We Built This House, Y'all

My coffeeshop buddy wasn't in his usual place this morning. When I walked in today and looked for him in his usual seat, it was empty. To say this is unusual is an understatement. It's like waking up and looking out your window to discover the Rockies are no longer there. Or that the Statue of Liberty has walked off.

I've been coming to this coffeeshop for going on four years ago. "Mike" was here on the first day I walked in and has been here ever since. He sits at the same table off in a corner, his laptop and phone spread out in front of him, looking industrious, each and every day. As far as I know, he's never missed a day. He was the first person I ever talked to in a coffeeshop that has become like my salon now. I remember I asked him if he was writing a novel because he was always there before work, typing away diligently. Slowly, we became friends.

Mike is an older African American gentleman. He develops curricula for the University of California system. He's whip-smart, and over the years, we've had a number of amazing conversations about race, religion, and politics. He has decided I'm one of the ones who can be trusted, and he speaks freely about race, both nationwide and here in Oakland. He's been around for a while and has seen various movements come and go. He freely recognizes his time has passed, and it's time to pass the torch on to the younger generation, something he worries about because of the way Millennials are built.

Yesterday, in the wake of #PhilandoCastile and #AntonSterling, we had plenty to talk about. It was the first time I saw Mike---a soft-spoken, gentle man---truly furious. And my heart nearly split in two when he said "I have two PhDs. I have multiple degrees from multiple higher-learning institutions. But it doesn't matter how many degrees I have or the fact that I educate their children: my life is worthless to them. They see me as NOTHING. I am NOTHING to them." I said nothing because there was nothing to say. But seeing him ready to burn down the world made me indelibly morose. My god, what are we doing to our citizens?

And today. Today his table is empty. Was he so defeated, he just couldn't get out of bed this morning? Did he just feel like "If I set foot outside today, I'm so angry I'll get myself arrested…or shot"? Did he just not feel like talking to all of white folks who make small talk with him as they wait by his table for their drinks to be ready?

And now Dallas. Dallas is truly awful. And the amount of furious rage I see from people on Facebook and the number of Blue Lives Matter posts I see popping up makes me wonder where all this white rage was when crooked, racist cops were executing black people without so much as a day in jail, let alone a day in court. It makes me see, in sharp focus, just why the #blacklivesmatter movement is so important. The very fact that an All Lives Matter hashtag has cropped up also tells me we need this movement.

Yes, god, of course "all lives matter." Of course "blue lives matter." No one is saying they don't. I saw a tweet that encapsulated this notion perfectly: "Black Lives Matter people aren't saying all lives don't matter. That's like assuming people who say 'Save the Rainforest' are saying 'Fuck All Other Kinds of Forests.'" It's an apt analogy. Black Lives Matter sprung up because black men were systematically being brutalized by corrupt and racist cops who saw them in the simplest terms and who devalued their lives in the blink of an eye. And no one cared. No one was being held accountable. These men who'd been pulled over for broken taillights, selling CDs in front of a store, or just for wearing a hoodie were being killed on the streets. And white people were saying "Yeah, but…" For god's sake, we had more collective outrage for a slain gorilla than we did for a human being.

This is a country with a savage and violent history. Talk about immigrants coming in and destroying a country. Europeans descended upon the New World and systematically wiped out the native population, either with guns or germs. Then, after the land had been secured (stolen), someone needed to work it all. What was to be done? People talk about black people being lazy. The original settlers were so damn unwilling to do backbreaking labor they went to "the dark continent" to find others to tote that barge and lift that bale. They stole millions of people, ripped them from their homes, and dragged them over here in chains to do their bidding. Then, when that was finally outlawed, they made laws to prevent black people from being actual equal citizens. Once those laws were ruled unconstitutional, they got around it by building entire economic, housing, law enforcement, judicial, and educational systems that not only refused to acknowledge black people's needs or rights, but often actively worked to intentionally disadvantage these millions of citizens. They shoved them into housing projects or into jails for minor infractions. Anything to just get them out of the way. Our history is rife with examples where white people made laws to exclude blacks or to give themselves the leg up. To say we don't have an institutional race problem in this country is to be uninformed.

So here we are, 400 years later, full of rage because a rogue black man gunned down officers who were protecting people's right to protest the system. This sniper was at a point where a lot of my black friends are telling me they are now: "We've been nice. We've been calm. We've waited for justice. And still no one cares. Still nothing changes." We have a gunman who decided the only recourse left to him---the only thing that would make people wake up and pay attention to systemic abuse of African Americans at the hands of law enforcement---would be to murder police officers.

We built this house folks; do not be surprised at the state of its disrepair. We have let a culture of marginalizing 40 million of our citizens go on for hundreds of years. We have let a culture of fear consume us. Which has led, like night to day, to a culture of guns and radicalization. Radical Islamic terrorists? Hell, we're breeding terrorists right here at home. And then arming them freely. The number of White Supremacist terrorist groups in America has gone up from 150 to over 1,200 during the Obama years, and last year alone, new white power group membership shot up 14% in just one year, thanks to something statisticians are calling "the Trump Bump." Nice. God help us gals after Hillary gets elected, and the number of Mens' Rights Activists skyrockets thanks to all the paranoid asshats who are worried about someone with ladyparts having her finger on the button. 

That is no way to say those policemen deserved to be slaughtered; I'm simply saying that the shooter was a man who'd clearly given up all hope and just didn't care anymore. He didn't get there on his own, y'all. We built this house. 

And now that white cops have been killed, plenty of people are taking notice. In one 20-minute burst of gunfire, a vigilante got the world's attention. And frankly, though I might try and understand his motivations, I still offer him a hale and hearty FUCK YOU. How dare you sabotage what has largely been a peaceful movement and turn it into something to be feared and loathed, something for racists to rally around, something for the gun nuts to use to justify open carry and arming themselves to the tits? How dare you be no better than your enemies? 

If you were aiming for a tipping point, Sir, I fear you might have brought it about in the most awful way. I fear this will polarize an already weary nation even more. I fear it will make otherwise rational people turn out in droves to vote for a racist maniac who is preying upon fear and hatred and counting on us to eat ourselves. I fear it will make moderates who once had sympathy for what BLM was trying to accomplish turn away from the central message, which is simply: HEY, WE MATTER TOO. I fear it will take kind and gentle African Americans, like Mike, and turn them into angry and violent revolutionaries.

Not since pre-Civil War days have we been a nation so divided. Race, politics, religion seem to be all the categories we use to define ourselves anymore. And if you're not with me, you're against me. We no longer have the oft-berated "gray areas" of yore---everything is now black or white, literally and figuratively. There are relatives I want to disown because I know they're voting for Trump, so I'm just as guilty. I look at them and think "If you can't see how horrific the repercussions will be if this supremely unqualified, bumbling, bloviating colostomy bag who hates women, immigrants, and minorities and who is at least partly responsible for stoking this hatred and creating this current environment gets elected, then I don't even want to talk to you because you clearly are incapable of critical thinking." Your candidate now speaks for who you are as a human being.

And the thing is, I don't want to be living with this kind of reductionist thinking. It's harmful to the people in my life; it's harmful to me; it's harmful to this country; it's harmful to humanity. I try extremely hard, daily as a matter of fact, not to make assumptions about a person based on the color of their skin or what religion they practice, so why should I make these short-sighted assumptions about people based on their political alignments?

It's hard not to be reductionist, y'all. I know it is. I'm so very guilty of it. Daily. So I try to read as much as a can, get my news from a variety of sources, stay informed, talk to people different than I, etc. But most of all, I just try and have empathy. I have empathy for the mother of Alton Sterling's child as she stood in front of a bank of cameras and recorders just hours after he was slain and spoke clearly and eloquently about the need for justice and accountability as her son sobbed inconsolably and as she carried the knowledge that his death wouldn't make any more of a difference than the countless others. I try and have empathy for Philando Castile's girlfriend as she sat handcuffed in the back of a police car after she'd just watched her boyfriend get executed, and her four-year-old daughter sat next to her and said "Don't worry, Mommy. I'm right here." I try and have empathy for that four-year-old and how she will have to process seeing a police officer execute her friend in front of her and how that moment---the moment her childhood was stolen---will affect who she will become as an adult. I try to have empathy for the City of Dallas, its police department, and the families of the slain police officers as they wake up this morning and come to grips with the siege that happened to them last night. And I'm even working on trying to have empathy for Trump supporters, the NRA, the neocons, and the one-percenters who are benefitting from watching us plebes destroy ourselves. But lord, it's hard.

I will leave you with this to put it in perspective: my friend who is an African American mom with a five-year-old son has been a mess as the result of this, and her Facebook posts reflect her fear, her sadness, her sheer terror at being the mother to a black son who will grow up and be seen as nothing but a nigger to a large part of society, no matter what his achievements will eventually be (see: Obama). And I'm watching her friends---other black mothers---weigh in on her posts. I'm reading about their fears for their sons, fear not only that society sees them as criminals and nothing else, but also fear of what all of this is doing to their developing brains. These young black sons are absorbing all of this too. They're watching right along with us. They pick up on their parents' fear.

One of her friends wrote something so heartbreaking that I burst into tears when I read it. She wrote: "My boys like to walk to the little store near our house. This is the beginning and I really worry. We haven't had a bad experience yet, but my gosh we've been having the conversations and we talk about each of these murders that hit the news. I am constantly asking myself if I'm preparing them enough or too much? My boys know they could get killed if someone just thinks they are doing something wrong; that alone...knowing that and having these conversations, is already an outrageous violation to their dignity." 

Yes, dear mother, you have hit the nail on the head. It is a violation to their dignity, heaped upon centuries of indignities. And it has made us all ignoble. I understand why black people are ready to take up arms. I understand why white people are scared. And I don't see how, on the grand scale, this is going to resolve itself any time soon.

So I'm going to go out and keep doing what I'm doing: reaching out to my African American friends and telling them that they DO matter. They matter greatly to me. I'm going to keep reaching out to people of different skin colors and different religious customs and different income levels. I am going to resist the urge to see things in black-or-white terms. It may not count for much because it's just little ol' me, but I'm striving every minute of every day for personal connection, for getting a chance to hear others tell their stories, for telling the people around me how much they mean to me, for refusing to stoke hatred. I'm just one person, but it's what I'm gonna do.

I invite everyone who reads this to adopt this approach too.

We are a nation divided right now, and these are a few of the victims.

Become a Member of the Church of Zero Fucks

I was on a bit of a roll about the shit I'd learned since starting my quest to eliminate depression from my life, but then fucking Brock Turner and Orlando happened, and I had to put my two cents' in. I guess it's the perfect example of how even when you're just tryna keep yo head down and work on your own shit, the big ol' ugly world insists on intervening. I'd like to pick up where I left off though. Thus far, my life lessons have consisted of:

  • You're gonna have to meditate.
  • Work like a bastard to develop empathy.
  • Do not park in your comfort zone. 
  • Get the hell off the internet.
  • Control your smartphone; do not let it control you.

For my seventh entry in this series, I gotta talk about becoming a member of the Church of Zero Fucks. Put another way, you gotta figure out a way, in your own everyday life, not to give a shit about the stupid things. I cannot stress this enough.

Here's the thing y'all: we have become a soft, lazy, and entitled country of whiny bitches. When you think about it, when you see people losing their shit in public, it can all be distilled down to fucking comfort and entitlement. We've been conditioned, in this country, that if you have enough money, you can have anything you want, however you want it. It's moved well past Burger King's once-unique jingle of "have it your way." We are the country who asks for our coffees "extra-hot with two shots of caf, one shot of decaf." We are the country of "on the side." If you don't like the way an experienced chef has prepared the food, restaurants will let you swap out sauces, sides, cooking styles, etc. And if, god forbid, there's a chef out there that tells you "No. I prepared this with very specific flavor profiles in mind, and this is the best way to eat this," that chef will be raked across the coals on Yelp.

We are now used to getting whatever we want it, how we want it, and as quickly as is convenient for us. And when one or some of that combination doesn't happen, we feel like it's okay to pitch a fit---either in person or in an online forum. We feel as though it gives our needs, our experience, our satisfaction (or lack thereof) gravitas. It elevates our own sense of self worth, gives us a sense of "Oh yeah, just wait until you see what I said about you on Yelp"ishness that is, frankly, ugly, spoiled, and a bit Veruca Salty.

So when these little moments of comfort don't happen, we take it as a personal attack. "What do you MEAN you can't make my coffee exactly 180 degrees today?!?!" And then we feel so slighted by this inconvenience that we feel the need to then take to the internets and social media to complain about this slight.

I'm here to tell you all one very important thing: get over yourfuckingselves.

Listen, the sooner you come to the realization that the world doesn't have any obligation to conform to the way you think it should spin, the happier you will be. The sooner you realize that you are a control freak who has gotten so used to having your tires rotated, your nails sculpted, and your coochie groomed just so and that sometimes these helper-people will not say "how high?" when you say "jump" and that's okay, the better off you'll be.

I mean, listen, I know you've gotta take your petty victories where you can get them, okay? We're not all in the one percent---used to having our coifs fluffed, our asses wiped, our purebred dogs walked, our meals cooked, and our blows softened---so we grab our power where we can. We care about exerting power over baristas, checkers, street folks, servers, bartenders, people we have no vested interest in. We seek to feel important by showing our wrath to these everyday people.

I'm here to tell you: this is not The Way. In this way lies misery and unhappiness. If you are one of the people who finds yourself moving through life idling at "simmering rage," you are giving too many fucks. If you find yourself sitting in your cubicle at 10:30 in the morning, still thinking about that asshole who stole your parking space that morning, you are giving too many fucks. If you are spending your evenings arguing about politics with strangers on the internet, thinking you will change someone's mind, you are giving too many fucks. If you think the fact that your coffeeshop is out of your favorite kind of muffin is the universe's way of punishing you, you are giving too many fucks.

A tale of two Richards: one gives too many fucks about the wrong things;
one is a carefree, sassy sprite who follows his joy.

Look, I get it. Modern life is hard and we're all under a lot of stress. It takes an enormous amount of self-actualization sometimes not to take life's little inconveniences as personal affronts. I did it all the time; I still do. No amount of meditation is gonna get me to a place where I'm zen about every damn thing. It's just not gonna happen. But getting butthurt about things over which you have no control and/or that really don't matter is the emotional equivalent of a three-year-old child throwing themselves on the floor of the middle of Baskin Robbins because the bubblegum ice cream cone you just handed him was blue and not pink. Everyone in line hates that little shit.

Besides, wasting all of your rage on things that don't matter leaves your energy depleted for fighting things that DO matter. Politicians and CEOs use this tactic all the time: "Let's get everyone's dander up over this transgender bathroom thing; meanwhile, we'll pass Citizens United and no one will care." Or "Let's get everyone riled up over the fact that there will be no more free juice in the breakroom; meanwhile, we'll take away your dental care." If you're too tired from simply moving through your angry day, maybe you have less energy or are in a much worse mindset to play with your kids, cook dinner, spend time with your family---things that DO matter, things you SHOULD be giving a fuck about. 

Look, I'm not always good at this. I still struggle not combat stupidity on a daily basis. But I just read this crazy-cool article about how the way you think actually physically changes your brain. Think about that for a mind-blowing second: this means your imagination can literally change your reality.

Is your mind blown yet? Because that's some seriously crazy shit. The article explains:

"Throughout your brain there is a collection of synapses separated by empty space called the synaptic cleft. Whenever you have a thought, one synapse shoots a chemical across the cleft to another synapse, thus building a bridge over which an electric signal can cross, carrying along its charge the relevant information you’re thinking about…Every time this electrical charge is triggered, the synapses grow closer together in order to decrease the distance the electrical charge has to cross. This is a microcosmic example of evolution, of adaptation. The brain is rewiring its own circuitry, physically changing itself, to make it easier and more likely that the proper synapses will share the chemical link and thus spark together–in essence, making it easier for the thought to trigger."

What this means is that, over time, if you continue to respond to stimuli in a certain way (negatively, for example), it becomes easier for your brain to make negative associations. You've literally trained your synapses for a go-to negative reaction rather than a positive one. Your brain, and what you do to it, literally shapes your reality. So by constantly allowing yourself to have negative reactions to the stimuli in your world, you are trapping your brain into a vicious fucks-giving cycle.

Sisyphus Butterfly needs to stop dragging that boulder, and so do you.

Bottom line is I've been much, much happier since I stop giving so many fucks. The things we view as irritations and inconveniences are such bullshit anyway. On your deathbed are you gonna remember how your neighbor was a shitty parker and his bumper hung over into your driveway? Or how that one time 12 years ago someone in line at the Comcast customer service center was an idiot? Or even that a coworker hated you and tried to make your life miserable at that one job you had in 2006? Or that the person you spoke to on the phone at the utility company was a moron? When you step back and allow yourself to get out of your solipsistic bubble and gain some perspective, it allows you to see the silliness of it all.

So that's what I try to do now, when I feel the heat rising in me over something that is truly unfuckworthy: "Is this worth wasting emotions on?" The answer is probably no. And the pause I take to think about that is a testament to meditation, which has allowed me to get those positive synapses closer to each other.

I still give plenty of fucks. I'm just choosing how I dole them out more selectively now, and it's made all of the difference. 

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The Gay Mafia is Coming for You (and It's About Time)

I'm gonna talk about Orlando. Of course I'm gonna talk about Orlando. 

Last night we watched How to Survive a Plague about the AIDS activist group, Act Up. It was a great flick, and I'd recommend it highly. First, I didn't realize that Act Up's primary focus was fighting the NIH and the FDA to push through testing of experimental AIDS drugs. This group, almost singlehandedly, got critical and life-saving drugs pushed through the approval process much faster than was happening at the time (which was excruciatingly slow due to the stigma of who had the disease---homos). They were able to get protease inhibitors to the people who were dying decades faster than it would have happened on its own. At the end of the movie, I felt so much pride for this small group of desperately committed men who affected such sweeping changes in this country. These were my people.

Second, yesterday I posted a meme on my Facebook page---half-seriously and half-jokingly---about how the Orlando murderer singlehandedly mobilized a huge block of people to take on gun control and how "these queens get shit done." After watching this documentary, I was reminded how true that actually is. The Act Up folks were terribly smart, uniquely motivated, and highly organized. Sick of being turned away at hospitals, they started an underground drug network, smuggling experimental drugs in from other countries. Then they started compiling data on these patients and sharing that info with the FDA because no one else cared enough to do it. They organized huge protests in front of drug company headquarters until the companies agreed to look at Act Up's data and work with them to develop treatments. In short, they got shit done. 

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You know who gets shit done? Bitches and queens. 

And then, 30 years later, they mobilized an entire country in less than a goddamned decade to accept same-sex marriage as a civil right. From the moment we lost the Prop 8 issue in November 2008, the community mobilized a campaign---both legal and social---to turn around the thinking of mainstream America in just seven years (until the Supreme Court ruled Prop 8 unconstitutional in 2015). Seven years for sweeping social change is unheard of! Lookit us go!

But now this community---my community---is reeling from what is rapidly shaping up not to have anything to do with extreme religion but rather just good old-fashioned homophobia and self-loathing. We have been left shaking and bleeding and reeling, seeing firsthand the backlash of such rapid acceptance. I see clearly what our next fight will be. 

