. And unlike Thornton, I never really resolved my conflict with God. It’s a struggle, and I’m trying, but right now I feel as if I’m stepping away from God completely so that I can come back on my own terms with my own goals for our relationship. I should have done this years ago, but fear (like I learned in the pew of my church building) is something that is used to keep one in line and therefore holds one back. 

Communication is the way Thornton says he resolved his situation. I believe in the power of communication. But with communication can also come disappointment. One has to find the courage to hear even as he finds the steadiness to speak. I recently took a huge step out of my comfort zone and shared, for the first time, my childhood feelings of fear and loneliness with my mom. I shared how afraid I was, how untrusting. I opened that door before I even realized I was turning the knob. I’m in my 40s now, but it’s never too late to start a dialogue. It’s hard for me not to feel as though I’ve wasted a lot of my life living in fear, but I also believe there is truth to the universe presenting things to you when you are ready to accept them. 

Not long ago a friend of mine presented me with the concept of getting my hands dirty. Holding back and not communicating, at least with my mom, was me not getting my hands dirty, not rocking the boat, even at times being a victim. I realize now I was more afraid of being disappointed in her possible answers or responses, than I was afraid of having the conversation. I may never change the mind of someone who believes that homosexuality is wrong, but there is no comfort, no freedom, in living in silence or fear. There’s just avoidance. Even a baby step forward is a step forward. I’m glad mom and I took that step together.

As you might have noticed, that portrait of me that Thornton began drawing with such seemingly definitive strokes veered into Monet territory — recognizable from a distance, fuzzier upon closer examination. There’s still conflict in my life between God and my sexuality. That’s based on deep-rooted religious fears more than anything else. There’s still conflict between my family and my sexuality. That will probably never change, but I know I’m loved. What can change is me. That scared inner child has to grow up and face his fears. I have to be willing to speak…and hear. I have to change my expectations. I have to change my pattern. I have to believe that “just as I am” is good enough.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Operation Carnation: A ‘Little Girl’ Story

The excitement hung in the air like confetti forever frozen in a snapshot. It was palpable as we sat around the kitchen table staring at the piñata shaped like a baby carriage; it’s contents waiting to be whacked from its pastel-covered card board. It was like Christmas morning. But there was only one package to be shared by all of us, and we were all eager to know its secret contents. That is, those of us who had not already played this game.

I received a text message a couple of weeks prior to this particular October day that included an ultrasound picture and the words, “Are you ready to be a faux uncle?” I was caught completely off-guard by the image…and the words. So much so that I teared up immediately. I was so excited—overwhelmed, really—I could barely type my response. One of my dearest cousins (a member of The Family Band and basically a sibling) had finally made it past the first trimester and was now sharing her exciting news with her nearest and dearest who weren’t her immediately family. Other Band members already knew this information (you know who you are), but being the only other boy in the Band besides her brother I was the last member to know. I’m okay with that, but by now I would have thought I was an honorary girl, but I guess all those times I’ve said, “I’ve got a penis” after somebody calls me, “Girl” has paid off. I digress.

Cousins can become the best of friends. Three of mine, along with my sister, make up The Family Band (just a name we gave ourselves like The Little Rascals). The extraordinary thing for me is I’m the oldest (seven-and-a-half years older than the next of us) so I’ve seen them all be babies and grow into the people they are. And now I’m sharing in their lives as adults: sharing in their engagement surprises, attending their weddings, receiving their birth announcements. It’s an odd mix of feelings (love, happiness, anger, frustration, joy, contentment, excitement) all thrown together like the blend of seasonings that make up Shake ’n Bake: you might not know what they all are, but you know it’s good). We share our lives with each other—the important things and the mundane. “Cousins we shall always be. Special friends from the same family tree.” I seem to have taken a detour down the path marked sentimental. The prettiest flowers grow along that path. And I’m a sucker for a pretty flower.

Back to the story at hand.

I had a trip to Kentucky, to visit my parents and my sister’s family, booked for the first full week in October. My cousin and her husband live in Nashville, Tennessee and it’s a mere two-and-a-half hour drive to where my parents live. She told me she was going to be able to drive up for the weekend I was there, but even more exciting than the opportunity to hang out with her was the fact that she was going to reveal the sex of the baby to us. She was going to find out the results within days of my departure and had decided it would be the perfect opportunity to share the news with the extended family.

