No Pants. No Problem! (Austin, How I Love Thee)

It’s 8:40 in the evening, Bonnie is driving the convertible back home to Arkansas, and the sun is setting to our left. The sky is full of blues and pinks. Some are light and easy, some heavy and deep. With each passing moment they seem to change, as my mood does. It’s the first time I’ve blogged in daylight in I don’t remember when, the only time I’ve blogged in the car, and I’m working on saying goodbye to Austin–for now. It’s harder than I imagined it would be. But maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe it means I’m meant to be there, wearing tank tops, eating tacos, and breaking a sweat in the Texas sun–comfortably–in my own skin.

Yesterday Bonnie and I window shopped for Annie’s Pilates studio. We got a lot done, but we spent as much time goofing off as anything else. We’re probably the exact reason that some stores tell you not to take pictures, not to touch the pretty things, not to sit on the furniture. Take the picture of me and the cactus at the top of the blog, for instance. (We come as a set–wouldn’t the two of us look great in your living room?) Or take this picture (like Bonnie did).

On a related note–I don’t know if I’ve ever said this–I’d like to thank my parents for spending all that money for braces to fix my teeth. I’m sure you could have used the cash to–I don’t know–pay the mortgage. But I want you to know it makes a difference every day, and I’m especially thankful for my straight teeth every time I hold a giant magnifying glass in front of my mouth.

Here’s a picture we took at Pier 1. It’s sexy, I know. Very Pinocchio meets Mardi Gras.

After Pier 1, we went to Target, and we found the most amazing thing. We were in the home decor section, and there were a ton of individual block letters–the kind with multiple light bulbs inside each one. My first thought was to rearrange them, maybe spell my name. But then Bonnie and I noticed that someone had already done that. Well, they didn’t spell my name. Rather, on the first row they had spelled DICK, and on the second, MALL.

DICK MALL.

First, how creative–and naughty–is that? Second, where is this place? I mean, I love to shop, but I didn’t realize this was a thing you could shop for. (If it is, I wonder if they ever have a Buy One, Get One sale.) Anyway, it gets better. The picture doesn’t show it, but the third row spelled OOOH. So put those three words together–DICK MALL, OOOH–and you really have endless hours of entertainment if you just play around with how low, high, fast, or slow you say OOOH. I realize it may not be everyone’s sense of humor (maybe you would have had to have been there), but try it sometime.

After a hard day of window shopping (at the Dick Mall–see how this works?), we went to Torchy’s Tacos. Apparently it was good enough for President Obama, and it was good enough for me too. I’m pretty sure the taco on the left was called The Democrat. I know one of them was, but the left would make more sense.

When tacos were over, we checked out a used clothing store. I didn’t buy anything, but I had fun trying stuff on. My favorite items were a shirt that said Texas with a picture of the Lonestar, and a pair of polka-dotted pants that were so tight I had to sit down on the floor to get them over my heels. They might seem pretty loud, but I guarantee you that no one in Austin would have even noticed them unless they were on fire, and had they fit, I’d be wearing them right now.

And no, I’m not sure they weren’t women’s pants, but I did find them in the men’s section. I swear. As a thirteen-year-old boy told me once at summer camp, “Boys, girls–what’s the difference these days?”

This afternoon Bonnie and I went for breakfast tacos at an iconic Austin restaurant called Maria’s. I was too busy eating to take many pictures, but I did take this one. It says, “No zapatos [no shoes]–no tacos. No pants–no problem!”

No pants, no problem! I mean, this is my kind of town. Bonnie and I just looked at each other and said–

DICK MALL.

This afternoon was more window shopping, more window shopping. In anticipation of blogging on the road tonight, I left my phone, which I use as a hotspot, at the apartment to charge. So I didn’t take a picture of any of the amazing mid-century modern furniture we saw, or the crumbled beer can I saw in a lamp store that said, “I got smashed in Las Vegas.”

Our last meal in Austin was at a place called Gourdough’s, and it was perfect. Most of their items include donuts, and all their items have fun names, like Saussy Cock, Boss Hog, and Drunken Hunk. My meal was called Mother Clucker, and it was friend chicken–on a doughnut!–with melted honey butter. I took one look at it and told the waitress, “I’m going to need a side of insulin.”

You can be weird here. You can be yourself.

Now it’s ten-thirty, and the sky is dark. My laptop illuminates my side of the car. In addition to writing, I’ve been thinking about what I love about Austin. At least for a while, the saying there was, “Keep Austin Weird,” a priority that seems obvious whenever you look around and see a hand-knitted blanket that’s been hung on an overpass as art, a sign that says, “Please remove your spurs before dancing on the table,” or a bathroom door that says, “Whichever.” You look at the people and see a thousand tattoos, bodies of every shape and size, skin exposed, proud and confident. All of it seems to say–you can be weird here–you can be yourself.

In truth I think you can be yourself anywhere, but maybe some places make it easier, give you more space to grow. I’m terrible with plants (they always die), but I’ve seen my aunt move a budding plant from one pot to another because it needed more room. So maybe it’s like that for people too.

There’s a spiritual teacher, Don Miguel Ruiz, who says, “Change as fast as God.” The way I see it, that’s another way of saying, “Be here, now,” or don’t spend so much time thinking about the fact that you’re not in Austin that you forget to enjoy where you actually are. So as I leave Austin and head back to Arkansas, I intend to soak up every bit of good that life has to offer me there. Still, even now, it’s as if Austin’s calling, “Come back. Come back real soon. And stay. We’re weird here. You’ll fit right in.”

Quotes from CoCo

"Sickness and health come and go, just like everything else. It's just the way life is."

The Sweetest Sound

When I was a kid, my sister and I would spend at least a couple of weeks every summer in Mississippi. There we would stay with our friend April and her family, who used to live in Fort Smith. I remember the small town they lived in with one stop sign, where we made our fun by splashing in cheap, plastic swimming pools in the backyard, hanging upside down from trees in the front, and walking along the cotton patches while dragging sticks behind us in the dirt. It’s funny the memories that stick with you, like the feeling of the antique chair that needed a new spring in the seat, the taste of cold milk in a glass mason jar, the clink of silverware on blue and white patterned china. Even now I can’t look at a kudzu vine without thinking of April and Carrolton, Mississippi. It seems all of these things are tied together in a knot that’s so tight I can’t imagine it will ever come undone.

Recently I came across a three-ring binder in my parents’ garage overflowing with handwritten letters from April. I guess when we were young, she was my best friend, my confidant, and we used to write each other ten, twenty, thirty-page letters about every little thing that happened. As kids, we all went to summer camp together. As teenagers, April and I worked at that same summer camp, a place I called home for nine summers of my life. I don’t have the time or space to tell you what that place meant to me, but I don’t think I ever drove back home to Arkansas without crying.

For a couple of summers, April and I taught canoes together. We used to get pretty silly, so every day we’d teach the campers a different way to spit water out of their mouths. I’m sure the parents didn’t realize they were paying for this sort of education, so I considered it like a bonus. Sometime you’ll have to ask me about the water pump spit, the inverted water pump spit, and the sprinkler spit, but until then, here’s a picture of a spit whose name I have forgotten. (Damn if my pecs didn’t look fantastic.)

