“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.

 

 

“Shame”

“Shame”

“A very simple statement
A very simple crime
A lot of grief reflecting in how we spend our time
I want to change things
I want to make a change
I’m tired of spending time agonizing yesterdays”

— From “Shame” — Written by Martha Davis, Performed by The Motels

What’s your secret shame? You know, the thing you do when no one is looking?

What is that one vice or action you judge yourself for the most when you look in the mirror?

That loss of control we feel when we indulge in our secret shame is on par with an electric burst of adrenaline. It’s when you let a sly smile cross your face, that sweet release of euphoria when you reach that peak moment. It is a high, one that seduces you to keep going back again and again for another hit.  And it is always followed by your telling yourself, “This is the last time” or “Starting June 1st, I’ll get back on track!”

But you don’t. Because all you want to do is indulge in that behavior you’ve let overwhelm your sanity and self-control. Because it feels that bloody good.

Initially, this essay was going to be titled “Failure,” but I thought better of it. Shame can be overcome. Failure is a trap that can keep you locked up in a zone comprised of a darker shame. It is when you just give up and when it comes to addiction, you can’t just give up. It is a dangerous path, one that can have longterm effects and consequences.

I know I can’t reverse the decisions I’ve made during these last weeks. I can’t blame Fatlanta anymore. I’ve been home for nearly two weeks, embarking on a new project that is taking me to Vancouver. I cannot un-eat the food I’ve been attacking with unsteady hands of late. It’s been consumed and absorbed. I can only feel and see the effects daily and that sense of shame is now one that has me staring at the mirror with anger and disgust.

In six weeks, I am turning 50. While the excitement builds to this milestone, I have a few outstanding narrative threads that have yet to be resolved. The biggest one? Being a total bully to myself when it comes to this issue of food and wellness. Yet, instead of allowing the excitement of this milestone to lead me to a stronger place, I am a woeful mess right now. I can feel the anxiety throwing me off balance. Anger is present where hope should be right now. It is roiling the sanity I have worked so hard to reconstruct, letting frustration and outbursts of emotion spill out and over without warning at times.

I’ve been battling over what is keeping me in this dark space, but the source is both personal and social. The first layer? I didn’t think I’d be living the life of a gay spinster, locked away from potential suitors like Catherine Sloper in The Heiress or Laura Wingfield in The Glass Menagerie. I am probably skirting closer to becoming Miss Havisham in Great Expectations now. I held a torch for Tucker so long, I developed muscles in my arm I didn’t know existed. Yet, after seven years, my self-made prison isn’t so much the pain of leaving him behind when I did. Not anymore.

The damage I inflicted on myself over Tucker pales in comparison to what I’ve let take its place. The new layer is playing caretaker, scratch that, enabler to someone who has yet to understand that being an eternal dreamer doesn’t create a dream life. It is the most selfish way to live, keeping people in a state of stasis until YOU figure YOUR shit out. It is cruel and unforgivable. Anger is holding up my house of late. Anger and self-defeat to be exact. And it is punishing everyone around me, keeping most us from reaching new destinies in the name of “family.”

I hate feeling lonely and rejected, but the pitiful attempts of my meeting men are merely my picking at an old scab. It fills me with a different shade of shame because I am still in my prime, dammit. I should not have to fear my sexual self, much less repress it. Yet, because I can’t control the anger I feel, I have opted to rebuild the prison in which I’ve locked myself away. I’m getting heavier, covering myself up again. I am returning to the protective embrace of comfort foods because I want to feel the warmth of something loving and familiar, even though I am well aware of the only outcome of this reunion. I am angry that I don’t have a relationship to assure me that “It’s going to be okay.” Dammit, I don’t want to be fixed! I just want to be reassured by someone’s care and open heart. And that tender kiss, elusive and beautiful, has never felt so out of reach to me.

Layer three? It is bad enough we are living in a world without grace or accountability, where shamelessness has replaced decency and compassion. All we do is rip each other apart with lies, innuendo and avarice. We speak in tones of violence because we have to be heard above the din, leaving a body count as proof of being heard. We have leaders who spout the most reprehensible things for attention and justify their destruction of all civility.

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We denounce political correctness as being the enemy of a tottering state. The demand of restoring decency and peace is not being “PC.” We are surrounded by varying degrees of terrorists, all of whom think they are just and fighting a holy war built on a religious dogma that can only end in death. That’s the biggest, ugliest shame of all, forcing your will on billions of people who just want to live without fear!

