Grin and Bare It

Scott: In June, my partner, Luke, and I set out to discover a magical place in a far, far away land known as “Portland.”  Whenever the topic came up, people would always say the same thing: You’ve never been to Portland?!  Oh, YOU would love it there. I’m pretty sure they meant this as a compliment.

We had actually scheduled our Portland adventure last fall.  Then I had to go and blow the whole thing by having a nervous breakdown. Now that I was slightly less of a spaz (slightly), I could finally see this city AND finally meet the one and only blogger, Michael Schneider (aka @blcksmth on Instagram).  

Michael: Talk about burying the lede, Scott, with the nervous breakdown. How are you feeling?

Scott: I’m feeling way better these days.  So much of my life was out-of-whack when we first tried to come to Portland last year.  I’ve been able to get a lot of things back in whack since that time.  Life is still nervous with all I’m trying to do, but no breakdowns are to be had.

Michael: I get that for sure! A big part of my creative output is making people laugh, and I like to stay busy. Like, really busy. Like, so busy that I’m actually just keeping the lambs in my head from screaming. I also like a challenge, which is why I was so curious to meet you and see how our “brands” (haha, GROSS) could intersect. We’re both writers and a lot of our creative output is photo-based, but on the other hand you’re very body-positive and I hide my shame under layers of clothing because my naked body looks like it’s covered in cargo pockets.

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Scott: I have no doubt that many people would love to stuff many things in your cargo pockets (if said cargo pockets existed).  I have told you before that I think you should do a nude photoshoot and write a story about the experience.  It’s perfect for your brand (yes, gross, but necessary) of storytelling.  What do you think of that idea?

Michael: Haha. I think that’s the worst idea you’ve ever had! *schedules nude photoshoot* I don’t know where this came from, this aversion to showing my body. Maybe growing up Catholic? Maybe a heteronormative upbringing? What about you? When did you realize how comfortable you were with your own body?

Scott: I actually write about this in my upcoming book so, at this moment, I can’t tell you or I would have to kill you.  And I don’t want to kill you.  I like you.  What I can say is that I’m not always comfortable with my body.  That’s why I strip down and go full frontal in my work - to get out of my comfort zone, get over the things instilled in me growing up, and reminding myself that a comet won’t hit the earth when I do it.  It’s a radical approach, but it really does help my body-dysmorphia.

Portland seems like the perfect city for you to explore this.  There’s lots of naked opportunities there.  And I didn’t get a sense of social pressure to have some idealized “perfect body” like folks may have in cities like L.A.  With its “keep Portland weird” slogan, it seems like a safe space for people to be their abnormally-normal selves

Michael: As someone who moved here after living 12 years in Los Angeles, I get that outside view of Portland. It’s tough to admit, but I actually watched Portlandia to prepare for visiting this city for the first time. This is admitting something that I usually wouldn’t bring up to people who live here.

Scott: I can’t watch Portlandia.  I constantly just think they are making fun of ME specifically.  But I guess that means I am more Portland than I thought.

Michael: I think Portland is changing in a lot of ways, and still is staying the same strange Portland it’s always been. I visited a nude beach for the first time last year, and then went back a few times this year. Let me be clear: I was not naked nor would I ever be. BUT I didn’t feel judged for being clothed. I did discover that out of politeness, I would never, ever look even in the general direction of other people’s genitalia. Like, my vision would digitally pixelate it in my brain. To this day, I remain terrified of other men’s junk. It’s quite possible I’m a virgin.

Scott: I really would like to believe you have virgin-penis-pixelating-vision, but within a half hour of meeting each other, you and Michael Wheeler (@mtdubbs374 on Instagram) took us to a Portland male stripclub where dancers can famously get fully naked.  Care to explain?

Michael: Haha. Okay, okay. “Old fashioned” can mean a lot of things! I am complicated. I was just showing you Portland’s famous landmarks. I’m sure that strip club we went to is...historical. Somehow.

Doesn’t Denver have strip clubs?

Scott: Denver has one male stripclub and the strippers cannot strip down beyond a square-cut brief.  That is why, during your “historical tour” I behaved like a kid in a candy store.  But what truly made it amazing was when we saw a stripper bust out a basket of chicken fingers and eat them while dancing - honey mustard and all.  I don’t think that’s something I would see in any city.

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Michael: Can we just talk for a moment how Akiddina Candystore would make an amazing drag name? Like, she would be Australian, a kangaroo perhaps, and her reveal would be when she reached into her marsupial pouch and pulled out an even smaller, tinier drag queen? Anyway.

I think there’s an untapped market for strippers doing really mundane or satisfying things while stripping. I’ll take the stripper eating chicken fingers any day over a stripper on a pole. Where are my strippers vacuuming the rug? Strippers cleaning my cat’s litter box out on stage? I want stripper ASMR videos, stat.

Scott: What is ASMR?

Michael: ASMR are those videos where people eat pickles into a microphone, or manipulate foam and stuff with their hands, or speak really distinctively. Maybe a stripper could have a YouTube channel where all they do is eat pickles.

Scott: Oh, strippers eating pickles on YouTube are a dime-a-dozen.  Eating full frontal chicken fingers happened in real life (without some attempt to be an internet sensation).  This further proves my point. The weirdness of Portland makes it the kind of place where people can try new things… ergo, you can try getting naked.  

Michael: Not even my cat has seen me naked, Scott.

Scott: What kind of lesson is that for your cat?  You wouldn’t want your cat talking to himself the same way you talk to you, would you?

Michael: My cat seeing me take off my clothes would be like if I saw a roommate taking off his skin. I’d have complicated feelings about that. What I’m saying is, if God wanted humans to be naked, why did he invent Fall Fashion?

Anyhoo, I digress. What were your lingering impressions of Portland, now that you’re back and have had time to digest it?

Scott: I do miss the weird, little nuances of Portland - the public nudity laws, the illegalness of pumping your own gas, and the old-timey bridges.  Denver just doesn’t have that. Also, I don’t know if you are aware of this this, but even the street names are weird - Failing Street, Skidmore Street, Gleeson Street.  “Gleeson” might not sound weird but when Siri says it on navigation, it sounds like she is saying “Glisten.” They might as well have just called it “Moist Street.”

Michael: Haha. Well, “Couch” street is even worse. It’s pronounced “cooch”! After you left, we renamed a segment of Stark street after Harvey Milk, which is pretty cool, except for the fact that rampant gentrification has pushed most of the gay bars and minority-owned businesses out of that neighborhood by now...womp-womp!

Does Denver have a gayborhood?

Scott: Denver does not have a gayborhood.  We like our gays like we like our sentences: fragmented.  The bars are scattered across the city. Having gay-bartended for a brief period, I witnessed that the bars here are more competitive than cohesive.  Sometimes they try to throw one-another under the bus which made me a little jaded. I am envious of cities like Chicago where the bars support each other (or so I am told).  I find that to be a way better scene.

Michael: That’s too bad. I like the idea of The Queers having our own hood and having each others’ backs. I used to live in Chicago for a few years when I moved there for a dude and I didn’t go out that much when I was there...I was pretty boring. I hear that I missed out on a lovely community up there. But man, fuck those winters. How do you even survive Denver winters? Okay scratch that, we didn’t come here to talk about the weather. Wait. Why are we here?!

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Scott: I think we originally came here to talk about perspectives of Portland.  Then we parlayed into body issues (I do love a good parlay). We went on to dabble in some strippers.  Then we switched to gay scenes. And now we are on the cusp of weather (which Denver does have fascinating weather). So… clearly we are nailing it.

Michael: Wait where is the part where we make out? That didn’t even happen when you were here. I mean… for the writing inspiration. Ahem.

Scott: I do think making out is such a crucial part of writing.  And I know you like to go very deep yourself as a writer. But if I recall correctly (which I do), you weren’t a fan of making out with those in long term relationships when we initially talked a couple years ago.  Have your views changed on such things in the last year?

Michael: Yeah, I think I’ve been in a period of change. I dated a couple for a bit this summer, which was something I’d never done. It certainly opened up my mind to possibilities, not the least of which was that I don’t know my heart half as well as I was convinced I did. But maybe that’s what life is: a series of molting the dead skin that served you well in the past and doesn’t anymore. And maybe now I’ll go climb a tree for the season and buzz like a cicada for a mate.

Scott: One of the first pieces I read of yours, when I discovered your blog, was when a couple tried to have a threeway with you and you couldn’t do it.  Then eventually you did have a threeway and wrote about that experience. Now, you have dated a couple. That seems like a shitload of molting. I had to look up “molting,” by the way.  When we collaborate, try not to use fancy words. They are hard for me. *twirls hair*

Even after being with Luke for 11 years, I still feel like I am always learning new ways to approach relationship.  As a result, I get fascinated by the way single people approach dating nowadays (a term that indicates I am no longer young).  With you having molted all over the place, what is your approach now to dating in the modern era of technology?

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Michael: Well, I’ve always dated long distance as much as locally, but dating apps (YES I KNOW PEOPLE CALL THEM HOOKUP APPS I CALL THEM DATING APPS BECAUSE THAT’S WHAT I USE THEM FOR) have made that easier. I used to screenshot my conversations with people on the apps to be witty or sassy, and I find that problematic now. I used to chase guys in the past, and I have little to no patience with people who aren’t good at letting you know if they’re interested or not. And I feel like I’m better lately at letting other prospects know if I’m interested in them too. So I would say the recent molting was for the better.

Scott: It sounds like a lot of people could learn from your molting (God, now I can’t stop using that word).  Meanwhile, I just noticed we hit 2,046 words. This would be a good time to wrap things up before we accidentally re-write Game of Thrones.  Plus, I love the idea of ending on your dating life. But, before we go, Michael… what have you learned from this experimental joint blog post?

Michael: To send nudes as early and as often as possible. Wait, no, that’s not it. No, I think that the thing that we have the most in common is the thing that makes us exposed and vulnerable: we both find ourselves revealed, we both bare everything. Transparency and vulnerability, too, is a form of strength.

Scott:  I couldn’t have said it better myself.  Life really does work best when we keep our guards down and bare it all.  Oh, and I also learned that we should probably start a podcast together… because neither of us are overwhelmed in the least.  Now, get on with sending those nudes.

To read more of Michael Schneider, visit his blog: www.blcksmthdesign.com

Copyright © 2018 The Bare InkSlinger, All rights reserved.

Pride And Passports

For someone who loves to travel, I have hardly done any international traveling.  And being on social media a lot, I feel like I am constantly seeing others jetting off to Spain, Thailand, or Australia.  Meanwhile, I’ve never even been to Canada.

Though I haven’t been to Canada, I am worldly cultured enough to know that the men there are attractive, they are into leaves, and they pronounce “out” like “oot.”  Then some forgo the English all together and just speak French.  Side note: I am not very worldly cultured, but I was excited to have my ignorance slightly improved.

My partner, Luke, and I decided to remedy this coming soon here in October.  The only problem was that I didn’t have a passport.  I used to have one from when I studied abroad in Mexico during college - a fun fact I rarely bring up in fear that someone will try to speak Spanish with me.  I never renewed it because I have a tendency to be forgetful and lazy.

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I would need to get this corrected ASAP so that I didn’t have to shell out major bucks in order to have the passport rushed.  I could hardly afford the damn thing as it was.  One-hundred and fifty bucks?!  Didn’t they have some sort of starving artist discount?

Anyway, the first stop would be to get my passport photo taken.  This would tack on another $15.  I tend to complain about money a lot as I’m living by the skin of my teeth.  Then I try to remind myself that I am lucky enough to travel for free.

I stopped at Walgreens one Sunday afternoon and when I walked in, the photo counter had all the lights off and no one was there.  I figured I’d have to come back but I asked the cashier upfront just in case.  The cashier called over the intercom to have a manager meet me at the photo counter.

When I saw this manager, I felt a slight twinge of concern.  She was a larger white woman who had cornrows.  The braids on top of her head had her natural brown-haired color and while the braids coming off her head had been dyed black.  

She also looked like she might have been the type of person who ate cigarettes rather than smoked them.  I hate admitting my judgmental thoughts about her looks, but it made me worry that if she thought SHE looked okay in photos, how could she take a proper photo of me?

This reminded me of last fall when I had to get a new driver’s license.  I especially wanted this to be good as my previous photo made me look like a serial killer.  No joke.  With my shaggy hair, creepy wide eyes, and an awkwardly open mouth, I looked like I would stab someone with a shiv any minute.

In the days leading up to my visit at the DMV, I started practicing my face in the mirror.  When the actual photo was taken and I saw the result, I was relieved to see that I looked like a nice, normal version of myself.  

So, I had taken this DMV lesson and once again practiced my “look” in the mirror before heading to Walgreens.  Thus, I had some kind of hope that this could turn out okay.  The frightening woman busted out a little digital camera as I stood in front of a makeshift blank wall. She snapped the picture and showed it to me.

It looked so awful on the little screen that I almost stopped breathing.  She asked if I’d like to take it again.  I said yes.  I mentally noted what I could have done wrong and tried to make adjustments.  We repeated the process and the next photo looked just as horrifying.

I suggested doing one last shot.  She now got annoyed.  We tried another time and it looked just like the rest.  It’s fine, I told myself.  I picked one at random and the scary manager completed the process.

When I got to my car, I opened the little card containing the 2”x2” photos.  I realized this was quite possibly the worst photo I had ever taken.  I looked like a whole other kind of criminal - like someone who would get high on meth and rob a store with pantyhose on their head.

Or maybe I looked like someone who you’d need to take a restraining order against because he kept looking through your window… while wearing pantyhose on his head.  Either way, whenever I looked at this photo, all roads lead back to pantyhose on my head.  I hated it.

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I immediately texted Luke telling him about it - hoping that with him being a therapist, he could say something magical to help me get over it.  Instead, he said the partner thing: that all passport photos sucked and that I was beautiful.  

As the person who has chosen to be with me, he has to tell me those things.  Besides, it is easy for him to say.  His passport photo is handsome.  He looks like a former frat boy who never lost his cool.  

 After shooting down his obligatory partner comments, he wrote, “Two thoughts: 1) one bad picture does NOT reflect how you look, and 2) it might be good to figure out how to loosen the power that physical image has over you.”

Dammit.  He did say the therapy thing and, like a good therapist, it wasn’t necessarily convenient.  Therefore, I ignored it and went to the gym to get my mind off the whole thing.  But I couldn’t get it out of my brain.

Halfway into my first exercise, I panicked and called a different Walgreens.  When a guy in the photo department answered, I lied and said that when I went to the other store, the woman didn’t let me see the photo first and I wanted to know if they’d let me come to their store so that I could get a replacement.  I HAD OFFICIALLY GONE TO CRAZY TOWN!

The guy said that I would have to go back to the original store to get the photo taken.  When I hung up the phone, I felt really conflicted.  Was I justified for wanting this photo retaken?  Or was I acting like a vain douche? 

I decided not to decide whether or not I’d go back to the store.  I would at least give it a night to think it over.  It’s often best to sleep on such things anyway.  Plus, I needed to go back on a different day in hopes of avoiding that weird manager lady.

That evening, I thought about Luke’s words - how it may be good to loosen that power over my physical image.  I hadn’t thought of myself this way.  With transparency being important, I’ve never been the type to alter my appearance - erasing blemishes, wrinkles, etc.

While some photos are fun, spur-of-the-moment things where I’ll snap a few shots and leave it at that, there are others when I want a particular shot.  I will take 150 photos, narrow it down to ten, narrow it down to five, consult a friend, test out some filters, and then slap one on before posting the picture.  

Even the spur-of-the-moment shots get filters.  I love filters.  They make the photos pop.  And I love making things pop.  But when I got this ugly passport photo, one of my first thoughts was, Maybe I can make it better with a filter.  This was most likely a sign that I had gotten too used to having control over my photos.

I knew what happened when I got that photo.  It hurt my sense of pride.  When my sense of pride got hurt, I felt a loss of control.  When I lost that sense of control, I felt really vulnerable.  And when I felt vulnerable, I acted like a bit of a not-so-rational person (aka crazy).

By the end of the night, I still didn’t have any answers.  Rather I came to a crossroads.  I could either keep the photo and give up that sense of control.  Or, I could go back to the store and continue the douche-trajectory.  

The next morning, I went back to look at the photo and something else ate at me: the idea of taking this sucker through customs. What if they took one look at this and not let me in their country - maybe even have me detained for suspicion of criminal activity (“I swear, officer, I don’t know how those pantyhose got in my bag!).  

Pantyhose jokes aside, I did have this legit worry that every time we could have the wonderful opportunity to travel internationally, I’d feel shitty about myself when I handed over my passport.  My ugly photo would kick off our exotic vacation via shooting my self-esteem in the foot.

I didn’t want that.  And when I couldn’t shake that feeling, I decided to go back to Walgreens and ask them to redo it.  I wished I had been strong enough to not let one terrible photo get to me like this, but I just couldn’t give up that sense of control.  

When I sheepishly walked back into the store, I saw their sign promoting passport photos.  The example featured a young woman whose only crime would be nothing other than some sexy espionage.  I wanted a photo like hers.

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The woman who worked the photo counter asked if I needed any help.  I explained the situation honestly to her - not lying at all.  She asked to see the photo and when I showed it to her, her head jerked back slightly.

“Oh, yeah,” she said.  “Let’s retake this one.”

I had never been so happy to have someone tell me I had taken an ugly photo.  I took this as a sign that I wasn’t being SO crazy after all.  When the rightful photo lady has that initial reaction and doesn’t hesitate to redo it for free, then you know it was rough.

When she took the new photo and let me see it, I still didn’t look like the girl on their passport promotion sign.  The bags looked heavy under my eyes and you could tell just how asymmetrical my face really is (how I hide this in other photos I will never know). 

She asked if I would like to do another one but I told her no.  I went in there thinking I had to either give up control or be a douche.  But when I saw the new photo, I knew that I could do both… give up some control and NOT be a douche.  Like most things, it’s not “either/or,” it’s “both/and.”

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Come to think of it, Luke never even talked about being a douche when he gave me advice.  That’s not how he talks.  That’s how I talk - which goes to show THAT’S HOW MUCH I CAN INTERNALIZE SHIT!!!  

And that’s really the goal here: figuring out how to maintain a healthy self esteem by not internalizing shit.  I think Luke was right.  It helps to settle into a bad photo knowing it’s not exactly how we look.  But it doesn’t work very well when the photo is so awful that it makes you want to barf on your cat.

We don’t need to have terribly shitty photos lying around as way to help us have a more healthy self esteem.  But I learned from this is that the opposite is true as well.  We don’t need to have “perfect” photos to get a healthy self esteem either.  

In fact, having the power to have nothing but perfect photos can wreck our self esteem even more.  If it didn’t, I could have probably reacted to this situation with a more rational approach rather than panicking, texting people, and calling up other stores and lying.

One month later, I received my new passport in the mail.  When I opened it up, I found the photo to look even worse with some distorted coloring.  But I genuinely didn’t worry about which crime the person in this mugshot had committed.  Instead, I thought about meeting some nice Canadian gentlemen to make oot with while rolling around in some leaves.

Copyright © 2018 The Bare InkSlinger, All rights reserved.

Kitten On A Curtain

One thing I can’t ever shut up about is how summer is my absolute favorite time of year.  The hot air means less clothes.  The longer days mean less depression (which also means less clothes).  And the outdoors mean more energy (and fine, also sometimes less clothes). 

While wintertime can also be lovely, I hate how winter’s cold air and short days keep us all crammed up inside - wearing heavy layers and rubbing our  germs all over everything that get us sick.  Summer is a time to come out of hibernation - see people and do things.  And if we get each other sick, it’s probably from a simple, treatable, summertime STD or something.

But as this summer approached, I may have gotten a little too excited - blowing my summer wad all at once.  When any and all opportunities popped up, I immediately popped them on the schedule.  However, this is how it all ended up popping out.  

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Phot by Hayk 

It kicked off with my incredible Insta-Friend, @knoxpeake, visiting in May.  Two days after his visit, my partner Luke and I jetted off to San Francisco to see one of our favorite musicians.  One day after we got back, Luke’s mother came for a visit.  Then MY parents came for a visit three days later. Two days after they left, our friend from Tampa arrived for Denver Pridefest.  Three days after he left, we headed to Portland for a summer trip.

As this essay posts to the blog, I will be headed home from Portland in a few hours.  But I ain’t out of the woods yet.  Fortunately though, I decided to “take it easy” in July.  Ten days after we get back from Portland, I am hosting a large party with a friend.  And then we have a WHOLE week before we head off to Tampa to meet up with the rest of my family (as properly guilted into doing by my mother).   

Amidst of all of this, I realized that, in my sheer summer excitement, I became like one of those kittens who thought it would be awesome to climb up a curtain.  And now that I am up there, I’m looking down like “Oh, fuck! What did I do?”

Writing the book has fallen off completely and I have been running the blog and the newsletter by the skin of my big fat jacked up teeth (of which I am currently trying to learn how to love).  And a new fear has hit me: in order to get back on track, I would have to miss out on the rest of summer.

I fully admit that I fucked up.  But I can’t regret crawling up that curtain.  Being with family made me feel loved.  Hiking with Knox made feel inspired.  Seeing my favorite musician live in San Francisco made me feel invigorated.  Having a sober friend over PrideFest made me feel proud.  And now going to Portland with my partner will make me feel grateful.

Writing can get a bit lonely.  I work hard and then hardly see anyone - which is probably why I overdid it these last six weeks.  So, I can either catch up via locking myself away from people again and missing out on the rest of summer, or I can take a small hiatus from the blog to finish writing the book AND enjoy a little bit of summer too.

