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!

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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!

 

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Oh my goodness, it has been two months since I last wrote and I’ve missed writing. Just a few days ago I was remembering one of my favorite blog posts from last year, Seasons Change, and it made me want to write.  Luckily I have today off.  As my Jewish friends celebrate Yom Kippur, I took the opportunity to run 20 miles for #marinecorp #marathon #training and to write a new blog post. It’s the first day of fall, so here we are again as seasons change. I got back to yoga last night too after three months off. It was so wonderful to find my mat once again. It’s that time of year to reflect and think about where you are in life and where you have come from.  It’s also that time of year that you start putting #pumpkinspice #psl in your coffee and of course, start wearing your scarves again.

As I reread my blog Seasons Change from last year I was reminded of where I was then and even the year before that. Now September 2015 I’m in a very different place once again. I think we have to always keep in mind that years go by fast, days go by fast and things change. Over the past year my boyfriend and I have moved into a new apartment in Chicago. He still has his place in Cleveland and we’re still traveling back and forth. #stopasking who is moving, we are doing just fine like it is, thank you! Sidenote: Tyra Banks has a new talkshow and they were discussing this new hashtag, #stopasking, for people who are tired of other people nosing into their life and asking, “When are you having a baby?” “When are you moving in together?” “When are you getting married.” But I get it, that it comes from a positive and a well intended place. I’ll let you know when it happens, but for now #stopasking. I digress, it really is amazing to me that another year has gone by. I’m happy in my life and I find joy in the things I can do, the people I can share my time with, and the love I can share with my love.

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Sitting here right now, I have my coffee with #pumpkinspice creamer in it and I’m looking outside at the wind move the tree branches and I’m completely ok, right now. A couple of years ago and even some last year, I struggled with being alone. I did not want to spend time by myself at all and I made sure that I was constantly busy. Recently I’ve noticed that I reserve a night or two to be home by myself. Is it that I’m in a relationship and therefore my mind allows me to be content staying home? Is it that I’m old and exhausted and need to go to bed at 8:30 p.m. in order to survive? What is it? For me, as I’ve reflected on this feeling, I know that when I was newly single and in the throes of emotion and last year when I had just gotten into a new relationship, my mind struggled with “alone time” as if it was the devil. What I know now is that I can be and am happy to be home alone some of the time. Now, my type of personality only needs a couple of hours a week by myself but I’m ok taking that time. Two years ago, forget about it, I would have been in a complete state of anxiety. So is it that my mind allows a sense of contentment when it’s satisfied with it’s life? What I hope I take from this recent reflection is that, I’m ok alone. I hope I don’t, but should I find myself alone again, I will fight my mind telling me I’m not ok alone. I will fight it because I know that I am ok and I can be happy at home on a Tuesday night. Alone time, happiness, pumpkin spice, happiness, whatever the case, alone, I’m ok.

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Where do we go from here? One of the reasons I started this blog was to remark on my choice to “say yes to life” and experience the fun and joy that surrounds all of us, if we allow ourselves to “say yes.” In a few short weeks I will be running my fifth marathon, the Marine Corp in DC. #districtofcolumbia My body has been sort of a mess this training season. I’ve had a hamstring strain, soreness in my calves, the constant battle with my glute med, and the list goes on. My pace time has decreased majorly from the previous two seasons, but I’m still out there. I still ran my 20 mile training run today. I am still saying YES to Life and looking forward to running in DC. I hear it is a very cool race as we run all through the monuments and such. Maybe I can give a shout out to SCOTUS and the #lovewins ruling and get a “holla” from #rbg. That would be cool. Who knows how long this body can continue with these 26.2 mile races, but at least for now, I look forward to this next race.

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So here we are again, it’s fall and the season is changing. I think just for fun and putting life in our years, we should all get a sassy new bob and a smokey eye and run through the streets as the leaves fall to the sidewalk.