As we got older, April and I grew apart. Life takes everyone in different directions sooner or later. April got married, had three children, divorced. She and my sister reconnected, but April and I weren’t even friends on Facebook. A lot of people at camp used to say that April and I would get married, and even though we never dated we were so close, so it felt weird, maybe intrusive. Plus, I hadn’t come out to anyone at summer camp. I simply didn’t know how to handle any of it, so I didn’t.

They say time changes everything. A few years ago, April and I spoke online. She talked about her family. I said I was gay. She said she figured, didn’t matter. Since then, we’ve kept up in messages, not like the ones we used to send–about every little thing–but still in long, uncensored, run-on paragraphs that feel familiar, comfortable like an old t-shirt you like to sleep in.

A few months ago, just when I moved back in with my parents, April sent me a message that said, “Get your butt to Texas. You can stay with me.” Even now I’m a bit floored by the offer.  I mean, I haven’t seen her in ten years. Who says that? But I guess the answer is a dear friend. A dear friend says that.

Yesterday April noticed online that I’m currently in Austin and sent me a message that said she was coming into town with her boyfriend to have dinner and would like me to join them. So Bonnie loaned me her car (a convertible!), and I went. April got there first, and she sent me a text that said to walk to the back. Well, I looked everywhere and was just about to go back to the front door and start over. But then out of nowhere April swooped in and gave me the biggest hug.

As we sat down, it felt a lot like any reunion. How are your brother and sister? Where do you work? Whatever happened to the other counselor in your cabin? For the most part, it was nonstop like this for two hours. April’s boyfriend joined in, but it was mainly the Marcus and April show. As the night went on, I kept thinking how much both of us have changed, how much shit we’ve both been through.

Some things are timeless, safe from the grips of gravity.

Sometimes I look back at that kid in the swim trunks at summer camp, and I can still remember what he was thinking, the way he loved singing Bill Grogan’s Goat and giving the kids piggy back rides, the way he hated the mosquito bites almost as much as he hated saying goodbye to his friends. When I think about camp, there’s so much that’s palpable, but when I look in the mirror and see pictures of other counselors with other campers online, I’m reminded that “they” are right–time changes everything. My days at camp are a distant echo. I’ve been through hell and back since then. Parts of me are still the same, but so much is dramatically different. I know it’s the same for April too.

“Remember when I accidentally hit that one girl in the face with my canoe paddle?” I said.

“Yeah, that must have hurt.”

“I mean, she seemed to take it well.”

“Marcus.” April put her elbows on the table and leaned in. “A face is a face.”

And then it happened. Both of us reared back in our chairs and burst out laughing. In that moment, I realized I hadn’t actually heard April’s laughter in over ten years. To my delight, it sounded just like it did when we were children all crammed in the backseat of a hot car, just like it did when we were teenagers and we’d tump over a canoe full of kids on purpose.

Yes, twenty years changes a person. His chest falls, his waistline slumps like the seat of an antique chair. Everything fades with the seasons, the way unpicked cotton eventually falls to the ground. In the end, gravity wins, changing our bodies the way that hard times and disappointments change children into adults. But some things, I think, are timeless, safe from the grips of gravity. Among them are memories of cold milk in glass mason jars, children riding piggy back, and canoes filled up with water. But perhaps the best thing that doesn’t change is the sound of a dear friend, reared back, laughing. A friend’s laughter, after all, takes us backward and carries us forward simultaneously. Growing only richer and deeper with age, it’s a beautiful sound indeed, best enjoyed by one who has heard it hundreds–if not thousands–of times before.

Quotes from CoCo

" Beautiful isn’t something that comes in a particular package. Beautiful is simply being yourself."

Feline Empowered

After an afternoon of looking at and discussing–and cussing–flooring and paint samples for Annie’s new pilates studio, Bonnie and I decided our brains were fried like that egg in the “this is your brain on drugs” commercials. (Except–I’d just like to clarify–we weren’t on drugs. We were HUNGRY.) Anyway, when we got to the taco shack, right as it was our turn, some lady in a sundress (everyone wears sundresses here, even the guys–it’s Austin) CUT IN FRONT OF US.

What the hell?

But whatever. The tacos were worth the wait. I was too busy eating them to take a picture, but let me just say this. I would eat these tacos for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I would invite these tacos to my wedding. That’s how much I love them. I might even go up three pant sizes for these tacos. I mean, maybe. Definitely two. I’d have to pray about anything more than that.

After tacos we took a walk in the Austin heat to pay for our sins, and I spotted a small bag of pot lying on the ground. It was actually right in front of the Verizon store, in the parking lot. Like it had just fallen out of someone’s pocket, just waiting for the right person to come along and pick it up like a lucky penny. God’s way of saying, “What else do you need to finally relax?”

“Well, God, I’m gonna need more than a little weed. YOU KNOW POT MAKES ME PARANOID.”

So we stopped at a bar and grill, and I went with this stuff in the glass instead. Old reliable.

After drinks, on the way back to the apartment, Bonnie and I saw a bunch of stickers on a telephone pole. Bonnie’s favorite looked like one of those name tags you get when you attend a conference and said, “Hello my name is–Fancy Pants.” My favorite was a frog that said, “How high are you?” since–ironically enough–I wasn’t.

This evening, Bonnie, Annie, and I, went to a West Coast Swing dance, and I got a taste of Austin traffic due to a construction zone, which is always a nice place to practice patience. Or take a selfie. You can always take a selfie in a construction zone. Yeah, do that instead, Marcus. Eff patience.

After the dance tonight, Bonnie and I decided to go to Lady Bird Lake and go for a jog. Well, Google Maps kind of sucks, and we ended up doing a lot of driving around, something that doesn’t burn many calories. At one point, we did stop, get out, and find a trail, but God only knows where we were. We ended up jogging in the dark, and before we knew it, we were surrounded by trees, standing in the middle of a dried river bed, and there was a small cliff that dropped down to the water. I kept thinking, Jurassic Park–we’ve found Jurassic Park–it’s only a matter of minutes before the dinosaurs come and we die.

But we didn’t die. We just turned around and went back the way we came. There weren’t any dinosaurs. (I hope the suspense wasn’t too much for you.)

Later, about midnight and after a lot of four-wheel exploring, we parked again and took off down a trail that was clearly marked “Park closed after 10 PM.” So the whole time we’re walking around this lake, and I’m such a rule-follower that I’m picturing a helicopter up in the sky shining a flood light on us and then swooping down and carrying us off to jail for being such disobedient tourists. But I just kept walking, thinking, I’m a rebel–a rebel, that’s me–I walk in parks after closing time. And then we stumbled across a basketball court, and there were like eight teenagers, toddlers really, playing basketball–in the park, after curfew–so I thought, Maybe I’m not such a rebel after all.

Here’s a picture of the capital at night. I took it after we successfully evaded being arrested at the park.

Last week my friend Jessica asked me, “If you were an animal, what would it be?” Well, I hadn’t put a lot of thought into it before, so I stalled. But Jessica said, “You’re not supposed to think about it,” so I said, “A jaguar.” Later that night I looked up jaguars, and the great and powerful internet said they represent making sense of chaos, moving in unknown places, and empowering oneself.

The jaguar thing has been on my mind today because I keep noticing cats and cat things around Austin. To be fair, Annie has a cat (named Eggnog) in the apartment, and she also has a coffee mug that says, “Feline Good.” But there’s also a shop down the road called The Pretty Kitty, and it jumps out at me whenever we drive or walk by. Of course, The Pretty Kitty is a Brazilian Waxing shop, so that’s obviously not the same kind of cat, but still, a cat’s a cat.

