And now, for some really bad break-up writing!

And now, for some really bad break-up writing!

Oooh. Here’s a deep cut!

When I broke up with my last ex-BF about 12 years ago, it took me a long ass time to get over him. I don’t think I really am; it’s just a feeling I’ve learned to put into a different compartment. But, the concussive effects of that first wave of emotion were very new to me. I never understood why people would lose their shit after a breakup, but I learned quickly. My friend John sent me a mix CD labeled “Music for a Bottle of Merlot and a Razor Blade,” featuring such sad singleton hits as “Alone,” “All By Myself,” “What Becomes of the Broken Hearted,” etc. We laughed, but I found myself spiraling out of control shortly after.

I kept this little Moleskin notebook during those first months, which I hid a few years later. It reappeared during my Pandemic-induced decluttering of my home when we shut our office doors until further notice. That was about two years ago. (We’ve reopened them since, by the way.) Finding it was like the surprise you feel when you run into an old school friend’s mother during a Target run where you’re not looking your best, gussied up in chanclas and a chorizo-stained hoodie. Reading and revisiting the version of yourself that penned each entry was like being hit by a car driven by a deranged doctor’s wife from Texas seeking revenge. How do we all turn into Janis Ian or Phoebe Snow when boys break out hearts? I was surprised I even was capable of such maudlin displays in the first place, but how could I not? After years of favoring telenovelas and Douglas Sirk films, turning into Natalie Wood in “Splendor in the Grass” shouldn’t be a stretch, right?

So, I am willing to share one choice bit of writing, appropriately titled “Alone.” Put on your favorite heartbreak ballad, wrap yourself up in that warm comforter known as nostalgia, and see if this hits a few emotional notes you recognize!

There’s a strange void in my heart as I look out the window from an empty house. I feel the start of a dream, always the day you first came into my life. I came to you first, though, searching for a gentle man.

You were that dream come true, and I was your saving grace. How did we get to this place?

The first years were unlike any happiness I’d known, yet in the last months, we’ve become strangers, barely able to see face to face. How did we get to this place?

This isn’t about fault. You loved me, then loved another. I can’t believe I’d be so easily replaced. How did we get to this place?

We can count the memories, but that’s just wasted sentiment. We can count our blessings, but that’s just wasted destiny. What I would give to make this day turn a different way. They say time heals everything, but I still can’t stand the thought of losing you.

I didn’t want to tell you how I felt or what I thought I should do. But that won’t stop me from crying an emotion or two.

You walked out the door for the last time. I hope he treats you fine. It isn’t the loss that hurts so much. It’s the silence of this space. How did I get to this place they call “being alone.”

Reading it back now, I think it is safe to say Taylor Swift has nothing to worry about here. (Cue laughter.) But I’m not ashamed about displaying my red scarf in this context. (Swifties will know what I mean by that reference.). If anything, I’m proud of what that experience taught me. I stopped romanticizing the past, choosing to live in the present while respecting the lessons learned from being in a relationship. Whenever that miracle happens again, I’ll be ready.

Brains, heart, and courage.

Brains, heart, and courage.

Being short-tempered with total strangers must be symptomatic of our pandemic reality. At least, that’s what I keep telling myself. Throwing a strop because I didn’t notice PreChek was not part of my boarding pass is no one’s fault but my own for not stopping to notice it was missing, assuming my entitled traveler’s privilege was blissfully intact. It wasn’t, choosing smug indignation instead of calm acceptance with the TSA agents when they pointed it out.

Walking away, I started to think. “Fuck, bitch. You are being an asshole. Stop for a moment. Breathe. Be aware of how you’re responding to the outside world. They aren’t to blame for your being sloppy and careless.”

To be honest, everything sets me off. I’ve done more eye-rolling this week than I care to admit, practically a ballet in terms of its poetic flow and technique. Being reactive and not proactive will not serve anyone for the better.

I’ve been hearing people constantly calling out others for their bad behavior, of having the last word to stake the moral high ground. Will anyone take indignation and a finger-wagging, “Don’t do this to me or anyone else ever again!” to heart? Can it make us feel better spelling out such emotions in an era of selfishness and arrogance? If everyone is only out for themselves, is it cowardice to want to just let the shit go, opting to focus on your own peace of mind and wellness?

I’ve been hearing people constantly calling out others for their bad behavior, of having the last word to stake the moral high ground. Will anyone take indignation and a finger-wagging, “Don’t do this to me or anyone else ever again!” to heart? Can it make us feel better spelling out such emotions in an era of selfishness and arrogance? If everyone is only out for themselves, is it cowardice to want to just let the shit go, opting to focus on your own peace of mind and wellness?

How do we reach the point of keeping calm and carrying on without losing our integrity or mental stability? These are the questions I’m looking to answer for myself. Until then, I must remind myself to take a beat before reacting. My point of detonation has nothing to do with the situation; it’s a reaction to my frustration of knowing it is time to find a new path away from past mistakes and erasing my false selves holding me back from becoming a better, healthier person.

