Thursday, February 25, 2016

When I'm done, Your'e going to hate me...

This post is about the true meaning of Friends. Is a friend simply the person you spend the most time with? Is a friend someone you can go long times without seeing and pick up just like old times? Is a friend someone who changed your life once? 

I met this beautiful young man, Ryan, at a very important moment in my life.

I was in the middle of my internal struggle to decide what kind of a man I wanted to be. I was 20 and impressionable, opinionated, right, judgmental and everything you think a 21 year old is. I was also very self aware, though not terribly happy. I had spent the majority of my life looking in from the outside, being the weird kid and being raised by parents who said it was ok to not be like everyone else. But I was left with the question "who am i then, who should I be?" I also had trouble seeing why anyone should like me at all.

I took a course at Landmark Education called the IFLP, which stood for Introduction to the Forum Leadership Program. This course shattered most of my idea of self over it's six month duration. Several of the blogs I've posted happened during this pivotal moment in my life. It was during this program that I really faced for the first time my shortcomings as an adult, as a responsible human being and as a person whose word and integrity matter. 

I faced a lot about myself during this program, both with growing up, taking care of myself and presenting myself in a way that I would be taken seriously. Not to mention that I had never known what true integrity was until I realized how little of it I had. I was coming out of a gay goth phase but still wore a lot of black and make up (see the terrifying picture below).

I didn't know who I was, or I couldn't decide and align my life and integrity with any one thing. This was during the point in my life where I was in and out of my parents house, barely holding down a job for longer than a couple months, going out with friends and staying out until dawn.

It was in the IFLP that I met Ryan. We were in the same session, along with his brother Josh, though they were taking it in the LA center and I was in the Newport Beach Center. But during the first weekend when we all came together, somehow the three of us formed a bond. It also had to do with the fact that we were all roughly the same age and their Stepmother had led my forum a couple years before and she was a riot so I knew they had to be at least partially cool. They were also, close enough to visit and hangout with outside of my regular circle of bar friends.

Josh was the quintessential older brother, sweet, kind and extremely generous. Being a new father made him very patient and willing to explain things for me. One of my favorite memories with him is spending the weekend in Venice Beach babysitting for him during the day while he worked, and hanging with the two of them all night. That weekend Ryan and Aaron Z even took me to the Viper Room in LA! 

Josh was also my last involvement as a volunteer with Landmark (to date). When I got out of the Navy and moved to the Bay Area, I didn't know anyone so I went to the SF Center and there he was. Josh, the only one of us to continue on in the Leadership program, was about to lead his very first seminar, and I volunteered to be the Room Manager. He really brought the experience full circle for me.

But Ryan, he was the sweet bastard that you both wanted to hang out with and smack upside the head. Because of that ridiculous smile and his abundance of charm, that guy got away with saying some of the most out there profound and sometimes confrontational statements you can imagine and then force you to deal with them. Case in point:

Near the end of the 6 month IFLP course, Ryan and I both had to travel to San Jose to make up for a weekend that we had missed. We flew up together, stayed at his Mom's house and were basically linked at the hip for the entire three day seminar. When we got home to our respective homes in SoCal, he called me, and had what amounted to one of the most difficult conversations I've ever had in my life.

It began with "We need to have a conversation. I am going to have to tell you some hard truths about you. You're not going to like them. In fact, when I'm done, you're going to hate me. You may never want to talk to me again... I am your friend, and no one else is going to care enough about you to tell you what you need to hear."

"Shane, you're hiding. I don't know who you are because you are hiding behind this fake mask. This goth look and flippant constant gay mannerisms are a way for you to shield yourself from people. You think, if you look and act this way, no one will notice you or want to get to know you. Then you will have proved everyone right that you ARE an outsider. You have made your nightmare real, you have actively participated in making it real, and then you blame the world for the problem you created."

I couldn't breathe, let alone reply. He went on.

"You're listening to me for two reasons, one you're a little bit in love with me and two, because of what we've been through you trust that I have your best intentions at heart and that I am your friend. I'm going to use those two things to try and wake you up, listen to me. You need to stop lying and you need to stop hiding. Half the time you tell me things, I can't tell if you're lying or not. Or if you're just trying to look good in front of me. You are robbing the world of who you are and it's cheap and it's shitty. Over the last six months spending time with you, there have been moments when I saw you, the real you. Not the bitter, angry at the world, loner. Not the guy whose constantly making up outlandish stories or trying to one up the other persons story. The you I saw in those moments was joyous and genuine and kind and excited to be alive. That is the person that needs to come out. You need to take that mask off, stop lying and stop hiding who you are."

"I'll be here, as your friend when you do..." And then he waited for my reply.

It took me a moment to collect myself and reply "Wow, well, you were right about one thing, I hate you and never want to talk to you again". And with that, I hung up on him and decided we were now, no longer friends.

The only problem with that, was that every time I looked in a mirror all I saw was the mask. That mother fucker was right! It made me furious and I hated him even more... for a while, anyways. Still, every time I looked at myself I saw the truth. I was hiding who I was from people with my look and my demeanor and my attitude. I was creating this "outside" by being who I was being. I was terrified of people getting to know the real me. I didn't know who the real me was just yet. How do you decide who you want to be?

I felt broken. He had violated the silent agreement that we all make with each other: I won't call you on your's if you don't call me on mine. What kind of person tells you something so shattering to your ego that you literally  have to reevaluate the entire way you look at your self and your life? I mean, obviously someone who cares about your life and it's long term outcome. I knew he loved me, and it occurred to me that he was probably the first friend to outright risk their friendship with me to tell me the truth about my behavior. My part in the matter. And I did play a part.

I changed. Almost unconsciously. 

