Wednesday, April 25, 2018

The Armor of Expression


Self-examination is necessary, especially when related to your behavior. It’s the first step toward healing, toward change. I’ve been doing quite a bit of it lately. I’ve listed some of my most powerfully persistent behavioral issues below:

  • I’ve always cared what people think about me. It’s a charming trait I inherited from my father. No matter how often I read the adage, “What others think about you is none of your business,” I can’t seem to not care.
  • I’ve always had to be put together. You know, hair, clothes, shoes, etc. As consummately composed as possible. Even if I’m going for the disheveled look, it’s perfectly fashioned dishevelment.
  • I’ve always striven to be in control. I might be the perfect embodiment of a control freak. Sometimes it takes a lot of deep breathing to hold myself together and maintain the constriction that control demands.
  • I’ve never really been able to laugh at myself. An exception to this might be if I were in the presence of people I absolutely trusted. Even then it’s difficult for me and can often takes days after the laughable experience has happened. That’s probably because in my youth other people did the laughing…at me. I was a target of mockery, ridicule.
  • I’ve always been my harshest critic. My mistakes are not learning experiences. To me, they are failures. And I’m constantly afraid to fail.

Ugh…my issues exhaust me.

As a child growing up in a conservative, Christian family in a small, conservative, Southern town, I couldn’t present myself in any way other than my idea of perfection. Perfection was my armor. Is my armor. But as you know, perfection doesn’t exist, and it only takes one person to knock you down when you’re feeling good about yourself.

When I was in high school, I had a pair of dress shoes that were trending, totally of the moment. They were concrete gray, sleek and long with a toe that was more pointed than round. They laced up with color coordinated gray laces. They had a brown dress shoe heel. I loved those shoes. But I often got mocked while wearing them.

I remember specifically an incident that happened on a bus ride to school one morning. A student who was a grade, maybe two, behind me in high school called them nurses shoes. They didn’t look like nurses shoes. Nothing about them said “nurse.” But he was a bully and making fun of my shoes was his way of belittling me.

I remember pretending the shoes had been purchased at Macy’s on some mythical trip to New York City. Buying them in New York City sounded more exciting. It was out of the norm. And somehow I thought this fabrication would change his opinion of the shoes…and me. In my mind, it provided a reason for why I would have shoes that were different from every other male, even though they were purchased in the same mall where any of my classmates could have picked up his own pair. The lie I told did nothing to change his opinion.

He took away the joy I felt from wearing those shoes. I let him. I was intimidated—paranoid—every time I wore them after that.

Thirty years later, I connect that experience to my present. I’m broadening the way I express myself every day. I’m very gender expansive, which includes wearing makeup, statement jewelry, and fabulous high heels. And there’s always a little part of me that’s on guard waiting for the bully to mock my shoes and in essence...me.

No matter how much I learn about myself—no matter how much I grow and change—my past affects me every day.

When your early life is lived constantly on guard, that guard remains somewhat raised for the rest of your life. It doesn't matter how strong and courageous and brave you become. It's there. I have to fight my inner demons every day to be proud of who I am, to be brave, to not be ashamed.

I continue to express myself as perfectly as I can because it’s a way for me to maintain control and to protect myself. I was the sissy, the faggot, the queer, the butt of the joke. As a boy in that small, conservative, Southern town, I learned that having a sense of style did nothing but draw attention to me--negative attention. And style wasn’t something for which to be praised. At least not by my peers.

Sometimes the elements we use for expression, e.g. clothes, makeup, shoes, jewelry, etc., are more than mere expressions. Sometimes they are armor.

I was recently struck by the lyric “I’m stronger than I feel” from the Miranda Lambert song “Keeper of the Flame.” I paused to wonder: Am I?

That high school bully should have no power over me now. I mean it’s not like he can make me feel shame for the shoes I like to wear. But I kind of hate him. And honestly, I kind of hate myself for being unable to truly feel the freedom I should feel. If you don’t endure something like that you have no idea what it’s like. You don’t know the shame. You don’t know the fear. You don’t feel the residual effects.

