Archive for April, 2007

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The Way He Sleeps

April 26, 2007

I hate the way he sleeps.

I said it.  I went there.  Yes, I confess, it bugs the hell out of me.  My partner, Scott, enjoys sleeping entirely too much.  It’s almost as if he’s not only finding pleasure in the sleep, but he’s taking pleasure in rubbing that joy right in my face.  It happens night after night. 

Take last night for example:  10:00-10:30pm rolls around, we’re winding down and getting ready for bed.  Scott climbs into bed, but I stay up a little longer.  He has to get up early for work, and I get to sleep in some.  When I decide to get some shuteye, I hear this long “mmmmmm” and then another.  It’s a glissando that descends from a high pitch to a lower one.  That is followed by a sigh.  We’re off to a good start tonight. 

It’s been a stressful week for me, and I don’t fall asleep easily on a typical, stress-free night.  Now I must endure at least 30 minutes, the time it takes me to fall asleep, of Scott’s enraptured slumber.  How do I learn to do this?  Scott falls off to sleep all too easily.  He lies down, closes his eyes, and snap!  He’s gone.  I toss, I turn, my mind runs wild, thinking a million thoughts.  It’s even worse when we’re fighting.  That’s when it appears he has a sleep switch, and the little man in his head peers out Scott’s blue eyes and sees that I’m steaming about something, and decides to do a system shutdown.  That little guy in Scott’s head hits the panic button and nothing can wake him; certainly not all my sighing, and tossing and turning, and getting out of bed for a drink, then stomping back into the room.  Nope, that boy’s asleep and if I needed to argue, fight, or have an honest or open discussion, well, I guess I should have thought about that sooner.    

It seems I’ve got so many prerequisites for sleep.  Not Scott.  For him, a bed, couch, easy chair, or car seat will do just fine.  Need a blanket?  Need a certain temperature?  How about pillows?  Firm or soft?  No, it doesn’t seem to make much difference.  For me?  I need 2 pillows, and one of them is filled with buckwheat hulls.  I like a certain weight to the blankets, even in the summer.  I just don’t feel right with a  sheet and a light blanket. I need the right balance of hydration and elimination, if you know what I mean; it’s a long trip to the bathroom.  I don’t like to make it in the middle of the night.  I need warmth, but fortunately that’s one of the things Scott takes care of in his sleep.  He’s a furnace.  I mean, he puts off so much heat that he sweats.  I think it’s just another way of telling me he works at this; sleep is his tour de force. 

Let’s not forget those little things that make Scott’s nocturnal craft exciting for me.  It happens rarely, thank God.  Deep in the night, long after I’ve stopped resenting him for falling asleep so quickly, and I’ve finally found that fabled land of rapid eye movement, Scott will let out a quick, loud “OH!”  It’s loud enough, quick enough, surprising enough, that it would most likely cause a monk who’s taken a vow of silence to sit straight up and say  “Oh Shit!”  Yes, thank you, dear, for this startling reminder that you do indeed take pleasure in your sleep. 

I hate the way he sleeps.  I wish I could do it exactly the same way. 

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The IUP Drum Major Audition

April 22, 2007

Ah, the unique traditions of colleges that herald the arrival of Spring! I was witness to one of those events yesterday afternoon on the campus of Indiana University of Pennsylvania. It was a beautiful spring afternoon. It was a mixed group of over 100 college students, some parents, some alumni, and even some young kids, gathered in the courtyard of Cogswell Hall, the music building. It seemed like this was the first warm day of the season and the sun was showing its power. In a few moments, five ambitious music students would also be showing the crowd, as well as the judges, their own power.

This event, which happens every spring at IUP, is the audition for Drum Major where the leaders of the “Pride of Pennsylvania….the Beast of the East” are chosen in what appears to be a performance that showcases conducting skills, creativity, and marching skills that nearly become choreography. The music fraternity sets up a grill and serves up burgers and dogs for a small fee. The music department sets up tables to support the technical equipment needed to conduct the auditions, and a table for the judges. Those judges include outgoing drum majors, as well as former leaders who return for this interesting tradition.

The IUP Band members gathered with anticipation. This competition decides who will become their student leaders for the upcoming marching season. Each of the five hopefuls seemed to have those in the band who supported them in their quest. As the sun beat down on all of us, the contenders took to the concrete courtyard individually to demonstrate their expertise at conducting the Star-Spangled Banner in a classical form. An interesting thing happens as each would-be director begins the piece: the band members, who have gathered without their instruments, begin to sing. However, they do not sing the words, they sing their instrumental part. It’s an oddly beautiful rendition that includes cymbal crashes, drum rolls, moving bass parts, and what I presumed to be the trumpeters reaching for a high note that few can sing, but trumpets play at the climax of the song. Today, we will hear this version five times. As each student conducts, I can see slight variations in sharpness, eye contact, and some indescribable quality that must indicate the student’s ability to command the attention of the ensemble.

