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.
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. I 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!
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.
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.
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.
Anyway, 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.)
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!!
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.
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). I 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?
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.
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”.
Between 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.”
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.”
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.