Sunday, March 1, 2015

Desperation. Despair. Sticking it out. Ending the insanity #5.

I have a close friend trying to end a very toxic marriage. Her husband is having an affair and has admitted it. He continues the affair rather blatantly with no regard for the emotional impact it has on her or their children. He won't move out. Just the other evening, the police called her place of work with an emergency. They wanted her husband's cell phone number. The mistress was missing and had threatened to kill herself. The story is still unfolding, but no matter the detail, it is serious. I certainly question why the mistress, who is also married and has children, would carry on such an affair as much as I question my Friend's husband judgement. That said, I can only compassion for anyone that feels so distraught that exiting this world becomes perceived as a better answer. I don't understand how anyone, especially with children, can be so selfish to feel that their own conquest for solace should trump those who love and depend on them. Thankfully, I don't know such desperation and despair.

I recently learned Scott Hines had ended his life. He was a political colleague and a friend. He was the former Mayor of Rancho Mirage, CA. We first met in Washington, DC in 2010. We were both attending a Victory Fund Conference. I remember him standing up from the audience and explaining to Ray Ashburn, a Republican CA Senator that had recently come out after being arrested for drunk driving following a visit to a local gay nightclub in Sacramento, about the fears he and his partner had about the threat of legislation that could impede their ability to raise their children and why they ended up in California. Scott was unforgiving and definitively aggravated that Ashburn not only lived 2 lives, but would be a stellar opponent against LGBT legislation. He pushed Ashburn to a point where he made an apology that I only believed to be honest. It was because of this interaction I made a point of interacting with both of them following the forum.

I never stayed in touch with Ray, but most definitely with Scott. Scott supported other efforts I embarked on in the years following that conference. I've met 2 of his children more than once. We have many friends in common. We saw each other at multiple Victory Fund events following. Not a close personal friend, but a friend and someone for which I hold admiration. His reelection campaign in Rancho Mirage took turns I found unfathomable in 2010 in the Coachella Valley.

Not winning reelection had to suck, especially the way in which it unraveled. It sounds like he had a very favorable relationship with his present husband, who I do not know. I know he adored and was dedicated to his children. I understand there have been other issues plaguing Scott. Unlike the woman I mentioned above, here is someone whom I knew, at least somewhat well, and I can't comprehend such desperation and despair.

It's not as though I see life through rose colored glasses. To the contrary, I've faced many an obstacle in my own journey and along the way I've met, known and witnessed many who have traveled paths that are unfathomable.

On the surface, I was a fortunate child. Nice homes. Part of my education in an extraordinary private school, along with country club swim team and vacations to a beach house in the summer. Behind the walls of our home was my parent's contemptible marriage. Adultery, mental and physical abuse, alcoholism, made me very perceptive and advanced in years very early on, but also riddled with anger and dissatisfaction most of the time.

I was, at least I thought, rather popular in my early years of school. By 4th or 5th grade, however, it started to change and I became increasingly teased and ostracized. I was also starting to realize my own sexuality at a time not nearly as accepting. I was very vulnerable. Vulnerability that led to my being sexually molested by two different adult men, one ongoing, starting at age 13. The one had a son my age and I attended his Bar Mitzvah.

Being the 80's, I also was coming to terms with my sexuality at a time where "signing up" came with being on the bus being chased by the plague. I remember meeting my first person with AIDS at 18. I wasn't sure I could sit on his toilet seat. We became close buds soon after meeting. Ironically, albeit every bit, if not more tragic, after so many close calls with AIDS, he was murdered on a bus in Montreal. In a city that murder was far less likely than the New York I left in the same period. I knew over a dozen people, many near my age, who died by age 25. A unconscionable number.

In early 2005, I thought I'd crossed over that wall once and for all. I met the man of my life, I had a position I really loved and was excelling. I owned my first home, a California stucco Craftsman. My California Dream. My biggest worries going into this Valentine's weekend was what blinds I might do in the bedrooms. That Friday ended with my being unexpectedly attacked and without provocation. This lead to my having emergency surgery in my head. The story gets worse and the 3 years of litigation that occurred following; costing us a fortune and netting mostly only further desperation and despair.

