Michael Sam, Ellen Page, and Why I Really Don’t Give A Damn

It troubles me that the sexual preferences of celebrities and athletes is still a newsworthy moment in these times. Obviously, people’s feathers ruffle at the thought that someone in a well-to-do position, be it an actor or football player, enjoys lovemaking from the same sex, as if it’s any different than the gay couple in the market or at the gym. But, why?

What the hell does it have to do with you and your life?

Ellen Page is a fine actress. I enjoyed her performances in Juno and Inception. The fact that she’s gay rubs me neither this nor that way. It does nothing to the impact of her work on the big screen. Admittedly, I now assume that she didn’t enjoy the kisses with Michael Cera or Joseph Gordon-Levitt in those films as much as I may have liked to believe, but, that’s of such little significance I second-guessed typing this sentence. (Humor made me do it. Or rather, lack thereof.)

Michael Sam, the openly homosexual NFL prospect, has yet to entertain me. I haven’t watched him in action. But, he’s spread across the news for his lifestyle more so than his physical prowess. I don’t know how fast he runs the forty yard dash. I don’t know which teams are pursuing him. I know he’s gay and I fail to see the reason so.

Which is of more importance here?

Maybe if every homosexual celebrity revealed such intimate details about themselves to the public, it would desensitize the media outlets enough for this to never make the headlines. Perhaps that would be bad for business. Promoters would fret at the idea of their clients losing steam from fans who fail to recognize that these people have careers, separate from their home lives which is separate from the prying eyes and intrusive ears of the world; lives that don’t necessarily coincide with their image. Perhaps these people have the right, same as the rest of us, to live their own lives with dignity, enough so that what they do in private can remain as such.

Is that too much to ask?

Haven’t we learned how to juxtapose fantasy and reality? Are parents teaching their children to idolize the people on their flat screens?

Mine never did. My favorite musicians and athletes were always flawed. Michael Jackson was a reported pedophile. Michael Jordan was competitive to a maniacal degree. Kobe Bryant was accused and acquitted of rape, but was ultimately guilty of marital infidelity. Eminem was a drug addict. The list goes on…

Somehow, the spectacular tube we watch these entertainers on imprints our psyches such that to imagine them as civilians burdened with the same emotions and desires as ourselves frazzles the mind. All this technological advancement and we haven’t learned to properly interpret the TV and its inhabitants.

We need to mature. We need to prioritize. We need to stop judging and start understanding for the sake of our children’s future, if nothing else.

I’m Andre Johnson, and I’m a heterosexual.

Did that just change anything?

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Picking Up The Weights Where You Left Off

You wouldn’t know it from looking at me now, the fleshy man-sack I’ve become, but I was a total gym rat last year.

Stop laughing. Seriously.

I did the research. I downloaded the fat loss regimens and muscle-building doctrines fitness experts swear by. I subscribed to the low-fat fitness lifestyle – no candy, fried foods, table sugar, white bread, et cetera. And circuit training quickly became my favorite workout routine. I was all about boosting my heart rate, liquidating calories, and eating healthy.

“Captain Cardio reporting for duty”. (Cardiac Athletes)

As testament to my dedication, I even looked into becoming a personal trainer. I was at my gym, offering guidance and tips to others, the whole nine yards. So, why not? I was self-motivated to look and feel better, to get bigger and stronger yet leaner and meaner. And that’s what I did. It was great.

I lost weight, gained strength, and found my confidence. Being shirtless wasn’t the equivalent of watching The Exorcist alone at night anymore. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t morph into Channing Tatum, but I had an athletic look going for the first time in my life. Clothes hung on me different. Jeans were snugger. My posture improved along with my endurance and musculature. So, I was feeling a lot like Mr. Tatum, or rather, what I think it feels like to be Mr. Tatum. (He’s chased by beautiful women everywhere he goes, right?) I sized guys up now. I felt capable of defending myself in hypothetical situations against nearly anyone; typical testosterone-fueled thoughts that put a glide in my step better than Travolta in his prime. I had the Chuck Norris aura.

But, a very untimely M.S. relapse audited my accomplishments. My left hand and leg started to go haywire. That pins and needles sensitivity you get when a limb “falls asleep” seemed stuck on me. It had been progressively worsening, occasional flare ups, but I shrugged it off as a side effect of a sore body after an intense workout. Soon, though, it was preventing me from lifting heavy weight, and later, it made basic movement challenging. Still, in my glorious stupidity, the other side to my testosterone-fueled thoughts, I attempted a bare bones circuit, just burpees and push-ups. The results were heart-breaking. The bottom line was I had no business exercising. I could barely balance myself down a flight of stairs much less perform a total body workout.

