What Made Me Wild

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“Oh, please don’t go—we’ll eat you up—we love you so!” might be the best line in a children’s book ever. But Maurice Sendak created so many great lines and images and moments, it would be impossible to pick just one. Sendak would have been 85-years-old today (if you haven’t checked out the Google Doodle in honor of Sendak, please do so now) and his legacy is a profound one on me. I remember reading and rereading Where the Wild Things Are over and over again as a kid. It scared me. It sadden me. It made me laugh. Where the Wild Things Are was passed through our family with its ripped pages, torn cover and scribbled on backside. Books like this one along with Where the Sidewalk Ends and everything Jim Henson touched on television were the things that made me want to tell stories of my own. My appreciation for Sendak certainly grew as I got older. When I worked at my parent’s bookstore in high school, I saw firsthand how kids were still in love with his books. It’s a special artist whose works endures and touches so many generations and Sendak was certainly that.

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Last year, I watched the incredible Tell Them Anything You Want: A Portrait of Maurice Sendak and again my love for the guy exploded. So brilliant, honest and open Sendak isn’t shy about who he is and what he believes. As a gay man, Sendak had to hide his 50-year relationship in fear that it would ruin his career as a children’s book author. Also incredibly moving are Sendak’s stories of his much loved siblings. Being a person who loves their brothers and sister, I related big time. And he was also very, very funny. For proof, please watch his hysterical, no-holds-barred interview on The Colbert Report. 

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So Happy Birthday, Maurice Sendak! Thanks for teaching me how to be a wild thing.

write now. yes, now.

Everybody needs a cheer or a chant or a mantra. Everybody needs a theme song. And everybody needs a little push. More often than not, my theme songs are from the 80’s and in my mind they look like a montage from Can’t Buy Me Love. But that’s just me. As many of my writing and creative cohorts are tackling National Novel Writing Month this November, I am taking on two giant creative projects– editing this very blog into a witty, glittery touching collection of essays and getting my second play ready for rehearsals which start this winter. So I felt like I needed a new mantra/chant/cheer (cherranta?) to give me a little push during this busy and creative month. So here it goes!

Write now!

now?  there’s no way I mean I have all these things I need to do and

No, right now!

now? but the time isn’t right. I’m not ready. It will be crap.

I don’t care. Write now!

Okay but first I need to nap, pretend like I’m going to clean something, call somebody I don’t really wanna talk to, eat something, feel sorry for someone (mainly myself), and then maybe I’ll be ready

Write, now? 

Hmmm.

How about now?

Okay but what I am a gonna write about? You know I should think about that first.

Not “think” now. Write now. 

Sure but it’s going to have to be amazing and life-changing and award-winning, okay?

No, not “write well”.

Write now.

But why now?

because if not you,

then who?

because if you don’t write,

somebody else will.

and if not now,

then when?

umm. soon?

no. now.

write now,

right now.

write now!

The Stuckness

I was cruising right along, minding my own business- writing, creating and pumping out printed words at a feverish rate.  Happy clients, pleased editors and even some enthusiastic readers all confirmed that hey, maybe I can do this writing thing. And then it happened. The Stuckness.

For five sluggish days, I was barely able to squeeze out a Tweet. Last night, as I was forcing out  a simple puff piece about social media trends and noticed the degree of difficulty was more akin to that of composing a dissertation on the current economic climate in Cambodia, I had to realize that I was knee-deep in the Stuckness. I call it this because of the all encompassing feeling of paralysis that I experience while I’m in the Stuckness. “Writer’s block” seems too simple and “uninspired” is too defeatist. The Stuckness is a destination. A gray, bland shithole that no quip, one-liner or tagline will get me out of. And it’s not an out and out shithole because at least that would be inspiring. No, the Stuckness feels like looking at a test pattern and waiting for the television show to come back on but knowing in your heart you might be waiting forever. Being the dramatic homosexual that I am, whenever I wind up in The Stuckness, the thought temporarily crosses my mind, “Well, here it is. It finally happened. The well has run dry. I am out of ideas. I should go apply for a job at paperclip making factory and be done with it.” Thankfully I know this is not the truth and I also realize it’s hard to write abut recovery and inspiration when I’m feeling like Eeyore waiting to refill his Cymbalta prescription.  Yet, perhaps there’s some value in The Stuckness. I picked up some classic books I’ve never read before at the library. I’m blasting random music while creating new dishes in the kitchen. We’re watching shows on Hulu and YouTube that aren’t on our usual menu. The point is creativity was here the whole time and determined to push its way out.