Classic Two March

The competition moves on to a group exercise. The students are asked to take to the courtyard and conduct a march in “classic two.” I move in to get a photograph and now it is easy to see that each of these young people, two guys and three gals, have their own style. Over the years, I’ve seen plenty of marching bands, yet I’m not comfortable at guessing the qualities these judges are searching for in the contestants. Is it the stone-faced, no nonsense expression, much like that of a guard at Buckingham Palace? Is it the one who conveys emotion and direction with just a look, a raised eyebrow, or the nod of a head? One contestant has already held a drum major position with the band; is he given preferred status for that experience?

Finally, the most time-consuming aspect of the audition: individual free-style conducting. Each student is prepared to march, conduct, dance, show their creativity in the creation of their “routine” and do so to music of their own choosing and “mixing.” At this point we’ve seen the requisites, now we get to see how these students put those skills to creative use. Each routine must meet a time requirement that does not exceed six minutes. Within that six minutes, the music selections, as well as style of those pieces, changes several times. Some students choose to showcase their dexterity at conducting several styles of music within their mix. A few pick some kind of theme and assemble their music choices around it. These are the routines that gather the favor of the crowd. All of the music is varied; the routines include complicated marching steps; humor and personality pop up at the most surprising times. Five contending students, five very different routines, and only three drum major positions to be filled. Two students will be disappointed before this is over.


the routine

The band director and the judges gather their papers and move to an office within the music building. The crowd sits outside, in the hot sun. It’s been over an hour since the competition began. A few of us are beginning to show the effects of the sun: red faces and arms. It seems that the decision is taking longer than it should. I begin to feel the same kind of knot in my stomach that I felt only days ago when my son participated in the talent show. This time, one of the contestants for drum major is my daughter, Stormie.

Stormie has been working toward this day for several years of her young life. She joined her high school marching band in 2001, and it seems she was taken with everything about it immediately. She loved the hard work, the marching, the drills, the shows, and the competitions. She worked hard and became a leader in her small high school’s marching band. Eventually, she would earn the position of Drum Major for her junior and senior years. With that position, came the opportunity to attend Drum Major camp at IUP. This is where she fell in love with the idea of attending this college, marching in this band, and leading that band as one of their Drum Majors. I knew that this was a dream Stormie could realize because of all the hard work she had put into making that dream come true.

A few years ago, as Stormie prepared for a high school audition for drum major, she begged me to drive her to IUP to witness the very process I’ve described above. She took it all in, and even made herself known that day! She was leaning against a lamp post watching the proceedings when, she bumped the electrical plug by her leg, disconnecting all of the sound equipment and disrupting the proceedings, which I believe were the announcements of the new drum majors for the season. At that point, no one knew who she was or why she was there. Today, all of those band members know her, and they know she means to work hard to make that band live up to its reputation.

The five contestants are called into the building to meet with the judges. Now is the time for dad’s nerves to kick in. I’m thinking to myself “what does this mean?” “are they letting them down easy?” “why don’t they just get out here and make that announcement?” I quickly review the contestants, make my own judgments and I can’t possibly see how my daughter could be rejected. The students, judges, and band director eventually return to the courtyard. One of the contestants walks toward his parents who are standing near me. I hear him say that he is not one of the drum majors, and that two of the girls got it. I assume that Nick, the returning drum major is successful. That means two of the three girls were chosen. Surely the could see all the talent and skill and leadership ability that I see in my daughter; who could be that blind?

End with a Split

The director walks to the center of the courtyard, turns the microphone on and begins making announcements. All except for the reason we were gathered there in the sun. Finally, he gets to the list of successful candidates. Nick is chosen as Head Drum Major, as seems fitting. Christine, another freshman is chosen as an associate drum major. Of course, my daughter, Stormie, is the other associate drum major. She, too, is a freshman. The band cheers and seems pleased with the results. All of the students rush to greet each of the contestants, including their friends who were not chosen. What a great group of kids to support each other this way.

