Whitney Houston? Does She Even Have an Album?

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The night was November 17, 1998 and the event was Whitney Houston’s FIRST studio album in eight years being released. I have a few iconic stories (handsome man dancing across the room checking me out to name one) but this night was pure magic….almost.  Whitney had an amazing decade.  It has been 10 years since her second album Whitney was released and broke records.  She released I’m Your Baby Tonight (an underrated album I might add), starred in The Bodyguard and released the soundtrack album that shattered records and remains the best selling soundtrack album in music history.  She starred in Waiting to Exhale and released “Exhale (Shoop Shoop)” (sadly the last #1 song of her career.  The iconic Christmas classic The Preacher’s Wife (what, it’s not an iconic Christmas classic?) was released.  But now, 1998 was here and it was time for Whitney to get back to her roots with a studio album.  Thirteen new songs.  An entire album of new Whitney material.  I was beside myself excited.

Across from campus at Michigan State used to be a huge Tower Records store.  Kids these days just do not get the magnificent beauty of a record store.  I used to stop on my way home from class or divert over while headed to the library.  Any chance I could I would go listen to music at Tower Records.  Back then, Tuesday was the huge release day for all albums each week.  The duet between Whitney and Mariah had been promoted big time.  Both of them were all over television and radio with their duet, “When You Believe”.  They were putting aside all of the rumors of a diva feud between them.  You might remember this VMA appearance, “Try it on me!”

So with the non-diva feud set aside, it was time to release the albums.  Whitney had My Love Is Your Love and Mariah had her first greatest hits collection #1s.  That same night Garth Brooks was releasing a live concert album, Jewel had a Christmas album and some big rapper of the era was releasing an album too.  My wonderful friend Cary was a huge Mariah fan and me being a huge Whitney fan, we had to go together and wait in line for the release.  Another thing the kids these days don’t understand is that albums were released at midnight on Tuesdays, called Super Tuesday, so we would wait in line until midnight for the release.  This night, in particular, had a lot of star power so the line outside Tower Records wrapped around the block.  Cary and I were so excited!  After quite awhile, the line started moving.  Once we were in the store the line wrapped in and out of each aisle.  We were getting closer.

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There were promotional posters and signs all over for Garth and Mariah and Jewel, but I didn’t see one for Whitney.  What?  How could this be?  Such disrespect!  We finally made it up to the front of the line.  Behind the counter they had several carts full of cds.  When you got up to the counter you just told the sales rep the cd you wanted, easy, done.  Many people were there for Garth, that was obvious.  There were several for the rapper too.  My friend Cary was first.  He proudly strode up to the counter, “I’ll take a Mariah and a Jewel.”  The representative got him his cds and began ringing him up.  Now it was my turn at the counter two places down from him.  I walked up to the counter.  “Whitney Houston.”  The representative, “Who?”  Me, quieter, “Whitney Houston.”  The agent, loudly, “Whitney Houston!  Does she even have an album?”  I’m dying!  He’s looking on the racks behind him.  “I don’t see anything.  Hey Mike, does Whitney Houston have an album out?”  He cannot find anything on the cart that probably has 100 cds on it.  Then he starts looking under the counter and finds a box with about 20 Whitney Houston cds in it.  At this point I’m dead.  I’m so embarrassed.  Cary is dying laughing at me.  I just wanted my cd and wanted to get back to my house and listen to it.  Cary and I leave and he is beside himself laughing.

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Needless to say, this night is one that we still talk about and laugh about to this day.  After 20 years, Cary and I are still wonderful friends with so many memories.  We actually have many performances of “When You Believe” under our belts, most notably while singing it in a gazebo up in Glen Arbor, Michigan.  Friendship is a beautiful thing, especially after more than 20 years.

Happy 20th Anniversary to Whitney’s My Love Is Your Love album.  Where were you 20 years ago on November 17, 1998?

Celebrating 40: Iconic Album Covers

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A few weeks ago I was gathering songs for the “poolside” playlist on my 40th Birthday Celebration trip to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. My friend Cary and I were messaging back and forth about songs. He sent me a list of every #1 song on my birthday over the past 39 years. There was only one song that I wrote back and said, “I can’t have “The Macarena” on my playlist.” He suggested I use the #2 song from my birthday in 1996, “You’re Makin’ Me High” by Toni Braxton. I said, “Oh, is that the ‘red’ album cover?”  “No, that was later in the 2000s.” At that moment, a new blog post started to be created.

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I heard Dick Clark tell Oprah once, “Music is the soundtrack of our life.” For me and many of you, music is just that for you too. I’m a pretty nostalgic person. I get that from my dad. There are so many memories that I have that are related to music. “Drive” by the Cars takes me back to a moment when I was driving home for curfew back in high school. It was summer and my windows were down. I think it was probably 11:45p.m. I will always remember that drive down Westnedge Avenue past Portage Central High School, on my way home. Album cover art also can take us back to times in our lives in an instant. There are many album covers that are on lists of “the best ever”. Perhaps some of my “iconic” covers are the same, but probably not most. My iconic album covers take me back to childhood, the teen years, college, and even the more recent past. Join me down my memory lane.