A few days ago I watched the extras on the DVD of the film The Shape Of Water. In one of those extrasthe film’s director, Guillermo del Toro, said that he finds three things terrifying: order, certainty, and perfection. He goes on to say that the film’s “Richard Strickland" character represents all three of these things. What struck me about this commentary--as if his words had actually reached from my television screen and slapped me--was that del Toro said of those three things, “They are completely impossible. And they are the torture of our life. ‘Cause no human can be any of them.”

And here I am seeking order and perfection with a bit a certainty thrown in for spice--rigidly trying to hold myself together. Am I merely torturing myself? Let me change that from a question to a statement. I’m torturing myself.

There has to be a change. I know that. I also know it’s not going to be easy. I don’t even know how to begin. But that’s all part of life, right? You figure it out as you go. At least I’m aware, and that’s a step in the right direction. So, I’ve challenged myself to the following:

  • Accept that I exist in a world where perfection does not. Therefore, I will never be perfect.
  • Believe that mistakes are not failures and give myself the freedom to make them.
  • Understand that laughing at myself frees me from the weight of my blunders.
  • Trust in myself—I am stronger than I feel.
  • Allow vulnerability to pierce my armor.
  • Stop being my own bully.

My journey continues...

Monday, April 2, 2018

Jesus Christ Superstar

I am broken. This story. That event. It fucks with me to this day. Jesus! 

My mind is adrift. My emotions are swirling, untethered. It’s hard to focus on what I feel.

Being a man who is gay, everything to do with religion affects me. But this story, this story, gets me every time. When John legend as Jesus—while hanging on the cross at the end of Jesus Christ Superstar—said, “It is finished“ I began to weep. And through my tears I looked up at my ceiling and I  asked, Why? 

Why what? Does Jesus even hear me. Who cares? Why does it matter?

“I don’t know why he moves me. He’s a man. He’s just a man.”

I believe that Jesus existed. I can’t help myself. I grew up with it. I continually try to disbelieve it, but I can’t seem to let it go. Even if I really don’t have faith, I just can’t seem to let it go. 

It’s hard for me to describe the feelings that washed over me as I watched Jesus’  story, as told in JCS unfold. It wasn’t my first time to see this musical, and I’ve heard this story all of my life. But as I mentioned in the opening sentence, I am broken. I was broken before tonight’s telling of the story started. So I’m looking up at my ceiling asking, Why. Expecting what...Jesus to answer? 

I’m supposed to believe Jesus died for my sins, but as a gay man the Bible says I won’t see the kingdom of Heaven anyway so what’s the point? And yet I wept. Like Jesus wept, I wept. What was he weeping about? What was I weeping about? It’s just a story. Why does it affect me so? And why is it so enduring?

Beyond even my personal life experience with Jesus I was struck by the similarities of society today and the depiction of society then. We find a charismatic leader and we fall in love. We listen, we follow. Then we change our minds, we betray. Then comes the remorse. But by then the damage is done. Doesn’t that sound like today? Celebrity is everywhere. Nothing is really different. Nothing has changed. We mock, we poke fun at, we point and laugh, we call things #Fake(News). The media shapes the story. And then there’s Twitter...thank you Twitter. 

We have no faith. Or the faith we have doesn’t last when tested. And we’re all tested. But we seem to move on to the next thing much more quickly. And we’ll betray he who we once followed just as quickly. Look at the Trump supporters who have already turned on him. (Of course this could apply to any leader in politics or faith). We protect ourselves. Isn’t that what Peter was doing when he betrayed Jesus three times in one night? Yes. He was protecting himself. 

I myself don’t always have the courage of my convictions. I hate confrontation. And I avoid standing up for what I believe more often than not. I feel like a coward pretending to be brave, courageous.

Jesus, in his story, is courageous. Even as he asks his father, God, to take him now before he changes his mind. He goes. He submits. He faces. He dies. 