Look, I'm not naïve. In the battle of The Queens vs. The NRA, I have no illusions about who is better-funded. And it's always the people with more money who win. And if the dozens of grieving parents of murdered six-year olds can't change the system after Sandy Hook, why would I think an oppressed group of people, whose vagina-on-vagina and penis-on-penis action many Americans find distasteful, can get anything accomplished? I guess part of me is hoping that now that we've seen how mainstream opinion can affect policy change (as it did with same-sex marriage), the same will happen with guns. That the more groups that bigots and homophobes alienate with each mass shooting (blacks, Latinos, gays, parents, etc.) will just add to the growing cries of tighter gun regulations until the politicians realize they can't take the NRA's money anymore without being publicly shamed. And I guess part of me is hoping that having enough experienced activists in the gay community will make this next attack on gun control smarter. I know, I'm being naive. We no longer live in a democracy by any stretch---votes can be (and are) openly purchased by special interests and, unfortunately, the people with the most money are never the people with my best interests at heart.

On a personal note, I've been reeling in emotions these past two days. Yes, there has been sadness, but that's giving way to anger. Fuck this shit. I actually argued with a gun nut online yesterday. I KNOW better! I guess I'm shocked that I'm still shocked by the lack of compassion I've been seeing from pro-gun people. Fifty fucking people were mowed down with an AR-15, and the asshole I was arguing with was splitting hairs about how an AR-15 doesn't actually fire any faster than her handgun (for which she has a concealed carry license) so...

So. So fucking what? It was a weapon, a weapon of mass destruction, made by and for the military to be used in combat. Never intended for use among the citizenry. And crazy fucks are buying it with the express intention of killing as many people in as short of time as possible. And this is the direction of your argument---parsing out rounds per second as though that were the issue?!? I am flabbergasted at what people tell themselves and how their interest of being right Trumps (capitalization intended) their compassion for fellow human beings. 

I'm angry because what should be a no-brainer---making access to this weapon harder---is something that's controversial. We've become so polarized that even something as simple as 50 dead innocent citizens immediately becomes politicized. Immediately, as in, within minutes. I've watched as pro-gun folks' first reaction was to roll their eyes and say, "Great, now the gun-control nuts will use this argument for tighter gun control," (a logical response) instead of "Oh my god, how awful! What can we do about this epidemic?" Everyone is more interested in their side being right than in basic human compassion. When did we become this society? Oh right, when we elected a black man as president and old white dudes went nuts that he would start treating them the way black folks have been treated for centuries; turns out there was backlash on that issue as well. We are not a nation to easily grasp the complexities of a situation and prefer to see things in mostly Black or White terms (again, caps intended). 

I'm angry that even in the liberal, gay-friendly Bay Area, I now have to worry that some deranged fool with a gun will spy me exchanging an innocent kiss with my wife on the street and will follow us home and rape and kill us. (Yes, I've actually followed that thought line to its completion.) And I'm furious that that thought even crossed my mind. I'm angry that I even have to *think* about checking myself.

Most of my life, I identified as straight. I was 36 when I met my wife and fell head over heels in love with a person, regardless of her genitals. We were two peas in a pod, and there was no way I could pass that up. And anyone who has spent time with us in real life can see it, how perfect we are for each other. More than one friend has said to me "Y'all are my favorite couple." Not favorite gay couple, just favorite couple. That there are people in this world that want to murder my wife and me for something so beautiful and life-affirming is something I've always carried with me, yes. But Orlando has brought that terrifyingly to the forefront of my mind.

Lookit how cute we are, for fuck's sake. How can you hate us? 

I know she and I will continue to be ourselves, will continue to speak up for injustice against any group of people, not just "our people" when we see it happening. That is who we are---we are compassionate, empathetic people who don't like to see people being treated unjustly. We have been infinitely blessed with love and support around us all of the time. Our families and our friends shower us with love and let us know they support us unconditionally, both as individuals and as a couple. And our friends are raising their children with this same love and acceptance, which is heartening to watch.

It's a counterbalance of hope against the rage I feel most of the time that I'm just sitting around waiting for old, conservative, white men to die so we can get on with the business of making this a more loving, inclusive, and accepting country. A counterbalance to the hatred I see Trump and religious leaders inciting across this country. You want to blindly hate all people who worship a particular religion that incites violence? Fine, hate Muslims, but you gotta hate Christians too. They may no longer be beheading people, but they used to. Remember the Inquisition? When it comes to religion, they all have blood on their hands, and the fact that there are men and women in DC who are trying to rule this country as "a Christian nation" is no better than ISIS trying to get the world to bow to Fundamentalist Islamic rule.

The world is under no obligation to operate on YOUR terms. How hard is that to grasp? How hard is it to think "homosexuality isn't my jam, but live and let fucking live, man" and go about your own goddamned business? How hard is it to look at the person in front of you and not judge them based on their religion, sexual orientation, gender, or skin color and not hold them accountable for the sins of a deranged person? Apparently, it's pretty fucking hard for a lot of people in this godforsaken country right now. 

See? See how quickly I was talking about love, and I devolved into rage? Right now, I'm trying so hard not to let the dueling emotions of sadness and anger consume me and to focus on that love and hope instead. But it's hard, y'all, so fucking hard. Just remember, many of your gay friends are struggling right now. Please drop them a kind word and let them know you love and support them. You think it won't matter much or that it will be corny; it won't. Also, if you could read this, I'd be much obliged. It's the best thing I've read on Orlando and encapsulates a lot of what I'm struggling with myself.

I am who I am because of gay men. I count them among my earliest friends, confidantes, and influences. I am quick-witted, sharp-tongued, and campy. I am mouthy, opinionated, and sassy. I have shared so many pivotal moments of my life, both triumphant and deeply humbling, with gay men. They are among the most compassionate, kind-hearted, witty, fun-loving, brash people on this planet. The world needs more of that right now: fun and sassy and light-hearted. When I think about how it could have been any one of us in Pulse that night, I weep for the future of these victims, stolen so young. And I weep for how numb we are all growing toward this. 

Spread the love. I'm having a hard time doing that just now. Forgive me.  

We Need the Menfolk to Take Up Pitchforks Too

I'm not sure why the Brock Turner rape case has caught the nation's attention. We live in a world that shows us each and everyday that society still views women as chattel, something to be used, tossed about, scorned, shamed, insulted, beaten, stalked, and harassed online. If you've been paying attention even halfway, you're aware that women get abused or killed by their partners in this country by the minute, beaten or killed by strangers, raped by frat boys, sold for sex trafficking, told by strangers online that they should be raped or have their breasts cut off, and are generally made to feel worthless using terms that insult their weight, physical characteristics, or intelligence. The internet hates women even more than the real world does.

This man is lying, Rapey McRaperson who shows zero remorse for his actions. Look at that smug, "my daddy can get me out of anything" look of entitlement on that doofus face. 

Yet, I can't help but notice that, for some reason, this what is sadly a very typical example of what can happen to a young woman when she is around men who cannot control their impulses, has gone viral. It's no longer been contained to the quiet, manicured grounds of the West Coast's Ivy League university. People are posting pictures of Brock with the words RAPIST above his head. People are posting the victim's unbelievably eloquent and powerful letter to Brock.* People are posting the father's ridiculous response about how his fuckwit of his son has lost his appetite for ribeyes and how he shouldn't be punished for "20 minutes of action." People are posting the judge's picture and reminding everyone that he's up for reelection tomorrow. (As it turns out, he's running unopposed, but there is now a petition to get him recalled.)

And the reason this feels different to me is twofold: first of all, we women are becoming more emboldened and empowered. For all of virulent hostility women encounter online, we are now using social media and the internet as a forum to publically shame rapists and abusers. For every ten Men's Rights Activists (that term makes me throw up in my mouth a little) slut-shaming women from their hidey holes, there is now one woman standing up and saying "Fuck you, you Tiny Man, no one cares what you think." We, too, have learned to use social media to our advantage when the justice system fails us. We have watched versions of this same tired rape trial play out all over the country for decades now, and we are finally standing up and saying "Fuck this shit. Stop teaching your daughters about what not to wear and how much to drink and start teaching your sons not to fucking rape."

Second, I'm seeing, for the first time, MEN getting involved in the public shaming of this entitled, unapologetic human skid mark. I live in the Bay Area, where, arguably, we have some pretty damn enlightened men. My male friends are compassionate, intelligent, mostly liberal people who would consider themselves feminists. Even if they wouldn't use that word to describe themselves, they still certainly believe that their female partners, friends, and coworkers are entitled to all the rights they themselves enjoy. They certainly believe that a woman has a right to control over her own body.

Yet, in past high-profile trials involving rape, abuse, stalking, or harassment, these compassionate men mostly remain silent on social media. There is no calling out the rapist or even posting the story on their timelines. I'm not sure if it's because they feel the burning shame of the atrocities of which their gender is capable, whether it's because doing so would make them seem like a wimp to other male friends, or if it's simply "well I know that *I* would never rape someone so I'm already doing enough." But for whatever the reason, my usually compassionate male friends' social media accounts have remained awkwardly silent in the past.

But this one is different. I see my male friends stepping up and reposting this story with furious words for Brock, his father, and the judge. They are reading this story and making a moral judgement, then doing something about it by reposting it with angry commentary. I mean, we just had a week of "what kind of stupid-ass parent doesn't keep an eye on their kid around a gorilla enclosure?!?!" parent-shaming on Facebook. It's right and just that Brock's father receive this same level of parental shaming for not instilling common decency in his grown-ass child. People--no matter the gender--should be calling this fuckface out. Brock's father's plea to the judge has received thousands of "fruit doesn't fall far from that tree" comments worldwide. I also believe this is right and just.

Yes, one can argue that being a "slacktivist" accomplishes little. Sharing a story on Facebook with your rant is about as little action that you can take (aside from no action at all), and people argue that's not really doing anything. It's not like you're taking to the streets to affect social change.

I disagree. I think social media is now how we see, in real time, how tides can shift when it comes to social and cultural issues. I don't think attitudes about same-sex marriage would have changed at the lightning pace they did without Facebook, without the countless memes, news stories, and pictures posted on Facebook and Twitter. You keep seeing those sentiments over and over again, phrased in different ways, poking holes of logic in any arguments you might have had, coming from all different types of people, and eventually that's how the zeitgeist changes. You start to realize that maybe your beliefs aren't cool, a touch outdated perhaps.

And just like other social movements before this one, the oppressed need allies who are members of the oppressing group. The Civil Rights Movement needed open-minded, compassionate white people to help get the message out that racial equality was an idea whose time had come. The same-sex marriage movement needed straight people who believed that ALL people should be entitled to equal rights under the law to join the cause and help influence other less-open-minded straight people.

And now? Now we need you gents to step up and help us get this message out, and speaking out on social media is a good start toward it. I think public shaming---for all of the murky, ethical, Shirley-Jackson-Lottery-esque qualities it carries---is actually starting to work. Sadly, it's not enough that we women are standing up for ourselves, showing our outrage, and speaking out--we need you guys to stand up against this behavior too. For it shows other men---men who themselves would never rape someone but who would otherwise shrug and say "well, it's the world we live in" and walk away---to see that it's not betraying their gender to also speak up and say it's time to stop treating women as objects. It's not enough that we're standing up for ourselves when it happens to us on the streets or in the workplace; we need men who see this happening in real life to speak to the aggressor as well. It's the old "if you see something, say something" adage, writ large.

As my friend said "Is it wrong that I'm grateful for those two Swedish boys who stumbled upon the scene as Brock was penetrating this unconscious woman and that they actually did something? Because that's not necessarily the society we live in." Sadly, she's right---many men would have averted their eyes and hastily walked by, not wanting to get involved. But those kids DID get involved, and it sucks that women have to feel grateful for even those scraps of basic human decency.

I just read a comment on another friend's page that said she overheard two old white men in the airport this morning talking about how poor Brock was being persecuted for his boyish indiscretions and it was "a bunch of jealous dykes with pitchforks on a witch hunt." Had I been sitting next to those two old dinosaurs, I would have stood up, looked them in the eye, and said "I can't wait for your old asses to die and with it all your stupid, sexist, outdated bullshit. The rest of America is doing just that---waiting for you to die so we can get on with the business of making this an America where ALL citizens are given equal value and equal treatment." Hell yes, I would have said it; I'm known to do that sort of thing all the time. (Some of my friends have suggested they'd like me to strap a GoPro to my head and have a reality show based on me calling out stupid shit.)

And the thing is, we need ALL like-minded people to start doing this. Don't just shake your head and move to another seat so you don't have to listen to their misguided, misogynistic rantings. Think of it this way: if you were sitting next to a guy an the airport spouting racist crap, would you say something? If the answer is yes, then why not expand it to include women?

For the more people are told this sort of public behavior is unacceptable, the more we see a social shift. I'm not naïve; I don't think that public shaming and calling people out IRL has ended racism or gay-bashing. I spend enough time on the internet to know that's it's only inflamed some---the ones we're waiting for to die. But at one point, people of this country thought slavery was a good idea; now we don't. We thought Jim Crow was probably fine for those hillbillies down South; now most Southerners agree that was a shameful period of their history. At one point the thought of two men having a wedding and having it be recognized by our government would have been ludicrous; now people look forward to attending their first gay wedding with excitement. It is possible to shift public opinion. And now, thanks to the ways in which we're all dialed in, social media is forcing those shifts to happen faster and faster. 

We are coming into a period where we will need our male allies to step up and be even louder. Look at what having an African-American president has done to bring out all the horrible, racist kooks who now think it's okay to shout their ignorance from the rooftops. (Hate groups have increased a whopping 250% since Obama took office.) If Hillary Clinton is elected president, the next four years will be a constant assault on women as old white dudes perceive their centuries of total control slipping away. We ladies will pay the price for America having elected a "female bull-dyke bitch" for president. We'll see misogyny the likes of which we haven't seen since the Middle Ages. If you think there's a War on Women now, just you wait until we see a 250% rise in MRA groups. It makes it all the more important that like-minded men consistently call that shit out when they see it---either online or IRL. For what we're seeing now is that public shaming DOES work when the law enforcement or legal system fails you. We see angry mobs getting people fired from their jobs for racist rants on social media; we see people publicly shaming rapists and judges and parents. And I can't help but think that now that the internet has just even the smallest amount of accountability, people are rethinking their actions. You think some drunken frat boy talking to his dudebros about how he's gonna take a wasted girl back to his dorm and take advantage of her now won't--at least a few times---elicit the response "Careful bro, remember what happened to that dude at Stanford?"

Hell, even if that conversation only happens once at one frat party, isn't that a start? 

_________

*If you haven't read the victim's letter yet, please, please, please go read it. It's one of the most moving and powerful victim statements I've ever read and something that should be required reading for ALL teenagers--boys and girls.  

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised, It Will Be YouTubed

The following entry is the fifth in a series. To start at the beginning, go here.

*****

If you read me even sporadically you know about my daily battle with technology. Not in a "Grandma can't figure out how to work the DVD player" kind of way. More like in a "why should I go out and play with the three-dimensional people when I have so many kitten videos to watch?" kind of way. To that end, I have a couple of tidbits of advice to offer up. These are things that I inherently knew were/are contributing to my unhappiness, but that I kept doing anyway. It's sorta like when you think "Well, meth may take down everyone else, but not me---I can handle this shit!" Next thing you know, you're toothless, picking at scabs on your face, wondering how you lost control of your life. For me, these two things are as addictive as a drug, and the chasm between what I know I should do and what I actually do is as mighty as the Grand Canyon. So that being said, I offer y'all the following advice:

Get the hell off the Internet. Fucking run, don't walk. This comes from someone who has spent the last several years mainlining the Internet and mainlining high doses of stupid websites so I can, what? Remain relevant? Be the hippest person on unhip Facebook? Be able to intelligently discuss world news at parties? And I don't just mean social media is toxic, I mean all the crappy video sites, news sites, video-streaming sites, and other timesuck activities that are bombarding you with stories and pictures and activities that will make you feel bad about the world and your place in it. Aside from the fact that you know, deep in your soul, that you only have one life to live and sitting and staring at a screen for 14 hours a day is NOT how you should be living it, everything on the goddamned Internet is designed to make you enraged, divided, argumentative, and bullying.

The Internet gives us the illusion that we're connected, but really it makes us didactic, angry, and fist-shaky. The whole fucking thing is designed to keep us hooked, learning our algorithms and feeding us more of the same crap that we've clicked on before to keep the rage going. So we sit there like a hamster on a wheel to nowhere, clicking on articles that make us furious about the state of our cities, states, countries, planet…on an endless loop…clicketyclick. And what the fuck can we do to solve any of these problems, right? We can't fix the broken political system or do anything about poisoned water. So this enormous ball of frustration and impotence builds in us, and we spend our days carrying around a vague sense of hopelessness and can't figure out why. 

Just as applicable today as it was 30 years ago. Just substitute the TV for a monitor.

I am a news junkie, a political junkie, an Internet junkie. There have been studies showing how Facebook activates the same neural pathways as drugs like cocaine and heroin. If you've ever watched me scrolling through my Facebook feed, you'd believe that comparison in a heartbeat. Now. More. Again. Since I got my smartphone in 2008, I've developed arthritis in my thumbs from FUCKING SCROLLING. Let that sink in for a minute. Plus, I have a constant pinched nerve in my neck and shoulder from the way I hold my phone. My body is, literally, telling me that this is not how I was meant to live. Yet, like drugs, the pull is too great, and I succumb, "playing through the pain" like some sad techlete.

We have become a nation of people getting what is laughably called "news" via Twitter and Facebook feeds---angry headlines with algorithms that know to feed us stories that align with our existing beliefs---so then we turn around a spout that opinion on our own pages, thereby perpetuating the hatred, all while calling ourselves "informed." I'm the guiltiest of all, which is why I've severely cut down on the type of stuff I share on my page. The 2012 election about killed my joy for good, so I cut out all the pages having to do with news and/or politics on my feed. At some point, Facebook transitioned from being witty posts from your friends to nothing but people posting articles agreeing or disagreeing with their worldview with angry rants attached. I am the worst offender, so I've unliked all the news sites and political sites to minimize how much crap I see, and I've hidden all ranty and/or negative friends. And y'all, it has helped enormously, both with the amount of time I'm spending online and with my outlook. I can't recommend it enough.

This dovetails nicely with my next pearl of wisdom which is, yes, I know everyone tells you this, but I'm not fucking kidding: You have got to control your smartphone instead of letting it control you. Because it means even when you are out in the world, you're not really in it. Once I had access to all of the knowledge of the world---plus a camera!---at my fingertips, my life became far less rich. Instead of experiencing life, which I used to be very, very good at, I experienced virtual life through a tiny screen instead. I was no longer paying attention to the wonders of the world around me. I developed that nasty neck crick we all seem to bitch about now, the one from having our faces buried in our phones nonstop, and suddenly I ceased to be alert to conversation with friends, possible amazing interactions with strangers, beautiful scenery, towns I drove through. Once it was me and my phone, I inadvertently put up an invisible wall around myself and stopped making myself accessible to all of life's possibilities.

