It occurred to me the other night, as I sat at a party, that I, like most people, live and die by our baggage. I'm talking emotional baggage not Samsonite (although I did have an acquaintance once whose luggage was worth more than everything I owned combined, so that does exist out there but not the point of this blog). Something someone casually talked about made me think of a current situation I'm in and reminds me of an old situation I was in (although the current one is far less of a 'thing' than that was). Baggage. It's irritating. I want to react to the thing now not now to the thing that happened before. Follow me?
Now I know this is an overshare but the thing that I have found in my long legged life is this: everyone has baggage. It's super irritating but it's true. LOL
And that way that they are treating you might not actually be 'you', you might be the latest stand in for whatever it is that bit them in the neck in the past.
And, there, in a room full of crowded people, at a marvelous party, I had a kind of epiphany.
Because it would have been easy to start to slide into a little bit of a funk, but, then it hit me: I'm better than my baggage. Really. I know I am. I'm better than dwelling on this or that rather than just present for those who aren't triggering some baggage. I'm better than feeling like a pinball.
I can't all of my baggage magically went away - wouldn't that be nice? lol - but maybe it's more of an 'let go' kind of thing where I notice but don't give it, as they say, free rent in my head. :)
What about you? What's your baggage? What are you missing out of the present by holding on so tightly to from before? (Not that I'm asking you to put your thoughts in the comments section, of course, but maybe something to take a little inventory of if you're feeling inclined).
Corny as it sounds, it's easier to jump for joy without all of that baggage holding me down so there might just be something to that. :)
P.S. I try to use my own photos whenever I can because I think I'm an OK photographer and I want to try, as best as I can, to create content rather than just yank content (including pics). I'm not adverse to it (I've certainly done it) but as someone who likes to shoot and post pics, maybe I should do what I would hope others would do: give credit to the source of the image. Anyway, I digress, but I went to Home Depot the other day to find new knobs for my new dresser (I am really loving the dresser... it's amazing!) and ended up looking at bedside lamps. This was one of my favorites and it was the only even remotely artistic photo I have since I unloaded the last month's of photos to my external harddrive. So here's a lamp. I figure that with the 'epiphany' comment and the use of the photo, I look like I was trying to be cute and corny. Actually, that is exactly what I wanted. Did it work? :)
I've purchased our Thanksgiving turkey and it's sitting on our tiny kitchen counter thawing. At this point, It's literally a 9lb block of ice with some turkey thrown in for good measure. But, thankfully, we have a little time until it needs to get thrown in the oven.
One of the things that I am most thankful for this year is that I am now only about 6 months from the date of May 27, 2020 - it's the date when all space and time converge for me - it will be the day I've lived longer than my father who died after a year long battle with cancer when he was 56.
I don't know why it's become like This Thing, but I do remember those days following his death, when I was 17, and thinking that 56 seemed scary but thankfully so far away. And now... I turn 56 on March 9th and then .... well, then I'm nearly there to the point that he was. I'm nearly where the scary part is. The part I've spent my life preparing for. A kind of time of a cosmic report card surveying all I've done and left undone.
What I haven't really thought of is, what occupies that space, filled for so many years with the anxiousness of 56 in the distance, when it's May 28th?
And, then, of course, it hits me - what if I don't get beyond his age? That's scary for lots of reasons. LOL
But in the here and now, I have a frozen turkey, a great partner of 4 years, a home I've been in for 16 years, am drawing (sporadically, but I am doing it), a job and a few friends sprinkled across the world. For right now, it's what I will focus on.
On a completely unrelated note, tomorrow, Thanksgiving, I will once again be a balloon handler in the Macys Parade, if the winds allow it. My first year was 2006 and I was on Super Grover. It rained a lot and I wore boots that had holes in them (I didn't know, of course, until the first puddle I walked through). The Macys people had a policy of no photos at the time so I don't have a picture from that year, but above is a montage of all the other years I've been in the Parade. It's comforting, somehow to watch me morph into Santa Claus. :)
Have a very happy Thanksgiving all!
Today would have been my mom's **th birthday; it's been nearly 7 since she passed.
I see her in so many parts of my life, and in so much of the world and although I used to feel as though she was hanging around, giving me a push now and then, I think she's finally moved on to other things. And that's a good thing.
I have written about her a lot on this blog and will so again as I write the JOHNS AND MARYS entries, so I'll keep this short today. But I've posted one of my favorite pics of her. I'm standing next to her in a white t shirt (you can see a bit of it) but I wanted to spotlight just her.
