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Have you ever witnessed a woman’s face when she is giving birth?  I’ve only seen it on Call the Midwife and a handful of movies or television shows but it’s usually the same experience so the people making these films must have some intel on the situation.  It looks like a lot of pain.  I guess that’s what one can come to expect when giving life to a person.. or an idea, a project, a work of art.  It doesn’t really matter what you are creating, the process is going to be painful.  Maybe that is what makes it exciting.

I’ve been in a lot pain.  Recently.  In the past.  In the long past.  It has been a lifetime filled with pain.  It has also been a lifetime of pure joy.  After all, consider the look on the woman’s face when, first, she holds her baby.  Pure joy.  Oh, sure, there are times when that’s not the case but those must be extreme circumstances.  Usually a woman wants to have that baby and is happy about it.  Usually an author wants that volume, usually an actor wants that performance, usually a tech wants that ap.  People work to create something that they want, something that will give them satisfaction.

I have been in the process of creating and my creation has begun to come into the light.  Dare alla Luce is an Italian term meaning ‘to bring to the light’.  That is what is happening to me right now.  I am bringing to the light my latest creation.

Me.

I have spent my life in pursuit of something.  The something may change but it is always a pursuit of something.  Sometimes I am not successful in my quest.  Sometimes I am successful with an unsatisfying result.  And that dissatisfaction has controlled me for decades.

As a child I wanted to be liked.  It is a basic need, one most humans have.  To be liked, to be loved, to be wanted.  I wanted to be wanted.  I wasn’t.  I had few friends and a father who didn’t like me.  It was my ambition to turn that around and it became the focus of my life – until I found a new focus.  My new desire was to be an artist, to make people feel with my art, to make my fame and fortune with my art.  I spent my adulthood in that pursuit, also continuing the quest to be wanted.  Racking up years of rejection as both an artist and a person, I turned to alcohol to escape the reality that I had failed.  Continuing to rack up failures, I crawled deeper and deeper into the bottle.  I used drugs occasionally for fun but it was alcohol that helped me to escape reality, for that was my true addiction: escaping reality.  I spent decades battling alcohol and the escape of my dissatisfying reality, to the dismay of my husband and loved ones.  I would protect myself from further injury at all costs, even the cost of the love designed to save me from the pain.

Today I am free.  Free of the pain, free of the addiction, free of the root of the problem.

Today I step, fully, into the light.

Today I darre alla luce the person I was born to be.

In my therapy session this week my husband said something that was the catalyst to the beginning of the journey into the light.  We do our therapy together because, together, we are always stronger.  When we are with the therapist together we can help each other to be honest, to remember the things we would rather forget but which are essential to the healing process and we can assure each other that we are not going to be alone during our healing.  My husband said “I want to protect Baby Stephen from any more pain.”  I turned to him instinctually and said

“Baby Stephen is just fine.”

I hadn’t really acknowledged this, yet, in my adulthood.  It was true, though: my inner child is fine.  Sometime in the last years this grown up crawled inside himself and had a come to jesus talk with his inner child and laid to rest the pain from being the school kid nobody liked, the son whose father didn’t want him, the outcast on his own.  That baggage we create in our formative years that weighs us down for the rest of our lives had been unpacked and put away.  The pain of criticism and rejection from years past was no longer coursing through the veins of the person who was the remains of Baby Stephen.  My inner child was perfectly happy and I didn’t even know it, until those words came out of my mouth without the benefit of pre-meditation.

Baby Stephen is just fine.

I took this sentence into my meditation the next day.  I reflected on the need for approval, for validation, for love, only to discover that I need no approval because I approve of myself.  I require no validation, for I validate myself.  I crave no love for I love myself and I have a family who provides me with more love than I will actually require to be happy for my remaining days.  I meditated on my relationship with my father, the one who never liked his gay son.  I thought on our last few phone conversations and these last decades of growing friendship.  My father has verbally admired me, appreciated me, approved of me and authenticated the father-son relationship that we have designed, in spite of his early appraisal of me.

Baby Stephen is just fine.

But what about middle aged Stephen?  How was he feeling?  For years he had worn the badge of the failed artist, having created a place in the show business community that culminated in the publication of a photography book that nobody bought, relegating him to The Room of the Failures.  Years later he had an idea for a movie, saw the documentary created and sat in the cinemas that were empty of other patrons.  Devastated because this time he had drawn three loved ones into the creating process and, thus, inflicting them with the Sword of Failure hanging over his head.  The cross he bore after this was spine-crushing, which is probably why middle aged Stephen has been in and out of doctor’s offices for six years, dealing with crippling back pain.  What about that Stephen?  How was he doing?

I meditated on these events, my reactions to these events and the quest to let them go.

Only, like Baby Stephen, it turned out middle aged Stephen was closer to letting go of the weight than I thought.  As the meditation rolled on a curtain was lifted on the realization that I didn’t care anymore.  The movie Married and Counting was in the past and The Sweater Book was ancient history.  Even my most recent book Lived In Crazy had to be considered.  After all, my agent hadn’t wanted it.  Some of my closest friends hadn’t bought it.  My own mother had never cracked the spine and my husband’s copy remained on a book case, the bookmark in the same spot it had occupied since January.  Did it hurt?  Shockingly.  No.  It is none of my business or concern if my loved ones don’t want to read my book.  It is no concern of mine, though they are missing out on a very entertaining read.  It matters not.

Fuck.

What a surprise.

Notorious for holding grudges, I was stunned to discover that I didn’t care if they don’t read my book, I don’t care if nobody bought The Sweater Book, I won’t care if Married and Counting didn’t get a wider audience.  It is none of my business.  And what of the future projects?  How would I feel if those endeavors failed?  Would it land me in emotional distress?  Or, worse, a bottle?

Wait.

There are no future projects.  I am not working on anything right now except myself.  I have a job that pays the bills, I have a gym where I can get healthy again after my recent medical woes, I have a happy home life.  I have no projects and no ambition.  I have no designs that go beyond the door of my happy home.

While watching So You Think You Can Dance this week I turned to Pat and told him “That passion they are talking about in their interviews?  That “I’ve been dreaming of this my whole life” and “Dance is my passion, I couldn’t live without it” moment?  I don’t have it anymore.  When I was doing both of my books and the movie, it was that, morning, noon and night.  I had blinders on.  The project was my every waking moment.  But now I feel that for nothing.  The passion I feel now is for my husband, only.  I have family that I love, a job that I love, a life in the world of nature and the world of exercise that I love; but I have no passion, no dream, to designs on anything outside of my personal life.  In my life I have tried to make art, I’ve tried to make a difference and the only thing I have successfully made is myself unhappy.  The only things I want to make now are money and progress in my own personal growth.  This time is my time.  It is time for me.  Time to be free of all the baggage, all the struggle, all the preconceived notions, all the pain and unhappiness.

In that moment of clarity I felt freedom.  Maybe it’s just moments of clarity we get but I got one and that was it.  Happy at home, happy at work, re-building my health and my body, some financial security, loved by my family, friends with my father, able to self-validate, out of the chains of the past, out from under the thumb of ambition and dreams…  free.

I am free.

And free from the alcohol.  The words escaped my lips:  “I have no reason to drink anymore.  I have no desire to drink.  I have no reality to escape.”

I am free.

Is the quest over?  No.  Is the journey finished?  Not yet.  It is simply clearer now.  It will be, hopefully, easier now.  A lot has fallen away in this last few days.  When what falls away falls away, everything else falls into place.

I am free.  Free to live in the light.  Free to be happy.  Free to let go of the past, the pain and the powerlessness.  I am free to darre alla luce, and there is nothing without the light.  My face will be turned up toward that light.

Finally.  I can move forward in authenticity, joy and peace, even as I learn to walk all over again, in all this newness and wonderment.

I.

Am Free.

 

 

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June 29, 2017 2:20 pm
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The Found Weekend

The cursor had been blinking for an hour, waiting for me to hit enter.  Often I would rise from the desk, go about my night, then return to the desk and consider hitting that button.  The moment I did, it would all change.  Everyone would know.  My privacy would be gone.  I didn’t have privacy hangups – after all I have been a blogger for many years and I had just published a rather frank memoir.  This, though, was a particularly strong confession I was about to make, in an enormously public place.  If I chose to hit ‘enter’, the bell could not be unrung.  They would all know.

I was in rehab.

For ten years I was sober.  An entire decade of not drinking had been discarded, in one moment.  I had weighed the options, the glass of liquor in front of me for a long time, before making the decision to take that first drink in 3650 days.  I thought long and hard; and I took the drink.  That is how unhappy I was working at the catering company called My Cooking Party.  Once that first drink had been consumed, all bets were off.  Pat knew, immediately, that I was drinking, though it took him nine days to confront me.  I told him that I had gotten off the wagon and would get back on when I was ready.  Several times over the next four years I would try to stop, each time believing that I would succeed.  I knew I would be able to — after all I had quit cold turkey ten years earlier and stayed clean.  I would be able to stop any time I wanted, I was certain of that.