Look, I love having an easily operable camera at my fingertips at all time, and there's no shame in documenting your trip, your lunch, your day. But when you take a picture then spend the next 20 minutes uploading it to all of your various social media, think about the 20 minutes of scenery or conversation you just missed. Talk about failure to be present. I'm so very guilty of doing this, and I'm trying to check myself. Every time I reach for my phone, I try and be conscious of it and think "Do I really need to do whatever I was just gonna do on this phone or should I just enjoy the things around me?"

You have Checked In at: The Bottom of the Atlantic. See others who have visited here!

The Wife is trying desperately to drag me into cribbage. While I like cribbage and I see what she's trying to do (get us involved in something that doesn't involve drinking and that initiates conversation), I've been dragging my feet. I think it's laziness. It's easier to lie on the couch and color on my phone than engage in face-to-face interaction. Much like doing things that get me outside my comfort zone and force me to leave the house, I'm again opting for the moment of least resistance. What will require the least amount of effort from me? The answer is always gonna be smoking a bowl and watching TV. And that sucks. I don't wanna be that person. I just feel so exhausted most of the time, and that makes everything seem so insurmountable: going to dinner with friends, playing cribbage, going to the grocery store, talking on the phone.

Don't act like this ain't your house.

It's like I've let my mind tell my body that this is all it's capable of anymore. It's nothing more than mental laziness coupled with the addictive capabilities of a doctor with a loose prescription pad doling out Oxy. We don't stand a chance unless we make conscious choices surrounding the technology we have access to. Much like alcoholics must have a plan in place for how they will handle "dangerous" situations, we, too, must have a plan, boundaries, rules---whatever you want to call them---in place for when mental laziness takes over and our brains are itching to zone out and our scrolling thumbs are getting twitchy.

I've tried it all---the apps that track your time on social media sites, setting an "only two hours a day" rule, bribing myself, removing social media apps from my phone so they're not as easy to get to. Hell, I even went into the woods without my phone for 10 days. It was this last one---me going all Thoreau on my life---that remotely stuck. Coming back from that time away from technology, I felt utterly refreshed, and I didn't have the need to jump on my phone when I returned. I've since slid back into using social media too much, but the pause made me stop and think about the amount of time I was wasting, as well as the type of things I was posting. I've stopped posting angry rants about politicians, corporations, corrupt judges, brutal police actions, and greedy billionaires. The information is already out there; I don't need to perpetuate the cycle.

So that's today lesson, my precious pets. Technology is both a gift and a menace. It's up to you which way it leans in your life. 

No Parking in the Comfort Zone

The following entry is the fourth in a series. To start at the beginning, go here.

*****

Continuing with this series of Things I've Learned during My Struggle for Happiness, one of the things I've realized is that getting out of your comfort zone will make you a better person. Look, I hate this one too because I've discovered that with pain, depression, and just plain age comes fear. Fear of fucking everything. Fear every time you open your computer and read about what's happening in the world. Fear every time you walk to your car at night and remember that story you read about the woman who got raped in that neighborhood last week. Fear of quitting your job and losing everything. Fear of divorce. Fear of the death of your parents or children. Fear of getting really sick. Fear of dying alone. Fear of everything until you stop trusting in people. And then you start fearing anyone who is different from you or any situation you haven't previously experienced.

This last one seems to consume us the older we get. The more we fear, the more we isolate ourselves. The more we isolate ourselves, the more we're getting our perception of the world through secondhand sources, like television or the Internet. The more we trust others' perceptions of the world instead of our own experiences, the more likely it is that our perceptions become skewed. You forget the age-old adage of "don't believe everything you read," and you become more susceptible to trusting the news, which is designed to make you what? Fear even more shit. It's a vicious cycle, man.

Funniest_Memes_get-out-of-your-comfort-zone_14430.jpeg

To counter this, I'm trying hard to get out and meet the people in my community, to put faces on people belonging to groups about which I understand little so that I can broaden my worldview (check out my previous entry about this). I don't want the face of the Muslim religion to be something I read about on Gawker. I don't want the face of cops to be everything I read on the endlessly one-sided, clickbaity web "news" sites. I don't even want to paint the picture of all Trump supporters as the ignorant, racist hillbillies they're often portrayed as. That means all I'm getting is the one-dimensional shit; I'm not understanding the deeper issues at work. It's human nature to blame another group for the world's woes. It's always the blacks, the Mexicans, the Irish, the Muslims, the gays, the feminists, the Soviets…and on and on. But living with all that hatred is not only harmful to you (anger and anxiety lead to health problems), but it's harmful to the world to buy into that mindset---you become part of the problem. It's essential that you make connections to individuals.

Listen, this shit is hard for me too. It's no different than the promise you make to yourself as you fall asleep that tomorrow you'll wake up an hour early and get to the gym. We always wanna believe that tomorrow is the day we're gonna be our best selves. For me, I wanna think that tomorrow is gonna be the day I leave the house and go do something really different, something helpful that allows me to make a connection, something that pushes against the boundaries of my comfort levels. But fear stops me. When I told my shrink about these things and how I don't engage in activities I claim to I want to do and that I know are in my best interest out of sheer laziness, he said he doesn't believe in laziness. He thinks that there is always something behind the laziness that's really stopping you. For me, that thing is FEAR. It's an interesting theory, which has made me pay attention to what's really going on in my head when I say I don't want to do something. Why don't I want to do this? Because it would be easier to stay in bed and watch Netflix. Okay, but easier how? Because you're scared to have to go and interact with people? What's going on beneath your desire not to put on a bra and leave the house?

I still struggle with this, y'all. I'm just happier being home these days. Except the thing is, when I don't leave the house, I turn to all my usual distractions: weed, booze, Facebook, Netflix. And then it turns into a shame spiral pretty quickly. I lie there and think about whatever thing I got invited to and begged off of, and I beat myself up for not being in the world, telling myself over and over that I only have one life to live and is scrolling through Facebook how I want to spend it? Or do I want to go to things, experience things, see things, talk to people? I know what the *right* answer is, so I continue to lie there and beat myself up, all while ostensibly doing what I'd rather be doing---staying at home. Your brain really is its own worst enemy. As my other shrink says (I know, I have a team of professionals trying their best to keep me sane) "How's all the negative thinking working out for you?" Dr. Phil-isms aside, she's right. It's not working for me any better than it's working for you. But turning off that stream of "I'm-a-piece-of-shit-because" thinking is one of the hardest things we struggle with.

Look, this shit is so common, someone made a meme. You are not alone.

Look, we have been conditioned to fear for our lives every time we set foot out in the world. Either it's the Bay Bridge, which will collapse at any minute, surely killing me while I'm en route to the city. Or it's the crime in West Oakland, of which I will surely be a victim should I choose to place myself in that "disadvantaged" neighborhood. Or it's the possibility that the angry dude in front of me at the coffeeshop berating the barista will be carrying a concealed weapon. Or it's that the air we're breathing and the water we're drinking are slowly killing us. We are conditioned now to fear all of the time, and if you don't think that that's doing a number on your psyche, on your flight-or-fight instincts, on suddenly developing panic attacks for no reason…you are just flat-out wrong. It's taking its toll. This mentality is making us turn inward and want to be in the world less. Trust, bitches, I know. I am their poster child.

There's a dude who, post-divorce, developed a card game for the very purpose of getting himself out of his comfort zone. He, too, was paralyzed with fear, so he vowed to do one thing every day that scared him, where there was a possibility of him getting rejected since rejection was *his* biggest fear. And it changed him. I haven't made any sort of pledge like that for myself because it's, well, scary. But my point is, this is a common affliction from which we ALL suffer. Again, we mock and scorn things that scare us so that we can justify not engaging with that person or not putting ourselves into a certain situation. And it keeps us terribly isolated. And fearful. Fear does not equal happy. You have to get out there and try new things and meet new people. By any means necessary. And I still struggle with this, y'all. It's not easy. But it is essential. Honestly, the cards look cool, and I think I'm gonna get myself a set.

There's no shame in admitting you need extra help with any of these things. If it takes a set of cards or some other means of bribing yourself, do it. We spend all this time and energy and use every tool available to us to work on what our outward bodies look like, yet very few of us put that same level of effort and energy into making our minds more fit. That extra 10 pounds you think you need to lose every time you look in the mirror? How do you think you'd view your body if your mind were in a better place? Those 10 pounds wouldn't fucking matter---and they shouldn't. Who gives a fresh fuck about your muffin tops when you are mentally healthy and happy? I mean, I know this falls under the category of DUH, but if you feel good about yourself inwardly, you're not gonna give two whits about what other people see on the outside. Given the choice between a six-pack and contentment, I'm choosing contentment every time.

And even though I sorta suck at getting out of my comfort bubble, when I do manage to do it, I'm rarely sorry I did. Usually it results in meeting someone new and having a really cool conversation with them, going to a new place and having a new kind of experience, or hanging out with old friends and really, really connecting with them. So I know it's hard, y'all, I really do. But trite clichés aside, you really do only get one life.

I know it's easier to lie on the couch and watch episodes of Roseanne for the tenth time---and I'm not saying that's never okay---but when you look back on your life as you get older, will it make you happier to remember that you spent most of your middle age horizontal on a couch quoting "Steel Magnolias" line-for-line or will you remember that you went into the sunlight and frolicked when you had the chance? Me? I already know I can do the former, so now I'm working on the latter.

Work Like a Bastard to Develop Empathy

The following entry is the third in a series. To start at the beginning, go here.

Empathy. This is a theme that runs like a river through my blog. We have become a divided nation, a divided world. We vociferously define ourselves by our political affiliations, our religions, the colors of our skin, our genders (whether cis- or trans-, male or female), our sexual orientations, geographic regions in which we live, our economic status (or lack thereof), our cultural references, and our classes. Owning your birthrights or your preferences is certainly a great step toward pride and self-love. But sadly, we've also started lashing out at groups who identify differently than we do, and that's where humanity gets into real trouble. Defining yourself by who you hate is a dangerous proposition, made even more dangerous by the anonymity of the Internet, where trolling and hate-slinging is a way of life.

When I was wearing my young/hip/edgy San-Francisco-city-chick persona throughout most of my twenties and my thirties, I thought it was what I needed to keep the freaks at bay. If I looked and acted caustic and hard, no one would fuck with me. Then, one day in my forties, I looked up and realized my worldview was really, really angry and messed up. I had zero sympathy for anyone. I'd become hard, cold, and unsympathetic; very "Every Man for Himself." And I realized I did not want to live the rest of however much time I had left being pissed off all the time or assuming that the guy sitting next to me on the bus was toting a shiv and was about to remove my teeth from my head. (Don't laugh, this really happened on the bus line I took every day when I lived in the Mission.) I was sick of assuming all homeless people somehow deserved to be homeless and that’s how I could justify stepping over them every day. I was sick of assuming all black men standing on a corner in a shitty neighborhood were either selling or buying drugs, and that's how I justified looking away from them so quickly.

In short, I was sick of defining individuals by how society has told us they should be defined.

^^ Not me ^^

The fact of the matter is…everyone has a fucking story. We can be proud of the groups we were either born into or choose to identify with, but to marginalize or somehow make invisible groups we know nothing about or have only heard stereotypes about is coming from a place of fear. We mock and scorn that which we don't understand. And that turns us into callous assholes and makes it that much easier to assume "all Blacks…" or "all Muslims…" or "all transgendered people…" or even "all gun owners…" For me, it's "all Republicans…" or "all Evangelicals…"

The way to counter this blinder-like thinking is to develop empathy. I know, that phrase is being bantered around a lot these days. You see almost as many stories about developing empathy as you do about meditation. What does it even mean…empathy? Short version: putting yourself in someone else's shoes and trying to imagine what their journey has been like up to that point. If you are a compilation of the things you've experienced, the people you've met, the stories you hold, why would you think it would be any different for a street-bound person? Or a Latina maid who just cleaned your hotel room? Or the drag queen on the corner? The Road to Right Now is paved with all of the wrongs we've suffered at the hands of others, bad choices we've made, times we've stumbled, people who have let us down. The difference between you and that person living on the street could just be a couple of devastating turns of fate for them or that you were lucky enough to have a better support system in your life.

It means recognizing that everyone doesn't come from a place of privilege or ease. For me, that meant learning to look at life through a different lens other than a middle-class, college-educated, white American. It meant that being born into those aforementioned groups had automatically given me certain advantages that other people simply didn't have access to. What it didn't mean was feeling bad about my white, middle-class privilege---I hadn't done anything wrong by being born white and middle-class in a first-world country---but it did mean recognizing that my birth into these categories automatically gave me a leg up in society as it stands today. It meant that my odds of having a more comfortable life were greater than say, a child born into a brothel in Mumbai or a black kid born in the projects in West Baltimore. To acknowledge this privilege didn't mean I was a racist dick or a Trump supporter. It didn’t mean I possessed any superior knowledge or survival skills; it simply meant I likely had greater access to the tools that help a person succeed in society. Once I recognized that, I felt like I had an obligation to appreciate other people's journeys and to recognize that their lives might have been much more fraught with obstacles than mine. I realized that judging people based on what I saw before me in a moment was a bit vapid; I had zero knowledge of how they arrived at that point.

Once I started talking to homeless folks I encountered, or the young, black men loitering outside our bar, or people who are taking hormone-replacement therapy to change their gender, or the woman wearing a hajib in my coffeeshop, it became that much harder to lump these folks into easily defined groups. How can you be dismissive of "all homeless people" when you've heard Cliff's story of losing his legs in Vietnam, losing his VA benefits, his only child dying in a car wreck---all of which left him without family and without an income? How can you say "all black kids…" when you see, firsthand, a bunch of high school kids who came from the projects, parents often addicted to drugs, sometimes homeless themselves, who are busting their asses to grab as much education as this country can offer them in order to get into college and better their family's situation? You can't. Once you start seeing people as an amalgam of their life stories up to that point, rather than "a black junkie," it becomes harder to vilify them as Other.

Listen, no one likes getting judgier than I do. I can tear a person down from head to toe in the time you can say "we are more alike than different." Riding down the street with The Wife and I is an exercise in bitchiness. "Did she really leave the house in those shoes? Aw hell nah! Ooooooh girl, you need to rethink that outfit!" Shit y'all, that's some all-American fun right there---picking folks apart for making worse choices than you. You can pry my superficial, bitchy judgments from my cold, dead brain after I go. But the difference is, I do it in the privacy of my own car or home or barstool. What I don't do is poke people---either in real life or on the Internet---for how they are living their lives or the choices they're making, and I don't tell them what choices they should be making instead.

But what I do do is seek out The Other in an effort to know more about them, to make them less scary, to hear their stories, to understand. It makes it easier to resist stereotyping and to resist assuming everyone should think, act, and believe as I do. And once I started doing that, a funny thing happened---my anger toward the world started to wane. I stopped seeing everyone on the bus as a potential drugged-out criminal or all white women in Lululemon pants as vapid yoga moms or whatever. I mean, shit, I ain't perfect; sometimes I do let my angry stereotypes get the best of me, but it happens less and less. I'm getting better at moving through the world without fear and rage, which makes me feel less craptastic all around.

So lower the walls just a bit, if you can. Strike up a conversation with someone as you're waiting for the bus or standing in the coffee line. I'd tell you to volunteer at a shelter or a mosque, but hell, I haven't even gotten off my own ass and done that, so, ya know…do as I say, not as I do. I'm a work in progress too, just like all of us. Sometimes I have the best of intentions. So start small. Build a tiny inlet into understanding that which you might fear.

And stop hating people because you think you've got them all figured out based on a few outward clues because you don't. Any more than any stranger has you all figured out based on those awful shoes you left the house in this morning. 

Look, You're Gonna Have to Meditate

The following entry is the second in a series. To start at the beginning, go here.

 

*****

So I've been thinking about the things I've learned on this sojourn toward happiness lately. To say that being on this quest to reclaim my happiness hasn't changed me would be dishonest. I've learned a lot of things about myself and the things that impact my contentment or dissatisfaction. So don't roll your eyes when I tell you the Number One thing I've learned is that you're gonna have to meditate. But hold up, I do not think that word means what you think it means. Everyone goes into it with this preconceived notion of what meditation is supposed to be, like you have to sit cross-legged with your fingers touching in circles in the middle of a deep and verdant forest next to babbling brook, and you will open your mind and the universe will expand…like you are Buddha his own damn self. But that's not what meditation is! Listen here, Buddhafaces: Meditation is whatever the hell works for you.  

I know, I know…you've read the barrage of articles that have been popping up in your feed with growing frequency about how meditation helps your mental and physical health, so you tried it and you "suck at meditation" or your "mind wanders all over the place." No. Just stop. Stop fucking saying that because it is patently and blatantly untrue. Nobody has a more scattered and jumpy mind than I do (thanks ADHD!), and even *I've* figured out a meditation style that works for me. If I did it, you can too. Trust.

Seriously. 

So what's the point? Why is meditation increasingly being shown to extend our lives and bring down our blood pressure? The central goal of meditation, as I see it, is that it teaches you self-soothing techniques. You are training yourself bring your mind back to focusing on something physical (your breath) when your brain starts wandering (which it will). Of course your mind will wander! That's just human nature. The key is, when you're meditating and you realize you've spent the last five minutes wondering whether you should throw a Star Wars-themed or a cowboy-themed birthday party for your kid, don't then berate yourself for it. Notice it, let that shit go, bring yourself back to breathing, and start counting your breaths until your mind wanders off again (which it will). 

This will be you. And that's okay. 

The point of intentionally sitting and teaching yourself this when you're in a calm, quiet environment at home is that once you practice doing this in a peaceful environment, you'll be able to bring yourself out of your racing, angry mind during in real-life moments, calm yourself down, and buy yourself a little perspective on whatever's happening. Whether your child has just dumped red paint on the carpet, or you're stuck in traffic behind a little old lady driving 15 miles an hour with her seatbelt hanging out of her door, you'll recognize the signs that you're losing your cool and will be able to take steps to soothe yourself before you let something as idiotic as shitty traffic ruin the rest of your night with your family once your commute is over.

There are, literally, thousands of tiny little techniques you can use, some of them only take a couple of minutes. To use "I just don't have the time to meditate" is a weak-ass excuse. You unconsciously meditate when you zone out in your car on the way to work and suddenly find yourself pulling into the parking lot wondering how the hell you got there. THAT'S meditation, motherfuckers! For reals! If you can do that, you can consciously meditate too!

I meditate in my own kooky way. I long ago gave up meditating how someone else expected me to, and I just started trying all kinds of crazy shit---I chant, I rock, I hum, I karaoke, I curse… Sometimes when I'm sitting there, I chant my mantra: Be Patient, Be Polite, Be Positive, Be Powerful, Be Present. And if I know I have a challenging day ahead of me, I think about how I will apply each of those concepts to my day ahead: "Be Patient….today you're meeting with Bob, who is an idiot fucktard…don't let him get under your skin…when he suggests one of his useless ideas, instead of rolling your eyes, really listen to what he has to say! Okay, so…Be Powerful…today you're meeting with your boss about a raise…you should provide the examples of where you had happy clients who gave good feedback, and if she tries to minimize your accomplishments, firmly remind her of the time you took on that ugly project that no one wanted…" I tailor my meditation toward whatever I feel unsure of or I think will give me trouble during the upcoming day.

