Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Fair View High (Rock The Word)

Stories From The Road
September 18, 2013

Falcons Soar!

The world is different at Fair View High. The kids there are a community or working toward one. There, the so-called couldn't-cut-it/high school rejects congregate to elevate each others connection to education ... to life. The focus isn't on cliques or sports or social standing. At least not by any measure I witnessed during my time there. It's about a human experience. An honest experience. It's about being real. Not to mention they get to use language, well, let's say with fluidity from time to time.

And this is what you need to know right off the rip. My life is now changed from meeting these students.
Yes, my life. And that's a selfish statement, but I'm down with some selfish given that I also changed some lives at Fair View High School.

I had two periods of something like 65-75 kids in total. English classes. Kids who don't always like to write. Kids who don't choose to engage much. Kids who have been counted out.

I said to the students, "I've been counted out more than I've been counted in. I get it. I get how that happens. I'm traveling America meeting with kids like you because I don't think you should be counted out. You matter. You have something to say. And that's what we're gonna do today."

And we did!


Moment of digression.

Not Actual Hoodie

There's a kid in an orange hoodie, we'll call him Mr. Mic because he volunteered to help run Sound for me. And trust me, I needed the help. I'm down to a $147 dollars in my bank account and a few hundred on my credit card. A film crew is a luxury I can't afford, but documenting the process is non-negotiable. These stories have to be seen as well as heard. Especially if I have any hopes of this becoming something bigger.

So back to Mr. Mic. The guy's terrific. Seriously. He's funny and engaged and makes me sound good (wink on the latter). He's also got a story like all the kids at Fair View do. The not so cozy story. Inked into his right forearm is cursive, tattooed lettering. He recounts during our "get to know you" moment how an English teacher at a traditional school reacted when she saw the ink. You know, the book and cover judge thing. But Mr. Mic is solid, you know. I'm sure he's made his mistakes. But he's trying.

Not Mr. Mic's Actual Arm
As for the class, we do an exercise/activity/word fun thingy on the dry erase board. It begins with a series of words. Words generated by the students. Any words. The idea is to excite them into creating writing as a community of storytellers. Words like these in black:

Screen Grab From Actual Clas

Then I take those words and "spit" them back with a narrative I spin on the spot.

 SELECT 1080P from Quality Icon For Best Quality

Without going to far into the logistics of what we do next, the educational components and so on, just know that by the end, we all rock the word!

credit to Shirley Maya

The other thing I need you to get about these teens at Fair View High School is their vocabulary roars at college level. Their curiosity for knowledge is raw and rich and deep. They've got heart when life has most likely tried to stomp, kick and punch it the hell outta them.

They are survivors learning how to live.

They are the reason there is FAT ANGIE. They are the reason for FEELS LIKE HOME and PRIZEFIGHTER EN MI CASA. They are the reason this tour continues.

By the end of the first class, I throw up a prompt on the dry erase. I then tell them, "Writing is freedom. You can do anything -- be anything -- say anything on the page. You are not restricted to someone's idea of what you are/should/must be. You are free."

Unlike traditional high school's, all of these kids take out paper and a pen or pencil.
All of these kids try.
So do I.

A guy in the back of the room, we'll call him Mr. Quiet, catches my eye. He shapes into his over sized baggy white tee in the shoulders and finishes with starched khaki pants. The sparkle of his diamond ear rings catch a glint off the florescent lights. He's a Mexican American I knew growing up. Seen too much and not heard he was special enough.

"Mr. Quiet," I say to him. "I think you have something to say today."

It takes him a beat to realize he's Mr. Quiet.

His eyes drop. His head shakes. I don't push it.

"It's all good, no worries."

I move toward another part of the classroom when I see a hand go up out of my peripheral. It's Mr. Quiet.

"Yes?" I say.

"I'll go. I'll read."

His voice is soft not scary. There's a heart inside that baggy white tee. It's bigger than I can describe and that's kinda my job. Guess you have to see him on video to know.

Mr. Mic and I make our way to the absolute back of the classroom. I set the camera in place and Mr. Mic kneels. Mr. Quiet works hard to read aloud. This is not his comfort zone, but he does it.