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Ok fine, that is television’s way of looking at fall, but for me, well, I’m going to haul out my scarves of many colors and start tszujing them around my neck until they are perfect. I’m going to run this fifth marathon and enjoy it. Of course I’m going to enjoy some #pumpkinspice #psl And most of all, I’m going to enjoy the time I spend with those I love and more conversations like this:

Conversation about the Bible with Sarah over dinner while Patrick shook his head figuring out the bill:
Sarah: Aren’t there animals in the Bible?
Matt: yeah isn’t there a horse/man?
S: Patrick is there a horseman?
M: Oh, the hyenas…no that’s the Lion King.
S: No that’s the Lion King, you’re confusing your stories. Patrick is there a horseman?
M: Flotsam and Jetsam….no that’s the Little Mermaid.
S: Who are the three singing ladies?
M: That’s the Mandrell Sisters!
*laughter and snorting*
S: Who sings to Baby Jesus?
M: Joanne!!

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Equal Dignity — June 26, 2015

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It’s been 25 days since the Supreme Court of the United States ruled in favor of equal rights and equal dignity for all Americans. Call it Gay Marriage, call it Marriage, call it what it is, a Human Right that is afforded to Americans based on our Constitution. I’ve been meaning to write about this momentous day for a few weeks, but just haven’t had a chance. I also wanted it to settle in and I wanted to feel it. On June 26, 2015 LOVE did win.

We should never let anyone into our hearts if they don’t enter with love. With all the hatred around the SCOTUS decision and the fight over equal rights, “Love Wins” is one of the truest messages. As the late, great Whitney Houston once sang, “Your love is my love and my love is your love.”  We all love. We all want to love. We all want to feel love. If two men or two women find love, let it be, please! Who’s to say that your love is more right than my love or my love is more right than your love? Life, this journey, is hard enough, why make it harder by fighting over love? Let love be. Let us move forward allowing everyone to love.

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So here’s my perspective as a non-religious gay man, it’s a separation of church and state.  Our forefathers wrote that into the constitution for a reason.  For so many years I have been arguing the point that I’m not asking to get married in your church. I’m not religious, so I would never get married in a church. If you want to that is wonderful, for you. “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness” is part of the Constitution(state, “government”), and if my happiness means marrying a man, then I get to do that. Marriage comes in two forms.  There is a ceremony(the church if you choose) and there is the license. With the legal part of a marriage license come rights that heterosexual couples have always had. These are the law, not the Bible. These are the state, not the church. No matter what you believe marriage is, one man, one woman…two men or two women…everyone should be given the same legal rights of marriage because we live in America and we all should be afforded the same rights.  Now, because SCOTUS ruled in favor, it is the Law of the Land, as it should be, as it always should have been, as it now will be forever more.

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Ever since President Obama came out in favor of gay marriage, I felt things would pick up speed, and they sure did. People have differing opinions on when and how Obama “evolved” into believing in the right for gay men and women to marry. He is a politician and our country is so divided that of course he didn’t come out and fully support gay marriage until after he successfully won his second term. Say what you choose, but what matters to me is that he did and I always felt he would, once he was a second term President. When President Obama took office two states recognized gay marriage, seven years later, all 50 states recognize it. I believe that when the leader of the free world came out and supported equal rights, the slope slipped in the right direction. Call it political posturing, or whatever, Obama had to do it the right way and he did. Thank you Mr. President!

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Several years ago, my friend’s son wrote a letter to President Obama. He asked the President to pass a law so that I can get married. How wonderful, right? E has known me since the time he was born. He and his sister have grown up in a time that gay men and women have just been part of social media and their personal life. In my opinion, he’s been lucky enough to have several “Guncles” in his life, and we are lucky enough to have him in our lives.  This now middle school boy just accepts love as love, couples as couples, people as people.  My hope is that his generation is growing up knowing that “love is love”. They are going to be the first generation that doesn’t quite remember the time of marriage vs. gay marriage. He and his generation will know only, MARRIAGE.

