The Day I Found Out I Was Adopted

First things first, the extremely talented comedian Jessica Michelle Singleton released her debut album last night and it already hit #1 on the iTunes comedy list. I highly recommend you buy it so you have something to laugh at after this depressing fucking story.

iTunes: Please. Don’t. Leave. Me.
Amazon: Please. Don’t. Leave. Me.
Google Play: Please. Don’t. Leave. Me.

Also, I wrote this last night:

“You know, I’m in love with love. I’m in love with falling in love, with that rush that comes from gazing into someone’s eyes, that soft silence before a passionate kiss. I’m in love with the ache of missing someone. I’m in love with inside jokes and surprises and long days spent in bed doing nothing but talking and being wrapped around and through each other. I’m in love with the idea of writing something that’s going to make a woman grin or blush or both or look up to the sky and just repeat the words in her mind.

I’m in love with love. And Lord knows, should their be a Lord or Historian knows – and there should be a Historian – that I spend many a night in the broken, jagged, mocking, echoing remnants of love and it’s a deeper death there, but it diminishes not at all my love for the first time he musters the courage to take her hand, to say her name in his throat instead of off his lips, to the first time he sheds self-consciousness and forgets reality outside of he and her.

I will always, forever, doubtless and without hesitation be in love with love.”

That has nothing to do with the rest of this post, but I thought it turned out well and it’s been a while since I shared anything sappy with my blog followers, so I figured – it being Valentine’s Day and all – that I’d post it here.

Now, I’m not a big fan of Valentine’s Day. I think it’s commercialized nonsense. I think it’s created a ridiculous expectation that gifts should be given or that this is THE DAY to really express your love when I’ve always been of the belief that you should regularly be  showing that affection and surprising your partner with little things. I could also very much be biased because I’m not good at relationships and I’ve found myself single on February 14th more often than not.

Or maybe it’s because 12 years ago today is when I found out I was adopted and so while everyone else is opening their chocolates and their six-foot stuffed bear, I tend to get distracted with other things.

I was fifteen years old. I had lost my virginity a couple weeks previously and because I was still close with my mom and I told her everything, I had let that bomb drop somewhere along the line. I assured her I was being safe.

Immediately afterward, my girlfriend at the time had sex with someone else and broke up with me, which isn’t really the order I would have preferred those things to happen in. So when Valentine’s Day rolled by, I was not only newly single, I was hurt. Betrayed. I spent that day in high school, sophomore year, back when I was still being bullied by the more popular kids. I was surrounded by shit-talkers and happy romances, and I felt absolutely miserable. All I wanted to do was go home and go to my room, hop onto my computer and talk to people that actually thought I was cool.

And I know that sounds weird and lonely, and it sort of was, but I’ve met most of those online friends since then. Those relationships were as real as hanging out with the kid down the street. It was one of the few respites I had from a lot of sadness and anger I felt during that time.

I get through the day. I get home. I sit in my chair. I fire my desktop up, and my mom calls me to wish me a Happy Valentine’s Day. We talked a little bit. I don’t think I told her that my girlfriend and I had broken up. In fact, I’m almost positive, because she said to me, “Hey, so now that you… you know, are with a woman and growing up into a man, I think you’re old enough for me to tell you something.”

“Okay. What is it?”

“I don’t want to tell you over the phone.”

“Mom, you can’t just say I’m ready for you to tell me some secret… and then not tell me that secret.”

We went back and forth like that for several minutes, with me growing more and more agitated. Finally, on the verge of tears, she blurted out, “Rick isn’t your father.”

I had considered some possibilities of what she might say. Maybe there would be the awkward sex talk we sort of skated over before. Maybe she was seeing someone new. I don’t know. Whatever I was expecting, it wasn’t that. It took me a few long seconds to recover.

“Then who the fuck is?”

“His name is John Buchanan. He was a marine biologist.”

It was a fling. My dad (Rick) was away. He found out, of course, and forgave her, and he put his name on my birth certificate and raised me as his own son. My parents divorced before I turned two. I’m ninety percent sure I wasn’t any of the reasons, because both of them fought for custody and settled with joint and treated me as best they could. And when drugs and alcohol came into the mix and they slept throughout the day or they went away to jail or rehab or another state, I never, never thought it was because they didn’t love me.

They weren’t good parents, but they were and are loving ones.

I went to live with Rick’s parents, my grandparents, when I was five. They took me in after raising three children of their own and spent the next two decades raising a fourth kid out of love instead of biological obligation. I know that shouldn’t fuck with me, but it still does.

Anyway, I was silent. My mom was openly sobbing, convinced that I hated her. That shook me back to the present and I assured her that I didn’t, that I loved her, I just needed to get off the phone for a while. I wished her a Happy Valentine’s Day and hung up.

I sat in that chair for a while, staring at my computer screen. Ten minutes. Fifteen. I pushed myself out of it and stepped down the stairs, stomach in knots. I walked into the kitchen; my grandmother had her head in the refrigerator but heard me come in.

“How was talking to your mom?”
“Well, she said Dad’s not dad.”

She froze. I’ll never forget that. It was only for a second and a half, but she went stone still, and then rose up out of the fridge with a gallon of milk as if nothing was different, as if this was a perfectly normal conversation to have, as if my entire fucking life wasn’t in upheaval.

In retrospect, I can’t begin to imagine the thoughts that were racing through her mind. To keep this secret for fifteen years, to have it suddenly and unexpectedly exposed, to be put into the so fucking unfortunate position to have to try to explain why I was only now finding this out. My grandmother was a strong, brave woman.