When he's done, I grin and ask if I can shake his hand. He takes a moment to test the temperature on my offer and realizes I'm serious. I respect Mr. Quiet more than you know. The guy took a risk. He talked hard and let his voice be heard. And his classmates applauded and it was a fantastic day to be alive!

Through out my time there, I engaged with a variety of races, gender (and gender identified), ages and backgrounds. They all have their own story that exceeds the time for this post. However, their personal stories and creative ones are distinct, necessary, moving and ever emerging.

The world is a hard place for these kids. All of them. The transgendered kids or pregnant teens or social inept or incarcerated -- the misfits and rejects as it has been written. But I would tell you that these are the kids we should never count out. To believe in them, gives us an outside the box perspective of what the face of change can be. While they've got a lot stacked against them, they've got so much going for them.

They are, after all, survivors learning to live.

Thanks for the creativity, laughter and truth, Fair View High School. Your teachers love what you are and want to see you be your own version of your very best. Because you ABSOLUTELY matter!

Stand up and be counted!

YouTube Link of e.E. :
Should The Above Video Not Play

Monday, September 16, 2013

inside the flight (or why i killed myself)

Stories From The Road
September 16, 2013
** Click Here For Song/Poem Read By Author **

You wanna know what I am?
I'm the kid that flies through the air like Superman
Only I land
And it hurts


Spin back.

The shit in my head gets worse
Every day I went to school and didn't fit
And everyday my phone blew up with shit
All the things They told me to do
"Kill yourself -- die girl -- Yeah, that's you."

And my mom did what she could
She told the principal too
And when nothin' changed like things don't
She pulled me outta that school
And said, "We're through."

She took my phone and dumped that number 

Gave me a new one
(She had the best of intentions you gotta remember)
She didn't want those girls in my face anymore
And I get it
I do, Mom.
You're doing your best, but this shit is raw.
It gets loud in my head
And dark in my heart
And sometimes I cut myself just to feel a spark.
And the doctors in the hospital tell me I'm smart

And they check me out, and I seem good
And maybe I thought I was too
But I go back to my new school
And download Apps on my new phone 'cause I wanna fit and belong.

Just when I think it's all cool
The mean girls do what mean girls do.
And the problems elevate
And I don't know what to say
Because I know you been through a lot, Mom.
You changed me out of school and paid to get me hospitalized so I'd be fine
And you're right, life gets better
For everyone else but me and I'm sadder.
And I don't go to my teachers or my friends or the school counselor
Most of them are whack or just don't care

And the noise rips apart my grey parts
The Apps on my phone keep blowing up
And the last year has been so damn hard
I retreat in myself and decide to call it all off!

Just know as I climb this tower
I love you and you did your best, but I cower.
It's all so much and it didn't get better
Like they say in them ads to just wait and be patient
But that ain't effective and it makes me
c r a z y!

So here I am like Superman
and calm
I wish it didn't have to happen
And I'm sorry I disappointed you, and I know this is gonna hurt
Please forgive me
But I don't matter.

And soaring through the air
For a moment it's quiet, and I think I feel better ...

I made a mistake

** Thinking of you, Rebecca Ann Sedwick

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Sad Days, Long Nights & Graduation Day

Stories From The Road
September 11, 2013

Things go wrong. The best friends you've ever had die. One tragically at 23. Driving, windshield, snap. The other? Quick, Cancer, cremation.

People say what people say because silence is an uncomfortable filler. "They're in a better place ... God has His plan. They didn't suffer, I'm sure."

These comments garner a nod and a half-hearted smile followed by an impulse to


I haven't yet.

September 11, 2001. Both friends were still alive. The latter I hadn't even met yet. The first, Amanda, was an undergraduate class leader, brilliant academic and aside from me, the whitest looking Mexican at Ohio University. On the day in history not soon to become background noise, I was on the phone with my then girlfriend (let's call her Ally Sheedy). Back then, a land line actually got used more than my Sprint Samsung flip phone with long black antennae.

My girlfriend couldn't find her lipstick or rouge or something of significant make-up necessity. I flipped on the T.V. and there it was.

"Turn on the T.V.," I said. "Some kind of weird is happening ..."

The first tower had been hit.

I got quiet.

She continued to look for her make-up while complaining about her remote control.