You'll notice she's wearing two sets of glasses. I used to wonder about this until I got into my 50s. Now I understand. Time really is the great educator and our experience makes a lightbulb go off about our parents - ah!, we say, that's why they did that thing that seemed so strange back then! :)
May we all have those epiphanies now and then!
Happy Birthday, Mom! smooch.
JOHNS AND MARYS chapters you might have missed:
Getting the right tone is important to me because, I think, it could too easily be taken too seriously or, well, not seriously enough… but that’s kind of the danger in telling our stories, right? – not everyone is going to ‘hear’ it in the way that we tell it. But, taking out the truth of any story renders it toothless and, thus, why bother even telling it then?
So it happened when I was pretty little – I’d say around 4 or 5. I vaguely remember kissing my brother and sister goodbye when they'd leave for the day to go to school. I don’t know how long this went on, I just remember it being a kind of regular thing in my pre-kindergarten life. My mom and I would be at the door as they would rush out to catch the bus and I would be there to kiss them goodbye. I guess I thought that's just what people did for people that they love. I certainly loved my brother and sister in those days.
One morning after they had left and the front door had closed, mom gently pulled me aside and told me “boys don’t kiss other boys”. At the time I remember feeling vaguely embarrassed that I might have done something wrong which, for me, meant, something that upset her, but I don't think that it was meant that way; I think it was more instructional/informational than that.
We had a funny family dynamic - my parents encouraged my imagination and really didn't push me to do what the culture would consider more "manly" things - like sports (which I was pretty bad at overall, mostly because I was pretty uncoordinated and hated all that competitive stuff which, for me, made the whole thing un-fun), hunting deer (I was always like 'why are we killing things when there's food at the supermarket?" lol), and that type of stuff. I got lots of teasing from my brother and other kids at school, ("femme" mostly, but, strangely, hardly ever "fag") but mom and dad were pretty encouraging of things like drawing, singing, and doing theater. I guess the arts is considered a feminine thing, but, looking back, I guess it says more about the others' expectations of what a 'man' should be rather than about me specifically. <shrug>
Along the way, my mom did give little course corrections - looking back I can see a string of "boys don't do this - " type statements -- when I wanted to play the saxophone in fifth grade, for example, mom chafed and insisted on the trombone saying that "boys don't play saxophone"... which is, of course, not true. By the way, I spent 8 years playing an instrument that I didn't like and was terrible at it mainly because it wasn't what I wanted to do ... but you know how it is, you have to compromise on some things to get other things (I lost the sax battle but I got to do theater, which, in my mind, was better). I did make many friends who played trombone, though, so it really was OK.
Anyway, so, perhaps it was more that my mom wanted me to fit in because she, as a person who liked to dress in ‘sparkly’ clothes, knew something about not fitting in. And, although my dad had many many friends and was very well liked, he was a regular reader of The New Yorker, the Wall Street Journal, and National Geographic so I assume that he too understood the value of having a child who was more imaginative even if it was a little out of the norm.
But, then and there, the 'boys don't..' statements confused me and would continue to confuse me throughout my childhood and into adulthood. Many of my gay male friends have experienced the same thing and it is common in the community to struggle with issues surrounding actual and perceived masculinity. There's certainly a part of the gay community that over-exaggerates their manliness in order to overcompensate for their/our fear of femininity. I've certainly been one of them...... but that process of untangling those thoughts and feelings took a long time, unfortunately.
It also took a long time for me to figure out that others were having a lot of the same questions that I was about how to navigate the real world. Some of those kids found that lashing out at someone weaker than them was a way to manage their insecurities, and some made of them made other choices. Thankfully, some also chose to be kind. :)
It's a lot to unpack and there's a lot of story to tell, but I can tell you that, as an adult, expressing affection to others whether they be gay or straight, male or female, or whatever, has been a freeing thing. Telling someone you appreciate them, love them, even, is something there's too little of in the world today. While being expressive like this put me through much pain along the way, I don't think I'd trade it for being any other way; it has been one of life's greatest joys.
Click below for links to previous chapters of JOHNS AND MARYS:
Good morning and Happy Monday.
Today, I feel the need to write a little bit about something that happened recently: On Friday, July 12 I found out that one of my favorite New Yorkers had passed away: Robert W. Richards.
Robert was an artist of note who was one of those New Yorkers who was the very definition of "fabulous" and he always made everyone he encountered feel fabulous even if they weren't as fabulous as he was (which is most of us).
