Am I Being Punk’d?

When is the last time you took a risk? How did it work out?

I take risks all day long. Up until now, I’ve been in relationships with women. I’m genderqueer on the outside, genderfluid on the inside. Stepping out my front door is an act of courage, and not cowing to the demands of what society puts on women is another. I do not owe it to the world to put on makeup.

It might not make me look like a drag queen, but I certainly feel like it sometimes. I’m just not used to it anymore. It doesn’t feel natural like it used to. It feels like paint. So, I’ll still wear some (occasionally), but only mascara, eyeliner, and a bit of lip gloss. Jeremy Renner was a makeup artist before he was on camera, and he said something that made sense to me. All you need is to frame your face.

I have cut foundation out entirely, because that’s where skin problems start. I had horrible systemic acne as a teen, and fixed it with Accutane. Since then, I’ve just taken care of my skin. I don’t really have to do much- soap and water is just fine, as long as it’s not the cheapest soap you can find. Right now, I’m using African black soap, which clears up acne naturally…. And yet, Dove works fine, too. All I’m saying is that I chose to clear up the problem with pills rather than a multitude of creams that probably wouldn’t have worked, anyway.

After a time, it became impossible to control my acne with just topical applications, and it was a risk taking Accutane at all. There were horrible side effects- bone pain in my back and legs, dry skin (which wasn’t that bad until it was my lips), and my emotions were all over the place. I wasn’t on any psych meds at the time, but it wasn’t unrelated, either. One of the primary warnings is suicidal ideation….. probably because it makes you feel so bad that if you’ve been on it, you know that some days death would have been a welcome relief rather than trying to stand up fifteen minutes in a row.

In the end, it was worth it and I would do it again. But while you’re going through it, there’s really no end in sight. It takes six months, at least, and if it’s bad enough, you have to do it twice. You’re basically trying to kill all the oil glands in your face. It works, but it is a bitch and a half.

It was most embarrassing having to say to people so often, “no, I am not pregnant. I am not planning on becoming pregnant.” No one was being mean to me, the effects on the baby would have been that severe. But of course, it tapped into my worthless feelings because I knew I’d never have a baby. That’s crazy talk. Keep in mind, I was like 19. I finally just started saying I was a lesbian, and it stopped cold…. And then lesbians just HAD to have kids and make it normal….. God, you guys. 😛

I was completely obsessed with myself, but not in terms of vanity. I hurt all over, from constant headaches to backaches to period cramps being ten times as bad. That kind of constant pain wears on you, and I was waiting tables at the time. Just pain on top of pain.

When I think of that time in my life, the pain resurfaces, but it’s filtered through the fact that I only had to endure it for a short while…. Maybe a year. But I know chemo patients who have had it less rough than that.

Now, I have really good skin, but other problems with my health that need addressing…. And that is a risk, too, just because I don’t like going to the doctor. I think I know everything. But as I’ve said before, being the best doctor you’ve got isn’t a ringing endorsement.

And the truth is that I hate going to the doctor because no one knows me in Maryland. Outside my little Texas bubble, I don’t have any connection to a medical family and doctors get pedantic with me right away…. Even when I say things like “I have Aleve at home and it’s not working. Could I try Celebrex?” Then the doctor will say something like how I don’t need anything that strong and I’ll say “I don’t need a stronger dose of anything. I need both the Cox-1 and Cox-2 inhibitors” and all of the sudden a light dawns AND I CAN SEE IT HAPPENING. “Oh, she wasn’t kidding when she said she came from a medical family. Maybe she does know something.”

I am not here to give medical advice to anyone. I know my own body… and I am perfectly fine with OTC pain meds 90% of the time. If I was asking for Tylenol #3 or Vicoprofen, I could understand a doctor’s hesitation. No one is trying to scam you for narcotics, dude. I have enough issues. I don’t want addiction to be one of them.

Plus, I’m an introvert, and I don’t like dealing with people. It is a necessary evil. So, if I am not in any danger and I already know what’s going on, I can treat myself within limits. I don’t need to go to the doctor for bad allergies or a cold. I don’t need to go to the ER because dollars to donuts my pain won’t be taken seriously and I’ll be given a prescription for 600mg ibuprofen when I CAN COUNT, thanks (regular is 200mg). The one thing I won’t do is argue, because I don’t want to be accused of drug seeking behavior. That means even when you’re *really* bad off, no one will pay attention to you. It’s The Boy Who Cried Wolf…. Even when it’s not.

It’s a risk to see a doctor because you’re working off a thousand assumptions that have nothing to do with you. The doctor is running heuristics on my pain as easily as I do with emotional situations. However, I have never had a doctor be compassionate enough to see that I needed more than over the counter medications and I’m not dumb enough to insist that’s what they should do. I grit my teeth a lot.

In fact, the one doctor who did think I was in that much pain didn’t go to medical school in the United States, and therefore, could hold my hand and do little else. I had a housemate from Nigeria, Franklin, and one night I was cooking for us. I managed to slice into my finger while cutting a raw sweet potato, and the knife came down on my finger with force…. To the point I was scared to cook for a while. Franklin said later that he should have taken me to the ER because I needed stitches. I told him he was right, but that I had enough experience in a professional kitchen that it wasn’t an emergency. It was Tuesday.

It took forever for the finger to heal, but luckily, no nerve damage. The only nerve damage is from before I was a cook. I was 16 and still living in the parsonage when I sliced my thumb while cutting a lime for my Diet Coke (yes, I was 100% That Bitch). I’m 45, and there’s still a dead spot on the palm side.

Learning to cook professionally was a risk because I knew I wouldn’t be spectacular at it, I’d just have a ton of fun. And I did. Even when I was injured, it was fine…. Most of the time. I won’t lie and say I was always Mama’s brave little soldier, but in that kind of pressure cooker, losing your shit has to be in very small increments. There’s no time for anything else.

The job that came with the best perks was working in a restaurant at the Portland airport, because I had a badge that let me walk directly onto the tarmac. It was refreshing to go and take a break and watch the planes, which you can do in an airport restaurant because you can look at the loads for the day and tell when the pops are going to be.

It’s also a big risk to take a kitchen job, because there’s always a definite start time. Good luck finding the end.

I had a love-hate relationship being the last one out, because the last one out is the first to get blamed in the morning. Part of it was petty day crew/night crew bullshit. Part of it is that I’m physically weak and forget a lot. So whose fault it actually was in each instance isn’t important. What’s important is that it was relentless. I couldn’t win either way. So, whether you believe I am the best cook or the worst, it still sucked to walk in to a laundry list of my failures…. Particularly when another cook told management that I was the one who left something out, and he did. I took the fall for his raw chicken sins.

Being a writer is a risk. People think I flippantly post things, and I sweat blood. I had to get into the habit of hitting post as soon as I was done with an entry, because to wait was to let imposter syndrome set in. Nothing would ever be good enough…. And it still isn’t, but you people are too kind.

I would like to take a risk and go sit with the bees, but I can’t today. They don’t like rain, and today it is big, fat drops. I’m not sure I would love it out there, either. But Magda has grown lavender in the side yard or at least a year, and the bees love it more than life itself. I just wanted to clear it up that we do not have a hive. I have not had an audience with my queen. I just know all her loyal subjects, who listen to me as if they have nothing else to do because they’re better at multitasking than I am.

If I wear my blue hoodie, I am more attractive to them. I can’t decide whether I like that or not. They’re never aggressive, not ever. I just have to decide how comfortable I am with bees on me… because if I make a bad move and it is misinterpreted, there is no “Undo” feature.

I’m just glad that we have a safe space for bees in our yard, because I feel emotionally connected to them in more ways than one. Claire talks to her bees in “Outlander,” which makes me feel like less of a crazy person for doing the same. And I’m a cook. The plight of the bees is mine as well. Incidentally, my favorite version of “Flight of the Bumblebee” is twofold. The first was hearing Wynton Marsalis on a recording. The second was hearing Clark Terry do it live in a master class.

Speaking of which, I love meeting famous people. It’s always a risk, but it pays off. I come away with an interesting story, some of them interesting enough where the famous person will remember me, some not so much.

I could tell that I tickled the hell out of Wynton Marsalis when I told him I’d been waiting my whole life to meet him…. Just stifling his laughter at how long that must have been in all of my 15 years.

It’s kind of fun being able to say that I met so many people at HSPVA before they were famous, because the part of them that’s not famous is what I like best.

One of my favorite random conversations happened at the pub where I worked before the pandemic. I sat down at the bar for an ice water and a shift drink, and asked the guy next to me what he did. He said, “I’m a sound engineer for NPR.” He said, “what do you do?” I said, “I sling hash for a living.” The fucking bartender said, “I thought you worked here. You didn’t tell me you were a drug dealer.” The NPR sound engineer laughed until he cried.

I couldn’t even breathe I was laughing so hard, because this bartender was young enough to be my son. “Slinging hash” had a different meaning in his world.

Moving to DC was a big risk, but it paid off because I get to have these conversations all the time. I am permanently stuck at the smart kids’ table, right where I need to be just to soak up information…. And not filling my ears with hot air. So much more interesting to talk to people who make the news than watching it at night or listening on the radio.

Also, not going to lie…. Pretty great standing in front of a gaggle of groupies and talking to Robert Glasper when he says, “SHIT! You from the crib…” Grabbed me and hugged me like Mr. Hattox’s history class was yesterday and not 30 years ago. We didn’t take a selfie that time, but I think I got one on the next tour. By the time I got to talk to Robert after the first time I saw him, we were both exhausted and I didn’t think either of us would look good, anyway.… nothing to put on the refrigerator, anyway. I prefer it. I didn’t capture the look on Robert’s face when he saw a high school friend. That look was just for me.

I think I’ve said this before, but I knew Jason Moran back in the day better than I knew Robert Glasper, but yet still a risk to go and talk to him because I wasn’t sure if he’d remember me or not. He absolutely did, and I felt silly for wondering. I told him that I’d written to one of his albums, Ten, for a year. He turned around to the whole band and said, “hey guys… she wrote to Ten for a year.” I was so honored, because it meant something to him that his music fueled me, and meant something to me that he thought it was important enough to tell the band.

One of the big risks I took in high school was attending Summer Jazz Workshop, where I got integrated into the Houston jazz scene. My one claim to fame is that I was the trumpet soloist when my band was on a local television show called “Black Voices.” It was hilarious because the “Black Voices” logo appeared, and then my big white face with even bigger glasses.

Don’t get me wrong. I wasn’t a prodigy at trumpet or anything else. I just decided to take a risk, because getting to be in the band at all was the point. I remember Doc Morgan, my jazz director at HSPVA, saying that he was going to miss me getting to do the traditional “senior tune,” where every graduating member of the band gets their own solo. I told him not to worry, that he’d featured me so much as a ninth grader that I felt like I already had mine… and it was true. I remember one solo that went extraordinarily well, and he said, “Leslie Lanagan… Ninth grade, ladies and gentlemen… NINTH GRADE.”

I peaked too soon, but it was worth it. I got the experience of a lifetime before being thrown to the wolves in marching band. That was its own special kind of risk…. But at least I only fell in rehearsal once. That is because I was marching backwards and either I ran into a bass drummer or he ran into me…. Unclear.

It was physical and alien, made torturous by the Texas heat. I do not regret the risk of staying in, of feeling embarrassed until I didn’t, allowing myself to suck at something until I didn’t. Being in the marching band was required to stay in the symphonic band, and came with a free trip to San Antonio, where we were presented The Sudler Flag, honoring the best of Texas music education…. And since my mom was a music teacher, she was already at the (Texas Music Educators Association, or TMEA) convention and got to hear me.

The last huge risk (huge) was preaching at Bridgeport, and I didn’t even do that until I was asked. No one really knew me, didn’t know where I’d come from, and didn’t expect anything. Sometimes, I was on fire (according to me) and sometimes I sucked (also according to me). But the thrill was becoming experienced at something I’d only watched from a distance…. And as it turns out, I’m like every preacher in the world. The sermon you think sucks is what everyone remembers, and the sermon you thought was gold is straight trash.

So that’s how I view this web site, too. It’s a risk, but I know that the very worst entry I write, someone will absolutely adore. Something I like will languish, because people don’t think the way I do, and thank God for that. Otherwise, I would be preaching to an echo chamber.

