I Don’t Know Sh*t

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In the seaside town where I got sober, there was a different gay meeting every night of the week at various church basements, rec centers and the like. When I say it’s a ‘gay’ meeting I mean for LGBT folks but everybody was welcome. They didn’t check your musical theater knowledge at the door or anything, Typically, the same group of folks floated from meeting to meeting every week. During my first year, I went to all of those meetings almost weekly and that’s where I made some of my best friends on the planet. One member of our little nomadic gay sober tribe would share, week after week,”I don’t know shit!” First off, to be thrilled about not knowing anything was a weird concept to me. I always thought of myself as the slower, less brilliant member of the bunch so proudly saying it out loud was something I wouldn’t do. Secondly, I knew some things, didn’t I?

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Sure the basics I knew: name, age, where I was born. I won’t include height and weight because I lied about those things for so long it wasn’t until my first doctor’s appointment in sobriety that I knew the true numbers. Which were both disappointing and nowhere near what I had been telling people, by the way. But how to have healthy relationships? How to go to brunch without drinking? How to show up on time for things? How be honest? What I wanted to do with my life? All mysteries. So maybe my friend from the rooms whose drug combo platter of choice was “Crack & Jack” was right! Maybe I don’t know shit.

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There could be something to this not knowing thing. After all,  Socrates said “The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.” And he didn’t even go to a 12 step program or, to my knowledge, smoke crack.  Maybe being open to not knowing makes me willing to learn more? Or at the very least plants a seed of humility that perhaps I don’t have all the answers. How little I actually know was pounded into my head several times this week. I was certain I needed to do all of this stuff to get what I thought I needed. What I got instead was a series of “No, thank you”s. Turns out i didn’t know what I actually needed or wanted. These ‘nos’ became yeses. So this part-time job thing turned me down. It was a bummer.  Or was it? See, I also this week I got word that I’m teaching a series of workshops on creativity and writing! Wait, talking about what I love, helping other people get inspired and making a little money? Sign me up! This opportunity would have been hard to wrangle had I gotten the part-time gig.

So yeah. The moral of the story is I don’t know. I don’t the future. I don’t have all the answers. I don’t know what’s best for other people.  I don’t what’s gonna happen. And it’s fabulous. I trust the universe/God/something bigger than me has already set the best possible thing for me in motion. What’ll come next, how will everything turn out and what’s going to happen five years from now? Well, I’ll let magic 8 ball answer that:

Mt4Du

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thanks for letting me cher

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In a misty Santa Monica park, on top of a green hill, with the sound of fog warnings coming from the beach and dogs barking, there’s a rec center. In addition to what sounded like some pretty spicy dance classes, this center also has meetings of the 12 step variety. Meetings I needed very much when I first moved to the beach in 2009 in hopes of turning my shipwreck of a life around.  My first time there I peered in the window and saw all these happy smiling people. Well, this certainly couldn’t be a meeting for drunks and drug addicts. Where was the crying? Where were the hobos with the red bandana knapsacks and pork pie hats? Where were the junkies in wheelchairs on death’s door? Being convinced I was in the wrong place, I quickly got out of there before anybody noticed me.  What I didn’t I know was that was the right place and I would be spending a lot of time there in the months to come.

12 step meetings are crazy ass places. Drama. Laughter. Breakdowns. Breakthroughs. Bunnies. No, really, there was an actress from the 80’s who used to bring her pet rabbit to the meeting. Maybe the bunny had a drinking problem. It’s all the stuff people watch reality tv for but without the commercials. Unlike those televised travesties, meetings actually save people’s lives. I’m not exactly sure how but people who go all the time usually stop doing drugs, drinking, gambling screwing everything in sight or whatever else might ail them. Again, this magical juju is beyond my comprehension. Sure I can tell you the names of the kids on Full House or the order of the singles released on Madonna’s True Blue record, but mysteries of the universe are beyond my comprehension. What I did notice about these gatherings is the folks who shared about their struggles and the solutions to said struggles and did so on a regular basis managed to stay sober. One day after a gathering of these brave people, my heart was full. I left the meeting and as I walked down the fog covered hill, this song started came from the SUV of one of the people leaving the meeting:

