Body Statement

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We have the power to pick the lock of our own suffering!

Our bodies.

There is perhaps no greater manifestation of anxiety than that which we place upon our physical form. We spend so much of our time in an elliptical of judgement, comparing ourselves to others. In a marathon of attack thoughts, we obsess over pounds we have yet to shed, muscles we haven’t developed, and physiques we may never attain.  It’s more exhausting beating ourselves up over our perceived imperfections than it is actually going to the gym!

Anyone who has known me for a while knows that I’ve had a turbulent relationship with my body. I’ve been obese, anorexic, and everything in between. I’ve carried the shame of being overweight, and I’ve known the pains of starving for perfection. At every weight, from a high of 240 lbs. to a low of 155; in lifestyles variances, a completely sedentary video gamer in my adolescence to a hyper active 7-days a week, twice a day gym goer by my mid-twenties; and in every diet, from processed fast foods to organically vegan, the feeling has always been the same: I’m not good enough.

That’s my life’s F.E.A.R. maxim, and by fear I mean “false evidence appearing real.” And indeed, it’s a pretty terrifying refrain!

Recently I started re-reading Gabby Bernstein’s May Cause Miracles. It’s a 40-day guidebook for manifesting a radically happy life. Four years ago, when I was living in Kansas and only dreaming of California, a friend randomly suggested it to me. What I thought would be another dust collecting Amazon purchase ended up being THE catalyst for a new and amazing life. I’m positive I would still be stuck in Wichita if I had not read that book and done the work that allowed me to attract the life I have today in Los Angeles. Three years later, everything about my life has changed! Well everything but one…

The sunset photos on the beach, selfies with colorful friends, inspirational meditation quotes, and vegan food porn pics have all been posted with that same “I’m not good enough” refrain lodged into my subconscious. That’s called the ego–the part of you that wants to cling to the familiar, playing it small so you never step into the uncomfortability  of the unknown. A positive statement about my body is what my ego fears the most.

So, of course, in reading May Causes Miracles again, one miraculous shift under my belt, it’s fitting that this longstanding ritual of body hating would surface. I’m so thankful that it did because in doing the course work this past week which was focused on the relationship we have with our body, I have finally come to not just know but truly feel a massive shift: You can either identify with the physique that is your body or you can vibrate with the grander purpose of what it is you are meant to do with the physical form you were given.

I’ve spent the last few days really meditating on exactly what it is that I, Jason Aaron Dilts, was put on this planet to do. Once the fog of attack thoughts cleared, it was so obvious. I am here to create community. I am here to bring people together as an activist under banners that collectively bring forward meaningful progress. I am  also here to use my gift of writing to articulate in spoken and written words messages that will resonate for positive cultural shifts and deep healing. When we let go of negative dialogue and limiting beliefs we allow in the freedom to receive everything those limitations have been blocking. Instead of the fear maxim of “I’m not good enough” I now have the mantra of “I am not my body. I am free.”

I know I am not the only person who is handicapped by body image issues. I am sharing this post because I hope if you too are gripped by negative perceptions about your body that you’ll be so bold as to step outside this limiting belief. Sit for a moment and think about YOU–not your body but your essence. What is it you were born to do? What brings tears of joy to your eyes when you think about doing it? What do you know you were put on this earth to do?

When you know the answer to that, you have the power to write your own body statement! And I want you to write it out. Sit in stillness and listen to a song that uplifts you. I listened to Donna DeLory’s “Sanctuary” while I wrote mine and I’m happy to recommend some otherbeautiful mantras. As the song plays, breathe in the feeling of joy that living this purpose will give you. Breathe out the any anxieties that arise.

Write it out.

There’s something powerful about putting down in words the essence of who you are.  Those words are your body!

I’ll start by pasting my statement in the comments. Share yours in the comments below if you feel called to. Or place it somewhere at home where you’ll be able to see it regularly to remind  yourself that our purpose is our body!

PS) Read May Cause Miracles–I’ll even buy you a copy if you can’t afford one yourself (serious, private message me!).

Our Stories Matter

12088224_10100781798975842_1426083380258562527_nOur stories matter. Where we go, who we meet, what we learn, what we do, and how we do it aren’t just matters of personal chronology—they’re part of a collective tapestry. Our stories are experiences lived within a body that’d distinct to us, yet only put into motion by effects greater than us.

So at 33—likely well over 1/3 of my life already lived—what is my story? More importantly, why does it matter? My life is no more or less significant than anyone else’s, though like everyone else, I have a distinct mission. Part of my life’s purpose is sharing so that others may learn and grow from the experiences I’ve had. I know this to be true because I’ve seen the effects.

