Happiness

Someday, Simba, All of This Will Be Yours

I’ve done it! I’VE DONE IT! I finally tricked my therapist into talking about Scandal with me! It has taken months of “emotional honesty” and “working on myself” and whatever to get to this point. Every week I pay her to talk about television for 45 minutes and every week she side-steps all of my clever observations about The Good Wife and thoughts on Modern Family (“I mean, do those people even like each other?”) and forces me to focus on “the issues.” As if anything is more important than Juliana Marguiles’ power suits and Christine Baranski’s reaction shots.

Diane Lockhart gives the Cliff Notes on 85% of my behavior.

Diane Lockhart gives the Cliff Notes on 85% of my behavior.

But now I am triumphant! I was talking to her about a Scandal-watching party I had with a couple of friends and her eyes lit up. “Ooh, I love Scandal!” she cried. She immediately sat back in her chair and tried to wave it away with a return to professionalism (“But why do you keep buying yoga classes on Groupon if you’re never going to use them?”). I was like “Oh, no you don’t. I got you, Myrtle! Now, true or false: everyone’s hair on that show should receive billing as a Special Guest Star?”

Her name is not actually Myrtle but I can’t tell you what it really is. Doctor-patient confidentiality, y’know. I’m actually really serious about my relationship with my therapist. WestWingI respect it so much that she is literally the only person I’ve ever met who I have not stalked on Facebook. That’s respect, y’all. If I’ve met you even once, if you’re dating a friend of mine, if I overheard your name in line at Starbucks, I have looked at every photo of you on Facebook and felt envious of all the fun you had before we met. God, I waste a lot of time.

I’m a little sad that my breakthrough at therapy comes as our time together is coming to an end. We had our last session together yesterday morning. Because I’m cured!

LOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOL

Just kidding. She’s graduating. My therapist is actually a student. She’s in 5th grade. I help her with her algebra and she coaches me on managing my expectations and reasonable responses to normal situations (“The counter person at the bagel shop is probably not in love with you. But you could always ask him.” “I COULD NEVER DO THAT! YOU’RE CRAZY! Now what are your feelings about Mama Pope? Why is she always lying down? Does she have a bone density problem?!”). True story, two weeks ago she spent the whole session coaching me through writing a two-line text to a guy I have a crush on. When he responded I freaked out and called her emergency number. “WHAT DO I SAY? WHY WON’T YOU ANSWER ME?! I KNOW YOU’RE HOME; IT’S AFTER CURFEW!” Eventually I gave up and dialed 911. Those operators are really good at composing playful banter.

Anyway, I was telling my therapist about the Scandal party in service of a larger story that I thought she might find entertaining. I really see every session as a workshop for a new solo show. I spent our first month together trying to trick her into laughing with deadpan observations about my family and subtly racist humor. From 9 to 9:50 every Thursday I am Kevin Hart in a small, windowless room on JFK Boulevard. I pretend the noise-cancelling machine is applause. Killin’ it.KevinHart

But it’s over now and I’m feeling a little bit sad about it, to be honest. She asked me to make a list of what I felt the important moments in our time together were and she did the same. This, of course, thrilled me because there’s NOTHING I love more than a flashback episode. And this was a flashback episode and a season finale! What’s that you say? This is therapy and not a television series? Oh yeah? Then why did Special Guest Star Chris Meloni show up? And why was “Feels Like I’m 17 Again” playing? (Well, that’s because I accidentally turned my iPhone on in my tote bag. But still!)

Anyway, it was all very emotional and I gave a speech at the end that I’m sure is a lock for an Emmy Award nomination. Watch your back, Tony Shaloub as “Monk”, I’m gunning for you! (I know that Monk is no longer on the air, but I’m pretty sure that Tony Shaloub wins Best Actor every year anyway because the world is a good and just place where order and good sense prevail.)