Often, I will step outside for 10 minutes and sit in the sun. I then take an inventory of the physical things I'm experiencing. I close my eyes and do slow, controlled, deep breaths and take an inventory of the things I can hear (birds chirping), feel (the sun on my face), and see (floaters in front of my closed eyes), and smell (someone is grilling). I focus on these physical aspects around me while breathing deeply, and 10 minutes later, I'm a new human. I can go back and read the next 20 pages of a poorly written, boring report. I can face the thought of getting on I-80 during rush hour. I can face dealing with The Wife and talk about that argument we had before she left for work this morning.

Or sometimes I crank the chanting, New Agey, bling-bling music and just focus on my breathing while lying in a hammock. Or sometimes I close my eyes and concentrate on the sounds around me in a coffeeshop. Or sometimes I let myself completely lose myself in a song I love. Or sometimes I smoke a bowl and chop vegetables for dinner, the rhythmic ><CRUNCH!>< providing satisfying background music to my zen state of mind. Point being, your meditation can be any way you want, for however many minutes you can grab.

And what is the end result? Does it really DO anything? Is it like "Six-Minute Abs?" Will I "see results in just 6 weeks?!?!"

Bitch, please.

The world's greatest smart ass and healthiest skeptic on the planet is here to tell you: FUCK. YES. I am a transformed person because of meditation. If my hard-drinking, chain-smoking, burger-eating ass lives to be a day over 60, it will be because of meditation.

Sweetbabykrishna, let me count the ways in which it has helped. The main one being that it has taught me how better to be in the present moment in my everyday life, not just when I'm meditating. "And what does that mean? Being in the present?" You might ask. It means everything.

It means that when I wake up in a bad mood, sometimes I can turn that mood around by stopping and taking stock of my situation instead of blanketly being a pessimistic asshat and assuming the entire day will suck. It means before I get out of bed, I can lie there for 10 minutes and count things for which I'm grateful: "Yesterday I spent an hour wondering whether or not my cat was happy enough. I'd say that means my life is pretty much gravy right now. Last night The Wife grilled that pork loin perfectly. Holy crap, that was good eats. And tonight we’re grilling pizzas? That'll be awesome! I'm lucky that I have access to such good food." It's the difference between starting my day in a shit mood or a sunny mood. 

This is you, isn't it?

It means I no longer get that purple, popping vein in my forehead when I'm driving behind slow AF morons. Or standing behind someone counting out pennies to pay for their purchase. It means I better ignore the ugly behavior I see everyday. Whether it's careless, rude, or selfish behavior from another person, it means I don't spend the next hour festering about whatever stranger pissed me off that morning with their stupid behavior.

For example, these are the sort of things my brain says to itself now,
rather than saying them out loud. And then I let that shit slide right out of my head.

It means I no longer get hopeless and relentlessly angry when I read or hear news stories that I know I can't do anything about. It means knowing I can avoid those stories altogether with my own behavior, by refusing to click on things I know will disturb this sense of calm I have.

It means when I'm fighting with my wife, I am more likely to stop and take stock of the situation before yelling something at her that just makes me feel good in the moment but that will have ugly repercussions. It means I can think about the words I'm choosing so that they no longer wound like they used to. (I'm a mean fighter.) It means when I can feel my blood pressure rising, I remember to stop and count to ten instead of letting my whiskey-heated tongue spout out something I'll regret.

It means that when even the most innocuously pleasant thing happens to me, I've learned to stop and enjoy that moment, no matter how small. Whether it's noting that I'm driving with all the windows down on a warm, sunny day or whether it's a really good piece of cheese I'm eating, it means I've slowed down and stopped to appreciate it. 

I'm not saying my old, ugly habits don't die hard. I'm still a hopelessly judgmental and angry twat at times. I've spent 25+ years living in major urban environments. Living amongst too many people, too much filth, and too much crime makes for an angry persona. Look, I spent 15 years riding San Francisco's MUNI buses. My PTSD from those years still makes me scream at MUNI buses as they lumber by me whenever I visit the city. Plus, I also spent the same 15 years stepping over homeless people passed out in my doorway, human feces, and used needles, as well as getting mugged…twice. It doesn't take long to go from the earnest, young, fresh-faced Texas girl to a callous city dweller who erects an invisible shield around herself every time she steps out of the house. You have to be hard to protect yourself. Or so you think.

But it turns out, you can live with a healthy amount of skepticism and still be an emotionally charitable person. Which dovetails very nicely into the next thing I've learned these past few years: You're gonna have to work like a bastard to develop empathy.

But I'll save that for my next entry…

The Entry Where I Drop Mad Wisdom

I started this blog three or so years ago for a number of reasons, but mostly, it was because I was deeply, deeply unhappy, and I wanted to start a journey toward reclaiming the happy, carefree person I used to be. And I knew the struggles I was having with anger, impatience, frustration, impotence, rudeness, and anxiety weren't just my struggles---it's stuff we ALL struggle with in the Western world. Most of us (though definitely not all) don't have to worry about food or shelter, so we have the luxury to worry (and get angry about) all sorts of other things. The world is rife with perceived irritations. I think what we've become as a society and the current state of the world leave a lot of people with these exact emotions. We've become a nation of divided, entitled, and angry fist-shakers, and whether we realize it or not, that affects our psyches on a very personal level each and every day.

So these past few years, I've spent A LOT of time thinking about happiness---my own and society's. I've tried all the hippie, California, New Age shit---from hiring a life coach to individual AND couples' counseling to learning to meditate to reading spiritual books to going on silent retreats to quitting my miserable job---and still happiness eluded me.

And then, about a month ago, I went away into the woods for ten days. I had no devices, no TV, no booze, no friends, no Internet, no obligations. And I just sat. Sure, I read a bunch, and I cooked. I meditated. I wrote a little. But mainly I just sat and stared off into nothingness. At the fantastic advice of one of the above-mentioned shrinks, I didn't try to make a schedule for myself or make a to-do list or set any sort of life goals. I just let myself Be. And man, it was everything I thought it could be. Y'all should try this shit, for real.

Even corporations don't want us to live in the goddamned real world.

I don't know if it was the no distractions or the fact that I gave myself full permission to zen the fuck out, but I came back from those ten days utterly refreshed. Holy shit, it's almost like I have my old personality back, pre-pain, pre-depression, pre-everything. I felt calmer and more at peace. If there was an overarching message I came away with from my Waldenesque time, it's "don't make things so fucking hard." And it's been with that message in my mind that I have moved through the world this past month.

Which leaves me wondering: that after all of this struggle and soul-searching, can it really be that the secret to happiness is to stop chasing it so relentlessly? Because that feels like something I should have known already, and part of me is a little chafed that I didn't figure that out before this whole journey started and saved myself a lot of time and mental struggling.

Well shit though, that right there is a baby floating in some bathwater. It's not like nothing was accomplished on my little spiritual adventure. It's very Buddha-y to say "its not the destination, it's the journey," right? Turns out that chubby bastard was on to something. This journey has brought a deeper understanding of myself than I ever thought possible. It's given me time to contemplate the factors I felt were contributing to my unhappiness, which, in turn, has allowed me to better figure out how to manage those factors.

Which is how I got the idea for the series of entries I'm about to write. It's been a four-year struggle for me, just trying to get back to zero, and I'm not claiming to have unlocked the Secret of Life or anything, but I have figured out a number of things along the way that I feel like were factors in getting me to a place of relative calm. First of all, I've spent a lot of time trying to get to the bottom of why I'd become so unhappy, which will be the first entry in this series. Your mileage will vary, obviously, as the things you struggle with are likely not the things I struggle with.

Pain. The obvious factor in contributing to my misery has been the chronic pain. When I used to hear people say "He suffers from chronic pain," I would think "What the hell does that even mean? He has an ingrown toenail? What are we talking about here?" Well, I'm here to tell you that it means that that person is living with some form of pain each and every day, and that pain not only affects their body, but it's slowly rotting their brain too. Their brains are expending 90 percent of its energy recognizing and thinking about that pain and how they will make it through a normal work day, let alone ever doing the things that once brought them pleasure. There is no room left to let them be functioning, pleasant members of society, no room left for social expectations and niceties. They no longer recognize themselves. Who they are now---all they are---is their pain. It defines them. There's no room left for their old personality. Which can often lead to…

Depression. As I've mentioned before, my chronic pain and how it twisted my life in the course of the first years I experienced it, led me straight into a deep and dark depression. And, unfortunately, I didn't recognize for a very long time that I was depressed. I just kept beating myself up for not being able "to pull myself up by my own bootstraps" as society teaches us to do. I figured I was just being a pussy, wallowing, feeling sorry for myself. And if I just had a stronger character, I would rise up and get past this. But because I wasn't getting past it, it was some deep moral failing on my part. Fortunately, I found a very, very good shrink who explained to me that my rational, intelligent self was trying to figure out how to think my way out of this problem. She explained that depression doesn't work that way. No amount of logic and problem-solving can dig you out of that hole because it's not a moral failing, it's fucking biochemistry. But I'm not gonna lie to you---it took me years to accept that and to stop kicking my own ass for not being able to get myself un-depressed. Unfortunately, when you're depressed and in pain, doing the things you're supposed to do---eat right, socialize, exercise, meditate, etc.---are things you don't have the energy for. So you find other things to do besides stare at the ceiling, things that are easier to accomplish than making a fucking smoothie and hitting the gym. At this point in human history, that thing is typically spending hundreds of useless hours on the Internet.

Self-doubt? Check! Anxiety? Check! Depression? Check!
On a first-name basis with the counter guy at the nearest liquor store? Check!

The Internet. For me, specifically, that means Facebook. As my depression was drawing me more and more inward, social media was exploding. So as I'm pulling away from my spouse, my family, my friends, and the outside world in general, an app that was supplanting face-to-face contact and supporting arm's-length interaction was at the height of its popularity. Depression meant I found talking to people and making plans with my friends daunting, but suddenly this platform that still allowed me to be in the world (insert eye roll here) as my old funny, witty, caustic persona was at my disposal. How perfect for me! It allowed me to present a face to the world that was the polar opposite of what my brain was feeling on the inside. "Look at me! I'm still funny, edgy, interesting, and relevant!" I could lie to the world and no one would be the wiser. But what was really happening was that the pain and the depression had created a deep-seated fear in me---fear of the outside world (due, no doubt, to the steady diet of bad news the Internet handily provides); fear of telling the world how much pain I was in because they'd think I was making it up; fear of failure when even thinking about trying something new; fear people would judge me for my pain, depression, and lack of motivation; fear of exposing my inner workings to another person (even my wife); fear that I was withering away and not living up to my potential. And man, that fear was fucking crippling. So I pretended I was still in the world using the social media tools available to me. It was an ugly, vicious cycle that further contributed to my depression because I wasn't really connecting with my people; I was merely giving the illusion of doing so.

Don't let your phone become your prison, peoples! Rise up!

Don't become a prisoner in your own phone. Rise up! Look up! Be in the real world!

My Addictions. Frankly, they just weren't keeping me entertained the way they used to. For the first time in my life, I was experiencing guilt over the choices I was making. If my twenties and thirties had been my decades of careless hedonism---a time where I put anything and everything into my body in the name of Having a Good Time---my forties had shaped up to be the decade where I started to regret those choices. It's usually the time in a person's life where they find themselves musing "God, can you imagine if I'd saved every penny I've ever spent on booze, drugs, cigarettes, and general frivolity? I'd have like 2.3 million dollars by now…" It's the time when you're standing in front of the giant chasm that is the Second Half of Your Life, and you realize you have to find a greater purpose in life besides drinking and recreational drugging because those things don't look quite as cute as they used to. You've long ago developed an alarming "been there, done that" about all of your usual vices so you figure you'd better have a more purposeful reason to live than happy hour or else you might start getting curious about things that offer bigger thrills. Basically, I hit the point where I was sick of my own shit and all of the things my addictive personality was reaching for to fill an ever-growing void in my soul. I knew I needed to be honest about them, to do a cost-benefit analysis, to really examine how well they were serving me at this point.

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Even I'm bored with my own distractions at this point.

My Isolation. All of it---the pain, the depression, and my addictions to the Internet, my phone, my safe place, booze, drugs, etc.---caused me to isolate myself from E-V-E-R-Y-O-N-E. This is typical depressed and/or addict behavior. "I'm ashamed and embarrassed at how I've lost control of my mind and body, and I don't want anyone else to know what a mess I am…" is a common refrain of both depressed people and of addicts. When you're depressed, even responding to texts and emails about a night out with close friends becomes impossible. You've already fast-forwarded into the future and thought about how that night will play out, and how you're sure that, when that night arrives, you'll just come up with an excuse anyway so why bother? Friends start dropping off because you're a pain in the ass. Worse yet, you stop telling those closest to you, like your spouse or your parents or your best friends, what's happening in your head. You are pretty much panicked all the fucking time, and this is a source of constant shame for you. So you clam up, which is the last thing you should be doing when you need help. 

That this is a little slice of heaven is something on which can all agree...
but is it healthy for your messy head?

So yeah, those are MY five biggies that I wrestle with every damn day. Still. I know there are behaviors that can minimize the effects these bitches have on my life. On good days, I engage in those activities; many days I do not. I don’t like to refer to depression or life as a "battle" because a battle implies that you can be victorious which, as many of you know, often doesn’t apply to depression. In many cases, that shit will always be with you, even when you're feeling good. And bad things will happen to you in life, unless you're Prince George or some shit, so seeing it as a "battle" seems counterproductive to me. The bad stuff isn't the shit sandwich Life is throwing at you: it IS Life. You might as just roll with it. 

Anyway, point being, once I isolated the things that have been dragging me down these past few years, I started paying attention more to the things that worked for me as I struggled to "fix" them. Those things will be the focus of my next few entries. Again, I'm not claiming to have any special knowledge or be some guru; this is just shit I learned when I started paying attention again.

Stay tuned!

Is It Possible to Emit a Pheromone that Smells Like Cock?

I was 16 years old the first time a friend came out to me. He was the college roommate of my high-school boyfriend. Like many 14-year-old girls, I had a maturity more on par with, say, a 17-year-old boy, so I dated a senior when I was a freshman. He and I managed to stay together even after he set off for college, which was a minor miracle for a number of reasons, the main one being that he was capable of tolerating a lot of my shit.

One weekend, my junior year of high school, I managed to weave a believable and satisfying enough story to my parents that got me out from under their watchful gaze for a period of time long enough to drive up to my boyfriend's college, attend a kegger at his apartment, spend the night doing god-knows-what on his waterbed, and return home the next day. The parental units were none the wiser. And that's when Kevin told me, in a drunken, blurry conversation on my boyfriend's said waterbed.

Up until Kevin came out to me, I'd never met A Gay. Or so I thought, in that naïve way that teenagers who think they've seen it all really haven't seen shit. Like most kids, I'd spent my middle school and junior high years calling people "a fag" when they did something stupid. My mother, a scorching liberal, would glare at me when I did so, and correct me using the term of the time: "alternative lifestyle." I have a memory, extremely vivid, of watching MTV once with my dad, and Elton John's "I'm Still Standing" came on, which featured dozens of scantily-clad, bemuscled young twinks prancing around in unison. I remember my dad watching for a while before wryly turning to me and saying "Looks like old Elton's enjoying 'an alternative lifestyle' these days." (This was long before he officially came out.)

Point being, when Kevin came out to me, I instinctively knew that being freaked out by his sexuality would be uncool. To stop being friends with someone because they were gay was wrong. It wasn't even a question for me. Why should I care where he put his dick as long as he was a good person and a good friend? I thank my parents for instilling that value in me. That right there is parenting at its finest: teaching your child to judge someone based on merits that really matter---kindness, compassion, caring---and not on merits that had nothing to do with a person's character.

A couple of years after that, when I was in my freshman year of college, my best friend came to visit me. One drunken night in my dorm room, he, too, spilled the beans that he'd been keeping a huge secret from everyone. I remember that moment just as vividly, in spite of the fact that the room was spinning as it happened. We were both sitting in my dorm room on an old trunk of mine, just home from a frat party, drinking drinks we in no way needed at that point in the night, and he started stammering and saying he had something to tell me. Up until that moment, I had nary a clue that the guy I'd experienced most of my pivotal teen moments with was gay, but as we sat there in my dimly lit dorm room, and I watched his discomfort, it suddenly hit me like a lightning bolt. I saved him the trouble of having to say the words. "You're gay." I blurted out, pretty matter of factly. His shoulders slumped and he let out a giant sigh "Yes."

Once again, my mother proved to be ahead of her time. After Paul left to go back home, I immediately called her and said "Oh my god, Mom! Paul's gay!" To which she replied "Duh." I screamed into the phone "You knew?!?! Well why didn't you tell ME?!?!" "Because," my gentle and wise mother said into the phone, "it wasn't my news to tell."

Well shit, after that, it was a free for all. Every gay guy within a 400-mile radius seemed to make a pilgrimage to come out to me in the years that followed. By the time I'd graduated from college and moved back to Houston, I don't think I had a friend that was straight or female. Wherever I went, it was me and my Gaggle of Gays.

My early post-college years, I threw myself into volunteering for PFLAG and for the AIDS Foundation of Houston. I spent nearly every night with my friends in gay bars, and before long, I was a bona fide fag hag. I don’t know what the kids are calling this concept these days, but back then, a woman who spent most of her time with gay men and took on their mannerisms was called a "fag hag" or, perhaps a little more generously, "a fruit fly." And I was their poster child. I could bob my head and draw out a "guuuuurrrrrlllll" with the best of them.

Now during this time, I was straight. If anything, I identified as queer. Being queer doesn't necessarily mean sleeping with the gender the same as yours. It's more of a sensibility you carry around with you, a sense not only that you are gay-friendly and support equal rights for gay people, but also that you live your life outside of the mainstream---that you seek out the outsiders and the weirdos as your compadres. Post-college is when you're still very much trying to figure out who you are and what your adult life will look like and, consciously or unconsciously, I had decided that I wanted to surround myself with flamboyant, fun, dramatic people who are, in some form or another, outsiders.

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But at some point, I decided that spending all that time in gay bars wasn't doing much to further my cause of getting laid. So when I extricated myself from my long-term relationship and got fired from my job in one 24-hour period, I decided it was time for a big change: I decided to move to San Francisco.

The Gaggle squealed: "You wanna stop being a fag hag and you're moving to SAN FRANCISCO?!?! BWAHAHAHAHA!" To be fair, they made a good point. But I was determined to move to the city by the bay and NOT only hang out with gay men. I joked that I was no longer accepting new gays in my life.

And I mostly avoided being a fag hag from that point forward. Coming from Houston, where the community tended to be more insular out of necessity, I was pleasantly surprised that people here cared less about sexual orientation. Being gay was such a non-issue that you didn't define your circle based on who your friends were boinking. 

Still, it was a persona that has never left me entirely. I often joke that I must emit a pheromone that smells like cock because sometimes I will literally just be walking down Castro Street by myself, and gay men will be walking toward me and suddenly scream "Oh my god girl, you're FAAAAAAABULOUS!" and start fawning over me for no apparent reason. I know that sounds like I'm tooting my own horn, but ask my friends: they've seen that shit happen with their own damn eyes. 