The moniker of this blog—Homo on the Range—was a monthly column published in a local arts/lifestyle magazine in Wichita, Kansas from 2009-2012 and later in a regional Midwest LGBT publication until the end of 2013. These were formative years as it relates to equality because it was during this timeframe that public opinion in the US on same-sex marriage and homosexuality in general began to shift dramatically. Most HotR readers were straight, and many of them were Republicans who were somewhat traditional in their mindset.

Over the course of 60+ columns, I learned that an authentic voice can have a real effect—anywhere! There’s a reason why public opinion on LGBT rights shifted so fast—so many of us were telling our stories in our own unique ways. With the advent of social media, those once ignorant or resistant saw that our lives and our love weren’t all that different from their own. Homo on the Range was one person in one place; there were many far more significant voices that got us to where we are today. If you’re honest about who you are, your message with resonate with the audience that it’s meant to reach, and it will have a ripple effect!

It’s now 2016 and I’m not in Kansas anymore. I live in Los Angeles and work at a spiritual community center in avant-hippie Venice Beach. I practice Kundalini yoga, eat vegan food, and frequently partake in sound healings. My life literally couldn’t be any less “Homo on the Range.” And just like there was a story about the gay guy who once ran the Democratic Party in Kansas, there’s a story in what I’m experiencing now—several actually!

I’ve resisted writing much about my life in California, partly because it’s been such an inside-out experience, but also because what I do now seemingly has nothing to do with what I did before. How does one go from being an agitated, agonist political activist to a peace-seeking, meditating spirit junkie? I had to trace the evolution of who I’ve been to understand it myself…and it goes something like this:

  • Political Activist: I realized I was gay when I was 14. The same day I understood this about myself I also knew there could be no congruence between who I am and what I was raised to believe. I grew up baptized in fundamentalist Christianity; I had to choose between my sexuality and my spirituality. I embraced the former and stuck a big middle finger to the imaginary man in the sky. Coming out of the closet also meant going to war with those who wanted to keep me inside. I got politically active at 17 during the 2000 election because I didn’t want George W. Bush picking the Supreme Court justices who would define what my legal rights would be. Two years later, President Bush was fighting a “war on terror” and I was named the executive director of the Democratic Party in Wichita, KS—while I was still a teenager and very much out —a bold thing back in those days! I ran the Democratic Party for 8 years, fixated on turning Kansas blue. Most of the candidates I worked with lost, but in the process we built a robust party organization of progressive activists in the middle of a very conservative state. During my tenure, we elected the first Latina to the KS House, the first black woman to the KS Senate, and sent the first Indian-American to the Kansas Legislature. Most importantly, we made our community stronger by connecting with each other over shared values.
  • Arts Advocate: Politics was only able to give me an outlet for my outrage; there was nothing to cultivate my creativity or nurture my soul. I found a fresh energy in art: going to film festivals, being transfixed by canvasses at galleries, and getting lost in the sounds of local bands playing in refashioned warehouses. Needing a change of my own, I left my post as ED of the Democratic Party after the Obama election. I got involved with a local group called ROKICT whose mission was to promote art and culture in Wichita, and with the same gusto and passion I had poured into politics, I made advocating for art my mission. It was a fun romp that also allowed me to start freelance writing—which is how Homo on the Range was born!
  • City Council Candidate: So maybe I wasn’t quite done with politics. Simultaneous to the “ROKICT days” was my quest to win a seat on the Wichita City Council. It was rooted in a deep desire to develop Wichita’s downtown and have the arts community be at the center of that revitalization. I hoped to unit the Democratic Party with an emerging coalition of artists and musicians to pull off what would have been historic: the election of the first openly gay official to a major city office. The trouble was all in the timing—and the intention. I realized that if I won a seat on the city council I’d likely be anchored in Wichita well into my 40’s. I’d barely left Kansas at that point and I wanted to experience so much more in life. The truth is that I found politics to be a constant stress and a draining burden, especially with the ridiculous amount of money one needs to raise in order to be viable. I was fundamentally unhappy, and was really only in the race because I felt obligated to all the people who supported me—and there was many! So with broad support, impressive fundraising numbers, and the wind at my back I pulled the plug on my own campaign at the end of 2010. It was the hardest decision I’ve ever made, simultaneously liberating and absolutely frightening.
  • Lost Wanderer: What happens when you abruptly leave public life, 12188907_10100795921993202_2558272347108691660_ndetonating your own career for reasons most people don’t understand? You get a job at a non-profit that has nothing to do with the work you once did, get out of town as much as possible, drink lots of alcohol, and find a random person on the Internet to be your best friend! Or at least that’s what I did. I found myself having to constantly explain my decision to people whenever I’d run in to someone while out (and it was Wichita, which meant it wasn’t hard to run into someone you know). This got annoying so every chance I got, I’d get out of town, going to Kansas City, Lawrence, Austin, NYC, San Francisco, and just about anywhere I could afford to travel on my modest salary as a non-profit events manager. This wasn’t often enough for my liking, and since most of my friends didn’t really understand my decisions, vodka, tequila, rum, and red wine became great companions! I found conversations with libations less than enthralling, though, and decided to make a person who had randomly friended me on Facebook my new best friend. For two years, about the only person I shared much of my life with was a guy named Amir. He lived on the East Coast and knew nothing about my prior life, so it was easy to just lose myself in him. Amir had a lot of issues, though, which is probably why I was attracted to him. Gay, Muslim, and mentally anguished, he was everything that we collectively are afraid of. It was too much for him. He killed himself at the end of 2011 in a very harrowing experience that I’m not going to detail here. More alcohol—and this time loud blaring of Nirvana music and an obsession with Kurt Cobain followed…for like six months. I dreamed about suicide everyday and did some really risk shit for the next few months. After I discovered mold in my apartment, my naturopathic doctor friend and his very wise cat took me in. It’s there that I began to heal.
  • Change Manifester: By the time I moved in with the doctor and the 18518_938299313952_980317045_ncat, I was taking antidepressants and generally resigned to living unhappily ever after in Wichita for the rest of my life. I tried to find jobs to hire me out of Wichita, but to no avail…I was stuck, or so I felt. At the start of 2012, I did make two positive changes: to be completely vegan and to start exploring my long shelved spiritual side. Omar’s death shook me to my core and made me realize that we’re all souls traveling on a plane. My mother opened my mind to more eastern philosophies and I found comfort in the idea of reincarnation—that our journey on this earth in this body is one of many we’ll experience as part of a beautiful cycle of lives. The doctor taught me how to meditate, the cat reminded me what it feels like to be loved, and by fall I had a renewed sense of optimism when I visited Los Angeles for the first time. It was a formative trip: I hiked to the top of mountains, saw the Pacific ocean for the first time, ate amazing vegan food all day, and enjoyed wearing a tank top in WeHo on Halloween. When I saw the sunset at the top of Runyon Canyon for the first time and looked out at the sprawling city below, I heard a clear message. “Somewhere down there in the midst of all those buildings there’s a place for you. There are people you need to meet, work you need to do, and a life you need to live. Get yourself here and you will live a life more full and more happy than you could ever imagine.” I flushed the antidepressants down the toilet that night and went back to Kansas the next day with “Change Your Life” as my ethos. I checked myself in to a 10-day silent Vipassna meditation retreat at year’s end and spent all of 2013 working a plan to get me to LA within 12 months. It included working 4 jobs, doing Gabby Bernstein’s May Cause Miracles course, letting go of a lot of old shit, and also getting a giant tattoo with the words “Change Your Life” etched onto my torso just to ensure I didn’t back out of this contract I had made with myself. Yeah maybe that was extreme, but it worked! I ended up saving enough money to live in LA without a job for a year, but got hired into a job that brought me to my new home a month earlier than planned. It was clear that LA was where I needed to be.

