Monday, June 30, 2014

The march isn't over!

Marching yesterday (June 29, 2014) with Empire State Pride Agenda
June 30, 2014
            Day 61

Yesterday, my partner Andy and I had the great honor of marching in the New York City Pride Parade with Empire State Pride Agenda.

I'd marched in this parade before--the biggest of its kind anywhere in the world--but Andy never had, and he really wanted to see what it was like, so after dragging my feet a bit, I agreed to go with him.

What I didn't count on though, was that by the end of the march, I'd be dragging my feet all over, that was a hard walk!  On the map, it's really not that far (we started on 39th and Park and marched down and past Christopher Street), but when you add in all the time waiting for the parade to start, plus all the moments we had to pause in place for traffic to pass, it's around seven hours' worth of walking and standing.  And yet I'd do it all over again in a heartbeat!
Empire State Pride Agenda's mission is to win equality and justice for LGBT New Yorkers and our families. We recognize that while significant cultural, legal and governmental advances have led to greater equality for LGBT New Yorkers, we and our families remain highly vulnerable without the vast majority of rights and protections that most New Yorkers take for granted.
Marching yesterday (June 29, 2014) with Empire State Pride Agenda
I have to say, yesterday was filled with life moments I'll never forget.  I saw friends along the parade route who I hadn't seen in years, I watched my partner Andy run over to happily accept the FREE HUGS from supporters on the sidelines, and above us, we saw spectators watching the parade from the rooftops of their buildings, waving pride flags high above Fifth Avenue.

Most importantly though, we looked into the faces of a million people, standing on their own tired feet, and saw in them a profound joy in what they were seeing from all of us, an assurance that good people are still working tirelessly to achieve and preserve their equal rights. 

Like our march yesterday, which was long and tiring, the march we've all been on for so long now has completely exhausted us...but we march on anyway!  We march on until every last one of us has the same rights as everyone else.  We march on until equality is realized fully and honestly for all people everywhere.  And we march on, because though the journey is long and our feet are aching, we know there are people who desperately depend on the actions we take, who are inspired onward by the signs we keep holding high above us in the air.

Today, my feet have stopped aching, but my soul is still charged with the fire and passion of yesterday's parade.  Though the parade itself is over now until next year, the march itself never stops, and the fire we've lit will never go out!

Sunday, June 29, 2014

In defense of PRIDE

Looking very strange...and very blue...while volunteering
with the Long Island Pride Parade in 2006.

June 29, 2014

           Day 60

Today's reflection will be short, but purposeful. 
(I almost wrote poignant, but let's face it, that's an awful lot to hope for, especially in so few lines!)

Pride is usually considered a bad thing, and you see it grouped among the seven deadly sins (along with lust, envy, gluttony, wrath, sloth, and avarice).  But when you're proud of your children or grandchildren, do you feel sinful?  When you're proud of your pets for behaving well with strangers, or proud of your husband or wife for an accomplishment at work, do you feel you've done something wrong, something deadly?  Of course not!

The word pride is a misnomer, and in relation to so-called sin, it means something more like ego than natural, positive pride in a job well done.  Ego though?  Yeah, ego gets the better of us all, myself certainly, and we have good reason to keep that in check, whether or not we attach the word sin to it.  But pride is not ego!

TODAY, I'm marching with my partner Andy down 5th Avenue in New York City.  We're marching in the New York City PRIDE Parade, not the New York City EGO Parade. 

Today is about pride in our ancestors and elders who didn't have the rights we now enjoy.  It's about pride in ourselves for how far we have come: I'm only 39, but even just 10 or 15 years ago, I'd have never guessed I'd see the world we now have!  And it's about pride in our young people, and hoping with optimism that the world they're growing up in will continue to be much easier on them than it was on us. 

PRIDE is a good thing!  And today, this day right here, I have so much of it, I'm gonna let the whole world know how grateful I am for all my blessings and joys!

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Bitchin' Buddies

June 28, 2014
           Day 59

Back when I was living in the monastery, I learned a few words and phrases I'll never forget. 

One was "cinderfella", the brother who had to do the dishes while two other brothers cooked the evening's meal. 

Another was "particular friendships" which inferred a friendship that might have un-monk-like benefits attached.  It wasn't discussed much at all, and the phrase doesn't necessarily infer something sexual, but it certainly hinted very strongly in that direction!

And a third, the one I'd like to mention here, is "bitchin' buddies".  Bitchin' buddies are the pals you find in life who will let you complain about anything, who will be there for you when you need to just unload all your negativity.  Someone who's your bitchin' buddy, we were taught, will not just become the unfortunate receptacle of your venom; they'll expect you to take on all their negativity too! And it's just not healthy.  It's not healthy to keep a friend who you get that negative with, that often.

There's a wonderful Spanish proverb: "Whoever gossips to you will gossip about you," so the person you just love hearing all the dirt from?  Well, they just love telling others about your dirt too!  So be careful!  Gossip of any kind is dangerous, and if you truly care about a loved one, you'll talk to the person in question about your issue, instead of about them to another friend.

We all do this, to some degree or another, but I'd be willing to guess you already know how guilty or innocent you are of this compared to others.

Being someone else's bitchin' buddy is allowing them to not only share their gripes about life with you, but allowing them to be this kind of person who's constantly complaining too.  We can all be the kind of friend who listens with love, counsels our loved ones with love, and yes, even lets our loved ones vent a bit to calm down.  But there's a big difference between allowing someone to vent, and allowing them to live in this head space of anger and judgment about other people. 

We're no longer being a good friend when we affirm the toxic beliefs and hateful words from our loved ones.  We're no longer helping them by just agreeing all the time, and refusing to correct them for fear of rocking the boat. 

Instead, we all deserve better from each other.  We all deserve truth and love and care from our closest friends, and if we cannot be truthful in a loving way, if we cannot correct a person in a careful, gentle manner, then we are not too close with them after all. 

A bitchin' buddy lets you bitch away to your heart's content about others, and a bitchin' buddy bitches away to you about their own annoyances.  But a true friend only lets you go so far.  A true friend will let you vent, let you cry on their shoulder, let you unload a bit, before they eventually help you stay calm, and help you find positivity again.  And it's these kinds of friends we can always rely on to keep us truly sane, and truly happy!

Friday, June 27, 2014

The top 5 joys of being a redhead

My sister and me, circa 19whenwewereyounger
June 27, 2014
Day 58

Growing up as a redhead wasn't easy.  I didn't like feeling different, for starters.  For every teacher or parent who gushed over my "beautiful red hair", there was a kid nearby to call me carrot top instead.  I wanted desperately to just fit in with my classmates, to look like they did, to not stand out in any way, shape, or form!  But the older I got, the more I began to appreciate my ginger super-powers.  They're unique to my fellow redheads, but as you'll see from this list, there's a lot to love about us!

It's hard to nail everything in just five small points, so I've done my best to narrow them down to more esoteric categories, under which more could always be said:

The top 5 joys of being a redhead:
1) We are rare. 
Unless you're living in Ireland, or a really, really Irish town, you probably didn't have more than two or three redheads in any class of 100 or so growing up.  We're not as rare as twins, or, you know, Mets World Series appearances, but you'll only see us show up every once in a while down at the local baptismal font.

2) We are intriguing.
Because we're so rare, we're also intriguing.  People don't see redheads often, so they look at us a little longer when they first meet us.  We watch their eyes move up to our hair with intrigue, and sometimes attraction.  We don't see it in everyone, but there are some people who seem to positively gravitate toward us (and we're okay with that!).

3) We are collectible.
And because we're rare and intriguing, we are, for some, a creature worthy of collection.  Lots of men especially (straight and gay alike) seem to have a thing for redheads.  And though some just want to know if our carpets match our curtains, most appreciate all facets of our redheadedness, from our freckles to our smiles, and even to our Irish backgrounds too (when applicable).

