Life As Explosion

It’s three in the morning, and I just got back from a long night of dancing. I’m exhausted, and most of me would rather be in bed. Since this is a blog about honesty, I can say that. The house is supposed to be quiet, but one of my nephews is apparently awake, and I think my sister just got up to check on him. Seriously, is this what parenting is like, cooking meals and running a professional taxi service during the day, then playing night watchman when the sun goes down? I don’t know how parents get anything done. Well, yes I do–they put their children in front of a television. But still, my hat is off to you people.

This afternoon my sister and I went to Costco. Y’all, I’d never been to one before, and it was pretty damn ridiculous. There were giant televisions, cheap alcohol (name brand!), and a hotdog stand. It was like an adult carnival plus Hanes underwear in bulk. What’s more, there was a refrigerated vegetable room bigger than my parents house and twice as tall. (Who the hell is eating so much lettuce?) And did I mention it was freezing? I had to put on a long-sleeved shirt just so we could walk halfway across the room and pick out some strawberries.

But I digress.

I guess my nephew Ander and I have a lot in common because that boy is always hungry. After the vegetable freezer he started asking for food, so my sister opened up a package of cheese right there in the middle of the tomato sauce section and gave him a slice. Maybe this is a mom thing, but I was mortified. I thought, We haven’t paid for that yet! Well, I bit my tongue, but Ander obviously wouldn’t have given a shit anyway because he had a slice of delicious cheese in his hands. I mean, he threw the wrapper on the floor and started munching away. (I picked up the wrapper and sneaked it in my pocket like, Nothing to see here.)

Thankfully, the cops didn’t show up.

After Costco and before we picked my other nephew up from school, we went to Chick-Fil-A and ended up talking about how frickin’ friendly they are. You know, they always ask your name, smile, and say “my pleasure” whenever you say, “Thank you.” Who are these people? I mean, I’m all for customer service, but sometimes I feel like I’ve walked into an episode of The Twilight Zone whenever I step on their property in search of a simple chicken sandwich. Geez. My pleasure. (It’s weird, right?) Just once, could someone say, “You’re welcome”?

Is that too much to ask?

Okay, so I’m not sure how to introduce this next section without talking about gay cowboys. I realize that’s a weird transition, but it’s true. A couple years ago I was having a bad day/week/month and took myself to a gay bar in Dallas called The Roundup because there’s nothing like a bunch of homosexuals in Wranglers to make a boy feel better. Really, I don’t care who you are, you should go. They have a great dance floor, and everybody two-steps with everybody else. Guys dance with guys, girls dance with girls, girls lead as guys follow. It’s just a happy thing–perfect for shattering stereotypes and fun for the whole family.

Anyway, that was the night I met my friend Kaleb. We met on the floor, then danced and danced and danced some more. I don’t mind saying it was pretty magical. You know how you ladies always get excited when some handsome guy leads you around the dance floor? Well, despite my profession, I’ve never really gotten that, at least from a follower’s perspective. But I got it that night, thanks to Kaleb. The man could (and can) flat dance. I don’t remember the last time I had so much fun.

As it turned out, Kaleb was also visiting Dallas to get away–from Albuquerque–where he teaches ballroom dancing. (Isn’t that wild?) So for the last couple years we’ve kept loosely in touch, and I messaged him this afternoon to see if he wanted to go to a swing dance. (He said yes.) Y’all, a couple times I thought the altitude and lack of oxygen was going to kill me, but I survived and had a fabulous time. Kaleb and I took turns leading and following, no one gave us funny looks, and a few people even clapped.

I guess Kaleb or I could have said, “No need for applause, it was my pleasure.”

Give me a break.

When the swing dance was over, Kaleb and I headed to a local gay bar called Sidewinders for karaoke. That’s right, not only am I gay, but sometimes I sing karaoke. There, I said it. (And if anyone repeats any of this on the internet, we–are–finished.) Anyway, there weren’t a lot of people out tonight, so Kaleb and I had room to dance while other people sang. Again, so much fun. And then–and then–the cast from the national tour of An American in Paris showed up because–where else would they be on a Tuesday night? No, seriously, the cast just had a big turnover, and tonight was a lot of the members’ first city, first night, first performance, so they went out to celebrate at Sidewinders (as one does). They were dancing and we were dancing–some of us introduced ourselves and some of us didn’t–but it was just this beautiful thing–several Americans in Sidewinders.

Tonight Kaleb told me there’s a couple theories when it comes to art. (I don’t know how he knows this.) One theory says that art is meant to stand the test of time, that it should be around for generations and be enjoyed by as many people as possible. Another theory says that art is transitory, that it’s meant to pop up rather suddenly then disappear, like a flower that only blooms for a night. This theory, Kaleb said, is called “art as explosion,” and I’ve been thinking about it the last few hours. We spend so much of our lives trying to hang on to things we can’t hang on to. We paint paintings and take pictures trying to remember the people and experiences that make us feel loved and alive, hoping to grasp that which is most lovely to us. Of course, this is not possible. Thankfully, that which is lovely happens constantly if we have the eyes to see it. It looks like a child rebelling in the middle of a grocery store by eating cheese that hasn’t been paid for yet, a smile on the face in the drive-thru window, and a roomful of people dancing together. This is the very mystery of life, of course–one moment, one miracle exploding into the next.

Quotes from CoCo (Marcus)

"Along the way you’ll find yourself, and that’s the main thing, the only thing there really is to find."

Time Well Spent (Blog #200)

9:33 AM

I’ve been awake for an hour or so, and I just finished a continental breakfast here at the glorious Comfort Inn and Suites in Carbondale, Colorado. Check out is in an hour and a half, so I’m about to take a shower, pack up, and hit the road. (It’s been real.) My destination is Albuquerque, where my sister lives, and it should take about eight hours, stops included. Because I’m still feeling yuck, blah, and gross, I imagine it’s going to be a long day. Jesus, take the wheel. Still, at the end of the road will be the ones I love. All things considered, life is good.

If it’s not obvious, I’ll be writing the blog in “installments” today to make my life easier. If you can think of some little something to make your life easier today, do it–you have my full support.

4:12 PM

I think I just set a new personal record. I drove for five and a half hours without a pit stop. I didn’t realize that was possible, so I’m considering nicknaming my bladder Champ. Who knows why the sudden change in behavior? Usually I pee constantly. Maybe my kidneys got enlightened this weekend, or maybe I’m just dehydrated.