It wasn’t until I got to LA that I understood what anything I’d done had meant. The timeline of events, jobs, and identities that I enumerate above seemed like fragments of a fractured existence. Yet once I started doing some serious self-examination, everything began to make sense. It’s that journey that I want to start sharing—what I’ve learned since I moved to LA and what I’ve come to understand is important for us to realize collectively. It’s an inner journey with serious outward effect!

Our stories matter because all of us are connected; I hope you’ll join me for the next chapter in this wide-open range! More to come soon, I promise!!

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Don’t get COOKed. Own Who You Are.

Own It!

Own It! Courtesy of Dan Cook’s Instagram

Who you are matters. What you do with your life matters. The image you present to the world matters. And most of all, your identity matters. That’s because each of us occupies a distinct space on this planet that no one else can satisfy. Personalities, talents, and capabilities collide with mission, purpose, and destiny to allow the unfolding of 7 billion epic adventures—all at one time.

A recent celebrity encounter on the beach reminded me of my own responsibility. Yes, that’s the most LA sentence ever written.

It was a sunny day in Venice and I just wanted to soak up the rays. I was landlocked in Kansas for 15 years so whenever it’s above 80 degrees there’s a personal mandate that I find at least an hour to suntan. So I threw on my banana shorts, ripped off my shirt and put on my shades. A 2-minute walk later and I was lying in the sand, caring only about how beautiful the rolling ocean in front of me appeared. This dabble of luxury was actual an act of defiance.

Laying shirtless in the sand for me means bearing some of my deepest personal wounds to the world. I was overweight as a kid and well into adulthood. Ten years ago I dropped 80 lbs., going from a blobby high of 240 down to a very thin 160 in 10 months. Stretch marks envelop pretty much ever corner of my body as a result. I’ve been obese. I’ve been anorexic. I’ve been many things in between. Right now I’m at a point where I could afford to lose a good 10 lbs. and tone up my muscles a bit. So on top of the stretch marks, I’ve got a thicker gut that I’m used to carrying around. Hence the defiance—I’m keenly aware that I’m no pinup model and this, after all, is Southern California so if ever I forget, a constant parade of shirtless muscle boys with toned asses and chiseled chests will remind me.

