“Wear Sunscreen (or Graduation Day)”

“Wear Sunscreen (or Graduation Day)”

Whatever you do, don’t congratulate yourself too much
Or berate yourself either
Your choices are half chance, so are everybody else’s

— From columnist Mary Schmich‘s essay for the Chicago Tribune, June 1997

Finally, a reason to write an essay about being proud and happy. I’m hitting the “Pause” button on my ravings to concentrate on an experience shared by many of us: the day we graduate from high school.

It goes without saying that we are never really ever out of school. Classrooms are either ground zero for inspiration and imagination or a repelling force that hurtles bodies into other stratospheres of life. I will never judge those who deem the classroom as their Waterloo, either. Valuable lessons can only be learned if we’re open to them, whether out of a book or experience. But the act of graduating, of moving forward, is such an empowering reality.

I’ve never been good about letting go of things or moving forward. Hell, I didn’t even graduate from college. But that’s another story. It’s just too easy to choose the safe confines of avoiding confrontation or making decisions that can alleviate all that ails or stagnates us. But, sooner or later, you get your PhD in courage and strength. You walk, head held high, smiling at all that you’ve accomplished. You’ve shed that extra weight, that 10-ton magilla of emotion and/or fear, and you move forward.

It was a glorious day to see the photos and videos of my godson graduating from high school in June. He was the first grandchild of my aunt and uncle to graduate from high school. I know my cherished aunt, his forever Nana, was smiling that glorious smile the moment he made his way down the aisle to receive his diploma. Lord knows the family has endured some trying times, but my godson has grown into one of the most sincere, intelligent, genuine and decent human beings on this planet. We need more like him and that’s a testament to his parents’ upbringing, my divine cousin and her husband. I admire their tenacity, more, I admire their ability to remain a unified front against that could tear them asunder. They were not destined to life an acrimonious life of arrogance, keeping up appearances and regret like Las Hermanas y Hermano Coraje, That in itself is a lesson for all of us to uphold and appreciate.

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It is going to be exciting to see what happens to my godson next. And rest assured, we will all be there to cheer him on to his next achievements. That goes for all of the grandkids, because that’s what family does. Whether by blood or choice, you stay together through the challenges, emerging stronger and more united. Even if it seems like the pain and emotion will never subside, you will survive intact, and most of all, loved.

I recalled the famed Mary Schmich piece for the Chicago Tribune as I was writing this essay. Immortalized by producer Baz Luhrmann as a surprise pop hit, “Everybody’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen),” it is the perfect commencement speech. It is a delicious slice of life advice that any columnist worth their Pulitzer Prize would like to represent their abilities. So, in a rare bid of optimism, I am concluding this essay with a special address to the Class of 2017…and anyone else who is taking a step forward into becoming the person they were meant to be.

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Wear Sunscreen

By Mary Schmich of the Chicago Tribune

Ladies and gentlemen of the class of ’97: Wear sunscreen.

If I could offer you only one tip for the future, sunscreen would be it. The long-term benefits of sunscreen have been proved by scientists whereas the rest of my advice has no basis more reliable than my own meandering experience. I will dispense this advice now.

Enjoy the power and beauty of your youth. Oh, never mind. You will not understand the power and beauty of your youth until they’ve faded. But trust me, in 20 years, you’ll look back at photos of yourself and recall in a way you can’t grasp now how much possibility lay before you and how fabulous you really looked. You are not as fat as you imagine.

Don’t worry about the future. Or worry, but know that worrying is as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubble gum. The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind, the kind that blind side you at 4 PM on some idle Tuesday.

Do one thing every day that scares you.

Sing.

Don’t be reckless with other people’s hearts. Don’t put up with people who are reckless with yours.

Floss.

Don’t waste your time on jealousy. Sometimes you’re ahead, sometimes you’re behind. The race is long and, in the end, it’s only with yourself.

Remember compliments you receive. Forget the insults. If you succeed in doing this, tell me how.

Keep your old love letters. Throw away your old bank statements.

Stretch.

Don’t feel guilty if you don’t know what you want to do with your life. The most interesting people I know didn’t know at 22 what they wanted to do with their lives. Some of the most interesting 40-year-olds I know still don’t.

Get plenty of calcium.

Be kind to your knees. You’ll miss them when they’re gone.

Maybe you’ll marry, maybe you won’t. Maybe you’ll have children, maybe you won’t. Maybe you’ll divorce at 40, maybe you’ll dance the funky chicken on your 75th wedding anniversary. Whatever you do, don’t congratulate yourself too much, or berate yourself either. Your choices are half chance. So are everybody else’s.