Two things come to mind that might work well within the themes of this post. First up, reading Rutanya Alda’s diary on the making of the infamous Joan Crawford biopic Mommie Dearest makes for an entertaining way to spend a flight. Within the juicy diary entries, Alda compiled into “The Mommie Dearest Diary: Carol Ann Tells All,” I found this gem of a quote about her estimation of Faye Dunaway, who submarined her career playing Crawford. Alda, featured in the infamous film as Carol Ann, Joan’s loyal secretary, secretly kept a vigilant eye and ear on the proceedings involving the production of the film. Towards the end of the book, it is clear Alda felt no real love for Dunaway, who distanced herself from the film upon its release and its eventual rise as a camp classic. Alda wrote this section in reaction to La Dunaway’s abusive treatment of the cast and crew during the making of the film:

“A perfectionist ought to be someone who sees perfection and finds perfection around them,” Alda stated. “It’s the imperfectionists like Faye and Barbra (Streisand) who keep looking for the imperfection until they find it, for what we focus on, we will find. Why demand perfection if you can’t offer it?”

Given my current state of mind, Alda’s quote resonated strongly. It became part of a double whammy thanks to watching The Wizard of Oz on the flight, my first viewing in several years. The Cowardly Lion says at one point he’s a “victim of disorganized thinking.”  Oh, that hit home, hard and fast. I am aware of my faults and know they’ve been the biggest obstacles in my journey to straighten up and fly right. But I refuse to allow my sentimentality and desire to “keep the peace” to be viewed as either or a crime or a sign of weakness.  The world is fighting for bragging rights, last words, and the power of being “right.” Fuck that jazz. I want to live.

As I put these final words down, my playlist du jour is bringing Taylor Swift’s “Anti-Hero” to my ears. I agree with her, too  It is exhausting rooting for the antihero, especially when you recognize the problem is yourself. Shut out the noise of people telling you what’s wrong and what you should do to fix yourself. I know it comes from caring, but only you know what it will take to be aware and “healed.” Until then, I offer this bolt of positivity: “You got this, kid.” Don’t lose sight of the prize, which is self-control and contentment on your terms. Engage your brains, heart, and courage. Until then, stop punishing yourself and the people in your orbit. They have their own journeys to reconcile.

I know you’re broken, but can you hurry up and fix yourself?

I know you’re broken, but can you hurry up and fix yourself?

Addressing issues of mental wellness cannot follow a timetable. Each person’s process is different for a reason. Addressing your problems is a huge win, but healing is not a sprint. Instead, it is a marathon covering an undetermined amount of distance. The closer you get to no longer fearing your issues, a finish line can appear on the horizon. But I don’t see the finish line yet, which doesn’t worry me. I see a lot of fog ahead as I wind through this unpredictable terrain.

What I don’t need to hear now is that I need to get to that point of healing faster to appease someone else’s timetable. You can’t will people into loving you, so why would you demand anything different when they’re working hard at addressing years of shitty motivations and behaviors?

I don’t know how I feel about making “getting your shit together” a group activity, especially in an office environment. I’m not sabotaging my health now with poor dietary choices. My new meds are working, despite issues of “waning” in diabetes. Not having access to Ozempic right now pisses me off since it was working, but some asshole is promoting its weight-loss capabilities, and now there’s a run on these injectable pens! But I digress. My A1C number is down from the awful high of 11.1 and into single digits again. To give you an idea as to why this number matters: An A1C above 9% increases the risk of long-term diabetes complications like blindness, nerve damage, and kidney failure. Under 7% is considered reasonable diabetes control. I’m currently at 6.8%

Chasing the food dragon is my biggest addiction worry, but I feel good about this progress. The last time I hit that single-digit A1C level, I acted like, “The war is over! Back to Casa Garcia for some ultimate nachos! Extra cheese and sour cream!” Or, “Let’s hit the pasta bar again!” Yeah, that won’t be happening for a long while, if at all. This struggle during the time of COVID nearly wiped out my resolve entirely. My goal is to be under 5.6% when I retest in three months, which is considered normal. (Provided the other tests involving my liver, kidneys, and pancreas do not reveal some hidden complication, of course.)

Yet, the rubble representing my past excesses remains quite a disaster zone. That’s causing me additional worries, which I won’t divulge since it is none of your business. If I seem like a ghost of late, it is because I see the damage in a new light, and it fucking haunts me. I hate what I see lurking, and my self-control still abandons me when I’m emotional or frustrated.

Someone asked me where my imagination lies these days. I didn’t have an answer. I can’t see what I want for my life once I clear this health hurdle. I know what I have now isn’t enough to piece back together this unmoored sense of body and mind. It is why I’ve traded comfort media to replace my using comfort food as a soul-soothing remedy. I bristle at the command, “To get my shit together already.” I am, dammit. But I am digging my way out on my schedule. Why can’t some people understand? Why does it also have to be about them? Is it selfish to expect patience and care, not receive tough love and a “hurry up already?” It makes me want. to scream, “I’m sorry if my effort to heal is proving a drag and inconvenience to you!”