Weight, in excess or in absence, is the physical manifestation of much deeper forces. I was obese as a kid because food was where I found comfort—an escape from the taunting and teasing I endured throughout my adolescence on account of being gay. As an adult, it’s still all too often where I find solace. Especially when I’m stressed or lonely, food becomes my comfort. If I don’t keep my insecurities in check, the beach turns into a discomfort. Which is part of why I constantly put myself in a situation sans shirt. When I bear my chest I’m baring my soul—sometimes messy, but always true.

Since July 2013, taking off my shirt has revealed more than just my stretch marks. I have a giant sized Buddha engraved squarely between my ribs that runs the entire length of my abdomen. The words CHANGE YOUR LIFE are floating inside the jolly deity’s tongue. Those words are there to remind me that forward motion is the only trajectory. They were purposely etched onto the spot where I carry the most shame so that I could be continuously reminded to keep the negative self-talk in check. It’s working—and if I ever needed proof the universe sent it to me in the form of Dane Cook. Yes, the comedian Dane Cook.

After spending a good 2 hours tanning, I took a walk along the ocean and called my dad to wish him a happy Father’s Day. In the middle of explaining the spiritual significance of plant based medicine (which I’m pretty sure one-ups the “I’m the gay son” quotient) some guy asked me if he could take my picture, specifically of my tattoo. Not having much experience with paparazzi, I obliged, a little annoyed that my conversation was interrupted. I didn’t bother to introduce myself or even take the time to get off the phone. Turns out it was a celebrity taking a picture of ME.

An hour later, I learned that I had been COOKed, DANE COOKED. Apparently, he found my banana shorts, Andy Warhol hair, and giant tattoo amusing enough to have his way with me on social media, snarky comments about self-identity and all. My phone started to blow up as I watched a steady stream of several thousand Facebook “likes”, Instagram “loves”, and Twitter “re-tweets.” Then there were the comments—all 500+ of them in total. That’s where shit gets interesting….

The initial reaction to my likeness being blasted to over 5 million people was a mix of body shaming/gay bashing/transphobia (I’m not transgender, though it would be cool if I were…)/Miley Cyrus jokes. Apparently some people think I look like a wrecking ball…

Basically ever insecurity I had ever encountered was on full display for the world to see; and the world was giving me back exactly what I had been giving myself! The first few dozen comments were harsh. I had a moment when I started to go into the story of believing them. Then I realized we write our own stories! The venom in those comments doesn’t even come close to the potency of the defeating words I’ve often found floating around in my own mind. So I decided to just OWN IT.

I’m gay. I wear colorful clothes. I have weird tattoos. I rock large crystals around my neck. I have spiritual beliefs many find bazaar. I have stretch marks and body fat. That’s me, right now in this moment. And I’m good with that.

So I posted a simple statement that read: “Happy to be comfortable in my own skin. Proud to be gay. Own who you are. Love is the only thing that’s real. Everything else is an illusion.” Then I pasted a link to this blog explaining the origin of the tattoo.

Once I flipped the dialogue in my own head a funny thing happened—the conversation online shifted. A cavalry of “be yourself” defenders came riding in. Words about being who you are, loving yourself, and accepting your physical form overtook the haters. My message box started to be flooded with people telling me their own stories about battling eating disorders, feeling out of place, and wanting to change their lives. Shift the energy within and it emanates out.

Getting good with who we are is important not so much for our own egos, but rather for understanding how the uniqueness of our being fits into a broader collective. For me, I live as boldly and authentically as possible, presenting a colorful, loud and unique avatar so that others might step out of their shell and step into the fullness of who they are. When we work to ignite the spark in others, we all grow exactly as we should.

Dane Cook had his way with me at the beach, but we’re the ones who can get the last laugh if we just drop into the uniqueness of our own identity. OWN WHO YOU ARE

Sat Nam in the City

When I lived in Kansas, I was homo on the range; literally—and as a matter of literature.

I was an out gay man running a political party at 19, and several years later a columnist for a popular local m10845912_10100546475785402_4435399975493342740_nagazine called Naked City. It was sort of like Carrie Bradshaw on Sex and the City. Except my life really wasn’t glamorous, the city wasn’t New York, and I spent more time politicking than I did dating men. So actually it wasn’t Sex and the City at all. Homo on the Range, both the column and the life, was its own, unique creation.