You think I'm kidding, but I'm not. One night, my above-mentioned friend Kevin (who now also lives in SF) and I were out at a bar in the Castro with a straight, female friend of ours who only knew me from my days in California, not the Texas me. Kevin was explaining to her how I'd been this huge fag hag back in Texas; she was flabbergasted. She said she couldn't see it. As we were leaving, they both went to the bathroom, and I went outside to smoke a cigarette. In the span of the four or five minutes they were still in the bar, I'd struck up a conversation outside with two random gay guys. By the time Kevin and my friend emerged, they walked up on me leaning against the building, coolly smoking a cigarette as each of the men firmly held each of my breasts in their hands and were fondling them as I boredly let them. It certainly wasn't the first time this had happened to me (gay men love boobies too, it turns out), so I was nonplussed. Kevin turned to my friend and said "SEE?!? WHAT DID I TELL YOU?!"

What I didn't realize, all the way back in 1986 when Kevin was first coming out to me, is that I was about to begin a lifelong journey that would result in me knowing and spending time with some of the wittiest, funniest, most outlandish people on the planet. And it suited my personality and augmented it. *I* became wittier, funnier, and more outlandish through the company I kept. And I became more open-minded, not only toward gay people, but also toward other groups of people who'd been marginalized or who were considered "outsiders" by the mainstream. It made me more empathetic toward people who didn't fit in because they had such different outlooks on life than I did. I became a more tolerant, accepting human being as a result of spending time with people other than straight, college-educated, white people.

And, honestly, it made me much more willing to give love with a girl a whirl when the opportunity presented itself. I'd never considered myself gay, much less bisexual, when I was growing up. I very much liked sleeping with men…like a lot. I still would, if not for the fact that my wife considers that a big no-no. ("If it wasn't in the vows, you can't change the rules now!") But a dozen or so years ago, when I was being courted by my lesbian roommate, whom I liked very much and, yeah, kinda in that way, my thoughts weren't as much "ewwwww eating pussy?!" but more of "I like THIS person…genitals seem such a stupid thing on which to base a long-term relationship if you're crazy about a person and see a future with her."

Don't get me wrong---it was still a huge leap for me---the sex part---but it was one I gave myself the permission to take instead of spending countless hours angsting over it. That I lived in a city that was queer-friendly, had incredible parents who would love me no matter what , and that I'd spent nearly a lifetime around interesting and funny gay friends, certainly made it that much easier to see myself with her, don't get me wrong. I was definitely in the right place at the right time in history to pull it off. 

It turns out I didn't have a future with that particular girl, thankfully. But through her, I met my wife. And I never would have found the person I want to grow old with had I not been willing to take that initial leap of faith. Do I miss sleeping with dudes? Sometimes. But this is a person with whom I've found an incredible compatibility, connection, and joy. Considering most of us spend our adult lives seeking someone we'll still want to talk to when we're 70, I count myself among most fortunate to have found her. Why on earth would it matter what she has between her legs if we've made a lifelong, unbreakable connection? Isn't THAT what life is supposed to be all about? Making connections?

Anyway, I'm digressing into human sexuality, and that's an entirely different kind of flying altogether. Point being, I have incredible, wonderful, funny, smart, compassionate friends. Most of the oldest and dearest of those friends happen to be gay, and those friends helped shaped me into the person I am today. They taught me how to be sharp-tongued, quick-thinking, witty, kind, open-minded, sarcastic, compassionate and, yes, even bitchy. And for all of it, I feel incredibly thankful. It started me on a very interesting journey in my life.

Unfortunately, they didn't teach me how to dress myself. I'm still a mess in that department. 

Adulting is a Hard and Thankless Task

"When did we get old? When did we go from doing stuff to yelling at
people for doing stuff?" ~Dan Connor

"For me, it was when I discussed the corns on my feet with a total stranger." ~Roseanne

*****

I've always had a hard time considering myself an adult. I find myself frequently saying things like "Why are there adults at this party?" or "You need to find an adult for that." I guess what I really mean is "find an Old Person." I just had my 46th birthday last week. By even the loosest standards, I'm an adult. 

Though, even at my "advanced age," this is a recent phenomenon. In 2012, we bought a house. When The Wife and I were signing approximately 256 pieces of paper that committed us to paying back large sums of money over the next 30 years, suddenly the Bullet Train of Adulthood hit me like a ton of bricks. I have a mortgage now. Holy shit, I'm an adult!

Since that time, I've found myself noticing the "adult moments" in my life.

You know you're an adult when you no longer look forward to the mail arriving at your house. It's just gonna be bills, property tax notices, catalogues containing a bunch of shit you can't afford anyway, and flyers for landscaping services that the Mexican yardmen leave because your yard looks like a crazy person lives there. 

You know you're an adult when you're watching a movie that involves teenagers and adults, and you find yourself siding with the adults in any conflict that arises. We recently watched all of Friday Night Lights, and any time an adult and a teenager were screaming at each other, I found myself thinking "Well of course Mrs. Taylor is right! Lila totally shouldn't do those drugs and smoke those cigarettes!" It's a far cry from the first time I saw Breakfast Club in the theater and thought all adults were buffoons.

You know you're an adult when someone suggests meeting for dinner or drinks at 9:00 p.m., and your first thought is "AT NIGHT?! Oh hell no, I'll be in bed by then." Suddenly, the concept of having a packed social calendar sounds daunting and exhausting. But you chide yourself that you're not 80, so if you're too tired to go out now, what will it be like 20 years from now? You'd better get your ass out there while you still can. So you make plans weeks out, then the night arrives and you find yourself making up excuses for why you can't possibly because you'd rather just be in bed watching TV on your laptop.

You know you're an adult when the music that sustained you through your childhood and teen years---the Bowies, the Springsteens, the Madonnas---are now branded as "classic rock" on the radio. "No, no, no," you say, "classic rock is Zeppelin, it's Floyd, it's Moody Blues for fuck's sake. It is NOT Kajagoogoo and Naked Eyes!" You harrumph indignantly.

You know you're just plain old when your wife gets you something called the TheraCane™ for Christmas.

You know you're an adult when you no longer buy the party drugs. And in the rare event that you do, it's so you can have the energy you require to clean your house.

You know you're an adult when you clean your house one day and all your muscles ache the following day.

You know you're an adult when you're cleaning your house in the first place.

You know you're an adult when you find yourself uttering the words "Yeah, but we really needed the rain" out loud when people are talking about the weather. You know you're an adult because you and the people around you are talking about the weather. 

You know you're an adult when you start doubting people's motives when they are, in fact, being sincere. It's because two extra decades of life has made you cynical and jaded and left you with the oppressive notion that the world and its denizens are cruel beyond measure. Possibly you wonder if there are any genuine and empathetic people left.

Speaking of empathy, you know you're an adult when you start having it. You stop walking through the world with swagger and absolute confidence in your world views. You gain the ability---whether you use it or not (and many people surely choose not to)---to see the world through others' eyes.

You know you're getting older when you see those inspirational phrases in your Facebook feed and don't automatically roll your eyes at every single one of them. Possibly you recognize that this means you're getting a little soft in your later years and you're wishing your didn't see the world with such cynical eyes. You know you're a true adult when you really want to believe that people are good and there is kindness in this universe instead of wearing those flippant, sarcastic glasses that make every knee-jerk reaction a caustic, crass one.

You know you're an adult when you finally buy a house and spend time and money acquiring things with which to fill it, then one day you look around and say "Why did I buy all this crap? I don't need any of this."

You know you're an adult when you suddenly start paying attention to politics and getting very angry at the hypocrisy in the system. You also know you're an adult when you can stop and see the hypocrisies you're carrying around within yourself and own up to them.

You know you're an adult when you're paying a mental-health professional to help you manage the vast catalogue of fuck-ups from your past, and you start genuinely working at not letting that past dominate your future.

As a woman, you know you're getting older when you have to start closely monitoring your chin for those inexplicable thick, black hairs that suddenly burst forth---seemingly growing inches overnight---from your chin. Perhaps you even start keeping tweezers in your car's console since you understand that sunlight is the best light for finding those fuckers.

You know you're getting older when you go to the convenience store sporting your pajama bottoms, house slippers, and disheveled hair because you realize that there are more important tragedies in this world than letting total strangers see you without makeup.

You know you're getting older when you're able to start removing the things that aren’t working in your life---friends, jobs, perhaps even spouses---because life is short and only getting shorter, so why put up with that bullshit? In fact, you find there is precious little you'll put up with as an adult. Often people will notice your lack of patience and comment on it. But it matters not because, like your grandma and mother---both of whom you used to mock for being so rigid and set in their ways---you have now found that mostly you give zero fucks about what people think. 

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You know you're an adult when you're arguably living in what is one of the most desirable areas in the country, but all the nightlife, the glitz, the glamour, the activity, the restaurants that it offers aren't enough to distract you from the grit, the grime, the smells, the shitty parking, the growing number of homeless, the high costs, the piling of people upon people into the small, limited space that is San Francisco, the third time your car window gets smashed. Perhaps you start having fantasies about learning to garden and moving somewhere with a huge backyard and a third bedroom.

You know you're an adult when it finally sinks in, several years after your wedding, that marriage is not, in fact, all smiles and blow jobs. Rather, it's bickering and outright fighting over what is often stupid shit like who took out the trash last. But most importantly, you finally get that this is what marriage is. It's compromise on the largest of scales. It's not being able to tailor your own life exactly as you'd have it because you took a vow with this person you love above all others, and those vows mean that their dreams---like it or not---are your dreams now. You are inextricably intertwined, and if you truly love this person and want them to be happy, sometimes that means you are just not going to get your way. Being an adult is learning which sacrifices to make and which come at too great of a cost.

Being an adult means not being as willing to take public transportation because you did your time on MUNI in your twenties and thirties and you'll be good-goddamned if you're gonna spend one more minute sitting next to someone who has passed out and pissed themselves. The last time that happened to you, you watched with horror as a huge river of urine ran out from under your seatmate and was flowing freely down the aisle of the bus, every passenger warily watching the yellow stream as it pulsed back and forth each time the bus labored up or down San Francisco's famous hills.

Being an adult means having a financial advisor and dishes that match.

Being an adult means finally coming to the conclusion that the party that was your twenties (and even your thirties, if you're lucky) is over. From here on out, your body will begin to fail you, in small ways at first, then something more insidious. It's realizing that the odds of you writing that novel or climbing Everest are getting smaller every year, and then it's finding a way to deal with that---either by gaining the self-discipline to achieve the impossible goal or making peace with the fact that you never did.

Being an adult means all of those vices you meant to give up in your twenties but somehow never got around to are things you'll be forced to abandon soon enough based on the Advice of Your Doctor. 

Being an adult means realizing that just because you've done all the things you're "supposed" to do---going to college, getting a good job, working your way up the ladder, buying the house, having the children---you are still unfulfilled because you haven't done much to nurture your inner child during all those years, or you haven't done anything that truly soothes your soul during those decades. You were too busy just living. It's wanting to explore that aspect of life now---the soul-feeding stuff---and wanting to leave a legacy of kindness, empathy, good citizenship, compassion, and giving instead of being remembered as the first guy on your block to own a Tesla.

Being an adult means making a choice between being the type of person who flies into a rage at the smallest slights or being a person who can realize which battles are worth fighting and which are not. It means letting shit slide when you really want to point out the stupidity all around you.

Being an adult means realizing that the things that sustained you up until now might not be the things you need anymore, the things that are good for you anymore. It means understanding that when you're reaching for that drink, game controller, smartphone, cigarettes, weed, or cake, you're really just reaching for distractions because you're trying not to think about something---something you probably should be thinking about instead of burying those nagging thoughts under booze or drugs or the internet or Netflix.

But mostly, being an adult means finally realizing that the universe isn’t out to get you when tragedy befalls you. It means realizing the tragedies aren't some blip in life---they are life. Life is not punishing you; it's simply moving blithely along. It's learning not to take these crises as a personal affront. It's finally letting it sink in that you are not special and life doesn't owe you shit. It's realizing that life isn't the shit that happens to you; life is how you handle that shit. It's taking those hard times of struggle and grit and learning from them. It's being willing to sit with yourself through the hard times and the good and hopefully taking something beneficial away from those times of introspection.

But that's just, like, my opinion, Man. Your mileage may vary.

Like Buddha in a Forest

Howdy kiddos! I have returned from my journey into the forest, rested and relaxed and---no word of a lie---feeling utterly transformed. Me taking this time away from life caused no small amount of drama in my household. Many therapy sessions were had to discuss why I needed to get away from The Wife to Be Happy. She was not doing well with the notion that I was desperate to get away from her, which is how she saw it, and I was empathetic enough to understand that and to tread lightly with her emotions. Gradually, I came to make her understand that it wasn't that I needed to get away from her; it was that I needed to rediscover myself. Holy shit, that last sentence was very Jonathan Livingstone Seagull. Sign me up for a EST class, stat.

Given our difficulties of late, I can now confess that, yes, at least part of this trip was to get away from her. I made the decision to do this immediately after we had a huge blow out so, initially at least, my need to flee was in reaction to that. But after I decided to go away and I really started thinking about it, I learned that what started out as a need to remove myself from a hostile situation morphed into an exciting opportunity for self reflection. I started thinking about how I would use the time and what I wanted to ponder while I was there.

I am the queen of distraction, a trait that's only gotten worse now that I don't have a job or deadlines or anyone telling me I have to do something. There is so much boredom in my life right now---I'm not working, I'm not hanging out with my friends, we don't have the money to go out or to go on vacation, I don’t have anything due, I'm not working toward anything. And because I seem to lack the gumption to self-start any of these great projects I've come up with, what that equals is a lot of free time.

And like most Americans, I'm not particularly good at sitting with my thoughts. The second I feel that boredom creeping in, I immediately search for my usual distractions; mainly, technology or mind-altering substances. Buddha teaches that we need to sit with our thoughts---even the shitty ones---because these thoughts, though painful, have something to teach us about ourselves in a transformative way. But like most of us, the advent of the internet, followed by the insidious invention of smartphones, has made it incredibly easy for us not to have to spend a minute with ourselves if we don't want to.

So in that half-second when I feel the boredom creep in, I start searching for anything and everything that will distract me from sitting with myself---I smoke weed, I go drinking, I lie in bed and watch hours of Netflix, I dick around on Facebook for an embarrassing amount of time each day. Hell, even when I'm not home---even when I'm just sitting on the bench outside my coffeeshop every morning having my first cigarette of the day---I can't be content to just sit and observe; I pull out my phone and check out what's happening in my virtual world.

My friend was nice enough to let me use his cabin up near Tahoe. So I decided: no television, no phone, no internet, no people, no booze, no pills, no sound. Just me and myself. For 10 days. I had absolutely no idea how my mind would take to these conditions, but I decided to just go and to sit with myself, utterly devoid of distractions, and see what I learned.

This is typically as much interaction with nature that I'm comfortable with. 

So I loaded up the car with a bunch of shit, headed three hours northeast, and hunkered down in a lovely house in the midst of a pine forest. And I sat. And the first day was a little hard. I'd sit down, smoke a cigarette and force myself to be present…for about .6 seconds. Then I found my mind immediately jumping, searching for my next distraction, wanting to grab a drink, smoke a bowl, jump on my phone, watch a mindless show. I started paying attention to what my brain does when it's "bored," and it made me realize just how many times a day it starts bouncing around like a pinball looking for whatever shiny object will distract me.

But by the second day, I'd eased into this whole doing-nothing thing. As I sat on the porch, stared at the rain dripping off the pine needles after a mid-afternoon rainy cloudburst, and listened to the cacophonous bullfrogs singing their endless song, I finally gave myself time to think about the biggies: What do I want my life to look like? What do I want for myself? Who am I and what do I stand for? What will be my legacy? What kind of a partner do I want to be from this point forward? How can I do Life better? In short, I guess I'm trying to find a way to live my life more meaningfully, and I don't know yet what that looks like. As someone who prides herself on being self aware, I seem to be woefully underdeveloped in my knowledge of who I really am and what I want from life.

Do others struggle with this notion? Or are most of us just so busy trying to make a living, find a job, buy a house, raise our kids, save for retirement, keep our marriages intact, get dinner on the table to worry about such ethereal things? Is my navel-gazing nothing more than simple self-indulgence, a luxury? Am I making things harder than they have to be? Should I just cave to the corporate job again? Accept the fact that, in the grand scheme of things, I certainly don't have it that bad? I have a loving wife, I have a solid roof over my head. I can afford to buy and have the time to make a variety of good food for myself and for those around me. No one is bombing me or raping me or shooting at me. We have clean water and indoor plumbing. We have a warm place to sleep at night.

I'm aware that these things already put me above 90 percent of the planet in terms of what can be called "an easy life." Then why do I continue to struggle so? What is it I need from myself? From those around me? From life? What is it that keeps me from examining my surroundings and saying "This. This is enough"? What happened to that blithe, easily contented young woman who sailed through her twenties and thirties without a care in the world? Is this sort of introspection something that comes with age (aka, the dreaded "midlife crisis")? Or am I unnecessarily complicating matters? Socratessaid (or maybe it was Plato---you'd think I would know by now, having dated two philosophers and being the daughter of one) "The unexamined life is not worth living." Is that true? Or is everyone else out there blissfully living life without a thought for the world and their place in it, happy and content in their lack of outer vision? Is ignorance truly bliss?

By the fourth day, I was in a groove. I'd already THREE BOOKS. And I was getting better at forcing myself to be present. I didn't just slap together dinner---I paid attention to the crisp, solid noise my chef's knife made as it sliced through dozens of Brussels sprouts or the aromatic masala rising up from the tea I made with Turkish black tea, coconut milk, star of anise, cinnamon, allspice, fennel, and cardamom.

Then the weekend came, and with it came the posse of gays who own the two houses on the property where I was staying, and my quietude was momentarily disrupted. The house was full of gay boys who, at the end of a long day on the slopes, stripped down nekkid, and threw themselves into the hot tub with reckless abandon. I had to laugh. Only I could go for a monkish retreat deep in the woods and have a gay hot-tub party break out. I was surprised to find the intrusion was more unwelcome than I thought it would be---I figured I'd be desperate for human interaction after four days of solitude, but by the time the houses emptied out again on Monday, I breathed a deep sigh of relief and welcomed the silence ricocheting off the lonely walls.

Additionally, I am happy to report that I missed my wife muchly. I was nervous that I'd get out there, plop down on the porch, light a cigarette, and think "Thank god, I've got some space." But nope, I missed the hell out of her. While I was enjoying long hours spent reading or soaking in the hot tub with a glass of wine or a joint, there was definitely a part of me that was sad I wasn't sharing it with her. She would have loved watching the herd of deer that wandered onto the property every night around dinnertime or having a moonlight soak in the tub.

Hard not to contemplate the meaning of life while relaxing in a hot tub surrounded by nature.

Oh dear...deer!

While I missed her, I wouldn't have traded by mini-vacay for the world. It has absolutely done what it was supposed to, which was to revitalize, recharge, and reset my balance point. Sometimes you gotta get away to break away. I can't believe how different I feel. I have come back feeling stronger, happier, and more ready to dive into whatever difficulties life might throw my way. Turns out my shrink was right: I am a person who needs this precious time alone to reset myself from time to time.