As if the end of my therapy sessions wasn’t traumatic enough, when I left home this morning I found a letter in the mail that I’d written to myself in January of 2013. I’d written it as part of my training with Artist’s U, a development program for emerging independent artists, and forgotten all of about it, as I do with literally everything I do at every moment of every day. I don’t even remember what the last sentence said. Anyway, sandwiches. What? Oh, the letter. Yes. I was terrified! There is nothing more cruel than to catch your reflection in the eyes of your past self. No matter how good things are going, how different things turned out to be, there’s always a bit of hope dashed, isn’t there? No? Just me. Whatever. Anyway, here’s actual footage of me opening my mailbox.michael-scott-no

I still haven’t read it. I just can’t handle it. WHAT MIGHT IT SAY?! I’m like Brad Pitt at the end of Se7en, except instead of Gwyneth’s head I’m worried I might come face to face with my own hopes and dreams. And let me tell you, my ambitions are every bit as terrifying as the decapitated author of GOOP newsletters.

OKAYAnyway, this blog post isn’t about my anxiety (Oh, OKAY.) I’m not even that concerned about ending my therapy sessions. I mean,  I have plenty of people to talk about Scandal with (and good coping mechanisms or access to pie or whatever). Like my friend Sean; he and I text about Scandal literally all day every day.

Sean is hilarious. I am constantly haranguing him to start a blog. Of course, then I would have to battle him like Highlander because I see every other funny person as a threat to my existence. One night we were live-texting during an episode of Scandal and I marveled at the pregnant Kerri Washington’s intensity during a particular scene; Sean fired back “She’s acting for two.”

I can’t really tell how it lands at a time when I’m not neck deep in madelines and caramel popcorn. But trust me, it was funny then. Ugh now I have all this anxiety that that example doesn’t adequately convey Sean’s hilarity. I mean, in context that joke made me spit out the piece of cupcake I keep lodged in my jaw (like tobacco chew but for people who are more health conscious). Out of context though… Man I don’t know. I mean, what IS comedy, anyway? I am seriously stressing about this. I simply don’t have time to page through a year’s worth of witty text banter to find a perfect example. I don’t have time! I have a day job! I am not caught up on Orphan Black! I have a meatloaf in the oven! I have a wedding to plan! And, no, I am not engaged but I have a plethora of good ideas and a Pinterest login. What else, really, does one need? Honestly, at this point I could get married with a month’s notice and someone else’s credit card. And it would be a ceremony that would blow your weave back. (Natural hair only at my wedding, please. Because Africa.)

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The shade. (Click to enlarge. I don’t have time to bigify this.)

Sean and I have known each other since March of last year and I am consistently amazed by how well we get along because there’s a 14 year age gap between us. Most of the time I forget that and talk to him like he’s one of my hundreds and hundreds of late 20s gay friends. But, bless his heart, he is always kind enough to remind me. The other day we were talking about the OJ Simpson verdict (because we like to keep abreast of current events) and he said “the verdict came out on the day before my birthday. Like my birth canal birthday.”

We went to the same high school, separately of course. The Paleozoic era occurred in the interim. (Boom. Roasted.) It’s a phenomenal private school (pinkies up!) called The Park School outside Baltimore. I always say that when I have kids I’m moving back there just so my kids can go to Park too. That’s high praise considering I have a rather complicated relationship with Baltimore. Which is a ridiculous thing to say. I have a complicated relationship with a whole metropolis? That’s like those women who say they don’t get along with other women. “Really, Paula? You have a beef with over half the world’s population? What’s the common denominator there?”

Oh. The past. What is it and why does it happen all the time?

Speaking of: I got an invitation to my 15 year high school reunion the other day. That was a thing that happened. It had a picture of all of us on graduation day and I just stared at it forever. Look at these children! Look at these skinny shoulders! Look at these high-heeled sandals!!SANDALS

I would show you the full picture but I don’t have permission to broadcast other people’s youthful visages across the Internet. Like I have permission to talk about all the jamooks I go on dates with. Whatever. Price of doing business.Orphan Black

I searched the crowd to find myself. I could remember taking the picture but I didn’t remember where I stood. What a weird feeling. As I passed over faces, I realized that I see a large majority of these people on Facebook all the time and yet this is how I remember them. And most of these embryos have babies now ! Look at that goofy face with the Nick Carter haircut! He’s got a baby! Look at the virgin who can’t drive: two babies!