I go to my daughter, hug her, and tell her how much I love her, and how proud I am of her. We stand there chatting, and my ex-wife walks up, arms open. We embrace, knowing that we’ve done well with our children in spite of the past between us. We commiserate about the nerve-wracking ordeal of watching our children stand up, perform, and revel in the joy that only parents know of watching the children grow up and succeed at their chosen endeavors. I think of how we used to say the clichéd phrases of wanting our children to do “better than we did.” I never knew that it would be so satisfying to watch them as they surpass the accomplishments of the parents, and be so fulfilling to cheer them on as they reach beyond our dreams for them.

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What’s IN your mind?

April 19, 2007

I have a bunch of phrases, thoughts, or concepts floating around my head. I’m sure we all do. Some of those things are brought to my attention on a daily basis, others are recurring on some odd schedule that I haven’t figured out yet. I know only that I recognize them as being a part of me because they pop up every so often. It’s not so much “what’s ON my mind” as it is “what’s IN my mind.”

I blame my dad for some of them, like the punch line to some corny joke he told me when I was a kid. A little boy sees his father in the shower and points to his pecker and asks “what’s that?” Daddy is a little shaken and responds “that’s my nerve” which satisfies the boy’s curiosity and he goes on his way. A few days later, in a restaurant, the boy has to use the restroom, but being all grown up, he insists on going by himself, no need for dad’s help. The boy mistakenly enters the Ladies’ Room and makes use of the facilities. A pompous woman sees the child and makes the remark “Well! You’ve got some nerve!” to which the little boy replies “If you think that’s something, you should see my dad’s!”

Thanks, Dad. That punch line pops up in my head every time I hear someone say something like “he’s got some nerve!” If I do say it aloud, I end up having to tell the joke because no one has a clue as to why I’m saying the phrase, and the joke ends up falling flat, because I’ve already revealed the punch line.

“Life’s a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death!” Thanks, Auntie Mame. My high school mounted a performance of this musical when I was a junior. I was the pianist for the production and so I spent many hours at the rehearsals. I had plenty of time to ponder the meaning of that line, although I recall it being delivered with a slight variation in the musical version of the story. I’m sorry to say that it took me nearly twenty years to learn the lesson of that line. Now, when I’m hesitant to try something new, I recall this quote and go for it. I don’t want to regret taking a pass on something when I’m on my deathbed. Twenty-two years after I first heard that line, I had the chance to pull my chair up to the banquet table and do something I’d never done: take to the stage in a musical production of Mame in the role of Ito. I don’t know how good I was in the role, but I know that I had a lot of fun.

Nothing you can do can make God love you more, or love you less. I remember driving my car through the tunnels of Pittsburgh and receiving this revelation. It was 1985, I had just graduated from college and I had taken a job as a music director for a charismatic church. At that point, I had no idea where my spiritual journey would take me, and I find it amazing that I end up here as a progressive gay Christian when I started as a conservative, fundamentalist, charismatic, deeply closeted, scared young person. I recognized this thought that God’s love for me was not something to be earned nor lost, as a clear message from God. I felt wrapped in God’s love that day and for several days after that. I confess that I lost sight of that revelation and lost my way in this world. The journey became dark and dangerous. In spite of having this revelation, I had serious doubts that God could love me.

2004, on the beach in Wildwood, New Jersey: it’s been 11 months since I separated from my wife. I’ve come out of the closet, my boyfriend has moved in with me, and I’m on a little vacation with my teenaged children. They like to sleep in, so on the last day of this vacation, I get up early and go for a walk on the beach. These few days with my kids have been very nearly perfect, so while I’m walking and praying, I ask God “why?” “Why is this vacation different from the others that I’ve attempted with my family?” I didn’t expect an answer, spiritual things didn’t seem to be going all that well for me at that point, yet I heard something that morning. It wasn’t a loud voice, and it wasn’t the crashing of the waves, but there, in the power of the ocean, in the glory of the creation, I heard God speak to me. This is what God said: “You are finally being the person I created you to be. This is what you can expect from now on.” I had to stop right there. I was stunned. I knew this was not my imagination, it was not my own will creating what I longed to hear. This was a quickening in my spirit, almost a shockwave of a message from God. For nearly twenty years, I had attempted to live as a straight man, hiding my attractions for men. Now I was hearing that my new life, living as a gay man, was pleasing to God, and that the blessings in my life were because I was being true to the design of the Creator. I’d just been invited to the banquet, and there was no way I was going to starve!

And what about the title of this blog? “this terrestrial ball” how clever! A fancy reference to the planet earth. Well, yes, it is a reference to our big blue marble, but it’s also a line from a hymn, “All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name”. I’ve always contemplated the double entendre of the line “this terrestrial ball” thinking that the writer may have intended us to imagine dancing the night away, dressed to the nines, reveling in the glory of God’s presence. I can’t sing the hymn without thinking of being at that ball, catching a glimpse of Cinderella as she slips out just before midnight, and my prince taking me in his arms to dance the night away.