This is where the excitement of Christmas morning comes into play. My cousin’s mom and brother were privy to the information already and her mom (my over-the-moon happy aunt Cindy) was excitedly sharing the story of their own piñata experience. Excited to the point of me being afraid she was going to spill the beans herself before our piñata could spill its contents. Think about how excited you are about that one particular gift you’ve gotten someone for Christmas. Example: for Christmas 2013 I got my niece a beautiful purple Coach bag. I couldn’t stand not sharing my excitement with people that I knew would be as excited as I was. I took a picture of the bag and texted it to two of my cousins (two female Band members) and then showed the bag to my mom once I arrived in KY. The only people surprised on Christmas morning were my niece and her mom (my sister). I had to make myself not tell my sister. So you get the picture, right? It was that kind of excitement and desire to share that was radiating from my aunt as we sat around the kitchen table. I wanted to talk about that bag, but I had to choose my words and text recipients correctly or I might have inadvertently spilled the beans before Santa arrived. Excitement can get you into trouble. Thankfully, she also chose the right words and told just enough of the story to not spoil anything. Whew!

On a side note: Once I’d gotten the responses from those I’d chosen to share my excitement over the bag with, I completely changed my tune. I became protective of the contents of that box and determined to keep it from being discovered. I wrapped that package and put it under the tree way back in the back so that it was hidden and therefore unshakable. I can be Grinch-y like that.

All of us who didn’t already know were asked to guess what we thought the sex of the baby would be. I did really have a guess as much as I had a desire. All I could say was I hoped it was a girl. I don’t know why. I just wanted it to be a girl. I wrote my name under the word GIRL (again I say, I have a penis) and mine joined the other names who’d guessed the same.

Finally it was time. Think of it as 7am when you’ve been lying in your bed awake since 6am listening for any sound that told you someone else was up so that you could run into the living room and see all the wonderful toys Santa left under the Christmas tree.

Now here’s the funny part. A few of us had been playing the card game Phase 10 (a variation on rummy) earlier in the evening. It was decided (by someone, not me) that the order in which we would take a whack at the piñata would be the order in which the Phase 10 players ranked—first to last—in the game as it stood when we broke for dinner. Wouldn’t you know I was in first place. So I was on deck to go first. 

Can you see this? I was not prepared for this task. Those of you who know me know that I don’t like to be laughed at, and I don’t easily laugh at myself. (If you didn’t know that, now you do.) I enjoy telling the story to comedic effect when the situation is over, but I do not enjoy being in the situation while it’s happening. That said, I was not ready to be laughed at or laughed with, but by golly I was determined to do it anyway. Embarrassment be damned. ‘Cause you know I was embarrassed. Thankfully, it was still kind of dark in the dull brightness of the combined lights shining from the front porch and in the garage. 

I put on the blindfold and was spun around the requisite 5 times. I was then pointed toward the baby carriage that was dangling from a stick in the capable hands of my cousin’s brother (one who already knew the answer) and set free to “take a whack Ouiser” (Steel Magnolia’s reference). Everyone was excited. I could feel their excitement. The energy in the air was electric. Even the baby daddy, Matt, who was joining us via FaceTime must have been able to feel it. I began to laugh, took a breath then…whack! I connected. First try. I remember hearing two pieces hit the driveway below. Someone behind me yelled, “It’s a girl!”

I removed the blindfold. I looked at the slightly broken carriage then saw one pink Starburst lying on the ground. After that I don’t really know what happened. There was too much cheering and laughing and hugging. A blindfold-free member of my family finished off the piñata. The pink-wrapped candy from the piñata's belly lay on the ground below. Maybe it was better than Christmas. It was my family sharing an intimate moment filled with joy and love that was more special than anything wrapped in Christmas paper. It was a celebration of new life, the beginning of a new family. Soon enough Little Girl will know exactly what I’m talking about. Our story goes on. 

Monday, November 10, 2014

Television Characters: I Know They're Not Real People, But...