Being here, being stuck is something that has happened before in my career as a freelance writer. Thankfully, my job is so deadline ridden that I usually can’t pay much attention to it. I have to grab onto something and let it yank me out. Unfortunately, this was not one of those times. As I wrote and re-wrote the same dumb lines for the same dumb article, I realized what I had to do. I looked around and said out loud,”I’m stuck.” I stared at The Stuckness and noticed it’s bleak stranded quality, realized I was truly there. I even tweeted about it. I read other blogs and chatted online with other writers. And that’s when It happened. I was rescued. It sounds simplistic but just by saying “Yeah, I’m stuck. So?” the whole thing stopped being a big deal. No, the rest of that piece did not come easily. And honestly it kind of sucked.  No, I wasn’t able to bang out several chapters and a few scenes right after. But the acknowledgement alone set me free. As an addict, this act seems to happen a lot. Realizing I’m fucked, saying out loud “I’m fucked” and then asking for help-divine or otherwise is a routine we recovery types have to get into. So winding up stranded in The Stuckness is no different and luckily I have my tools to help me get out of it. This being said, The Daily Inspiration will return tomorrow as will more blogs etc. I know. Longest explanation for a blogging absence ever. Enough of me, now it’s your turn.

So fellow bloggers, writers, artists and creative types, tell me how do you get out of The Stuckness? What kinds of things do you do to stay inspired and how do you avoid burnout? Let me know all about it in the comments section! 

Inspiration for September 17th: Henri Rousseau

Beauty is the promise of happiness. -Henri Rousseau

In September 1910, Henri Rousseau died at the age of 66. He died relatively obscure and definitely broke. You know. The oldest artist song in the book. While alive Rousseau exhibited his works with other artists and usually took a critical beating for painting in the “naive style.”  Obviously, Rousseau transcended bad reviews and snobbery by his fellow artists. His work captures the imagination and brews up excitement for art lovers of all ages.

While reading about Rousseau this morning, one biography of the artist said that despite falling on hard times and harsh criticism “his faith in his own abilities never wavered.” A former army officer with a teenage delinquent past, Rousseau claimed that for the most part he had no formal art training and that nature and his surroundings were his only teachers. Paris’ botanic gardens, taxidermy in museums, the countryside and illustrations in books were all Rousseau needed to paint his famous jungle scenes. These works are what most artsy types consider his quintessential pieces despite the fact that they were universally hated at the time and that Rousseau himself never went to the jungle.

Rousseau’s final painting was entitled The Dream. It was shown in an exhibition in 1910, a few months before he died. Despite dying in poverty, Rousseau’s own dreams live on. He was a major influence on Picasso, Jean Hugo, Beckman, and the Surrealists. His paintings inspired Joni Mitchell’s song The Jungle Line and even the animated film Madagascar.

There is clearly a lot to be inspired by with Henri Rousseau. His resilience and perseverance are good things for me to strive for on this gray Monday morning. Also, as I work on some big projects, I need to remember that so much of what I need for research or to stay inspired I can find right here or in my imagination. I need some library time today and Rousseau’s use of the resources around him have made that a priorty for me today. Lastly, I will have an unwavering belief in my own talents today. Haters (especailly the ones in my own my mind) be damned!

Happy Monday everybody!

 

Inspiration for August 23rd: Gene Kelly

Happy 100th birthday, Gene Kelly!

As an old movie lover, nobody quite personifies joy in every sense of the word like Gene Kelly does. I dare you to watch Singing in the Rain and feel miserable. It’s impossible and Kelly is a big reason why you can’t stop smiling during that film.  Not only do viewers love watching him dance but chances are good by the end of the film they are head over heels in love with him by the end of the movie.

A normal, hard working guy from Pittsburgh, Gene Kelly’s strong work ethic and kindness are legendary. While reading about Kelly today, I learned that he worked overtime to help an ailing Judy Garland when they filmed Summer Stock together. But according to everything I’ve ever heard, that was just how Gene Kelly rolled. He was by all accounts committed to doing his best on film and helping others. Those are good traits to remember today and things for me to keep in mind as I carry on during this Thursday. But mainly Gene Kelly reminds me to dance and infuse my every moment with as much joy as I can find.