Then I left the range and moved to California. There’s really nothing special about being gay in in the Golden State. It’s actually rather commonplace here, especially in Los Angeles. If you followed my adventure on Facebook, you saw a never-ending feast of vegan food, endless sunsets on the beach, palm trees galore, and an overall happy life. That was genuine. You didn’t see the other element that was equally real, though: the depth of how alone I felt after I moved.

Even when I was at my lowest, I always knew how to be me in Wichita. I continually attracted people into my orbit. I really didn’t have to do much work, either. I assumed LA would be the same. It wasn’t. This is a town of ambition, egos, and fast-paced movers. Friends are often seen as potential competitors, and the sprawl makes meeting up for coffee an arduous affair. I found myself wandering this curious city alone most days. That bothered me at first, but then I stopped fighting that loneliness and just went into it: deep inside its chasm, to the innermost chamber of my mind.

Turns out that the journey within has a range far more vast than Kansas—and it’s open to everyone, the gays included!

You’ve probably noticed that I post often about meditating and something called Kundalini Yoga. When I moved to Los Angeles, I anticipated spending a lot of time in West Hollywood drinking mojitos at The Abby and cruising hot boys on the Santa Monica strip. I think I’ve done that exactly twice in the fourteen months I’ve lived here. Instead, I spend a lot of time doing weird hand gestures, holding uncomfortable postures, chanting phrases I can barely pronounce, and breathing in and out at odd intervals.

It all started when I stepped into a place called Golden Bridge Yoga in Hollywood. I knew exactly two people when I moved to this city, and one of them always posted about going to that spot. I enjoyed yoga for a bit in Wichita, and wanted to get back into it. I assumed this was a “normal” yoga studio—you know the kind where they do down dogs and warrior poses while sort of tiptoeing around the fact that there’s a higher purpose to all the movement? Kundalini Yoga is anything but usual, and it’s totally out of the closet when it comes to its spiritual nature.

In Kundalini, you pull energy up your spine and through the seven chakras, working to balance the power-centers in your body. You focus on your body, mind, and soul being in unison. You quiet your thinking and let the stillness of a calm mind heal you. There are literally thousands of kriya for doing this, and pretty much any problem you’re having can be dealt with on your yoga mat. Weird energy or high stress at work? Mediate to release irrationality! Difficult boss? Ego eradicator! Want to manifest something specific, like say new friends or a more money? There’s a mantra you can sing! Addicted to Internet porn? There’s even a literal butt-kicking series that will help you harness your sexual energy! There’s a reason some people call it Kundalooney—it sounds bazaar until you give it a try.

It was in the range of this odd practice and within the science of its motions that I began to find my own footing in the new city that I now call home—and on a deeper level that I began to feel truly and wholly at peace. Loneliness gave way to a divine self-examination and allowed me to go deep—really deep into issues I’d never resolved. In Kundalini Yoga, we have a mantra that’s a constant refrain: Sat Nam. Loosely translated, it means “truth is my name.” There’s no segmenting parts of yourself when it comes to stepping in to your divine truth.

As a gay man who grew up attending a fundamentalist Christian school and came of age during the heyday of right-wing Christianity dominating our politics, I had divorced my spiritual self from my sexual self. Most of us who are gay feel at some point that we have to make a choice between being who we are or being true to our religion. I choose to be honest, and in doing so had to acknowledge the truth that Christianity (and organized religion in general) wasn’t the path for me. For my entire adult life, I pretty much left it there. Yet, somehow I could never leave behind the guilt and the shame that far too often accompanies the reality of being gay.

We busted through the closet door, survived an epidemic, lived our lives out in the open and among opposition, and have now won the right to march down the aisle to marry. Yet all of those battles have left us shell-shocked as a community and in need of healing on a deep and profound level.

Within Kundalini Yoga, I found an integrated acceptance that I’ve never known. I’ve discovered a practice that I can come to as an out gay man where I can sit equally and without shame. Once I got serious about the practice, I started to find a community of like-minded people on a similar journey. And recently, I’ve found a spiritual home in Venice where I’m making new friends and collaborating my talents.

I’m not in Kansas anymore, but I am very much still on the range—a never-ending horizon of deep discovery that’s guided by something greater than me. I acknowledge my spiritual self, and because of that I am very much proud to be a homo!

I went over a year without updating this blog because I really didn’t know how I could be “homo on the range” in California. Now I understand that the range stretches far beyond the prairies, and that gay people everywhere have continual expansion to do themselves, no matter where we live! I’m going to start updating this again regularly, though instead of the whole gay boy in Kansas shtick, this will focus on the spiritual path that’s unfolding as I step out of shame and claim the divine nature of having incarnated as a gay man.

I guess I’ll never be Carrie Bradshaw. That’s ok. I can settle for Sat Nam in the City!

2014: Change Your Life

CHANGE YOUR LIFE

It started out as a wallet. It became a mantra. Then a tattoo!

