What’s Love Got To Do With It?

Let’s get this out of the way, Valentine’s Day is a made-up holiday that we give so much power to, yet we’re all ok on February 15 whether we got a box of chocolates or a dozen roses or nothing at all.  The sun still rises and our lives go on.  Believe me, BELIEVE me, there have been times in my life where I was sad not to have a Valentine.  Let’s say for about 36 years I never had one, but I was ok.  I had the love of friends and when I became an adult I had the love of red wine.  Now I’m a married man and EVERYTHING has changed…..or not much at all.  I’m at home, alone, writing this blog.  My husband and I live in two different cities so being together is not possible.  And honestly, we don’t really celebrate Valentine’s Day much anyway because, remember, the sun is still going to rise tomorrow whether you have that dozen roses or not.  Just go get a glass of wine and sit back to read my blog.

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Like I said, for about 36 years I never had a Valentine and I dealt with it and I was fine.  Of course I wanted the chocolates and the roses and all of that.  I did.  Society has told me over the years that I need that to make myself whole, but in reality, I do not.  Then at age 37 I got them.  It was great.  I was excited.  I was fulfilled and everything was just perfect.  Then three months later my heart was broken and I was devastated as evidenced in my blog post “For Now”.  Then for the next year I did some really hard personal work.  I survived my next Valentine’s Day while dating a new guy, then a few weeks later that ended.  Was it wonderful to have these Valentines flowers and candies and candles?  Of course it was but what I learned was that someone can give you all that stuff and not truly love you and so then, what does it matter?

“Didn’t see it coming.  No kind of warning.  I can’t work out what I’ve done wrong.  His clothes are missing.  But his keys still here.  Please somebody tell me whats going on.”

I recently heard the song “Suitcase” by Emeli Sandé which was in heavy rotation the summer of 2013.  I had such a broken heart and I did everything possible not to be alone, ever. After work I would go to yoga practice two classes in a row and come home and go straight to bed.  But what saved me from myself were friends.  Friends are really incredible people.  No matter what, they love you.  Friends are there to go to dinner and talk and hate on the ex and just be there with you.  I have so many friends who helped pull me through.  I also did so much for myself like yoga and meditation and blogging and finding the little things in each day that made me happy with #100happydays.  I found the joy in a fresh, ripe avocado.  I found the joy in friendship.  I found the joy, as hard as it was, in being on my own.  Although I had lived so many years single, the year I spent in between my heartache and finding the love of my life was really hard.  I had a taste of what I longed for for so long, not being alone.  But in reality, what I know for sure, is that whether I’m alone or with someone, I’m going to be ok.

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The reality is that we all want to be loved by that special person.  We learn about it and see it growing up and we long for it as adults.  BUT, “somebody” can be family, friends, or YOURSELF, too!  How wonderful it is to find the love of yourself?  Let me tell you after a year of really hard personal work, it is wonderful.  Had I not done the hard, personal work after being dumped and having a broken heart, I would not have been ready to find the love I have with my husband now.

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“Even when the dark comes crashing through.  When you need a friend to carry you.
When you’re broken on the ground.  You will be found.”

Dear Evan Hansen the Tony Award winning Broadway sensation has a song “You Will Be Found” with the lyrics above.  What I can tell you about Valentine’s Days past and love and friendship is that you will be found because your friends will never let you crash down without picking you up and dusting you off and pushing you out there into life to live again.  Check out my post called “Waving Through A Window” and you will read about the joy that love has brought me.  However, had it not been for the love of friends and family, and a lot of personal work “Single Season” I would not have been ready for the love of my life.

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So whether you are single or partnered on this Valentine’s Day, find the joy in your life.  Look for the simple things that make you smile.  Look for your family and friends.  Look for the wine!  Whether you are alone or with someone right now, I can tell you that loving your life and taking a deep breath and just embracing it all is what you can do today.  And to all of you Valentine-less people out there, enjoy it.  You get to do what you want, when you want, and how you want.  There is something beautiful about that.

