Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Force Is Strong With This One

So I have a friend in prison of whom I have written about here and here. I think I've written another post about him, but can't track it down. In any case, he's been in prison about three and a half years now. Although we correspond frequently, I have not spoken to him since he was incarcerated...until Christmas Day, that is.

He called me that morning. We only talked for about five minutes or so (he was paying for the call), but it was so good to hear his voice. In truth, my friend sounded better and in higher spirits than I ever remember him being before he was sent to prison.

My friend was a good guy when I knew him at school, but he had a lot of problems. He was lazy, arrogant, entitled, selfish, and coasted through life with no regard for the consequences of his actions. He was an alcoholic and a drug abuser who was unwilling to admit he had a problem. He had no belief in God and death scared him greatly because he didn't think anything existed afterwards, and his own mortality was a sticking point for him. He was irresponsible and reckless and self-destructive.

When he killed a man in a drunk driving accident in August of 2007, my friend's luck finally ran out. Or so it seemed. In truth, prison has been the best thing that has ever happened to my friend, and he would be the first to admit it.

In a recent letter to him, I wrote:

It sounds like you’re still doing very well and maintaining a positive attitude.

...I’m glad to hear that you’re being productive...and are keeping yourself busy, occupied, and useful. That’s terrific. I also chuckled when you said all of this is helping you become more organized and structured because I know that prior to prison, structure and routine were not your strong points.

It truly warms my heart that you’ve experienced spiritual growth and have a daily connection to a higher power, whatever that represents for you. It’s nice to see the humility, selflessness, and productivity that this experience has wrought in you. Some people just go to prison and take no responsibility for their actions and experience no personal growth at all. I’m glad you are not one of those people.
I’m grateful the AA program is working for you and that you are able to help others as well through AA. I’m very glad death doesn’t frighten you like it once did. Death need not be frightening.

I was telling my mom at lunch this afternoon that I needed to write you, and she asked how you were, and I said from your letters you seem to be doing amazingly well. She felt sad that a “really nice guy” (her words) like you had to have this happen to you, and I said what I’ve said to you many times: while the circumstances are unfortunate, I think this experience is exactly what you needed. I talked about how I and my fellow classmates at [school] figured it was just a matter of time before you either killed yourself or somebody else, and while it is tragic that another life was taken, and while it is not the ideal circumstance to be in prison, I’m grateful that you got a desperately needed “wake-up call.” I have seen so much positive growth and change in you, my friend. I have seen you become less selfish, more giving, more responsible, more humble, more hard-working, more sober, more grateful, more grounded, and more spiritual, and I love these changes in you. You were always a great guy, [my friend], but I always felt you were somewhat “lost” in life, and I feel like you found your true self, and it’s wonderful to see that. I hope you take that in the spirit I intend.

I’m glad to hear that you’ve never had a “bad day” in prison. That’s really great. I’m not sure all prisoners could say that.

I’m glad you were able to write to your victim’s family even if they didn’t respond. I wouldn’t necessarily expect them to, either, and they may never forgive you, but at least you are doing all you can to try and make amends. I think that is important and admirable.

...I think it’s great that you’re trying to make amends for other things you feel badly about as well. That’s good.


My friend was in 100% agreement with everything I said. Since his imprisonment, he has now been sober for nearly three and half years; he's become such a responsible, hard-working, stable person. He's become so positive, and I could hear that in his voice. He's so much more giving and thoughtful, and his faith in a higher power has increased.

He reminded me of a conversation we had had in our kitchen (we were roommates) early on in our friendship. He was telling me about his lack of belief in a "god" and his fears of death, and without being preachy or anything, I simply affirmed my absolute belief in life after death and in God and said, "I think you will be pleasantly surprised when you die." He said he always remembered that (I remembered it, too) and although he was filled with doubt at the time, he was envious that I so sure about it because he wished that for himself, but didn't know how to achieve it.

On Christmas Day, he told me that he understood why I had believed so strongly what I did and said he felt he was so much closer to that. He sounded so happy, so buoyant, so joyful. He has taken responsibility for his actions and lives each day to the fullest he possibly can. He does not worry so much about the past or the future, but about what he can be doing now for both others and himself. He has faith that no matter what happens, he is where he is supposed to be right now.

It absolutely warms my heart to see such changes in my friend, and hearing his voice only reaffirmed how much has changed positively for him. While I never would have wished prison on him, I grateful for what he's allowed his prison sentence and his actions that brought him there to teach him.

I've told my friend that since he went to prison, he's actually become the person I always thought he was if he had only gotten out of his own way. He agreed completely. It's so great to see. I understand somewhat why Alma was so happy when his rebellious son, Alma the Younger, was struck into a coma after being chastised by an angel. And look what happened to Alma the Younger.

While not necessarily crazy about the circumstances, I thank God every day that my friend has become who I always knew he was meant to be. It makes me so happy.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Part Of The Family?

I spent Christmas with Jonah and his family this year (after two and a half months away from my honey - it was greatly needed). This is the second time this year I have spent an extended amount of time with his family and gotten to know them better. It is both a really good thing (because it allows me to get to know my in-laws better and create a relationship with them) and a somewhat awkward thing (because Jonah and I are kind of in a "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" phase of our relationship as far as his family is concerned, so I'm never sure who knows or who suspects or how they see me).

Jonah also comes from a very large Hispanic family, and culturally they are different in how they behave or celebrate than I am used to. This is not a bad thing; just different. They are quite a loud, sometimes raucous, group of people, but very family-oriented and have always been kind and inclusive as far as I am concerned.

As I have indicated at various times on this blog, I am not a very social person, and I like quiet. Even with my own family, who is a bit more subdued than Jonah's, sometimes during holiday festivities I have to retreat into a room away from everybody so I can regroup. So it is a challenge for me and somewhat outside my comfort zone. But, as I say, it is not a bad thing and certainly not one I am incapable of handling. I try to be social and joke around with them and get to know them. As I say, they have all been very kind to me, and although some may disapprove of Jonah's sexuality or our relationship, no one has ever made me feel uncomfortable or treated me badly, so that does mean a lot.

Jonah's family likes to congregate together for various celebrations, and food is always in great abundance. I am not a huge fan of Mexican food (or rather, it is not a huge fan of me), and various family members went out of their way to make sure this "white boy" didn't eat anything that would be too spicy (one batch of salsa nearly killed me (and this after Jonah's brother told his mom, "That's not very hot.")).

There are some in the family that I am aware of who know about Jonah and me and our relationship (although I don't think anybody knows we had a commitment ceremony or that we are registered domestic partners in Nevada). There are many more who I'm sure suspect we are in a relationship and/or who know I live with Jonah. As Jonah and I discussed, based on the fact that most of them know he is gay and know that I am around a lot, they would have to be completely clueless, stupid, or in complete denial to NOT at least suspect that I am his lover. But like I say, it's mostly "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" around his family. I know Jonah is okay with that. He says he doesn't need the drama. And I am fine with it. I think in some ways it is less stress for us to deal with.

But I don't always know where I stand with them or how much to reveal to them about our lives together, and that can be the awkward part. For now, I'm usually introduced as "Jonah's friend," which, honestly, doesn't offend me in the slightest. I know Jonah's sister knows about us, and she's always treated me very kindly. A brother-in-law probably knows as well and was very nice to me and thanked both Jonah and I for hosting the event. Jonah's sister-in-law knows he's gay and knows I live with him, and I'm quite certain she knows why, and she's been very friendly to me. Her husband is a minister in a Pentecostal church, and she's quite active in the ministry as well, and while the church and Jonah's brother have a hard stance towards homosexuality, Jonah and I suspect that his sister-in-law feels somewhat conflicted about it. To his credit, Jonah's minister brother has never treated me unkindly or with any kind of disdain, so I'm grateful for that. At the same time (and I've told Jonah this), he comes across as kind of fake to me. I feel (perhaps incorrectly) that he grandstands a bit and is more interested in showing people how good of a Christian he is rather than just being a good Christian, if that makes any sense. He reminds me of the Pharisees in the Bible who wanted to make sure people saw how obedient they were being, but by being so devoted to the letter of the law, they actually ended up being hypocrites.

That isn't to say that Jonah's brother hasn't done some good things in his ministry. I just think he comes off as kind of a hypocritical, sanctimonious guy who does a lot of what he does for show rather than just being a true follower of many of the things Christ taught. That's just my opinion. Maybe I'm wrong. Like I say, though, he's never treated me badly or anything. He hugged me at Christmas and welcomed me, and I think he probably knows what I am to Jonah, so he deserves some credit for that. But in my brief dealings with him, there seems to be a bit of edge behind it.