Treading water at the shoals is not fun. I’d rather be on solid ground, and sooner or later, I will be standing on terra firma. I’m tired of endlessly finding soft places to land because it is easier. I acknowledge that self-destruction is not a solo reality because it does create collateral damage. That well of care and support does run dry with some people, and I’m sorry for pushing the limits of their concern to such unnecessary extremes. It ruined one of my closest friendships, which I miss every day. And I’m sorry to make people worry, but I am not doing this without professional help. I am listening.

I knew this process would be complex once I took it seriously. Change is not for the weak, but it can lead to incredible new freedoms and modes of creative expression if you hold on to your well-being with a firm grasp. I’m not alone in living in a mixed-up world. But as Sophie Ellis-Bextor sings in Mixed Up World:

So when you’re feeling kind of mixed up
Just remember, it’s a mixed-up world
And when you’re feeling life is just too tough
Just remember you’re a real tough girl

Trust you’re tougher than you know when you feel your weakest. It will pull you through.

Then again, maybe I will.

Then again, maybe I will.

Think about who you were before you discovered socialization. That steady beat of your self-appointed drummer defined you once. I never needed my parents’ validation, as I had three other siblings vying for their attention. I found a willing audience of one, amassing a tribe of books from the library, magazines spinning tales of the city of New York. Between memorizing the lyrics to Petula Clark’s “Downtown,” listening to rhapsodies colored blue, and mimicking the moves of girl groups supreme, who cared about the outside world of an aspirational bedroom community that was Pico Rivera.

Once you enter the Thunderdome of public school life, you learn quickly what the kids will or won’t accept in the schoolyard. Waxing lyrical over drum solos on rock stations KMET or KLOS was okay, but telling your Little League teammates that the drum hit in “Perón’s Latest Flame” from Evita was not okay.

I chose to hide, seeking approval by adopting their likes. It wasn’t me, choosing instead to encase myself in an armored suit of fat and fur to shield myself from standing out from the crowd too much. Amazing what the portly and jovial trope can do for you once you know the right words for people to hear. You become huggable, adorable, non-threatening, always brandishing a quip, and never the one who gets kissed in the rain. I would stay in that lane for a long fucking time, too long.

As I make my way over the hill of my mid-50s, I am revisiting the books that marked my pre-teen and early teen life, books written by Paula Danziger and Judy Blume. Their combined insights into what it was like being an adolescent in the 1970s and 1980s spoke to me quite loudly. Danziger’s “The Cat Ate My Gym Shorts” and, especially, Blume’s “Blubber” and “Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret” helped me feel understood by someone close to me. It bugged me that most of the books of this genre focused on the social and gender problems endured by girls. What about the boys? (While Blume did pen “Then Again, Maybe I Won’t” as an answer to the success of “Are You There God…,” it didn’t quite fit the bill enough.)

The lead characters of the Blume and Danziger canons found their strength in family and friends by the final pages, reaching a plane of understanding, evolving just enough to support the life lessons of these often compelling and universal narratives. (Even being a first-generation-born Latino in the suburbs east of Los Angeles did not exclude me from these books. Oh, the feelings I found validated by Blume and Danziger’s prose still give me goosebumps today.)

Much has changed in how we deal with social Thunderdomes today, and much remains woefully the same. We still bully, a phenomenon that hangs just as poorly on adults as it does on kids. (Maybe it feels even more savage today, given the speed of how quickly we post our negative comments against one another.) As I stumble through my ennui with the world, I feel perhaps it is time to revisit that younger me and give him a different context.

Perhaps the full circle moment I’ve been looking for is to start at the beginning of a creative life shaped by the books and stories that ultimately helped refine my voice. When in doubt about yourself and the world, perhaps that is when you must create something and express yourself.

I’ve been listening to this one track from Sara Bareilles quite a bit. It’s called “Little Voice,” and its chorus felt like lightning bolts of truth to me:

It’s just a little voice
And if you’re listening
Sometimes a little voice
Can say the biggest things
It’s just my little voice that I’ve been missing

Big or small, I can’t wait to start this journey.

What if…?

What if…?

I have to write this down, or else I will embark on a downward spiral of epic freaking out. I was working, sitting at my desk while minding my business when what appeared to be a spam call logged into my phone. Nothing unusual there, not even seeing that a message was left. I was about to delete it when I read the text, and it seemed to be about a medical referral. Not Spectrum, not an unauthorized Amazon purchase needing approval, which is usually the case these days. No, the folks at City of Hope needed me to schedule an MRI and a consultation with a gastrointestinologist to review the results. I called back without a moment’s haste.


Mind you, I had an ultrasound earlier this week to check the elasticity of my liver. The tech, who seemed to spend a long time on one section of my abdomen during the examination, asked if it hurt when she pressed into said area, and I said, “No.” I didn’t register any cause for alarm, but after speaking with the hospital this AM, I feel a bit freaked. I returned the call to schedule the appointments. Neither order was listed as “urgent,” so a mid-December date was decided and locked in. “Merry fucking Christmas,” I thought to myself.

Did the ultrasound trigger this need for an MRI? Maybe, but I haven’t heard from my endocrinologist yet. I entered the lightning round of the “What If?” game when every fear about medical procedures became a question.

“What if it’s a tumor?”