Skip ahead three months, the numbness has mostly subsided and I’m left with the collateral damage – a blank drawing board that is my flaccid, muscle-less body.  Gone is the tone and conditioning that once made me frighteningly confident, not to mention that Tatum-esque appearance. I have arrived back at square one and it sucks.

I know I need to quit bitching and just get my ass back in the gym. But, it’s hard to find the inspiration. The YouTube pages and Instagram accounts I follow are predominantly fitness-oriented and push me in the opposite direction. Every video and picture is just an insult, a tease, a bitter reminder of the progress I’ve lost.  I saw the story of a mother of three turning her life around via exercise and just wanted to berate her.

“Where are your kids while you’re busy taking selfies at the gym? Huh? You selfish bitch?!”

Attempts at humor aside, it’s been a disheartening time. Picture completing a novel that took you all year to write. You type it up but before you can save it, the computer suddenly shuts off. You’re left with nothing but the memories. Those damn memories. All you can do after you flip over the table and kick your cat in the ribs is to set up shop again and go back to work. But, the hardest part is that first step. Upon moving forward, you find out exactly how far you’ve fallen and it’s rarely a pleasant experience.

Needless to say, it’s a mandatory experience. It’s all downhill from there. And that’s the good part. Since I’m no longer a mindless rookie, my starting point isn’t as further back as it may seem. Muscle memory will kick in and I’ll be back in shape in a much shorter time frame than it took to initially see results.  See, for every gut punch I self-inflict in my bitterness, I know I wouldn’t be half as upset if I hadn’t actually accomplished something in the first place. Every time I quit on my goals in the past, I wasn’t upset at all. I didn’t achieve much aside from trimming some baby fat. This time I feel I’ve lost so much, retrieving it is too daunting an objective. That means I’m on to something, here.

So, this sucky step I shall take back to the gym, sweating with the meat-heads and staring at myself in the mirror for far too long after my workout. Fair warning, be on the lookout for this future post: “How I Got Back on Track: A Formerly Fat Guy’s Guide to Fitness.”

Dude, it’ll be awesome.

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Continue? 10… 9… 8… 7…

I stress myself out when it comes to writing. Short stories, blog posts, and even comments are a source of anxiety and phobia. I push through sentences only to return and scan the words angrily, upset at the lack of rhythm, redundancy, “of” over usage (really irks me!), and sub-par imagery. Then, there’s the issue of (ahh!) whether or not my posts, or as I like to call them – “psychotic typings” – are being read at all. There’s such little return in this passion to keep the flame ignited. I tell myself one like a day is plenty, one new follower a day is monumental; tips to keep myself from throwing in the towel. But, to be this self-conscious at every figurative turn, I can’t imagine for a successful writer.

The limited brain cells floating around in my attic saw a successful writer as someone who lived in a log cabin, drank 4-5 coffee cups a day while typing furiously into their laptop by a fireplace. Movie scripts, newspaper columns, magazine articles, you name it and a successful writer pumps them out assembly line style. It takes me half an hour to post a worthwhile comment. I seriously doubt I have what it takes.

My problem is I took the complements I received all my life too seriously. Ever since writing was an important scholastic endeavor, I remember being highly accredited for my work. In seventh grade, somehow, I was the only student who paid attention to the assignment details, and wrote a piece that made my teacher tear. He could’ve just been elated that someone in the thirty-five seats surrounding him caught a few seconds of what he had been saying all morning. I took it to mean that I was the Stephen King of my class. Then, there was an autobiography contest in high-school. I started and completed my paper the night before it was due. The following day my name appeared on a list written on the chalkboard. Apparently, I was a finalist. The paper took me to the final four where I lost out to an unidentified scholar. But, it was far enough to grant me a trip to the National Honors Society, which my mother made into a big deal. Truthfully, I didn’t care. Even my college English professor told me I was arguably the best writer in his class, someone whose work he was delighted to grade. I never took more than the hour of free time I had before his class to write his assignments. So, in my mind, I was easily number one.

Then, I turn to blogging, actually trying to piece together words to form original, thought-provoking material and for the first time in my entire life feel the smack of my own mortality. I don’t want to sound unappreciative of the likes, comments, and followers I have obtained, but I can’t peel away these insecure feelings that I’m just another WordPress junkie who thought he had it all figured out but didn’t.

I’m at the age where career-building is paramount. The experts say follow your passion and you’ll never work a day in your life. The only thing I can see myself doing is writing. Even though I drive myself insane, I’d rather impose my own perfectionist values on something creative and personal than to kiss some rich guy’s ass for a basic 9-5 gig. I know that much for sure.

But, the inspiration to pursue such a dream is waning.