I dunno y'all, the concept of breaking away from all technology and spending time somewhere quiet is something we don't do enough of here. And I can report that if you are one of the people who doesn't do this from time to time, you should rethink that strategy. It allowed me to think about the shit that isn't working in my life, how my habits affect my ability to deal with those things, and to just sort of think "enough." Enough hand-wringing, navel-gazing, and making everything harder than it has to be. Less thinking; more doing.

To that end, I came home ready to be a better partner to The Wife and ready to Get Shit Done. We're having a massive garage sale with the neighbors in a couple of weeks. We've been talking for months about how we need to clean closets, kitchen cabinets, and the garage; yet, we've failed to actually get anything done. This weekend we knocked out the office closet and all of the kitchen cabinets. It's like a light switch has turned on, and I'm like "Right, this is what it's like to be a normal, functioning human again. I remember this." It's sort of incredible, and who am I to question it?

So all in all, a very successful ten days. My advice: get away from your normal life on the reg. It doesn't have to be some expensive Bahamian vacation. Just so long as you put down your devices, remove your other daily distractions, and sit quietly with yourself. You'll be pleasantly surprised at what you might learn. 

Sabbatical from My Sabbatical

I'm not gonna lie to y'all, 2016 has been some rough going so far. And not just because of Donald Trump and all of the celebrity deaths. (Jesus Christ, the "In Memoriam" portion of the Oscars will be a tearjerker next year.)

You guys, I'm stuck. All of it, just stuck. My life is sucking a giant fat one right now, and I'm have a pity party. A large part of this comes from the fact that I feel like a fucking deer in the headlights when it comes to figuring out what I'm doing with my life. I'm sitting in quicksand, unable to make any sort of moves. And I know that, at least in the interim, I need to be out hustling for some freelance work, and I have utterly zero desire to do so, even though I can see daily how my lack of financial contributions to the household are digging us into a deeper hole.

Me, emotionally and motivationally.

And then another large part of it is that The Wife and I are fucking struggling right now. I need to respect her privacy, so I can't be super open about what's going on, but we're in some deep shit right now and, honestly, for the first time since we got married, I'm not sure we'll make it out. I mean, I love her, but what I love right now is the idea of our past. I'm clinging to the idea that we have a future because I know how good we were in the past. I've seen how well we work together when it's good. But it's not good right now.

However, I made a decision for myself that has me feeling hopeful. I've decided to take a mini-retreat for a couple of weeks and disappear. I'm headed to a friend's cabin near Tahoe, where there is no Facebook, no internet, no Netflix, no news, no booze, no drugs, no friends, and no wife. Essentially, I'm removing myself from all of the distractions that I've felt unable to overcome to achieve the shit I'd like to achieve. For whatever reason, I feel like I need to break out of my current environment to figure out how I'm going to manage my loosely regulated life in a better way.

Me. Every damn day. 

Look, I'm well aware of what my shortcomings are right now. I'm leading a completely unstructured life, which sounds glorious, I know. But I'm not doing very well with it. I lack any sort of self-discipline so "I need to look for some freelance work today" becomes "I'll just take a break and watch Season 6 of Nurse Jackie and smoke this bowl." I feel in my bones how much I've failed to take advantage of this opportunity I've been given to figure out my life. And, of course, then I spend useless time beating myself up for that as well. Add it to the fucking list, man.

My shrink diagnosed me with ADHD, which I haven't really talked about here yet, mainly because it seems a little silly to be an adult finally being told there's been a reason for my spastic-ness all these years. But she had me take a couple of the standard tests for it, and she even had my mom and The Wife take questionnaires about me and my habits. I scored off the charts. Like in the 99.7 percentile. So it's not that I don't believe that my brain works differently, but so far, the knowledge hasn't helped me deal with it any better. I'm on Ritalin now, and mostly all I can tell is that, yes, it helps me focus. It helps me really, really focus on watching those Nurse Jackie episodes or surfing Facebook for hours now.

I'm pretty sure The Wife has this thought about me on the reg. 

As much as an old ex-cokehead like myself is enjoying the legal speed I've been given, in the long run, it's probably not the best idea for me and my addictive personality. And then throw some antidepressants on top of that, plus the weed I smoke for my foot pain, and right now I'm just feeling a little polluted. And distracted.

So I'm going away. I have a number of projects I've started and want to complete. I want to take some time and really think about what my goals for this blog and my podcast are. I want to write some articles and try to get them published to see if I can make a living as a writer. I want to polish a stand-up routine and get myself to a place where I can imagine standing up on a stage in front of strangers and deliver this monologue and expect people to laugh at it. I want to establish some inroads for future job assignments so I can bring in real money. And, yes, I want to spend some time away from The Wife so that I miss her again, so that I can appreciate her for the amazing person she is again. And I want to spend some time away from Ritalin and weed and booze and eat healthier so I can get my body as unpolluted as I hope to get my mind. I'm looking at the whole opportunity as a giant RESET button for my body and mind.

The Wife isn't crazy about this plan, obviously. Given the struggles we're having, she's having a hard time not seeing it as a "trial separation" from which I will return and announce that I'm leaving her. I can't blame her; I probably would see it that way too. She's frustrated that she's given me this time away from work, and I haven't used it all that well. "What will you accomplish in a cabin in the woods that you haven't been able to accomplish in the last nine months of not having a job here?" is sort of her (fair) question. I get it. And I get her hurt at my feelings of needing time away from her. I would be smarting over that if the situation were reversed.

But the difference I see here, as we wrestle through this situation, is that, for the first time in a long time, we're showing real empathy in the way we're interacting with one another now. Y'all know empathy is a big theme of mine. If there were more empathy in the world, we wouldn't have pollution, hunger, war, hate crimes, political shit-slinging, bullying, etc. Most of the world's biggest problems could be worked through if every side had empathy for the other side and understood where each was coming from.

Relationships are no different. I'm working hard to put myself in her shoes to understand all the emotions that this is throwing at her. And she's doing her best to overcome her feelings of anger, worry, fear, and betrayal to find the courage to say to me: "I just want you to be happy." That response alone makes me realize just how much I truly love this person and how much my happiness means to her. She doesn't understand my depression and why it's so hard for me to be happy because it's always been easy for her to be happy in the moment. But just because she doesn't understand it, doesn't mean she's condemning it, and that is enormously important to me. It makes me want to get my head right so that I can be a better partner to her, so that I can do the same for her when she next needs it. Because I know I did a lousy job of empathizing when she was starting the bar. I was too mired in my own depression and anxiety to care about what she must have been going through, and that must have truly sucked for her. I can see that now. And I want to be better for her during the next challenge that presents itself.

So yeah, there's a lotta shit happening now in the Struggling Buddha household right now. But the weird thing is that I feel really good about taking this trip. I've been so mired in inactivity and indecision for so long that making this decision feels YOOGE. Like I'm finally taking the bull by the horns and doing something proactive. Ugh, how's that for bad business-speak?

But the reality is that couples, mostly unintentionally, establish a dynamic in their relationships pretty early on, and The Wife and I have gotten into a dynamic where there are a lot of shit we don't say to one another because either the conversations will be too hard and painful and will either result in a huge, unproductive fight or will result in one of us getting our feelings hurt. So we don't tell the other what we need. What this means is that there's been a build up of a lot of unsaid shit between us, and that needs to stop. And I guess me standing up and saying "I need this" is something I see as being a first step toward that.

*****

In other news, remember how I told y'all The Wife bought me a Squatty Potty™ for Christmas? Remember how excited I was at the prospect of smooth poopin'? Yeah, well, like so many things in life, it's been a disappointment. I don't really feel like it's adding much to our quality of life, shall we say. I was lured in by the testimonials where people said "wiping is a thing of the past now!" Yeah, it's not. So, near as I can tell, all it's doing is making our bathroom look like an old person's, like we should also be sporting a shower chair to round out the elder-care look.

Elder care is alive and well at Chez Buddha

I've also been getting into cooking again. I went through a phase from about 2008 through 2012 where I was seriously into food and cooking. We had a Guzzling Gourmet club with another couple, and we always invited a third couple and the meal had a theme that everyone had to stick to. Sometimes it was that every ingredient had to come from within a 20-mile radius (locavore dinner); sometimes we picked a certain food and everyone prepared a dish with that ingredient (butternut squash, for example); sometimes we picked a spice, like anise, and everyone's dishes had to include that. And you had to pair a beverage with your dish as well. It was good fun that ended up boozily. We also did Sunday Suppers once a month with our core crew as a way for us all to catch up with each other.

But then life happened. People had kids or moved away, and the pain in my feet started interfering with how long I could stand and cook. And like everything else, I just stopped doing it. But we just watched Michael Pollan's Cooked on Netflix, and it was not only well-done, but it has inspired me again. I was reminded of a time when I didn't see cooking as a chore, but rather as an act of love, something I took pride in. I was cooking good and real food for the people I loved. And it wasn't tedious; it was meditative. Whether it was peeling and mincing 30 cloves of garlic or stirring risotto for an hour, I didn't mind. I was in the moment of it. Since watching that series, I've started to feel like that again. My friend came over and we cooked together, just drinking beer and hanging out in the kitchen. We made a beef stew that was the best I've ever eaten. I don't even really like beef stew, but this shit was good.

Well, I need to wrap this up, speaking of cooking. I'm making some granola for The Wife to feast on while I'm gone. I worry about her just eating a box of Kraft mac and cheese and drinking White Russians for dinner every night, so gotta make sure there are some healthier choices. The Wife, she doesn't do well when I'm gone, so I will worry.

Hope all of you are hanging in there. I know I've been slack-ass about writing here, and I promise, there will be more podcasts. Just tryna get my shit together over here. 

Ketchup

Time for some catch up letting y'all know what's been up in my world. 2016 had been a mixed bag so far. It started out positively, aggressively even. But then, as things do, it sorta fell to shit. I'm still tryna keep a positive outlook, but it's been challenging at times.

For one, I've had The Consumption that's been sweeping America this winter. That shit settled in the day after Christmas and hasn't ever really left. Of course, my health strategy of "drink away a cold/smoke away a flu" hasn't panned out as well as I thought.

Speaking of Christmas, did I tell you The Wife bought me a Squatty Potty™ for Christmas this year? For those of you who have no idea what I'm talking about, apparently Westerners have been pooping incorrectly for centuries, as is illustrated in the disgusting diagram of your poopshoot below.

So yeah, we sit upright and that's a cardinal sin in the realm of deuce-dropping, so this company invented a little stool that you prop your feet up while visiting Charlie and His Chocolate Factory, and it's supposed to open up your pooper and let everything just fly right on outta there. And when my friends and I first heard of this miracle invention, we went to Amazon to read the reviews, which are priceless. But what intrigued me most were the reviews that said things like "wiping is a thing of the past with the Squatty Potty!!" If there's anything I find utterly tedious, disgusting, and time-consuming, it's wiping my ass. Now you're telling me that someone has invented a device that means I never have to wipe again, and it's only $40?! Where do I sign up?!"

And then their amazing commercial came out, and I don't need to tell you that I was fully sold.

But, as with so many things in life, reality was more disappointing than the dream. I won't go so far as to say the Squatty Potty™ is the sea monkey of the 21st century, but I will say that the no-wiping claims are vastly overstated. In fact, it seems to have made it worse somehow. And it's clunky, and we have a small bathroom, making it easy for someone to trip over it.

On the other hand, The Wife also completed the Poo Package by getting me this, and it is miraculous. I haven't smelled The Wife's craps since Christmas morning, and it's been glorious. A real marriage-saver, take my word for it.

Speaking of The Wife, we have not had a banner 2016 as a couple either. We see a couples' counselor every other week, which we started doing back in 2014 when we were just gritting our teeth at one another, waiting to see who would say The D Word first. We love our shrink, in his little cardigans. And we mostly have worked through the issues that brought us there in the first place, but just when we think we're gonna take Couple of the Year, something else happens, and there we are again, sitting on his couch, calling each other vicious names, and pushing each other's buttons right and left.

So we're kinda in the shit right now, and we need to make some drastic changes in a number of areas of our lives. But we are our own worst enemies, alike in the ways that make us both look at these sweeping changes and say "Ugh, too hard. Let's have a drink instead." It makes it a little Days of Wine and Roses up in here though. I don't mean to be vague. If it were just about me, you know I'd >gobble gobble< get all up into it, but I have another person's privacy to respect. 

So there's that.

What else can I tell you besides pooping and marital discord stories? I am still jobless. I haven't been trying, but one thing that has become crystal clear in the course of all of this screaming during counseling is that The Wife is ready for me to start Earning My Keep again. My two long-term(ish) prospects both fell through. One for reasons unknown (she seemed ready to hire me on the spot, but I fear my rate might have been too high) and the other because I'm pretty sure the guy who wanted to hire me was a cokehead, and now he's on probation at his job and can't greenlight any new projects. Freelancing means being at the whim of other people's shit.

Anyway, I know it's stressing The Wife out, and it's not that I don't care that I'm worrying her, but I've still been contributing to the household finances (however meagerly), and I just don't fucking want to yet. I mean, 10-15 hours of work a week would be cool, but I'm just not ready to do The Corporate Thing again. But the one thing I will concede is that I need to Get Out There, as in, the world, life, etc. I need to start trying all kinds of crazy shit since I'm in this time where I'm supposed to be "finding my passion." Hard to find my passion when I'm being reclusive AF.

Oh and I came out this morning to find my driver's side front window smashed. They didn't even try to break into the car; they just simply caused $170 worth of damage to my car for the fuck of it. I saw some other piles of shattered window glass (called "Oakland diamonds" in these parts), so it was clearly just some destructive assface wreaking havoc. Fucking people.

To the human fucktard who did this: I hope, as you're walking down the street today,
you step in a homeless man's feces. And that he ate corn last night.

Other than that, I got nothing. Poop, marriage, general thuggery. That's about what's happening with me these days. Whatchoo got?

Fat Urban Girl Hiking

Look, I'm not outdoorsy, okay? And because our mothers have imprinted the need for us to "go outside and play…it's a beautiful day," and because society and REI make being outdoorsy so sexy, I've always had a complex about not being an outdoor-sporty type. Plus, I live in the land of the Nalgene Set---everyone in California, and especially the Bay Area, is so fucking fit and into some sort of extreme recreating that it's enough to give this sofa diva a complex. Here I am, smack dab in the middle of these kayaking, rock-climbing, snow-camping motherfuckers, and I don't own a single piece of clothing that wicks.

And it always sounds nice when friends are like "We're going on a hike this Saturday…would you like to join us?" And I think of redwood groves, babbling brooks, sweeping vistas, and waterfalls, and think "Well, maybe…" Then I imagine the reality. Which is me bringing up the rear, sweaty, puffing, and my feet screaming at me because no one has managed to invent a pain med that actually dulls all of the pain but that also allows you to be upright, let alone hike. And I'm slow and cranky and ruin the day for everyone. So I politely decline, and I just satisfy whatever miniscule yearly nature cravings I have by smoking a joint and watching Planet Earth in surround sound. It's much less sweaty and itchy that way.

But listen, I'm trying to get out of my comfort zone. And since I spent most of the last two weeks in a funk and binge-watching Nurse Jackie, I thought "Jesus, do something with yourself today."

The East Bay Regional Parks system is enormous. I've lived in the Bay Area 20 years, and finally just looked at a map of the East Bay about four years ago when we moved to Oakland and was blown away by the enormous swaths of green on the map. So I picked a hike that the internet hiker-people deemed "easy" and decided to go.

You know how people who are really outdoorsy always talk about how calm and peaceful they are when they're in nature? How it makes them contemplative and how it connects them to the planet? How it's a massive recharge from the grind of urban living? Yeah, I just don't fucking get it. I went on the hike, and I'm glad I did, but what follows below is just a sampling of my train of thought as I was "enjoying nature."

*****

Wow, this is supposed to be an "easy" hike? I'm already breathing too much. Okay there's some dude walking down the path toward me. Make sure you've got your pepper spray in the front pocket of your hoodie. I mean, it's hiking, for fuck's sake. People get raped and murdered doing this kind of shit all the time. And when it happens, I think "Well, that wouldn't have happened to that poor girl if she'd been home on her couch watching Orange is the New Black." I mean, not that I'm victim blaming, but honestly, what's the worst that would have happened to her if she'd been lazy like me? She might have choked on a popcorn kernel.

Shit, people also get eaten by mountain lions and shit out here. Does pepper spray work on mountain lions and bears? We really shouldn't be encroaching on nature like this. Why do humans suck so much?  Okay, if a mountain lion attacks me, I'm just gonna spray the shit out of that thing. I mean, I love animals but let's face it, if it ate me, they would just find the thing and kill it, so by spraying it, I'd really be doing it a favor.

Crap, where is this "Inspiration Point" everyone keeps talking about? I think the website said this hike was like two miles, but I probably should have looked at that map back at the trailhead at least. I thought this was a loop, but is it a loop? Maybe it just keeps going on forever, and I'm supposed to turn around at some point. Did I just get passed up by two women pushing giant strollers? Jesus, slow it down, Lululemon. No need to show off. Man, other than the yoga moms, it's just me and The Olds on this trail, and they look like they are much hardier than I. I need to get me some of them walking sticks.

Oh look, a bench! With an amazing view of the Golden Gate Bridge! And a homeless guy doing a heroin nod on it! Why does he get the best bench when he's just gonna sleep anyway? Speaking of benches, it would be nice if they had some little groves off the main trail with benches so I could pop outta sight and smoke a bowl . For better Nature enjoyment. I wonder if you're allowed to smoke cigarettes in the park? Probably not. With my luck, I'd be that asshole that burned down the entire park. Okay, but when I get back to the car, imma spark that joint and hotbox the shit out of the car. Heh heh heh…I said "hotbox."

"Just gonna shoot up some drugs and have a little nap here, don't mind me."

No seriously, I wonder if this is a loop that takes me back to the parking lot or if I should turn around. Well, at least my feet don't hurt yet. Go New Balance! I'm getting a little tired, but look at that woman in front of me. She's much heavier than I am. If she can do it, I can. Ugh, don't think that kind of shit! How rude. It's not a contest…except that I just passed her, and now I'm totally winning.

Oh look, a hawk! Right, I need to be present while I'm doing this. I'm supposed to be enjoying Nature-with-a-capital-N. I'm actually enjoying the feeling of sweating and the light breeze on my face and in my hair. I'm happy to feel my feet touching the ground, doing what feet are supposed to do for once. Except now they do kinda hurt. Fucking feet. But imma keep going. They're not too bad. Damn, that view of the Golden Gate Bridge is pretty amazing. Plus, there are these giant power grids and lines. That definitely makes me feel rugged.

Nature sure is pretty

Those old lesbians I just passed on the trail were totally just gossiping about someone not present. Why is it funnier when old people gossip? Why is it that lesbians of that generation are such a cliché in the way they look and dress? That "P.E. Coach Look" is just not flattering. But god bless 'em. If not for those sturdy women, where would I be right now?

I wonder if my phone's GPS works here. I need to find out if this is a loop because I already feel like I've walked two miles. Oh wait, here's a marker that says "1 mi." I dunno, is this a loop? Should I just turn around? How have I managed to get lost on a paved hiking trail? Oh, there's Inspiration Point…all the way up that giant fucking mountain. Are you kidding me with your "easy" rating, East Bay Regional Parks District? Fuck off. Easy if you have crampons, maybe. How do I know about crampons? What a weird thing for me to know about. Remember that dude I dated that wanted to take me snow camping? Who the fuck goes snow camping. Unless you can fashion a Barcalounger, a working TV, and a roaring fire within your snow igloo, I ain't got time for that. No surprise he and I broke up.