It started out as a wallet. It became a mantra. Then a tattoo!

I saw those words graffitied onto a wallet at the Hollywood & Highland mall right after I finished a hike up Runyon Canyon.  It was late September 2012, and I was wrapping up my first visit to Los Angeles. I desperately wanted not to be returning to Wichita, KS the next day. Such was my fate.

That’s exactly why those three simple words painted onto a red-bricked backdrop and mass-produced for consumption on a faux-leather money-binder arrested my attention.  They were calling out to me, screaming at me really, to do the one thing I’d long been afraid of doing: changing my life!

Whatever else happened, 2013 will always be remembered in the annals of my personal history as the year when I did, indeed, change my life. I bought the wallet for my best friend that night, but somehow I knew those words were as much for me as they were for him. The next day, I returned to Runyon Canyon early in the morning.  I climbed to the pinnacle and stood on top of a rock. The sun beamed down warmly. To my right, the Hollywood Sign sank royally into the towering hills. To my left, the pacific waters of Santa Monica glistened as sunlight danced across the beach. In front of me, a sea of soaring towers and sprawling buildings lit up.

I knew that I belonged down there.  Somewhere in the midst of the congestion, someplace in the middle of the cacophony, I was certain there had to be a place for me. Where I was—and how I would get there—I did not know. But standing alone on that rock with this panoramic vision unfolding, my eyes had seen the future. There was no turning back. There was no looking elsewhere. There could be no more delay. I had to change my life.

I made a promise to myself at that spot. By the end of the next year, 2013, I would be living down there. I would make a plan. I would make it happen. I would just do it.

“I’m just going to do this,” I said out loud.

Those words set in motion a roller coaster 14 months that would test my will, challenge my values, try my patience, and see me nearly lose my sanity. Yet, I ultimately found grace, peace, and satisfaction within that did, indeed, make that intention a reality. Today, I’m sitting in a Hollywood coffee shop reflecting on that experience, with my own studio apartment a few miles away and a job I’m eager to return to after the holidays.

But getting here wasn’t easy. And it wasn’t supposed to be.

I’m not the only person who has been fundamentally unhappy about a specific, key aspect of my life.  I needed to live in a big city, and as much as I love many of the people in Kansas, Wichita just wasn’t where I belonged anymore. I know a lot of people who are in places where they don’t belong, too…and it’s not all about geography. It’s the dead-end job depleting your ambition that you won’t leave because you fear the financial unknown. It’s the failed relationship you rekindle because the thought of being alone scares you more than the idea of being continuously wounded by someone who doesn’t fit you. It’s an ideology you cling to—maybe political, perhaps religious—that doesn’t align with where your core vales are anymore. It’s facets of our life, some big and some small, that add up to setting us back more than they do moving us forward. Once you know you’re going nowhere—and don’t fool yourself, because you do know—you, too, have to change your life.

It’s one thing to have that ‘Runyon Canyon magical moment’ where you see the dream you want to claim; it’s quite another undertaking to execute a plan to make it happen. When the scenery is grand, the temperature is warm, and you are high on the possibility of life, it’s easy to say that you will do something big. Inevitably, though, we all climb down the mountain.

For me, that climb was literal and fast. A few hours after I made that bold pronouncement, I wasn’t in California anymore. I was in Kansas, where the land was flat, the views were nil, and wind-chills had temperatures somewhere in the high teens.  So I did what we all do…I started making excuses:

  • I have too much student loan dept. I can’t move until I pay that all off (that will be never).
  •  I work at a non-profit. I can’t possibly save up enough money to move in one year.
  •  My resume sucks. My career path is weird and disjointed. No one in L.A. will ever want to hire me, especially since I’m from a flyover state.
  •  I’m not pretty enough for Los Angeles. I have curves and stretch marks. And dark circles around my eyes. I’ll be laughed out of town.
  •   I barely know anyone in L.A., and I pretty much know everyone in Wichita. I’ll have no support system if I move!

Self-flagellating excuses…sound familiar? Your list will read differently than mine, but all those excuses are doing the exact same thing that mine were doing: holding you back! Everyday, every moment really, we have an opportunity to see our life through the veil of fear or the veil love. I had conditioned myself into seeing life only through frightful sepia. All along, though, I’ve had a choice. After much reflection (including 10 days of not talking and doing nothing but sitting and meditating at a retreat!), I finally chose the wiser alternative. I re-wrote my narrative (and you should re-write yours, too!):

I always made the payments on my loans, and my credit was strong. I didn’t exactly make a ton of money at my job, but I was far from having to penny pinch. We also did just institute a new flex-schedule policy that allowed me to work 4 longer days a week and have 3 days in a row off, giving me the ability to get extra income from part-time work. My resume was as strong as I sold it, and I had solid references eager to help me get where I wanted. While I couldn’t do anything about somebody else’s prejudice toward Kansas, I could resist the ridiculous impulse to indulge it myself.  I’d been single my whole time in Kansas; even if the guys in LA all thought my hideous, at least it would be warm and I’d have millions of things to do. Not that such a scenario is likely in a city with 10 times the number of people and probably 20 or more times the number of out, gay men! And not knowing anyone, well, I’d just have to make new friends and fresh connections!

