Sunday, December 29, 2013

On Resolutions

I'm sure this surprises exactly zero people, but I don't do resolutions. For one, the whole thing feels like the trite way of doing things you should do all the time, anyway. It's kind of like how people only talk about how thankful they are at Thanksgiving, or only go out of their way to show someone they love them on Valentine's Day.  I get that turning over  a new year makes for a convenient starting point, but why put all the pressure on yourself starting the day after you stayed up late and nearly drank yourself to oblivion? And if you don't keep to the resolutions, then what? Does that make you a failure? Weak? It seems like a lot of setting up to fail to me.

Usually when someone discusses their official New Year's Resolutions, they are full of things to do, to change, ways to cut out all badness in their lives. I do a lot of bad things in my life, and I'm not proud.  But if you told me I had to give it all up or change it all on Wednesday? Game over, man. Sometimes the selfish, unhealthy, dangerous, or lazy treats are what give us the power to spend more effort on other good things, allowing us to be more giving, healthy, dependable, or active.  I'm often curious how people have let their lives get so out of hand that every single thing has to be changed.  Isn't it okay if we stay the same sometimes? I am always up for change, but it should be more organic.  Lose weight, save money, quit smoking, start volunteering whenever you're ready to do so, not when an arbitrary date changes.  Changes made organically always seem to be more fulfilling, and usually, more successful

So rather than spend a lot of thought on what I'm going to do and change, I try to be more open minded and self-forgiving.  I'm learning to cook more, so that I can have better food, cheaper, and at home.  I'd like to stop being so sedentary.  I have plenty of opportunity between ice skating, Wii, walking Toby, or even (gasp!) the gym in my building. I should take advantage of these more often.  I'm trying to keep a more positive outlook on things, and realize that just because people make different choices than I do, neither of us are wrong.  I want to experience more of the world around me, so I'm venturing out to see places I've never been, and be more open to trying something brand new.

These things do not require a great change of my personality, or even a whole lot of effort, to be honest.  I do have some actual goals for 2014, but they involve financial stuff which is even boring to me. I would like to run a few races just to see if it's as much fun as it looks. Still, if these things do not come to pass, I'll be okay with it.  To be honest, 2013 was a pretty kick ass year, so if my life is the same for 2014, yay for me!

 I hope you all have some fun and happiness planned for 2014, and take it easy on yourself if you don't make it to January 3 with your resolutions.  You're still awesome and the world is better because you're in it!

Monday, December 16, 2013

On The Holiday Spirit

So I'm usually very much into the holiday season and spirit and all that stuff, but this year...I'm just not feeling it. This is not to say that I feel all "humbug" about it, but i'm not really overtaken by it this year.  The very quick season certainly doesn't help things.  I mean, I was just visiting friends and family in Alabama, and it's already a week until Christmas? Geez!

Another big thing is that my house has been such a disaster area lately that I haven't been able to get it clean enough to actually make space for a tree, or dust a surface for a fun candle. That I occasionally have a clean plate to eat off of and clean underwear every day is pretty much as much as I can get accomplished.  I really do like my place, and when it's all nice and clean it's a very comfortable place.  The problem is that I am lazy, so its rarely clean.

But I think the biggest thing about it all is that I'm just not that interested this year.  This is the second time in my life I haven't been in the mood to celebrate, but the first time was right after my long term relationship ended.  I was in a mood for a bit, as you might guess.  This year, though, there's nothing wrong; I'm in no mood.  I have listened to all the seasonal music I love like every year, and enjoyed it.  Chills from The Cambridge Singers' version of Silent Night, getting funky with Cee-Lo, tapping my toes to The Puppini Sisters, I've heard it and had a good time. No worries, just not all swept away as I have been in other years.

