Tuesday, August 22, 2017

August 22nd, 2017

Friday, August 22nd, 1997. I had just completed my very first week of High School. As with most Freshman my biggest worries were about trying the newest acne cream and attempting to understand all of the changes happening inside of me as I navigated puberty. Although my home life wasn't perfect and I still struggled to appease my recently divorced parents, at my soul I knew I had a very charmed and blessed life. The summer was coming to a close, and I had just spent it with my Dad in a Nevada before boarding a plane back to Tennessee. It was a magical summer that culminated with a trip to Los Angeles to visit Knotts Berry Farm, Magic Mountain, and Disneyland. We had so many great memories and more laughs than any kid could dream of. When we got back to Tennessee I was hopeful that my parents also turned a corner. I overheard them on the phone and my Dad told my Mom that he was going to come visit us in Tennessee for the holidays. I remember her giggling on the phone and for a split second they seemed back to that lovey dovey couple that would make out and dance in the kitchen in front of us kids as we rolled our eyes at them and told them how gross they were. I vividly remember thinking that when Dad came, all of the wrong-doings of the past would magically go away and they would somehow get back together and we would all live happily ever after. We lived right down the street from my Aunt and Uncle and it wasn't unusual for us to spend lots of time at their house. My Aunt called the house phone and asked me to come up to her house and bring my younger sister. I really didn't think anything of it and away we went up the street. Katie kicked the back of my shoe- a pair of Adidas sandals with the black and white thick straps over the top- on the way up to Aunt Mary's house and I told her to go fuck herself. She said she was going to tell Aunt Mary when we got to her house and I told her to "go ahead, no one believes her anyway." I really regret that. I signed into Aunt Mary's living room computer on AOL dial up when I looked outside and saw my Mom walking in. It was strange that she was there so early, but I just continued on with the computer. When she came in I said hey and could tell something was off but just kept on surfing the very slow web. She asked my sister to come inside and told us the news. "Guys, you know I love you right? This may be the hardest things I've ever had to tell you. Your Dad is dead." People cried. Our local minister and his wife came in to attempt comforting words. I was absolutely frozen. The next few days, weeks, frankly years are mostly a blur. We flew back to Nevada where I got to see my big sister. She and I were absolutely pissed off. Katie, my younger sister, was emotional but Crystal and I were simply angry. For the record, my Father took his own life. He had battled with drug and alcohol addictions for my entire life, and most of his. He, while high on several different drugs, went into the garage and started an old vehicle and died of carbon monoxide poisoning. He was scheduled to go fishing the next day and had his bag fully packed, fishing lines already laid out with his tackle box ready to go. He left no note. That was it. In a matter of seconds he changed the trajectory of my entire life by making a selfish decision and not thinking clearly. I say this because as I've gotten older, and become a parent I have a harder and harder time grasping how he could give up on his own life and children in this way. I know that my Dad loved and adored me, but I can see how the power of drugs and alcohol can steal away a persons true self. If you are battling with addiction, let my story be the catalyst to want to help yourself. You mean more to the people in your life than words can express and you are not alone! As we prepared for his funeral, my Mom had to switch the days so that his viewing didn't happen on my Birthday. So much of my childhood Was stolen on that day. I craved acceptance and acknowledgement from teachers, friends and family, but nothing can fill in the void of your Father. I am thankful for those that did step in and help; I'm not sure I would've made it here without them. When I think of all of the big things he has missed it blows my mind- weddings, grandchildren, graduations. But it's the small things that really hurt the most. Being able to call him up and ask for simple advice or just shoot the breeze. He was a kind and funny man. I see so much of myself in him- a super hard work ethic, a super silly side that loves to sing even if we aren't great at it, passionate love for those closest to us and passionate rage when someone wrongs us. I've had him out of my life far longer than I had him in it, but today I wanted to remind him how much I loved him. After all, without him, there would be no me. Raise (just one) a glass of Bacardi and Dr. Pepper to my Daddy today and try to remember there is a pot of gold at the end of rainbow.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