With a more honest account of my life in the forefront of my mind, I was better equipped to make and execute the actual plan that was going to get me to Los Angeles. It included working four jobs and cutting back my spending drastically to save up $20,000 so that I could get here and have enough money to stay afloat until I found employment. I wasn’t going to rely on anyone else to get me out of Kansas; I couldn’t hope to be hired away. I–and I alone–would have to get myself to California. Like I said on that rock on top of the canyon, I just had to do this!

And I did. I worked the jobs. I saved up the money. I survived some intermittent drama. I even ended up getting “hired away” and got to leave Kansas a full month a head of when I intended. While I’m beyond grateful for my new job, I got myself to California. I was coming with or without it. That mindset actually made the search and interview process a lot more seamless and natural. There really WAS a place for me down there in those lights, and because I was of the right mindset, I was able to find it!

CHANGE YOUR LIFE

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Change doesn’t come easy. There were a lot of struggles to get me to where I am today. I wanted to give up…several times! But I knew I couldn’t, and I needed a consistent reminder. Mid-way through the year, I got those formative words tattooed onto my stomach…in the tongue of a giant Buddha. After doing some research, I discovered that the wallet image was actually taken from a mural painted onto a piece of the Berlin Wall. A concrete slab that divided and oppressed was repurposed to uplift and inspire.

My move to Los Angeles is about more than a geographic climate improvement, and it is much grander than an upgrade in city cachet (though those two facets are quite awesome!).  In moving, I truly am changing my life because when I drove out of Kansas, I left behind some tired, old ways of thinking that had nothing to do with where I was physically and everything to do with where I was mentally and emotionally. There are things I would have done a year ago that I won’t entertain now…and when I think about regressing, those three words are permanently affixed on the front of my person to remind me that I can’t!

Most of you aren’t going to brand yourself with a grandiose tattoo and move half way across the country to a city where you barely know anybody.  For each of us, the change we need is different. Whatever it is, though, do it. CHANGE YOUR LIFE. You don’t have to carry anything into this new year that you don’t want. Really, you don’t!

CHANGE YOUR LIFE

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Homo OFF the Range

555046_10100257064443052_1562883017_nWide open spaced. Terrain that expands as far as the eyes can see. Endless possibilities. The capacity to be yourself, anywhere.

Literally and figuratively, those are the best parts about being a Kansan. They’re also the ethos for what it means to be “homo on the range.” I started writing this column nearly five years ago because I wanted to start a dialogue about LGBT issues in the Midwest while establishing an identity for what it means to be queer in a red state like Kansas. It’s been an awesome experience to share my life and perspective with you. Half a decade later, I still firmly believe that you can be yourself and be successful anywhere.

That doesn’t mean you should stay in the same place indefinitely, though. You should fall in love with your life a little bit each day. If you don’t, you owe it to yourself to make some changes. For me, I decided over a year ago that I needed to manifest some pretty epic alterations, and I made a plan to move. By the time you read this column, I will be “off the range”, living a new life in Los Angeles, California.

I leave Kansas knowing that I am fortunate to have lived here. I came of age in Wichita at a time when LGBT rights and gay identities were in a state of massive flux. When I moved to Kansas in 1999, the gay rights movement here was still emerging.  I decided early on to always be honest about who I am. I was rewarded for that. Eager to create change, I have been continually empowered by the people here to do good work. Whether it was running the Sedgwick County Democratic Party, writing about art for The Wichita Eagle, promoting bands with ROK ICT, or organizing events at the National MS Society, my sexual orientation has always been viewed as being secondary to my sincere drive to make Wichita a better city. I’ve always felt accepted by most people here. I have even forged friendships and earned the respect of many who were not originally allies of our community. I am nobody special; it’s the collective spirit of the people of Kansas who embody something truly extraordinary.

The locale that launches us defines significant facets of who we are. Though I now call Los Angeles my “home,” Kansas is the place I will always be “from”. Being “from Kansas” means you originate in a place where honesty, hard work, and integrity are central values. It means you incubate somewhere that rewards drive and ambition with encouragement and opportunity. And it means you traverse on soil that you can fertilize with your unique sparkle. In Kansas, you can manipulate the wind as it blows. Those of you who remain should utilize that exceptional malleability to color a more vibrant culture and grow broader acceptance for our LGBT community.