Here’s a picture of me and Eggnog. She likes to watch videos on people’s phones, so today I showed her this one. It’s a scene from The Birdcage with Nathan Lane and Robin Williams that never fails to make me laugh. Eggnog seemed to think it was just okay, but I won’t judge her too much for her lack of culture.

Anyway, I think the cat/jaguar thing is so fascinating. In a very real sense, my life feels so chaotic lately. I mean, I woke up before noon today. If that’s not out of control, I don’t know what is. But seriously, it feels like my life is a mess. But every day, I sit down at this keyboard and try to make sense of it all. Like Bonnie and I did tonight in Jurassic Park, I try to find my way through the dark, to move in unknown places, to explore. Often, putting my life on the internet feels like an act of vulnerability, and I suppose it is. But I’m finding that it’s also an act of empowerment. The paradox of my life right now is that although I’m working less and have less than I ever have (including a plan), I feel stronger now than I ever have.

There’s a story about a lion cub separated from his family, raised by vegetarians. They say, “You eat squash and tomatoes. Yummy.” And then one day he’s reunited with his family, and they say, “Hey, wait a damn minute. Put down that carrot. You’re a meat eater.” Of course, at first, he’s uncertain. He thinks, I don’t know if I can eat this lamb. But then it’s like he remembers. This is who I am. Now, where’s the beef?

So maybe that’s where strength comes from. Forgetting who everyone else says you are, you simply remember–who you actually are. And then you can better make sense of all the chaos. Even if the night is dark and the way is rocky, you can find your way because, just like a jaguar, you are powerful, and you can handle whatever comes. You just have to remember. This is who I am.

Quotes from CoCo

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

Something Shifted

Today my friend Bonnie and I drove to Austin, Texas, to visit her daughter Annie. Well, okay, Bonnie drove while I slept and drooled on a pink pillow strapped around my neck. (I only woke up every couple of hours to eat lunch, use the bathroom, or freak out in big-city traffic.) I really think sleeping on road trips is the best thing ever. It’s like time traveling, or at least teleporting. Close your eyes in one city–open them in another.

Beam me up, Bonnie.

Somewhere–I couldn’t tell you–we stopped for a bathroom and coffee break at a Buc-ee’s, which is basically a warehouse-sized gas station/grocery store/Hobby Lobby with a beaver for a mascot. I’ve never seen anything so ridiculous and mesmerizing in all my life. I’m pretty sure I could have gotten an oil change and a pedicure if I’d wanted to. The place was so big (everything’s bigger in Texas), I think I met my cardio requirements for the day just walking to the bathroom, which had 34 freaking urinals. (I don’t think anyone minded me tapping him on his shoulder as I counted.) I mean, there were so many toilets, I could only assume they hosted competitions.

Just look at the mouth on that beaver. (I guess the positive side to only having two teeth is that flossing would be super easy. Then again, you wouldn’t make much money off the Tooth Fairy, so there’s that.)

Here’s a picture of what our car ride looked like after I woke up and took the neck pillow off. I’m reading a book called The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning of Importance of Fairy Tales by Bruno Bettleheim. It was written by a child psychologist and is a pretty fascinating read about the positive things fairy tales do for both children and adults. Anyway, I think Bonnie was listening to Tracy Chapman about this time, but it might have been STYX or Cat Stevens.

When we got to Austin, Bonnie and I stopped by Annie’s work, a chiropractor’s office where she teaches pilates. After a short reunion and a discussion about whether the bathroom door was green or blue (we still don’t know), Bonnie and I got a key to Annie’s apartment and left to unload our things while Annie finished working.

Like any good nosy houseguest, one of the first things I did when we got to Annie’s apartment was look through her books. One of them had to do with astrology, and although I don’t make a big fuss about horoscopes, I am interested in the zodiac from a personality perspective. Since I’m a Virgo, that was the section I flipped to. The information was mostly familiar, but it said one thing I hadn’t heard before, that Virgos are focused on functionality. Basically, they cut through the crap and get down to what’s useful. Whereas a sign like Gemini seeks out all information (knowledge for the sake of knowledge), a Virgo seeks out only useful information (knowledge for the sake of transformation).

This evening the three of us walked to a local restaurant and sat on the patio for dinner. (That’s us at the top of the blog.) We spent most of our time talking about decorating ideas, since Annie’s about to move her pilates business to a space of her own (!). I’m sure we’ll dance and do other things this week, but Annie’s new space is really the reason for the trip. (Get excited. Tomorrow we look at flooring and paint samples.)

Back at the apartment, as we were all talking about pilates and the new studio, I told Annie that I’ve been to a number of body workers over the years, but there were still things about my body that I wanted to change, like the fact that my right hip always feels like it’s in my rib cage, or the fact that my shoulders are rounded, or the fact that my head constantly turns to the left. Annie said she’d be glad to talk to me about it, and I said, “Like right now?”

“Yeah, like right now.”

So Annie had me kick my shoes off and stand in front of her mirror. Then she bent down and started measuring my body with her fingers. It felt like going to the seamstress. Well, within a few minutes, Annie had a plan, explaining that the muscles around my rib cage are tight on the right side (and weak on the left), so they pull my rib cage down into my right hip.

Of course, it’s never just one thing. I have other muscles (in my butt) that are stronger on one side than the other, and all of it contributes to my imbalances. But Annie said we’d start with stretching, so she had me lie on a foam roller for ten or fifteen minutes. At first I was like the Y in YMCA, but then my arms fell asleep, so I ended up like this.

After a few minutes, I could feel some of the muscles across my chest start to relax. Ever so slightly, something shifted. And then Annie gave me some exercises to work on, things to lengthen and strengthen my abdominal wall and help stabilize my hips. Usually my hips feel pretty tight, rigid, like a door that’s rusted shut. But as Annie walked me through the exercise, I actually felt them move–no, I felt them slide. And get this shit. When I got up, I was visibly better. Like a wilted flower that’s been watered, I stood taller, more level, less slumped.

I’m trying to be open to whatever life brings.

Since last year when I decided to close my dance studio, I’ve been telling myself and everyone else that I’m trying to be open to whatever life brings. Like, I think I want to move to Austin, but I’m open to other ideas, other possibilities. I mean, I’ve been at my parents’ for a few months, and although that wasn’t my original plan, I’ve tried to be open to the fact that good can and is coming from that situation (this blog, for example). So since earlier this week when Bonnie invited me to Austin for a few days, I’ve been trying to not make a big deal of it. I knew that I could get down here and absolutely love it, but I also knew that I could get down here and feel like it wasn’t the place for me.

But I’ll say this. Two hours outside of the city today, ever so slightly, something shifted. I can’t say more about it than that. My therapist says when she moved from her hometown, it felt like a lightening bolt up her spine. My experience today wasn’t that dramatic. But my body did feel different, and it felt–good. Now that I’m here in Austin, it just feels good. There are hot people–hot guys–jogging the streets. There was a lady in Annie’s office today–a lady with gray hair–who had a cut off t-shirt with a picture of an old dude on a bicycle that said, “Put the fun in between your legs.” Tonight our waitress (who grew up in Kenya) had a tattoo that said, “The journey is the destination.” She was just cool. Annie told us one day she was at a park and stumbled upon a naked yoga class for pregnant women. Imagine that!