We think Jonah's mom must know or at least suspect, but I do not know if she does or not. I know she has disapproved of Jonah's sexuality in the past, and she can have a bit of an edge to her as well, but she has been nothing but kind to me, and she has been very welcoming. I used to dislike Jonah's mother before I ever knew her. Everything Jonah told me about her seemed manipulative and controlling, and it upset me. It's true she can be that way, but in getting to know her, I also understand why Jonah loves her. I've come to see many of her good qualities, and I am appreciative of that.

Jonah's brother knows about me, too, although he never talks about it. He did say something very kind on his way out of the house on Christmas. He said he appreciated me and that I was a "blessing." That meant a lot to me.

Jonah's nieces also have been very kind to me, and I suspect they know the extent of our relationship. One of them, who's having a baby soon, invited me to her shower. I also got the impression that many in Jonah's family were disappointed that I wouldn't be around for New Years (I'm back in Utah for work for another month). So I do appreciate that everyone has treated me kindly when at one time I thought they might not.

At the same time, there are moments when I feel left out (and perhaps Jonah does, too). For example, a niece was passing around a painting of a family tree, and each family member was asked to put their thumb or finger print on it. I was not asked to. This was not the niece's fault. I do not think she knew who I was as far as Jonah is concerned. But still, she was talking about the various siblings and their spouses and kids and the various prints on the picture, and I felt bad that I wasn't on it as well (or asked to be on it). Later in the night after Jonah had gone to work and I was left with his family, one of the brothers pulled out a DVD he made in tribute to another brother, and the minister brother suggested he do one in tribute to each family member and asked all of them to send photos to him so he could compile a DVD showing what each family member had accomplished this year, and I wondered what the reaction would be if Jonah or I sent some photos about our life together. I do not suspect it would go over well, although I don't know. But the point is moot. I don't think we're at that place yet anyway as far as his family is concerned. But still, it made me feel like the "friend" rather than the husband I am.

Yet, overall, I do feel included. In spite of or because of what they do or do not know, Jonah's family has treated me well, and I appreciate that a lot. "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" is fine for now.

Oh, and later, after Jonah's family had gone, we noticed that the family tree painting and fingerprint ink had been left behind. Jonah and I both put our thumb prints on the picture. None of the prints are labeled. I guess I'm part of the family, after all.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Goodbye, Childhood Friend: My Memories Of The Movieland Wax Museum

All through my childhood, my family very often went on vacation together. I remember going to such places as British Columbia, Seattle, and the Grand Canyon, for example. Two of our most frequently visited places were Disneyland/Universal Studios and Yellowstone National Park, all of which I have very fond memories of.

Often when we went to Disneyland, we would also go to Movieland Wax Museum, which you can read about here. I absolutely loved this place as a child. It was the largest wax museum in the United States and most of its figures were of movie and TV stars in famous scenes from film or television. As a child, I was very interested in film (and still am), and it felt so magical to see scenes from favorite films and TV shows recreated in great detail.




Some of the figures and scenes I remember most were Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates. He could be found in the Chamber of Horrors section of the museum, where scenes from popular horror and suspense movies were created. One would walk by a shower curtain, which would whip open to the sound of the famous shrieking violin Psycho music by Bernard Hermann.



I remember turning the corner and walking into a very realistic set of the Starship Enterprise from the original television series "Star Trek." It had the full main crew and all the flickering buttons and lights, and I felt like I was really there.



I remember being in awe of a scene from one of my favorite movies at the time, The Poseidon Adventure, complete with a pretty realistic-looking set and actual trickling water.



Or the famous scene from Singing in the Rain with Gene Kelly singing and dancing the title number. Although it was a wax still-life from the movie, there was actual water pouring down while the song blared from a speaker, giving the viewer and listener the illusion that they were actually in the scene.



There was a Fortress of Solitude scene from Superman where Christopher Reeve stood stoically as the wind howled on a speaker.



A Wizard of Oz scene was displayed while the viewer heard dialogue and music from the film.



I remember a forced-perspective view of the famous chariot race from Ben-Hur that made it look much more big and grand than it actually was.



I remember figures of Mae West, W.C Fields, Charlie Chaplin, Laurel and Hardy, and Harold Lloyd, and the Barrymores (in the one film they all were in together). I remember scenes from Mary Poppins, "Bonanza," Rear Window, "Sanford and Son," The African Queen, Nigh Noon, Gone With the Wind, and a particularly poignant one from Two Women (a movie I was not familiar with at the time, but the scene (the aftermath of a rape) stuck with me for a long time).



Of course, at the time there were also many scenes and performers I was not familiar with. At the time, for example, I had no idea who Mary Pickford or Jean Harlow or Norma Shearer or Tyrone Power or William Powell or Myrna Loy or Brigitte Bardot were (although the figure of Ms. Bardot covering her breasts is something I do remember because it seemed a bit risqué to me at the time). But it did make me want to know more about who these people were and the work they did. Of course, I know who all of them are now and have seen some of their pictures since my childhood.

I just remember feeling that Movieland Wax Museum was kind of a fun, magical place, and being as interested in movies and TV as I was, it was the most superb and appropriate wax museum I had ever been to (or been to since).

In 1997 or '98 I was working at a theater in Bakersfield, California, and a friend of mine and I decided to go to L.A. and Anaheim. She had never been to the museum, and I hadn't been there since I was a kid, and I was wanting to relive my childhood, so we decided to go.

As an adult, the museum seemed to me a little more cheesy than it did as a child, and the figures and scenes were not as true to form or as kept up as I remember them being as a child. The museum seemed a bit run down and not as well-attended, and there were new figures that didn't seem as true to life as the older ones did. I remember there being one of Bill Clinton in the Oval Office (which I know wasn't there is my younger days). In some ways, the place seemed a bit cheap in its presentation, which is not at all the way I felt as a kid.

Still, it made me feel like a kid again, and my friend and I had a wonderful time. It still felt magical in many ways, and I loved being there again.

Sadly, that was the last time I visited Movieland Wax Museum. I had always intended to take Jonah there some time (although I'm not sure whether he would have gotten as much a kick out of it as I did), but never got around to it.

Yesterday I was watching the movie Two Women, which I finally had a chance to see, and remembering that it was Movieland Wax Museum that introduced me to that movie, I went online to see how my old friend, the museum, was doing. I was saddened to find out it had closed five years ago after 43 years of operation. I wasn't terribly surprised by the news, but was still shocked, if that makes sense. I felt like a piece of my childhood had been ripped out from underneath me, and it made me grieve somewhat, especially knowing that I would never again have the chance to visit a place I had so loved as a child.

I guess part of what made me sad was it felt like there was a loss of a simpler time. In its heyday, Movieland Wax Museum was one of the most popular wax museums in the U.S. Stars would come and inaugurate their figures (Vincent Price once stood in for his and scared patrons). Often, genuine costumes and props from original production would be used in the wax scenes. Some celebrities left hand- and footprints in the cement in front of the building. 10,000,000 people visited the museum. Mary Pickford herself dedicated the museum when it opened in 1962.

Eventually, however, attendance dwindled, and the museum became a relic from another time. Some of the figures were donated to a wax museum in San Francisco (which I've been to and didn't like as much) and others were auctioned off to private collectors. The property is supposed to become (or already is) a shopping plaza. The museum couldn't compete with the attractions of today's world. It just made me kind of sad.

It reminds me of the old casinos in Vegas that were once the places to be in their heyday, but have now become nothing more than sad shells of their former selves. The Liberace Museum in Vegas is closing, which is a shame. Jonah, in particular, has been quite upset about it.

Anyone, I just wanted to dedicate this post in memory of a wonderful childhood friend, Movieland Wax Museum. Goodbye. We had some good times. I hope you are resting in peace.

Monday, December 20, 2010

A Good Time To Be Gay

I was reading an article in The Salt Lake Tribune this morning about the growth of gay/straight alliances in Utah high schools, and I thought to myself, "These kids are so fortunate to be growing up gay in this day and age." Of course, I also had to stop and remind myself that it likely isn't easy for most kids to grow up gay, especially in a place where the predominant religion and culture is so conservative and, often, anti-gay.

Yet, there is a part of me that envies these kids. While it is rarely easy coming to terms with one's sexuality, especially when there are many forces telling you that who you are and what you feel is wrong, I do envy the fact that some of these kids have some advantages that I didn't have when I was their age.

Just the fact of even having a gay/straight alliance to go to while you're at such an impressionable young age is a blessing. To actually have a place that one can go where like-minded people exist and be able to share one's feelings, challenges, and struggles seems so wonderful to me. That did not exist in my high school (or any high school I was aware of) when I was that age. And for someone to even be out enough to create or attend such a club seemed unfathomable at the time.

Yet I am quite sure there are kids who are not yet comfortable enough with their sexuality or the sexuality of those they care about to attend such a club at a time when they could surely benefit from it. I'm sure there are also kids who are teased or bullied or judged for attending such a club, so I understand these kids are not without their own set of challenges.