Look! Nature! Flying over that mountain they deemed to be an "easy" hike. Lying liarmouths.

Okay, fuck it. I'm turning around. My feet officially are at the walking-on-hot-coals level of pain. I should have thought about that before I went so far. Yeah, because one mile is so extreme. I'm nothing if not extreme when it comes to recreating. Hey, I did remember to bring a water bottle at least. I'm starving. Does this two-mile hike justify the pint of coconut chocolate chip ice cream I'm gonna shove in my facehole tonight? I'm sure it does. Plus, I should get whiskey shots or something too.

That's the problem with this damn winding trail---I always think the trailhead is just around this next curve, but it never is. They'll find me out here, on this paved trail, dehydrated, starving, and clinging to life. I'll have to be medivac'd out…or at least to the parking lot…which, I swear, is around this next curve…holy shit! There it is! The trailhead! My god, I made it! Lewis and Clark, my ass. How 'bout some serious props to me for making it out of this dangerous wilderness? God, I feel like I could eat a mountain lion, I'm so hungry. And I for sure need a drink. I wonder if there's a bar in this forest? 

Well, that was relaxing AF. Let's do this again soon, no really. I think there's a bar just outside the park entrance. I might need to stop for re-fortification. At last, I'll be recreating the way god intended---with shot glasses and cigarettes. Smell ya later, Mother Nature. 

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Punk-Rock Johnny Cash

Sometimes there are people who, when they die, leave the world a noticeably darker place. We feel a disproportionate sadness when they pass---even though we might not have known them very well or even known them at all---because we know that the earth has lost someone beautiful, a bright, shining star in a dim world. And even though we didn't see them every day, or even every year, everything feels a little heavier knowing that person is no longer with us. Robin Williams, David Bowie, Katharine Hepburn, to name a few. But some of these angels are closer to home, people you actually encountered in your life, and when you find that they're gone it's like a medicine ball to the gut.

I'm gonna tell you a story about one of those people.

My wife and I are no different than any straight couple---we hooked up in a bar, like Jesus intended. The bar in question is called Zeitgeist, and it is one of San Francisco's more famous bars. It used be known as a no-nonsense bar for bike messengers, bikers, druggies, and hard-drinkin' folk. Now, like everything else in my former town, the landscape has changed, and yuppies, Marina folks, and techbros flock to the legendary establishment. It's been on Bourdain, surely the kiss of death (even though the back of my head actually made it into a shot for the show; see below) and, as such, has ceased to be as relevant as it once was. But back in 2006, Zeit was still clinging to its dirty cred, and I found myself there one night, drinking myself into oblivion. That wasn't terribly unusual. I could often be found at the Zeit drinking myself into oblivion---it's what the place was built for.

A still shot from the episode of Anthony Bourdain's Layover episode where he went to Zeitgeist. See the
silver-haired gent that the arrow is pointing to? I'm his date in the red shirt. 

But on this particular night, I was three weeks into a scorched-earth breakup that left me reeling. I was in bad shape, y'all. The girlfriend had fled, inelegantly, and I was nursing some serious wounds. Friends were taking turns taking me out every night and listening to me cry into my Jack and Cokes, patting my back, telling me there were other fish in the sea, yadda, yadda. This night, it was my friend Jen's turn. And in a weird twist of events, the person who would end up becoming my wife but who, then, was barely an acquaintance, tagged along as well. This was a little awkward since I'd met her through the ex-girlfriend I was now bemoaning. 

I will fast forward through the first six or so hours of the night, where I consumed eleventy-million Jack and Cokes and was a ranting madwoman about my ex, who I'd now started referring to as The Goiter. It was late, and we'd moved inside because even all that whiskey couldn't prevent us from eventually realizing that it was freezing outside. The jukebox was loud and my head was fuzzy, and what transpired next was some highly ill-advised, friend-on-friend making out. This was during a strange time when all of my straight, married, female friends went through a phase where we were all making out with each other "to see who is the best kisser." Thankfully, it was short-lived, and we all got over it quickly; however, this particular evening fell during that time period. And The (Eventual) Wife, as a bona fide, dyed-in-the-wool, butch dyke, was puzzled as to why all my straight friends were making out with each other as well. But, like any good Lady Who Loves Ladies, she was also delighted since it resulted in her making out with a lot of pretty girls during that time.

Anyway---and please forgive me for the fuzziness of my memory about this drunken night nearly 10 years ago---we started up the conversation about who was the best kisser…again. As was apparently our M.O. for the time, Jen and I promptly started making out. Then Jen and The (Eventual) Wife made out and, predictably, it was then my turn to make out with The (Eventual) Wife.

We were not wearing our sober pants that night.

I was attracted to her, absolutely. But even in my haziest, booze-soaked memories, I can remember also thinking "I hope this gets back to The Goiter." I mean, they were still friends, right? I had met The (Eventual) Wife through The Goiter, so technically she was The Goiter's friend, and she and I shouldn't even still be hanging out. So of course, stinging from getting my heart shat upon, I had the ulterior motive of wanting the gossip to get back to The Goiter that The (Eventual) Wife and I had made out. In your face, bitch. Do you see how everyone likes me better than they like you? Even your friends? You were stupid to let me go. No, seriously, I'm glad I took a pocketknife and whittled down your dildos until they were the size of toothpicks!

And so I leaned off my barstool and into The (Eventual) Wife and closed my eyes. Two things I remember about that kiss:

  1. Well that was soft and lovely and electric...more please
  2. Holy fuck, we just made out at Zeitgeist to Johnny Cash playing on the jukebox!

Since you all know she is now my wife, I will skip all of the details of how we eventually ended up hooking up, but at the end of 2007, she got down on one knee and proposed to me. And if we thought we'd have time to plan a leisurely wedding, we were shown otherwise by the entire Prop 8 furor that erupted a few months later. The State of California made same-sex marriage legal in May 2008, but then a bunch of hateful homophobes (i.e., the "Christian Right," which is neither Christian nor right, but don't get me started) decided it was okay to single out one group of citizens and create a ballot measure to ensure that group did not have the same civil rights as everyone else in the state. This measure, Prop 8, would be voted on in November 2008, during the presidential election. It was becoming apparent that if Prop 8 passed, same-sex marriage would again be illegal in the State of California. But most experts were saying that the vote would not extend to people who had gotten married in the window between May and November when it was legal (i.e., the ruling could not annul your marriage; your marriage may not be recognized by the federal government, but the State would continue to recognize it as a legal marriage).

So, suddenly, the wedding with the 263 people on our initial guest list became a small, intimate affair. There was no way we could pull together the money to afford a circus-level wedding in such a short time, and none of our parents was in a position to help financially. So we rented a cool house with a great backyard in Potrero Hill and invited just our parents and the smallest handful of friends. I still remember that day vividly---being mildly hungover and fairly nauseated and lying around in the big plush master bedroom with my two best friends trying to read them my vows without crying, wondering how I would get through them at the altar.

And I remember The (Soon-to-Be) Wife coming up the stairs with a neatly wrapped box. She was ridiculously proud of herself because someone had told her it was customary that the two people getting married exchange gifts on their wedding day. And so she'd gotten me a gift. We sat together, on the end of that big, fluffy bed (our "wedding night" bed!), huddled together like co-conspirators, as she explained that this was her gift to me to thank me for agreeing to spend the rest of my life with her then gently placed the box in my lap for me to unwrap.

I remember my carefully crafted response: "What?!? We're supposed to get each other gifts?!? No one told me that! I didn't get you anything!" Oddly, she seemed more pleased by this, as though she were proud that she knew something about all this girlie wedding shit that I didn't know. I unwrapped a beautiful silver flask, etched with the words "My Girl" along the bottom. It was beautiful and very us. The flask fit perfectly into my cowboy boot.

*****

Let me take a step back to mention that The Wife, while being a big ol' butch, is also the sappiest human being on the planet. When we first got together, I was constantly shocked at the crazy, sappy shit that fell out of her mouth on the reg. My response was always "Wait…really? Did you just say that? I mean…awwwwww…but also, really honey? That was totally gay."

And one of the ways her sappiness manifested itself was how butthurt she was that she and I didn't have "a song." You know how, when you fell in love with your first girlfriend or boyfriend in high school, you guys always had "a song?" Usually, it was something tragic like Bryan Adams crooning the horrible and interminable "Everything I Do, I Do It for You" or, if you're as old as I am, Bryan Adams crapping out "Heaven." Either way, we all sort of cringe when Bryan Adams comes on the radio now for a variety of reasons.

But now, here I was, approaching 40, being chastised by The (Eventual) Wife because we didn't have a song. She'd sigh and say "Funny how every time a love song comes on, you're all like 'Oh, this was mine and Robert's song…' or 'This was mine and Mitch's song…' Yet you and I don't have a song!" At the age of 38, let's just say I was more worried about identifying suspicious moles on my backside than I was worried about picking out a song. This became a running joke between us. I'd hear some Ozzy song on the radio and say "This should be our song!" And she would sigh and roll her eyes and say something about how I must not be as important to her as my past boyfriends.

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Hey honey, how about "All Hail Satan" as our song?

*****

The other part you need to know about this story is that, during this time---in the mid-to-late 2000s---there was a particular busker who regularly played in the 24th Street/Mission BART station. He was known as the "punk-rock Johnny Cash" because, while his safety-pinned leather jacket, neck tattoos, and red Mohawk indicated that he was all punk and nothing but the punk, when he started strumming his guitar and opened his mouth to sing, the kid sounded just like---and I mean, JUST LIKE---Johnny Cash. It was fucking uncanny. So uncanny that everyone in SF at the time knew about the Johnny Cash Guy. He was a local legend, back when the city still had those not so very long ago. 

The Man in Black and Jesse Morris (aka Punk-Rock Johnny Cash)

He'd stand there, most mornings, right at the turnstiles---as people were rushed and harried and pushing their way angrily to work---strumming his acoustic guitar and serenading commuters with "Folsom Prison Blues" or "A Boy Named Sue." And people actually stopped and listened to him sing, and that shit never happened in BART stations. At 8:00 a.m., it's all about getting from Point A to Point B with your headphones on and your face buried in your book so that your brush with the public is as minimal as possible. He was unbelievably talented, to be sure, but I also think half the reason he did so well for himself as a busker was the simple juxtaposition of his voice and his appearance. Who wouldn't be floored---at 7:00 in the morning, no less---by a fierce, Sid-Vicious-looking motherfucker crooning "Ring of Fire" like the Man in Black himself?

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I wasn't used to being intimidated by people, but the Johnny Cash Guy was intimidating as fuck. The scowl, the sheer number of tats, the nose ring, the crazy hair. He made me and my 9-to-5 existence seem trite and conformist. But as our wedding day approached, I would nervously listen for him each morning as I hit the BART escalator, ears straining for the notes of his guitar to see if he was there, knowing what I wanted to do but always lacking, at the last minute, the fortitude to do it.

And then one day, as I shoved my ticket into the machine, prepared to keep walking past him as usual, but I suddenly stopped and said "Hey, so um, I have a question for you… Got a minute?"

I have no idea why I found this dude intimidating.

*****

The ceremony was amazing. Our best friend married us. I managed to make it through my vows without crying, mainly because The (Extremely-Soon-to-Be) Wife and the aforementioned best friend were both blubbering messes up on the altar, and someone had to hold their shit together.

Since the wedding was low-key, we were doing all of the music on our iPod. We'd chosen the songs we each wanted to walk down the aisle to before we said our vows, and we'd chosen Queen's "You're My Best Friend" to walk back down the aisle after Cindy had pronounced us wife and wife. The Wife had put her brother in charge of manning the iPod, starting and stopping each of the songs at the appropriate moment.

As we turned away from Cindy and toward our friends and family as she pronounced us married, it was silent. The (New) Wife squeezed my hand, and I knew she was thinking "What the fuck, Dave? All you had to do was press 'Play' and 'Stop' on three songs…why hasn't Queen started yet?! We're just standing up here like fools…any time now, Bro."

And just as I felt her palm break a sweat, the strains of a guitar could be heard from inside the house. It got closer, louder, stronger, and soon there was no doubt that a real person was playing, and it was not Queen. And just as I saw The Wife's brow furrow, out stepped the Johnny Cash Guy, in all of his tattooed, leathered-up, flamboyant glory, his voice, clear as a bell, belting out "I Walk the Line." He sauntered down the aisle as he played, ending up right in front of us: "Because you're mine/I walk the line/Because you're mine…" My father-in-law, who had his back to him when he started singing, said "It was so spot-on that I thought it was a CD of Johnny Cash that you were playing. I had no idea it was a real person!"

After he finished playing "I Walk the Line," all the wedding guests cheered, and
Jesse said "Fuck Prop 8! Y'all have a great life together."

I studied my new wife's face as the full realization of what was happening sunk into her face. I squeezed back and whispered "This is my wedding gift to you." She squeezed my hand then threw her arms around me. "You got me THE JOHNNY CASH GUY as a wedding present?!?!" She exclaimed with glee. I kissed her happy little face and said "I did more than that. I got us A Song. This is now officially Our Song, okay?"

It was, honestly, a movie moment. One of those moments that happen at the end of stupid-ass rom-coms, the very same movies that The (Butch) Wife always cries at as I sit next to her and roll my eyes. And how often do you get those in life? How often are you able to give those moments to another person you care about deeply?

And they lived happily ever after...

*****

So that made it all the more personal when The Wife and I found out, in 2011, along with the rest of San Francisco, that Jesse Morris, aka "The Johnny Cash Guy," took his own life at the age of 27. Morris was diagnosed as bipolar at an early age and suffered from panic attacks. He had checked himself in and out of hospitals and rehab since he was a teen when he was off his meds and self-medicating. He had attempted suicide just two months before his final attempt resulted in his death. He was mourned by thousands, my wife and I among them. Tributes to what an amazing human and musician he had been started pouring in. For a good article about Jesse, start with this one. Also, his YouTube video of Folsom Prison Blues can be found here. Like the rest of the Bay Area, we grieved for the loss of this tortured, but incredibly kind and gifted, soul. It broke my heart to think I'd never again hear his voice ricocheting off the walls of the subway as I ascended the escalator after a long day. That voice was silent now. 

“He could mimic anybody,” [band member] Dean said.
He had a voice like “honey on tits.
He could do me better than me,
he could do Cash better than Cash.”

It's coming up on five years since his passing, but I bet not a week has gone by in those years that I haven't thought of Jesse. He wasn't a friend. Technically, he was just a dude I hired to play a single song at my wedding. I certainly didn't know the pain he was in. I didn't know anything about him, other than he had a brother who was transitioning to becoming his sister, and he thought the Prop 8 mess "was fucking bullshit, man." But he had a gift, and he brought that gift to our wedding and laid it down, literally, at our altar. He gave us an indelible memory that made our special day even more unique.

Rest in Peace, Jesse

I don't know why I was in the mind to write about Jesse today. It's not the anniversary of his death or anything. I just finally wanted to sit down and write about some guy that was beautiful and he meant something to me. And the world, for me, sucks a little harder knowing he's no longer out there in it, doing his thing, making his music, fighting the good fight.

Rest in peace, Jesse. "The world wasn't meant for one as beautiful as you."

 

 

Hero's Sendoff

The death of David Bowie earlier this week left me, like most folks, utterly gobsmacked. My feed was brimming with videos, song lyrics, and photos of Mr. Bowie. But what jumped out at me almost immediately was how, for every post talking about what a gifted musician he was, there were just as many posts talking about how he was the Patron Saint for All Misfits and Outcasts. So many stories about how people who felt isolated, alone, and weird in high school found themselves in Ziggy Stardust or in any of Bowie's other androgynous personae.

They saw a man in glitter makeup, outlandish wigs, and leotards (leotards, for chrissakes!) prancing around on stage bigger than life, not ashamed, telling them it was okay to be queer, a fag, a fairy, to dress up in whatever way felt most true to them. He taught a generation of kids that there's nothing wrong with you in the least if you're a boy and wanna throw on some eyeshadow before heading out on a Friday night. He spoke to the freaks, the dweebs, the gays, the bullied, the goths, and any other misfit who wasn't wearing a letter jacket and spending their Fridays night cheering on the jocks on the football field.

Before there was "Just Jack" on the groundbreaking show Will & Grace. Before there was Madonna in all of her costumed glory. Before there was Gaga. Before all of this, there was Bowie. And it got me thinking about the importance of these celebrities to kids as they come up. There have been a zillion articles, written by people more informed than I, regarding the importance of seeing role models in movies, on TV, on stage, on the playing field, that are representative of all kids, not just the straight, white, middle-class ones. Any number of African-America actors will cite the first time they saw Nichelle Nichols as Lieutenant Uhura on Star Trek as a defining moment for them. She wasn't someone's maid or slave; she was a Starfleet officer! And that made an enormous difference to a whole lot of black kids coming up during that time. "If she can do that, why can't I?"

And now there's a whole generation of African-American kids that will grow up thinking "You know what? If I bust my ass in school and work hard, one day I could even be President of the United States."

Seeing people that are representative of who you are is enormously important during child development. Not only can a gay kid in Midlothian, Texas, see Neil Patrick Harris with his thriving acting career and have hope for his own future, but also, it subtly reaffirms ideas such as: "You are not abnormal," "there is nothing wrong with you," and "see, there are many others out there like you."

And now we have people like the lovely and amazing Laverne Cox, helping transgender kids everywhere come to grips with what's going on inside their heads and bodies.

While it may piss off a bunch of ignorant hillbillies, we are a diverse country full of black, white, brown, straight, gay, weirdoes, transgender, queer-positive, atheist, Muslim, Christian, hippy people. And, in 2016, it appears as though the people who are cast into visible roles, either through music, acting, politics, and even sports, are finally catching up to that fact. Bowie was one of a small handful of people who led that charge in the '70s and, for that, we owe him an un-repayable debt. There are other pioneers, of course: Cher, Boy George, Iggy, to name a few. But Bowie never bowed to pressure to conform, and that message was heard by a generation of people, some of whom took it to mean, "Hey, maybe it is okay to let my freak flag fly just a little bit."

So to you, Mr. Bowie, Mystical Beast of All Things Outlandish and Strange, I say rest in peace. As someone who started or influenced at least four different musical genres; starred in incredibly provocative films; heavily impacted the art scene, as well as the fashion scene; and who was a guardian angel for freaks and weirdoes everywhere, you are arguably one of the most prominent and influential people of the latter half of the 20th century. I'm glad that, until the very end, you did things your way and taught us all to be proud of who we were on the inside and to live our lives on our own terms. Never settle.

What an amazing legacy for an amazing artist, performer, and human being.

 

Postscript: Was just finishing this post when I heard about Alan Rickman. My heart breaks. He was, literally, the star of every movie he was in. What another awful loss. British? Sixty-nine years old? Cancer? Death happens in threes? I hope Tim Curry's handlers are keeping a very close eye on him. Sending out good, healthy thoughts for Tim, please. #CurryWatch2016

 

 

No, I Haven't Found Jesus. And Yes, I Looked Behind the Couch

I'm butthurt right now, y'all. I've got a beef, and I'm gonna write about it here. And I suppose I should add the disclaimer here that I understand that I'm not talking about the Christian majority here; just that small group of twits who insist on proselytizing to all of us heathens. Please understand, I know that there are millions of kind, caring, selfless Christians out there who are fantastic folks. This entry is not directed at you.