Suffice to say, I've been challenged in major ways from a very young age. Every time I think I've reached my limit on challenges, my limit seems to be to be raised. I've been very hostile. I've been very remorse. I've certainly felt desperation and despair repeatedly. Yet, I don't know what can draw someone to feel that forcing their own exit from society is a better answer. On the surface, I tend to jokingly say "I'll take a few out before I am taking out myself." I am no more capable, in fact less, of ending someone else's life and honestly, I can't think of anyone I ever loathed so much to even really even fantasize such an idea.

I've had many moments where I hate my life. I wish I could just walk away from it. But never wanted to end it. I've even tried to force myself to think of it. But, it went no where.

Is it a positive part of my Catholic upbringing where I can't conceive of the ultimate sin? (I am a reformed cafeteria Catholic and now Episcopalian).

Is it because my parents, despite their shortcomings, raised me with tremendous self-confidence? No, that isn't it. They contributed to my own lack of self-esteem at various times and otherwise were negligent in at least my latter childhood. Not that they didn't love me, not that they didn't mean well overall, but we are a poster family of dysfunctional.

Is it all my beliefs and efforts in the struggle for equality? I have to continue to live to see them and be around to foster their future. It's hardly over.

Is it because despite my achievements, I yet to feel truly accomplished? I think that potentially leads to more desperation and despair than inspiration and desire.

The grass isn't always greener. The skies sometimes take a while before they clear. But, I do believe that it can get better and we should stick around to see what happens. I also know that I am loved and so are all of us. We owe it to others to be there and contribute to society in all ways we are capable.

Friday, February 20, 2015

The neighbor who brought us all together for all the wrong reasons.

West Hollywood, California is a very small and unique city. It is less than 2 square miles, carved in awkward segments. On some streets, one side can be in West Hollywood and the other in Los Angeles or Beverly Hills. It only became a city in 1984. Prior, it was an unincorporated part of the County of  Los Angeles. It's formation was an unlikely coalition between largely Russian Jewish Immigrants and gays. It is one of the more desirable places to live in the LA basin. It is also among the most expensive. The city, small as it is, is cash fluid and the city doesn't face a deficit. Few can say the same, in California, or across the country. It has unprecedented advantages, like the Sunset Strip and Boystown.

When I moved to Southern CA from Washington, DC in the late 90's, it was without question, especially as a gay male, that I'd move to WeHo. In my late 20's and LA as it was then, where else would I want to be?

I found a condo for rent just West of La Cienega, which I was told was preferred. After all, I had a Beverly Hills phone number! I was closer to the bars in Boystown. Like many places in West Hollywood, it was ultimately a converted apartment building with external hallways, in an L shape with a pool below. Thin walls, mediocre construction and wall unit air conditioning, but I had found my place in Paradise.

About 1 year living in LA, one evening I was in my kitchen doing dishes and looking out a window that looked into our walkway and ultimately the courtyard and pool. I heard some screams, then not only heard, but felt strongly though our walls, some incredible pounding force. Before I knew what to think or do, I heard a very obviously ailing Mother, was screaming cries of hope and desperation.

I went outside. Suddenly, this audience of neighbors whom I barely knew some for the last year or so, were all out to see the show.

I went downstairs and while the police came in, the coroner, the Mother in and out the door in such pain, my neighbors laughed about how we really should get together. Experience thereafter showed that few really meant it.  They bitched, largely to one another, about the issues in the association. Some would get you into smaller, more private conversations to bitch to you about the person standing on the other side of you.

My neighbors were finding excitement in the drama. There seemed to be little to no compassion about the fact that a life had been lost. In fact, a few suggested this was a problem that the association needed to crack down upon. Evidently, to some, this man's suicide was an inconvenience to the complex as a whole.

How were they to address Crystal Meth addiction, which was imploding in West Hollywood at the time? This was in the late 90's."Tina", as it is often called, is still  an evil bitch and she hasn't been beaten to death yet. How does a condo association "crack down" on what people do in their residences? Posting a sign in front saying "no drug dealers" would surely be as effective as the one already in place saying "no solicitation." Restaurants hired people who found their way into the building all the time and left menus at our door or at least by the mail boxes just inside the main entrance.