Not so.  Turns out I was wrong.

This time quitting was so much harder than the last time.  See, the last time I stopped I was in my 30s.  I still had a lot of future ahead of me.  The Sweater Book was going to be published.  I was going to change things, lose some weight, be pretty again, make life better.  I had choices, options and possibilities.  That was almost fifteen years ago.  This time I was in my fifties.  Everything I had attempted had failed and I was working as a waiter.  I was out of options and my shot at finding any was eluding me, in the extreme.   I decided I would have just one more drink and then stop tomorrow.  Over and over.   The drinking never helped, either.  If I had one drink, I had ten.  I could put away a bottle of any alcoholic drink in a single, short sitting.  Then I would think about five decades of unhappiness and mistakes.  And I would weep.  Then I would call people and weep some more.  What made me weep?  You name it.  Growing up, my father didn’t like me.  In school, the kids were mean to me.  At 17 my 30 year old lover abused me verbally and psychologically.   I had been mistreated and fired from jobs.  I had lost my hair.  I had gained weight.  Gay men had demeaned me.  My husband had cheated on me.  My acting career had fizzled.  My photography  had tanked.  Nobody bought my book.  The movie I conceived didn’t take off; and this time it wasn’t just my dream – it was the dream of three other people.  The pain of injuries had cost me my perfect body.  Friends and clients had diminished me by, repeatedly, demanding that I either work for free or work for a fraction of my fee, while they paid other professionals that they hired their full fees.  I had had to sell my possessions and my body to pay the bills and I was out of money, out of options and working as a fifty year old waiter for a company that made me miserable.  After I left that company I continued working as a waiter for companies that paid me very little money.  I was a bona fide failure.  I had failed not only myself but my husband and my family.  So, yeah, I kept on drinking.  And drunk dialing people.  I drove away some friends and scared the others.  And most of all, my husband was terrified and worried.  But I was so busy at my pity party of one that I didn’t notice.

I thought that I was keeping it a secret.  I didn’t drink at work, only after work.  I didn’t drink at home, only away from home.  I made sure that I spaced out my drinking and my time around people, so nobody would be able to tell I was drinking.  I lived on peanut butter, bananas, tunafish and mint oil because I was positive they would mask the smell of the alcohol.  I was sure people weren’t aware how much I was drinking, even though most of my family and friends did, in fact, know that I was drinking.  The brutal truth is that everyone knew I was drinking, when I was drinking, when I was drunk and that I was lying about it.    You can’t hide the smell.  Even if I wasn’t actively drinking, I was sweating out my last binge.  Or I smelled of booze because when I worked catering gigs I would spill it on myself so that I could at least smell it until the event was over and I could drink the dregs of a bottle during breakdown, even the dregs of the glasses I was bussing.   And when I would leave home, go drink someplace else, and then come home, my behavior was a dead giveaway.  If I was in the homes of my friends and sneaked a drink when they were out of the room, they knew it.  I’m a sloppy, messy and mean drunk.  And weepy.  They all knew it.  And they had family meetings when I wasn’t there to discuss what could be done about it.  My closest loved ones were conspiring to make me happy, make me sober and make me livable.

Only we all know they couldn’t do it.  Only I could do it.   And I would have to do it alone.

You see, the last time I had quit I had god.  I was a devoted pantheist, chanting buddhist chant every day and having regular conversations with god.  I had a sense of spirituality, focus and balance.  During the years that I had started drinking again, I had transitioned into the life of a militant atheist.  I didn’t just not believe in god, I hated god.  I hated people who talked about god, I hated the mention of god, I disdained anyone and anything that made mention of god.  I was going to have to get sober on my own, which was going to be fuck all of impossible.  And I knew it.  And I was tired.  I’d been tired for a long time; and once you get to be this kind of tired, it’s a deep well out of which to dig yourself.  It was fuck all of impossible.

So I stopped lying.  To myself and to everyone else.  I sat down with my husband, who had been researching recovery programs that didn’t involve god.  He found one and showed me the link, so I read it.  I liked what I read and I went to my first meeting at the Addiction Center of the hospital.  Within a week I knew that I had the right program.  Also within a week I was eating bags of candy and chips  — anything to keep from drinking.  I tried smoking and hated it.  I tried sleeping all day and kind of loved it.  I was on social lockdown so that I would not be put into uncomfortable positions where I would be drinking.   I needed to be away from people and the continual grilling for information.  I needed to be on my own and in my group, getting better.  I retired from the catering industry because there were too many temptations and I found the work, the guests, the people in charge demeaning.  I had come too close to getting drunk on the job too many times and was terrified of having it happen.  Getting the liquor on my skin was no longer enough – I was swishing it around my mouth and spitting it out.  It was just too close.  And not eating at jobs, then drinking during breakdown sent me home freshly inebriated, to the dismay of my husband.   It was time and I knew it.  I had hit rock bottom.

Except.

You can only hit rock bottom when you stop digging.

So I went to that first day of rehab and started digging.  I began looking for the reasons I drank.  I decided to set ’em up and knock ’em down.  And these meetings were incredibly helpful.  I began to see things clearly again.  I began to talk it out, in my meetings and with my husband.  I began to feel like Bulldozer Mosher again.  I began to feel clean again.  I even began to feel a little hope again, something that I had long since discarded.

On the 11th day I was in a meeting and we were asked to do an exercise in which we listed the five things most important to us.  Mine are always the same:  spouse, sobriety, family, home, happiness.  Everyone listed their top five.  The moderator pointed out that nobody had their drug of choice on their list.  Well, then.  If it doesn’t even make the top five, who needs it?  The following day it occurred to me that I spent five decades sweating over everything.  If I didn’t care SO much about EVERYTHING, I might never have become an alcoholic.  So I decided to put the things that weren’t paramount, of utmost importance, on the list of I Don’t Give  A Fuck.  On the third day two people who have meant the world to me hurt me, right to the core, the easiest way to get me to drink.  They diminished me and made me feel worthless and invisible — my biggest triggers.  I was visiting a friend and when he left the room I grabbed the scotch, fully intending one big gulp before he returned.  Within moments I put it back, untouched.  I would make a different choice.  From now on, I would make different choices.  I went home proud and smiling.

I don’t know what will happen next.  I don’t know who I will become next.  I know what’s important to me and what I have to do.  So I wake up every morning and do it.  I focus on my loved ones, the people who have stood by me while I was flailing, because I owe it to them to stay clean.  It’s no trick loving someone at their best; love’s loving them at their worst.  Well, they’ve seen my worst.  It’s time for them to see my best.  They’ve seen it before.  I just need to remember who that person is and what the best is and bring it forth for all to see.

And that meant everybody.  All the people on the Facebook Machine who have been my friends, my fans, my supporters, my family all these years – they deserved to know the truth.  They should be told that why I was turning down all their invitations, they should be aware that it was, in fact, not them – it was me.  They should know that I’m human and fallible.  They should know who I really am.  So I sat down and wrote an online confession, explaining the struggle and the journey back into the light.  Then I sat there and looked at it for an hour.  It was going to open up a barrage of uncomfortable questions and make necessary the destruction of my privacy.  It was a difficult decision, one I sweated out for an hour.  But wouldn’t it be worth it?  Living in the light?  Wouldn’t it be worth it?  No secrets, no lies?  Wouldn’t it be worth it?  Having people see you?  It was a difficult decision… until it was an easy one.  Until it was the right one.  Until it was the honest one.  For me, it has to be about right and honest, whatever the sacrifice.  And it is a sacrifice I was willing to make.

I sat down and looked at the screen one last time, raised my right index finger to the keyboard and felt the plastic of the key.

Enter.

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The First Goodbye

I think I was eight years old the morning that I came down the stairs and saw my father sitting at the dining table, his head in his hands.  My mother intercepted me the moment my feet stepped from the final step onto the ground floor of our home.  She knelt so that our faces were evenly met and told me that I needed to be really nice to my daddy today because his mommy had died.  I wasn’t sure what any of that meant, really, but I could see that it was a bad, sad thing.  I went to the chair in which my father was sitting, leaning on the dining table.  There was enough room between him and the back of the chair for me to sit behind him and rest my eight year old hand on his back.  This was the only way I knew to comfort him.  I had only to let him know that I was there for him.

In that moment I knew the weight of death, even though I was not fully aware of what it meant.  I just knew that when it occurred it cast a pall over life.

In 52 years I have had a surprisingly small acquaintance with death (and don’t I know how lucky I am).  There have been Grandparents, Aunts, Uncles on both Pat’s side and mine, who died of complications with old age.  Pat’s Parents and one brother succumbed to illness.  The year we got together, Pat’s best friend Lisa died in a car crash.  Our friend Gary was our first friend lost in the AIDS crisis.  John John took his own life.  Alec and Chris died of illness.  Don had declining health due to his age.  Steven died after years of bad health and a lengthy hospital stay.  Ryan’s death was a surprise, yet, to me (a health and fitness fanatic) his extreme weight lessened that surprise.  Nancy was lost to cancer and Nate’s body just couldn’t take any more.  We’ve seen friends through the deaths of their loved ones and we have learned that the only really valid thing to say is “that sucks”; and some friends have confirmed that it is, indeed, the only valid thing to say. 