“That’s true,” she said. Nobody had told me because my dad had asked them not to. He wanted to tell me when he felt I was ready; that would come over two years later, after more prison, after halfway houses, after struggles with sobriety. He sat me down on the couch in the middle of the night, lights off, TV muted, and told me had something to tell me; I told him I already knew and it changed nothing, that I loved him; I hugged him and turned the television back on and pretended not to see him weeping.

“I need to go,” I told my grandmother.

“Where?”

“Out. The mall. I don’t know. I need to go.”

I was a bit of a mall rat at the time. It helped that I worked there, at a comic book and collectibles store, with my best friends at the time. They were all older. I was 15, but I partied a lot, hard, with these guys. When I was 16, I moved out into an apartment with them for the better part of a year. We were thick as thieves, as close as brothers. I went to my first party with them, had my first taste of liquor since I once unwisely tried to gulp Bombay Sapphire from a Dixie cup. They knew the night I lost my virginity. If I could talk to anyone, it would be them.

I locked my bike up to the rack and strode into the mall doing my best not to have a panic attack. The store was devoid of customers and my friends were busy putting merchandise and cards away. I flung my arms to either side.

“Well, I found out I’m a bastard!” I cried.

They turned as one to look at me, look at each other, look back at me.

“Well… yeah.”

I laughed. How could I not?

“Not that kind of bastard. Like, illegitimate child bastard.”

“Wait, what?

I explained. They were as baffled as I was that my mother would think to bring that up on Valentine’s Day. In her defense, she didn’t actually want to tell me until later. My friends were very supportive. We started joking about it, we definitely drank about it, and it just became a thing. When we pooled our money and resources later to start throwing raves around the city, we each donned a moniker. I owned it. I became The Bastard.

Later that year, in June, at my brother’s birthday party because my mom has fucking phenomenal timing, and in front of the first woman I truly loved, she told me that John “wanted” to meet me, but wouldn’t do so until a DNA test was taken that he wouldn’t pay for. Which, look, I get it. But if you thought there was a fucking chance that you had a 16 year old kid whose life you’ve already missed out on, you couldn’t shell out a couple hundred bucks for that? The icing on the cake was when my mom said, “And if he’s not your father, Jered, I don’t know who the fuck is.”

Nice.

I’ve never spoken to John over the phone. My junior year of high school I sent a letter about myself with a picture of me from junior prom. He sent a letter back with no picture. He owned a bike shop in Sacramento. He liked to golf. He didn’t want to talk any further until he spoke to my mom. We never corresponded again and I didn’t keep his letter.

I tried meeting him in 2009 at the age of 21 by tracking down his address. He had moved. I called every bicycle shop in the city but couldn’t find him. I wouldn’t know what I would have said or done had I been able to.

And that’s pretty much it. There have been some residual effects of finding out I was adopted. In my teenage years, I’d lash out sometimes. “Why do you even care what I do?” I’d yell at grandparents that absolutely didn’t deserve it. “We’re not even related!”

On my grandmother’s death bed, we spoke for 30 seconds over the phone, maybe. She spent most of it making sure I was going to be alright, and I spent the rest lying about how well off I was and that I’d be okay. She told me I was as much family to her as any of her blood kin and that she loved me just as much.

As recently as last summer, visiting my grandparent’s home and digging through old photos of the early years of their marriage and the childhoods of my dad, aunt and uncle, of these full lives decades before I was an even an idea of an accident, I felt very much like an outsider. An intruder on this family. The feeling was so severe that I hit a terrible manic spiral and lost myself a few friends through this desperate desire to be loved and accepted. Not my best look.

I have abandonment issues. I have acceptance issues. I have crises of identity and I struggle with the concept of legacy. I don’t feel right living the life I have as a continuation of the Mayer family in the same way I wouldn’t count their ancestors as my own. I wasn’t ever really raised by my mother, so that won’t work either. And fuck John Buchanan.

So I’m left trying to build my own legacy using the shape of my mind and beliefs that my grandparents helped mold, and so I often overwhelm myself with stress and panic when I get set back or I fail. “Is this what people will see when they look back on my life. What am I leaving behind? What have I truly accomplished? Who will weep when I have passed?” I tell you, it goes 0-100 real fucking fast when something goes wrong. I’m working on that.

I guess more than anything, Valentine’s Day just makes me think of John. Why, when he no doubt never thinks of me, I don’t know. But it’s usually today that I want more than anything to live up to the love of my parents who tried to stick around and to my grandparents who didn’t need to but did. Some day maybe I’ll find this guy and tell him I was able to make it, to be somebody, and that he could claim nothing of that except the pathetic brag that he basically donated me to my mom and her husband.

Or maybe he’ll be dead by then and I’ll finally be able to let this go.

Again, go check out Jessica Michelle Singleton’s debut album. She’s hilarious. Happy Valentine’s Day!

iTunes: Please. Don’t. Leave. Me.
Amazon: Please. Don’t. Leave. Me.
Google Play: Please. Don’t. Leave. Me.

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We’re All Stardust

David Bowie passed away peacefully yesterday. He fought against the cancer eating away at his body for a year and a half, and all the while, he was creating more art to share with the world. Throughout his storied career, he put out 25 – twenty-five – albums. That is an absolutely insane body of work. That’s not even mentioning how many different times he reinvented his style and himself. He was never afraid to embrace new things (or if he was, he didn’t let that fear slow him down) and immerse himself in the sheer passion and beauty and weirdness that was life and this sad, strange, incredible little rock we ride through space.

Like millions of others, I was a fan of Bowie. I admired him as a musician, as an actor, and as a man. I was a weird kid, into learning and comic books and other things that got me labeled as a nerd and kept my peers from inviting me to things, so to see someone dress and act so flamboyantly/bad-ass/striking and still pull off so much charm gave me a little hope that some day I could just own my interests and quirks and pull off my own style with the same success.