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As I near the end of this post, I feel a different kind of shame. How can I wallow in my own self-pity when so much is off balance in this world? I can only say, I am no less flawed or confused as any other human at the moment. Yet, I can scream into this void, a blank page onto which I can spout all that ails me on the inside right now. Clarity does take form as I let this my thoughts unravel and let my insanity release its stranglehold.

Perhaps we all need to understand what shame means again.

Perhaps we all need to remind ourselves that accountability takes more strength than merely Tweeting obscenities and lies or shoving world leaders out of our way for a photo opportunity.

Perhaps we need to stop letting our fear keep us from turning away from the woes of our world because it is too hard and what does it matter anyway?

Perhaps I need to put down the fork and take a long look at the person struggling to become better and stronger again.

Perhaps it is time to stop being a coward and start loving the one person who has designs on making a difference, not use depression as an excuse to keep my addictions alive. What good am I to the rest of the world if I can’t withstand that which is within my power to fix and heal?

I know I can’t get better alone. None of us can. Neither can this planet. Shame is not always a bad thing. Shame can also keep us from making the same mistakes over and over. Not because failure or flaws are “bad,” because we must let what is “good” about ourselves cast a light to help other lost souls find their way back to the group, too.

Naive? Perhaps.

People have become quite adept in finding new ways to peddle their brands of hate, which will only succeed in making the world a lot sicker and dangerous. But to combat this sinister world order, we have to believe in the good within ourselves again. Therein lies the need for empowerment and education! To stay in this state of isolation would be more than a shame, I recognize that. No more agonizing yesterdays. It’s exhausting and self-defeating. Perhaps it is high time I learn to love locally, then act in the name of goodness…globally.

 

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

— Dylan Thomas

 

“Beautiful”

“Beautiful”

“Beauty’s where you find it
Not just where you bump and grind it
Soul is in the musical
That’s where I feel so beautiful
Magical, life’s a ball
So get up on the dance floor…”

— From “Vogue” by Madonna/Shep Pettibone

I started this entry with a basic question:

Do you remember the last time you felt beautiful?

It was my intent to deconstruct that specific moment when you knew you could express yourself without fear of being called out for being “different.” It’s that version of yourself that is obfuscated by societal norms or misguided attempts from our parents to “protect” us from a judgmental world. This post was not supposed to be about outward beauty, although that is a prison of different making. As for the rest of us who haven’t scored big at the genetic lottery, we tend to water down the impact of the word “beauty” to its most superficial definition. What do we do with the concept of having a bold personality, of being able to express a powerful sense of verve when we’re young? Why do many of us spend much our adult lives, countless dollars and more trying to coax that child back into existence in the end? Does that qualify as being beautiful, too?

As I discussed this post with my boss and best sparring partner, I found myself unable to defend my position on what I felt meant being beautiful. He kept leading me outside of the boxed context of what I insisted was the point of this piece.  He led the debate beyond what is “pleasing to the senses or mind aesthetically.” Before I could even begin to write about “beauty,” he insisted, I had to dig deeper into the complexity of this word.

Greek philosopher Plato maintained that beauty is a universal construct. We may not always recognize beauty through our senses. Each individual’s reaction can be triggered through a different means: sight, sound, smell, etc. Perhaps when we acknowledge something as being “beautiful,” it is because it is a potent reminder as to how our souls possess a wonderful sense of mystery.

The late English art critic John Berger opined that “seeing comes before words. The child looks and recognizes before it can speak.” When we do begin to learn how to speak and we start amassing a vocabulary, we also start learning how to use these words to build declarative statements and opinions. These bloom into judgments, influenced and curated by those around us. From that point, how we “see” things in inextricably affected in the end by what we learn and by what we think we “know.”

Bridging Plato to Berger takes a bit more than the foundation I am laying here. Yet, I can see a link to a key moment in my childhood. Addressing the issues of the consequences of being bullied and the body dysmorphia/food addictions that continue to haunt me, which remain a key focus of this diary. So, my initial to my question was:

“I haven’t felt or deemed myself as being beautiful in a long time.”

I reference that hat glorious Spanish summer of 2014. I felt in control of my self and my soul. I felt powerful and limitless, just like I did up until the 4th grade when I became aware of what I saw as being “me” was “different” from the rest of the pack. More, once I understood the hurtful words and opinions hurled at me through elementary school junior high from those who rebuked me mercilessly, I opted to hide much of what made me “me.” And I hurled those same words back to others weaker than me with decided force and intent. My concept of beauty, the image of myself, has never been the same since.