In order to slowly get my kitten-self off the curtain, I have decided to opt for the latter.  I need to feel the sun on my skin and have more summer adventures to possibly write about for the blog.  Perhaps I will touch a dolphin (not likely).  Maybe I will eat a hot dog (also not likely).  I might even get that sweet, sweet summertime STD (hopefully not likely).

I guess this is my way of telling you all that I am taking a quick break from the blog.  I am estimating around four to six weeks, or whenever I finish the book - whichever one comes first.  This is also my way of telling you that I really REALLY hope you stick around for more transparent life essays when I return.

And if you are ever-so-disappointed that there won’t be new essays for a bit, then feel free to check out the archives section and see if any of those topics strike your fancy.  There are probably tons of older posts you haven’t read yet.  And I genuinely do enjoy striking your fancies.  

If you are new to the blog and feel overwhelmed by the archives, then below I have posted my top 8 essays - some recent, some older.  I also tacked on the three guest blogs because these talented writers stripped down and fucking crushed it.

Thank you all for your ongoing support and readership.  So many of you say you feel like you totally know me, even though you’ve never met me.  I appreciate your appreciation of the intimacy that I get to share.  I promise… I will return.

Sincerely,

    Scott Bare InkSlinger
    (aka: the kitten hanging on the curtain)


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 1. The Little Blogger That Could 

I have done everything in my power to properly protest the idea of writing a blog. Now I am actually doing it and it looks awesome and I can’t wait to do more.


2. Drawn To Something New  

I'm accustomed to stripping down and posing for still life art groups. Then, when some handsome friends of mine decided to do it too, I took it as an opportunity to try something I dreaded: sitting on the other side with the pencil in my hand and facing my fear of drawing. NSFW Version Available. 

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3. Adventures In Adderall 

My bad brain rarely wants to cooperate with me. And since it’s starting to interfere with my ability to even hold a conversation, I decided the time had come to do what my mom thankfully didn’t: reach for the pills. 

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4. One Bad Card Makes The House Come Tumbling Down  

Life can feel like building a house of cards. But all it takes is one bad card to make it all come tumbling down.  If we can't purge the card, here is what we can do. NSFW Version Available


5. The Valentine's Day Grinch 

No one loathed Valentine's day more than me. So when I got an odd job offer for the holiday, I wondered if it would help my attitude. But then something else happened that changed my grinchy heart far more than I expected. 

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6. Folsom: The Final Frontier 

When I went to Folsom Street Fair for the first time, I thought it might be my naughty final frontier. But the more I searched for this ultimate experience, the more I began to miss out on one of the best parts. NSFW Version Available


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7. The Best Worst Vacation Ever  When we took a last minute vacation to Las Vegas, one disastrous thing happened after another. I started to throwing in the towel on having a good time. That is until I figured out the retreat's biggest spoiler. 


8. Boxing With Bad Body Image When a reader wrote in about his annoyance with "hot guys" preaching self-acceptance, it became an issue I wanted to tackle. But exploring it reminded me of my own battles with body image and the reasons I want others to find peace as well. NSFW Version Available.

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9. Bring Cash, Pay The Dancers 
(by Dave Wheeler)  

Dave and his friend's hit up a male strip club for a fun night out... only to have it fall flat. Just as they were going to throw in the towel, a special dancer came along and changed everything. Dave bares it all in the first guest post on Bare InkSlinger!  NSFW Version Available

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10. Freedom 2018 
(by Leland Coffee)
 

When things look perfect, you never know what's really happening. To everyone else, Leland Coffey had it all. But within a couple of years, "it all" vanished. Leland tells the story of going from perfection to isolation and how he is humbly turning it all around.  NSFW Version Available.


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11. I Won't Grow Up 
(by Casey Coppess) 

When hair loss happened to Casey, he panicked (like any of us) in trying to figure out how to fix it. But it wasn’t until he got his yoga certification that he realized a different way to approach the downsides of growing up. 


The Taxation of Taxation

To most people’s surprise, I have always completed my own taxes.  That is if you count using software like TurboTax as “doing your own taxes.”  If you don’t count that, then at least I buy the software myself.  Okay, that’s a lie.  My dad buys it and then sends me his copy.  Did I mention I’m 36?

Regardless, in order to use the software and not a CPA, I’ve always just kept everything as simple as possible.  I didn’t claim any dependents (though with as many medical bills our dog has, he should be one).  When I got the forms, I’d plug Box A from the paperwork into Box A in the software.  Turbo Tax was happy.  I was happy.  The IRS was happy.  Everyone was a winner.

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But then I had to mess with perfection and fuck it all up by going and making myself a business.  I tried to prepare for this.  I took a class at the local adult education center called “Taxes For The Small Business Owner.”  The teacher answered some general questions and I discovered that I was a sole proprietor rather than an LLC.  

Then we reviewed what more of the boxes meant on form something-something for businesses.  We got about a third of the way through and suddenly class time was up.  The last lesson she gave before we left was that there was no way we could do it ourselves and we should just use a CPA (she gave a free 45 minute consultation).  

I wanted to leave her a bad review.  Instead I gave her a good one just in case I would actually need her help.  I didn’t want her to be mad at me.

A few months later, I received a threatening letter from the Department of Revenue talking about “sales tax.”   The letter said I had five days to respond.  If I didn’t respond, they’d revoke my business license.  I got the letter on day six.

It took me a few moments too many to register what “sales tax” even was.  The teacher didn’t mention anything about it.  She might have just been using that class to funnel new clients to her business. 

I scrambled to go on the Department’s website to try and figure this out, but none of it made any sense.  What was I selling that I needed to collect sales tax?  Our guest room on AirBnB?  I went to their website and they said they collected and remitted sales tax on my behalf.  Mister BnB?  Bingo!  They didn’t do that - darn homos.

Oh, and I guess I also sell my tip-and-strip pens (which if you haven’t seen, check them out.  I’m pretty sure it’s the only pen currently that gets fully naked.).  But I still didn’t understand.  Was I supposed to be collecting sales tax on these?  I thought that was the beauty of online purchases: no sales tax.

I woke up early the next day to get down to the Department of Revenue office and tell those dickhead bureaucrats that they needed to be patient with me.  Didn't they know I was new to all of this?  Didn't they know I have a hard time making it to my P.O. Box?Didn't they know my desk was a mess?  Didn't they know I can't do math?

When my number got called, I pulled up to the desk of a bureaucrat that was neither dick nor head.  In fact, she was a lovely woman.  As I exploded my panic all over her, she immediately put me at ease.

“Don’t worry,” she said.  “For your online sales, anything sold outside of the state of Colorado does not require you to collect sales tax.  But inside the state, you do need to collect the taxes.  So if you sold anything in Colorado during this quarter, you will be remitting those taxes.  But it varies by county.  Here, let’s do an example form on my computer.”

If life was Super Mario Bros, she would have been my Princess.  Actually, I think in this analogy, I would have been the Princess and she would have been my Mario.  She completely saved me.

When I got home, I immediately logged on to file my Sales Tax.  Then, when I got to the form, I had forgotten 73% of what she said.  So really, I’m just the Yoshi - running around mindlessly smiling while everyone does the really tough work.

So, I did the best I could, I plugged in the dollar amount for my pen sales in December (we hadn’t started hosting the BnBs yet).  I had sold four pens in two different counties in Colorado.  How do I differentiate between the counties on this form?  I couldn’t figure it out so I just lumped them into one and the sales tax calculated to owing only one dollar.  This couldn’t be right, but I submitted it anyway.  

Fortunately, the Department hosted free classes and I could take the next one in a month right before the next quarter was due.  In the meantime, I needed to figure out how to submit my quarterly federal income taxes as a business owner.  This also made no sense to me.  I texted a friend who does massage work independently.

“Do you pay quarterly estimated taxes?” I asked.

“UGH I should,” he wrote back.  “I’m always so far behind.”

This didn’t help me.  Thus, I hit up another friend.

“I’d love to dig into the weeds of an issue with you but that’s just not going to ever happen,” this other friend wrote back. “I hate to say no to people.  But I hate tax stuff more.  If you need a recommendation for a tax accountant, I got your back. So Sorry.”

Oddly enough, I really appreciated his rejection.  It clearly drew a boundary as to who he was and who he wasn’t as a friend.  This guy is the “fun friend.”  He’s the entertaining guy who brings the party - not the guy who brings the tax advice.  I wish more people drew friendship boundaries like this.

I hit up the few more business owners and the answers were all similar - either they used CPAs or didn’t submit quarterly and ended up owing huge amounts at the end of the year.  I couldn’t afford to do either.

This was totally left up to me and I didn't understand it.  I don't know about you all, but when I struggle to understand something as necessary as this, I tell myself terrible things.  I told myself that I was stupid.  I told myself that I would NEVER figure this out.  And I told myself I was going to fail at all of this.

At this point, I had started behaving like a Bowser.  You know that guy couldn't have had a good self esteem.  Otherwise he wouldn't run around trying to steal princesses all the time.  

The day came for the sales tax class and I thought I would FINALLY get some clarity on at least this part.  No such luck came to me, or any of the other students for that matter.  The teacher was great.  But she was brutally honest.  

“There is a rule for everything,” she said.  “And for every rule, there is an exception.”

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To give you an idea of how bonkers this got, at the end of the class, a girl asked a specific question about selling beauty products online (or something like that).  I overheard the teacher say “...unless you’re selling eyelashes.  If you’re selling eyelashes then that falls under a different rule.”  EYELASHES HAVE THEIR OWN FUCKING RULES?!?!?  This was out of control!

But the teacher did say something that gave me hope.  “All of us who work at The Department of Revenue are here for you guys.  Even if you need one-on-one counseling, call us or come on in.  We will always answer your questions.”

This almost sounded too good to be government.  As people asked her to repeat this, in disbelief, she explained.

“Of course we will help you.  We WANT you to succeed as a business.  Because if you succeed as a business, that means we get more money!”

Now THERE was the government.  It didn’t matter though.  I just needed to know that I was supported in my attempts at entrepeneurialship (now there’s a worthy Scrabble word if you can ever pull it off).  And learning about taxes had left me feeling completely... taxed.

For the quarterly income taxes, I finally broke down and called my father (yet again).  He had done some independent medical consulting during his career in anesthesia.  But it had been quite a few years since he retired and he didn’t want to give me inaccurate information.

Dad told me to calm down.  He said that if I wasn’t sure, just to send in 20% to federal and 5% to state.  If this was too much, then the IRS would pay me back.  Besides, I didn’t necessarily need to worry about it this time around since I only made $60 for the entire quarter.  I might have taken a lot of deductions.  

When I sat down to complete the online sales tax form for the current quarter, I took a deep breath.  I understood now that, being a smaller business, I didn’t need to worry so much about the rules - just how to plug in my numbers to the online form.  But once again, I was faced with not knowing how to fill it out for multiple counties.   

I picked up the phone and called the Department - just like the teacher had told me to.  A nice gentleman answered and he walked me through how to add multiple counties to my form.  Suddenly, it all made sense!  I got off the phone and filled out the form perfectly.  I submitted my form and paid the sales tax and an incredible feeling washed over me.

As exhausted as I was, I just successfully completed one of the most mind boggling things on planet earth.  I worked and worked and worked at trying to understand this and somewhere along this journey, it clicked in my brain and I made it happen.  I felt like a total badass.

In the end, I didn’t just throw in the towel.  I didn’t quit trying to understand the business side of being an independent writer.  And I didn’t just toss it in the hands of a CPA I couldn’t afford (bless you people for the work that you do).  I actually did this myself and it was an incredibly empowering feeling.

I ended up learning that, when you put in the effort to figure out such complicated things, you become less dependent on others doing such things for you.  There’s still a lot of questions and confusion I’m dealing with (in case any of you think you might be able to help).  But I can legitimately say I am excited to learn more about taxes and get even better at handling all of this.

If I can truly reach success as an independent writer, then I imagine things will get complicated enough that I will have to use a CPA.  Though, by then, I should be able to afford it.  For now, I have stopped feeling like a Yoshi or a Bowser, and instead, starting to feel like a Mario.

PS - If you aren't familiar with Super Mario Bros., then I apologize for my analogy.  Also, if you aren't familiar, I apologize for your childhood.  *winky face*

 

Copyright © 2018 The Bare InkSlinger, All rights reserved.

I Won't Grow Up

Guest Post by Casey Coppess

I was out to dinner with my boyfriend (now ex) at El Rodeo, the signature Mexican restaurant in Urbandale, Iowa.  We were fighting about something, what exactly I don’t recall, but it seems that’s what we did most of the time we were together.  We weren’t a good match.  There was a ten year age difference between us and there was constant discord.  I was always wanting to have sex with him and he was always wanting to watch HGTV.  

Our bickering ceased when the waiter brought us our margaritas, strawberry for me and mango for him.  After a few sips of our drinks, my boyfriend broke the silence, “Did you know that you’re balding?”

“Shut up!” I snapped back.  “Why do you have to be such an asshole?”

“I’m not being an asshole.  I’m just telling you the truth.”

He pulled out his phone and sifted through his pictures until he found the one he wanted to show me.  It was a picture of me taken from behind without my knowledge.  I was lying on my side on the couch, my boyfriend lying behind me, while Property Brothers played in the background.  The camera had been angled so you could see the crown of my head and a microscopic patch of thinning hair.

“I can’t believe you took a picture of my bald spot while we were spooning,” I replied after taking in the picture for a moment.  I know for a fact that he had been saving this picture for just the right moment.  He had been waiting for the perfect opportunity to get back at me for making a comment about how his new haircut made him look like he should be on a “Hitler Youth: Where are They Now?” TV special.  Was my comment tasteless?  Perhaps, but he used my toothbrush.

I have to hand it to him though, it shut me up for a bit.  He was right, there was a small area of my hair that was thinning. Initially, I wanted to deny it.  It was absurd to think that I, the protagonist of my own life story, would be losing my hair.  I was 22. Hair loss was something that only happened to secondary characters.

It wasn’t until I moved to Chicago that I was forced to face the truth and succumb to the tyranny of male pattern baldness.  I googled treatments, took multivitamins, bought expensive shampoos.  All I’ve really managed to do is delay the inevitable.  

It’s my good fortune that I’m tall.  The patch is directly on top of my head, so as long as I keep my upper body a good distance above sea level, and remember to never bend over, I can maintain the illusion that everything is growing just fine up top.

When I was in middle school I was diagnosed with a hormone disorder that caused my body to grow out instead of up. My skin was so thin that you could see all the veins running throughout my body. I was gaining weight and my body wasn’t changing like the rest of my classmates’ were.  

My body fell way behind in development during middle and high school as I endured the six years of hormone therapy it took to get it running on its own again.  Everything that should have been happening when I was 13 was happening my freshman year of college.  Imagine the confusion and discomfort of my roommate when he walked into our dorm room to find me naked and celebrating because I finally started to grow my own pubic hair.

As my body continued to change, I shed the excess weight and my skin became thicker. I’d go for a light jog around the block and come back 15 pounds leaner. I’d look in the mirror and think about how if I had known that at the age of 21 I would have my own cheekbones, I never would have gone through all the trouble of developing a personality. I would have given my attention to becoming someone’s trophy spouse. Instead, I spent those oh so crucial years of development watching Gilligan’s Island reruns and reading Animorphs

I never got tired of people telling me I was beautiful or the attention I got from other boys when I would go out.  My physical appearance became the only thing I believed I had to offer the world until one day I pulled a clump of hair out of my shower drain and was forced to face the truth: I was changing.  

After doing some research and after a few doctor visits (because there had to be something wrong if this was happening to ME), I learned that it’s quite common for people who have undergone hormone therapy to experience after effects like hair loss.  

Oh, woe is me, right?  So, I’m not a majestic wonderswan anymore.  I mean, how superficial can one person get?  

Over time, I have learned to be a bit more compassionate with myself. When you think that your only value comes from being physically attractive and a huge part of what makes it so is beginning to fade away, it takes a toll on your psyche.  After all, hair loss is a sign of aging.  

At what point did I turn in my green tights and pixie dust and actually start to grow up?  And what is growing up but taking steps towards death?  

This is probably why the fear of hair loss is so common.  I’m not the first person to lose their cool over losing their hair.  It means change.  Big changes, bad changes, things outside of our control changes, regardless of the lengths we go to stop it.  I mean, I’m falling apart! I had to have knee surgery from playing Blanche in Golden Girls the Musical, and my body revolts against me regularly. I eat one potato chip and my body retains water for days.  I truly have no control.  My body is changing and my psyche is just along for the ride. 

This last year I achieved a personal goal of becoming a certified yoga teacher.  My journey with yoga began in 2013 when I would attend a weekly yoga class at my gym because the instructor had dreamy eyes and a man-bun. After some time, I began to feel a real connection with the physical practice.  

I dove deeper into the teachings of yoga and as I studied, I came upon the yoga sutras of Patanjali.  The yoga sutras are 196 aphorisms written prior to 400 B.C.E. by a teacher named Patanjali outlining the basic goals and principles of yoga.  This may seem excessive, but no one mantra speaks to every person, so Patanjali found 196 different ways to say, “Calm the fuck down!”

There’s one sutra I came across while in a rut of self-loathing that in Sanskrit reads Vrtti sarupyam itaratra.  This loosely translates to: “At other times the Self appears to assume the forms of the mental modifications.”  

The mental modifications Patanjali is referring to are the traits and characteristics we associate ourselves with: I am male, I am a barista, I am bald, etc…  Too often we let these things determine our perceptions of who we are.

Okay, okay, OKAY, Patanjali… I’ll take the hint.  Although I may sometimes feel that all I have ever been is just a pretty face, what I really am is a piece of the universe all wrapped up in a package of meat and water. Not the most pleasant image but I have found a lot of peace in it.

A spiritual teacher of mine once told me that our mind is like a jungle and our thoughts, a sword.  There’s one trail that you’ve created through a lifetime of practice and habit. If you want to develop a new habit or thought, it requires some effort to attack the weeds, branches, and general fears that block the new path.  

Of course, there’s that Immediate Gratification Demon that wants to sit back with an extra dirty gin martini while his servants carry him on their backs down the convenient, well-worn path.  But luckily, I have my inner Amazon Warrior Princess bearing a longsword and wearing leather bikini armor because her core is so strong that it’s just as impenetrable as any full body armor that would only weigh her down.  She wants to conquer that jungle and lately, she’s been working overtime to battle the Demon. She knows that every obstacle is an opportunity to move closer to that final destination.

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There are no convenient or cheap remedies for hair loss.  As far as I see it, I only have two choices: Hide from the world until I can afford a hair transplant or bare it all.  Hiding out doesn’t suit me so I guess I have no choice but to put on my big kid pants and get over it.  But I’ll give myself a window of time to figure this all out.  

I’ll still spend hundreds of dollars a month on Rogaine and multivitamins, I’ll still carry hats and bandanas around with me everywhere I go, and I’ll still avoid bending at the waist so no one can see the top of my head.  That jungle is big ground to cover, and while my Warrior Princess is fierce, she’s got to take a moment to sharpen her broadsword every now and again.  

Like any yoga pose it’s not a matter of getting it right on the first try, it’s a matter of recognizing and accepting the limitations of your body in that moment.  That’s why it’s called a “practice,” because it’s a transition, one step forward at a time. 

Check out Casey's brilliant blog: Where Have I Been All My Life?
Photography by: Julie Merica Photography

 

Published by The Bare InkSlinger, Courtesy of Casey Coppess.  
Copyright © 2018 Casey Coppess, All rights reserved.

Boxing With Bad Body Image

Sometimes, a reader will ask or say something that hits home so hard, instead of responding to it in the “ask” section of this blog, I’d rather write an essay about it.  And at the beginning of March, a reader (by the name of “Ricky S.”) wrote this:

    I have to get this off my chest. I have a difficult time with guys who tell you to be comfortable with your body when they are already hot themselves. Take Davey Wavey or… and sorry about this… but even yourself. It’s so easy to say things like “it’s all about inner beauty” or “just accept yourself as you are” when you are already built and hot. Try being 100 pounds overweight, older or just not model material. Think of it this way... do you think you would have as many followers as you do if you had a big spare tire? Or, if you were in your 60's or 70s? As much as the gay community seeks acceptance, it is also the most unaccepting community towards its own members. Heaven forbid you are not a model or over the age of 40. You might as well be dead.

I can’t tell you how many times I have rewritten this essay.  Every time I think I am on the verge of some insight, I get taken down an unexpected path that derails me.  All I know is that struggling with body image in gay culture is a bit like stepping into a boxing ring, and we might be throwing more punches than we realize.

I can’t imagine what it feels like for Ricky.  Except, I can… because I didn’t always look this way.  In his comment, I felt like there was this assumption that I just walked out of my mother all bearded and barrel-chested.  I don’t blame him though.  I mean, I just made the assumption that babies walk out of their mothers.  I’ve never been with a woman so I don’t know how babies work.

The fact of the matter is that I grew up an ugly duckling.  As a baby, I looked like a fat duck when I smiled.  As a teenager, I was a greasy mouth-breather who always had food stuck in his braces.  And if twinks were mice, then in my early twenties, I would have been a feral rat.

By young adulthood, I had faced my fare share of rejection from the mens.  The anger and rage of my rejection had caused me to long since put on the boxing gloves.  I constantly stepped in the ring for a match that always left me feeling sore and exhausted.

Finally, the day came when I was diagnosed with HIV and I realized that I wasn’t just throwing punches at those who rejected me or made me feel “not good enough.”  Rather, I had been throwing a majority of these punches at myself.  In the wake of my diagnosis, I didn’t want to be sore and exhausted anymore.