And while the first time I think I really saw David Bowie was as Jareth the Goblin King in Labyrinth (a movie I must have watched a hundred times as a kid), rocking an outfit nobody should have realistically been able to pull off, I was already a fan and didn’t know it. I got a lot of my musical taste listening to the bands and artists that my dad liked, so I had already picked up and jammed out to a score of Bowie songs before I even knew his name. They still put a smile on my face years later. It’s good music, great songs.

Now… all that being said, I have to admit that I was never the kind of guy to buy albums. I didn’t obsess over a band’s entire catalogue. Hell, half the time I couldn’t tell you the name of a song that’s playing, or even who performed it. I just know what I like and enjoy it when it comes on.

I wasn’t and am not as well-versed in David Bowie’s work as many others are or even as much as I probably should be, considering my tastes and how much I admire who he was, what he accomplished and what he put out. If you’ve paid any attention to the things I’ve written before, however, you’ll know there is at least one unshakeable truth about me: I believe in and unabashedly love art in all its forms. I may be the Story Man, but paintings, performances, poems, and especially music all serve to provide an outlet for energy, and an escape from the stress and the mundane.

To that end, when a brilliant artist passes, it’s felt less like a ripple than a wave. There is a sudden void where once there was vibrancy. A light was extinguished and with it, an eternal darkness covers all of the potential art that could have been. Even passing fans are deeply troubled by the ceasure of that existence.

But as that sadness permeates in our chest and behind our eyes, we find ourselves doing what we do whenever a great artist passes: revisiting the things they gifted to us. When Robin Williams passed away, we turned on the films that made us laugh and cry throughout the years of our lives. When the tragic news broke about David Bowie, we immediately turned the records on, we popped in Labyrinth and The Man Who Fell to Earth and even The Prestige, because even though his turn as Tesla was relatively brief, it was performed with gravitas.

We’re left with so much music and so much influence and we use what he gave us to help cope with the fact he can’t give us more, that we can’t see him perform live, that we can’t meet him.

David Bowie was an artist. He was more than that, especially to his friends and family, but to most of us, he was an artist. What puts him on a different level than so many others is that he was his art. Ziggy Stardust, the Thin White Duke, the Goblin King. As many times as he changed his musical styles, he changed his personas and allowed it all to work together to create something haunting, strange, beautiful, captivating, passionate, and ethereal. He constantly shifted his art, but he always lived and breathed it. So rarely are there Michael Jacksons and Robin Williamses and Freddy Mercurys and David Bowies that when they leave us, everyone has to stop and take a breath because those people are creative giants who have affected not only the world with what they’ve created and how they created it, but also because of the inarguable imprint they’ve left on the sheer concept of art. They inspire new styles, new chances, new bravery. They help us cope by showing us beauty in the world when we’ve forgotten how to look for it alone.

Lou Anders wrote a touching tribute to David Bowie that puts into words so much better the things I feel and wanted to say. You can and should read it here: Something Happened On the Day He Died.

Rob Bricken wrote a more comprehensive analysis of the impact David Bowie left on music, art, science fiction, and really, the world. You can and should read it here: All the Ways David Bowie Changed Our Lives and Expanded Our Minds.

Bowie’s influence has and will stay with us on an emotional and inspirational level. It’s a juggernaut of strangeness and versatility that can’t easily be shaken. And why would you want to? I’ve heard it said that physiologically we’re made from the same elements as the stars. What better evidence that we’re Stardust than hanging on to Bowie?

Jessica Michelle Singleton

Usually I try to come up with some snazzy, artsy, punny title for my posts. You know, something that has a vague allusion to the subject I’m writing about, something a “Writer” *hair flip* would do. Not for this one. It’s important to me that right off the bat, we know what we’re dealing with.

Jessica – or JMS, as I (never) call her, when I want to make her sound like a battleship – is so many things to me. I told her at…let’s check….11 PM last night, when I wasn’t quite drunk but was starting neatly into my cups, that I had to write about her, that it would kill me not to. That wasn’t the alcohol talking. It’s the fact that she’s phenomenal.

I went to school with Jessica. She was a year ahead of me, and I had transferred from a different high school after my sophomore year, so we only got a school year together. I’m not sure exactly how or why we crossed paths, but we got along immediately and became friends quickly.  We’ve kept in touch since.

She had a dream, and it was… well, to be honest, a daunting one. She wanted to make a career as a comedian, one of the hardest artistic professions to not only break into but do well at. It’s a profession that very often doesn’t take women seriously, and Los Angeles is a city that I absolutely love but fucking eats the souls of those not ready for it. I know. I moved there when I wasn’t ready for it.

When I turned 21, I moved to L.A. with two friends and no plan. I was going to be an actor/writer, I thought to myself, with six middling theatrical performances and a handful of questionable short stories under my belt. I even got headshots done. Did it matter that they were taken in a mostly abandoned warehouse by a man with half a dozen cats, arranged by a guy who ran a softcore pornography website as a side business? Not to me. I didn’t even see it when my friend said that one of my pictures looked like someone had just told me my pet had been run over by a car.

I was going for, I don’t know, pensive? It doesn’t matter. I didn’t become an actor/writer and my sheer unpreparedness for the city left me chewed down to gristle. The distance from the only home I had known, financial concerns, an unsupportive woman and, ultimately, myself left me broken. I moved away, defeated.

Jessica didn’t give a flying shit. Or maybe she gave all the flying shits. Either way, she moved down with an idea of how difficult things would be, discovered first hand the reality that it was so much more difficult than she could have imagined, and she endured it. With the storm that raged inside her continuing to roil and churn, she pushed it back and let sheer force of will keep her there, keep her fighting for every minute she could get on stage, every single person she could tell a joke in front of.