The drive so far has been surreal. For whatever reason, my mind is at ease, and my usual sense of nervousness is nowhere to be found. Even when driving along narrow roadways with steep drop-offs, I was like, Whatever. I’ve only taken one picture (at a stoplight in Aspen), but the scenery has been gorgeous–Colorado and New Mexico in the fall are basically God’s backyard. Anyway, I’m in road-warrior mode and ready to see my nephews, so I’ll write more later.

8:08 PM

I got to my sister’s a couple of hours ago. When I arrived, the nephews started bouncing off the walls, and even Ander (the younger one), who usually hides from me, went nuts. They were skipping, jumping, leading me outside then back in. Eventually I sat down for dinner (thanks, Dee-Anne) and visited with my sister and her husband while Ander scooted across the kitchen floor on his back and repeatedly said, “Ow, ow, ow.” My brother-in-law said, “Imagine this non-stop for seven years.” I said, “I can’t.”

Seriously, how do parents do it? Well, how do parents who don’t drink do it?

Before Christopher (the older nephew) went to bed, he put a craft book on the table and asked me to help him make a paper airplane.  Seriously, this kid is great with building and making things, so he probably could have done it himself, but I guess this was an “advanced” model. Y’all, uncle-ing is hard. The instructions had like ten steps–the plane had a tail fin and everything. It was super detailed, complicated actually, and a couple times I thought, I can’t figure this out. But then I did–it finally came together. What’s more, it flew!

That’s right, I’m thirty-seven and can make a paper airplane.

But get this shit. Christopher–that little turd–ran straight to my sister and said, “Mom–I made an airplane!”

(Awkward pause)

“Well, I helped make one.”

9:40 PM

We always have more support than we realize.

For the last hour I’ve been chatting with my sister, but she just went to bed because she’s a mom. Anyway, I really like her. We talked about our family, school, and our individual responses to some of the bullshit we went through as children–specifically the fact that she expressed her emotions back then and I stuffed mine way, way down. (It’s okay, they’ve been working their way back up–like they do.) Since Dee-Anne lives so far away and most of my healing progress has happened the last few years, sometimes I forget that she went through a lot of the same stuff I did. Of course, it’s always good to remember that you’re not alone. We always have more support than we realize.

10:08 PM

A couple hours ago I realized that today’s blog is number 200. That’s 200 days in a row of sitting down, more than once propping my eyelids open with toothpicks, and opening my mind and heart for both me and the world to see. The goal is every day for a year, and I recently hit the halfway mark (183 days), but I note it on the blog every fifty days if I remember. So that’s why we’re talking about it now.

When I started this blog over six months ago, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. Since I’ve been living back at home, I was originally going to call the blog Me and My Parents, then Me, My Parents, and My Therapist. But I thought, Surely I’ll move out again one day, so I dropped my parents altogether (but just from the blog). Anyway, as I’m writing about the blog now, it makes me want to cry. Maybe that’s because I’ve come to think of it as a friend. We have all these memories together. Each night we cuddle up together, I talk about my day, and the blog listens, wraps me up in its arms, and tells me I’m okay.

I’ve said it before, but I can’t overemphasize what a positive journey this has been. I’m out of work, living with my parents, and really have no idea what the rest of my life will hold. On the surface, I don’t have a lot to show. But beneath the surface, where it counts, I’m better than I ever have been. I’m less afraid and more sure than ever before. I’m more self-confident, comfortable in my own skin. I’m not perfect, of course, but I own my shit and am either working on it or okay with saying, “I’m fine the way I am.” The reason I want to cry, of course, is because I realize it’s not the blog that’s been my friend these last 200 days–it’s me–I’m the one who’s been there for me.

10:31 PM

At the spiritual retreat this last weekend, the teacher was joking about how people approach their spiritual lives, like, “Oh yeah, I’ve got a few free hours between errands today, I’ll check out that meditation thing.” This attitude, of course, is ridiculous. After all, he said, what’s more important than your freedom?

Learning to be there for yourself is the essence of healing.

I’ve thought about this question off and on today. I know I’ve worried a lot this last year about how I’m going to make a living or what I’m going to do with the rest of my life, but when I consider how much freer, happier, and peaceful I am now as compared to six months ago, all that “worldly stuff” pales in comparison. I’m not saying this process has been easy. On the contrary, there have been plenty of days that it’s felt like making a complicated paper airplane and letting someone else take the credit for it. Often the road has been long, and I haven’t felt so great. Still, I’d recommend the journey to anyone. For surely learning to be there for yourself is the essence of healing, and making time to be your own friend is time well spent. And here’s what I can promise–at the end of the road will be the ones you love (and that includes you), and things will finally come together.

Quotes from CoCo (Marcus)

"You can be weird here. You can be yourself."

The Big Whine and the Big Ocean

This morning I woke up sick. It could be worse, so I’ve been telling myself that I “don’t feel so hot,” but sick is sick. I’m thinking it’s a possible cold or sinus infection. Sometimes that happens when I hang out in high altitudes for a few days. Regardless, something ain’t right. About twenty minutes ago I sat down to blog, and the hotel internet wasn’t working, and neither was my room phone, so I dragged my not-so-happy ass downstairs to the front desk to see what the hell was going on. (I tried to be pleasant.) The manager said she didn’t know about the phone problem, but that, yes, the regular internet network was on the fritz. Thankfully, she signed me on to a manager’s network. Not thankfully, the new network’s signal doesn’t reach to my room. I’m now using my hotspot, which is “fine,” but slower.

Honestly, it doesn’t feel fine. More specifically, I don’t. I hate being sick, alone, and out-of-town, and I’m currently trying really hard to avoid “the big whine,” which is a phrase I picked up this weekend. We’ll see how it goes. Considering my current mood, it’s possible this blog could turn into a medium-sized whine, or at least a small bitch. I mean, I’m trying to have a good attitude here, but when life kicks you in the nuts, you groan a little.

For the last three days, I’m been sitting in a chair staring at the backs of heads and listening to a guru talk about Vedanta. Lest anyone think I’ve joined a cult, I haven’t. (I’m sure they all say that.) Vedanta isn’t a religion, but rather a method, a tool that can be used for self or spiritual knowledge. In their tradition, “guru” simply means one who removes ignorance. (I’ve now started thinking of myself as a dance guru. Maybe my business card could say, “Are you a swing dancing sinner? Call Marcus and prepare to be enlightened.”) Anyway, even if the whole thing were a cult, as a gay man I’d have to insist they adopt more flattering outfits before I could join.