And I think 'm kind of enjoying it. As an adult, I get to choose what is worth my time and energies.  I've done SO MUCH throughout my life because of other people's expectations, and it's nice to make the choice for myself.  I've seen friends post so much about how stressed they are by it all, and how there's not enough time, and how spending so much time with their families sucks, and how they hate how expensive it is, and on and on.  It feels nice to not be stressed. The demands on my time are the same now as they usually are. Plenty of friends have had parties, which I fully support, so I get to see everyone, and some lovely decorations. I got to spend a great long weekend with my family at Thanksgiving, so I'm not missing them too much yet. I'm also extraordinarily fortunate to have the kind of family one enjoys spending time with. I'm opting out of gifts for financial reasons this year, so once again, no pressure.

This is not to say that I'm all heartless here.  I just saw the Apple commercial with the family Christmas video and teared up a little.  This week I'll go see the all the German finery downtown and drink some mulled wine from a festive collector's mug. Later, I'll go see the lights at the zoo, maybe check out the big tree at Macy's State Street.  There will be a viewing of It's A Wonderful Life, and there will be sausage balls.

I can say with no hesitation that checking out for Christmas this year has been a delight.  Maybe next year I'll get excited about it all again, and actually put up my ornaments from Holiday World and Alaska.  Or maybe I won't.  And that's okay too.

Friday, October 11, 2013

On Coming Out

So today is National Coming Out day.  Since I came out almost 20 years ago, there's not much of a big announcement to make on days like today.  I do still feel that act of coming out is critical, though, and not just for the gay community at large but for the individual themselves.  I have known many gay people who felt that they could not be honest with friends, family, or co-workers, and I could see the negative impacts on their lives because of it.  Certainly, no one should feel that they have to come out if they are in a dependent situation where a negative response would affect their ability to have a place to live or food to eat.  I do think there are a lot of people out there who are independent who still hide themselves from people in their lives because they feel that this one fact would damage their relationships.
What I found in my own coming out process was that these fears were completely baseless, and a little insulting to those around me.  When I came out, I discovered that my friends like me for who I was, not who I was attracted to.  My family loves me because I am their son, brother, cousin.  My co-workers respect me because I am smart, friendly, and good at my job.  That this one tiny thing would be such a turn off for them that they could never speak to me or be around me again was selling these people short.  I do recognize that I am incredibly fortunate to have such an awesome family and group of friends and co-workers, and that not everybody does.  Still though, there were many reactions I could never have predicted from people I knew very well.
When I came out to someone for the first time (which was also the first time I had spoken the words "I'm gay" aloud) I was 19 and in college.  I was talking to a friend from high school who went to college in a different state than me.  She was and remains a fairly conservative person, and I was scared to say it for fear of losing her friendship, but I found myself letting it all out.  I could not have asked for a better response from her.  Thankfully it wasn't the "yeah I know"that I would receive later on in life, but instead she said that she had no idea, thanked me for telling her, and told me that no matter what we were friends and she loved me.  That was my first experience in a long line of complete acceptance.   People who know me, know the things that make me who I am and appreciate or dislike me because of the whole package, which is how it should be.  Shortly after talking to my high school friend, I became more open with my college friends, and yes, lost some of them over the news. What a relief it was to be able to be myself finally and be able to say and acknowledge what I was feeling. Unless I was around my family of course...
The first family member I told was my father.  Well I didn't so much "tell" him as I wrote a letter all about it and left it in my room conspicuously so that it would be found.  And he did find it and wrote one back to me that I still have.  In the letter he told me that it was okay, that I was his son and that he loved me no matter what.  He also gave me some sage advice that was very very true.  He told me that I should never let my sexuality be the first thing someone knows about me because for a lot of people, that would be all they'd ever know.  I remember that well and I have kept to it, and I have found, as you do with parental advice, that he was right.  To say that my father has been supportive would be an understatement.  When Jeff and I had our commitment ceremony, it was at his house, in the backyard. He has also been one to speak up on rights for all minorities and even if he didn't have a gay son, he would be one of the most vocal supporters of gay rights I know.
Later on I told my mother.  At the time, our relationship was strained to say the least.  I honestly thought that if she reacted badly, I could distance myself from her enough that it wouldn't be as upsetting.  The good news is that this was all for nothing.  My mom and I cried as we talked about it, but the thing I remember most about her own journey was when she told me "at first I prayed for it to not be true, but then I started praying for God to help me accept it."  And accept it she has, and then some.  She is never shy to speak up on my behalf when people make bigoted comments or speak as though there's something wrong with someone for being gay.  Once again, my fear was misplaced.
When Jeff and I got married, my parents paid for all the food, decorations, drinks.  My family was there to share tears of joy with us, laugh with us, and share every minute of our special day.  My 77 year old southern baptist grandmother was there and afterward came up to me and said "all I care about is that you're happy, and I can tell you are." I will always be incredibly grateful for the love my family continually shows for me and each other.
On a MUCH less saccharine level is the story of when I told my sisters. The three of us have always been very close as siblings and never more so than when I was in college.  We had dinner once a week at their apartment, spent a lot of time together having fun.  I was pretty nervous when at dinner one week I sat them down to talk to them.  When I told them I am gay, they responded with "...and?" At first I figured my parents must have told them, but no, they were smart enough to figure it out on their own.  They were afraid I had something serious to tell them, but no, just that.  And they totally knew, and didn't care, and then proceeded to make fun of me for even worrying about it in the first place :)
Coming out is a never ending journey.  Mine continues to this day as I meet new people at work, or as friends of friends, or whatever.  I didn't stay in the closet long, but once I came out I was finally able to be my real self, and not worry about someone finding out my secret.  I have a lot of friends who consider me their token gay friend, a mantle I proudly and happily take.  Coming out is not about being brave, or being political, but about being yourself.  For all the world to see.