I am invincible

I feel like the world right now is so chaotic and "out of tune." I'm sitting in an independent coffee shop in one of the most vibrant neighborhoods in one of the worlds largest cities, and I've literally watched thirty or forty people come and go without one smiling or laughing at one another. How did we get here? I've been contemplating invincibility lately. Having a six year old who is learning and growing and asking lots of questions is causing me to really dig in and think about the big things. For instance, last weekend Harper says to Sabe and I, "If God created everything in the universe than who created God?" Hmmmm...I thought to myself. I had to ask for time to think about it and get back to her but still haven't. August marks twenty years since my Dad's passing. I was a few days shy of my 14th birthday. The memories are blurred and I have so few concrete memories left, but I do know I was loved immensely and somehow that carries me through. That little six year old mentioned earlier is also kind of obsessed with death. There's been lots of questions about when things or people die what happens to them? I really wish parenting did come with a manual to assist. I wanna be open and honest, but don't want to totally screw her up either! Lord help me when we get to where babies come from! I'm attempting to slow down a little. For the first time ever I've seen the color purple everywhere! All of the trees are the most gorgeous shade of purple I've ever seen! I asked Sabin if it's this way every year and he said "no, I went around and planted them all for you." But I know they're always here, how have I never slowed down enough to notice? I miss my family. In a weird way, the fact that we disagree on pretty much every political or social issue and can come together to laugh and celebrate together gives me hope that we will survive this strange time where everyone is throwing stones but no one is catching them. I am tired of the tennis game, just grab the ball and own it. I love to say black lives matter, but still clench my steering wheel as the black homeless man approaches my car window to ask for money, but am some how internally OK when it's a scraggly looking white dude. I need to listen to my own advice, catch the ball, and understand that we are a product of experiences, social and religious backgrounds, and family upbringing, but we have to talk about it and own our issues. Then work on correcting them. Summer is coming! Only six more school days for my Kindergarten girlie. Where has the time gone? Please slow down. Please speed up. Please pause. ---Side Note: a man with a HUGE Great Dane just came in and had a laugh with the barista, I missed the joke but noticed that four others and myself put down our devices and smiled as they laughed; maybe all we really do need is love and laughter----a dear friend lost her Mom yesterday. When I read the news tears instantly streamed down my face. I don't know the details, but this friend is so full of love and light. She was adopted by a mother that was a different race than she is. She shared stories on her site about how her Mom would often say her traits "ran in the family." To me that is love and connectedness. What a beautiful tribute.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

One Month In...

Grrrr! I, like most people, am sick and tired of politics. Here we are less than a month into Trump's presidency and I am a mix of emotions. On one hand I want to scream "told you so!" I mean there is no denying that Betsy DeVos is an imperial idiot. Maybe even more unqualified for her post than Trump himself. I don't know anyone on either side of the aisle arguing for her to be at the helm of my sweet innocent girls education. But it's literally Every. Single. Post. And I want to stay engaged. I'm an advocate. I don't support any bans on anyone, I'm proud of my immigrant roots. Aren't we all? I mean we are ALL immigrants waving our flags on Cinqo De Mayo or St. Patrick's, or whatever holiday we recognize our ancestors! I happened into a blood line that recognizes Jesus Christ as the Lord, but it could have easily gone a dozen other ways based on how/when/to whom I was born. I'm part of so many marginalized communities that are aching right now. I want to be strong for all of them. But it's hard. I'm also a proud American and while I vehemently was opposed to our current administration, I also believe in the political process, the electoral college (Yes, even when the popular vote doesn't win out), and therefore feel obligated to respect the office of the president, even when I don't support the man (or hopefully woman sometime soon) myself. It's excruciating. I realize we live in a microcosm of those that usually think like we do. I'm thankful (most days) that my social media floats somewhere in between. I want to stay informed on how the news is reported to both sides of the aisle so I have perspective. But it's also kinda like living in the twilight zone. Everyone cares about something different and their passion around that issue and difference in opinions infuriates them. If your Pro Life, you see red at how some people want to see innocent babies murdered (literally that's how many see it). If you're pro choice you don't understand how those pro-lifers, including the women who identify that way, don't want their own right to choose what's right for their own body or support Planned Parenthood for all of the reproductive issues they help with. If you are pro Affordable Healthcare Act your a socialist and want everyone to be covered despite pre-existing conditions. If your anti-you can't fathom how all of these Obama minions think we will continue to fund poor people's lives while you go to work every day and pay your "fair share." We can't continue to pay every deadbeats way while we are barely surviving. Isn't it exhausting? One thing I've noticed is no one, and I mean no one that I know (and I have a lot of super conservative family members and friends who I've intentionally not blocked or deleted) actually like or are enamoured with Donald Trump. Honestly, if they were invited to a State Dinner, I can't think of a single person I'm connected to who is so stoked to meet the man, the myth, the legend. They voted for him in spite of his opponent, or because who they believed he would nominate for the Supreme Court, or because they felt marginalized and looked over for many years. Or they are dissatisfied with the accumulated national debt and just wanted something different. Like I said above, everyone votes differently because of how they feel about certain issues. But in a nation where the president is definitely a celebrity, the irony is that since he already WAS a celebrity, Trump gets a strange hall pass. The smoothness and energy that followed the likes of Reagan and Obama (please pick your poison and just move on) has seemed to fizzle with our current Commandar in Chief. There have been days in the past month where I've intentionally NOT looked at social media. How much can one person really take? One important lesson I've learned is that most of it is just a scare tactic. If we actually internalized every post or believed everything said we would just want to curl up in a ball and disappear. Or worse give up. And that's the absolute worst thing any of us could possibly do. If you've even read this far, thanks for sorting through some of this stuff with me. I think it's important to close with the fact that while I love everyone and embrace an open dialogue, my heart is a die-hard Obama and Hillary loving, Black Lives Matter supporting, flamboyantly gay, feminist, pro choice, anti-wall, anti-entry ban, liberal man married to a beautiful black man. I don't want anyone reading my blog to ever mistake my openness to share love and ideas with me turning my back on my own personal beliefs. But I do believe, above all else, that there is plenty of room for all of us to express our thoughts while still loving and respecting one another. And sometimes I need that reminder most of all. Xo, AJ