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My Most Magical Day

It goes without saying, I have lived so many incredible experiences in my life. Traveling the world and experiencing different people and different cultures–Amazing! Running five marathons in five years, four of which I ran under four hours–Thrilling! Living moment to moment on my wedding, with so many friends and family around, and saying “I do” to the man of my dreams–Absolutely Magical! Since September I have tried to sit down and write about our day, but it seemed too fresh and honestly, I think I was still in the euphoria.  Now a few months out and in a new year, it’s time to relish the moments and share the magic.il_fullxfull.685102515_l2jb_original

When you’re getting married everyone gives you advice and relives their wedding.  I really think people love love because it reminds them of their special day and the special time in your life that brings all of your closest friends and family together to celebrate. There was a time in my life, well most of my life, when I never thought I would have a wedding. It isn’t the same for guys as it is for girls, at least I don’t think so. I didn’t grow up dreaming about my wedding, I was wrestling with a few more issues that needed to be figured out before I could, I guess. But once I came out and marriage was legalized for gays in the USA, I did want something. Of course I wanted the celebration, the party to end all parties.  My husband was like, “Let’s just go to the courthouse and get it done, simply.” Those are his famous last words because our wedding was anything but simple. I told him, “No, I want acknowledgement of our love. I want our friends and family to witness our commitment. Too many gay couples never got to get married. Now I want to celebrate our joy and I want the love and the support of everyone around us.” Well, I got just that and it was just perfect.

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The above quote from George Michael struck me so hard the first time I heard it. He was so right that joy comes from being proud of something and for too many years I tried to hide my sexuality in order to “be like everybody else” and I tried to “make it work”, but that wasn’t my story.  My story was to love a man and to celebrate the wonderful joy that we bring to each other just as you do with your husband or wife. When I say our wedding day was pure magic, it just simply was and I think everyone in attendance could feel that magic and that love.

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The photo above is of my about to be husband and me watching guests arrive at our home for our wedding. We wanted a personal day that felt like a big dinner party and having the event at our house was the perfect way to make that happen. As guests arrived they were greeted with a glass of champagne or rosé, of course. We waited upstairs with anticipation.

“I’ve never served this much rosé in my life!” ~ Bar Tender

“Your wedding oozed love, organic, elegant, love-love-love just flowed.” ~ Sherine

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“OMG!!! So much fun and unforgettable wedding full of love and joy!!!!! ~ Joey

“I have such a big smile looking at these pics. So much love that day.” ~ Kristen

“Such a perfect commemoration of that perfect day. We were so happy to celebrate with you!” ~ Shannon

So, I think the love was felt by all. We sure felt it. And what everyone tells you is true, it goes by SO fast. If I could live that day over 100 times, I would. It is once in a lifetime that you gather your closest friends and family. To have it at our home made it even more special and intimate and magical. Speaking of feeling it, we recently met some neighbors at a holiday party and as we were talking one of them said, “Oh that was YOUR party we heard a half mile away. We were walking our dog and heard music. At first we thought it was a block party, but as we got closer we realized it had to be a gay party because that was one amazing playlist. The music was too good for any other party.” In fact, when Whitney Houston and Madonna came on during dinner, a dance party broke out at the tables!

“It was one for the ages…we’ll all remember…top notch all the way…you made US feel special on YOUR special day! Thanks for such an awesome event…we love you two.” ~ Kristen

 

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Now after almost four years together, traveling back and forth in two cities, my husband and I will be together in the same city in 2018!!

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What I know for sure is that I have never felt more loved than on my wedding day. I actually could feel the love oozing out of everyone. I have never felt more joy and honor than on my wedding day. Growing up I didn’t see gay people getting married. I didn’t have role models or ideas to look forward to. I didn’t have an image of the guy I would meet and fall in love with and eventually marry. None of that was even in my head. But the wait was so worth it.  Love is out there. Love is real. Go find it!

This sums up how I felt that day in September and pretty much anytime I think about our wedding and the love and magic.

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Waving Through a Window

“On the outside always looking in. Will I ever be more than I’ve always been? ‘Cause I’m tap, tap, tapping on the glass. I’m waving through a window.”

