Gay And Single During The Holidays

The holidays can sometimes contain nasty triggers for feelings of loneliness and despair… reminders of feelings experienced when dealing with sexual identity.

Growing up as a kid the holidays were known to be a time for family to come together and celebrate the season, and of course each other. It was “supposed” to be a special time of the year, filled with hope and happiness, where ideally, being “together” was valued highest among all other things. Of course life happens, parents get divorced or separated, relatives and good friends leave this Earth, and the dream is sometimes crushed… often with a lot of pain associated with it. Then one year, sometimes after a lengthy pause, the season becomes special again and we celebrate with great joy. Somewhere during my upbringing, the knowledge of my sexuality threw a new variable into the equation and instead of feeling like I was a part of something, I began to feel alone… even though I was surrounded by people. Not having someone to connect with… someone to share with, while the awareness of couples and family was everywhere, was a bitter pill to swallow. Since most LGBTQ+ people experience some degree of intense isolation and fear during their lifetimes while becoming aware of their sexuality, the holidays can be a nasty reminder of darker times, especially when there’s no one special to call your own.

Thanksgiving is just days away, and although I’m in a happy longterm relationship of almost eight years with my partner Eric, the memories of being gay and single during the holidays are still fresh in my mind. I thought it would be helpful to write about this from my current perspective, not only to let others know they aren’t alone, but to validate that life is constantly evolving. Your relationship situation will most likely change eventually, but even if it doesn’t, we can focus on ways to make the holidays special for person number one… yourself. I’m almost certain that my painful desire to feel unconditionally loved and to “belong” while I was discovering who I was, makes this part of the year extra difficult at times.

“Since most LGBTQ+ people experience some degree of intense isolation and fear during their lifetimes while becoming aware of their sexuality, the holidays can be a nasty reminder of darker times, especially when there’s no one special to call your own.”

I can still remember the first New Years I spent alone after ending a relationship of almost ten years. The year before I was standing on a dance floor alone at Midnight, while my partner tried unsuccessfully to acquire champagne from a bartender. The lines for drinks were super long, and I came to the realization that while his intentions were admirable, he didn’t understand how much his presence by my side meant to me, and that the champagne could have waited until after the stroke of 12. I knew our time together was wrapping up, and the following year I found myself on the couch with my dogs, bringing in 2013 alone.

You might be visualizing this scene as tragic and dark in your head, with light of the television being the only source of illumination in the room, but nothing could have been further from the truth. Every light in the place was on, I had a bottle of champagne with a cheese plate to snack on, and I was treating myself like the king… or queen, I knew I was. I made the conscious choice to celebrate the occasion as an opportunity for new hope, opportunities and abundance, and not to wallow in self defeat. I was loving myself %100 and it felt amazing, and most importantly, empowering.

Now I would be lying if I said I never experienced a dark and lonely holiday, alone in my living room with an empty wine bottle next to me… with the only light in the room coming from the television, because I have. So I get it, I know what despair feels like… all too well. But we can also choose not to let it overpower us and bring us to our knees… because I have made that choice myself and I speak from experience. Even when things seem utterly hopeless, we can choose actions that don’t reflect what we are feeling inside, as a way to keep us afloat. This applies to any holiday you may be dreading… make the choice to do something contrary to your emotions, no matter how hard it may seem.

While I’m hoping the person reading this never has to go at the holidays alone, if you are, know that others have walked this path before… more than once. As dark as things may be, as painful as they may feel, times will eventually get better and you’ll experience joy again. Nothing in life is permanent, the Universe sees to it that everything is constantly in motion. Don’t let your emotions get the best of you, just because you can’t see the light at the end of the dark tunnel, it doesn’t mean it’s not there. If at all possible, summon up the strength to throw yourself a gala of one, or at the very least, draw courage from happiness you will most certainly enjoy in the not so distant future.

Knock Knock

Anybody there? Just really wanted to write this morning, so excuse any grammatical errors, I’m not looking to spend hours on this post like I normally do. I was just sitting here in my home office / guest room after walking the dogs, and wanted to say hello to the world. Yeah I could have gone to Facebook and posted something, but there’s a different kind of feeling here… this part of cyberspace belongs to me, it’s my blog.

I first had the idea for this blog many years ago… I purchased the domain name and it sat forever, just being an idea. I even configured the site once and it was ready to go, only to procrastinate once again, when I lost the piece of scrap paper that contained usernames and password of all things related to the site. I guess it was the Universe’s way of telling me it wasn’t time yet. I once read that when a writer wants to write, it will consume them until they do. I have to say that writing when I absolutely want to is pure joy, and I love just sitting at the computer and watching my thoughts evolve with each sentence. I think that’s one of the reasons I enjoyed watching Send And The City so much, because the lead character was a writer and the thought of sitting in my own Brownstone in NYC or even better, a Victorian style home in San Francisco overlooking the Castro, seemed like it would be such an amazing life. I still do at times, although I here San Francisco is nothing like it was when I was introduced to it almost 20 years ago.