This piece originally appeared on HuffPost Entertainment

“Christian Troy never learns his lesson.” I made that statement very matter-of-factly and honestly about a character on Nip/Tuck during the end of its run on FX Network. It was just a normal part of the conversation while discussing the previous night’s episode. The friend with whom I was discussing the episode began to laugh. He responded, “Sweetie, you know he’s not real.” As soon as that comment was out of his mouth I joined him in laughter. Yes, I know Christian Troy is not a real person, but that doesn’t change the fact that as a television viewer I get very invested in the television shows I like and even more so in the characters I like on those shows. 

Details. I’m obsessed with the details. I watch episodes of How To Get Away With Murder (HTGAWM), American Horror Story: Freak Show, and Scandal more than once to make sure I didn’t miss anything. Usually that repeat viewing reveals something I missed the first time. The attention to detail was outstanding on Breaking Bad. Not even the smallest moment was unnecessary. A flash across the screen of Walter White that might have appeared to mean nothing in season 1 could be an important plot point in season 2 and finally tie up by series end.  

Mythology. I love the mythology on shows like Lost and Once Upon a Time. The worlds created on those two shows in particular are so structured and detailed. It thrills me to see how the characters are connected. The same can be said of Sleepy Hollow. It keeps me on the edge of my seat. It’s a show that takes our country’s history and stories from the book of Revelation and weaves them into an intricate end-of-days story that keeps surprising me week after week. And while I’m touting mythology I have to mention Twin Peaks. The first season was so layered that I consumed each morsel of information regarding the central mystery and was always left hungry from more.

Conspiracy Theories. A show like HTGAWM is ripe for conspiracy theories. #WhoKilledSam is one of the show’s hashtags. I watch. I re-watch. I question. I join the conversation on Twitter. I want to know who killed Sam. I want to know who’s covering it up. I want to see what Annalise Keating is going to do next. Okay, let me be honest, I want to see what any of those characters is going to do next. My curiosity makes me want to cancel all plans on a Thursday night so that I can be part of #TGIT while it’s happening. 

It’s been a long time since I’ve been willing to put up with commercial breaks, but television is so of-the-moment right now. In our social media world of live tweeting and live blogging if you don’t watch right away the plot details get spoiled or you’re out-of-the-loop conversationally. If I haven’t watched American Horror Story: Freak Show or the aforementioned Scandal and HTGAWM before I get to work the next day I spend that day apprehensive of spoilers on Twitter and Facebook, frustrated that I don’t know what happened, and annoyed that I can’t take part in the greater conversation.

My over-involvement in the lives of television characters is not new. It goes way back to my soap opera watching days. Back in the late 80s when I used to set the VCR to record them every day. (Grainy tapes that were recorded over, then over again, multiple times.) God forbid I should miss the moment Cruz and Eden find their kidnapped daughter Adriana on Santa Barbara or the day Stefano returns from the dead for the fifteenth time on Days of our Lives. But those moments were merely scenes that I wanted to see happen. Today it’s more about being part of the conversation surrounding all the moments that happen to be happening on any given show during any given episode. And let’s face it, Scandal, HTGAWM, and American Horror Story: Freak Show are roller coasters. Once they plunge down the first hill they begin to reveal every twist and turn their writers have in store for their richly developed (or developing) characters for the season.

During a recent episode of The Walking Dead a friend of mine was live tweeting in all caps. I finally asked her if her use of all caps was an indication that she was yelling at the TV. She responded, “Basically.” I laughed. I’m familiar with this occurrence. I’ve yelled at my television so many times that I have neighbors both past and present who probably think I’m a little cuckoo. Hell, maybe I am. At least when it comes to my investment in the lives of fictional people. During that above mentioned episode of The Walking Dead I was angry. Here’s one of my live tweets: “#TheWalkingDead makes me rethink my faith in humanity. Live together, Die alone. But still…” Did you pick up on my Lost reference in that tweet? The dot dot dot ending leaves the tweet feeling unfinished because I just couldn’t express myself any further. I realized the situation I was watching wasn't real life, but I was putting myself in the scenario and kept wondering when those still alive in the world of The Walking Dead decided that having control and power meant more than helping fellow survivors. Imagine what I could do if I spent that kind of energy on real world problems.

