Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Time just keeps on rolling

Well, hello there. It's been quite some time since I've written here.  Heck, I don't know if anyone still follows this thing, or even uses Blogger, anymore, but it felt like a ripe time for an update.

A lot has happened since I last wrote two years ago. The biggest things are that:
-I left LA and moved to Austin.
-I am 7.5 years clean and sober.
-I've been repeatedly reminded that death strikes at random and life is way too short.
-I am almost 7 years since my diagnosis and 4.5 years without a reoccurrence.
-I got married last month.

It hasn't been easy, but it's been better than anything else, so far.

Leaving LA was hard. I put a lot of blood, sweat, tears, and soul into things there, most of which never turned out to be what was promised and most of which were wrapped up in someone else's ego. I got sick of the rat race and I could see myself starting to become like the people there who I didn't like, so I left. There's a drive to make something of yourself in LA, and very few ever reach whatever idea of success they want, and even the ones that do rarely seem to appreciate it. Most of the time the City of so called Angels causes people to forsake their time, energy, personal relationships, health, well-being, and sadly, their souls. Time and time again, I was presented with opportunities to sell pieces of my soul and there were definitely times that I took the bait without even realizing what I was doing.  And I didn't want to be one of those people. I didn't want that kind of life. Don't get me wrong, I met some amazing people there and did some amazing things, but there's a desparation that comes from being in the Hollywood bubble and frankly it wasn't worth it to me.  I was so bogged down by work and trying to make ends meet that I had to miss the funeral of my brother-in-law's father and the wedding of one of my very best friends. Mostly because the person running the theater that I worked for went on a coke bender and ran off with all money, leaving me holding the bag on his 16 years of poor business decisions and a lemon of a show, as the building and equipment were literally taken from under us.  By then, I  had started to unravel, so I took a hard look at my life in LA, weighed the pros and cons of staying, and then I hit the road. Sometimes you have to know when it's a good time to throw in the towel.

Luckily, a cute redhead decided she'd had her fill of LA, too, and she made plans to follow me. But before we left, my car was towed and one of my teeth fell out, both on the same day, and we both got raging bladder infections from not taking bathroom breaks during long rehearsals. We like to joke that the majority of our dates have been to doctor's offices.

This is what I smelled like in high school
The plan in August 2015 was for me to head to my hometown and lay low while I sorted through all my childhood memories and memorabilia (and also a bunch of useless crap-why do we save that stuff?) in my childhood bedroom. My parents had informed me that the statute of limitations on them storing my stuff had expired, so it was the perfect opportunity to do an inventory of all the things I'd left behind after high school and the things I'd stashed there since. The discovery of my childhood writings and diaries yielded some good laughs and I set them aside to later be used in the show Mortified.

After 6 weeks, my then girlfriend arrived. I had previously wanted to head to Atlanta, but she suggested we try Austin first. I got jobs at a coffee shop/restaurant and a children's theatre and my girlfriend got a job at a bakery and at another children's theatre.  A few friends let us crash with them while we looked for a place of our own and we've been in Austin ever since. I even had a celebratory root canal right when we got to town!

Sadly, shortly before my girlfriend arrived in Texas, my long-time friend Allen Patterson died, six months after his diagnosis. You may remember Allen from this post. If you don't remember, you should go back and read it. (No, really, go and read it) I'd known Allen for most of my life. He was one of the most important people in helping shape who I am and someone who encouraged me to question everything. He was an incredibly funny, smart, kind, and opinionated person and was a witty and hilarious story-teller. His family and friends have put together a collection of some of his stories that are now available here.

A week later, my childhood friend's dad, Kirk, died of a massive heart attack. Kirk was a firefighter who showed a bunch of us kids how to rappel off the training ropes on the side of the firestation and let us take over his house every weekend to go swimming, watch movies, and destroy his kitchen. He would gladly drive us to the climbing gym, sno-cone stand, Blockbuster Video, or anywhere else we wanted to go, until we were old enough to drive ourselves. I can only ever remember a couple of times when he wasn't smiling, and that's only because we deservedly needed a stern talking to, and he was a good ole Mississippi boy who believed in respectfully putting people in their place, if they needed it- and we often did. Kirk was one of the nicest, happiest, most devoted husband and father I have ever known.

I find solace in knowing that Allen and Kirk, who were good friends and musical buddies, are out there somewhere jamming on their guitars and trading reminiscences of growing up in Mississippi.

After crashing with friends for a few months, we settled in Austin in what turned out to be a too-good-to-be-true 2-bedroom that was lacking in heat, but we also found a kitten on Christmas Day, who has turned out to be fluffier than anyone could have ever foretold and whose blue eyes helped us name her Bluebonnet. After suffering through a very cold winter and running up the electric bill with continuously running space heaters, and the heated blanket calling it quits, we broke our lease and found a suitable 1-bedroom nearby where our kitten could safely grow up and we could walk around without getting frostbite.