Well that’s it for now, I just wanted to post something and not make it formal, just me… and my Sunday morning thoughts. 🙂

Advocating For Your Health and How Star Trek Ruined Medicine For Me

Last week I was placed in an unexpected situation that put me in a horrible mood for days. I’m still feeling the emotional hangover associated with all the different feelings I was experiencing… confusion, sadness, anger and even bewilderment. What caused such an emotional roller coaster? It wasn’t what you might have expected from such a broad range of human experience… it was a visit to my primary care physician. I guess it wouldn’t have sucked as much if I thought she wasn’t a good doctor, or if she was a bitch… on the contrary, she has amazing energy, is beautiful, and brilliant. She isn’t anything like the doctor I stopped seeing almost a decade ago, whom I never saw again after she loudly screamed “I don’t give a fuck what you think…” (someone even noted the screaming session in YELP). No this doctor is super kind, professional, and made me feel well looked after when I had COVID last year, when I met her during a tele-health appointment. So what made me feel the way I did? Like I didn’t feel seen? Like a statistic? Like a text book exam? Like huge assumptions were being made based on the way I look?

I’ve fought a battle with depression almost all my life. I can remember being depressed as a young child, and certainly very depressed when confronting my own sexuality in my late teens. As an adult, I had learned many coping mechanisms to deal with depression, and one of them was medication during a period of my life when I certainly needed it. I thought I was about to experience another one of those situations in 2013, when depression had gained a foothold in my life and I was being prescribed different meds… and being yelled at, by a doctor that was clearly wrestling with her own demons at the time. That was when a friend of mine suggested I get my testosterone levels checked, and sure enough, they were really low for someone my age. I found a urologist and was put on a Hormone Replacement Therapy regimen, or HRT, and it changed my life in a matter of days. Suddenly it felt like a fog was lifted, and I was seeing colors I’ve never seen before…. life was amazing. I was incredibly surprised since being pretty muscular, I thought my testosterone was just fine. I didn’t realize you could be jacked, and have messed up hormones at the same time.

Almost ten years has gone by since that day, and I continue utilizing HRT as a part of my daily life. I get blood work done every six months to make sure I’m addressing any of the inherent risk factors associated with HRT, and so far so good. Which is why it came as a complete shock to me that my primary care doctor suggested I stop HRT, abandon all the associated benefits with it (people with low testosterone can experience a variety of health issues), and go on anti-depressants. Seriously? I mean what the fuck? I was shocked because she even suggested in running my testosterone blood work again last the time I saw her, when I said I was often experiencing fatigue… also a sign of low testosterone. After my blood work results came back with a number of 125 (with not taking my medication for two days), which is well below the testosterone scale starting point of 300 for men according to the American Urological Association, I thought she would consider consider possibly changing the transport method of the medication. Nope. Instead she explained that I was getting older, and I needed to consider the possible side effects of such a medicine. Oh wow… yeah she said it… “you’re getting older.” Even more oh wow because she just prescribed me Crestor, which has death among an entire list of potentially serious side-effects… like a shit load of them. Holy shit I felt like I was being put out to pasture… I’m 50 now and there’s no reason I need testosterone… here’s some big pharma drug with its own issues… I might as well be put on happy pills with additional side effects, because it doesn’t matter that what you’re doing now is actually working for you. Yeah, it’s actually fucking working for me. I wasn’t even sure why she ordered the labs in the first place if she wasn’t going to do anything about it.

“I’m just tired of feeling like I need to stuck up for myself every time I see a doctor… it shouldn’t feel like a war, it should like they’re on your side. You should be a part of the team that’s evaluating you, not feel like someone being looked at through aquarium glass and being told what’s best for you.”

I was just blown away and in the worst mood for days. I felt old, I felt endocrinology insulted, I felt like as a man, someone was trying to take away my penis… seriously it fucked me up. Then my partner Eric brought something up to me that made a lot of sense, he wondered if she thought I was abusing the drug because I am a pretty muscular guy… and that made complete sense. Okay so news flash PCP, I’m the size of a fucking hobbit… I’m like Mike of the Miami Shire… in other words, I’m short as hell. It’s soooooooo easy to build muscle when you’re short, and I’ve been accused of taking roids for decades now. My first urologist ever even plead with me to come clean about steroid use because he said the insurance company wont pay for the test if my blood work comes back high. When I told him I didn’t take steroids, he told me again and again, so you see, that’s how I’ve always looked. Of course I’m gay too, so that doesn’t help… because many gay men take roids in order to look just like their super hero crushes when they were young. The entire thing just pissed me off and I realized part of the reason I was so pissed, is that I’m tired of having to advocate for my health so fucking often. Where are the doctors that actually have your back?

I have the worst luck with medical providers… there’s fellow hobbit angry lady (at least I didn’t have to look up at her), homophobic Christian Coalition former military doctor that said I have an STD, puts me on Herpes meds and then tells me “…sorry they’re just common fever blisters in your mouth…” after test results return, a pill pushing psychiatrist that was angered I wasn’t filling my Xanax scripts, a dental assistant that grabbed my arm and squeezed it painfully while scolding me and saying “Don’t scream, you raise your hand, there are other patients here!” (she actually ended up fracturing the tooth and it had to be pulled, she thought it was a crown and didn’t check the xrays), homophobic doctor at Baptist Hospital ER that didn’t want to treat an accidental HIV exposure (a lab tech even whispered instructions to me and emphasized the need for treatment), and then my last doctor…. who was so fucking amazing she got promoted and now I can’t see her anymore (she looked fabulous with her hair blown out… like Dr. Torres in Grey’s Anatomy). I’m just tired of feeling like I need to stick up for myself every time I see a doctor… it shouldn’t feel like a war, it should feel like they’re on your side. You should be a part of the team that’s evaluating you, not feel like someone being looked at through aquarium glass and being told what’s best for you.