I am honored to have had a portrait illustrated by him of me for a magazine during the late 90s when I was producing fundraising events here in NYC and in LA...... I did not sit for him, but discovered the portrait on the cover of a gay weekly magazine in 1998. I moved to LA the week it was published and, without the miracle that is social media, never met him on that first go 'round here.
But, a few years later I returned to New York and began, among other things, producing a weekly fundraising Bingo event at which I would always feature LGBT celebrities. One week I did a fundraiser for the Leslie Lohman gallery and I came up with the idea of having someone create a work during the event that we would auction off; they suggested Robert.
The moment he arrived, it was like meeting an old friend. I expressed the honor that I had at being drawn by him and, portrayed, perhaps, a bit more fabulously than I really was. :)
At one point during the event, he pulled me aside and told me that he had had buyers interested in the original, but that he had told them that he had lost it. He then presented it to me, signed. I was beside myself with gratitude.
It has been framed and hanging in my hallway for over a decade. It is one of my most treasured possessions. Later, he included the portrait in a book and gave me a copy with a personal note written inside "thanks for the loan of your fabulous face, Robert".
While not close friends, per se, over the next 10 years or so, when we would run into each other at events, parties, gallery openings, etc it really would be like running into an old trusted friend and companion. I suspect many people felt this way about him.
Robert's art touched many lives and, for this small town guy, having Robert in my corner really meant something to me in ways that may not have fully known.
For a variety of personal reasons, I am choosing not to post the artwork, however, I will value it til the end of my days as a reminder of a special and specific time in my life and as a tribute from a man for whom I had tremendous respect and admiration.
Rest in peace/power, Robert W. Richards, you will be missed by many, but especially by me.
(Pictured, Robert W. Richards and I July 11, 2007, Midtown Manhattan. Photo by A.B.)
This is the true joy in life: being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one. Being thoroughly worn out before you are thrown on the scrap heap; being a force of Nature instead of a feverish selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy. I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the community, and as long as I live, it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can. I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work, the more I live. Life is no ‘brief candle’ to me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I have got hold of for a moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations.
George Bernard Shaw (as quoted by Mary S. on LinkedIn)
I have said many times in my life - sometimes humorously, sometimes when I'm in the depths of emotion - that my life should serve as a "Don't Let This Happen To You" warning. There's the time I found myself halfway between Reno and Salt Lake in a dead Hyundai with a car load of stuff including a computer monitor owned by my best friend who was, at the time, moving from Chicago to San Francisco. That's a story for another day. If I continue to do this chronologically, that'll be awhile, but worth it, I think. It's one of my favorites.
And, you know, today's blog is also one of my favorite stories that speaks to the DLTHTY theme - the story of The Swing Set.
You see, we had a big backyard and although we mowed the grass, we didn't really didn't do a lot of upkeep on our garage, the pink blocked patio, the metal swing set, the sand/needle box and other things like a metal shed that I made it one of my young life's missions to keep organized. My other projects, btw, of this kind were in the attic and the basement. The treasures I have found over the years in our attic included an envelope with the negatives from my mom's and dad's wedding reception in 1953 and some cool self help books from the late 60s. (BTW try as I might I cannot remember if Dr. Tec's "Fear of Success" was in our bookshelf, but if I ever made my childhood into a movie, I sure would have me thumb through it. Because foreshadowing and stuff). I guess it was like most big backyards in the Midwest - a rusting this or that somewhere on your property, scattered bikes or toys, and a general ease about the life being lived there. It's not like east coast backyards that are, comparatively, virtually English gardens.
Anyway, I have a sort of flap on my tongue that stems from an early childhood moment of Stupid. Here goes.
Linda was my best pal/playmate from an early age. She lived in a large rambling house with her mom and dad and several older brothers and sisters. They had an enormous yard and a creek (which we all called "The Crick") next door where all the kids from the neighborhood would swim in the summer. There was a bunch of kids on River Road where I grew up but she was the only one exactly my same age.
Anyway, most times, I (and everyone else) would go over to Linda's house to play, but this one time during a very cold and grey winter day when I was 4 or 5, Linda was over and we were running around in the snow playing on the swing set. Like all kids we teased each other. Well, she was kind of hogging the one and only swing. At one point, I suggested we go over to the sand/needle box, and, so, she got up and we raced over to it... except I was convinced she was going to double back and retake the swing, so I doubled back and lurched towards the cold metal swing set, tripping ever so much that I went head first into one of the supporting poles. And, as I gave a 'yelp', my tongue found itself lodged on the cold metal.
