Thursday, April 30, 2015

The Day I Got Naked in Brooklyn (NSFW)

This piece originally appeared on HuffPost Gay Voices

Disclaimer: This post may contain NSFW images.

I’m was standing in his living room. I’m was wearing a long-sleeved, tangerine-colored button up shirt and nothing else. We were talking. I’m was standing there. I was exposed. That area between the last button and the bottom of my shirt was split open and my penis was exposed. The shirt did feel somewhat like a security blanket, but I was standing in his living room, having a conversation about the ups and downs of life and my mind kept reminding me that my penis was exposed. It was like an out of body experience (I’m imagining) where I was standing beside myself whispering in my own ear, He can see your penis. Let me tell you how I got there.

For years I’ve been wanting a drawing of a male nude. Anytime I find myself in an art gallery or antique shop that might cater to that style of art I look for something that might pique my interest. One random day my Facebook news feed exposed me to the drawings of an artist friend of mine. I knew that he was an artist, but I just took it for granted and never really thought about it. Drawing is something he does, like writing is something I do. But on this particular day the lightbulb lit up above my head (a Eureka! moment) and I thought to myself, I’ll ask Sean Baumgardner if he’ll draw a male nude for me. I sent him a Facebook message and much to my delight he responded, “I’ve been making male nudes since I hit puberty. Yes.” Then he posed the question, “What type of man would you like shaped on paper?” I didn’t know. I’d always assumed that I would see a finished piece of art in some gallery and know that I couldn’t live without it and that would be that. This was a commission. Should I Google hot nude men? My favorite porn stars? I had no idea. It was during a discussion about this predicament that a friend suggested I be the subject of the male nude. “If you’re commissioning an artist to draw a male nude, why not let the male be you?” That thought had never entered my mind. And it certainly threw me for a loop. Would it be narcissistic to hang a nude of myself in my apartment? Did I really want a nude of myself?

Then I heard Sex and the City’s own Samantha Jones in my head. In season 4, episode 2, Samantha decided to pose nude for a photo shoot so that she could look back one day and say, “Damn, I was hot.” I laughed to myself. That was the moment I genuinely began to entertain the idea of being the subject of the drawing. Sean is in California. I’m in NYC. The opportunity to sit for him was not an option, and I needed something better than a nude selfie from my iPhone. I asked a friend I trust if he would take photos of me. He said he would but suggested that I have a photographer take professional photos of me in a studio with lighting that neither he nor a selfie could reproduce.

Is this getting out of hand? First I wanted a drawing. Then the drawing is going to be of me. Now I’m thinking I’ll book an actual nude photo shoot so that I have a photo from which the artist can draw me. Who am I? What is going on? Immediately I questioned the expense of the photo shoot. Then the notion of me actually being comfortable as the subject of a nude photo shoot crept into my psyche. I don’t often find myself naked in front of someone who isn’t also naked in front of me. Usually there’s kissing, touching, erections, etc. I didn’t know if I could be that vulnerable. And I was damn curious if I might be embarrassed by my assets or by one particular asset’s reaction. A penis can be a delicate and sensitive member. When exposed it can shrivel up like it’s been in the pool or it can stand at attention at the mere thought of being seen. 

I needed to be courageous. I needed to access my long laid dormant vulnerability. This could be fun, I thought to myself, if you’ll let it be. I reached out to the gorgeous and generously kind Seth Fornea on Twitter, explaining the situation and asking for recommendations. He responded quickly with the name Kevin Hoover. I was familiar with Kevin Hoover’s work as I follow him on Twitter. He takes beautiful male nude photographs. I was immediately apprehensive as I looked again at the hard, masculine, statuesque bodies in the images on his Twitter page. I gave my own body a disparaging glance in the mirror and thought I didn’t measure up. Then I thought, Fuck it! I emailed him and told him I was interested in a nude photo shoot. Pressing send on that email was the first step in what turned out to be a fantastic experience.

I had a mere 27 days to mentally and physically prepare. I had been working out for years, but time and age and laziness had allowed me to get softer than I wanted to be. I began to train very hard with my personal trainer and completely changed my eating habits. My body became leaner, my muscles more defined. The changes were visible within a week. While initially difficult, the process proved to be a challenge worth taking. 

The day finally arrived. I was nervous — justifiably so. I was also excited. I had a somewhat distracted workout prior to heading to Brooklyn for my 2pm appointment. When I arrived at Kevin’s apartment, which comfortably transformed into his studio, I reached out to shake his hand. He gave me a big, good-natured smile and said, “We do hugs here.” I was immediately at ease. Kevin and I talked and laughed for two hours before we even started. I felt like I’d known him for years. He was so gracious that when I finally found myself standing there with my penis exposed in the split at the bottom of my shirt it didn’t really matter. I was aware, but it wasn’t awkward. I didn’t feel ashamed or the need for concealment. I wasn't shrinking from fear or getting erect from exposure. I was just there…vulnerable, seen. As the camera began to click, the posing became more fun, less tense, and the nudity became an afterthought; a state of being that was playful, celebratory, freeing.