Why does his story, his death, continue to affect me so? And why does his story, his death, continue the divide our country? 

If Jesus was indeed a superstar, his story is one that alternately uplifts and disheartens. 

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Words To Yelp At: A Review

As soon as I read the words I felt the flush of heat, and I knew it had colored more than my cheeks. I knew my entire face had gone red. I was embarrassed. I was angry.

I don’t remember the circumstances surrounding the encounter between me and the customer who decided to air her dissatisfaction with it by personally attacking me on Yelp.

The truth is: I have been condescending. And I’m very aware that I can possess, at times, a tone that isn’t always the most cheerful. I own that. But I’ve also been the most helpful man in the room, the man who goes out of his way to get the customer what he wants, the man who has ‘em laughing as they walk out the door.

I’m human. I make mistakes. I have bad days. Don’t we all? But to attack someone, citing his birth defect, in the first line of a Yelp review is nothing short of vicious…and a little Trumpian.

For the record, I don’t hate myself, and I’m not miserable.

Customer service is not the easiest of industries from which to earn a living. People can be difficult. I know. I have been one of those people. Regardless of what transpired between this customer and me, I don’t believe such a nasty personal attack was necessary.

But we live in the social media age of the Trump era. We hold in our hands access to a plethora of apps from which we can post a smear about someone we don’t like on whatever platform we choose. (I myself am guilty of harsh criticism on Twitter toward political views I oppose and toward anti-LGBTQ statements.) We can post a picture of a person who pissed us off and caption it in any degrading way we like. My favorite of the social media mores is the absurd behavior of videoing a fight, an attack, an accident, yet refusing to help the person in need because for some reason the footage is more important than the human being.

I sat quietly at work for most of the day after reading my first known Yelp review. Contemplating. Stewing. This customer did not so much critique my bad customer service as point out my crossed-eye, question my gender, and note my nail polish. She viciously attacked my personal attributes and choice of expression. Was she trying to belittle me or shame me?

The more I contemplated the more I wanted take it all off...right then: the eyeshadow, the mascara, the nail polish. I wanted it gone. I wanted to not be seen. I wanted to hide in the corner. That would be the easy way. That would be me succumbing to safer more comfort-filled tropes. But then I said: No! She doesn’t get to have that much power over me. Her comments were nasty, negative, and hateful. But what can I learn from this? How am I going to react? I am strong and courageous and her opinion of what she saw when she looked at me doesn’t matter. Our transaction may not have gone the way either one of us would’ve liked, and I can learn from that. But she has to look at herself in the mirror every day and know that she lashes out with hate.

Also for the record, I regret that my interaction with this customer was unpleasant enough to make her lash out at me. Clearly I affected her day. Maybe she felt better after posting the review. Who can know? I don’t think we often stop to realize how one human interaction can affect another. An interaction I had had prior to the one I had with her could have soured me for the next few hours...or the rest of the day. And in turn, the interactions she had post me could have impacted those experiences.

Actions may speak louder than words, but words have the power to leave a lasting sting. We should choose them wisely. Of course, we would have to care about their power and their lingering effects, and many of us just...don’t. 

Thursday, March 1, 2018

thoughts on Call Me By Your Name


SPOILER ALERT

“Elio, Elio, Elio…"

Sexual attraction: it can make your heart pound with excitement; it can fuck you up with cold-sweat agitation; and when you’ve got it really bad, it can do both to you at the same time. Sometimes the response from the one desire is as clear as the waters seen in the Northern Italy locales used in the film Call Me By Your Name. Other times it’s as murky as the mighty Mississippi right here in America.

I’ve seen CMBYN twice, yet I still can’t pinpoint the moment Elio fell for Oliver. Was it at first sight, at first hello, while Oliver slept off his jet lag? Was it at breakfast the next morning when Oliver fumbled the cracking of the egg shell for his soft-boiled egg? Beyond that minor question though, I struggle to remember the kind of passion—and the abandon—to which Elio and Oliver finally succumb. 