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1980

 One of the first influential artists for me was Barbara Mandrell. I was four or five years old and used to dress up and perform alongside her and her sisters on Saturday nights during their show. A wooden spoon was my microphone, the fireplace hearth was my stage, and the light above was my spotlight. My grandparents took me to two county fairs to see her in concert. I had several of her albums. My favorite was the vinyl of her live concert which she ended with “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” But it was this album that always has stayed in my mind. I LOVED the hot pick and I LOOOOOVED her high heels on the back cover. She was fierce!

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1983

My mom had this cassette tape. I remember getting a new station wagon in 1984 with a tape player in it. It was so exciting to go for rides in that car and get to play this tape. It had so many hits, “Penny Lover”, “Running With the Night”, “All Night Long”, “Hello”, “Stuck On You,”and my absolute favorite, “The Only One.” So many hit songs. Albums don’t produce this many hits now. This is a classic album and I will always remember the white and blue.

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1982

Another early classic in my life, the cassette tape of Olivia Newton-John’s Greatest Hits Volume 2. This WAS basically her 1983 HBO concert that I was obsessed with. Again, I used to find my mother’s clothes and dress up as close as I could to her four costume changes and I would perform over and over again as I watched this concert. “Make a Move On Me”, “Magic”, “Suddenly”, “Physical”, “A Little More Love”, “Heart Attack” and of course, “Xanadu”. You can’t even find this album on iTunes or Spotify.  It’s a real shame. I love this entire album! It is too bad that Olivia never had much after about 1984. Could that be because Madonna hit it big?

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1986

Speaking of Madonna, True Blue, is her most iconic album cover to me. The short blonde hair is everything and those thick eyebrows! “Open Your Heart”, “La Isla Bonita”, “Live To Tell”, and “Papa Don’t Preach” are such iconic songs to me. I remember when “Open Your Heart” came out I was 10 years old, roughly the same age as that boy in the video. He was so cute and I definitely noted that in my head.  Hmmmm…. I loved that he got to dance around with Madonna too. This was also the album that sparked conversations with my parents about what I was listening to. My parents never made much fuss over my music choices. I guess probably because I was listening to Lionel, Olivia, and Whitney. However, “Papa Don’t Preach” sparked conversations and a somewhat ban on me listening to that song. I don’t think the “ban” stuck very long, I guess a battle they didn’t want to fight. Mostly this album was about “Open Your Heart” for me. It really was my jam as a young gay boy!

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1982

RIO by Duran Duran was totally 80s pop art. This cover WAS 1982 at it’s best and is what I think about when I think about the early 80s.  One of my second cousins had this album. He was a bit older than me. His hair style and clothes matched that of the early 80’s Duran Duran. I was so jealous of his style. I love the 80s!

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1982

Another early 80s gem is Vacation by the Go-Go’s. This makes me remember spending long summer days over at the Anderson’s house. I would play dress up and pageants with Melanie and her cousin Pam. I would also get to play with Mel’s Barbie dolls. She was a bit older and so over playing with Barbie, but it was everything to me because I wanted a Barbie so badly. Haha. Anyway, listening to the Go-Go’s and Tears For Fears and watching General Hospital filled those summer days in 1984-85. What great memories!

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1984

1984 was all about Michael Jackson. I think my brother had this cassette tape. The thing I remember most was the baby tiger and Michael on the inside cover. While “Thriller” scared me(Vincent Price laughing), “Billie Jean”, Human Nature” and “PYT” were my favorites. I think Bad was more my time, but this album cover was Michael’s big push away as an iconic solo artist.

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1984

Also in 1984 my brother had this Van Halen album, 1984. I just remember thinking that baby was so naughty and I couldn’t believe my parents let my brother have this tape. However, I’m glad they did because….”Panama”, “Jump”, and “Hot For Teacher”.

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1984

Isn’t it funny and interesting what speaks to people? What stands out to one person is totally different than another person. When I’m asked the age old question, “When did you know you were gay?” I often think about 6th grade as that pivotal time of noticing boys and thinking they were cute. But then I think about this album cover for Born In The USA by Bruce Springsteen. We didn’t have this album in our house but I remember seeing it and thinking, “his butt!” Obviously there is more to this album, “Born in the USA”, “Glory Days”, “I’m On Fire” and “Dancing in the Dark”, but really, it’s that butt!!

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1987

While most people think very fondly of this album, and I admit now, it’s a great album. “Where the Streets Have No Name, “With or Without You” and “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” stand the test of time. I love those songs. Yet, on March 2, 1988 at the 30th Annual Grammy Awards, The Joshua Tree beat Whitney Houston’s Whitney album for Album of the Year and I was SO MAD!  Haha, oh to be an outraged 11 year old! Anyway, this is iconic for me because it beat Whitney.  How dare they!

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1987

That smile! That hair! This album was and will forever be everything to me! Many people think about Whitney’s debut album with her slicked back hair and that peach toga on, but I really think this fun, bright 80s album cover is an 80s classic. My cousin Tammy got this cassette tape for me for my birthday in 1987. Whitney was 23 years old when she recorded this hit making album. With the release of “I Wanna Dance With Somebody(Who Loves Me)”, “Didn’t We Almost Have It All”, “So Emotional”, and “Where Do Broken Hearts Go” along with three hits from her debut album, Whitney hit a record which still stands today-Seven Consecutive Number One Hits. Mick Jagger was in a studio next to Whitney the day she recorded “So Emotional”.  On his way out of the studio he knocked on her door so he could meet the person behind that voice. Mick told Whitney she had an instant hit with “So Emotional” and he was right. It might be some of the non-released songs that are my favorite. The sultry, r&b burner “Just the Lonely Talking Again” and “Where You Are” probably my favorite Whitney song ever. It’s simple with classic 80s saxophone and just her pure 23 year old voice. This is Whitney’s pop sensation and the cover is pure pop perfection!