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I think about the moment I thought I understood what beauty could mean. Given my middle class life, of course it was built around media. As I discovered much later, I wasn’t alone in my nascent gay self, pouring over Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, Interview and New York magazines, drawn to the light of these glossy pages like a pilgrim making the journey to Lourdes. It is no coincidence that I hid here as much as I did in the literary and musical testaments to cafe society that I regularly snuck into the house from the library. Dad worked in textiles, which first opened a window into fashion, then all things New York City, for me. It didn’t take much to to begin whispering the names of photographers, editors, models and designers with solemnity of a prayer during Sunday mass: Avedon. Penn. Elgort. Newton. Scavullo. Saint Laurent. Givenchy. Dior. Lacroix. Lagerfeld. Halston. Versace. Ellis. Dovima. Turlington. Evangelista. Campbell. Tilberis. Vreeland. Wintour. They were all what I deemed as being “beautiful.”

I felt so superior in thinking that no one knew who they were in Pico Rivera. In reality, this world shielded me from those who tormented me in the hallways of South Ranchito and Meller Jr. High. I knew one day, I’d be able to move amongst them, the ultimate smalltown boy revenge. What it really meant was that I had capitulated to bourgeois materialism in the guise of being cultivated.

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Looking back at this now, was this fascination (obsession), really the best definition of “beauty?” Wasn’t this realm of artifice derived from fashion and fashionistas merely examples of what is simply “pretty?” Did it fall under the tenets of beauty attributed to Plato? What did it reveal about me at a young age, chubby, acne’d and peculiar in terms of my own personal code of aesthetics? Was I merely wading into this pool of superficiality, engaging in a clichéd game of middle class rebellion because I hated NOT being one of these people? Perhaps. Oh yes, perhaps. Misguided or not, memorizing the pages of Judith Krantz’s “Scruples” or Jackie Collins’s “Hollywood Wives” left me breathless and eager to get the hell out of the SGV as soon as I could. Needless to say, I sold myself short.

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It is no irony that I became a publicist, that messenger of all things glittering and glamorous. I battled with never being as cool as the message, even at the peak of years at 20th Century Fox. I lived and died at the altar of the Hollywood experience. I needed not have bothered. What we should find is truly beautiful is not always the thing we see outwardly. Yet, we continue to bandy about with words that act more as hyperbole than being catalysts of profundity.

I continue to grapple with long cycles of depression, excess eating and overindulgence, which includes the manner I continue to spend my money on material things. It would be easy to fault a steady diet of glitz and glitter as the source of my demons. I won’t, because I still admire the craft of couture, which is a true art to me. I knew what I was doing then and now. As to when I’ll take firm control of those urges, I won’t ever stop trying to compartmentalize them until they torment me no more. Yet, after the debacle of “Fatlanta,” I am still faced with that blasted question: “Do you remember the last time you felt beautiful?”

Now that this conversation has started, I realize I have much to learn and understand about what is “beautiful.” It is more than my long held ideal of becoming a gentleman in the style of my cinematic hero Cary Grant. As for the current state of fashion and fashion magazines, the joy is less apparent in this renewed era of status mongering and greed. Nor can my definition be something on par of Madonna’s exquisite paean to other icons of film glamour, “Vogue.” But a singular truth can be found within these beats, “beauty is where you find it.”

As I begin to redefine my own standards of beauty, I realize something is happening at long last. I am finding myself again in these discussions that stir my collective senses.  I am learning again thanks to an evolving family of friends who choose and want to think beyond what is accepted or acceptable. This time feels so much like Spain. The arrested development that I’ve allowed to set in has no place in this quest for wellness. Perhaps what makes us beautiful is believing in the desire to grow and to be challenged by a world, even one in flux.

Given our current political state of ugly at the moment, we have to train our eyes to see beyond what lies what ahead or even what we think we’ve learned about people, even ourselves. Perhaps beauty is the possibility afforded by being better and stronger and willing to accept our flaws, to finding the willingness to build them into strengths.

Only when we allow for acceptance and tolerance can we best repel the rhetoric from people who dare keep us asunder in a state of homogenized hatred.

Only when we begin to understand the true nature of beauty will we be able to say, “Life’s a ball!” and just fucking dance already.

We are forever accountable for our journeys and decisions. Perhaps that’s what I’ve come to finally learn:

Be your true self. Be beautiful.