Suddenly, there I was. Right in the center (R. Eric Thomas: Stealing focus since the late 90s).  Stealingfocus_GinaTorresI didn’t even recognize that guy. I don’t who that is. I don’t know what he’s thinking. I don’t know why he did the things he did. But there he was, me, smiling brightly. It was like some shit out of The Shining. I exist in the past! But howwwww?

Not at all creepy.

Not at all creepy.

15 years! It doesn’t feel long, it doesn’t feel short. I guess that’s why I’m sometimes surprised to remember that Sean and I are not the same age. I don’t feel like I think or act particularly young, but I’m in a state of extended exuberance.

There are times, though, when the chasm between us is enormous. For instance, he texted me that his college was doing a production of Steel Magnolias and I immediately texted back “YOU HAVE TO AUDITION! I DON’T CARE THAT THERE AREN’T ANY MALE PARTS! DO IT!” He replied, “I actually haven’t seen it but I felt like you’d think it was important because you’re always talking about it.” And it’s true, I am always talking about. Aren’t you? God, I have so much to teach him! There are young gay men roaming this Earth who haven’t seen Steel Magnolias! I don’t even know how they find the strength to get out of bed in the morning and pull on their skinny jorts.

It’s a funny thing, moving into the middle of the gay cultural inheritance: I get Judy Garland and Britney Spears, but neither of them had as profound an effect on me as they did on men 10 years older or 10 years younger than me, respectively. More importantly, as I get older, my perspective on the long history of LGBT men and women changes and I start to see the experiences of those who came before me as strikingly important to my own understanding of myself. I think sometimes of what it must have been like to be my age in 1981, the year I was born. I know men who recall with heart-breaking vividness what it felt like to watch all of their friends die. The thought of it is sometimes unbearable to me.

And so there are times, when I’m riffing with Sean, that the great book of the past opens up. And it’s not a bad thing; it feels a bit like being welcomed into a huge, bustling community.

Anyway, the way we came to meet was this: Park reached out to me about 18 months ago and asked me to write a play for a festival of new work by alumni.Ben-Wyatt-gifs-parks-and-recreation-28255952-500-273

It, legit, never occurred to me to write something that was appropriate for high school audiences. Instead, I wrote a farce about mistaken identity, rumors and scandal amidst a group of crazy people meeting on a street corner. All of the characters were me avatars, basically. There was one character who declared, apropos of very little, that she needed to eat every 15 minutes or she got demented. THAT IS A MEDICAL FACT ABOUT MY OWN LIFE.

Sean directed the play, a feat that still astounds me because 1) I am a crazy person who just types stuff that makes me giggle (see above) and 2) this 7-character circus was phenomenal! I was blown away. It was actually funny to other people. Plus, he and the cast (Matt, Jessie, Tony, Lizzie, Kelsey, Christopher and Katelyn–whom I think the world of and cannot praise highly enough) had added sight gags and details that I never would have thought of.

I went down to Baltimore for the festival last March. The school looks so much different than it did when I was there. The bones were the same but everything else had been built up and out, technologized and glassified (architecture!). I was to stay the night in the city because the next day I was doing a workshop called  “Finding Comedy in Life: Performance and Panel”. If it were held today I’d ask them to change the name to “Living Your Life Like Lupita” followed by a breakout work session called “May Your Days Be Meryl and Bright”.

ItsSoWeirdBeingMyOwnRoleModelBetween the matinee performance of the play and the evening show, the cast, directors and writers of all the festival plays gathered for dinner and a Q&A. I LOVE a Q&A because I have SO MANY opinions. “Well,” I said, “The first thing you want to do is date somebody older so they can take you to parties at their rich friends’ houses and you can get a feel for good interior design and a well-appointed mezze platter. But don’t fall in love with them. And don’t let them fall in love with you. You’re young. You have to sleep around.”

I’m available for Career Day if you need me.TIP_OITNB

We went through some great questions about what it was like to be a professional writer (all of which I answered “IDKLOL!”) and then they started asking about what Park was like when we, the alumni, had attended. At one point, a lovely young woman named Grace asked me what it was to be gay at Park in the 90s.