That sucks.

Death is something that we all have to get used to, have to prepare for and that always takes us by surprise.

Today’s surprise was a particular one, though.  Today I lost a contemporary.  Today I lost a friend from college, someone my age who shouldn’t have died but, because of those awful things called cars, he did.  It’s very sobering to have someone that you spent your adult growing years with suddenly not be there anymore.  And today was my first one.  My first friend from college to die.  I had no idea that it would affect me this way but when I heard about the car crash that ended Mark Tenniswood’s life, I sat at my computer and, quietly, wept.  I wept for my friend and I wept for his husband, Shannon, for whom I am simply crestfallen.  Just a year or so ago Mark had come through a heart attack and surgery, only to have a car crash end it for him and his beloved canine, leaving his husband behind, bereft.  The entire day I was foggy and in a haze, remembering the friendship we had had in college, the ways we were there for each other and how we helped each other to grow.  I thought of how happy I was to be reunited via Facebook and how much I loved visiting his page to look at his wedding pictures and to read news of his work in the theater.  I reflected on how much pride I had in him for continuing to pursue his work in theater, something I was never able to do.  I have been left with a vacant space in my body, my mind and my heart because I have, I realized, not had a very extensive knowledge of death in my life.  The losses I have suffered have been loved ones who were either old or ill and whose death did not come as an immediate shock to me, except for Lisa’s car crash and John John’s suicide.  There had been time to prepare.  And none of them had been my school mate.

Pat’s mother once told him that your high school friends are nice people to remember but that your university friends are the ones you keep the rest of your life.  Thanks to the social network, that can, now, be really true.

The best I can say, on this unhappy day, is that I will remember Mark Tenniswood.  I will always remember him, for many things; but I have to admit I have never forgotten this bit of knowledge that has been a part of me every day of my life since college.

In my youth, before the invention of vhs players, my way of capturing my favourite movies for my memory was to use a cassette recorder to tape them, either at the cinema or off the television.  I did it with many of my favourite movies from Ordinary People to Heaven Can Wait, from Hello Dolly to Funny Lady.  Once, in college, Mark and I were reciting dialogue from Hello Dolly (difficult to do in those days, since vhs had just been available to the public for a couple years and there was no Youtube or other resources from which to memorize dialogue).  I was astonished that Mark knew every word and inflection of the movie as we, laughingly, carried the movie quote game to new levels for both of us.  I asked him how he knew it so well. 

“I recorded it off the tv with my cassette recorder when I was a kid.”

I was never alone, from that moment forward.  There was someone else out there who thought the way I did.

Mark Tenniswood, I will remember you.  The highest compliment I can pay anyone.

I will remember you.

(The photo featured in this story is one I did in college for a display of the cast of The Caucasian Chalk Circle and it shows – left to right – Daniel Penz, Carolyn Freeman and Mark Tenniswood).

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Sheryl Lee Ralph, Jonathan Groff and A Life Lived in Service

This was a kitchen of someone who did not cook.  That much was obvious.  I was going to need some Pixie Dust.

Two days ago my day today looked like an easy day.  I would train Jennifer around noon or one and then go do the house party I was booked for.  As a day’s work goes, that was easy and enjoyable; I could handle that without much stress or (as the saying goes) sturm und drang.

Only things never happen that way.

Mark Irish sent me an email and left me a voicemail AND contacted my husband.  He needed a photographer to shoot an event, a benefit for Equality Pennsylvania in the afternoon of Friday.  They were awarding Shery Lee Ralph and Jonathan Groff.  I never heard of Equality PA before but if they were for equality I was for them; and if I could shoot pics of Ms Ralph and Mr Groff, I was, doubly, in.  They weren’t paying much money.  In fact, what they were paying was fraction of what I accept, just to pick up my camera; but I will do anything for Mark Irish.  I will also do anything for Jonathan and Miss Sheryl.  So I was on the hook for fifty bucks an hour for a good cause and for love.  The big question was:  how would I leave this event on the upper west side at 6:45 and get to my event on the lower west side, fifteen minutes later, on the MTA?  Disaster was in the air.

Then I got a text from my friend Faye, who was having a birthday and wanted me to see her; and since I have a hard and fast rule about this (If someone WANTS to spend time with you SAY YES), I said yes.  I moved some things around, got ready for my day, dressed in my catering blacks, charged my camera batteries, went to spend some birthday time with Faye and went on my merry way…..

The event for Equality PA was terribly easy.  It was in the gorgeous, elegant, simple and sumptuous home of John Bernedt, author of MIDNIGHT IN THE GARDEN OF GOOD AND EVIL, where I would trail guest through four stories, pestering them for pics, sometimes accommodating their desire for shots with the celebs.  It was the kind of work I am used to doing and which I have done time and time again.  I was delighted to support a wonderful organization and to have a chance to shoot these celebs who have meant so much to me.  Sheryl Lee Ralph was one of my great photo shoots for The Sweater Book and Jonathan Groff was in talks with me to be in one of my books that never materialized.  I have spoken to neither in many years, though they live in my heart filled with love, each moment of every day.  After a lot of time and many photos, as he was on his way out the door, I put my hand on Jonathan’s shoulder and said “I’m Stephen Mosher”.  He smiled and shook his head a little.

“I love that you waited until now to tell me.”

“Well, you were WORKING!! So was I!!”

I met Jonathan during Spring Awakening and we spoke of doing a photo shoot.  We exchanged some emails.  We spent a really memorable afternoon talking.  We ran into each other socially.  I felt like we might have been friends.  But he became the most famous man in the world and I stayed on 49th street.  I have, lo, these 22 years, maintained a strict policy: never make the celebrity feel uncomfortable, as though you are sucking up.  So I have maintained my distance, lest Jonathan feel as though I were sucking up to him for more than the fact that I liked him.  Naturally, after all this time, he would not recognize me; but at least he knew remembered me and treated me with friendship and respect, as I knew he would.  I told him, most sincerely: “I have had such a good time watching your success”.   I have wished it on him.  I love him as though we HAD become friends.

Near the end of the event, I turned to Sheryl Lee Ralph and told her “this is not our first time together.”  She asked, full of fun and frenzy, when??!!  I told her about our shoot for THE SWEATER BOOK and I told her that she is in my IPOD twice, singing songs from Thoroughly Modern Millier.  She smiled and asked me to tweet her.  The diva is a Lady and a Star and she knows how to treat a fan, a member of the public or a person she doesn’t even know she has met.  She has been, is and always will be my diva.

What a stroke of luck that I was asked to work this event.  Had I not, I would not have been given the chance to hear both speeches by the award recipients, both of them moving and sincerely meant, filled with humour and pathos.  Jonathan spoke of his life as a gay boy and then man, about being in the closet until he was twenty three and about the quest for equality.  Sheryl sang Endangered Species and recounted, for those too young to remember and those old enough to need no reminder, of the early days of the AIDS crisis.  Both stars shared with all of us their personal experiences and journeys and left us feeling as though we knew them, personally, a little better.

My work at one event done, I threw on my coat and flew, literally, to my next event.  I was doing  a house party for a lady I met at a house party on Thanksgiving.  She wanted to have friends for dinner and needed some hospitality to make it just right.  On Thanksgiving she asked for my number and, ta da, here I was, my photographer hat exchanged for my hospitality hat.  I was ready to serve.

The home in which I was working was a typical New York apartment.  Not a lot of room, so you make the most of what you’ve got and you keep going.  It was quaint, it was fun, it was magical and it was wonderful.  My client is a magazine editor who is probably in her late fifties, maybe early sixties, though I cannot hazard a guess.  She is WONDERFUL, sweet and kind and I love her.  I took to her the day I met her and this evening brought it home.  I am devoted to her.  She is a New York city career woman with eccentricities and habits and big wants and desires.  For today, she wanted, simply, to have her friends over for a casual, fun dinner party in an apartment with no dining table and no room.

And no cookware.

And no stemware.

And no flatware.

My new friend was overheard to say “oh, I NEVER cook!” and I can vouch for that.  Everything was from Citarella.  There was a veggie lasagna and three fruit pies.  There was a lovely salad that she herself made, there were six bottles of champagne, four bottles of red and five bottles of white  There were varying vodkas in the freezer, some vermouth and some whiskey.  There was a baquette.  There were a variety of dishes and glasses and napkins, none of them matching.  It was WONDERFUL and personal and casual and Personal.  There was an ENORMOUS aluminum container of lasagna.  Only.. when she opened it, it was a handful of one portion lasagnas.  It wasn’t enough for fourteen people!!!   She left me to man the house while she ran to the store to buy more. 

While she was gone I made everything perfect.  