When I was young, it was very rare that a celebrity would actually admit they were gay. It would ruin their career. The first celebrity I really remember who was exposed as being gay was Rock Hudson, and that's because he had AIDS (what was known then as "the gay disease," and it was only after his death that his homosexuality even came out. Not exactly a glowing endorsement for coming out of the closet! Most celebrities you read about being gay were after their deaths. many of these celebrities led double lives while they were alive and few acknowledged their sexuality publicly.

Now it seems like we've got celebrities coming out left and right and straight counterparts showing great amounts of support for them. These people are proud of who they are and set positive examples and lend words of encouragement and support to those young people who may be currently struggling with their own sexuality. That didn't seem to exist when I was young. I often felt like I was the only one in the world who was gay (and I'm sure there are still young people today who feel the same way, so we still have a way to go).

In today's world there are far more gay characters on TV than there were when I was young. I remember Jodie (played by Billy Crystal) on "Soap," which was a great source of solace to me. I remember a very controversial episode of "thirtysomething" that showed two men in bed together (which was very scandalous at the time). I also remember "An Early Frost" about a son coming home to die of AIDS, a made-for-TV movie called "Our Sons" about two mothers, one of whom is having an especially difficult time accepting her son's homosexuality; and another made-for-TV movie called "Doing Time on Maple Drive, a drama in which one of the characters was gay (and incidentally, is the first thing I remember seeing Jim Carrey in (he did a good job, too, which is why I've never had a problem seeing him as a dramatic actor). And, of course, I remember Pedro Zamora from "The Real World." But none of these examples made me feel particularly positive about being gay (although they sometimes made me feel less alone).

Now gay people are all over the screen, often in extremely positive ways. You've got Kurt on "Glee," Mitchell and Cameron on "Modern Family," Oscar on "The Office," Kevin and Scotty on "Brothers and Sisters," you had Marc and Justin on "Ugly Betty," just to name a few.

I remember how characters like Rickie on "My So-Called Life" or celebrities like Ellen Degeneres on "Ellen" or Rosie O'Donnell or coming out and how it made things feel less lonely and more normal. Now kids have all sorts of role-models out there helping them know they are not alone.

YouTube videos pop up telling kids things actually will "get better," although when one sees the amount of kids who are still killing themselves over this issue, one knows we still have much work to do before people understand that being gay is not a bad thing.

When I was young, gays either weren't allowed into the military at all (if it was known they were gay) or they were prevented from revealing that essential part of themselves and were regularly discharged if they did. Although "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" is finally due to be repealed, there is still much that needs to be done.

As a Mormon growing up, the LDS Church's language and policies regarding gay people was a lot harder than it seems to be now (although I think the LDS Church has quite a way to go regarding this particular issue. General Authorities and church leaders rarely talked about homosexuality at all. It was a very taboo subject, and the only access I had to anything within the church about homosexuality were talks and books about what a horrible, perverted, terrible sinner I was and how what I was feeling was probably second only to murder. A lot of information available about homosexuality at that time was just plain wrong, and finding positive or informed information was not always easy.

Gay people were still very much encouraged to marry in the hopes that it would cure them. Homosexual feelings and homosexual actions were basically indistinguishable and both were terrible to have or do. Remnants of electroshock therapy still existed.

Today I at least feel church leaders are trying to understand homosexuality a bit better, and they at least admit that they don't know what causes it and that it may never go away in this life. The fact that they have endorsed anti-discrimination laws and have softened their language towards gay people are steps in the right direction. But I believe there is still much ignorance within the church regarding homosexuality.

Even though gay marriage is not the law of the land everywhere, it is certainly further along than it was when I was young. To even imagine that two gay people could marry each other was unthinkable; yet now you can at least legally marry in Iowa, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Washington D.C., and New York, Rhode Island, and Maryland recognize same-sex marriages even if they don't perform them. Several states recognize or allow civil unions and/or domestic partnerships (including Nevada, where my partner and I reside). The issue is being actively debated and will probably go to the Supreme Court eventually, and I believe, like other civil rights battles before it, the day will come when gays and lesbians will find marital equality. None of this even seemed possible or attainable when I was a lad.

One reads frequently stories about gay issues in local newspapers, and here in Utah we even have access to a newspaper dedicated solely to LGBT issues (something I certainly didn't have access to when I was young). One can go to gay nightclubs or gay-friendly establishments with much more ease than one could when I was a teenager.

My point is that although it may always be tough to be a gay teenager, I do think now is a good time to be gay, and I think 20 years from now will be an even better time to be gay, and 40 years from now will be an even greater time to be gay. We have been on the cusp of a great civil-rights movement, and although we may not be conscious of it, we are right in the middle of a very historical time.

It has gotten so much better since I was young, and I predict it will continue to do so. What a great time to be alive!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Taking A Bullet For Stephen Sondheim

If you read me blog regularly, you may or may not recall that I am a huge fan of the composer Stephen Sondheim (in fact, I'm hoping to write a post about him soon). In any case, Stephen Sondheim is coming to Salt Lake City on February 1 to talk about his life and career (and probably promote his new book, Finishing the Hat (which I asked Jonah to get me for Christmas)). Anyway, Jonah and I bought tickets for it, and I am very, very excited to finally see my idol in person.

Two nights ago I had a dream. Jonah and I were at this upcoming event, and someone was attempting to kill Mr. Sondheim. I saw the gunman take out his pistol and aim it at Stephen Sondheim, and as he fired, I leaped on stage in front of my favorite composer and was shot instead. Several people wrestled the gun away from the would-be assassin as I crumpled to the floor. Jonah leaped on stage to my side as I lay bleeding and asked, "Why did you do that?! He's old. He's probably going to die soon anyway. Why would you put yourself in that situation?"

I replied that I couldn't allow someone to rob the world of Stephen Sondheim and his genius before it was his true time to leave this earth. Very melodramatic, huh? Well, I am an actor, after all.

As Jonah sobbed over me, Stephen Sondheim knelt by my side and thanked me for saving his life. He could see that I was dying and asked if he could do anything for me. I lay there gasping and said, "Could you please write a song for me?" He said he would.

That's when I woke up. I assume I died.

Of course, as I began to be more awake, the dream seemed absolutely absurd to me. Yet there was a part of me that was really proud that I was willing to take a bullet for one of my heroes. I am in real life, by nature, somewhat of a coward in some ways, and taking a bullet for someone seems like something that I wouldn't necessarily be willing to do. Knowing myself, I think I'd be more apt to hide under my seat or freeze in a panic than leap on stage like some action hero and get shot. Yet, at the same time, in the dream, it was something I did completely by instinct, without thinking about it at all. I saw a man in danger - a man that I greatly admire - and I did what I had to do to protect him; and even though it was only a dream, I was kind of proud of myself for doing so. I also thought it was a bit conceited of me to expect Stephen Sondheim to write a song in my honor. But I did save his life, after all, so maybe it's not such an unreasonable request.

The funny thing is, when I told Jonah about the dream, he said, almost word for word, what he said in the dream: that Sondheim was old and probably didn't have many years left, and why would I put myself in that position when I still had us to live for. I said what I said above: I didn't think about it; I just did it by instinct. It was what I felt I should do. Jonah jokingly said that if something like that happens, I need to stay in my seat. I said I can't be responsible for where instinct takes me. :-)

What does the dream mean? Well, first I think it exemplifies just how much I love and admire Stephen Sondheim and his work. But I also think there is a part of me that realizes how old Stephen Sondheim is (he's nearly 81) and is selfishly worried that he will die before I get to meet him (or before he finishes his next book, Look, I Made a Hat). I saw him on "The Colbert Report" the other night, and he looks just fine. But I've always wanted to see him in person and meet him, and I finally get a chance to do the former, at least; so I think I'm just subconsciously worried that something will get in the way of that, and that's probably what the dream means.

Anyway, I'm looking forward to seeing him and hearing what he has to say, and I really am planning on writing a post soon talking more about my relationship with Sondheim and his music. Hopefully, I'll get it out sooner rather than later.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

How Many Walmart Employees Does It Take To Screw In A Lightbulb?

I don't know, but I can tell you how many it took to help (or rather, not help) me today. I know what you're thinking: "Well, your first mistake was shopping at Walmart." This is true, and I knew that going into the store.



Let's back up. I am in the market for an elliptical fitness machine. Why? Because I am flabby and waaaayyy out of shape, I want something cardiovascular to do, and running (which I enjoy) is too hard on my knees. When I have exercised at the gym, I have quite enjoyed using the elliptical. It gives me a good workout and does not cause stress on my knees. So I'd like to get one. I actually think if I had one, I would use it pretty faithfully. I can watch TV or read while doing it, and the time passes by quite quickly.