But that’s enough out of me. Let’s have Gene show us how it’s done:

Jamar Rogers of ‘The Voice’ is My Kind of Hero

By now, readers of this blog have picked up on the fact that I’m kind of a reality TV whore. And by kind of I mean a  total reality television junkie. I’m especially into things that are competitions. Chopped, Top Chef and Amazing Race are among my favs. After years of watching American Idol and drunkenly yelling at the TV when the wrong person won, I thought I gave up on singing reality competitions. But last year, The Voice roped me in with the mere promise of Cee Lo Green’s funktacular presence and the program enticed me yet again this season. Unlike last year however, I’m really invested in the outcome this time around. Because this time around The Voice has a contestant who’s an awful lot like me.

27 year-old Jamar Rogers is an addict in recovery who also happens to be HIV positive. He rocked his blind auditions with a rollicking cover of the White Stripes “Seven Nation Army.”  As I watched his interview and his triumphant ass-kicking performance, my eyes welled up. Here was this cool kid with mad amounts of talent saying to America “Look you can recover from drugs and alcohol and be HIV positive and still rock out.”  His dream came true that night when  the aforementioned Cee Lo picked him for his team. Last week, Rogers secured a place in the finals after defeating his friend Jamie Lono in the battle rounds. Again, more tears were had both by Rogers on stage and by me at home. Jamar’s story has moved me from moment one not just because of how similar it is to my own but because of how The Voice has embraced him as a modern hero and an inspiration. And if you think about it, us ex-drunks and recovering junkies are heroes. In an era where musical legends are routinely taken out by addiction and alcoholism without so much of a raising of the eyebrow, stories like ours are rare and heroic indeed. We’ve honestly tackled our addictions and gone after the lives we want.

Well,except for that reality TV addiction. I’m not giving that up anytime soon. Not at least until I get to see Jamar Rogers win The Voice. I’ll be, unabashedly, clapping and crying the whole way.

You’re the inspiration

When I was drinking and using drugs, I used to tell myself “everything is going to be okay.” I said this especially when things were really fucked up. Like I honestly thought just by saying everything was going to be okay that it would be instantly better. I know now that yes, everything will be okay but it helps if I’m actually doing something to insure the road to okayness. Things are less likely to be shitty when I’m not contributing to the overall shit-fest.

At seven months sober, I had run away to live by the ocean and go to AA meetings and go back to school. I left my hipster part of town, my relationship of 12 years, and my daily drinking friends to get my act together. I didn’t know what getting my act together would exactly entail. Like did that mean I was going to rehearse dance numbers and sew sequins on a top hot or did it mean admitting I had a serious problem with drugs and alcohol and asking for help? I’m afraid it was the latter, less glamorous and more daunting set of tasks I had to take on. I gained some clarity and started to face parts of my life that previously scared the shit out of me. Through this lifting of the fog, I decided it was time to go to a doctor and get a HIV test. I was a 36 year gay man who snorted and screwed his way through Los Angeles in the 90’s and had only been tested once. It was time. It’s never a good sign when the clinic that took 3 hours to take your blood and tells you they’ll call you in two weeks blows up your cellphone three days later at 8 o’clock in the morning. They needed me to come in for my results. As soon as possible.  Fuck. The grey haired gentle RN, whom I’m sure I owe some sort of apology or thanks to, told me I was HIV positive. It was as if she said those words and then I was submerged underwater. The next 5 minutes were a blur as my face grew hot and red while tears dripped down my cheeks like a leaky faucet. I barreled down the stairs of the clinic desperately trying not to collapse or vomit. Great, I thought to myself. What wonderful timing. Divorced, trying to get sober and now HIV positive. Given my current streak of fabulous luck, I assumed it was only a matter of time until I found out that I was adopted or that I needed to have a limb removed. Once on the bus, I called my sister. I told her the news. And told her I really wanted a drink. She told me I couldn’t and told me to go home and lay down. While blubbering tears, I said “I never wanted to be somebody who had to overcome things. I never wanted to be an inspiration.” She wisely replied, “Well sweetie, it’s not up to us.”

Two and a half years after that diagnosis and days before my third sobriety birthday, I’m still not sure that I’m ready to be an inspiration or if I even qualify. But I do know this, I have gotten through what I’ve gotten through largely because when I thought my world was crumbling,  people who had lived through similar things told me “you are going to be okay” and I believed them. I wasn’t like when I lied to myself  that everything was just fine. Oddly enough it was admitting that everything was supremely fucked up and having the courage to laugh about it,  that made everything okay.  So that in short, is why this blog exists. Sharing a laugh or talking about uncomfortable things makes me feel better.  And maybe I can do that for you too.  Hopefully others who are addicted or positive or heartbroken will read this and believe me from the bottom of my heart that everything, will in fact, be okay.