Friday, October 4, 2013

On Being Affected by Music

Today I was working and listening to my iPod, when the random shuffle picked some of the saddest/most beautiful songs I know.  As I sat there with tears in my eyes, I was struck at how different everyone is when it comes to music.  Many of my friends and loved ones are like me.  A great song with a poignant lyric and soaring melody are enough to bring out the emotions and the goose bumps.  Then again, I have a lot of friends who enjoy music, but have no specific emotional attachment to what they hear.  For them, music is something for the background; something to drown out the road noise in the car. 
As stated, I can get any emotion to the surface with the right song.  Feeling mad and need to vent it? Ani or Henry Rollins will do quite nicely. Sad and want some catharsis? Show tunes, Girlyman, some more Ani, please.  R.E.M, the B-52's, heck, most of the early 90's alternative stuff always puts me in a good mood. 
With show tunes, there's a story behind the song that I relate to.  Funny or sad, I enjoy the context of the song, and that helps prime the emotional response.  Take "I Am the One (reprise)" from Next to Normal, for example.  The song is a quick reprise and hearing it in a vacuum wouldn't really pack much of a punch.  Inside the story of the show, however, that song gets me every time.  Last week, when we saw the show at Drury Lane, I was SOBBING during this part.  Audibly.  And I fully understand why, since the main character there is the one I most identify with in the show and his...wait, I think I'll save that convo for later. 
Anyway, show tunes.  There have been a number of times I was on stage and had to push through some very emotional moments without cracking.  The main thing that helps is that we'd rehearsed the moment over and over so the emotional response was dulled a bit.  In some shows, like Cabaret, I had to get so completely inside my character (the evil Nazi) for the final lineup that Lee was basically not there to start crying at it all. 
But it's not all about being mopey.  "Stand" by R.E.M. is guaranteed to make me happy.  It's been that way for 23 years and will stay that way for the rest of my life. There are a bunch of songs that come around that remind me of really great times with my family, high school, college, and beyond.  Having that immediate reaction to songs is one of my favorite uncontrollable characteristics. 
This does not mean that I don't get you if you don't relate the same way.  I have a great understanding of how different we all are, and I get that not everyone feels the same way.  I don't feel that way about a lot of things people get all squishy about.  But if you know me and you like me, I'm gonna force you to be quiet and really listen to a song before it's all said and done. And I hope you're okay with that.  Who knows, maybe in time, those non-musical people will be singing the harmonies along with me with a little tear in their eye. 