I was like, “The who-what? The when-where? The why-with-which? Oh no, honey. This is the most open place I’ve ever been but nobody was gay here then. The guy who played Jack on Will & Grace wasn’t even gay in the 90s.”

Es-ka-weeze?

Es-ka-weeze?

I then went on to commend the gathered group of high schoolers, many of whom were miraculously out and happy and talking about exes (EXES?! PLURAL!) and starting Gay-Straight Alliances with pictures of Chris Colfer on the walls. I was amazed by them. I was inspired by them. I told them I wish that my 17-year-old self could’ve been so brave, so honest. I wished he could’ve seen it.

During dark times I used to wish that I had the power to time travel, just so I could go to the future and see how everything turned out. I just wanted to know that everything turned out okay. I like that inside the wish for time travel there is the belief that everything does, indeed, have a happy ending. I just couldn’t see it yet.

After dinner we all headed back to the theatre. As we walked along a corridor, we passed a huge wall of photographs from the 100 years of the school’s existence. And suddenly there I was. Right in the middle. I came face to face with a picture of me and Kim, Orlando, Aisha and Ama, sitting outside with the then-headmaster. We’re all no older than 15. We’re all grinning in puffy winter coats that I’m sure were neon, though the photo is black and white. There I was. On the wall of this new building in a place that used to know. Or at least there was a person who looked just like the person I see in old pictures of me.

I pointed it out to the kids from the play and kept walking.

I’m so glad that Grace asked the question she did because it pulled my experience now and my experience then into perspective. I’m the person that the kid in the picture would discover if he were to stumble on a time machine. I’m the man who would tell him how things turned out. And there have been times, more recently, when I thought about time travel and wished that I could go back and rescue that kid. I’d tell him he was loved, and he was whole and complete and he had the gift of honesty just waiting to free him.

But that smiling kid hanging on the walls of my high school is unchanging and he’s unreachable. I can’t rescue him; going back wouldn’t do either of us any good. The stranger in the picture needs me to keep moving forward, to keep evolving and expanding so that one day we might become the person we’re going to be. And so that’s what I’m going to do. For all of us.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a letter from myself that I need to read.

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Happiness

Let’s Start At the Very Beginning

Over the holiday my parents asked me what my five-year-plan was. In previous years when confronted with that question I’ve responded by bursting into tears and re-enacting August: Osage County by myself until someone stuffed my face full of mac and cheese. “Life is very long. TS Elli–horff norff num num num.” But this year was different! I have a plan!

1) Win a People’s Choice Award. Or at least a perfect attendance award at work.

2) Appear on Oprah’s Next Chapter. Or, the sequel Oprah’s Choose Your Own Adventure Where You Know You’re Just Going to Skip Ahead to See What the Good Option Is

3) Be listed on the New York Times Weddings & Celebrations page

I’m obsessed with the Weddings & Celebrations page. I read it online every Sunday night. And I am so serious about it. It’s probably my main life goal. I love how they subtly write the class into the blurbs without ever having to say “these bitches are rich. Their centerpieces are worth more than your life.” I love how they use “the” to connote importance that’s beyond your comprehension. “The groom’s father is the composer, Danny Elfman.” I love that they occasionally just name-drop celebrities like it’s no big thing. “Among attendees was the bride’s cousin, the rapper Jay-Z, and his wife, Beyonce.” I especially love when they do a longer feature on a couple and upon further examination their lives seem strangely blemish-free and yet slightly creepy. In the most wonderful way ever!bovy_portlandia

I’m obsessed! And I need to be on there. There’s this site called FutureMe.org where you can write e-mails to yourself to be delivered at any time in the future, from tomorrow to 100 years from now or more. One of those options might be over-reaching a bit and the other is kinda missing the point, but I’m not here to judge. (Yes, I am. Never forget that. NEVER FORGET IT.) Anyway, I write my future self e-mails all the time and I always end each one the same way.

“Is it worth it? Let me work it. Put your thing down, flip it and reverse it.
Love, Eric
PS: ARE YOU MARRIED YET? WERE YOU ON THE PAGE?”