And then she saw what I saw and we saw that this was not some make-believe whatever. It wasn't an action film. This was real. Very, very, unspeakably happening.

I drew my legs up on the Big Lots $399 green couch in my apartment above Premiere Video. I turned up the volume to a deafening proportion and for a moment Ally Sheedy didn't exist on the other end of the line.

Billowing smoke.




We sat together alone watching the America as we knew it end.


I spent most of the day channel surfing. All of the classes had been canceled at O.U. Police were cruising the empty streets. Airplanes, trains -- the transit of the US locked down. There was no way I was going to get to my girlfriend in Texas from Ohio anytime soon. To be honest, I had never been much for flying. After watching nearly eight hours of the Towers, the Pentagon and then the forced crash, getting in the air was the last thing I felt brave enough to do, and it wasn't an option.

I popped a Tombstone pizza in the oven. Cracked open a can of Pepsi and thumbed through a text book on experimental film. But I couldn't get the shattering windows -- the smell of ash and --

The apartment filled with smoke. I knocked over the Pepsi in route to the kitchen. I dropped the scorched pie on the floor. The charred remains scattered into divisible parts.

After declaring the expected obscenities for such mindlessness, I munched on a combo of candy corns and celery. This was a terrible idea.


It wasn't quite midnight when my girlfriend called back. She was worried about me. I asked her why and she said, "Because you don't deal well with bad things."

I told her I needed to use the bathroom.

We hung up.

I stared into the darkness of my ceiling and my throat constricted.

Don't panic, I thought.

I paced the wooden floors of the hallway.

Don't panic, I muttered.

I eased onto the couch. The television in full marathon report of the day's events.

Don't --

The phone rang. It was my brother. He lived in Belgium and was checking in.

"Are you okay?" he asked.

"I wasn't in New York, Kurt."

"Are you okay?" he said again.

"I don't think I know what to do," I said. "There's just so much sadness."

"Yeah," he said.

I imagined him exhaling from a Lucky Strike though I thought he'd given up smoking in the last year.

"Turn off the T.V.," he said.

"Why would someone do this?" I asked.

"I duhno."

I turned off the television, brushed my teeth and crawled into bed. In that moment, I was afraid to go to sleep. Afraid to be awake. Mostly, I felt such an emptiness for everyone who was in that building that didn't make it out. And everyone who was waiting for them to make it out. I had no idea what to do with that.


The death threats started almost immediately. Muslim students on campus were the target. Though they had not participated in the actions on 9/11, they were being treated as such. Amanda and I spoke (best friend who died in May 2003). She was distressed by the tension, the threats and fear. She organized a vigil and coordinated with the university and other organizations to thread together acceptance and not isolation. During the event, she spoke with elegance, tenacity and grace. She was kindness times pi.

Later I told her how I wouldn't have thought to do a vigil. She said, "We do what we can when we can. You can, you know? Do."

I shrugged my shoulders or looked away or something that was dismissive. My focus was to rule the world of cinema and climb the Hollywood sign doing it. And while I felt a massive pang of sadness, I had to stay on track. No distractions.

"I know you care," she said.

"It was wrong, you know? I can't get passed the wrong."

Amanda got pulled into a series of other conversations, and I faded into the background of hushed chatter and teary eyed students. I climbed the stairs of Lindley Hall (my grad film program building), and sat in the Editing Bay.

Aside from a few mouse clicks, the place was quiet.


I moved to New York City the following year two weeks before the anniversary. Alley Sheedy and I broke up over the summer, so I worked 24/7 to make myself indispensable at Killer Films. On the anniversary of the 9/11, military in fatigues shouldering machine guns patrolled the subways and Penn Station where I boarded Amtrak for the first time. I was in route to Washington, DC. There had hardly been anyone on the subway. The train car was empty. For a moment, I wondered if this was one of those b&w Twilight Zone episodes where I'm the only one left in the world.

The conductor entered between cars, eyed my ticket and grinned.

"Good day?" he asked.

"I guess."

Then he was gone.


In 2003, Amanda was struck by a teenager who blazed through a stop sign. Her car swerved into another lane and she just ... flew.

I'd later meet future best friend #2 in 2005, and she died of breast Cancer in 2011.