I shaved my head. I washed my face and got rid of all the make up. I started looking for new clothes. I bought my first grown up suit. By the time Ryan and I talked again a couple months later, "I" was starting to come out. I learned how to be honest, and joyous and forthright and how detrimental it is to one's happiness to be inauthentic. I learned that some conversations, though hard, may need to be had for the betterment of your soul, and that anyone willing to tell you this kind of hard personal truth (in a way that moves a conversation forward for yourself), is a true friend. Whether you like it or not, whether you ever want to talk to them again or not. It takes someone truly invested in your happiness to do that.

Ryan and I eventually made up at the next and last large group weekend. He was shocked and impressed with the change I had made in myself, and it didn't hurt that I showed up dressed in a suit and tie (the pic below was taken that night) and I was simply put, unrecognizable to that unhappy goth kid. By the end of the first lunch break, he and I were back on giggle and slap terms and Josh was back to rolling his eyes and shaking his head at us. My head coach Dawn said that weekend that I was now not only dateable, but totally bangable!

Though Ryan and I remain friends to this day, I haven't seen him for more than a decade. He's a married man with a family and up to life in the south bay, and we almost never chat. But he changed my life for the better. He risked his friendship with me in order to save me from myself.  That is the mark of a true friend, not how often you see each other. I hope, over the years that he and I have together on this planet, I can return the favor and change his life for the better. He is a genuine, honest and authentic human being that will always love and accept me, for me. No questions asked. And though we may never be as close as we were when we met, he will always be my friend.

I hope you all get to have friends like that.

ps. Hey Ryan, remember Nadia? Remember that weekend we all went down to Ensenada, Mexico, you fell a bit in love with her and then she left you to go study in Munich? You were so mad! You'd never had a woman leave you before, I literally remember steam coming out of your ears as you huffed "Where the hell does she get off??"

And I replied "Well, in Germany, Obviously".

I think you fell a little in love with me too that day.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

My top 10 books

10. The Incident at Hawks Hill, by Allan Eckert

In my first English class in Junior High, the first assignment the teacher gave us was to read "the Old Man and the Sea" in the first month of class. I took my copy home that Monday and had finished reading it by Friday. When I turned it back in so early, and told her I would have the report to her on Monday, she was quite obviously shocked. She eagerly awaited my book report and when I turned it in to her that Monday she surprised me with my first lesson in extra credit. She said for every book report I turned in I would get an extra 10 points toward my final grade. She then gave me this book.

The Incident in this book is a reportedly true story about a young farm boy that goes missing and gets adopted by a badger. I don't know why it stuck with me so hard, but something about the realness and the way the author captured what the boy would have lived through if it were true. It just always stuck with me. That coupled with the fact that after several years of being looked at as "troubled", it was nice to be appreciated for something good. I've never owned a copy of this book, it's never been in a bookstore, I look all the time.

09. The Perfect Storm, by Sebastian Junger

Oddly enough, this book is without a doubt the most common book that I reference in my everyday life. Having been through a hurricane at sea and been involved in a search and rescue mission of a small boat, it is one of the easiest reference points to explain what those things are like to people. It also gives people a visual glimpse of what Navy life can be like. On top of that, I read this book about drowning out to sea, while I was on a boat... out to sea... in a hurricane... Because I'm a glutton for punishment. (On the other end of the spectrum, I did read the entire book "Enders Game" while on a plane hovering above the planet). From the chapter title "Zero Moment Point" which has worked it's way into my everyday vocabulary to the most accurate description of what it feels like to die by drowning. I'm not exaggerating when I say that I found myself constantly holding my breath while reading that chapter. If you can make it through this book, you will use it forever.

08. Ishmael, By Daniel Quinn

My good friend Josh and I went to the used bookstore one Christmas and bought each other our favorite book for the other to read. I cant remember what I gave him, but he gave me this, and about a year and a half later, while I was taking the train to work everyday I finally found the time to read it. It's an eye opening description of the human race, and really changed the way I look at what I want to accomplish in life, and whats truly important. And it gave me a very valuable ability that can easily go blind: Perspective. And as a bonus it's narrated by an ape!

07. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, by JK Rowling

I waited to read the Harry Potter books until the very last one came out. After Steven King pissed me off with that whole Green Mile mini-book-series in the 90's I've stayed away from book series by currently living authors... I don't like waiting. So when it finally came out, I sat down and read all seven of them in the span of two weeks. I think these are some of the finest books ever written, and this last one, was especially sublime.

I have read it over 6 times, but the other thing this book did for me was introduce me to the world of audiobooks. The narrator of the audiobook version is a man named Jim Dale, and he might just be the most amazing Voice-over talent that I've ever heard. He has this natural storytelling ability and British accent that the material calls for, but this man, he has a different voice, and a different accent and different timbre and articulation to every single character in the book that you cant imagine that it's really only one guy. It remains the most amazing book I have ever listened to and if you were ever hesitant about audio-books, start here, this man is my hero!

We never mention this last movie in the series... disgusting abortion that it was... What David Yates was thinking is completely beyond me but he ruined it to a degree that I still cant bring myself to buy the movie. Just so wrong that ending... wrong.

06. And Then There Were None, by Agatha Christie

Though I have read and love all of the great mystery writers, this book stands out by far as the very best of the genre. It has murder, intrigue, character, the amazing red herring and supreme justice at it's finest. It remains to this day, the only method that I have ever considered for committing mass murder, but for a righteous reason... The plot seems simple, 10 strangers brought to an island under mysterious circumstances, at the end of the weekend everyone is dead. If the last page or two were missing, you would never know who did it. It is the most perfectly executed mystery novel ever written.

05. Be Now, Buddy What, by Dan Spencer

This book is so simple and subtle in it's story, but the idea that it germinates is very powerful indeed. I find myself at times repeating the mantra's of Buddy What. Buddy What is a man that fell out of the sky, naked, landed on a highway so hard that there was a crater. He was completely unharmed, and he had absolutely no memory of who he was before he fell out of the sky. This is a reflection of the human race, and the cult of fame and personality told by a bitter small town reporter who the rest of the world dubbed Buddy's Buddy. It's a really weird but good story, but the lesson it teaches is so impact-full and moving. I can tell you the punchline now, but you wont get it unless you read the book... Be Now.