Mike Robert - The Geek With Muscles

So now I have a dilemma… should I keep my current doctor and explain my feelings and somehow invest in a medical relationship built on trust? Or do I look for someone else, like a male doctor that knows how to treat a prostate infection (angry hobbit did not). Do male patients need male doctors? In such a time of gender fluidity, is that even a real concern anymore? The problem being is that as a gay man, I’m not comfortable with many male doctors, having the experience I did with church going navy doc in my early 20’s. I just want someone like…. Dr. Beverly Crusher!!!! OMG Where the fuck is the present day equivalent of Beverly Crusher?!?! Seriously do I have to wait 400 more years? It’s getting harder and harder to find virgin males as it is. I just don’t have a clue of what to do next… I’m very open to advice in the comments please.

One to transport Jordi, I need a full medical diagnostic please.

The Awareness of 50

I was walking my dog the other morning, and by chance, ran into my friend Alex while he was also walking his dog. It’s been a while since I’ve seen Alex, and his little Yorkie was doing what little dogs do… barking at my two dogs with a combined weight of 140lbs. Alex’s Yorkie is the second dog he’s had in the 16 plus years since I first met him, right after our neighboring condominiums had just completed construction. We seldom get to spend the time we’d like with each other, and as countless times before, made a commitment to visit with one another soon. Although this promise seemed somewhat different this time… it had much more energy and sincerity behind it. Before we parted our ways and pulled our very curious dogs away from each other, I told Alex that if COVID has taught us anything, it’s that we need to stay in touch. Heading back home I realized that while there was much truth in my statement, the larger awareness came with my 50th birthday seven months ago, and wondering where the time had gone. Suddenly career opportunities have turned into retirement seminars and workshops, and the friends that used to date like they were renting cars, are now grandparents. The awareness of my age is everywhere, and I’m trying to make some sense of it.

Geek With Muscles
Everyone needs at least one crazy look pic… or three.

I think one of the first things that’s really starting to kick in at 50, is how cool my life has been. While I had my own version of a mid-life crisis, it didn’t seem to last all that long. Yeah, it was very real and significant to me, and I felt like I was seriously running out of time, but it also seemed to end as fast as it started. Just yesterday I was thinking of starting my acting career up again, and how I would feel totally comfortable being 80, and accepting an academy award… it was like suddenly it was time for Life 2.0. This concept of “re-booting” my reality isn’t new to me, I’ve felt it before and not that long ago, however this time it feels completely different. There’s much more momentum in these daydreams than ever before, and how cool is it that I can even make a statement like that? How totally cool is it that I’ve been on movie sets, I know what it’s like to audition for film and television, I know what it’s like to have an agent…. fuck that’s totally cool!! And while acting has been a really wonderful and educational experience for me, it’s just one of many that I feel incredibly blessed to have lived. Why stop now? I’m gonna age regardless of what happens, so I might as well be doing something fun while the time goes by.

“…the only thing I’m absolutely certain about, is that I don’t have all the answers.”

Mike Robert – A totally cool dude.

I’ve noticed recently that turning 50 has made me appreciate art in ways that I haven’t ever before. All kinds of art, from poetry to painting, to sculpture to videography… I’m so much more aware of the effort and process involved in creating, even though I’ve personally tried them all. It just seems like there’s this heightened sense of the pureness in one’s art, and I’m totally digging it. It’s like discovering that fries dipped in a Wendy’s Frosty are pretty damn amazing, and all your friends are like “you just figured this out?” This past June I volunteered to videotape a poetry reading, and I was pretty amazed during the editing process, how much I enjoyed the material itself… the poems, the soul of the work, and the perspective of the author. Today, just hours ago, I had another poetry experience while listening to NPR in the car. I was totally into it and felt the once familiar sensation of visiting San Francisco, and being immersed in a city that seemed to appreciate all aspects of creating. Listening to the show was inspirational, and the reason I decided to finish this blog post I started earlier in the week. Because you know, like the poet I was listening to, I’m also a writer and couldn’t resist to feel like one once again. How cool is that? I’m a writer!

The biggest change in my awareness has to be what I already alluded to in the beginning of this post…. the importance of friends and family, and acknowledging the contributions they have made to my life. I have always been a people person, but it’s so completely different now. I find myself thinking about how blessed I am to have had a singular conversation with a person at one point in time, and how much that interaction meant to me. It doesn’t matter if they were a close friend, a mere acquaintance or someone I barely knew, I just find it so important to tell them that I appreciate the awareness of them in my life. Of course for people that I have regular communication with, I have had to hold back for fear of smothering them… at times I just want to shout out loud “Thank you for being in my life!!!” And that would be completely awkward to say the least. Still, the desire to acknowledge others continues to grow within me, and I am finding creative ways to let people know they are amazing, or that I love them, in one way or another. However, this newfound appreciation for elevated communication also seems to include speaking my truth, so I’m not opposed to telling others “fuck off, you’re an asshole” when it’s absolutely deserved.