I delighted in watching the stolen glances, the brooding, Elio’s misery at wondering where Oliver was, what he was doing, who he was doing. I delighted because I recognized myself. I’ve done all of that before. I’ve waited around just for a glimpse. I’ve felt the electricity of the random brush of fingertips on naked skin by the only person I wished would touch me. God when was the last time I allowed myself to be touched like that? My delighting turned to heartache as I reflected on my current state of affairs: it’s been so long since I’ve allowed myself to be that vulnerable, that naked, with another person that even the muscle memory is hard to recall.

I’ve always been attracted to and turned on by men. Women don’t get my sexual blood flowing in the right direction. So, watching Oliver, whom I believe skewed more straight on the sexuality spectrum, fall for Elio, whom I believe skewed more gay, was a joyous experience for me…and a heartbreaking one. I believe Elio and Oliver fell in love with each other over the course of their six weeks together. I believe that those two men fell for each other as people regardless of gender. 

I’m not sure Oliver would ever have acted upon his same-sex attraction. Maybe in the back room of some seedy 1980s bar. But what part would fear have played in that moment? I believe he had more freedom from judgment being so far removed from the prying eyes of his family and the strictures of a close-minded America (especially in 1983). He was able to experience whatever he wanted in life while he was in Italy. I believe Elio, armed with the fearlessness of youth, was dauntless in his obsession for what he wanted…Oliver.

To be able to allow oneself to enjoy a person—embrace the attraction—regardless of that person’s gender requires a personal freedom the likes of which I cannot readily identify. I’m not wired to fall in love with the person regardless of gender or sexual identity. And even if it’s simply that Elio and Oliver were bisexual, I am, again, not wired that way.

I remember my first major crush. I was smitten with him for the entire summer in which we worked together. I feel like it was crush at first sight. He was nice to me. Always friendly. He had big green eyes and a beautiful smile. I liked both. His glasses didn’t really make him geeky or nerdy. They were just there. He was so handsome. I think I found him sexy but I struggle to define what sexy meant to me back then. My heart would flutter if he was in the dining hall when I arrived, or if he randomly stood next to me for dancer warm up. I had it bad but he wasn’t into me. 

My feelings didn’t go away just because he didn’t return them. I watched as he dated one boy then another that summer. I wondered what was wrong with me? Why wasn’t I good enough, handsome enough, funny enough, sexy enough? The same old pitfalls for anyone but especially for a gay one-year old who was still a virgin. I was a mess.

A miraculous thing happened at the end of that summer: he turned his attention toward me. I didn’t feel like sloppy seconds (or thirds in this case). I was happy…over the moon happy. Seven days and two sexual experiences. It was bliss. At least that’s how time now paints the picture in my memory.

When the summer ended we parted ways. I was devastated. Completely wrecked. There are two people who were with me during that summer who were also with me immediately after. They can attest to the moping, the long distance phone bills, the inability to hear their advice and move on. I was convinced that he would come around and join me in figuring out how we could make us work.

I was a fool.

I don’t regret what happened between us. I think ultimately it was an amazing experience for me. But I felt Elio’s heartbreak when Oliver left him on the platform at the train station. I felt it to the point that my own aching wound, healed by time and distance, began to throb. I can still see his car drive away. I can feel that heavy sadness. 

Elio and Oliver gave in to the desire they felt for one another knowing there was an expiration date. Was it truly “better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all?” Maybe…for their fleeting moment. And maybe so for mine too. 

I saw him nearly 20 years later. Still handsome. His eyes still large and green. His smile the one I remembered. His face had lost its youth but not in a bad way. I was embarrassed to stand in front of him. I felt all he could see was the boy who had obsessed over him those many years ago. And I felt like the boy who had obsessed. Ours was not exactly an Elio and Oliver love story—they regretted the wasted days of their summer together. Upon reflection, I realize that as my summer drew to an end it was probably that looming expiration date that allowed me our moment at all.