Otherwise, I was hearing excuses from Grandparents carrying for children should be allowed to leave their grandchildren's toys in common areas. People complained about people being too loud at the pool. Others about those who don't clean the grill properly.  People went on and on about their issues, their lives. All while watching this Mother in despair.

I remember an article I read in high school. It was about a woman that was attacked and raped in a courtyard at night. People heard. People listened. People turned their lights down to get a better view. Nobody wanted to be involved.

I know I had met this now deceased neighbor, at least at the mailbox or on the elevator. I remember at least having some simple, pleasant, neighbor dialogue. But, I never knew him. I kind of recall his being really attractive.

I felt for him that night. I really felt for his Mother. She had been calling  and I guess finally called the police. I don't know how long he was dead for, but meth makes people check out, so they can be alive and functioning, just not logically. He had evidently mixed the meth with Xanax and other medication to end it all for himself. This wasn't an accident. How tragic.

My neighbors continued to talk among themselves with the exception of the school teacher,  who was very inquisitive with the police, fire, and otherwise and thrilled to share with the rest of us. I had met her maybe once or twice before this evening. She lived in the condo that had once been the home of Jason Gould. When we first met, she showed it to me. I had a crush on Jason since I was a teenager. Same age as me and I am a huge fan of his Mother. This evening, she ended the evening by asking me if I had a connection for cocaine.

I happen to know the school teacher and a number of others that were there that night still live there. I am long gone, but I sold a condo in the building when I was a Realtor several years ago. I wonder if any of them even remember the evening. I doubt if any could name the person. It was obvious that evening that none really cared about their neighbor. It reaffirmed how life just goes on without you. I imagine, though, it was never the same for that Mother and the young man's family and friends who loved him.

Monday, February 16, 2015

The 2015 Journey. Ending the Insanity. #4. Yoga.

In my commitment and absolute necessity to make significant changes in my life this year, I've opened my mind to experiencing for the first time things that I've thought I should probably try, but always had an excuse not to actually do.

"I have too much ADHD to focus that much" or "I can't concentrate long enough" for yoga, I would say. In reality, I think I've probably feared, whether consciously or not, that maybe I might benefit from it. Sort of like making the initiative to become part of a church. Too many people get something out of it for there not to be some value. But, I must know better and I don't want to get sucked in.

Yoga seems to be almost a religious following in Southern CA. I don't have statistics, but I'd be curious on the numbers of people who do yoga every week versus attend a religious ceremony or even pray. There seem to be many forms of yoga, just as there are many forms of Christianity, Judaism and other religions. It seems some are more regimented than others, again a parallel comparison.

We went to Cancun in December. We stayed at an all-inclusive resort. Among the offerings were free yoga classes. I left here determined to go. It never happened. My schedule certainly could have accommodated it, but I found excuses not to do so. My husband, Mac, showed no interest.

Mac, on his own journey this year, has tried yoga since January 1. We haven't had significant conversations about it, but he seems to like it and open to doing more. I finally threw myself on the mat when it was a pre-requisite for a program which I was seeking to enter.

One of the first things I learned in the class was about breathing. Clearing your mind (this was already sounding ridiculous, but I opened myself to it and pulled it off) and breathing in and out through your nose. Concentrating on your breath. Simple enough. I was astonished at how relaxed I became and how much tension honestly did release from my body. I've since learned to do this almost daily when I wake up too early in the morning and I want to fall back asleep. A simple breathing exercise has increased made me calmer and more rested. I also practice at least a form of this when tension rises and I need to calm down. "Take a deep breath" has become more powerful than I could have ever imagined.

Both Mac and I have issues with our backs. Mac has even had surgery. So, all the various stretching can only be beneficial, right? I've found more so than I could even imagine. Some of it is fairly simple and you wonder why you never thought of it before. Others are more challenging, but that keeps it interesting, to me, as well. The only thing I realize now is my body is expecting it. Try and take a couple of days without at least some stretching effort and I am in misery.