Also, I haven’t figured out what’s so spiritual about taking your shoes off and sitting on the floor.

The Vedanta classes this weekend were taught by James Swartz. Today James said, “Your feelings are the last thing you want to trust.” Having spent a few years in therapy talking about my feelings, hearing that felt a lot like having the wind let out of my sails. On the other hand, it felt exciting because my feelings are constantly changing and not exactly reliable. (Maybe yours are like this too.) One minute I’m frustrated, the next minute I’m angry, horny, tired, indifferent, or excited. If this is how my feelings work, why should I trust them? Part of the problem, I’m realizing, is the way we language our feelings. In truth, they’re only a small part of us, things that show up only to disappear, small waves within a big ocean. But we say, “I’m happy,” or “I’m sad,” as if one word or one feeling tells the whole story about who we are.

Obviously, there’s more to us than that.

For the majority of this weekend, James referred to a particular chart. It’s too complex to go into the whole thing at the moment, but I’d still like to share it for the purpose of talking about one aspect of it. In the middle of the chart, there are three circles with initials–I for Intellect, E for Ego, and M for Mind. James said ideally the intellect is above (and therefore informs) the mind, which in their system is where our emotions and feelings are. For example, if you believe that you’re a spiritual being having a human experience and not the other way around, then that knowledge should inform and affect your feelings about any given situation. What happens with most of us, however, is that the script gets flipped–our ever-changing mind (again, meaning our emotions and feelings) gets above of our intellect and tells us what to think based on how we feel.

Since our feelings are constantly changing, this, of course, is exhausting.

All of this makes a lot of sense to me. I’ve woken up sick so many times, and each time I freak out. I think, Shit, not again, then immediately jump into what I could have done differently or what a terrible person I am. Naturally, this makes me no fun to be around, and since I’m mentally beating up on myself, I start mentally beating up on everyone else too–total strangers in organic fibers just sitting on the floor and trying to learn like I am. Basically, I let the way I feel determine what I think. This sucks.

But the truth is that even though my body isn’t “feeling so hot,” today was a gorgeous day. Colorado is beautiful, and whereas there may not be a lot of air here, there is air. I’m still alive. I spent the weekend with some wonderful people, seekers like me, and I’m currently in a warm bed. And regardless of how I wake up feeling tomorrow, there should be a free, tasty breakfast downstairs. I can think of worse ways to begin a week. I’ll let you know how it goes, but I am starting to believe that I’m much more than my thoughts, feelings, and experiences. Specifically, I’m much more than my sinus congestion, bad attitude, or big whine, since those are things that change, waves that are ever appearing and disappearing within the big, steady ocean of life.

Quotes from CoCo (Marcus)

"The heart sings for its own reasons."

Nothing Belongs to Me

Currently I’m in Carbondale, Colorado, at a place called True Nature Healing Arts. If you’ve ever been to a new age bookstore, organic smoothie bar, or upscale yoga center, this place is all of those things combined then multiplied by the third chakra. For sale, there are crystals of every color, mala beads, statues of deities–incense, of course–and t-shirts made from hemp fiber (half off). I’m making jokes because it’s one big, new-age/spiritual stereotype, but this is honestly the most warm, beautiful, and professional place of this type I’ve ever been to. (And I’ve been to a few of them.) Because everything is “just so,” I’m assuming a Virgo was involved in putting it all together.

The event I’m attending here started last night, and we just wrapped up the morning session and are on lunch break. I ate organic lamb curry, am sipping hot matcha tea, and am about to reach for an apple inside my bag. I feel so healthy I can’t stand myself. Granted, my insides are in shock, but I fed them Mexican food last night, so they’ll get over it. We’ve got two more sessions to go before the day is over, so I’m trying to knock out some blogging before I have a spiritual experience and–I don’t know–forget how to cuss or put a damn sentence together. (Obviously that hasn’t happened yet.)

I read somewhere that often spiritual disciplines simply become other ways of beating ourselves up. Like, if you feel like a piece of shit because you’ve recently gone up a pant size and then you join a yoga class to de-stress and drop a few pounds, you’ll probably end up feeling even more like a piece of shit because now you’re fat and can’t do downward-facing dog as well as that hot guy in the corner. (You know–the one with the really tight, spiritual stretch pants.) Well, just now I heard a man talking about his personal flotation chamber, which is sort of like a bathtub filled with Himalayan sea salt that helps desensitize the body and quiet the mind (I think). Anyway, part of me is thinking, He has a fancy woo-woo thing. I wonder if that makes him a better person than I am. But now he’s talking about dowsing, like how you walk around with a forked stick and wait for it to fall wherever there’s water, oil, or gold, and it’s all I can do to not roll my eyes. So maybe I’m a better person than he is.

I just put in my headphones and turned on my music so I’ll stop comparing myself to a total stranger.

Because I dragged my feet getting in the lunch line, there weren’t any tables left where I could sit and eat–at least without asking if I could sit down with someone I don’t know. (I don’t know anyone here. Well, I did meet one lovely lady named Wing–as in, and a prayer–in line for the bathroom. I’m assuming our bladders are on the same schedule, since we’ve chatted more than once.) Anyway, sometimes I feel bold and friendly, and other times, I’m all, Fuck that–I can take care of myself. I don’t need you and your–your–table space. Well, I ended up eating outside, and it was cold as a well-digger’s ass. That part wasn’t so bad, but the wind almost blew my table over. It actually turned the giant umbrella above me inside out. At that point, I finished my food, came inside, and sat down in a lone chair by a meditation corner. Then a girl who had a table all to herself asked if I wanted to join her. My knee-jerk reaction was to say, “No, thank you, I don’t need your charity,” but instead I paused and said, “Yes, yes I would.”

So that’s where I am now–across from Emily and her table. I’m trying not to stare, but I’m also trying to stare. You know how it’s fun to people watch. Well, so far I’ve noticed that Emily has a wedding ring, likes frothy tea or coffee, and has a laptop with a bigger screen than mine. She has a notebook beside her in which she’s drawn several hearts. Or someone has. I really (really) want to ask her what she’s working on just two feet away from me, but if she asked me the same question, I’d either have to lie or say, “Oh, just writing–about you–on the internet.” Jokes aside, I guess I could say, “Being grateful for an act of kindness I received today.”