04. The Tales of the City Books, by Armisted Maupin  

(Tales of the City, More Tales of the City, Further Tales of the City, Babycakes, Significant Others, Sure of You, Michael Tolliver Lives, Mary Ann in Autumn, The Days of Anna Madrigal)

These books are the reason I moved to San Francisco, and more importantly, they showed me that there were other people like me in the world and that I could have a happy open life. I have loved these books since the first time I shyly, with many glances over my shoulders, bought my first Tales book at a Crown Books Store in Conservative Republican Orange County in '91. It was my first glimpse into a future that I could have, even though it was set in the past. Everything I wanted in my life was represented in those books. The last trilogy have come during a very tumultuous time in my life and they have been about change and loss and leaving San Francisco and I feel that my life is forever linked to those books because for a long time, I got to live my Tales of the City.

03. The Count of Monte Cristo, by Alexander Dumas

When I was in the Navy someone wrote out a quote for me which became my all time favorite quote and though I had not read the book that it came from, I quickly resolved too. When I finally came across a copy of The Count, I devoured it, enjoying every morsel of it, and always eagerly looking for the quote that I knew so well. Finally, I found it... there on the last page of the book... of course. I read it, relishing what I know is coming next, and then I stutter... That's not how it starts... Wait... only half of the quote is here?!?!!? Did my friend have it wrong?!?! What the hell? I turn to the front cover of the book and look it over very closely... there under the title, barely visible against the background I find it. Abridged Version. Dammit!!! I throw it down, leave the house, and go find the unabridged version and re-read the entire book and finally, justly, I arrive at the last page and there, in all it's glory, my favorite quote of all time:

"There is no such thing as Happiness nor Unhappiness in this world, there is only the comparison of one state with another. It is necessary to have felt ultimate despair to know ultimate bliss. One must have wished for death in order to know how good it is to live.

Live then and be happy, beloved children of my heart. Never forget, that until the day God deigns to reveal the future to man, the sum of all human wisdom will be contained in these two words: Wait and Hope."

 02. Oh Pure and Radiant Heart, by Lidia Millet

This book stands as the most heartbreaking and brilliant assessment of the human condition that I have ever read. It is the best book that I have read this century, I recommend it every time someone asks for a book.  It is a fictional story that imagines the fathers of the atom bomb inexplicably reappearing modern day and seeing what their life's work has come to. It includes facts about the nuclear programs, modern day pilgrimages, the christian right, money and public conscientiousness.

To top it all off, this book is written with a cadence and rhythm that borders on poetry. The way she turns a phrase and makes the insignificant utterly beautiful is a thing to behold. If I ever went through with it, there are several passages from this book that I would have permanently tattooed on my body, they move me beyond anything I've ever read before. It remains to this day the only book that I have read a review of, put the review down and left the house to buy a copy.

"Choice could be taken away, and then you became an object: but far from being dangerous that moment when choice disappeared was when danger also vanished, and there was nothing you could do but submit... For after all it was not ego or a conviction of your own importance that made life worth living but whether you could see how perfect the world had always been without you. It was not to despair at this though, not to run, not to fear, not to fight; it was if, instead of running or fighting, out of the overwhelming nearness of the world, your could finally make something that could be glimpsed from afar."
If you're actually interested I've written a full review of it:

01. The Stand, by Steven King

 I make no secret of the fact that Steven King is my all time favorite author, and while I could have populated this list with several of his books (namely IT, The Eyes of the Dragon and 11/22/63), I chose instead to honor him with the number one spot. And while he does deserve it, and many of his books are phenomenal, none have ever come close to feeling more like home than The Stand.

In High School, the first time that we were allowed to pick the book we wanted to do a book report on was Junior Year American Lit. I picked the book my mom had just finished because of how much she creeped my out while talking about it. I was no stranger to Steven King by then, I'd already read Carrie, Salems Lot and several other "scary" books and The Stand was about the flu, so how scary could it be?

I have read that book more than 17 times in my life and I have always said, no one writes characters like Steven King does. Every time I read it is like coming home and seeing old friends. Going on the journey again, knowing that not all will make it out alive and trying to savor what they say. I have loved this book more than any other in my life. I have seen myself in several characters throughout the years and I cry at different parts each time. It's about the end of the world that I wished would happen as a boy who never fit in. And though I have lived a full and happy life, I have always secretly been waiting and keeping ready for the coughing to start and the end to begin.

Honorable Mention: 

To The Friend Who Did Not Save My Life", by Herve Guibert

 This is the one of only two books that I have bought based on the title alone (the other is A Heart Breaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers). It was eye opening to read about what it was like being treated as an early AIDS patient and what the generation before mine had to endure. It was a hard and important lesson to learn and there was no better way than to read the last words of a dying man.

V for Vendetta, by Steve Moore

 Though I admit, my first exposure to this book was the release of the movie adaptation, I have since gone on to read the source book and have been profoundly moved by it. It captures a people that are completely controlled by their government and police(like we are), who live in fear of terrorists (like we do), who are placated by media and mass consumption (as we are) and yet somehow against all odds, rise up and unite as a people for what is right. It is the best example of both what we have become and what we need to save us in this country.  It is the kind of political art that I find most beautiful.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

My Guardian

When I say that I was a difficult boy, people laugh softly and think about how I would bring mirrors with me when I was made to stand in the corner so I could still watch TV. Or how I eventually graduated to handstands and acrobatics in the corner until Mom and Chuck were too amused to stay mad. Or how I would miss the school bus on accident/purpose. They think, come on, you were a cute funny kid who was pretty wacky with your antics. What they don't get is how these antics were a constant barrage on my family, I mean this kind of thing happened almost every single day, sometimes several times a day... I would do something bad every. single. day. I was wild, that kind of out of the box, try everything because I can, no body is going to tell me what to do or how to be kind of wild.