All I wanted was to be happy.  I wanted to be grateful for those who accepted me the way I was (because they did exist, I just didn’t see them while fighting).  And, I wanted to be healthy.  So, I got out of the boxing ring, took off the gloves, and began lifting weights instead.

Yes, I can see how it is obnoxious to hear “hot guys” preaching self acceptance (side note: thanks, Ricky, for thinking I’m hot).  While I can’t speak for for everyone who supports such messages, I can say that this was the journey that led me to looking the way I do and saying the things I say.  This was how I came to not internalize bad body image.

Since Ricky dropped the name, I reached out to Davey to see what he thought.  The bastard had the audacity to write back in less than twelve hours.  Do you know how incredible that is?  It can take weeks for me to reply to my emails.  So clearly I need to step up my game.  But here is what he wrote:

“I totally understand where your reader is coming from. And I see a lot of this myself. There are lots of models and porn stars that I follow who espouse similar messages of body positivity. I understand that, for some people, it can feel like the right message, wrong messenger. But for other people, hearing a message of body positivity from someone they admire may actually mean a lot. I try to see both signs of the coin.  Having said that, actions speaking louder than words. What I really appreciate is when influencers use their platform to challenge and expand the definition of beauty. That's where I see real value and the potential for substantive change.”

I loved what Davey had to say and it had me thinking about how I might, in fact, be the wrong messenger for some.  But it also reminded me of all the messages I get each week from folks who say they feel encouraged by my posts on self love and body positivity.  

Then I thought about how Ricky said that our community is the “most unaccepting community towards its own members.”  This made me sad.  Here I am, trying to put good affirming energy into our community from the tools I have gained from my journey, and then seeing how it can completely fly over some people’s heads.  

It made me realize another benefit I get by staying out of the boxing ring.  I get to have this third eye that sees the better sides of our community - the ones that ARE accepting.  I don’t think I had noticed this back when I was too busy fighting all the time.

I mean, it wasn’t heterosexual people who coined such fantastic terms as bear, otter, dad bod, daddies, etc. Alec Baldwin’s character on 30 Rock, Jack Donaghy, confidently said it best.  “Do you know what a prize I am in the gay community?  There’s a term for it.  I’m a bear… and I’m a daddy.  I’m a daddy bear.”  One cannot deny the wisdom of 30 Rock. 

 

Did my appearance help me gain the following that I have?  Sure.  Are there a plethora of cliche muscle men who have gigantic followings on Instagram?  Absolutely.  But this isn’t to say that there aren’t men who are older or who have nice, big bellies that aren’t highly celebrated too.  

Here’s just some of the ones that I have seen (and follow): @buckscapes (10.9k followers), @stof604 (82.6k followers), @official.rafa.ess (19.1k followers), and, a personal favorite, @over40notdead (12.3k followers).  Side note: I just went down a freakin rabbit hole of some hot ass bears to follow.

Our community is abundant in diversity.  Hell, just a week ago, while in San Diego, I met a gentleman who coined the term “sugar bottom” for himself.  I wasn’t sure exactly what it meant, but this guy didn’t seem to have any boxing gloves on - not that I could see anyway.  He confidently embraced himself while also giving a fresh sense of embracing those around him.  How awesome is that?

Meeting people like Sir Sugar Bottoms re-energizes me about our community.  Because the fact of the matter is that I do still face rejection.  And, each time it happens, I’m tempted to put those boxing gloves back on.  I want to go look in the mirror and take inventory of the things I hate about myself.  The list currently goes something like this:

One eye is bigger than the other.  One nostril is bigger than the other.  When I smile, my crows feet become pterodactyl feet.  My posture sucks.  Sure I have cum gutters, but my lower tummy seems to pooch which destroys any ability to legitimately have abs (I can kind of have abs for photos if I do a simultaneous suck and flex).  And, sure I have pecs, but my extended sternum pushes them so far forward that I think I look like a chesty freak. 

Okay, I’ll stop there. But did you notice how much bloodier I got after making that list?

To me, self love is a practice more than it is a destination.  Working to see past these things is an active process for me - not a passive one.  If I didn’t practice it, I wouldn’t feel confident enough to put myself out there.  If I didn’t put myself out there, then I wouldn’t create the opportunity for people to tell me that I am indeed good enough.  And for that, I am grateful.  I take those compliments and run for the hills… THE HILLS I TELL YOU!  Then I practice more self love in a cave somewhere.

Perhaps the reason why these self-acceptance-preaching-hotties end up being the wrong messenger is because we don’t know their stories.  We don’t know how they got to be this version of themselves or their motivation behind spreading such messages.  Perhaps those of us who preach need to go beyond the tag lines and hashtags, and tell our stories with true authenticity.  

I preach self love because after I hung up my gloves, I learned the value of self confidence.  People are more prone to like you when you like yourself.  It tells them that you know you are worthy.  Confidence is universally sexy.  

This is the reason I want other people to step out of their boxing rings.  When it comes to dating, nobody really wants a boxer.  Boxers are just sweaty bloody messes.  People want someone who can lift them up and inspire them for a better future.  They trust that you can offer that when you first and foremost, love yourself.  

And if one simply cannot stop throwing punches, then something has to change.  It is often said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.  We cannot change the outcome until we change our story.  

It can start by taking off those gloves - letting go of the frustration with others as well as the ones with yourself.  Don’t let those messages of self acceptance pass you by.  Find what you love about yourself and build on it.  That’s where confidence begins.  And it may even inspire you to work on yourself physically too.

In the end, I didn’t look like this before and, at some point, I won’t look like this in the future.  But this is me now.  And I have to learn how to love it.  So do you.  The greatest thing I learned from getting HIV was to get out of that boxing ring… because life is too short to punch others and especially to punch yourself.

All photos by MusclePix. Website: musclepixphotography.com Instagram: @musclepix

Special thanks to Davey Wavey for commenting.  He would also like to mention his new adult website: [website removed for safe version].  "The site has plenty of 20-year-old stars with six pack abs," he says. "But it also has people who express their sexiness in other shapes, sizes and ages. We recently posted a video featuring an 83 year old man from North Carolina. It's a really beautiful video."

 

Copyright © 2018 The Bare InkSlinger, All rights reserved.

To Hell In A Comfort Zone

After that last essay, I got to thinking about my time in social work.  I did enjoy working with people with disabilities, but I don’t think I was ever actually meant to be a social worker.  Some people have their calling.  This wasn’t mine.  I could hardly take care of myself, much less anyone else.

The REAL reason I stayed at that job for nine years was because they made it so damn comfortable.  It was seriously ridiculous.  They practically threw buttloads (the proper measurement) of “paid time off” at us, and we even got to design our own schedules.  For a full time job, I generally only worked 20 - 30 hours a week.  As long as we got our work done, they didn’t question it.

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However, you know how it goes when you sit in a big, comfy chair for way too long? It sneaks up on ya and suddenly you’re sore as all get out?  Sure, I had the security of steady pay and decent health benefits, but this job was starting to give me some serious workplace welts.

“Office life” specifically had become the hardest hitting pain in my backside.  Being confined to a cubicle started to get claustrophobic.  I grew increasingly sick of being encouraged to cover up my tattoos.  And, I swear to God, if I got one more company wide email on “policies and procedures” or “rules and regulations,” then my brain would explode all over the computer screen.   

When our agency had gotten taken over by another company, things only got worse.  They began micromanaging our schedules.  Our PTO got cut.  We could no longer decorate our cubicles and covering my up my tattoos became mandatory.  I realized that I had stayed in my comfort zone for TOO long and now had accidentally ended up in hell.  

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The daily grind had officially started to fucking grind me daily.  If I stayed here much longer, I’d end up becoming some self-induced Gump with a bad buzz-cut, sitting on the edge of a bench, metaphorically bragging about my box of chocolates to total strangers.

While I could switch things up by making a lateral move to another agency, it wouldn’t take long before that seat got all too uncomfortable as well. I didn’t need a new chair, I needed to sit in something entirely different – something creative where I didn’t have to be responsible for people. 

I wanted to be my own boss and not follow all of those unnecessary rules and regulations.  I certainly wanted to stop wearing those damn long sleeves (or much of any clothing for that matter) to cover up my tattoos. Really, I just wanted to write.

Ever since I can remember, I had wanted to be a writer.  Fortunately, this dream wasn’t so far out-of-place for me. Even in elementary school, I had a knack for it.  I couldn’t do math worth shit.  And because of my ADD, I could hardly even read.  But somehow, I could write a decent story that the teachers always loved.

Back in 2011, I landed a side gig writing about “poz life” for a local LGBT publication.  This is where we discovered my ability to write transparently due to my decision to live transparently.  With that, the editors wanted me to tell more stories beyond that of my HIV status.  They helped me hone in on my craft and my column quickly became a top favorite in the magazine.

But this wouldn’t be enough money to get out of my comfortably uncomfortable job.  Besides, this wasn’t really “the dream.”  I didn’t want to just write articles for others.  I didn’t want to be restricted in word count or unable to curse like a sailor (God Dammit).  I knew I had it in me to write one of those big, girthy things that no one ever reads anymore – they were called “books” or something like that.

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In order to do this, I’d have to take a huge leap of faith and get out of the comfort zones entirely - no more keeping one foot in the door.  Otherwise I’d never get out of hell. So after a lot of intense financial planning, I pulled the plug on both the social work job and the columnist gig. My coworkers cheered as I declared that I’d become a writer of said books. Although I’m sure a few rolled their eyes behind my back. It was fine. I’d show them.

However in the first few months, nothing went as planned. That was probably because I had forgotten to actually make any kind of plan. I told everyone that I just needed time to heal from the workplace.  But, honestly, I was some Type A personality that’d rather clean the house than face the fact that I had no idea how to do this. As it turned out, I wasn’t so good without those unnecessary rules and regulations – without structure.

I successfully got to shed all of that terrible work attire. But instead of running naked and free in an open field, I now wandered around totally lost in a forest that made no sense. Every time I even tried to sit down and write, my brain got riddled with fear and went blank. I felt wounded that the writer’s life hadn’t been as romantic as I thought. Dammit, why didn’t I bring a first aid kit?  Surely a bear would come eat me up at any moment.

Who would have thought that getting out of your comfort zone would have been so freaking… uncomfortable? I was like one of those cats who clawed their way onto a curtain and now had no clue what to do next. So now what? 

Really, I had two choices. I could either sit there and wallow in my discomfort until I wasted all my resources and ended up back in the place I so desperately needed to leave or I could stop bitching and just start writing – even if my writing sucked. Maybe it’d eventually not suck and I could find my way out of this god forsaken forest.

So I did just that. I started writing, not knowing what would come of any of it. And truth be told, it DID suck.  But after a few months, things began to take shape. I got into the rhythm, I got inspired, and I had a clear vision of what my first book would be about. 

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However right when I thought I found my way out of the forest, somehow the scenery all changed.  A publisher told me that, nowadays, in order to become a successful author, one must first become a successful blogger.  This asshole (who I love and am eternally grateful for) got me all turned around and and lost in the forest of discomfort yet again.

By this time though, I had learned some new survival skills. I didn’t know a lot about blogs, much less how to make one.  But now tackling the unknown didn’t feel so terrifying. I’d sharpen my sticks and pitch some tents and figure this one out too. With the help of some awesome woodland creatures, I ended up assembling a blog that would take my shtick of transparent storytelling one giant, bold step forward.  And it would surprisingly gain a quick following.

It occurred to me that this was what getting out of our comfort zones was all about. If it were easy, it wouldn’t be scary. And if it weren’t scary, it’d be comfortable. And if it were comfortable, we’d be right back where we started in the first place. The discomfort is what creates the change that we crave. And it certainly doesn’t stop after we take that first leap of faith either.  Rather it continues long after our feet hit the ground.  We just get better at figuring it out as we run.

So here I am: STILL a blogger, not yet an author – STILL wandering the forest.  It’s been over TWO YEARS since I quit my job in social work and I have no major source of income to show for it.  But that’s okay. I’ve come to realize that in order to find your way to something new, you HAVE to get lost.  And you can’t take shortcuts in order to find your way out.  Instead, take your time to really learn about the new environment. 

Although it might be uncomfortable at first, you never know what (or who) you’ll find. Some say that not all who wander are lost, but I say that for those of us who are still lost, we are right where we need to be. Because in the end, we simply can’t make change by sticking to the paths we already know.  So when our comfort zones have suddenly landed us in hell, the time has come to get lost.  

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Photography by @musclepix

 

Copyright © 2018 The Bare InkSlinger, All rights reserved.

Butterflies and BBQs

The label “social butterfly” often gets used as a criticism.  But in the essence of transparency, I will admit that I own this label with a little bit of pride.  Being out, seeing friends and acquaintances, and meeting new people - that social energy just fills my spirit and I don’t see that as a bad thing.  

Now I will admit that I am also fairly shy.  I know this sounds like a contradiction with having just admitted to being a social butterfly AND also being someone who regularly takes his clothes off.  But it’s true.  And trust me, taking my clothes off is more of a struggle than you might think.  

This weird shy-butterfly combo presents a bit of a challenge.  When invited to a house party, I will gladly accept the invitation.  But after I arrive, things can get tricky.  If I know lots of people at said party, then I am ready to roll.  If I know very few people, it’s like my butterfly kryptonite.  I instantly turn into a wallflower.

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The really outgoing social butterflies can push past this.  They have the gall to just go up to random people and introduce themselves as if it were easy.  I do not have such gall.  Unless someone gives me that solid, friendly eye contact that says “Hi, I would like to meet you,” my gall just screams “ABORT! ABORT!” and then makes me spill my beverage while everyone watches.

Fortunately, there are some annual events where this is less likely to happen.  For instance, a friend, named Jeremy, hosts an annual summer BBQ where I flourish.  He and I know many of the same people.  And the folks I don’t know often give me those solid, friendly eye contacts.

It helps that everyone he invites are also gay men.  Those eye contacts can come from a place of flirtation.  They now say “Hi, I would like to meet you.  And I might also want to lick you.”  That’s the opposite of a butterflies kryptonite (whatever that may be).  Social butterflies really love it when people want to lick them.  Or at least I do.  

So when Jeremy’s BBQ rolled around this last summer, I sent in my RSVP ASAP.  At the previous BBQ, I had a blast reconnecting with old friends and flirting with new ones.  And over this last year, I had become a bit of a homebody.  My inner butterfly was starting to feel deprived.  I seriously needed this.

A few weeks later, Luke saw it on the google calendar we share.  “Oh no,” he said.  “Jeremy’s BBQ is the same day as Zoe’s birthday.”

By “oh no,” he most likely meant “oh good.”  Luke is not a social butterfly.  He is a proud introvert.  A night on the couch with a giant mug of wine sounds way better to him than a house party with tons of chit-chat - even the flirty kind.  

Zoe’s birthday would be different.  She was one of the kids Luke worked with back when he started a ministry for disabled children.  She had a severe case of Cerebral Palsy - a disorder that severely impairs a person’s motor skills.  Like many folks with CP, this girl was bound to a wheelchair and could hardly speak.

Luke has stayed in touch with Zoe through Facebook ever since he left the ministry years ago.  For HIS birthday last year, he asked people to donate money so that she could attend Project Walk - a program that helps teach people with disabilities how to walk.

“We can’t miss this,” he said.  “Zoe is turning thirty and the family is hosting a BBQ.  I want you to finally meet her.  She wants to meet you too.”

But what about all the men at Jeremy’s BBQ who might want to lick me?  I thought.  However, you cannot tell your partner (who is clearly a saint to others) that you’d rather go to a BBQ where you can flirt with dudes than go to a BBQ of his dear disabled friend.  

So instead, I said, “You are absolutely right.  We HAVE to go to Zoe’s birthday.  Now… how can we finagle this so that we can go to both BBQs?  Both of them start at the same time.”

Luke (who is also a saint to me) figured out a compromise.  We would go to Zoe’s birthday first for one hour.  Then after that, head to Jeremy’s BBQ.  This would make us an hour and half late to his gig, but the gays have a tendency to be fashionably late anyway.  So this could work out nicely.

In truth, I did want to meet Zoe.  I had spent the previous decade working with people with disabilities in my social work job and I understood the humbling gift it is to spend time with people who don’t have all the same advantages as you do.  That being said, I dreaded this BBQ because I wouldn’t know anyone and therefore my shy side would kick me into automatic wallflower mode.  

Apparently, just like the gays, people with disabilities can also have a tendency to be late.  We arrived before any of Zoe’s other friends.  Luke let me know ahead of time that people often talk to Zoe as if she is a child.  But she has a fully functional brain.  Because of the CP, she just can’t fully verbalize herself like an abled adult.

Upon meeting Zoe, I tried my best not to talk slowly and loudly at her face.  She grunted the phrase “Nice to meet you” and we tried shaking hands.  The family had a beautiful home and we sat in the backyard, catching up, while waiting for others to arrive.  

Zoe would ask me a question in an effort to get to know me, a gesture that can be kind of rare at some parties (especially with the gays).  Unfortunately, I struggled to understand what she was saying.  With Luke having worked with her for many years, he could translate.  This human interaction began putting a genuine smile on my face - filling my spirit in a new kind of happiness that was different from those other parties.

The next guest to arrive was a young woman (along with her mother) who had a severe case of Autism and was non-verbal.  I found myself floundering in yet another introduction.  But some time later, this girl walked on over to me.  

She stuck one hand in her mouth while using the other to grab my hand.  She pried my fingers open and steadied my palm upward.  Then, she took her other hand out of her mouth and slapped mine as if we were doing a drooly high five.  I immediately busted out laughing.  Her mother said she didn’t typically warm up to people so fast.

I excused myself saying that I needed to go get a beer.  Really, I went to the kitchen to go thoroughly wash my hand.  No one else would actually notice that I returned with a bottle of water and wasn’t drinking.  Except for Zoe’s mother.  She really REALLY wanted to make me a margarita. 

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More guests arrived, one of which was a young man who also had Cerebral Palsy.  You could instantly tell that he and Zoe had crushes on each other.  Seeing the two of them flirt was far sweeter than any flirting I would be doing later that evening.

Suddenly, Luke leaned in and whispered, “The hour is up.  We should go.”

“What?” I said.  “Already.  We JUST got here.  Let’s stay a little bit longer.  We will make it to Jeremy’s in a bit.”

This completely caught Luke off guard.  Hell, it even surprised me.  In all of my years of working with people with disabilities, I kept my relationship with my clients strictly professional.  I didn’t socialize with them.  But I guess ministry is different from social work in that sense.  And now I saw what Luke saw.

Butterflies (the actual insect), go through an bizarrely weird evolution - unlike any other animal out there.  They start out in an egg and go on to become a caterpillar.  When the caterpillar is fully grown, they wrap themselves up in a cocoon to hibernate for five to twenty-one days.  Then they turn into a freakin butterfly.  THAT’S INSANE!

While writing this, I realized that I need to get my ass to that butterfly pavilion that I have never been to.  I have also realized something else; I had quite possibly undergone my own evolution.

If I was to be totally honest, my need to be a more flirty butterfly most likely came from a need for validation.  You might be rolling your eyes and saying “duh” right about now.  But oftentimes, these things are less obvious to those who are doing it.

Having become a home body might have been like my own little cocoon hibernation.  Perhaps spending more time in the simple presence of my partner taught me how to chill out and enjoy other, more soft-hearted things in life than just that of rubbing shoulders (or other things) with my fellow gays.  This isn’t to say that I went on to abandon all of my flirty butterfly ways.  But now at Zoe’s party, it just didn’t feel like such a priority anymore.

Though, as more of her friends arrived, Zoe got more involved with them and it made sense that we go ahead and move on.  We arrived to Jeremy’s two hours late and, in typical fashion, we ended up being right on time.  While the cheese dip was gone, the grill was just getting fired up.  

At the end of the night, I couldn’t help but feel so fucking fortunate for my life.  Though, this time, it wasn’t just because I can be a flirty butterfly and Luke doesn’t get jealous; it was because I can move my own limbs at my own will - and what a blessing it is to spend time with those who can’t.

After my good hibernation, I learned something about my fear of becoming a wallflower.  Sure, it can happen and it sucks, but if we don’t venture into new territory, we risk just fluttering around the same kinds of plants.  And as being a social butterfly goes, I prefer having a more balanced sense of flight

 

Copyright © 2018 The Bare InkSlinger, All rights reserved.

The Valentine's Day Grinch

    So, I’ve had this lifelong talent of being able to shit all over everything.  Not literally, of course, but figuratively.  If I didn’t like something, I could pretty much tear it to shreds within a matter of seconds.  This charming quality came from the arrogance I used in order to compensate for the fact that I hated myself.

    The good news is that I purged this nasty habit when I got my HIV diagnosis.  When you face your own mortality, hating yourself (and shitting all over everything) suddenly doesn’t feel like a life well lived.  Happiness became a choice for me and I chose to find the positives in things rather than the negative.

    The bad news is that this nasty habit never truly goes away.  Like HIV, it lies dormant in the most hidden of places. Mine might be lurking around in my pinky toe; I’m not sure. My affinity for humility and gratitude usually keeps it in check. Although certain triggers can still coax it out.  

    And now I will admit that one such trigger is that of Valentine’s Day.  I remain diplomatic about it on the outside, but on the inside, I am the grinch who wants to shit all over it.  I spout off the same old Bitter Betty rhetoric. “It’s a greeting card holiday. It’s isolating to single people.  It’s not even romantic.”