And while the details of these events weigh heavy on the morbid, I'm no longer in that place of selfishness. I guess in the sad days and long nights after 9/11 and the loses in my life, I'm on the other side most days and grateful.

Gender Skewed & Drug Dealer Blues

Stories From The Road
September 9, 2013

Shuttle, bus, train.
  Bus, car,

Now The Story ...

We met in line to board the Amtrak bus in Los Angeles. He was wiry, buzz cut and could have been mistaken for a seventeen-year-old sweetheart if there wasn't something more distinct in his smirk. We're gonna call him Miguel because that is the name he gave me later for a fake ID his friend lifted. Miguel is Caucasian, smokes Marlboro Red and totes a soft dusty black gym-size duffel.

"You look like somebody, man," he says, smoke unfurling from his lips. "I keep thinking it."

The Hispanic guy between us thinks Miguel is talking to him but he quickly corrects, "Nah, nah. Not you, man. This guy."

This guy is me by the way.

This is not new occurrence. It's just the usual in a series of unfortunate gender bending events such as women who re-enter the bathroom to tell me I'm in the wrong one. There is the long standing, "Sir, Mr., Dude, Man" gender identifiers that follow me all black and cloud like. Raining on my androgynous female parade. 

So, what Miguel has done is not surprising to me though it is to those close to me in my life.

"I don't know how people can't see you're a girl," says my friend Watson.

I follow with a grin or a smirk or something that should resemble a smile and say, "My Dear Watson, I look like a man."

"Um, that would be no bueno on the man look, Trujillo."

"Seriously, bro," and Miguel's voice snaps me out of my head and back to the Amtrak bus line. "You look like someone famous."

The famous intrigues me, so I bite.

"Yeah?" I say.

"Oh, yeah, man," Miguel says. "You look like Andy Milonakis."

Okay, so someone just cued the crickets because I've got nothing for this comparison.

"You don't know Milonakis? He cracks me and my homies UP!"

The word "homies" sounds all kinds of wrong coming from Miguel.

"Milonakis is the funniest guy ever," Miguel says.

So, I not only look like a man but look like the funniest man ever? Hmm.

"Seriously, bro," says Miguel, keeping his black duffel away from the underneath bus storage. "Look him up. You're him. His videos are funny as sh*t."

Meet My Famous Twin (According to Miguel):

Andy Milonakis

e.E. Charlton-Trujillo, Amoeba Music
Andy with his glasses.

I'm texting Josh Flowers to share I've been mistaken for someone famous. He quickly replies with a comeback that assures me I look like no one of notoriety.

Miguel and I board the bus. There are two tables mid-way for computers to jack in. This is a luxury on a bus, and I sit across from a guy wearing a red shirt with white letters that reads:

I Serve One King

He's a nice enough guy, and doesn't seem too interested in anything I'm doing with the coordination of my book bag. Ear buds in, a business call and I'm ready to get back to life on the road.

"Andy ... !" I look to my left. Miguel. "Hey, bro."

Miguel has two twenty-something young women doting on him. They too have mistaken me for a guy. When one of them flirts with me, I flash to Boys Don't Cry and squirm awkwardly in my seat.

Dilemma #8,298.56: Reveal I'm a woman, and end the whole Tom on the Foolery right then and there and hope not to get bashed or ... play along and be done with all this at the next stop.

I option for Plan B.

Always option for Plan A.

After a few exchanges about music, I drift off to Miguel bragging about getting baked on a series of shrooms and pot at an amusement park somewhere near LA.


I ask the attendant in Bakersfield, CA if the train to my right is the correct one.

"Only one a day," he says.

I apologize.

"Wouldn't expect you to know that," his grin feels less warm the more I look at it.

I hop on and drag my carry-on up the narrow stairway to the top car.

Minus Miguel + Flirting Twenty-Something = #smile

The storage rack is full, so my luggage becomes my new imaginary body pillow in the seat beside me.

Trust that this is a stretch of the imagination.

As we pull away from the train station, the deafening sound of a child screetching bears down on my ear drums.

This child has something to say ... to every single person on Earth.

It just so happens I am in close proximity, and consequently could be deafened more quickly than some. A Hispanic older couple in front of me stretch their necks around, making eye contact with the mother. Let me tell you something.

