I’m killing myself slowly.

I’m killing myself slowly.

It was around 8pm on a Saturday night in early March. I was in bed, watching my umpteenth rerun of “The Golden Girls” on Hulu.

That was when I noticed a missed phone call from One Medical, my ke. My iPhone was set to send all unrecognized calls to voice mail. Needless to say, this was one phone call I should have answered before the second ring.

Early Friday, before I made my commute to work, the one that feels like a living documentary? Yeah, that commute. I stopped by to see the phlebotomist at One Medical’s DTLA office as ordered by my physician. Nothing out of the ordinary, unless you factor in the day I slurred my words after a family lunch. (I don’t drink) How about the interview where it took an effort to get full sentences out while I was in Atlanta? (No one noticed that but me.)

It’s been nearly six months since I’d had my blood check for all those damn demons of mine. The results were predictably bad. Why else would the nurse practitioner call me on the Saturday night after my blood was drawn? No suspense here. What for? I’ve written about my stratospheric A1C and triglycerides readings before. After steady declines, it only took me a few months, but I’m back to a 13 reading (A1C) and over 1200 (triglycerides). After speaking with the nurse practitioner for a few minutes and reading the lab results, I reclined on my bed, took a deep breath, and said quietly:

“I’m killing myself.”

Was it intentional, this act of self-murder? I don’t know. What I do know is that all I can say more often than I care to admit is, “I don’t care.”

I thought after Dad’s passing that some magic window would open and I’d find myself on a new path. We’d spent so many years making sure he’d never feel like a “sick person” because of his Alzheimer’s, my siblings and I literally hit the Pause button to give him our undivided attention. That hasn’t been the case. Even my younger brother moving on and out of my apartment didn’t manifest itself into some giddy “Space Unicorn” moment.

No, I’ve opted to kill myself because I can’t handle the loneliness and anger that has me in a vice grip. I turn 53 this year, single, not caring to mingle, and determined to live out some “Leaving Las Vegas” agenda. I will literally eat myself to death. The truth is, though, I don’t know if I really want to die right now.

My family, extended and otherwise, is a shambles right now. We’re a microcosm of the world, never happy, always critical, and aggressive in terms of how we express our feelings. We eat. We criticize. We eat some more. We laugh for a bit. We eat a bit more. Someone gets hurts feelings. Someone leaves. Eat. Speak. Repeat. We are better is small groups, but it has to be a certain combination of temperaments. I can weather it just fine on some days, but most of the time I find I want to be left alone. That mindset has been the catalyst for some serious health issues.

img_20150710_110400486I’ve felt broken for a long time, a total relic in this modern age of “Notice Me Now!” Flirting with pancreatitis is not romantic, neither are the signs that my body is no longer coping with inactivity are visible and painful. I’m in trouble, folks. I don’t think I’ll withstand another episode like the one 10 years ago where it felt as if I was in the throes of a heart attack. I want to send out a search party for my will to live and to care about life, myself, anything. It’s been gone so long, I don’t even know if I’d recognize it, but I know it exists. Will is what keeps us from falling into the gaping maw that appears so inviting, but is only out to destroy you.

I’ve been staring up at this mountain of issues, feelings, and tasks for so long. It’s all I have been able to do for years now. Wedged in between are this selfish rage, apathy, fear, and other wickedness. Sigh. I have seen a doctor. Meds are being replaced with other chemical life preservers. Anti-depressants are back. A visit to Overeater’s Anonymous is in the books. The search for the appropriate therapist is also in full motion.

I know how this may look and sound to some people. I can’t worry about it. More, I know I’m not alone in feeling this way. No one wants to look weak or vulnerable to the people they love. Yet, at what point do you be strong for the person who needs you the most? Yourself. At what point do you stand facing your image in a mirror and say “I love me?”

That’s what I intend to find out.

Quotes, Pedro Almodóvar Edition

Quotes, Pedro Almodóvar Edition

“People have stopped surprising me so much, they’ve stopped exciting me as much. And secondly, there’s the pain.”

He paused.

“Pain is not something you can share with other people.”