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    My poor partner, Luke, who is a hopeless romantic, has tolerated my distaste for V-Day ever since we got together 10 years ago.  Typically, he’s fantastic at showing up with flowers on any given day. So, on Valentine’s Day, his romantic side is like a dog trying to sit for a biscuit.

    On a few occasions, he has brought home V-Day flowers.  I’d give him that look that says, “Really?! We could’ve gone to Chipotle with that money.  I could’ve gotten guacamole.” That’s how good my brain is at registering romance. Guacamole.  

    This year, a few weeks before Valentine’s Day, a friend of mine, who owns a successful flower shop, asked if I’d like to work for him on the big day.  He needed extra delivery men and would pay me mileage on top of a decent hourly. It seemed like a no brainer. I didn’t celebrate the holiday anyway and, with being a broke ass writer, I could use the money.

    I figured this could also make for a good blog post.  Maybe the experience would help shift my negative way of thinking about this holiday.  By seeing all the joy on people’s faces when they get their flowers, my grinchy V-Day heart MIGHT just grow three sizes too big.  That was the story I intended to write when I accepted this job. Then something else happened.

    On the night before Valentine’s day, a close friend of Luke’s and his family (someone who they grew up with) unexpectedly passed away.  A blood clot had passed through her heart which is apparently very deadly. By the time they got her to the hospital, she had lost oxygen to the brain and was quickly put on life support.

    This woman was a wonderful person who I felt fortunate to spend time with at family functions.  Luke had even officiated her wedding ceremony a few years back. The husband and family waited for Luke to get to the hospital before they took her off life-support so that he could say goodbye.  We didn’t quite know this was going to happen otherwise I would have gone too.

    Going to bed after losing someone is very strange.  I held on to Luke tighter than I had in a long time and we both took deep breaths.  We also both took a Xanax. Still though, neither of us got much sleep. In the morning, it felt extra difficult to pry ourselves away from each other.  We were like magnets instead of spoons.

    With all of this happening, I ended up being fifteen minutes late for the courier job at the flower shop.  I texted my friend about what had happened, worrying that it might sound like a fake excuse. He was very kind and understanding.  

    By the time I got to the shop, the whole place was a tornado of scurrying florists, vases that cost more than my entire outfit, and flowers that I couldn’t name.  It was such an aromatic and colorful flurry of panic. As the florists all yelled at each other, my friend looked at me and smiled.

    “I know this seems crazy, but all of these florists have said this is the least stressful shop they’ve ever worked in on Valentine’s Day.”

    We loaded my car with big extravagant bouquets - some that would hardly even fit.  They taught me how to do the proper order of delivery, how to make the person sign for them (you do it before handing over the flowers), and what to do if they aren’t home.  Even though we strapped down the vases in elaborate ways, a florist warned me to drive VERY VERY carefully.

    As I jetted off to my first location, I put my iTunes on shuffle not knowing exactly what music I needed at the moment.  And of course, the first song to pop up was “Blue Monday” by New Order. If you were born after 1997 and aren’t familiar with this song, the lyrics say “How does it feel to treat me like you do?”  Needless to say, I flipped to the next song immediately.

    My first delivery was at an office building.  I ended up leaving the flowers with the receptionist and didn’t get to see the woman’s joy who’d be receiving them.  The second was for a woman who worked at a trendy architecture firm. I didn’t get to see her either. Instead, I handed them to a guy talking on his cellphone who seemed fairly annoyed with me.

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    Finally on the third delivery, I arrived at a woman’s house who answered her door.  She liked the flowers and called them “lovely.” But I was hoping she’d be a little more blown away.  After all, her husband (I assume) spent $149 on them. They were super extravagant. The least she could have done was a cartwheel or something.  

    In between deliveries, the song “Blue Monday” proceeded to play two more times.  Once by the band Orgy, who gave the song a super angry flair with their industrial sound, and then by the band Nouvelle Vague, who gave it a super sexy flair with their bossa nova sound.  I immediately flipped past these tracks again and wondered how many more versions I have of this god-forsaken-phenomenal song.

    Finally, one of the few songs that Luke and I actually have as a love song popped up.  “Dry and Dusty” by Fever Ray - a spacey track with dark, distorted vocals that sing “Never leave me / Walk close beside me / Your hand my hand / Fits so easy.”  I pulled over to take a photo of it on my stereo screen and texted it to Luke. He responded with a text that simply said “I needed that.”

    I went on to deliver more flowers to more office buildings to more receptionists who seemed to get more annoyed as the day went on.  When delivering to the houses, most of these women wouldn’t answer the door. I kept thinking “C’mon you dumb whore. I have flowers for you.  I’m not a solicitor.” They were robbing me of my ability to see their joy.

    At one point, I had to pull over again as I emotionally broke down and just started sobbing.  While delivering all these followers, something occurred to me about Luke’s friend who died. What if her husband had ordered flowers to be delivered for her?  When they would arrive to their door, she wouldn’t be there to receive them.

    It wasn’t the flower deliveries that was changing my grinchy heart on Valentine’s Day.  It was thinking about this woman and her husband. It made me think about how every opportunity to celebrate love should probably be taken - even on a silly holiday.  Because you never know when it might be your last chance.

    As the day went on, I realized just how much angry music I had in my collection.  So I finally gave up on music and just switched it to audiobooks (which I still call “books on tape”) by comedians I love.  Tina Fey popped up right where she discusses critics hating on female comics and how she responds to it.

    Tina says “It is an impressively arrogant move to conclude that just because YOU don’t like something it is empirically not good.  I don’t like chinese food but I don’t write articles trying to prove it doesn’t exist.”

    This made me think about my left pinky toe and its dormant desire to shit all over things like Valentine’s Day.  Tina was right. Just because I didn’t like something didn’t mean that others shouldn’t (or couldn’t) find joy in it.  How, in all of my desire for humility and gratitude, did such a thing slip past me?

    Is Valentine’s Day a greeting card holiday?  Sure. Is it less romantic than spontaneous romance?  Yeah. Is it isolating to single people? Well, most definitely.  But is celebrating love and doing nice things for each other bad? Not at all.  

    And writing this now, I don’t think that V-Day has to be about whether you’re partnered or single.  Any moment an opportunity exists to show love, be it with a partner or family or friends, it’s probably a good idea to seize that moment.  

    My day of delivering flowers taught me several things.  I learned that driving is exhausting. I learned that your car gets soaking wet when driving around with a bunch of flowers (side note: my autocorrect just tried changing that to “...your car gets soaking wet when driving around with a BJ”).  And I learned that lots of people have WAY more money than I do.

    When I pulled into the garage, I saw that my delivery sheets were all tattered and had coffee stains on them.  This was strange seeing as how I don’t drink coffee. Then I looked down and saw three different spoons in my car from all the times I ate yogurt while driving.  I bet all those rich people who got flowers today don’t have yogurt spoons in THEIR car, I thought.

    I then thought about how lucky I am that Luke puts up with a mess like me.  I needed to do some kind of romantic gesture immediately. Since I didn’t bring home any flowers of my own, I rushed into the house and picked up an origami set that we once bought as an alternative to watching TV.

    I flipped open the instruction booklet and found a heart to make.  I picked out some pretty red paper. I began folding. Then I stopped folding.  The instructions got too complicated. I found a youtube video of a seven year old boy doing it.  I resumed folding. I successfully made two hearts.

    I arranged them with a vase of sunflowers that some AirBnB guests left for us.  I also added these mismatched, stuffed Bert and Ernie dolls that we have as a silly romantic joke.  When Luke got home, he didn’t notice them. His heart still weighed too heavy. But when he did notice them, his heart suddenly found joy.  And with that, my grinchy Valentine’s Day heart finally grew three sizes too big.

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Copyright © 2018 The Bare InkSlinger, All rights reserved.

Freedom 2018

Guest Post by Leland Coffey
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    The year was 2014.  I was a Navy Veteran who had segued  his Naval career into a job with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at Hartwell Dam.  It is located on the border of South Carolina and Georgia with redneckery afoot from all directions, and “Conservative Christians” as abundant as country music and rebel flags.  

    Including my 6 years of Navy time I had a total of 27 years of distinguished government service.  I had been legally married earlier that summer to my partner of 9 years in a small but intimate ceremony in Central Park, New York City.  I had become a fitness buff, a certified personal trainer, and an instructor of multiple classes at my local gym.  

    At 5’9”, 190 pounds, and 3% body fat I was in the best shape of my life. In the fall of that year, just as I was about to turn 46, I did some professional modeling for the very first time for a very well known photographer in Dallas, which gave me the opportunity to become a spokesmodel for several clothing companies.  

Photo by Mack Sturgis

    I had a beautiful home, an amazing group of friends, 3 dogs, the respect of my peers, and two beautiful adult children who were successful.  My life, to all who were around me peering in, seemed just perfect.  

    Flash forward to 2017.  My marriage was over.  I had stopped teaching classes at my gym, and let my personal training certification lapse.  I had gained 30 pounds, and for the first time in my life I was having health problems.  My blood pressure was high, my anxiety was through the roof and I began taking anti-depressants just to keep it under control.  

    I had to have surgery due to an umbilical hernia.  The friends that I had had all but disappeared, and those that remained lived at least two states away.  All of my dogs had either passed away or ran away.  

    My career with the federal government, which had now been a 30 year span, was about to come to an abrupt and unseemly end.  I was forced out for what my superiors sited as “conduct unbecoming.”  The respect I had earned turned into whispers and quiet pity.  In 3 years, my life had turned into a complete shit show.  

    I can summarize the cause of the vast majority of my work woes with one word: SLUT.  The issue with work was at least partially my fault.  I do take responsibility for that. At the very least I had a hand in it.  In all fairness, I was a slut.  An Instagram slut to be exact.  

    Not that there is anything wrong with that (may the gods look down upon you with favor and a stirring in their loins, oh ye Instagram hoes!), but a government employee being a slut was not the type of behavior that is looked at with favor.  

    There is a larger story there.  I had a fellow employee who had begun transitioning from a male to a female.  In addition to making my sexual orientation public by adding my husband to all of my federal benefits, I had been very vocal about my unwavering support for Molly as she went through her journey.              

    While almost all of my coworkers avoided and ridiculed her, I was her confidant and her staunch advocate.  Watching what she went through, it has made me acutely aware that supporting the trans community, in any way I can, is my chosen philanthropy. 

    In fact, in some ways her choice to follow through with embracing her truth and setting herself free inspired me to unravel the binds that I had placed upon myself.  Freedom is never actually free.  It can come at great cost.  But the rewards can be boundless.

    But I digress.  Still though, I have to look at myself and recognize that at the end of the day the fault for my career to plummet lies with me in some form and fashion.  

    The reasons why my marriage fell apart are multi-faceted, however, again, to strip it down to the bare bones: WHORE!  Our marriage had begun to degrade the moment we said “I do.”  I blame myself.  I had become disavowed with my spouse for a number of reasons, which are not necessarily important to this story. 

    I am not trying to say that this was not a two-way street or that he was completely innocent.  The point of this article, though, is taking responsibility for my actions, and hopefully learning something in the process.   

    This, in addition to the loss of my mother after an excruciating battle with breast cancer, made me question everything.  Religion, my place in the world, the boundaries to which I had submitted myself to, monogamy, sexuality… the list goes on and on.  

    I looked for friendship, comfort and compatibility in other people and, before I knew it, I had realized that my husband and I were not compatible. There were so many small things that led to this.  For one thing, I had been in relationships since I was 20.  I never had the opportunity to be single and explore that.      

    I am also the consummate care-giver.  Maybe its the dad in me.  I love to cook for people, to make them feel safe and loved and tend to their needs.  To build them up and help them realize their true value and give them the things that they desire.              

    Oftentimes I do these things at my own expense, and to be seen as the “good guy”.  And while I think these are all good qualities, you cannot do this at your own expense.  Eventually the resentment for being the people pleaser will wield its ugly head.  

    The driving force in my life, for most of my life, was to be seen as the good guy - good…at…everything - the man who has it all.  I excelled in school.  I said and did the things that I thought would make others look favorably upon me when I was married to a woman (yep, that’s a WHOLE other story!).  I had two children (a boy and a girl, both who I must say in my best efforts to try to not fuck them up, have become lovely human beings).  

    I was a perfect catholic boy who was active in my church and even taught Sunday school.  I became a decorated military man (though in my mind I always imagined being out to sea in some page right out of a Tom of Finland sketch with dicks the size of my arm all around me!).  And for 24 years I stayed in a career that was not my calling, all because it made me look good.  

     I even flashed my shit all over Instagram like I was Sharon Stone, and although my spirit animal is a naked wolf writhing around in the forest in his best fur, I must admit I liked the attention.  

    So, after living for 49 years where the majority of my decisions were based on being popular, or admired, or liked by other people, 2018 is my year.  I have made the conscious decision to live my life by my terms.  Though I am not entirely sure that I am completely self aware enough to always realize what those terms might be. 

    However, in the vein and song of George Micheal, for 2018 and the years that follow, FREEDOM is my mantra.  George is my idol.  His songs all speak to me on so many levels.  He lived his life entirely on his terms.  In addition to his music, he quietly donated the vast majority of his time and his money to causes he believed in, but did so without any fanfare or recognition.  And when he made missteps he chose to own them.

      In that spirit, I choose to be free.  Free to explore my sexuality, in whatever sick, twisted and depraved form that might be.  I want to be a writer, a model, a dancer, a fitness guru, and a world traveler.  I want to be able to love and be loved without the confines of conventional relationships holding me back.  

    I want to look inward and like the person I see because he makes ME happy.  Of course, my intention is never to let my new sense of direction and fulfillment encroach on the lives, liberties and libidos of others.  Only to enhance them, and hopefully in the process, mine as well.  

    It started with a move.  After 17 years in the south it was time for a change.  Cleveland seemed like a good fit.  New home, new furniture, new car, new attitude!  I have found a job here that helps me maintain a certain amount of anonymity while still being able to be around people and be social: a grocery delivery service.  

    I have also begun the process of teaching classes again at my local gym and getting re-certified as a personal trainer.  I am becoming social again, and making new friends.  I am getting my health under control, my blood pressure is back to normal and I have lost 10 pounds in a month.  

    I am about to embark on some new modeling projects one of which is a campaign for positive body image for men.  I am mending errors in my past, apologizing to those who deserve it, and kindly leaving those in my rear view that are not good for me.  

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    I have two brand new, beautiful rescue pups. They need me just as much as I need them. I have one brand new relationship from someone very surprising.  We are so much alike in so many ways it’s scary.  

    He and I have both been able to explore our sexuality together in a way we never could before.  He is equal parts care giver and care taker.  He’s so beautiful it hurts my feelings and he has an ass that turns bottoms into tops!  And yet, he’s completely insecure, and has no idea of all of the gifts he possesses.  

    And, just in order to keep my inner hooker alive, 6 months before my 50th birthday, for the first time in my life, I will be a GoGo Bear. My stage name will be Daddy Lee.  He is my alter ego - the one brave enough to unapologetically help me find myself, and help me dance like no-one is watching.   

     “Listen Without Prejudice” is my favorite George Michael album.  The last song on the album is called “Waiting”.  He sings “there ain’t no point in moving on until you’ve got somewhere to go” and “all those insecurities that have held me down for so long, I can’t say I’ve found a cure for these but at least I know them so they’re not so strong”.  

    I do have somewhere to go.  I am walking towards MY life.  It belongs to ME.  I recognize my faults, but I also realize they are part of what makes me inherently ME.  Waiting is not an option.  Join me, won’t you?  

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Published by The Bare InkSlinger, Courtesy of Leland Coffey.  
Copyright © 2018 Leland Coffey, All rights reserved.

Surfing Into The Unknown

    Being in a relationship where both partners do social work means that you don’t necessarily make a combined income of a bajillion dollars per year.  Luke and I both had decent wages, but we’ve always had to be very intentional about how we spend our money - especially when it comes to travel.  More often than not, we vacationed where we could find deals rather than the trendiest destinations.

    Being a music geek sometimes dictates my travel as well.  When you tart out over the lesser known bands, chances are you’ll have to fly elsewhere in order to see them in on their limited tour.  Several years ago, when an artist that BOTH Luke and I loved (that’s rare) did only a few shows in the US, we decided to take a trip somewhere to see the show.  The only logical date would be the concert in New York - not a cheap place for anything.

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    I imagined we could swing it though because I had recently signed up for some golf subscription thing in order to get two buy-one-get-one-free airline vouchers.  I have about as much interest in golf as I do in gas chambers.  But I figured I could dupe them by signing up and then cancelling to keep the vouchers.

    As it turned out, those golf buttholes were the ones who duped me.  When I logged on to the website to purchase my buy-one-get-one-free ticket, the cost of the first ticket was a double the price.  And then, because I have the attention span of a gnat, I accidentally forgot to cancel the subscription and got charged for the first month (so who’s the butthole really?).

    We figured we could make up for the loss by getting a super cheap hotel.  But apparently those don’t exist in New York.  Even a place in Brooklyn looked to be out of our price range.  By now, we had bought our plane tickets and the tickets for the concert.  We wouldn’t back out.

    “What if we… ummm… ‘couchsurfed’,” I sheepishly suggested to Luke.  With Luke being a bit more reserved than me, I knew the idea wouldn’t fly with him.  So I added some extra sheep in there hoping to at least pique his curiosity.

    “What is that?” he asked.  “What does that even mean?”

    “Well, we can go online and find someone to host us for free.”

    “That’s a thing?  No.  We can’t do something like that.  Nothing in life is ever ‘free.’  It could be dangerous.”

    Maybe he was right.  Or maybe he wasn’t.  I knew a couple people in college who talked about doing this and they always seemed to keep staying alive, or, at the very least, untraumatized.  And to be honest, I was SO cheap that I would have been down to deal with an itty-bitty-tiny-bit of trauma in order to save a few bucks.  Nothing violent.  Just... like... if our host made us talk to puppets or something.  

    I understood why Luke felt hesitant though.  Things like AirBnB didn’t exist yet.  Staying with strangers from the internet was unheard of - especially free of charge.  Doing so meant diving into the unknown.  We would be in this other person’s hands and that felt totally vulnerable to him (and any normal human being).

    But by this time in my life, I had already become an abnormal human being - embracing my vulnerability.  Wonderful things were happening because of it.  Why couldn’t the same be true for our travel?  After pounding Luke with all of my overly-trusting optimism (and seeing the steep price of even the New York hostels), he agreed that we could give it a shot.

    I went on the CouchSurfing website (an underground concept at the time), and seeing how we were newbies without any feedback, I knew I’d have to connect with a host on a personal level rather than just a mere request.  So, I went in search of fellow naturists - something else I had been experimenting with in my desires to challenge fear.  I had found nudists to be the most welcome people.

    When an older New York naturist accepted our request and said we could sleep on the hide-a-bed couch in the living room of his one bedroom apartment, I was thrilled.  Luke?  Not so much.

    “He’s just going to expect us to have sex with him,” he said.

    Luke is by no means a pessimist.  In fact, his pinky finger sees more good in mankind than I do in my whole right arm (the arm I use to shake my fist at God sometimes).  But fear tends to fill our brains with doubts.  I couldn’t blame him.  In the unknown, we can only see how the glass is half empty.  

    When we arrived in New York, our host, Michael, gave us impeccable instructions on how to find his place.  He met us outside, still dressed in his work attire which looked more expensive than our furniture.  His place was small but gorgeous.  At the first chance we got, we looked up online how much he paid for it - almost $900k.  

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    First thing’s first when I travel, I needed to find a grocery store and get some food.  I hate eating out all the time on trips.  It’s unhealthy and expensive.  But would Michael be okay with us using and storing things in his kitchen?  Not only was he fine with it, but he told us the best and closest grocery store to get our food.

    That first night, we asked Michael if we could take him to dinner as a gesture of thanks.  He gladly accepted and chose a small restaurant in the Chelsea neighborhood so that he could show us how to get there from his place.  After dinner, he would explain how to get to the various neighborhoods of New York - including Time Square which was only a ten minute walk from his place.  

    One thing I absolutely wanted to do on this trip was go to the nude beach in Sandy Hook.  However this was across the river in New Jersey - not an easy place to get to.  But since Michael as a naturist, he was all too familiar on how to do this.  

    Thank God we had his help.  Without his guidance, we wouldn’t have been able to make it to the ferry in time - much less find the freakin boat.  Michael even recommended a good deli to get sandwiches before catching the fairy.  Our day at the nude beach was a total success.

    That afternoon, when we got back to the apartment, Michael had just opened a bottle of wine and asked if we would like any.  Michael was a big wine aficionado and this became the norm for the rest of the week.  If we got to his place around the same time he got off work, he’d uncork something delicious for us.  Obviously you don’t find men uncorking bottles of wine when you get back to your hotel room.  

    Though one thing did suck: he didn’t have air conditioning.  Our trip took place in June and this made for some hot sweaty nights.  But we were saving $300 a night.  And I hadn’t yet had to talk to any puppets.  Towards the end of the week, Luke and I knew how to navigate the streets of New York like pros - or at least pro tourists.

    On our final night in New York, Michael’s neighbors scored a bunch of tickets to an off-broadway play we both wanted to see and invited us all to join them.  They were an older Jewish couple who were so adorably stereotypical, I just wanted to start chowing down on gefilte fish right then and there.  

    The play, called “Next Fall,” centered around a gay couple.  Several friends had recommended it because it closely paralleled my and Luke’s relationship.  One guy was older while the other was younger.  One guy was religious while the other was atheist.  ONE GUY WAS EVEN NAMED LUKE!  It was some seriously spooky shit.