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

On Saying Goodbye

And I still can't seem to find/
A simple way to say goodbye.
I'm not the kind for regret.
Was there something I wanted to forget?”

-       Say Goodbye, by Girlyman

I’ve never been very good at saying goodbye.   And I’m not just talking about the big, meaningful goodbyes (though I’ll get to those in just a second), but also the small everyday goodbyes.  Seriously, have you ever tried to get off the phone with me? Or tried to leave a party when I was there? If you have, you know. The unforgiving timetable of the CTA is the single reason I leave Tait’s in less than 20 minutes from declaration of intent to actually walking out the door. 

So why the difficulty?  With the small ones I think it’s that there’s always so much more I want to say.  I know, you’re all shocked that I would want to talk some more. Still, those little getting off the phone moments always seem to make me remember every single thing that I had filed away to mention to whoever I am talking to, no matter how long we’ve just spoken.  Seeing others leave a social gathering is sad to me because it means it’s just that much closer to being over.  Hey, why not prolong it for a few minutes by drawing the leaver into a conversation? This is my general thinking. 

Time for the obvious: I am a social person.  I don’t like being alone all that much.  I can do it, and I can find the disconnection beneficial sometimes, but that is not my usual state.  I prefer to be around people, connecting with them, learning from them, and hopefully sharing something new with them. You may already know this, but saying goodbye is the end of this type of interaction on the small scale. And so I avoid it if possible.

Big goodbyes are different.  I had a series of big goodbyes when I moved to Chicago two years ago. Some of those were fun filled moments with laughter and memories that make me smile still.  Others were a little uncomfortable as neither of us knew what to say, but knew that it was kind of a big moment and it need to be observed.  And then there were the sad ones, where the enormity of not having this person in your life everyday clutches at your heart and won’t let go.  Interestingly, I had 3 of that last kind, but they were all incredibly different in the expression of the sadness.  One was a conversation perched on the wall down the street from Rojo that seemed to go on for hours, where sentences were interrupted by sobs the whole time.  Another was actually wordless, but all that we were both thinking and feeling were expressed in a hug.  That one surprised me.  I didn’t think I would get so emotional saying goodbye to that particular person.  But once we were there, I didn’t want to let go. Didn’t want to let go of the smiles, tears, memories, history, not any of it.  The third big goodbye that really got me was one where nobody cried but the sad words of goodbye carried the same weight as if it were a funeral. 

With the big goodbyes, there is talk of texting, facebook chat, future visits, and all of that.  And frequently these things happen, even if they don’t happen as often as you’d like.  Some people who were closer than close simply fade away without the proximity.  The ones who are the most important are now gone, and it is hard to know what to do about it.  Things change, people move on, and it is never the same.  Accepting that is hard and hurts so much, but we can’t talk of it because we don’t want to be selfish. 

When saying goodbye is hardest for me is when I feel like there’s more left for the relationship that the change in circumstances will prevent from coming to fruition. That somehow, if only we’d have met years earlier we might have been able to see the friendship all the way to its natural conclusion.  Instead, we are faced with that great void of not knowing what could have been.  I’ve felt this way about boyfriends, casual acquaintances, best friends, family members, all of it.  And that’s where I am today. 