The problem is, a really good elliptical machine is out of my price range. They are quite pricey for my budget. So I have been looking at some low-end ellipticals, and I found one through Walmart that is affordable. It's made by Golds Gym, and I read quite a few reviews about it. Most said the same thing: it was hard to put together, and it is a low-end model, but it is sturdy and does the job and is a good value for the money you pay. So I was interested in finding out more about it.

I went to Walmart to check it out. It is, indeed, a low-end model without many "bells and whistles," but it seemed sturdy and smooth to me and seems to be appropriate for my needs. I did have some questions about it. My mother (who was with me) and I examined the model, and then I decided I wanted to ask a store employee for more details. We couldn't find one immediately. My mother went in search of one, but was unable to find anyone. Finally, a woman (let's call her Delores) approached us and asked (very pleasantly) if we needed any help. I replied that I was interested in perhaps purchasing this particular elliptical and was hoping to get some more information about it. She said, "Oh. Well, I'll have to get you someone from Sporting Goods. I don't really know details about this particular machine."

Fine. I've worked retail before. Sometimes you only know things within your particular expertise. I told her that would be great. She said, "I'll page someone for you." We thanked her. Shortly after, we heard her voice over the intercom system; "Customer needs assistance in Sporting Goods." She returned and said someone would be with us shortly. Great.

Except that no one ever came. Another Walmart employee (let's name her Eileen) happens by maybe four or five minutes after the page. She cheerfully asks us if we need assistance. "Well," I said, "I'm interested in perhaps buying this machine and would like to find out more about it." She immediately gets a look of resistance on her face and says, "Oh, well, I don't know anything about sporting goods. I'll have to page someone for you."

"Well, someone was paged earlier, but they never showed."

"Well, I'll have them paged again." It was obvious she didn't want to answer our questions about the elliptical. I can understand that. If I worked at Walmart and somebody asked me automotive questions, I'd probably panic, too.

"Thanks."

She gets her little communicator out. "Fitting Rooms, can you page Sporting Goods for me? Thanks." She looks at me. "They'll page someone for you, and they should be here shortly." Isn't that what Delores said earlier?

"Okay. Thank you." Eileen walks off.

This time there is no page. So we wait. Delores swings by again a few minutes later. "Did they never come?"

"Nope," I reply. "Someone else came by and paged them again, but no one has come."

"Mel?!" Delores yells to an approaching employee (a man in a wheelchair who looks to be in his late 60s or older). "Do you know where Bernice is?"

Mel is actually using his feet rather than his hands to propel the wheelchair, which strikes me as odd, but okay. "I think she's gone to lunch. What do you need?"

"These folks have some questions about this machine, and I need someone from Sporting Goods to help them. What about Miguel?"

"I don't know where he is. Maybe I can answer their questions." He looks at me as he shuffles the wheelchair closer. "I don't know much about sporting goods, but I can try."

"Okay," I shrug. "I was wondering what the power source for this machine is."

"Probably electricity," Mel says matter-of-factly as he rolls by me.

"Well, does it come with a plug?" I ask.

"I don't know," Mel answers. "Like I said, I don't know much about sporting goods. I've never used one of those before, as you can see." And then he disappears down another aisle. I look at my mom, amused, and mutter sarcastically, "Thanks for answering my questions." Delores is no where to be seen, either. I guess she figured she had pawned us off on Mel, who was soooo very helpful. Thanks, Mel.

By this time, my mom and I are kind of laughing at the absurdity of trying to get what I thought would be a few simple answers to some questions.

Ahh, Delores has returned. "I found someone to help you. They should be along shortly." I think you said that ten minutes ago, Delores.

"Thanks," I reply, good-naturedly.

A few minutes later a woman employee (Karina) shows up. She says in what sound like an Eastern-European accent, "You needed some help, yes?"

"Uh, yes. I was wondering about this machine. I'm interested in perhaps buying it, and I just wanted to find out some things about it."

"Okay."

"Do you happen to know what the power source for this elliptical is? Does it run on batteries or do you plug it in?"

Karina looks at me like I have just asked her how to make a nuclear warhead. She looks panicked, quite frankly.

"Uh," she stammers, "I do not know. Let me get my assistant."

Her assistant?! Her assistant knows more about Sporting Goods than she does?!

"Well, I do have some other questions as well. Maybe you can answer those before you..."

"Just a moment," she says as she flees to find her assistant. "I go find him."

The horror on her face made me wonder if she thought I'd asked her to remove her clothing. By this time, my mom and I are cracking up.

Finally Klaus arrives (probably 25 minutes after I first asked for help). I name him Klaus because he looked like a Klaus to me. Karina has summoned Klaus! Hooray!

"Hi, can I help you?"

"I hope so," I say. "I am interested in perhaps buying this elliptical and was hoping I could maybe get some details about it."

"Okay, what do you want to know?"

"I was wondering what the power source on this is."

"Probably electricity, I would imagine."

Klaus, have you been talking to Mel?

"So does it come with a plug?"

"Maybe."

Klaus starts examining the machine, much as I did while I was waiting for various people to help me. He peers closer. "Uh...it says here it's battery-operated."

"Right. I noticed that. But I also noticed there was what looks like a jack for an A/C adapter, and I was wondering if that is for a plug, and if it is, I was wondering if the elliptical comes with that or if I need to buy it separately."



"Gosh, I don't know. Nobody's ever asked me that before."

Oh. My. Gosh! Really?!

Klaus continues: "It probably comes with it."

"Well, I would like to know for sure before I actually buy it."

"Well, I just don't know. But it probably comes in the box."

"Well, if it doesn't, is that something I could buy here?"

"I don't know. You might want to look on the Golds Gym website. That might tell you."

"Okay."

"We probably don't sell anything like that. You probably would need to get it somewhere else."

"Any idea where?"

"Nope."

Okay, Klaus. Thanks.

"Okay, well, I do have another question. I was wondering what your extended warranty entails and how much it costs."

"Well, it really depends on the product."

THIS PRODUCT, KLAUS! THE ELLIPTICAL WE HAVE BEEN TALKING ABOUT FOR THE LAST THREE MINUTES!!!

"Well," I calmly say, "I was hoping to find out about the extended warranty on this particular elliptical, sir."

"Barbara," Klaus says to a passing manager and her companion, "What's the price of our extended warranty?"

"Well, it depends on the product."

OH. MY. GOSH! I can't fault Barbara, though. After all, she just got here.

"What's the price of the extended warranty on this elliptical machine?" I ask.

"I'm not sure," Barbara replies. "Let me find out." Barbara leaves her companion. Let's call him Frank.

"So you're interested in that elliptical?" Frank asks. "I have one."

Maybe Frank can help me. I don't even think he works here, but if he has an elliptical, maybe he knows more about it than the stooges that have tried to help me thus far.

"Oh, really? You have one like this?"

"Yep. They're great machines. They give you quite a workout."

"Do you know what kind of power source this runs on?"

"Oh, I don't have that model."

Ah.

"Twenty dollars." Barbara has returned. "That's for a two-year extended warranty."

"Twenty dollars for two years," Klaus repeats.

Really, Klaus? Repeating what Barbara says doesn't make you look any more knowledgeable.

"What else would you like to know?" Klaus asks.

I don't know. What else could I possibly glean from the encyclopedic organ that is your brain?

"Obviously, this needs to be assembled. Is that something I have to do myself or could I get someone here to do it for me?"

"Oh, no. We can assemble it here, if you like."

"Yes, we can assemble it," Barbara chimes in.

"And how much does that cost?" I ask.

"Oh, it's free," Klaus answers.

"Yes, it's free," Barbara repeats.

"Oh, great," I say.

"Another question I have is that I noticed this same model online is $247, but here at the store it's $277. Do you know why that is?"

"Don't know." Klaus stares at me blankly.

I look at Barbara. Same blank look.

Okay.

"Well, I think I'm going to think about this a bit more and come back if I decide to buy it."

Barbara, seeing that Klaus has things well under control, walks off with Frank. A homeless-looking man walks by. Klaus points to him.

"Oh, this is Leroy. He's one of our assemblers. He'd be one of the people who might put your machine together."

Leroy stares at me and Klaus in bewilderment.

Ah, that's good to know. Good to know that the homeless, bewildered guy is the one who would be putting my elliptical together. And if he's as knowledgeable as the other people I've talked with today, I know I'm in excellent hands. Good thing I'll have that two-year warranty handy.

"Well, thank you for your help," I say. "I have to think on it and maybe do a little more research." Like find out if the thing has a plug.

Six people! It took six people to help me, and none of them really knew much at all about a product their store was selling. Klaus, the "expert" of the group, knew just a hair more than I did about the elliptical. Barbara was probably the smartest of the group, which is probably why she's a manager, and even she seemed to know very little. Mel, Eileen, Delores, and Karina were basically useless. I had a feeling that Frank, an innocent bystander who didn't even work at Walmart, probably knew more about the elliptical than anybody.