And she made it work. She has been making it work. She’s made a full-blown career out of it, doing a mind-boggling amount of shows each year, a cross-country tour, an international tour, radio shows, television pilots, YouTube sketches. She’s partying with Brian Regan in Las Vegas.

She came home for her high school reunion and did a couple surprise performances. I caught the latter of the two, the fourth time I’ve been fortunate enough to see her perform live, and she absolutely slaughtered the crowd. Just killed it. In a scarce three years, she has gone from doing fifteen-minute spots for nobody headliners to headlining shows with an hour and a half of solid material and hosting tours.

She’s a woman who had a dream, a horrendously difficult one, and spat in the face of adversity, wrestled that dream into something that not only supported her but brought genuine joy to others, and continues to make it work for her. The opportunities continue to flow her way, due to her hard work and her talent.

Professionally and artistically, I respect and admire her a great deal. She is doing what I meekly tried to do and continues to pursue her dream ravenously, with a fervor and talent that leaves me dazzled. It was a pleasure and a privilege to see her give an audience so much, so gleefully, striding across her element with a confidence I haven’t felt in over half a decade. She’s a hero to me.

And if it was just that, it would be enough, but she’s still so much more.

Jessica has been an invaluable friend. She’s that rare breed that won’t bullshit you, but also understands exactly what you’re going through and empathizes. Empathizes, which is much more difficult to do than sympathize and is typically much more emotionally taxing for both parties involved.

There is parental resentment. There are creative struggles. Most critically, there is trouble with mental instability, something I’ve come to learn recently is shockingly more prevalent than people are comfortable discussing. She talks about depression and bipolarism in her sets. She mentioned it in the first (and only, so far) guest post I’ve had written for my blog, which you can read here. Fun fact: That was written exactly one year and two weeks from yesterday.

I have texted her drunk, and not, at 3AM or 3 PM, wracked with angst and insecurity and desperation, and she has walked me through some storms. She is patient and guiding, despite the distance, despite anything else, because she gets it. She has been supportive and encouraging, and I will always, always be grateful for that.

Three days ago, I caught her warm-up set at an open mic comedy show. Afterwards, we had an opportunity to catch up some, and I expressed how proud I was of all that she had accomplished and was continuing to accomplish going into her high school reunion.

“Mine’s next year,” I said. “I’m 27 years old, and all I’ve done is write three books that don’t sell for shit.”

“But you’ve written three books,” she said. “Do you have any idea how crazy that is? What you’ve actually done?”

It’s so easy to discount every aspect of my life and get into a rut where I feel like a failure. Like I haven’t done anything. Like I’m not doing anything. At several critical moments since I’ve met her, Jessica has been there to gently pull my head from my ass. She has reminded me of the positive things that I have, that I’ve done, that I am. She’s been there, a thousand miles away, while I’ve wept and railed against the world, and she’s made me feel okay and normal when I was anything but.

I love her to death. That my first novel is on her bookshelf is a deep moment of pride for me. That we are friends is a shining diamond in my life.

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Jessica Michelle Singleton. Beautiful. Loyal. Intelligent. Raunchy. Wild. Hilarious. True.

You can follow her on Facebook here, check her site out here, and follow her on Twitter at @JMSComedy. Also, just Google or YouTube her or some shit. She’s funny. You won’t regret it.

Recap Redux

I’ve written or shared a hundred posts now, and it has been an absolutely rewarding experience so far. From being able to experiment via short stories set in worlds I plan on exploring in more detail later to reflecting on my life/my relationships/my family and friends, what started out as sort of a trial outlet for my thoughts and creative endeavors has turned into a cathartic routine.

Even more so, by sharing it online and via Twitter and Facebook, I’ve received a number of comments and personal messages expressing a wide variety of emotions. That’s good! That has been the point of this. I want you to be able to experience my type of art. I want you to think and to feel things, and if you’re going through an experience or feelings similar to something I’ve gone through,  I want you to be know you’re not alone.

Every fifty posts or so, I’ll create one of these as sort of a recap. With so many posts coming out of me and with no real regular schedule,  there’s a chance you may have missed something that pertains to your interests. This is meant to act as a quick guide to the posts, separated more or less into different categories.

If you read something you feel particularly thought-provoking or touching or infuriating or garbage, I encourage you to share it with others.

First off, you can find a quick recap to the first 49 articles here: FIVE OH.

Then:

About Me:
My Own Worst Enemy
I’m a Man Who Was Raped
Oktoberfest, Or That Time I Crippled Myself
Vagabond
Distilling Who I Used to Be
The Metal That Gave Me Mettle
Hundo
I Fell In Love
Playing the Doldrums
Kisses Have Pictures Beat
Office Space
Story Time With Grampa Jered
Just Plane Silly
The A Word

Family and Friend Profiles:
Go Out and Get ‘Em, and a Birthday Note
Mama Mia
Blondie
Father Of Mine

Writing Tips and Opinion Pieces:
Six Reasons Why 50 Shades of Grey Sucks, and Why It Doesn’t
Ten(ish) Books That Tickle My Fancy
Getting the Gang Together
Things I Love: The Malazan Book of the Fallen
Thanksgiving: A Better Christmas
No Place Like Home

Miscellaneous:
The Best Medicine
The Beautiful Last Breath of Day
Remembrance
The Wedding Bells Are Ringing
The Carolina Reaper

Fiction:
A Nice, Slow Day
Satori and the Key
The Wrong Kind of Flop
The Velvet Anchor
Love and Bullets
The Balloon Trick: An Absolute Zeroes Story
The Owl Part I: A Curious Shoppe
Trixie: A Flatliners Story
Yellow
The Lost Journey of the Stalwart

Poetry:
Shadow Hurt
Stoke the Fire
She, Of the Pale Stars
You Know
I Could Write
The House In the Ocean

Guest Entries and Shared Posts:
Life Is a Coping Mechanism by Jessica Michelle Singleton (follow @JMSComedy)
10 Tips and Tricks For Creating Memorable Characters by Charlie Jane Anders (follow @charliejane)
As Good As New by Charlie Jane Anders
How to Create a Killer Opening For Your Science Fiction Short Story by Charlie Jane Anders
Cars. Booze. Central Oregon. by Robert Brockway (follow @Brockway_LLC)

So there you go. Hopefully you’ll find something you haven’t seen before that you like, or you’ll have a convenient way to link a friend.

