Wednesday, January 30, 2013


My grandmother used to send me letters when I was a child.  She lived in Florida for part of my childhood and we lived in Ohio.  She would send these letters and they would always include a tracing of her hand-print (her way of reaching out to touch me) and she would sign them with xoxoxoxoxo.

I used to love these letters.

I'm not sure why, but I've been feeling nostalgic lately.  I miss the simplicity of childhood, the personal touch of cards and letters, and the quiet. Now everything is electronic.  Even when it's quiet, there is still an electrical hum in the air.  We send emails and text messages instead of sitting down with stationary and handwriting a note.  The tap of a few keys and we're done.

Letter writing is an art and a process.  You write the letter on some well chosen stationary with a good pen, you put it in the envelope and you lick the flap to seal it.  Then it's off to the mail.  A few days later, a young boy, or a mistress, a brother, a far away soldier, a mother, finds the mail in their mail box.  They recognize the handwriting on the envelope and their heart skips a beat.  They open the carefully sealed letter and then the smell of the sender seeps out with the page. You inhale them as you begin to read the paper they held in their hands a few days earlier.  It's personal.  It's intimate.  It's a bond between the sender and the receiver.

Today we bond with our electronics.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

No Means No

A few years ago I attended a customer service seminar where the theme was, "Just say yes!" This went hand in hand with the leadership of the company I worked for. Our approach to customer service, was to give them anything they wanted. Someone looked at you funny? Here, take $300 worth of tickets to Phantom of the Opera. Don't like wiping your own butt? No problem, we'll get a volunteer to do that for you. Okay, that's an exaggeration, but only slightly. The answer was always "yes" and God forbid anyone take personal responsibility for themselves. This was highlighted by the fact that we used to send out postcards to remind people when daylight savings time would begin (or end, I never got that right) so they wouldn't be late for their Sunday matinee performance. Never mind that it was always in the newspaper, on the news, on the calendar, etc... We had to hold people's hands to let them know to be responsible and know what time it was.

This was the 1990s and early 2000s. It was a sign of the times and we weren't the only ones doing it apparently, because now we have a whole generation of people who can't accept the word "no." We've all become screaming two year olds when someone says that word to us. And like a two year old, we cry, beg and throw tantrums until we get our way.

Now, I'm a pretty nice guy. I'm certainly not a mean one, but sometimes in my job I have to say no. I have to say it to staff, volunteers and customers. It's not that I want to say no. I'm personally not looking to deprive you of your pleasure, but my job has certain responsibilities which I have to adhere to. For example, I can't let you take photographs of a performance of Wicked. I can't let talk on your cell phone during a show. I can't let your infant cry during Beethoven's Fifth. And, no, I can't let you go to your seat in the third row, in the center of the section, twenty minutes into the performance. No matter how much you call me an asshole, wish cancer on me, threaten my job, blog about me, or threaten to kick my ass, the answer is still no! It's my job.

I wish this was confined to working in customer service, but it's not. Try telling someone you don't want to stay out and have another drink because you have to work in the morning. Watch how much begging, pleading, and even threatening goes on. Say no to someone bumming money. Say no to the customer service rep about credit insurance when you're just calling to make a payment. Say no to the friend who always seems to have some crisis you must help her out with.

A wise friend once told me when someone asks you do something you don't want to do, don't say you "can't", say "you don't want to." They can't argue with that.

That's good advice, but why must I feel like an asshole because I say no?

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Boys and Techno Toys

My first major purchase as an adult was not a stereo, like other guys my age, it was a Smith Corona Electric Typewriter. Y'all still remember what that is, right? I don't need to explain?

You could say, "Well, you were a writer even then," and I'd say, "Yes, but it was also the beginning of my tech addiction." I am a tech junkie.

Eventually I graduated from my electric typewriter to something that was going to revolutionize my writing, a word processor. Sure, it still looked like a typewriter, but you could see the words on a small screen as you typed them out before they printed on the page. You could change words, or delete sentences without having to tear out that paper and spool a fresh one in.