Look, that's what I get for shopping at Walmart. And I can understand if Eileen, Delores, Mel, and even Barbara, don't know squat about Sporting Goods. That isn't their department. But shouldn't Klaus and Karina know something about the products they oversee? I didn't think my questions were all that outlandish or strange.

Part of me admires the fact that Walmart hires people that no one else will hire. The other part of me understands why no one else will hire them. But it is Walmart, after all. It's like wanting a gourmet meal and high-end dining experience at Chuck-a-Rama (look it up, non-Utahns). You get what you get. But is it too much to ask that some of the people get better training?

I plan on writing a letter to Walmart. Everybody who offered to help me was very pleasant, but mostly unhelpful. I think that should be remedied. And I was verrryyyy patient! I just found it laughable and absurd. There's 30 minutes of my life I'll never get back.

Ah. Breathe.

In spite of everything, I am leaning toward buying the elliptical, by the way.

Friday, December 10, 2010

A Chance To Meet My Hero

Well, I told you it was coming!

Anyone who has read this blog from the beginning knows that I am a huge fan and admirer of Stephen Sondheim. If you don't know who Stephen Sondheim, you can't be my friend anymore. Just kidding! (...but seriously, find out more about him! Really!)

In my opinion, Stephen Sondheim is the greatest composer and lyricist in Broadway musical theatre history. I say that with complete and utter bias, but I also believe it to be true. There have been many great composers and lyricists in musical theatre history, and having taught that particular subject, I know a lot about most of them. But Sondheim is pure genius, in my opinion, and has taken the craft of lyric-writing and composing to a higher level and has opened the doors to other composers and lyricists of his ilk.

That being said, I will admit some things. Stephen Sondheim is an acquired taste. Not everyone likes his stuff, and I understand why. But I think those people are missing what Sondheim is all about (or simply don't appreciate what he's about). I also concede that Sondheim is not the most popular or commercial of Broadway composers/lyricists (at least outside of theatre circles). And this is probably one of the things that draws me to him so much. I know some people don't "get" Sondheim. I do, and when I meet someone who does "get" Sondheim, I know I have more in common with them than those that don't. That's fine. To each his own. Some people put Andrew Lloyd Webber or Stephen Schwartz or Jerry Herman above Stephen Sondheim in their order of appreciation, for example. That's fine. Everyone has different tastes, and I can appreciate what those particular men have brought to musical theatre. But I think those people that put them above Sondheim in terms of pure craftsmanship and innovation are misguided (perhaps by their need for a catchy tune or their unwillingness to work and think harder rather than just sit back and be entertained).

I will admit this, too: Sondheim's shows are not always pleasant to watch, especially if you are not ready to be challenged or deal with complex issues; especially if you just want to leave your brain at the door. I admit this as well: it has been seldom that upon a first viewing or listening of a Sondheim show that I "got" it or even particularly enjoyed it. I'm ashamed to admit that the only two scores I thoroughly enjoyed on a first listen were Assassins and Merrily We Roll Along. Embarrassed, even. (I'm not including West Side Story, Gypsy, or Do I Hear a Waltz?, for which Sondheim did the lyrics and not the music). I mean, now I realize what a groundbreaking show Company was. I think the score to Sweeney Todd is an absolute masterpiece. Into the Woods is one of my favorite musicals. Sunday in the Park with George is brilliant. The complexity, craftsmanship, and skill of Sondheim's music and lyrics astounds me. Like an onion, he has so many layers; and like a fine wine or an aged cheese, he is an acquired taste.

My first exposure to Mr. Sondheim was in 1989, toward the end of my last year of high school. In the summer I would be going on a theatre trip organized by my drama teacher, and one of the shows we would be seeing was Into the Woods. I had purchased that album (yes, kiddies, album!) along with Les Miserables and Phantom of the Opera, which we would also be seeing (but not Cats (I already knew I wasn't so fond of the music for that show). I purchased the albums to familiarize myself with the music of the shows we would be seeing. At the time, I thought Les Miz was terrific, Phantom was so-so, and Into the Woods was cute, but I was kind of nonplussed by it. Oh, how times change! I now know that Into the Woods is far superior than the other two. I still have a fondness for Les Miserables, but it certainly isn't as sophisticated or as well crafted as Into the Woods, in my opinion. I still think (and thought at the time) that Phantom was overrated. In general, I think Andrew Lloyd Webber is overrated and isn't nearly as talented or brilliant as Mr. Sondheim. Yet, he is the more popular of the two (or at least the most commercial).

When I saw Into the Woods, I really enjoyed the first act, but thought the second was a bit of a downer. In my immaturity, I completely missed the point of the show. Like so many theatre-goers, I think I just wanted to be entertained, not educated or enlightened. But I did discover as life continued, the more I listened to, read the script for, or saw other productions of Into the Woods, the richer the experience became and the more I gleaned from it. I almost equate to reading the scriptures. I think the more you read them, the deeper the meanings become, and sometimes passages you've read again and again will suddenly take on new and inspirational meanings simply based on where you are in life. I think most, if not all, of Sondheim's work is like that.

When I went away to college, I had the great fortune to become best friends with a guy who introduced me to more of Sondheim's work. In the course of our first year of college together, he introduced me to Sweeney Todd, Company, Sunday in the Park with George, and also helped me gain a greater appreciation for West Side Story, which I was only vaguely familiar with at the time. I am truly embarrassed to admit that aside from West Side Story, my first impressions of these scores and shows were less-than-glowing.

My friend forced a bunch of us to watch Sweeney Todd, which he adored. While I found much of the music interesting and enjoyed the performances, some of it felt too operatic to me and the story was too dark for my tastes, and, frankly, I found it depressing. I could sense my friend's disappointment that I hadn't latched on to it the way he did (the same reaction I have today when someone doesn't appreciate or enjoy it).

I remember thinking Company sounded very dated; very "70s." I freely admit I didn't get it at all. What was this show even about? I also thought the lady who played Joanne (Elaine Stritch) had a terrible voice, and I had no clue what "The Ladies Who Lunch" was even about.

Sunday was a bit more enjoyable for me. There were some tunes I liked, but I found much of the score too busy for my tastes.

I liked West Side Story a lot, and greatly enjoyed Leonard Bernstein's music. I remember hearing the score before I saw the movie, and thought the song "Maria" was so repetitive as far as lyrics went. "Why does he keep repeating 'Maria'?" Oh, how dumb I was! Yet when I saw the song in context in the film, I thought it was one of the most moving things I had ever seen. The sheer simplicity, yet great power, of it still astounds me, and it's a song I now adore. Although the sad ending bothered me at the time, I did like the story and the lessons within it very much.

Yet in spite of my weak first impressions of these scores, I felt strangely compelled to keep listening to them, and as I did so, I began to appreciate and understand more about them. I began to pay more attention to the lyrics. It's true, for example, that it took me a while to appreciate or understand what Company was about, but I liked much of the music, and as time went by, began to glean deeper meaning from the lyrics. Now I know what a groundbreaking musical it was, and the deep insight Sondheim gives relationships and marriage is beyond fascinating to me.

Some of the dark wit in Sweeney Todd eventually resonated with me, and I found many of the songs, including "The Barber and His Wife" and "Pretty Women" so moving.

This time in my life was especially difficult and frought with confusion, depression, frustration, and angst, and I very distinctly remembering how the song "Move On" from Sunday in the Park with George seemed to speak to my heart directly. I felt like Sondheim had gotten inside my soul and spoken directly to me. I listened to that specific song over and over.

Eventually I became such a fan of Sweeney Todd that I begged my theatre professor to do it the next year and spent the summer ardently campaigning for it. In retrospect, we had neither the talent or maturity to pull it off, and it would have been a major bomb in that particular community, but I knew none of that at the time.

I bought the record and listened to it again and again and again and was obsessed with it. I made my mom watch it (her reaction was similiar to my first reaction, but I think she appreciates it much more now). I bought my own copies of the albums for Sunday in the Park and Company as well.

Our theatre department ended up doing The Pirates of Penzance as our musical, and I thought "Gilbert and Sullivan over Sondheim?! You've got to be kidding!"

As I studied his lyrics and watch productions of Sondheim's shows, I began to see how much they taught me about life and the human condition, and how much certain lyrics seemed to relate to me specifically. It took many more years of listening to his music to really appreciate the deepness and complexity of the compositions themselves.

As life went on, I collected more and more of his scores, devouring them (although, again, I admit, I did not always like his stuff on a first listen; I did not care for Pacific Overtures, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, or Follies the first time I heard them. I'm a hug fan of all three now). I thought A Little Night Music was okay, although I remember very much liking "Every Day A Little Death," which still remains one of my very favorite Sondheim compositions.