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I Know 2004

April 14, 2007

The following is a post to an Internet forum that I made way back in Aug 2004. Gov. Jim McGreevey from New Jersey had just come out. This particular forum had many threads debating the morality of same-sex marriage and the validity of orientation as being either fixed by heredity or chosen. Very often, particular members of that forum posted degrading comments about gays and lesbians in general. There are some comments in this post that were directed at members of that forum. In this post I came out as a gay man to the on-line community and was well-received. It’s interesting for me to go back and visit this essay. McGreevey hasn’t exactly found his place in the community yet. I’m sure there are many opinions as to why that is.

So here’s the essay:

I know what New Jersey Governor, James McGreevey is going through. I know the pain he is experiencing at this very moment. I know how hard it is to tell someone close to you that you have been living a lie and can not possibly do it for one more moment.
“My truth is that I am a gay American.” were Jim McGreevey’s words. They are my words as well. I spent 40 years of my life trying to live as a straight man, and I believe that, had I continued, it would have killed me.
I know how painful it is to come out to people who love and respect you. It is not an easy task, and for Jim to have done so in such a public way and in these circumstances magnified the difficulty of the event. I am sure he loves his wife and children; I certainly loved my wife. That love changed and grew cold, but the love I have for my children has never wavered. The day my wife confronted me with her suspicions was quite possibly the most painful day I ever experienced. She had already told my children that she thought I was gay, and had already begun to tell others in our family and circle of friends. I had every intention of living a straight life until I died. Going against one’s nature is not the best course of action, I have learned.
I know how painful Jim’s childhood must have been. I knew I was different from the other boys as early as when I was 7 years old. It’s not easy to figure out why you’re different. You’re not trying to be different, but it becomes obvious to the other kids that you are strange. To keep from being ostracized, you learn to hide those things quickly. I recall how concerned my parents were that I didn’t like to do the things my brother did, and that some of my playtime was spent doing things that were considered “girlish”. My dad even threatened to take me to a psychiatrist. I knew I’d better straighten up.
I know how hard it is to be a gay teenager. I experimented with another teenage boy, my best friend. He later turned on me and made fun of me at the bus stop with the other boys, perhaps in an attempt to deflect attention away from him. I also figured out that it’s important to have a girlfriend, for a number of reasons. The reason that seemed most important was that having a girlfriend would cure a guy of those gay thoughts. It doesn’t.
Because I grew up in a strict, religious family, I had heard many times how evil it was for persons of the same gender to engage in sexual acts. Each time I indulged a fantasy, I would feel such guilt and remorse. I begged God to take those thoughts away from me. For years I would seek God in church, at the altar, call to God from my bedroom, or the car as I was driving. I tried “fasting,” denying myself food in an attempt to get God’s attention and help me out of this gay predicament. It never happened.
There were times when it appeared that I had the thoughts under control. I would find women to date, and eventually found someone that I wanted to marry. Marriage would certainly put an end to my homosexual thoughts and fantasies. It didn’t. I could go for short periods of time thinking I was straight, all better now, but eventually those thoughts would return.
I know how Jim McGreevey must have come to a point in his life in which he could no longer contain himself. He needed to seek release from his thoughts by experiencing love with another man. What a difficult turning point this is for a gay or lesbian person. It seems simple enough at first, but it becomes more and more difficult to hide the secret life. The person is forced to become a liar. I know the pain and difficulty of living the dual lifestyle. There is constant fear of being discovered. There is the fear of being rejected by family, friends, co-workers. There is the fear of losing a job, or even a career. In the governor’s case, he has been forced to resign, not because he’s gay, but because he’s lead such a double life.
Many of you know that I am a teacher in an elementary school. I lived in fear of being found out and how that might affect my teaching position. Even-though I know I am protected by the equal opportunity employment act, I know that there are ways around it as well. In my case, my wife informed as many people as she could that I am a gay man. Eventually, that word, with elaborated stories added, made it back to many people that I work with. A few, thankfully, came to me to get the facts.
I lived in fear that my children would reject me. I lived in fear that my parents would reject me. I lived in fear that I would be rejected by my church, and could possibly lose my job as music director. The bottom line is that I lived in fear most of my adult life.
It’s very clear to me that gay-bashing is acceptable behavior in much of our society. It certainly has happened here in this forum. It takes the form of humor, and subtle comments, and for some gay-bashing has meant violence and death.
It seems to me that the one place a person might find solace and protection is within the church. That does not seem to be the case. When I was twelve years old, I entered the waters of baptism to declare that I am a child of God. I promised to be steadfast in the faith, joyful through hope and rooted in love. The congregation promised to do all in their power to increase my faith, confirm my hope and perfect me in love. I remember my baptism, but the church does not. Because I am gay, I am referred to as a stranger. Some church leaders would remove me from my position because of my sexual orientation. Gays and Lesbians are told that they are not worthy to be a child of God. We have gifts to offer, and we may offer them if we are silent about our true nature. The church turns away God’s children when it treats us as if we are strangers, when it holds conferences to decide whether Gays/Lesbians who claim Christ as their Savior are worthy to participate in the family of God, let alone serve in it.
Now we find ourselves debating whether two people of the same sex should be allowed to enter into a marital contract, as if heterosexuals have provided such a great example of how to be married that homosexuals could do worse. If the government is concerned about the defense of marriage, perhaps they should outlaw divorce, increase education and awareness on spousal abuse, and publish the alarming statistics of child abuse in this country.
I know Jim McGreevey’s life as it must be at this moment. It’s not an easy one. A few of my friends have commented about my great courage to fix what was wrong in my life. There are times that I am able to see it as courage, and other times when I think that I did what I had to do to survive. Today we have seen a man face his life in a very extreme way. James McGreevey is a courageous man. For those of you ready with the jokes and vulgar remarks, you should live so long to have half the courage that gay American has.