Speaking of the younger generation, did you see this 7 year-old girl stand up to a homophobic preacher?

It’s quite wonderful that I was home in Michigan visiting my family the day of the SCOTUS decision. My five and six-year-old nieces’ take on the day’s events, “Can we be your flower girls and wear pretty dresses?” Again, this young generation will not remember a time when marriage was talked about separately. They will only know marriage as a celebration of love. How wonderful is that?

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The sidewalk in Bronson Park, Kalamazoo, Michigan-June 26, 2015

So what does this all mean? I think Frank Bruni writes about it best in his article “Our Weddings, Our Worth” from the New York Times. It’s about worth. It’s about EVERY American feeling worthy and feeling noticed and feeling dignified. This blows my mind because it is exactly how I feel when Bruni writes, “And that’s because the Supreme Court’s decision wasn’t simply about weddings. It was about worth. From the highest of this nation’s perches, in the most authoritative of this nation’s voices, a majority of justices told a minority of Americans that they’re normal and that they belong — fully, joyously and with cake.”  So what it means is that our young gay men and women can grow up in a time knowing that they belong and that they are normal and that they matter. And for me it means that I can get married and have cake!!

As all of this settles in, there are still haters, some of whom want to lead our country like Ted Cruz who is calling for states not to follow the law. Um, Ted, it’s the law. You have to follow it. Sorry dude! We must push that nonsense away(and not vote these bigots into office)and forge our path to love!!  LOVE! While we do that, I would like to share some of my favorite moments and images of June 26th, 2015 and the days following via social media.

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The White House

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Our President 🙂

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Our Next President–Please?

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Police raising the Pride flag at City Hall in Chicago

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Niagara Falls

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What a week in US history

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A lot of work yet to accomplish

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This Instagram post from Bey

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That’s right, what makes being American and living in America so wonderful is that we can all have different opinions and we don’t have to agree on any of them. But, we should always be kind to one another and we all deserve the same rights. In the end, it’s about every American knowing that he matters, that she is worthy, and that we are all dignified. Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the most beautiful final paragraph in his majority opinion ruling.

No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right. The judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit is reversed.

Now we move forward. Let’s call it marriage. Let’s call it celebrations of love. We’re all equal and we’re all deserving of human rights. We are all deserving of the rights afforded to all Americans. So go ahead, you can just call it MARRIAGE now.

Be In Love With Your Life!

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my toiletry bag, a gift from my boyfriend 🙂 and a constant reminder

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For so many reasons, I’m excited about life right now. My 97-year-old grandmother just celebrated her 80th high school reunion. And she’s going to meet my boyfriend, for the first time in my life. I’m about to celebrate my 20th high school reunion. And we’re having lunch with my 4th grade teacher too and that is just amazing. Summer vacation is upon us and that is just exciting because for six weeks I won’t have to pack my lunch, set my alarm, I can drink lots of “summer water” commonly known as rosé, and I can finally watch Jimmy Falon! Annnnnnnnd The Supreme Court of the United States is about to rule on equality, gay marriage, and that is reaaaallllly cool! Life is exciting ya’ll!

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So get this, my grandmother is 97 years old!!! She is truly amazing. Back in the day, she and my grandfather got me my first pair of cowboy boots and my first microphone. They took me to two county fairs to see Barbara Mandrell perform and she introduced me to Regis and Kathie Lee back during a summer visit in 1990. When I was a teen my grandmother and I would sit on the porch in Fostoria, MI, looking at the big red barn and the corn fields and we would talk about her ”story”, Days of Our Lives. I watched too and had a lot to say. Patch and Kayla’s wedding, when Kayla got her hearing back? Forget about it. The “Cruise of Deception,” that was entertaining. Stefano? Marlena? Duke who really wasn’t Duke because he was John Black? Jack and Jennifer? Bo and Hope? All of it and the juicy details were discussed on that porch. I was about 13 and she was about 73. It was a 60-year difference, but we were on the same page. Anyway, the point is, my grandmother is really cool. And why is this exciting? It’s exciting because in a couple of weeks I’m going to introduce my grandmother to my boyfriend!