Enjoy your body. Use it every way you can. Don’t be afraid of it or of what other people think of it. It’s the greatest instrument you’ll ever own.

Dance, even if you have nowhere to do it but your living room.

Read the directions, even if you don’t follow them.

Do not read beauty magazines. They will only make you feel ugly.

Get to know your parents. You never know when they’ll be gone for good.

Be nice to your siblings. They’re your best link to your past and the people most likely to stick with you in the future.

Understand that friends come and go, but with a precious few you should hold on. Work hard to bridge the gaps in geography and lifestyle, because the older you get, the more you need the people who knew you when you were young.

Live in New York City once, but leave before it makes you hard.

Live in Northern California once, but leave before it makes you soft.

Travel.

Accept certain inalienable truths: Prices will rise. Politicians will philander. You, too, will get old. And when you do, you’ll fantasize that when you were young, prices were reasonable, politicians were noble, and children respected their elders.

Respect your elders.

Don’t expect anyone else to support you. Maybe you have a trust fund. Maybe you’ll have a wealthy spouse. But you never know when either one might run out.

Don’t mess too much with your hair or by the time you’re 40 it will look 85.

Be careful whose advice you buy, but be patient with those who supply it. Advice is a form of nostalgia. Dispensing it is a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts and recycling it for more than it’s worth.

But trust me on the sunscreen.

 

 

“Better health through chemistry?”– A Prologue

“Better health through chemistry?”– A Prologue

“For a while she had a vague longing to be a psychologist. “Talking therapy is dead,” Gary said when she raised the idea. “It’s all pills now.”
Rafael Yglesias, The Wisdom of Perversity

Better health through chemistry. I’m taking Lexapro because I have brought myself to a standstill.

Active ingredients are: escitalopram oxalate Inactive ingredients: talc, croscarmellose sodium, microcrystalline cellulose/colloidal silicon dioxide, and magnesium stearate. The film coating contains hypromellose, titanium dioxide, and polyethylene glycol.

According to a Google search, my depression can be be attributed to:

“…a combination of biological, psychological, and social sources of distress. Increasingly, research suggests these factors may cause problems in brain function, including abnormal activity of certain neural circuits in the brain.

The persistent feeling of sadness or loss of interest that characterizes major depression can lead to a range of behavioral and physical symptoms. These may include changes in sleep, appetite, energy level, concentration, daily behavior, or self-esteem. Depression can also be associated with thoughts of suicide.

The mainstay of treatment is usually medication, talk therapy, or a combination of the two. Increasingly, research suggests these treatments may normalize brain function associated with depression.”

Is this the Magic Bullet that will blast me out of this cycle of self-harm and despondency about myself, about the world I inhabit?  We shall see. One tablet a day at a low dose. Then, a higher dose after seven days  A Hail, Mary pass if there ever was one.

A new journey begins and while I don’t like the fact that several chemicals are coursing through my veins to keep me from falling into the mortal abyss, I do think this may finally restore my “Want.” That is my want to change, to my want to be healthy. My want to live.

Let us give thanks, indeed.

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Cucumbers and Anxiety

Cucumbers and Anxiety

Me: My ego is so fragile. Hahaha.

David W: You and everyone. We are all just cucumbers and anxiety.

How many of you want to admit that you’re a garden variety neurotic these days? Yes? No? I know I’m guilty of trying too hard in documenting a life and style that looks “oh-so-good!” It didn’t begin with the advent of the social media age, either. I’ve spent a life time fostering a gallery of false personalities. Not even my tried and true selves are able to mask my insecurities, which are plentiful and terribly obvious. I’m haven’t fooled anyone since 6th grade in that regard, something I am only now starting recognize.

Yet, these last months have been different because this depression really set in with a vengeance. I’ve fought this constant struggle of weight and my compromised health before. What’s different is that I’ve never felt so defeated and pessimistic about myself and the world we live in. It’s been a long, continuing stretch of days filled with apathy, malaise and half-hearted declarations of “Tomorrow, I’ll be better” and it has exhausted me. I am out of excuses for choosing to remain in a state of stagnation and useless, selfish woe. This narrative is long overdue for a major rewrite. Thanks to these weeks of therapy,  I do feel something stirring in this conflicted brain of mine. The question is how to take this self-awareness and move myself forward? I don’t know what the steps I’ve taken reveal, but these choices have put a few things in motion without my having to take a running leap.