I bit, I kicked (my teacher in the face), I screamed non-stop for hours. I got booted out of multiple preschools and day care's, multiple as in more than twenty. I went to eight different schools between first and eighth grade (and no, we weren't in the military). Many times Mom would come to pick me up because of the trouble I was causing that day and the teacher would lean over to her and say "please don't bring him back here", and then shut the door. A difficult boy. And while my mom was always able to talk me down and have me regain my composure, there was only one person I looked to as my guardian and protector.
From the day Mom brought me home from the hospital he watched me. He's there in the background of countless baby photo's of me. Standing over the crib watching me sleep, laying next to me, hiding under the table with me. From the first day, he knew he had to protect me. That I was his brother, and he was responsible for me. Granted, these are probably more eloquent thoughts than that long ago toddler could articulate, still, somehow he knew that he had to look out for me.

And boy, did he look out for me... The adventures he and I went on are both numerous and legendary, and some may even be documented in police files. And all the while I was wild and out of control, and he was responsible. I never really put it together before today... But my brother spent his entire childhood looking out for me and trying so desperately to keep me out of the trouble I was so bound and determined to get into. I made his childhood difficult.

As we grew up we were two peas in a pod. You couldn't separate us with a crowbar, where ever I was, Josh was. In my memory I was always following Josh. He was older and knew more, and would try things, and go on adventures at the drop of a hat. But in truth it was a lot of Josh following me and watching out for me and telling me "no, dont do that". He was always in charge when it came to me. If he said jump, well... I would giggle, but I would also jump. However, I would do it my way and wheel out the trampoline and spend 5 minutes positioning it, then repositioning it, then finally getting on and giving him an expectant look, like I was ready now and now he could tell me to jump. Like I said, I was difficult and I would only do things my way.

My Mom's favorite example of my difficultness is when it was my turn to clean the dishes. I would fuss for an hour, hem and haw, say "I don't wanna" and such. Loudly disagreeing so no one could hear what they were saying on TV. Then I would go to the kitchen with a stomp and a huff and run a little water and stand in the doorway still watching TV til mom turned around and made me go back in. Then I would clean the easy things, like the cups, and rinse off the plates. My favorite thing to do was to "leave something soaking" because then it would magically get done before the chore was mine again. I was also known to throw silverware that I deemed to difficult to clean into the garbage can and declare "dishes are done!" and run back to my seat in front of the tv.

Josh would clean the dishes I left soaking... and often times he would check the trash and pull out what I had thrown there just to keep the peace for the night and not have Mom and Chuck get mad and punish me. I dont think he ever knew about the broiler on the bottom of the oven though, and it's a damn good thing Mom never used it either... Can plates and silverware get too hot?

Through all my shenanigans and trouble, and trust me when I say I was truly out of control, Josh tried everything he could do to help me and guide me and look out for me. He stood up to anyone who ever said a word against me, he valued my life and safety over everything, even his own. Hell, he even got a broken nose fighting a guy that pushed me. He gave up a happy free childhood to be my constant watcher and protector, and stood by helpless and watched while I self destructed at the age of eleven. I've always felt that he never quite got over that helpless angry feeling, and I've always felt a shameful guilt that by being the boy that I was, as difficult as I was. That he, the good kid, the one that was responsible, the one that did the extremely hard job of being my guardian while still doing everything he was supposed to do, got neglected.

My problems overshadowed his accomplishments. I was always the one who was getting the long conversations from our parents, and he eventually learned to live without them. Mom and Chuck who both worked full time differing schedules spent much of their parenting time trying to correct my behavior, or taking me to therapists or punishing me that there could have been little time left for Josh and the things he wanted from them. He was neglected for being the good son, and for that I will forever be truly sorry. I cant undo it, I can only recognize my part in it and say I'm sorry.

We grew apart after the age of eleven, he discovered baseball and started doing more things that I wasn't interested in. And instead of going to play with him I opted to stay in my room and play with all of our toys. And the distance between us was born.

He continued to watch out for me, and fight people who picked on me, but it was always from a distance. I heard about it later from someone... he never told me about those fights in junior high, when I would bring candy for everyone to school to try and win friends. He would hear those same kids who took my candy talk about me badly in front of him and he would react, usually ending up in the office with bloody knuckles or a bloody nose.

By high school we had pretty much perfected the art of avoiding each other. Freshmen year I was invisible in a freshman class of 1200 students. I was no one. Between freshmen and sophomore year Mom and Chuck finally got married and I decided to take Chucks last name. Partly because I thought it sounded better and partly because I didn't want people to know Josh and I were brothers. I felt abandoned by him. After the breakdown at eleven I never understood why he stopped playing with me and only wanted to play baseball, and I held it against him all through high school.

He was inside with the cool kids, he was popular and good looking and got the leads in all the plays from the very first audition, while I was always relegated to the background or comic relief. I resented him. I considered him an interloper in my chosen craft. Someone who got signed up for drama by accident and decided to stick with it for the easy A. And I resented him because he was so talented at it, and so much better at it than I was. I felt like Salieri to his Mozart, just trying to do the best I could and here comes this new guy and he just blows everyone away. It wasn't fair, I had finally found my passion and stabilizer and he was better at it than I was. Just like he was better at me than everything. And the distance between us grew.

Before high school was out he had moved out of the house and into his own apartment near school. The first time I called him in his new place he said the words that have overshadowed our relationship ever since; "how did you get my number?" He went on with his life and I rarely if ever heard directly from him. I got updates through Mom and a very very rare family dinner happened on the spur of the moment, but by the age of eighteen Josh was gone to me. And the distance grew wider than ever before.