“Oliver, Oliver, Oliver…”

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Gunning For A Compromise: Questioning Guns & Society

I grew up in a house with guns in it. My dad is a hunter.

I remember as an adolescent: shooting a rifle, a shotgun, and a pistol at a stationary target, practicing to be the hunter I was never going to be. I remember the kick of the shotgun, the recoil of the pistol. I remember the fear. I remember the dislike. Even lying on the floor completely taken apart post cleaning, guns were not my thing.

I grew up in a small southern town in Kentucky. I remember the back windows of many a pickup truck parked in my high school parking lot covered by racks, hung with guns. It wasn’t odd. It was an everyday part of life. However, it never crossed my mind that anyone would take the rifle or shotgun out of their truck and enter the school with it, intent on killing any of us.

So here I am, nearly 30 years since I graduated and left that parking lot for the last time as a student, and school is no longer a safe place. Sure, there was always the chance a fight might break out. And bullying was an issue even then. Hell, getting your car keyed was even a possibility. Been there, lived that...dad paid the repair bill. But those situations are completely different than sitting in a classroom studying algebra one minute and dodging bullets the next. 

I have family members who work in the school system. I have family members who are currently students. Some of them live close enough to the recent Marshall County, Kentucky, school shooting that anxiety must be palpable. I doubt they are even aware of the anxiety it gives me from afar.

I’ve seen many discussions via Facebook and Twitter since the most recent mass shooting occurred in Parkland, Florida—the most recent in a long American line. One of the ideas bandied about is that stricter gun laws won’t work to stop the gun violence; that it is society that needs to change.

Okay, so let’s take all the onus off stricter gun laws and place it all on society. The question still remains: shouldn’t we try something

I keep thinking about how as a child my parents tried different things to get me to behave in a certain way e.g. stop throwing tantrums, stop talking back, clean my room, stop cheating at the board game Sorry!, etc. They took Sorry! away from me for a week once, and I was grounded FROM my bedroom due to its lack of tidiness on more than one occasion. I learned my lessons. But not without my parents' penalties instigating the change.

I realize the above situations are trivial compared to gun violence but they are examples of how we can change, how we can adapt to new or different situations. (We do all take our shoes off at the airport before going through security now.) Society is not going to change on its own. If all the previous mass shootings haven’t made us change then we have to try something else.

In order to change the way society behaves (for this piece: in respect to guns) maybe what’s causing the behavior needs to be modified. So how do we modify it? That question should kick off a conversation. Now is the time to talk about it.

I find myself more than ever conversing with people on the subject, always clear to state that I don’t know what the answer is but that something has to change. I hate the conflict that comes with our differing opinions, but I have found that I’m trying to listen and see their point of view, hoping in return that they are listening and seeing mine.

I keep seeing the argument that bans have worked in virtually every country that has chosen to ban guns. Okay. But here in America, we will be up against major push back from Second Amendment devotees and card-carrying supporters of the NRA before the word “ban” can even be heard by people sitting in the back row of a town hall meeting. But what if...? What if there was a ban on automatic and semi-automatic weapons that prevented civilians from purchasing them? Why would that be such a horrible idea? Of course, that question opens up the floor for debate about those already purchased AR-15’s (or any other gun like it), and plants my foot firmly in the sticky goo of criticism by those who don’t want to buy an AR-15 but want the right nonetheless. I don’t have an answer, just a lack of understanding as to why any civilian needs one.  

Reaching back into my southern roots as a former churchgoer I recall that a pastor is supposed to help his congregation stay on the straight and narrow, right? There are leaders and there are followers but there are followers who need to find their courage to lead. Our country is much divided right now—on more than this one issue. I don’t know what the compromise is. But there has to be one. Maybe honest conversations like the ones I’ve been having, where we are disagreeing, but not arguing, merely speaking civilly to each other, sharing our thoughts, ideas, and points-of-view, are the way to start. You may think I’m being naive and that’s your prerogative. But sometimes the simple answer is the right answer.