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You see, several years ago, at a very different time in my life, and for many reasons, I wasn’t allowed to tell my grandfather that I’m gay. Since that time, he passed away. Whether he “knew” I was gay or not probably doesn’t matter. Would he have understood? Would he have thought of me differently, who knows? What I can’t let happen is for my grandmother to not know me as a completely happy man, living a very lovely life. I have led a past of academic challenges that I overcame. Grandma and Grandpa are forever grateful for that. I have led a very successful life living and working in Chicago for 15 years. Grandma is so very happy for that. But ultimately, grandparents want their grandchildren to be happy. I want Grandma Bea to know that I have a great life and that I am very, very happy and that I am loved. I think she’ll be cool with that.

Good lord, where did 20 years go? Is it possible that I graduated from high school TWENTY YEARS ago? I’m excited to see what a 20-year high school reunion looks like. In the small town that my grandmother grew up in, they celebrate reunions yearly at the Alumni Banquet. It is one of my grandmother’s favorite things to do, to attend that banquet yearly. Now she has celebrated EIGHTY of them. EIGHTY people! My 20 years certainly pales in comparison, but I’m still excited. Who is going to be there? Will some of my childhood friends come? Will my high school crush still be as cute as he was back then? Will my boyfriend fall in love with Portage, MI? Ok, ok, let’s not get all crazy here. I do hope that some of the people who were important to me back then are there. I want them to know who I have become and I want to know who they have become. I believe it is an important life event, to celebrate 20 years since graduating high school. At that time, it was the most significant thing that had happened to most of us. Now, 20 years later, most of us, hopefully, have a lot more to share. It’s just exciting to me. Oh, and I can’t wait to take my boyfriend on the tour of Portage. Lake Center Elementary (now demolished and rebuilt), Portage Central Middle School, Portage Central High School (now demolished and rebuilt), Westnedge Ave., TCBY where I spent a lot of time loitering, and of course Lloy St. where I proudly grew up as one of the “Lloy Boys.” There are so many parts of my life back then that were great and should be celebrated. I really can’t wait!

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Did I mention, we are having lunch with my favorite teacher of all time, my 4th grade teacher. How many of you are still in touch with YOUR 4th grade teacher? Mrs. Greene was an amazing inspiration in my life. Here’s the thing, every summer, about a week after school let out we would get our grade report. It was on carbon copy paper and was handwritten. Each year we would wait with excited anticipation with the answer, “Who would be our next teacher?” Moving from 3rd to 4th grade, I have to be honest, everyone wanted Mr. Root. He was the newer, young and fun 4th grade teacher. I remember getting that report card in the mail on a warm, sunny June afternoon in 1986. I didn’t get Mr. Root and I was so disappointed. However, what a shortsighted almost 4th grader didn’t know then, that he knows now, is that he was very lucky because Mrs. Greene would change his life.

Let me start with this bright red skirt suit that Mrs. Greene wore. She was the best dresser I had ever seen. Obviously as I have grown, fashion has become important to me. Well, let’s get real, even back then, my 4th grade picture is of me in suspenders that my Aunt bought for me. But Mrs. Green was always dressed to the nines, as a teacher. She always looked great and honestly, there are days I get dressed, when I don’t necessarily care if I look nice, and I think of her presence in that 4th grade classroom and how it has stuck with me some 28 years later. Mrs. Greene was also just a powerful, strong presence in the classroom. When I was a teacher, I feel that I modeled my classroom presence after her. No-nonsense yet caring, Mrs. Greene had a way of teaching us so many life lessons on a daily basis. One day, I will never forget, is the day Mrs. Greene’s life changed.