I started laughing. Not only because of the song’s goofy jingly-jangly intro or the lyrical parallels to attendees of the meeting, but because it’s Cher. Diva, icon and former spouse to someone who used drugs and alcohol like I did, Cher is everything. I love Cher for the camp factor, for her music and because as a gay man in his forties, it’s the law. Cher is also the ultimate symbol  of survival. Ain’t no Equal commercial or bad movie gonna keep her down!  Just when we think she’s done, she comes back. With a few months sober and back from the brink of self-destruction, I could kind of relate.  I could go on with the Cher metaphor (“I was once a ‘Dark Lady’ and now I ‘Believe”) but I won’t. What people like Cher, Madonna Cyndi Lauper and Boy George represented to me as a kid was individuality and strength, things I so desperately wanted. Meetings were the first place I felt like I could be myself. The real version. I could say, “hey, I’m not feeling good.” or “I need help” without giving a crap about what people thought. I soon began to find my life but bigger than that I learned I didn’t have to do any of this alone. And thankfully, my road to individuality and being able to share my problems was one that didn’t require headdresses or assless pants.

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prayers for the terminally self-involved (who are trying to be less so)

Prayer is an interesting topic. It’s a little like cooking a chicken. There’s a billion ways to do it and everybody has their favorite. I guess now would be the time to note that this is a spirituality post and not one about religion. Or cooking chicken for that matter. Although I could ramble about the latter for at least 10,00o words. (Book idea: Eat, Pray, Fry Chicken) Prayer or talking to God or communicating with the universe or whatever you wanna call it is an essential part fo me being less crazy. In the beginning of my sobriety, my prayers were of the “Please help me not drink” or “God, help me make it through today” variety. Today, it varies. I try to take 30 minutes to just hang out and be grateful and pray for people who need help. And most days I pray short little prayers all day long like:

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“God please help me always remember between looking younger and looking scary.”

and

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“God give me the wisdom to delete bitchy or crazy emails/text messages BEFORE I send them.”

also…

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“God help me be less judgmental. Even to myself.”

or one of my favorites is

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“God, help me help other people. Even I ones that make me crazy. Especially them.”

And lastly, this one works all day and rocks for its simplicity.

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After two decades of being a self-involved drunken drug addict, I need all the help I can get. Right now, I’ve got a lot of uncertainty going on with my health stuff and it is scary. But thanks to having a spiritual life, I’m totally okay. Yes, I’m scared. Yes, I feel crappy. But am I going to be alright? Totally. Time has proven that I can get through everything thanks to my version of God and some awesome people in my life.

Listen, I don’t know how this prayer things works and frankly I don’t need to know. I just know that it does. So, readers, I’ll make you a deal. I’ll throw some your way if your throw some my way and we’ll get through whatever together?

Not Knowing is Half The Battle

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My life would make the worst “very special episode” ever. You remember those. A family sitcom or kids show wherein a lead character makes a serious mistake, learns an important lesson and vows to never make that mistake again. Sometimes these lessons were so ridiculous, they become iconic for how silly they are and not really for their powerful message. Jessie and the caffeine pills on Saved by the Bell, anyone?

Other times the “serious issue” itself was so bizarre that it made you question how necessary the entire exercise was. Monroe’s rape and abduction on Too Close for Comfort illustrates this quiet well.

Often these ratings-grabbing sobfests featured special guest stars like Tom Hanks as the alcoholic uncle on Family Ties.

But it didn’t matter if it was Blair smoking weed on The Facts of Life or Punky Brewster shoplifting, the whole mess was always cleared up in 30 minutes (sometimes 60 if it was a really, really special two-part episode.) This is where The Sean Show tanks at very special episodes. See, no matter how many years I have sober or how enlightened I become, my problems are rarely solved in 30 minutes and most of them come back. TV executives must have figured out early that watching a person do the same thing over and over again isn’t entertainment, it’s insanity. although my own experimentation with caffeine pills, wine coolers and a junior high dance only happened once. Jessie would be proud. I mean why mess around with No Doze when you can have cocaine? Now, I’m moving into Kelly Taylor territory. 