I thought Merrily We Roll Along was brilliant and moving the very first time I heard it, and although it is rarely done (and bombed on Broadway), it is probably my second favorite Sondheim score (Sweeney being the first; although they are so very different, it's hard to compare). I also remember loving Assassins the first time I heard it, both because it dealt with a subject that I found very interesting and because I liked the dark humor in it. Plus the music was terrific. I also enjoyed Anyone Can Whistle.

As the years have gone by, I have become a huge fan and connoisseur of Sondheim and his music. I've written him three letters in my life, all of which he answered personally. My first letter to him was a fawning fan letter telling him what a genius I thought he was. I sent it through his music publisher, and a week later I got a small letter from New York. At the time I didn't know anyone in New York and wondered who it could be from. When I opened it and discovered that it was from Mr. Sondheim himself (on his personal stationary no less), I was elated and amazed that he not only took the time to write back, but did so so promptly.

And what was written in his letter? Only three sentences, which I still remember (because I often take that letter out and reread it): "Dear [Cody], what a terrific letter! Thank you. It made my day." Signed by Stephen Sondheim himself. I once made Stephen Sondheim's day!!!

The other two letters were written while I was doing my senior project in my last year of my undergraduate. A friend of mine were doing a show about Stephen Sondheim and his work, and I wrote him to ask for some advice, and he wrote me back and asked me to report on how it went. So I wrote him again, and he wrote me back.

I have great esteem and admiration for the man. He just came out with a book, Finishing the Hat, which I've started reading and love. In conjunction with his book, he has been touring various places. One of those places, luckily, will be Salt Lake City on February 1. I bought tickets immediately, and Jonah and I will be attending what is being called "An Evening with Stephen Sondheim" where he will be interviewed and talk about his work (and likely field questions). I am thrilled to finally see my hero and idol up close. It's something I always hoped I would do, and as Mr. Sondheim gets older, I realized the chances were getting slimmer, so I'm very, very excited.

I could write a whole blog about Stephen Sondheim, let alone a post, and a lot of you out there probably haven't been interested enough to get this far. But I love the guy and am so eager to finally see him in person, and I just wanted you all to know.

Here's to you, Stephen Sondheim! Here's to you!

Thursday, December 09, 2010

A Talk You Don't Hear Every Day

About two weeks ago I got a telephone call from a woman who was giving a talk in church on the following Sunday. She wanted to speak on an issue that was troubling here greatly: how church members and leaders treat gay people in the church. Apparently, she was having trouble sorting her thoughts, and because she is straight herself, she wanted a gay person's perspective on the subject, and I guess a mutual friend recommended she talk to me.

We had a rather lengthy conversation. I learned that the ward she would be speaking in was in Utah County, one of the most conservative areas in a conservative state. As she spoke with me, I could tell she was very torn by this issue and that she was quite troubled by the talk Boyd K. Packer had given in last General Conference. She was quite nervous about giving this talk, but felt this was an issue that needed to be addressed.

I personally talked a lot about how, regardless of how the Church handles this issue, I just wish that members of the church realized this issue probably touches them and affects them more than they think it does; that there are gay people all around them without their even knowing it, and that if some of them would put away some of their preconceived notions of what it even means to be gay, they would find a new world opened up to them.

As this woman talked about some of her ideas, I did feel some concern for her as I felt some of her ideas challenged church teachings and the words said by General Authorities, and I wondered how her local leaders (especially in Utah County) would react. At the same time, as someone who is not allowed to speak in my own ward, part of me felt good that maybe some of the things I feel and would like to be heard might actually be heard across the pulpit through this woman.

I mostly talked about how I wished people were just more educated about homosexuality and would reserve more love and less judgment toward their gay brothers and sisters. In any case, we had a nice talk, I advised her to pray about what she was going to say and then whatever she felt inspired to say would probably be good. I also asked her to tell me how it went.

Well, she called me yesterday and said she had been very nervous about giving the talk and became even more so when it was announced that a visiting General Authority (someone in the Sunday School Presidency, I believe) was in attendance. Anyway, she gave the talk and was very pleased with the reception it got. Although she did see some people bristling as she gave the talk, she had a woman with a gay sister and a gay man come up to her afterward and compliment her on the talk. The gay man also stated that it had been the first time he had heard such a positive talk towards members of the church with "same-sex attraction." The bishop said he felt they had learned some things, and the other speaker said kind things as well. The woman received a lot of complimentary praise for her talk and said she didn't encounter anybody who was put off by it (at least none that she was aware of).

I told her I was glad she had had a positive experience and applauded her for taking a stand on an issue that I think gets pushed aside too often. I'm just glad it went well.

Among some of the things she shared were the Stuart Matis suicide (I guess she knew Stuart's sister) and how a talk Stuart's sister gave deeply affected her in a positive way.

She talked about her cousin, who was gay, and how her family had been very accepting of him when people in his own ward had not been very kind to him. Upon discovering he was gay, supposed friends of his mother said he was no longer welcome in their house.

She talked about some of the controversial aspects of President Packer's talk and what some of the General Authorities have said about "same-sex attraction." She talked about how the changes President Packer made to his talk after giving it infer that the Proclamation to the Family is a guide more than a revelation. She talked about recent statements the LDS Church has given on showing more love to its gay members.

She highlighted that "we are to show love and compassion to people with same-sex attraction whether they agree with us or not or whether they live the way we think they should or not."

She talked about Marlin Jensen's visit the Oakland, California Stake and the love he expressed regarding gay members and his apology for any hurt that had been caused.

She shared a story about when her cousin introduced his boyfriend to his mom and dad, his dad hugged the boyfriend. The boyfriend broke down in tears, saying, "I never thought a man from Utah County would ever hug me."

Another story she shared was about a son who came out to his mom, but was worried about how his dad would respond, so he wrote him a letter. After reading the letter, the dad was very upset and depressed. The mother reminded the father that "Our son is still our son and we need to love and support him for who he is, not for who we wish he was. The father looked at her and said, "I’m not upset about what you think I’m upset about. I’m not sad or angry that our son is gay — I will always love him the same. What I’m sad about is that I just found out that my son has been suffering all these years alone, and he didn’t feel comfortable enough to come to me so I could be there to support him through this."

She talked about ways in which members can show more love to gay people. One way is simply realizing that there are, indeed, gay people around them and how they talk about and refer to gay people will affect them, either positively or negatively. Another is to understand that regardless of what individual members believe or think, they don't know really what it is like to be in a gay person's shoes unless they have lived that themselves. So members must be compassionate and nonjudgmental.

She asked the following rhetorical questions: "Do we make jokes and off-hand comments when we think we’re just with our friends? Do we pass along stereotypes about gay people and how we think they are or what we think they’re like? Do we make comments in church and write things on the internet that we would never say to someone’s face? If we had a friend who was gay and we didn’t know it, would they feel safe enough to tell us and come to us for support? Some gay people have been rejected by their families, and their ward family IS their only support."

She said, "When we were baptized as members of this church, we made a covenant to 'bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light, to mourn with those that mourn, and to comfort those in need of comfort.' (Mosiah 18) If we are to be like our Savior and show unconditional love, it means just that—love without any conditions placed on it."

She closed with the following questions: "How are we going to treat people? Who are we going to be? Who do we GET to be?"

Anyway, I'm glad it went well for her, and I hope it opened some minds and hearts.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Testimony

Another rather undynamic meeting at church today. Usually I enjoy testimony meeting, as there is often something said that inspires or moves me. Most of the testimonies just felt tired and uninspired to me today. I know that sounds awful to say. It's not like testimony meeting is supposed to be about entertaining Cody, but it just felt like many of the same people saying the same things. I'm always interested in hearing more from people who never get up to bear their testimonies. I want to hear how they feel and what they have to say. Unfortunately, they rarely get up to do so.

We sang "Joy to the World" as one of our congregational hymns, and I just didn't feel much joy coming from anybody. I guess that's kind of how testimony meeting felt, too. It just kind of felt like people were getting up out of obligation than a real desire to share their testimonies. Of course, it's entirely possible that it was my own attitude that was making me feel that way.

However, one thing did happen that touched me somewhat. A kid got up to bear his testimony. He's probably about 14 or 15. Anyway, he's a pretty bright, articulate kid. The testimony itself was more of a "thankimony" (which I don't really mind), and he talked about how he admired some of the older kids in his Boy Scout troop, mentioning them specifically by name, and it made me think about what really good youth we seem to have in my home ward.

But what touched me was that he challenged his friend to bear his testimony. His friend is not as bright, and is a little slow, and it's interesting to me that these boys are even friends at all, but they are, and for some reason the fact that these two boys with seemingly little in common are such good friends touches me somehow. After the second boy gave a very simple testimony, the first boy "high-fived" him, and I was just moved by the love these two boys share for one another. That was probably the most moving thing that I witnessed the entire meeting.