I grew a beard. Ergo, I’ve become a man again. Haha. No, really. It seems this clichéd symbol of virility has given me a different facade with which to join the rest of my gay brethren. My added bulk has also pushed me into a different category, too. Yes, officially I am a “bear,” despite my best efforts to avoid such a label. (And if you need a refresher as to my bear bias, read this: https://mediajor.com/2014/10/29/why-im-not-a-bear-nolabels/

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Yeah, the attention has been darn nice. I’ve been meeting men, hanging out with them and more. I may have lost the hair on my head to baldness, but the hair around my face is more than making up for that bit of genetic chaos. Papa Hemingway to some, Papa Smurf to others. So what? If it’s a case of “If you can’t beat ’em,  join ’em,” so be it. I’ve been this hermetic crab for too long and the palpable loneliness is only going away if I join the living. I don’t have to conform to the group mentality. If anything, it’s given me the power to adjust my own way of thinking of what it means to be a gay man, to edit my own brand. And yes, I’ve always had an affinity for plaid. Does this mean I’m chucking the capes? No. Hell no.

I am days away from my 49th birthday and the introspection it has triggered has surprised me. The second best decision I made was to deactivate both Facebook and Twitter for a while. Social media anxiety has prompted me to stay away from my Facebook and Twitter feeds. Enough of the mob mentality, yellow journalism and manufactured looks into lives that are just as ordinary as mine. I’m still digging my heels in terms of other things, like getting this carcass to the gym. I don’t know what fuels this fear. It isn’t the work involved. It’s the mindset that I won’t make a single difference. Still. That’s probably the most self-defeating aspect of this entire journey to date. While it helps to have an outlet to work this out in my head away from Dr. Burke’s office, this blog can’t function as just a more public means of the same excuse making, either.

I keep looking for signs of change and strength everywhere. In some ways, I do feel the universe is being a cheerleader — or maybe optimism is manifesting itself out of my own strong desire to be stronger and healthier. For example, I was spending a Saturday with my colleagues at their home in Temecula. The kids were doing their thing.  The grown-ups were having their own conversations. I took my place on the sofa. While I was feeling a sense of much-needed relaxation, for a moment, I wanted to exist in a bubble. Again, the introspection takes hold whenever I feel still enough.

I picked up an old issue of Vogue off their coffee table, idly flipping through pages all heavily scented with Armani’s new fragrance. I hope my own eyes didn’t look as dead as Kendall Jenner’s at that moment. Here I was, surrounded by the people who sincerely want to see me rally through this state of depression. For a moment, I felt lost in the din of children playing, adults mixing pineapple and rum drinks and the whirring of the food processor creating homemade chimichurri. It wasn’t sadness I felt, though. My hosts (and bosses) would call out to me from time to time, even calling me the “anti-social butterfly” at one point. It wasn’t the pages of luxury brands and beautiful people that had me stay away. What I couldn’t tell them was that I was mulling over the disappointment of knowing I keep making the same damn mistakes with food, with money, with people. Again.

I eventually put that magazine down, trust me. But I did spend a lot of that afternoon (and evening) contemplating the mistakes I keep making in life, most of which are so damn fixable! I may have been covered in sun block, but a lot of other mental X-rays kept breaking through as I sat by the pool, marinating in my own sweat and sentiment. That issue of Vogue, however, did something and it happened on on page 312.

An article by writer Stephanie Danler caught my attention. She’d contributed a piece about her father and his battle with drug abuse. It was a compelling article, ladened with these gems of insight, each one more ornate than the ones advertised by Tiffany & Company:

“I come from a long line of charismatic liars,’ I might say. ‘The dinner parties are beautiful. Our main currencies are epiphanies and promises, highly inflated, though we ourselves remain completely bankrupt…'”

Everything kind of stopped in that moment. All I could hear was this click in my brain. Was it recognition? Was it ignition? I had to continue reading.

“When I look at him, I see a man in pain,” Danler continued. “What he inherited — what he was born with — is what I call a black hole. It sit behind his heart and has been threatening to swallow him in darkness his entire life.”

Bingo. That fucking black hole that threatens to consume so many of us dealing with depression and false selves. I concur with Ms. Danler. It is easy to love a charming liar. You are charmed by us, while our loved ones possess a gift of suffering in silence, until one day they will tire of it all and just walk away. That is what makes therapy so vital. This is how we all learn to make boundaries, walls with which to stave off that which threatens to take us all down.

“It’s through boundaries,” Danler wrote, “that we create ourselves. I wrote it all down: what was acceptable and what wasn’t. I wrote down the consequences. I developed rituals of self-care. I cut toxic people from my life, the ones that drained me…

…I learned to say No.”