Anyway, my own issues are thankfully of the” normal, boring and wouldn’t make for a good sitcom” variety these days. Even more undramatic is the way my problems get solved (or don’t get solved as the case may be). Very special episodes of The Sean Show, much to the dismay of television viewers everywhere, would end with me sitting at the kitchen table having a glass of warm milk like they do in TV World and saying “I don’t know” after the kind dad/concerned coworker/mom in fuzzy bathrobe asked me how I was going to handle the problem du jour. Roll the credits and the theme song. Really. That’s my answer to all the life problems I get these days. I don’t know. I don’t have the answer. And I don’t have to. By saying I don’t have the answer or know how to fix my problems or the world’s problems, I’m free to be open to real solutions and ideas that the universe will provide even if I don’t have a very special guest star or feature a hotline at the end of the broadcast. Not knowing, to me, means I’ve admitted I need help from a bigger authority. When I’ve reached the place of I don’t know, it means I’ve admitted my ideas won’t work. This is what enlightenment tends to look like in my life today. Not knowing. Who would have thought?

I’m reminded acutely of how little I know when senseless tragedies like the one which happened at the Boston Marathon yesterday. I don’t know why anyone would do that. I don’t know who would be behind such a thing. I don’t know how people rally and take care of each other during these moments. I don’t know how to even process these kinds of things most of the time. But I do know that we’ll get through it. I do know that, contrary to the mounting evidence, people are good. To quote the theme of another sitcom that was far too smart to ever need a very special episode, love is all around and we are going to make it after all.


Bjork, Nachos & God

When I used to fall into a tricky little hole called depression or the neighboring, less threatening hole named sadness, the tool I used to get out was my old pal liquor. Liquor, I thought, could make a ladder to help pull me out. What it did, though, every single time was fill the hole with more chaos until I was not only stuck in a hole but also drowning. Recently, the ladders I had to use to pull me out were of a different variety to say the least.

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Sometimes pop music transcends pop music and while listening to “All is Full of Love” by Bjork, I finally heard something I have needed to hear for weeks. Like a lot of incredible songs in my life, this one showed up in my headphones and out of nowhere it told me the truth.

You’ll be given love
You’ll be taken care of
You’ll be given love
You have to trust it

Maybe not from the sources
You have poured yours
Maybe not from the directions
You are staring at

Twist your head around
It’s all around you
All is full of love
All around you

I’ve  heard this song a million times but it wasn’t until now that it really shook me to the core. After a difficult month involving a creative breakup, some financial uncertainty and a batch of sad news, I had fallen down a hole. I knew it too. My first instinct was to panic and freak out and try to frantically dig my way out. I’m sober and I always thought feeling sad or being depressed was who I was and not who I am. But the truth is, I am a human and sometimes my life is sucky or hard or fucking sad. And this last month was one of those times. What I did know is that I needed to go through it, no matter how long it took. I have been relying on meetings, bad TV and nachos to pull me out. But mainly, and not to sound like some horrible coffee mug that you’d get at an inspirational bookstore, I’ve needed God as my ladder. (Country song idea #51: God is My Ladder) The fact is that all of this seemed to heavy or too overwhelming and too fucking much.I kept up my prayer and mediation practice even when I didn’t want to get out of bed because I knew that this was going to eventually pass but I needed some supernatural non-human aid of the higher powered variety to help it along.

And just like that it did. After a month of pushing on and feeling my feelings, it happened. I was lifted out of that hole that seemed too deep and too scary and neverending just a few weeks ago.  As this lovely song, now added to my “Play it at the Funeral” playlist, filled me with gratitude. It made me realize that my life, holes and rough patches included, is good. That I am taken care of.  It is full of love and it is all around me. Even when I can’t see it. Especially then, I think.

12 Days of Blogmas: Tough Cookies

Jeeze. Talk about bad timing. On our 8th day of Blogmas, I should be happily tooting my own horn about the release of my new my Christmas essay A Tough Cookie Christmas on Smashwords while posting today’s offering Oh Cookie Where Art Thou?