4) Our passion is unmatched.
Though parts of us do match, we are, by and large, a very unmatched people.  There's just something about us that, well, fires people up.  Ginger girls especially are known for their fiery personalities or tempers, and it drives a lot of people crazy, for good and bad.  But whether we're angry or joyful, sad or pensive, we have a particular passion about us that's unmatched, and always burning.

5) We see the world differently.
Finally, we are the product of our species, and as such, it creates for us a different world view.  Being born a ginger means being born into a world of experiences as I've described above.  We are born into rarity, born into intrigue, born into a world filled with collectors, and in all of this, we know we are unmatched.  Because of all this, we can't help but see the world differently, just as the world clearly sees us differently.

Of course, we are not, despite the louder cries of our egos, better than anyone else because of the mere color of our hair, but we are no less proud of it anyway.  We are redheads.  We are rare, intriguing, unmatched, collectible creatures who see the world differently.   

We burn easier, not just on the outside, but from within as well, and you know what?  We're damn proud of it, too!  I don't know if the red curtains will ever close on our species, but I know the fires we've lit in this world will continue to burn brightly until the end of time!

Thursday, June 26, 2014

The Art of Appreciation

June 26, 2014
           Day 57

For a long time now, I've been encouraging people to seek out their art and share it more with the world, or at least their friends and family. 

Some enjoy writing, and others make music; some are actors, dancers, photographers, singers, or painters.  The performing arts are many, and I've always believed everyone has something unique to offer, whether it's a talent we like to express publicly, or just something we enjoy doing in the comfort and privacy of our homes, with no one but our pets and plants to witness.

But then someone recently told me they just didn't have an art, and more importantly, they helped me see that this was perfectly okay! 

I hadn't intended to exact judgment on the person or the concept.  Instead, I was just trying to bring something out of people by holding this philosophy as a truth.  His words made me really begin to think about it though, and on Monday this past week, I received the answer I'd been looking for.

On Monday night, I attended the opening night performance of ABT's Swan Lake at Lincoln Center.  My friend Suzanne and I had great seats in the front row of the Dress Circle, so we could see the huge collection of musicians in the orchestra, led by the conductor, and of course the stage itself.  On the stage were the most incredible ballet dancers you'll ever see.  And behind the curtains, I knew there were directors, stagehands, makeup artists, perhaps costume designers or at least costume menders.  In offices beyond there, maybe elsewhere in the city, there were producers and fundraisers, set designers, grant writers, and choreographers.  In every way, I was seeing not just the beautiful expressions of art, but the artists themselves, and I knew many more artists of all kinds were beyond the curtains as well.

But this wasn't what struck me the most.  What really blew me away was the realization that all of this art being performed on the stage, in front of the stage in the orchestra, and behind the stage in a thousand other ways, was all for the benefit of us, the viewers. 

The art is nothing without the appreciation of the art.

All around this magnificent theatre, The Metropolitan Opera House, nearly 4,000 guests were seated to experience the art of other people.  All around me, art was being watched, being heard, being thought about, being absorbed in a million different ways by thousands of people from all nationalities and backgrounds. 

Art itself is bigger than all of us, and though a whole lot of people become partakers in the arts, trained professionals in acting, dancing, painting, writing, or any other fantastic medium like these, the art itself begs the appreciation of so many more!  Art deserves the full appreciation of us all, whether or not we partake in it as co-creators of any visible, audible, or experiential design.  We are artists simply through our ability to appreciate. 

And by creating the art, fostering the art, or even just appreciating the art, we also become, in some incredible, transcendental way, a special part of the art itself. 

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

These past 5 days of beautiful living

June 25, 2014
          Day 56/365

I want to tell you briefly about these past 5 days.  Each of them was marked by enough "special" to warrant their own reflection, but I'd like to just paint the scenes for you as a single collage of life's beauty.

These five days included a Broadway show, a ballet at Lincoln Center, a trip to Connecticut, four meals out in restaurants, two Shamanic journeys, six games of tennis, two movies, new friendships, and lots of wonderful food, drink, and conversation.

FRIDAY: The day began with work, as all weekdays do, but by the evening, I was sipping wine with a friend from Australia in our very own private living room in midtown Manhattan (a hotel bar with nice digs!).  After wine, we sauntered (the stumbling would come later) to Aladdin on Broadway, which was followed right afterward by stage-dooring across the street.  It was Giuseppe Bausilio's 17th birthday, so we joined him after his show (he's one of the amazing Newsies) for some delicious Brazilian food and drink.  And my God, that drink!  I ended up catching a 1:37 AM train back to Long Island, and was grateful to be asleep by 3.

SATURDAY: On Saturday, Andy and I were off to visit our friend Darren in Connecticut.  We got there around 3:30, had some cheese and strawberries he prepared, caught up on each other's lives, then went out for an early dinner sometime after 5.  It was the first day of summer, so our blessing that evening was a delicious feast with equally delicious drinks at an outdoor table.  We followed that up by watching some really great movies back at his house.

SUNDAY: Sunday morning's weather was equally brilliant, so we went out for breakfast at the local diner, then worked off some of our meal with a few games of tennis at Darren's local tennis courts.  The getaway to Connecticut was wonderful, and it was great to catch up with Darren again, as we hadn't seen him in almost a year.  Got home mid-afternoon and took a nice long nap.  Ahh!

MONDAY: The work week returned Monday, but that night's activities included a decadently scrumptious lasagna at Cafe Fiorello, followed by the opening night performance of ABT's Swan Lake at Lincoln Center.  Gillian Murphy and Marcelo Gomes danced as Odette and the prince, with Roman Zhurbin wowing in the role of Rothbart.  Gillian was unfortunately still nursing an injury, and was unable to perform in the second half, but her understudy, Hee Seo, was wonderful.  Before then, I'd only seen the Matthew Bourne Swan Lake, so my friend Suzanne insisted I come and see this one with her.  She was right as always, and I had a wonderful time!

TUESDAY: And then last night, as has been my monthly tradition since last year, I attended a Shamanic Drumming Circle.  Shaman John Gilroy offers an Introduction to Shamanism course once a month, and a Shamanic Drumming Circle once monthly too.  Both are at New Light Sanctuary in Bay Shore on Long Island.  Shamanic journeys are unlike anything else I've ever experienced before, and they're kind of hard to explain in just a few words, so if you're interested in learning more, this description is very good.  My journeys last night were fruitful beyond description, but I'll need a lot more time to think about them before I share them publicly!  Time will tell how much I listen to what I learned there last night.

And that's it!  Those were my last 5 days of beautiful living.  I hope you enjoyed the experiences I shared here, and may your own journeys through life always be worth telling others about too!

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Barbie showed me the way

In her amazing book, Kinky, writer Denise Duhamel shares poem after poem imagining how Barbie would express herself were she in any number of strange professions or situations.  It's an incredible book filled with laughs as well as deep thoughts (a perfect combination!), and I'd highly recommend it to every human everywhere!

I first read the book, and met Denise, while taking a poetry course at Manhattan College.  She was married at the time to my professor, the brilliant poet Nick Carbo, so her book became part of our fun syllabus that semester.

And within this unique collection of poems is one called, "Sister Barbie", which tells a funny tale of Barbie as a nun. 

In my senior year of college, my last semester before graduating, and just a few months before I left the religious life, a classmate asked if he could borrow Denise's book.  He left his copy at home or something, I forget, but I happily loaned him my copy, and he was to give it back to me later that day.

But something very odd happened as he was reading the book.  While he had the page opened to this poem of all poems, "Sister Barbie", a bird flew right over his head, and promptly excreted its waste onto the page!  He returned the book to me later that day, explained what had happened, and then politely suggested with a smile that Someone might be trying to tell me something! 

I'd been suffering with clinical depression, and was thinking very seriously about possibly leaving the order, but was still very much trying to make it work, so the sign from above was not lost on me!  I wound up leaving the order some twelve weeks later.  On the day I left the monastery, though many of my belongings would stay behind, I knew my copy of Kinky was definitely leaving with me!