Cary Grant photo by Richard Avedon

Dovima & Ray Bolger photo by Richard Avedon

Kristen McMenamy & Nadja Auermann photo by Richard Avedon

Gia Carangi in YSL photo by Helmut Newton

“What a week in Spain can do…”

“What a week in Spain can do…”

It was supposed to be a system reboot, a push of the reset button. However, I think my trip to Spain last month may have left me even more unsettled now that I am back home in Los Angeles. It is scary how quickly I fell back into what’s been ailing me this last year and a half. The jet lag may be gone, but that sluggish feeling persists. Don’t EVEN get me started on the election bullshit. I will probably bite your head off. Best to focus on why the journey back to my LA life that is renewing this spiritual “agita.”

I haven’t said much about the Brit (name withheld out of respect), but he’s someone that’s been the most welcome surprise of this challenging year. Our chance online meeting in August flowered into a real friendship, which is why I’ve been purposefully vague about him given the context of how we started out. I might reveal this some day, but not now. It isn’t shame that precludes me, rather, having to explain it to folks who aren’t savvy as to the Gay Way of Meeting and Greeting in 2016. Rest assured, it isn’t some Dateline episode waiting to happen. It’s legit and that’s all that matters.

The Brit is London-based and we’ve spent months doing the whole digital pen pal thing. In some ways, it felt like the plot to “The Shop Around the Corner.” We hadn’t met, but we shared a real kinship with each text that zapped across the globe. Scratch that, it felt like a real life version of “Gavin & Stacey.” (I am sure his eyes would roll with balletic precision over THAT one.)

When we hatched the plan of heading to Spain together, he had just experienced someone breaking his heart in Oslo. It was around the same time I was planning to hit Spain that summer. I surprised even myself when I said, “Join me! Forget about that fool and let’s just have some fun, tapas and whatever else tickles our fancy!” Well, Spain had other plans, interrupting my impending estancia with a rule of having at least 90 validity to my passport. I wasn’t able to board that night and I found myself on the Lyft back to my parents’ house to retrieve my trusty Element and then home with a scowl on my face.

The Brit and I kept talking and we looked for new dates for our Spanish affair, which would now happen in mid-October. As we counted down the days, it was hard not to build any expectations. At least for me. It was such a welcome relief, corresponding with someone who actually COULD communicate with color and guts. What a concept! When the fated day finally did arrive, I wasn’t in the least disappointed.

Having the Brit with me for those nine days in Valencia, Salamanca and Madrid was like a downpour of what I miss about being part of a couple. That constant attention. The great rapport. The banter. The laughter. The warmth that emanates from people who actually care about each other. The looks that say, “I see you, man.” I wasn’t lonely and all that’s troubled me for so many months was falling off in the background. It’s how we compose shots for the interviews I conduct on camera. The subject is sharp and clear while the background is a bit hazy and blurry. All that matters is what is in focus. And focus existed in Spain. Make that focus and inspiration. So, why do I feel so fucking lousy?

Mind you, the Brit and I started this entire venture with a much different agenda in August. When he admitted that he’d started casually dating someone in early October, the trip’s dynamic shifted without warning into the dreaded Friend Zone. He tried to give me an out, saying he’d understand if that changed things for me given the spicier early stages of our interactions. His very British self wasn’t going to allow for any extracurricular activities, even though he’d only been dating said bloke a few weeks. But, as I would discover, the Brit was an “All In” sort of gent. Meaning, his focus and heart were set. I said, “So what? We’ll manage!” I firmly believed the point of the trip was to get away from what ails us. Nothing more.

In a lot of ways, that was indeed the case. But, it was tough to reconcile a clear trajectory of intent. As much as I tried to keep certain feelings at bay, which was quite an effort, imagine my consternation in having the Brit join me in a round of “Why Can’t We Find Someone Who Will Love Us for Us” during one heart to heart we had one late night. That’s why by the end of that week together, I felt nothing but confusion. It stepped up when, by the end of the week, he was texting his new paramour with a fervor that made me feel like an intruder. And when you have had such a stellar time venturing throughout a foreign country without a single fight, imagine how that can complicate more than just your brain.

The rational me knows that my creating anything but a friendship with the Brit would be difficult since he’s in England and I’m in southern California. The whole “Amor de Lejos, Amor de Pendejos” truth of our situation has never been far away from the fantasy of it all. But fuck me. We sparked. At times, it felt so real, this connection. At one point in Valencia, he even said he needed to put blinders on. Why couldn’t this be something more than just two friends having a good time in Spain? I have not wanted to be close to someone like this is such a long time! Six years after I selfishly kicked my bespectacled Ex to the curb, it’s been a mixed bag of really poor choices, cheap sex and a lot of wondering when in the hell the universe is going to take some pity on me! Being with the Brit was so bloody effortless. Was I just being clueless or just deluding myself because of an ideal that has yet to be acheived?