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Instead, like the rest of the planet, I’m feeling kind of bad about the state of humanity. So in order to keep my shameless self-promotion on the more sensitive and compassionate side, I’ll simply say this. I’m proud of a Tough Cookie Christmas because it reminds me that goodness is still possible, change can happen and when in doubt have a cookie. Love is the only thing that gets us through times like these and hopefully my story carries that message too. I’m also proud of it because it’s my first self-published ebook, something I would NEVER have had the guts to do if I wasn’t sober and if I didn’t have the love from you people at this little ol’ blog.( By the way, UrTheInspiration readers get a shout out in the back of the book. It’s the least I could do since you save my life on a daily basis.) If you buy it at Smashwords, you can read it on your Nook, Kindle, iPad or on your computer’s desktop!

But that’s enough out of me.Read the story and the old blog post if you need a little fluffy diversion and I hope I can make you laugh for a minute. Tragedy forces me to be grateful and I’m grateful for all of you, wherever you are.

The Library

I remember the first real meeting I went to. For those of you just joining us, by “meeting” I mean for the things alcoholics and drug addicts go to, not  a meeting like the high-powered thing CEOs go to with catered lunches and glass top conference room tables. This not-as-glamorous but equally as powerful meeting took place on the 4 floor of a dilapidated senior living complex in downtown Los Angeles. My recovery plan was simple.  I figured I’d sail in there,  shed some crocodile tears and legions of good-looking and helpful people would rally around  me and fix my life. I would then leave a brand new person, never to return. This rinky-dink library was filled with vintage page-turners by Nelson DeMille and Jackie Collins and probably didn’t see a lot of reading going on. I suspected it was more of an alternative napping place for the residents. (That’s how I plan on spending my golden years, by the way: finding new and kind of inappropriate places to fall asleep.) It figures that my first meeting would be in a library. I’ve spent the better part of my life hiding in libraries and stumbling on life changing information and this encounter was no different.

On my way to sit down, a really, really happy smiling older man in a flannel shirt and tan pants accosted me with a small square of paper. After getting my name, he explained the paper was to ask anonymous questions about getting sober. “Can you please shoot me?” or “What the hell am I doing here?” didn’t seem like the kind of inquires they were looking for so I kept the paper blank. As the meeting started, I surveyed the room looking for the three categories of  I normally look for upon entering a new situation: ” Fashionable people I want to talk to”, “Guys I Want to Sleep With” and People I Can’t Wait to Judge. It was a Tuesday afternoon so it was slim pickings for all three. Having grown up with a dad who got sober I was familiar with the slogans and prayers and pomp and circumstance to be found at an AA meeting. Within in moments, like clockwork all of it was there. But just as fast, I realized I didn’t know as much as I thought I did. Also, these people were really fucked up. I mean seriously. Relapses, depression, suicide attempts, jail time and that was all from people who’d been sober awhile! Where was the hugging and smiling and instant life-fixing? It sure the fuck wasn’t next to the Mary Higgins Clark books and burnt coffee in the senior center library. Still, I was desperate enough to stay and listen. I listened as a tough looking Latino guy (who would have comfortably fit into Category number 2 if times were rough and trust me, they were) read the questions and other alcoholics answered them. I listened to a hipster dude talk about how his world had improved. I listened to a girl cry who said drinking had made her life a mess. But mainly, I listened to people who kept coming to meetings. For years. And years. Older men, the smiling variety who didn’t fit into any of my categories, shared about how they kept coming to meetings and never drank, no matter what. Hearing this I started to cry. Suddenly my life flashed before my eyes. An eternity spent in dank smelly libraries listening to drunk people who tried to kill themselves. Somehow I don’t think I put this scenario on my vision board.