    Spoiler alert (in case this play ever gets turned into a movie one day), the character, Luke, died at the end.  I was so distraught and belligerent with tears afterwards, I demanded that my Luke and I immediately break up.  The thing that makes me feel most vulnerable in this world is the idea of losing someone I love.  For me, it is NOT better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all.  It’s way better to just not love. (I’m still trying to work on this)

    Michael suggested we all go out for dessert afterwards to calm my hysteria.  It worked.  There are no wounds that a ridiculously dense flourless chocolate cake cannot heal.  By the end of dessert, I was ready to further heal my wounds by going to a seedy New York bar where anything could happen.  Michael told us exactly where we needed to go - though he didn’t join us.

    Michael’s suggestion lived up to its name (its name being “The Cock”) and we had so much fun in this alternate universe that we completely lost track of time.  When we realized it was 3 a.m., Luke and I hightailed it out of there.  We had to get back to the apartment and pack up to get to the airport in time for our 6 a.m. flight.  

    The taxi waited outside for us as Luke took a quick shower and I shoved our things in the suitcases.  Both still slightly drunk, we woke up Michael to hug him goodbye.  We would genuinely miss this man.  Luke and I hadn’t just found an excellent host, but also a new friend.

    After having gotten no sleep, we got on the plane looking like extras from “The Night of the Living Dead” - the ones where they don’t even try to make the make-up look good.  But aside from our terrible faces, we sat there amazed by the New York vacation we just had.  It was far better than if he had stayed in a hotel.

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    That’s the thing about the unknown.  All that fear distorts the glass of water and we can only see how it as half empty.  It isn’t until we have surf our way into the unknown that we discover how half full that glass really was.  And sometimes, on a rare occasion like this, the glass of water will overfloweth.

    When we got back to our home in Denver (and after getting some real sleep), we decided that CouchSurfing would be an integral part of our travels from then on.  But being the kind of people who wanted to offer what we wished to receive, we knew we’d have to do some hosting ourselves.  This would bring on a whole new set of wonderful connections with people from all over the world.

    Like all good things, this underground treasure of travel would eventually come to an end.  CouchSurfing still exists, but when it became a B-Corp and tried to go mainstream, the concept somehow got lost.  But, in the end, it was better to have tried it, loved it, and lost it rather than to have never tried it at all.

 

Copyright © 2018 The Bare InkSlinger, All rights reserved.

A Thin-Skinned Remedy

    They say in order to be successful on Instagram, you have to post photos within a “brand” - not like brands of products, although some of the big time influencers will do that.  This is more like boundaries of ideas that you create so that followers can routinely enjoy your photos.  The tighter you stick to this brand, the better you will do on Instagram.

    I had decided that my brand would be a mix of humor, inspiration, and a whole lot of nakedness.  These aspects are all true to my real life.  I am a goofy guy who strives to be optimistic and likes to take his clothes off.  But it probably makes my Instagram inconsistently consistent - or consistently inconsistent.  I can’t figure out which one.

    Either way, I don’t want to look narcissistic or self obsessed - which is ironic when you post nothing but photos of yourself (and your dog on a rare occasion).  Therefore I try to balance out the fleshy photos with something not-so-naked approximately every other post.  

 Photo by JR Moore

Photo by JR Moore

    I want people to know that I am more than just flesh.  While I certainly do enjoy bringing the flesh, I have a brain too - which I guess is also technically flesh but you know what I mean.  I don’t want to become a mere sexual object to everyone.  My writing is often just as naked as I am and I love it when people get that.

    Stripping down to tell transparent stories has come to mean a lot to me.  If I can simultaneously take my clothes off and open up people’s minds, then I have done my work for the day (aside from that damn book I’m trying to write).  Since sex sells, I might as well help sell some introspective food for thought.  

    And recently I tried offering up some extra “fleshy food for thought” on World AIDS Day.  I posted a stockpile photo of me removing my shirt - revealing a red ribbon on my chest ala Superman style.  The sexy shot has always gotten a powerful response and this year was no exception.  My followers liked it.  

    A few days later, I posted an essay on the blog inspired by World AIDS Day - a story about a surprising sneak-attack of my struggle with my own HIV status ten years later.  That got a great response too.  Life was good.  I was creating universal awareness through sharing my vulnerable photos and personal tales (rather than just my tail).

    Then, nearly a month after the Instagram post with the red ribbon, another user posted this comment on the red ribbon photo: “If you play with fire, you get burned. And even after that, you still sexualize yourself.  Stereotype.”

    Of course, this comment took me back.  However, the thing that really surprised me wasn’t what he wrote, but rather what I wrote back to him.  I said… absolutely nothing.  I didn’t write anything back.  I didn’t respond at all.  This is not typical of me.  

    I often admit that I struggle to be one of those people who simply “don’t give a fuck.”  Honestly, I don’t think those people actually exist all that often anyway.  The only person I’ve ever witnessed to TRULY not give a fuck is that old man who goes to the mall wearing sweat shorts and knee high black socks with sandals.  No joke - I legitimately admire that guy.

    Of course, I wanted to give a fuck when this guy posted that comment.  The insinuation that I deserved my HIV diagnosis because I continue to act like a “stereotype” has a certain sting to it.  I wanted to write some hyper-intelligent epic burn that would totally make him gravel for the HIV communities’ forgiveness.

    But this was nothing new.  We’ve all dealt with online haters and I’ve already written about a particular encounter on this blog before.  At that time, my partner was the one who told me to just let it go.  He tends to be the angel on my left shoulder who combats the devil on my right - which is really just my Freudian desires to punch stupid people in the face.

    With this more recent hateful HIV comment, my brain did start to run through all the different heroic things I could say to this man.  But I stopped myself.  This time, I somehow instinctively knew to let it go.  Not bad for a guy who’s therapist once officially gave him the unofficial diagnosis of being “thin-skinned.”  Though I wasn’t sure exactly how I did this.

    I wanted to figure out how exactly I came to letting it go so easily.  But first, I figured I’d try an experiment.  I decided to publish a screenshot of his comment on my Instagram story (for the non-IG-users, that’s a section of content that only lasts for 24 hours).  

    I published the shot twice.  The first one pointed out the comment with the note “OUCH” attached.  Then, with the second shot, I added a statement:  “Everyone has the right to a healthy sexual self esteem… regardless of their age, gender, body type, or HIV status!”

 Original HIV photo by JR Moore

Original HIV photo by JR Moore

    Okay, so doing this technically doesn’t look like I had let it go at all.  The exclamation point certainly didn’t help either.  But it was meant as a passionate punctuation to express a sense of enthusiastic optimism.  As I told a few of the folks who wrote in on the Instagram Story: I just wanted to take something negative that someone put out in the universe… and turn it around to put something positive out into the universe.  

    I didn’t care if the guy saw it.  I wanted people to see it.  I want to raise awareness about how attitudes like this still exist in the world.  In the day of undetectable status and PrEP, it seems like hardly anyone thinks like this anymore.  But they do.  They still lurk around in shadows waiting to pop out at any moment and make you feel like shit for having sex or having a disease.  And perhaps “letting it go” didn’t necessarily need to be synonymous with being quiet about it.

    After doing this Instagram Story, something else surprising happened.  I went from ignoring this guy’s comments to actually being glad that he wrote it.  With having the opportunity to post it, I really did catch people's attention and got over a hundred messages of unwavering support and kind words back.  It showed me that for every negative butthole out there, there are a hundred people who are waiting to show their love.

    It also gave me a sense of grace with this guy.  People who attack others online probably don’t lead happy lives.  Happy people don’t need to write terrible things to others so that they can feel superior about themselves.  And thus I genuinely felt bad for him - although he probably couldn’t give two shits.  

    This little experiment was teaching me the value of what can happen when you respond with thicker skin.  By writing something positive for everyone else, my energy was spent feeling better about myself for what I said... than feeling dumpy about the negative thing this other guy said.  

    Then it hit me: the reason why I was able to let it go.  Since pursuing my dream of becoming an independent writer, things have become incredibly stressful.  Writing a book, maintaining a blog, and managing social media gets super overwhelming.  And it takes a long LONG time before it’ll ever pay off. 

    So, in order to combat this stress, I’ve been practicing a little mental health trick that almost everyone (who has been to a therapist) already knows about.  I have been keeping a “gratitude journal.”  Every night, before I go to bed, I write down ten things I am grateful for.  You’re supposed to do it when you first wake up too.  But it’s hard enough for me to not just crawl around on the floor and drool in the morning - let alone write in a journal.

    I know doing a gratitude journal sounds fairly hoaky.  But it’s amazing the terrible things we can tell ourselves when instant success doesn’t land in our laps.  So, even if it feels totally dumb, practicing gratitude and self love, like this, can help us see the awesome things we might be missing.

    These practices have been legitimately helping my brain.  Even though I’m continuing to run out of money, I still feel encouraged to keep working hard and finish writing the book (which will hopefully be the first of many).  

    But what I didn’t expect was that this new energy would spooge over into other areas in my life.  Because I have been getting more solid in liking myself, I didn’t really care about what this guy had said.  Yes, I am HIV positive.  And yes, stripping down helps me connect with my audience in a fun way (it also helps me deal with my body image issues).  Whether he understood all that or not... was none of my business.

    Perhaps this whole gratitude journal thing is a solution for thin-skin.  What other people think or say about us doesn’t feel as aggravating when we are grateful for what we have and *GASP* actually like ourselves.  Besides, hating on the haters won’t make the haters hate any less.  But maybe a little love will.

    Of course, having thin-skin is a lot like having HIV.  The remedy needs a multifaceted approach.  We can take our little (big) pill and we can write down our little (big) thanks, but there’s other health and wellness needed to REALLY make this work.  And like HIV, thin-skin lies dormant... waiting for the chance that we might somehow fuck up our treatment.

    In the end, I don’t have any plans to tone down the naked part of my brand on Instagram.  Nor do I have plans to ramp it up.  I am perfectly happy with how it is, regardless of one man’s nasty comments.  I like feeling good about my body even if it makes me look like a silly ho.  And I like encouraging others to try and feel the same about themselves - at least about the way they see their body (not necessarily the "silly ho" part).

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    Then, not even a week after that user posted his ill-intended comment, I got a private message from someone else.  It said, “A ‘writer’ that only has body shots? So confused by these selfie accounts.  Are you inspired by nothing more [than] narcissistic photos of yourself?”

    I did decide to respond to this one - differently than I ever have with a hater.  First, I invited him to read my writing.  Then I told him that he had a handsome profile photo.  Then I told him it was cool that he was an architect.  Then I told him that I hoped he enjoyed living in Minneapolis - that I always heard great things about it.  Then I took my pollyanna ass to the gym and didn’t give it a second thought.

 

Copyright © 2018 The Bare InkSlinger, All rights reserved.

A Funeral For A Birthday

    Last October, while hanging out with the neighbors on our back porch, my partner, Luke, got a call from our old friend Isaiah.  Isaiah is one of those great people who we unfortunately don’t hang out with or keep in touch with enough - a terrible side effect of ALL this adulting we ALL have to do ALL of the time.

    Being that we don’t talk to him often, Luke figured the call must have been important.  So, he stepped away to answer.  As it turned out, Isaiah’s stepfather unexpectedly passed away.  He wanted to know if Luke would officiate the funeral.  

    It often surprises people when they find out that Luke used to work in ministry and is still ordained.  It’s irony at its most delicious seeing as how I sometimes behave like the devil’s house boy.  Luke still often uses his ordination to officiate weddings.  Funerals are more rare.  As one can imagine, they take an emotional toll. 

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But he had already done a service for a friend of Isaiah’s who took his own life a few years back.  This was the only time we had met his stepfather, so obviously we weren’t close with this man.  However, the family and friends loved the way Luke officiated the prior funeral for the friend, so it only seemed natural that he help with this one, too.

Luke agreed to do the officiation and told me the date.

“Oh, the day of my birthday,” I said.

“Shit.  I didn’t even think of that.  I’m sorry, love.  I’ll call him back and tell him I can’t do it.”

We both immediately knew that this wasn’t the right solution.  I wanted to be there for our friend.  We adore him and this is what friends do.  

“No, you should still do it,” I told him.  “We haven’t made any plans for my birthday yet.”

In any case, the truth is that I kind of hate my birthday.  Not because it’s a sign of me getting older or anything like that.  More so because I get frustrated in trying to figure out what to actually do for it.     

Do I just be simple and not make a big deal of it?  But it’s a good reason to bring people together.  Do I have some kind of party at the house?  That takes so much work and money.  Do I see if folks want to meet up at a bar?  That makes people spend their own money and everyone seems awkward trying to talk over the loud music.  My brain then short circuits and catches on fire.

With my birthday being ten days before Halloween, Luke suggested we do a pumpkin carving party at the house.  This reminded me of how my mom always made me have Halloween themed birthdays growing up.  It would enrage me because all I ever wanted was a Christmas themed birthday so that I could play Santa and people would bring ME gifts (instead of the other way around).  Mother refused to compromise. 

Anyhow, Luke’s simple and totes-adorbs-idea didn’t sound all that much like something I’d do anyway.  Sure, I’ve become a bit of a homebody and am currently sober.  But I had a reputation for being that edgy guy with the tattoos.  My desires to face fears have given me a provocative reputation.  A pumpkin carving party sounded way too cheesy and tame for a guy like me.  

Though this year’s birthday wasn’t a milestone (which I just accidentally spelled “mildstone”), it did land on a Saturday which only happens, like what, every six years?  It felt like I had to do SOMETHING interesting.  But each time I tried to think about it, I went back to that same back-and-forth thinking that always just ends in procrastination.

With time running out, I finally just opted for the pumpkin carving deal and figured I’d keep the invite list small - just thirty of my closest friends.  After sending out the invite, only six of them RSVP’d.  This didn’t make me feel better about the whole thing.  Rather, I felt pretty lame.

Plus, this all DID kind of make me feel older.  Maybe I actually was worried about aging.  About to turn thirty-six, I hadn’t even achieved what I set out to accomplish by the time I turned thirty-five.  And lately, I’ve been constantly checking the crown of my head to see if I’m losing hair the same way my father did.  

One thing I do enjoy about my birthday is when all the people on Facebook write nice notes on my wall.  However, when I woke up the morning of, no one had done this. With having gotten a few well-wishes on messenger, I knew this all had to be due to some glitch.  But still, my birthday was just starting to feel like a cursed day.

When my mother called, she did say that Facebook wouldn’t allow her to write anything.  I researched it and realized I had put a block on allowing people to post on my wall.  I did this a while back when I got tired of folks posting invitations for me to come play games where we have to crush candy or something.

Around 5:30 p.m., we got to the church for the funeral and helped Isaiah set up.  I volunteered to work the audio - which really just meant that I would sit there and play two songs at their respective times.  It’s probably about the most I should even be entrusted with.  

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The funeral itself was not large.  His stepfather didn’t have a ton of people in his life.  But the people who he did have loved him a lot.  When Isaiah did his speech during the service, the tears that rolled down his cheeks were enough to make a few tears roll down yours too - even if you didn’t know this man.    

    I’ve surprisingly gone to more funerals than I imagine someone typically would by their mid-thirties.  And I’ve noticed that when we go to funerals, we usually walk away thinking two things.

    The first being that we wonder what our own funeral would be like.  Would it be a sad time for grieving or an uplifting celebration of life?  What kind of food would be served?  Who would speak?  Will there be a slideshow?  What songs will get played?  For a music geek, that’s the most important one.

This all probably sounds like the most morose thing you can think about on your birthday.  But the other thing you think about after walking away from a funeral is how you’ve got to stop wallowing around in self pity and appreciate what you’ve got.  And this is quite possibly the best thing a person can think about on their birthday.  I felt entirely fortunate that Isaiah invited us to be a part of his families important day.

When we got home, we only had about thirty minutes before our guests would start arriving.  As they showed up, things turned out just as small as Facebook had promised.  But where I once would’ve considered this tragic, I now felt fairly fortunate.  Instead of a large party, where everyone would huddle in corners talking only with those they knew, the energy flowed freely even between those who had just met for the first time.  Life felt good.

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I don’t particularly like carving pumpkins. The insides feel all yucky and they smell weird.  I have no artistic ability and I have a tendency to accidentally cut myself when messing around with sharp objects.  However, on this night, I was having an amazing time.  Hearing my friends laugh made me feel lucky to be alive so that I could enjoy such good things with such great people.

Like the funeral, this didn’t have to be big in order to feel significant.  Perhaps when social butterflies get older, we start to realize that life should be more about quality than quantity.  And these friends who did show up to carve pumpkins totally brought the quality.  

This is not to say that those who didn’t show up were not quality people.  The invite had gone out with just barely a week to spare and some folks already had plans.  But if I was being honest with myself, I would admit that “quality” didn’t apply to every single person on that original invite list.  Why did I do such things?

In the end, I am the kind of person who needs human connection in order to feel… well, connected.  Being in the presence of others, whether they are friends or acquaintances or otherwise, brings me a sense of joy in life.  That’s not a bad thing.  But perhaps I don't need hundreds of Facebook wall posts or thirty friends to show up to know that I am loved. 

And who cares if I am getting older anyway?  Because after going to a funeral for your birthday, you remember that aging is a pleasure denied by many.   


Luke and I would like to thank Isaiah and his family for giving us the honor to help out in their time of need.  Additional and special thanks to Isaiah for letting me write this essay.  I love you, buddy.

 

Copyright © 2018 The Bare InkSlinger, All rights reserved.

Drawn To Something New

When two friends of mine recently (and nerve-wrackingly) agreed to pose for a gay erotic drawing group, I decided to take this opportunity to face one of my own nerve-wracking fears as well.  Unfortunately, this didn’t mean I would be stripping down with them.  Rather, I’d be sitting on the other side, trying to sketch out all their sexy, lusty, thirst-inducing poses.

While I may be able to write a decent story, I pretty much have no other artistic ability.  I can’t even write with a pen like a normal person, much less draw a picture.  Honestly… if I tried to draw a cute, baby seal diving into the ocean, I’m certain it would somehow look like a zeppelin hurling downward into a fiery death.  But when you have two handsome friends willing to get naked and pose together for the sake of art, it helps to run towards such fear and try something new.

 Photo by Daniel Takespictures

Photo by Daniel Takespictures

If you’ve been following me for even, like, thirty seconds, it should come as no surprise that I have posed for this group many times over the last seven years.  I’d always choose acquaintances or friends that I found really attractive; but never had sex with.  To me, nothing creates better sexual tension than getting naked with someone for the first time.  

These friends and I could feel each other’s hearts beat wildly in each other’s chests as we’d embrace each other’s bodies in the buff... in front of fifteen people.  We’d be so close to doing things we so badly wanted, and yet we couldn’t go a single inch further in order to hold still for our onlookers.

And that was one aspect that had me intrigued about my friends who were now posing.  They wouldn’t be getting naked together for the first time.  Logan and Greg were actually a couple, and I wondered how their dynamic would differ from the way I pose with other guys.  It also didn’t hurt that both of them are very handsome.

Therefore, when I found out about their posing for this group, I figured it was a win/win situation - though both wins would be for me.  I could get out of my comfort zone by trying to draw AND it also gave me an innocent excuse to see two sexy friends get naked.   

Like a total art pro, I brought a stack of printer paper and a few mechanical pencils.  Meanwhile, the other drawers had giant pads of paper - some with easels.  They used a wide array of tools ranging from size and color to even charcoal.  None of this made me feel very confident in what I was about to do.  But that’s the cool thing about the group: they don’t require any skill level and everyone encourages each other.  The same goes for the models.

The evening kicked off with five two-minute poses to get things warmed up.  Then came a five-minute pose followed by a ten-minute one.  The first hour rounds out with a twenty- minute pose. Then everyone takes a fifteen-minute break.  

The fun thing about the two-minute and five-minute poses is that the models can be more dynamic in what they can do with their bodies.  Once things ramp up to the ten or twenty- minute poses, they have to be a little more cautious and relaxed about it.  Holding still gets astonishingly difficult with the longer you do it.  

For the two-minute poses, Logan and Greg did not let us down.  At one point, Greg even planked on top of Logan for the full two minutes.  Do you know how hard a two-minute plank is?!  I can’t do that!!!  So, if I sensed any disappointment, it came from my own inability to get an arm or a leg or even a butt on paper in this short amount of time.

During the five and ten-minute poses, Logan straddled Greg and they lovingly gazed into each other’s eyes.  It was sexy and sweet.  With their getting comfortable being in the spotlight, my anxieties about drawing began to slip away too.  I found myself at ease with the curves of these human shapes (including those butts).

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For their first twenty-minute pose, they sat across from one another on the posing couch - an awesome antique once known as a “fainting couch.”  Instead of trying to draw both of them, I focused just on Greg purely based on his positioning.  With his side facing me, I wouldn’t have too much foreshortening (which apparently is a bitch to do).  

By the end of this round, I actually started to feel proud of what I was generating.  Sure, I made his neck gigantic and couldn’t finagle his hands, fingers, or feet to save my life.  But you could at least tell he was a human being - or at the very least, a burly, handsome amputee.  Maybe this drawing thing didn’t suck so badly after all.   

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    The time came for the break which I desperately needed.  My hand wanted a little rest after trying a little too hard that first round.  Plus, I was hungry.  Drawing can apparently work up an appetite.  The group provides snacks, but I urgently scarfed down a burrito that I snuck in - hoping no one would see me eating the most ridiculous of all foods to bring to an erotic drawing group.  