A risk all its own, and one that never pays off.


I Am…

Describe something you learned in high school.

Here’s the link to the audio. You might have to download it into your own media player or the Mega app. SoundCloud wants me to pay because I “upload a lot,” and I get it. I just didn’t know the space limit was so incredibly low. I’m searching around for options, and most of them rely on using my desktop, of which I am not a fan… mostly because I’m not really using SoudCloud to increase the popularity of my blog. The audio is just a convenience.

High school is divided up for me in two segments. The first is that I spent my freshman and sophomore years at High School for Performing and Visual Arts as a trumpet player. The second is that my junior and senior years, I didn’t. I went to a regular American high school. I was still in the music program, though. My junior year I was in varsity choir and varsity band at the same time, the first in the history of the school to do so. I learned how to be in a marching band. My symphonic band was better than the one at ‘PVA (no judgment, it’s just true).

Then, my counselor suggested that I drop one of my music classes because if I took Microcomputer Applications, I could get what was called an “Advanced Diploma.” The band was gearing up to go on all these trips my family couldn’t afford, and it was an easy out to drop band because I knew I couldn’t sell enough fertilizer to pay my own way. Yes. Really. They asked us to sell shit to people.

I dropped choir because I didn’t like the new director coming in, because I knew other people that had her and it wasn’t my bag. I was not a “show choir” person. I do not think that if you can sing, you should automatically be capable of dance as well. I liked great repertory, and pop music wasn’t it (for me). If that sounds persnickety for a teenager, remember that I was a classically trained singer from being in an adult church choir since I was 13.

I didn’t care about Britney Spears. I loved Bach and it showed.

For the record, I care about Britney as a listener. She’s great. I just wouldn’t sing her stuff unless I was doing it as a joke, because I couldn’t pull it off where people would take it seriously. It’s a totally different type of training.

I think I’ve said before that Beyoncé left HSPVA because she didn’t want to be classically trained, and that I continue to be devastated that it did not work out for her. But same vibe, we’re just opposite. She didn’t want to learn everything I’d been taught about being able to blend into a choir, breath control specific to that kind of music, etc. It’s a lot. By the same token, I didn’t want to learn the proper breath control to sing whatever it is the Star Spangled Banner is now in professional football. Whitney Houston doing it in four was the high point. ::looks pointedly at other pop stars:: No one will ever be her, and I knew that I’d only be a cheap imitation. I don’t want that for me, or anyone else. Do what you do and make it count.

Since my dad had left the church, I also got a job in hopes of getting my own spending money. I was 16, so no one thought anything of screwing me over to save themselves, like making me pay things back when I was short on the register when they’d been stealing from the drawer. I’m bad at math, so of course it was all my fault when the drawer was missing $50 at the end of the night. Of course it should come out of my paycheck. It’s what a teenager owes a national corporation, right?

I would never sue them over lost wages, but I would get a kick out of it if they sent me a product and swag box if someone is reading who thinks such a thing could happen at the company. I once proposed to Zyrtec on Twitter and told them they were paying. Then, they later kidded me about forgetting our anniversary and I said, “how do you think I feel? You didn’t get me anything.” The proposal rocked, though….. that I had 99 problems but a itch ain’t one.

I worked for SuperCuts, and in this instance I am not talking about the company. I am talking about the sleight of hand with my own team, not every employee who ever worked there. I mean, I was great at my job in retrospect. They had me, so you’re definitely safe in giving them as much money as you want. I still look back on my time as magical because things that are commonplace today were introduced while I was an employee, most notably, American Crew (for which I am grateful… white people pomade). I think the Paul Mitchell Tea Tree line came out then, too, a total game changer. It was also amazing learning the jargon of how to tell people I want my hair cut so that there’s less room for a mistake.

It doesn’t always work, but it helps.

By the time I graduated from high school, I had set myself up for life in terms of my opinions on everything that is still true about me today. The only thing that’s changed is that I call myself out as I am, bisexual, instead of telling the world I’m a lesbian while not thinking that way, because that label wasn’t something I gave myself. I just have to be louder about being bisexual in a heterosexual relationship than I would if I was actively partnered with a woman, because you can see it with every kiss.

The one thing I didn’t see coming that I didn’t know I needed was dating a bisexual man. That way, we still have all the same cultural references, though I’m older and have more insurance. He doesn’t care whether I look high femme or butch because in one outing, we’d look depressingly heterosexual and in another, it’s a whole bear/twink mood without all the lights, drum & bass, and Ecstasy.

To stop joking, we’ve both been bullied for being queer. That trauma for him is a different playing field, because mine is rooted in embarrassment. I’m either gross and wrong or a plaything given to men, because why wouldn’t women being with women be nothing but a male fantasy? Why would women have agency in this society? Straight women don’t even have it.

Men harass me by seeing me with my then-wife (Kat, in this example) and asking us to kiss in front of them, or come home with us, or any number of things that hurt way more than they would have if it was original. Those examples aren’t all Kat, when it was 2000, or even Meag, when it was 1996. It’s all picking at the same scar every day of my life, because I heard about it before I experienced it. Being an empath made me experience that trauma before it was direct. I felt it on my skin when it happened to my friends.

For men, it’s horrible that they want to be female, their tormentors’ perception and not reality….. but seriously…. As if being female was the worst thing that could happen to a person…… hello…. All connected. Except men don’t stop with horrible comments with other men. It often leads to outright violence and death. I only say this because it happens to men more frequently, but violence against lesbians exists.

It’s a shared understanding, a shared library of images that create empathy. To me, it is especially important because the one thing I really hated about dating Matthew had nothing to do with him at all. It was gaining heterosexual privilege for the first time and rebelling against it hardcore. I remember one instance we’d gone to meet some of his friends, and someone did that thing where they looked around before they told a gay joke, and I wasn’t the picture of volatility you see here.

I said nothing, and just felt all of it. I know now that I should have ripped the dude a new one, but I didn’t want to upset the apple cart when I was meeting my boy’s friends the very first time. I was also like, 24, maybe 25. I was older than Matt, but still a child in my eyes now. I didn’t know what to do, and I was scared.

So now I can look at that and say I’m in a better place because Zac has probably been there. He’s just as out and proud as me. On Wednesday, I noticed right off that his nails were painted teal and he was wearing flowy pants. He’s the head of the queer group at his intelligence agency. I don’t know how he sees himself, but I see him as George Smiley if he had grown up like us. (Smiley is the protagonist in John Le Carre’s most famous series about MI-6.) I showed up in a black t-shirt, jeans, and tie-dyed pattern Crocs. I later put on a navy hoodie and my CIA baseball cap- some of you will remember that was a gift from Zac because he has the badge that allows you into Langley, but not the capability to escort visitors. I wear it almost every day like I’m pitching the afternoon game. Now do you see how we’ve inverted the binary? From the outside, I’m the butch and he’s the femme…. And no one would ever guess that we were into each other unless we weren’t holding hands or being cute to the point of nausea (our MO most of the time).

Editor’s Note: I learned that it was important on the train Thursday, when a young girl at the Franconia Springfield Metro said, “I want to be CIA, too.” I told her that I wasn’t CIA, I just had cool friends, and to call me when she got there. 😛

“Grown up like us” is emotional shorthand for Zac and I having to deal with the perils of being queer from a very, very young age. Zac entered the military under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” At the same time, I’m not dating a gay man and he’s not dating a lesbian just for kicks. We’re not playing at anything, just being the most authentic versions of ourselves.

I have always been that in some capacity, but I have graduated. You don’t learn that you are brave and unique until someone tells you. In the moment, you’re just doing what you have to do to survive.

In high school, I learned that I would HAVE TO be unique.

My freshman year, I told one person I was gay and by the end of the day, everyone knew. In retrospect, it was the best decision I ever made, because any bullying that came my way was tiresome. They couldn’t blackmail me anymore, and they couldn’t get away with anything more original because they weren’t that clever.

Because I was moving out of the gay neighborhood in Houston to a suburb where everyone knew each other, I went back in the closet…. To save my father’s job according to my mother. My father didn’t care. He knew me. We’d met. But guess which message I heard?

Being in the closet for a school year was amazing and gave me the worst panic attack of my life. Both of those things were true. I would not have wanted to miss the chance of being in marching band, would not have traded my conductors (Mr. Matysiak and Mrs. Bueller [really]) for anything in the world. I would never have wanted to miss learning that I was not only a singer, I was damn good at it. I stood on the shoulders of giants, and my mother accompanied me through it all, literally.

She played the piano for my solos no matter what she was doing, and in seventh and eighth grade, she played for all my friends, too. This was not a small feat, as most piano accompaniments for solos are orchestra reductions. So, my mom hurt me a lot, and she also came through in equal measure. Not only was the piano our lighthouse when we were ships passing in the night, she left it to me in her will. She didn’t give me a setting. She gave me the main character.

In terms of hurting me, all of the panic I’d been feeling that year came to a head when my senior best friend asked me to come with him to his prom. He was literally on the way to pick me up, my hair and makeup done to perfection, when I melted down physically. It caused a monster reaction, a rash, shortness of breath, everything- so the doc came over and gave me a shot of Depomedrol and off we went.

That was the first time that I learned everything can be fixed before school, you’re going. It only backfired once. I had the flu, and Tamiflu was YEARS ahead in the making. If it had, I would have been going to school without spreading it. To be perfectly fair, I’d woken up feeling a little miserable and bloomed at school. It wasn’t a big deal right up until it was.

Actually, that leads to a really funny story. One of our parishioners while I was at HSPVA was a Republican judge, so I went to their convention in like, ‘92, before they were complete nut jobs. While I was there, I bought a button down that was made of real American flag material, and the colors were very dark. It looked sharp…. Or so I thought. I was really sick on my birthday, and nothing would have stopped me from going to school that day in my new threads. I get there and first period was band…. And if Jack Lucas had been there, he would have been SO PROUD OF HIS STUDENTS.

Editor’s Note: I also went to St. Martin’s Episcopal as a teen, where I was unimpressed with President George H.W. Bush….. and thrilled to meet a former Director of CIA (of course). Therefore, it always thrills me that Jonna Mendez managed to fool him, because of course now I know we have mutual friends…. And I am laughing so hard that I can’t even breathe right now.

Those motherfuckers broke out in four part harmony, because they were musicians. They could sing their parts blind. Then, they get to “free,” and Dan Kovaly hits the fucking *cymbals.* I was just as self-deprecating then as I am now, so I thought it was absolutely hilarious while still mortifying. Later, my mom and dad brought me my favorite food, cherry chicken from Ruggles. We got to eat lunch together in the commons, and it was sad that there wasn’t a Happening that day.

Happenings at HSPVA are code for what would now be called a flash mob, probably. You never knew when they were coming, and it was always unique no matter which art area was on showcase. It’s one of the core memories that made me who I am.

Back in high school.

I Haven’t

How have you adapted to the changes brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic?

I never needed to do anything for the pandemic. I’m an introvert homebody by nature. I also didn’t like wearing masks, so staying home was more comfortable, anyway. Everyone in my family has had it but me, and I still don’t have the last booster because it was too much energy to schedule when my risk factor was so damn low. I have the first three, though, and they did come in handy when my friend Robert Glasper (sat behind me in history in high school) came to DC and played “The Reach” (an addition to the Kennedy Center that focuses on hip-hop). It’s so fabulous. If I were to plan the perfect date, I’d want to go see Robert. Romantic, platonic, whatever. It’s a great place to sit outside and have a drink before or after the show, because the garden patio is just as much fun as looking at the art indoors. My last trip was incredible because it was one of my favorite artists on my actual birthday.

I also really, really like seeing Robert alone so that no one talks to me and I can just take pictures of him and the band. Last time he was on tour with Yasiin Bey. It was funny, I told Robert to tell him he was my favorite alien (he played Ford Prefect in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy), then walked away and thought, “I’m a friggin’ Doctor Who fan. I’m an idiot.” The only person that he plays with that I’m desperate to see is Jason Moran, because I was actually closer to Jason than Robert. I get to see Jason more because he actually works here (still lives in NYC, but is also jazz director at the KenCen). I’ve just never seen both my guys outside of the High School for Performing and Visual Arts bubble.