“What if it’s cancer?”

“What if it is something horrible?”

Sigh.

Seriously, how many more of Mom/Dad’s health gifts am I going to get?! Hahaha. Can I still return them without a receipt? Since my infamous blood panel in July, I’ve minded my diet and health choices with extra care. No, what’s happening is the collateral damage of years gone by catching up with me.

I have a new blood panel scheduled this week, as it is time for a new A1c. I think it is going to be a lot better than July. The next Lipid panel isn’t happening until late December. I see this entire situation as a reality check, by being inconsistent with my diet/health choices, I merely slowed down the damage, not stopped it.


Cue Cher’s “If I Could Turn Back Tiiiiimmmeeee.”

Remarking “aging sucks” isn’t going to cut it now. What sucks is being so willfully ignorant about what my body can and cannot is gnawing at my brain now. I’ve known since 2010 that I developed type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and cholesterol issues, the Latino Medical Trifecta. At least I’m not dealing with being 274lbs, which remains the heaviest I’ve ever been. I can’t imagine dealing with that on top of everything else. I’m exhausted by feeling nervous and unsettled. I finally reached a point of acceptance that these health issues are a part of my daily life. I opted for making room for better choices as a daily routine. I acknowledged their presence as being here to stay. I decided not to give them too much attention, to not dominate me or become an obsession. It isn’t just about losing weight and looking amazing. It is about longevity and being responsible for a better, healthier self. Now I’m nervous and unsettled again.

I told a friend I had no choice over the next steps. But, in reality, I do. I can remain willfully ignorant and enjoy the fuck out of my life as so many men have done in my family. Several are no longer with us, taken from us early by the conditions I am fighting now. This war for my health and sanity will not claim me, dammit. I’m the progeny of survivors. Let that show me the way to whatever is next.

Not all of us were meant to be performers worth viewing.

Not all of us were meant to be performers worth viewing.

It was a humbling moment, but in the cold light of the pandemic, I realized my reasons for wanting big social media visibility were unfocused and half-hearted at best.

Enough already.

Writing and interviewing remain my best strengths, the outcome of attending journalism school. Structure matters in all storytelling; everything must possess a beginning, middle, and end. Context matters, but we prefer to focus on capturing isolated moments, each carefully curated and filtered but often devoid of profundity or purpose. It exists merely to engage the eye, maybe titillate a few people and little else until the next image makes its way onto a profile.

In the mad dash to amass followers, we became lemmings, often regurgitating or repurposing the same videos other people did, usually worse in the process. Yet, we view them, tag them, share them, and keep the cycle going until the next trend takes over. Or, we keep repeating the same clips or mime the same dialogue from popular films, TV shows, dances from music videos, and other art made by other people to show what? How spectacularly good are we at being copycats, devoid of any real discernable talent? (If I see one more person wearing a white wig to become Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada one more time…!?)

Oh, and the punditry of it all. Those people who need to constantly weigh in by commenting on the news, pop culture, whathaveyou. Pundits ruined mainstream journalism. Now the water cooler or barstool is a global comment box with effects, music, and often scabrous banter that offers little in terms of analysis or depth. Scott Z. Burns’s script for Contagion (2011) featured a statement I’ve never forgotten.

Jude Law as blogger Alan Krumwiede in Steven Soderbergh’s 2011 film “Contagion.”  Photo: (Claudette Barius / Warner Bros.)

Elliott Gould’s character, Dr. Sussmann, admonishes Jude Law’s character, conspiracy theorist Alan Krumwiede, with this blunt fact: “You are not a writer; a blog isn’t writing. It’s just graffiti with punctuation.” We’ve endured countless real Alan Krumwiede’s since then, like such wicked performers as Alex Jones and Candace Owens, people who will say and do everything for attention, deliberately misinforming others to stir the pot, even if it poisons people. All to live, earn money, and have the power to do it again!

No, I won’t be returning to the socials any time soon, nor will I promote this page in any fashion. The noise I found on social media created such anxiety I became angry at myself for letting it affect me so profoundly. It exists for me to unload what is taking up space in my mind. And it is helping me cope with the unease I feel with our world by having a creative space to deconstruct my feelings, strengthening my ability to communicate as a writer again in an honest manner.

I still value the importance of conversation and sharing, but I want to control the message better by not using external approval or validation as a catalyst to write. So much insight and inspiration can be found in education, understanding the rules and mechanics of writing and communication. Investigating and digesting the works of fabled writers from the past can impact the present and future!

In this era of “The Follower,” we affirm the truth that “We are What We Consume.” Eat empty calories; you will fatten up and atrophy. Consistently wallow in the bile and snark, our souls will darken as the algorithms spew out more and more of the same on your feeds. Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but what about creating something new and unexpected? What about crafting narratives that enlighten and inspire, not perpetuate hateful Reddit myths and conspiracies to justify an evil agenda?

I accepted seeing myself more as possessing a big personality than a performer when I first walked onto a stage to act in a school play. That wasn’t the attention I craved; I wanted to be heard and visible. To a certain degree, that remains true today, but how big or small an audience is doesn’t matter to me. If only I read this blather, that’s fine with me, too. Not all of us were meant to be performers worth viewing. Not everything needs to be said or visualized just because you can’t handle the silence or void. But if you’re going to do it, make it something more than just a pale imitation of what’s been done before.