These words were heading into my psyche as if on a conveyor belt. I needed to read this now. I needed to process it then and there. I tried to explain this to the group, who saw me furiously adding these quotes into my WordPress iPhone app. I needed to capture it unfiltered and as real as possible at that moment. Otherwise, I don’t think I would have had the desire to continue exploring these thoughts in writing. I understood Ms. Danler’s ultimate admission that loving a charming liar is a disease for which there is no cure.

“Any system of recovery is flawed because we are flawed, inconstant beings. We have to manage it completely by ourselves.”

We do have to manage our insecurities and addictions ourselves, yes. But it takes a support system you don’t take for granted to get you there. As I pondered this idea, my boss’ youngest daughter appeared before me with a toy first aid kit. She wanted to check to see if I was okay. Vital signs were fine. I wasn’t dead, she pronounced. Then she checked my temperature.

“You’re not sick,” she counseled. “You’re happy.”

Maybe, Dr. This anxious cucumber is still showing signs of old illnesses gone untreated. But, I think a remedy is on the verge of reality.

Maybe.

 

We will rise up or #StandWithUs

We will rise up or #StandWithUs

When the silence isn’t quiet
And it feels like it’s getting hard to breathe
And I know you feel like dying
But I promise we’ll take the world to it’s feet
And move mountains
Bring it to it’s feet
And move mountains
And I’ll rise up
I’ll rise like the day
I’ll rise up
I’ll rise unafraid
I’ll rise up
And I’ll do it a thousand times again
For you…

I, like many, woke up on Sunday morning with the news of another mass shooting. And, like many, I was moved to tears. As the news of the shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida dominated the media, those tears mixed with absolute rage. I am angry over the loss of humanity, the loss and wounding of so many of my brothers. More, I am furious over the continuing loss of sanity and compassion in a world that refuses to let people live their lives in peace. We don’t deserve the ground we walk on or the air we breathe if the evil few continue to have to no regard for the greater good in a world that houses us all.

The truth is I don’t fear the terror of a group determined to keep us in fear. I actually fear the ignorance still to be heard and felt in so many other ways in my own country. This just didn’t happen at a “gay club.” This event happened to all of us. We must stand together, even if others prefer to keep us apart.

My heart is heavy now, but my mind burns with rage. As far as I am concerned, organized religions and groups promoting an agenda of “traditional values” are just purveyors of organized hate.

I am not losing sight of the families and loved ones left behind. I know I am not alone in saying that we hold you all in our hearts. We are with you in spirit. You are not alone in your sorrow.

However, as race-baiting, hate-mongering blowhards like Donald Trump have the narcissistic gall to make this tragedy about themselves, I can only make room for more rage. We are now hearing a call to action to stop those so-called arrogant, bilious men and women in certain sectors of privilege that dare to think of themselves as being worthy of leading this great nation. They all have blood on their hands…again. How dare you appropriate the Pulse Tragedy in Orlando as validating the very agenda that makes us all targets of hate. How dare you disavow their sexual orientation, or worse, citing being gay as reason for such an act in your toxic rhetoric!

Fuck the terrorists. They will meet their fate. A special place in hell exists for those who believe in Donald Trump as being our great deliverer. When will they all realize that focusing our hate on one group or groups is not the answer? When will they realize that easy access to weaponry that belongs on the battlefield, that arming ourselves against a neighbor doesn’t promote true freedom? It promotes cowardice, violence and a final outcome that will rob of us hope.

And here’s one sobering reality — the thing about walls is that they can be climbed. Walls can be brought down. Walls keep nothing out, but keep paranoia, fear and ignorance woefully in place.

We cannot be rendered afraid or silent by the sins of the few. We must not let those who dare tear us asunder, at home or abroad, to render us powerless or apathetic anymore. Countless innocent men, women and children have met their bloody fates thanks to arms purchased in THIS country.

So many thoughts and feelings are running through my mind right now. I stand with the victims of the Pulse nightclub tragedy. Their lives, like those lost at Sandy Hook, Aurora, San Bernardino, Virginia Tech, Umpqua Community College and every innocent soul unleashed by a police bullet in this great land of ours, all give us strength to protect all lives. It is time for good people to rise and join in unison in a song that does not promote isolationist values of intolerance and retribution.

We have a choice. Either we rise up and stop this violence and pandering to the special interests of groups who are the antithesis of freedom and peace. Or, we allow ourselves to devolve into a police state that makes further mockery of what it means to be the United States of America.

The choice is all ours. As Andra Day sings with pride and love, “All we need is hope, and for that we have each other.”

We need each other. Now.