    In the second round, they’d do one ten and two twenty-minutes poses.  Things only got sweeter for Greg and Logan.  They did a couple different takes on cuddling one another.  You could occasionally hear them whispering sweet nothings into each other’s ears.  Though technically I didn’t know if they were “nothings.”  They could’ve been talking about the North Korean nuclear missile crisis for all I know.  Either way, you could sense that they whispered about it with love.  

Their whole dynamic came off more romantic than erotic, which can surprisingly be a nice change of pace sometimes.  Sex can often overshadow love.  And seeing them do this as a couple made me slightly envious.  

My partner, being the private/slightly-more-reserved guy that he is, would never join me in such sexy, provocative ventures.  Fortunately, he’s great about my desire to seek such thrills and gave me his blessing to do it with others. 

After the evening would end, I’d ask Greg and Logan what they thought the differences might be posing as a couple vs with a friend (or possibly even a stranger). 

“Being together almost five years, I’ve explored Greg’s sexy body many times over and know many of his best attributes to show off,” Logan said.  “We’ve been able to try poses at home before stepping in front of the group.”

“There’s already chemistry there,” Greg added.  “We’re already comfortable doing sexual acts or imitating them together.  We don’t have to fumble around with someone new - feeling like a first date.”

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    Whenever I pose with a friend, it often does feel like we ARE fumbling around to figure each other out - despite the high sexual tensions.  You never quite know what the other person is comfortable with.  Is he okay with imitating doggy style in front of fifteen dudes?  If so, does he want to be the top or the bottom?  You’re both put on the spot to figure out in a matter of seconds.

I could also see how, if the models ended up in a position that didn’t feel natural or okay, the artists could sense it.  And now being in the artist seat, I know that I wouldn’t necessarily want to draw hot naked men acting awkward.  Though if “Hot Naked Men Acting Awkward” were the title of a new play, I would definitely want to go see that.

“Except I think a disadvantage to being a couple would be that you don’t get to build chemistry with another person during the session - going from holding each other’s hand to maybe a big finale,” Greg said.  “Talking with the artists, it seems that they enjoy seeing the chemistry increase throughout the session.”

I guess this was where my posing with platonic friends had some leverage.  Once we get past that first-date-fumbling-feeling, the two of us are ready to tear into each other by the final round.  It makes you squirm with desire while trying to hold still like that.  Sometimes you begin to move a hand or a mouth just enough to do something you’ve been dying to do.  Although it makes it tough for the artists to draw, somehow, I don’t think they mind much at all.

But this didn’t necessarily mean that Greg and Logan, as a couple, couldn’t bring on a grand finale.  For the first twenty-minute pose of the final round, they ditched the romance and went full-fledged for the erotic.  Logan laid back.  Greg straddled on top.  A dick was grabbed.  I’ll leave it at that.

I found myself getting completely flummoxed and desperately trying to sketch this while ignoring the tent that I totally just pitched in my own pants.  Well, of course it was in my own pants.  If I pitched it in somebody else’s pants, this would have been a very different kind of group.  

With my heart robbing my brain of all its blood and shoving it down into my crotch, it suddenly became super difficult to concentrate.  The other artists didn’t seem to have this problem.  But me?  Now I couldn’t draw those human curves anymore.  My eraser started hitting the paper more than the graphite.

I wanted to just give up and enjoy the views.  But I couldn’t just be some pervy weirdo - sitting there, watching while chewing a piece of gum (ya know… after that burrito I ate earlier).  I had to draw SOMETHING!  I remembered that earlier during a break, another artist gave me some advice to not be so literal in my drawings.  

On that account, I figured, FUCK IT!  If I can’t draw curves, then I’ll ONLY draw straight lines!  Thus, in my sudden sexual frustration, I surprised myself in accidentally drawing bearded “Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots” riding each other cowboy style.  With extra minutes to spare, I went ahead and added the chintzy game’s name to the page - just to make it official.

For their final pose, they kept things on the erotic side with a standing position - their hands on each other each while facing opposite directions.  I decided to stick with my Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em theme as these robots would now be giving each other hand jobs.  I added some robot hearts to bring back in their romance that I equally enjoyed before.  Why not have the best of both worlds?  I called it “Love Jobs.”

After their grand finale (which ended up being very grand), all the artists clapped and applauded Logan and Greg for their hard work (so to speak).  I knew first-hand how exhausted they must have been, but in the best of ways.

To my surprise, I even felt exhausted as an artist.  Who knew that drawing things could take so much energy?  Though this might have been my own doing.  I tend to hold my breath when I concentrate… or when I see good looking men without their clothes on… for three hours.

At the end, the organizer busts out a tip jar so that the artist can donate money to the models for their work.  That’s another reason I enjoy doing this.  I make good money with it.  

Having been in bartending, I know the importance of a good tip.  So even though I’m not yet making money as a writer, I still whipped out my twenty-dollar bill and shoved it hard and deep into Logan and Greg’s jar.

Everyone began checking out each other’s artwork - complimenting the weird interpretations just as much as the skilled talents.  They laughed along with my oddball sense of humor and the robots.  And I realized that, despite how much I dreaded having to draw, I had had such an incredibly fun evening.  

  You could see the joy on their faces at the end (among other things throughout the evening).  With all of us having similar happy highs, it reminded me of an important factor of facing your fears: it’s often MOST fun when you do it with a group of great people - regardless of what it is you might be doing.  

After having drawn, I’m excited to get back on the other side of this unique experience.  Greg and Logan’s bang-up job certainly filled me with all sorts of new ideas.  And my time to pose again is coming up here in a few months.  This means, that soon here, I’ll have to find a new friend who’s willing to strip down and get very still with me.

Each time I pose with someone, it’s terrifying in the best of ways.  I feel fortunate to not let the fear hold me back in things like this.  I recommend it to anyone who wants to overcome a fear and discover that life doesn’t have to be boring.  The rush and thrill are absolutely worth it.

So, if you are in the Denver/Boulder area and are interested in this experience, email me at scott@bareinkslinger.com with some photos and a message on why you’d want to do this.  I can pass your info on to the group’s organizer.  And who knows?  Maybe we could pose together! 


Thank you to Logan T. and Greg H. for allowing me write this essay and share their experience.  You guys are awesome!

 

Copyright © 2018 The Bare InkSlinger, All rights reserved.

Jet Setter Setback

When I got back from Folsom (yes, I’m mentioning Folsom one last time) at the end of September, I might have had a tiny, little nervous breakdown.  It had nothing to do with Folsom though.  Rather it was because my partner, Luke, and I were supposed to leave for yet another trip - this time to Portland.  And I only had five days between the two.  

Luke didn’t join me for the filthy San Fran street fair.  He is a bit of an introvert who doesn’t like big crowds, or dancing, or debauchery.  I, on the other hand, tend to thrive in these environments.  Though this shouldn't be surprising seeing as when we did our trip to Chicago back in July, I kind of ran us all over the bar scene.

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Luke needed a vacation for him - something a little slower paced.  He had always loved the beauty and the easy vibe of Portland.  I had never been before but continuously heard about the great hiking, great beaches, great restaurants, and the male strippers who can go all the way nude.  This certainly sounded like a paradise to me.    

Plus, I could meet one of my favorite fellow bloggers, Michael James Schneider (www.blcksmthdesign.com).  He’s a great writer and has the MOST clever photos on Instagram (see: @blcksmth).  And then I could do a photo shoot with Kenton Waltz (see: @kentonwaltz).  I’ve been enjoying his work on Instagram too.  And then I could go reconnect with one of my new found Folsom friends, Kevin (see: @pdx_saipp).  See how good I do at “relaxing?”

Between these trips, some folks have inquired how I’ve been able to live this jet setting lifestyle when I keep proclaiming to be a broke ass writer.  It all began earlier this year when Southwest Airlines lured me into signing up for their credit card with a 50,000 bonus point offer.  After researching their point system, I figured this could be good for two or three trips (depending on whether Luke traveled with me or not).

Then I discovered Southwest’s “Companion Pass” benefit.  All you have to do is reach 110,000 points in a calendar year, and then you could designate someone to fly with you for free for the remainder of that year and the year after that.  You could use this whether you booked flights with money or with points AND there was no limit on to how often you can use it.

However getting 110,000 points means spending $110,000 on the credit card.  Even if my 50,000 bonus points counted towards it, I’d still never spend sixty grand in a year.  That’s not what broke ass writers do.

This kind of irked me about Southwest’s Companion Pass.  It felt like it was just giving wealthy people more free shit.  I had a major Bernie Sander’s moment about it and began googling to see if I could find a way to cheat the system.  It didn’t take long before I discovered a solution.

According to several bloggers, these bonus points for new cards do count towards the Companion Pass.  So all you need to do, after getting your personal card, is to sign up for a business card and get an additional 60,000 bonus points.  All of these points funnel into the same account so it will equal 110,000 points.

There’s no way that Southwest will let people get away with that!  Right?  As I skimmed through these blog posts, I read a bunch of comments from readers who said they tried it and that it actually worked.  I already had the personal card for a couple of months.  Why not give it a shot?  

I haven’t ever applied for a business card before, so I was nervous.  Luckily I found another blog post that laid it all out for this exact situation (extrapackofpeanuts.com).  I applied online describing myself as a sole proprietor.  The online response said they needed more time to process.  Like the business card blog suggested, I immediately called the reconsideration line.  The operator grilled me with the questions I had prepared for.  Then I waited anxiously while he put me on hold to determine my future travel fate.

After a few too many minutes, he returned and told me congratulations.  I had been approved!  I had been approved?!  But he didn’t ask for any proof of the information I gave him.  I could've made the whole thing up!  Instead I only made some of it up.  That makes me a decent person still… I think.

Once I spent the minimum amount to get that new 60,000 point bonus, I received yet another congratulations - this time from the airline saying I had, in fact, achieved the Companion Pass.  I could NOT believe this worked.  I immediately jumped online and began researching all of our options.  I became a man with a mission.  

Let’s book San Francisco to visit our friends in July!  Let’s book New Orleans in August for Southern Decadence!  I might as well go see one of my favorite bands in Seattle in September!  Oh wait, our San Franciscan friends can’t do July.  Well, let’s do Chicago for a do-over trip then!  Our first time there sucked.  

And I could just do San Francisco after Seattle for Folsom!  But wait, Luke wishes he could go to Seattle too!  He can’t because of work.  So I’ll just go back with him at the beginning of October!  No biggie!  We might as well start with Portland while we’re at it!   I’ve always wanted to go there.  Oh, and I’ve been dying to get back to San Diego!  I’ll just hop over there at the end of October!

Southwest makes it almost a little too easy to cancel your trips when you book with points.  So when Luke realized he’d hate Southern Decadence (remember: he’s an introvert), we nixed it and got our points back - no questions asked.  Same for when we canceled the initial trip to San Fran and then switched it to Chicago.  I’m not sure if this is how real jet setters act, but all of these bookings and unpunishable changes-of-mind were flooding my veins with oxytocin.  I couldn’t get enough.

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What I didn’t account for was that, when you go on vacation, you don’t do any work - no matter how much you promise yourself that you will.  Maybe some adults do, but evidently I didn’t have the discipline for it.  In fact, I struggled with discipline even when I worked at home.  How did I think I could pull this off?

Amongst these travels, I’d try to work ahead.  Yet all it did was keep me at the bare minimum with The Bare InkSlinger.  I couldn’t get to the REALLY important stuff and the longer it started to take me, the more I felt like I was churning my wheels in a mud pit.  And this is how I became a total mess in the five days between my San Fran trip and our Portland/Seattle trip - so much to do, such little time… and I don’t work well under pressure.

I’d try to rip through my work during the day and break for the gym in the afternoon.  The gym provides a little escape where I can just go be brainless and lift heavy things for a while like a neanderthal.  Except when I’d get back home, I’d realize that I didn’t make enough headway and that my savings were starting to run out. My neanderthal high would quickly get replaced with depression.  

Luke would give me a welcome-home-hug to which I’d barely say a word.  Instead, I'd push him away so that I could go do more work in the office.  I would sit at the computer struggling to keep the stress at bay.  All this travel might be making my dreams slip from my fingertips and I didn’t know what to do.

Three days before the Portland trip, Luke stopped me on my way to the office.  “Love, I feel like you are mad at me,” he said.  With him being a therapist and my having been in social work, we have a knack for communicating what’s on our minds.  Oh, and “love” is our creepy (romantic) nickname for each other.

Knowing he felt this way broke my heart.  So like any well rounded human being, I went into full panic mode on him right then and there.  I grabbed him, and hugged him, and suddenly had trouble breathing.  I began shouting out random phrases of hopelessness into his chest.  I CAN’T GET ANYTHING DONE!  NONE OF THIS IS EVER GOING TO WORK!  I’M GOING TO HAVE TO GO DRIVE FOR UBER TO MAKE MONEY AND I’LL NEVER GET TO WRITE AGAIN!  I JUST NEED TO GIVE UP!

“Love, we have to cancel the Portland trip.”

“What?  Oh, no.  That’s not an option,” I told him as I headed back to the office to go do more work (smart, huh?).

I couldn’t dare cancel.  Michael (the blogger) and I were supposed to collaborate on one of his awesome photos and maybe even a blog post.  I had a photoshoot lined up with Kenton (the photographer).  We were supposed to get drinks with Kevin (the Folsom friend).  And Patrick (the Portland host) had already blocked off time to let us stay with him.

Still, none of this convinced Luke that the trip was a good idea and he continued to try to talk some sense into me (that bastard).  However, it wasn’t just about these other people I hated canceling on.  I didn’t want to cancel because this would be the only chance Luke could travel with me for a while.  He didn’t get to join me in Seattle or San Francisco and I’d be going to San Diego without him too.  It wasn't fair.

Luke admitted that he would be sad to not go on the trip.  But then again, he would be more sad if I didn’t succeed at my dream of writing.  He believed in my work and, for him, making it happen was the most important thing in the world.  

I felt awful.  I felt selfish.  I got to go on these other trips and he would have to forgo his.  But telling yourself things like this does not help cure nervous breakdowns - not even a small one.  It only increased my anxiety more.  Luke asked me to give it some serious and realistic thought.

The next evening, I got a phone call that my father went into the hospital with chest pains.  They would run some tests and keep him over night for observations.  Everything turned out fine, but this clearly felt like the universe was telling me a message: slow down - pay attention to the things that need paying attention to (sometimes the universe doesn’t have the best grammar).

I took a step back along with a deep breath.  My mistake had become painstakingly clear.  I was too much of a sucker for a good deal and I thought if we didn’t take advantage of all this free travel, then we’d be missing out on the opportunity of a lifetime.  But this lifetime opportunity was impacting my life right now.  Becoming a jet setter had become more of a setback.

To be honest, the travel was hardly even fun anymore.  It became like a drug.  Getting on that airplane gave me an immediate high.  But returning back home felt like I needed to go to some travel based methadone clinic.  This had to stop.

I cancelled the Portland trip and we got our points back.  When I texted the Portland peeps, they were disappointed, but kind and empathetic. And although my heart weighed heavy that Luke and I weren’t enjoying a vacation together, a weight was simultaneously lifting off of my shoulders - making it easier to breathe again over the coming days.  Oh, and I decided to increase my mental health medications too.  

Luke’s sacrifice also did something else for me.  It kicked me in the ass to focus harder and have more discipline in my work.  If he had to give up his vacation, then I had to make my time worth his while.  I couldn’t let it all be for nothing.  So during the days we should’ve been in Portland, I put my head down and wrote like a crackhead who’s jonesing for his next flight.  I finally got the headway I needed in my work.  

I’m slowly starting to understand an unfortunate reality: the more I try to do everything, the less likely I will ever accomplish anything.  And I will never be able to slow down when I continue to fill my life with a hundred different adventures.  I don’t want to end up in the hospital with my own set of chest pains.  Luke and I might have the travel opportunity of a lifetime, but, in the end, I won’t get anywhere as long as I keep trying to go everywhere.

 

Copyright © 2018 The Bare InkSlinger, All rights reserved.

Unprofessional Decency

    Because I have the amazing problem of hardly ever being able to say “no,” I recently booked a trip to see some friends in San Diego over Halloween weekend.  And because I also have the amazing problem of always overwhelming myself, I decided to go ahead and book some work with a couple photographers during my visit. 

    One of the photographers, Drew, may not have gotten the best first impression of me.  On Saturday, he wanted to shoot all day and, in order to hit all the great locations, he wanted to pick me up at 6 a.m.  I am not a morning person.  You'd be more likely to see an image of Jesus miraculously burned into your toast than you would see me up and crushing it at 6 a.m.  

    Drew is an incredibly talented photographer who runs both “DQ Fotography” and “SKINmages” (DQ’s naughty brother).  Drew and I had been talking on Instagram for quite some time - which is how I lure in most photographers.  I stalk them, like and comment on their photos, and if they send me a message of interest, I pretend to be totally caught by surprise.

    Who?  Me?  You want to work with ME?  But I look nothing like the guys in your photos!  I am so flattered!  Hold on!  Let me book my ticket!  I’d say of some sorts.

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    The truth is that I don’t, nor will I probably ever, consider myself a “model.”  Instead, I like to use the term “poser.”  I “pose” for photographers.  This title also works because I constantly feel like a con-artist when I’ve somehow convinced them to let me get in front of their camera.  On any given shoot, I often imagine the “fraud police” will suddenly bust through the door, throw on some handcuffs, and drag me out of there.  

    Because of this, I always try to show photographers how incredibly committed and professional  I am (or pretend to be) with the shoot.  And even before meeting Drew, I was already blowing it.  I declined his 6 a.m. pick up time and pushed for 7 a.m.  But I had a really great excuse: ZOMBIES.

    Friday night, before the shoot, I planned to join some friends at a Halloween revamp of an amusement park in Orange County.  I couldn’t possibly bail on it.  I already bought the ticket (two days before the trip).  Plus, Elvira was going to be there!  ELVIRA!!!  The mother-fuckin’ Mistress of the Dark!!!

    Drew patiently agreed and I told my friends that we had to leave the amusement park absolutely no later than 11 p.m. so that I could get at least six hours of sleep.  That evening, I delighted in zombies chasing me around, acting as though they were going to eat my brains.  We didn’t leave until after midnight, getting me to bed at nearly 2 a.m.

    Before crashing, I texted Drew, asking if he could pick me up at 8 a.m., hoping he would get it the next morning.  He replied right away, stating he was still up as well and that we could meet at nine. I could already tell I liked him. 

    Even with the extra sleep time, I was the one who looked like a zombie that morning.  It didn’t matter how long I showered or how much lotion I put on my face or how good I blow-dried my hair.  Fortunately, Drew still found me suitable for the lens.

    On our drive to the first location, we surprisingly found it easy to make conversation with each other.  Drew had been reading the blog and so he already knew WAY too much about me.  Even though we didn’t have much in common, we enjoyed talking nonetheless.  

    Our second location would take place in the backyard of a young gay couple I also chatted with on Instagram.  One of them had sent me a photo of their outdoor shower which they built from an old clawfoot tub.  It made for an incredibly unique setting that neither of us could resist.  However, we didn’t expect that we’d stumble upon a goldmine of other amazing backdrops to shoot with too.

    Their backyard connected with the next-door neighbors, another gay couple, who were strong into the fetish scene.  They had dungeons, locker rooms and army barracks.  We had slotted ourselves for two hours at this location.  We ended up staying there for five.  Needless to say, we didn’t get all of the shooting done we had hoped to for the day.

    “Sooooo, would you want to shoot tomorrow too?” Drew asked like a teenage boy asking a girl out to prom.

    “Absolutely!  Let’s do it!”  I said like the teenage girl desperately waiting to get asked to prom.    

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    But the next day would take an unexpected turn.  In order to catch up on our zzzz’s, we purposefully got a late start.  While we had the main goals of shooting at the beach, and then later his studio, we decided to get some more intimate style shots in the lovely bedroom that I occupied during my stay (as if stripping down naked in front of the camera wasn’t intimate enough already).

    And no, the bedroom was not where the unexpected turn took place - in case you were wondering if said turn involved something more naughty (it’s not that kind of story).  Rather, the turn took place in the car as we sat in all that charming SoCal traffic I’m super jealous of not having (actually, Denver’s traffic has gotten pretty bad too).

      Drew went back to discussing my work on the blog.  He wanted to know more about my HIV status.  How did I find out?  Did I know when it happened?  Did I have any idea who gave it to me?  Was I angry at them?

    Normally this is how I discuss my HIV story with the curious.  They ask whatever and I answer whatever.  But with all the traffic time on our hands, I decided to bypass the questions and just to tell the entire story from start to finish.  It’s quite a complicated one actually - a story of friendship, broken condoms, rattled lives, and human connection.

    When I got to the part when I went in for the confirmatory results, something strange started to happen.  My throat got all hurty and my eyeballs felt especially moist.  Hurty-throats and extra-moist-eyeballs are the worst!   They can mean only one thing: you’re about to cry when you really, REALLY don’t want to.

    I tried taking a couple deep breaths to keep it all at bay - hoping Drew wouldn’t notice.  As I talked about going home with my new diagnosis, my voice quivered and a tear rolled down my cheek.  I tried to stealthily wipe it away.

    “It’s okay,” Drew said kindly.  “You can cry.”

    Fuck.  He noticed.

    “I don’t know why this is happening,” I told him - trying to excuse myself.  “I have told this story hundreds of times.”

    This was true too.  Not long after this diagnosis, I decided to be completely open about it - which, due to the stigma, was completely unheard of at the time.  I went on to become a local public figure who did interviews for print and radio.  I became a mentor to other newly diagnosed guys in my community.  I did numerous public speaking gigs in front of thousands of people.  And I wrote my own, local column about it for four years.