A very good friend is moving to Texas this week.  I’m excited for him because his moving is born of the same need to live his life that made me move to Chicago a couple of years ago.  No matter how much happiness you have around you, sometimes, there’s something else going on inside that requires leaving.  I get that 100%.  But I’m also sad because we’ve only started getting close in the last few months, and now he’ll be gone.  I have had some of the best times of my life in Chicago so far with him, from watching the Drag Race Tour at Roscoe’s to having the best worst trip to Six Flags ever.  But more than that, I will miss talking to him.  And I know, we can still talk, but not in person, not as often.  My friend has as much to say as I do, loves the art of conversation as much as I do. Our conversations are tangent filled, revelatory, funny, poignant, and more than anything…comfortable.  I will miss the ease we’ve had in talking about anything and everything over the last few months.  That kind of thing doesn’t translate to texts or even phone conversations.  So I’ll miss the conversation, the good times, and most of all the friendship that could have been. 

Safe travels, Michael. Chicago will miss you.

Friday, September 13, 2013

On Trying to See it All

A common question I’m asked is “How do you like Chicago?” I’ve lived here over two years now and still everyone asks.  I love the question, because I’m certain I light up as I start extolling the virtues of my new hometown.  One of the things I routinely point to is that there’s so much to do.  How many times in Birmingham were there nights where there was not much to do that interested me, so it’d be the same old routine?  Don’t get me wrong, the routine usually involved a lot of beer at Rojo with fabulous people, which ain’t bad.  But frequently I was looking for something…else to do.

Cut to Chicago, where there is a lot happening.  No, I mean a LOT. As in, just perusing the usual sites and keeping up with the very basic entertainment info, I find there is so so SO much more happening at any given time than I could possibly do.  This phenomenon has reached critical mass.  Just to fill you in, here is what’s going on in the next month (that I know about, I’m sure there’s a lot more out there) that I’d like to experience:

Theatre: (Note that these are all either local professional productions or first company tours.  For attempted brevity I did not include the community productions.) 9 to 5, Book of Mormon (I have seen it twice but I want one more…), In the Heights, Mythical Proportions, Next to Normal, Evita, Once, The Normal Heart

Concerts: Shovels and Rope (Tickets purchased!), Avett Brothers, The XX, Radical Face, RiotFest (Too many bands to list.  But it is a KILLER lineup.), Debbie Reynolds (Yes, THAT Debbie Reynolds), The Wood Brothers, Suzanne Vega, Mandy Patinkin and Patti LuPone, Franz Ferdinand, Audra McDonald

Movies: Parkland, Don Jon, Gravity, Kill Your Darlings, Carrie, 12 Years a Slave, plus pretty much every big summer movie except Iron Man 3 (I saw that one on the cruise).


This causes me a lot of stress for many reasons.  For starters, a lot of this happens at the same time, so choices have to be made, and schedules have to be coordinated, Tetris style.  Sorry XX, but I gotta see Shovels and Rope right now.  In case you were wondering, theatre productions in Chicago do not run that long.  I would have thought since it’s such a big city and there are so many people, the shows would run longer than 2 or 3 weeks.  Ha HA! Nope, not even, so trying to find time to catch these incredibly limited engagements becomes a task. 

Also, I do have a job and a dog and a house that should be cleaned more often and a myriad of other grown up responsibilities, so time becomes a more valuable commodity.  Also, I am apparently old.  I can handle one or two things during the week and a few on the weekend. But ya know? Most Tuesday nights I just wanna go home, walk Toby and veg out.  I have friends who are go go go all week and weekend and I just don’t have it in me to be that active every day of my life.

Then there’s the financial factor.  The cheapest thing on this list is one of the movies, and I’m kind of picky about theaters I frequent, so I go to the nicest one in the city. The crappy ones cost $15 too, so why waste my time anywhere but the best? There are no $1 movie theaters anywhere in the area, which, WTF is THAT about? So I go to the one with the loan desk by the box office. I am signed up for all the cheap ticket sites, and I know the rush policies for the bigger shows, but that involves me killing a couple of hours waiting in line, which, thanks to the previous point is not a great idea. I’m certainly not on the brink of financial collapse, but the approximately $2000 it would cost to do all the above in the next month just isn’t in my budget.  Sigh.