Oscar-winning filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar on his latest film, “Pain and Glory.” Quote from Kyle Buchanan’s interview for the New York Times, Sunday, 10/16/19

 

Quotes, Stephen Sondheim Edition

Quotes, Stephen Sondheim Edition

“I’m interested in the theater because I’m interested in communication with audiences.”

creators_400-6de3622f6822929285dd508c43e44c244a5b3302-s300-c85
Sondheim (left) wrote the lyrics for West Side Story; classical-music superstar Leonard Bernstein (center) was the composer, Jerome Robbins the director and choreographer. The story of the show’s genesis is told in the special NPR series 50 Years of West Side Story.

Otherwise, I would be in concert music. I’d be in another kind of profession. I love the theater as much as music, and the whole idea of getting across to an audience and making them laugh, making them cry — just making them feel — is paramount to me.

The process of putting something down on paper is very important in keeping the stuff alive in your head. You can improvise and think, ‘Wait, that A-flat doesn’t sound right,’ and you change things as you go along, even though you’re just sketching.

From Stephen Sondheim‘s interview on NPR’s “Fresh Air,” February 16, 2012.

Quotes, Margaret Atwood Edition

Quotes, Margaret Atwood Edition

“I’m a writer. I figured that out young, and writers write.”

IMG_6202They speculate. Engage ideas. And at that moment in time, in the ’80s, I was hearing a lot about what people would like to do if they got into power, and having been born in 1939 and been through WWII and its aftermath when we were all trying to understand what happened, I knew Hitler spelled it all out in the 1920s, in his book, what he would like to do if he got power, and people did not take that seriously.”

So I believe if someone says they will do certain things, unimaginable things to many, they will, in fact, do them when they get the power they’re after. That is what you’re seeing now. What’s going on now with those in charge in this country was forecast then and since: They told us what they were planning and now it’s in progress. We can’t say we’re in a totalitarian state now, not yet, because we wouldn’t be talking—I wouldn’t be talking as much as I am—I’d be in jail.

Margaret Atwood on writing “The Testaments.” Interview by Amy Grace Loyd for Esquire.com, 9/24/2019

Quotes

Quotes

“I didn’t know how it was going to take shape I never know. I just kind of have an idea and have a few moments that I need to get to, and sometimes I know what the end is, weirdly enough.”

I wrote it pretty quickly. I was really in the free-fall — that’s a word we used to have in the play that we cut — in the free-fall of the writing.

Is the feeling as you write the same?

Not the same. For a book, it’s more meditative and controlled, and I feel like can return to it. I feel like an adult. When I’m writing a play, I just feel like an adolescent.”

Writer Adam Rapp, with Mary-Louise Parker, on writing his new play “The Sound Inside,” opening October 17 on Broadway.

From the New York Times, September 29, 2010

Quote, part II

Quote, part II

“The writer is situated in his time. Every word has consequences. Every silence, too.”

Jean-Paul Sartre (June 21, 1905 – April 15, 1980) was a French philosopher, playwright, novelist, screenwriter, political activist, biographer, and literary critic.

He was one of the key figures in the philosophy of existentialism and phenomenology, and one of the leading figures in 20th-century French philosophy and Marxism.

Sartre’s work has also influenced sociologycritical theorypost-colonial theory, and literary studies, and continues to influence these disciplines.

Higher Love

Higher Love

 

The Gay Single Man of Substance or GSMS sat in the Honda Customer Service lounge staring at the crush of humanity packed into a small space. It was another toasty Saturday in the San Gabriel Valley. It took visits to three different Honda dealerships before he found the one that could handle an oil change.

“I think everyone got the message to get lubed today,” he said to himself with a smirk. “At least their music is amazing!”

It was a classic 80’s Top 40 pop playlist. Madonna. Billy Ocean. Bangles. Phil Collins. Belinda Carlisle. Deep Laura Branigan and Carly Simon cuts. Forgotten Mr. Mister and Billy Vera & the Beaters tracks. Steve Winwood!

“Hello, Yacht Rock,” he laughed.

For the duration of his estancia at the Honda of El Monte, he was a bit loathe to admit that most of these hits were lifted straight from the soundtrack of a youngish life oh-so-long ago. It was Winwood’s “Higher Love” that made him take pause.