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1992

That dancing bee!

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1999

I don’t really know why this cover sticks out to me?  You? Haha! This IS the TRL Generation for sure. We had boy bands and Britney, but we also had Blink 182 and “What’s My Age Again”.

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1995

Tragic Kingdom and No Doubt was my freshman year at Michigan State. There were a ton of other albums that year too, but for some reason this one sticks in my mind. “Spiderwebs”, “Don’t Speak”, but mostly “The Climb” played over and over again in A416 Bryan Hall. There is so much going on on this cover. The flies, the fruit that looks like chocolate chip cookies, but mostly Gwen!

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1994

“Waterfalls” was everything and this album was everything also my freshman year of college. CrazySexyCool spoke to each of their personas but it’s the red color, the eyes that stand out. “Creep”, “Diggin’ On You”, “Waterfalls” and “Red Light Special” were the hits, but “Sumthin’ Wicked This Way Comes” was on repeat. CrazySexyCool propelled TLC into the r&b stratosphere!

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2013

I have a love/hate relationship with this album cover. It’s iconic because there are very few people who are known by just their first name. Beyoncé is one of those artists. This album was a surprise release and it is one of her best. Yet, is she a little lazy by just making it black and pink? Why so lazy Bey? Or did she do it simply because she can? Regardless, it stands out to me and I remember it because it came at a time in my life that was rocky. I remember going over to my friend Dennis’s apartment and drinking martinis and listening to this album over and over again one cold February night. It was one of those times that you just needed a friend and music.

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1993

May 1993, “That’s the Way Love Goes” was everything to me. I know I use the word “everything” a lot in this post because depending on the time in my life, these albums were everything to me. Janet. came at a time that I was really trying to figure things out about life and high school and all of that stuff. My brother was off to college and his high school relationship had ended. I remember thinking during “Again” that maybe they would get back together. They didn’t and as we know now, that is how life works, but I really thought and hoped they would get back together because of the words in “Again.” Haha, oh youth! This was the controversial album that had a man holding Janet’s breasts on the cover of Rolling Stone. Regardless of that, I absolutely LOVED her short ringlets.  I loved them.  I loved the sepia tone and the burnt siena “Janet.” This album exudes sex and sexiness – “Throb” and “Any Time Any Place” for a teenager just starting to take note of all of that stuff. And of course, there is the video that every girl and gay man still wants to recreate, “IF”. This album will go down in my history as one of the best.

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So there they are, the album covers that are iconic to me and some of the music that goes along with them. Is it just me or have album covers and album art become less relevant over the years? With iTunes and Apple Music and Spotify, are we really that concerned with the cover art? Do we look at it the same? Do we need it like we used to? Remember walking into the music store and going straight to the poster section? I would always go in and hope for a new Whitney Houston promotional poster. I missed out on her first posters for the Whitney Houston album, and finally this one came out and the Anderson’s got it for me for my birthday. I still have it!

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Yet I do wonder, do we view album art like we used to? I don’t think we do because everything is so quick on the internet. Rarely are we going to the music store to buy albums. We used to need to see that artwork and get excited over it. Now we just buy things on the internet in an instant and it’s done. I love that all of these album covers mean something to me and derive memories over time.

As I turn 40 and reflect back on music and the memories it produces I am able to see that for me music is really my spiritual connection with life. Listening to artists interpret songs is nothing short of transformative for me. Music does take me back to times in my life that I want to remember, whether happy or sad, simply because it helps me understand my life better and helps me see how far I have come in the last 40 years.

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Celebrating 40: Friendship, Love, and All That Makes Me Happy

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The last few weeks have been a whirlwind of love and excitement. As we were all saying goodbye after five amazing days together, I was so sad. But I had to remind myself to “Smile because it happened.” For over a year I had planned for a trip to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico to celebrate my upcoming 40th birthday. When I started planning in June 2015 I said to myself, “I want 5 days with some of the most important people in my life.” I was blown away when 15 people said, “YES!” I know that it is no small order to plan for childcare and to put down the money for such a trip.  Just to celebrate me? Everyone is busy with life, whatever “busy” is to us, we are all busy. I have learned over my 40 years that the best gift you can give someone is the gift of your time. We are not guaranteed tomorrow so choosing to spend time with those you love is a blessing, and I am very blessed.

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I wrote in my blog post Thank You For Being a Friend in May 2015, “The way I got out of the darkness of loss is because of friends. The reason I started this blog is because of friends. The reason I met my love is because of friends. Friendships ebb and flow, but the real ones last forever.” I often think about how people come in and out of our lives sometimes for just a season, but there is always a reason. When we arrived in Puerto Vallarta it definitely felt special.  These are the ones who are in my life for more than a season. Some I have known for more than 20 years and some for just about two years, but the time of friendship didn’t matter, this was a special trip. I knew that everyone there could hang and chat in the pool or on the lounge chairs, of course with a cocktail in hand. These are the people who love me so they will all love each other. I was pretty spot-on.