Monday, June 23, 2014

Coming Out To My Parents

June 23, 2014

          Day 54/365

I can't recall the exact date I told my mom, but I'll never forget exactly when I told my dad. 

It'd already been seven or eight months since I first said the words "I'm gay" out loud to another human being.  And I'd since told my psychologist, my religious superiors, and a few close friends too.  So it was time to finally tell my mom. 

I was 22 years old, recently moved back home since leaving the religious life, and just starting to really think about what my new life would entail.  I had a brief three-month job as a clerk at GNC, and a freelance job helping a local businessman organize his files.  My first proofreading job in Manhattan was starting soon too at that point, and everything was slowly coming together.  My mother and I had always been very close, and she was as much my friend as she was my mom.  Keeping this secret from her just felt wrong.  Though I feared her reaction, I didn't doubt her ultimate acceptance.

So there we were, alone in the kitchen, my mom sitting at the table by the phone in her usual spot, and me pacing back and forth near the refrigerator.  Though I can't remember exactly what I said that day, I know it went something like this:

"There's something I need to tell you, and I hope you'll understand, and love me no matter what."

(Moms of GLBT kids today will tell you they always knew before their child told them, but I really don't think my mom suspected.  I'd been living as a monk for the past four years, had always been very "straight acting" as we say, and this was 1997, not 2014.  Yes, history watchers, things really have changed that much in the past 17 years.)

My mom sat up attentively, if not a little rigidly, waiting to hear what I might tell her, and noting how teary I had already become.  I was no longer ashamed of my sexuality at that time, but I was still very scared to reveal my secret each time I had to do so.

"I'm gay."

The silence that followed lasted for minutes, punctuated sharply by tears and even sobs.  I was crying, my mother was crying, and I imagine even the furniture around us started crying too.  The room was just crying, okay?  For crying out loud, the tears were frickin' everywhere!

When she finally spoke, she asked me if I was sure, and wanted to make sure my crushes weren't just that, attractions to other boys my age that would go away.  Though she didn't use the word "phase", it's what she was basically getting at.  But she wasn't asking me out of a desire to change me, only to help me be sure.  And then, once I assured her this is who I was, and that I was okay with it all, if not still scared, she stood up, walked over, and hugged me.  She planted a big kiss on my cheek and assured me she loved me no matter what. 

And then, a few moments later, she added, "I don't know if you should tell your father though."

Her words were different, I'm sure, but this was the general idea:  "I love you no matter what, it's okay, I'm here for you, but don't tell Dad." 

That was in the late summer or early fall of 1997.  A year or so later, my father was diagnosed with lung cancer, and we all knew early on that it was incurable.  He would suffer with this disease for another six months to a year maybe, and then it would kill him.

On August 26, 1999, my father died.  I had never told him.  I knew, especially in those last few weeks, that this was my last chance, but I chose not to take it. 

In the funeral parlor on the morning of his funeral and burial, we all lined up to say our farewells at the casket.  I knew this was my last chance to at least say it to his face.  When it was my turn, I leaned in close and whispered as softly as I could, "I'm gay".  I said my goodbyes as well, but I made sure to throw that statement in there too. 

Coming out to my mom was a day marked by many, many tears.  Coming out to my dad was likewise a day marked by many, many tears.  The experiences were very different, not least of all because in one case I was getting a hug and a kiss from my mom, and in the other, I was speaking to an inanimate corpse.  Different experiences, different settings, but both of them private, quiet, and real.  The tears that flowed on both occasions were tears of sadness.  Not tears of shame or of sorrow, just tears that honored the communication gap between a son and his parent.  They were tears shed for time forever lost, lies forever gone, and a relationship forever changed.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

The problem of family

A very small portion of my family posing for a portrait this past year.

June 22, 2014
          Day 53/365

There's a quote about family I've often thought of through the years: "Familiarity breeds contempt."

Awful, right?  But here's why it's true, and why it's also wonderful...

When we're born into a family, whether a small one like many are, or a super humungous one like mine, it's like being cracked open into a frying pan.  We're all destined to go through the same turmoil and pain before we get onto the breakfast plate of the world. 

No.  That's horrible, never mind that...

Being born into a family is like being born into a crock pot of crocks, and...

No.  I can do better.  Hang on.  I've almost got it now. 

Ah yes...

Being born into a family is like being stuck for hours in an elevator with strangers.  The more you all go through together, and the more time passes you by, the more you grow to know each other, and care about each other's lives.  You've all shared this unique experience through this same small bubble of time and space, and no one else outside the elevator truly understands the bonds you all now have.

And that's great, it really is.  But here's the problem with family: expectations are silly.

We cannot be expected to be best friends with every single member of our family, especially in a large one like mine is.  It's just not feasible.  You take any large group of human beings and put them in the same house for a span of time, and some will get along really well, while others will just want to kill each other.  There are many words to describe this phenomenon that any psychologist or sociologist can tell you, but perhaps the simplest is just "normal".

It's completely normal for us as human beings to gravitate toward some people and not others, whether or not we're blood related.  We forge connections throughout our lives that make lasting, meaningful relationships blossom and grow more than we could have ever predicted.  Sometimes these relationships are with family members, and sometimes they're with strangers who we make our friends.  No matter where we meet them though, in the cradle or at the restaurant table, the elevator analogy still stands.  Common experiences can forge bonds or they can push us away. 

It's normal.

Sometimes at large family gatherings, I look around me and feel so, so happy to know all these people.  I'm in love with life, and feel so much love everywhere I look.  Other times, often at the same gatherings with the same people, I feel lost and alone.  There are so many people around me, and I just stand back and try to appreciate the joy I see, even if I don't feel it particularly myself.  I feel like I'm in an elevator with strangers. 

Expectations are silly.  We cannot judge ourselves for not wanting to spend more time or energy with one person or group.  We cannot expect one person or group to want to spend more time with us either.  The elevator gets un-stuck after a time, and though we see each other in the lobby, and to and from work now and then, maybe at the occasional company gathering, we lose touch with some people.  And that's...okay.

Family is wonderful.  We have each other's backs, we go through so much together, and we do genuinely love each other very much.  The problem with family comes when we expect perfection, 'cause it just ain't gonna happen.  The elevator's gonna get stuck, the tempers are gonna fly, and the alarms are gonna piss us off.  Even in a tight-knit group, there are gonna be all different personalities.  We can drive ourselves mad about this fact, or we can smile at the beauty of our differences, and appreciate the ride we're all on together.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

My Crush on Candy

June 21, 2014
          Day 52/365

I first met Candy when he was still starting out, playing the field.  Life was really good back then, the kind of good where you can't even imagine anything ever going bad.  But of course...they did.  I learned all too soon that some candy rots more than your teeth.  It rots your very soul. 

How could I have known what evil lurked inside his attractive interface?  How could I have seen the emotional damage to come?  How could I have missed all the tell-tale signs of his wicked ways beneath his orchestrations of visual and audible merriment?

Our affair began, as you might have guessed, with an offer of candy.  "Come over here, beautiful," he told me.  He called me beautiful!  I practically swooned.  "Would you like to taste my candy?" 

I was always told to never accept candy from strangers, but as I looked around me, all I saw were friends and family members doing exactly that.  They'd befriended this guy, trusted him, and they were the ones who introduced me to him in the first place.  "You two should meet," several people told me.  And so we did.

In the first few months of our affair, I was completely smitten by his advances.  Every time I tried to learn more about him, he happily shared, and rewarded me time after time with more and more candy.  Our relationship kept advancing further and further, until most of my friends and family were far behind me.  But I didn't see what he was really doing to me.  I didn't see the obvious cruelty behind his mesmerizing music and psychotic smile.

With each passing week, more and more of my friends began telling me they were done with him, and encouraged me to get away as well.  They're fools, I thought.  How could they not LOVE this guy?!  How did they not see all the joy he was giving us, especially me?