Another girl went up to bear her testimony, but only got her name out and was too freaked out to continue. Our bishop, who was the last to speak, noted to her specifically that even though she didn't say much, we could all feel of her spirit. I felt very prompted to go up to her after the meeting and say, "It takes a lot of courage to get up and bear your testimony. You should be very proud of yourself." She said, "I got scared." I replied, "It's okay. We all get scared from time to time. What's important was that you tried, and regardless of what you said, we felt of your spirit." I just wanted her to know she had no reason to feel dumb or ashamed. Too many people in life try to mock others or make them feel less than they really are. I try and hope I succeed in building others up. I don't know if my words were of any help to her or whether she even needed them; I only wanted to make her feel good about what she might have viewed as a failure. Because I didn't feel she failed at all. I commend her for getting up at all. So many people don't even do that, and I guess now that I actually am unable to do so in Sacrament Meeting, I realize somewhat how much we take the act of simply bearing a testimony for granted.

Anyway, that's what I wanted to write about today.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Opening The Door

Suppose your whole life there was a door before you and everyone told you that what was behind it was terrible and evil and that you shouldn't open it and furthermore, if you did open it, all sorts of terrible things would happen to you.



And let's say you believed it. You believed that if you opened this door, you would find nothing but horror and guilt and misery behind it. The fear that everyone created around you in relation to this door made you so scared to open the door.

But let's say that you had such a strong, uncontrollable desire to open the door, and no matter what you did to suppress or eradicate those desires, you felt not just a desire, but an actual need to open the door. You actually thought if you didn't open the door, you would die; and yet nearly everyone around you was telling you that if you did open the door, you would die.

And let's say one day you fearfully put your hand on the knob of the door, feeling a great sense of trepidation and guilt and confusion, and yet at the same time, a feeling that not only should you open the door, but that it was actually right and good to do so.

And let's say you finally open the door, expecting to find the calamities of the world ready to pounce upon you and feed upon your very soul when, instead, you discover that what is behind the door is not at all what people told you was behind the door.



No, what is behind the door turns out to be a place filled with more love, beauty, and freedom than you could have even imagined. You discover that what is behind the door makes you more happy than you ever thought possible. It isn't at all bad like people led you to believe it would be; quite the opposite - behind that door you have found the most beautiful place you could ever reside, and it is a place you never want to leave.



And living there, you ask yourself, "Why was I so scared to open the door? Why did I believe all the awful things I was told about what was behind the door? Why did I let fear overshadow the love and joy I have discovered behind the door?"



I remember a distinct moment early in my relationship with Jonah which I wrote about here. We were on vacation at Disneyland and were quite innocently lying in bed together. I had recently confessed to Jonah that I had feelings for him, but was still very confused about how to deal with them. As I said in my post, "...in the morning when we woke up, Jonah started holding me, and I let him because I had wanted that all along. It just felt so nice to be held by someone I loved who loved me. It felt right, and I didn’t feel guilty. We cuddled for a bit, and he tussled my hair for a while, and I really enjoyed that... ...I just felt so happy to be in his arms."

I remember feeling so good being in his arms, but still fighting the feeling that it felt right and good because I had been told for so long that it wasn't. It took a while to let myself "walk through the door," and heaven praise Jonah for being patient and understanding and compassionate enough to stick around while I decided whether or not I actually wanted to go through the door.

Well, I'm through the door, baby, and all I can say is, I'm so, so glad I opened the door. I have absolutely no regrets in doing so. None.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

50 Things I Love

This is a companion piece to yesterday's post. This list was a lot easier to make than yesterday's list of 50 things I don't like. I guess that says something about me. Again, in no particular order:

1. Jonah. Really. :-)
2. Getting my haircut
3. The taste of chocolate
4. The sound of a child's laugh. There is such an innocence and purity to it.
5. Bananas
6. The smell of coffee. I actually like the taste, too.
7. The original Star Wars trilogy, particularly The Empire Strikes Back.
8. My family. They are great. My mom is one of my best friends.
9. Animals
10. Mika. Thanks to his "Grace Kelly" being my ringtone, answering the phone (which I do not like) has become more pleasurable.
11. Watching people who really know how to dance. Probably because it's something I'm not very good at myself. I particularly enjoy watching ballet.
12. Acting. I love, love, love it! I have a hard time imagining doing anything else more fulfilling as a career.
13. Watching a really brilliant piece of theatre or a really great movie or TV show.
14. Creativity
15. The combination of chocolate and peanut butter. Whoever originally came up with that should get a free pass to heaven just for that, in my opinion.
16. Playing games.
17. Wit or humor that is based in cleverness
18. The TV show "Lost." I thought it was brilliant.
19. Egg yolks. Mmmmmmm!
20. Gravy. Mmmmmm!
21. The Harry Potter series. Again, brilliant.
22. Kindness
23. Being out of the closet. It has made life so, so much easier and more joyful.
24. People who love rather than judge
25. Sushi. I notice a lot of these are food. Hmm.
26. Eating. Might as well just say it, huh?
27. Musicals. Yes, I'm gay.
28. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. It's one of my favorite books. I read it almost every year.
29. My Heavenly Father and my Savior. Good thing these are in no particular order.
30. Redemption. It's a theme I love to see in books, movies, and life.
31. Learning. I loved school (well, except junior high, but that had nothing to do with the learning aspect of it)
32. Biographies. I love reading about other people's lives.
33. Trivia. My mind is filled with more of this than anything else, unfortunately.
34. Music. Oh, my gosh, I don't know what I would do without music! I'd rather go blind than deaf.
35. Dissonance. In line with the preceding, dissonant chords are my favorite.
36. Christmas
37. The color purple. Not the book, movie, or musical, but the actual color (although I quite like the book and movie (the musical, not as much)).
38. People who are interested in having thought-provoking, deep conversations. If you just want to talk about the weather, I'm not your guy.
39. Symbolism
40. The sound of a violin. Listen to the theme of Schindler's List, for example, and tell me that's not a hauntingly beautiful sound.
41. The avocado eggrolls at The Cheesecake Factory. Yes, again more food, but they are delicious.
42. Really soft cat fur
43. Smooth surfaces
44. Challenges
45. Optimism
46. The miracles of technology.
47. Sleeping. I. Love. To. Sleep.
48. The quiet, muffled sound that comes with snow.
49. Along the same lines, I love the actual sound of silence. Yes, my friends, silence has a sound.
50. History

50 Things I Am Not Fond Of

I've seen variations of this on other people's blogs, so I thought I'd contribute my own. In no particular order:

1. Learning choreography. I don't dislike dancing, but because dancing doesn't come naturally to me, learning dance steps is always more frustrating than fun.
2. People who talk too loudly in places I think should be more quiet (i.e movie theaters, libraries, backstage during shows, etc.)
3. Cell phones. I think they are a necessary evil. I resisted getting one for a very long time and use it sparingly now that I have one.
4. Talking on the phone, period. I'd rather talk face-to-face.
5. Making small talk at parties, especially with people I've just met. Sooooo uncomfortable, although I'm getting better at it.
6. Soggy bread. This is ironic since I enjoy dipping bread in gravy or spaghetti sauce, but if bread gets wet with water, forget it! It's a textural thing.
7. Rude people. I think we can afford to be more polite to each other.
8. The fact that no matter what line I get in at the checkout counter, it's always the one with the longest waiting time.
9. My innate laziness. I could get so much more done in life if I would just work harder.
10. Bodily fluids. They gross me out somewhat.
11. People who look for reasons to get offended.
12. Narrow-mindedness.
13. Inconsiderate people at the movies. I swear, I wish I had my own screening studio.
14. Slow internet service
15. Doing anything mechanical. I am inept.
16. Exercise. It makes me feel better and makes me more fit, but I don't enjoy doing it.
17. People who try to force their belief system on other people.
18. "Girls Gone Wild" commercials. They are tacky and sexist.
19. Scraping frost off my windshield.
20. People who speed up when you put on your turn signal.
21. Driving in blizzards or in rain at night.
22. Bruised or mushy bananas. Again, a textural thing.
23. Divas. I don't care how talented you are or how talented you think you are, if you're not treating those around you with respect, I'm not a fan.
24. Going to the dentist. I feel like my mouth is being raped!
25. The sound of metal scraping against metal or concrete. It's "nails on a chalkboard" for me.
26. Bratty kids
27. Getting up too early
28. The Barenaked Ladies. Every time I hear one of their songs on the radio, I switch the station. Every time. I. Can't. Stand. Them.
29. Looking for a parking spot at the University of Utah.
30. Being sick. I turn into the most pathetic human being on earth when it happens. I pity who has to tolerate me when it happens.
31. Sports. Sorry, sports fans. I just couldn't care less about the games you seem to find so fascinating. You probably feel the same way about the Tonys, so I guess we're even.
32. People trying to carry on a conversation with me while I'm trying to read. It's not that I have anything against you; I'm just...well, I'm just trying to read here.
33. People who want to be very conversational with me when I'm flying or riding public transportation. I don't mind a "hi" or a smile, but it's rare that I meet someone on a plane or a bus that I really want to chat with.
34. Overly-bitter olives
35. Being in the mood for chocolate and only being able to find "crap" candy like Skittles and suckers and Jolly Ranchers
36. Washing dishes. I'd actually rather clean the toilet bowl. Honestly.
37. Spencer and Heidi Pratt. Why are they even famous?
38. Being a Democrat in a very Republican state
39. Potty humor. It's not at all what makes me laugh.
40. Hypocrisy, although I can be guilty of it as well.
41. The fact that I eat when I'm bored rather than eating because I'm actually hungry.
42. My lack of motivation. There are so many things I would like to do, but just can't seem to motivate myself to actually do them.
43. People who use religion as a way to oppress or show hate. That flabbergasts me.
44. Dry heaving. I'd rather just throw up.
45. Allergies
46. Crowds
47. Spicy food
48. When the inside of my ear or the back of my throat itches. Because, really, what can you do?
49. Arrogance
50. Being too cold. Being hot is annoying, but being cold is physically painful to me.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Feeling Sad