I would even get the last booster for that one.

Seeing Robert was definitely the highlight interruption in my otherwise quiet existence, because I’d rather play with my characters or talk to all y’all than do much else. If you knew the main characters I was working with, you’d spend time with them, too, and there are only five people on earth who know the answer to that question. If any one of them talks, it will do an enormous amount of damage. This is it. This is my magnum opus, and I can’t think of anyone who would figure it out faster than my chef of an ex-wife. I’ve left breadcrumbs all through this friggin’ web site in hopes that she gets the hint. She just looms so large in my memory that if I succeed here, I’ll be able to trace it all the way back to “hi, I’m Dana.”

God, don’t you wish you knew which breadcrumbs were only for her? I bet you do. Maybe in 20 years, because I swear to Christ if the idea is executed properly, it’s worth millions. I can take that check to the bank and cash it, because three of the five are subject matter experts. Dana could guess all three with only three guesses given if she picks up what I’m putting down.

I’ve already put it in writing to The Five that if I get rich, so do they. So does Dana. So does pretty much everyone I ever knew because there’s no such thing as a self-made millionaire, even if it was just sacrificing giving gifts to your friends even when you really, really want to because they’ve been so kind to you.

For instance, one of the huge gifts that Zac has given me is his time. We’ve been dating casually for months (I only see him every few weeks and that’s fine with me because again, characters.), and his gift is not only his time, but his house as well. If I need a different office once in a while because I’m going stir crazy, he’ll leave for his office and “leave me in mine.” I’m not sure he sees it as a gift, but it’s more precious than gold. I think the one true thing I’ve said about this novel over and over is “it’s got spies in it.”

Zac is an SME because he works in a smaller agency than CIA, but collects raw data from all the intelligence bureaus we have. He’s not a spy, but spy adjacent (I think……….. you never friggin’ know in this town). That way, he can at least teach me unclassified jargon, because if he doesn’t know it, he can at least point me in the right direction. Neither one of my characters *start* as intelligence officers or assets/agents. I’m borrowing structure from Steve Martin’s Picasso at the Lapin Agile, an alternate history in which Picasso and Einstein meet at the Lapin Agile, a cafe in Paris. The book is their conversation.

It opens up all kinds of possibilities for me as a writer, because my story actually does start in Paris. As I’ve been telling Daniel, I’ll go with you everywhere, it’s just that the only places I have to live for a while are Paris and Ho Chi Minh City. The majority of the story takes place in Viet Nam, so I want to go there first on a 90 day visa. I’ve found a range of apartments, and there are huge ones in the middle of the city for $4-600/mo. I could get by on a studio for $200, but it’s better for me to have a separate office. If I’m going to have a work in progress that’s worth this much, I want a friggin’ door that locks when people come over. If you think I’m being paranoid, ideas are my currency. I’m the product. If this isn’t the right idea for me, it’s the right idea for someone, and Joe Hack is not going to decide to take a stab at it.

I’d sell it to “The Daniels” rather than keep it on my home computer if it was unsecured (speaking of which, they’re one of the few directors I’d even attempt to trust). Yes, I know that Daniel and Daniel are separate people, but if I can live with being “the girls” for almost a decade, they can roll with it or don’t).

Now do you see why the pandemic didn’t affect me at all? I’ve just rambled on for like 15 minutes and not even looked up.

And for my Ted Lasso fans, I didn’t even know I wanted Trent Crimm, Independent to be a Diamond Dog until he wasn’t. And yes, I’m just as much of a train wreck as Ted, and I’m proud of him because he’s doing the work.

We kept each other company during the pandemic, Ted doing work at his house and me doing work in mine.

Music and Silence

Here’s a SoundCloud link so you can listen rather than read.

One of my favorite pieces of music is “4’33” by John Cage. People think that it is four minutes and 33 seconds of silence, and that’s minimizing its power. It probably doesn’t make sense on a recording, but live, it’s incredible. The piece is not written so that the silence is the point. No. The music is the environment of the room in which it’s being performed. Every time it’s programmed, it looks a little different.

It also puts classical music on its head. Other pieces require you to be quiet. You still shouldn’t talk, but the music is in movement- dropped pens, unwrapping a cough drop, patting a toddler on the back. I’m generally cold, so my contribution is generally rubbing my hands like it’s the start of Toto’s “Africa.” Admittedly, it is “cheating,” because I am the rhythm section of something that’s supposed to be completely random. I feel like the ringer in the crowd. Again, silence is not the point. I have had people tell me to stop. The problem is that I am not a ringer on purpose. I really am that cold. More than once have I been called “Leslie No-Blood.”

Cold, though, is relative.

I will take being physically cold a lot better than someone being emotionally cold to me. For instance, caring about your reaction to my feelings more than you care that what you’re doing is hurting me. At that point, I don’t care what anyone thinks. It isn’t right for me to keep saying I’ll go along with thinking that your feelings are more important than mine. Then, it’s not a relationship. Healthy ones mean that sometimes my problem is more important than yours, and sometimes your problem is more important than mine… but no matter, we’ll attack either and it’s easier when both minds are on it.

However, if one person puts the other in the position of “your feelings don’t matter,” the relationship doesn’t deserve to survive. Until now, I have been the person who already thinks her feelings don’t matter. I will never again let it be reinforced by another. I have let people (particularly women) emotionally vampire me for years. They use me as their dumping ground because I’m willing to listen. I seemingly have a jackass magnet on my forehead, because nearly everyone I’ve ever met has wanted to tell me their life story whether I was interested or not.

One of my friends told me that I should be CIA because I was good at gleaning information. I’m really not. I’m just empathetic to the point of losing myself and people naturally let it spill because they feel safe. I don’t create an environment to be The Little Gray Man. I’m just capable of saying “there, there.” I have a feeling that if I *was* CIA, it would be under Napoleon’s instructions: “never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake.” Why go out of my way to get information out of people when they’ll just give it to me?

20-30% of the time, it’s great. The rest of the time, people are quite invasive of my space and have no problem stealing my emotional energy without thinking I might want it back. People allow me to refill when I can talk to them in the same way. It’s just that most of the people who have talked to me (generally on the bus or train when I’m in public, anyway) have no idea that it’s been 20 minutes and I haven’t said a word. Not only that, they haven’t even taken a breath long enough to give me an opening. It’s “hello,” big emotional dump, walk away. I allowed it because that’s what I’ve always been taught. Being good was not needing anything. Taking up so little space was a bad thing.

Now, I feel like there have been some instances of overcorrection, but I have learned something important. Extremely important. The only people that will test you on needing anything are the people who have benefitted from your silence. If they were getting something out of you being a friend, yet never speaking up, they’ll be so mad. Let them be mad. They’ll either get over it or they won’t, and that’s not up to you.

Brene Brown says that vulnerability is showing up to a conversation without being able to control the outcome. I haven’t allowed many of those people in my life because I didn’t think I deserved them. It was natural for my feelings not to matter, so why wouldn’t I let people steamroll over me as if I don’t exist?

I “all of the sudden” seem very selfish for needing anything at all. It’s not that. It’s that when you ignore me, I’ll get louder because your ears are clogged. If you don’t listen even then, it’s time to pack up. I can only do what I can do. The one thing I have never been able to do before now is stop the bleeding. I would just let other people use up every emotional resource I needed to use for myself because obviously, they were more deserving of it.

I am not saying that I am always blameless for everything. It’s impossible. At times, I’m excellent at being the world’s biggest asshole with a God complex. My only point here is that I come by it honestly. If I tell you in plain voice how I’m feeling and it’s ignored, if you don’t mean anything to me, I’ll walk away. If you do, I will repeat what I said until you acknowledge. At this point, no matter how much I care about you, I’m out. If I am putting myself out there as someone who is taking care of you, I will go to extraordinary lengths to make sure we have equal airtime. If your idea of equal airtime is that we both spend the majority of the time thinking about you, I will call it early.

Before, I would just stuff everything down. I would spend years being unhappy because that’s what I thought I deserved. With the set of relationships I’ve been talking about in the last few entries, they are all people to whom I have spilled my guts. It wasn’t that I didn’t have a place to go with my feelings. The entire problem with all of them is that when I expressed the fact that there was a problem in our relationship, they wanted to minimize, move past it, or institute a monster avoidance policy.

It’s just not worth it to go into the minutiae of who did what to whom, but I will say that all of them benefitted from me listening to their problems, but when I spilled mine, there couldn’t be a discussion. All the time they spent talking about their problems was good and wanting them to talk about our problems was bad.

All of the music would get sucked out of the room, leaving me in absolute quiet. I could think about our problems on my own. Laying them out was also problematic. Most people are intimidated by the depths to which I feel emotion. Most people don’t know how they feel as easily as I do, and are not capable of putting it into words off the cuff. I have compassion for that, because INFJ personalities are only 9-15% of the world’s population. Very few people deal in emotions the way I do…. Meaning I am not arrogant enough to think that I am more emotionally intelligent than others. I can bring the receipts, but you wouldn’t know it unless you’re asking for them. People do think I’m arrogant, though, just for being me. I know how I feel and express it well. I am also female, which lends itself to my arrogant reputation whether it is true or not.

….because men are visionaries whether they have the letters to prove it or not. I just have resting bitch face. Best not interrupt a man who can’t tell shit from Shinola. He needs all the brainpower he can get.

Speaking of my arrogant reputation, it is non-existent to everyone except the people I’ve let have power over me and now want to be an equal…. Especially those who don’t feel there’s a balance of power issue at all. Why would there be? If you already have it all, why would you give it up? Why would you complain when there’s not a problem for you. Both of us love you to pieces.

Women taking back their power always looks like arrogance, even to other women, because they’ve all been programmed to think we shouldn’t need anything. Someone breaking out of that mold is not to be trusted. I think it’s a large part of the problem in female leadership. Men aren’t used to women demanding things, especially when their performance is poor. They’re not bad at their jobs, you are a threat. It’s amazing how often HR thinks the same way.

I think the reason women in lesbian relationships are less willing to play is that they don’t have to deal with men’s shit at home. They are all at once the problem and woefully unprepared to deal with it on two levels. The first is that they don’t understand why things are the way they are. The second is that they are powerless to do anything about it.

Even if I was the CEO, some of my male employees would think I was worthless at it because I got it through some type of nepotism, whether from my husband or the collection of men I had to sleep with to get the job. I like the second option better, because I’ve had so many relationships with women that the idea of “sleeping my way to the top” is just too ridiculous not to laugh. They don’t put enough women loving women in power for that to be an achievable goal whether I was interested or not (I’m not).

Speaking of women loving women, someone called me out on my straight girl crush when I said, “don’t think I don’t know what I lost” by saying, “she’s straight. You were never in the game.” I’m glad they called me out, because that’s not what I meant. I didn’t mean that I lost a romantic relationship, because it was clear from the start that was never going to happen. I meant the complete idiocy it was to lay it out there in the first place, because then I was an untrusted entity and all the work we’d done previously was down the drain. You would have to know how important friendship is to me to know how seriously I mean that. My platonic relationships aren’t less important than my romantic ones. I feel deeply no matter what, which is why I only have two or three friends. I don’t have the emotional capacity to lay out that kind of energy for everyone, so I don’t.

What happens is, in effect, putting on a recording of 4’33 and grabbing onto the music in the room. It’s always there, humming, pulsating, rhythm on fire…. But fire is quiet when couched between music and silence. I have to find it, though. Else I’ll just rub my hands in the cold.

Texas Questionnaire

Notes on Being a Texan According to Me

BBQ brisket or ribs:

Neither. Turkey and sausage with white bread, pickles, raw onion, and an iced tea on the side because I like the spicy barbecue sauce best. Now that I live in another part of the south, I hate to say it, but I like this barbecue better. Pork and vinegar are such good friends.

Big Red or Dr. Pepper:

Neither. Diet Wild Red from HEB. Why is Big Red even on this? Wild Red is the GOAT. I am positive that HEB would like to hear this. Please tell them the next time you shop.

Tacos or Tamales:

Combination plate. Let’s not get stupid.