This. Does not. Faze her.

She throws them a glance and continues to text on her phone while adjusting her bra.

I know better than to do what the couple had just done. Getting up and finding another car seems viable as I attempt a conversation with someone on my cell. I ease up out of my seat when I hear, "Milonakis!"


"You pull up those videos yet?"

"Uh, no," I reply. "My signal (yes, I was lying) is crap out here."

"You should seriously watch one, Andy. They're hilarious. You going this way?"

To exit seems futile.

"Nah," I say. "I dropped my pen. That's all."

Miguel grins and walks off, "Milonakis! Yeah ... !"

For a few hours, my friends and girlfriend endure the on again off again sounds of the three-year-old girl. Might I add that she seemed pretty bored with nothing to even play with. I'd cry and scream too.


We arrive at our next stop to do our final change over by bus. I watch a woman in weightlifter pants that 1995 would envy wrestle with a series of bags and luggage while trying to smoke a cigarette. Her life seems much harder than mine. She looks worn out. In so many ways.

I toss my carry-on beneath the bus and launch up the steps. The nauseating smell of perfume and cologne spikes a growing migraine. I have an aversion to such smells and make my t-shirt into a mock mask. An Asian couple stares at me which is on par for the course of making one's t-shirt into a mask.

No sooner do I think we are moments from lurching forward do I hear, "ANDY!"


He slaps my shoulder in that "we're buddies" way, and I half-halfheartedly grin.

"You watch one of those videos yet?" he asks.

"Not yet," I say through my t-shirt mask.

"Dude, you're being funny, man. The shirt."

I'm really not trying to be funny but apparently I'm channeling Miguel's comic idol.

"Dude, you should come sit back here," he says motioning to the back of the bus.

"I'm good, thanks."

The bus pulls away from the station. Chico, CA now seems to be in sight. A stop in Sacramento (known as The SAC), and we empty out a few seats. That's when Miguel comes up and gives me a "bro" slug in the arm.

"Milonakis," he says."Dude, you should come sit back here man. Seriously."

"I'm good, man," I say.

The Asian couple has moved to the handicap seating in front of me. They look over their shoulders as Miguel rattles on with no sense of curbing his volume.

"No worries, I'll come sit up here," he says.

Miguel returns with his duffel and plops in the seat beside me. There's no escaping it. We're gonna have to interact which would be fine had I not pretended to be all "dude" the entire trip.

What begins with a series of strained bromance conversation topics evolves quickly into Miguel sharing details that add up on the strange. How he had left Chico, CA the day before and was zipping back in less that twenty-four on the hours. He talks about expensive cars, getting blacked out and tormenting his friends who waste out by drawing penis and other unrefined images on their face. He recounts stories a little too seasoned for the average traveler.

Miguel is a drug dealer.
I am the new best friend, at least for the ride, of Miguel The Drug Dealer.
This does not make for an easy ride.

His cell phone begins to blow up with text messages and phone calls. All the while he grins that absolute mischievous grin. His eyes catch glints of the sunset as he tries to steady the flow of his rambling thoughts. Everything he shares is about humiliation, revenge or a cocktail of JD + Drugs. He raves about his destruction of people's things and says, "faggot and b*^ch" frequently. Miguel is playfully dangerous. 

He asks me direct questions: Who are you staying with? What's his name? All in the suggestion of maybe knowing him.

After revealing a wad of cash loaded in hundred dollar bills, I decide to man it up.

Man It Up is defined as: A moment by which e.E. dials up the masculine factor for self-preservation.

And then I wimp it down a notch and text the person I'm dating.

Call Now. Can't Explain. Call. Please


While waiting for the call, Miguel offers to share some of his "good times" that I suspect are in his bag. I pass with what has become a cross between Dumb and Dumber in the joke factor.

"Dude, pull up Andy on your phone," he says.

I oblige knowing I'm now only 45 miles from Chico, CA.

The video is not high brow and that's being generous.

"Turn it up, man," he says.

"I think maybe that's not such a good idea, yo," I say and yes, I said "yo."

He looks at me confused.

"Like those people," I say referring to the Asian couple. "They're gonna get pissed."