At the end of the meeting, my friend the smiling guy gave me a chip, he hugged me and told me to keep coming back. “Like Hell I will!”, I thought to myself. But I did come back. Because even though this seemed like the end of the world and the last fucking thing I wanted to do, my life was just beginning. Mainly, I came back because I wasn’t fixed yet and maybe it wouldn’t happen in one sitting but at least these people were laughing and weren’t drinking. No, I wouldn’t have imagined a new start happening in a shitty senior center in downtown LA but honestly I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Inspiration for August 31st: Princess Diana

“Everyone of us needs to show how much we care for each other and, in the process, care for ourselves.” – Princess Diana

It’s hard to believe that it was 15 years ago today when Princess Diana and Dodi Fayed were killed in a car accident in Paris. Being a kid of the 70s and 80’s, this tragedy is the one from  our generation that we all known exactly where we were when it happened. I was at my roommates birthday party in Los Angeles. In drag. Honestly. Oh yes, on the day the People’s Princess died, your’s truly was decked out in a Farrah wig, a silver glitter mini dress and platform boots. I even lip synched to Sheena Easton’s classic “Strut.” And strut I did. But back to Diana.

It was a strange occasion to find out that such a beloved icon had died so tragically. All of us crazy club kids in various states of dress or undress (there was topless rollerskaters in our living room that evening if I’m not mistaken) drinking like fish and trying to make sense of this horrible piece of news. Diana had recently emerged a single and liberated woman after her divorce from Prince Charles. Her work with HIV and AIDS patients is legendary as are her daring  visits to Angola to help ban land mines. Helping others, instead of the family she married into was becoming her legacy before her life was cut short.

And it’s this legacy that inspires me on this hot and steamy Friday of Labor Day weekend. As I go through my day, Diana is a good reminder of thinking about what I can do to help others and make the lives of those around a little more enjoyable. I can’t exactly diffuse land mines in a 3rd world country today. But I can hold the door open for someone or be extra kind to the person behind the counter or call somebody I know who is having a hard time. Not only does it make the planet  a nicer place but, as Diana noted, it’s a great way of caring for myself too.

I haven’t got time for the pain

My rule of thumb when it comes to headline grabbing, locally based tragedies is this: when people I went to high school with are posting their thoughts on everything from Jesus Christ to gun control on Facebook, I officially have nothing to add to the conversation. Seriously, what can I say? I barely know how to ask vegans what they like to eat for breakfast much less have a genius diatribe about peace and understanding ready at the drop of the hat. Instead, I tend to go inward. I look for answers in music. I know it sounds crazy but hello- no crazier than the shit that has went down over the last week. Usually this musical introspection takes me to the 1970’s.

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Trust me, I wanted to sit down and write a blog about the tragic shooting in Aurora and perhaps even tie in some Greek Mythology all the while having the entire post really be about me and how sensitive I am. This magical blog post would not only explain the messed up events for readers everywhere but it would inspire them to follow me on Twitter or send me fan mail. No such luck. Instead, all I want to talk about is Carly Simon.

The other night I was making brownies (Baking relaxes me. It’s like Bikram yoga for junkies and drunks) I had the Linda Ronstadt Pandora station on. In addition to the ditties of La Ronstadt, the station features songs from “similar artists” who maybe aren’t so similar but were at least popular in the same era. Carly Simon was one of the artists chosen to accompany Linda and me on our musical baking adventure. In addition to learning that Carly was the daughter of Simon of famed publishing house Simon & Schuster (who knew?), I read that she was one of the era’s confessional singers like Carol King, James Taylor and Cat Stevens. The idea of Carly being confessional is one that appeals to me. I think that’s what always appealed to me about 1970s music and even film. The really good stuff (Daniel by Elton John, Woody Allen’s Manhattan, and You’re so Vain by Carly Simon) all felt like your were listening to someone’s diary or watching the real lives of people you knew. It told the truth and for a child of delusion and addiction, artists that could pull that off have always been my heroes. Anyway, Carly’s song “Haven’t Got Time for the Pain” came on as I poured my brownie batter into the pan. The words “Suffering was the only thing that made me feel I was alive. Thought that’s just how much it cost to survive in this world” hit me like a ton of bricks. I can identify with mistaking living in calamity as actually living. I too needed pain or suffering to give me pulse or get me out of bed. That’s an intense realization to have, especially for an old soft rock song they now use on pain reliever commercials.  The power of being confessional, as Carly proved, is that sometimes your truth belongs to other people too.