GSMS didn’t date much as a teen. If anything, he was already the “gay best friend” before he even knew he was a beacon to fag hags the world over, a term that was still a few years away from his vernacular. (Side note, he always felt Rupert Everett eventually fucked it up for all gay men who never seemed to escape from the dreaded “Friend Zone.”)

The Friend Zone. That’s where GSMS set up residence at a very long age. Save for a few detours with the Crazy Comanche and the Ex; he always found his way “home.” Hell, he was entrenched, way beyond settled.

“What the hell do you tell guys on your dates,” asked a Co-Worker.

“I never mention the past,” GSMS answered. “I never tell them my brother lives with me, either. I don’t want to scare them off.”

GSMS used to bemoan it was his wearing the Mask of Desperation on his face that would send suitors running for the hills. It was evident that he wanted to be in a couple too much. Before he could get too caught up in that downward spiral, the Expose dance classic “Point of No Return” began to spin over the Honda PA.

“Oh, to dance at a house party like that again!” he thought. As he rubbed his peach fuzzed scalp, reminding him of years of mousse abuse, Sebastian Shpritz Forte (never AquaNet), and relaxers robbed him of his “Welcome Back, Kotter” coiffure.

The only dancing he’d engaged in of late was sidestepping reality. It was easier to say he was being cock-blocked by his brother. Worse, he became accustomed to using his late father being afflicted by Alzheimer’s as a reason to quit working on his self-esteem and focus. Truth? He’d crafted a litany of excuses as to why a relationship, much less a better sense of self, was out of his reach.

It was a small collective of medications. No, it was a lack of personal time away from a demanding job. The GSMS was adept at adding to the list, after all, he’d been writing it since he was 15. The painful reality stemmed from his origin story, a trifecta of “overs,” eating, spending, stimulation by superficial distractions. They all laid the foundation to a fortress designed to protect himself from the outside world. The GSMS was a master of self-sabotage now.

“Aw shit,” he grimaced. “I’m in that downward spiral mode. No one gives a shit about this self-pitying blah blah.”

He was hitting the Delete key when his attention turned to a young Asian boy dancing to Fine Young Cannibals’ “Good Thing.” It was a sight to behold, his cherubic face glowing and smiling as he moved to the retro beat. He had no idea anyone was looking at him, nor did it matter. Even Mom was oblivious to the maximum joy expressed at that moment.

“Look at him go,” The GSMS marveled. “Go on with yourself! Dance it out, baby!”

Maybe the GSMS needed this reminder. It was time to move, and just because his car was ready. As he gathered his things to retrieve his now-lubed vehicle, he reminded himself of the day’s mission statement. What he needed was what Mr. Winwood was crooning about, a little higher love.

It was time to bestow his own slivered heart a little care, too.

 

I am so ordinary…

I am so ordinary…

The start of a new week was designed for mixed emotions, at least for the GSMS. Sure, the cycle of routine had been restarted, but it was also a chance to be better, to do better at everything.

“Work, love, life,” he’d recanted to so many dates at this juncture. “It is all routine when you get the hallowed ground of 52.”

Most of his dates would merely smile as if they agreed, but most likely they didn’t. If they were keeping a checklist for red flags, such grandiose ruminations would be near the top of their cards. Well, if they even knew what “grandiose” or “ruminations” meant. The GSMS did possess strange tastes when it came to men. He had a physical type, sort of. He was drawn by a non-linear list of attributes. Kind eyes. A nice smile. Thick thighs.

“Man thighs,” he’d say to no one in particular. That was a desire saved for his endless inner monologues on the commute to work.

This particular Monday, however, was different. He’d been re-charged of late, feeling the need to tell stories to his laptop. As drove into work this morning, an old Paula Cole track caught him by surprise. While he’d been inclined these last few days to continue his series on the Gay Single Man of Substance, the changing landscape he was witnessing, street corner to street corner, on the way to his office made him broaden the scope of today’s tale. Perhaps it was residue leftover from being stood up last Friday night by the Hairy Beast. The musky promise of a sweaty, libidinous night had already dissipated into the ether now that the weekend was another memory.