Television characters have moved me to tears, made me LOL, frustrated me to the point of giving up on watching a show, outraged me for reasons I didn’t even recognize at the time, and shocked me to the point of tears, frustration, and outrage at having to wait another week for answers. I know I’m not alone in this. I can’t be the only person who wants to know everything there is to dig up about Annalise on HTGAWM. Or the only person who wants to know in whose favor the Victoria/David/Emily triangle’s game of deception and revenge is going to play out on Revenge. I know there are millions who want to know if Olivia will save Jake on Scandal and if she does will she choose him or Fitz? Will Rick & company ever find a cure for what plunged the world into Zombieville on The Walking Dead? Will Crane and Mills stop the end of the world on Sleepy Hollow or witness it? Will Elsa make it out of the Freak Show alive? I don’t know, but I tune in every week to find out. And you can bet I’ll be tuning in to Showtime in 2016 to see what the hell is happening with Cooper et al in Twin Peaks 25 years later.

I — we — love these people, er, characters. I’m invested. I want to know how it all turns out. I’m the guy who wonders if Monica and Chandler are still married and if Ross and Rachel had any more kids. I also want to know who the hell JR’s daughter is, but unless another network picks up Dallas I may never find out. 

Some might view the amount of hours I spend watching TV as a waste of time and that’s ok. I see it as pure escapism that thrills me, inspires me creatively, and at times teaches me a lesson. I also see it as a chance to connect with people through the inevitable conversation that happens when a TV show is home to flawed, despicable, virtuous, righteous, driven, angry, good, evil, secretive characters. I just keep reminding myself that commercial breaks are opportunities for my blood pressure to regulate…and that these people aren’t real. 

In the spirit of conversation, please keep the conversation going with your thoughts and comments on getting intimately involved in the lives of fictional characters below. 

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Heels Are Killer in the Best Way at the Brooklyn Museum

How else can I begin except by saying I was giddy with controlled exuberance. It was as if I was alone in a world all my own (Michael Through the Looking Glass) as I stared at the encased heels all around me. These weren't just any heels though. These were “Killer Heels,” as in the ones currently on display in Killer Heels: The Art of the High-Heeled Shoe at the Brooklyn Museum.

Have you ever taken the time to really look at a pair of high-heeled shoes? To look beyond the color, the height, and the price tag? Get that pair of your most fabulous, treasured heels out of your closet and look at them. Look at the design elements, the craftsmanship, the architectural lines, the artistry, the creativity. Okay, so maybe the heels you have in your closet are not that interesting. Maybe you see them as just simple and plain. That may be true, but let me tell you, there are shoes in this world that are pure art; as beautiful and expressive as any painting by Monet, van Gogh, or Pollock. There are even people who can and dare to wear this art. The shoes may not always be comfortable, but one can't deny they are daring, provocative, wearable art forms.

There was no denying the artistry and creativity of the gorgeous shoes I smiled at, conversed about, and kept myself from drooling over as I ambled my way through the "Killer Heels” exhibit. There were so many different eras represented. The evolution of shoes on display. The styles (platform, stiletto, boot, mule, futuristic, etc), materials (leather, cloth, wood, metal, plastic, nylon, etc) and adornments (flames, metal spikes, crystals, hair, etc) pushing the limits beyond the boundaries of what one thinks a shoe can be, should be. Who's to say what a shoe can (or can't) be, anyway? If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, then fashion, much like art, is subjective. 

I spoke animatedly with a young woman about the Prada Flame Wedge Sandal (Spring/Summer 2012, below). I can usually spot a Prada shoe before I see the label. They stand out in the crowd. Miuccia Prada (Prada, Miu Miu) is a designer with a unique sense of style that, for me, at least with her shoes, is instantly recognizable. I often find myself questioning where one might wear a Prada shoe (answer: anywhere one wants). But more often than not I am thrilled by their imaginative and fanciful design elements. 

Prada Wedge Sandal in Rosso, Bianco, and Nero Leather, Spring/Summer 2012
With an older lady, whom I encountered jotting down notes over a 1960 Christian Dior/Roger Vivier evening slipper for the House of Dior (below), I exchanged thoughts on the heel of said slipper. Specifically its curved design. This particular heel could be the petite grand-mère of the heel on the fall 2014 Louis Vuitton curved-heel bootie, the “shoe to covet” this fall according the September issue of Harper's Bazaar. Invention is prone to reinterpretation and everything old can be new again.