Honestly, I love all of that. I can’t tell you how much I would love to call this place–or a place like it–my home.

One day–just like that–you find something that works.

And then there’s Annie and the little pilates miracle that happened tonight on her living room floor. Talk about finally finding some information that’s functional, information that’s transformational. One of my best friends is always saying, “It’ll change your life,” as in, “This cheesecake will change your life,” or “This hairspray will change your life.” But really, folks, if I could get my body more in balance, get this hip back to where it’s supposed to be, that really could change my life. It could make it better.

I realize there’s a lot of work left to do here. By that I mean, I’m probably a long way from standing taller, holding my shoulders back, sticking my chest out proud. I’m probably also a long way from realizing my dream of being a full-time writer and living in Austin, fun in between my legs, naked yoga in the park, whatever. But maybe not. I’m finding that you can spend years sorting through crap, all kinds of information and possibilities. And then one day–just like that–you find something that works, something that clicks, something that’s useful. Maybe you can’t put your finger on it, but you know for certain–something has shifted ever so slightly, and it feels–good.

Quotes from CoCo

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

Every Little Thing Is Gonna Be All Right

A few days ago my sister, Dee-Anne, posted pictures of my nephews dressed up like Peter Pan and Captain Hook, and I still can’t get over how freaking adorable they are. I guess they did some Peter Pan things on their recent trip to Disneyland (this uncle is totally jealous), came home and watched the cartoon, and decided they needed to do some make-believing. The younger one apparently did some serious make-believing because he jumped off the fireplace, tried to fly, and gave himself a black eye. My comment was–next time use pixie dust.

Just look how cute. Ugh. This is one proud uncle. This is also one guilty uncle because I didn’t send either of them gifts for their recent birthdays. However, I’m sure adding them to my blog will more than make up for it. Isn’t being on your uncle’s blog about mental health every child’s dream?

This afternoon was my second day at the Arkansas New Play Festival. After watching two short readings and a production by a group of local high school and college students, I used the break time to grab some food at a place called Deluxe. I’d never been there before, and I rarely break out of the familiar when it comes to restaurants, but I thought, Live a little. Well, I made the right decision. Check out this green chile and avocado burger on two slices of carbohydrate heaven.

I ate every bit of that delicious bun, but notice I had a salad instead of fries. (Something must be working. I’m down five pounds since Nashville’s Put Your Stretch Pants to the Test Tour.) Before I left the restaurant, I took a picture of this sign, which I kind of took as the universe sending me a friendly reminder.

Of course that reminder would be–use good grammar, since it should technically be “all right.” I blame my high school English teacher for the fact that I’m so anal about shit like this. She used to correct our grammar WHILE WE PRAYED. Also, I know that she would prefer me to say that she’s the reason I’m so anal about “shoot” or–even better–“stuff” like this, but not every lesson sunk in.

The last play today was (I)sland Tra(p), which was written and acted by Austin Ashford. It was a modern retelling of the story of Odysseus and was simply stunning. Throughout the play, Austin rapped, played a ukulele and sang, and even had the audience coo like birds because part of his quest included finding a magical bird. There were some beautiful lines, and I kept opening a notebook I brought along and writing some of them down. One of my favorites was, “Run away to a place where you know your worth.”

You may start out alone, but you don’t end up alone.

Not to give it away, but there was a scene at the end of the play in which Austin was about to die. Once again, he asked the audience to coo like birds, which they did, and it restored his life. As the room filled with cooing, I couldn’t help but think of the part in Peter Pan when the audience is asked to clap to bring Tinkerbell back to life. Austin made mention later that we all need each other, and I think that’s what the cooing-clapping imagery is all about. When you “run away to a place where you know your worth,” you may start out alone, but you don’t end up alone, and there will always be help along the way.

This evening as part of a Father’s Day that’s going to take me a while to celebrate, I spent the evening with my friend CJ because she deep-fried a turkey and gave it to me to give my dad. I hadn’t seen CJ in a while, and she kept asking if I wanted any turkey and potatoes, any homemade bread with honey, any apple pie moonshine.

Well, I wasn’t about to be rude and turn any of that down. I was raised better.

After dinner CJ took me outside to show me her bee boxes. (The honey came from her farm.) She said, “You don’t want to come back in your next life as a drone bee,” and then explained that drone bees have one purpose and one purpose only–to screw the queen and get that bitch pregnant. (These are my words, not CJ’s.) Anyway, she said that if a drone bee does get some of dat royal booty, he immediately dies. (Danger, Will Robinson, Danger.) And if the line of suitors is just too long and he doesn’t end up having sex with the queen, he is literally escorted out of the hive when winter comes, and the Secret Service bees block the door so he can’t get back in. So he freezes to death.

Well, I guess I have Peter Pan on the brain because that made me think of the pirates who were made to walk the plank. (Hope you can swim!) But really, talk about a raw deal. Screw the queen–drop dead. Don’t screw the queen–die anyway. The next time you have a bad day–maybe because you haven’t gotten laid in a while–think about drone bees and see if your mood doesn’t improve. In the meantime, check out this sweet honey. It’s sort of like the silver lining to the sad story about the drone bees. At least it was for me.

CJ also told me that if the queen bee gets sick or dies, the other bees–like wizards–make another one. I guess there’s this stuff called royal jelly, and they feed it to a few of the ugly duckling bees and–Viola!–they turn into beautiful swans (queen bees). Of course, “there can only be one,” so the strongest becomes the queen. And because bees are real hard asses, the lesser queens have to die. (Rules are rules.) Anyway, the part about royal jelly just goes to show that the right diet is everything, especially if you want to be a queen.

Tonight I ran for four and a half miles. That’s the longest I’ve gone since “getting back into it.” Pretty much the whole time, I kept thinking about those bees. CJ said that bees stay warm in the winter because they form a big ball (a bee ball–get it?) around the queen and vibrate their wings to keep each other warm. She said it stays 92 degrees in those boxes! Talk about teamwork.

I still feel sorry for those drone bees though, totally objectified, one-trick ponies really, valued only for their bee sperm. Part of me wishes I could tell them that they deserve better, tell them to find a good therapist, like, why do you put up with that crap?

Yes, CJ was right. You have it better as a human. You don’t die after sex (unless it gets REALLY kinky). You get second chances. Maybe sometimes you get kicked out by one person, one group, and it feels like a death. But guaranteed there’s another person, another group waiting for you somewhere, willing to let you know that every little thing is gonna be all right. If you haven’t found them, keep looking–go on an adventure–because they’re waiting for you–already cooing, clapping their hands, beating their wings to help bring you back to life.

[Thanks, Austin, for your inspiration and beautiful words. Thanks, CJ, for a wonderful evening. It felt like home.]

Quotes from CoCo

"Better that you're true to yourself and the whole world be disappointed than to change who you are and the whole world be satisfied."

Put Your Best Left Foot Forward

Okay, I’m running on three hours of sleep here. Well, all right, fine. I’m also running on four blueberry pancakes and thee glasses of Glenlivet. But the pancakes and the scotch are just making me even more tired that I already was, so I don’t think they should even be figured into the equation. No, I’m sure they shouldn’t. Regardless, I’m seriously considering using duct tape to keep my eyes open, maybe taking a cold shower and substituting the bar of soap with a nine-volt battery. Hello!