This situation is not black and white. It is the grayest of grays. The process will not be simple. But we have to be willing to meet each other halfway and listen to each other without the current, all too typically immediate deterioration into name-calling and finger-pointing. (Guilty.) It has to start with a conversation and with listening.

I still don’t like guns. They make me uncomfortable. But I don’t think I have the right to tell someone else whether or not guns should play a part in their life. I do believe, however, that semi-automatic and automatic weapons do not belong in mainstream society. Let’s talk about it.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Mad Dash To Terminal F

I wanted a glass of wine. That had been the plan all along: get through airport security, find my gate, buy a single serving bottle of Pinot Noir, enjoy.

That didn’t happen. It seems that LaGuardia Airport, unlike JFK, doesn’t have small kiosks near the gates that sell individual bottles of wine along with their sandwich boxes and protein bars. Maybe it has to do with international flights as opposed to domestic. Obviously, I don’t know. Maybe it’s a United Airlines thing. Maybe I just missed it. I convinced myself that as hot as it was in the waiting area, a bottle of wine would’ve probably put me to sleep. I changed my plan to having a glass in flight.

With an on-time departure from NYC to Chicago's O’Hare (connecting on to Paducah, KY), I was finally starting my vacation; my first since July 2017, and boy did I need a break from NYC. I don’t often enjoy the waiting or the traveling. I’m more of a hurry-up-and-get-there kind of person. But one can’t really hurry when he is at the mercy of the airline and the flight time. 

The flight was smooth and actually arrived early into Chicago. I was annoyed (surprise!) by one of the flight attendants so I didn’t bother with that glass of wine. 

Good ol’ Chicago, where winter weather in January threatens to derail my plans every time I travel through it during that month. And this particular day was no exception as the clouds discharged their wintery goodness gracefully and steadily onto the ground.  

I turned off airplane mode on my iPhone as soon as we landed and was immediately greeted by the text:

Your flight to Paducah is cancelled

Of course! I should have bothered to have that glass of wine. Hindsight's 20/20.

I didn’t so much process this information as feel my face heat up with anger…then contort with frustration and disappointment. The last thing I wanted was to be stuck in Chicago for a night (been there, done that, didn’t have a toothbrush or clean underwear). I had booked this particular flight on a Sunday evening so that I could wake up at my mom and dad’s house on Monday morning, starting the vacation without a travel day. If I was going to have to spend the night in Chicago then I would be on the same flight to Paducah on Monday that I would have been originally been on had I departed from NYC on Monday as I had initially planned. However, the best laid plans are out of our control when Mother Nature decides to get involved. Don’t be fooled. I’m not that zen.

I could see from my updated electronic boarding pass that I had already been rebooked on the next flight into Paducah, which was scheduled for departure the next day after 2pm. I went directly to Customer Service to see if there was an earlier flight. If I had to stay in Chicago, I at least wanted to get out of her as early as possible the next day. The customer service representative told me that the flight on which I had been rebooked was the first flight departing for Paducah the next day. Then he said something interesting. 

“We have a couple of flights to other locations tonight. Are either of them close to you?”

He mentioned a town in Missouri that I hadn’t heard of before and a town in Indiana. I knew the Indiana option was out of the question but when he turned his computer screen around so that I could see the destinations, my heart leapt in excitement. The Missouri town was Cape Girardeau. He didn’t know how to say it, or at least not the way I’d grown up saying it, so it didn't register until I saw the words.  I knew Cape Girardeau was close to where my parents lived. I called my mom immediately.

Mom: “Hi,” she said, her voice colored with disappointment .

Me: “How far is Cape Girardeau from your house?” I asked with no preamble.

Mom: “About an hour and 15 minutes,” she responded with no real change in her voice.

Me: “Can you pick me up there?”

Mom: “Yes.” The color now tinged with excitement.

Me: “I might be able to get on a flight tonight to Cape. I’ll call you back.”