Gotta go back to class.

Now it’s dinner time, and I’m eating at a restaurant called The Goat. I just had a mushroom and swiss burger that was delicious, and I think it had bacon on it. I haven’t blogged about it before, but I’m really not a bacon eater because I used to think pork was sin. I don’t think it’s a sin anymore, but sometimes it bothers my stomach, so I rarely eat it on purpose. When I do eat it, I usually freak out, like, What if I have the runs later? Still, what do yo do? In my case, I just ordered “warm chocolate cake” and coffee and tried to forget about it. Either way, what’s done is done. Things show up–fears, desires, experiences–then disappear, just like this dessert is about to.

I’m intentionally not saying much about the workshop I’m attending this weekend. For one, it’s pretty heavy stuff (my brain is tired and still digesting). At this point, I don’t think I could easily distill it down into blog form, make it understandable, and do it justice. For another, it feels personal. Maybe sacred is a better word. There’s a story about a journalist who waited years for a one-on-one interview with Padre Pio, the saint. When the big day arrived, he attended a group mass with Padre Pio, then canceled the interview. When asked why, he said, “I realized that man has the power to change my life, and I’m not ready for that to happen.” So that’s part of why I’m not running to the internet with a book report of what I’m learning. I want to share, of course, but this feels like it could be a game changer, so it’s something I want to treat with respect.

All that being said, I will say that one of the ideas I’ve been presented with this weekend is that nothing–no object–belongs to me. Having sold most of everything I used to “own,” I’m open to this way of thinking. But here’s the kicker–objects not only include physical items like my knickknacks and jewelry, but also include my body, thoughts, emotions, and experiences. This is because all these things were either given to me or simply appeared–only to disappear, of course. They aren’t permanent or things I can hold on to. The benefit to seeing all these things as borrowed is that I suffer less when something breaks, gets sick, or changes in some way. In short, I’m more free.

As I see it, another benefit to this way of thinking is that I don’t have to compare so much. After all, if everything I have is borrowed, then everything everyone else has is borrowed too. I can feel insecure that some guy has had an experience I haven’t, but that experience isn’t really his, especially once it’s over. This fact, I think, levels the playing field and makes us more alike. More than being our comparisons, our tight pants, or the bacon we accidentally ate, we’re really just all people looking for a place to sit. What’s more, no object, thing, or experience can add or subtract from our inherent value. Thankfully, our essence, our true nature, actually is ours, and I like to think it’s been there all along, just waiting for us to pull up a chair and get curious about it.

Quotes from CoCo (Marcus)

"All great heroes, at some point, surrender to the unknown."

Those We Choose to Dance with

I’m just going to say it. Last night I went to my car to get some stuff out and locked my keys inside. This is something I have a long history with. It’s happened so many times over the years it might as well be a hobby. I mean, I could have worse habits. Still, this one’s a serious bitch sometimes, especially since I’m currently in Denver, and my only spare key is–well–also inside the car. (I kept meaning to put it in my man bag.) Anyway, I know how to call a locksmith, but my main concern before I went to bed last night was spending money on such a careless mistake. Personally, I’d rather buy a new pair of shoes.

So before I fell asleep last night, I got on YouTube and learned a number of ways to break into a car–specifically–your own car. Y’all, it was a little disturbing to find out how easy it is to get into a vehicle. No shit, I watched an eight-year-old break into a sedan with a magnet. After the magnet was in place, he just rapped on the door a couple times with his knuckle–shave and a haircut–and the door popped right open. A prepubescent car thief–now that makes you feel good about the world. Anyway, I thought, If junior can do this, I’m willing to give it a shot. Anything to save seventy-five bucks.

Eventually, I feel asleep, and when I woke up this morning, I went to work.

Honestly, it’s a good thing I feel at home here at Maggie’s, since she was gone and the first thing I did was to walk around the house and the garage looking for a wedge (like a doorstop) to shimmy in the door to hold it open and a wire coat hanger. Well, I quickly found out that any successful job is really about the tools you use. I couldn’t find a very fat wedge, so I ended up using a pry bar, after I put some tape on the door frame to protect it. (I got that tip from the video.) The idea was to sneak the coat hanger in, snag the lock, and pull it back. Well, problem–the coat hanger was flimsy and wouldn’t cooperate.

I said a lot of cuss words.

For about an hour I kept running back inside the house and the garage, hoping to find a fatter wedge or some sort of iron rod with a hook on the end. No such luck. Finally, I prayed to MacGyver, and he suggested making the coat hanger sturdier by twisting another coat hanger around it. Y’all, that did the trick. After about an hour of frustration, I had the door open in two minutes. Thank you, Jesus (and MacGyver).

And then the car alarm started going off. (I didn’t even know I had one.)

Well, fuck.

So there I was sitting in the driver’s seat, sticking the recovered key in the ignition and pushing buttons like a redneck at a slot machine. Finally, the alarm stopped, but the car wouldn’t start. Well, thank god for good people because I called Johnny, the guy I bought the car from, and he told me to disconnect the battery to reset the electrical system. Even better, he stayed on the phone and walked me through the whole process–turn the key in the ignition, flip the headlights on, disconnect the battery, wait, do everything basically in reverse. And just like that, the alarm stopped and the car started.

I texted my sister about the whole thing, and she said, “Way to be thrifty.” When Maggie got back from running errands, she said something about Triple A. Then I realized I have roadside protection with my insurance, and they probably would have done the whole thing for free. Considering I put a few small scratches in the paint around the door, I started getting a case of the “should haves.” I should have called my insurance company. I should have been more careful. I should have kept the spare key in my murse. (A murse is a man purse, Mom.) Anyway, my sister said, “That’s just life. Set it free. Deep breaths.” Then, realizing that I’m a mile high in altitude, she added, “Oh wait. There’s no air.”

For the last hour I’ve been watching Maggie teach and dance with one of her longtime students, Frank. Frank is eighty-five, and so far I’ve seen him perform a samba line dance, a waltz routine, a cha-cha routine, and a rumba routine, all from memory. Both he and Maggie said, “We know how many birthdays we’ve had. But you don’t have to buy all that crap people tell you about getting old.”