After the word processor, it was on to a computer. I could write on that and save things to a 3.5 inch floppy drive. I took a class in DOS and WordPerfect so I could understand how to use the computer to write my novels. Eventually I told myself I'd really get serious about my writing when I could get a lap top. Finally I did.

Along the way, I've had a Palm Pilot, a Treo, a pager, and finally my first cell phone, which was the size of a landline handset. I've had a iPod Shuffle, an iPod Nano, an iPod Classic, the first iPod Touch, a Nook, a Kindle, an Android tablet, and an iPad. I've upgraded my phone every time I've had the opportunity.

Each time I've upgraded, or purchased something new, I would think to myself, "this is going to change my life." I will write the great American novel on it. I'll take up running because I can listen to music from it. I'll read all those books I've put off reading on it. I'll be better organized because of it. The list goes on and on...

Why the history lesson? Because several weeks ago I dropped my Samsung Galaxy 2 phone and maybe spilled a little water on it, and now the battery is doing something wonky. Sometimes it will charge, sometimes the phone tells me the voltage is too high and it pauses charging (even when it's not plugged in). It's become unreliable. I've scoured the message boards and there seems to be no fix for it.

Bottom line, I'm not eligible for an upgrade and I can't justify spending $649 on the Samsung Note2, which I'm sure will change my life. How will it change my life? Well, it has excellent reviews (I'm a geek and check all this out ahead of time). The battery life is phenomenal. You can write notes on it, and it has the latest version of Android (which will surely change my life).

I've become obsessed. I Google everyday to see what new phones/tablets/gadgets are coming down the pike. Samsung has a Galaxy 4 and a Galaxy Note 3 rumored to be coming soon. I should wait...but I can't. Android 5.0- Key Lime Pie is coming soon. I should wait...but I can't. I just know these new products will change my life, but I need a fix NOW.

I tell myself this is ridiculous and I should stick it out with the phone that works sometimes, or buy a used flip phone to tide me over, but then I start shaking. I become the heroin addict whose high just wore off.

Like any good junkie I wonder if I have a problem. If these toys aren't going to fix my life, what hope is there? I think I need a tech cleanse. Sometimes I wonder if going back to paper books, writing on legal pads, and talking instead of texting might be the answer.

Does anyone know the number for the Steve Jobs Treatment Center?

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Rough Draft or Backstory

Sometimes I'm wrong. There, I admitted it. I have the humility to say I may not have understood all the facts and the rough draft of my novel wasn't a literary masterpiece. Nor was my second draft, third draft, or God forbid, not even my fourth draft. What I did find out during that process was where the story really was.

I started out with the idea of guy in his early forties who has lost his joy in life. He's looking for something to make him feel alive again. No, autobiographical implications there! Ha! And his story takes him on a journey to find his joy. It's a little like my own life of losing my job from "downsizing" and deciding to give this writing thing a shot.

So, I wrote the first draft. I did some editing, reworking and then finally let a couple of fellow writers read it. I got great feedback. I took what I learned and went back to fix some things, make some things clear and up the stakes a bit. Then I got more people to read it. My first two readers graciously offered to read it again and also another writer, an avid reader, and my sister.

Again, I got great feedback, but something was different this time. Self doubt kicked in. Suddenly I didn't think it was as good as I'd originally thought at all. It still needed work and I was ready to be done with it. I don't mean done with it in a bad way, but I had another novel brewing in my head and I was anxious to get this one out into the world. I was fully dilated and ready to give birth. Except it was just gas.

I had been working on the novel for about four years at that time and I felt people rolling their eyes whenever I mentioned the novel. It was "shit or get off the pot" time.

I have a dear friend, who is a successful, published writer, who kept telling me to take my time. Don't rush it. It will all come. I took her writing classes, did workshops with her, talked her into teaching me about revisions (which I hated at first). I tried to soak up as much as I could and use what I learned in my writing.

Now here's where my humility comes in. I thought maybe everyone else's rough drafts were only the beginning, but mine just needed a little polishing. Never mind the fact I couldn't really tell you what it was about in two sentences or less. My elevator speech would have had to be in the Sears Tower elevator being hand cranked up to the top.