And finally, we haven’t even discussed the eleventy billion other things I enjoy spending my free time doing.  I mean, it’s football season, I like to go out to eat, the weather is perfect for a bike ride, and I need to get off my butt and lose 40 pounds. All of these are ways I can spend my time blissfully for hours at a time.

So I have to pick and choose carefully, which sometimes leads to analysis paralysis and I end up doing nothing, missing it all.  It helps to have different groups of friends who want to do different things.  That way I can spread the love and time spent with different people, and maybe get to see some of this cool stuff while I’m at it.  There is a feeling when you’re new to a city that you MUST do it all, but after a while, that changes.  I look forward to the day when I can be not stressed / bummed about missing all the really amazing stuff going on around me.  It starts this weekend, as I say to heck with all the Chicago stuff.  I’m going to Cedar Point.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

On Girlyman

If you've met me or spoken to me in the last 8 years, you've undoubtedly heard me speak of my favorite band, Girlyman.  I may have made you a CD, directed you to their website or videos online, invited you to a show, or even sang some of their songs for you.  The sound that these three (and later four) people made together was never short of breathtaking.  I was initially drawn to their amazing vocal harmonies and varied instrumentation, but before long I was also moved by their lyrics.  These songs spoke to me in ways I had never experienced before.  Well, today after a year and a half of a hiatus, the band has officially announced the end.  I am so saddened by this news, though not surprised, as I have followed the other projects each of them have been working on and there has been a definite feeling of the end of an era.
To say that Girlyman changed my life is no hyperbole.  I found their music during a good time in my life, but life happens and I went through some tough times.  Sad times.  Times when I lost myself and the man I know myself to be. This group's music helped me explain things that I was unable to put in words and get through these times with a deeper understanding of myself and my life.
During a particularly tough time, I was at a loss for how to feel happy about much of anything.  I went with some very special people to see a Girlyman show on my birthday in 2009, just as they were getting ready to record and release the Everything's Easy album.  During the show they played several of the new songs, some I was aware of and some they had never played publicly before including a song that was like a mirror reflection of what was in my head and my heart.
I am an emotional person under any circumstance, but on this night, I experienced one of the few genuinely cathartic moments of my life.  Wherever You Keep speaks to how it's hard to be around others who may bring you down, and to support them and yourself during difficult times.  When I returned home after the show, this particular song stuck in my head.  I played it over and over when I finally got the CD because it summed up how I was feeling in life. I played the song for my therapist and together we discussed why this song spoke to me and it helped me make a few breakthroughs to get back to myself again.
This is just one example of how much I have been given by finding the music of Girlyman.  The song This is Me is my personal theme; that I can only be who I am and show who I am to everyone.  Somewhere Different Now reminds me that we are all in transition and that's natural.  Everything's Easy is about gratitude and comfort in simple things. I could go on and on here about every song and what it means to me.  Hell, I still might dedicate more posts to talking about the music that has affected me so much.
But it's not all been a huge emo mopey time.  Their live shows were some of the funniest times ever, as the improvised tuning songs (with harmonies!) never failed to amuse, and the banter was better than any stand up set I've ever seen.  The cover songs were clever and fun.  How many other folk/acoustic bands could possibly segue so effortlessly into Christina Aguilera in the middle of a song about unrequited lesbian love?  Voting for which song you wanted to hear (the backwards version of Wild Thing always got my vote) and stomping, clapping and clinking beer mugs to Through to Sunrise were traditions at every show.  And the times I had experiencing the music with friends just cannot be overstated.  So many in jokes (we got a complicated parking!) and good times that were shared in bars across the south and even a few here in Chicago will stay with me forever.
It is a sad time to have final confirmation that this music that I loved so much, so thoroughly, is at an end.  But I can still be so thankful that it existed at all, and that I got to be a part of it.

"A little star of brilliant hope in skies of black we are" - From This is Me.