Spirituality plays a huge part of my 50 awareness, as I’ve become increasingly comfortable about letting other’s know that I am an intuitive. Yeah, I’m basically a psychic and I’m not ashamed to discuss or talk about it any longer… and I’m pretty darn good at it too. Through my adult life I’ve been blessed to have attended talks hosted by spiritual leaders, and mostly by chance. Very little planning if any went into these chance occurrences, many of them were as simple as answering an invite, as if to see a movie. I’ve been blessed to have seen the Dalai Llama, Eckart Tolle and even shared the stage with Abraham Hicks. In fact my entire life seems like it’s been one spiritual journey after another… I explored being a Mormon as a pre-teen, and then chose to Baptized as a Southern Baptist when I was 14. I started reading Angel Cards over 20 years ago, and now consider myself a mixture of almost every religion, but identify mostly as Neo Pagan. So going to Church for me is a visit to the Florida Everglades, and I’m incredibly aware and sensitive to lunar and solar cycles. I have never felt more connected to the Universe than I do today, and at times my world is a never ending conversation with energies through signs and interactions with fellow intuitive peoples. Each and every day is a new experience and I’m thoroughly enjoying the ride. People often come to me with lots of questions, but the only thing I’m absolutely certain about, is that I don’t have all the answers.

I guess turning 50 was a pretty fabulous thing, I’m suddenly thinking about what to do with the next phase of my life, and that’s pretty exciting. I can’t believe that I’ve managed to amass so many different and unique experiences up until now, and I’m confident that I will enjoy what’s to come with even greater enthusiasm. I’m living more in “the now” than ever before, so I’m finding delight in little things like the way the sun hits the branches of Oak Trees as I’m walking the dogs in the morning. The smile of a stranger walking by brings joy to my day, and I’m looking for increasingly more things to appreciate on a daily basis. I’m also still working on the aspects of myself I’m not too proud of, so the good news is, arrogance hasn’t found its way into my heart… I hope it never does. My life long struggle against depression is still very real, and I hope these words give me strength when I need them, knowing someday I most certainly will. In the mean time I’m just trying to live my best life, help others when possible, and looking forward to the days and the weeks ahead. As my former boss and now dear friend once said to me, “Happiness is a choice…” and that has never resonated more with me than it does today. I know it sounds cliché, and I may have referenced it before, but it’s the honest truth and yet another aspect of growth that I’m enjoying immensely.

Old School Gay Men: An Endangered Species

It’s been almost twenty years since my first visit to San Francisco, a city that has always felt like a second home to me. I was in my early 30’s and eager to start exploring and traveling, something I had seldom done. I had just moved out on my own, got a promotion and started a new relationship… everything was fresh and the air was filled with possibility. Not only was San Francisco an amazing city because of the wonderful energy and history of the place, I discovered very quickly a welcoming community which today, is slowly and literally dying out… old school gay men.

So what are old school gay men? It’s basically a tight knit community who’s members witnessed and experienced the trials of the gay community, back when being gay was considered some kind of mental disorder by many. It’s the men that marched in parades and risked being beaten by police waiting at the end of the route, clubs already in hand. They are the men that attended attended funerals almost on a daily basis, during the height of the AIDS epidemic. They have seen so much progress and are deservedly very proud of it… because they made it happen.

I took this photo 18 years ago on a gay cruise in Mexico. These amazing men shared their story of love for one another, being in an interracial relationship and how hard gay life was when they first met over 35 years prior. I often think of them and the work they did for our community.

Old school gay men are quick to engage in conversation, a skill they learned when just finding other men that were gay was in of itself a challenge. Decades ago they didn’t have the luxury of being picky, and as such, learned what people were like on the inside… sitting down, listening, and learning your story was something they did on a regular basis. There weren’t any mobile phones with apps to swipe left, or ways to alter your image with digitized abdominals, Humanity was the most attractive attribute a person could have… just being you. They understood that sticking together, and being kind to one another, is very important if you’re going to effect positive change on a global scale.

I’ll never forget walking into a barber shop in San Francisco, and being warmly welcomed by everyone there, absent of the awkwardness I typically experienced when entering an unfamiliar place. I was instantly a family member just because I was gay and it was San Francisco. Waiting was a relaxing and safe experience, feeling like I was surrounded and respected by others just like me. My actual haircut also took significantly longer than it ever did in Miami, because my barber was totally engaged in conversation, telling me all about his current life circumstances. Turns out that’s what you do when you live in a true community, that’s what you do when you care… you share and you listen.

It’s 2021 now and the gay community is changing faster than ever, fueled by a more accepting and open-minded public. Gay marriage is legal, Glee was a thing, and we are even in everyday tv commercials… yet while the country is starting to open its arms, we are turning our backs on each other. There’s a new generation of “it’s okay to be gay” young adults, and they really never knew a world where their friends were disappearing on a weekly or even daily basis. While I’m thankful that our community is now living with HIV instead of dying from it, it’s hurtful to see how the legacy of community is fading away. Division among ourselves is now quickly becoming the norm, since we no longer have a common threat or even an enemy to keep us aligned.

When I look back at all the experiences I had almost two decades ago, I feel grateful that I was able to at least sample the leftovers of what used to be a cohesive family with incredibly strong bonds. Thankfully, you can still find bits and pieces of it here and there… gay chorus events are a wonderful venue for that vestigial sense of community, and there are some battles yet to be won. Still, the numbers are dwindling and what I experienced not so long ago will one day just be a memory. As sexual preference becomes less of an issue for Americans, so will our desire to spend time with those of our kind, and share the memories of how we got there.