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Music Critic

April 13, 2007

Performing onstage takes guts; it’s not for the timid. To walk out onstage as yourself, perform a song you’ve written, and to do it well, is to bare your soul. The singer/songwriter pulls up those emotions time and time again as he sings the songs of his heart for the audience that may or may not wish to witness such emotional angst.

Such was the experience last evening at a local high school. Ten performers took to the stage in an annual talent show known as Step Up 2 the Mic. A few of the singers chose to sing popular songs, some with karaoke accompaniment. One garage band performed an original collaborative composition. There was a dancer, a classical pianist, and an excellent young guitarist who played a Van Halen tune that rivaled the original performance.

It was the singer/songwriter who held my attention. This young man was the final performance of the evening. As the curtain opened, the singer’s vulnerability was magnified by the size of the stage and the intensity of the lights. There he stood, a boy, a guitar, and a microphone. He begins the song with a rhythmic accompaniment and breaks into the song “You Are an Ocean.” My mind begins to take in the melody, analyzing the words, and consider the experience that might cause an eighteen year old to put these feelings, not only on paper, but also into song. I ask myself if this is about a young love affair that has ended; I consider the line that says this house is poison and ask myself if this is how he views his own home.

I feel my stomach tighten as each phrase tumbles off his lips. I sense that the key of the song is pitched higher than I could sing and I know that the refrain will most likely go into the upper range of pitches. As the notes rise, the emotions rise with them. I grow concerned for the young man. Will his voice reach those notes? Does he have those pitches in his range? As I suspected, the melody of the song continues to climb. My mind is racing back and forth between the emotion in the performance and the troubling message within the song. Then, as I’m wrapped up in the performance and feeling all the emotions of the singer/songwriter, he takes me to a new place. There is a long high note. I listen closely; no sign of the young voice wavering. I’m relieved. What’s next? Another sustained note, but this time it’s higher. He’s got my attention. Then the climax of the song: a third sustained pitch, this time higher than all the others! He finishes the song strong and the audience shows their appreciation with cheers and applause.

What kind of performer brings out this kind of reaction in me? I must confess, the young man on stage is my son,
Sterling. The rave review is not that of a proud father. Well, OK, to some extent it is. I know that
Sterling is talented, but this performance was a revelation of a talent of which I was vaguely aware. I am in awe of his daring to write such a personal song, then sing it for his peers. I’m inspired by his compositions, they bring his stories to life in such a vivid fashion. I am impressed by the voice that easily sings pitches higher than any I could sing, and does so with a tone that is so much clearer than my own.

The exchange that took place between us after the performance is priceless. I congratulate
Sterling and tell him that he had a wonderful performance. Then I ask “what was that note?” meaning the highest pitch in the song. His reply came swiftly: “one that you don’t have!” He’s grinning from ear to ear. I have to smile and say “you’re right about that.” And what is
Sterling’s reward for this performance? I’d have to say that it is a rite of passage; it is the night in which he established himself as a singer/songwriter of unquestionable talent, a night in which the father gains a tremendous amount of respect for the son. It is also a night in which the performer walks away with first prize and $150 in his pocket for his efforts.