Upon her return I focused on part one:  snacks.  There was bread and cheese, crudité and spinach dip, nuts.  There was a buffet table bedecked with an eclectic collection of mix N match plates and glasses (all of which were probably inherited from Mama and Grandmother).  There were two bottles of red wine, breathing and there were florals.  Next up: guest arrival.  Ta Da!  Guests to be buzzed in and de-frocked of their outer vestments. There they were, the interesting New Yorkers one reads about in books and sees in New York movies, the editors, the writers, the designers, the people from other countries who choose to make this their home, the people who understand the art of conversation, none of whom would feel a compulsion to look at their phones during this dinner.  Drinks for all.  No mixers on hand, I did what I could.  As the guests arrived, my client called the liquor store for tequila.  It would be there momentarily.  Four guests wanted to wait for the tequila.  The others would have white wine, vodka or Pelegrino.  While the guests were relaxing into their drinks. I looked for something to put the lasagna on in the oven to heat it up.  Nope.  Nothing.  I went through every cupboard and drawer.  There was one 5×7 pyrex dish, two huge stone dutch ovens and a Teflon skillet with no handle.  That would work!  I put the lasagna in these and into the oven.  I continued to answer the door and make drinks and hang coats and do all that I could so that my client could enjoy her party.  The most important thing is that the host enjoy their party.  In order for this to happen, each guest must feel that they have been, personally, attend.  Attention must be paid.  Especially to the host.  Only after her guests were served would she even think of taking a drink for herself.  When I asked this sweet, statuesque, bird like lady what she cared for, she asked “should I have the champagne or the tequila?”  When I asked what her preference was, she remarked “tequila won’t leave me hung over, will it?”  This is different with everyone.  I told her, indeed, that champagne always hurt me the next day, between the sugar and the carbonation; she nodded her head in agreement and asked for Tequila, neat.  Most of her guests, all over forty, if they were drinking Tequila, they wanted it neat – maybe one ice cube, maybe a squeeze of lime.  This made them all happy and in a holiday mood.

So, now every guest had a drink and all the lasagna was being heated.  Truthfully, I felt like I was on SURVIVOR, trying to make what I could out of what I had.  And I won.  There was one spatula, one serrated knife, no oven mitts.  Nevertheless, dinner would be on time.  Then the hostess told me that, instead of a buffet, we should plate the dinner in the kitchen (by the way, smaller than any room in any of your homes – it is the kitchen on your sailboat) and serve it, individ.  Thank heaven for all the chefs with whom I worked at My Cooking Party.  It may have been a miserable four years but it had great rewards: thanks to my time in that place and those chefs with whom I worked, so closely, I learned how to chef, how to plate and how to move about the stove and oven without burning all of my skin off.  Before you knew it, I had plated and served fourteen plates of salad N veggie and beef lasagna! 

Every guest was smiling.  Every guest was at home.

I did it.

I took a kitchen with absolutely no supplies and served a stunning dinner and drinks to fourteen people and helped my client to have the best night possible.  I won.  And, in the process, so did all of they.

There are days when I feel badly about my life.  I spent $70,000.00 of my own money creating a book that so few people bought that it became no more than a blip in the worlds of literature and art.  I conceived an idea for a film and caused my husband and our two best friends to undertake a project that, while it has a cult following, came up so short of fulfilling our desires as to leave all four of us a little broken hearted and afraid of our next artistic venture, lest it suffer the same fate.  I had ideas that yielded little to no return.  I walked the halls of Hollywood movie studios and captured the visages of legendary talents.  I put all that I had into my dreams only to see them fail, leaving me broke, broken and broken hearted.  And now I am a fifty two year old cater waiter, photographer, personal trainer, writer, doing whatever they pay me to so that I can stay for one day more, in my home of 22 years.  So, most days of the week I feel like a failure. 

Here’s the thing though:  there’s nothing more complicated than perception.  What feels like failure in this moment need not feel like anything more than another bloom in the vase.

People look at my online resume and profile and think I am a success.  I do not.  So, when I do not, I simply change my mind.  Yes.  I didn’t go all the places I wanted to go with my career.  Look, though, where I DID go.  Yes.  I am a cheap photographer for hire.  Today, though, someone hired this would-be, has-been, never-was to photograph a legendary diva and an exciting and brilliant talent in todays’ show business world.  And, each of them, upon speaking to me, chose a degree of friendship and dignity with which to treat me.  I served an organization that is working to change the way things are in the world. I helped someone wonderful, a person I truly like, to have a perfect party experience, leaving she and her guests feeling happy.  I did  that.  I threw my first party when I was 13.  I’ve been throwing parties ever since.  When I work in hospitality, I know what to do because I throw parties, myself.  I know what would make it possible for me to relax and enjoy my own parties; and that is what I give my clients.  When I left that house tonight, guests asked for my card and my client said to me “You’re a GENIUS.”

I once heard it said that there is no greater purpose in life than a life lived in service.  Whatever I have done in my life, I have been in service.  When I am a cater waiter, I am there to make sure that the client, the host, the guests get the best service possible (interestingly, some of the caterers and staffing agencies for whom I work don’t send me out that often, in spite of how good I am  — I think it is because of my age; they like them young).  They don’t know what they’re missing.  When I am behind the camera, I am there to serve the model, the client.  It is essential to put all of the focus, every iota of attention on their needs and their desires, to make them feel at home so that their shoot yields photos that reflect them in their truest form.  When I am training someone, I am at their service, there to tailor their session for their physical needs and their emotional fortitude, not an easy thing to do when people would rather, really, not be exercising.  Even in my life…. I am at the service of my husband and my family.  They call, I come.  It is a rule by which I live, something that they all know.  This is what I do.  I am here to serve; and nobody does it better.

No.  I didn’t get my dream of being the next Herb Ritts.  I didn’t get the money.  I didn’t even get the credit.  I got something else.

I got the struggle.  I got to find out who I am, how hard I can fight and what I am made of.  It’s not an easy life and sometimes I feel quite tired.  Then I remember: it doesn’t happen for everyone.  This may be all that each of us gets.  Sometimes we just don’t have enough talent, enough luck, enough stamina, enough .. whatever it takes to really succeed at our chosen craft.  And I guess that’s me.  In fact, it is most of us.  Not every person gets a brass ring or crosses a finish line.  Most of us are just Ol’ Man River.  Deep breath.  So what.

You know what I do have, though?  My family.  My husband of 30 years,  A seventy thousand dollar scrapbook.  Clients who call me a genius.  I have my health, my growth and my wisdom.  I have a different kind of happiness.

And I have the chance to snap a pic of Sheryl Lee Ralph singing acapella with an award in her hand, the chance to have a genuinely gratified person call you a genius because YOU made their party perfect.. you did.  Four years at My Cooking Party, my bosses never once said anything like that to me.  It is in the quieter moments, you get the chance to go home and hit the pillow with the knowledge that you did SOMETHING today.  You made a difference.  You won’t get the money or the recognition but, sometimes.. in the cool grey of the dawn, those people will remember what you did for them.  And they will be happy.  It is said that people won’t remember what you said to them but they will always remember how you made them feel.  When you have satisfied, truly, their needs through the service that you have provided, they will feel happy.

And that has to be enough.

It’s enough.

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An AmbitionLess Life

There was a time when I blogged quite a lot.  Even before the internet was what it has become; before the word blog existed, before Facebook and Twitter gave us all a chance to share the inspirations and mundanities of our lives with strangers whose active presence we had never enjoyed, I was writing down the stories of my life and emailing them to my friends, like some private newsletter through which I could share the details of my life, the adventures I experienced, the travails over which I had triumphed, the lessons I had learned.  Then came the world of social media, photo sharing and blogging and I had an open platform – one which I would discover very few people were reading.

So I stopped.

I believed that I was learning life lessons from which others could benefit.  Perhaps I was right; maybe not – that is not for me to say.  That decision is to be made, only, by each person who opts to read something that I write and, possibly, take away something from the words. 

Tonight I had a thought that I cannot call a life lesson because it is something that I already knew, only forgotten I knew, and that thought needed to be shared – I knew that, absolutely.  And so I find myself, once more, at a keyboard, opting to share, rather than hide, the personal details of my life and thoughts in my head.

 

I watch a lot of television.  Sometimes it is tv programming and, others, films on dvd or Netflix.  When I was younger, I read a great deal; and though I still read, it is less often than the frequency with which I watch television.  TV just takes less time and time is a valuable commodity in my life, these days.  Right now my life is all about work.  I have a family to support and it consumes me.  For that reason, I am very stingy with my time.  Most often, when I watching television, I do so while in some act of exertion.  If I can achieve three simultaneous accomplishments, I can congratulate myself, truly, on a satisfactory hour.  I realized today, while watching something on television, that there is an aspect of the entertainment industry that has become a danger to me.  Nearly everything that I see when watching some filmmaker’s work, when reading some scribe’s words, is a story of someone pursuing a dream.  Perhaps the character(s) in the story see their dreams through to fruition and maybe not but the truth is that we watch and read the stories of people who are actively working toward a goal, a dream that is close to their hearts.