I just found out that a friend of mine from college and his daughter were killed in an automobile accident today. Such a good man. His wife and his two other children are in serious condition. Death doesn't typically bother me because I believe this life is just a short moment in the eternal scheme of things, but sudden deaths are always the hardest for me. One minute you're full of life, enjoying your Thanksgiving Day; the next, your gone from this earth. It's just sad.

I've been a bit down anyway because I've been missing Jonah terribly. We've been apart for about two and a half months now, and our last time together was a mere week and a half. I won't see him until Christmas Eve, and then I'll only get two and a half days with him until I start work again in Utah. I'm grateful to be employed, of course, but it sucks to be apart sometimes. Fortunately, I foresee that I'll have nothing lined up for February and at least part of March, so that will give us some time together.

I can tell Jonah's a bit down, too (not just because of the separation, but other factors as well). It's unusual for us both to be down at the same time. Anyway, this, too, shall pass.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Coming Out

This is where I told somebody for the first time, out loud, that I was gay:



I don't remember where we were seated precisely, although if memory serves, it was the middle of the back row. What I do remember was that it felt like my darkest, most horrible secret had finally come to light, and I felt the heaviness of the world lifted off of me. I wept and wept and wept because I was glad that somebody finally knew what I had been keeping locked away for so many years.

I was fortunate that the person I told was completely loving and accepting and nonjudgmental (and, it turned out, was gay herself). I know God helped me find her friendship at this very critical juncture in my life partially because she really helped me through a lot in dealing with my sexuality.

At the time I told her, being gay seemed like such a terrible, awful thing to be. I felt like the most perverse, misunderstood, lonely human being on the face of the earth. After telling her, I began to realize I wasn't (although I still had a lot of uphill climbing to do in dealing with my sexuality).

Today I am so happy to be who I am and grateful for where I am in my life. I am a beautiful, wonderful person who has been blessed so abundantly.

It really does get better.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Beautiful!

I thought this post by another blogger out there was especially touching.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

My Stake President Is Awesome

I guess I should say "former Stake President" since I'm technically no longer a member of the LDS Church, but I just consider him my Stake President. He just wanted to meet with me to see how I'm doing and to express his love for me. He said that no one can know what it's like to be in someone else's shoes or to trod the road that he or she has trod, but that the most important thing was to make sure our relationship with our Savior and Heavenly Father remained intact and strong. I feel that is the case.

He said he admired my example and said he knows things have occurred in the Church that could easily have made someone in my shoes angry or bitter or combative, but that he's glad I have chosen a different attitude. I said I don't always agree with how church leaders handle specific issues, but that I still believe they come from a place of love and concern and that I still have a great love for the religion in which I was brought up. He said that no matter how I feel about the church or what decisions I make regarding it, he will always love me, and I know he meant it. I feel the same way.

He said one thing that has always stuck with him was that he has always admired the fact that Jonah and I have only been with one another sexually and that we waited until after our commitment ceremony to consummate our relationship. He said that he really admires that. I'm proud of that, too. I don't judge anybody who chooses differently, but it felt right for me, and I'm glad my relationship with Jonah is what it is.

My Stake President asked how I was doing. I told him I was very well and was very happy. I told him I have no regrets about the choices I have made. He was happy I was happy.

He asked me how others have responded to my choices. I said that for the most part people have been very supportive. He said he was glad, but also advised me that if anyone ever does say anything unkind or offensive that I still have the ability to choose how I will react to that; that people are imperfect and sometimes do and say careless things, but what is most important is that my relationship with the Lord remain solid and that I not put their imperfections on him. I said that ultimately I can't control how people to respond to me or how I live my life. I can only live my life the best way I know how, and although I can't control how those around me may react, I can control my own reaction and my attitude towards them.

It was a really good talk. I know this man genuinely cares about me. I remember before I was excommunicated, my Stake President expressed hopes that our relationship wouldn't be negatively affected; that our love and friendship would remain strong. I told him it would. And it has.

I have been very fortunate in my association with local leaders (bishops and stake presidents) during much of the course of my life. I've had some really good men counsel me, and in many cases, they have become more than just leaders to me. They have become and have remained friends. I know some people who haven't been as lucky.

My Stake President is a great man. I love him a lot. I'm grateful we had the opportunity to talk today.

I wrote another post today, too. It follows this one.

I Should Have Gone To Brunch

This morning I had an opportunity to go to brunch with some of my cast mates and crew members of the show I'm currently rehearsing. Instead I decided to go to to church, as I usually do. I made the wrong call.

Church, particularly Sacrament Meeting, was mind-numbingly boring today. In fact, if it is possible to be bored to death, I'd say I was pretty close. I think I actually felt I lost a few minutes of precious life today.

Before you give me some of the standard answers I've heard before (i.e., "Well, what did you do to prepare to receive the Spirit today?", "Church is not designed for entertainment, but for worship," "Not every meeting can be a home run," etc.), let me say that I enjoy going to church the majority of the time, but I do not understand why LDS church meetings have to be so dull and uninspired at times. And I actually think my ward that I attend is one of the better ones, but in my history of attending many LDS wards throughout my life, I have seen a lot of lackluster meetings, and I don't quite understand why it has to be that way.

I have heard some outstanding talks in my day and have participated in some very thought-provoking, spiritual lessons, but more often than not, I find that church meetings can come off as somewhat monotonous and boring. I feel sorry for these teachers who come in with a well-prepared lesson only to be greeted by silence or the occasional "Sunday School answer." (Believe you me, I would comment if I could, but my excommunication precludes that). And why do the majority of LDS congregants insist on celebrating the worship of their Lord by singing hymns as if they were funeral dirges? I stopped attending Priesthood years ago because it was week after week after week of unprepared, uninspired lessons, and I simply decided I had better uses for my time. And why do 80% of high council members seem unable to give a good talk? Is it one of the requisites of being called to that position? (In their defense, I think over the years they have gotten better. When I was younger it seemed more like 95%.) And why are church meetings so often conducted like board meetings rather than worship services?

I think worship service can be so much more dynamic, inspiring, and spiritual than it sometimes is. There have been some great talks in General Conferences before; why can't that same fervent energy and instruction exist on a local level, too?

Shouldn't part of worship be celebrating our Savior and our Heavenly Father and creating an environment where the Spirit can freely flow. At the end of two of the most uninspired, tired talks I have heard in some time, the first counselor got up and said a usual, "We're thankful for our speakers. We have felt the Spirit here today," and I just thought, "Have we felt it as strongly as we could have if the speakers had been more dynamic or if the congregation had been more present and spiritually prepared?" I'm not excusing myself. Perhaps I could have been more spiritually present and in tune myself. Maybe I would have more strongly felt the same Spirit the counselor alluded to if I had been more in tune. But I've come to church many a time ready and willing to learn something; having an open mind, heart, and spirit, only to be greeted by an unprepared teacher or speaker or one who doesn't know how to engage his or her listeners. My point is, it isn't always my fault.

I love those times when a really good speaker or teacher gives an especially great talk or lesson; where the participants in a lesson actually have a thought-provoking, spiritual discussion rather than just spouting canned answers; where a particular musical number is done in such a way that the Spirit reverberates throughout the room; etc. I think it can happen more often if we allow it to.

Sometimes it seems that Mormons are just kind of boring, joyless worshipers. It's as if it's a chore to be at church (and sometimes, admittedly, it is). I've attended other faiths on occasion. Some I have enjoyed greatly; others not so much. The ones I've enjoyed most were the ones where there was joy and electricity in the air or when a particular sermon was given that touched my soul. I wish there was more of that in organized religion. I think we should strive for that more. Shouldn't worshiping and learning be joyful events and cause for celebration? I think they should be; otherwise I'd just like to have a joyful brunch with some good friends.