But then I forgot to call him--just once--and I learned.  I didn't check in for a couple of days, and the psycho began stalking me.  Requests and messages came at me like crazy.  Every time I signed on, there was a new message, a new warning to return his calls.  There was no escape!

I don't even remember how it all ended, but I know I was the one to finally do it.  (Although I bet he'd take me back in a heartbeat if I let him.  Freak!)

These days, I occasionally see him with friends, and I pity the time they're still wasting on him.  I think to scream out, to warn them, "Stay away!" ...but I fear the retribution.  I fear his anger.  My friends won't understand, I tell myself.  They need to learn for themselves.  They need to keep eating up his candy until they're sick to their stomachs too. 

My crush on Candy lasted several months, maybe a year.  I can't even remember, that's how smitten I was.  A sugar high, yeah, but something much more sinister too.  His sweetness was my undoing, because I realized way too late that it was all just an act.  He had everyone crushing on him, not just me, and I was a meaningless pawn to attract other customers to his game, nothing more.

Candy still stalks me, and I don't think he's ever gonna stop.  I see him lurking there in the shadows with his colorful clothing and happy smile.  "Come and taste me, baby," he calls out. 

"No thanks, man," I mutter, as I keep walking past.

I enjoyed playing with him, I have to admit, and we did have a lot of fun together.  But once I realized he was just playing me?  I closed out of his game.  I went sugar free, and never looked back.  Sure, I fell for him hard, like we all did, but I'm happy to be over that crush now once and for all!


Sometimes I look at him again and think, maybe if I just go back for one more hit, one more taste.  One more piece of candy couldn't hurt, could it?  I know I shouldn't, but God, I just miss his candy so bad! 

Oh baby, why do you do this to me?  Crush me, Candy.  Crush me again, just one more time?

Friday, June 20, 2014

My God Problem

June 20, 2014.
          Day 51/365

I've written about this before, but today I'd like to just reflect briefly on my conundrum, especially in light of the conundrum as I see it.

If I imagine these two mountains on either side of me, religion on the right and science on the left, I see myself in a valley between them.  I enjoy both science and spirituality immensely, and all the greatest thinkers I've followed closely in my life love both of them too.  Unfortunately, there are lots and lots of people who live on one mountain or the other, and just hate the other mountain.  It's worse than a sporting team versus sporting team kind of hatred, or even a political party against political party kind of animosity; this is a full-blown-epidemic kind of crazy, a mass refusal to acknowledge any redeeming qualities in the other mountain.

The attacks on the mountain of religion are everywhere, and the attacks on the mountain of science are just as prevalent, if not more baffling, because facts get thrown out the window when people attack science.  So I find myself stuck in the middle here between these two mountains. 

The stubborn religious people (and I'm talking about the really far-gone ones, not the everyday church-goers), well, they don't seem to have any common sense at all.  Some of these nut balls (and yes, I do feel quite comfortable calling someone a nut ball who thinks dinosaur bones were planted as decoys by Lucifer) are out to demonize science as innately evil.  Why?  All scientists are doing is examining cold, hard facts.  Calling them your enemy is like calling basic math the work of Hitler.

And the stubborn fools on the other mountain?  The scientific atheists?  They think anyone who's had any type of spiritual experience must be either crazy or stupid, or at the very least suffering from false hopes and sick delusions.  They refuse to listen to the accounts of so many people who have had so many absolutely real experiences.  They think we're all just psychotics or false dreamers. 

It's to these science-minded fools that I feel much more disappointment, because they're smarter than this.  I expect more from them.  I expect them to see the vast amount of unexplainable phenomena as worthy of lots and lots of further study.  Instead, they write people off, saying it must be explainable by science and science alone.  God, whatever God is, must be impossible.

So this is my God problem.  I'm seeing people on either mountain who just refuse to see things from the other mountain's point of view, and worst of all, refuse to even meet me in the valley.   

I cannot tell you with proof that my experience of the resurrected soul of my father was real.  I cannot point you to a place in my brain where you can find that recording, and watch it for yourself, understand it for yourself.  Yet I know without a shadow of a shadow of a doubt that it all happened exactly as I've told the story a hundred times. 

Religious People: Dismissing science as just a dangerous road heathens walk on is just ridiculous.  They may not have the same goals as you do, but they want to learn, to understand, to pursue Truth the same as you do, if just differently.

Science People: I understand why you need facts, but surely your love and appreciation for knowledge seeking would show you this is a vast mystery even to you.  Surely you see that the mysteries of so many spiritual phenomena are worth analyzing instead of just dismissing outright.

I find myself in this valley, and I know I sound like I'm just throwing stones at the mountains.  But if you don't mind, I'd like to make a choice between them now, between nut balls and stubborn fools, because quite honestly, I'd rather talk with the stubborn fools.  I'd rather keep pleading with the science- and logic-minded atheists to find the proof for God I know must be out there.  I'd much rather have meaningful conversations with them than throw stones with the crazies. 

So call me a fool then too.  I don't mind.  I'm a fool for believing--in science and spirituality.  I'm a fool for believing we can all try a little harder to learn from each other, try a little harder to talk to one another, and open our minds to all we still don't know. 

I may be a fool for trying, but trying is less foolish than staying put on just one mountain.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

50 days straight

June 19, 2014.
          Day 50/365

No, the title of this piece is not some sort of challenge to my sexuality.  Sorry, ladies!

My daily writing journey has wound its way through 50 different reflections in the past 50 days now, and there are still hundreds of these left before I'm done. 


I tell my partner Andy how I'm doing from time to time, and on at least two occasions now he's suggested, "Why don't you just skip a day or two?" 

Whenever he says something like this, I usually look at him as if a giant rabbit has just crawled out of his ear.  I thinking about saying, "Get behind me, you Satan!" but usually I just opt for something lighter like, "No, I can't stop now!"  He rolls his eyes at me, and gives me the Marge Simpsonesque, "Okaaayyy".  You know the one.  Whenever Homer says he's gonna do something crazy, but Marge wants to be supportive anyway?  Yeah, that's Andy's completely understandable reaction to me in this situation!

What I have decided though is, some entries can be shorter.  I don't need to go on as long as I usually do (even though I still think they're pretty short).  But for the sake of my brain, and to give myself just a little break, I choose to celebrate this 50th entry by keeping this one short, and stopping... right... here! :)

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Failing by Succeeding

June 18, 2014
          Day 49/365

It was a warm Friday morning in the summer of 1993, and I was on a "Young Brothers Trip" to the Cloisters Museum in Fort Tryon Park, in upper Manhattan. 

We walked around the grounds, filled with artifacts and even whole buildings brought over from old monasteries in Europe.  Very quickly, my soul was transported to another amazing reality as I looked all around me.  I could almost envision the monks walking around praying, and as a new monk myself, my mind was filled with happy thoughts of what my own monastic life would entail.

But like something out of a high school movie (I was still just 18), everything stopped, as I realized the older priest in our group was asking me a question.  I came out of my daydream and saw everyone just staring at me, judging me for not paying attention. 

I had been in a state of contemplation and awe, a mindful meditation space happening to me and through me, but because I failed to hear this priest's question, I was made to feel as if I'd failed in some way.  There was a definite sense of judgment from the others, one I came to know all too well in several other occasions over those years.  For succeeding in being monk-like, in allowing my soul to tap into a higher presence, a more devout mind space, I came across like a failure through my inability to pay attention.

It was not an actual failure on my part, just a very real success cloaked in the appearance of failure.  It was an embarrassing moment in my life I still remember quite well, and yet it also continues to inspire much more than shame me.  It inspires me to strive for cultural failure, to always be the counter-cultural person I was taught in the monastery to be.  It inspires me to be mindful of the invisible world all around me, much more so than the visible one taking place in a trillion little movements every second of the day.  And most importantly, it inspires me to redefine success and failure in my own personal way.