    It had been ten years since my diagnosis (in case you were wondering why I said “radio” instead of “podcast”).  It was the root of my belief in transparency.  Why in the hell was this hitting me so hard now?  

    I couldn’t cry in front of the photographer.  Sure, I am all about transparency, but THIS WAS EMBARRASSING!!!  I needed to convince him I was a sexy grown man - not a sniveling little wuss.  My second attempt at poser professionalism with Drew was quickly going down the drain.  

    Perhaps the tears came because I had just spent two and a half days in front of the camera (including the other photographer on Friday).  Getting photographed like this feels incredibly vulnerable.  Or maybe it was because Drew and I had already shared somewhat vulnerable stories with each other and thus telling him my most vulnerable one put a bigger heart on my sleeve.  Who knows?  Did it even matter?

    I guess in some way, as I sat there sobbing into the passenger side window, it felt nice to feel so affected by it after all these years.  Somehow, I found relief in the idea that the thing that changed the trajectory of my life still had an impact.  If it didn’t, I could have very likely returned to behaving like the unappreciative douche bag I was before.  

    We stopped for some food and while waiting for our orders, I rushed to the bathroom to splash some cold water on my face in hopes of it looking less puffy.  Although it would have made for honest photos, it wasn’t quite the look either of us wanted when it came to the beach.

    During the rest of our drive, Drew suddenly felt a freedom to open-up about his own sad story.  Both his parents died right as he was finishing up with high school - first his mother (who he was very close to) and then his father.  He had nowhere to go.  A loving family had taken him in, but his path continued to remain confusing and uncertain.  Somehow, he didn’t cry at all while telling me about it.  

    Fortunately, some other friends met up with us at the beach so we could multitask in some leisure time with the shoot.  They pulled us out of our black hole and into some more upbeat conversations.  Before we knew it, the sun started going down and we hadn't shot a thing.  We scrambled to get some while we still had some daylight left.  The same thing happened when one of these friends joined us for dinner.  By the time we left the restaurant, it was well after 9 p.m. I began to sense a pattern here.

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    Our final location would take place at Drew’s studio.  On our way there, we got immersed in heavy conversations yet again - this time talking about things we rarely tell anyone.  Never have I had a photoshoot turn into a mutual kind of therapy.  Being vulnerable with each other gave us the kind of unprofessional decency to deeply confide in one another.

    Times like this are the reason I choose to be open about my HIV status, and live a transparent life.  Sure, I may have just accidentally cried in front of someone I was trying to impress, but it reminded me of how much my diagnosis still meant to me, and it gave someone else the opportunity to share a profound part of their life as well.  Because transparency isn’t just about telling our own stories, it’s also about the way we listen to others.

    We didn’t start the studio work until almost midnight.  Drew became a different man in this environment - more serious, focused, and demanding of my posing.  He challenged me on my camera skills in a way that made me simultaneously uncertain and determined.  We finally wrapped up around 3:30 a.m. and I found myself exhausted and fully back in zombie mode.  Drew still had to drive me home.

    “Sooo, I still have a few more ideas.  Would you want to shoot tomorrow too?”  He asked like a new friend, eager to hang out again. 

    “Absolutely!  Let’s do it!” I said like a friend who was just as eager.

    I had wanted so badly to be an image of professionalism and physical perfection.  However, since grief never really goes away, it snuck up on me when I least expected it.  And I happened to be with someone who let me let it out.  Though instead of letting it out, I ended up letting go…I let go of being perfect for the photographer, and it got me something far better than just some incredible photos.  

Happy World AIDS Day.

 

Copyright © 2017 The Bare InkSlinger, All rights reserved.
All photos courtesy of SKINmages and DQ Fotography.  
Photo Copyright © 2017 SKINmages and DQ Fotography, All rights reserved.

Bring Cash, Pay the Dancers

Guest Post by Dave Wheeler

The guy at the next table looks ready to throw in the towel. He moves a straw through the ice in his glass, keeping his gaze low. In fact, his eyes move between precisely two locations: his drink, practically empty, and the woman next to him, presumably his date. She’s having a grand old time, thoroughly engaged with the evening’s entertainment. He, however, seems beyond uncomfortable. To be honest, my friends and I are as confused as he must be as to why he’s here.

Here being Portland’s Silverado. A gay nightclub known for its male dancers.

Okay, dancers may be overstating the talent. None of these guys studied with Bob Fosse. Each shuffles onstage where there is a metal pole for them to use however they wish. One emerges wearing tearaway pants, another in booty shorts. Several cut to the chase and arrive in nothing but thongs, pouches strained from tumescence mustering all the erotic charge of cow udders. 

They commence with a five to ten minute routine that reveals more and more of their physiques, during which the audience is encouraged—sensually—to tip. You know: strippers. And every last one has a chiseled body that gleams under the stage lights. It’s just a pity so few have learned how to move.

The one in tearaways bobs around without moving his feet. Booty shorts makes himself useful by climbing the pole, but there’s no sense of rhythm. One thong-wearer wags his engorged pouch in an unnerving interpretation of The Twist, while another practically stomps around the stage wearing a scowl that, I have to assume, is supposed to inspire our inner subs. 

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Between sets, they mingle, but few exhibit strong conversational skills. (Studied with Fosse? I doubt half of them could spell Fosse.) So it’s not really dancing, and they’re not getting by on winning personalities. This is really all about gratuitous nudity, much to the chagrin of the guy at the next table. It’s not fair of me to assume he’s straight.

But I’m going to.

The thing about stripclubs, though, is that the suggestion is often more titillating than the reality. I enjoy naked men just as much as the next guy (er—you know what I mean), but after about fifteen minutes, the novelty wears off and you realize you’re just seeing the same ass again and again. This isn’t a well-choreographed Kazaky video; it’s dudes doing what we’ve all done in the mirror since we were old enough to lock the bathroom door: the helicopter. Give me an hour and I’m about as disinterested as our straight friend over here.

Not because I’m prudish, but because I’m stingy! As a working artist myself, I appreciate when I can get paid, so I try to extend that courtesy to performers. Nobody likes getting stiffed—so to speak.

Nevertheless, I should tell you that the suggestion this time was mine. My boyfriend and I had come to Portland from Seattle for MLK weekend and met up with a couple friends for a night out. Only, the city had just been pummeled by an ice storm. The mood had been souring with every slip on the sidewalk, every gust of freezing wind. We all wanted to be at home under blankets, but we’d had these plans for weeks.

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You know what would keep us warm? I said at dinner. Strippers. Little did I know that that side of Silverado doesn’t open until 10pm. This we discovered while sipping drinks in the quiet, empty bar side of said establishment immediately after our meal. Fortunately for us, the bartenders remove their shirts, and go-go boys start grinding nearby, around nine.

This is when I met Steel.

Do you remember when you first saw Channing Tatum, as a young bi-curious soccer player in She’s the Man, the teen comedy adaptation of Twelfth Night? (The only way to see Shakespeare in my opinion.) Or perhaps you recall the scene in the WB’s Everwood when Chris Pratt was a shirtless lifeguard.

What I’m saying is that I have an occasional weakness for dopey all-American jocks and Steel could have been a teen heartthrob in the early 2000s. But like Duke and Bright were then, he feels now like my little secret.

He made small talk as I fed dollars to his waistband. “It’s so cold outside,” he said as he gyrated in pink briefs to the music with a grace that far outperformed his colleagues. He cupped his crotch, playfully wincing. “I’m waiting for my balls to come back down.” He grinned, kept dancing. “Gotta warm up.”

This guy knows what he’s doing. 

I surely had that look on my face: a smile with jaw dangling, eyes sparkling but not blinking. I couldn’t seem to remember what words were or how to form them. I didn’t want to leave, but didn’t think it wise to spend all my limited cash in one place. Before I returned to my friends, Steel wanted to make sure he’d see me on the other side.

He would.

And when he finds me there, I’ve managed to return to my senses enough to flirt a little. I forget now most details of our conversation, just that he’s a metalworker during the warmer months. (Steel apparently nods to more than just his buns!) He strips during the winter, when construction gigs are scarce.

By the time he asks if I want to see what he does up in his office—flashing that wide, inviting grin—I’d half forgotten he was at work. I throw a wave to my friends as Steel wraps his big naked biceps around my arm and leads me away.

What’s happening between us only dawns on me when we reach the top of the staircase and I see four stalls and four wooden chairs behind four curtains. These could easily be converted into voting booths should middle school gymnasia and local libraries need overflow come Election Day. But that dark hour in November is behind us now. There is only Steel and the music.

“How much?” I ask, but it is especially loud up here.

"Forty or ten?” he replies.

A forty-minute lap dance sounds excessive, but the look he gives me has me considering it. Seriously. I catch myself, though, and go for ten.

He sits me down and climbs onto my lap. Leaning in, he lays down the rules: “I can touch you, but you can only touch my arms, legs and chest. You can’t touch my dick. No fingering or anything. OK?”

He smells like sandalwood and laundry. His skin is warm, his muscles taut, his grip on my shoulders firm. He has brown eyes; if I had my guess, he’s a Cancer. (Another weakness of mine.) I melt. Agreed.

How he moves over me, without ever seeming to break contact, is nothing short of a miracle. He’d make Fosse proud. A tiger is a tiger, not a lamb, mein Herr! Steel writhes, shifts and twists, bringing his chest to my face before cocking his shoulders and rolling his torso backward, grinding against my hips.

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After slipping my belt off, he loops it around my neck and cinches it as if it were a leash, and I his new pet. My hand lingers too low and he slaps it away, then wags an index finger. Naughty, naughty. Without missing a beat, he twists again, placing black booted feet against the wall behind me, his palms on the floor. His hot pink derriere undulates in the air before me. 

God, ten minutes is not enough. And I still don’t know how much this is gonna cost. The thought crosses my mind that this guy likes me enough that the first one might be on the house. But even in the moment I know how ridiculous that is. Besides: He. Is. Earning. It. 

Before he’s through, Steel reaches behind me, and slides his left thumb below the waist of my jeans. He digs it right between my medius and maximus glutes. Suddenly there are waves of warm energy pulsing up my back and down my right leg. Whoa!

“Do you like that?” he asks, eyes flashing with mischief. “There’s one on each side.” He drives his other thumb in and I writhe beneath him, nearly sliding out of the chair.

When it’s over, my hair is a mess and my body is exhausted, the way a good workout feels. “That was amazing,” I understate. “What do I owe you?”

Even though I know better, I expect to hear some grand generous declaration like, It’s up to you or Don’t worry about it. So when he says, “Forty,” I start to sweat. Forty for ten. Obviously, Dave. Get over yourself.

That is about twice what I would have agreed to, had I not been positively moony. Stingy as I am, however, I owe him compensation for the goods and services he has provided me. They were good, and I am more than adequately serviced: fair’s fair.

I grab my wallet and search my pockets, coming up with thirty-nine and a weak, guilty smile. As I sputter about not having heard him correctly, he snatches the bills from my hand and tousles my hair again.

Now comes the generous don’t worry about it, but I feel cheap anyway. The stiff I never want to be. Still, he helps return my appearance to some semblance of respectability—all with a smile no less—and escorts me back to the main floor.

There I find my friends in talks with another dancer, the dom in the thong. Still with the scowl, he’s offering them a two-fer, but they decline. Not enough cash. Seems to be going around. So I think it’s best we make our exit (as it appears our poor straight compatriot already has, without his date).

But before we do, I ask my boyfriend for a dollar. I want to square up with Steel, but he’s already got a new guy on his arm, headed for the stairs, laughing, flirting. The man knows what he’s doing. He’s the best dancer in the house, has totally changed my outlook on stripclubs, and my glutes are going to be sore in the exact shape of his thumbprints for the next thirty-six hours. He could get upset over a buck, but you get farther on a smile than a scowl.

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Dave Wheeler is the author of the poetry collection Contingency Plans, and his essays have been published by CatapultThe Stranger, and The Morning News. Follow him on Instagram.

 

Published by The Bare InkSlinger, Courtesy of David Wheeler.  
Copyright © 2017 David Wheeler, All rights reserved.

The Worst-Case-Scenario-er

    Last spring, I ended up getting a bizarre ear ache which prompted me to find an Ear, Nose, and Throat  Doctor.  As he examined my many face holes, he asked if I knew that my septum (thin cartilage that divides the left and right chambers of the nose from each other) was crooked.  This was, in fact, brand new information to me.  I knew I had a hard time breathing through my nose, but I just thought that was normal for everyone. 

    “There’s a really simple procedure to fix it,” the doctor said.  “It’s called a ‘Septoplasty.’  You don’t even have to do the gauze packing like your uncle might tell you about.”

    I didn’t know what he was talking about with this “gauze packing.”  I never had an uncle who sat me down to talk about such things.  However, the idea of not being a total mouth breather anymore did feel rather appealing.

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    The doctor himself seemed like a weird uncle who’d tell me about such things.  He acted awkward and disheveled, like he might want to start wearing velcro shoes because, at any minute, he could forget how to tie his regular ones.  He certainly didn’t seem like the kind of doctor who'd you want doing surgery on you.  But a simple procedure?  Maybe.   

    Each time I visited for follow ups, I asked him more about this simple procedure.  Could it help me stop sounding all nasally when I talked?  Would I stop waking up in the middle of the night with terrible dry mouth?  Could I stop struggling to close my mouth when I chew my food?  Yes, yes, and… well, maybe.  My oversized teeth can take part of the blame for that last one.

    This procedure sounded like it really could help me.  I called up his assistant and got it scheduled for the beginning of August.  She emailed me the paperwork that would tell me everything I needed to know.  

    Meanwhile, my parents had been wanting to come visit Luke and me sometime soon.  I figured this timing would work perfectly.  I would have a little downtime after the procedure which meant more time to visit with them.  

    As that week approached, I began to read the paperwork more closely, and my parents (retired medical professionals) started filling me in on the reality.  I wouldn't just receive some local anesthetic.  I’d have to go completely under.  I wouldn’t be able to work for a week.  I wouldn’t be able to workout or travel for two weeks!  This Septoplasty sounded more like full on surgery rather than a simple procedure.  Wait!  Are “surgery” and “procedure” actually synonyms?! 

    To me, a procedure is more like a diabetic going to a podiatrist to get their toe nails cut.  This sounded way more invasive.  When it comes to full anesthesia, I am terrified.  What if the anesthesiologist dozes off in the middle of the surgery and accidentally kills me? 

    This might sound like the thoughts of a hypochondriac, but really, I am more of a “worst-case-scenario-er.”  And it’s not so irrational when you take into account that one of my father’s colleagues did this very thing.  I called my dad in a nervous panic.  

    “Scottie, the chances of something like that are 1 in 400,000,” my father tried offering some logic (how dare he!).

    What my father didn’t understand was that, to a worst-case-scenario-er, the statistics don’t matter.  I WILL be that 1 in 400,000 case.  Thus in the nights leading up to the surgery, I’d snuggle up to Luke and our dog in bed and tell them goodnight as if it would be my last.  Suddenly I felt vain and silly for even wanting this “procedure.”  

    The morning of the now “surgery” arrived and both of my parents, plus Luke, came with me.  Things started rather quickly as the nurse took me back, stabbed the IV on my wrist, and began asking medical questions.  They let Luke come back to help ease my nerves.

    Dr. Disheveled ventured over to talk us through everything and the anesthesiologist quickly followed.  He informed us that, while under the anesthesia, he’d be taking a tube and sticking it down my throat in order to do the breathing for me.  I was not at all pleased with this information.

    As the time drew near, the nurse got ready to administer Versed into my IV.  THIS I was excited for.  I remembered it from when I had my tonsils out as a teenager.  Approximately 4.2 seconds after she injected it, I began giggling relentlessly.  

    “You seriously felt it THAT fast?!” Luke said, not quite believing my new state of bliss.

    I nodded that it was indeed fantastic and wondered why I couldn’t just take some home with me.  As someone who is somewhat struggling with his sobriety, I could seriously use it when going out to the bar.  

    The nurse asked questions.  I made jokes.  Luke laughed.  I laughed.  We had tears coming down our faces.  We were all having fun.  Well, except for the nurse.

    Then they started rolling me back.  I said goodbye to Luke and entered a white round room with medical professionals buzzing all around me.  The anesthesiologist put a mask over my nose and mouth and told me to breath normally.  The room turned dark.  And then I died.

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    Just kidding.  I lived.  However I woke up feeling like I had just died.   Luke and my parents were already sitting by my side, offering me ice chips.  I absolutely wanted them and, as Luke scooped them into my mouth, I nearly gagged due to my throat being so wickedly sore.

    Dr. Disheveled came by and described the surgery as “very boring.” I guess this was his way of saying it went routine.  However he did inform us that the septum had been worse off than he expected.  Both airways were fairly blocked. 

    The nurse came by and began giving the discharge instructions.  For three days, I’d have to “park it” and do absolutely nothing for myself.  For two weeks, I’d have to sleep with my head elevated to the same degree as the hospital bed.  It felt a solid 45 degrees upright.  How on earth would I sleep like that?  The nurse asked if I had a recliner.  Who was I?  Babe Ruth?  

     We would have to change the gauze pads under my nose as needed.  And by “as needed,” they meant whenever it got soaked from the bloody drainage that would come from my nose.  I’d need to take pain meds, antibiotics, and more pain meds for swelling.

    Upon getting home, Luke bolted to go fill all the prescriptions and I had to pee.  My father helped me up, walked me to the bathroom, and warned me that it might be difficult after all that anesthesia.  The fact that he stayed in the bathroom and kept his hand on my back to keep me stable didn’t help.  I’m pee shy enough as it is.

    I hadn’t intended on taking the pain meds.  I wanted to go it au naturale.  However Luke got stuck in traffic and the anesthesia really began to wear off.  The moment he got home, I threw my crunchy granola desires down the drain an opted for the Oxycodone.  My face freakin hurt.  

    The drainage from my nose filled up the gauze pads faster than I expected.  And to make matters worse, some of the drainage would slip past that gauze and go underneath my beard, making it incredibly difficult to “gently wipe away” from my face.  It was wet and disgusting.

    While my parents went off to go get the delicious pizza that everyone would be eating except for me, I freaked out and begged Luke to shave my beard.  This proved to be no easy task either.  I cried as he tried to be gentle with buzzing along my cheeks.  He decided it best to not use the razor on top of that.  Our dog, Steuben, couldn't stop smelling my wounded nose and newly trimmed face.

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    That night, my mother built a ramp of pillows on the bed so that I could sleep elevated like in the hospital bed.  She was quite impressed by her comfy handy work, but I couldn’t appreciate it.  I kept waking up in the middle of the night in pain because I couldn’t switch sides like I usually do.

    What had I done to myself?  Was this even going to be worth it?  As a worst-case-scenario-er, I truly imagined I would somehow permanently stay like this.  I get that way when I have colds too.  It’s totally irrational, but when you feel like hell, you feel like it’ll never end.  

    Of course in three days, I could walk around the house by myself again.  In five days, my appetite returned back to normal.  And in seven days, I had no more excuses to not do my work.  Of course, my face still hurt and my energy levels were low.  Nevertheless, I could potentially see a light at the end of this pitiful tunnel.

    Eleven days after the surgery I went back to Dr. Disheveled to have the stints in my nose removed.  It immediately relieved the pressure in my face and FINALLY… I could breathe!  It was strange and wonderful and a tad cold.  However I wasn’t out of the woods just yet.  For the next month, I still couldn’t blow my nose and/or pick it (as if I would ever).  Instead, I would have to use a Neti pot a couple of times a day to rinse it out.  Thank God I already kinda conquered my Neti fears (essay & video here).

    I didn’t keep up with my Netti pottings though.  I just didn’t seem to have all that much snot to begin with.  But the snot I did have seemed different from before.  Maybe those with normal nose breath have a different color and consistency.  I didn’t think much of it because it’s gross and who thinks about such things all day long?

    When I returned to his office a few weeks later, Dr. Disheveled asked about the quality of my nasal mucus.  “Has it been yellow or green?”

    “Yes,” I replied.

    He did a double take.  “It has?”

    “Yeah.”

    “Well, that could be a sign of a staph infection.”

    “WHAT?!”  I have a fucking staph infection!

    I immediately confused staph with MRSA and thought I was going to die.  Staphylococcus is a type of bacteria that lives on the skin of even healthy folks.  Though when it works its way into a wound and goes untreated, it can get serious.  MRSA is an antibiotic resistant version of staph and it had now invaded my body.

    The doctor took a look and confirmed that MRSA had NOT invaded my body, but that it was indeed a standard staph infection.  He prescribed even more antibiotics that I dreaded taking and a topical ointment that I’d have to swirl up in each nostril with a q-tip three to four times a day.  

    The ointment often gave the illusion of boogers in my nose and people kindly pointed it out on a daily basis.  It did not boast well for my ego.  As I got back to pouring the saline solution through my nose, something occurred to me: the Neti Pot was to remove and keep the nose clean of bacteria, not to just simply remove snot.  I completely messed up my own treatment.  

    Then I realized something else.  As a worst-case-scenario-er, I got so pre-occupied with the big (unlikely) stuff, that I hardly paid attention to the small (and likelier) stuff.  Freaking out over the worst case scenario didn’t do me any good.  It had, in fact, totally backfired on me.  My own irrational fears ended up prolonging my recovery.