I got up early today in order to attend the Arkansas New Play Festival, which is a two-weekend–uh–thing involving–damn it, brain–plays. (I’m gonna try this again.) It’s a multiple-day event where new plays, or plays that are still in production, are read in front of live audiences, after which the writers and directors get feedback about what works, what doesn’t work.  It’s like a trial-run for theater shows. At least that’s my scotch and pancakes understanding of it.

Today the festival was at Crystal Bridges in Bentonville. (Tomorrow it’s at Theater Squared in Fayetteville.) Y’all, I have never seen so many people in all my life. It was like the population of Queens descended on the lobby of Crystal Bridges. I guess everyone was there to see the Chihuly exhibit, which I thought had something to do with hot sauce, but actually has to do with blown glass. Here’s a picture of the only exhibit I could see for free. I don’t know what the official title is, but I’m either calling it Pretty Glass Balls in Ugly Water, or simply, Jesus Left His Toys Behind. (As my friend Mary recently said, “Marcus, I wonder about you.”)

But back to the festival. Today’s schedule included two plays with a break in between. I thought both plays were extremely well-acted, and I especially enjoyed the writing of the second play, which was called Comet Town and was written by Rick Erhstin. I’m not doing so great with descriptions tonight, so I’ll just say it was about a fucked-up family with a grandfather with dementia who thought the planes flying over his home were comets and the sounds coming from the pipes in the basement were his dead wife. The dialogue and acting were so compelling that for probably thirty minutes I had a steady stream of tears running down my face. If things had gotten any sadder, I would have needed my bathing suit.

Thank God I sat in the back row.

When the play was over, the lady next to me–who was one of the actors from the first play–struck up a conversation. For a few minutes we talked about the festival and then progressed to–Where are you from?–Where are YOU from?–What do you do?–What do YOU do? (You know how it goes.) Anyway, she was the nicest lady you’d ever want to meet, and when I told her that I was a dance teacher and a writer, she asked if I taught a class on Friday nights. Well, we’d been talking about theater, so I thought she was talking about theater classes, so I said, “Oh no, that’s someone else.” But then she said she meant dancing classes, since she’d heard of a dancer/writer who taught swing dance classes in the area. Well, I have a friend who does that, so I said, “No, that’s someone else. He’s Asian.” And then–AND THEN–she said, “No, this guy is white. He writes a blog about his therapist.”

That’s funny, I thought, I write a blog about MY therapist.

Wait a minute.

Oh. My. God.

(She’s talking about me.)

Seriously, my head got so big that I thought I was going to lose my balance and fall out of my chair.

I told the lady–whose name is Rebecca and has a sister who’s danced with me a couple of times and recommended the blog–that she was the first person I’d met “in real life” who’d read the blog that I didn’t already know. So I asked her if she’d take a selfie with me (I think she said yes) and told her I planned on putting it on the blog because that’s not weird. (Right? That’s not weird?)

Okay, I really feel like we can stop there. Period. The end. What else is important after your day has been made? But fine, I’ll keep going. And don’t worry, my head will return to normal size by this time tomorrow.

Leaving Crystal Bridges, I headed for my friend Betty’s house to spend the night and save myself a lot of time on the road tonight and tomorrow. When I got to Betty’s, she’d just started a yoga workout, so I said I wanted to join. Well, I haven’t done yoga in over six months, so for thirty minutes I stretched, moaned, and discovered aches and pains in muscles I didn’t even know I had. When the video ended, I lay in a pile of sweat and regret and decided to turn my life over to Jesus and repent of my sinful eating habits. I thought, chocolate cake is evil–carbohydrates are for heathens–fried chicken is the devil’s workshop.

And then Betty asked if I wanted pancakes for dinner, and I said, “Hell yes” because–life is ironic.

So the coolest thing. Sometime shortly after 2005 when I opened my former dance studio, I designed the studio’s one and only t-shirt. I think we sold like twenty-five of them. Well, Betty was one of my first students in those days, and she bought one of the shirts and still has it (and wore it tonight for yoga). The front says, “Put your best left foot forward” because I can’t tell you the number of times someone has told me, “I have two left feet,” as if that’s a legitimate excuse for not dancing or not being willing to learn. I mean, THAT’S WHAT LESSONS ARE FOR. Anyway, check out the shirt.

I just remembered that the phrase “put your best left foot forward” came from the guy I was dating at the time. I thought it was so clever–and still do–that I put it on the shirts and planned to use it for fliers, coffee mugs, and maybe a personal tramp stamp. But alas, best laid plans. But even now, I think it’s a great encouragement. So many nights–most of them–I sit down to write this blog, and it feels like I have two left feet. I don’t know where I’m going or how I’m going to get there. More often than not, I think, Just quit–stay where you are. (This happens in life too.)

Standing still is no longer good enough.

However, I’ve promised myself I’m going to write. Of course, I want every word to be glorious. (Is that too much to ask?) I want people to laugh and I want them to cry. I don’t like it when it my words stumble along anymore than anyone else does. But the fact is that sometimes we move with grace and sometimes we move with struggle. This afternoon when I watched the plays, it was evident that things were still in progress. I mean, there were some glorious moments (I laughed–I cried), but there were also moments that fell flat. And whereas I’m often critical of such things, I’ve reminded myself this evening that we all have a right to put our best left foot forward. In fact, it takes buckets of courage and vulnerability for someone to do that.

Maybe I’ve never said this before, but when it comes to dancing and dieting and writing and living–I don’t have it all figured out. (There, I admit it.) I’m sure I never will. But rather than giving up, I’m willing to give it a try, willing to stumble along, willing to put one left foot in front of the other, since standing still is no longer good enough.

Quotes from CoCo

"For all of the things life takes away, it gives so much more in return. Whether we realize it or not, there’s always grace available."

On Falling Down and Getting Back Up Again

Okay, shit.

It’s four-thirty in the morning, and Daddy is tired. My dancer friend Matt drove down from Springfield yesterday, and we’ve been dancing and (only because this is a blog about honesty) drinking since seven-thirty last night. We met at my friend Bonnie’s house, and we started off Blues dancing, which is slow and easy and not demanding at all. Next we picked it up with a little solo jazz work, choreographing a dance routine for Matt to teach to a rock-a-billy song. Then we worked on Lindy Hop, which if you don’t know, is a swing dance that requires a lot of bouncing, running around, and acting a damn fool. And then–and then–after five hours of all of that, we thought it would be a good idea to work on lifts and aerials, things that required Daddy to jump up in the air and turn himself upside down. That part required A LOT  of energy.

In retrospect, we should have done everything in reverse.

The last time Matt and I worked together, I showed him a move called the saxophone. The idea is that the leader steps in front of the follower, basically shoves his hips into “her” pelvis, and slings her around the front of his body, landing her on his opposite leg and simultaneously inverting her. Here’s a video of what it’s supposed to look like. (The video includes two moves. The first is called the pancake. The second is the saxophone.)

When Matt and I worked before, I just demonstrated the move as a leader, since I’d never done the follower’s part. I mean, I’m thirty-six, and that’s no exactly the age to START putting your ankles above your head, at least on the dance floor. Plus, I weigh a hundred and ninety pounds. (People say, “You wear it well,” like that’s a compliment, but is more like code for, “I didn’t realize were that fat.”) Anyway, tonight when Matt asked if I wanted to try following the saxophone, I was like–Uh, uh, uh–sure.