I like all kinds of tamales, but the green chile chicken at Pappasitos is my go-to. I also have said for years that “I like crunchy tacos because chips are a part of the meal.” You only lose points with me if the chicken is too clean. I want it to look like it’s been in the oven for hours and just prepped (pulled)…. And if you’re wondering what I mean by “clean,” it’s stuffing canned chicken with no seasoning into anything that’s supposed to be Mexican food.

Texans or Cowboys:

I don’t watch American football much. I am likely to be seen at a Dynamo or a Dash game. Watching sports on TV is kind of boring to me, but I do like going on YouTube to see 30 second clips of really elite golf shots, points on goal, etc. I used to have two friends that were obsessed with golf, and thanks to them, I got a free beer. Jordan Spieth was the answer to a question at pub trivia, and I never would have pulled out that answer unless I’d heard someone else talking about it.

UT or A&M:

Texas, because nobody is trying to upset Matt McConaughey here.

Sixth Street or Riverwalk:

I have never been to Sixth Street, so I can’t really say. What I can say is that my favorite restaurant on the Riverwalk is “Paloma del Rio.” Keep in mind it’s been a long time, so it might not be there. If it is, give it a shot and tell me if it’s still good. 😛

Houston or Dallas:

I don’t know Dallas well enough to really have an opinion here. I just hate Dallas because I’m from Houston and that’s what we do.

Ever drove across TX:

East to West a few times, but not South to North.

Been to the Alamo:

Yes. It’s basically the only field trip that anyone likes. The IMAX movie is also amazing, and it’s near the mission.

Crossed the border:

Several times. I went with a group from my church and attempted to preach in Spanish. Hilarity ensued.

Floated the Frio:

I don’t know. Is it near San Marcos? I’ve done most of them.

Been to the State Fair:

Yes. It’s one of my favorite childhood memories. One year we also saw “Cats,” which is much better if you’re seven.

Killed a snake:

No, but my dad has. We came home to a huge snake in our garage when I was a kid. We didn’t stop to check if it was venomous or not. My experience with Texas wildlife is limited to trash pandas (raccoons).

Saw a rodeo:

So many, yes. The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo is one of the most famous in the world. I know I’ve been to a couple of cool concerts as well, but I’ve slept since then and can’t remember the acts.

Two stepped at a dance hall:

Very, very poorly.

Rode a mechanical bull:

Absolutely not. Have fun tho.

Own boots and cowboy hat:

I have owned boots, but I just don’t like those kinds of hats on my own head. It’s not that they don’t look great on other people.

Drove a tractor:

I would, but no one has ever asked me.

Shot something:

Yes, but I wasn’t living in Texas at the time. I went to an outdoor range in Estacada, Oregon and proceded to waste a trashed Dell computer. As an “IT Guy” it was cathartic in a way I didn’t know I needed.

Willie or George

Neither. Chicks for life…. although I would like to meet Willie.

Stories That Are Factually Accurate

Here’s my “blog entry” for today. I am sick, so this is what you get. I know, I know. You’re terribly grateful….. 😛 😛 😛

Listen to Stories That are Literally True and Actually Happened by Leslie D. Lanagan

I talk about a lot of stuff, mostly meeting my favorite authors- Anne Lamott, David Sedaris, and Jonna Mendez. I have told all of these stories before, but not in my own voice.

I finally broke open to let some light in, and it feels good. Like, dragonfly in the sun, you know what I mean.

You get it.

You’ll see why I’m telling you this joke. Altos and basses live on cigars and vodka. Sopranos and tenors live on shoes and compliments.

Jesus Comes Up a Lot

Link to Audio Version

It’s always great when a memory from your childhood comes up and makes you laugh. This is from a Facebook status earlier today:

I’m staying in a hotel this weekend because we’re having our wooden floors refinished at the house. Two things about that. Apparently, there is a hockey tournament for littles going on, because it is crazygonuts loud when they’re awake. Luckily, I have three pairs of headphones that all go up to DEFCON OMFG. #SamSmith #Unholy Aaaaand, I forgot my good razor. I managed to get smooth legs from a twin blade without making it look like I have poison ivy. Ryan Darlington would be so proud. Ask him about it. I’m certain he remembers the story, it’s our “meetcute.” What I remember most of all is that my dad turned it into a sermon illustration. 😛 😛 😛 I don’t remember what scripture it was “enlightening,” because I don’t remember a story in the Bible where Jesus shaved his legs.

Here’s the story since most of you can’t actually ask Ryan. I know that some of you can, but this is for the rest of you.

Editor’s Note: Shout out to Ireland, who beat the United States in my stats yesterday. It means a lot to me because I’m not Irish, but that’s where my family originally began. Also another shout out to the Irish. I say editor’s notes because of Diane (Jennings), who divides herself into her YouTube personality and who she calls “Editor Diane,” and those clips are even funnier.

When I was in 7th grade, I was a trumpet player. I was not a prodigy, but I was good for my age because my dad is a trumpet player and he was able to help me until I got a private teacher. So, in the summer between seventh and eighth grade, I went to band camp at UT Austin. All of the other girls were shaving their legs, and I had never done it before. I didn’t even have a razor. So another girl lent me one, and it was already dull. I had gashes under both knees.

This beautiful boy with curly blonde hair walked up to me and said, “Hi. I’m Ryan Darlington. You look like you could use a Band-Aid.” I laughed and he stole my heart. We were an unusual couple for kids- together for over a year. His parents are just as important to me as my own, even after thirty years.

I don’t want to write about the funny part without writing about the serious part, too. Another instance in which I chose someone to love that didn’t deserve it over him, when he was The One. I wore his promise ring for years, long after we broke up, because I liked the thought that he was with me even when he wasn’t in the room.

I was stupid enough to tell him I was gay, but not out of malice. Out of idiocy. If I had known then what I know now, I would have done things so much differently. I would have explained to him that I’m bisexual, but that doesn’t mean I need two partners. That means I need you to understand that my identity as a person is different than yours, and we’re going to have to hash it out over what’s acceptable behavior and what’s not, because my words tend to get me in trouble….. “Sometimes you are very funny. Sometimes you are very not.” Tis true. I was a line cook for a long time, and sometimes it doesn’t occur to me that other people have never worked in a kitchen and have no context as to why I’m so outlandish and often don’t think of the consequences of what I say. It generally clicks in my brain that I am in kitchen mode when someone says, “WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?”

The one friend I’ve lost to that disease that surprised me was a woman who owned a bar. Because of that one fact, the one I call “I didn’t choose the pub life, the pub life chose me,” I really began to look at the difference between indoor voice and outdoor voice. That I was actually hurting women and not joking with them like it came across to me.

It’s an experience I’ll never forget, because even though I lost that friendship, I will never in a million years stop loving her for what she gave me, which was new insight into my own behavior. It allowed me to do the homework. I have no idea if she still reads me or not, and it’s been so long that I don’t care. But it would make me happy to know that she knows I didn’t just tell her I was sorry, I changed my behavior for the better.

I can say that I’ve been changed for good without it being a double entendre.

I’ll sing that one line in the audio just to her, yet not to try and make amends to get something out of it for myself. I just want to tell her my truth. You did change me for the better, and it is permanent.

I continue to make mistakes and step over the line when it’s unwelcome, and all I can do is apologize profusely. But now it’s not a constant struggle between the language I use with coworkers and the language I use with friends.

It makes me happy to make other people laugh, and devastated when I’ve hurt them. I don’t want to be that person, ever. I’m also human and ADHD. Having your impulse control that fast and loose with everything and putting kitchen language on top of it is not new or interesting, because most of us are like that. ADHD, addict, misit… a kitchen is a tribe that will have you no matter what you’ve done or who you are. Believe me, that is a good thing. We all bust our non-neurotypical asses and have a great time doing it.

But speaking of impulse control, my rage went off once when I was a dishwasher. I verbally went for blood when my chef left both chef’s and bread knives in the bottom of the sink with dirty water on top so you couldn’t see them. You know what’s worse than being cut by a knife? Being cut by a knife that is soaking in bacteria. If I’d cut myself on a chef’s knife, it wouldn’t have been great. The serrated edge on the bread knife could have done so much more damage than that.

You really haven’t seen anything like a dishwasher dressing down a chef, but at least he had the humility to look embarrassed. He almost really, really hurt me, and he knew it. He stood there and just took it because he didn’t break a rule, he broke one of the biggest. In a kitchen, it doesn’t matter if it’s idiocy or malice if I end up in the hospital trying to get rid of whatever was in all that used food.

Like I’ve said before, when I don’t love someone, I don’t say anything. It’s not important. Every chef I’ve ever had earned my respect, but I didn’t like all of them. I’m only still in touch with two, the cream of the crop.

But that’s not the whole story. Cooking doesn’t drain my energy. I am excited and overwhelmed with possibility every single day, even if it’s just making the same shit. My nickname has been either “SpongeBob” or “Bob Esponja” in three kitchens running. The only time I’ve ever wavered in that kind of bubbly excitement was the day I had to go to work at 3pm when Anthony Bourdain had died that morning.

My chef/line cook friends leveled me with their posts, and I was in so much pain…. and so much more when I got to my kitchen and no one really knew who he was… and then Chef got there, and we looked at each other. We’d both been crying. No words, just a nod. Trying to talk was too much. By then it was 4:30 PM, when all the stations are mostly prepped and the dinner rush is trickling in before the “pop.”

Cooks live for “the pop.” We’re not cooks. We’re fucking gladiators doing ballet in front of a stove, an oven, an open flame grill, fryers… Picture Bikram yoga but for people under so much pressure they can’t breathe. That’s what makes the end of the night, when you’re breaking down the cardboard boxes and taking out the trash, feel like you’ve just won or lost a war.

You live for the W. Anything else is unacceptable, and we all know it. If we got in the weeds and ticket times were slow, we beat ourselves up over it…. or, we do at first. Over time, you learn that you can’t win them all.

Thankfully, I’ve won so much more than I’ve lost in every area of my life except cooking. I’m not sure that anyone understands my grief except other chefs, because I had so much trouble at work and it never occurred to me that I had too many physical limitations to work in a restaurant because I didn’t know I had them. I just felt incompetent all the time.

In another entry, I talked about the landscape smoothing over. It was the blessing of my life to learn that I hadn’t screwed anyone over on purpose in the kitchen, not even once in my lifetime.

The curse is knowing I can’t go back.

I wish I had listened to myself when I was young and been better about telling myself over and again that I could find a job in intelligence. I didn’t know that there were more options than C/DIA, because Foster was a helicopter pilot for both. And interestingly enough, I am learning about spycraft for a novel I’m writing. My interest in being CIA is equal to working for State, because it’s not about the spycraft. It’s about being able to travel. I think I would have been happy just about anywhere, but because theology is another great love of my life, I would have tried to walk every inch of MENA, State’s designation for Middle East North Africa.

Interestingly enough, one of my friends who works for the government told me that, and then a day later Lindsay said that her first boyfriend, Saeed, was from MENA… which I knew, but it was just interesting that I’d never heard a term before and it came up twice in two days….. But anyway, if I could find a safe place anywhere in MENA, I’d stay. I have too much to see before either I die or the Israelis and the Palestinians try to kill each other so hardcore that they also ruin everything important to Christians. I’m not hating. Both sides do shady shit all the time, I just feel ike it’s more justified for the Palestinians because they aren’t a recognized state and don’t have an actual military. Israel also has tons of American money pouring into it because of the Christian contingent in Congress. Jesus CHRIST this is not our fight, literally. Israel is not the one that needs help right now. If you think that the Russian army is overbearing and Israel is not, it might be a question you’d want to ponder further.

I know I do. I do not believe in Evangelical White Jesus. I believe in the historical brown Jesus posited by Marcus Borg, because it is absolutely insane to think that Jesus was the only baby born IN THE MIDDLE EAST and yet has French features. I’m bipolar. I know from crazy. This is it. There are stories out there about Jesus’s family escaping to France after the crucifixion, because Joseph of Arimethea had a shipping company. That’s how he was rich and powerful enough to get Jesus’ body back from the Roman government.

What would it be like to experience stories that are all true, and some of them actually happened in person? (Now you know how I picked the title of the blog….)