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It is so important to wrap yourself in love, as I wrote about in October 2014, Wrapped In Love. We all go through times of happiness and pain, but surrounding yourself with love is the only way I see out of those painful times and we find that love in the happy times. I am blessed to have a huge support network.  Frankly I’m not sure why so many of them have stuck around so long, haha, but I’m thankful that they have and I’m thankful they chose to spend time with me to celebrate my birthday milestone. I am also grateful to my #squad, did I just write that, for helping me through confusing and painful times in my life. They held my hand and walked with me. I did the personal emotional work and they walked with me.  Had that not happened, my heart would not have been open to let someone great into my life.

Cause once you know what love is, you never let it end.

So I’m feeling all this love celebrating with my friends. See the love and fun!

On this trip, business ventures were created, phone apps were created, caftans were worn, #swan became a friend of all, water was splashed, champagne bottles popped every 15 minutes, and such amazing times were had by all of us. Seriously, just as one drink was finished another one was in your hand and just as the thought of, “man I could use some guac” came across your mind, there was a plate full with accompanying quesadillas poolside! What a dream come true to spend such a special and amazing time with my favorite people in the world!

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What happened at the White Party was probably the most special moment of my life. To celebrate Amanda’s actual birthday and my upcoming one, I thought a White Party was in order.  Everyone came through like rock stars!  I am fortunate that everyone played along with my request, even the husbands!  Thank you. All of a sudden people were dancing and my family was on the computer.  The words “HAPPY BIRTHDAY” were displayed by all of my friends. I leaned down to say something to my family on Skype and then I heard the opening notes of Whitney Houston’s “All the Man That I Need” and I thought, “Here we go.” As I turned to face my friends, many were crying as they flipped the signs to now read, “WILL YOU MARRY ME?” and holding the question mark at the end of the line was the love of my life.  YES, YES OF COURSE I’LL MARRY YOU!!!

WOW, what a night of love and celebration! My fianceé outdid himself and my friends are one of a kind for keeping the secret and helping him execute the most special memory I have. Turning around to see the words “WILL YOU MARRY ME?” held by my best friends, some of them crying with joy(they’ve been on this journey of life with me), my family on Skype, my boyfriend holding the ? and the ring, and Whitney Houston playing in the background…..what could be better? I will get chills thinking of that moment forever.

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We must Be In Love With Our Life. Sometimes that is easier said than done. What I know for sure is that wherever we are and whatever we are doing, its a gift to be here. There are sad times and happy times but those sad ones are meant to lead us down the road to discovering something more happy. Over my almost 40 years I have learned a lot about life and people. These people who just spent five days celebrating with me are so special and so wonderful. As Heather Headley(AIDA fame, now in The Color Purple on Broadway) sings in her song “My Wish”, “I wish you rainy days so you can see the beauty of the clear blue sky…. I pray you’ll always see the forest through the trees…. and I wish you nights of love and days of joy and shoulders when you cry. And just enough hellos to get you through goodbye.”  These are the wishes of friends over the years whose eyes were just a bit clearer than mine. What a gift!

It has been a life’s journey so far and I am lucky to have been on it with so many wonderful and caring people.  Thank you for journeying with me and taking the time to be part of this special trip and our special day. And now, as we do, “Happy birthday day to you. Happy birthday to you. Happy birthday dear Amanda. Happy birthday to you!” (This will bring smiles to 15 people’s faces I know for sure!) Memories to last a lifetime, that I know for sure!

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Celebrating 40: Authentic You

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When I think about how I have gotten to where I am I think about hard work, perseverance, tenacity, and a lot of luck, but I have never thought about safety.  Today at work was a morning professional development presentation on LGBTQ students and what we can do to make them feel safe. A news report from a doctor who studies transgender issues was shown and it was said, “with safety comes confidence.” Tears filled my eyes today as I experienced something I once never thought would happen. Public schools are talking about gay students, lesbian students, transgender students and how to best support them. Wow, we have come a long way.

Every person who is part of the LGBTQ community has a journey, a process, a story to tell about coming out. Some people have long, quiet, and painful journeys while others come shooting out of the womb in a cloud of glitter holding a rainbow flag. I think most people fall somewhere in between. My journey was quite long in today’s standards, but not all that painful, luckily. As I have reflected over the years and again today, the word safety makes so much sense. Growing up in a town of less than 50,000 people, we didn’t have much exposure to gay people. My parents did have a family friend, my “Uncle” Ed who we were close with over the years. I definitely felt like my parents would support me with coming out, but I still hesitated for years. Ultimately what pushed me over the edge, at age 26, was two close college friends also coming out at the same time. Safety in numbers, right?