So for over an hour, we tried and tried and tried again. I fell down. Matt fell down. Matt dropped me on my back. Matt dropped me on my side. Bonnie recorded over thirty failed attempts. Bonnie’s friend Corban was there, and he recorded probably just as many. (No one recorded the ONE time we got it right.) I’ll spare you most of the carnage, but here’s a video I love that Corban captured in slow motion. All things considered, it’s pretty good, except of course the part at the end when I land on my back.

About one-thirty or two in the morning, we wore out and quit. I mean, sometimes you have to know when you’re licked. I guess I could get frustrated that it “didn’t happen,” but I can’t tell you how good it felt to try something new, to be slung through the air, even if it wasn’t perfect. Now, whether it will feel good in a couple of days is yet to be decided. I’m guessing it won’t.

The last time Matt and I worked on lifts and aerials, we worked on a move called the frog jump. It’s basically just a simple jump where no one turns upside down, but the trick is getting the follower to jump high enough and lift their knees. If the move is done right, the leader can hold the follower still above his shoulder before letting them down.

Even though the frog jump is considered simple, it’s not easy. Everyone has a job to do, and the timing has to be just right. Well, Matt’s been working on the frog jump since the last time I saw him, and he’s made a ton of progress. So we tried it tonight, and check it out.

After Matt and I finished working, Bonnie fed us, and we all hung out in her kitchen for a couple of hours. We talked about getting older but not feeling older, except for the fact that maybe your hips hurt more than they did a decade ago. (Corban, who just graduated high school, didn’t chime in too much on this part of the conversation for some reason.) We talked about dancing. We talked about tattoos. (Corban’s the only one who has one.)

Here’s what I loved about out time in Bonnie’s kitchen. At any point after ten in the evening, Bonnie could have easily kicked us out of her house, but she never did. We only left (about four in the morning) because I wanted to blog and also plan on getting up before noon tomorrow–er–today. (This is so confusing.) But as for Bonnie, she wasn’t in a hurry to end the conversation, to have us leave, to go to bed.

In contrast, I know that so many times as a dancer, I get in a hurry. I start working on a new move and want to “have it,” like now. Even sometimes when I’m working with a talented dancer like Matt, I want him to have it, like now. Not because I’m impatient with him, but because I’m excited. It’s fun to watch those “aha” moments happen. But really, those are pretty rare. More often, successes in dance are hard-earned. They come in pieces. You fall down, you get dropped, your body hurts for a week. But you just keep at it and keep at it, and one day, like nothing, you’re up in the air with no effort at all.

At that point, if it looks easy, it is. There really does come a time when all the effort pays off, everything clicks, and even moves like the saxophone are a breeze. Again, it’s easy–it’s just not always easy to get there.

The journey is worth all the bumps in the road.

I think this is true of many things in life, things that are really worth having. There have been so many times in therapy over the last three years that I’ve thought, I can’t–I can’t have that confrontation, I can’t be honest with that person, I can’t tell them no. But eventually, in every case, I did. Now that I’m on the other side of a lot of drama, life feels easier. Sometimes I wonder what took me so long to get here, but I realize that I was learning something new, and that always takes time.

I guess we all have things we haven’t mastered yet, whether it’s turning ourselves upside down, growing older, or having a tough conversation. And sure, those things can be difficult and scary. You’re going to fall, you’re going to hurt the next day. But I think the journey is worth all the bumps in the road. Besides, I don’t think anyone came to this planet in order to get it right the first time. What would be the point? Rather, I think we came here because this is a place we can learn, a place we can fall down and get back up again, and a place–like Bonnie’s kitchen–where there’s all the time in the world to do just that.

Daddy said.

[I promise I’m not going to start referring to myself as Daddy on a regular basis. It’s probably the American Honey talking.]

Quotes from CoCo

"Why should anyone be embarrassed about the truth?"

Something, Something, and Dates

Y’all, I actually worked today. Teaching dance lessons. For money. Praise the Lord.

The work day started with my friend Summer. That’s her in the picture. (If I could get my hair to do that, I would just die.) I know Summer from the Little Theater in Fort Smith and her work with improv comedy. She’s hilarious. Anyway, Summer and her husband eloped a while back, but they’re having a ceremony and reception soon, so she and her Dad came in today to work on their father-daughter dance.

During the lesson I asked Summer how she met her husband, and she said they used to work at the same place, and her friends kept encouraging her to talk to him. This went on for a couple of weeks, and one day she turned around and–honest to god–bumped into the guy. Well, he’d gotten a major haircut recently, so the first thing Summer said was, “I like your hair.”

I like your hair.

Can you believe that line ended up snagging her a huz? I mean, Summer landed a hot dude (I creeped her Facebook page) with, “I like your hair.” It’s like Baby in Dirty Dancing saying, “I carried a watermelon” and ending up in bed with friggin’ Patrick Swayze. Well, first, I love that (the thing and Patrick Swayze). Second, I’ve apparently been doing everything all wrong.

The dance lessons this afternoon were at my friend Bonnie’s house, and she offered to make me a smoothie during a break. They say beggars can’t be choosers, but that didn’t stop me from trying, so I said, “What kind of smoothie? What are you gonna put in it?”

“Coffee, peanuts, hemp seeds, something, something, and dates.”

“Dates? That sounds good. I haven’t had a date in FOREVER.” (It’s funny because it’s true.)

Several weeks ago I saw a hot guy on a friend’s Instagram account, so I creeped him on Facebook. (I swear I don’t spend ALL my time creeping on people. But don’t even front like you don’t do it too.) Anyway, I did something I never do and asked my friend to hook a brother up. To my great surprise and delight, they said they’d give it their best shot. Hashtag winning.

What if tomorrow’s the day?

Well, people have lives and these things are delicate, so it’s been a slow process. But in the meantime I’ve been keeping myself busy fantasizing (not about anything naughty), slipping into little daydreams like having someone to walk with (I’m assuming this guy has legs–the picture was taken from the waist up), or going to the movies together, or wondering if my seven-year-old nephew with long hair would mind standing in as one of the flower girls at the wedding. You know, little daydreams like that.

My therapist says that daydreams like these are completely normal. A long time ago I told her that I’d meet a total stranger and immediately start thinking about marrying him, moving to a big city, maybe even having kids. She said, “I don’t know anyone who DOESN’T do that.”

Anyway, this evening I found out that the guy is seeing someone (who’s not me). What a drag. On the scale of lifetime disappointments, this one ranks pretty low. But on the scale of today’s disappointments, it pretty much takes the cake (cake!) because it’s the only one I’ve had, unless you count the thing about Summer’s hair being better than my hair, which I don’t.

In the past two years, I’ve gotten myself all worked up about a couple different assholes–I mean gentlemen–I met online. In both cases, I actually talked to them–things were going splendidly–that is until it we started planning a date. By we, I mean me, since I’M A PLANNER. (Paula Cole should write a song called “Where have all the planners gone?”) And then–crickets.

When that happened the second time, my therapist did something she almost never does. She gave me a directive. “We’ve reached the point in our relationship at which I can sometimes tell you what to do,” she said, “and I’m telling you to stop talking to guys on Tindr.” So that’s what I did. Never let it be said that I can’t follow directions. But I said, “I never even met these people. We just sent messages to each other. Why am I so disappointed? Why does it hurt?”

“That’s just the death of the fantasy,” she said.

“Well it sucks.”