God, imagine what we all will look and sound like in 10 years? My mind reels, but I remain hopeful.

I can’t go back to before.

I can’t go back to before.

I am doing my damnest to maintain my health and mental wellness. I don’t have a timetable, just an urgent need to not fail this time. I need to see proof that all is moving in the right direction. Appointments, ultrasounds, blood panels, and follow-up appointments, it’s all part of a team effort, one that I respect and understand a bit better this time around. My body can’t withstand my fucking around with it anymore. The effects of diabetes and high cholesterol will be savage. Plus, I don’t want to shorten what can still be a fulfilling life. My brain, however, is not limitless in its capacity to be creative at the moment.

I know I can’t shirk certain realities as a producer/interviewer in my other life. But I understand the importance of boundaries, of not continually accepting projects to further someone else’s agenda.
The need to evolve in this pandemic reality continues to weigh heavily on my mind. I am stumbling through so many emotions as I sort out what path I want to follow with the clarity struggling to make its way forward. It needn’t be something dramatic; that’s not real life. No, a simple lane change would do me good. I don’t think I have the resources for a total reset. But, a subtle shift away from what the status quo could mean, preserving the wellness balance that many of us deserve to pursue today.

Watching people who stand by you as your inspiration to move forward is curious. They can also be the most terrified once they see you want to move forward. It’s even harder when they fear you want to move away from them. But it is a necessary choice when rebuilding yourself to become the person you were meant to be.

Now I sit with different faces
In rented rooms and foreign places
All the people I was kissing
Some are here and some are missing
In the nineteen-nineties

I never dreamt that I would get to be
The creature that I always meant to be

From “Being Boring,” written by Chrstopher Lowe & Neil Tennant of Pet Shop Boys

I’d rather you ignore me than dismiss me.

I’d rather you ignore me than dismiss me.

Self-isolation does and doesn’t seem like a bad place to me of late. Sure, I miss the social gadfly fun of days gone by, when I was scheduled within an inch of my life. I was desperately trying to outrun the flaws I hoped people wouldn’t have time to recognize. But, that false self merely entrenched himself so deep nothing short of a nuclear missile could blast him out.

My false self is more like a six-year-old with a loose tooth. I just need a thread of floss and a door handle to tie it to, then slam the door super hard. Cue the Tooth Fairy (False Self Fairy?) to give me that quarter for getting rid of him once and for all. Flush that tooth down the toilet and move on, son.

Perhaps the harsher reality is knowing people don’t want to hear what I have to say. That Collective of Strangers known as social media doesn’t matter to me as I’ve cut those ties. The best part is knowing my anxiety level is dipping below red for the first time in a long while. Yet, when I dare to engage in conversation with people closest to me in person, I find their attention span taxed before I can even finish a thought. They dismiss me with a curt, “I have to make a call,” or worse, cut me off with nary a thought as they mock what I had to offer.

My younger brother is an expert in making people feel small or intellectually inferior, something I think he enjoys when I’m the chosen target. That’s when I lapse into total silence. Another key figure in my life waves away my cultural references or favored topics of conversation with such ease it is no longer a wonder why my often-Herculean efforts at sustaining mental stability are so challenging. It is also better to remain silent with him, but then I’m subjected to statements like, “What’s wrong?” This constantly checking of the baby’s temperature only sets me off. The vicious cycle of being told, “I’m selfish, self-destructive, a narcissistic sociopath that’s hurting them,” then rotates with enough energy to power a Texas suburb. Even with a busted ass grid!

This weekend hurt a little, particularly after being a witness to two inspiring works of art, a double feature of a play and a documentary, both dealing with the search for signs of intelligent life on Earth. I think it is better to bask in the glow of how good it felt to be challenged by the things that bring me joy, like theater and film, fueling my desire to express myself, even if I’m reaching an audience of one: me.

Sooner or later, that spiritual door, the one with the bloody string of floss, will slam shut again, keeping the negative forces around me at bay as I walk towards a different path of fulfillment and enlightenment. As for those who choose to dismiss me? Better to ignore me. That silence you fear, of being unheard or adored, will be a telling reminder of what, no, who you let slip away.

“At the moment you are most in awe of all you don’t understand,
you’re closer to understanding it all.”

From “The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe” by Jane Wagner

Cecily Strong in “The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe” by Jane Wagner @ Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles

And Just Like That… I Am 55

And Just Like That… I Am 55

Today, I am officially 55 years old. That’s (still) the legal speed limit in some areas, but I’ve never been interested in sticking to it in terms of living my life. I had to get THERE, wherever THERE was at that moment. Now is an excellent time to think about HERE or where I am today.

I did attempt to stop and look around from time to time, but that just meant having to allow specific thoughts and realities to make themselves known in my head. Demons remain my chosen go-to passengers on this ride and for as long as I can remember. Food. Spending. Status. Validation. Funny, I rarely viewed love and companionship as priorities at the beginning for being too dangerous. Neither stayed very long on the passenger side when it did happen. The demons made sure of that, like damn sure.