The flight was already boarding and was scheduled for departure in 30 minutes. You know that joke book title: Fifty Yards To The Outhouse by Willy Makit and Betty Won’t? Well, my joke book title that night was Mad Dash To Terminal F written by Will Power and D. Termination.  

I ran. I ran like Rhoda Morgenstern running through the streets of New York City on her wedding day back in 1974 on an episode of the sitcom, Rhoda. I had a carryon bag in my right hand and I was holding my winter scarf in my left. I didn’t start out holding that scarf, but it’s so long, and kept getting tangled between my legs, that I had a vision of Carrie Bradshaw on the Sex and the City episode where Carrie slips on water that has dripped from a wet umbrella and goes splat! right in the middle of Dior in Paris. I couldn’t have that! Falling and embarrassing myself was not an option.

So, carry on bag filled with laptop and magazines in the right hand (praying the handle didn’t break ‘cause that shit was heavy) and scarf pulled across my body held tightly in the left, I flew past the people strolling along to their gates--or toward that glass of wine I so wanted. I was a vision leaving a gray and blue streak in my wake. 

I was running like my life depended on it. I’m in fairly good shape and yet still I was gasping. I made a right then a left then another right. I was looking for the escalator. Found it. Took it down. Ran past all the people letting themselves be glacially-paced along on the moving sidewalk. People looked over their shoulders as I approached. Peripherally, I could see them watching me as I passed. I stepped on to the up the escalator on the other side of that long space, taking a moment to catch my breath before starting to climb its moving stairs because they weren't moving fast enough. To the right then the left then hugging the curve connecting me to another terminal. All the while looking at the overhead signage for Terminal F. Was I getting closer? It didn’t feel that way. 

I was a man on a mission; determined to make it from Terminal C to Terminal F with breath-catching time to spare. 

As I approached the gate the customer service representative had told me the flight to Cape Girardeau would be departing from I noticed it said Quincy, IL instead of Cape Girardeau, MO. Two lovely women confirmed that this was indeed the flight to Cape but that it made a small layover in Quincy first. I couldn’t have cared less about the layover. I was just glad to be in that line.

I could barely breath. Gasping for air, trying slow my heart rate, I called my mom and told her I was going to be on the flight, providing her with the pertinent flight information. I was euphoric even as I panted. I had made it to the gate with a moment (though not breath-catching) to spare before scanning my boarding pass. The gate attendant marveled that I was in “good shape” as she hadn't thought I would make it from C to F. I showed her, wheezing and coughing, trying to keep composed.

All of those who had been on the receiving end of my disgruntled-passenger-with-a-cancelled-flight texts received the following from me…

I ran from terminal C to terminal F. I made a flight that goes to Quincy IL then on to Cape Girardeau MO. Hope my luggage gets on board. I’m a sweaty mess but I’m on the plane.

…as I sat, sounding asthmatic, buckled-in to my seat on the airplane. Relief was beginning to calm my anxiety. We hadn't taken off but we were supposed to. I was still apprehensive.  Then I realized the plane I was sitting on was the same size as the one that flies to Paducah. The same size plane for the flight that had been cancelled because of "weather" before I had even had a chance to connect to it. The same size plane that was about to take off, in the same weather, toward Cape Girardeau. And it did take off and land and take off and land again. In the weather. I still don’t (and may never) understand why the plane heading toward Paducah couldn't fly in the weather, but I digress.

My gasping cum wheezing had turned into a cough. As my heart rate slowed back to normal my breath kept catching in the back of my throat. I felt as if I had dislodged something. I felt like an undiagnosed upper respiratory problem had chosen that moment to present itself. I could not stop coughing. I was seated on the aisle in the 11th out of 13 rows and we were just sitting on the tarmac while the plane was being de-iced. I had to have some water. I unbuckled the seat belt and made my way to the front of the plane.

“I am so sorry" I began, speaking to the flight attendant who eyes widened in shock at my standing in front of her, "but I just ran from terminal C to terminal F and I can’t seem to stop coughing. May I have some water?”

“Yes,” she answered, her eyes remaining wide with shock, her voice stern as she continued, “but you need to sit back down.”