Dealing With Post COVID Depression

It’s been six months since my experience with COVID began, but it has definitely not ended. Yes I’m back in the gym, I’m gaining more lean muscle, and my hair has grown back, yet every day seems to be another struggle to get my life back to normal. I share in the desperation of most on the planet, wanting so very bad to go back to the days of large group gatherings, movie theatres and crowded restaurants, but I also share the experience of having COVID myself… and watching so many still trying to invalidate the very cause of my experience. It’s extremely difficult seeing such a large portion of the population vocally attempt to dismiss your suffering or that of others. The simple experience of seeing an unmasked person in a small ice-cream stores says to me “I don’t care what you went through or how close you came to dying, I’m not going to do anything I don’t want to do.” Every day there are countless examples of people that couldn’t care less about my survival, or that they want to help see this end. Every day there are real word interactions with human beings that are self-centered and just plain ugly on the inside.

I read earlier this week that a British study found that survivors of COVID were more at risk for developing all kinds of brain related health issues such as strokes, dementia, anxiety and depression. This actually made me feel good, since scientifically, someone is attempting to explain and validate what I’m going through. Someone is trying to say “We hear and feel you, it’s important enough for us to take a closer look… you matter.” That’s a significant statement since over 70 million individuals made their stance clear during the last election and subsequent events… “We don’t care about what you went through, our personal freedoms are more important than the lives of hundreds of thousands that have died.” And of course it doesn’t help when members of that camp say things like “I’ve had COVID, it isn’t as bad as they say it is…” instead of professing how lucky they were to survive with minimal impacts to their health. Hearing those kinds of words from people you care about is even worse… it’s crushing.

Like I mentioned earlier I’m back at the gym and I’m exercising, trying to focus on something healthy and positive. I quit going to LA Fitness since they were a constant reminder and a prime example of a business that couldn’t care less if you died. The management there being incredibly passive with patrons that decided not to wear a mask, possibly infecting others in a very warm, moist and poorly ventilated facility. Now I at least feel somewhat looked after when an employee at YouFit tells people they need to wear a mask, and are sometimes met with shouting and bursts of anger. Still, these daily displays and self proclamations of “go fuck yourself” hurt deeply. Sometimes I find it difficult to function… after all, if people have stopped caring about human lives, why even bother?

When I was a kid, radio stations across our entire country simultaneously played the song We Are The World in an attempt to raise awareness about a food crisis in Africa. Millions of people sang together, millions of voices collectively saying “We care and we want to help.” Being exposed to that kind of outpouring of support during my formative years made a huge impact, and seems completely contradictory to what we’ve seen here with over a half million people dead in our country alone. People are actively trying to hurt others, in a effort to display their right to do so. And this kind of “Just wait and see how bad I can fuck you over…” has spilled into open displays of racism, xenophobia and homophobia. Where did all the kindness go that I experienced as a kid growing up? Was I just not seeing what was really out there? It also seems like even the movies of the time were about discovering who you were as a person, or self empowerment… not about constant death and destruction.

“Everyone that has refused to wear a mask, voted for a man that did nothing but deny this disease… and propagated his rhetoric, shares a exponential karmic debt for what they stole from me. I curse them in all directions of time and space, and wish nothing but the total despair and grief they have helped spread. They don’t deserve anything less.”

I lost my mom not even a year ago and she was my biggest fan… an actor’s way of saying my best friend. The TV I purchased for her on mother’s day of 2019 now sits in our home, I still remember the movie we watched together in admiration of the incredible picture. We sat and ate greasy burgers, a love we both shared and enjoyed. It would be the last mother’s day we spent together, COVID robbed me of the experience of doing it again in 2020. Eric suggested we make large signs and do a drive by, but she wasn’t strong enough to come to the window and see them. Everyone that has refused to wear a mask, voted for a man that did nothing but deny this disease… and propagated his rhetoric, shares a exponential karmic debt for what they stole from me. I curse them in all directions of time and space, and wish nothing but the total despair and grief they have helped spread. They don’t deserve anything less.

So yeah, this is me after COVID. I’m tired of seeing all the hate, I’m tired of seeing all the stupidity… I’m just tired. I’m tired that the world doesn’t care enough, that humans have trekked backwards in evolution. I’m tired of feeling tired most of the time, trying desperately to feel the sense of energy I had before all of this. My only hope is that a global awareness will help change things in the end, and that my body and brain will repair itself to not view things in such a dismal and dark point of view. It seems like even my spiritual practice has taken a hit, and I’m not as positive or filled with faith as I used to be. I have glimpses of enormous clarity, which can sometimes last weeks… but in the end, it all fizzles away and reveals a planet that doesn’t care much about anything… except the right to do harm to others.

Counting On Ignorance

Local governments often tout technology as a way of making life easier for their residents, offering services such as electronic complaints, property database information, crime statistics, etc. Many of these services save the everyday citizen lots of money, reduce the carbon footprint related to travel, and help bring government into the amazing world of the digital age. Automation also helps save taxpayer dollars in regards to staffing, storage of physical records, time in research and others aspects of citizen services that used to require face to face interactions. While many of us marvel at these new and exciting methods of e-government, there are situations where your leaders count on your ignorance of technology and your familiarity with “the old ways” in order to make more money than they could ever do previously. Ignorance may be bliss, but it can be expensive as hell.

The City Of Miami uses this app to allow you to park in multiple locations all at the same time, disregarding the laws of physics… and reality. Sound familiar?

If you’ve ever had to pay for parking at a meter, you’ve no doubt encountered the situation where you’ve run out of change and scramble to find a miracle under the seat, or in the ashtray of your vehicle. The ancient sounds of quarters, dimes, and nickels falling into a meter, along with the familiar “zip” of the knob, is something current generations will probably never experience outside of a museum. In the past ten years, we’ve gone from very manual parking systems, meters with digital displays, vending style parking machines, to mobile device applications which take of everything necessary for you to park and get on with your business or beach day. However, much of the actual business process and transaction remains unchanged… you pay for the time you need to park, and if you under pay, you risk being issued an expensive citation. People have been accustomed to this method for decades and decades, and no one seems to question it… except me.