We succeed in our own time, our own methods, our own way, not in the ways others do.  We walk our own path, not the one others walk on.  And we cannot let others make us feel like failures for succeeding differently.  Sometimes we even seem to fail by succeeding, but it's still an absolute success whether others see it that way or not. 

No matter which way the various paths all stray, we all end up in the same place, and the gardens of life are worth appreciating from all angles.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Ever just feel hated?

Photo taken by the Long Island Gay Men's Chorus
on June 14, 2014 in Huntington, Long Island.
June 17, 2014.
Day 48/365

Ever just feel hated?  Like everyone is against you, talking about you behind your back, mocking you and staying away from you?  Most likely, you have experienced this at one point or another in your life, and some of you have experienced it quite a bit.

I've felt this way in grammar school, high school, college and the monastic life, the workplace, and plenty of times online.  But the kind of hate I had to deal with this past weekend was a really scary strain of the hate virus.  It's the kind that has taken over the minds and bodies of otherwise good people, and caused them to act maliciously toward their fellow souls.

On Saturday, June 14, 2014, while I was standing on Route 25A waiting for the Long Island Pride Parade to begin, I spotted a group of four men holding hate signs walking up the road toward me, calling out some kind of hate speech to anyone who would listen as they did.  They'd soon be right in front of my face, and so I decided I would say something once they were. 

Time stopped.  I saw them approaching in slow motion, while across the street, a police officer was directing traffic nearby, and two other officers were walking slowly up the sidewalk.  Friends and strangers alike grew quiet as they approached.  I can see the whole scene repeating in my head over and over again like the Zapruder film.  I knew it was a moment in time, and a moment for me to tell these jackasses they were wrong.

So just as they came walking by, chanting out their hate with pride, I yelled, "God loves everyone!"  Well, they stopped dead in their tracks, and their leader (pictured in the photo above) comes up to me and says, very calmly, "That's right, God does love everyone, but he hates your sin, and he hates my sin too."  Now if this were an online conversation, I would have gone round for round with this fool for another 15 minutes, but instead, I knew he was just demented and sick, sadly suffering with the HATE virus.  I knew there was no way I'd get through to him, that I'd only upset the people nearby even further by giving him the time of day.  So I instead just moved him along with my arm through the air, and told him to keep moving and go away, or I'd call the officers over. 

Well, the officers across the street were now stopped in their tracks watching this happen, and as the guys moved away, the officers turned around, crossed the street, and began following these idiots in the direction they were headed. 

I was proud to have stood up to these sick men, but I was literally shaking for minutes afterward.  They'd gotten to me.  I'd let them get to me. 

And the part that gets me the most is, these were regular guys I might not realize are suffering with the HATE virus if I saw them anywhere else.  If we were in an elevator and it got stuck between floors, these men would probably talk to me very nicely.  If they saw me collapse in the park, they'd probably run over and help me.  If they saw me following them into a store, they'd probably hold the door open for me.  But because I was standing at a pride parade, they chose to hate me, to judge me, to use the Bible against me.  These men are my brothers either way, but on that day, they chose to hate me.

Still, I was grateful for so much more that day than any harm done to my psyche.  I was grateful for the sweet couple to my right, there to support their daughter marching with Pride For Youth.  I was grateful for my partner and my friends nearby for surrounding me with love.  I was grateful for my friend Mac marching in the parade with SAGE (Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders), who I was able to greet with a big hug.  I was grateful to the police officers who just 30 or 40 years ago would have taken the side of these angry sickos with their hate signs and hate viruses.  And I was grateful for the thousands of people there waving rainbow flags and cheering for others, thousands who have all seen the hate virus spread, but who have all chosen to spread love instead.

Monday, June 16, 2014

One-upping the one-uppers

June 16, 2014 .......... Day 47/365

Okay, it's life lesson time again, so listen up! 
(***And as with all times I "preach", know I'm right here listening carefully along with the choir too!)

If someone posts something on Facebook or elsewhere on social media, please don't one-up them.  I see this way too often, and it's happened to me too, but it shouldn't.  Let the person have their moment!  The rule doesn't apply 100% of the time, and you can do it in a fun way, but you gotta be very, very careful with it.

If I post that I lost 20 pounds, that is just not your opportunity to tell all my friends and family that you lost 30.  It just isn't.  If I post that I love the new t-shirt I just bought, it isn't an invitation for you to tell me, along with everyone I know, that you just went on an all-day shopping spree and have an entirely new wardrobe now.  And if I post that I'm going to Atlantic City for vacation, feel free to tell me you're going to Maine, but if you respond that you're off to Rome, you're just being a jerk. 

We're all entitled to our celebrations and our miseries, but one-upping other people on a social media posting is just unkind, no matter how you slice it.  If you're very close with the person, by all means have fun with him or her in the comment section, but be very careful about competing with them.  Allow them their moment in the sun if they want to tell you how wonderful their vacation in Hoboken was.  Support their 3-ounce weight loss with a "like" if they are truly celebrating it.  And throw a big ol' smiley face of joy in the comments section if they just came back from their fourteenth straight night of reading War & Peace in the bathroom of their local White Castle.  Or...just ignore them.  But don't, don't, don't compete with them.

There are going to be all kinds of things we're going to enjoy posting about on social media to make ourselves feel better.  If we're stuck at the airport on a cold winter's night because our flight was canceled, we may want to post about it to feel just a tiny bit better.  The comments we get will make us feel a little less alone, a little less bored, and a little less uncomfortable.  We as the friends of these people need to be mindful of that person's headspace and euphoria.  We need to respect their three feet of emotional space.  We need to let them be.

So don't be that guy or that girl who one-ups all the time.  It's not needed.  Your inspiration and support are great, but if you're telling someone something just to outdo them, you're no longer being a friend.  You're just that person we know who's showing off with a better story. 

BUT...if you do end up being the "victim" of a drive-by one-upper on one of these occasions, celebrate the success of the person who commented!  If they need attention so badly as to invade your posting, and turn the conversation to themselves, be the better person and let them.  Love them.  Celebrate their success.  One-up the one-uppers by turning the other cheek, and showing anyone watching that you've done so.  Your smart friends will see what this person did by interjecting themselves, and they'll likewise see how well you handled it!  It may not "serve them right", but it'll always be "the right way to serve".

Have a friend or family member who could use a reminder like this one?  Share this entry on your Facebook wall or Twitter feed today.  Although be forewarned: they may have a better story they can share in response!

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Super Soul Sunday

An advertisement for Super Soul Sunday on OWN.

June 15, 2014.
       Day 46/365

One of the happier facts of my life at 39 is watching how much the world is waking up to a higher consciousness.  There's a new energy pulsing on this planet like never before, and I have to believe it's because we're more connected to one another in the past 15-20 years than we ever were before.

Organized religion, though constantly successful, is often taking a side seat to ordinary spirituality in all its many extraordinary manifestations.  As a human race, we are exploring the soul within us through more and more methods, books, classes, and teachers than ever.  We're opening our eyes for the very first time to new truths which are really just old truths, perennial truths, that are sprouting all over the Earth in ways we've never seen before.

My favorite so-called "new age" teacher is Wayne Dyer, who you've no doubt seen on PBS as well as Oprah's shows many times.  He's even been on The Tonight Show and other entertainment shows many, many times, always smiling widely, always happy, always thoughtful and helpful.  Wayne was also one of the first guests on Oprah's show, Super Soul Sunday.

Super Soul Sunday is on at 11 AM Eastern Time every Sunday morning in the United States, on her widely popular OWN channel.  Each week, she has a new guest on, and she just chats with them one on one about all kinds of soul-related awesomeness.  Each person has a slightly different take on God, or spirit, or soul, and each shares his or her approach to spirituality.  And it's one of my favorite programs to watch every week! 