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I was briefly dating a girl up until weeks before I came out. Once I knew I had support of two friends, that was all I needed.  I had to know that I wasn’t in it alone, that I would have people to go out to the gay bars with and who understood what I was going through. When I finally came out it was still quite a process.  I told a few close friends and my immediate family. It would be a long time before I told anyone connected with work. I played a game of smoke and mirrors. On Monday mornings, “What did you do this weekend?” a colleague would innocently ask.  “Oh nothing, low key.”  Um no, I was dancing in boystown until 5 a.m. Saturday night. Or, I was on a date…with a boy. I just did not feel safe at work talking about it. I was a teacher. I worked with kids. What would people think of me if they knew I was gay? The night I came out to my parents, one of the first things my mother said to me was, “You can’t tell work. They could fire you.” That stuck with me for years and years. It was no fault of my mothers. She was working with the information she had in the society that we lived in at the time. In 2002 when I came out, it still could have been a reality that I could get fired. Actually in some states it STILL is possible to get fired. It wasn’t until 2012, ten years later, that I finally felt that I could be myself at work. I finally felt safe.

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In 2008 I was hired by a suburban district as a counselor. There were so many changes coming that I just couldn’t see. Although I was much more comfortable and confident in myself, I still kept a pretty low profile with regards to my personal life. A few people knew I was gay, but not many. I still carried with me, “You know they can fire you”, always, everyday. Even though there were other gay employees, I still did not feel safe. Have you ever felt unsafe talking about your weekend, going to a movie with your boyfriend or wife, at work? Probably not for most of you, but for gay people, for me, it was a reality of my smoke and mirrors life. After three years my boss left the district. Shortly after that we became Facebook friends. She wasn’t my boss anymore so I didn’t think anything of it. A year later she hired me at my current job. That is when things changed for me and work, finally.

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It was 2012, I was in a relationship, it was just before Winter Break and at our Holiday Party my boss said to me, “So what are you and *EX* up to for break? Are you going anywhere?” Whoa! Wait a second! Did I just hear THAT? Did she just ask me about my boyfriend? Holy shit! Calmly, “Yes, we’re going to Cancun.” Oh my god, my boss just nonchalantly asked me about my boyfriend, BY NAME, and I answered her. I have actually never shared this story but her simple inquiry into my life, changed my life, forever. We had never spoken about my personal life really, she saw most of it on Facebook. I didn’t really talk about my personal life at work. It was so ingrained in me to keep it on the down low. Honestly though, just that simple taking interest in a matter of fact way made me FINALLY say to myself, “I’m ok. I can be who I am at work. I can do this. I am safe.” Then in May of 2013 my heart was broken by that guy and the day after the break up I was at work. My boss noticed that I was not right. She came over, asked what was wrong and listened to me while I sobbed. What she did for me, again, just proved that she cared. “Do you have anymore meetings today that I need to cover for you? You don’t need to be here. Go home, go for a run and take care of yourself.” It didn’t matter if I was gay, straight or otherwise, she just cared. Ever since all of that, I have just been myself at work. “What did you do this weekend?” Now I say, “[My boyfriend] and I went to a movie.” People know and it is just simple, normal. I don’t have to tell my journey or explain that I’m gay or worry that they care. When I went through the break up colleagues would commiserate with me because most people have gone through that and it didn’t matter if I was gay or straight, break ups just suck. Period. So now unlike anywhere I have ever worked, it is just known and I feel safe with people knowing because of my boss. She truly is the most amazing boss, person, and friend who broke down a very high wall of mine with one, simple, affirming question. If you know her, next time you cross paths please say, “Thank you for caring.”

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So what is this all about? It’s about safety. It’s about making sure we all feel confident, safe, and like we belong. It’s about saying thank you to those who have helped along the way. It’s about society and how far we have come in such a short time. In 2002 when I came out I knew we’d get here, but I thought it would be much longer. I thought I would be in my 70s when gay marriage would be legal, not 38. When I came out at 26, that was pretty normal for my generation. Now I have boys coming out in high school in much higher numbers. It is a testament to my school district and the support they give. So this is also about the amazing place I get to work at each day. We want all of our kids to feel safe. Every. Single. One. Of. Them. Today my principal stood before our entire staff and said that we are going to continue meeting and learning about LGBTQ issues because it is important that ALL of our students and STAFF feel safe.

When GLEE premiered in 2009 it was the absolute right time for our society. That show struck a chord with so many people and reached so many young boys and girls who could finally say, “There is someone like me.” While watching the first couple of seasons I would often end up in tears and think, “Man I wish I could have come out sooner.” Then I think, “Oh man, if I had come out in college, I would have been one distracted boy.” Everything happens when it is supposed to and right now is the time that we need to embrace our young LGBTQ community and let them know that they are safe. On GLEE all of the students knew they were safe in Mr. Schuester class. For me, on my journey, I have needed to feel safe too. I needed to feel safe coming out to people who understood. At work, finally, I felt safe and was able to start being my authentic self. For that, I’m grateful!

JustBeYouHR

Celebrating 40: Let Your Freak Flag Fly

 

“Let your freak flag wave. Let your freak flag fly.” When I saw Shrek The Musical and heard “Freak Flag” years ago I thought, “Yes, this is amazing. These lyrics are so incredible.” We are all freaks in our own way. We all have quirks and we are all different, but not enough do our children or the youth see our freak flag because we are conditioned to keep it hidden. Even as adults we keep our quirks in the shadows even though it is our quirks that make us unique and different and special and weird and memorable and the best person we can be in this life. The other day a co-worker said to me, “I don’t think we let our kids see our quirky side enough.”  I completely agree which made me want to write this post.