When ever one converts a business process to a digital format, there’s perhaps one rule you should always follow… you don’t re-create the same routine with a computer, you make it better, and you make it more efficient. You take the opportunity to look at the process holistically, and take advantage of the technology to do things that couldn’t be done before. That’s why it’s often referred to as a new “solution.” Otherwise you’re just wasting software to automate something that’s completely outdated, which doesn’t improve the process as much as it could be, or even not at all. It’s like if you made a program to create a digital sun dial, but didn’t include the option to set an alarm, have a calendar, or maybe even tell you audibly what time it was. I know this because I’ve been an information technology professional for over thirty years, and I know a thing or do about deploying new systems, solutions and processes. Yet our parking systems do exactly that, and are counting on your ignorance of technology and everyday citizens simply being used to the tradition of feeding a meter. You think it’s better because it’s on your phone and you don’t need physical coins, but what you don’t realize is that it could be modernized… but that would mean more money in your pocket, and less for those running the meters.

Miami-Beach uses this app that will charge you and extra dollar a month for dedicated support. Yes a real human will inform you that they issue no refunds and you’re screwed. After multiples attempts to cancel this feature, I am still billed $1 a month so I can get ripped off.

Yesterday I was parking in Miami-Beach and while using a phone based app, I tapped on my car’s license plate ID instead of that of my partner Eric’s car. I paid over ten dollars to park in a spot and then realized we were in his car, not mine. When I looked at the app, I noticed there wasn’t an option to change the vehicle I was using so I entered a customer service chat. Immediately a notice is displayed basically saying if you paid for parking and you made a mistake, you need to pay again. To add insult to injury, the representative on the live chat just validated what I just read. So parking last night ended up costing us twenty dollars for something that should have been half as much. But why didn’t the technology on my phone allow me to change the vehicle? It would certainly be a simple database update on active session, but then the city would lose out on some free cash. In essence, it’s the same as paying the wrong meter when you park, and Miami-Beach is counting on your accustomed feeling of permanency and featureless interactions when parking. They don’t want you to even think of the technological ability to fix such an error.

This becomes more apparent when you overpay for parking. In the old days, if you overpaid a meter, you paid it forward with sure delight as the next person parking discovers the meter paid, and their stay is free thanks to you. This tiny gesture surely had the ability to change your day for the better! However thanks to the digital age, if you paid for parking for thirty minutes, and you left after five, the city keeps the remaining funds and the next car starts from scratch. So why isn’t the system designed for you to end a parking session when you leave? Why should you pay for more time than you’re actually using the spot? Are you being penalized for not accurately timing the event accurately for which you parked for? Yup, you are. Of course people are so used to this kind of transaction, they don’t question it in the least. They are oblivious to what technology can offer them, and have been conditioned through the years to accept the loss. Meanwhile, parking operators are laughing all the way to the bank.

Probably the worse example of this kind of digital thievery occurs when you leave one spot, and drive to another location and park again. Now your mobile device displays two active parking sessions, when you’re only parked in one spot. What gives anyone the authority to bill you for something not being used? This is double dipping in the most literal of ways… you are being billed simply for thinking you needed to park somewhere longer than you needed to. Again, the population perfectly accepts this because they’re completely ignorant of the technological ability to convert the old process into a new and more efficient solution. A fool and their money are easily parted, so goes the famous saying… and it’s obviously true.

A parking system designed by me would have the option to create a bank of money within the parking application. You could put $20 in the bank per say, and then use it as needed… similar to the way electronic tolls are billed. When you use a spot, you would start the parking session, but when you left, you would end it. Sessions could be adjusted for time as they are now, but they could also be edited for a different vehicle in case you paid for the wrong one… or even to pay for a friend. This would inherently give you the option of transferring a current session to another spot. The entire point of metered parking is to pay for the spot, so who cares where it comes from, as long as the spot is payed for. This eliminates double dipping… “yeah okay” says the public official reading this. The city or parking company could still make lots of money on interest, holding onto all the money that’s just sitting there waiting to be used, but the consumer wouldn’t pay a single penny more than they had to. It’s a win win.

I had posted this idea in a community forum and I can’t tell how many persons scolded me for it. They were also thinking in terms of the past, completely dismissing technology, and accusing me of being irresponsible with my estimate of time. Seriously? That makes as much sense as denying someone state of the art cancer treatment because ten years ago it was considered a death sentence. If the technology can make something better, shouldn’t we hold our elected officials responsible for making it so? Why should they intentionally re-create the same process, just because citizens are used to it, and then reap the benefits of automation and efficiency? Shouldn’t the cost savings be passed onto the consumer? Apparently not.

I challenge you all to think of ways technology could obviously save you money, but it’s better for business and government to keep you familiar and accustomed to old ways of doing things because it makes them much more money. I’ll give you a head start… a bank charges you extra money for bouncing a check, and then transferring money from your savings account to cover it. You had the money there, it was available, however historically a person had to manually make the adjustment and that took time. Now it’s merely a line of code… an “if then” statement, completely automated and costs nothing. So why are we still be charged so much for the milliseconds it took for software to accomplish this? Think outside the box, people may hate you for it, but you’ll be a lot more the wiser… and possibly more frustrated than ever… like me.