Listen, I fully intend to be married within 5 years. That’s why it’s on my five-year-plan. If I didn’t think it was going to happen, it would be pretty ridiculous to put it on my plan, now wouldn’t it? God.

So it’s Sunday and I’m reading the Weddings & Celebrations page. Well, it’s Sunday where I am. Not for you, though,  because you’re in the future. PS, am I married yet? Was Beyonce there?

Me reading the Weddings & Celebrations page

Me reading the Weddings & Celebrations page

The thing I love most about the Weddings & Celebrations page is, I think, the thing I also hate most about it. It shows a kind of life that looks fanciful and romantic and just out of reach. It’s the movie version of life. But, just like all romantic comedies, it’s totally attainable and rooted in reality.

Weddings aside, there are moments where my life does seem exactly like the life of the version of myself who stars in the movie that plays in my head (That’s the one who is going to win the People’s Choice, just so you know.) This weekend I had one of those moments.

I went to a dinner party thrown by my perfect friend Michael. He probably hates it when people call him perfect. It’s probably annoying because it happens all the time. Or maybe he doesn’t hate it. Maybe he’s like “that’s right, bitch. I get up at five, do some yoga, paint a watercolor of a mountain I hiked, bake some fresh bread and then I’m off to work. On time. Cuz I’m fucking perfect.” Meanwhile I’ve been known to make the “I’m going to be a couple minutes late” call a full 15 minutes after I was due in to work. Like, I know I’m late. I just want to make sure you know that I know.

Michael is amazing. He’s one of those gays that makes gays look good. He’s stylish (his clothes always fit! How does that happen?), he has an interesting career (he’s a park ranger! Delightful!), he writes a food column called “Spooning” (I write a weekly recap of his column called “Swooning” but don’t tell him that because it might make it weird). And he seems to be effortlessly creative, from his homemade recipes, to his watercolors, to his print making.

This is a thing that was at his house! A pinecone!

This is a thing that was at his house!

He’s a Martha Stewart gay. He was able to to have a full spread–hummus, pesto, meatballs, pies, bread, candles in mason jars, random pine cones–all ready and waiting for us when we showed up. And I showed up on time because I wanted to catch him in the act. The last time I threw a party I didn’t finish cooking until 10 the next morning. People were gone, the living room had been vacuumed and I was still sweating my balls off in the kitchen, yelling “Give me five more minutes; these brussels sprouts are almost done.”

Michael, however, was all ready, hadn’t broken a sweat, and, when I arrived, was casually engaging the other guests in high-minded conversation while making a second set of meatballs to be served in an hour, just in time for fashionably late guests. Brilliant!

ACTUAL FOOTAGE OF ME ARRIVING AND FINDING NARY A NAPKIN OUT OF PLACEGoldie shocked

He’s Weddings & Celebrations page material. I am not that kind of gay. I’m a Florence from The Jeffersons gay. Here’s what kind of gay I am: I cook well; I like to do it but when it’s all said and done there’s going to be a sink full of dishes and the food is going to taste good but it’s going to look like it was thrown together by Florida Evans who, Lord knows, ain’t got time to be bruleeing figs. Michael gets his recipes from his own brain; I get mine by Googling “easiest pasta sauce recipe never mind I’m just going to buy Prego thanks”. You’re not going to be Instagramming my culinary creations.

Michael makes it look so easy. I won’t ever go kayaking at 5 in the morning; it’s hard enough for me to wake up on time, make a half-assed protein shake (read: Frosty), and get out the door wearing matching socks. I don’t have any kids (that I acknowledge) but I am already a wild-eyed, harried Desperate Housewives character.

Me. Most days.

Me. Most days.

So, going to this party was like a visit to another world. And I loved every minute of it.

The only fault I find with Michael is that for the entire time we’ve known each other he has resisted admitting that he is completely in love with me.

Maybe he’s shy.

I mean, there’s no evidence that he’s in love with me. But I would really prefer it.

hes just so wonderfulA few weeks ago, he said to me “Your Facebook posts are always so crazy. I want to illustrate your life!” True love.

I suggested that he draw illustrations for the book of essays I’m writing. He agreed. Guys, he wants to draw my life in pictures. That’s tantamount to a promise ring.