"Dude, they don't even speak English."

The more I know about Miguel the more I wanna open up a can of feminist whoop-a*s. The truth is, I feel held hostage in a narrative I created.

I'm Andy Milonkis' twin.
I am a 23 year-old guy who lives in Los Angeles.
I have a friend named Screwball with crazy eyes (thank you Orange Is The New Black).

These are the things he knows about me.

I am not a woman.
I am not bi-sexual.
I am not anyone real to him.

The Asian couple look over their shoulder. I interpret it as uncomfortable, and suspect they think I'm as narrow as Miguel.

I don't like that feeling.

My language has all but gone monosyllabic. Fearing for the most part that Miguel might catch on that I'm in fact, not a guy and will go all "gay bash" on me. Remember, I don't really know what is in that black duffel, and it's become clear that he is at the very least running drugs.

"I like you, Andy," he says.

And under any other circumstance I might have liked Miguel liking me. Even if he thought I was a guy. But given the wealth of potential bad in all that should be good, I keep up the act. Especially given it has now gotten dark, the bus driver is not what I would call "in sync" and the only thing I've got going for me is a flat chest, a background in acting and an ability to spin a narrative on demand.

My cell rings. It's the woman I'm dating. She assesses the situation in three questions over a period of 30 seconds. I text her between pauses to say:

Being on the phone with her slows down the energy of Miguel. It also doesn't make me feel like the epic loser that I had begun to feel like. You know, not confessing to the whole "I'm Just A Girl" and playing into the gender skew. I text my friend Watson who plans to pick me up. She's going to bring her husband Tom. This seems like some of the smartest thinking of the day.

When we arrive in Chico, CA, Miguel presses me for what part of town I'm staying in. I play it dumb which isn't difficult to believe since I've gone along with this whole charade.

I say, "My friend's such an ass, yo."

"How so, Andy?"

Yes, I am now Andy.

"He's sending his parents to pick me up. Sucks, man."


Then like a tour guide Miguel points out places he's been fired from, places he's eaten "tasty melted grilled" something and the bars I'd really like.

"The girls there are smokin', yo. Me and my homies are always pickin' up skanks there."

Yes, he said homies again.
Yes, he said skanks in reference to easy women.
Yes, he is an ass.

We pull up to the stop in Chico outside a boxcar diner. Miguel stands with cigarette lingering from between his lips. He holds out his hand, "Andy."

I play along with this final action and do some form of semi-cool handshake.

"Miguel," I say.

He grins.

"You're funny, Andy. Shit, man. See ya," Miguel steps off the bus and vanishes behind a stream of cars and college kids. I saddle my backpack and small sound bag. I'm off the bus for a mere second when Tom and Watson almost magically appear. Tom herds me away from the bus and the baggage being off loaded.

"I gotta get my carry-on," I say.

Tom makes the whole move like the President being taken into isolation. Maybe I shouldn't have been as colorful about my threatening bus passenger. Once Watson and I are at the car, Tom slips a can of mace in my hand and returns for my baggage.

"You okay?" asks Watson.

"Yeah, I'm just ... it sucks being a guy," I say.

"You mean when you're not?"

"Yeah," I say.

As we pull away from the bus, I'm in high spill-it mode and recount details that don't even make their way into this blog. Like the woman who tried to pick me up on the first bus ride. Or the conversation the guy in the

I Serve One King

has with his father about the religious zealot he follows. Or about the grandmother who spent most of the bus ride to Sacramento shaming the hell out of her eleven year-old grand kid. And the habitual snorer, the shifty-eyed guy with homemade tattoos or even the woman who sat alone and she was clearly somewhere else with someone else who I think she needed quite desperately.

And of course, I relay the play-by-play action of Miguel + Me. Two guys in route to Chico, CA from Los Angeles, CA only one of us wasn't a guy.

I recall the story to Watson's kids.
I recall the story to my girlfriend via FaceTime.
I recall the story to my friend Margaret.

And that night in the safety of Watson's son's borrowed bedroom, I recall the details just to myself. Reviewing the events, I remember Miguel's eyes. How something was missing there. I sat on the edge of the bed, knowing this wiry, buzz cut young man had the distinct potential to kill someone for fun on a smashed and blazed high. To be honest, he might stone sober.

