Creative: Who Am I Not to Be

17990210_10101263858354982_3911944009933736439_oI moved to Los Angeles four years ago from Kansas. That doesn’t make me special. It’s actually quite cliché: the gay guy from the Midwest who escapes the doldrums of small town life to chase the allure of the big city lights. I live in a locale where people arrive every day from all over the world, their dreams and ambitions powering their journey for a different life. Like so many here, I fancy myself a creative: a believer that I have some sort of artistic magic that needs to be shared with the world; entrenched in the mindset that I have intrinsic talent that needs to be read; and motivated by an urgent sense that my words can have some sort of positive effect.

Or so I did. Somewhere along the way my identity as a creative faded and lately I’ve been wondering exactly what it is I am.

I’m a writer, or at least I used to be. In Kansas, I had a popular column called “Homo on the Range” and I wrote for the Wichita Eagle about art, music, and local entertainment. I understood what it meant to be a creative in a place like Wichita. In HotR, my words were helping to further a much-needed dialogue about LGBT equality. When I wrote for the Eagle, those bylines were either illuminating emerging, unsung, or often-times celebrated artistry or they were spotlighting unique cultural happenings. I saw the value in using my ability to write as a vehicle for enticing people into an interactive experience with art. I understood that stories can change minds and that words can shift hearts. In short, I knew what it meant to be a creative force. On that understanding, I was certain that I’d be able to power forward in a new city.

A funny thing happened when I moved to LA, though: my creative spark flat-lined.

It was all a rush of newness at first: hiking in scenic mountains overlooking a metropolis full of billions of lights; miles long walks along the roaring ocean; an endless buffet of colorful vegan food; literally millions of people from every culture around the world. I didn’t have the desire to write because I just wanted to experience life—and I did! Newness eventually fades into normalcy, though. After a while anything becomes routine. Once the luster wore off and I settled into a state of static contentment, I found that when I would try to write, that spark just wasn’t there. Accessing that part of me had always been innate, but suddenly, it was a struggle. It didn’t take me long to realize why.

Inferiority: a massive case of self-doubt and an all-consuming feeling that I’m not good enough.

It’s easy to think that you have talent when you live in a mid-sized city with a largely manufacturing economy where creatives usually bolt for urban and more densely-populated locales after high school. Yet, when you move to the entertainment capital of the world, there are thousands of new people arriving everyday who are more accomplished, more ambitious, better educated, and better looking than you. They’re not afraid to say that to your face, either! It’s also easy to think you’re special when conformity is the predominant culture. In Kansas, my brand was being a progressive gay activist in a red state who was unashamed of being myself and who embraced funkier tastes in fashion, food, and art. Which means that in Los Angeles, I’m basically invisible! When I moved here I realized there was literally nothing special about me. I had nothing to offer that wasn’t already being done. I had no words to say that would be of any use to anyone. I used to think I had books, movies, and TV shows inside of me that just needed the space to be written and birthed to the world. I quickly found out that there’s a hundred-thousand people in front of me, though, who are all better developed and better connected. So I just surrendered to that feeling of inferiority.

Then I started working at a spiritual community center in Venice Beach: something that is even a little weird for Los Angeles! In a temple full of painters, musicians, visionaries, and entrepreneurs I was certain I would rekindle that creative spark. The opposite happened. I found myself charged with the responsibility of bringing needed order and structure to a free-flowing concept that, while beautiful in its pure state, needed parameters to grow.  Organizational charts, budget tracking, revenue forecasting, and staff job descriptions became my life. Sure, there’s a certain spark of creativity in every venture—but this wasn’t the creative mission I was looking for.

I did somehow manage to fashion a unique brand, though it wasn’t exactly one I anticipated or relished embracing: while still flashy, colorful, and very gay I was also a Hillary Clinton-supporting Democrat in a community full of largely anarchist-minded Bernie Sanders voters. I value common sense and hard work, and found myself less interested in “vision-boarding” and “manifesting” than I was eager to just get shit done. Once branded “a militant liberal” by a state lawmaker in Kansas, I was suddenly a conservative! It was the beliefs I had about my own power that proved to be the most limiting, though. With rotating life-coaches, healers, celebrities, and rock stars who had no problem asserting their voice and talents, I found myself constantly struggling to get a word in. Every person I’d meet seemed more charming, better looking, and far more gifted that me. Over time I just gave up. I conceded my creative talents to what I internalized as being the superior artistic gifts those around me possessed. I quietly decided to let the creatives do their world-changing thing, and I’d stay in my organized, practical corner getting shit done. Or, as set up by this mindset, getting shit on. Ironically by the time our center closed its doors, I felt as out of place in ultra-liberal, avant-hipster Venice as I did in conservative, Republican Wichita—and I meditate with crystals and practice kundalini yoga every day!

This is usually the point where I would blame someone else for my experience or go further down the line of attack on myself. The one great thing about being “invisible” in Los Angeles is that it’s given me a lot of space for personal growth. Now I know better. It was a gift that I moved here and had my identity completely stripped away. When you let go of who you think you are you can allow in all that you didn’t even know you could become.

During my first weeks in LA, I attended a Marianne Williamson lecture. The celebrate author and spiritual teacher gives regular talks about a metaphysical text call A Course In Miracles. She said something that night I’ll never forget. Reading from her first book, A Return to Love, her words were a jolt to a lifetime of self-doubt:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

12970883_10100910347882802_3382417353157470810_oMy fear has always been that I’m not good enough and that because of this I’ll never succeed or do anything significant with my life. It’s why so many times I’ve gotten close to achieving something I deeply desired and then gave up or saw it fade away. What I experience has never had anything to do with anybody else; every occurrence has been 100% self-perpetuated.  You can change your location, you can shift your vocation, you can alter your look, you can dabble in different practices, and you can surround yourself with a whole new tribe; but until you’re ready to fully own the responsibility that comes with being who you are in any given lifetime, you’ll never really be satisfied. Hence why I felt the same in Venice as I did in Wichita—in this specific area, while I was living in two different locations at two very different points of my life, I was mentally in exactly the same space!

So yes, I am a creative. It’s my essence. Not because I’ve created anything significant lately, but because intrinsically I know it’s part of what I came here to do. I can’t say that I have that “spark” back just yet, but I do feel as though there’s been a shift in my own perception. I don’t need to be like anyone else or have the status, recognition, fame, or following of another writer or creative. I just need to write from a place of authenticity, and trust that my words will be useful to whoever needs to read them. Accepting that actually takes a lot of the pressure off. Something about that spurs me to get typing again!

 

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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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