I get it. The doors were already closed. Okay. But were weren’t moving. We didn’t even have an estimated time for departure at that moment. But I sat back down, assuaging her fear that (even though the plane was sitting still except for rocking of the high-pressure wash of the de-icing fluid), I wouldn’t be knocked down by the “turbulence.” She brought me a glass of water. The cough persisted.

There would be no beverage service other than water on the first leg of that flight due to its short duration. No wine for me. There would be no beverage service at all on the second leg of the even shorter flight. One should always take advantage of his opportunities for wine when he has them because as Cinderella says in the musical Into The Woods, "Opportunity is not a lengthy visitor." 

I finally made it to Cape Girardeau after midnight and found the welcoming arms and smiles of family members waiting for me, happy at my arrival...at last.

It took until Tuesday evening for my luggage to arrive. And it took until Wednesday evening for me to finally get that glass of wine I had so desired at the beginning of this scenario…before it turned into the adventure it became. 

The cough lingered for about three days.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

thoughts on THE SHAPE OF WATER

SPOILER ALERT

The Shape of Water is a visually beautiful film; the colors vibrant yet somehow muted--a watercolor painting pulsing with life. It’s a film that almost looks as if it could’ve been made in the period in which it's set--almost. 

The cast is superb. 

Sally Hawkins is amazing as Elisa, giving me so much without saying a word (!!!). Octavia Spencer is as strong as always, breathing life into Zelda and creating yet another woman I would like to have the pleasure of knowing.

I didn’t know much about the story other than what the preview dictated, which seemed to prepare me for a romance between a mute cleaning woman and the sea creature she discovers in the lab she cleans. But it’s so much more. 

I didn’t know about the military presence (maybe the lab should have been a tip off) with Michael Shannon its representative bully. His Richard Strickland is a rigid, unflinching man unable to waiver from his goals, unwilling to compromise; a harsh antidote to the romance and the humaneness at the story’s center. And don’t get me started on his desire for silence while fucking his wife (I know what you're doing) or his stagnant love for his favorite childhood candy. He’s intolerant; stuck in time; unwilling to change. (He's on the Straight & Narrow and god damn those curves.) #TimesUp

Nor did I know of the Russian storyline centered on Michael Stuhlbarg's (so good in Call Me By Your Name as well as here) Dr. Robert Hoffstetler. Dr. Hoffstetler not only has his own secret to protect but an urgent objective to protect the creature. With empathy and a desire to understand different, but not at the expense of life, he betrays those who could do him the most harm.

Then there’s Elisa's gay neighbor, Giles, so beautifully yet quietly played by Richard Jenkins. His change of heart toward the creature is in itself a representation of the acceptance and tolerance he himself desires. 

When Elisa points out to Giles her similarity to the creature, questioning if HE is a monster then isn’t SHE, I began to question humanity and who has the right to define what constitutes the connection we feel with another person. And if the creature has a soul is he less of a person because he’s not “human?” And isn’t Elisa actually just like him? She was found on the river bank. Washed up, perhaps? Spat out? Rejected? The scars on her neck the remnants of the gills that sealed as she adapted to her new surroundings?

The Shape of Water is fantasy, so the romance is plausible. It’s also magic because the romance blossoms into something more when Elisa has the courage to let herself be seen and then gives herself over to what she’s feeling. But to that mix I must add horror because there are people in the world, much like Mr. Strickland, who wish to humiliate, belittle, and destroy anything--or anyone--different from what they perceive as right; normal. He sees the hurting of the creature as his right since he sees the creature as nothing more than a thing.


Shouldn’t we all be so lucky to be able to look beyond what we see in front of us, like Elisa, and embrace the differences that might, just might, change our lives forever? 

The creature (imbued with more than enough courage, vulnerability, desire, and yes, humanity by Doug Jones) will show Elisa a whole new world. One I believe she was born to know. But without her vulnerability, acceptance, and tolerance that would never have happened.