Why had I pretended to be someone that I wasn't?
Was it worth it?

Wacko, Amoeba Music & Last Night In LA

Stories From The Road
September 7, 2013

*** Post To Be Released

Me & Ned Vizzini

Stories From The Road
September 6, 2013

*** Post To Be Released

My Big Fat Jewish New Year

Stories From The Road
September 5, 2013

*** Post To Be Released

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

War Within: The Young Should Survive

The news, in general, can be hard to ingest. Taglines, headlines, blurbs -- touting the torment and discourse of this person, that person, said foreign nation.

It's all so chaotic.

Today. Today a friend asked me if I'd heard about a ruling on gay marriage in Cincinnati, Ohio. I clicked through a few of my go-to online sites. Quickly, I did the skim-skim to get the gist of the precedent. But I gotta be honest, it was the sidebar story that stopped me still.

My stomach soured.

I hunched over the computer.

I felt sick.

This is the thing that happens to me when I see a headline like this.

Note: Not the best reaction for group settings such as dinner parties, concerts or other social gatherings. Consequently, I strive to keep news of such distress in check whenever possible because I fixate. I want to understand, and I want others to empower me to understand.

Here's the thing. Kids die all the time.

Plain. Simple.


Most of them aren't the side bar story on CNN online. It doesn't make their loss any less significant. Those kids are still someone's someone, you know?

Now I'm thinking about Bart Palosz. A kid I never met on my tour but drove through his state on the way to somewhere else. He's not just another story. He was flesh and bone and laughter and frustration ... he was someone's someone. Here's a young man who didn't have to die. Didn't need to die. His life had value beyond his 15-year-old imagination.

But he was too tall.

Spoke with too much of an accent.

He wasn't vanilla enough.

And yeah, he got bullied. 

What's the answer? You can't tell a kid who is being bullied to fight back. You can tell 'em they're okay -- that they're gonna be okay. But life at fifteen -- sixteen -- just being a teen is immediate. In a post Columbine world, the axis is just different than when I grew up.

When I grew up, the school bully eventually met karma, and generally the good gals/guys won. Under the radar movies like Christian Slater's PUMP UP THE VOLUME made me feel like I could be a person of change. You know the plot. Awkward new kid who can't speak to girls finds his voice all Lenny Bruce style on a pirate radio station of his on creation.

Note: Creating your own pirate radio station was harder than it would have seemed I quickly realized.

There's this moment in the film where a teen called Mr. Serious mails correspondence to Slater's pirate radio station. When Slater's character (Mark Hunter, aka Hard Harry) reaches out to the Mr. Serious via phone call, he makes too light of the situation. Only to soon realize that Mr. Serious is very serious about taking his life. Mark appeals to Mr. Serious. Saying how everything about Mark is phony and an illusion. That he truly gets it. Unfortunately, Mr. Serious takes his life.

Slater's Mark Hunter grieves loss of Mr. Serious

Relevance to the movie reveal above? Mark's character is devastated by the loss. He goes back on the radio and reveals via monologue how hard and hurtful, how unbelievably challenging it is to be a teen in the 1990's. He humanizes the struggle and stress and would rather kids scream at the top of their lungs before taking their lives. I guess I wish ...

I wish Bart could have screamed.

I wish he could have reached out to his good friend Izzy.

Or Izzy's mom.

Or his parents.

Or someone -- anyone -- and just said, "I can't do this alone anymore."

But that didn't happen, and I don't get to rewrite the ending of Bart's story like one my novels.

So here we are once again. What's the answer? Are we even asking the right questions?

I honestly don't know.

What I do know. 

I can't sit on the sidelines or the bench or in the penalty box. I can't continue to click through headline after headline and hope someone somewhere will make it better. The better is in the showing up. Now more than ever, I know I gotta be a part of a different kind of headline. The one where the young survive.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Labor Day Musings

Today I ponder notions of romance, anti-romance, family, the weather in Belgium and all things close to the chest. Today I think about ...

Well, me.