I love that the show is on late enough for me to sleep in and not miss it, but mostly I love how real it is.  Spirituality isn't the judgmental kind of Scripture-thumping you get at church or the synagogue, and it's not some namby-pamby version of the truth either!  Spirituality is just the path you choose to take to get in touch with Spirit.  It's an open ended, wall-less, roof-less wisdom we pursue with an open heart and an open mind.  It's free from dogma and law, and finds its feet instead in the humble pursuit of the Truth we all seek within and outside of religion.

If you haven't seen Oprah's Super Soul Sunday programs, I hope you'll consider tuning in.  They're available on demand and online too.  Do yourself a huge favor and tune in on Sunday mornings at 11 AM on OWN.  Find a comfy spot on the couch or in your bed, make yourself a cup of delicious coffee, and prepare to have your soul lifted up!  I promise you it will make your whole week that much better!

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Coffee is divine

June 14, 2014.          Day 45/365

Someone at my day job this past week was writing copy for a French press.  He didn't know much about coffee as he's not a drinker himself, so he asked me for my thoughts.

Unfortunately, we quickly learned I'd be of little use to him, as I like my coffee quick and simple, not pressed and... French

I was, however, the first person he thought of when the topic of coffee came up, so my reputation as an appreciator of this divine drink very happily precedes me!

I got into coffee somewhere in my late high school years, and drank it mostly while shooting pool with my friend Lex.  We always enjoyed betting on our games of pool, and though 50 cents or a dollar was our average when we bet with money, more often than not we just bought the other one a free cup of coffee.  That was Lex's idea, and he beat me more often than not.  If you ever meet Lex, you'll see he's already had enough caffeine to keep him awake until the year 2346, with no small help from me!

In college, I'd often write down cool phrases I heard from teachers, fellow monks, and fellow students, and one phrase I always loved was, "Coffee is divine," spoken by my fellow Philosophy classmate at Manhattan College, Terence Houlihan.  Equating coffee with Heaven is just the perfect analogy, as it really does make you feel so good inside and out!  And if you don't believe coffee is a gift from Heaven, might I politely remind you, God did make the Earth and all its pretty coffee beans.  So uh, yeah.  I have my answer!

(I just reached out to Terence after writing most of this little reflection.  Haven't spoken to him since 1997, so I hope he remembers me.  Though I'd bet as a fellow coffee drinker, he will.  If I hear back from him, I'll update you in a later entry.) 

I'm enjoying my first cup of coffee right now on Saturday morning as I write this.  I actually tend to drink less coffee on the weekends, probably because with each sip at work, I'm melting away the stress of the job.  At home, each sip is accompanied by the chirping of birds out my window, a soft summer breeze, and the reminder that work is no where to be seen until Monday rolls 'round again.  So on the weekends, my coffee is less a needy measure, and more a greedy pleasure. 

Anyway, drink up, lads and lasses!  Have a cup of liquid Heaven, or whatever else you choose to call it.  Tea is fine, but coffee is divine!

Friday, June 13, 2014

Losing Pounds and Pounding Loss

My friend Gary created this sign for me, and left it by
my favorite elliptical in the gym at work one day.

June 13, 2014
          Day 44/365

Erma Bombeck wrote, "In two decades, I've lost a total of 789 pounds.  I should be hanging from a charm bracelet."

We do this.  We lose and we lose, and we lose some more.  We count up our lost pounds with glee all the time, refusing to recognize how often we keep gaining them back again.  Well, maybe not refusing, but certainly trying very hard to look in the other direction.

Weightloss is hard!  Those whose metabolism is friendly to them, the ones who are perpetually fit despite their bacon cheeseburgers and extra scoops of cookie dough ice cream, are the lucky ones.  But they're not, I don't think, the average ones.  Most of us struggle.  Like, a lot.  We work at our bodies constantly, trying to stay in shape, or at least maintain whatever weight feels comfortable.

The more we lose, the more we celebrate.  It's pretty much the only kind of loss we do ever celebrate in life.  You don't see anyone posting on Facebook or Instagram that they've just lost their dog, and are throwing a party.  Loss is usually not good. 

And yet it's our losses that we add up when we lose pounds.  It's our losses that we celebrate, that we share, that we reward ourselves for and publicize. 

Losing weight is dropping pounds of carnal sin that we put on over time.  It's saying goodbye to the weekly bacon cheeseburgers we ate five years earlier, and bidding farewell to the extra scoops of cookie dough ice cream we binged on after a bad breakup eight years ago. 

Losing pounds is almost always a good thing, and certainly is if you're unhealthily overweight, as so many Americans are.  But pounding loss is just as important.  We pound and compound loss when we add up our successfully lost pounds, and appreciate what they stand for.  We pound loss when we don't just lose the pounds, but analyze the success at hand.  And we pound loss when we don't just celebrate our weightloss on social media, but celebrate it emotionally and intellectually too, by really taking a good long look at how far we've come.

My friend Gary created a sign for me after I told him I'd recently lost 41 pounds.  He works with me in the same company, so he made the sign and placed it by my favorite elliptical in the gym.  The sign was a celebration of achievement, but long after the celebration was done, it remains a reminder of success.  Other colleagues, people I don't even know, saw that sign and recognized my achievement.  But for them, it wasn't just a recognition of pounds lost.  It was a promise of possibility for them as well. 

When we lose pounds, we celebrate, and rightfully so.  But when we pound loss, we tell it to stay away, and to keep on walking down that road in the other direction.  Celebration is important, as is sharing our victories with others.  But so too is the next step, and the step after that, and the step that follows that one.  Losing pounds is the first step, but pounding loss is like the support meetings that follow for years afterward.  It's the constant reminder not only of the realized success, but of the constant need to succeed, and the possibility to do even better.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

The Time I Couldn't Dive

I know the resemblance is uncanny, but
believe it or not, this is not a photo of me!

June 12, 2014
         Day 43/365

I'm titling this piece, The Time I Couldn't Dive, but I have to say right away, it's really been every single time!

The time that I'm thinking of more than any other though came at the end of my swimming lessons.  I'd already passed the beginner and intermediate courses, and was finally concluding my advanced swimming lessons at Malibu Beach Club in Lido Beach, New York.

I'd done so well up until that point, and the only thing I had to do to pass the advanced class was to just dive into the pool.  So simple, right?  I know for many of you, it is.  For me though?  It was just an invitation to certain pain and embarrassment.

Diving into a pool, any pool, has always been impossible for me.  And by impossible, I don't mean physically impossible, just mentally so.  Mentally speaking, getting my fingers, arms, and head into the water before any of the rest of my body is just...impossible.  I don't get it.  I don't want to get it.  I fail to get it.

I remind myself all the time that it isn't impossible, that one day, I will be able to leap head first into a pool and live to tell the tale...and more importantly, arise from the water without a bright red belly from an awful flop onto the surface. 

But I'm 39 years old, and to this day, I still haven't even tried to do it again.  I know I don't have to, but trust me, part of me still wants to!  I just don't want to have another belly flop.  I just don't want to fail.  I just don't want to not do it yet again. 

Where exactly is the failure taking place?  I don't know if I'm not forcing my head into the water the right way, or not pointing my toes, or maybe just not swinging my whole body at the right angle.  Or maybe it is all just fear.  Maybe I'm just afraid to practice, because practicing means certain pain, certain red bellies, and yes, certain embarrassment.

So is it fear that's getting the better of me, or is it just mechanics?  I imagine both, but beyond the fear itself is the desire.  I have to desire to practice, desire to try, desire to even fail until I succeed.  Before I can ever conquer the mechanics of the dive, or even conquer my fear of conquering the mechanics, I need to first conquer my desire to conquer my fear to conquer the mechanics! 

And my desire isn't there just yet.  I don't know if it ever will be there.  I tell myself it will be some day, but maybe it won't.  Maybe I'll just never try again, but at least I know where I'm at.  I know the challenge isn't about my red stomach or my red face of embarrassment.  It isn't about my pointed fingers, head, or toes either.  And it's not even about the fear in the moment.  It's about the desire to conquer the fear. 