I joined the navy a few years after that in 97 and by that point Josh and I were only talking once or twice a year, usually on holidays. Though something changed in him when I left for boot camp, I think it was the realization that I was finally, for maybe the first time in my life, acting like an adult and doing the responsible thing. He even sent me a few letters in boot camp that I still read from time to time. One of my favorite memories with him happened that December. I was still living in Chicago going to Corpsman A school in the Navy and Josh called me up out of the blue and told me that he was going to Louisville, KY for the holidays but that he had a three hour layover at Chicago's O'hare Airport and he asked me if I wanted to meet for dinner at the airport. I don't remember what we talked about, but I remember meeting my brother for the first time as an adult, and thinking, yeah, you turned out alright, I think we're gonna be alright.

After Chicago I got stationed on a boat in San Diego, just thirty or so miles from Josh's apartment. Of course I didn't get to visit in the first two weeks I was there because I was so busy getting situatied and indoctrinated on the ship, and then we left for a six month deployment. When I got back, Josh and Mel were packing up and moving to Kentucky. And on Christmas day 1998, we had what would be our last Christmas together for ten years.

In the fifteen years that he's been in Louisville I've only seen my brother four times. Once for our high school reunion in 2003, once in 2006 when I was in Chicago for the gay games and took a bus to Louisville for a couple days just to say hi (I mean, I'd gone most of the way across the country already, what was a few hundred more miles). Christmas of 2008 which remains my most cherished Christmas memory. The lot of us, sitting around drinking and giggling non-stop for hours. Our family had come through in the end and we were all together and happy. And lastly in 2010 when he came out to stay with our parents for a month and I busted my ass to get down there and see him before he went back.

I still rarely talk to Josh, he's busy with his own life building a business and constantly following his dream. And for the record, I no longer think of him as an interloper in my craft, he has been constantly working on a play, movie, short film or teaching for the last twenty five years with barely a breath in between. He is a master of his craft. All I ever needed to believe in his talent was to see him on a stage, he's magnificent. He is still far greater than I have ever been and still the ideal role model that I follow.

I think about our childhood often and where I would have ended up if not for such a protective guardian. I would have ended up in prison, or dead the way I was going. But I'm not. I'm a good and decent man, and I hope that he knows how much he had to do with that. I hope he knows how much I have always looked up to him and tried to be like him, because he was always the good one, the best one really. He was and will always be the rock that I crash against and depend on. He is the good son and the best brother because he saved my life by giving up his childhood to watch over me. I'll never be able to pay you back for that sacrifice, Josh, but I'll spend the rest of my life trying.

I love you and Happy 40th birthday my dearest brother, Josh.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

My Sage

We always grew up around animals...

I can think of dogs back as far as I can remember, Kita the Akita, Grandma Roberta's great danes, Granmda Sally's Romeo's one through five, and a few others whose names escape me... Oh, and one cat. Oscar. I think I was around 6 when he just went missing one day. Mom said that he had run away and somehow I heard "he ran away and jumped in a volcano". Which is what I told all my school friends, that my cat had run away and jumped in a volcano... in Denver... I was six!!

But the very first dog that I called my own, was a black lab husky mix named Sage.

The most important three memories that come to mind when I think of that sweet loving pup are as follows:

3. Because we lived in the mountains in a tiny little town, we would on occasion let Sage run around outside and up the mountain that was our back yard to his hearts content. We would let him out and not see him for hours sometimes. The last time we ever let him out unattended like that he didnt come home for seven days. We made flyers and posted them around our seven hundred person town. We put them on the phone poles and even checked in with the local vets office a couple times a day. He was nowhere to be found. As time went by, Mom prepared us for the eventual reality that he might be dead. Josh and I were so sad at the idea that we refused to accept it and for that entire week, we took shifts in the front and back yard, calling Sage to come home, all to no avail.

After a week had passed Josh and I were out front playing in the street when he noticed something in the distance behind me. I turned and we both started slowly moving towards the black animal that had just come onto the street in the distance. It was more than a block away and moving very slowly and painfully toward us. But as we got closer I saw the tail twitch. Black on top with a fan of white fur on the bottom that curled up into a question mark when happy. It was Sage.

Josh and I both screamed out his name and ran toward him, his tail now wagging ferociously. But he did not run to meet us, and when we reached him, I let out a scream of understanding. He was covered in porcupine quills from head to toe. Josh reached down and very gently found arm holds and picked Sage up and we both rushed back to the house screaming for mom. When she came out and saw Sage in Josh's arms, she ran back inside, grabbed her purse and keys and ran down to meet us. We all jumped in the car and drove down to the vet. It took him almost a month to fully recover, and Josh and I both took turns sleeping with and cuddling him back to health.

2. The worst memory I have with Sage is also the one that taught me the biggest lesson, restraint. One summer night when Josh and I were home alone watching TV, Sages whines to be let out onto the patio went unanswered and ignored by us, and so, with no other option Sage peed on the carpet in the music room because Josh and I were too lazy to get up to go and open the door to the porch for him.

When Josh and I finally noticed the pee, he informed me that it was my turn to discipline Sage since he had done it last. I got up and yelled "BAD DOG" at sage as I grabbed him by the collar and led him out onto the porch. Although I was eight, I yelled too loud as I brought Sage outside, he cowered against the patio wall and lay down in submission, showing me his belly. I was still mad that I now had to scrub the carpet that I ignored the submission and I swatted him on the butt hard a couple of times and was getting ready to do it a third time while still yelling "bad dog" when I realized he was peeing again all over his leg. Then it hit me, he was pissing himself out of fear. I gasped and put my hand down. I never hit him again after that.

1. The best memory that I have of sage is the day I brought him home. I was eight years old and we had just moved across town into our very own first home. We had settled in over the last couple of months of spring, but summer was just beginning and my old neighbor friend across town's dog had finally had pups. I went over immediately because at the ripe old age of seven I was old enough to go across town by myself. I hung out with her and all of the new puppies and we played and laughed and she told me that I could have one if I wanted.

I had spent the last hour playing with eight puppies but I knew the one I wanted within the first minute, the shy quiet cute little black one with a tiny little white mark on it's chest. When I went to leave with him, at first he wouldn't follow me he went back to his mother. We tried several ways to make him follow me until finally landing on the Red Rider wagon. So my friend lent me the wagon and away I went walking across town pulling a red wagon with a brand-new puppy.