I Am Enriched

I was looking through my Facebook feed the other day, and I saw a comment from one of my online friends, Mikey Mayweather.    He always has something nice to say whenever I post, always filled with love and humor.   Mikey lives across the country in California, is a DJ and an artist… filled with amazing energy.    He’s also a black man.   We have quite different interests and backgrounds, but my life is enriched by his presence, there’s no doubt about that.    We both “love” love, so in that alone, there’s enough in common to forge this virtual bond of sorts.  I do not know if we’ll ever meet in person, but it’s amazing what he’s taught me without even using words.    One recent morning I saw his response to one of my posts, and I thought about how blessed I am that the color of our skin doesn’t separate us in anyway at all… if anything it brings us closer together.   I know that he’s got my back and I have his so to speak, and perhaps that’s what we’re actually saying in the few phrases and salutations we do exchange online.    The events of January 6th made me realize that so many individuals in our country are missing out on some amazing human beings and the lessons they have to teach us… all because of race.   This brought me great sadness, however at the same time, brought to light that my life is truly enriched by embracing diversity… and we all could be.

“Still, there’s a wonderful world waiting for us that dare to acknowledge our inner workings… interactions with a rainbow of peoples and cultures, each and everyone waiting to pass along information that will only enrich our experience on this planet. “

I don’t want to sound self righteous here, that’s not the place this post is coming from.    It’s coming from a very happy and joyous awareness, a type of excitement from knowing that the human experience is fully open to me, free to learn as much as I can during my lifetime.   I’m also not going to be naïve, I know there are elements in my psyche that still contain racism, we have to acknowledge them in order to work against them.   But my openness to explore and address what these feelings have to say, only makes my acceptance of others even greater.  I learned that lesson while reading a book called White Fragility, introduced to me by another amazing online friend, Annmarie Slater.   Being raised as white permanently programs us in ways that we can’t fully comprehend, especially since there’s so much we’ll never experience, primarily because we’re living as white people in a nation that favors us.   Still, there’s a wonderful world waiting for us that dare to acknowledge our inner workings… interactions with a rainbow of peoples and cultures, each and everyone waiting to pass along information that will only enrich our experience on this planet.  As someone that lives my life as an up-lifter, I just wish others could share this kind of love with me.

Ma Rainy – The Mother of Blues – This photo is over 100 years old.

I have photos on my wall in my home office, of people that have inspired me all my life.    Most of them are African American woman, as their personal struggles and battles they’ve fought have given me strength to move forward on days where I’ve felt like giving up.   Each with their own story, none of which I would have known if I had closed the doors of inclusiveness into my life.    As I’m writing this post, I’m looking at the photo of the latest framed addition, that of Ma Rainey.  Known as the Mother of Blues, she wasn’t just a strong-minded person, she was ahead of her time as a woman… not just as a person of color.   Ma Rainey was also open about her sexuality, and sung about her same sex experiences with her lovers.    The positioning of her photo makes it appear as though she’s smiling down at me, separate from the other photographs in the room, just the way she was separate from so many of her time in history.   I had seen the film Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom on Netflix just the other weekend, and the awareness of her has enriched my life even further.  For some reason, her energy fully resonates with me, almost as if I knew her back in the day.    Her voice fills the room as I’m writing, her words available to me through the technology of Amazon’s Echo devices.  Almost a hundred years after her songs were recorded, they continue to move, inspire… and enrich. 

That’s definitely the word of the day for me.

This Christmas

This Christmas will be the first one I celebrate without the awareness that my mom is just a phone call away. I remember last year, when she called me to have Eric and I go to her home, so she could give us the gifts she purchased online. She was always addicted to watching QVC, and the last Christmas gift we would ever receive from her would end up being a food storage container, one each for Eric and myself. We still use them today, I can almost hear my mom explaining how they go straight from the refrigerator to the microwave and how covenant they are. From watching QVC so much, she had learned to sell a product just as well as the hosts she loved watching for hours on end. She would even go as far as to record QVC on her DVR… a very dedicated fan for sure.

“There’s no room to complain this Christmas, we are truly fortunate despite everything and fully aware of what others are experiencing, and there’s a certain responsibility that goes along with that level of awareness.”

I also remember how difficult it was for my mom to breathe last Christmas, and how living life day to day become a constant struggle. After she passed away, I had a dream where she came to me and told me how incredibly happy she was, that the body she was in had become so very heavy, and it was weighing her spirit down to the point where didn’t want it anymore. She was so thrilled to be light and floaty, enjoying her new found freedom to the fullest. It was such a happy dream, and it continues to offer great comfort to me. I truly miss my mom, but in no way do I miss her suffering and seeing her spiral into steep decline during the last months of her life.

This Christmas has been one of gratitude, as Eric and I are extremely aware of our blessings and have shared them as much as possible. We have worked with a program called Neighbors4Neighbors, to help families in need, and this has brought home the meaning of Christmas probably more than anything else. There’s also much to be thankful for, as we both experienced COVID19 infections and lived on to talk about it and offer advice when needed. We have amazing jobs and know how so many are without one during this dark time, so we never take for granted the necessity of waking up in the morning to get ready for work. There’s no room to complain this Christmas, we are truly fortunate despite everything and fully aware of what others are experiencing, and there’s a certain responsibility that goes along with that level of awareness.