    Being a worst-case-scenario-er obviously didn’t any kind of benefit to the experience.  When we perseverate over these things, it just creates a ton of tension and sadness which then leads to stress and fatigue.  Plus, as I clearly demonstrated, when we get so absorbed by the things that aren’t within our power, we might be prone to overlooking the things that ARE within our power.  And that could ironically lead to a situation actually worth worrying about.

    It has now been three months since my Septoplasty and my staph infection is long gone.  For the most part, I’m pretty sure that the surgery was worth it.  Breathing through my nose does seem better - although not quite as much as I had hoped.  Still, I catch myself being less of a mouth breather than before.  So that’s good.  And if nothing else, it taught me to try (emphasis on “try”) and be more mindful about the things I can change vs the things I can’t.  

    Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to go use my Neti Pot. 

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Copyright © 2017 The Bare InkSlinger, All rights reserved.

Netwerrrk!

    Before jetting off to San Francisco for Folsom, my friends and I decided to stop in Seattle for a concert.  I opted to fly in a couple days early so I could get reacquainted with this great city. I hadn’t been in 14 years, and even then, it was more of a family trip.  I couldn’t really pull away to do the super gay city things that I truly wanted. 

    But my early arrival would also give me the opportunity to finally try and network with David Wheeler, a book critic and a fellow writer.  His essays have appeared in Catapult, The Stranger, and The Morning News.  We had been chatting for quite some time and it would be an amazing opportunity to connect.  I’ve also been trying to lure him into writing a guest blog post on here too.  You can check him out on Instagram and Twitter @daviewheeler.  His tumblr is also definitely worth the look as well.

    Networking is not a strength of mine though.  I practically have tumble weeds blowing across my LinkedIn account.  The only business cards I have ever handed out were to prospective readers.  I’ve yet to make any connections that could help take my writing where it probably needs to go.

    Upon meeting David at our designated coffee shop, he immediately struck my fetish for cute-nerdy guys.  And as much as I wanted to pull him in a dark hallway to make out, we kept our meeting professional.  We talked about the biz, our works, and where we saw ourselves in the future.  When our time ended, I completely forgot to give him a business card.

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    On the day of our flight to San Francisco, my friends and I, being the responsible adults we are, nearly missed out flight.  We rushed to the gate so quickly that I didn’t even have time to pee or get a sandwich (two very important things for me when I fly).  Of course, when we actually got to the gate, I found myself still having to wait for my boarding group to get called.  

    As I politely snuck my way into the queue (rather than shoving my way in), I noticed a gentleman walking up to the premier boarding line.  Suddenly I realized it was Dan Savage. My heart dropped straight down into my gut.  For someone who wants to network, this flight just took an ironic twist.  I could potentially network with one of America’s most famous gay writers (living).

    But this set my gut on fire - in the nervous way, not the diarrhea way.  Señor Savage was almost a little too famous.  As I’ve written before, I do NOT like meeting famous people. It’s tough enough to walk up and introduce myself to dudes at the bar.  How would I introduce myself to someone who gets approached all the time?  Would it annoy them?  What if I stutter?  What if they’re dicks?  The fact that his husband, and a very, very pretty young man were with him only made the idea more nerve wracking.  But with them being in premier boarding, they’d get on the plane long before me anyway.

    When I boarded the plane, it occurred to me that I managed to somehow lose my boarding pass AND completely forgot my seat assignment.  I had to sheepishly ask the flight attendant for help.  As he kindly looked up my seat assignment, I then saw Dan Savage sitting in the front row of first class right in front of me.  Was now the time to try and introduce myself?

    He had his headphones on and his head down focusing on his phone.  This man clearly did not want any human contact.  I also noticed he and his husband didn’t even sit together.  Were they fighting?  They both did kind of look grumpy.  But then again, they were both on their phones.  Now was definitely not the time.

    Besides, the flight attendant would not stop talking.  And he was kind of cute, and he was wearing Invisalign, and I kinda wanted to ask him about it because I've been Invisa-curious about fixing my slightly jacked up teeth. This is not a paid endorsement, by the way. I really want to know how this shit works.  The flight attendant would later offer me some free alcohol to which I would have to politely decline because of my stupid sobriety.  Damn.  I’ve always wanted to get drunk on a plane.  

    After my new flight attendant friend figured out my seat, I made my way back there like a semi-normal human being.  Immediately, I began texting my partner and a couple friends of my close encounter of the awkward kind.

    “You should go back up to his seat and introduce yourself,” one friend wrote back.

    This wouldn’t have worked.  He sat by the window and I’d have to reach over the other passenger to shake his hand.  Besides, we reached the point where everyone had to stay seated so the plane could taxi.

    “You should tweet at him right now,” another friend said.

    “NO WAY!  I don’t even follow him on Twitter.  Besides, what would I say?  ‘I’m sitting twenty rows behind you.’ That’s so stalkery!”

    Although this did give me the idea to at least go on Twitter and follow him.  Dan Savage clearly had this Twitter thing down.  He had 315.4k followers.  I did not have this Twitter thing down.  I had 304 followers (notice the lack of a “k” behind that number).  Twitter just doesn’t get my boat going.  I’d rather engage with people on Instagram.  Regardless, a tweet would do me no good.

    When my partner suggested meeting him once I get off the flight, I informed him that this wouldn’t work either.  Dan Savage was sitting in the first row.  He’d be long gone by the time I got off the plane.

    “Baggage claim?” my partner wrote.

    “Oh good point. God dammit.”  I couldn't make anymore excuses.

    Sure enough, when I got to baggage claim, they were standing right there waiting.  I had to do this.  I always talk about how facing our fears is so healthy.  This would be no different.

    I walked over to them and began grinning like a mentally challenged person (I can say that because I’ve worked with mentally challenged people).  It was hard for them NOT to notice me.  They stopped talking and waited for me to start.

    “Hi.  I don’t want to interrupt,” I started out.  “But I just wanted to come over and say I am a big fan.”

    “Oh well thank you,” Dan Savage said politely.  “I would shake your hand but I have a cold right now.” 

    “Oh now worries.  I just wanted to say that I’ve recently started my own writing career and it’s going really well, and you’ve been a big influence for me.”

    My fumbling comments weren’t entirely true.  While I do absolutely respect his work, I could hardly call myself a big fan seeing as how I’ve never listened to his podcast or read any of his books.  I’ve just always known about him and liked what I’ve seen in his interviews.  But that certainly couldn’t be my approach.

    “Nice.  What do you write about?”  He asked.  

    “Oh… well… I… I write a blog.  It’s on ‘baring it all.’  I know it’s just a blog but it’s going really, really well.”  I always feel like I have to justify myself when I tell people I am a blogger - as if I don’t then they won’t take me seriously.  

    He nodded kindly.  Then things went uncomfortably silent.

    “Do you mind if we get a selfie really quick?” I asked.

    My hands get really shaky when I try to talk a selfie as it is.  Factor in my nerves here, and suddenly I had Parkinson’s (I can say that because my father has Parkinson’s).  The photos kept turning out blurry and I finally gave up and pretended like a got a good one so that I didn’t wear out my already questionable welcome.

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    After I walked away, I kicked myself for having totally blown it.  Sure I mustered up the guts to go talk to a famous person, but all I did was act like a giddy fan.  In no way did I actually network. 

    When I explained my writing, it would have been the perfect opportunity to hand him my business card and promote myself.  I could have said something like “My work is really taking off.  I’ve grown a vast audience in less than a year and I think it’d be fun to collaborate with you sometime.  Feel free to check out my work if you're curious at all.”

    Chances are he gets stuff like that allof the time from aspiring writers.  He probably would have thrown my card away at the next available trash bin.  But what if I had piqued his interest JUST enough?  It could have changed the course of my entire career.  Oh well.  I tried not beating myself up too much.  There was nothing I could really do.  

    My friends and I got our bags and made our way to the airport concourse train.  As we walked up, there was Dan Savage waiting for the same train car.  I tried to casually never make eye contact just so he’d know that this was purely a coincidence - not a following.

    After that train, I had to go to the kiosks to get a ticket for the BART (the San Francisco public train system).  The kiosks filled up quickly and due to my impatience, I ran to the other side to see if there was less of a line.  Instead, I ended up seeing Dan Savage.  This was getting awkward.  We exchanged smiles that said “Can you believe this?”  Although I’m sure we were not believing the same thing.

    As my friends and I made our way to the train, we purposefully didn’t choose to sit in the first car as to avoid yet another encounter.  As we got in the third car over, there he was: more Dan Savage.  As it turned out, I didn’t need Twitter to look like a fucking stalker.  Any chance of re-approaching him with a business card was now officially down the toilet. 

    The next day, when my friend and I decided to go to the Mr. S Leather store for their big Folsom event, Dan Savage was there yet again - handing out free beer to the patrons.  Perhaps they paid him to do it or maybe he did it for some charitable cause.  Either way, it made me wonder if he lied about having a cold to not shake my hand, or if he was faking his health and getting his germs all over the beer.  It didn’t matter.  I think.

    For the rest of the weekend, I successfully didn’t have anymore Dan Savage sightings to further my embarrassment.  However, I did start seeing lots of those ridiculously hot Instagay celebrities.  I decided to utilize them in order to improve my networking skills.  They couldn’t do anything for my writing, but they’d be great practice for introducing myself to intimidating people.  All of them were kind, making each one easier to talk to than the last.  I even made out with one of them.  Though he was fairly drunk at the time.

    While I didn't let fear stop me from meeting Dan Savage, I did let my nervousness stop me from doing it well.  I forgot that when we face our fears, we have to also not psych ourselves out as well.  Blowing it with Dan Savage taught me that when I get another opportunity to rub shoulders with someone just as big, I need to take a deep breath, collect my thoughts, and make a half-way decent plan as to what I want to say.

    Until that day comes, I’m perfectly happy networking with the brilliant, non-famous writers, like David, who really do inspire me to keep going on this journey.  And if nothing else, I will at least learn to have my damn business card in my hand.

 

Copyright © 2017 The Bare InkSlinger, All rights reserved.

Folsom: The Final Frontier

Caution: the following essay contains strong sexual themes that may be too graphic for some readers.  NSFW version available.


    I’m not sure exactly what I wanted to get out of Folsom Street Fair when I decided to go this year.  It would be my first time and people have always told me I’d love it.  This felt odd seeing as how I am not a big fetish guy.  Rather, I’d describe myself as “vanilla kink.”  So if anything, this could be great opportunity to have my mind BLOWN.  For some, space is the Final Frontier.  For me, it might just be one of the world’s largest fetish festivals. 

    Though my first challenge was to figure out what in the hell to wear for the fair.  I do find leather sexy so I own a couple of harnesses myself.  Thankfully some friends kindly let me borrow their gear so that I could have more options - leather boots, more harnesses, a black jockstrap, and some wrestling singlets.  I took photos of seven options and sent them to various friends.  Each of them selected something different.   

    For the fair itself, I wanted to wear the least clothing possible without being totally naked.  I narrowed it down to two choices.  The first was my white jock with tube socks.  If anything, I’m more of a vintage guy than a leather guy so it fit my personality.  The other was a black jock (borrowed) with leather boots (borrowed) and a harness (mine).  I felt like a total badass wearing it and it truly fit the Folsom style. 

    On the one hand, I wanted to stand out.  On the other hand, I wanted to fit in.  I couldn’t decide!  Which do I choose?  WHICH DO I CHOOSE?!  This is where I am a bit of a weirdo.  Not too many people would have an existential crisis about how to dress for their first fetish fair.  So naturally, I panicked and packed it all (on top of my regular clothes) hoping that none of it would explode out as I handed my bag to the nice woman at the airline counter.

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    One of things about Folsom is that the weekend is packed full of parties - most in the style of the gay circuit party.  This was something I had never really done either, but I’ve always been a little circuit-curious. There were multiple parties happening day and night.  Instead of having an existential crisis about choosing these, I decided just to follow my friends choices which were often cheaper anyway (because I’m a broke ass writer).  

    Our Friday night kicked off with the bear party known as Bearracuda.  I had been to these before and loved the attitude of all body types being accepted.  And although I love a good bear, I found myself trying to flirt with a non-bear couple on the dance floor.

    In truth, I’m not that good at flirting. I struggle to offer more than a smirk and a second of eye contact, and then turn away as I don’t know what to do next.  It’s up to my flirty counterpart to make the next move.  It probably wouldn’t be so difficult if I drank.  But in my recent choice of sobriety, flirting has become more difficult than ever.     

    As the night wrapped up, the couple (now incredibly drunk) put the pressure on to go home with them.  I turned them down as it felt like breaking one of my cardinal rules: never hook up with someone just for the sake of hooking up with someone.  On the other hand, I figured this was Folsom and the weekend was all about letting go of my inhibitions.

    As nice as they were, I shouldn’t have let go of my inhibitions.  Being so drunk, both of them kept dozing off during our play time.  Then neither of them seemed to get on the same page with what was okay and what was off limits.  My being dead sober left me wide awake and way too aware of it all.

    Then one passed out while other then kept saying, “Yeah, fuck me baby.”

    For me, being called “baby” is a total boner killer.  He said it like ten times and with each demand, I got softer and softer.  Finally I called it a night and ordered a ride back to home base.  Of course as I tried to casually slip out the door, I realized I had grabbed the wrong phone and had to sheepishly go back and knock to get the right one.

    The next day, my friends wanted to go to Mr. S Leather - a huge bondage gear and fetish clothing store that’s been around for nearly four decades.  Evidently this is a big event in itself as the store hands out beer while it’s packed with people shopping.  

    Upon arrival, I immediately got separated from my friends and had to explore on my own.  When I turned the corner to go into the harness section, I was startled by a guy in a sling getting pounded right then and there.  Nevertheless, this was more of a surprise than a shock.  I had seen this kind of thing in bathhouses and just didn’t expect it to happen right there in the store.  Thus my mind wasn’t super blown.

    I then met a handsome, hairy employee working in the lube section.  Evidentially BOTH of us were bad at flirting time and we kept skirting around our attraction to one another.  He kept showing me a number of lube options as we continued to flounder and miss these perfectly slippery segues. 

    Per the lube salesman’s suggestion, I tried on a harness that everyone ended up loving.  I barely escaped from the store without dropping $200 on it (remember: broke ass writer).  Fortunately I had to leave to go hang out with one of my best friends who relocated to San Fran a couple years ago.  He and his partner were intellectual quiet types who had no major desire to participate in the weekend’s shenanigans.

    However before meeting them, I decided to make a quick stop at a daytime party called “Big Muscle.”  I had no intentions of going to this party, but I wanted to stop out front to say hello to a couple who did go to this event.  I met one of them on the train coming in from the San Fran airport and was struck by his overwhelming good looks.  He wanted me to come by so that I could meet his partner as well.  

    “You should come in,” they both suggested after our introductions.

    “No,” I told them.  “I have to go meet up with some local friends.”

    “That’s too bad,” they said.  “The dicks are just starting to come out.”

    “Dicks are coming out?!” I perked up like a groundhog who had been dying to see his shadow. 

    When they told me the cover charge was only $15, I felt like I’d practically be saving money!  I called my local friends and told them I’d have to see them at dinner instead.  I felt a bit like a douche, but c’mon… DICKS!

    I entered the venue to find an overwhelming scene of half naked men dancing everywhere - on the floor, on a stage, up the walls, on balconies.  Three minutes and forty-eight seconds later, dicks did in fact come out.  I promised I’d only stay an hour.  Though seeing as how dance-floor-dicks were also new to me, I wound up staying until the end at 6pm.

    I rushed over to meet my local friends for dinner and was suddenly transported to an entirely different world.  The restaurant was nice and suddenly I felt stupid slutty wearing torn up jean shorts and a muscle tee cut so thin that I was practically shirtless.  These friends told intellectual jokes that went over my head and reminisced about how ponderosa pine trees smell of butterscotch.  I adored them.  Things were calm.  I actually needed this.

    Sunday came and so did the actual street fair itself.  I returned to my conundrum of what to wear.  I had actually worn the black jock and harness to Bearracuda.  Still though… do I fit in or do I stand out?  God, I hate making decisions.  I opted for the white tube socks and jock vintage getup and threw on some tiny shorts and a tank over it.  I didn’t want to touch my bare ass on the public transit seats.

    When I arrived at Folsom Street Fair, I could hardly pay attention to the surroundings because I suddenly had two missions: 1. coat myself in sunblock and 2. find food as fast as possible.  Fortunately I met up with another Denver friend to help me achieve both of these.  

    But before food, I had to stop and get a photo of two guys getting it on in a window from a second floor apartment.  This surprised me.  It was hardly even noon yet.  That’s WAY too early for window sex.  Or I guess the real shock was that they didn’t care that any of us onlookers were taking photos.  My slight exhibitionist side felt a little envious of them.

    Other friends joined us and we began venturing our way through the crowds.  We witnessed people being tied up with rope while others were getting spanked with paddles.  We saw the puppy play pen where guys dawned leather dog masks and trotted on all fours.  I didn’t understand.  None of this was blowing my mind.  Obviously I needed something more obscure.  I needed the folks my friends warned me about. 

    Where was the fisting booth? Where was the woman sitting in a baby pool of urine (to clarify… the urine would be from adults, not babies)? And where were the guys who fill their balls with so much saline… they become huge and grotesquely hang between their legs?!  I wanted my freaks, dammit!

    I began to wonder if this was an unfortunate side effect of living such an open minded and exploratory life.  I enjoy being a spectator of all things unconventional so that I leave no stone unturned.  But what happens when you unturn all the stones?  Is my curious nature just like heroin?  Is enough never enough?  Had I already reached my "Final Frontier?"  

      In order to feel our boundaries slightly pushed, I challenged some friends to at least go full monty with me in the middle of the street for a photo.  None of us had ever done such a thing - especially with so many people around.  We bared our junk and got the shots.  And yet this didn’t feel all that thrilling either.

    Then something occurred to me: as we took our dicks out for the photo op, no one around us actually cared.  There were no double takes, no whispers behind our backs, and no shaming of any kind.  In my pursuit of shock value, I realized that I was completely missing the best part.

    We were existing in a world where everyone could be their most unconventional selves and NO ONE WOULD CARE.  I have heard about this kind of thing happening at Burning Man (another item on my bucket list), but I didn’t realize I could also find it here.  When it came to obsessing over which outfit I’d wear, it ended up that it never really mattered.  All that mattered was whichever one felt best for me.  THIS was what I came to Folsom for - not to necessarily find a fuck, but rather to not give a fuck.  

    For the rest of the day, my fascination turned from my craving of shock value to my new found sense of comfort.  I let a straight couple smack me in the rear with their newly purchased paddle.  I hopped on a random guys’ back to take photos of a gay sex show happening on stage.  And I signed up for the Mr. S newsletter so I could make my first attempt at flirting with a guy in a pup mask.  Instead of wanting the day to be something else, it turned into exactly what I needed it to be.  Oh, and apparently I just missed the guys with the saline balls.  

    That evening, my friends and I went to the closing party called “Deviants.”  In my newfound sense of freedom, I decided to challenge myself on my sober flirting skills.  Instead of quickly looking away after my eye contact and smile, I’d make my way over and introduce myself to these men.  Each guy got easier than the last.  I even made out with a few of them too.

    At the end of the night, I came face-to-face with yet another decision: go home with a dashing ginger or hold out for the after party that would be riddled with orgies.  I chose the ginger.  He was a fellow writer and seemed kind (and also coherent).  

    Instead of getting it on right when we got through the door, we sat and ate sandwiches while asking each other deep and personal questions.  Conceivably this was my fetish: uninhibited human connection - be it from sexual expression or deep conversation.  Of course, taking a shower with him before going back home felt pretty damn good too.

    The next morning I woke up feeling slightly baffled by the weekend.  Had it been overwhelming or underwhelming?  I just didn’t know.  Either way, my final day in San Francisco had arrived and I wanted to do something easy and local.  Ideally I would have gone to Marshall’s Beach - a nude beach right by the Golden Gate bridge.  Except I didn’t know how to get there and all the locals were hurting too badly (from alcohol and drugs, not my flirting) to take me.  So I settled on going to Dolores Park. 

    I ordered up a ride share and upon getting in the car, I was bombarded by yet another good looking gay couple in the back seat.  We made conversation and they informed me, ironically, of their own plans to go to Marshall’s Beach.  I fished around for an invite and luckily they took the bait and invited me along. 

    As we made our way onto the beach, we stumbled upon something none of us expected to see: fisting... fisting on a beach… where sand was present.  However it wasn’t just any old beach fisting.  It was, in fact, a fisting train - three men, two fists, and a whole lot of love.  This was apparently not typical for Marshall’s Beach.  Either way, my mind was officially (and finally) blown!

    My new found friends and I didn’t engage in any fisting of our own, or any other sexual activity for that matter.  Rather we laid out, chatted, took photos, and just soaked up our afternoon of spontaneous, naked camaraderie.  Maybe this was another fetish for me: random, impromptu social nudity.  Most people find it incredibly weird, and yet, for me, it makes me feel alive and intensely engaged with the present moment.  My brain doesn’t wander off to worry about money or my work.  And perhaps this is what fetish is all about.

    Before I came on this trip, I read an article online about the “38 Folsom Street Fair DOs and DON’Ts.”  Number twenty-eight said “Don’t expect Folsom to change your life.”  Then number thirty-nine said “Do expect Folsom to change your life.”  So did Folsom change my life or not change my life?  The answer to both… is yes.  I had reached some kind of frontier over that weekend.  But, in the end, frontiers are never really final.

    Thank you, San Francisco, for the unforgettable weekend.  I look forward to being inside you again soon.  

 

Copyright © 2017 The Bare InkSlinger, All rights reserved.