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Bring on the Rain 2017!

Wow, another year down. Sometimes life moves so quickly. Other times it just drags on. To say 2016 was interesting is an understatement. I've decided to highlight the year below with my New Years Resolution of constant and abundant gratitude. 2016 started for me in the Emergency Room on New Years Day. I had been sick since the day after Christmas, and finally after not being able to keep anything down and a high fever for 3 full days, Sabin and I headed to Urgent Care. The doctor quickly saw us and thought my appendix might have burst so he sent us to the ER. Being in the ER on New Years Day in a curtained room between a homeless person who was completely un-responsive and then suddenly screaming in pain in five minute intervals and a woman on the other side who was about six hours into Heroin withdrawal and fighting non-stop with her pimp boyfriend might not seem like the best chance for me to begin my gratitude journal, but it truly was. When the doctors finally confirmed that my appendix had not burst and that I had a really terrible flu, I was sitting alone while Sabin ran to the car to get something and was already thinking how much worse so many others have it. I felt like total and complete shit, but got to walk out of the hospital and return to my comfortable and loving home. January also ended quite tragically. As we were leaving our house, a giant tree fell and smashed Sabin's BMW, his second love right in front of our eyes. The car was totaled. Again, not the beginning of the year we were hoping for, but beyond grateful for GAP auto insurance and for the fact that about forty five seconds later we would have all been in the car as the tree fell onto it. February brought one of the most beautiful gifts from our dear friend, Ann. A homemade high top wood planked dining room table. Its one of my favorite pieces of furniture I've ever seen and been the centerpiece for countless laughs, card games, and family bonding time. In March, Sabin and I spent a long weekend celebrating his birthday in New York City. I got to meet his younger brother and we sat in the fourth row of Broadway's The Color Purple. Anyone who knows me well already knows that "I'm Here" is my soundtrack. But to watch Cynthia Erivo and Jennifer Hudson so close and personally sing their hearts out was by far my most favorite memory with Sabin in the history of us. April brought the first official wedding at Last Stop Props, my new business venture with Ann that has really grown from a great idea into reality. On May 10th, my beautiful baby girl turned 5! She also completed her first soccer season where she did quite well, and we celebrated her and her sister at a VIP experience at Disneyland, where both girls got to meet all of the characters and we celebrated with the whole family. In June, we did a photo shoot at Last Stop Props to help build our online presence. Sabin played the groom and Tiffany the bride. We had catering and a bar and most of our friends were able to come and be models. It was a super fun day. July-Cabo San Lucas BABY! Sabin and I, along with our great friends Serafina and Andy got to spend a long weekend at an all-inclusive, adult only resort on the beach. It was SO. MUCH. FUN! When we got back, I began my health kick, which ultimately led to me losing 24 pounds and falling in love again with yoga and cardio, which I am hoping to keep on with into 2017. August- There were too many great parts to my birthday month! We started the month with a trip to Idaho to visit with my nieces and family. It had been awhile since we were all together and Katie and Sienna also came. We saw one of our favorite childhood Country Stars on the plane ride into town, and had a great time watching all of the girls play together (even with puke-ageddon striking all of us during the trip). Harper also started Kindergarten and was accepted off the wait list right in time for the most perfect little school for her. We have loved watching her grow and develop at Los Feliz Charter School for the Arts. Finally, my birthday. All of the friends came down and had a little party-complete with a video from my favorite SnapChatter SprinkleFreak! A few days later, Pierre, Christina, Whitney, Frank, and I all went to the Summer 90's R&B concert in Long Beach and had one of the best days of the whole year singing all of our favorite teenage songs