What would it have been like to sneak away for a weekend in Turkey to actually stand on Mt. Tabor? What would it be like to sit on the shores of Lake Kinnaret (in the Bible, the Sea of Galilee)? My mom went once, my dad has been twice. When he came home, he made us an Israeli recipe for broiled fish with lemon, and it is one of the strongest food memories I have, one of the things that made me fall in love with it. Indirectly, Jesus made me a cook. So you can thank him or yell at him. Choose your own adventure.

Because of my focus on travel, none of my interest in spycraft started as recently as it seems. It started with a dream about my great uncle, Foster Fort. I was an older kid when I learned what happened to him, but he died in a helicopter crash in Somalia. The dream was wondering what it would be like to talk to a real spy. Ask him where he’d been, what he’d done (UNCLASS).

In 2008, when Argo came out, that was all she wrote. The movie was fantastic, and Tony Mendez divined that there would be people who’d want to know the rest of the story, so a companion book that told the real story was greenlit by George Tenet. The funniest thing is that the movie focuses on CIA and not the Canadians who helped us, so I have it on good authority because I’ve read it at least six times that it says “thank you Canada” about every five pages.

Then I thought Tony and Jonna walked on water because Argo was so good, and I’ve read every single thing they’ve ever published, and Jonna has a memoir coming out sometime this year. I’m so excited, because there needs to be a “sequel” to Master of Disguise…. and I’m going to say it that way because Jonna had the exact same job as Tony 10 years later.

Which gets me thinking…..

What’s my sequel? Where is it going to come from? I can only control so much, but I’m vulnerable enough to just let people and opportunities show up.

Like a blonde curly-haired boy who thinks I could use a Band-Aid.

Paschendale, by The War Daniel

I am going to be writing about very real experiences that ended tragically in suicide in many, not all, but many cases. Don’t read this if that is going to trigger the darkness to rise within you. We don’t need to lose anyone else.

I listen to Iron Maiden A LOT. Almost obsessively, some would argue. And much of that has to do with a quote I heard a long time ago about how music has the ability to take simple words to places that mere words cant go. When you record a song, it’s chordal movement, melody, inflection, tonality, and most importantly the emotion evoked by going from E minor to C to A minor to D minor. God’s saddest chord progression, I always call it. Obviously I learned it from an Iron Maiden song. And so many of their songs, somehow, capture the aesthetic, the horror and the harsh realities of the things we’re asked to do. Take this verse from “Afraid to Shoot Strangers:”

Trying to justify to ourselves the reasons to go
should we live and let live
forget or forgive
But how can we let them go on this way?
A reign of terror, corruption must end
And we know deep down there’s no other way
No trust, no reasoning no more to say.”
It’s a total “what the fuck are we even doing here anyway?”

From “These Colours Don’t Run:”

Far away from the land of our birth
we fly our flag in some foreign earth
we sailed away like our fathers before
These colours don’t run from cold bloody war.”

“I guess we’re doing it for ‘Murka but I don’t know why I’m mad at these people.”

The one that hits me the hardest goes as follows, it’s called “The Longest Day.”

In the gloom, the gathering storm abates
In the ships, gimlet eyes await
The call to arms to hammer at the gates
To blow them wide, throw evil to its fate

All summers long, the drills to build the machine
To turn men from flesh and blood to steel
From paper soldiers to bodies on the beach
From summer sands to Armageddon´s reach
Overlord, your master, not your God
The enemy coast dawning grey with scud
These wretched souls, puking, shaking fear
To take a bullet for those who sent them here

The world’s alight
The cliffs erupt in flame
No escape, remorseless shrapnel rains
Drowning men, no chance for a warrior’s fate
A choking death, enter Hell’s gates

Sliding we go
Only fear on our side
To the edge of the wire
And we rush with the tide
Oh, the water is red
With the blood of the dead
But I’m still alive
Pray to God I survive

How long, on this longest day
‘Til we finally make it through?

Steve Harris, who is a trusted student of the history of war and observer of the human condition couldn’t have written it better if I was sitting there dictating to him.

The anxiety of the training “all summers long.” I can still see my dumbass Marines fucking with a western diamond back rattlesnake and letting them get bitten because I knew it would be a dry bite and I hoped they would learn to be 5% less stupid.

“From paper soldiers to bodies on the beach…” We’re a volunteer military now. The “paper soldiers” Steve is referring to is those poor sods that were drafted into the War. Our paper soldiers now are a reclamation of the phrase to mean those of us to have the guts to sign the line when we weren’t forced. All our choice. And then “Armageddon’s reach” whatever middle eastern hell fate directed us. Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan. Somalia. Yemen.

I don’t have the space to do a full analysis of these lyrics and the experiences they capture here, but trust me when I say that Steve captured the raw feelings and fears and resolve that you feel.

And perhaps most poignantly, from Paschendale:

Cruelty has a human heart
Every man does play his part
Terror of the men we kill
The human heart is hungry still

I stand my ground for the very last time
Gun is ready as I stand in line
Nervous wait for the whistle to blow
Rush of blood and over we go

You can’t understand war unless you’ve lived it. And it isn’t your fault. We are a volunteer force. This isn’t WWII where my grandfather was drafted, and was eventually discharged for telling his higher ups at one of the prisons why he didn’t shoot someone running for freedom by saying “there’s been enough killing.”

And that was during a time when, even if its war, people were playing by the rules.

Now it’s like Fuck Yo Rules. A box of Lindt chocolates could be an IED. In my time on the ground it wasn’t the guys on fireteams that were the most exposed. It was the logistics guys in their vehicles transporting supplies and such from point A to point B. The enemy did everything it could to blow those vehicles and the brothers and sisters in them to oblivion.

We had a POA for every evolution with a dossier of who would be involved from the turret gunner on down the line. And when those guys got to our side of the world it was a party, because we had thwarted the cocksmokers one more time.

Objectively, I had it easy on the ground. I was almost always in the BAS treating nagging things like back strains and hamstring pulls and the sports medicine like injuries that come from carrying almost your own weight hour after hour. And as such, I don’t have many of the “did you see action” stories.

But you know what I did see? The payoff.

I saw what happened when we got back home and knew we were safe and had time to finally process everything that did, didn’t and almost happened.

We went to our post-deployment screenings 3, 6, and 12 months after we got home. Well that is the ones of us that were home that long. Despite rules to the contrary, a lot of guys were sent back with 9 months of coming back home.
And don’t get me wrong, some of these guys didn’t want to be back home. Because the stereotype of the military wife that just waits on her husband to leave so she can cheat—that’s real and fuck those bitches in the very worst way for it. I hope they get a UTI, Herpes and bitten by a copperhead all at the same time.

The names in my phone are funny. If you’re a person I talk to often and are my closest people, the suffix -hausen is added to your name, i.e. Fuckingstirlhausen, Jennyhausen, Mistihausen, mommyhausen. Princesshausen (for my bestie heather). You get the picture. It’s added because my favorite comedy wrestler Donavan Danhausen adds it to the end of almost everything that is deemed to be cool. Also I’m told its an actual German thing.

There’s also a contingency of people in my phone with “Goddammit” in front of their names. They know precisely who they are. Because for a while it was just constant bad news of our guys winning the fight over there only to come back here and lose the war in the most heart breaking way. It got to a point where my lady at the time wanted my buddies to stop calling me because she knew I was going to be crushed to find out that we’d lost someone else. Because she knew I was going to feel like a steaming pile of triceratops shit because I didn’t reach out. I didn’t take that nagging clue to call them to see what was what. I didn’t call when their marriages ultimately failed.

You may say that this is borrowing grief for its own sake. And to that I humbly suggest you do the following in this order:

Leave my yard by taking a right out of the driveway.

Take the curve around to the main street, making sure to stop at said curve and pay the Molly toll by tossing a dog biscuit to an especially, erm, “hefty” Australian Cattle Dog.

When you get to the stop sign, take another right. Go down to hwy 2744 where the turn off is for that cattle sifter.

Go past that pasture about ¾ of a mile until you get to the pasture where the Santa Gertrudis bulls with their horns in tact still are.

Jump the fence.

Smack a bull on its nose.

When the bull goes to toss you, take the horns up the ass and FUCK OFF.

When someone dies in country, or on the ship or even in the hospital, there’s a suddenness that is almost easier to take, because you know their suffering was minimal. When you lose someone to suicide it is the most gut wrenching passing that can befall your brothers and sisters. Because they lost the hardest war of all: the one at home.

And here is something I haven’t told very many people.

Every single time we lose someone to suicide, I start getting the texts and phone calls that “(you’d) better not be next!
And heretofore I have maintained that promise, for here I am, dear reader, laying myself bare for you on this page.
It is no secret I struggle with alcoholism, depression, anxiety, PTSD, and probably some mental illnesses that don’t have names yet.

There was a time when I called the veteran’s suicide hotline, because I had tried and failed for over 3 months to find a job and just nothing good was coming of it. Because the harsh reality is that so much of what we do in the military that should 1 to 1 translate just doesn’t. Its like we’re speaking not just a foreign language but a dead language.

The biggest challenge I’ve faced since I came home is the struggle to answer the question “who am I now that I’m not HM2 (FMF) Williams the Grumpy Cat anymore?”


HM2 Grumpy always had or could find an answer. HM2 Grumpy could anticipate his Flight Surgeons concerns before they ever happened. HM2 Grumpy made sure no one fucked with his Jr guys for things they couldn’t help. HM2 Grumpy knew that he couldn’t pay them more, give them more leave, but we he could do is give them time. So I’m not saying I ever told someone “You need to go to your squadron RIGHT (insert bug eyed meaningful look here) “Yeah Grumps, I think I need to go talk to my Sgt Major about whether I should get a boxer or a pit bull.”

“Good fuck off and don’t come back until tomorrow.”

Now I, like a lot of you reading, am just a guy trying to navigate a world that isn’t sure what to do with us. Sure there’s a fuck ton of forward facing “support for our troops,” but yo, my snake needs rats and my guitars need strings, and my car needs an oil change—help brothas and sistas out. Because that’s what ends up getting us. It’s not even the trauma endured over seas—you can anticipate that. It’s coming home to a largely insouciant audience that gives lip service to being “veteran friendly” but that doesn’t end up translating into anything tangible. And that’s when it happens. When that last vestige of hope falls away. When that guy that was a cousin of an uncle was going to be hiring preferably a veteran welder. And it just doesn’t happen for long enough that you cant take one more drink, or take one more Ambien. You take ALL of the fentanyl and dilauded and whatever else so that the embarrassment and feelings of being a burden will go quiet.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

Remember my dears, These Colours Don’t Run. If you can do something for just one or two of our siblings, you will earn their love for life and then who knows how far your one act of kindness can go.

Hopefully far enough for the next graduation, prom, drivers license, one act play, football playoff, singing competition—that one more step down the hill that makes life worth living.

Cruelty has a human heart. But kindness does too.

I would love to take a lot more calls lauding the great works of our brothers and sisters than that gut wrenching call to find out we lost someone else.

Working on My House

I believe that most things are a house of cards. Humans aren’t strong enough to build everything right the first time… even me. I am glad that I have the strength to go back into the basement, and have so many stories that have gone through countless revisions over time based on telling them again and again (sometimes over and over to one person….. sorry about that, all y’all). Today I discovered a new level of dark. Luckily, I had a friend to guide me down, and then back up again.

We went to high school together. They were there. Leaving even their gender out because they wouldn’t want it to be known that they noticed.

They didn’t know it, but they were doing guided meditation. I closed my eyes and saw Carrie, my partner in that woman’s class. It was a health class, and we were “married” and caring for our egg child. I got lucky. All the boys were taken. Carrie was (and probably still is) a gorgeous girl. I knew she was straight. It wasn’t about that. For an hour a day, she was my arm candy. 🙂 James, Alex…. don’t tell her.

(note to my French Horn brassholes- I just made it up. Tell the others.)

As an aside, I am DYING thinking about how hard Sam will laugh at “brassholes.” She should know. She had a near miss in terms of almost marrying one. I absolutely thought she was the love of my life, and if you didn’t think I mourned that relationship, she hit me harder and deeper than she will ever know. That’s because I didn’t tell her what she did wrong. I didn’t care. Let’s just say that I got the thing I wanted, and in return, she hit and run. Take that phrase and run with it.