This is a danger for me to witness on a daily basis because I no longer have dreams,  a fact that can cause some pain.

When I was a child, growing up in a family of people who had worked in show business at some point (my grandparents worked in the Hollywood Studio System and my parents were in the Circus), I heard myself announce to my Grandmother that I wanted to be a movie star.  As I grew, I found myself interested in music, dance, fashion and acting, none of which I was ever able to achieve any success at because I lacked the discipline of study.  I wanted it but did not work at it and all of the dreams became ether until I lighted on the art of photography.  I worked hard, studied, practiced and went from unskilled photographer to expert.  I had a dream to make a book that would feature the faces of celebrities and that would help others (my other dream).  When that book came out, so few people bought it that I was able to buy 200 copies at $2.50 because the publisher needed, desperately, to unload them and make some money back.  This failure in publishing came on the heels of years of potential clients passing me over in favour of other photographers, leading to the decision, finally, to put my cameras away.  I had a two year hiatus from photography, during which time the world went digital.  When I was ready to go back to work, I discovered the world of my craft had passed me by.  The dream that I had had was no more.  Nevertheless, I worked when I could – on film – to make money and, eventually, learned digital photography, only to find that the one thing that didn’t change, that would never change, is loyalty – or, rather, lack of it.  My closest friends were hiring other photographers to do their photos – only now I had the pleasure of seeing their photos, the ones they didn’t hire me to make, posted on that wonderful invention called the social network.  Again, I was finding, I was not good enough.  At least, that was the perception that I was being given by this sad state of affairs that was my dream.

I found a new dream.

After a casual conversation at a party that included a suggestion from a friend, my husband and I embarked on an activity that was both art and activism: we would be a part of a documentary film promoting marriage equality.  It took a year to make and that year would turn out to be the happiest year of our lives.  We were in love and spending our time in the pursuit of love and the pursuit of equality; in the process, we were in the pursuit of the creation of art.  The film, titled Married..And Counting, did alright.  It did not do well.  It played some nice film festivals and it played for a week in New York and a week in Los Angeles.  I would learn that, while people did go see it, the numbers were not what we would have liked.  Our distributor was unable to land the film on any network or even on Netflix, while other films on similar topics were enormously successful in the theaters, at the festivals and on television.  We and our other two producers on the film have never been anything but proud and delirious over this creation; but Pat and I have felt cripplingly saddened by the lack of response – after all, it is our faces on the screen and nobody else’s.  I even have a close friend who has said to me, this year, “I’ve never seen your movie” even after I had, expressly, given her a dvd to watch.

During this time, I have had to support our family; so I went to work in the world of catering.  I became the best caterer waiter I could, possibly, become.  I rose to a high point in the field, helping to plan and execute parties, leading a team of stellar servers through parties that guests praised.  I was extremely happy until the owners of the company for which I worked made me so unhappy with their micro-managing, lies and thievery that it drove me to drink after a lifetime of alcoholism and a decade of sobriety.  After two years of drinking, I left their employ and started over, again, this time at other catering companies, this time as a waiter, this time with a smaller hourly wage. 

And this time with a new dream.

While still working for the evil company, I went back to school and became an ACE certified personal trainer; and a good one.  When I left the heinous company, I began applying for training jobs and seeking out opportunities that would never come.  Finally, after a year, I was able to take on a couple of private clients until I had seven private clients.  With them and the catering and the occasional photo shoot, I was on my way back to feeling like I was on the right path.

Our dreams are never where we think they will be. 

One by one, my training clients dwindled.  People run out of money.  People move away.  People take jobs on the road.  The reason is always legitimate; but it doesn’t stop you feeling like someone has walked out on you, a feeling nobody wants to experience; and it is impossible to feel it without feeling you have failed them and yourself.  These feelings of inadequacy are magnified each time I log on to Facebook and see that close friends have had new photos done by other photographers after I had already done their photos free, at their request, because they are too broke to pay for them.  So what happens then?  One day you’re standing in a room full of wealthy people, a fifty one year old waiter, asking yourself “what is my purpose in this life?” and “wasn’t there something more that I was supposed to do?”  or “Is this all I get?”  

So I had a drink. 

I had quit drinking.  I am an alcoholic, full fledged, card carrying, in the club.  I must never, ever, drink. The safety of  everyone in my life is at risk when I drink.  Saddened by the (perceived) failures of my life and loss of any kind of dream, I decided to get off the wagon, again.  I didn’t fall off, I did a swan dive.  I had enough drinks to wake up at five am, unaware of how I got home or what happened once I did.  I had crossed that last finish line: I was, finally, at long last,  a black out drunk who had lost an entire night of my life because of alcohol.  I WAS the Lost Weekend.

In the days that followed, my husband and I talked, at length, about what it would take for me to get clean, get happy and get healthy.  What would it take for me to live in the light?  We began taking those steps, together,  and today we are standing with the sun on our faces, with clear minds and a path that, while not entirely visible, is before us and in our eyesight.  We stand, hand in hand, ready for what comes next; for, together, there is nothing we cannot do.

Tonight I was watching television, once again, after a long weekend filled with work and activity.  Tonight I was not working: I was just watching.  Every character in the story I followed onscreen wanted something.  Everybody had a goal, a dream, a wish.  This story, their story, was the story of people in active pursuit of their dreams; and though I was not working while watching, my mind was working… while I was watching.  Would I begin to cry, as I have done in the past, watching fictional characters’ dreams come true while mine hadn’t?  Would I grow angry and bitter, the way I have in the past, the next time I logged onto the social media, seeing my friends and families’ (perceived) successes and exceptional lives?  How long would the emotional fallout from being a failure last this time?  That is what I wanted to know.

There would come a moment in which I had my answer.  It was only a moment and I knew, in that place where you know things, that it was my answer.

I have my dream.

It is true that I dream no longer – I dream no longer for myself.  I want no dream for myself, I want no ambition: for I have what I have always wanted.  I need no dreams, nor any ambition, for I have been dreaming of the wrong things. 

Family is my dream.  And, that, I have. 

I am good friends with my parents, something not everyone can claim.  I have best friends who see me clearly enough to know when I am worried, upset or sad; I have a best friend who recently cried and who held me and who said “I wish you could be happy”.   I have a best friend who hugs me each time I have him check my breath to see that I have not been drinking.  I have a best friend with whom I have a pact to never leave one another.  I have children, godchildren, nieces, nephews, grandnephews and grandnieces who like to play with me.  I have friends who come to New York with two goals: to be in New York and to be in Two-A.  I have a husband who holds me when I am asleep, making me feel safe, who holds my hand when I am awake, making me feel safe.  When a person has that, what more do they need? 

Do I miss the excitement of working with the celebrities I photographed?  Yes.  Do I miss the excitement of going to class, learning new things with the prospect of making a better life for myself and my family?  You bet.  Do I miss feeling like I am somebody?  Certainly.  In fact, I don’t need it, though.  I can live with being the best cater waiter I can be, as long as it supports my family and makes it possible for me to be there for them when they need me.  They are my dream.  Their happiness is my dream.  It is what my mother taught me, by example: do anything, sacrifice anything for your family.  And it is a good dream, one worth working for, one worth showing up for, one worth being sober for.  I need no other dream, nor validation, for the rest of my life, because I have already achieved that for which I have dreamed and been taught to fight: my family.  That and they are the thought that came to me, tonight, as I sat, once again, watching, watching, watching.

Without our family, we have nothing.

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EDGE Magazine PRIDE ISSUE: RX For Pride Panic

Here is the story I have running in the current issue of EDGE Magazine.  My assignment: How to get ready for Pride at the last minute in ten steps.  

EDGE Pride 2015

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Like Christmas, Gay Pride is here again – the most wonderful time of the year. Except you’re not ready, are you? You’ve been binge eating chocolate sea salted caramel ice cream and binge watching House of Cards, when you should’ve been at the farm stand and the gym. Now you only have a month to get ready for that big weekend, the parade and all the parties, not to mention all the new outfits you want to wear and haven’t bought yet. You’re in panic mode and don’t know where to start. Step out of the panic room. Let’s do this scientifically and get you ready; you still have time. Here are ten things you can do to get yourself prepared for your own, personal, Pride celebration.