I love blogging. I love reading interesting posts, articles, essays, and movie screenplays. I love sharing the proudest piece of my character with others: the writer and thinker within. Too often, however, I fear I’m not actually connecting with anyone out there, and these things I love are just a waste of time.

Perhaps, I am that 9-5 schmuck. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s just not what I imagined myself becoming. I suppose this is the part where I realize growing up is less about what you dream and more about what’s reality. I fear I’ve run out of reasons to hang on.

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Swim Good

The tough times. The moments that make atheists talk to God under their breath. The days you seem asthmatic from all the anxious, heavy breathing. When the pitfalls deepen and the sudden twists jar your equilibrium. The seemingly never ending snowball of unfavoring circumstance.

The tough times tear at your feathered wings, wear away the soles on your toughest boots, scratch the lenses till your glasses crack. You feel them when you walk, that deep tissue ache around your joints from the stressful exertion of rising back to your feet; knees almost buckling from the world’s weight. The tough times greet you thereafter as the added bass in your voice when you speak – vowels and consonants now cloaked in pain and perseverance. They’re the story written between the lines in your brow and forehead; tales of anger, concern, insecurity, loss, and failure; the brutal human experience. The tough times lay within the rough patches on your palms, introducing themselves to others proudly.

We carry these tough times like badges, often wearing the residual damage on our stained sleeves. But, we smile anyway. After all, the sun still rises and shines. In fact, it doesn’t stop. Our viewpoint is just different. The cold and rain fade away. Our painful memories eventually release us from their clutches. And it’s then that we realize the beauty of our humanity, the wonderful resilience that kicks in every time we start relenting, letting the pull suck us into the depths. We resist stronger after each encounter with adversity. Our confidence soars as we look back at the obstacles that once barricaded happiness from our grasp and gaze toward the challenges in our future no longer afraid.

The tide moves not how we originally wished but just how it always did. Our perspective has changed, welcoming a greater sense of appreciation and understanding.  So, if that tide ever so chooses to rise again in an effort to engulf us, waves climbing over the breeze to push us to the sea bottom, baby, we’ve learned to swim, and swim good.

Family First

My mother’s best friend has HIV. She’s been living with it for as long as I can remember. But, she looks and acts nothing like the image and temperament commonly associated with someone afflicted with a life-long sickness. In fact, she’s boisterous and free-spirited with a penchant for flashing her breasts, which she recently had surgically augmented, at any gathering she attends.

She’s a former gang member and widow who contracted the disease from her children’s deceased father, an intravenous heroin user. Her history is one of violence and abuse. I’ve been privy to tales of her orchestrating vicious beatings to her children from my sister’s perspective(she’s their aunt).  It’s all for entertainments sake and her daughters reminisce and laugh at one another for being foolish enough to piss her off in the first place, detailing particular whacks and howls to brighten the image. Brooms, bread loaves,  slippers, belts. You name it, she could weaponize it – Jason Bourne style – according to them. She humiliated and berated the kids in public, little provocation necessary. Even in more present times she remains a firecracker. Whenever I have visited her home, which is quite rare, she’s offered way too much information into her personal life, usually alarming sex stories that always left me more confused than amused. Should she engage in casual sex in her condition? At her age? Is it dangerous?

Nevertheless, horror stories and gross sexual escapades notwithstanding, the single most prevalent image I hold of her still, is that of a unifying matriarch, a mother-figure who ceaselessly kept her family together above everything else. Holidays, as my family barely remembers to text one another, she’s in photographs with all her children – currently grown and raising their own families – celebrating, toasting to life and good company. Her daughters have multiple offspring and even her grandchildren have children. Yet, they’re all interlocked, lives purposely designed to intersect, each an active participant in all the other’s affairs, supportive and caring. They revolve around her like the planets orbit the Sun, a symbiotic relationship, giving her purpose and enriching their own lives in the process.  It’s beautiful.

And it’s in moments like these – observing her family’s parsimony through Instagram pictures and Facebook statuses – that I recognize what matters most when quantifying a person’s overall character: their relationship with their loved one’s. For all her flaws and bewildering behavior, she unequivocally succeeded at raising her family into a nourishing and complementary community. So many different personalities, all successful to a significant degree in their respective careers, never losing touch, never forgetting the unbreakable bond that weaves itself through the lineage, present when it counts. This New Year’s Eve marked the umpteenth time my family – parents, siblings, and cousins – were scattered about like ashes in a flowing breeze while my mother’s best friend spent time with everyone who mattered foremost in her life. The joy on their faces was apparent as their arms wrapped over one another’s shoulders posing for the camera and in more candid moments of conversation and tomfoolery, another warm gathering for another delightful memory.