Thank you to everyone who has followed, shared, commented, read, or even encouraged since Word Whiskey has started. It means the world to me.

The Metal That Gave Me Mettle

The first computer I ever owned as a kid was some piece of shit desktop that did nothing for Internet and only basic script commands. I could play Space Invaders and Pong on it, green icons on a black screen with a laggy system so that I never got too used to winning. Around 11 or 12 or so, I got upgraded to a faster computer with Internet capabilities and a dial-up connection. I can recall the long screeching noises vividly. My friends and I used to vocally mock the sounds, as if the machine had feelings we could hurt.

My grandparents, God bless them, put a lot of faith in me to not go to any websites I shouldn’t have. I remember furtively venturing to “sex dot com” and laser printing out softcore images of naked women that I hid under my mattress and blamed on my friend when I inevitably got caught. Oh, you were holding drugs for a friend? Weapons? Yeah, I had topless photos of Denise Richards. “For a friend”.

I took my grounding and pleaded my case and gradually regained my privilege to be on the computer. I discovered Java Chat, a popular early chat room type often divided up by topic or demographic. The particular one I frequented…I don’t even recall how I found it. I think the subject for the room was “Miscellaneous” or some other inane shit.

Being a bullied kid with few friends and an awkward look, I found it easy and, in fact, a relief to meet friends on the Internet. There was JadeDragon (who was kind of a dick) and Topcat (who was my homie) and Spider and this chick Jess who I had a huge crush on and who called me occasionally and who betrayed me when I found out she lied about her age, even though her actual age was closer to mine. You remember when A(ge)/S(ex)/L(ocation) was a thing? Yeah, it was like that but with lies.

I think I was 13 or so when I met Amanda in the chat. She was a year older than me, feisty, funny. She and I bickered as much as we had each other’s back, but she was also there for me through some really hard times. We became friends, though I was in Anchorage, Alaska and she was in Toronto, Canada. We spoke a lot, almost everyday, in the chat room proper or in PMs (private messages). She was my girl, my go-to, the one person I could tell anything to.

She is still a close friend of mine, some 13 years later.

Amanda is the one who got me into Kittie. She started talking about it in the chats, linked me to songs, encouraged me to buy the CD (which, at that point, I think was only Spit). I’m not a big metal guy. I never have been and I probably won’t ever be super into it, but there was something about this all-chick line-up and they way they shredded and screamed and sang that reached whatever pent-up feelings I had gurgling in my chest cavity. I got hooked. I checked them out because a girl I liked asked me to and I stuck with it because the band fucking rocked.

As the Java chat wound down, Amanda and I found our way over to Kittie’s official message board on their website. It was free to sign up, there were hundreds of threads to contribute to (Band discussions, debate, general topics, art and poetry, tours, etc.), and the only rule, really, was don’t be a dick.

Did we follow that? Hahaha no. Not in the slightest.

Could we be warned and banned and suspended? Absolutely. But the moderators didn’t always get along and there were always favorites and sometimes someone said something so fucked up but inherently hilarious that the person would get a message asking them to tone it down instead of an official warning.

There were several regulars that frequented the board, myself among them. I was 13 or 14 when I started posting and I developed a certain kind of reputation for myself. Everyone who was anyone on that board built a rep for themselves. There were stern folks and smart folks and assholes and sarcastic assholes and poets and artists and dumbfucks and rock stars. I made friends with a lot of the right people, but I got warned a time or two. Everyone who was anyone on that board got warned a time or two.

There were costume contests and .gif request threads. There were board awards where people could vote for users to win things, and other people would make banner “award” images to post in their signature lines. There were threads about politics and threads about soda and an equal amount of energy and opinion went into both.

It was a community. It was a family. Not everyone got along, but it was a family all the same. The craziest part about it was the transparency. This was right when scanners and webcams were starting to get big so there was a level of transparency on the board that hadn’t been in the Java chat. Add to that the fact that several board members either lived in close proximity to each other or would road trip to hit up concert venues and meet there. We knew when people were who they said they were.

Additionally, as it was their official board, the Kittie band members would occasionally pop in to chime in on certain topics. The thing that struck me the most about them was that they never came in to address their “fans”. They came in to talk to their family. There was never an air of condescension or entitlement or a shortness of expression. They were our friends, and we were theirs and that was a huge thing.

See, in school, I had to be somebody different all the time. Quiet around certain people, bite my tongue with certain people, hide my intelligence or over reach it with certain people. As I got older and began working, I needed to have a professional face. I had to hide certain qualities about myself and felt ashamed about certain others.

But on the Kittie message board. Everyone could be themselves for the first time. I didn’t have to worry about being called ugly. I could hide or post a pic and at least one person would have something nice to say. I didn’t have to worry about my poetry. There was another poet who would encourage me. I could rant in anger or cry in frustration or celebrate losing my virginity or crack crass jokes or vent my family problems or voice my insecurities. I could be me and people fucking liked me for me and that was weird and so goddamn needed.