The new life I’ve secured on the west coast was paved by Kansas’ golden road of possibility. I’m excited to start a new position working as a fundraising events manager for a social justice oriented non-profit called Liberty Hill. Having the distinct privilege of moving to a city and immediately getting to work to make it a better community is an advent I am truly grateful to experience.  I will never forget where I came from. Though it’s time for me to go “off the range”, I know that Kansas is a state of mind. In that state, we’re all at our best when we are 100% our unabashed selves.

While this column signals a wrap for “Homo on the Range”, the epic adventure is just beginning! You can keep up with my California-sized exploits on my blog, www.homoontherange.com or by following me on Twitter.

Fear: A Call for Love

eleanor-roosevelt-quotes-sayings-motivational-wisdom-scareEleanor Roosevelt said that we should do one thing everyday that scares us. The patron feminist figure is a great barometer for fearlessness. First Lady of the United States from 1933-1945, she did all sorts of daring stuff women weren’t supposed to do. She took on the clan, championed racial equality, held press conferences, wrote columns, toured coalmines, helped found the United Nations, and had openly lesbian friends. She might have even been romantically entangled with one of them…while being the President’s wife!

She stared down fear by doing things women didn’t do in the 1930’s.  I’ve always admired her for staunchly pushing forward on issues she cared about while aggressively asserting herself despite the times in which she lived.  She lived out her mission by seeing past her fears.

Today, I summoned a bit of that E.R. energy myself by doing not one, but TWO things that scared me:

1)   I resigned my job.

2)   I called out my biggest fear of all: being alone.

Effective December 24th, I won’t have the security of gainful employment. Instead, I’ll have the freedom of enterprising opportunity. Perhaps I’ll land a gig before then, but if not, the wheels are rolling out of ICT and into Cali! I’ve always been afraid of sending off that e-mail officially saying that I’ll no longer work where I do. It’s difficult to leave a comfortable job that has brought only good into your life. At a certain point, though, you have to acknowledge the shortcomings of security. What good is a job if in only reinforces an unfulfilled life?

I’m moving to Los Angeles for several reasons, but a big part of why I’m uprooting my entire existence at 31 is that I want to find a place where I belong again. That was Wichita for a time. For a season I truly felt that I belonged here, but it’s been years since I’ve felt connected or fulfilled. Like most traditional locales, the advent of the 30’s in Wichita means marriage, children, and mortgages for most.  Not really my thing. Plus I’m gay. Enough said. In urban settings, life doesn’t settle in at 30; it’s that point when the adventure truly takes off. I’m ready to find a tribe of people to whom I feel connected with again.

It’s within that most yearned of prospects that my biggest fear has lied. The truth is that I’m not afraid of going broke or being homeless. Somehow, I just intrinsically know neither of those fates will befall me. It’s being alone that I’m worried about. After all, I’m moving to a city where I sort of know a total of kind of 4 people:

1)   My super cool therapist cousin who I’m just now getting to really know and who’s been awesomely supportive of my venture.

2)   An indie flick PR maven I’ve barely seen since high school who I once shared an inside joke with about Civil War aficionado Mary Chesnut. Google her.

3)   The marketing manger for TOMS (yes, the hipster show company!) who former roommate Steffen splashed a shot onto by accident last fall when I was visiting WeHo. He does yoga and posts inspirational memes on his Facebook page.

4)   Steffen’s ex-boyfriend, who is super sweet and probably loads of fun with a great taste in music and affinity for Venice Beach.

Yesterday I was sort of wrapped up in this ridiculous self-pity lonely fear cocoon when LA acquaintance #3 (who will henceforth be referred to as TOMS Guy) randomly commented on a Facebook post I made about fear. I was attempting to pep-talk myself into not being afraid, but really missing the mark entirely when I posted:

Fear. You can give in to it and be defeated. Or you can stare it down and be delivered to something awesome.

TOMS Guy commented:

…or there is always the 3rd, more gentler way. You look past it. For fear is of this world but not of the true world… Fear is nothing but a “call for love.” Bring the love and the fear disappears…

His comment was a simultaneous cold slash of water and hot slap in the face. Throughout all of the year’s worth of saving money and making plans to move, there’s one thing I had not done…called in love! You can’t rid yourself of loneliness or find a tribe to belong to when you aren’t calling out for love to embrace you.

So today, I did just that. And this post is my official call for love! Love is an optimal state where who we are connects to the energy of people around us. It draws in the best of them while extrapolating from us our brightest gems. Friendships, friend groups, tribes, communities, and ultimately romantic partners are born from this force. Once I saw that, fear did indeed disappear.

TOMS are wise sages in addition to being trendy shoes.

All in all, I suppose today was pretty epic. I didn’t pen an Eleanor Roosevelt U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights draft, but I did kick two fears to the curb. Sometimes, the most significant work happens inside our own brain. And on our Facebook wall.

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