I can do it.  I just know I can do it.  But I'm not ready yet. 

Maybe next summer.  Or the one after.  Or, you know, at least by the one after that.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Conquering self-ageism

Not so scary really when you think of it this way.
June 11, 2014.  Day 42/365

I often tell people I'm not worried about aging, but I think writing a blog every single day for a whole year leading up to my 40th birthday is proof that I'm lying to myself.  I do care, and here's why...

Turning 40 should be a milestone, because everything should be a milestone.  Graduating high school is a milestone.  Graduating college is a milestone.  Getting your first job is a milestone.  Meeting your spouse, marrying your spouse, and having your first child together: all of them are milestones. 

A milestone of any kind is a chance to celebrate everything you've gone through to reach that moment.  When Andy and I celebrated 12 years together this past December, my mind wasn't on what would happen in the 13th year.  My mind was on how grateful I was for so many wonderful moments I'd shared with him up to that point.  I thought of mostly the good and even some of the bad, but above all I thanked God for the gift of this wonderful guy in my life.  Reaching the milestone isn't about the day after, but about all the days before.

But for all my happy moments, all my still-looking-good-for-39 gleeful days, I'm still a victim of ageism.  People judge me.  They laugh at me for my taste in music, or the way I dress, or my failure to see Hunger Games in the movie theater.  They may not say so, but I know they're out there just hating me for who I am!  Laughing at me!  Mocking me!  Getting together with their fellow younger people and just LOLing their full heads of hair off at how dumb and old I am!!!

Well, alright...maybe not.

I'm getting carried away, as we all do sometimes.  We see the world as us-versus-them whether or not we want to, whether or not it really is.  And we judge ourselves much harsher than others judge us.  It's just natural, and it's quite normal.  We are, all of us, self-ageists

We look at where we are, we celebrate our lives and our marriages, our kids and our grand-kids, our houses and our careers, but then right there in the midst of our happiest moments, we look off at others with envy and a sigh.  "I used to be that young," we think, and "I remember those days without a care in the world, just running around barefoot in the grass". 

It's not all that morbid though, this ageist thinking.  It's just once again an opportunity for perspective.  Life changes.  We change.  Our hair slowly changes color over time and recedes.  Our joints tighten up and crack more often.  Our desire to run around barefoot in the grass is replaced by our desire to sit back in a chair and watch others do it.  It's natural.

So as I once again pause to reflect on my age, and remind myself to stop being self-ageist, and stop worrying about others being ageist to me, I am also once again touched by a profound sense of gratitude.  I'm grateful to have reached 39.  My friend Sal didn't.  My mother's first husband didn't.  Matthew Shepard didn't.  10-year-olds with cancer didn't.  For every moment I complain about getting older, I'm reminded of the blessing of this age.  It's just 39.  And soon, it'll be just 40.  It's a somewhere-in-the-middle age.  A somewhere-past-youth age.  A somewhere age, like every other. 

Somewhere out there, people remember their loved ones who left us too soon.  Somewhere out there, people remember their own lives back when they were 39.  Somewhere out there, people think about what their lives will be like when they reach 39.  Somewhere, right here, I'm still thinking about it.  And I'm smiling.  And I'm happy.  And I think that life is really, really good.  And I should stop worrying so much, and start laughing a bit more.  And maybe sometime soon, I'll go running through the grass barefoot, and appreciate the sun still shining brightly overhead.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Living your life unpainted to painted

You can choose this style if you like, but for best results,
always go from unpainted to painted!

June 10, 2014

I learned many trades while I was a monk, but painting was definitely one of my favorites.  It isn't easy, and it can take forever when you do it yourself, but the finished product is your ultimate reward. 

Brother Stephen taught me how to paint, and though there are a lot more instructions and morsels of advice worth eating up, this one is the first, and the most basic.  He taught me to always go from unpainted to painted, because if you go from painted to unpainted, your brush will be going into the perfect, painted area and smudging the paint forward.  So it's always better to just take the brush from the unpainted area, and glide it along smoothly into the already painted area.  That way, the lines will run in smoothly, and the paint will blend in uniformly. 

And because I like to reflect on, well, just about everything, this got me to thinking.  Is the unpainted to painted rule something I can apply to life in general?  Yes, I realized, it is! 

By just changing the words a bit, we can formulate a new mantra for ourselves: Always move from the challenging area in your life into the satisfied, fully realized one, and not the other way around.  But what does this really mean?  And why not the reverse?

If we were to just fake our way into being happy and successful in some part of our life, whether it be the workplace, a relationship, or a friendship, we'd forever be smudging the paint, and showing ourselves to be a fraud.  When we instead move slowly into the better world we want for ourselves from the place of nothingness (no paint), we transition more smoothly.  We blend in, in the best way possible.  Unpainted to painted.

Throughout my life, from elementary school to high school, to college and the monastic life, and to the life and lives I've been living now leading up to my 40th birthday next year, I have learned this lesson hundreds of times.  I've learned it not just from the times it's worked well for me, but just as often from the times when I failed to take my own advice.  I've made myself a fraud, faked my way into a situation to impress a teacher, a friend, or a colleague.  By throwing myself into a given situation, and acting like I could handle things without fully growing into them naturally, I smudged the paint.  I stuck out.  I failed.

For all the times I tried faking my way upward, I learned much more often to just take my time, learn about what I needed to do, and trust the path forward.  The paint looks so nice over there on the colorful side of the wall, but it's always better to start yourself out on the unpainted side.  And then, when you can, just glide in smoothly.

Monday, June 9, 2014

The Road Less Traveled

June 9, 2014
          Day 40/365

I could write a million words about my decision to be a monk, to give my life away for God, but for the purposes of this reflection today, I'm going to just focus on, once again, perspective.  Whether you choose to read it right now or read it at some point later, I encourage you to open Robert Frost's short poem, The Road Not TakenHere's one link for it.  Or, if you're feeling adventurous, you could click this link to watch me read the poem (it only takes a minute and a half)!

Later this month, I'll reflect more on that day 21 years ago when I joined the religious life, and became "Brother Sean", but for today, I'd just like to talk a bit about the choice I had before me.  

Two roads diverged in front of me back in 1993.  One was the choice to live the life I'm pretty much living now, and the other was to instead give my life over to God through service to the church.  It meant taking the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience.  It meant giving up any opportunities I might otherwise have in life for a career as a writer, a love life with another human being, a house of my own, and so on.   

The roads in front of me were both incredibly different, but the one with the grass growing on it?  The one that wanted wear?  It called to me.  Like, literally.  Everything in me just knew with 100% confidence that God was calling me to the religious life.  Just like Mr. Frost, I had a knowing about which path I would take.  And I likewise believed I'd never come back to that other path...which really...I didn't! 

That's because when I eventually left the religious life four years and three weeks after joining, I didn't find myself back at that same place where the roads diverged.  Instead, I was now on a whole new path further up ahead.  The decision of which road to take four years earlier was now four years behind me in the yellow wood.  New paths were now diverging in front of me, patiently awaiting my imminent decision, just as they still are every day of my life, and every day of your life too.

When I look back at the forest of life experiences behind me, I don't regret answering God's calling, and I'm grateful for the way my time as a monk changed me.  It truly did change me forever, and I can't really explain this well to people who have only known me since then.  My life always had a sense of direction and purpose, but living through four years as a representative of the Roman Catholic Church will absolutely change you forever. 

Anyway...that was ages and ages ago now, although I imagine I'll be telling the story ages and ages hence, too.  Two roads diverged in front of me one day, and I--well, I took the one less traveled by, and that has truly made all the difference!

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Praying With The Mantises

My friend Mac sent me these pictures this past week.
A whole nest of praying mantises hatched in his garden!
June 8, 2014, Day 39 of 365.