In spite of the ache
I will rise a thousand times again
And we’ll rise up
High like the waves
We’ll rise up
In spite of the ache
We’ll rise up
And we’ll do it a thousand times again
For you

 

“Signed, The Desayuno Club” or “Vida y Muerte”

“Signed, The Desayuno Club” or “Vida y Muerte”

My optimism seems to be at a premium these days. Singing along with my Burt Bacharach playlist on my iPod in the kitchen? Dancing as if no one’s looking? These are things that I have to muster up the energy to even contemplate, forget about execution. Sure, we can meme our way through the tough times with slogans like “Life Happens.” We all know life happens on its own timetable, without reason or warning. However, what do you do when the “Big Moments” pile up like a Friday afternoon on the interstate? How do you not feel like that F-5 twister purposefully chose to hit your home, skipping over other parts of the neighborhood?

I can’t remember a point in my life where the issue of mortality has been so present. These little earthquakes of truth and emotion are growing in intensity. We are aware that our lives are curated like one big Jenga® puzzle, moment by moment. At some point, a silvery thread of fear begins to weave its insidious way through our consciousness. Some of us will deftly snip it away, while others wither under weight of knowing some force can and will pull that one piece out, sending the whole thing crashing down. It’s not a productive way to live. Based on this sentiment, the events that have occurred to my family and friends of late have left me grappling between wielding the scissors and succumbing to the weight of all this mounting grief. I have reached a point of reckoning, of great questioning. And given my propensity to FEEL things, it is starting to hurt, triggering an agenda of self-destruction that is starting to scare me.

We are about to enter the fourth month of 2016. It’s not quite April and so many of life’s grand themes have found their way into all of our worlds. It’s been a season of births and deaths, peaks of elation and valleys of grief. Parallels keep manifesting themselves. I wasn’t alone in feeling shock over the loss of my childhood friend Anthony Dominguez last Christmas and the concussive effect of his passing has yet to abate.

As if on cue, it was long after Anthony’s death that I received the wonderful news of two friends, who are in fact sisters, had given birth to their first children just weeks apart. The great Colombian writer Gabriel García Márquez couldn’t pen this chapter any better. (Well, yeah, he could.)

Life. Death. Birth. Then the lightning round began.

In March, an important and much needed family reunion in Mexico was preceded by the news that the father of my childhood best friend passed away. While in Mexico, we were shocked to discover two close family members were grappling with their own mental China Syndromes. A few weeks later, on Easter Sunday, a day representative of rebirth and renewal concluded with a terse DM from another key member of my Pico Rivera family of friends.

Steve wrote: “Hi, I have some bad news. Please call me…”

My mind catalogued the litany that’s become all too common, particularly in Latino families. If the phone rings late at night, you need to steel yourself. Someone is gone.

“Was it his father?” I thought.

Blessedly, it wasn’t Mr. Chavez, but my heart still broke after I hung up the phone. The son of another member of our childhood group had lost his life in a car accident on his way back to college.

Reunions have been playing out with frequency these last months. In fact, this “Big Chill” group dynamic has alternated between being a welcome distraction to pulling the scabs off old wounds. Not that I’m complaining. It’s giving me license to feel other things, not just a sense of despair.

Many of these people were the formative friendships of formative years, personalities that have been reconstituted into the myriad of relationships I’ve encountered and nurtured in the 30+ years since graduating from high school. As many of us gathered to celebrate or mourn of late, it’s striking how we easily fall into the roles we played as children and teenagers. We reveal just enough to feel like we’ve closed the gap of time. We laugh, smile and upload pictures to our respective social media sites. Then we make the slow walk back to our cars taking us back to our own lives.

I am coming to terms with the biggest lesson learned in returning to the center square of my life. It hasn’t been said amongst us yet, but it is very much present:

We are mortal after all.

My own emotional state of mind swirls with so much color right at this moment, high dynamic angry color. I see shades of vermillion, red and orange, all in heated tones that make me sweat without even moving. Is it alright to say that I’m sick of having cancer and Alzheimer’s invade my cherished family fold? Since the passing of my aunt Susanna in 2014 to the family implosion the followed and beyond, I’ve been searching for some sort of answer as to why these life events can happen without pause. And when friends say to me, “That’s life,” I just want to scream and have a violent release of some sort: “They don’t understand!” But they do, because it’s happened or it is happening to them, too.

I can’t help but note the irony. I was born into a culture that embraces death, celebrating it with riotous shades of color and the sweetest tasting of candies. While I proudly display my calaveras, Catrinas and other artwork by José Guadalupe Posada at home and in my office, I wonder if its the American propensity to stir up fear that is wreaking havoc with my strength. (I toyed with using the phrase “steel bougainvillea” here, but I thought better of it.)