At Bonnie’s tonight, there were some really strong winds. We were sitting on her front porch, so we put away the outdoor furniture to keep it from blowing away. Before I left, her electricity went kaput. On my way home, I took my usual route, which snakes through town and up a big hill into the back of my parents’ neighborhood. Just before the crest of the hill, I saw that a large tree had fallen across the road, so I had to do a thirteen-point turn, head back down the hill, and choose another route.

Before I did, I used my headlights to take a picture with the big tree. The picture doesn’t really do it justice, but I think I look all right, even if you can’t see the legs I most certainly have. But believe me when I tell you that the tree was so big it took up the entire road. Hell, there were probably little elves that make cookies living in it.

Tonight when I saw the elf tree in the middle of the road, it seemed pretty obvious that I wasn’t meant to go that way, which meant that, in effect, another fantasy had died–my fantasy about traveling down that particular road. (I’m sorry, this road is currently dating someone else.)

So all I can think is that a lot of times our plans and fantasies don’t work out. A LOT OF TIMES they don’t work out. And that can hurt and that can suck. But just because one road doesn’t work out doesn’t mean you can’t turn around, try another one, and still get to where you’re going. Isn’t that what an adventure is? And as for that guy, my friend said they hadn’t given up, so I guess it’s possible that a road that’s blocked today could clear up tomorrow. I’m really okay either way, but what if tomorrow’s the day to bump into someone and say, “I like your hair”?

What if?

[In the spirit of this post, I’m sharing one of my favorite songs maybe ever, “Ring Them Bells” by Liza Minnelli. (Will and Grace taught me, “Judy, Liza, Barbara, Bette–These are names I shan’t forget.) It’s about the true story of a woman who traveled around the world and met her future husband, only to find out that he already lived next door to her in New York City. It’s fabulous.]

Quotes from CoCo

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

The Night David Sedaris said, “Come Back to Bed”

Today my friend Marla and I went on a writer’s pilgrimage to see David Sedaris in Tulsa at an event put on by Magic City Books. I can’t tell you how much fun I had. I mean, I really can’t. I’ve been sitting here trying, but it’s not working, probably because I only slept five hours last night, just got back from Tulsa an hour ago, and my brain is mush. But I’ll keep trying.

I woke up at noon today and had about an hour to get ready. Even though I knew the event would be outside and that it would be warm, I decided to wear jeans instead of shorts because I thought they looked cuter, and you never know when you’re going to meet Mr. Right or when David Sedaris will be so impressed with your pants that he’ll invite you to join him and his boyfriend for dinner. But thinking that I’d definitely sweat in the jeans, I slathered some of Dad’s Gold Bond Lotion all around my private parts. After I did, I thought, There’s probably a reason that stuff is in a green bottle, which is about the time my balls woke up. At first the eucalyptus just felt like a cool breeze on a spring morning, but then things stepped up a notch, and it felt like I’d used a peppermint suppository.

Marla and I got to Tulsa early, so we grabbed a great parking spot and walked a few blocks for lunch. Along the way we found two pink unicorns painted on a set of double doors, so we stopped and took a picture. I still I have no idea what was on the other side of those doors, but I can only imagine it was fabulous.

I broke all my food rules today. It felt great. For lunch I had a sandwich with white bread, creamy soup, and coffee with Irish Creme, immediately followed by a cookies-and-cream donut so big that it’s really a wonder I didn’t instantly become a diabetic. I even licked the bag it came in. Then Marla and I set up our chairs on the lawn where David was supposed to speak and went to a bar that I knew about because a guy once stood me up there on a night I had two tires blow out. (I was not impressed.)

The bar itself was really cool, and while Marla and I waited, I had two beers. Then we went back to the lawn to wait for David. Because my bladder is an overachiever, I had to pee for the second time in fifteen minutes, so I ended up buying a cup of coffee at a coffee shop because only paying customers could get the restroom code. Peeing is a patron’s privilege, apparently. (Say that five times fast.)

For the presentation, David spoke for forty-five minutes, mostly reading from his diary entries, many of which are in his new book, Theft by Finding. One of the stories he told was about a friend who–upon seeing a complete stranger on his or her cellphone–would often walk up beside them and say loudly, “Come back to bed, I’m freezing.”

When the talk was over, David moved across the street to an art gallery to sign books, and a long line began to form. Marla and I had pre-purchased books, which allowed us a spot in “Group A,” but we were still at the back of that section because–once again–I had to use the restroom. (To the guy whose kid’s asshole absolutely exploded in his pants, my heart goes out to you for all the hard work you did cleaning him up. In the future–for chafing–your son may benefit from Gold Bond Lotion, but I don’t recommend the kind in the green bottle.)

One thing I love about David Sedaris is that he takes a lot of time with his fans and doesn’t rush them off. It makes for a long wait–Marla and I waited over two hours–but I think it’s well worth it. Hell, at one point we saw a middle-aged woman sporting a sash that said, “Miss Emollient–Dark as a Turd.” Where else does that happen? I still don’t get it, so I assume she was seeking attention. But who isn’t these days? Anyway, the line snaked around once it got inside, so as Marla and I neared the autograph table, I was right next to this guy who had a PBS shirt on that said, “Be More.” (No pressure, right?) Honestly, it took everything in me to not say, “I’m doing the best I can, damn it!”

At the autograph table, David signed Marla’s book, “To Marla–You make me want to live again.” With others he drew cartoons–an ax with blood on it, something resembling a shovel. I have another signed book of his in which he drew an airplane–a crop duster, it says–a reference to a joke he’d made that night about a particular variety of farts. This is something I love about David, the fact that after all this time he’s still having fun, finding a way to make each person in line feel special.

I got to spend a few minutes with David and ask him a question about a statement in one of his books, as well as a couple of things he said in his talk tonight. I’ve been trying all evening to decide how much to say about it, since even though he’s probably already forgotten the conversation, it feels special to me and I’ll probably be processing it for a while. In short, David said that he doesn’t like to talk about his feelings, but instead likes to talk and write about experiences and opinions.

Fresh off three years of therapy (and writing a blog about it every night lately), not talking about my feelings feels foreign to me, so I almost said, “Oh my god, I know a good therapist.” But then I figured he probably knows one too and has a good reason for not talking about his feelings, especially to total strangers. Like, if I’d said, “WHY DON’T YOU WANT TO TALK ABOUT YOUR FEELINGS, DAVID?” it probably would have sounded like, “Be More,” and he could have easily responded, “I’m doing the best I can, damn it.”

Thinking about it now, what I love about David’s answer is that it seemed vulnerable and honest, which is pretty remarkable considering the fact that he’d just met me (again for the first time). So I just looked him in the eye, smiled, and said, “Thank you,” and Marla and I walked out. I was so thrilled about getting to spend even a few moments with one of my writing heroes that I accidentally stepped on a stranger’s foot. (Sorry, lady.)

When we got outside, Marla made a joke, and I said, “What’s that?” and she said, “It’s what he wrote in your book.” So I opened the book, and there it was–“To Marcus, Come back to bed, I’m freezing.”

There was a lady working the event tonight whom I overheard a couple of times anxiously telling people in the line, “It’s a long wait, but it’s worth it.” When we got close to the table, she said, “See if you can’t hurry.” Well, we didn’t, and I can only assume that she felt pressured, maybe sensing that some people in the line were upset by the holdup. But I didn’t sense any of that from David. Marla told me that he’s been known to spend nine hours signing books. Personally, I wasn’t upset about waiting, and if I had been, I simply would have left. (My therapist says leaving is always an option.)