For now, I've only experienced simple, Hatha yoga. Like everything I am doing in this year of change, I am walking to success rather than running to failure.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

The 2015 Journey. Ending the insanity. #3.

My husband and I talked about All Saint's Pasadena, my new, and perhaps our new church, after I attended services Sunday. Each Sunday, they have tables set up in their courtyard for different organizations within the church, calls to action, welcome bags for newbies and more. I had yet to get my newbie bag, so I stopped and picked it up. I also went and asked about the upcoming New Member class, which I mentioned in the last blog post.

I threw out the idea of the New Member class. I said I wasn't really sure. 7 Sunday nights is a lot. But, maybe it would be worth it. It's a mighty large parish. They have many ministries. While we were married by an Episcopal Priest and I consider myself to be Episcopalian more than anything else, I haven't really been part of the church before now and was raised Catholic. I call things incorrectly. I am not going to mass now. I don't refer to Father, especially if it's a female...

I have tried to go to church at least on Christmas Eve for most of our going on 11 years together. It has happened a few times, all at Episcopal Churches. Once at All Saint's. But, it was a struggle to outright fight every time with my husband.

Times have changed. I just threw the idea of this class out there and before 10 AM on Monday, we were registered. He took the initiative.

The LGBT group has a lunch this Sunday. He immediately went and sent an RSVP for us.

He calendared our going to the 11:15 service this Sunday.

So, this Sunday, I will spend perhaps more church activity time with my husband than we have in over a decade together.

It is definitely a new year.

Monday, February 9, 2015

The 2015 Journey. Ending the Insanity #2

In times of despair, many of us turn to religion. Even those of us who don't tend to be overly religious otherwise. I don't know statistics to back this up, but I truly believe that people in their greatest times of need are probably some of the greatest new recruits to religious organizations.

My Mother probably spent most of her life in states of depression and was an alcoholic. Her Father had also been an alcoholic and died when she was 14. We almost lost her in the early 1990's when she was just barely the age of my husband in her early 50's. She briefly quit drinking, but it took charge again and she died in 2006 at age 64. While not overly religious, she always made an effort to be faithful to the Catholic Church. When we were young, we attended church every Sunday and both my brother and I went through all the steps from baptism to confirmation.  Leading up to her demise, she had Eucharistic Ministers come every Sunday to provide communion. But for years prior, she was Cafeteria Catholic.

While I dealt with my Mother's quietus in 2006, I reached out to a local Episcopal Church in Morristown, New Jersey. I met with the Priest, who counseled me. I attended service once or twice. I didn't do as much as I should have to show my appreciation, but while I still cowered away ultimately, I was very appreciative of all the comfort that was offered to me.

My Godmother had breast cancer 20+ years ago. She had a mastectomy, some of the best Doctors in America, and it went into remission. Around 2004, the cancer had returned and spread. Wasn't supposed to happen. She turned to the church. I foolishly asked her what religion. This was my Godmother. Then again, I am a Godparent to a child that while Christian, isn't a religion I "practice", nor was raised. The only times I've ever been to a Lutheran Church is with these family members.

Nancy died shortly after my Mother in 2006. Their was an open casket viewing; something I refused to let happen with my Mother and loathe in general. . Not 4 days after returning back to California for what I thought was for the foreseeable future, I am in Baltimore. I was told by her daughters to watch the slide show. It was a capture of her life. It was, though out of what had to be literally over 200, probably far more, constantly changing images, there wasn't one that ever included me. Not one that ever included my parents and Nancy and her husband, George, early marriage relationships with one another. The latter I more than get and I was just the Godchild, but Aunt Nancy and I had been close for all my life. When we were all young, Kate, who is my age, and Ann, closer to my brother's age, all played together when we would visit. I quickly realized how on the outside I was to the rest of this family. It was probably more heartbreaking than the loss of one of the people I have ever most adored and admired. It has proven true to this day. I wrote George once, never heard back. I wasn't really expecting to, but one can hope. It's not even unkind or ill willed. It just isn't his nature. Ann, the younger one, and I Facebook communicated a few times. But, all died with her passing. I would no longer be a guest in their home. They had a reception at the home following this massive funeral, which included elected officials and many others. I didn't go. I knew it was time to move on and that being there would just be more uncomfortable and possibly damaging to my weakened state than providing closure.