A sharp pain suddenly snapped into place. The cold truth and its frosted clutches were gripping at me, telling me my family was no longer any competition. If we wished to compete, we would have a lot of work to do. I wonder if they’re up for the task.

The Beauty of Positive Reinforcement

It’s amazing how our lives are an extension of our innermost feelings and thoughts. A chaotic mindset befalls a dramatic and complicated personal life. A self assured and content outlook blossoms a peaceful and fulfilling lifestyle. It really is that simple. Not so simple is achieving such a beneficial consciousness. But, nothing worth anything ever is, right?

Things take time. What matters most, as always, is whether or not you’re truly ready to make a change. It’s that time of year when resolutions are made but never resolved, promises made but never kept;  bandwagon optimists in bunches lying to themselves about their own desires. Couple weeks later, they barely remember the vow they made when the ball dropped, posthumous asterisks conveniently added to blanket their shortcomings.

“No, I didn’t say I would quit,  I said I would slow down, ween till I eventually stopped.”

Uh huh. Self deception should be a mortal sin.

Change is slow but essential for progress.  No one improves by remaining the same. Different ideologies must be adopted, ineffective behavioral patterns must be abandoned, comfort zones stretched to fit perpetually evolving circumstances. And the first step is not the toughest, it’s the backward and side steps, those that change your direction, force you to pick yourself off the ground and try again. But, it’s then that you learn the most, realizing your errors, adjusting game plans, challenging your willpower, resilience, and fortitude; adding depth and shade to your character; the gift of recreating yourself.

But, it all starts with a single thought. And no, I’m not referencing “the secret”, not in the least.  This is about self-empowerment,  telling yourself the things you need to hear, to believe, to get further in your personal journey of discovery. Nothing out there is half as important as what lies within. In its paradoxical nature, life rewards you when you take on the pro bono cases.

Start small. Remind yourself of how strong you are, how far you’ve come, how much you’ve overcome. Don’t neglect the failures, but don’t dwell in them either. Highlight the lessons they’ve taught you instead. Embrace your instincts, understand them, their origins, and act accordingly. If it’s preventing you from moving forward, discard it. Above all, persist.

Watch closely as that one thought evolves and multiplies, morphing you in the process. Later on, you’ll notice that far branched out from that first idea, over the various leaves of experience and the towering height that has become your self confidence, dangling at the top of a huge Oak wood, is where you will find everything you wanted in yourself.

A Message to the Sad Bachelor

Single people,

I know social media makes it hard on you. There’s no escape. Your friends post a Facebook status every dinner date, Instagram every romantic gift, tweet every inside joke and funny occurrence. It feels like they do it on purpose sometimes, the especially solitary moments, to gloat, to humiliate. The unbearable loneliness, a moment you long to escape from via any vehicle you can find; text, chat, phone call, a night out, something to cancel the noise vibrating from those four walls that scream at you in their silence, laugh at your boredom, the fact that your cell hasn’t rang and your door bell might as well not exist. If you’re not connecting, networking, staying in company, feeling remembered, important, relevant, you’re fading away. All hobbies consequently seem mundane, worthless, and insignificant. What’s the point if no one else notices? What’s the point if it doesn’t bring you any closer to someone else?

But, don’t fall for the steady stream of misrepresentation ushered in by the omnipresent technology at our finger tips. It’s a shallow smile on a face with as many wrinkles and dark marks as the one reflected in the mirror. It’s too raw a subject to share the same way they do everything else. It’s that inside look into their lives that equalizes them, makes them human, god forbid. They don’t want you to know they’re insecure with their partners. But, they are, and too often the reason they’re tied at the hip with their partners is more about surveillance than love, that false sense of security. It’s not all endearing and comfortable as those pictures portray. You’d notice if you opened your eyes past your own pity, the self-imposed prison you’ve constructed because your life varies greatly from those on your laptop screen. It’s a lie. Even the healthy relationships require a great deal of work; compromise, patience, tolerance, and acceptance – things much harder to capture on camera, things you’ll never see from the surface.

So, that means you’re chasing the imaginary, friend. Your journey has been all too fantastical this entire time because you’re aiming for the ephemeral. That ends now. You’re in the light. The bullshit no longer overshadows your vision. It’s a chance to see your time alone as an opportunity to further your self-knowledge, strengthen your inner spirit, and sharpen your outward gaze. The silence that frightened you, made you feel unpopular and antiquated, manifests as a respite from unnecessary drama, a calm that resonates strength and independence.

When this state becomes easy, you’ll never feel in need or defensive around couples. It means your relationship with yourself is fully developed. You’re capable of a partnership, but not desperate, and that’s more than many “taken” people can claim. Ergo, get better at being alone. It doesn’t equate loneliness or inadequacy. It means you’re not done crafting yourself into the person you will become.