She absolutely devastated me. To get over it, I had to cut off all my emotions and pretend that she meant nothing to me, because she made for damn sure I knew I meant nothing to her. I blocked her on everything. E-mail, phone number, all social media. I was crushed. It was my first real relationship in seven years. Why wouldn’t that kind of thing destroy me? Do you have any concept of how long that is? I didn’t even get Leah while I was waiting for Rebekah. I was completely alone. Touch starved except for a few hugs along the way. Depressed. Down and out.

Sam and her kids were balm to a soul that needed them, and I can only say that now, when the outcome of that relationship no longer matters to me. She could have had me for multiple lifetimes, and she threw me away like the bird shit on a newspaper after one day in the cage.

Yet, the only way she’ll ever know how I feel is if she comes up in my yard. My dog bites, motherfucker. I reserve the right to be angry at any time. I also reserve the right to not.

That relationship still confounds me, I just don’t care enough to find out why. She didn’t want to get together to figure our stuff out, it was just over by text message. Why are you guys more concerned that I started dating Daniel so quickly when it wasn’t me that wanted to separate? Why are you guys on me about Daniel at all? Isn’t he a logical successor to be my partner after realizing what Dana had done?

On my very first date with Sam (sorry if I’ve told this story before, but it’s a card that needs to fall), she texts me to tell me that she’s sitting on my front porch. I run downstairs to meet her, and she’s adorable. My heart didn’t even take five seconds to assess the situation. Just a seductive, take your breath away fantasy from the moment I said “yes.” She matched me feeling for feeling, or so it seemed. I saw so much of myself in her. I thought that we’d be together so much longer than three weeks, but I did something. I just don’t care what it was, because it might not have anything to o with me at all. And since she’s not going to marry me, I don’t really care what it was that I did. I would correct my behavior if it mattered.

Back to why Dana even matters. She definitely shouldn’t, but she does. When she hit me, she installed a trigger. Sam’s fist coming at my face whether I wanted it to or not. I realized that I might never get rid of he tripwire, because Sam had fixed hers, but what about the next woman?

Just another reason why I trauma bonded to The War Daniel. He’s huge. He’s weapons trained. No one would ever fuck with me ever again. I have had enough of the bullshit in life and not enough enjoyment. So “noping out” to a different country and trying to make a life there is attractive to me whether Daniel comes or not. My top choices are Aberdeen and Phnom Penh. Two completely different cities, two completely different cultures. It’s just that I have friends in both places. Suzanne has known me for somewhere between 10 and 15 years. I don’t remember, but I do know that she was friends with both Dana and me. It’s not that she remembers Dana, it’s that she’s familiar with the story of my life so far.

My friend in Cambodia has known *of* me for a long time, but we’ve recently connected because I was brave enough to ask him if I could come and visit. I know I will go there first, just not when. The attraction to him is that he’s the exact opposite of Suzanne’s story. He’s only just finding out who I am. So obviously I need six months a year in both.

I have listened to all the sad music. It’s enough that I have to deal with idiots who think that I move really fast in dating. What in the actual fuck? Am I supposed to mourn people longer than the relationship actually lasted?

I broke up with Theresa because I had spent *weeks* planning the perfect first date and she told me that she was backing out and just wanted to talk on the phone “this trip.” No, baby. That’s not happening. We have done too much to go backward and reassess. It’s too hard and it’s too much. We’ve been talking for three weeks. If you can’t have a drink with me, it’s not happening.

That relationship was weird, too, because we were off to such a good start, and then I probably ran my mouth too much or something, because lots of people have no idea how INFJ people operate. They make plans, then contingencies, thn more contingencies. For instance, here was the process of cleaning my room this week. It was hell.

I’d been trying to organize little by little when the house caught fire and I needed to get it ogether immediately. I reserved maids over the Internet. First mistake. Two appointments. Two companies. Two no-shows. Finally, I contacted Hayat (landlady for those just joining us) and asked her to get her own handymen out here and I’d pay them. Even that tuned into a nightmare.

It’s all done now, except for the cleaning and designing. The paint cans and drop cloths are still all over everywhere. It’s painted bright white, like the marina where I wish I lived in Beirut. I’ll include a photo because it’s hanging in my living room. I want my room to feel the same way… that when I’m dreaming, I’m not in my own bed. I’m there.

While I am working on my ugly house of cards, I can dream of what it will look like when I am finished. I want a welcoming space, full of that same pure energy of white and teal and waves and sailboats…. though it isn’t for everyone, Beirut is my happy place. I have been Lebanese for almost eight years now. When I see it for real, I will fall.

….just like a house of cards.

Beirut, Lebanon

Standing Up and Owning My Birthright

I just told my work in progress idea to the most perfect person I could have imagined, because he was a teacher at HSPVA. When you know people that are HSPVA quality students, when they come at you with a creative idea, they don’t say “where’s the money?” Matt Mullenweg created WordPress. Justin Simien created “Dear White People.” Mireille Enos starred in “The Killing,” and has had roles in “Good Omens” and “Big Love.” She won a friggin’ TONY for an Edward Albee where she played drunk. She won a friggin’ TONY and SHE GREW UP MORMON. Today I stood up an owned my birthright. This book is going to be fantastic. Anyone who tells you otherwise is selling something. I auditioned to the same school they did and I got in. Sit on that.

This was my Facebook post yesterday that got me going.

I feel like I should lay out a full analysis of what I’m currently dealing with and why…. not for you. For me. It’s my thing and you’re invited, because I’ll need it later. I’ve been delving into past writing to figure out where I’m going, and how the information about my gargantuan leaps in emotional growth that I see on these pages is informing my direction.

Romance is fine. I’m settled in myself. You can read all about it just by scrolling the home page for a few days’ timestamps. Sam was a loss, but everything else surrounding her departure prospered me. It wasn’t a good relationship, but it produced good content. I am never trying to be more popular and writing in that direction. I can’t. People aren’t logical enough to predict what’s going to be hot and what’s not. They’re emotional. If something grabs them, they’re going to share it. If it doesn’t, they won’t. There is no point in time at which I want to take on the burden of caring whether this web site gets a huge, international audience.

If I don’t keep my head down and be absolutely indolent about my need for validation, I won’t get successful. There is a direct line between caring how much people think and willing to be vulnerable enough to get people to read a blog in the first place. Most of my friends do not understand this, but strangers do. If you’re already here, I can guess some things about you that will resonate. But again, I’m just talking about likelihood, not fact.

If you’re into reading blogs, you have been since 2003. You are familiar with Mrs. Kennedy, Anil Dash, Heather Armstrong (and Jon by proxy), Jenny Lawson, Nadia Bolz-Weber, Gordon Atkinson, and most importantly, Ernie Hsuing. little. yellow. different. took off like a rocket. Oh, and how could I forget Wil Wheaton? My friend Chason and I have known about and interacted with Wil as a blogger since Jesus had our pager numbers. I wish I had taken a screenshot of his comment on Clever Title Goes Here, my old blog that was equally popular. I was talking about auditions or juries when singing, that they fill me up because when I’m singing hard rep and doing well, it feels like flying over the mountains. He said he felt the exact same way with acting. It made my day.

Later on, we met up at a book signing for “Just a Geek.” I introduced myself and when he put a name to a face, this is what he wrote in my book…… “Dear Leslie, Clever Inscription Goes Here. Love, Wil.”

To back up in time a little bit, I went to the High School for Performing and Visual Arts. I have known about Matt Mullenweg for years because back in the day, we were both in the Houston jazz community. That boy who went to my high school created WordPress, and here we are.

I went to high school with stars like Jason Moran, Robert Glasper, Chandra Evans, Debbie Allen, Mireille Enos, Justin Furstenfeld, and Beyonce was three years behind me. I’ve met her once, but I’ve never paid attention to her because back then, we were in high school. Seniors don’t normally take freshmen seriously, and the day I met her I had ditched school at Clements to take my girlfriend, Meagan, back to PVA to have lunch. There was a Happening (lunchtime concerts in which different Art Areas took over the common area to showcase).

So, we were all in the cafeteria and mingling. You think it was cool in retrospect for me? I haven’t talked to Meag in years. Wait until she reads this web site and finds out she met Beyonce and didn’t even know it.

Though Beyonce is cool and everything, I was in love with Miranda Bailey the moment I found out everyone called her “The Nazi.” Then Shonda Rimes gutted me emotionally by stretching the Hippocratic Oath to its limits and having to watch her wrestle with those decisions. She had to save a white supremacist, an ACTUAL Nazi.

The fact that Chandra Evans and I went to the same high school is way more important to me than Beyonce, and remember since Beyonce wasn’t Beyonce back then, she probably feels the same way about Chandra that I do. In terms of HSPVA legends, she’s always going to be starstruck at her birthright rather than promoting herself…. she’s just projecting that she’s hot shit as a marketing strategy, because the real girl is as quiet as me.

Starstruck at her birthright.

Yesterday, I stepped outside The Matrix and owned it. I nearly blacked out when I thought about the fact that I auditioned for the same school they did.


I am editing this entry to add something important. Here’s what HSPVA did to inspire this level of confidence. I listen to the Argo soundtrack on repeat every single day when I write so that I can tell you where every single note goes, along with chord structures because I took music theory. That music teacher was an anti-vaxxer and I lost someone crucial to my development to COVID. I got the idea to start doing that from another HSPVA student, the creator of WordPress, Matt Mullenweg, during his interview with Tim Ferris. He was a tenor sax player and had the same jazz director I did. I borrow structure from Jason Moran, the jazz pianist, all the time, because I wrote to “Ten” for a year. He was stunned and told his entire band that in front of me when we were laughing and joking after one of his concerts at The Kennedy Center. He had the same jazz director I did. Robert Glasper nearly came unglued the last time I saw him at The Reach, because back in the day he was just the goofy dude who sat behind me in history. He had the same jazz director as I did. I am addicted to “The Suffers.” Jon Durbin sat next to me in Jazz Band for two years. Moral of the story? Dr. Robert Morgan is directly responsible for making me a drooling fangirl over all of them, and he owes me money because it’s getting expensive.

Nothing You Could Say Could Tear Me Away

I’ve been waiting for seven years to say that I’ve met someone and not have it be an April Fool’s joke or clickbait.

Today is that day.

I can’t tell you much about her because she’s a mom. Her kids know she’s dating someone, but not who it is. It’s too early for them to meet me, but acceptable for them to know that if their favorite sci-fi novels are missing, they haven’t been stolen. I hope they know what their mother has done having told me I could read anything I want. 😛

Editor’s Note: This week I borrowed “out of my mind,” by Sharon M. Draper. It’s about an 11 year old girl who has a photographic memory and is trapped inside her body. She can see everything, but she can’t tell anyone about it because she can’t write. She finally gets a voice, and not everyone is eager to listen.

I can give you details that have nothing to do with my girl’s current life, though.

She has a Bachelor’s and Master’s in Vocal Performance. When she’d gotten those done, she auditioned for one of the specialized choirs in the Army, and got a secured chair as an alto before she shipped off for basic training. After she retired from the Army, she directed church choirs for a while, then reinvented herself yet again. I absolutely wouldn’t tell you what that was, anyway, because it tends to make people ask her for things as if her time doesn’t cost money.

One of the things I truly love about my girl is that she reminds me of so many people I’ve loved over the years…. The professional musicians that raised me, including my biological parents, teachers at Clifton, HSPVA, Clements, private instructors in trumpet and voice, beloved choir directors, et al. are the lights that shine behind her, strengthening our connection with shared language. She’s also from New Jersey, not Texas, so she doesn’t remind me of any one musician from my past, or any of them if we’re strictly talking personality. The Texan church musician is an archetype all its own, can I get an “amen?”

And now you’re going to ask if her voice makes me cry, and I’m going to have to decide between snarky comeback and my vulnerable truth. I’m going to go with it.

The truth is that even when she’s just driving and singing absentmindedly, my heart flips. If I was sitting in the audience of one of her performances, forget about it… I’d be gone. She’s got the kind of heart that I know she’d be singing to me no matter how many people paid to be on the front row. What really makes my heart clench is singing together…… You can coax me into crying with that mental picture almost a hundred percent of the time.