Anyway, back to the party. It was amazing. I kept loudly exclaiming “I’m having a fabulous time!!” because I have no social skills whatsoever. Here’s five reasons it was amazing.

LOOK AT THIS LIGHTING!!

LOOK AT THIS LIGHTING!! LOOK AT THESE PEOPLE!

1) The lighting. OMG the lighting in his apartment was so attractive. I love good lighting but I hate hanging things, nailing things, installing things or doing anything. So my apartment usually looks like the center spread in Better Homes and Gardens: Mordor Edition.

2) The people. Everyone was so interesting and funny and engaging and pretty. There was a mix of gays and straights from all different places. Michael’s sister was there and she was wearing the most fantastically-draped scarf I have EVER SEEN. And she works for InStyle Magazine and lives in Brooklyn and I could just die! Also, someone recognized me! Like, he’d coincidentally seen my TED talk the day before! I LOVE A PARTY WHERE PEOPLE RECOGNIZE ME!

3) The music. I have never heard a better mix at a party. It was primarily late Motown with an odd indie hit thrown in. Phenomenal. It was like an episode of Scandal where nothing bad happened and everyone was happy and they had to change the name of show to Just Living.

I’m so overwhelmed, I can’t even keep listing reasons. Just look at this fucking picture.

I DON'T EVEN KNOW WHAT THIS IS BUT IT'S AMAZING AND I LOVE IT.

I DON’T EVEN KNOW WHAT THIS IS BUT IT’S AMAZING AND I LOVE IT.

As if the party wasn’t perfect enough, I met one of those perfect gay couples. You know, when two perfect gays come together to form a more perfect union. That’s the majority of the couples on the Weddings & Celebrations page. This is not a relationship I will ever been in. I am not a perfect gay. I’m a David Burtka gay. But that’s neither here nor there.

My first interaction with the perfect gays was not very successful

My first interaction with the perfect gays was not very successful

I was sitting across from these two guys and I asked them what they did. One was an architect and one was a doctor. Of course. Then I asked them how long they’d been together. Five years. Oh, stability? How nice. I asked them how they met. They met at church.

They are a doctor and an architect that met at church and fell in love forever over the sound of jazz vespers.

The doctor was quick to quash my romantic musings. “Let me tell you what it’s really like dating a doctor,” he said. “I am up at 4 every day. We never see each other. The thing I look forward to most is going to sleep.”  I was like “Lah lah lah don’t care. You both have adorable sweaters and nice smiles and you seem vaguely put off by how desperately I want your life. That’s a hat trick in my book. I want it. Give it to me now.”

I continued, raising my voice to command the attention of the room, “Tell us an interesting story about the way you interacted with each other when you were first dating.” They looked at me askance. I said “DONT CROSS ME! I AM CHANNELING OPRAH! I AM WEARING LOUBOUTIN TAP SHOES RIGHT NOW! ANSWER MY QUESTIONS!” oprah squintEventually they acquiesced, telling me charming stories about their lives and how they met and then surrendering their phones so I could page through their Instagrams and giggle quietly.

I love origin stories. That’s really why I love the Weddings & Celebrations page. I love talking to people about how they met. I love how even the most matter-of-fact things become fairytale bread crumbs when you tell them in the middle of your happy ending. That’s what I want: not the whole story, but the good parts.

Sometime in the near future I’m going to start a web series that’s just that that: me talking to people about how they met. Friends, lovers, co-workers. I love how narrative arcs are built by distance and inevitability, how suspense is a natural by-product even though the conclusion is foregone. I love a good origin story. I love when it seems perfect.

Sometimes I’m sure of what I want out of life but I’m not always sure where to begin.

pie

P.S.: the morning after the party Michael sent me a Snapchat of a piece of pie with the caption “Pie for breakfast”. The Snapchat was sent at 8:13 a.m. on a Sunday. Bless his heart, Michael doesn’t seem to realize that on Sundays breakfast doesn’t even start until 11:30. But, more importantly, pie! No one has ever sent me a picture of pie before. That’s the most romantic thing I’ve ever seen. Life is perfect!

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