When you're 4 or 5 and your tongue finds itself lodged on any surface, the natural reaction is to yank it off.
Yeah, I did that.
... and then the pain began and the blood started to pour out, filling my mouth, and then, when I opened my mouth, creating a stream of red in the fresh snow. As I ran towards the house in a panic, I looked back at a dumbfounded Linda and a definite trail behind me. Yeah, it was pretty awful.
I don't remember much after that. Not sure if I passed out or what but the next thing I remember, I was laying in my dad's bedroom with the TV on. I think there must have been an ice pack on my tongue to stop the bleeding and I was pretty freaked out. My sister, Lynn, created a little paper doll puppet show from a book of Cinderella paper dolls she had. It was pretty cool. She'd loved the version of Cinderella that had been on TV a couple years earlier which starred Lesley Ann Warren and Stuart Damon. Damon would go on to portray Alan Quartermaine on General Hospital for over 30 years.
Not that this needs to be said - but I'll say it anyway - when your tongue gets stuck on a metal surface, don't yank it off. And, also trust your friends. Also: don't play on the swing set in the winter, why would you be doing that anyway? LOL
And although my sister and I have had our share of good and rocky times, I never will forget that act of kindness.
Why, you might ask, is this one of my favorite stories? Well, mainly because when I tell it, I'm able to enjoy the look of horror on the other person's face at the thought of it happening. There is a weird pleasure in that. LOL
So that's today's story, please leave a comment if you feel so moved.
In the meantime, I'll be back tomorrow and throughout the week with more thoughts and stories.
I grew up on a country road two miles out of the 'city' of Mosinee. The road hugged the banks of the Wisconsin River and we sat on a couple acres with an ample front and backyard. Our backyard meshed in with a large pine forest which gave way to fields and the River itself. This space allowed my imagination to run wild and I felt as though I had the world at my beck and call. I could climb trees, explore the wild brush (one year I discovered wild black raspberries), the base of an abandoned silo, and so much else.
The backyard itself had a metal swingset, a patio with a large oak tree growing out of the middle of it, and a rarely used sandbox that someone somewhat unwisely thought to place under a cluster of four tall pine trees thus making it more of a pine needle box than a sand box. Later, I would be the one to mow all that grass but I seem to remember rather enjoying it especially the year we got a riding lawnmower.
I'll get to an 'adventure' I had on the swingset in another post, and the sandbox holds no stories (sadly) but the patio was the focal point of my first big childhood emergency - the day I drank gasoline.
This patio was made up of these pinkish rectangular tiles, and on the patio sat a rusted lawnchair and a semi rusted grill. I don't remember the family using it very much, so it was kind of a big occasion when my dad would fire it up. I remember it being a particularly hot summer day and I was doing my thing - I had playmates with kids from the road, but I always felt a little silly sharing my 'pretend' with them especially since it would include me creating a TV schedule of all the shows I liked the most. I dreamt that I could create one station where all the best stuff was on..... I created a logo and everything and would do promos in my head. I was very much a child of the TV generation.
Anyway, on this particular day, I had been running around and, as is normal on a hot summer day, got thirsty. Dad was grilling and I noticed that he had a bottle of 7Up on the little shelf on the side of the grill. I saw him step away and figured he wouldn't mind if I "snuck" a swig of his soda.
That's when it hit me that what I had just drunk was gasoline.
For some reason, rather than having a can of lighter fluid, my dad poured some gas into an empty bottle of 7Up. I never did find out why but there it was, bubbling around in my stomach.
In a moment of blind panic, I tore across the gravel driveway that circled the house and raced in through the back door of the house and into the kitchen where everyone was making conversation.
Once they found out what had happened, my mom grabbed me and we dashed off to the car. The Mosinee clinic was, at the time, just over the bridge in a tiny office on the main street.
My mom suffered from some nervous conditions, but on that day and in that moment, she was calm, cool, and focused on getting me to the doctor's office.
Someone had called ahead and once we arrived, they rushed me in and got me into a tiny room. Soon, plastic tubes were being inserted up into my nose. I could feel them snaking down the back of my throat.
And then they started to pump.
Well, it all came up fairly quickly as tears wear streaming down my face.
Afterwards, we went next door to Mueller's Drug Store and mom let me pick out a coloring book. I chose one with an owl dressed as a sheriff (how I remember that, I'll never know).
In later years, when my sister and brother would tease me about it, I would point out that the gasoline was in the 7Up bottle, but they'd come back with 'yeah, but you drank it TWICE!"
I cannot argue with that, unfortunately! LOL