Every writing book and teacher will tell you the rough draft is the beginning. It's the lump of clay needed to sculpt The Thinker. It's not even close to the finished product. It's only clay.

After letting my novel sit for about four months and trying to look at it from different angles, I think I've finally seen the light. The first half of my novel is essentially backstory. At first that depressed me, but now I see what the story is really about and I can build on that. Now I know which characters are significant and which ones have their own stories to be told somewhere else. None of what I've done is lost, it just might not have a place on these pages.

So, I have to thank my friends who continued to believe I am a writer, even if I couldn't bring myself to write. I'm on my way again.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Social Networking: Is it All it's Cracked Up to Be?

Like a gazillion other people, I have a Facebook page.  I also belong to Twitter, Pinterest, Blogger (obviously), Four Square, Goodreads, Yelp, Google+, and numerous other writer/photographer sites.  I have an iPad, an Android phone, and I'm always a text/phonecall/email away from anyone.  Like a gazillion others, I'm too connected.

When did all of this stop being for my benefit and become a detriment to me?

We live in an age of Social media, and yet we can't carry on a decent face to face conversation without checking our phone, iPad, etc...  We're social, but we're not communicating.  We put it out there for anyone to pick it up and misinterpret it, shame us for it, argue with us, and unfriend us. If you want to see ignorance in action, check out the comments section to anything posted on a "news" media site.  People will show you just how ignorant they are when they are given anonymity and a place to express their views.  Today I read a comment that Michele Obama hates all white people because she gave John Boehner a dirty look.  Please, I'm white and I wouldn't be able to not give John Boehner a dirty look.  In fact, she should have backhanded him while his wife watched.  But I digress!

I love keeping up with friends far away, and seeing their kids grow up, and see what they are reading and hear how they're doing.  I  love this part of it.  But on the other hand, I don't need to know every political thought they have, or if they support Chick fil a or not.  It seems everything has become about choosing sides.  

I made it through the election without unfriending too many people.  I made it through the whole Chick fil a thing without unfriending too many (although I did unfriend a few). We are each entitled to our own opinions, and we should celebrate our differences, but there are some things that are just deal breakers.

If we were face to face friends and you made a comment comparing President Obama to Hitler, we might argue, stop speaking for a while, but hopefully would come around and still be friends.  If you do it online, it's too easy to hit the "unfriend" button and write you off as a whack job.

Maybe I'm just cranky this week, but I'm becoming increasingly annoyed with Facebook.  I have over four hundred friends, but I feel lonelier than I ever have. It's all so superficial. It's like treating malnutrition with Kool Aid. I need something with more substance.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Johnny Bravo-He Fit the Suit

Anyone over thirty five knows about Greg Brady's brush with stardom on tv's The Brady Bunch, when he fit the suit designed for rock star, Johnny Bravo. It was a role he got, not because of talent or hard work, but because he fit the suit already designed for the star. This, as it turns out, is a great allegory for life.

In many areas of my life, I don't fit the suit. Literally.

Last month I talked about having a few Dark Passengers (Dexter reference). I admitted to my brush with alcoholism and where that took me. Now I'm going to tell you about the one that has brought me the most shame. My weight.

I was a fat kid from about eight years old, if I remember correctly. Now I know enough psychology to know that when kids suddenly start putting on weight, they are often protecting themselves from something.

I stayed overweight, or husky, as we called it back then, for most of my life. I grew up as the fat faggy kid. Nope, no therapy needed there. In my early twenties, after I got sober, I began to really love myself and my new life, so I dropped 85 pounds in a year and a half. I had actually become anorexic, because I never do anything half way. I stayed thinnish (within by goal weight by about ten or fifteen pounds) for about eight years and then I started packing the pounds back on. At this point I was in my thirties and had stopped smoking so it wasn't coming off as easily as it did at twenty two, but I tried. I tried, but the shame kicked in and finally I gave up. Gave up on weight loss and myself.