Frank said several years ago Maggie noticed his feet weren’t syncopating. He said, “Yes they are.” Maggie said, “No they’re not. I’ve got mirrors all over this place, and I don’t see your feet moving right.” It turns out Frank had a disc in his neck pinching a nerve, so signals weren’t getting sent to his feet, and he ended up having surgery. Afterwards, there were weeks when Frank could only watch dancing, then he had to start all over. But now you’d never know it. Honestly, I wish I could put him on a greeting card–the man’s a walking inspiration.

As I consider it now, I think Maggie was my therapist before my therapist was my therapist. One minute we’re telling jokes or talking about cha-cha, and the next we’re discussing our insecurities and self-judgments. Maggie nailed me when she said, “It’s easy to feel inadequate, to think, I’d be okay if I knew more, looked different, or whatever. But we’re not inadequate.” Earlier Frank and Maggie did a foxtrot to “You’re Nobody Til Somebody Loves You,” and I almost cried because I remembered what a gift it is to have a friend and mentor like Maggie–someone who just lets you show up, gives you everything they have then gives you some more, and tells you to come back anytime. This relationship feels like two wire hangers bound together–sturdy–and it reminds me that I’m more than okay just the way I am–keys locked in the car, scratches in the paint, money in my wallet or not. All of that is just life, which rolls along sometimes in simple rhythm and sometimes in syncopation. No dance is without its mistakes and what we would term imperfections, but I’m starting to believe it’s simply about showing up and, most importantly, those we choose to dance with.

Quotes from CoCo (Marcus)

"Authenticity is worth all the hard work. Being real is its own reward."

Road Trips, Reunions, and Rise and Fall

9:06 AM

Believe it or not, I’ve been awake for an hour. I got to Wichita last night around 10:30, visited with my friends Megan and Kevin for a while, and crashed pretty hard sometime between midnight and one. My friends stashed me in the apartment above their garage, so I’m currently fighting the temptation to play with all the Legos in here that either belong to their two boys or to Kevin. Before I passed out last night I checked the distance I have to drive to Denver today, and it should take about eight hours, provided I don’t stop to eat, get gas, or go to the bathroom. So we’ll see how it goes. I’m pretty sure Tom Collins (my car) and I are going to need a few breaks.

Rather than write today’s blog in one sitting and therefore postpone my departure time, I’m trying something different–a play-by-play. Basically I’ll be writing “live” as I stop for lunch or whatever. Or maybe the next timestamp will be tonight when I get to Denver. Either way, think of this as an adventure. You can even imagine yourself on the trip with me if that makes it more exciting for you. Now that we’re up and dressed, our first stop is inside the house to see about breakfast and caffeine.

Here we go.

10:18 AM

Jackpot. Megan hooked me up with breakfast–fruit, toast, coffee. She has some sort of magical device made by space aliens that attached to her toaster and makes hard-boiled eggs. What will they think of next? Now I’m getting close to leaving. Just need to pack up the rest of my things, throw them in Tom Collins, and Denver, here I come.

Here’s a picture of Megan and me at breakfast. That little guy she’s holding is a Lego dude with a sword. Hello!

1:40 PM

After about three hours of driving, I just stopped because my gas tank and my bladder told me to. Now my gas tank is full and my bladder is empty, whereas it was the other way around just a few moments ago. So far the only thing to report is that one of the gentlemen in the restroom didn’t wash his hands before walking out. Otherwise, all is well. I’ve been listening to “Despacito” on repeat (bom bom), as well as a lecture by psychologist James Finley on the relationship between trauma and transformation. In part of the talk he used the phrase, the holiness of ordinariness, which I love. It’s the idea that within each moment, there’s something of the sacred. Since things are always changing, today’s particular sun will never shine in quite the same way. In this light, even the flat plains of Kansas look beautiful, each windmill its own miracle.

4:22 PM (MST)

Okay, now I’m in Mountain Standard Time, so it feels like I woke up an hour earlier than I actually did. I’m starting to get tired. For one thing, all the driving. For another, I’m all a mile high and there’s not a lot of air up here. Thank god my brain doesn’t need oxygen to function. Oh wait. I just got gas and am about to run through Taco Bell and hit the road again. I just have a couple more hours to tonight’s destination, and I just realized Tom Collins is a murderer–there are hundreds (hundreds) of dead bugs on the front of my car. Maybe if I’d left that Jesus fish on the back of Tom Collins he’d have better morals. Regardless, I hope he feels good about himself. Anyway, time for a burrito.

12:32 AM (MST)

I arrived in Denver about six hours ago and am just getting to my laptop. I’m staying with my friend and dance mentor, Maggie, and one day I should probably write an entire blog–or book–about her. She’s short, loud, Italian, and good as gold. Her dance studio is connected to her house, and this honestly feels like a second home to me. Not only is it the place where I learned it was okay to cuss in front of dance students, but it’s also the place where I’ve learned most of what I know about ballroom dancing and been encouraged more times than I can count. Last year when I was thinking about closing the studio and moving to Austin, Maggie’s the one who said, “If you’re not happy, you gotta start over.”

Anyway, when I walked in the door, Maggie gave me a big hug, then I watched her teach waltz for half an hour. Afterwards she taught a group class in swing, so I got to watch and participate. I always forget how funny Maggie is. She’s like a drill sergeant, a stand-up comedian, and Mother Teresa all rolled into one. Outside her studio she has a huge water fountain where she’s added a sign that says, “Ryzan Falls.” Get it–rise and fall? (It’s a dance thing.)

After dancing, Maggie and I went out to eat with her roommate, Jon. Oh my god, y’all, we had so much fun catching up, sharing our dramas, eating carbs. Maggie told me that last year her boyfriend was learning a dance move from YouTube, and when he showed it to Maggie and asked if she knew the instructor (because all dance instructors know each other), she said, “Yes, actually–that’s Marcus! He’s my student.”

Isn’t that wild?

Now I’m wishing I had more time to spend here. Maggie and her friends and students are always so welcoming, and Denver has so much to offer. I’ve been out dancing here so many times, and there’s a great used bookstore. Plus, I love watching Maggie teach. I always learn something and never fail to laugh. That being said, I’m in town for different reasons this time, so rather than feel as if I’m missing out on something, I’m trying to remind myself that it’s a treat to simply be here at all. A miracle, really.