Friendship and family remain my favored angels, and thank heavens for them. Otherwise, I would have intentionally hit the cosmic center divider a long time ago. It always seemed like a surefire way to shut those demons down for good. But they’re resilient little fuckers.

Emma Caulfield as vengeance demon Anya in Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Demons sound cute to me in a post-Buffy world, all latex, make-up, and effects. Fear is something, well, scarier. Fear exists as my twin because I LET that happen. I’ve known Fear as long as I’ve known myself. Every fall on the sidewalk, every perceived failure, the bullies I let get in my head and under my skin. These exterior forces which tormented me as a kid were NOTHING compared to what I’ve done to myself over the years as an adult.

But I’m still here and for good reasons.

Not to let the demons share my airtime but to shift focus away from them. Maybe even speed up the breaking up process already. Every minute I refuse to succumb to fear is a significant victory. Choosing not to sleep away the day is a cause for celebration. Cooking a healthy meal on my own and not consuming one designed to keep me sick is a source of jubilation. Trying to find ways to spend ALL of my hard-earned coin to make myself sound or look attractive is a thrill on par with a musical’s overture when the curtain rises.

These are not gifts but the tools to find a sense of balance, contentment, and especially hope. I possess them and more because I’ve learned to understand the importance of such devices. Yet, Fear still distracts me or, more often than not, kills the desire.

Not today.

From Stories of Cinema at the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures

As I look around and take in the view of 55, I see all that the demons, Fear, and that annoying cousin Depression seek to absorb and destroy. That cannot be without my help, at least. Do you know those first sparks cast to start a campfire? Writing this feels like that, trying not to let moisture or wind snuff out what can lead to something bright and warm. You fan the embers too much; you smother the flame.

From Lee Alexander McQueen: Mind, Mythos, Muse at LACMA

Words, music, films, art, design, and photography are all selfless acts of courage. It still takes courage to be queer, to not be part of the mainstream, to be one’s true self today. To exist as a gay Latino remains an act of defiance, no longer allowing oneself to hide or blend in with the herd of scared masses. We know what Fear can do to an individual in their quest for betterment. We see the power of Fear in a group. Start one lie, and create a mob of terrified people to disavow truth, science, and logic.

Someone sent me a meme with the legend, “I picked a stupid time to be alive.” I laughed at loud. Then again, this is also a time NOT to be stupid. I’m not alone in recognizing how emotional paralysis stems from what we consume in terms of information, social media especially.

It would be easy to live out one’s life like a 21st-century Miss Havisham, hiding amongst souvenirs of a perceived better past. That’s not an option in a world determined to live on the defensive about everything. Why beat yourself up about where you’re supposed to be in this life?

At this moment, I am encouraged by being 55, albeit cautiously. I’m not sure what tomorrow will be like or the day after that. Will I have personal stumbles and moments of shrill assholeness? Probably. Whatever happens next is always up to us. Forward motion isn’t always about avoiding the past. We have to avoid being defined by it. When I find the courage and clarity to stop and admire the view again, I have the hope and excitement that what I see will be different, empowering, and still delightfully the same.

Now, about that one-man show I keep threatening to stage…

xJc

Rage Against the DeSantis Machine

Rage Against the DeSantis Machine

As if 2022 couldn’t double down on the crazy any further, clips of people enraged over what they perceive as media giant Disney or our under-siege educators “grooming” their precious Becky and/or Ken to become members of the LGBTQ+ community have the nation transfixed. I offer this counterpoint-slash-reality check to ill-informed agitators in front of Disneyland, Walt Disney World, and beyond.

I’m a 54-year-old gay male, American-born, and of Mexican descent.  I am the second child born of immigrants in California and the country they chose to make their home, leaving their own families behind.  Coming to America was their choice, and my siblings and I could not have flourished better under their watch and care as their American-born children.

There. I said it. I’m gay. No one made me “this way.” No one groomed me. I led myself to the LGBTQ+ community through an inherent need to feel safe and visible. First, I reconciled my fears as to what society would think, and, especially, my parents. Devoutly Catholic and structured in terms of their principles, their difficulty in accepting my truth remains a painful episode. However, it is a period that mercifully was made easier by the support of my siblings, turning my parents around in terms of what losing would mean to them all.

I remember my first real conversation with my mom one afternoon after I came out. I took her to lunch and a movie. She was a wee bit subdued at first, but slowly, she’d pepper our conversation with direct questions about my sexual identity. I explained that choice had nothing to do with my sexuality.  No one molested me. No one influenced me. It just felt like the most natural thing in the world.

I distinctly remember realizing when I had no attraction to the female gender.  It was in 1976 while watching a first-run episode of “The Bionic Woman.” (It was the multi-part “Kill Oscar” storyline that was a cross-over with “The Six Million Dollar Man.”) I want to think something about the image of Steve Austin fighting off the evil Fembots in hurricane-tossed Hawaii wearing nothing besides his mustache and a pair of swim trunks was what made me take notice.  His hairy chest was swoon-worthy.  Of course, I kept that to myself and spent the next 15 years lying to myself about my sexual identity.