But that doesn’t stop her from giving me shit about being a soprano and a trumpet player, and I love every second of it. Because she’s a choir director, she already knows all the inside jokes that are going to make me laugh, especially because her field choir traveled with a band and that rivalry never goes away. For instance, a lot of her friends have gone from the Army Field Band to professional work all over Washington and Baltimore. I am only one degree from Marin Alsop now, and I will not tell you anything about those conversations. I will only say that no matter what I’ve heard, it’s trivial. I’ve heard it all in my own musical life. I still want to see Alsop conduct. Whether she’s Jesus incarnate or Lucifer, every time she gets excited and does that little Bernstein hop, I’m drooling like a computer programmer at a Star Trek convention.

Here’s the best inside joke according to me:

My Girl: Voice is the superior instrument with choral music being perfection.

Me: Back the fuck up, Wilhousky.

Here’s why it’s an inside joke. Peter Wilhousky wrote one of the most famous, glorious arrangements of the Battle Hymn of the Republic I’ve ever heard in my life. My choir director at church from seventh grade to ninth loved it, so I’ve known every note to the soprano, first trumpet, alto, and second trumpet part since before I could type. I have also dabbled in first tenor because I will never drop out of the the a capella section in rehearsal. It’s just too chewy.

One of the first things I asked her was, “since you were in the military, just how many times have you done the Wilhousky arrangement?” She said, “a million, and I’m not even exaggerating.” One of the reasons I like it so much is that whether I was singing or playing, it was so damn fun.

My girl and I have other things besides music and the full on church experience regarding how the sausage is made, but I feel they might be too identifying, and thus, too private for now. But if we stay together long term, I’m sure more details will be allowed to creep out. I know we’ll be having discussions about how much I can say and when, and later on if things go really well, asking the kids themselves how much they want said about them because they’re teenagers. They can make up their own minds. I would also rather sign up for shock therapy treatment than become, for lack of a better term, a “mommy blogger.”

I’ll tell you right now, though, one of the kids and I are obsessed with the same thing. I’m not aiming to be a parent. The kids already have two parents. However, if neither of them are as into this shared thing as me and the shorty, it’s on like Donkey Kong. I tease my girl about it all the time…. I get fake disgusted with her assessment of something in said activity and say things like, “if I ever meet your kid, I’m going to assure them you’re only there to hold my bag and my water.” Teasing that hopefully never even gets close to the line of actually hurting is our thing.

This is the first potentially serious relationship I’ve ever been in where we’re not thinking about having kids. She has kids already. So, time is deliciously limited and every moment counts. It’s a little bit tricky because even though we don’t live that far from each other, it’s not really close enough to meet up on a whim. This is because I live in Maryland, a few miles further northwest than the line between Maryland and The District, still inside the beltway of the city. She lives in a suburb of Baltimore that’s closer to BWI, only 30 minutes from my house by car but two completely separate transit systems. The closest I can get is taking the bus to the Metro station and getting on the MARC train, with either my girl picking me up at the airport station (which thankfully, is very close to her house), or a quick Uber ride to get myself there if she’s tied up at work or something.

I downloaded the public transit app for Baltimore and added one ticket to BWI and a funds card with a few dollars on it. It’s for both of us. I can escape if something goes wrong and I just don’t feel like talking about it right that moment, and if nothing ever goes wrong, it’s just handy to be self-reliant. I’ve also watched too many couples break up because one person always has to do the driving… or if that wasn’t the main problem, it certainly didn’t help anything.

It’s something of which I’m aware, but I’m not as panicked as I would be if I lived in Houston. Now, I don’t have to be reliant on my girl to get me anywhere in either city/suburb. Any time she wants to pick me up to save me time or to spend more time together, it’s welcome and I am always grateful. I just don’t want to feel like a big issue later on…. Driving is one of those things that’s irritating enough if you’re rarely the driver… more so if you’re the only one who does it. When the honeymoon period wears off it’s generally the first knock-down drag-out fight.

Only one piece of the puzzle is left, and that won’t get solved until we decide to get really serious. If I move to the same city or the same house, we’ll gain the ability to do one more thing that we don’t have now…. being able to call each other up and say “I’m going to the pub with the crew. Meet us in 20.” It’s still possible if plans are made early enough in the day, but right now I’m at door to door in somewhere between 90 minutes and two hours. Her town is small enough that I could walk to a pub in 20 minutes if I was local. As long as I stay put, though, 90 minutes to two hours door to door is much faster than I could do it by car, because between traffic and construction there’s no time of day where it takes dramatically less time than others.

It’s so easy that next time my girl might not want to drive here, either. Our friends in Silver Spring would haul us around or we could Uber. So much better than sitting in traffic and driving. It’s sitting in traffic, reading and cuddling. The reason it’s not sustainable as a solution is that if we’re a committed couple, I would lose my mind getting to her or the kids if there was an emergency. Anything less than immediately is unacceptable. “Less than two hours” might fly in a long distance dating situation, but in a partnership is cruel to everyone. Being reliable is important to me.

For now, it’s a delicious thing to will time to stand still; things can progress slowly… I can take things out, try them on, think about them until they’re not foreign anymore. My girl and I can create a private bubble of writing to each other and dates where we really get to know each other with more senses than just reading words on an electronic page. If we’re playing for keeps, we need to be a team, starting with learning how the other one communicates.

I find that I communicate best in writing, especially when I have to say something hard. I can take as long as I need to flip out about it, and then calmly craft a response. My emotions are enormous. Most people don’t deserve my kneejerk reaction. They deserve my response after I’ve walked off and written about it. Just one of the things that lets me be an INFJ on my own without scaring the bejesus out of anyone… and then when I get to the part where I need to say something out loud, I’m confident because I’ve worked it out on my own. I simply need input. If my girl feels strongly about something, my own conclusions need to change. If we’re chatting about it online, I have two things. The first is the ability to copy and paste my thoughts into a letter. The second is that a moment expands when I read about it later…. and in a much more beautiful way than if I just tried to think about the conversation and remember it that way. That’s like trying to read a series of novels and then being tested on which events happened in which book.

I love going back over our conversations and rereading, because different things jump out at me than they did the first time, because I’ve walked away and am looking at it from a different perspective than I was even ten minutes ago.

There’s another advantage to rereading our conversations, and it’s invaluable. Because I’m rereading our conversations and replying to things as they come up, it’s like conflict repellant, and every bit as effective as bug spray. One of my triggers is having someone tell me that my perceptions aren’t accurate. I spent so many years doubting my own perceptions and instincts when I am actually extremely astute. Not much gets by me, and doubting my abilities as a visionary and truth teller when I can bring the receipts is a flat out rejection…. yet another reason why it’s taken me so long to open myself up to a romantic situation.

Only once has this happened, but I went on a date several years ago with a woman who’d gotten the URL for this web site from my OK Cupid profile. Then, she asked me out for coffee. When I accepted, she turned out to be a drooling fangirl who wanted me to be the voice I am here. It’s something that doesn’t seem like it would be problematic. This web site is me. I am this web site. Here’s the rub. At no time during that conversation was I ever allowed to deviate from anything I’ve already written, as if writers are never allowed to change their minds. Particularly with bloggers, entries are just verbal pictures, not even videos. It’s 2D with a timestamp. She’d quote me to me and then accuse me of lying, even if it was 2016 (or whatever, I don’t even remember that much- just that it was before my mother died) and the entry was from 2014. It made me express something verbally that I’ve always known with my other senses. I love respect. I hate fame.

Blogging is a stream of consciousness first draft in which I’ve given myself permission to write absolute shit. This is nothing compared to the heights I can reach with research and dedication. In some ways, I should never have become a blogger in the first place. I laid out every problem I had, including my struggles with mental illness, in hopes of “leading from the back.” Wounded Healer, Henri Nouwen, et cetera.

The pro was that people I didn’t know flocked here because I was saying things that connected. Those closest to me started trying to judge the stability of my mental health by my silly observations. I have the same relationship with my blog that I do with preaching in public. I can lead one person or a million, but not two…. as in, it’s very easy to talk to people I don’t know. People I do know tend to think that they are excellent detectives. Not once have they ever been right. They are right that occasionally I do spiral out, and as bad as they think. But not when.

The difference in my writing voice is not mania vs. depression. It’s “in the creative zone” vs. “I haven’t written in X number of days and I am itching to get everything out.” The other differences that are seen as lies are actually easily explained without being excused. I can only write one line at a time. My mind is a multi-core processor. Every time I tell a story, it includes thoughts from all the cores and not just the one I was using at the time the story was originally written. My details don’t get larger or smaller. They just get more dense…. or in layman’s terms, “I can bring the receipts. I don’t just make shit up.” Well, unless I’m preaching. One of the funniest things my little sister has ever said was “DAaad? Wassat true, or were you just preachin?'”

Returning to this moment, it’s foreign to me that someone wants to date me… will hold my hand walking down the street, will give me quick kisses and put her arm around me as if we’ve known each other our whole lives. It’s been 10 or 11 days. Nothing is being rushed about our relationship. It cannot be for all our sakes. We’re not thinking for two, exactly. Well, we are, but it’s not the two of us. I have an activity to do and she has a bag and a water to hold.

I’ve thought about kids two other times in my life, and shut the door permanently. I can’t remember what year it was that Dana and I went to the OB/GYN to check and see if we were good to go, but I was much younger then……. even still, it would have been a geriatric pregnancy. I am almost positive that if I had to make a choice between getting an abortion and having a child would be torture, because some kind of trauma was probably involved. I’ve also wanted a child since before my mother died, but I know my biological child would look like her even if the biological father didn’t. The flip side of the coin is that I would be much crazier than advertised if I decided to carry the pregnancy to term. I already have to choose between physically and mentally sick (physical drug side effects). A pregnancy would make that distinction as clear as it could possibly be. Both my medications (I think) are pregnancy approved…… but what if they don’t work for me while pregnant? Yes, I have thought a lot about this. Maryland has everything I need if something were to happen here, but I go to Texas more often than I travel anywhere else. Southern men are typically sweet and genteel. If they are liberal enough that they don’t have a problem with homosexuality, sometimes the flirting gets intense because we both know it’s not going anywhere.

If they’re a conservative crazy, and the percentage on that in Texas is not zero, it’s not impossible that they’d say they love Jesus while shooting me in the chest, or letting me live but raping me because “you’re only a lesbian because you haven’t had a real man yet.” Let me really drive it home for you. After the shooting in Colorado Springs, I had a panic attack. I was filled with survivor’s guilt. My only accomplishment that day was living in Maryland. I met my girl not long after, and it was like coming up for air after free diving. When she kissed me, I remembered what I was fighting for. I fall asleep thinking about her, and all I would do to keep myself strong so that she can lean on me. It’s all any couple wants. That the idea of support in government via marriage tax breaks and support in community through erasing prejudice is just crazy and we have to tear down all the progress we’ve already made is Looney Toons. Of the two, though, I’d rather have the love and support of the community. I’m kind of over entangling marriage and the government. Laws can move legal protections. They can’t change hearts and minds because that’s not what they’re designed to do.

As for me and my girl, we’re being careful not to become examples of the lesbian U-Haul stereotype. It’s good for the kids, but we see why it’s not that big a deal for other people (especially if it’s just the two of them in a very large house). Because of our shared language and library of images, I believe we could move in together tomorrow and with some counseling, make it work. There are multitudes of things that make us unique, but we are also extraordinarily similar. Both musicians, birthdays five days apart (although she’s four years older), both fluent in church lingo for an amazing understanding of my life before she arrived. It’s a whole bunch of things that would make us able to start off with good communication and get better at it, not constantly trying to make it work and needing counseling to keep from throttling each other. Getting by is just not the goal, though. It’s both of us thriving and growing together and not at each other’s expense.

Actually, there are ways in which it would be eerily difficult to tell us apart. There are others that are wildly different, but not in any way that would cause conflict. The kind where her life experience differs greatly from mine and brings a whole new skill set to the table. At her core, she’s the kind of peacenik musician you’d find at Interlochen and Julliard, but of course she also had to go through a program physically designed to make her fail to get into this professional-level program. It’s akin to winning a chair in a major symphony (or medalling in the Olympics). By contrast, I synthesize ideas very fast and often throw out thoughts before saying “do you have the bandwidth to listen to……” I am also highly adept at taking on the emotion of every person in the room, and thus have inside information as to their motivations. I’ve always had instincts in that direction, but I’m deadly accurate now that my bullshit detector has dropped.