When horrible fucked up shit like this used to happen, we would all meet at my favorite dive bar, play the jukebox and get really, really loaded. We’d do this when nothing fucked up happened too, by the way. Today, how do I deal? Well I have a cry. I bake something. I sing a long to songs from my childhood. But mainly, I have to stay out of the grudge match. I can’t battle with my opinion anymore or obsessively watch CNN in search of some answer when I know there isn’t an answer.

But maybe there is an answer. On a separate kitchen session in the same week with the same Pandora station, I heard Carly again. In her totally underrated song Coming Around Again from the film, Heartburn; Carly sings and almost chants, “I believe in love.” She sings it over and over again. I needed to hear this message on repeat. Because I do believe in it. I know that awful, hideous occurrences can only be healed with love. I know that it isn’t the easy path. I know that it frankly fucking sucks waiting for love to heal. But I know that it works. Yeah, I believe in love because, as Carly sings in the following line, “What else can I do?”

Dads, pelicans & the people who pull you through

When walking trainwrecks like myself suddenly emerge from the decades of chaos looking like normal human beings, it’s no small thing. I would love to say that I pulled myself up from own bootstraps. Sadly, I cannot. The truth is, as attractive as they sound, I’ve never owned boots with straps. But the real truth is it took a thousand hands to pull me back up.  My dad and my grandfather were two of the dozens of people who did just that.

To really know this situation and where I’m coming from I better explain myself. I was prompted to spill this out on the page because of Father’s Day and the 15th anniversary of my grandfather’s death which is on the 18th. I know, I know. I’ve only been sober for 3 and a half years so how in the hell could my grandfather have helped me?  Believe it or not, it was his spirit and life example that really kept me going. Back in 2009, it had been 12 years since he died. I never really gotten over it and numbing myself with drugs and alcohol for years had insured that I never would. So naturally when I got sober all of that stuff I never dealt with was just siting there saying, “Helloooo! Remember us?” like little orphans I’d given up, now back to live with me forever.

On the anniversary of his death, I was walking around Marina Del Rey and looking at the water. I talked to my mom earlier on the phone and she reminded me what day it was and she said my grandfather would be so proud of me. Naturally, at five months sober this made me burst into tears but so did that ASPCA commercial with Sarah McLachlan and poems about Paul Cezanne. My grandpa died of a heart attack while fishing with one of his best friends so being by the water and watching pelicans grab fish out of the ocean was the perfect place for me to be on that day. I remember feeling the breeze and praying to him, whispering “thank you” then “please help me” followed by “I love you.” My grandfather was as close to a saint as one could get so I knew if anybody could hear this messge-chant-prayer, it was him. Ironically (or not), it was my grandfather who helped my dad get sober and get to AA. Like I said, even if he wasn’t alive I was  absolutely talking to the right guy.

My dad, the police officer for 25 years, pulled me through in a way that was only he could. With less than 90 days sober, he impressed upon me that I was going to be screwed if I didn’t change everything about my life. He didn’t do it subtly or with kid gloves and he seriously annoyed me. But I received the message. This was a guy, after all, who had to get sober while in a highly stressful job on the police force while raising four kids. He knew what he was talking about. further  on in my journey, my dad was a total rock. I didn’t know what to do when I found out that I was HIV positive and my dad said, “Don’t worry. We’re going to make sure you’ll be okay” even though he himself was worried and saddened by the news. Part of his job for so many years on the force was saving lives. I can tell you firsthand, he’s really good at it.

Later that year, I took a marine biology class and learned something about the pelican I watched that teary day on the pier. The California Brown Pelican was nearly wiped because of ingesting poisonous chemicals but thanks to thousands of concerned people, he had come back. Now, the pelican is thriving with numbers  near 750,000. This bounce back from near extinction was something I totally related to. I guess the pelican-filled memory laden point I’m trying to make is just this: thank you Dad, grandpa Bob, and everybody else who in some way shape or form said, “You are going to be okay.” You were right. And I couldn’t do any of this without you.