You know, people talk a lot these days about the dangers of meeting people on the internet. It is no more dangerous now than it was ten years ago. Less so now, in fact. You just need to not be a fucking idiot about doing it.

I met Diana when I was 17 and flew to Texas. We had spoken on the phone, had webcam chats, talked for years online. I may have gotten confirmation from someone else that she had met, and we met in an airport – practically the most public place you can meet. I stayed for two or three weeks. We went to Ozzfest during Hurricane Katrina, celebrated what I think was her 21st birthday, catcalled some meerkats at the zoo and walked the Galveston strip. It was a hell of a trip.

A year or so later, I flew down to meet my friend Tommy. When he first showed up on the board, he had some stupid fucking goggles that I would not let him get away with wearing. I flew down a couple times, actually. Once I met another board member, Ashley, visiting from Arkansas. The other time, Tommy and I decided to spur-of-the-moment drive from Prattville, Alabama to Detroit, Michigan to meet up with board member Crystal and catch what would be my first live Kittie show.

We arrived in 13 hours, stopping for fuel in Tennessee at a joint gas station/fireworks shop because God Bless You, Tennessee.

Which brings us back to Kittie. I never got to meet the full Spit line-up that had got me so hooked on the band, with Talena Atfield and Fallon Bowman. I did meet sisters Morgan and Mercedes Lander, bassist Trish Doan and guitarist Tara McLeod and let me tell you, they were amazing to me.

They snuck us in to their sound check to hear some of their new stuff before anyone else. They recognized me immediately as “that dude from Alaska”. Mercedes made sure I had one of the two copies of the set list in hand and they took the time to take pictures with me after.

I flew to New York to meet board member Jenny D. We caught Kittie’s acoustic set in a mall where I surprised them. I hadn’t let them know I was coming. Jenny took me to my first and only college party where, at 18 or 19, I won some games of flip cup, vomited all over some frat house bathroom, got a girl’s number and suffered the single worst hangover I’ve ever had.

We caught the Kittie concert in Poughkeepsie and after, the ladies all signed my hat. Tara, who I had a tremendous crush on, gave me her number to keep in touch. I mentioned wanting to write books for a living. Morgan encouraged me to do so. I can’t express how much it means to have someone you look up to and whose art you enjoy tell you to keep at it.

I met board member Karen in Ireland and had one of the fondest memories of my life, holding her while a university group, amidst a light show, sang “She Moved Through the Fair”.

Skyler Martin, aka Skaz, is another board member. One I’ve never met but who is the best writer I’ve ever worked with or whose material I’ve helped edit.

Tommy, of Alabama fame, and his roommate (and board member) Ben once gave me a place to stay when I got kicked out of Canada and had no place else to go.

The last time I saw Kittie perform live was at the Key Club in Los Angeles in 2009. I had just moved away from Alaska for the first time. I was scared and mostly broke and too much in my head and in a rough spot. I scraped money aside to see them; my friends ditched me. Morgan greeted me with open arms. She gave me a shout out during the concert. Ivy Jenkins was playing bass at the time. I didn’t get to meet her then, but we’re friends now.

After the concert, after I forcefully interjected myself between a perma-fried, super-high fan and Morgan, I got to spend a little time with her and Mercedes just relaxing on the tour bus and drinking wine. And I felt okay. I felt like I could get through things, if only for a while.

Morgan and Mercedes Lander, Trish Doan, and Tara McLeod have absolutely been encouraging to me and my endeavors for the better part of a decade. They have never needed to reach out or wish me happy birthday or offer me to hang out. They have never needed to reach out to me.

Or anyone else, because they have reached out to so many people. They have touched so many lives, have encouraged artists and inspired artists and have left an impact on the industry.

Not only that, but the community they have built has saved lives. People who couldn’t be themselves anywhere else found an out. Those who were struggling found support. I personally have developed some of the strongest friendships in my life from interactions on that board, real friendships that have lasted over a decade without, in some cases, needing to meet in person. I’ve met my greatest inspirations through Kittie’s board. My best first kiss with a woman. Some of my greatest, craziest memories. Friends all around the world.

The best part? I’ve lived most of my life in Alaska. I’ve barely had the interaction with the band people elsewhere have. I know of at least two marriages from that board, one that crossed the world. Kittie is a band who is compassionate, inspirational and fun, a band whose presence ignites growth and whose very construction can build a global family that stands the test of time.

I love the band as a whole for their artistry, especially being outside of what I typically like. And those women I know personally? I love them dearly for the friends, the experiences and the encouragement they’ve given me. I may not have pursued storytelling had they not told me I was worth it.

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Go Out And Get ‘Em, and a Birthday Note

Through high school, there were teachers I hated, teachers I respected, teachers I had crushes on and teachers who left absolutely no lasting impression on me whatsoever. There are very few, though, that I genuinely consider friends.

I was a teacher’s aid for Chad Sant’s more traditional academic course (History, I believe, though I was more concerned with grading papers and giving girls back massages), but the class I was an actual student in was his acting class.

I had never really done acting before that class. I took it because I needed electives, it seemed easy, and a couple girls I had crushes on were in it. Participation was mandatory. There were a lot of improv games: park bench, questions, sausage…that last one isn’t what you might think. We also had to memorize monologues and perform them for the class.

I liked being a smart-ass. I liked pushing the limits and being a class clown. All the same, I had yet to acquire my comfort for the spotlight. I was nervous being in front of so many people and reciting something or becoming somebody I wasn’t or reading something I had written. So it was with complete skepticism that I met Chad’s suggestion I should audition for the school play.