The GSMS had already admonished himself as he arrived at his office to avoid writing another personal tale of being ghosted. No, as he took his place behind his pockmarked desk, he let his mind wander in search of inspiration and a bigger story to tell. He closed his eyes, turning into the sounds outside of his office window, of life in flux. Maybe if he paid close enough attention, he could pick through the noise and hear the other tales of the city. The GSMS took a deep breath and listened…

“He didn’t call.”

“I am going to give her one more day.”

“I thought we had a connection.”

“Olvídalo, ‘mana.”

“Did I leave the oven on?”

“Fuck him!”

 “Fuck me!”

“Fuck it. I’m out.”

“She’s such a dick!”

“He’s an asshole.”

“Tails Nashville, Heads Seattle”

“I hate.”

“I love.”

“I’m scared.”

“I’m so ordinary.”

The sounds from his newly minted playlist had broken through his reverie.

Ordinary.

For a split second, his brain short-circuited and a cold dread invaded his mental space for a moment. He had to pivot, but man. That word was his biggest fear, being ordinary. The SGMS worked overtime to craft a public image of sophistication, color, and wit. It was a shaky façade at best. His emotional would runneth over to the point to rival the liquid death and destruction of the Johnstown Flood of 1889.

He stood up for a moment and kept his gaze on the sun heating up the day. As the song continued to play itself out, the GSMS took in the lyrics as the track reached its final verses. He agreed with Paula Cole at this moment. Some people are like “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Towering and majestic, the definition of desirable. They are that high note we all strive to hit but always miss. The rest of have to make do with being like “Frère Jacques,” the song everybody can sing because it is easy AF and requires little effort at all.

Later that night, he relayed the day’s events to SkB over a long, overdue dinner reunion.

“That might be the case,” the SkB countered at the GSMS’ thoughts on being ordinary. “I think what you’re really afraid of is having people see the real you.”

Somewhere in the distance, the GSMS thought he distinctly heard someone hit a high note.

 

Try…

Try…

Maybe it was those pink suede skater shoes that pulled him in. Or perhaps it was the horn-rimmed glasses? The combination of scruffy beard and the thick chestnut color hair that reminded him of James MacArthur on the original “Hawaii 5-0” series? Hell yes! And, that burly chest was absolutely a significant draw. But in the end, it really was the pink suede Vans that sealed the deal.

The Gay Man of Substance (GSMS?) was feeling desire again.

Screen Shot 2019-09-06 at 12.14.22 PMThe specter of the Ex, who was 15 years his junior, did give him pause. After all, Skater Boy (or SkB?) was about 22 years younger. The divide would be enough to trigger a lot of responses from GMS’ friends, single or otherwise. It surprised him to know that even those who would proudly crow “Love is Love” could have surprisingly myopic opinions, which is why he kept them to himself this time. No reason to hit them with, “He’s not like the other men he’s met over the last year.” Truth be told, the situation was just real enough for him to whisper this tale of longing into the ear of his most trusted confidante, his laptop. He was inspired to write about him, a bad sign indeed.

From the film
Steven Weber and Patrick Stewart in a scene from “Jeffrey.” Photo: Orion Classics

The arrival of Skater Boy was prescient, though. Their night out of museum roaming and coffee was not just the usual job interview exchange reserved for first meet-and-greet situations. No, they covered topics from the personal, which were honest and unrestrained, to how they viewed being gay today. This era of Basic Masculinity had worn them both down. The uniform of sporting a beard, super-luxe trainers, tattoo sleeves, and distressed Japanese denim may define 2019, but it was still a uniform. That proved more distressing than the artfully placed rips on those snug ball holders posing as trousers. Imagine having this era give off a sense of wistfulness to the days of when sentiments like “Masc for Masc; No Fats or Fems” were the standard. Of course, GSMS had to mention how his brand of “gay” was not in favor anymore. Sweater Queens were a thing of an Armistead Maupin or Paul Rudnick-documented past.  That’s how GSM saw himself. For him, the dividing line was once so clear as to what was desirable amongst los gays. He knew where he stood, but surprising how the community has not lost in penchant in making you feel like shit for not fitting in with the right group!

Screen Shot 2019-09-06 at 12.38.30 PM
From Rolling Stone article. Peter Dovak died in November 2017. Photo: Peter Dovak

GSMS was off and running now.

“Such mindfuckery preys on so many, even today,” he said to SkB, who nodded.