Trust me. I’ve done some work in processing all of this. It was big relief knowing I can be myself with the right sort of gent. He’s a fantastic person with whom to spar, a real intellectual with that classic British wit. Dry as a sherry, but fierce as Thatcher at her peak. More, I felt this incredible calm around him. It remains the one thing I will cherish most about my life with my Ex and it’s the one thing that’s been missing ever since.

As we got closer to the end of the trip, I felt unsteady and possessed by a grim outlook. He’d go home to someone who’d hold him tight. I’d go home to face a new round of the Dating Game. And that just pissed me off. I’d like to squeeze out as much of the Brit’s sincere and warm sentiment into a place that can validate why I am certain I wasn’t misreading the cues. The cold light of a warm LA day suggests otherwise. He was being kind and he needed something different from me. The Brit had been searching for a real friend, someone that understands him and doesn’t possess an ulterior motive that involved hurting him, his one biggest fear. Wouldn’t you know, it’s also a fear that share that with him, among other things.

Ironically, in the weeks since our return, the Brit has reached out in moments of real emotional turmoil as the paramour seems to be on a different page. I understand that very much, the overanalyzing of situations that are never as bad as you think. But it happens and I offer my own support while keeping my true feelings at bay.

I am aware that I keep setting myself up for this these types of situations, though. Prior to the trip, an endless drought of solitude had left me wondering whether I have much to offer anyone anymore. A week in Spain was living proof I did. I wish it was more of a consolation, knowing that I’m not entirely without the means of being with someone on “that” level. Perhaps it was just a practice run? Was it a reminder of what I’ve gained in terms of being an adult when it comes to establishing a healthy relationship? Maybe. But, caught between the lines of lucidity and maturity are slivers of jagged insecurity. I feel the presence of my old nemesis, the one that loves to reiterate: “You lack the total package for him, that’s why it didn’t catch fire.”

Bitch.

I should be content with being the friend, but when that single look caught my eye during our second night in Valencia, I couldn’t help but feel all buzzy inside. A dear friend even noticed it on that following rainy Saturday in Madrid. Her first words were, “How light you look! So handsome! And the beard!” She witnessed the version of me that I’d kept under wraps for the better part of a year. I did feel good as the rain fell over the Plaza del Callao. I felt better than good. I felt not sad.

My powers of imagination are truly reckless at times. In my mind, his time is going to be spent building up a life around his new job and new boundaries with his beau. I’ll be that crazy American who will help lighten the day when things get challenging, like all good friends do. But we’ll always have Spain, and possibly, a chance to storm another group of cities, too.

This is probably a good moment to insert a chorus of: “He lives in another country, dude! What the hell did you expect? Are you loco, ese? He ain’t into you because you live in ANOTHER country and doesn’t want to run the risk of being hurt or worse. It’s easier and safer to stay local for him. Wake the fuck up! Chingao, already.

I know!  I know! It isn’t going to do me any good to act like a Charlie Puth song. My reserve of “Better Luck Next Time” is just a wee bit low right now. Trust me, I am focusing on: “Does this mean that someone remains behind Door No. 1504?” It is saner to keep an open mind. But hells bells, I don’t relish the task of having to meet new gents and going through this process. Again. Me da hueva, caray! 

I do know that my friendship with the Brit is one I intend to nurture for as long as we both want to share in its possibilities. Truth be told, people like him are rare to find in a world determined to keep us everybody apart from each other. These feelings will abate with time. Of course, this makes it all so damn annoying!  To be so close to the prize. Yeah, I feel like I’m about to hold a torch again. At least I can see the upside to that, too. After six years, it is a relief to know that I can finally shift it to the other arm.

So, want to know what a week in Spain can do for anyone? I’ll tell you. It will make you feel so much alive and very much a part the world. Now, the task remains the same as it was during that summer in 2014 when I took that first huge step toward defining my true self in Salamanca. I still have to learn to make Spain happen wherever I go, especially at home. As for the rest? Universe, don’t let me down…but can he wear glasses and make me laugh while watching YouTube clips all night long?

 

 

 

 

“Hay que ser un cabrón de la vida con buenos sentimientos..”

“Hay que ser un cabrón de la vida con buenos sentimientos..”

Quite simply, Spain has claimed me again.