Kevin was extremely generous with me. I was his willing victim and he the artist who listened to the ideas of the strongly opinionated man standing naked in front of him. Not every photo can be fabulous, but that’s to be expected. One never knows how many shots are taken to find the one that captures the essence of its subject. Through relaxing conversation and the courage of vulnerability, we created images that turned out to be beautiful, provocative, and fully exposed, while I met a fantastic man for whose camera I’d comfortably get naked again.

Aging in Gayville

This piece originally appeared on HuffPost Gay Voices

My 44th birthday is approaching. I sense shadows in the distance. They’re looming; ominous. I question what they are. I squint into the rainbow-hued sunlight, my hand perched at my brow to block the sun from my eyes. It’s then that I can fully see them: buzzards. The shadows are buzzards. They’re circling, soaring in a loop, waiting for me. They’re anticipating the death of my relevance and desirability as a gay man. Wait, what? What’s going on here? I won’t star in this scenario. I will not accept this! This is not my story. Yet sometimes when I allow myself to just wallow in the loneliness and depression that inevitably affects all of us from time to time as we get older, those thoughts run through my mind.

We all get older. At least we better hope we get older. The alternative is death. The older I get the wiser I get. I’m still learning, growing, changing. I’m making better decisions these days. It’s become less about right and wrong and more about choices -- making the best ones in the moment with regard to the situation I'm in. As for me personally, I have a great job that I love. I’m saving money. I have a fantastic apartment to myself. I'm eating clean and working out with a personal trainer. Some of my favorite clothes actually fit me again. I've never looked better in my life. My salt 'n pepper beard has just the right amount of salt to look sexy. (I actually like all the white in it.) Why is it then that it frustrates me so much to not turn the head of some random 20 something that I don't even care about? It's a gut punch from karma. Yes, as the saying goes, karma is a bitch, and she’s having her bitchtastic way with me like you wouldn’t believe. 

I turned 26 a mere week after moving to New York City. I felt the freedom to be myself — to be gloriously gay, to drink, to smoke, to live. I felt the city was my oyster and wanted to shuck it in as many ways as I chose as often as I chose. However, I couldn't be bothered to give a second glance to an older man (that would have been a man in his mid 30s early 40s) or return a smile with sincerity for that matter. Now I'm the older man and I'm receiving that very same treatment. Ah the evolution that continues to be the same. 

I already mentioned that I’m wiser now, but in other ways I don’t really feel that much different from my 20 something self who moved to NYC in the late 90s. Sure, there are some aches and pains that weren’t present then. There are some lines that I wish time hadn’t left across my face. But even those elements of aging aren’t bad enough to make me feel old. I still love New York City and the energy that comes with it and that 20 something still lives inside me. There are traces of him in my youthful yet appropriate for my age clothing choices. There are traces of him in the nail polish that I wear on the index finger of my left hand. There are even traces of him in the reflection I see staring back at me in the mirror. I am older though and in a city thriving with youth — a city where young gay men are now even freer to express themselves and live life on their own terms than when I got here — all it takes is a rebuff from one 20 something to make me feel like an aging parent that can’t be carted off to Shady Pines fast enough.

Cue wallowing in loneliness and depression. You see, when things like that happen to me, my brain convinces me that no one wants me, that I’m going to be alone for the rest of my life, that I should stop trying, that my time has past. But on this day, without warning, my iTunes playlist (on shuffle) started to play “Man in Motion” from St. Elmo’s Fire. First I started smiling and then I started to laugh. This was one of those moments where the universe gave me exactly what I needed and I am so thankful I was aware enough to hear it.

My mood shifted. Sure I’m getting older. Thank goodness. That means I’m not dead. I have to deal with aging in Gayville just like every gay man before and after me. As I mentioned above, I don’t even want the 20 something so why does he matter? What matters is that I can’t turn his head anymore. Or the head of any age man who is not interested in me. (#GayManProblems!) OK! So what! Here’s where I have to make a choice and the choice is clear: piquing someone’s interest, while exciting, isn’t really what matters most to me. Sure, I want to be found desirable (don’t we all?), but ultimately my What Matters Most list includes: being happy, being healthy, being financially stable, having good friends, and living my life as contentedly and openly as possible in the greatest city in the world.

In the song “Man in Motion,” John Parr sings, “Just once in his life a man has his time, and my time is now.” I’m here, I’m queer, and really, I’m sexier as a 40 something than I’ve ever been at any other age in my life. He also sings about new horizons, eagles flying high, climbing mountains, and crossing a wild sea. It’s a journey. Life is a journey. Getting older means I’m still on my journey and there’s so much more to it than turning the head of a 20 something. The fire burning in me might not be St. Elmo's, but there is a fire. It's the desire to live my life without regret and without wondering what could have been. There is no what could have been. There is only what was and what is. There's more sunshine to feel, more flowers to smell, more music to hear, more art to collect, more food to eat, more wine to drink, more laughter to laugh, more love to give and accept. And for that matter...more men to see. Maybe if I take a second look those shadows are actually eagles instead of buzzards. 

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