I knew as I went home the night of Anthony’s rosary service that I was going to write something about the significance of his death. However, it’s been several months since that moment and what started out as a tribute piece to him has taken many strange turns, unleashing a torrent of so many themes. It became about being 40-something, of going from boys to men and the rediscovery how much real life wages a war with us all. Despite my intent, this post read so fake and uninspiring. The altruistic reason to write about Anthony was being smothered by my own narcissism, as if I wanted to show off some incredible power of syntax and phrasing. I was overthinking it. Words would come out in fits and starts, sometimes with way too much flourish, corrupting the emotion in the process. It didn’t help that I would project my state of mind onto whatever I wrote. Worse, it was became apparent that the spirit of Anthony was now lost in all this fancy word play. Ultimately, it became about nothing at all. Just noise. I only wanted to make sure my friend knew I hadn’t forgotten him. What I didn’t anticipate was that I would be adding names to create a list:

Tacho’s father, Roberto.

Anne’s son, Matthew.

It’s hard to keep a linear thread with this post. Since Anthony’s rosary service, I’ve been grappling with a total lack of focus. His loss magnified certain truths about what many of us stand to face from this point forward. News of other friends’ life challenges only cemented this creative block. I just folded all of this helplessness I felt into the depression that was entrenching itself in a way I’ve never experienced before. I wasn’t caring about anything, especially my own health. I only cared about my Dad, whose bout with Alzheimer’s is reaching a new stage amidst all this change.

This post couldn’t be a “Jeremiah” from the ‘mount, extolling the virtues of a cherishing a bountiful life while we can. How could it when a feeling of woe has saturated so much of what we see of this world on the daily? It rendered the spilling of digital ink on a white screen almost impossible. This was supposed to be a tribute, but I am empowered by what it has become in the last days.

I have been ruminating about the moment when we become aware of that thin line between life and death. Is it the loss of a grandparent? Or is it those hurried and emotional conversations you overhear from under your dining room table, where your parents process the news that Nana or Tío are “no longer with us?” Is it better to learn about death when your first goldfish receives that funeral at sea in the family commode? It doesn’t matter the context. In the end, you never forget that shocking wave of hot tears, whether theirs or your own, that leaves a stamp of realization.

As we get older, at least for some of us, dealing with death is supposed to get a little easier, recognizing it as being part of the ebb and flow of life. Sorry, but that doesn’t make the loss any easier to accept. However, honoring a sense of respect for mortality will do wonders for one’s resilience if you let it. You begin to understand that being born is not your only induction into the human race. It’s actually part of a longer process that culminates when you understand your place on this mortal Earth is not permanent.

I won’t forget the catalyst that prompted all this soul searching any time soon. Earlier this year, at Anthony’s service, I joined the growing crowd at St. Hilary on a chilly, damp Monday night. I was heartened by the amount of people waiting to head inside the church. As I walked, shoulders hunched, cold hands seeking warmth in my sweater pockets, I found myself already sorting out a rush of emotions, thinking to myself, “How did this happen?”

In between it all, fragments of the past starting to make their way to the front. All those pieces solidified the minute I heard my name, “George.” No one else but my people from home call me that anymore. And suddenly I was 10 years old again, as the past and present collided with incredible force. The crew was all there, the one that started at South Ranchito Elementary, gained new members at Meller Jr. High before reaching its zenith at El Rancho High School. I stood with these men, weaving in and out of solemnity and laughter from reminiscing. We fell back into the roles we had as teenagers, easily retaking our places as we filed into the church to pay our respects to our friend.

Regardless of the time spent apart since graduating high school, the foundation set all those years ago is still very much present. More, I think of the legacies that were created as a result of our time together:

Anthony was a huge part of my adolescence in Pico Rivera. I was never going to be a jock, but I am forever grateful that he never judged me, or anyone else for that matter. Even if I was sometimes the least skilled member of the teams we were part of as kids, Anthony remained a loyal friend from elementary all the way through high school.

Tacho and I were from the same neighborhood, cultivating a friendship shaped by the countless walks to the three schools we attended together. His family opened the doors to their home and restaurant to us all without question or reserve. I shall never forget Mr. Baeza, who remains a true caballero in my mind, just like my Dad. It says something that our families continue to have their roots in the same houses after 40 years.

Anne remains this quintessential pixie, albeit with a wicked dash of punk rock. She is still her own person, full of spirit, possessing a singular wit and a brilliant smile. In the photos I’ve seen of her son Matthew, I am heartened to see how much of her is present in his own vibrant smile and the personality captured in those frames. It makes his loss so much more difficult to fathom. My only regret is missing out on so much of Anne’s adult life so I could have shared a little bit of her journey as a mother.