FALSE: My mother always told me killing a praying mantis would come with a $50 fine, so we shouldn't even think of hurting them.  It's funny how that's all we kids needed to hear to respect these little creatures, especially as I've since learned there are no such laws!

These little creatures are great; they mostly feed on other insects, especially invasive kinds, so they're very helpful for a gardener.  And as they age and grow larger, they even go after rodents and other creatures like lizards, snakes, and small birds like hummingbirds. 

Okay, so that last part creeps me out a bit, and doesn't sound so pleasant, but for the most part, I'm told, they are good little creatures!

PREYING MANTIS: Some call them preying mantises, because of how they quietly blend into their background and remain still, only pouncing once their prey is near.

PRAYING MANTIS: Yet more people spell it praying, because of the way these insects extend their arms and look like they're kneeling in solemn prayer (personally, I don't see it). 

GOOD LUCK: One truth I've always heard is that praying mantises are good luck.  Wiki Answers tells me if one lands on your arm, you're about to meet someone important, and if one lands on your head, you yourself will be honored with some kind of recognition.  Strangely though, it doesn't tell me whether or not I'll be blessed with money if one lands on my wallet, or blessed with a new car if one lands on my car keys, but we should probably assume the rule of landing applies there too.  

Pictures are clickable for a larger size,
and just use the big X in the upper right to close again.
SEXUAL CANNIBALS: And perhaps the craziest thing about these little creatures though is how they often kill each other during sex!  Get this: "The female may begin mating by biting off the male's head...and if mating has begun, the male's movements may become even more vigorous in its delivery of sperm." 

Huh???!!!  Okay, so that officially makes these little creatures the kinkiest insects on the planet!  I don't know about all that good luck stuff, but I'm starting to understand why at least the males would like to pray so much!

Saturday, June 7, 2014

What is your personal mission statement?

June 7, 2014...Day 38/365

Companies do this all the time: they create a snappy mission statement designed to both inspire their employees and impress their customers.  Sometimes they succeed with flying stars.  Other times?  Not so much. 

I spent time searching for some gems to share with you, and by gems I mean crumpled pieces of aluminum foil you might at first mistake for gems.  There were so many horrible examples of bad mission statements that just, quite frankly, made my head hurt, so I decided to not make your head hurt too.   

So what does a good mission statement include?  Well, it includes a simple statement of mission. 

Sounds simple enough, but the worst examples around the mission-statement world are those that just completely fail at their one responsibility.  To craft a mission statement, first know your "business".  Second, imagine your greatest possible future accomplishment.  Third, tell us how you're going to do it. That's it.

Got it?  Good.  Take a few minutes and think of one right now.  Make up a mission statement for your life.  Be serious, be funny, be inspirational...just be real.  Don't demean yourself or your possibilities.  Allow yourself the desire to shoot for the stars.  Your mission statement isn't a summary of your life as it is right now, just a conclusion you hope to one day achieve.  

Below is what I came up with.  I know it's very lofty, but I choose that for myself. 

I will always try my best to see goodness in all people, and see my own soul reflected in the lights and struggles of others.  I aspire to teach the whole world about the truths I have learned, and be a receptacle and messenger for the highest truth.  I will do this by writing many books and articles, essays and poems that will be read by millions of people for generations to come.

Your personal mission statement can be as simple as "I want to be the best mother for my children I can be", or "I want to open a second location for my business", or "I want to be a Broadway star". 

Be as lofty or as simple as you wish to be for yourself!  We're not in a competition with each other here; we're simply challenging our notion of our own potential.  If we accept the couch as our destination in life, the couch will be our destination in life, but if we accept something greater than we presently have, we just might get there! 

I look forward to hearing what you come up with!  Post a comment here on the blog, or just reply on Facebook or Twitter.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Yes, I actually enjoy watching golf

June 6, 2014 
              ... Day 37 of 365

I didn't start out planning to become a golf fan.  I just sorta gave it a chance.  But the more I watched, the more I found I really enjoyed it all.  I don't think it's because I'm 39 going on 40 either.  I think I just really, really like the sport.

You've got these sadistic people, you see, who are like a quarter of a mile away from where they need their golf ball to be?  And so they swat away at the thing, and try to hit it really far.  Sometimes they nail it, pounding the little bugger right down the middle, but just as often it seems, they hit it into some mind-numbing obstacle like a tree, a bush, a huge-ass hole filled with sand, someone's head, or even a freaking lake.  From there, they still have to get it up onto the putting green where the hole is.  And it's not a huge hole like a goal or even a basketball hoop.  This thing is literally only big enough for the bloody ball to drop in.

It isn't just this crazy challenge though that makes it all so much fun to watch.  It's that you see how truly amazing these professional golfers really are!  They hit these incredible shots all the time, and it leaves all the announcers (who, by the way, are for the most part very, very funny) totally astounded by what the golfers have just done.  They shout "wow" along with you as they watch, because they know how hard this game actually is.  They know that these sadistic bastards are busting their butts in the gym every day, and practicing this game every chance they get, and their results are really paying off.

I know, I know.  No matter what I say, you still won't believe me.  You'll always just see it as a snore fest.  I understand, and I have no stakes in the business to make me really care enough to convince you, BUT I do hope you'll give it another try some time.  Especially if it's the PGA Tour.  The players there are amazing, and the announcers and TV coverage, special effects, and camerawork are all top notch. 

You're still not going to watch though, are you? 

Okay, I understand. 

Thursday, June 5, 2014

An update from the planet in between

My friend Rick, author of Duncan's Journey, took this sweet picture
of my first two books, side by side.  Aren't they just the cutest little things?

June 5, 2014
Day 36/365

So here I am, 36 days into my 365-day adventure that is daily blogging (about 10% in now!).  As I look back on the reflections I've written, I'm very pleased with how it's going so far.  I've had some very kind feedback publicly and privately from a bunch of people, and though I haven't always gotten the amount of views I'd like, the progress and product itself are doing swimmingly well!

As for my book writing progress?  Well, I'm delighted to say my third book is coming along very nicely! I'm writing Chapter 4 right now, and I'm really enjoying where it's going.  I've already mapped out what will happen in this book, but just this week, a new revelation came to me, a dramatic jump for one of my characters, and though it's a gamble in some ways, I feel really good about it. 

The trickiest part about writing a series is keeping things thoroughly exciting throughout, while also leaving your "big finish" for the very end.  What that big finish is though, I can't tell you.  Not because it'd ruin the book for you (which is a great reason), but because I haven't thought of it yet!  It's all good though; it keeps me exploring things in a fun way as I move the stories forward.  And just as it did at the end of the first book and at the end of the second as well, I'm confident the big reveal at the end of the third will just come to me out of nowhere one day.

My first three books are all a series called Heaven, Hell, and the Planet In Between.  Book 1 is called The Uniter, and it sets everything up for the whole series.  Book 2 is called The Papal Visitor, and it tells the story of how everything unravels, for good and bad, because of this great new revelation from Heaven.  And the third book has to wrap it all up, and basically just let the reader feel a higher understanding and appreciation for all that has happened, from Book 1 to Book 3 and everywhere in between.

I'm excited to be writing the third book now, but it can be really stressful at times too.  I need to wrap everything up, and not leave anything out now in all the details swimming through my brain.  All throughout the writing of these books, beginning over 10 years ago, I've had a clear vision of what things looked like, how things would play out, and most importantly, what feel these books had to have.

I wanted readers of these books to feel inspired and energized by some quite profound truths, and I wanted to open people's minds to the possibilities of the impossible.  Do I know exactly what will happen between Chapter 4 and the end of this third book?  No.  But I do have about 25 pages of notes for Book 3.  I have characters written out and what will happen to each of them in this book.  And I have a great feeling about the conclusion that still hasn't revealed itself to me.

So that's where I am today on the 5th of June, 2014.  Ask me again in a few more months, and I may have more answers.  Hopefully though, I'll still have just as many questions.