A friend of mine posted a beautiful video of Freddy Mercury and David Bowie recording "Under Pressure" on her Facebook page with a comment about Bowie's "angelic voice." Like many of us, she was grieving at the loss of such an amazing and talented human being. Like many of us, she understood that when the planet loses certain people, we are all worse off for it.

But then, but then…some fucking asshole posts a comment on the thread about how there was nothing angelic about Bowie because he "never kept God in his heart" and how he "certainly isn't in Heaven" (the capital "H" hers, of course). This fuckwit didn't stop there though. Not only was this woman announcing that she herself was so omniscient that she knew what was in David Bowie's heart and where he would spend eternity, but then she went on to attack my friend's faith: "If you can read that article and still wonder where David Bowie's heart lies then I would begin to do some searching in your own heart."

WHAT IN THE FRESH EVER-LOVING FUCK, PEOPLE?!?!?!

Look, I'm an atheist (or a secular humanist, since I don't believe in a god, but I do believe in just being good to other humans and that we all deserve the same rights). And I'll be the first to admit, I'm working to overcome my knee-jerk reaction to people when they tell me they are religious, which is to automatically think "Oh, and I thought you were smart." I have come to accept that there are many different reasons people choose to become religious. Yes, some are indoctrinated by their parents and their parents' church from birth, and fuck those people for merely drinking the Kool-Aid and not thinking for themselves. But some find faith later in life for a variety of understandable reasons. And I can even accept the fact that faith brings an enormous amount of comfort to many people in times of duress. Hey, if that's what floats your boat and you can keep that shit to yourself, more power to you.

It's when the proselytizing starts that I take HUGE ISSUE with your bullshit. Just as with any other religion, Christianity is no exception, you are free to practice it privately, but once you start waving that shit in my face, I will challenge you. Is it not enough that you are living your own life according to your faith and your principles? Why do so many Christians insist that the rest of us live by their credos? Why do so many Christians insist on trying to insert their narrow, ridiculously exclusionary beliefs into our government, for fuck's sake…even though every major doctrine on which this country was founded implicitly states that this shall remain a secular nation? Why are so many Christians concerned by what kind of sex other people are having? Or what movies they watch? Or music they listen to?

Why do you insist that we all must agree on this? Why is it so hard to see that the world need not agree with YOUR set of beliefs and that it's okay if people want to worship Buddha or Mohammed or the Flying Spaghetti Monster? Or even---GASP!---not worship any mystical god at all? Why does this so offend you? You might like eggplant, where many others despise it. Do you go around shouting about aubergines and shoving them down everyone's throats? I mean, honestly, enough. Leave the rest of us in peace. So we assholes are doomed to spend eternity in some hell that we don't even believe in. Isn't that just good riddance for you?

It's fucking maddening, people, and it needs to stop. I mean, damn, all this friend of mine was trying to do was express sadness for a loss she felt, and here comes this religious bully onto her Facebook page, telling her she needs to reexamine her heart because she's mourning the passing of a human being who spread joy on this planet? That's what it is: bullying. "MY GOD BE THE ONE GOD, AND HE WILL KICK YOUR ASS IF YOU DON'T TOE THE LINE!" And on a post that had NOTHING to do with religion? The fuck is that nonsense?

For chrissakes, there have been over 6,000 religions started and practiced by human beings since the dawn of time, but you're telling us that YOUR god is the ONE god, and the rest of us will burn in a fiery pit of "hell" and will not enjoy the spoils of "heaven" if we don't behave the way YOU think we should behave? The fucking arrogance on display here! I have Tang in my cupboard, but I don't ask you to believe that I'm a fucking astronaut, lady. If you want to believe that some mythical sky beast is going to whisk you away to a magic eternal kingdom just because you sat your ass in a pew every Sunday, that is your right, but don't foist that voodoo on the rest of us and expect us to swallow it.

I mean, if you're such a shitty Christian that you don't understand some of Christianity's major tenants like "Judge not lest ye be judged" and "Christ is love" then, I'm sorry, you are missing the point. When others on the thread pointed out that her comments on the post were misplaced, she posted some quote about not judging...when she was the only person on the thread doing any judging!! It's that level of hypocrisy amongst the rabid Christians that drives me batty, y'all. There is no concept of logic or of simply treating people humanely because it's the right thing to do. No, you need a god, apparently, to do that. But not only that, if you're not "doing it right" or if you're not being as holy as the next guy, then it still doesn't count. Make no mistake: you are a bully and, frankly, we all just tune out your arrogant loud mouth at that point.

And yes, y'all, I know #NotAllChristians, so please don't think this is a blanket attack on those who choose to practice their faith and worship their god in their hearts…quietly, like it's supposed to work. Unfortunately, the millions of good Christians who do "get" the message of Christianity and spend their time behaving kindly toward all people and doing good things in their communities are not the Christians that get the press. I'm aware of that. So normally I wouldn't write a rant like this here about it because it's just giving more time to a small segment of one religion. Much like "all Muslims are not terrorists," all Christians are not sanctimonious shitbags. But when I encounter it first-hand like that, I just see red. Against my better judgment, I went off on this nitwit. In the end, my friend deleted my scathing comment directed at this human shame-spiral, which is her prerogative. Her page, her stage. And I'm not the least bit mad that she did. But never one to sit back silently when someone uses religion, race, economic status, gender, or sexual proclivities as a bullying tool, I just had to get this rant out.

If you are a person of faith, good for you. It works for you. You receive comfort from it. But don't be so presumptuous as to assume it will work for everyone. Kindly keep your preaching to yourself and stop trying to strong-arm people into your nonsense. You are a blight on humanity.

 

Hedonism: Then and Now

One of the things I heard consistently from older people as I was in my twenties and thirties was that by the time you hit your forties, you feel comfortable in your own skin. You're still young enough to enjoy life, old enough to have a little money to do things with a bit more style, and finally have some wisdom as to who you are and what you stand for.

Well? I'm waiting.

I seem to have done it backwards. I had oodles of confidence in my twenties and thirties; I was bursting with it. So, naturally, I couldn't wait until I was in my forties to see what they held. But then came a whole lotta unexplainable pain and the corresponding depression, and those two things, teamed up together, flattened me. I found myself rudderless. I suddenly had no idea who I was and where I was going.

The person I'd been up to then was larger than life. Brash, crass, fearless, bold, uncensored, mighty---the person who fills up the room at a party. But sometime around 40, when I'd already been in pain for a couple of years and the depression was just starting to settle in (but I hadn't yet identified it as such), I noticed I no longer had the energy to be That Girl. But beyond that, I was questioning my existence up to that point. That my life had been a whirlwind of hedonistic excess with some incredible experiences didn't register pride in my soul like it once did. Instead, I felt empty when I looked back, like I'd wasted all those prime years partying my nuts off and had nothing to show for it. To out it more bluntly: Can you imagine the kind of money I'd have if I had taken everything I'd spent on cigarettes, booze, and drugs in my life and had put it into the bank instead?

That that kind of Monday-morning quarterbacking doesn't do anyone any good was lost on me. But more than wallowing in my past, I was now looking at my future with a newfound terror. Beyond pain and depression, I also simply recognized the fact that this lifestyle wouldn't be pragmatic heading into the second half of my life. Nothing sadder than a 60-year-old cokehead who's still hanging out with an ever-rotating cast of twentysomethings so they can surround themselves with people who still party like they do. I know a few of those people, and I most decidedly did not want to be that. No, I needed to find a new raison d'etre for my back 40.

And part of this blog, my podcast, my photo-taking, my constant quest to find happiness and happy people…it's all part of this continued search to Find My Passion. It's maddening at times, truly. Mostly because while I say I no longer wanna be "that girl," part of me misses it terribly. Why wouldn't I? I was Amy Schumer before Amy was Amy---loud-mouthed and crass; a bit mannish yet with a ravenous propensity for cock and more than happy to talk about it; saying things that most people didn't expect women to say; drinking, drugging, and bursting in on parties with verve; turning my whiskey-heated tongue on anything I felt deserved my scathing commentary. All those cigarettes and whiskey shots---while I can't say I remember them all---I can say that I enjoyed them immensely at the time.

My shrink, who is a total wise badass (or a bad wiseass, a little of both), pointed out that it was certainly infeasible to expect to sustain the level of energy that that persona requires. It takes an enormous amount of energy to be that "on" all the time. That I could still be expected to summon those levels of energy when I'm simultaneously battling the enemies of age, pain, and depression is unrealistic. That makes a lot of sense to me, even if I don't know what I'm gonna be next. It has allowed me to look back on my years of 16 to 40 with more fondness. Being that girl and chasing those experiences has made me the person I am now.

And, yes, I know that being a Fun Party Girl can seem vapid and shallow to many, but I would also argue that being a drinker and smoker got me places I wouldn't have gone to had I been a "good girl." For example, when I was traveling by myself for six months through 15 foreign countries, there were many, many times I was swallowed in loneliness. I was three weeks into my trip when 9/11 happened, so when my fellow countrymen were going through trauma, upheaval, and uncertainty, I was by myself, say, on a bleak and rainy day in Budapest, feeling very isolated and lonely and cut off.

And each and every time I felt like that, I went to a bar. Not to drown my sorrows, but because bars were a place where I felt at home. The bar universe was a universe I understood; I understood its etiquette, its norms, its social mores. And every single time I plopped my ass on a bar stool, ordered a drink, and lit a cigarette (oh how I miss the days where you could still smoke in bars), I met someone. I inevitably ended up striking up a conversation with a local or even other tourists, and I learned much. Whether it resulted in new adventures with my new bar friend(s) or resulted in a good tidbit of travel advice that I ended up following, I connected with people; I had a new and exciting adventure.

And being a drinker and smoker has also made me an excellent study of people. One of my strongest traits is my ability to read a person, people, or a situation and adapt accordingly. Had I not spent so much of my life in crazy situations around so many different types of people, I don't think that skill would be as finely tuned.

So here I am, a few months from 46, and I still haven't found my grand passion; I still haven't figured out "what I want to be when I grow up." And so I keep pushing. But while my "what next?" journey seems interminable, I have at least started to make peace with my past. I no longer look back on those hedonistic years as wasted time. Those years made me who I am now, put me on the path I'm on now, opened my heart and mind, and gave me some unbelievable stories for my dotage. My shrink thinks I need to start telling some of these tales from my past and that will help me let go of that old me with a little more peace and grace. Which means, you all might get to read stories of how I shat my pants in Istanbul, or broke my leg in Cappadocia, or partied with a Frank Sinatra impersonator one rainy night in SF, or held the hand of a guy who'd just lost his leg in a motorcycle accident while he laid bleeding in the middle of the road, or threw a drink on a guy's face in a crowded restaurant.

In the end, it really is about feeling comfortable in your own skin. These days, I mostly am. I'm not nearly as comfortable as I used to be, but I also have a little more self-awareness than I had then. I worry more about what people will think when I say something truly outrageous. I still say the outrageous things, mind you; it's just now I might inwardly wince and wonder if I just pissed someone off. It's just that now, that booze-soaked tongue comes with perhaps a little empathy for others as well. 

Maybe that's the definition of happiness: feeling utterly and completely comfortable in your own skin. I was happy before, largely because I rarely questioned myself. With age comes wisdom, and with wisdom comes questioning. Is there a way for me to question my place in the world and my actions and STILL be one-hundred percent comfortable with who I am and what I'm doing? Maybe if I achieve that balance, I will be happy? Who knows? But I'm not giving up on the quest. None of us should. It's how we grow.


King of Green

Welp, the fourth episode of my podcast is up. You guys, I'm fucking over the moon about this episode with NorCal medical marijuana grower, Caslin Tomaszewski. Caz has been a friend of mine for the last couple of years. We met when he was a server at a restaurant The Wife and I used to frequent. We became fast friends with Caz after that, and we and I hosted an epic, impromptu party at our house once with Caz and about ten of his friends. Even though there were only about a dozen people at the party, it went all night til the breaka-breaka, and our house looked like Jake Ryan's house after the party scene in Sixteen Candles. We still talk about that party.

One of the things they never tell you about growing older is how you will eventually grow out of your dreams because life and age simply get in your way. The mountain you were going to climb, the novel you were gonna write, the solo trip around the world with nothing but your backpack and your wits…these are things that seem infinitely doable when you're in your twenties and thirties. But then, I dunno, suddenly maybe you have kids that will eventually need to go to college or a mortgage that needs paying or a sick parent that requires assisted living, so quitting the job you've loathed since you were 28 isn't quite as practical as it once was. They should give you some sort of early adulthood survival guide to people just graduating from college or moving out of their parents' house for the first time. And one of the rules should say: "Go after your dreams now, kids; because in 20 years, you'll be too tired, too jaded, too trapped into your life to follow them then. Sooner is better."

Caz is one of those rare guys in his late twenties who has both dreams AND ambition. You can listen to him tell his own story about why he decided that the time was right to implement his Grand Plan, but it was indeed a grand plan that was going to involve money, brains, political savvy, and a whole lot of guts. Yet, this 29-year-old looked at all of the logistics, maneuvering, and sheer sweat labor his dream would involve and decided he had the determination to proceed. It was a modest dream: buy some land, grow some very, very high-grade medical cannabis and, oh yeah, change America's archaic thinking about weed while he was at it. 

My boy, Caz.

And so he carved out a little 5-acre niche in Northern California and got down to it. He did the research, made his connections, studied the political landscape, started establishing himself in a new community---all while setting up a full-scale medical-marijuana farm and then figuring out how to go about growing some of the finest weed in NorCal and keeping the farm and its countless logistics operating smoothly. Oh, and while he was doing all that, he was helping secure legal cultivation within the county by proving once and for all that pot growing did not have to be some shady, criminal, paranoiac endeavor. And if that weren't enough to keep him hopping, in the middle of all of that, one of the fastest-moving wildfires in California history ripped through the county last summer, taking out 70,000 acres of California's beautiful countryside and every other pot-growing operation within a 4-mile radius of his farm, which was saved from destruction by the heroic and daredevil efforts of Caz and his compadres.

Yeah, you should listen to the interview. You'll need a shot of bourbon by the end of it. I know I did.

I wanted to post some pictures from my visit to his little happiness farm. I had a great time. I thought I'd find myself annoyed by a bunch of pot-smoking youngsters running around in sarongs and puka shells, playing banjos, and speaking earnestly about things that were far to idealistic to ever come to fruition. But that was not the case at all. I met some incredibly grounded, thoughtful people. Yes, some of them were idealistic, but mostly, I just met and talked with a bunch of kids who weren't there picking pot because they were slackers who didn't want an office job. They had examined the world and all of its ills, figured out which parts of it they were interested in and which parts they had no desire to be a party to, and were there to live life on their own terms, even if it meant not fitting into mainstream society.

I was there during harvest at a time when the fire had put them three weeks behind schedule---a time when everyone there was pulling 14- or 16-hour shifts---so it was very much an active, working farm. But what looked like chaos was actually an unbelievably efficient, tight, and well-thought-out operation. And in addition to being a lucrative business venture, it's also a commune of sorts but---and here's the key---not the annoying kind! It's just a place where they all make major decisions together, everyone gets to say their piece, and everyone (for the most part) is super happy to be there because they're doing something they love and believe in. Even at the end of a grueling shift on the day we were there, everyone flopped down at the end of the day looking happy, relaxed, and tanned. Yes, I'm sure all the marijuana didn't hurt that vibe, but it wasn't just that. It was that everyone had their jobs to do and were happy to be doing them. They were right where they wanted to be.

Caz's growing methods are very different than standard growing methods, and his management structure is decidedly more corporate than you'd imagine a pot farm to be. He has managers for each major part of the operation, and every manager was picked for his or her job because of their skill set or unique capabilities. It was a little slice of utopia. It almost made me want to live in nature, and I do not do nature, y'all.

Anyway, I just wanted to post a few pics of the farm in case anyone is interested in seeing what a big ol' pot farm looks like. As someone with peripheral neuropathy who has a medical marijuana card, I personally think Caz is doing god's work out there in the forest. Smoking or eating an herb that grows outdoors in nature is far more preferable to me than taking a handful of pills before I go to sleep each night. 

Go listen to the interview, look at these pictures, and open up your mind to marijuana a bit, especially if you're still one of those folks who thinks pot is "the devil's weed." You've been brainwashed by decades and decades of political point-scoring and posturing from our government. Now that scads of studies are coming out that show the medicinal benefits of pot, hopefully marijuana will lose much of its negative stigma. People like Caz and his friends are the next generation helping to remove that stigma by being responsible citizens, operating within the law, and fostering relationships with the communities in which they operate. 

Harvesting the plants. By law, the farm is allowed to grow 99 plants.
Caz's are, shall we say, unusually tall and healthy. His unorthodox growing methods are being adopted by surrounding growers because of his plants' high quality and lush yield. 

 

The cutters remove large branches off of the standing plants and hang them on an A-frame rack.
Once the rack is full, they yell up the hill for runners, who come down and remove the crossbeam
atop the frame and take it to the clipping tent, where the large branches are broken into
smaller twigs and are hung on drying racks. 

 

This is Jack. Jack is a fun-loving dude from the UK. Hear about how he ended up picking weed in NorCal here. Jack was working in the cutting room where he helped break the branches down and hang them on drying racks. 

Once the plant has been trimmed into smaller twigs and hung on cylindrical wire racks, it is moved into the Drying Room. As you can see, space is a premium in the Drying Room, with each cylinder needing roughly two weeks in the room to dry. This means the volunteers perform a constant delicate ballet, adjusting the cylinders based on position in the room, how long they've been drying, and available space. 

 

Once the plant is sufficiently dried, it is broken down even further and trimmed into
the typical buds you'll find at your cannabis club. 

 

One of the things so amazing about this farm is that everyone is allowed to work toward
their abilities. There are two guys at the farm who are the unofficial "maintenance dudes" because they have both the vision and the skills to fix just about everything that needs fixing, jiggering, tweaking, or building on this
acreage. After the Butte Fire, their vision was to make the new shower area
better than the old, makeshift one. This is what they made!

 

One of the reasons the farm has gained respect in a relatively short amount of time is
because Caz is so willing to share not only better growing techniques, but also his seeds,
with neighboring growers. This was critical after the Butte Fire, when 99% of the
growers in his neighborhood lost their crops. "I don't mind giving away this stuff because it forces me to keep innovating to stay ahead." Caz explains.

 

Sunrise over the patch.

 

Post-wildfire message carved into a burned log. The people in this county are rugged individualists.
The growers find themselves in an unlikely alliance with the mostly conservative population in
the county because most of the residents are vehemently anti-government and believe that
people ought to be able to do what they like on their land. 

 

Harvest volunteers live on the farm during the harvest, sleeping in tents,
vans, RVs, trailers, and this kickass tricked-out bus. 

 

The people are some of the hardest-working motherfuckers I've ever encountered. But once the day is done, the whiskey and the instruments come out, and everyone enjoys music and good conversation.
You know, like a salon. With ganja.