  1. Start a year ago. It’s a danger to set yourself up with finish lines which, once crossed, drop you back into old habits. Your body and your psyche suffer when you go on extreme diets and workouts for your birthday, then New Year’s Eve, then Pride, then Halloween because, after each finish line is crossed, people tend to recover or reward by binge eating and letting themselves go. Then, a month before the next event, they go back to the extreme again. Why not just change the way you live, eat healthily and form a regimented workout that lasts? That way, you won’t be in the panic you are in right now.
  2. Cut it Out.   Kill what you love quickly. Go cold turkey and give up dairy, sugar, wheat, simple carbs – all the things that you already know you shouldn’t be eating.   We all know; we just don’t heed the advice that’s been given. We cheat a little bit every day, justifying it with the “it’s only” syndrome. It’s only a bag of popcorn at the movie, it’s only one donut at the office, it’s only one pint of ice cream at midnight. If you want to show off on the Gay Pride float, you have to make a sacrifice. So sacrifice. Every action movie star, competition body builder, American Ninja Warrior and ballet dancer suffers for their art with a dietary deprivation – you can do it to.   Even the alcohol, which has more calories than anything you’re going to eat all day.
  3. Sweat it Out.   Do cardio every day. No days off, from now ‘til Pride. If you lift weight five days a week, do cardio seven days a week.   You don’t have to do anything hardcore that will cause you to burn off the muscle you’re lifting. Most bodybuilders keep fat down and muscle up by walking on a treadmill at an incline of 3 – 3.5 and a speed of 15. If you want to burn a lot of fat calories, change your cardio, day by day. Jump rope one day, yoga the next, kickboxing the following, bootcamp after that, swimming the following day etc. Shock your body into burning more fat calories with these changes and, also, by putting in a full hour, each time. You’ll see the difference. I promise.
  4. Clean it Up.   Since you’ve already removed the offending items from your food pyramid, clean up the ones that you have left. Steam your vegetables instead of sautéing them, switch from salt to Mrs. Dash, go for a less oily fish like salmon to something lighter like tuna or tilapia, eat only white meat from your poultry, switch from whole eggs to eggwhites, drink only water (there is so much sugar in juice and soda is the devil), eat raw nuts instead of roasted, stick to oranges and green apples for sugar instead of starchy or nectar fruits. Actually pay attention to your caloric intake. Clock it by using a food scale and an app. My Fitness Pal is a great way to keep track.
  5. Change the Game.   Make dramatic changes to your workout.   Shock your body into performing better and growing more. If you are accustomed to doing four sets of 20 reps, switch to 3 sets of 15 with more weight than you usually do, for a week. The next week, take those heavier weights and go back to four sets but with 25 reps. Try an exercise you haven’t done before, like lifting weight on a BOSU ball or a balance board. Take a TRX class, a weightless training class or a kettlebell class. Change your training time from nighttime to first thing in the morning, to get your metabolism going all day long. Get off that plateau you’ve been on and your body will respond like you threw ice water on it.
  6. Hit the Bricks.   Get outside and get some sun on your skin. I am not a big advocate of tanning (especially indoor tanning) but it is a medically supported fact that we all need some vitamin D in our skin. Doctors have been known to prescribe sun tanning to people with a D deficiency. If you just spend a little time walking in a park or along the river, roller blading, playing sports, you will get a little color in your skin, making you look healthy, get some vitamin D, making you BE healthy, add a base coat so all your Gay Pride outdoor activities don’t leave you sunburnt and the muscles you are working so hard for actually will show better through your tawny glow. Use sunscreen, though, on these initial ventures out into the sun. If you live in a place that actually has a winter, chances are your skin hasn’t seen   much light these last few months – moderation is key. By the way, your lungs will appreciate the fresh air they’ll get during this step.
  7. Go to Bed Hungry.   They say you should eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper. Start your day with meals that will fuel you for hours, dial back your portions and the types of food you eat, as the day passes. Have the meats and the carbs (complex!) first and finish the day with the plant matter. Stop eating your carbs by two pm. Have a big salad (no meat, no dairy, no dressing –maybe oil and vinegar) for dinner and no snacks before bed. Sleep on an empty stomach. You will notice a difference within two weeks.
  8. Read a Book.   Take some time out with a book or some Google-ing to remind yourself what exactly Gay Pride is. Read about the trailblazers who came before, who paved the way, who fought the fight. Know what it is we are celebrating and what it is that gives us Pride. Have the ability to converse with others about gay history, to inform those who don’t know, those who are younger, those who didn’t read Tales of the City, watch Paris is Burning, attend the Keith Haring exhibit, have a drink at the Stonewall Inn or buy a Harvey Milk postage stamp.   Spend part of Gay Pride weekend actually being proud ; and then get your shirt off and your party on.
  9. Give yourself a Break. When you are at the parade, the parties, the events, the orgies and every other thing you do during Gay Pride week or weekend, don’t compare yourself to the other people you see there. All gay men are beautiful. Don’t hate on the other guys because they don’t look like you; and don’t hate on yourself because you don’t look like them. All gay men are beautiful. Repeat this to yourself often.
  10. Start Training Now. Gay Pride 2016 is 12 months away. When you roll in on Monday morning, spent from the partying and all that goes with it, all that makes it happen, don’t recuperate with ice cream, with waffles, with pizza and beer, with a week of resting, with a week away from the gym.   Get back up the next day and keep moving in the exact same direction. You aren’t just training for Pride, for Halloween, for New Year’s, for Valentine’s Day, for Black Party, for Pride again. You are training for life.

That’s something you can be proud of yourself for, every day.

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June 3, 2015 3:14 pm
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The Gay In The Light

“THAT’S what a FAGGOT looks like!”  So declared a boy in my seventh grade class at St Columban’s, a private school I attended in Portugal.  It was the school I was at when I had my first suicide attempt.  It was not, though, the first time I encountered that kind of name calling.  Years earlier, in Ohio, I was in grade school and was, frequently, called JAP, CHINK, SLOPE.  I am Spanish Filipino on my Mother’s side of the family and homosexual, through and through.  I have been, in my life, diminished in as many ways as a person could count on ten fingers.  My diminishment traveled with me throughout my childhood, my teenage years, my college years, my adulthood.  I have been called disparaging things all of my life and I am stronger today than I have ever been before.  That is my gift from a cruel world that tried to break me: I know that I am unbreakable.  Nevertheless, I can still feel the sting of tears that a verbally and physically beaten gay Filipino boy feels upon being taunted and attacked by people he must see every day.

 

This morning, a friend of mine asked me WHY the prissy boys insist on being so faggoty?  It was a genuine question based on the number of twinks that can be found on Youtube, lip syncing and dancing in their best high drag runway; these same boyz can be seen prancing around New York City in the spring and summer, their haute couture threatened by sweat stains and their pocketbooks in the crook of their Pan Am stewardess poised arms.  Why, my friend asked, do they mince and lisp and snap and talk like every other drag queen on RuPaul’s Drag Race?  Who, my friend wanted to know (most sincerely), told them that that was an attractive way to behave?

 

“Quentin Crisp” I replied. 

 

Mr Crisp insisted on being absolutely who he was.  After he, came the drag queens of Paris is Burning, showcasing their ferocity and individuality.  Now we have RuPaul, telling people that they cannot love somebody else without, first, loving themselves, all the while, showing the world the fierce divas of drag who compete for the crown.  Somewhere in between the two inexorable bookends that are Mr Crisp and RuPaul, straight allies like Madonna and Lady Gaga tell us to express ourselves because we are born this way.

 

When I was a child, I hid who I was.  I did this in my teens and into my twenties.  We were still hiding in the shadows.  I would go into gay bookstores in Dallas, terrified that someone I knew would see me there, until I realized the irony of my thought process.  We may not have been in the closet but we had been; and, in a way, we still were.  The gay men of the world fought the ravages and stigma of the AIDS crisis.  The phrase “straight acting” was a regular one used in personal ads and daily conversation.  Judgment was passed at every turn.  As time passed, we were allowed to hold hands but often with the fear of being seen.  We were allowed to be couples but only in our circle of friends.  Our walk into the light was more like a climb out of the abyss.  We pushed and fought, scratched and clawed our way into the light and now we are here, able to be exactly who we are and do exactly as we please.  Thanks to the sacrifices of men like Quentin Crisp, Harvey Milk and all of the other homosexuals of bygone times, there is a new generation of gay in town: the Gay in the Light.  While the men of decades passed were unable to, fully, express who they were, the men of today are.  Their self expression may be as a gay man who likes sports or a gay man who likes opera.  Their self expression may be as a man in high heels or a man with an enormous beard.  Gay men are redefining themselves, the rules and the world.  This is our moment and we are going to live in it until it is so widespread that a man pummeling a runway in his mind that is only 8th avenue in real life is something that passersby don’t even turn a head for; and it’s wonderful.

 

I understand my friend’s question and authentic inquiry.  When I was younger, I was a bit prejudiced regarding my brothers and sisters.  I am not the most masculine of men but neither am I a gay with a bright flame.  I am just a gay guy; I can queen out and I can GI Joe it — it depends entirely on which personality wakes up with me that day.  In the 80s I was scared of drag queens, repelled by leather daddies and confused by trannies.  As I grew, as a man, as a gay man, as a person, I broadened my thinking, my vision and the scope of my heart.  I spent some time getting to know the different people who make up our not so little community.  I came to love and respect them, to admire and learn from them, these different types of people with so much to teach me.  I watched words like queer become de rigeur and words like tranny become de trop.  People in our community and outside of it stand for what is right, oftentimes, together.  We became a family.  Butch lesbians were called dykes less and the world learned the term lipstick lesbian.  The LGB community became LGBT.  We became a family, all fighting for equal rights and those rights began to come and among those rights was the right to be exactly who you are.  All of my prejudices from my twenties fell away and what was left was a man, leading from a place of love, an activist, fighting for equality and trying to spread a positive way of looking at all the flowers in our garden.