I prayed following that experience. I seldom had prayed.

My dear friend has cousins who were, from the sounds of it, anything but religious. Then, overcoming years of drug addiction, they decided to join the Mormon Church and found great solitude in it. Recently, many years later, they decided they don't like all the teachings of the church and have left it. I don't know them personally, but from what I know is that the church did serve a very valuable purpose for them at the time.

This year has proven to be more challenging for me than perhaps any other before it. Despite almost being killed in a gay bashing in 2004. Despite all I mention above in 2006. Despite our marriage and then the passage of Prop 8 in 2008. Despite my husband losing his 24 1/2 year career at Southern California Edison in 2013; something unfathomable until the last couple years.

One of the last great companies that wanted to keep you and reward you for it, SCE had fallen to the likes of Bain Capital.  My husband has been at SCE since his mid 20's. He started working in the mail room and then call center. He left as a Senior Project Manager in Regulatory Finance. He had a six-digit income with great benefits. That stability gave me more freedom. It also made me more co-dependent on focusing on his success over channeling my energy on my own.

I've long said that success is in the eyes of the beholder. When you wake up and look yourself in the mirror and are truly happy with yourself, then you are successful. I fooled myself at times. Otherwise, I just assumed I needed to accept my dissatisfaction for years. After all, it's all I knew from the relationships in my family.

I've for the first time since childhood, become a part of a church. It's a community full of tradition, yet so non-traditional. I sought out counsel from it as well. Counseling that has provided greater insight, including about the co-dependency I just mentioned, than all the years of therapy I have spent many, many hours and thousands and thousands of dollars engaging in since I was younger than 10. It's been baby steps in terms of actually attending services. I've been to 3 so far this year. I signed up with the LGBT group and went to one lunch. But, I am finding great solace in being a part of it. This week I need to decide whether to join the new member class. It's 7 weeks which seems like forever. But, this large and financially strong community does so much. My guess is 7 one evening a week sessions will pass by quickly. Not a requirement, just a commitment. Stay tuned...

Thursday, February 5, 2015

The 2015 Journey. Ending the Insanity. #1

It's a New Year. We are prone to New Years resolutions. Studies show while we start with the best intentions, we so often fail. It's the physical fitness industry dream season. But, what about when they aren't just resolutions, but game changers that without success could mean a failed love of our life and marriage, failed career and/or even the end of our being?

We all have a routine. We all have parts of that routine that we know we should change. Yet, we most often don't. It's too comfortable. It's what we know. My parents did it. So did my Grandparents, Great Grandparents. Since I can remember, adults walk in the house at the end of the day, at 5, 5:30, 6, whatever the time (always after 5) and make cocktails. Not just simple mixed drinks, but Martinis, Manhattans or straight up alcohol on the rocks. So even if they did only have one, which wasn't always the case, before dinner, it's more than a beer, a glass of wine or a simple mixed drink.

A glass of wine at dinner can even be considered healthy for you, depending on the study. Perhaps a 2nd glass isn't so bad. But beyond that after your before dinner martini?

My one Grandmother never drank after dinner. I am not so sure that wasn't true for my Grandfather on the other side of the family. But, they were usually smashed before they sat at the table. If you have a glass of wine or a gin and tonic before dinner, a glass of wine at dinner and maybe one following, that isn't so bad, at least to me, over what should be 4 or so hours with food. It's the excess at each stage that becomes the insanity.

I've committed myself to ending such insanity this year. I haven't felt a need to outright quit drinking, though promised if I can't reel myself in I will do what I need to do. Historically, I have shown not to have an overly addictive personality. I have a habitual personality, but can break habits. When I used methods to quit smoking, they didn't work. When I just quit, I stopped. I went back under a stressful time for a bit as a habit and again just quit. I had a couple of brief, stupid rounds with crystal meth years ago, but just up and ended them. No rehabilitation, other than some short lived therapy, where I spent my time trying to figure out how to fill the habit which created my social life on weekends. I have met so many, despite making earnest efforts, who have had incredible battles with all of the above and other substances.  Some, including members of my family, starting with my own Mother and her Father, never prevail.