Two really important things, at least to me, are happening right now.  I’m planning a wedding with my fiancé AND the Dear Evan Hansen Original Broadway Cast Recording has been released to Spotify.  IMPORTANT THINGS I SAY! Over the last week, if I’m at my desk, the songs from Dear Evan Hansen are on repeat, over and over again. I’ve also been, like I said, planning a wedding so if anyone asks, I’ll talk about it. Planning a wedding was never something I ever really thought about as a kid. Do boys think about their wedding day? Do gay boys think about their wedding day? The answer for me is, no, I never really thought about a wedding. The perfect day and setting and person was never really something on my mind growing up.  Geez, my life was filled just trying to figure out if it was going to be a woman or a man for crying out loud. I didn’t have time to think about an actual wedding until recently.

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 So while I was figuring all of that stuff out my friends were dating and getting engaged and getting married. Oh did I attend a lot of weddings in my 20s and 30s. That was a lot of cake and alcohol and dancing. It was fun, so much fun. However, it wasn’t for me. Somehow I didn’t fit in that societal norm of finding someone, getting engaged and planning a wedding. I didn’t really spend too much time thinking about it, rather I went about my life and enjoyed those people around me who were in love and getting married and getting all those gifts and inviting all those people to celebrate with them. On June 26, 2015 our societal norm changed. The Supreme Court of the United States of America ruled in favor of equal dignity and marriage for all citizens of the United States. Then, lucky me, on June 26, 2016, exactly one year later the man of my dreams asked ME to marry HIM!

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Well now this whole marriage thing got really real and really fast. My fiancé said he would be fine just going to the courthouse and getting married.  I said, “Do you know who you just asked to marry you?”  Haha, wait, I hadn’t ever really thought about a wedding, that is true, but now that I have the chance, I’m taking it.  People have said, “You’ve gone to your share of weddings over the years, now it is time for those people to buy you gifts!” Sure, I guess that is part of the celebration, but that’s not all it is for me.  I told my fiancé that the reason I want a wedding is because as I sat at all those weddings in the past I thought to myself, “I wonder if it will ever be legal for me to get married?” “Sure we have ‘civil unions’ in my state but that isn’t the same. That isn’t equal.” The reason I want to have a wedding is to celebrate with those people who have loved me for me. It is now my time to step inside and stop “waving through a window.”

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That brings me back to Dear Evan Hansen the new musical on Broadway. It’s about a boy who watches life pass him by due to severe social anxiety.  But why, to me, isn’t he point. Have you ever spent a portion of your life “looking in from the outside?” That is why I connected to this music and that is why I want to celebrate my love and my marriage because after June 26, 2015 I no longer had to look in from the outside.

“While I’m watch watch watching people pass I’m waving through a window, oh can anybody see, is anybody waving back at me?”

Unlike Evan Hansen, I have never been socially isolated or lonely, luckily. But I have waved through the window while people who are accepted pass by. I’ve tried really hard not to get political in my blog, as far as this past election, but just briefly I have to. It really frustrates me when people say, “I support gay marriage and equal rights”, but that person voted for the Republican platform, one that does not promote equality. They might say, “Well gay marriage is a done deal.” Sure it is the law of the land, but depending on who the new Supreme Court justice is, that ruling could be overturned years down the road. Likely or unlikely, why chance it? And it isn’t all about equal marriage. It is about equal rights for all people. It is about accepting refugees and immigrants into our country. It is about accepting and loving others no matter their gender, sex, race, sexual orientation or other. Why make people in America wave through the window and hope that one day their difference will be just as accepted as someone else? Why? Why not share love and spread love and think about all those people who are waving through a window?

In this clip, Cynthia Erivo Tony Award winner from The Color Purple sings “You Will Be Found” from Dear Evan Hansen.

Even when the dark comes crashing through/ When you need a friend to carry you /When you’re broken on the ground /You will be found

Why don’t we work on loving each other, all of us, and helping each other out. You are not alone I wish was the mantra of our country because far too many people don’t have the same power, privilege, and acceptance. Don’t wait until it is your time to suffer to “get it” and start thinking about others. Let’s help each other now.  Let’s share and care, just a little more. Let’s notice each other more. Let each other know, we all matter.