I hope that everyone reading this post receives a blessing… or even a Christmas miracle if that’s the path you follow. In truth, the only thing we have in life is each other, and it’s important to stick together regardless of the issues which kept us apart in the past. We need to help one another whenever possible, and always keep the spirit of unconditional love in our hearts, no matter what spiritual practice we follow. This Christmas I hope that people realize the true concept of the holiday, and look way past the artificial lines of division society places on us… in the end we all have love and humanity in common.

Christmas and Hanukah are always observed in my home, miracles are miracles, regardless of your faith.

May you be blessed by your creator in ways you never dreamed possible. Blessed be. XOXO

What “Never Forget” Means To Me.

I remember being in my office on September 11th, 2001, and my co-worker Fred saying a plane had hit one of the World Trade Center towers.    At first this didn’t strike me as anything big, I remember hearing about a small plane hitting them before, and the damage hadn’t been that significant.     Fred decided to pull out his small portable TV, and we all huddled around to watch it unfold.    I will never forget seeing the images of the first plane hitting and the explosion that followed.    It was completely surreal.    At the time no one knew what was going on, it appeared to be some kind of freak accident for sure.    Our small group then decided the television set in our training facility was much larger, and would allow us all to see what was going on without being cramped into a small cubicle… standing shoulder to shoulder around a four inch screen.    So we ran down to the 11th floor and watched in dismay, as the building burned.    We watched in absolute horror as the scenes unfolded… and then absorbed the news that our country was under attack from terrorists.   I had to run to the bathroom and on the way back to the training room, I saw my co-worker Karla nervously running out of the room with a frightened look on her face, telling me she was going to get her kids.   Trying to hold back tears and clearly panicked, she quickly uttered “They just attacked the Pentagon.

One by one the towers fell and more reports came in about other government buildings being attacked.   The decision was made to send us home, and I remember my close friend Tania telling me she would drive me home.    With her toddler Anthony in the back seat, we took back roads to avoid the chaos of drivers trying to reach their families, just as we were.    The news on the radio was grim and frightening, so much was going on and there was much misinformation about what was actually happening.   After Tania dropped me off, I logged onto AOL to see how the online world was reacting and what they were saying.    Smartphones didn’t exist back then, so life “connected” was usually experienced in the privacy of your own home, something I had been doing for over a decade at the time.    I had found some friends and they were freaking out like everyone else, wondering if people they knew were safe.   As the day progressed more reports came in, and we mourned collectively as nation.   We didn’t know what the world was going to be like the next day, and everyone went to bed that night with a certain level of uncertainty.  

The next couple of days saw our nation rallying together like I hadn’t witnessed since the Gulf War.    People were grouping up on street corners waving flags, holding up posters and cheering on drivers all times during the day or night.   We were helping and supporting each other, looking past any and all differences to demonstrate that as a united nation, we were unstoppable.    Many people initially wanted to turn the middle east into a “parking lot” or a “sheet of glass,” as descriptive examples of nuclear warfare littered conversations.   However, many people realized that doing so would make us no better than our attackers, and during this time of crisis, we needed to make sure we targeted only those responsible for the pain and suffering so many had experienced.  I remember interfaith services in the lobby of my employer’s headquarters, people hugging, crying and consoling each other.   We were making promises to never forget and to remain united and strong for all time.  Still, many found it very acceptable to demonstrate hatred and rage towards people of the Muslim faith, while at the same time professing unwavering patriotism.   

Friday marked the 19th anniversary after the September 11th attacks.    I started to write this post and suddenly decided I needed to re-experience the events of the day by watching it on YouTube, almost as a way to honor those lost… and the day we all joined hands.    It doesn’t take a college professor to realize that September 11th changed us a country forever.    We began to torture our captives to get answers and information about possible threats, while our freedoms and rights to privacy were attacked by our own government in exchange for perceived safety.   Hatred was given a license to operate by many, and that permission has grown exponentially… all in the name of patriotism.   The horrible events of September 11th had been burned into the collective psyche of so many, that any demonstration of anger or resentment to our own country or people, was akin to being a traitor.    I remember this kind of mentality even inserted itself into my own consciousness for a while, after becoming so incredibly upset during a phone conversation I had with a guy I was courting online.    I was literally scared that his anger towards the United States would cause him to be flagged by law enforcement, and I quickly found myself avoiding him at all costs.   I considered him to be radical, and in retrospect, he was simply being truthful about our nation’s involvement overseas.   His remarks weren’t any different from what many commentators and journalists say on the news today, it was literally just “too soon. “

I find myself feeling angered at times when I see younger people posting about geopolitics online, and what we should or shouldn’t be doing about certain situations abroad.    I know it’s not fair to them, but they’ll never know what it’s like to be so aware of the events of September 11th as they unfolded live almost twenty years ago.   Many of them were still watching Saturday morning cartoons and knew more about brands of cereal than they did about the names of countries in the Middle East.     They will never know about how our country used to be like, how it was to walk your family members directly to the gate of an airplane, and kiss them goodbye with your shoelaces still tightly secured.    They will never know how unified we were, and don’t realize the hatred they spew towards flag kneelers has part of its roots in that awful day.   Their version of “freedom” is not the same as mine, and they’ll never know the world used to view us as one of the good guys, and not just a military power kicking ass everywhere.    Maybe I’m just getting old, but I’ve learned when they say to “never forget” September 11th, it wasn’t about holding a grudge towards a certain faith, it was about how we felt the day after… a nation undivided.