I pulled the wagon all the way home and up the front steps, meaning I had to carry the wagon in my arms up our stone stair pathway to the front door, so that by the time I arrived at the front landing I could put the wagon down behind me, ring the doorbell and have mom answer the door with me looking up all happy eyes, big smile, glowing face and puppy in tow. When this exact thing happened my cunning little genius mind came up with and delivered the penultimate sucker-punch line spoken by every kid who ever adopted an animal: "he followed me home".

The look on mom's eyes was a cross between "oh my god, no he didn't just tell me a dog followed him home in a borrowed wagon" and "that might just be the cutest thing I've ever seen". All she said to me was take him to your room and wait till Chuck gets home, we will discuss it.

And so I took the puppy to my room we played and we laughed and I introduced them to Josh, who instantly loved him, and everything seemed to be going very well. Then in the distance I heard the sound of Chuck's old beater approaching. I don't remember what kind of car it was, just a non-desript  brown station wagon piece of crap that got stolen and then recovered at red rocks park... it was like literally worth $2000 in scrap, but it hauled his drums around, so he liked it. I think that was also the car I went over the side in...

Anyway what was I talking about I've gone off track, oh right, Chuck had gotten home. Well I could hear him And mom discussing the dog in the living room, Mom seemed pretty opposed as neither of them had time to take care of a dog on top of two jobs and two kids... But Chuck quietly chimed in every now and again with a witticism of truth like "dogs make great baby sitters" and "a dog is a necessity for going on an adventure". Yeah... Thats my dad...

Meanwhile, I deviously set the stage in my room. I pulled my blanket and pillow down from my bed and wrestled the wrangling puppy to me. I calmed the puppy and lay quietly breathing with him held tight to my chest, so he would know, it is nap time now. And within a few minutes he had actually started to drift off. I waited patiently, silently laying there in the middle of the room breathing and eavesdropping, until eventually I heard the approaching footsteps of a parent. Not sure which one was approaching, I closed my eyes and pretended to be asleep with the sleeping puppy. Surely no one can resist a little boy sleeping with a cute little puppy.

The door opened, silence followed by a heaving sigh. It was Mom's breath, she stood there on the precipice of the room and I waited in my fake sleep... then, the door closed. When I "awoke" from my nap moments later we had a new dog. Of course there were care taking stipulations that both Josh and I urgently agreed to without listening. But somehow, and I'll still never know how he snuck in there, Chuck got the honor of naming my dog instead of me, and he ended up naming the puppy after some old wiseguy or something... I don't know...

For three years Sage was my dog, and I loved him and played with him and had the best dog a boy could ever ask for.

When we moved to California in 1989, Chuck left Sage with his band mate Wayne (the best one-time babysitter we ever had) because we couldnt have a dog in Grandma's house or the apartment we moved to after her house. I guess my parents always knew that we were never going to bring Sage to live with us again, but for the first couple years living in California I still hoped we could. It would never be so though... I never saw Sage again, and I never heard anything about his life after me but I sometimes think; does Sage ever wonder what happened to his first boy, his first owner. We spent our childhoods together I miss him so much when I think about it. And I suppose I will feel sad and guilty for the rest of my life for not having ever seen him again.

As I write this I realize that Sage, who I will always think of as my loving childhood companion and energetic adventurer, my first puppy, would have passed away of old age over fifteen years ago now. He was only in my life for the most brief three years, but I will never forget him, and I am still reduced to tears when I think about him.

I miss you Sage.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

A conversation with my stomach

Setting: Bart Platform, rush-hour (I'm standing on the platform, music playing in my ears, zoning out when suddenly...)

Stomach: ggggggrrrrrrr.... GGrrrrrrrRRRrrrrr. GGGGRRRRRRRRRRRR.....


Me: Oh... ugh... (starts swaying back and forth, clutches stomach.) Ow! (my body starts to feel numbness and tingling spreading towards my extremities. Saliva washes into my mouth, am I going to pass out or just puke?)

Stomach: FEED ME!! I'm litterally shutting down! I cant carry on any further... I need to eat right NOW!!

Me: Oh wow. Ok... I hear you. I understand you are hungry. I didnt take care of you today and only had two granola bars before we left the house...

Stomach: That was literally six hours ago!! I'm dying of starvation! How can you expect me to keep going on without any fuel! Your so mean to me!! Dragging me all over the city and back, passing all these perfectly fine eating places all so you can do what YOU want!! I'M IN PAIN!!

Me: Again, I'm so sorry... I apologize profusely for being so neglectful of you today. But you cant shut down here. We're in public, waiting for a train. If you cause these crippling hunger pains you will only succeed in shutting the rest of the body down and preventing me from getting us to some food.

Stomach: Ggggggrrrrrrr... Arrrrrrgghhghhhhh HUNGRY!

Me: I understand you are hungry, but I am in charge of this body, not you. And I will now allow you to cause this pain and shut the rest of the body down. Do you understand Stomach. I have heard your hunger pains. I acknoledge that I have negelcted you and I promise as soon as we get to the office I will get you some food. Ok. So, stop causing the pain and settle down. Oh look... Bob Marley just came on my earphones... isnt that relaxing... lets try and relax and stop all this pain...

Stomach: MmmmmmGRRmmmmmmm... Fine.

Me: Thank you. hmmmmhmmmmhmmmm Redemtion song... mmmmhmmm... I mean, come on Stomach, it's not like we're wasting away or anything. I mean, we have a few extra pounds of fat and could probably stand for going without a meal every now and again. I mean seriously, I know all we had today was those two little granola bars... but when was the last time you ate before that? What did you have?

Stomach: hmmmmmm... burritto?

Me: That's right! We had that huge burritto last night! And it wasnt super early, it was like 9:00pm,,, What about before that... what did we have for lunch?