After nearly a year of stewing in my own emotional juices, all lacking flavor or color, I plotted a course back to the place that helped me flourish with a steady rain of words, images and clarity. Of course, that sense of nervous expectation whch has been my lifelong travel companion also made a point to book passage along with me. Yes, I am fretting about a lot of things on this trip. In fact, the most liberating moment of this vacation was the first 24 hours, when I had no real way of communicating on a phone. For that first travel day, I had zero compulsion to reach out and touch anyone. I uploaded one photo onto Instagram to show people that I cleared the first hurdle by getting to the American Airlines gate at the Tom Bradley International Terminal and that was it. I haven’t had much inspiration to write since arriving in my glorious Spain. But that changed when I finally arrived in Salamanca. It was here where I found a narrative point, a glimmer of an idea, something that I was hoping would happen.

Primer misterio: Making a beeline to the Plaza Mayor, it was hard not to hold my breath. We’re told we can’t always go back to the sites where we experience profundity and change. The first thing I noticed was how easy it was to fall into step with the city again. It was the hour prior to “La Cena.” Siesta was over and that familiar symphony of families, friends, students and other branches of humanity reverberated off the cobblestone streets. And then I saw it. La Plaza Mayor. While it wasn’t a clear path anymore, even the construction of a stage in the middle of this perfect storm of Spaniards and everyone else could not prevent the flow of tears I let loose.

No cliches about “being home again” need apply. It was a wave of relief and realization. My slow emotional suicide of depression, poor health and familial woe had not cocooned me entirely after all. I will admit that I had some misguided notion that what I was really trying to accomplish was a remix on the “Shirley Valentine” tip. That was painfully obvious in the first days, when my awkward attempts were greeted with a tender pat on the arm, as if saying, “Oh,  you’re sweet” in that manner we reserve for a pet. It is Wednesday now. Raining. Early morning. And I think I am starting to piece together what the true meaning of this trip is meant to be. I’m older than Shirley now. She was in her early 40s. I’m staring at 50 from the other side. No, I am not traveling alone this time. Yet, I find that his “jolly holiday” is still a journey towards self-discovery. I am leaving a few things out for now as this entire chapter is really just a prologue, you see.

Spain, rather Salamanca, was a generous well of inspiration for me in 2014. I don’t know why I keep reaching for my damn phone, constantly scouring Facebook and Instagram, trolling for likes and comments because my ego is a bit compromised at the moment. Staring up at the ceiling in the dark, it just happened. “I am in fucking Spain! Joder, tío!” So, here I am, dipping my toe into these waters rather gingerly as I am not sure what makes sense to fit into this space right now. All I know is that I am compelled to start composing a few sentences because I felt the need to say something already.

Segundo misterio: I’ve been walking with purpose again. I feel purpose again. More, I am finding the joy in smiling in between the pockets of “OMFG, what am I doing here?” Maybe it was the agua de Valencia that made me drunk on a moonlit beach? Maybe it’s the jet laggy effects of all the planes, trains and automobiles it took to get me here?

Tercer misterio: The first image I took upon arriving in Salamanca was of a door, the entrance to the house of la señora Manoli, whose home was ground zero for the many epiphanies I composed for this diary. A lot of emotion detonated in that apartment during that summer of 2014. While I write today with this longing for a single kiss, I think about a quote I tripped across while idly perusing the internet on yesterday’s long train ride from Valencia to Salamanca: “Hay que ser un cabrón con buenos sentimientos.” Or “You need to be a bad ass motherfucker with good intentions or feelings.”

Yes, Spain has claimed me again, in all its brusque wonder. Could this introspection have happened anywhere else? Perhaps? But, where I’ve been standing of late, being that bad ass m’f’er with good feelings has been a Herculean task. I know I was that before. Somewhere along the way, like so many of us, I became afraid of that strong sense of focus. I confused it with being reckless. I made myself blind because I didn’t like what I was seeing on the daily. I can’t do that anymore. I can’t expect to have so many second chances anymore. As of this moment, I have loosened to tap to let “los buenos sentimientos” flow again. The pipe works are a little rusty, of course. Now, let’s see if I can throw the tarp off that old “cabrón” again and see what happens when I let him roam free for a spell.

Written and uploaded from Salamanca, Spain. Wednesday, October 19.

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.

 

Sunday night. 

Sunday night. 

“Where are the windows? Where are the doors?

I haven’t the key to your heart anymore.

No one belongs where they’re not wanted.

You’re just a ghost.

And my heart is haunted…”

This is another Sunday night.

Quote: Mary Chapin Carpenter.