Now, this was senior year. I had never acted on stage before where others had been doing it for 6 years or more. I had quit band after 8th grade because I was afraid of anything that might get me picked on. But Chad insisted, my friends encouraged me and I went in and did a cold read that I thought went fucking terribly. I tossed the script in the trash on my way out, headed to the mall and – I don’t recall exactly – probably got drunk that weekend. I was an angry, lonely seventeen year old. I had a routine.

Cut to a week later when I happened by Chad’s classroom and found the cast list posted on his door. To my surprise, I had been cast as Dallas Winston in S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders. I hemmed and hawed over it for almost a week before grudgingly accepting. I had never read the book. I didn’t even finish the script. Chad brought the movie in for us to watch and that was the first time I discovered that I died in the end and fuck yes, this was actually going to be awesome.

Spoiler alert, but that book has been out almost 50 years and the film for over 30. Matt Dillon played my character. Tom Cruise still had a fucked up nose and crooked teeth. It was truly a different time.

Anyway, the show did not go off without its hitches. In the premiere show for the school, in front of the artsy kids, the special needs kids, several teachers and the principal of the school, the gun I was supposed to pull on the policeman got caught in the pocket of my leather jacket. I let out a frustrated, “FUCK”, at which point I was gunned down, the lights dimmed and I could hear one of the girls backstage say, “Whaaat did he just say?”

I didn’t get in trouble. It still makes me laugh, because it really did warrant at least a detention. At least one. But Chad told the principal to chalk it up to nerves and when I apologized, he turned to me and said, “Huh? Oh. Yeah. Don’t….do that again.”

There are plenty of other stories from that show and the two others (Grease, Pirates of Penzance) I performed in under his direction. But this isn’t about me, as much as I like to talk about myself.

I bring up my experiences in theater because it opened up a lot for me. It opened up a love for the craft I never could have imagined. I’ve only done six shows, some high school drama competitions, a couple Renaissance Faires and a couple short indy films, but holy shit has it influenced my life.

I began writing more – short fictions, poems with plot, starts of novels, screenplays – because I fell in love with the art of storytelling. I owe being an author, screenwriter and poet in part to that.

I moved to Los Angeles when I was 21 because of a want to be an actor/writer. I failed so fucking hard. But that dream led me to one of the loves of my life and some of the best friends I’ve ever known. I felt more at home there than anywhere and I want to move back. The dream of acting led me there.

My theater experience in school led me to a few shows with city theater groups. I met another love of my life through that, in a passionate, ill-advised tryst. Through her, I was introduced to the karaoke bar I fell in love with until it closed. Through experience in musical theater, I was given the opportunity to judge karaoke contests and everything that entailed.

Chad Sant set me on this path as an artist. He took me aside and told me he believed in me. More than that, that he needed me to help complete his casts and bring everything together. Now, that’s bullshit. I was absolutely replaceable. Almost all of us were. But he made me feel like I wasn’t. He drove me to and from rehearsals. He talked to me about life between classes. He treated me like an adult and didn’t hold back when discussing and debating mature topics. He didn’t treat me like I was stupid.

Chad has purchased each book I’ve put out so far. He has brought them into his classrooms and told his students about me. He’s made an effort to keep in touch since I’ve graduated and put in a good word.

And you know what?  I’m not the only one he does this for. He’s gone to Jessica Singleton’s comedy shows. He regularly goes out for dinner with several of his more prestigious former students. He keeps us all apprised on each other and instills in us a sense of accomplishment not just in ourselves but with these former colleagues we suffered through high school with. He helps us maintain a sense of camaraderie through years without communication.

He’s a good man. A kind man. An inspiring man. He’s funny and smart and he sees potential in people. I wrote before that testing doesn’t equal teaching, and Chad is a perfect example of the educator who goes above and beyond to make sure his students are invested in learning, in being something more than themselves. When he sees the capabilities a person possesses, he pushes them to accept that role and pursue that path.

He convinced me to pursue that path and gave me the confidence and encouragement to keep the journey going. Those dreams and experiences have taken me to some of the best, most adventurous, most instructive, most fun, most challenging moments of my life.

Anyway, it was his birthday yesterday. It isn’t much, Mr. Sant, but here you go:

***

The toll of the bell indicated the day was over. Christian watched his students push themselves out of folding seats and pull their backpacks up from the aisles before filing out of the theater. A few kids raised their hands to high five and fist bump him as they passed. He did so pleasantly, a smile on his face, and wished them an awesome weekend.

After the last of his pupils passed through into the lobby, he pulled the faded red doors shut and locked them tight. He turned and strode down the stairs, carpet torn from decades of trampling feet and inattention. At the front of the theater, he lifted one leg and hoisted himself up on the stage. It had been spraypainted the kind of shiny silver-black obsidian was, but each year more and more slivers broke free, revealing the dark brown wood beneath.

Christian didn’t care. This was his dominion. The stage. In front of the crowd and under the spotlight. He glanced out at the seats, empty now by sight but always occupied by the spectres of captive audiences past.

He turned his back to the audience. It was a faux pas during performance, but he stayed behind for himself tonight, unconcerned with the judgement of memories. Instead, he faced the set piece his students had spent the past few weeks diligently constructing and painting. The prized portion was the massive forefront of a castle, twisted through by artificial trees on either side.

The show wasn’t due to start for another month during which he hoped the rehearsals would smooth themselves out a bit more. They often did due to the power of repetition and the growing confidence of his actors in their own abilities. Unimpressed by the standard recycled fare of shows most schools used, he had penned his own fantasy epic with a compelling romantic subplot. His colleague described it as The Princess Bride meets A Midsummer Night’s Dream and implored him to submit it for more professional venues. Christian resisted, insisting he had written it for his students. He wanted to give the kids an opportunity to be a part of something that had never been done before. Something that would be wholly theirs.