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A few weeks ago that same co-worker came to my office and told me, “Nine is singing Whitney in the Variety Show.” Nine is a talented group of nine young men who sing acapella at the school where I work. One of my students who is in Nine was in my office just days later.  I said to him, “I hear you are singing Whitney Houston in the V-Show.” He looked at me quizzically. I sang, “How will I know if he really loves me? I say a prayer with every heartbeat.” He said, “Oh, Sam Smith.” At that moment, I knew we had a problem. This generation of kids don’t know Whitney Houston. I knew I had to right this wrong. The next day I wrote to one of his teachers and asked if I could come in and give a 20 minute presentation.  I emailed other students in class to give them some answers so it looked like they knew way more than him. Luckily he is one of the best students I have met in my 16 year career. Plus, this was a leadership class with only 10 total students so I knew my Master Class Lesson on Whitney Houston would work.

I went into his class on Friday and gave this presentation.

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When I arrived this young man said, “Are you here to teach us about Whitney Houston?” The other students smiled then we got started and they enthusiastically answered the questions. One young lady, another of my students, got up and started doing the “How Will I Know” dance moves from the video playing. We laughed, they answered questions, and my heart raced. I am almost 40 years old but I was still nervous. What are these 10 students going to think of me? I don’t care, but what are they going to think? Even though I’m not trying to hide my freak flag in the shadows, I still was a bit nervous. And even though I don’t care what they think, I was nervous. Maybe I care a little more than I think but I really don’t care what they think. In almost 40 years of living I have learned to be confident in me, but in this moment I was nervous. Have you ever been in this situation? We are adults and we have been through our teenage years and our 20s and our 30s, but the moment we put ourselves out there it is like we are 15 again. AH! What was so wonderful is that from what I could tell, these students got it. They let me have fun and they laughed and had fun with me. I thanked them for letting me fly my freak flag, and I encouraged them to fly their own freak flag because we all have one or two or three or more freak flags to fly. As I walked down the hallway back to my office I could hear some of them, “And IIIIIIIIII, eeeeee, IIIIIII will always love youuuuuuu.”  Mission accomplished!

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What started years ago, and I’m not quite sure how, was an ability I had to be me. When I first came out as a gay man, people would ask, “When did you know you were gay?” I mean, there were signs all along that looking back could have been indicators to other people but to me, I just always knew I was different. I did not want to play football after school with the other boys on the street. I wanted to put on shows and pretend I was a Hollywood star accepting awards and I wanted to play The Price Is Right and I wanted to create dance shows and I wanted to reenact Days of Our Lives: Cruise of Deception scenes(the clean ones), yes I did! Ha, that memory just made me laugh. I wanted to lay in front of the living room stereo on Sunday mornings and listen to four hours of The Weekly Top 40 and I wanted to watch Star Search on Saturday at 5 p.m. and then the same episode repeated Sunday at 4 p.m. About the only thing I had in common with some of the boys on my street was WWF wrestling but secretly I liked Lady Elizabeth and the pomp and circumstance of Macho Man Randy Savage and his sequined robes more than anything else. I was different than the other boys and I knew it; I felt it, but it did not stop me from enjoying what I enjoyed. I just pretty much had to do it on my own because no one else was interested in the same things as I was at the time. I knew I had to hide my interests as not to get teased. I knew that I had a safe place at home but taking my interests out of my house was risky. Finally in middle and mostly high school, I was able to be in band and musicals and I found other people who were like me.  Finally boys and girls were starting to hang out together in mixed groups which made me way more comfortable. Finally I started to feel more like I could express myself. Don’t get me wrong, a lot was still hidden, but I didn’t shy away from my love of Whitney, or Paula Abdul, or Kristi Yamaguchi. I did not shy away from making up a dance to “Vogue” for a band fundraiser. In a way, I had a confidence to do what I wanted to do. I found the right people to surround myself with and that allowed me to be me. I am thankful for my high school friends for allowing me to be me, for laughing with me and at me and loving the young person I was being. I am very blessed to have had the childhood and friends that I did back then.

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Although for 26 years I hid one aspect of myself to the world, I still feel like I said YES to life and let people get to know all the quirks and freak sides of me. Honestly when Whitney Houston died people from elementary school sent condolences because they remembered my love for her. Whenever there is a pageant on television, people know I’m watching. When I was in my first year of teaching, I taught my students the *NSync “It’s Gonna Be Me Dance”. At work now, right next to my marathon metal mug is my Whitney Houston mug. Are my quirks because I’m gay? Hardly. My freak flag flies because it is me. Are my interests different than other men? Perhaps. Or, are other men afraid to fly their freak flag because society has taught them not to? Like I said above, I felt different way before I knew what gay was, so I am thankful that I have always been able to pretty much express my quirks with the support of my family and friends. My dad is the one who actually suggested I tape the 1987 Miss USA pageant, “seems like something you might enjoy.” He was right. The pomp, the circumstance, the SEQUINS! For what it is worth, I’m different and I celebrate it. I Say YES to Life!

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Get out there and fly your freak flag. Let your kids and other people experience your quirks and encourage theirs. Let them know that being different is just fine and actually what makes life interesting. When they mention someone else’s difference, that is an opportunity to encourage seeing uniqueness in the other person as wonderful. Let them see you celebrate being different and flying your freak flag! Say YES to Life!