Here's the thing, readers. Contrary to my so-called pseudo popular life, I'm actually a private person. I know, I know. Unbelievable. Let's remove the "un" from that word, and you've come upon me. I'm the techno geek who surfs quirky blogs, listens to underground music and whenever possible, excites over a new advancement in video and computer technology. I savor sitting in a room and writing for twelve hour days and finishing a novel in four weeks. I read magazines backwards, listen to the music of city sirens, water droplets and wind captured in full symphony, and I don't have a problem wearing a shirt that says:

I'm a spiritual person. I don't deny it. It is something I came to as the result of quality therapy, the books Life Lessons: Two Experts on Death and Dying and A New Earth, watching the films Peaceful Warrior and What The Bleep Do We Know? and realizing that growing up with monsters doesn't mean you have to become one. I act in kindness, hope to do as little harm in the world as possible and fly out of bed to do a happy dance every morning when I wake up.

Note: My non-morning friends find the latter behavior somewhat difficult to bare.

I've been truly in love twice in my life. It isn't important with whom, but rather that I know the feeling and have had it reciprocated. Something my best friend who was killed in a car accident in 2003 never knew, and it still brings me such sadness. It has been a long and far haul from The Perks of Being A Wallflower Charlie kinda internal life I had during part of my teen years. I have been fortunate to survive a near death car accident, near death infection (Cellulitis) and near death pneumonia.

Note: I'm way beyond the over on the whole near death thing. Living rocks!

I've been homeless. I've been lost. I've been down the wrong road and now thank whatever power (s) that be for intervening with a friendship of a lifetime with Linda. S. Sanders. I've stood in front of my adopted father and didn't cower when he told me to quit writing. Even throwing me into a wall wasn't gonna stop me from scribbling.

I've been counted out more than once. I've been told to stop dreaming because you're never gonna make X happen. I've been pushed to the limit and rebounded.

I do believe in possibility.

I've traveled across America (literally this summer) and lived in Belgium and had the best brother in the world who stuck it out through the "...the best of the times (and) the worst of times."

I'm not afraid to say this thing called life is tough as tough can be and also say it can be better.

It can be different.

Knowing all these things about me one might think that I'm not a private person at all, but I am. About a lot of things. Things that I feel aren't relevant or just need to stay among the safety and kindness of friends because the are my only family.  My chosen one.

I don't want to wait for life to start. I think I spent a number of years in a holding pattern. Kind of like the plane in Boston, MA that kept us up in the air for 50 minutes because of weather below. Whether it was the conditions of my life or simply thinking that I did not deserve to be in a life worth dancing in the morning for, I choose "other" and waited.

This summer has been about not waiting though. It has been about risks and chances -- immeasurable opportunities. I've faced some of my greatest fears head on and stood in front of room after room of young people asking them to be brave with me. In doing so, I feel immensely humbled and accomplished and alive. I've met with writers and filmmakers. I've sat with artist from all walks of life and taken those moments as opportunities to glean from their artistic and life experience. Of course, to laugh and celebrate a world of creativity with them as well.

I am grateful for the people who continue to show up in my regular life (and I'm gonna name a few of them because that's what you do when you are humbled):

Josh Flowers (filmmaker/educator/best kind of friend)
Margaret Coble (artist/small business owner/writer)
Karl Miller (C.A.I.N board member/a father I'd been lucky to have had)
C.G. Watson (writer/educator/)
Shirley Klock (writer/official humanitarian)
J. Don Luna (director/actor/mentor for life)
Matthew Gallagher (writer/producer/actor)
S.K. McClendon (activist/educator/camera operator)
Sally Derby (writer/a mom I'd been lucky to have had)
Galen McGriff (filmmaker/professor/writer)
Andrea Cascadi (previous literary agent)
and for a guy named Larry

See, being on the road, it is one of the hardest things I've ever done in my life. I'm about to do it again for nearly two months. I'm doing it because I believe that I can continue to make a difference. That I can change the world I live in and empower young people to begin to stand up and be heard. I don't have to want life to start anymore. It has started. Here and now.

I ready to see what's next in life. To dream big, live full and not wait for life to start anymore.

So here I go. Taking chances. With myself, with the teens I will continue to meet across America and the art I create!

Not too shabby, huh?

Vlogger Says Play Ball

Stories From The Road (Once Again)
September 1, 2013
Vlog To Be Posted