It all makes me wonder if David’s so patient because he waited so long to be published. Maybe it’s because he’s doing something he really loves and that makes it easier to go above and beyond with people you don’t even know. Either way, it encourages me to be more patient with what may come in my life, to not put so much pressure on myself or anyone else by thinking, Be More, Be More–Talk about your feelings! Rather, I can remember that I’m doing the best I can, damn it. In fact, we’re all doing the best we can. Especially that guy whose kid shit everywhere.

Realizing this, I think, is like having a lover come back to bed. Suddenly there’s no need to rush, the world feels safer than it did before, and if ever so slowly, that which was freezing begins to warm.

Quotes from CoCo

"I believe we're all courageous, and I believe that no one is alone."

Finding God in the Strangest Places

I’m just going to get this out of the way. Until this evening, I hadn’t showered for three days, maybe four. I lost count. All I can say is that I kept meaning to clean up, but there were so many reasons not too. I needed to exercise, I needed to blog, I needed to sleep. (Those are really the only things I do lately.) Suffice it to say, things got pretty gross, so in order to avoid smelling my own pits, I’ve spent a lot of time this week pinning my arms to my sides, kind of like a wallflower at a high school prom, minus all the acne. My personal mantra has been–elbows below nipples–elbows below nipples.

Since starting my new diet, my unfortunate and semi-longstanding body odor problem has actually improved, but it hasn’t entirely gone away. I read on the worldwide web that body odor can sometimes be caused by drinking too much coffee, so I thought that maybe I should cut back from my usual three cups, four cups, or maybe it was half a pot a day. Again, it’s hard to keep track of these things when you have so many other important tasks to accomplish.

Typically, whenever I decide something is bad for me, I cut it out cold turkey, label it as evil, and immediately proceed to look down upon anyone else who does it. Like, I could smoke half a pack of cigarettes for six months, quit for three days, and then walk down the street and see a total stranger bumming a Camel from his friend and think, What a lowlife–that’s disgusting. Or I could spend two months eating ice cream every night, quit long enough to lose half a pound, and then drive by the Dairy Freeze and think, You people should be ashamed of yourselves–go home and eat broccoli.

My therapist says that when it comes to certain topics, I’m so judgmental of other people because I’m primarily so judgmental of myself. I wish I could say I disagree with her. I guess because I have this highly developed sense of what’s right and wrong, good and bad, it gets applied here first, and then everywhere else across the board. So if you’re one of those people I’ve judged, I’m sorry, and I’m right there with you.

But back to coffee and body odor.

Some days managing my health feels like playing a game of Whack-A-Mole.

I’m really trying to not be such a hard ass, with myself or anyone else. (Did I mention I’m REALLY TRYING?) Anyway, instead of quitting coffee cold turkey, I decided to just back off, go to one cup a day. So far I’m two days in, and I’m starting to get really cranky. Part of me thinks, God, Marcus, you don’t have to quit processed foods, refined sugar, white bread, dairy, AND coffee in a ten-day period. But another part of me thinks, Yes you do–and while you’re at it, you should probably mediate for an hour every morning, sleep on a bed of nails, and adopt a child from China and pay for it by selling one of your kidneys on the black market. I mean, is that too much to ask?

Honestly, I just want the body odor problem to go away. I’m willing to try just about anything in order to make that happen, but some days managing my health feels like playing a game of Whack-A-Mole. If you want to know the truth, sometimes I think I’m a hypochondriac. (I can hear my friends saying, “No! Surely not you.) Tonight when I finally did take a shower because I had a dance lesson (I’m not completely inconsiderate), I shaved my face, nicked something, and started bleeding. Well, I instantly thought it was a wart, another longstanding problem I had a couple of years ago. I think my heart actually stopped beating for a second as I thought, THEY’RE BACK.

But then I thought better of it and decided it was a zit, probably the result of not washing my face in three days, maybe four. Yes, I’m almost certain it was a zit and not a wart. So don’t worry, I’m going to live.

Phew.

That was close.

This evening I had dinner with a friend of mine who has really good taste and recently remodeled his bathroom. He’d probably die if he knew I took a picture of it and put it on the internet, so I probably shouldn’t have talked about my blog so much this evening or typed the address of this website into his phone. Anyway, I love remodeling, so we spent quite a bit of time going over every detail, but even now all I can think about is the arched window that he hung above his toilet. I’m guessing it came from a sanctuary, but it could have come from Target, which I suppose for some people is the same thing.

Isn’t that the cutest thing you ever saw? Doesn’t it remind you of a church? Call me twisted, but all night I’ve been thinking that if you just lit a few of candles, maybe had a couple of monks chanting in the shower (think how good they’d sound in there), it really would make the toilet feel like–I don’t know–a throne of grace. Just think of it–going to the bathroom could be called–a righteous release–a sanctified shit–a holy crap.

After dinner this evening, my friend and I were in the car, and he told me that I smelled “clean.” You can’t imagine how good it made me feel. I told him that I’ve been super self-conscious lately because I took some antibiotics and I think they messed up my intestinal flora and gave me body odor, so I’ve changed my diet and am cutting out coffee to try to fix it. Well, my friend is super honest, so he said, “Marcus, you’re a freak. (I’m summarizing.) You’re the only person I know who would change his diet because he’s afraid of the way he smells. No one else thinks about their flora.”

He may have a point.

Once I read an interpretation of the Garden of Eden story that basically said the Tree of Knowledge represents our capacity to judge or “to know” something. It said that it also represents the world of duality, where everything is hot or cold, up or down, good or bad, and it’s the good or bad part that causes a lot of our suffering. According to this take on things, everything was fine this afternoon while I was shaving, just as everything is fine right now as I’m typing this blog. In effect, I was and am in the Garden of Eden. (Who knew it would be this humid?) But as soon as I thought, I have a wart, and warts are bad, I kicked myself out of the Garden. That’s why my heart stopped beating, the way it would now if I labeled my body odor problem as anything other than good, which is what we’re told in Genesis is how God sees all that he has made. Or did he recently change his mind about that?

Leave it to God to hide under my armpits.

There’s a passage in the Gospel of Thomas that says, “Split a piece of wood, and I am there. Lift up the stone, and you will find Me there.” What I love about this passage is that it reminds me that God (sometimes simply called Good) is everywhere. There’s no where that he isn’t. I spend a lot of time trying to prove this theory wrong, of course. I walk around a large part of the day thinking that warts are bad, carbs are bad, certain smells are bad. I think anything could kill me, and that would be bad because death is REALLY BAD. None of those judgments, of course, feel good, and they certainly don’t change a damn thing.

So I’m trying (really hard) to look for the good in all circumstances, to basically play hide-and-seek with God, like, I know you’re here somewhere. (Come out, come out, wherever you are.) Of course, God’s been playing this game for a long time. He’s not going to hide behind the sofa–that’s too obvious. Don’t bother looking for the divine behind the divan. More likely, this game is going to require that I lift my elbows above my nipples, maybe take a selfie in my friend’s bathroom. After all, leave it to God to hide under my armpits. Leave it to God to hide in the Holy Crapper.

Quotes from CoCo

"Confidence takes what you have and amplifies it. Confidence makes anyone sexy."