Freak Flag – Shrek The Musical

“All the things that make us special

are the things that make us strong.”

Celebrating 40: Dancing, Friendship, and Tea Bags

It’s here. The time has finally arrived. In a few months I will celebrate the 40 year mark in life and oh what a life it has been. Just last weekend this idea for a blog came to my mind. Of course my blog is about life and not letting it pass you by and it’s about celebrating the great things that come our way whether big or small. So I didn’t win the Powerball billions, but I sure feel like I have won in many other ways and parts of my life. “Celebrating 40” is going to be sort of like my version of Oprah’s “What I Know For Sure” at least what I think I know, kind of, at the age of 40.  What I do know for sure is that I’m glad I’m not 23, friendship is awesome, and I have a life Well Traveled.

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Last weekend a couple friends and I jumped in the car and drove to Bloomington, Indiana, because, why not? Two of us had never been there and we had the time and freedom to do it, so why not? A couple of “What I Know For Sure” moments happened very organically which made me want to write this bog.  At the end of the night, we found ourselves at the local Bloomington club/gay bar filled with early 20 somethings dancing and it was definitely the place to dance.  We walked in to Beyonce, which transitioned to “Girls Just Want To Have Fun” which transitioned to other 80s and 90s pop.  None of us even made a move to the bar for a cocktail, we had had enough. All we wanted to do was dance, and dance we did, for 2 hours until 2 a.m. What is so incredible to me is that at first I thought, “these kids weren’t even blips on the reproductive radar when Cyndi was singing ‘Oh daddy dear you know you’re still number one, and girls they want to have fu-uuun, Oh girls just want to have fun,'” but they were out there dancing and so were we. Patrick danced so much it was like he had just walked out of the lake in his clothes. I just kept looking around thinking how fun it was to be dancing, first of all, and then not giving a care in the world what these kids were probably thinking, like, “who are these old people dancing their fool heads off?” #sorrynotsorry #dontcare #im39 #respect I always have been a dancer at a bar with good music, but what is different now is that I don’t have this sense of looking around and wondering what others are thinking(but have I ever really?-Probably not). I was having fun, so it did not matter. Years ago that wouldn’t have been the case. So with age does come some confidence, some assurance, and a sense of not really caring what others think. It was just so much fun. I often do think, more recently, “Thank god I’m not 22.”  I had so much fun back then and I’m sure these kids were having fun too, but man, almost 40 is kind of awesome, I must say.

Earlier in the evening I had the great pleasure of spending time with some of my friend Sarah’s friends from her time at Indiana University. What I know for sure is that, if you have really good, unique, cool, interesting, well traveled, experienced friends, they also have really cool friends who they introduce you to and within minutes you’re having deep, philosophical conversations. Well, that might be because one of the friends is a college professor, regardless, there is an ease to really wonderful conversation. There is something really nice about drinking great wine, eating delicious food and connecting with people you have never met before. I guess I don’t really have anything profound to say, more just reflecting that I’ve spent a great many years meeting and spending time with some pretty cool, fascinating, crazy(in all the good ways), and crazy(in all the bad ways)people who have introduced me to cool, fascinating, crazy and crazy other people. So with time I can for sure say, I’m glad I’m not 23 again because I’ve had 16 amazing years meeting all these crazy cool people.

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Ok, and then there are those moments when you just bust out laughing and you pee in your pants a little because something is so funny.  My mom would say, “That struck me funny.” On Sunday it is safe to say we all needed a few Advil. Whether it was for a headache due to drinking too much or aching muscles due to dancing all night, that doesn’t matter, we had a 4 hour drive ahead of us. When we stopped on the road I got a Starbucks jasmine mint tea. It was delicious. I always use my tea bags twice.  Maybe it is a secret single behavior or I’m living in the depression, regardless, you can get two good uses out of tea bags(all you dirty minded people stop right there!). As we were cleaning out the car I said, “I’ll keep this.” It was my cup with my tea bags. Patrick and Sarah questioned. I said, “I like to use them twice and this was particularly delicious.” Without hesitation Sarah says, “Well Patrick and I can chip in to get you a box of tea bags girl!” We laughed and laughed and laughed in the middle of the street.  Well girl, I’m not poor, so I don’t need you to buy me tea bags, but what I do need you to do is keep being my friend.

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What I know for sure as I Celebrate 40 is that friendships have been the single greatest part of my life. Friendships have gotten me through so many tough times and have made the fun times even better. Good lord who would ever want to be in middle school again? Not me, but having friends made it bearable. Having friends who served you Blue Maui and pineapple juice cocktails freshman year of college, yeah you’re right, that isn’t a friend. I’m lucky that I have friends from as far back as age 4 to new ones as of last weekend who are really incredible, cool people. They make my life experience that much better.

 

I don’t know where this journey will end
Cause the world keeps calling me
At home people embrace me as a friend
And I’m loving all the energy

Happy Days Are Here Again

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I’ve been in a slump, a writing slump, and it does not make me happy.  On New Years Eve my friend Joanne had us write down something we want to do more of in 2016 and mine was “writing and blogging.”  So here I am, ready to get out of this slump and start writing again.