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So that brings me back to why I want to have a wedding; a celebration of our love, an acknowledgment that our love matters and our love is important too. It’s not about the gifts (but I’ll take them, I guess) it’s about being surrounded by the people who love us; the people who have lifted us up when we were down; the people who, no matter what, have been with us throughout life to say, “hey, hey you, you matter.” 

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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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Where Everybody Knows Your Name

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It’s been one week since the mass killing at a gay bar in Orlando, Florida. I haven’t posted anything because I have been at a loss for words. 49 people lost their lives because of hate. It could have happened anywhere.  It could have been me.  It could have been you.

Wherever you find your sanctuary should be sacred and safe. It might be your yoga mat or your church or your gym or your music class or your running path or your, bar. For so many gay men and women they find solace and acceptance at their local gay bars. I have too over the years found a place to be myself at the gay bars in Chicago. Whether it was to go dance, sing showtunes, or just grab a drink with friends, for many years I have found a place of comfort, a place where people understand my journey, at gay bars.

Find a place where you belong with people who understand your journey.

For many years I went to bars with my friends. The very first night I stepped foot in my first gay bar, I breathed a sigh of relief, “Oh, so THIS is what it is supposed to feel like at the bar,” I thought. This is where people like me are hanging out. I was at Sidetrack and it was full of MEN and I felt so at home.  After a few months of being so nervous I’d be shaking on my way to the gay bars, I began to feel more and more comfort. I started to meet other gay men, like me. Again, it was absolutely wonderful to be at a common place where I knew the people there understood me and understood the questions I had, the excitement I felt, and the fear that being there might not always be the safest. That is true, what happened at Pulse night club in Orlando is something that I feared would one day happen. I would sometimes think, “What is stopping a hate filled person from coming in here and shooting this place up and killing many many people?” Sad but true, I’ve had that thought way too many times. We deserve better in America. We deserve to feel safe everywhere, especially the places we consider our sanctuaries.

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The shooting in Orlando has hit very close to home. It scares me, yet I know that my life can’t stop. The LGBTQ community was targeted, but like many fights before, I know that my community will survive this tragedy and will move the fight for gun laws.  The Washington Post wrote, “The Gay Rights Movement Could Take On the NRA – And Actually Win.” Like mass shootings of the past, what we can’t let happen is our government to be shocked, pledge to pass stricter gun laws, then fade away quietly without doing a damn thing.  That is what we cannot let happen. We must stand up and right for our safety.  Congress is supposed to write and pass laws that keep us safe. Their inaction over the years has caused us to be more unsafe. Sign this MoveOn.org petition and let your voice be heard here.  And while you are signing, click here to sign a thank you note to Senator Murphy for his filibuster for stronger gun laws. At least he is trying to do something!

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While I don’t love the opening line on the above picture, the message is true. The hate filled mass shooting on Orlando’s gay community has struck a chord. We have fought for a long time to get our rights and I truly believe that our “powerful progressive movement” will move us closer to much needed gun reform.

What I know for sure it is that the LGBTQ community is strong, mighty, feisty, loud and proud, and we do, “get shit done.” Everyone should feel safe wherever they find solace and comfort and a place of belonging. The Lieutenant Governor of Utah very boldly called the straight community out on this idea that a gay bar is a sanctuary.  “I believe that there is a question, two questions actually, that each of us needs to ask ourselves in our heart of hearts. And I am speaking now to the straight community. How did you feel when you heard that 49 people had been gunned down by a self-proclaimed terrorist? That’s the easy question. Here is the hard one: Did that feeling change when you found out the shooting was at a gay bar at 2 a.m. in the morning? If that feeling changed, then we are doing something wrong.” Wherever you call your sanctuary, you should be able to go and find comfort and safety. Hate cannot and will not force us to hide. It must bring us together. Read what happened when an Orthodox Jewish congregation when to a gay bar. “If we are going to survive, we all need each other.” So, so true. We have to stick together and help. We are at our strongest when we are together.

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So this is what is going to happen, the LGBTQ community is going to dance again. We’re going to return to our sanctuaries and we’re going to fight to make them safer. We’re going to be loud and proud and we’re going to keep on going. Please join us, help us, and support us. For when we are together we are at our strongest.

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!

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