Their narratives are forever interwoven with mine, and vice versa, I hope. We talk so much about how we’re disconnected today, but back then we were the definition of connectivity. It was incredible how widespread this reach was when you think about it. Schools, parks, after school activities, church, Scouts, cheerleading, Little League, Pop Warner, everything and anything social. It was like we were living this John Hughes-penned life but with a lot of added flavor. I mean, we’re talking Tapatío, Tajín, salsa cruda, salsa verde and roasted jalapeños. Because how vanilla was a John Hughes movie in the first place?

This is going off topic, but it occurs to me how much of our lives surrounded food. It was tacos from Mario’s and nachos from Casa Garcia. It was being treated to Sir George’s Smorgasbord, Naugles or Omega Burgers. It was post-game celebrations at someone’s home or at Shakey’s Pizza. Even now, it’s hard to stop this list for fear of leaving things out.

Looking back, I do remember how we expressed our incredulous shock at those who left us before we turned 18. Kathy Esparza didn’t make it to senior year at El Rancho. We paid our respects and we moved forward. The pep rallies continued. From Homecoming to Powder Puff, Prom and Graduation, we kept going through all of the rites of passage on schedule and without delay. The concept of loss wasn’t something we would contemplate much. Loss was just something that happened on the field, on the track or on the court in the gym.

My concept of loss won’t be the same same anymore. Despite the poetry we can ascribe to it as being the closing of a circle, it is still an end. And to be honest, I’ve never been good with endings. These scenes are destined to be replayed again, alas, but they must be met with grace and humility, too. As I begin to compose these last paragraphs, I’m think I can find my way to some peace. I am grateful in many ways for the opportunity to have reconnected with so many people. It speaks volumes to know that these archetypes of what I now want to call The Desayuno Club would gather once more — and without hesitation, too. And I am privileged that so many opted to share a part of their lives with me. They answered the question as to what happened to the Class of 1985? And it proved an inspiring answer.

We worked. We dated. We got married. We had children. We lost lovers. We lost parents. We ended marriages. We lost jobs. We remarried. We started new jobs. We had second families. We got sick. We got better. We will get better. In short, life happened and it continues to happen as these words float across the screen.

As I continue to reconnect with the men and women that played a part in shaping my life, I am secretly thrilled to l see glimpses of what we were: The jocks, the brains, the cheerleaders, the cholos, the cha cha’s, the Oish, the strange, the wild, the calm and the cool, always beautiful and forever young.

But I also see an incredible beauty shaped by resilience, tradition, strength and love. I don’t think who we are and what we represent is ever erased or replaced in life. Yes, we have a shared outcome in this world. But I’d like to think we are just one more layer in a temporal pan of cosmic lasagna. We will all add our particular blend of flavor and spice before a new layer is placed on top of us, all representing every milestone we achieve, layer after layer, pan after pan, for infinity. Despite the context of what brought us together, it’s given me something to feel that’s as close to optimism as I can declare right now. We are not alone. Ever. Therein lies the solace we can offer each other without condition.

You won’t be faulted for saying to me, “Stop your whining and man up!” We all process grief differently, so STFU. However, it is important to say that I don’t want this to be considered a “Woe is Me” post. I’ve taken to writing about these feelings to find a place for them so they don’t diminish the hope, care and optimism that my family members and friends need right now. It’s hard not to go from the micro to the macro in a given moment. For instance, most of us will accept the painful truth that the sooner we accept the truth about mortality, the sooner we can start living. That is, living for the moment and for the one’s we gather around us. No matter our stations in life, our wealth is the sum of our memories, darn it. That is truest and most vital achievement we are fated to accomplish. My challenge now is to continue to believe that, if only to stave off the rage that threatens to dominate my physical and mental self.

I am not sure how to complete this post. It has to mean something for those who read it, especially for the families of Anthony, Mr. Baeza and Matthew. An impact was made by their lives and it will not be forgotten. Maybe I should leave it open, for others to fill with their thoughts and sentiments? All I know is that we are connected again at a time when we need it most. Even if it is just for a moment, one thing remains certain. We will endure.

Because, we are life.

Signed, the Desayuno Club

 

Why I’m proud to be a Mexi-can in Hollywood

Why I’m proud to be a Mexi-can in Hollywood

While we dissect the Trumpian phenomenon ushering in the era of Idiocracy in America, the New York Times published a stellar think-piece on the struggle for diversity in Hollywood. Written by Melena Ryzik, the article was a welcome respite from a news feed clogged with Trump’s latest example of “hoof in mouth” rantings. We are living in serious times and we need to keep our focus on the issues that are seriously undermining our identity and modern culture.