together and dancing by the water! In September we lost my Grandpa Jack. I am beyond grateful that I was blessed with a grandfather like him. I miss him all of the time. We also visited Las Vegas for a really fun weekend celebrating Pierre's birthday. I acted like a 21 year old and consumed more alcohol that weekend than I normally do in an entire year (minus wine of course). Sabin and I also celebrated our FIRST wedding anniversary. There is never a dull day with this incredible man and I am the most thankful to have someone like him in my life. By October I realized our life is going to be jam packed every fall. We had a Halloween party at the studio, another at Harper's school, birthday parties for her school friends, and of course actual Halloween. It seemed like there was something every night the entire month, but all of it was extremely fun. Harper went as an astronaut, decked out in the coolest costume ever supplied by Auntie Arlene. She did a change into Barbie for actual Trick or Treating, and I went as a Skeleton while Sabin went as Scar from the Lion King. In November we found the perfect kitchen island that we've been searching for since last Thanksgiving. Not only does it complete our kitchen, its really become the centerpiece of our entire home. We also had a wonderful Thanksgiving dinner. I did the turkey again and it turned out pretty darn good. December brought the most magical Christmas of all. We all were together for a beautiful Christmas Eve dinner. I am thankful to be able to showcase the power of choosing love and family to Harper. I am wishing all of my friends and family, and those I don't know the most amazing 2017 ever. Here's to remaining grateful and showing gratitude!

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Follow the theme

There is something about the smell of the ocean or the sound of the waves crashing into the beach that settles my soul and requires me to dig deep and reflect. Every half a year or so I enter a dark place of insecurity and uncertainty. Why am I here? What am I passionate about? What is my purpose. Usually I can kick myself out of this place quickly but this time I've been stuck. I want to leave a mark, contribute to something BIG, or figure out how to leave the world at least a little better than how I found it. Before I continue, let me state that I am not complaining. I lead a charmed, spectacular life. For God's sake, I am typing this from poolside on vacation in Mexico! However, even those that appear to have it all together truly don't have it together at all. Back to reflection, I often wonder what it is that is going to finally fill that void that seems to always rear its ugly head. I have to go back to childhood and really dig in for understanding. I played one season of soccer when I was about eight. It was the only organized sport or season I ever played. I've all but lost any concrete memories of anything before my Dad died when I was a few days from turning 14, however that one season of soccer sticks out (probably because my mother permed my hair before the team photo and I cringe every time I see it). For many kids they discovered what they were good at or passionate about through sports and team work. I learned that it got me a lot of attention. I spent the practices and games looking at my grandparents and parents on the sidelines watching me instead of watching the ball or game. I didn't learn about my passion and I was a really lousy soccer player but I did learn that I craved attention and approval from adults in my life. In my teenage years, I pursued any activity that put me in the spotlight, taking the lead in every theater production and serving as Editor-in-Chief of my high school yearbook. I loved the attention and pressure to perform. My closest and few remaining friends from high school was my teacher! I love and adore her, but are you starting to see a theme? I've always been responsible, probably overly responsible. My mother always jokes that I'm the parent and she's the child. My younger sister starts most difficult conversations with "I don't want a lecture on this, but..." I'm working on being more spontaneous. i have no idea what any of this means and I'm not going to guess, however I am starting to weave together a theme and one thing I've learned is to follow the theme. For now I'm going to settle into this mimosa and keep reflecting.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