Perhaps that TV memory was or wasn’t the moment.  Perhaps I knew I was gay after listening to my Dad’s original cast albums of My Fair Lady and Camelot, both featuring Julie Andrews.  (He saw BOTH original productions on Broadway, which still elicits feelings of jealousy today.)

Maybe it was when I discovered Linda Ronstadt’s first and glorious recording of American Songbook classics, “What’s New” in 1983. Maybe it was Maria Callas singing opera or the Burt Bacharach/Hal Davis catalog, genres my father also introduced to me.  Or maybe it was my first time watching Rosalind Russell rip through “Rose’s Turn” in the filmed version of Gypsy? All of this happened during my formative years as a kid.

The first film I remember seeing in a movie theater was Disney’s The Aristocats in 1970. Did a subliminal message exist within the song “Ev’ry Body Wants to Be a Cat?” Was it hiding code to turn me gay? Please, I wanted to be a cool cat. However, it did inspire me to have a career in the filmed arts, which began in earnest at the age of 19 and continues to engage and inspire me today.

Oh, and how I can forget the first song I learned by heart as a child! Yes, that honor goes to Petula Clark’s 1964 monster hit, “Downtown.”

Better yet, my identity as a child of Mexican nationals provided a broader selection of art and artists to further inspire and give my life an incredible context. Hearing my mom’s favorite music of her youth meant Lola Beltran, Jorge Negrete, and Pedro Infante would also teach me about the language and spirit of a people that experienced the power of oppression and conquest, too. Assimilation may have won the first battle for my soul, a time when I referred to myself as “George.” Life experiences, maturity, and pride brought me back to Jorge, also the name of my father.

The iconic duo of Pedro Infante and Jorge Negrete (Foto: Twitter / @limberopulos_)

I gravitated to these artists because they inspired me to want to know more about a world that extended beyond my Chicano suburban existence in Pico Rivera, CA.  I felt connected to the art and artists that remain my greatest mentors and heroes.  Not just because the gay community favors them; instead, they endure because they were pioneers to appreciate.  That I’ve met many aficionados who happen to be gay men is the icing on the reality cake, validating that Los Gays possess incredible cultural taste.

The point is that we are ALL influenced by a broad variety of external social, political, and cultural forces in a lifetime. I firmly believe our sexual and gender identities, however, are truly biological, not bids to merely find ourselves “more interesting.” Exceptions exist, sure. But to generalize and marginalize an entire community to fit an agenda? No. When politicians dare to prey on the fears of the weak and uneducated, the results can be irrevocable. The devastating truth about Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” Bill and other such discriminatory legislation is this idea of forcing conformity on young people.  Such blind homogenization is both dangerous and damaging in that it stigmatizes what is entirely natural and pure.

Again, during my elementary school life, I knew I was different, but I lacked the awareness and words to understand why.  The awareness would arrive much later and it ultimately made perfect sense once I stepped away from the fear. A voracious reader as a kid, my teachers could not keep up with my pace of finishing all the material on their curriculum.  These outstanding and dedicated educators resorted to giving me things NOT on the curriculum that would nurture and encourage my ability to process and understand different narratives.  It affected how I related to the other kids, most of whom had no idea what I was talking about most days.  Hell, my vocabulary alone was enhanced by my reading my parents’ issues of Newsweek, the LA Times, and the LA Herald-Examiner.  I had to know what they knew, too, about the world.

As a result, my cultural references were not things that mattered in my classroom or playground.  It felt worrisome to me, so I suppressed certain parts of my personality to “fit in” or conform with the larger group.  It remains my biggest regret to this day, this desire of being ignored or left behind.  Censoring myself to stop the bullying and social isolation meant killing the part of me that brought me such joy and pride.  I saw the bigger picture, and I knew it would lead me away from the suburbs to find the place that would understand and encourage me to be the best version of myself, not just my sexual identity.

Donald Sutherland in the 1978 version of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” (Photo: United Artists)

Our young people desperately need advocates and champions, not a group of red hat-wearing pod people from “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” telling them they’re invisible.  We need a greater understanding of sexual and gender identity, not criminalizing what remains a real struggle for so many innocent people. Choosing not to care or recognize the importance of gender and sexual identity is reckless and can be dangerous, even deadly, for those who have no emotional support. We have to find a middle ground, not promote a mantra of “grooming,” which is frustrating and sickening.

I can’t understand how people like DeSantis think forcing people to subscribe to ONE point of view cannot be considered an act of “grooming.”  How is indoctrinating generations to espouse every “ism” found in the fear-mongering GOP playbook a civil and just act?  This demented cry of “Beware Woke Culture” features once-benign terms appropriated and weaponized, again, by the right to conjure up yet another Boogeyman of panic, this time in the shape of Disney.

Fighting Disney is nothing more than a malignant weapon of mass distraction launched by a party that only deals in regression, not progress.  It wasn’t so long ago that people chastised Disney for being extraordinarily slow in creating works that genuinely reflected the diverse faces and cultures of the world.  Today, kids – and adults — can see and hear themselves in many of their favorite films and TV series, something denied to countless generations.