Christian Dior, Roger Vivier for House of Dior. Evening Slippers, 1960
Fashion design thrives on imagination, limit-pushing creativity, the ability to envision then actualize. It can even beg for the update of a successful design from the past as with the heel on the aforementioned Dior/Vivier slipper. The heels in “Killer Heels” are the epitome of limit-pushing creativity, vision, and artistic expression. Just look below at the Julian Hakes "Mojito," 2012.Of course they aren't going to be for everyone, but neither is every shoe at Bergdorf’s or even…Payless. 

Julian Hakes. "Mojito," 2012
I appreciate interesting shoes. Men’s shoe choices are positively bland compared to those of women’s. I try to shake things up. In my own closet there’s a pair of chocolate brown Frye boots, a pair of blue leather Chukka’s with suede at the ankle, a pair of tan leather and ivy green suede saddle Oxfords, a pair of gray Wingtips adorned with a buckle or two. Those are just a few examples. I realize we’ve come a long way in color choices from the days of black or brown, but men are still limited to more conservative shoe choices than women. In recent years, thankfully, men have been able to express themselves by choosing shoes with pops of color in the heel or by changing the color of the laces. With the later, one not only gets to let his personality shine through, he can dramatically alter the look of the shoe by blasting the tediousness with a dash of whimsy. 

(left) A SHOE CAN BE. "Heliotrope," 2013 (right) JANTAMINIAU. "Tarnished Beauty," 2012
I mentioned the word personality in connection with shoes above. Personality is a great word to describe most, if not all, of the shoes in the "Killer Heels" exhibit. The inanimate objects of my admiration had so much personality they could rival some people. Shoes can be the centerpiece of an outfit. They can be the only bit of outrageousness in a beautifully tailored, but otherwise dull ensemble. I know I’ve been known to build an outfit around a pair of shoes. Wouldn’t it be refreshing if we all felt the freedom to let our personality run wild on our feet? Choose the height, choose the color, choose the style and design. If it makes you happy own it, then make the sidewalk your runway.

Maybe you’re a worshiper at the house of Blahnik or Louboutin, a lover of fantastical shoes, have a shoe fetish. Or maybe you’re merely interested in seeing shoes that aren't readily available just anywhere. If any of that sounds like you, then get thee to the Brooklyn Museum. You've got until February 15, 2015. Trust me when I tell you you don’t have to be wearing them to be lifted to their heights. 

Roger Vivier. "Rose N' Roll," Fall 2012

Friday, October 17, 2014

This Frustration Needs a One-Two Punch of Patience

My frustration bores through the ceiling and fills the attic before it pushes it's way through the roof and permeates the atmosphere. I'm afraid I might be the causing damage to the ozone layer. If I had to attach a color to this frustration it would be baby shit yellow. 

Here I sit at the airport in Paducah, Kentucky. It's a small regional airport with typically two departures and two arrivals per day. Chicago's O'Hare is the origination and destination of the plane that services Paducah. I can't remember the last time I flew in to or out of Paducah when there wasn't some sort of a delay—weather in Chicago most often being the culprit. This trip, however, air traffic is the cause. Due to a fire in Chicago that severely damaged an air traffic control tower, air traffic in and out of O'Hare is severely affected. Six days ago the plane that would take me to Paducah couldn't get into O'Hare from Indiana due to congestion in the air. Today the plane, which sits on the Tarmac in Paducah just beyond the door I'm refusing to stare at, can't fly into Chicago due to congestion. Wouldn't it be nice if we could offer the friendly skies a DayQuil that allowed for freer flying with no congestion? But alas, there is no pill for that. Not even in Sky Mall Magazine. The only thing to do is surrender to the seat in the waiting area and remember that this is beyond anyone’s control—mine, the TSA workers in Paducah, the air traffic controllers in Chicago. This delay is for our safety, but that doesn't make it any less frustrating. 