Even though, like, I wasn’t born in the Great Depression, it still amazes me that in one day I can wake up in Wichita and fall asleep in Denver, but that’s what happened today. In between were hundreds of miles, moments, and memories. Who’s to say which ones were ordinary, which ones holy? What makes one thing better than another? Perhaps that’s just a game we play with ourselves. Each day the events of our lives, like our moods, rise and fall, and what if the divine is right there in the middle of us like a steady beat, just waiting for us to notice and to get in time with the music?

Quotes from CoCo (Marcus)

"All emotions are useful."

How Wide My Branches

Once again, I’m blogging while the sun is up. I hope this doesn’t become a habit. I mean, it’s all right. I woke up early to get ready to go out-of-town. For the last three hours, I’ve packed, showered, and gone to Walmart to get my “subscriptions” filled to deal with my current skin inflammation. I swear, my nipples are so red, it looks as if I’ve been breast-feeding. Anyway, I’ve quite literally packed almost everything I own for this trip. I might as well just throw the rest of my shit in the car and go ahead and move. Maybe I’ll meet Zac Efron in Colorado and that will be that. A girl can dream.

My main stress today has been “getting on the road.” I love a good road trip, but I hate getting ready for them. You know how it goes–all the shit to move around, trip after trip from inside the house to the car. My hair products alone weigh enough to make for a decent Crossfit workout. But I digress. The other big stress has been what to write about. It seems like I just did this last night, and other than spotting a few lesbians at Walmart, not much has happened. I guess we could talk about the yogurt I’m currently eating or the fact that my pharmacist said to not put the antibacterial ointment on my nipples as if it were axle grease.

I wonder if he thought I would enjoy that sort of thing.

Just now a man pulled in our driveway and hopped out of his truck with his two sons. Last week his uncle knocked on our door and asked if he could take some of the Chinese Chestnuts that had fallen from our tree into our front yard. “Sure, take all you want,” I said. Well, I guess our nuts are becoming a town hit, since the guy told his nephew about them, and he later came by and asked if he could bring his kids to get some. I remember being excited about this sort of things when I was younger. My sister and I would put the tops of carrots in little saucers of water, watch them sprout into little forests. Once a man came over and helped plant apple trees in our backyard. I was so excited, like I was going to be Johnny Appleseed or something, spend my summers hanging from the branches. Eventually they died, but before they did, our white-haired neighbor with painted-on eyebrows made a few killer apple cobblers.

As part of getting ready to go out-of-town, I dismantled the Lego set I put together several weeks ago. It’s not for certain, but I’m hoping to see my sister on this road trip, and I’d like to give the Lego set to my nephew. Since he’s seven, I’m assuming he doesn’t read my blog and that it will be a surprise. Anyway, when I put the Lego set on the kitchen table, my dad said, “How old are you?” Well, I put my shoulders back and said, “I’m thirty-seven, thank you.” Tonight I’ll be staying with my friend Megan, and she said she and her son were building a castle this afternoon. Honestly, this excites me. Just because you get older, I don’t think that means you have to lose your childlike sense of wonder. My therapist says that growing up means you don’t act childish, but you can–and should–be curious.

Earlier my friend Kara sent me a text with best wishes for my road trip. I said, “First, thanks! Second, help! I don’t know what I’m going to write about today.” Well, being the dutiful friend and eternal student that she is, Kara sent me a list of suggestions–road-trip snacks, pictures with roadside attractions, etc. My favorite, however, was “How quests have to start with questions.” Until she said it, I hadn’t thought of my trip as a quest, but I guess it is. Ultimately, I’m doing this because I’m looking for something besides Zac Efron–knowledge, self-discovery, more peace of mind. On the surface, the question I’m asking looks like, What’s this all about? Deep down, it looks more like, Who am I and what am I really doing here (like, on the planet)? I don’t expect to have those questions answered in a weekend, but perhaps a piece of the puzzle will come together.

Maybe that’s what I like about it–the mystery of it all. I can pack and plan all I want to, but I really don’t know what’s going to happen. I may stop and see some friends next week who are staying in New Mexico, but they said they may leave early if the weather gets bad. So I’m trying to be up for anything, to remain open and curious. For a planner like me, it’s not easy, and it’s kind of like I’m planning to be spontaneous. This makes even me shake my head. But I do think it’s exciting, not knowing exactly what lies ahead. Like those who plant seeds, my constant hope is to simply remain in fertile soil and tend gently to myself, all the while wondering what will become of this tree and how wide my branches can reach.

Quotes from CoCo (Marcus)

"No one's story should end on the ground."

That Which Rises

Well shit. Currently it’s one-thirty in the morning, and I just got back from the emergency room. When I woke up this morning, my right nipple was hurting. Honestly, I just thought it was a pimple, since sometimes that happens. But then this afternoon my other nipple (the left one) started hurting too, so I was like, That’s odd, I feel like I’m going through puberty again, I wonder if I’ll start lactating. Anyway, around midnight I took my shirt off to examine things, and the red bumps had spread to my armpits, so I thought, Houston, we have a problem. Fortunately, I didn’t freak out too much, since something similar happened about six months ago. But since I’m going out-of-town tomorrow, I did want to get it checked out, so thus the emergency room.

Anticipating a long wait, I took my laptop to the hospital and just figured I would blog while waiting. Well, sometimes life throws you a bone, and no one else was there. I mean, the staff was there, but no one was in the waiting room. Y’all, they had me back in a room in under a minute and were taking my vitals before they even asked me my name. They were awesome. The doctor was back in no time, and I quickly got a diagnosis–folliculitis, which is inflammation of the hair follicles, usually due to infection. So he gave me a pill for the night, slapped me on the ass, and sent me back home with prescriptions to fill tomorrow.

He didn’t really slap me on my ass. (That only happens in porn.)

I asked the doctor if it was a hygiene problem, and he said, “You seem like a clean person. It’s probably just bad luck.” But Google said you can get folliculitis from using a hot tub, so that’s probably it. Suffice it to say, I should probably bathe after using hot tubs and stop thinking of the hot tub itself as a bath. Lesson learned.