Speaking of taking in the reaction of everyone in the room, my favorite thing is still being the only one not drinking. Sometimes I do, but I think it’s more exciting to relax with a non-alcoholic beer (especially in a glass) so that people forget two things. The first is that you’re not really drinking. The second is that you’re a diarist. You’re not talking to a reporter, but definitely reporter-adjacent. At parties, if I don’t know you and you have a dumbass attack in front of me, you’re probably going to become a funny story on this web site. If I do know you, I’ll at least ask you if I can write about it because you can laugh about it and I’m not hitting a real nerve. Live and learn.

I feel so good around my girl that it’s a great surprise she’s told me I do things for her that help. I don’t feel as if the relationship is one-sided. I feel wanted in a way that I haven’t in years, that I am a priority and she drops everything for me the same way she checks out of our relationship when we’re apart so that other people also get her full attention. It’s priceless, and feels healthier than trying to manage five conversations at once.

I honestly forgot how much all people need these feelings. I was so focused on independence that I forgot about interdependence, and how nice it can be as well. I’d let the pendulum swing too far into loneliness… particularly because I didn’t notice I was lonely. I used to be the real life Linus Baker, just American and not British…. also not from the Department in Charge of Magical Youth, but that’s neither here nor there.

Now, my life feels whole. I have amazing friends, and a chance at a real thing with someone I’m crazy about. It didn’t feel real until she told the kids, though. Doesn’t matter that she only told the kids she was dating someone. Fine for them not to know it was me specifically. It just made me feel important that she thought our dating life was important enough to mention. Maybe now she’ll let me have diet soda at her house (I can hear it now… “friggin’ sopranos…..”). Even if she doesn’t, there are times when I think my heart can’t get bigger; it always does.

Like when she took me to Ingrid Michaelson and held me while Ingrid sang… some dates are close to magic… when you can feel the night stretching to accommodate your wishes. We went for half smokes and fries at Ben’s Chili Bowl, then walked to Jeni’s ice cream for a “nightcap.”

The next day we took in a matinee of “Into the Woods,” and then it was time for her to go back to her real life. It was so hard to let her go, knowing that I was stepping out on faith that we’d find a way to keep seeing each other if our paths aligned.

My faith is in this being the start of something big. She feels the same way, but I don’t want to speak for her on anything more than that. Wanting to be together for keeps if we continue being successful at communication is the one thing I don’t have to fact check. How we feel is deep and intense, passionate in every color across the Scandinavian sky. At the same time, I’m 45. She’s older than me. Combining lives is not an easy process, and when kids are involved, sometimes love isn’t enough. Unclear communication regarding division of labor kills a relationship faster than lack of love ever will.

I have issues with having brilliant ideas and an interesting relationship with follow-through. Luckily, my girl has plenty of experience in dealing with people close to her that have mental health issues. My girl can recognize a coping mechanism and roll with it, or help me create one. I will never get over the idiosyncracies that my mental health presents, but I can always use more cognitive behavioral therapy to make it manageable. It’s the same with medication. I take meds to make it better, but it’s a pill…. not a magic wand.

There’s one last connection that we have that I can tell you about, because it’s probably the thing I feared the most in putting myself out there in terms of dating. My grief is deep, It is ever-present. There is no moment of any day that I’m not away from it. It’s a constant dream, waking and sleeping. Her mother is dead, too. So much I don’t have to explain when we share that particular frame of reference. You just join the shittiest club on record. It’s something you literally can’t explain to anyone else who hasn’t lost a parent, because the feelings are too deep to put into words. Losing anyone is painful. Losing a parent rewires you from the inside out. Putting things into words gets easier over time, especially for writers because they’re constantly exorcising their demons whether it’s fiction or not. My girl and I are also in roughly the same place in our process. It’s not overwhelming anymore. It’s a dull buzz that’s occasionally triggered into an alarm. It makes our music connection that much more intense and primal. If you know me in real life, you got here several paragraphs ago.

I need to write this down for posterity, because it is a moment I’ll never stop treasuring. I remember her sitting on my couch. I was kneeling on the floor so I could look into her eyes. It was too much. Too powerful. Tears started rolling down my cheeks. I said, “thank you for bringing the music back.”

Nothing you could say could tear me away from my girl.

It hit me all at once that I was dating someone my mother would have loved and wanted to adopt. James Lipton was famous for asking this question from the Bernard Pivot questionnaire…. “If heaven exists, when you arrive at the pearly gates, what would you like to hear God say?”

My favorite answer is Harrison Ford’s…. “You look just like me.” My own is a delicious smirk and “see what I did there?”

Allsorts and All Sorts

The Argo main theme is ringing in my ears as I start this entry, just to bring back the muscle memory of writing. However, I have created a playlist on Amazon Music called “Movie Scores” that’s on shuffle. It has all sorts of instrumentation to bring out different emotions:

  • The aforementioned Argo
  • The Bourne Identity
  • The Bourne Supremacy
  • The Bourne Ultimatum
  • The Kite Runner
  • The Danish Girl
  • The Imitation Game
  • Zero Dark Thirty
  • Syriana
  • The Ghost Writer

Most of the pieces have a Middle Eastern vibe to them, and that’s on purpose. I find that after I listen to them once, they fade into the background nicely, as well as challenging my brain with chords and progressions not typically used in Western music. However, listening to them once before I write to them is “key” (see what I did there?), because I will spend the time I should be writing trying to understand the the music with my one semester’s worth of theory knowledge… and besides only having one music theory class behind me, math and music are so inextricably interrelated that I’m not very good with either. I spent a lot of my trumpet playing years standing in a practice room thinking, “COUNT, dumbass!” Over the years, I’ve gotten better at it, but not by much. I get entire body blushes while sight reading with singing, because I can keep track of the rhythm OR the words. You choose.

My dad brought up something interesting, that it might actually have something to do with being oxygen-deprived in the delivery room. That my brain just works differently because of it, and it is also probably why I can’t play the piano by reading music (I do okay by ear)…. the difference with that and singing being that I can’t count two rhythms at once, either.

However, I can hear them and repeat it……. sometimes. I’ve been playing the first eight measures of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata for 15 years and that’s as far as I’ve gotten. But that’s all anyone knows of it, anyway, so I’m good.

At University of Houston, the core changed while I was there, and everyone had to have one performing arts class. I chose group piano because I hadn’t done anything like it before. I found out after the first few labs about the whole “counting two rhythms” thing, so I cheated my ass off to pass. Well, maybe you won’t think of it as cheating, but I did. I got my mother to play my recital piece over and over for me until I’d memorized every note cold. At the recital, I had to have the music in front of me, so I played with my eyes closed. If I’d kept them open, I would have gotten lost and confused within about 30 seconds.

[Editor’s Note: When I was a seventh grader, I had a t-shirt with Jesus color blocked like an Andy Warhol painting on the front and said “I once was lost” on the back. One of the English teachers at Clifton told me that it should say “I’m always lost.” I’m 42 and I still remember wanting to call him a jackass and I still regret not doing so . Would have been sent to the principal’s office. Worth it.]

I was definitely lost and confused at the grocery store. The last time I went, they were completely out of a few things, but most aisles looked normal. Yesterday, it looked like a Zombieland remake (although they did have Twinkies™). Thank God I already had a ton of staples (except coffee, which I was able to procure). What I noticed right off is that people were buying the cheapest items, so there was plenty of truffle oil, saffron, etc…. They were even out of American butter. My choices were Presidenté, Kerrygold, and Finlandia. I got Finlandia as I’d tried all the others (it’s good, but it’s not French salted butter good). And as I told my friend Kristie, “they didn’t have three dollar soap, but they did have eight dollar soap……….. so guess who smells like eight dollars today?”

I also picked up my favorite writing snack, licorice allsorts. They’re not nearly as good as getting the originals (Bassett’s) imported from England, but they’ll do in a pinch. They’re much less expensive and the last time I ordered the real ones, it took them three or four weeks to arrive. The only piece in Bassett’s mix that these don’t have is lime. Despite this egregious oversight, they’re close enough for government work.

I have found that during the state lockdown, I’ve been lonely for the first time since I moved here. This is because I spend most of my time alone, but I had the ability to reach out to friends and go out when I wanted. It was enough to know that I could go out, not so much that I would. There’s no way I would take public transportation to see my friends in Alexandria, all of whom have small children (happy 2nd birthday, Peter and Benjamin!).

I have been escaping with books, movies, and TV…. mostly books. So far, I’ve loved “The Murmur of Bees” and “Little Fires Everywhere.” With “Little Fires,” I saw the first episode of the Hulu adaptation and wanted to read the book. It’s AMAZING, the only thing missing being Kerry Washington (not sure I’ve ever seen a more beautiful woman, and roles like Olivia Pope and Mia Warren speak to me).

Fiction writers just flatten me, because I don’t do what they do, and not for lack of trying. I can’t build a world like good ones can, whether it’s a universe close to our own or complete fantasy. I mean, I’ve had “dementors” my whole life, but it took J.K. Rowling to make a word for them (in the Harry Potter series, they are the guards at the prison Azkaban, but Rowling has said they’re a metaphor for depression [I agree that after you see them, you need chocolate.]). I keep hoping that writing fiction is just something that takes muscle, and I’ll get better over time, but I see no evidence.

I suppose I am better off sitting at my desk with my allsorts, writing all sorts……….. except the ones I have to make up.

Sacred Ground

Yesterday contained a mountaintop experience for me. I experienced a high that I hadn’t felt in years, and I am so grateful. It is carrying me through the rest of my week, as mountaintop experiences are wont to do.

Last week, my old church in Portland announced that they were going to be livestreaming from Facebook and Zoom. Because Zoom has a native Linux client, I downloaded it and got it running. At the appointed time, I logged in. Instantaneously, I was connected to faces I’ve looked to for love for almost two decades. I was reminded of the days when I was preaching, the days when I showed up for church so low that everyone couldn’t help but notice, and the days when a hug from them meant more than anything in the world. And, as a Virgo (an earth sign), I am deeply tied to setting.

Looking at the sanctuary made me flood out, and I looked at the ceiling so I could stop crying. Right in front of me was the banner Sash and Lisa made for our performance of John Rutter’s Requiem, s-l640intense colors and “Out of the Deep” written in their own “font.” It was a blessing remembering the day I truly became a singer, instead of a trumpet player who faked it. I was the soprano soloist for the Pie Jesu movement, and I don’t think I would have gotten the chance to spread my wings anywhere else… as was the chance to pinch hit for the pastor.

I was lucky in that my very first sermon ever was well-received, so I got to preach more. I wasn’t always the best at it, but when I was on, I was unstoppable.

The service started and the people connected to Zoom weren’t shy about singing, and I heard voices I hadn’t heard since I moved away in 2013. It was exactly what I’d hoped would happen… that I would find myself wanting to go to church for the first time since my mother died, focusing on what was mine there instead of what had been my mother’s domain. I was not so wrapped up in grief that I couldn’t concentrate, couldn’t feel comforted, couldn’t breathe…….. Waiting for the service to begin was one of the great Shatner ellipses of my life, and I was changed by it…………………………

God and I have always had a tight relationship, but church and I have been at odds. When I was little, my mother was everything in the church, from choir member to accompanist to children’s choir director. There was nowhere I could look that didn’t feel like a ghost rising, and I couldn’t smile. I couldn’t feel my own joy at everything I’d accomplished on my own that didn’t have anything to do with her. I think it was because I wasn’t in my element. I hadn’t lived in Silver Spring very long, so I didn’t have a connection that reached two decades down and had the ability to grab my hand.

I cried quietly, tears running down my face when Karen read poetry, Wendy sang, and Stacey’s mic was hot in the chatroom. I also laughed with delight, the kind of laugh that lights up your whole face and you can feel it with your whole body.

I realized afterward that it was also important that I was in my own room, with no one else to witness what was happening to me as I fell apart- and my congregation put me back together. I didn’t have to feel shy about anything, didn’t have to feel embarrassed. I could take it all in, letting the power of the Holy Sprit run unimpeded.

I do not think I am finished with this particular journey, but it was a step down on sacred ground.