I know I am not alone in thinking that America still leads the world by example. Imagine our disappointment in knowing we are now the biggest reality show ever produced, where racism, ignorance, vulgar excess and rampant egoism has been given a platform — and worse — validation. I refuse to allow this Age of Idiocracy to take further root. We all bear a responsibility to not just elevate the whole of society, not our specialized interest groups. That is why Ryzik’s article resonated so strongly with me. We ALL need to take the country back.

I can only speak from my small corner of the entertainment industry, but it is a powerful group with which to be associated. We are the ones charged with creating the narratives for the general public to enjoy. What we project on screen has impact and can shape popular thought. If we are to beat Trump at his own game, then we need to educate everyone as to why we need the media to curate a national image that is representative of the nation as a whole. As it stands, we are still woefully deficient in having the infrastructure to even contemplate such a shift in image. As Ryzik’s writes in her lead:

The statistics are unequivocal: Women and minorities are vastly underrepresented in front of and behind the camera. Here, 27 industry players reveal the stories behind the numbers — their personal experiences of not feeling seen, heard or accepted, and how they pushed forward. In Hollywood, exclusion goes far beyond#OscarsSoWhite.

Reading this article was empowering and frustrating at the same time. Frustrating because eliminating the racial/gender bias of Hollywood is still like chipping away at an endless wall of concrete.

I still have people assume I don’t speak English at junkets based on my name. Sometimes, these same people will address me in a slower or louder tone, even AFTER I’ve already spoken to them in what I think is a very educated, American English voice. Or, I’m referred to as “Jose” or “Javier,” even in a city like LA. I guess being “Jorge” is the most foreign name ever.

For a time, I would only be considered the “best” choice for certain projects because these films had an “ethnic” theme. It was a lot harder to get the “event” or “mainstream” films. That isn’t the case anymore. But it took the support and encouragement of a handful of studio executives that were my bosses in publicity to make this happen. They saw beyond my ethnicity and realized that I had a unique perspective as an interviewer that wasn’t just dictated by gender, orientation or cultural background.

Today, I can safely say I’ve interviewed some of the best and best-known figures in entertainment, as well as cultural and political figures that have shaped our modern world. (Take that, Oprah and Charlie Rose.) Few Latino (and even fewer bilingual) producer/interviewers exist in the studio content industry. I wish that wasn’t the case, but I think the advent of social media will refine this reality.

It is important to recognize the roles we all play in proving why the “norm” is not acceptable. As long as we continue to encourage and be part of the dialogue, we will be the designers of the solution, too. More, we need to encourage future generations that they have every right to dictate the narratives realized on screen. We need to inculcate in our children that they have no reason to fear not being seen, heard or accepted within industries like entertainment and media. Their face is the face of the new America.

No matter what Trump says, we don’t need any new walls. If anything, we need to bring them all down and end this Age of Idiocracy before it destroys the very things that make this country great.

Click the link below to read Ryzik’s article now:

 

 

“Of spare parts and DREAM acts…” — #lavidarobot

“Of spare parts and DREAM acts…” — #lavidarobot

— With the real Oscar Vazquez and his wife Karla on the New Mexico set of “Spare Parts” in November 2013. Carlos and Alexa PenaVega portray the couple in the film, now playing.

In 2005, writer Joshua Davis penned an extraordinary article for Wired Magazine chronicling the lives of four undocumented teen boys from Arizona. What made them unique? They bested universities such as MIT and Harvard to win a robotics prize at UC Santa Barbara. Titled “La Vida Robot,” Davis’ meticulously written story of Cristian Arcega, Lorenzo Santillan, Luis Aranda and Oscar Vazquez’s journey to victory was truly the stuff of Hollywood films. A decade later, that film has arrived.

“Spare Parts” benefits from the momentum of this DREAM Act era, where the Latino voice has never been more urgent in terms of the national narrative. While the film relies on the “feel good” tropes of the underdog story, it doesn’t shy away from the fact that these “illegals” are not the enemy in this paranoid era of fear mongering and reactionary politics.

I had the privilege of meeting Davis and the real boys of Carl Hayden High, interviewing them and their cinematic counterparts for Pantelion Films. Along with producer and star George Lopez, they expressed the importance of the Latino imprint in terms of mainstream films. Not only does the film entertain, it illuminates an area still unfamiliar to many Americans.

“Spare Parts” opens in theaters this weekend, so I hope you give it a chance. In the meantime, take a moment to watch the featurette produced by Monkey Deux, Inc., edited by Steve Schmidt and Drew Friedman, for Pantelion Films.

#ICanIDid #spareparts #lavidarobot