How dare Gov. Ron DeSantis and his rabid-mouthed ilk think they can legally force so many of our youth BACK into a closet with acts of stigmatization and fear.  How does that serve the greater good of our evolving society?  What scares his acolytes more about the presence of people who do not conform to sexual or gender norms?  They label us all pedophiles and purveyors of dangerous liberalism when leaders like DeSantis wrap themselves in a divisibility cloak of evangelicalism, shielding their abject ignorance and cruelty.

The New Faces of Fascism 2022 — Front: Reps. Lauren Boebert, Madison Cawthorn, and Marjorie Taylor Greene. Back: Matt Gaetz and Paul Gosar (R-AZ). Not pictured and not missed, Texas Governor Greg Abbott.  

DeSantis knows what scares people who do not care or want to possess a broader worldview.  His brand of anger is nothing new, but he’s learned to refine such a message thanks to the internet and a media complex incapable of stopping coverage of the clown cars driven by people like Texas Governor Greg Abbott, Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), Lauren Boebert (R-CO), Madison Cawthorn (R-NC), and Matt Gaetz (R-FL).  Oh, let us not forget the Grifter Dynasty of Donald Trump, a debacle that led to an insurrection and the proliferation of several “Big Lies” extending beyond the 2016 and 2020 elections.

Full disclosure, I am proud of my time as an employee at Disneyland, learning much about people and storytelling thanks to the countless amount of guests that felt comfortable sharing a little piece of their lives with me as they waited in line to board a ride.  That comfort level drives my career as a producer/interviewer of studio-produced content today.

I worked for Disneyland while attending California State University at Long Beach from 1989 to 1991.  I spent those two years working primarily in Adventureland and Frontierland as a Jungle Cruise skipper, Tiki Room host, and on the Big Thunder Mountain and Mark Twain crews.  Perhaps I took a photo of your parents as kids enjoying the day.  Maybe they took a picture with me, smiled and laughed at my jokes, or even teased me for working at the park.  Either way, not one guest knew much about me or any cast members on site that day.  Fate brought us together to exist in the same space.  All we had in common was being at a place designed to make good memories.

I still see the looks of relief and comfort when I would speak to a guest in Spanish, establishing a connection to the park in a way they could understand and interact with on a personal level.  I will never forget creating the wheelchair section for the disabled guests, many of whom had never been to the park before, like many children and adults visiting that day.  During the Main Street Electrical Parade, that combination of light, music, and their favorite characters elicited so many good and positive emotions two times nightly.  Again, my crewmates and I did all we could to ensure our guests had a good time and did not feel judged for their disabilities.  We would often receive a handshake, a “Thank You,” or a squeeze on the shoulder for jobs well done.

That is the power of the Disney experience.  You don’t have to share in it, but don’t ruin it for people, either.  The key design feature of the Disney universe is to be a home for everyone, regardless of their views or backgrounds.  Is it perfect?  Nothing in the world can make that claim.  But it matters to millions of people around the world, nonetheless.  We must look like savages to them, which saddens and angers me.  The message of being the “Happiest Place on Earth” is taken seriously by its many employees, past and present.  Because that’s what matters first – the ability to make sure you are happy and safe in that space for however long you visit.

Projecting all this perverse hate and bile onto that sentiment to serve someone else’s ego is a slap to the many of us who gladly made sure YOU were a satisfied guest.  Why should any of you care what we do in private?  I can guarantee you that is the last thing on our mind when facing a guest.  Nor is anyone looking for converts, a grotesque and ridiculous notion.  It is the same in any business; you focus on the company and clients to make sure they return.

Pastor Martin Niemöller (1892–1984) Photo: Brittanica.com

I want to think education can help stem the tide, but not in this climate of turning back the civil rights clock and the banning/burning of books that could illuminate the path to tolerance and respect.  No, the river of America churns and roils with anger, fear, and desperation thanks to people who feel it’s their duty and God-given right to stop a world they feel no longer belongs to their kind. Revolutions start with exhausted masses no longer willing to be force-fed a steady diet of lies, contradictions, and hatred for those who want to make the world a better place.  If they only knew people like DeSantis don’t care how they get their votes to win.  They only care about keeping their positions in power to fulfill their agenda of authoritarianism.

I can only offer this poem from Pastor Martin Niemöller (1892–1984), a respected Protestant clergy who dared to speak publicly against Adolf Hitler in public. His dissension led to his spending seven years in concentration camps.  This poem, written in 1946, continues to reverberate with even greater power today.

FIRST THEY CAME

First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out— because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew.

What makes any of us think Generation Blame, Whine, and Hate will not turn against the rest of society, refusing to conform or subscribe to their violently ignorant agenda?  You’re deluding yourself if you think keeping them in power will improve your life.  On the contrary, as history has proven, it is just the beginning of something so much worse.

As Pastor Niemöller concludes in his poem:

Then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak out for me.

Visitors stand in front of the quotation from Martin Niemöller that is on display in the Permanent Exhibition of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
PHOTO: US Holocaust Memorial Museum