 

A famous actor hurt some of those flowers this week.  He made some comments about his experience growing up gay and the members of our community who err of the more effeminate side were up in arms.  The social media was all aflutter and he was losing fans at every turn.  I thought his comments were ill phrased and poorly executed but I could not bring myself to condemn him, having, in my youth, felt a relief at being just the way I am.  However, I grew older, wiser and made the excellent choice of never expressing my opinion allowed, until they had changed to loving opinions.  I’m not a famous person and my opinions, once expressed, will hurt nobody.  I wouldn’t mind being famous because, when you are famous, you have an opportunity to affect change in the world and to lead by example.  I don’t understand the trend that the famous have for opening their mouths without thinking.  Not everyone does it.  Some people are quite good at saying just the right thing and never hurting anyone.  Others are simply awful at it and they give the other members of their profession a bad name.  I seem to remember a famous singer offending the transgender community with the word tranny.  Only last week a famous television personality offended the African American community by making a comment about a famous black actress’ hair that was perceived as racist.  A once famous actress went on Fox news to criticize an Oscar winner’s speech that included a plea for pay equality.  Almost every day some famous person is issuing a public apology for having said something that offended a group of people.  I don’t suppose that is surprising, since politicians, commentators, pundits and columnists say the most eye popping and appalling things about people, the world and politics and NEVER apologize for it.  They set the tone and lead the way but the maddening thing is that these are paid public speakers.  Artists have the luxury of governing their tongue, if they so choose.  I don’t know why more of them don’t do it.  There are certainly plenty of artists who are eloquent, educated and in a position where their passion and activism can benefit from their orations but for every one of those informed, well spoken performers, there are at least ten ill-informed, voluble celebrities who spout insipid and nonsensical garbage that cannot be retracted after someone has been hurt.  Apologies are issued to mollify someone’s offense but the more humane focus should be on NOT hurting peoples’ FEELINGS, rather than assuaging their anger.  I noted that the actor in question posted a series of backpedalling comments to his Twitter page and it simply would have been easier to stop and think, before speaking, “Is what I am about to say going to HURT anyone?”  Nobody wants to be diminished.  Nobody wants to feel unwanted or unloved.  The effeminate men of the world want to express themselves as much as the next colourful member of our community – and without feeling disparaged, judged or diminished.  As I said before, I don’t hold the actor in question any blame – after all he was expressing himself, too, and I guess he should be allowed to do so.  Nevertheless, he made an unkind remark that hurt people and cost him fans.  If he had had someone writing his dialogue for him it might have gone so much better (after all, some very unintelligent politicians have slipped under the stupid radar by having others write their comments for them, while some others have been given carte blanche to entertain and terrify us all by speaking extemporaneously).  Sadly, he, like so many others, had nobody there to help him weigh the aftermath of his comments and he, like so many others, is suffering for it today, along with the people he hurt and the fans who, once, loved him.

 

If I were famous and giving an interview, I would want to tell my effeminate brothers that I wish I had a fraction of their style, panache and flair; just as I would say to my more masculine brothers, I wish they would teach me their workout tips.  I would want to tell my transgender siblings that they are not alone and my lesbian sisters that they are beautiful, exactly as they are, butch or femme.  I am not, though, famous, so I will leave it to the people with an actual platform to lead by example, show an expression of love and acceptance and maybe follow the lead of this middle aged, middle of the road, uncelebrated gay guy by, first, thinking before they speak and, instead, offering an outstretched hand of peace.

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Christmas Day 2014

Remember when you were a kid and you just had to have a new bike for Christmas?  Or how about when you were older and you hoped mom and dad would buy you that seniour ski trip?  In one of the film versions of A Christmas Carol we see Fred, Scrooge’s nephew give his wife one beautiful piece of jewelry as a christmas gift.  In a christmas movie that starred Lee Remick and angela lansbury, we see a long lost love give an aging Pollly holiday a rose and 10 minutes of his time on christmas eve.   And in my favorite christmas movie, the film version of the Truman Capote classic A Christmas Memory, we see a child and a simple woman become excited over the creating of and giving of homemade kites.

 

The gifts that we give and receive are a major part of the Christmas holiday. It is a tradition with which we are raised, since birth. For some, the excitement lies in the giving of the perfect gift and for others in the getting of the perfect present.  There is, though, an extreme focus on the gifts at this time of year. I won’t lie: I, too, focus on the gifts — for me, the focus is on the giving.  It gives me a thrill to put a ribbon on a package that will make someone feel that they have been seen.  It makes me feel useful to do something that says “attention had been paid”.   For me that means something homemade, something from my own home, perhaps an act of kindnes .

I have said, publicly, that I don’t really know what Christmas is.  I am not a christian so the Jesus thing is rather lost on me; and I have no small children so the Santa thing doesn’t quite resonate with me.  I love people, though, and I am addicted to kindness.  I try to find the time to bake brownies for the ladies at the bank and the Rite Aid, who I see all year.  I try to find a way to show the people that I know that they are appreciated, that they are loved, that they are seen.  These last years, wondering what Christmas is, what Christmas is ABOUT, I have had many opportunities to reflect on the birth of Christ, the creation of Santa Claus, the fable of Scrooge and the phrase “peace on earth, good will to all men”.  In the film THE BISHOP’S WIFE, David Niven preaches “…let us each put in his share.  Loving kindness, warm hearts and the stretched out hand of tolerance. All the shining gifts that make peace on earth.”

Many minutes have passed during which I have wandered the streets of Manhattan at night in the wee small hours of Christmas morning, asking the God with whom I share a relationship, what can I do to, properly, observe Christmas?  How can I keep Christmas in my heart all year long if I don’t even know what Christmas is?

On this Christmas Day, as I walk the maze of memories, I see the answers to my question.  The answers are in the faces that I see; the faces of loved ones, knowing they have been seen – the faces of strangers upon whom this stranger bestowed a moment of kindness.  The answers are in the lessons I have been taught by struggle, adversity, heartbreak and hard work. The answers are in the messages heard while in the act of prayer.  The answers are in the observation of acts of kindness granted me by others.  The answers are in the simple looking upon of the faces that make me happy.

On this Christmas Day I remember, in some way, each person and each moment that has lead to this moment and this person that I am.  This is just another day for me; it is just another day because, like every day I awaken, I am focused on the people I love, the God I walk beside, the lessons learned and taught and the hope that encompasses all of that.

My greatest hope is that those I love know the depth of my love.  Today and every day.  And, for me, that makes every day Christmas Day.

 

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Confessions of a Broadway Stay – Put

I have just read a “Cultural Commentary” by an author called Joanne Kaufman that was published in The Wall Street Journal online.  I use the word author with trepidation because what I read is not worthy (in my extremely humble opinion) of publication.  I searched for information on Ms Kaufman and all I could find was old articles she had written.  I could find no Wikepedia page or bio on her.  I don’t know if she has written any books or what credentials she has for being paid to write for a publication as well respected as The Wall Street Journal; but I would not call her a professional, in any sense of the word.  The reason?  Her column is called cultural commentary and the story I read was one in which she, proudly, declares herself to be one of those people who leaves theaters during the intermission.  She seems quite defiant and happy in her habitual intermission flight, stating that “Because of my profession, I get free tickets…”.  I don’t think that it is professional to write about something that you have not, fully, experienced.  I also don’t think it is cultural to leave a show at the intermission; but, then, Ms Kaufman proves that she is not interested in culture by stating her distaste for Shakespeare and plays that are not a 90 minute one act.  She says her tastes are cosmopolitan; but her behaviour is not.  She is the worst kind of audience member and the worst kind of journalist – the kind who goes to the theater looking for something to hate, to criticize, to spur her not very humourous jokes.  This behaviour (and the pride she takes in it) is nothing more than self centered tackiness, masquerading as intelligent wit.

 

I believe that, if you are a professional whose job is to cover the theater scene, you should feel a sense of obligation to sit in the seat until the play is finished, applaud the professionals on the stage, go home and THEN, if you want to write a bitchy story about it, go ahead.  It’s like the people who skip election day: if you don’t vote, don’t complain.  If you can’t be bothered to respect the creators of that which you are there to observe in print, you have no right to the position you hold.

 

Yes.  I have left shows during the intermission – as a member of the public, not as a writer sent to cover the show.  Usually if I am ill. Rarely, other than that.  Once, I attended a production of Hedda Gabler (not the one with Kate Burton, which I adored).  It was dreadful.  The friend who took me was on the Tony nominating committee and, upon the start of the intermission, she turned to me and said “Do you want to leave?”  I replied “I will do whatever you would like.”  She told me “I’m a Tony nominator, I will stay to the end of the play.”  We were in agony but when it was over, we went home with our integrity intact.