A major frustration that is in the control of the TSA agents in Paducah is the security gate. They have a flight that is delayed by an hour and 15 minutes, but we the travelers have to be through security by 3pm because that's when they close the gate. That would be fine if the flight was still at 3pm, but it isn't still at 3pm. It's delayed to 4:15(ish)pm. So we have to say goodbye to our families and sit on the other side of the security gate for an hour while we wait to board our delayed flight. I shouldn't complain. I mean I realize the flight could have been cancelled. Delayed will still get me there. But it won't get me there in time to make my connecting flight. That is frustrating. Instead of getting home around 10pm it will be after midnight. Still nothing to really complain about. On the positive, at least there was a later flight with a seat available (a window, my least favorite. Beggars. Choosers) so I won't have to spend the night in Chicago. 

None of the above airport frustration has anything to do with the yellow, ozone-damaging frustration that started this piece. That frustration has left me discouraged for a different reason. It's a frustration that was born out of an inability to communicate. There are times when I try and take my knowledge (the best having been learned from prior experiences) and use it to try and understand a situation, to try and make a situation better. When I did that very thing this morning I was left shaking my head at my inability to connect in a way that was beneficial for either party. I was left, for lack of a better word, frustrated. I felt myself fighting anger, wanting to shut down, getting quiet. My lips were in a perpetual state pursedness. 

I wanted to connect—needed to. I wanted to be smart, clever, find a way in. I wanted to be a problem solver. I wanted to be someone who could be trusted. Maybe it's not the right time for that.

Then I realized that so much of my present situation was about me and not the person I was trying to help. I was seeing a younger version of me. I was frustrated by the actions of the other person, yes. But I was also frustrated that those actions were reflecting my former selfacting out, wanting attention, sensitive feelings—back at me. Along with my frustration, my present day self was getting in touch with his jealousy. What!? Jealousy? Yes. There was a freedom present that I never experienced. So yes, Jealousy! Reactions change. Age softens people. I was holding on tightly to my past.  Cue Cher’s “If I Could Turn Back Time.” 

Ultimately, I realize I was trying to help myself by helping this other person. I can't control the other person I was trying to help, but I can control my response to the actions. Life is a learning process. I'm continuing to learn from my past mistakes and my present mistakes. 

Frustration is a part of life. I encounter it every day. The thing is, I need to figure out how to keep it from weighing me down. I love my Tiffany key, but it's the only thing I want to wear around my neck. Frustration is cumbersome and neither pretty nor optimal. Bitching about its effects is neither beneficial nor productive. I need to figure out how to let go of it and, even as my mind continues to work on a solution, not let it make me angry, stress me out. I'm thinking it's going to take patience, which is something I struggle with finding daily.

I think I'll ponder that as I sit alone in the boarding area in the Paducah airport waiting to board that plane that's waiting to take me home. The only thing in my control is the frustration. It's time to let my pursed lips return to normal, let the knot in my chest release. After all, when has frustration caused anybody anything but added stress...and wrinkles? 

Monday, September 22, 2014

Your Bogeyman: Whether You Stalk Him or Face Him...Defeat Him

I recently saw a production of Stalking the Bogeyman at New World Stages in NYC. The play tells the true story of David Holthouse: the rape he endured in 1978 as a 7-year old, and his plan, as an adult, to murder his rapist.

I can’t even begin to comprehend the pain, fear, and shame attached to the horrific event that is the catalyst for this play. David’s rapist told him if he told his parents what had happened they would be angry because he (David) had done a bad thing. He convinced David that his parents would spank him. Then true to bullying form, the rapist said that if David told anyone he’d come to his house in the middle of the night and gut him like a salmon. As I listened to these words spoken from the mouth of the adult actor playing the 7-year old David my heart broke for the loss of innocence and the life altering event that David kept secret for 25 years after. 

I wanted desperately for David to run to his mother and tell her what had happened. I wanted desperately for David’s father to confront the father of this most nasty of bullies. I wanted desperately for someone to beat the shit out of the cocky 17-year old high school athlete that thought he was untouchable enough to torment, traumatize, and change the course of a child’s life. 

I, in no way, intend this piece to make light of or trivialize what happened to David. There is nothing light or trivial about it. But in watching him as an adult continue to protect his parents from his experience, his secret, his shame, I found myself remembering my own parental protection quandary although it is trivial compared to David’s. It is nothing like his, but shows how we, the children, will do things to protect our parents even when they don’t need protecting. When do children start protecting their parents? 