Okay, that's the history lesson. Now, back to my point. I don't fit the suit. Recently, a friend of mine has lost something like 85 pounds now. I've told him how much I admire him and how much I struggle with my own weight. In tears one day, I asked him (and myself) why I couldn't seem to make any progress with weight loss. His answer was very simple. "You're just not ready yet." My first instinct was to ask what kind of bullshit answer that was, but I instinctively knew he was right. Fat is a great protector and I wasn't ready to break down that wall that keeps me "safe." Being a fat gay guy at forty seven makes you pretty much invisible. Most other gay men won't even make eye contact, so I don't have to worry about them wanting something from me I feel powerless to say no to. Food is my comfort and fat is my protector.

Until now.

I'm tired of my size standing in the way of having the things I work hard for and deserve. As an actor, you can be incredible, but if you don't fit the suit, you don't get the role. Part of me thinks that's bullshit, but the reality is that it's true. My size limits me to the fat roles. Overweight people rarely get promotions. We get put in this box where people think we can only do what they think we can do. I'm here to say that too is bullshit. I am capable of so much more than what people think I can do. I'm tired of having to perform in the box others have built for me (or I have built for myself).

Aside from all of this, I deserve to be happy and be at my full potential. That's the first step. I said before that I lost that 85 pounds when I started loving myself. That's how I'm approaching it again. No fad diets. No pills or surgery. I'm going to love myself enough to feel my feelings rather than shoving them down with food. I'm going to love myself enough to make me the number one priority. I love myself enough to put healthy foods into my body. I'm love myself enough to get moving because I feel so much better when I do.

I may never truly fit the suit, but I can sew. I'll make my own fucking suit, and I will feel terrific when I do.

As an aside, I'm down ten pounds from December 31. Now I'm off to the gym!

Monday, January 14, 2013

The Responsibility of Fame

I've never wanted to be famous. I'd love to be a great actor or writer, but the fame is something I don't aspire to.

Some people live for fame. This is why we have so many reality shows with average people doing idiotic things, or airing all their dirty laundry so they can have their fifteen minutes of fame. It's like a drug. They always need more. We judge each other's (and I hate this word) "relevance" by how many Twitter followers they have, or how high their ratings are. Just because a lot of people watch you be an idiot, doesn't make you any less an idiot.

For all those fame hungry whores, there are people who are doing what they do because they love it, or their work happens to be in the spotlight.

There's been a lot of talk in the past twelve hours or so about Jodie Foster's acceptance speech at the Golden Globes last night. It was her "I'm Not Coming Out, I've Already Done That, Won't You Leave Me Alone" speech. Some say it was like the ramblings of a mad person. Others, like me, were very touched by the speech. It was honest, and real. Not something we usually expect out of Hollywood.

In a sense, what Jodie was saying to all of us was, "stop expecting me to live up to your expectations." LGBT groups for years have been wanting her to come out publicly as a lesbian. By somehow coming out she would give the rest of us in the LGBT bracket some kind of legitimacy.

I've never been a fan of outing. While it is my private hope that LGBT people in positions of authority, or the spotlight, do come out so the average American can see we're just like everyone else, I don't think we have the right to force them to do it. Coming out can be a difficult process for anyone, and to do it publicly can make it terrifying. What Jodie Foster said last night was that she didn't need to come out because she had already done that years ago to the people who mattered to her. She didn't need to make a public declaration.

This pissed off some gay groups who think she owes us something. No, she doesn't. She's given forty seven years to the public eye. Leave her the hell alone.

I know there are many advantages to being famous. You get free stuff and you get great tables in restaurants. Other than that it's more responsibility than it's worth.

I've always liked Jodie Foster, but now I think I'm in love with her. She showed true courage last night when she stood up against the reality show train wreck which is our society today. I have no doubt she will continue to leave her mark here on Earth, even if it isn't done on three thousand screens.

Don't we all affect one another in quiet, private ways? My greatest heroes are not celebrities, but they are my parents, my grandparents, an acting teacher, a fellow writer, a hospice volunteer, a Mom whose husband was in Afghanistan, a friend with an autistic child, and so many other people. Maybe none of them will ever be famous, but they will have left their mark on many of us. Aren't those the true role models?

Let's stop looking to professional ballplayers, and actors, and rock stars, and politicians to be our heroes. They don't owe us anything. Let's look to the single mother next door if we really want to be inspired.