“Toxic masculinity remains supremely poisonous,” GSMS continued. “Not so long ago, you weren’t visible without a tan line, a gun show, or a rack of abs to mirror the cover of Honcho or Blueboy Magazine.

Maybe SkB understood the references, but he knew GSMS had not reached his peak yet.

“The bear community was once so much more accepting way back when. Beefy and hairy isn’t much of a subset anymore, but it, too, as evolved into a more airbrushed version these days! And what the hell is this gainer trend? Bigger is not better, especially if you have to inject yourself with tire sealant and cement to satisfy your body dysmorphia! What the hell are we doing to ourselves?”

Screen Shot 2019-09-06 at 12.42.32 PM
Selfridges 2015 ‘Agender’ campaign

SkB just took it all in. He knew the narrative was going to hit the current alphabet soup of gender nonconformity next.

“With the flood gates of gender fluidity now open wide,” GSM continued, “the deluge has muddied the criteria further. While the homosex community can wield its growing list of labels with fervor, it all feels so superficial and false when projected in the world of social media. It’s even worse on the dating and hookup apps. We may be able to let all of our unique brands of sexuality run free, but it has only exacerbated what we don’t want to court or seduce either. If we don’t look like the men we want to fuck, what’s the everloving point?”

SkB was transfixed by this aria of middle age uncertainty and bias. Yet, he couldn’t leave. Something kept him seated on that metal chair. As the couple’s coffee cooled, the conversation only heated up further. SkB found himself determined to give as good as he was getting. It was beautiful, this connection between people who listened and had no fear to answer back with equal aplomb and truth. It took so little effort for them to exist in this state of “Try.”

Had it been so long since GSM felt the need to make an effort to understand another man? Even more, that it was in a context that wasn’t part of his job description? He made his living asking questions, of getting people to reveal themselves just enough to exhibit a sense of humanity that could be shared with others.

GSMS was terrible at removing that interviewer’s voice in a dating situation. No one ever likes an interrogation in any form. Skater Boy didn’t even flinch. He was curious, too.

“The truth is I made a point to leave a specific life and self in the Midwest behind,” SkB confessed. “I knew what I had to do to become the creature I always meant to be, and it brought me here to Los Angeles.”

GSMS understood and applauded how SkB saw a dark fate and turned on a dime to walk into the light of maturity and self-accountability that is the cornerstone of sobriety.

“I have no intention of turning back,” SkB added. “That’s what fuels my art. I have to keep on creating, to not stand still.”

At that moment, a reflection of the kinetic heart, his signature design, that SkB displayed without fear made itself known; separating him from the pack. To look at the surface, yes, SkB was of this modern generation. Ah, but underneath GSMS saw something magnificently different. He had a soul.

As this odd duo sat at a local cafe, sharing a pastry and coffee-fueled truths, the night continued to offer more revelations and confessions. It ultimately held the promise of a friendship, which sometimes is all that can manifest itself in such brief-ish encounters. The world was oblivious to their chatter, which was just as well. It made them both appreciate the random nature of such meet and greets, of real-life occurring just under someone’s nose. Most of the patrons at the cafe were stuck in polite silences or milling about on the sidewalk. It felt as if all of them were waiting for anything to happen.

Le Bonheur De Vivre by Henri Matisse

In the weeks since that first encounter, GSMS  made a point to maintain a constant dialogue with SkB. The polite soul that he is, the Gay Single Man of Substance was contented by the manner in which it was being reciprocated. GSMS was well aware of SkB being a visible man, balancing a life of art, travel, commissions, networking, and more creativity.

“The man has his fans, too,” he thought to himself “Boy, does he have fans; that’s okay.”

All artists need a muse, one that can drive you towards surrendering to inspiration. As the modernist Henri Matisse said, “Creativity takes courage.” True. Then again, it doesn’t hurt to include a pair of pink suede skater shoes, either.

As GSMS completed his latest draft of a story, he couldn’t help my smile. The process felt as natural as ever, writing his feelings down. Looking out the window towards a new weekend that approached, the obvious struck him. No matter the intent, whether crafting a new piece of art, making a new friend or just letting your heartbeat loud enough to be heard by someone you like, all you really have to do is to just try.