At some point during the very cold winter of 2015-2016, I discovered several enlightening things:

A) Something called "Cedar Fever" which is basically severe flu-like symptoms, that made me think that the fungus had come back and I was dying, but is actually just crazy intense allergies to juniper trees. Apparently it's a thing in Austin. Apparently people just shrug it off here. This is so not okay.

B) Austin is a town that likes to re-write (I use that term so very loosely) plays and musicals and thinks that's no big deal, so my girlfriend and I both stopped working with the theatres that had hired us and have pretty quickly worked our way through the short list of Austin theatre companies to find the very few that are legit.

C) I WILL find the dumbest way to get hurt, and do it famously. I managed to cut open my elbow on a piece of glass while taking the trash out at the restaurant, thus ending my short-lived career as a dishwasher/vegetable chopper. (I still make a mean salad, though)

D) Texas basically gives no rights to tenants or employees, since it's a "right to work" state and owners/employers can run their businesses however they damn well please. Don't like it? Go work someplace else! All those other places also rule in favor of the employer overlord and cheapskate boss? Then, leave the state! Businesses aren't even required to give breaks. Coming from California, the land of rights for everyone, it's been shocking to see how abuse of power is normalized in Texas!

So, in March we went back to good ole California to see the screening of a short-version of a documentary I helped produce and visited all my friends in The San Francisco Bay Area, which was a much needed soul boost. I am still so thankful for my chosen family. They have saved my life so many times, in so many ways, and I love them dearly.

I went to California again a month later, this time to LA, to work at the Daytime Emmys. While I was there I learned that one of my friends, Sarah Pankey had been murdered. I cut my LA trip short and was able to make it back to Fort Worth for her funeral.  Of all the deaths these past few years, Sarah's has hit me the hardest. I met Sarah when I was in college. She was a co-worker of one of my best friends and when I came home to visit we would all hang out and be young and dumb together. We were both troublemakers and she was stubborn like me.  When Sarah married the cousin of one her co-workers and they moved to Las Vegas after I moved to California, I would visit her and we would do things like get tattoos, drive around singing at the top our lungs, and day drink at Lake Mead. A few years ago, she and her husband moved back to Texas. When I followed a couple years later, they had divorced and she had moved back to Fort Worth. I was still reeling from the insane things that had happened in LA before I left, low on money, and eager for my girlfriend to arrive, so I didn't call her when I was in town. I will always regret that I didn't keep up with her after the divorce and see how she was, that I didn't stop by and see her, and that when she died, we hadn't been in touch in almost a year. Sarah didn't have an easy life and she made mistakes like the rest of us, but that girl wore her heart on her sleeve and she lived fiercely. She's the one who took me to her tattoo guy to get "Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all" tattooed on my back (And when the tattoo guy ended up throwing in freeform stars that I didn't ask for or want, she sternly talked him down to half price) and just like how for Allen, I don't play it safe, for her, I try to keep living on the edge.

So, I proposed to my girlfriend with my Great Grandmother's ring. And she pulled a ring out of her purse, because she had been planning to propose the following week. And we promised to not let anything hold us back from living our lives to the fullest. Because life is too damn short and there's no point in wasting any time.

My fiancee's cousin was put on hospice with terminal cancer soon after that, so she went to Portland to spend time with him and her family before he passed.

Then my friend LR came to Austin. She literally ran away with the circus several years ago when we were both living in San Francisco and I've made sure to sync up with her once or twice a year to see her and the show. We got to test out Austin's kayaking together and my fiancee and I got to see the Ringling circus one last time before it closed for good.

In the summer of 2016, my fiancee got hired to direct Avenue Q in New York for a month and I started working for a local petting zoo, taking care of the animals and bringing hedgehogs, bearded dragons, rabbits, and other animals to Farmer's Markets and birthday parties. While working on an outdoor production I rolled my ankle, but it bounced back pretty quickly and I tweaked my back when someone rear-ended me, but with the help of a chiropractor and some good meds, it's slowly improving.

That fall, my fiancee did a cabaret show and performed at monthly musical theatre open mic nights and I was Set Designer/Builder and Technical Director at an area University. We also spent a lot of time with my family and old friends and went to represent the short version of the documentary I produced at a film festival in my hometown. It's fun when things come full circle like that.

In October, Tom Stanczyk, an LA actor/writer/director and a person who was always willing to lend a hand, a bit of advice, a tornado of laughter, a kind word, and/or a hug was struck by a car in Hollywood and died. That someone so generous, so passionate, so loving, could be hurt so badly and left to die, still brings me to tears. Tom was one of those people who had few enemies and legions of friends. I'll always remember how open and talented he was and I'm so glad that we were able to work together for a little bit.

To round out 2017, my fiancee had a gig on New Year's Eve singing at a speakeasy champagne party and we made plans to put up more of our own work after the wedding.

January of this year was hard-hitting.  Our 10 year old cat, Tomato, that my fiancee had for her 20's died. We took him and our other cat to the vet for a routine check-up and shots and he just fell over and died as the three of us watched. The vet was right there and tried to revive him, but he was gone. We thought we had at least 5 more years with him, but we say that his final gift to us was that he died at the vet, with her right there, so we know that there is nothing we could have done to save him. It was still really hard.