We are Orlando

This has been a very emotional week. In the wake of the worst hate crime and mass murder committed upon gay people in US History, I've been numb all week. I know we've all been talking about it so much and this is likely just "another Orlando posting" but I feel compelled to write it anyway. If anything ever happens to me, I want my daughter and nieces and loved ones to have something written from me about how this week has felt to me. I joined the gay party much later in life than most of my friends. I was 27 when I got my first "boyfriend." This wasn't intentional and I never was hiding, it just took me longer to really figure out who and what I was. Even before I came out, I've been immersed in gay culture. At seventeen I showed up to the dorms at Webster University to meet my new room mate Cade with Powder Puff Girls bedding spewn about his bunk. He pulled me into the bathroom and immediately said, "I am gay. If that's a problem go see our dorm leadership and request a move now." I remember I hugged him and over that year shared some of my biggest secrets and created a friendship with one of the most incredible and honorable men I've ever known. Not only did I accept him, I immersed myself in it. The very first dance club I've ever went to was with him in East St. Louis and danced harder and freer than I ever had in my life. In our first year at Webster I helped coordinate the "Drag Ball" which was one of my University's biggest events. Cade hosted the event in drag as "Mariah Scary" that year. We laughed and cheered, and I remember celebrating that event just a few months after 9/11 and laughing so hard that I lost my voice for a few days. Over that time I met my other brothers-Russ, Stephen, Dave, and many others- and of course I can't forget my favorite first boss Nick who joined us from Tennessee as we all figured out life together. When I say brothers, I mean BROTHERS- men who go with you to pick up your sister on the side of the freeway on vacations to Florida. Men who put you in a NYC cab and carry you to your hotel room when you've had too much. Men who drop everything and fly to be with you in the midst of heartbreak and divorce. I literally don't think I'd have made it here without these guys. And I can't tell you how many times in the past 15 years I've been dancing the night away with them in a gay club at 2 am, JUST like Pulse. There have been "whispers" about me and my sexuality my entire life. The truth is, at least from my perspective, I've always been my true and authentic self. Even despite whispers or someone coming out and directly asking, what you see today is what you've always gotten with me. I was fortunate to grow up with a Mom that loves without boundaries. We've always had gay people around, and truthfully if you are reading this and don't have gay people around, YOU are really missing out! As a gay married man, I can tell you that despite living in and amongst a community that fully accepts and supports us (which so many gay people still don't have), My husband and I are still never freer or more like a real couple than when we go to a gay bar or club. When we are around our straight friends and family, almost out of habit we hold back. We don't openly show tons of affection as to not make people feel uncomfortable (even though most of our people wouldn't anyway). But when we go to WeHo and are surrounded by our gay brothers or sisters, we hold each other tighter, dance and kiss, love and laugh and connect on a deeper level. We are safe and we are home in places like Pulse, free from watching eyes or critical stares that we avoid in our regular daily life. THAT is why this week has been so difficult to bear. I can't comprehend what the 49 victims must've felt as they danced and held each other, but in a strange way I can also totally picture it too. I think it's why gay broadcasters like Don Lemmon and Anderson Cooper can't get through a broadcast because they too have been there. Gay bars and clubs are our safe place, and I for one will not let one person change that for me. Today and this weekend as 49 families bury their children, brothers, sisters, Moms and Dads I would encourage anyone reading this to slowly close your eyes and for one moment picture that this was me, because it very well could've been. I don't want this tragedy to at all be about me, but I know there are still so many people in "my circle" who may wince a little when they hear that this was a gay club. Or people who may sit back and hear Donald Trump say things on the news about "ask the gays." Or hear their preachers and religious leaders avoid the fact that this was a hate crime against gay people. Or worse come right out and show support for it. You can not ride the fence on this one. I can not ride the fence with this one. We are all in this together. Love will always win and I am Orlando.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Thanksgiving 2015