In 2013 I experienced what for me was a devastating heartbreak.  It took me a good several months to get out of that darkness.  In 2014 I had a calling to start this blog and to write.  I titled my blog, Say YES to Life! because I wanted to say yes to all of life’s opportunities that might meet me and I didn’t want to let them pass me by.  Writing about my heartbreak was extremely cathartic and really helped me look inside and see how I had grown and changed because of it.  Also in 2014 I met this guy, a guy who now is the most special person in my life.  From time to time I have mentioned him in my blog and time has gone on and we have gotten more and more busy with life and I have all but stopped blogging.  While on a plane ride back to Chicago on New Year’s Day I took some time to think about why I hadn’t been writing as much.  Is it because we are out of town so much?  Is it that I don’t have anything to write about unless I’m writing about sadness and heartbreak?  I finally came to a conclusion, although I acknowledge my love and happiness all the time to my boyfriend, my friends, my family, through photos on Facebook and Instagram, there is one thing holding me back from writing about my happiness- my own superstition.

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You could say I’m sort of a superstitious person.  I definitely “knock on wood” and make a wish when the clock hits “11:11” and I have this feeling that talking about bad things like cancer might make someone in my life get it or talking about my happiness might make it go away.  While I realize that this is a bit silly, I’ve realized that not acknowledging things has sometimes left me in the dust.  For example, I would never tell my ex how I felt about him for fear that he would leave me and well, he left me anyway.  I’m happy to say I have come a long way from that feeling and I am in a WAY better, mutually fulfilling, caring relationship now, so love is expressed all the time.  But until now, until New Year’s Day, I had never faced this superstition of not talking about something for fear it would end.  Back during that dark period of my life my co-worker said to me, “But everything can end at anytime.”  She’s right, people do pass away, people do fall out of love and get divorced, people do move away, and so on.  Everything does eventually end, and those endings are going to happen whether I write about the happiness while it is happening or not. So why not celebrate it while you have it, right?!!

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Wow do I have a great life!  So many people comment on how happy I look on Facebook and that they wish they had my life.  Listen, you could have my life but y’all chose to have kids.  My dear friend Lesley used to have a doctor who did not have children and would say, “You can have kids or you can have everything else.”  Ha ha ha, I still laugh at that all the time.  I try not to post fake happiness on Facebook.  You all know what I’m talking about.  I like to post real, fun, living life, laughing, joyous moments in my life.  I like to post happiness.

Certainly years ago I thought I wanted to have children and I was bound and determined to do it.  Then I saw my brother and all my friends have kids and as I turned from 34 to 35 to 36 that desire went out the door.  I love your kids, but I’m happy to go home without them 🙂 If you had asked me at 30 what I thought my life would look like at 39, it wouldn’t have been traveling once or twice a month.  I probably would have said, “with a kid or two.”  But my life looks very different than that now and I couldn’t be happier for it.  So if your life isn’t what you think it should be, or what you have hoped it would be, let go of that and celebrate everything that your life is.  If you ask me now what my life will look like in the future, I’m pretty sure it will be loving my nieces and nephews and having “everything else.”

Back in 2013 I did this Instagram challenge called #100happydays.  The gist of it is that you take a photo of what made you happy that day and you do this for 100 days.  What I found is that some days it was really obvious like, I won the lottery, well I didn’t but you know what I mean.  I think my favorite day though was the day I cut into an avocado for dinner and it was the perfect ripeness.

avocado It actually sent some serotonin to my brain.  At that moment I realized that noticing the small things on a daily basis is something that brings you the greatest joy.  Sure, I was happy when I’d get packages in the mail of things I bought or when I’d be out with friends and had a glass of wine.  Those bring happiness too, but there is something about the little things which can pass us by if we don’t make an effort to take notice.  So maybe in 2016 you’d like to do the #100happydays challenge.

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Two years ago I lost one of my dearest friends at the age of 38.  When I think about my life and I think about her, I just want to experience so much and do what makes me happy.  Lesley lived a very happy life and she was doing what made her happy.  She had just made a huge move to New York City, something that made her very happy.  We had just taken a huge trip the previous summer to Africa with our friends Cary and Charlie, something that made us happy.  Like I said before, things end and they can end at any moment, so in 2016 why don’t you do more of what makes you happy.  Take a moment and write down ten things that make you happy and that you would like to do more of this year.  Writing makes me happy, so I’m charged with doing more of it this year.  Singing makes me happy so you’re going to see more Friday Flashback Songs!  Traveling makes me happy, so when I can, I’m going to explore new places and revisit some old favorites.  I’m going to eat more avocado because it makes me happy.  It’s a goal of mine to make the time to see so many of my loving friends because loving and laughing with them makes me happy.  Whatever it is for you, do more of what makes you happy in 2016!

Right now, I love this song.  It was played in the dressing room on Saturday and again today during yoga.  “Hold My Hand” by Jess Glynne.

I’m ready for this, there’s no denying
I’m ready for this, you stop me falling
I’m ready for this, I need you all in
I’m ready for this, so darling, hold my hand

 

So here it is, 2016 and I’m ready to acknowledge and write about happiness and love and laughter and all the wonderful  opportunities that cross my path this year, without fear that they will end!!!  Everything ends eventually, so we have to capture the moments and cherish the time and experiences we have while we’re all here.  Happy New Year and remember, do more of what makes you happy!