A week after Tomato died, I flew to the East Coast to say goodbye to my Grandpa who was dying of cancer. I told you it's been a rough 2 years! I was able to spend 5 days in Rhode Island and Connecticut with my aunts, uncles, and cousins and spent a lot of time sitting with him. We told him stories, asked him questions, sang to him, read to him, and prayed over him.  I was able to be with him his last few good days, when he was alert and eating, and able to sit up and talk to me and hold my hand. When I left he squeezed my hands, kissed my cheeks, and told me he loved me and I did the same. He died quietly the following week, as my uncle sat with him and talked to him.  I'm really glad I got to spend those last moments with him and I know, even despite the cancer taking over his body, he was still lucid and his stubborn, witty, and friendly self right up to the end, leaving on his own terms.

After I got back from the East Coast I performed in Mortified the Show in February, reading excerpts from my childhood diaries live on stage. They really liked my piece, so it should be on the Mortified podcast soon. It had been a long time since I performed on stage, so it was pretty fun to stretch my stage legs and put myself outside my comfort zone. I even befriended most of the other performers and we all went and saw the most recent show after ours together!

Recently my friends Allie, who I knew in LA, and LR, who I knew in San Francisco, were diagnosed with cancer. For Allie it a reoccurrence of cancer she's been in remission from for years and for LR it was a sudden diagnosis followed by immediate surgery. LR recently joined a circus in Japan and is currently undergoing treatment there, but luckily her mom was able to come join her. Allie is surrounded by some really good friends and Stephen Tyler from Aerosmith even covered to cost of her getting a wig cut and styled (hey, it's LA). They're both incredibly strong and kind women, with so many people who love them, and I know they're fighters.

And to bring things up to date, I got married in April. I wish I could say it was the happiest day of my life and everything was beautiful, but it wasn't. There were a handful of people who were very heavily involved with things who put a huge damper on the weekend and we are still really disappointed, hurt, and angry about a lot of what happened that day. However, there were also some really beautiful moments and 95% of the other people were lovely and helpful and happy for us. We are starting to be able to focus on the good moments, but we've needed a month to be sad about the bad stuff. We're married, though, and now realizing how much paperwork is involved with that, but hopefully soon we'll be able to slip into that "Honeymoon Phase" everyone keeps talking about.

My wife and I both just started new "money" jobs, me as a salesperson at a camping/hobby store (first time in retail, woo) and she as a cocktail waitress (fancy) at a restaurant, and I was promoted to zoo manager at my other job. Now that the wedding is over we can focus on our passion projects. We began a production company last year that is almost ready to launch and we have several things in the works. We're hoping to get at least one thing, hopefully two up by the end of the year.  Two of my wife's friends were just nominated for a bucketload of Tonys, so we're feeling inspired to get our stuff going! We're also applying for anything and everything artistic that crosses our path.

I can eat almost anything these days, but I still limit my mammal meat and dairy and I need to be better about how much gluten and sugar I'm eating (I think I've sufficiently made up for lost time by now). I still don't eat mushrooms or soy and I'm barely coming around to almonds and plain house salads after eating way too many of them for way too long. My wife is a Veggan (she eats eggs and some seafood), so she has really helped me expand my diet. She is a wiz at creating recipes with things that are good for me, substituting veggies and legumes for meat and dairy, in ways that actually taste good!

My foot, hip, knee, and back still hurt almost every day, but I can get around pretty well and I've even gotten back on the climbing wall a few times. My thumb calls in sick quite a bit these days, but my wife is happy to write things for me or button my shirts and I've been able to paint, albeit, a little at a time. Also, we have a pool now and I've been to the beach a few times. It's really nice to float and move in the water. It really helps alleviate my pain. I know it goes against what people think, but I hardly ever swam in California. Hardly anyone had pools and it was usually way too cold to swim, anyway. The ocean was always freezing.

I have alright health care now and even though I'll be paying off my old medical debt for a while, we were able to scrape together money for the wedding and were even able to send me to the dentist the week before the wedding when one of my crowns broke. My trusty truck Trina is still chugging along, but she's come out of things more worse for wear than I have, that's for sure. She spends most of her days sitting out front and is currently serving as storage for all the wedding stuff (who wants to buy 100 plates and 200 glasses?!) we're trying to offload on Craigslist.

I still don't know why some people die and some people don't. Or why I'm back in Texas, again. Or where else I would want to go. Or what I want to be when I grow up. Or how some people get elected to public office. Or when is the best time to eat an avocado. Or who actually reads this blog. But, I'm still trying to better myself and I'm learning and doing all I can, while I can. I'm exhausted, but I'm hopeful, and my soul is the best it's ever been and I'm still working on my physical self. And like usual, I think it would be really great if nobody else I love died for a while.

Until the next post... Be well. Be happy. Don't be safe!

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