I have always loved Thanksgiving. It is one of the holidays that is less about "showing" or "showering" others with gifts of appreciation and more about an internal reflection of what we as individuals are giving thanks for and recognizing those many blessings we have. I, for one, used to despise the times when I had to be alone with my thoughts and "reflect." For many years, I would much prefer to focus on others and not have to worry about sorting through all of the craziness going on inside. However, over the last few years I've come to love and appreciate my alone time. Perhaps my two-three hour daily commute has given me that time I never had before. Perhaps those hours of therapy have started to pay me back. I'm not really sure exactly, but I know that part of it is the ability to settle into myself. As I've gotten older I'm able to have a better framework for what I want out of life and I think more importantly, what I don't want. I've began to prioritize those things in ways that I never would have thought possible. It is still a struggle, but I'm confident that I'm moving in the right direction. Part of reflection is prioritizing what little free time I have. For some relationships that has meant more distance or in some cases letting them go all together. For others it has really strengthened my bond and developed others. I think so much of my personal twenties was more about pleasing others. Having lots of friends, being the life of the party. Making sure that everyone was comfortable- flying under the radar on many deep things like politics, religion, and beliefs to make sure everyone (myself mostly) was comfortable. That those around me CRAVED the time we had together. Of course that was mostly a defense mechanism, meant to cover up really getting to know or go to levels unknown with those people. Ive told this story a lot, but when I met Sabin and he had a seemingly bigger personality than me, and saw how people flocked to him, it was a bit frightening for me. When we went out together it was nice not to be "on" all the time because he generated a lot of the attention and charisma that I was used to giving/being. However, it was also one of the best gifts any person could ever give me. My ability to fade into the background (willingly of course) is/was so refreshing. It gave/gives me the ability to really connect with people. To have corner conversations about real life big deal things that I was really never able/willing to do when I was so busy being that life of the room! I, of course, miss those friends and family that I have drifted apart from, but I also must say I sit more firmly in my chair, walk more solidly in my shoes, see colors/lights/beauty more clearly because of this internal shift and I could never go back to the "way things were." I also need, and truthfully only have time for, those deeper relationships when the other person fully accepts me (as I am now, and not romanticizing how I used to be). Those in my first ripple of circle have dwindled down to less than a handful, whereas the number used to be upwards of a dozen. But those in that ripple really know me; know and accept the real me with my crazy liberal thoughts one day and deeply religious or conservative the next. They have begun to really understand the complexity that comes with me now and never wince at any aspect of my life no matter how personally uncomfortable they may be with certain things. I haven't really blogged about our wonderful amazing wedding and honeymoon, but one thing that really sticks out in my mind is that out of 125 invitations sent out, we received 4 "unable to attend" RSVPs from those guests who would've chopped off their limbs to make it but just couldn't because life got in the way. And then, we did not hear back anything beforehand from FIFTY EIGHT of those invitations. At the surface, it might seem like I'm heading into a tangent about how upsetting that was or how I'm frustrated about basically getting nothing back from half of our invitees (most of which were from my "side"). But the truth is, I actually found it to be the framework for what I wrote about above. Life moves fast, but when I looked out at the 90 people who celebrated with us on the most important day of my life thus far, I realized that while my circle has drastically dwindled, it has also strengthened tenfold. To those that celebrated with us on that day, we shared some of the most vulnerable and emotional moments ever together. It's almost like we have this secret among us that I'm almost hesitant to share with others because we are wrapped up together forever in an amazing beautiful web. When I close my eyes and think back on that day, the grin lines are unavoidable. So are the tears, but it is such an intimate memory that I will treasure forever and eternally thankful that we shared together. So this Thanksgiving I am most thankful for a husband who shows/tells/showers me his love and commitment to me and our family and an understanding of me that sometimes I don't even understand, a good job that allows me to provide for my family, health and happiness living in my dream home across the street from great friends as we take over Marguerite Street, a mom and sister that fully accepts me exactly as I am with no strings attached and no expectations for anything in return, a great relationship with the mother of my daughter and her entire family, and most importantly that beautiful blonde child who fills my heart so much that many days feels like it may explode. May you remind those that you are thankful for how much they mean to you today and everyday.