I've also realized my excesses tend to come more from anxiety and boredom.

When I smoked, it was because I was anxious or otherwise just plain bored. If I was engaged and busy, I never smoked. Simple example, I seldom smoked during the day while working. Most of my co-workers, in most of my positions, never knew I smoked unless it eventually "came out" at an evening business occasion. Introduce anxiety, sometimes boredom, and yes, alcohol. I remember once being at a black tie event with a client who was also a friend. My co-worker looked at me astonished "I never knew you smoked." I replied, "I only smoke when I am drinking." My client replied "Problem is he is never not drinking." Before anyone reads way into it, it was meant in humor, though I certainly haven't ever been known as a light weight or occasional drinker. I never was a huge smoker, but a smoker. A normal day, maybe 5 cigs all day and night. A crazy drunken escapade or major tension, perhaps half a pack or even more.

I am sitting here quantifying things and I think that is a big mistake. Sure, you can fool yourself, but you can also be true to yourself. Over the last month, I've more than cut in half what was an excessive drinking habit. One that due to stress and conflicts at home became all the more extreme in recent months. I can't say it hasn't at times been a challenge. There are often occasions where I think "a drink would be so good right now." But, I redirect my focus. When I drink, if I even remotely question in my head whether to have another, I just don't pour it. I know that it means I've had enough.

My new "Happy Hour" is going to the gym. I try and do cycle classes at 5:30 one or two nights a week and I will continue to add other classes. Otherwise, it's when I work out almost every day, unless I have something else scheduled at the end of the day. Doing so means I don't get home until usually 7 or later. I shower, drink water and have no desire to drink until perhaps after dinner is cooked and I am sitting down watching TV or at my computer. Tired from a long day ending with an intense workout, I not only don't desire drinking as much, but my "life span" narrows. If I eat dinner at 8, by 10 and almost always by 11, I am ready for bed.

I've also noticed that I don't any longer like any feeling of being intoxicated. I do like the taste of certain alcohol. I do enjoy certain beverages. But, in a very short period of time, find I am not all happy or comfortable if I find myself feeling really buzzed and I haven't known from drunk since the beginning of the year.

That occasional beer or wine with lunch. Just don't do it. No Bloody Mary's, no bottomless brunches. I am not going to tell you I will never do any of these, but I've just taken them out of what I used to consider an acceptable routine.

As a result, I've lost 15 pounds in the last 6 weeks, even coming off the holidays. I sleep better. I feel better. I am ending the insanity.

Sunday, February 1, 2015


We've lived in our building for just about 7 years. Among the many things we basically take for granted is our power never, ever goes out. Not only is that a seldom issue in the City of Angeles in general, but we live literally next door to the headquarters of the Department of Water and Power. 

It has been announced all week that the power will be out from 1-7 am. That said, had it not been for our fabulous security guard reminding me tonight when I got the mail, I would have forgotten. Never mind staring at the posting every time I was on the elevator. 

Now, I am in a panic. What to do? How to set up? Mac and I supposedly have this place pretty damn earthquake prepared. Those coming from utilities are taught to be over zealous about such things. That said, I am not happy with how many flashlights, or more significantly, their quality throughout the place. At the end of the day, we really lack candles. 

I'm exhausted. I woke up at 5:15 am, tossing and turning until I caved in and got up at 6. I've been dealing with getting my husband out of the hospital on on to his next transition all the way up to my return home at 11:30 pm. I spent almost 4 hours at CVS Pharmacy and our issues aren't complete. The insurance battles start early Monday. Easy for me just to curl up in bed. However, I have an Airbnb guest who is out on the town. Talk about liability. Someone out having fun, coming in late, in the dark, and going up our staircase...

This too shall pass. Hopefully without ambulances or lawsuits. It's not too cold out, so lack of heat won't matter. In fact, our thermostat is all messed up and it's most often too hot late at night upstairs. If I have to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night, maybe I'll just follow Garnet's lead and pee on the bed. In the morning, I can clean it up. Lord knows I am well versed on doing so now...