This afternoon the chiropractor ran ultrasound therapy on the spot in my mid back that’s been giving me shit for a few months now, and I think it’s actually helping, so that feels like a small miracle. Then I had my oil changed, and the hot guy behind the cash register kept calling me sir, so that did not feel like a small miracle. Then I met with the three ladies I’ve been working with lately for their last dance lesson before their performance this weekend. Y’all, I’m so proud of them. Today they showed up for a full dress rehearsal and they looked killer, all decked out in fishnet hose, white tails, and top hats. They’ve come SO far from where we started a few months ago. As a teacher (and just a human), it’s really rewarding to see people work their butts off for something and have it come together.

After the dance lesson, Bonnie fed me and gave me beer. The whole family gathered in the living room for dinner and conversation, and I’m not exactly sure how to describe it. I guess most the time I always have this feeling that no matter what I’m doing, I should be doing something else. My mind is go, go, go nine times out of ten. But there’s something about Bonnie and Todd’s house, whether it’s their living room or front porch, something that says, Sit down, stay a while–you can relax and be yourself. After a while, we all settled into our devices, and I borrowed their high-speed internet to work on another writing project and go ahead and download the photos for tonight’s blog.

Tomorrow I leave for a weekend, spiritual retreat of sorts in Colorado. I’ll be breaking up the drive, and I’ll keep you posted as a I go along. Thursday’s blog may look like, Drove all day, tired, and that’s about it. We’ll see. Anyway, the retreat is basically about–I think–finding that place in yourself that’s always calm and centered. My therapist says I’m “going to get enlightened,” but I’m sure that’s not really something that happens over the course of three days and two nights. (I’m sure she doesn’t think that either.) Whatever happens, I’ll let you know how it goes, but now I’m all nervous and wondering how I’m going to get everything done before I leave and how I’ll have time to blog every day.

I’m taking the nerves as confirmation that I’m still in need of enlightenment, and therefore not wasting my time and money.

For the longest time I used to think that getting sick was some sort of personal failure. Maybe since I was a teenager, it’s always felt like if I ate better, exercised more, and didn’t “sin” so much (whatever that means), I’d be healthier. Consequently, going to the doctor was a problem because not only did I feel sick and vulnerable, I also felt–well–guilty. Thankfully, these thoughts and feelings have seriously subsided over the last few years. I mean, I certainly believe I have a huge role in the health of my body, but I also believe shit happens. Tonight at the emergency room, more than anything, I felt grateful–I walked right in, had wonderful care, and got answers. And people smiled at me.

This, of course, is not a little thing.

It seems to me that healing happens in little pieces. You spend most your life feeling afraid and even cynical, maybe for good reason. Life, after all, can be a real bitch sometimes. But then one day you wake up, and even if your nipples hurt, you still think the world is a good place to live. Or maybe you start at zero with a dance routine, and every time you move your body it feels like a question mark. Week after week you work, then finally things click, and you’re ready to light up the stage. So many times I think that life is some sort of dress rehearsal for something bigger, but the show is clearly right here, right now. (It’s not where we’re going, it’s how we get there.) On this stage you and I are not so different–we smile, we stumble, we get back up again. I’m starting to believe that deep down there’s a part of us that’s always calm and centered, confident in the knowledge that we can relax and be ourselves wherever we go. If we’re lucky, this part rises.

Quotes from CoCo (Marcus)

"That love inside that shows up as joy or enthusiasm is your authentic self."

On Being Mostly Dead

I finished house sitting this morning. Now I’m back at Mom and Dad’s. They’re asleep, and I’m sitting at the kitchen table, which I’ve decided is slightly better for my posture than slumping down in the living room chair. Still, I’m frustrated. I got spoiled this week with fast internet, and my hotspot is running slow. So far it’s taken me ten minutes to upload two photos to tonight’s blog, so that’s going to have to be enough. The pictures are me and a cat, so if you don’t like one of us, hopefully you’ll like the other. That being said, this is a writer’s blog, and the words are uploading just fine.

So there’s that.

Today I went to therapy, and it was the first time in a while that I haven’t gotten through my entire list of things to talk about it. This stresses me out, of course, but I’m learning to deal with it, since apparently you can’t get through and solve your entire life in just under an hour. We mostly discussed my fear of asking for what I want and believing I will get it. I don’t want to be too detailed at the moment, but an example would be my entering a writing contest and believing I have a shot at recognition. I’ve been reading about how current “charged” situations are often connected to childhood events, so we talked about once when I was in elementary school and basically did cartwheels across the room as I asked my teacher, Miss Jackson, if I could help pass out the milk that day. (I’ve blogged about this incident before, here.) The crux of the negative memory had to do with another teacher, who said my behavior was inappropriate.

Well, first off, my therapist started rapping–I’m sorry, Miss Jackson–I am for real–Never meant to make your daughter cry.

I’m not kidding. (I am for real.)

Anyway, when she finished with the chorus, she said, “Okay, now back to you. This hag had a problem with the fact that you were enthusiastic?”

“Yeah, basically.”

My therapist said we don’t know what this lady’s problem was–maybe she was jealous, maybe she was hung over, maybe she was on the rag. Regardless, despite the fact that it would be normal for a child to take the event personally, it doesn’t have to be my problem anymore, since I’m an adult. Just because some hooker from grade school had a bad day (people have bad days), doesn’t mean I can’t be enthusiastic now and believe good things will come from it.

Just to lighten the mood, here’s a picture of a cat in a sink. His name’s Riley, and he doesn’t give a tinker’s damn about my childhood–or yours. Isn’t that refreshing?

This evening I drove to Poteau, Oklahoma, and watched a friend of mine perform in the musical Little Shop of Horrors. (Horrors, by the way, is two syllables, not one.) Anyway, another friend was the director. If you don’t know, the show is about a florist shop with a plant that will only eat human blood and flesh. It’s kind of morbid when you think about it, but since there’s so much doo-wop music, it’s actually rather endearing. Not to ruin anything, but the last number is sung by all the dead people inside the plant, and it’s called “Don’t Feed the Plants.” Cute, right?

Well, as if the show weren’t enough entertainment, there was an ad in the program for a local funeral home. Picture this. In big, red (bloody) letters, it said, “Don’t Feed the Plants!” Then underneath that it said, “But if you do, we have two locations to serve your needs!”

Wow. Don’t die–but if you do–we’re here to help.