The words David’s rapist used to scare him perpetuates the idea that victims think it’s their fault, that they’re to blame, that they will be punished. The play exposed to me the fear we possess at revealing the things that happen to us. Even if revealing them might gain us the most needed help.

I have never experienced what David went through and my heart hurts for him now that I know his story — for his 7-year old self and for his present day self. But I do know a thing about keeping secrets. I never spoke to my parents about being bullied in junior high or high school. I was ashamed of myself because I was afraid of my emerging homosexual feelings, and to be quite honest, I was afraid that my parents would side with the bullies. Not that they would bully me too, but that they wouldn't be sympathetic to my plight. I was a child. I was afraid — of the bullies and of my parents. I’ll never know how that scenario might have played out as I never shared my adolescent pain or teenage fears with them. I didn’t trust that they would protect me. When do shame and fear replace trust?

After I moved to New York City in 1997 a new set of fears entered my life. I was in the land of Broadway and my main desire at that time was to be a musical theatre star. Yes, I say star because I had them in my eyes and I wanted to be one. I used to joke about how I wanted to become so popular, so dependable as a performer that Stephen Sondheim would write a musical role for me. I was joking, but I was serious. I had big dreams. But there was always something lurking in the shadows of those dreams. I was gay and not out to my parents. 

I had a recurring waking nightmare that I would actually make it as big as I’d dreamed, and my mother would be in the check-out line at Smith’s Supermarket in Mayfield, KY and look over at the National Enquirer or Star and see me, her son, outed on the front page. I realize I would’ve had to’ve been playing in the big time big leagues for a tabloid in the late 90s early aughts to out me, but my dreams were to be playing in those leagues so it wasn't such a stretch for my theatrical mind to create that dramatic scenario.

I couldn’t handle that nightmare. I couldn’t handle the idea of the ridicule my mother might face from other residents in my small KY town of approximately 600 people. I wanted to protect her from any of the harsh words that I was convinced would be hurled at her or spoken about her behind her back because she had a gay son. I wanted to protect her. I also wanted to achieve my dreams, but I didn’t know how to accomplish both. Being gay was nobody’s fault. There was no blame. The truth as I now see it is that if someone chooses to hurl nasty remarks that is their shit and is no reflection on me or my mom. Of course the simple answer in 1997 would have been to come out to her, but I wasn’t brave enough to do that yet.

David Holthouse was convinced that he couldn't share his terrifying, life changing experience with his parents, even as he got older, because he had to protect them. I understand that yet at the same time I don’t. If his attacker hadn’t made him believe the rape was his fault might he have run to his mother and confessed to her the horrible incident? If not immediately, sooner rather than 25 years later? Without the weight of that secret, what might his life (and that of his rapist — hopefully behind bars) have been like if he had shared his fear and pain?

David carried the weight of his secret until he was in his 30s only to be confronted by his parents after they read about it in 10-year old David's diary. He was caught off guard and with no warning to prepare a lie told the truth. Heartbreak. His mother’s heartbreak washed over me with complete sadness. I became aware that I was holding myself, my arms wrapped tightly around my midsection, as I sat in the back row of the darkened theatre.

In Stalking the Bogeyman the bogeyman is the rapist. An actual living, breathing person. But under cloak of fear and secrets we all have a bogeyman that shadows us. I think that part of the reason I write so honestly when I’m telling my life’s story, leaving out no detail no matter how honest or ugly, is because I don’t want to go back to a time when my life seemed like one big secret. I won’t do it. Some people may say I reveal too much information, but for too long I hid too much information. 

David finally faced his Bogeyman. I don’t even know how he found the courage. Then again, I came out to my parents who at the time were the people I dreaded — feared — telling the most. I continue to fight my inner demons to be my true, authentic self. I realize that these experiences are no where near the same, but each of us must face down our demons in order to let them go and move forward. Some demons live and breath. Some are in our heads. All of them can be paralyzing.

David originally shared his story in the Denver Westword News in May 2004. Later he told his story "When I Grow Up" on NPRs “This American Life.”