 

I don’t understand Ms Kaufman’s delight, her glee, in taking up seats at costly theatrical productions (which many would like but cannot afford), only to flee, giddily, from the theater, disrespecting (also) the people who provided her with the seats, as a professional courtesy.  She, then, follows up her disrespect by publishing not very well written, mean spirited stories about this appalling behaviour, using the names of the productions she has reviled (but not seen in their entirety), all the while defending her petty, juvenile actions in the name of her profession.  WAIT.  I used the word juvenile.  That is unfair to the two children I know who are both under the age of ten but who sat through MATILDA, enrapt, for 2 hours and 45 minutes, a task the judgmental and disdainful Ms Kaufman was unable to accomplish.  I think this behaviour is less than professional: it is shameful. 

 

I wish the editors, the publishers, the powers that be at The Wall Street Journal, could look at this story in the light that many people online are seeing and decide that this so called author’s talents would be better served as a writer of greeting card sentiments (if the woman has sentiments which, to this point, I have noted no evidence of) and fire her smug and smarmy ass, replacing her with a writer who knows their job, their role, their place, has some talent, some respect, some manners, some dignity and maybe even a little human kindness.

 

I, for one, would be happy to fill out an application.

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Gee, Thanks

I have spent this month reading daily postings about what people are feeling, regarding Thanksgiving and gratitude.  It has been an enjoyable journey into the lives, the hearts, the minds of the people I know, both online and off.  Gratitude is such a funny thing because we all seem to take it, so, for granted.  I know that I try to express my gratitude on a daily basis; it can get difficult, obviously.  There are days when it just doesn’t seem possible, even fathomable, to feel grateful.  However, recently, a friend told me that her own friend pulled her out of the doldrums with this comparison:

 

“You know how it feels when you do something nice for someone and they don’t say thank you?  That’s how the universe feels when you choose to focus on what you don’t have, rather than the blessings you do.”

 

I have spent much of my life being unhappy and bitter, for whatever reasons.  We all have them.  Usually they are petty.  As a child I hated my Asian heritage because I was discriminated against in school.  Kids called me names.  Gook.  Jap.  Slope.  Chink.  They didn’t care that each of those words applied to a different Asian country and that I, as a Filipino, was a Flip.  All they knew was that I was different and bigotry knows no grammar.  As a college student I hated being one of the lesser talented actors at the NorthTexasState drama department (and, before it, TarrantCountyJunior College).  Someone else was always getting the roles that I wanted.  As a New York City photographer I hated being less successful than the others.  I was the photographer nobody would hire, no publisher would publish.  As an adult gay male, I hated being overweight and under tall – I was invisible to the rest of the gay community (yes, the Asian thing also had something to do with that).  I spent my life with bitterness and regret.  I spent my life, until I grew up and recognized the futility of that.  I spent my life, until I realized what there is for which to feel gratitude.

 

I have parents who love me, indeed, maybe even like me.  We haven’t always seen eye to eye, sometimes we have infuriated each other, at times we have fought.  We love each other, though, and are pleased to be associated.  Not everyone gets this; indeed, I know those who cannot bear their parents.  What a tragedy.

 

I have the chance to live in my favourite city in the world.  There is no drawback to it, either.  Maybe the MTA.  No, no really.  I don’t mean it.  Maybe I do.  Well, I do mean it when I say: the winters.  It is, though, a testament to my love of New York that I will stay here, in spite of the cold.

 

I have my health.  Not always the case… I’ve had broken bones and illness.  Everyone has broken bones and illness.  See your doctors, do what they advise, focus on your health and healing, rather than the whining.  Health is the most important thing.

 

I have my body.  Without it I cannot do my daily work, whether it be health and fitness related, art related, housework related, hospitality related.  Without it I cannot fight for my rights, my country, my family.  Without it I cannot dance.

 

I have my work.  Not a great success at anything, I cannot say I have failed, entirely.  I did make some wonderful art, collaborate with amazing people, publish a book of which I am quite proud.  I have thrown some rather festive parties.  I have helped some to reclaim a healthier, a happier lifestyle.  I have had mentors and teachers who have made a difference in my schooling (notably, Stacy Schronk, who gave me the theater; Ray Scalvino, who gave me my love of exercise and Matthew Jenkins, who gave me my dream).  I have the love of that work, a blessing, as so many do not love the work that they do.  I had the terrifying task of working at a job where the employers treated, so badly, the employees that it felt assaultive; when they fired me, I was scared of poverty but relieved to be free from tyranny.  To work where there is joy must never be taken for granted.

 

I have the luxury of being Asian, rather than Black.  These last few days I have seen and read so many experiences of black people who have been racially profiled to the point of humiliation and harm that my anger over the bigotry shown me (as both an Asian and a gay man) seems quite petty.

 

I have the privilege of seeing times change during my life.  Though that bigotry for gay people is strong, it is not as strong as it once was.  Marriage Equality is upon us and I and my husband and our closest friends were a part of that fight.  That’s not nothing.

 

I have the earth.  I don’t know how to save it from man; so I will enjoy it while I can and do what I can to protect and save her.

 

I have my President and my First Lady.  I do not understand the cruel and mean spirited people who work to bring them down.  Rude people who disrespect the First Family to their faces ought to be ashamed of themselves.  Whether a person agrees with their politics, it is not acceptable to heckle and boo your First Family.  It is not acceptable to stand before your President and wag your finger in his face.  Shame, shame, shame. 

 

I have a home.  Many do not.  Sometimes it can feel as dilapidated as GreyGardens; but it is my home and I will treasure and protect it.

 

I have Rachel, who brings a smile to every day.

 

I have a family.  Parents, siblings, nieces, nephews.  I have a family of friends; best friends, brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, collaborators, students, teachers.  We can get on each others’ nerves.  We can call on each other in times of crisis.  We do not walk away from each other.  My full on family includes babies – my own babies of dna and the babies of friends, babies who need to be held and smelled and listened to as they laugh and bill and coo.  My full on family includes people I have known for decades and people I have known for months.  They know that they are important to me because I will set aside my work and my recreation, my sleep and my time with my husband to be there for them, when they need me.  I am there for them, more often than I am there for myself and they know it is because they are my priority.  Family is above all else.  Thank you, Mama.

 

I have my sobriety.  Sometimes it has gone into a drawer for a day or two, for a month, for a year.  It can be difficult when you are an emotional person, when you have been a pessimist, to keep your control over your sobriety.  You may give in, for a time, but if you are lucky, you can get control, put it back on and live a life authentic to who you are.  I am an alcoholic with unfulfilled potential; I have had reason enough to drink.  I am also an optimist with unfulfilled potential; I have reason enough not to drink.  I must remind myself, daily, that my family’s safety is at risk when I drink.  So my constant companion, alcoholism, goes back in the drawer from whence cometh my sobriety and another day is battled, head on.  None of this is possible without that family, the one that forgives my flaws and applauds the victories.

 

I  have God.  Not your God.  Mine.  We have a personal, an individual, a unique relationship.  We speak every day; almost every moment of the day.  My days are spent in a continual conversation with OB1, my greatest friend.

 

I have my husband.  Sometimes, I awaken at 4am and go to work at the computer, writing, editing photos .. any work I can find to do.  Every few hours, I go to our bed, crawl in and lie so close to him that we are like one, my right cheek resting on his shoulder.  In this moment I feel safe.  It lasts moments, before I must return to my work.  Other times, I am beside him – on the street, on the sofa, in the car, on the train.  I am rarely beside him without placing my hand in his.  In this moment I feel safe.  The truth is, there are many times when I am scared, when I am angry, when I am polarized, wondering how I will make it to the next gig, how I will keep us going on nothing, when will it be time for my dreams?  Then I realize that I have my dream.  I look at him, I look at our home, I look at our family and I know.  My time is now.

 

Gratitude.  It’s a daily thing.  It is, in fact, a moment to moment thing.  It is not to be taken lightly and not to be taken for granted.  Today is Thanksgiving.  People will overeat and feel ill and tomorrow they will kill others to save money at their holiday shopping.  In this moment I am grateful that I have a mind and the ability to make a different choice.  I will spend some time this morning in prayer and then I will go to work and make the rent; tomorrow I will go back to the gym and back to work.  The entire time, though, I will be thinking of the things on this list and the people in my heart.  I will have no trouble feeling gratitude.  Not today.  Hopefully not again.  When I pray, among the things for which I pray, I say a prayer for clarity and I say a prayer of gratitude.  It keeps me grounded.  I stand in the light and look at my life, a life once filled with bitterness, anger, recrimination, and there I see a field of flowers made up of visual manifestations in my mind of the gifts I have been given.  Some are places I have seen, some are people I have known; I see experiences I’ve enjoyed, travesties I have overcome.  There are lessons I have learned and mistakes I have made; there are triumphs and there are tribulations.  Each bloom is a blessing and the seeds that created them have grown inside of me to make me the man that I am today.

 

A man filled with gratitude.

This photo was done as the back cover photo for a cd I did ten years ago.  It shows me, after a run, under the trees that make a gate to the road that leads home.

The Gates The Gates

 

 

 

 

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