Our principal, another strong female role model, came into our classroom. She pulled Mrs. Greene out into the hallway. Soon after they both came back in and Mrs. Greene quickly gathered her things and left the classroom. Our student teacher at the time, Ms. L(I can’t quite remember her last name) took charge of the room. Mrs. Greene’s husband had suffered a heart attack. She was gone for about two weeks as she helped him recover. I remember missing her so much during those two weeks. Back then I probably didn’t quite understand that my teacher also had a life outside of school and that things happen in life. But I distinctively remember her being gone and me missing her as my teacher. Shortly after the two weeks Mrs. Greene was back. Her first day back, what did she wear, the red suit! Over the years I have stayed in touch with Mrs. Greene. In fact, when I was a senior in high school I would go to her classroom and work with her and her students. I always say, “I knew I wanted to be a teacher since 4th grade.” I’m pretty sure it was because I wanted to dress as great as Mrs. Greene.

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As I consider the excitement in the air this June, I can’t help but write about the most important decision the Supreme Court of the United States has ever made, concerning me personally, in my life. This month, SCOTUS will rule on gay marriage and if gay people nation wide should have the right to marry. Certainly, I hope, most of the people in my life believe that I should have the same rights as they do. My home state of Illinois allows me the right to marry, but still, too many other states in the United States do not allow gay people to marry. Some people might argue, just get married in a state that allows it, or move to a state that allows it. Years ago I used to think that State’s Rights was fine and that individual states could make their own decisions. Back then it didn’t matter to me because I lived in a very Democratic state. If I get married in Illinois and live here, it doesn’t matter. But, hold on a second, that isn’t fair. If I get married in Illinois, a state that recognizes gay marriage, but move back to Michigan, a state that doesn’t, it won’t be recognized. That isn’t fair. My straight counterparts in the United States can get married anywhere and move anywhere and it is still recognized. So now, the Supreme Court will rule on this matter by the end of the month. For obvious reasons, this is an important issue to me, but for historical reasons, the fact that the decision will come in June is really exciting.

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I guess it goes without saying that I’m excited because I think the Supreme Court is going to rule on the right side of history. They might not, but fingers crossed, I hope they do. Why it’s exciting that June is the month is because Pride is celebrated across the nation each year the last weekend of June. Back on June 28th, 1969 the gay community of New York City took to the streets in a violent protest against the police raid that took place the early hours of that day. The Stonewall Riots started the slow change that has rapidly picked up speed in the last few years. The Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village was known to be a place for the most dismissed people of the gay community. On June 28, 1969 the gay community took part in what is considered the most important event leading toward gay liberation and the fight for LGBT rights in the United States. So what will SCOTUS rule? I guess we don’t know, but we can hope that they will rule in favor of equal rights for all people in the United States. I’m excited and hopeful to hear their ruling!

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Excited about life…right now…I am. I’ve certainly learned that life evolves and changes, but what we have to do is enjoy the moment. Life ebbs and flows. There are happy times and sad times, bright times and dark times. Everyone goes through those ups and downs in life, but what I try to remember is that when you’re down, as Oprah has said, “the sun will rise tomorrow.” The sun always rises. And when you are in one of your up cycles, enjoy the hell out of it. Relish those moments. Recognize how it feels to wake up in the morning and get your day started. Soak in those high on life feelings, because inevitably, the down will come back, it will be more difficult to get out of bed and you have to work much harder to choose your attitude. If we can just remember when we are in a down, it will get better.  The sun will rise tomorrow.

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Right now I’m excited and I’m going to enjoy the hell out of this feeling. This summer I’m going to enjoy time with friends and family, my 97-year-old grandmother and my 4th grade teacher. I’m going to enjoy the man I love and the life we have together. I’m going to hope for a great ruling on equality from the Supreme Court. I’m going to enjoy sleeping in and not packing my lunch and staying up late. I’m going to enjoy going back home for my 20th reunion and all it has to offer. I’m going to enjoy a bottle or two of rosé. I’m going to enjoy the moments I have in life with those I love. As we know all too well, life is short so we have to seize the moment, enjoy what we love, and who we love and Say YES to Life!

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