Stomach: ummmm... cant remember?

Me: Hmm.. I cant seem to... Wait! I walked home and on the way I picked up a subway sandwich! Thats right! So, wait a minute... Stomach... You had not one, but TWO 12 inch meals yesterday... Oh, AND the two candy bars at bedtime last night... And your seriously pulling that debilitating hunger pain thats so intense I can barely stay on my feet because you havent eater anything in like, twenty hours?!?!?!?!! SERIOUSLY!?!?!?!? YOU FAT FUCK!!! SHUT YOUR SPOILED ROTTEN MOUTH AND SIT THERE TIL I FEED YOU!!!

Me: Seriously... try and pull that shit on my watch motherfucker, you'll see what REAL starvation feels like!!!

Stomach: but that would hurt us both...

Me: No, just you, I'd go vegan or healthy or some shit... always leave you wanting more... still hungry ALWAYS. That will be your punishment if you don't cut the shit right now, calm your ass down and sit silently all the way to the damn office.... Don't you try and overpower me FATASS!! Mind over Fatter!!

Stomach: ...

Me: Damn right!

Friday, May 9, 2014

Mama Mea Culpa

When I was twenty years old I was dealt the hardest blow to my idea of self that I have ever taken. And the greatest part was that it was my Mom who dealt the shattering blow.

After high school and the subsequent gay party life that I had gotten tired of, I started looking for ways to improve my outlook and my demeanor. I had been told on several occasions by very good friends, that I was just so depressing to be around because of my negative outlook and my constant bitterness about the unfairness of life. Sure I had reason and justification to feel that way, but the more people hung around me the more I sounded like a bitter old record on repeat. When my best friend Stacey took me aside one day and explained why it was just her and I for the movie and not the rest of the group, it was the first time that it really sunk in that bitter and depressing was really how people experienced me. I didn't think of myself that way, so to be confronted with that reality about myself sent me on a quest of self exploration.

At the time I had just done the Landmark Forum (the evolution of Wearner Earhardts EST Seminars) and was just becoming aware of who I am as a person, and more importantly, my choice in the matter. I spent several days a week volunteering there for those couple years. This is why people label it "cult-like", that and the fact that people have genuine revelations doing this kind of self-introspective work and come out changed somehow. The real reason people volunteer so much there after doing the Forum is because after such major self-revelations it helps to be around people on the same journey, and around people who understand the questions you are asking about yourself. Like speaks to like.

Landmark was not some new fangled fad that had randomly appeared at that moment of my life either. Both my parents had done the EST Training when I was four years old, and had raised me and Josh in that kind of logic based conversational relationship. That is how calmly talking to me on the phone could switch me from wild out of control hellion to obedient school boy in a matter of minutes. They engaged my brain from as early as I could use it. They actually treated me like a thinking human being, not a randomly willful disobedient child. In the end, that kind of upbringing ensured that my parents would always be more than just parents, they would be equals as thinking human beings.

The course I was volunteering for that led to the ultimate shattering of my self-identity was called the Communication course, and as one bent on self-improvement I took the homework assignments of that course very seriously. The homework they has assigned for the first week seemed quite simple, though after spending several hours unsuccessfully trying to figure it out for myself, I eventually came to a wall. When these kinds of blocks come up, I do what I've always done, I called my mom to pick her brain about it. We planned dinner that night and somehow ended up at Denny's (why is my life always changed dramatically at a Denny's?). There, we had a long profound conversation about the homework assignment which was: What one sentence rules your life?

For the uninitiated, this can seem like a weird and tricky question. For me, it was very difficult to put in to words and actually say those words out loud. The idea is that in everything you do in life, every question you ask, every statement you make, every choice you make and every action you take you are perpetuating and enforcing this one sentence, subconsciously of course. But it is there in the background of everything you do in life. It is usually a very simple statement made by a child.

So mom picked me up from the zoo I was living in and we went to Denny's and started having a conversation. I dont remember a lot of the lead up to the point where I discovered my sentence, but it involved my past, and my behaviors, and my secret thoughts, and when it came right down to it, out popped a sentence spoken by my child-self: "There is something wrong with me".

This surprised my mom and she asked if I was sure that was the sentence that ruled my life. After a little more reflection I decided that yes, in fact, this sentiment was at the heart of everything I had done in my life and was present in all the actions I took and in every conversation that I had ever had. When I acted up, I was physically showing that there was in fact something wrong with me, when I had tantrums I showed it, when I asked questions I asked it believing there was something wrong with me for not already knowing the answer. If I really looked, I could find that one sentiment everywhere in my life. She then asked me what made me think that it was true.

I told her about my first memory somewhere around the age of four. I was sitting in a therapists office and I remember him looking at me and asking me what would make my parents think there was something wrong with me. That's probably when it started. As simple as that, someone says there is something wrong with you, and you believe them. Then you spend your life subconsciously proving them right. I decided somewhere around four years old, that either there was something wrong with me, or there was something about me that people found wrong.

I then spent my youth acting up. Proving to everyone that there was, in fact, something wrong with me. I was put in Special Ed from the age of five because of "emotional problems", I saw therapists regularly and never the same one for too long, I was on a first name basis with the school counselors repeatedly in their offices because of something I had said or done, I even had a couple run in's with the law. All in all, because of that one sub-conscience choice I had become a very difficult child. When I was in the second grade at Wilmont Elementary, I had one of my legendary tantrums that came to an abrupt and shocking end when I kicked my teacher right in the face and gave her a bloody nose. Difficult boy.

Yet, even then, my Mom had a way of using her words. After the "kick heard round the school" my teacher took me by the hand to her office and got my mom on the phone at work. I was still struggling against her, but the moment she put that phone against my ear, it stopped. I have no idea what my Mom said to me, but it was a slow quiet conversation that made me calm down, apologize to the teacher and promise to do my school work. When I handed the phone back to the teacher, she was so shocked with the about face in my demeanor that she could only utter the words "What on earth did you say to him?" My moms reply "I just had a conversation about what behavior is appropriate at school and what isn't."