Well, mostly theirs.

While Christian had indeed written it himself, he had yet to reveal where the inspiration for the tale had sprung from. Indeed, he didn’t plan on ever confessing. There was too much risk to his reputation, his life, and those who trusted in him.

He lifted his hands and held them before him, palms pressed together and fingertips pointed towards the set piece. He closed his eyes and slowly pulled his hands away from each other. Almost immediately, he felt the fabric separating. A warm gust of air hit him full in the face, fresh with the scent of berries that carried no name. He could hear the gentle songs of four-winged birds as they zipped on by. The fertile soil of a well-worn path stretched out until it replaced the worn wooden floor beneath his feet. He didn’t need to open his eyes to know the passage to the other realm had opened smoothly.

“Mr. Sant?” a voice asked meekly.

The teacher whirled to his right, eyes wide in surprise. He saw Billy Tamlin standing there, a sheaf of papers barely held in his shaking hand. He was a quiet boy that kept to himself unless he was on stage. On stage, he broke out of his shell into a truly wonderful talent.

“I forgot my script…”

Christian swore to himself. He must have forgotten to lock the back door, the one leading out into the side hall, utilized for quick changes and getting any actors who escaped through the crowd back into the theater unseen.

Well. He hadn’t wanted to tell anyone where his inspiration had truly come from, but there was an expression about best laid plans.

GUEST POST: Life Is a Coping Mechanism

I am incredibly excited and incredibly blessed to bring to you my very first guest post. Jessica Michelle Singleton is a stand-up comedian who came from humble origins in Alaska and didn’t let it put a hitch in her step to becoming a successful stand-up comedian who does hundreds of shows a year. She lives and performs in Los Angeles primarily, but she tours the other states and even won a contest to participate in the Montreaux Comedy Festival, taking her jokes across the European nation.

Jessica and I are school mates. She’s prettier and funnier…and more successful than I am, but I love her dearly. In fact, that’s why we’re friends. I get her runoff paramours.

In all seriousness, I love her dearly. Artists tend to come from a certain place where things hit us a little more deeply, and Jess has been one of those rare few who understands where I come from in my darkest times and encourages me to pick up the pen and always get back at it. It’s a blessing to have such a support.

She’s home in Anchorage tonight for a one-night show and I can’t wait to see her perform again. I could use the laugh. AND SO COULD YOU! Follow her on Twitter and Instagram at @JMSComedy. Worth every second.

Anyway, I asked Jessica if she would write something exclusive for my blog. Anything she wanted, I told her, and about any topic. She said she did better with direction, so I thought about it and I realized that – as with writers or actors or painters – there is more to comedians than their material. Fucking obviously. But when I asked her how her personal life affected her career, instead of rolling her eyes at me, she was eager to explain.

For you, this was her response:

Life is a coping mechanism.

I suppose I should preface the rest of this by telling you that this isn’t a humorous piece. That’s not to say you shouldn’t laugh at anything I’ve written here. It’s just that if I’m going to open up, I’m going to need to lower any expectations that everything I say is hilarious.

To be fair, most of what comes out of my mouth is meant to make the people around me laugh. It’s a sickening type of pride you feel when you can make people laugh in the worst of situations. I’m not great at having real emotional connections with people, but I can flip the fuck out of a frown. I don’t know if I would trade the ability to make people laugh for the ability to connect at a deeper leve, simply because I can’t even imagine my life without comedy.

People will always appreciate the person who can make them laugh when they feel like crying. And believe me when I say there isn’t a much more desirable thing to me than to have someone appreciate me. This is a skill I am so glad I can share with the world, but it hasn’t come for free.

If you are the type of person to get offended when someone makes light of a serious and sad situation: Congratulations! You have probably never really suffered. That’s where the ability comes from. When I make jokes about a terrible situation, or my own insecurities, or the fuck ups in my personal life, it’s because that’s all I can do. What are my other options? Wallow in sadness? If I didn’t twist the dark thoughts in my head into jokes to make others or, at the very least, myself laugh…all I would have is a head full of terrible thoughts.

Everyone has their own means of coping. Some people smoke, some people write poetry, some people sweep it under the rug and just pretend everything is okay by ignoring the problems in their life. I tell jokes.   There is a common saying that “Tragedy + Time = Comedy”. Given that theory, if I told you my entire life story, it wouldn’t make sense for me to be anything but a comedian.

I was abandoned, neglected. I’ve lost several friends in unbelievably horrific manners. I’ve been sick and I’ve more or less been on my own my entire life. But I wouldn’t be the person I am if I hadn’t gone through all of those things. There are moments when I think I would trade being a comedian if it would erase some of the hurt or if I could have the ability to let people in. But all of that fades the minute I get on stage and hear the laughter I’ve created. People need laughter. There’s a reason it’s called the “best medicine”. It makes you feel good. It takes you out of your own head full of dark thoughts and allows you to escape to a moment of sheer happiness. And if you ask me, in today’s world there aren’t nearly enough of those moments.

Yes, I’ve hurt. So many of us have. I don’t think character is developed through suffering, but I believe you learn a lot about a person’s character in how they handle that suffering. Laughter is how I handle mine. And if my pain manifests itself into material that will brighten other lives, then maybe life isn’t so bad after all.

I can’t say much more than that except reiterate how amazing Jessica is. She’s incredibly hard-working, so driven, ridiculously talented, one of the best friends you could have and an inspiration to artists of multiple arenas.
Again, check her out on Twitter and Instagram at @JMSComedy . Thanks for stopping by Jess, and break a fucking leg!