This morning I saw a tweet by Tim Ferris about the letters of Seneca. Seneca was a philosopher, a Stoic, around the time of Christ. Apparently he wrote a bunch of letters, essays, to a friend of his, covering an array of topics, and they’re currently enjoying a resurgence amongst the world’s businessmen and leaders because of their wisdom. So tonight I bought the book and started reading it. First off, Seneca says to not go running around reading a bunch of different authors and books–stick with you can handle. (Since I’m currently reading several books, including his, I’m ignoring that part.)

In another letter Seneca said we get fixated on and afraid of the moment of death, but the truth is that we’re already mostly dead. (Insert Princess Bride reference here.) What that means is that our entire life thus far is over–it belongs to the grave.

Healing is like the internet at my parents’ house–it takes time.

I think a lot of us get hung up on what’s already over. Personally, I know I’ve spent a lot of time talking about the past in therapy and on this blog. And whereas it would be easy to get bitter and to get stuck there, I’d like to be clear–my therapist won’t put up with that bullshit. (I will, but not for very long.) So I think the only healthy reason to go digging around in my childhood is because parts of it have been negatively impacting my current life. But if I can get the past sorted out and put away, then I can approach my future with a cleaner emotional slate. Sometimes I get frustrated that after three years of therapy there’s still stuff to deal with, but healing is obviously like the internet at my parents’ house–it takes time. Still, I believe it’s time worth taking, for anyone. Since one day we’ll all be plant food–I’m sorry, Miss Jackson–there’s no reason past emotional baggage should keep us from living as fully as possible right here, right now.

Quotes from CoCo (Marcus)

"Beating yourself up is a far cry from self-respect."

Trying to Manage Expectations

This afternoon Riley woke me up by sitting in the doorway and meowing over and over and over again. He has a history of rude behavior like this, so I’m honestly surprised he’s left me alone until today. I guess he figured if vomiting and breaking dishes weren’t getting me out of bed at a decent hour, he’d try the direct approach. I’m all for stating your needs, of course, but I also wasn’t getting up easily, so that’s when Riley got on the bed. Like, on top of me. “What, did we win the lottery?” I said, and turned back over. Then Riley moved to the nightstand, put his butt in my face without even asking first, and proceeded to circle the alarm clock as if he’d recently learned how to tell time.

Fine, I’ll get up. But I’m not happy about it.

It did occur to me that perhaps Riley was trying to tell me about a problem. You know, Lassie used to do that sort of thing, so for a moment I envisioned walking downstairs and finding Riley’s brother, Oscar, dead. I thought, That would really, really suck. But when I entered the living room I found Oscar hanging out in the sun by a window, totally alive and unconcerned about the fact that I was awake. So I ran my hand across his back and said, “You’re my favorite.”

This evening I met my friend Tess for a photo shoot where she was the photographer and I was the subject. I’ve been a bit nervous about the whole thing since we planned it, and I meant to spend the afternoon getting ready. I also meant to lose ten pounds, but that didn’t happen, one thing led to another, and I ended up saying fuck it and showering and throwing on my clothes at the last minute. Anyway, I met Tess first, then we rode together to a secret location marked with No Trespassing signs, walked right past the warnings, and began shooting.

I felt like such a rebel. Sort of like James Dean, but I had a cause and he didn’t.

Tess started by having me dance while she took pictures. You might think I’d be a natural at this sort of thing, but I really do better when I’m dancing with someone else and not just myself, especially considering the fact that I was sober. But whatever, I tried to have a good attitude, and when Tess asked me to jump up in the air and touch my toes, I simply thanked god for my stretchy jeans and said, “Okay, on the count of three.” Well, all of this was in direct sunlight, and even when it came time to stop jumping around and pose for the “high school senior” shots, I couldn’t stop perspiring. So we’ll see how things turn out. Maybe I’ll just look “radiant.”

For the next set of photos, Tess wanted to go to a different location and recreate some pictures of Gene Kelly she found online, pictures where he was wearing a gray sweatshirt. When she originally told me about the idea, I thought, Awesome, and went to Walmart and bought a Fruit of the Loom. Suffice it to say, maybe we should have thought it through a little more because by the time I got out of the wet clothes I was wearing for the jumping photos and pulled out the sweatshirt to put on, I was still sweating like a whore in church. I thought, This is sweatshirt is not going to help anything.

So that’s my excuse for being half-naked in this selfie. I’ll let Tess speak for herself. Personally, I think we could all stand to show more skin. As RuPaul says, “We’re born naked, and the rest is drag.”

By the time we got set for the Gene Kelly pictures, the sun was going down fast. Still, we persevered, and Tess clicked away as I put my thumbs in my pockets, crossed my arms, smiled, half-smiled, and wondered if I should have used more hairspray. When it was all over, I was exhausted. I also think I was stung by a wasp on my neck. Maybe it was just a mosquito. I’m not a veterinarian, so it’s hard to say what it was. Regardless, I’m now convinced models earn their money. Looking natural is harder than I thought.

Now I’m back at the house, and every time I get up to go the bathroom, Riley follows me. And whereas my bladder doesn’t have stage fright, I will say it’s a little weird having an audience when I go to the john. Last night I woke up to pee and found Riley sitting in the sink, waiting. I guess he does this because he likes to drink out of the faucet, so maybe it’s not personal. Anyway, I’ve spent the evening getting the house ready for my friends to come back–washing dishes, doing some laundry, eating peanut butter and jelly, stuff like that.

Earlier I was searching for a way to make toast and mistook a wine cooler for a toaster oven, so I know it’s getting close to my bedtime. The day starts early tomorrow, and the rest of the week will be packed, since I’m going out-of-town. Honestly, I’m a little overwhelmed, as I’ve been meaning to flip my sleep schedule for my upcoming travels, but it hasn’t happened–despite Riley’s help. Part of me is also concerned about the photos. You know, I’m a control freak AND I’m vain, so the struggle is real. My therapist says a big part of being happy is managing expectations, so I’m currently trying to set the bar low, not demand perfection of myself and others, and “let go and let Tess.” I haven’t seen a single picture yet, but so far it’s working. One way or the other, this week will come and go, the pictures will come back, and–most importantly–Riley will put his butt in someone else’s face.

Quotes from CoCo (Marcus)

"For I am a universe–large–like you are, and there is room here for all that we contain. An ego, of course, is small, and it is disgusted and humiliated by the smallest of things. But a universe is bigger than that, much too big to judge itself or another, much too big to ever question how bright it is shining."