When I started 8th grade I got put into a "normal" class in junior high. My mom still remembers the face of the teacher I got, though she mostly remembers it through a red haze of unimaginable anger. In my vein of being "wrong" I had taken up several quite unusual traits. For example I much preferred sitting on the floor under my desk as opposed to on my chair. I liked to make noise as well... especially if it was too quiet. Any noise at all really, and with this big old mouth I have a cacophony that comes out, from raptor screeches to dog barks and everything in between. My favorite thing to do was when the teacher wasn't paying attention I would go to the back of the classroom, open the floor to ceiling storage closets and fold myself onto one of the shelves and shut the closet doors. At least twice it caused quite a ruckus when the teacher thought he had lost one of the kids. To say he didn't like me much, would be putting it lightly. He hated my behavior so much, that he successfully got me permanently expelled from the only Junior High school in a 50 mile area. At that final meeting, he had acted so righteous and justified in only teaching normal students that my mom, the calm zen one, almost punched him right in the face. But, as I was in the room, she decided better of it.

She drove us home that day angrier than I had ever seen her. She had taken the rest of the afternoon off but when we got home, she told me I couldn't come inside. That I could spend the next couple hours playing outside in the yard or whatever, but she didn't want to see me in the house until school was over and Josh got home. So my punishment for getting expelled was to go play outside, and instead of doing that, I broke into the neighbors house and stole some trinkets. This began the avalanche that eventually led me to assault charges, court dates, home study, institutionalization and eventually probation in another state; all before my 12th birthday.

So in answer to my Mom's question about whether that sentence was true about me I could only reply "People who dont have something wrong with them, dont go through all the things that I've gone through!' And she sat there in silence for a few moments while formulating the response that would eventually shatter everything I believed myself to be.

She looked back at me and said "Shane, I'm going to say this about the things you have gone through in your life. All of those therapists who insisted that something was wrong with you, those couselers who deemed you emotionally challenged and unfit for normal classes, the teachers who were to lazy to put in the extra work to engage you, the Doctors who couldn't ever tell if anything was actually wrong with you, and especially your Dad and I, we were all wrong. There was never anything wrong with you, we just didn't know any better than to believe people who thought they knew what they were doing. I was wrong for believing them.

"You were never anything more than an amazingly creative, energetic little boy who loved to play and use every bit of your imagination as much as you possibly could. They live in a world of sameness and conformity, and you were never meant to conform. You are a born leader, and you were born to stand out in this world and make a difference. I'm sorry. Please hear me when I say this, I am sorry for letting you believe that about yourself for so long. It. is. Not. True.

"Only You get to say who You are. Only You get to decide who You will become. More than anybody I've ever met, you have the reason and right to go through life angry about the hands you've been dealt. But you took that anger and became one of the strongest people I have ever known. No matter how many wiser, older people tried to conform you to the way you should be, you always held true to who you were and the possibility of who you could be. You were always the smartest person in the room and you never backed down from questioning the things you didnt understand, and while that can frustrate the common person to no end, it is people like you that drive the world forward. You give me hope for the future.

"And as a point of clarification, I know exactly which therapist your first memory is about. I find it weird that you remember him because that was the one and only time I ever took you to him. I was in the room when he asked you that and I remember it because you started tearing up and crying. The part that you dont remember is at the end as we were getting ready to leave, he took me aside and told me that he had observed certain behaviors and traits in you that, if left untreated by him, could lead to homosexuality. I pulled away from him, I told him that I already knew my son was gay and there was absolutely nothing that needed to be fixed about that, and that you would be just as loved. Then I looked him in the eye and said I would not ever be bringing my son back to a hack like him. Then you and I went out to ice cream at Baskin Robins."

The unlovable, broken, unpopular, chubby ugly boy died that day, in that very moment. Every excuse that I had to justify the way I was had become a choice that I could take forward with me, or set down and move on from. I chose in that moment, to move on. I have never made a better choice. From then on, I became a new man, the man I wanted to be, the man that I could be proud of. I went to school, then the military, then on to be twice over CEO of arts organizations, and I have started following my dreams with wild abandon. I have become a man that I am proud of.

This wouldn't have happened with different parents. My Mom and Dad are the most amazing people I know. And I dont say that simply because they are my blood and they raised me. I say that because they were able to form adult relationships with their children, and in so doing they created thinking, artistic fully formed human beings. I have often said that my Mom is so powerful in her mind and her speech that if she said the word chair, a chair would fall out of her mouth. By admitting her mistakes and saying the words I Was Wrong, she shed the suffering and self-imposed alienation I had felt for years and gave me a second birth in life as truly anyone I wanted to be, free from the baggage of my youth.

She speaks in a way that causes transformation in others, and when she tries she creates brilliance from nothing.

Happy Mothers Day, Mom

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Oh My Goth... I just want to Die... Dye... DYE my hair black!!! (The Haircut Journey)

Getting a haircut

 The Corporate Trim

 The Ed Grimly

 The Disheveled Mop

The Full Curl

 The Old Timers Hawk

 The Cool Hipster

 The Standard

 The Convertible Ride

 The Romantic Lead

 The 90's Coolness

 The Hair Helmet

 The Single Ringlet

 The Front-styled Free Curl

 The Wave Back

 The Superman

 The 30's Dandy Do


 The I Just Don't Give A Damn Curl

 The Loose Left Pomp

 The Educated Curl

 The Box Side Sweep

 The Hat Curl

 The Pinnacle

 The Just Woke Up Do

 The Serial Killer in Bad Lighting

 The Full Day of Sweating Do

 The Rooster

 The Nondescript Extra Hair

 The Elevated Sweep Back

 The Forehead Wave

 The Lumberjack

 The Really Scared Hair

 The English Rock Star

The Holy Shit, You're Crazy Hair