Friday, February 27, 2009

The Piano Teacher

Last year, when I was visiting the folks in Forest City, I found out that the woman who gave me piano lessons throughout much of my childhood had passed away.

Mrs. Taylor was important to me in more ways than one.

Ever since I can remember, I have loved music. I loved the radio, especially WBBO, our local station and I listened every spare minute of every day. Whatever they played, I listened to and I learned all the words to every song. And I spent lots of my allowance on records, those flat black discs that revolved around 45 times per minute with a needle tracking the grooves until they were scratched and crackly.

My favorite aunt Martha, a self-taught musician herself, held me in her lap whenever I visited when she played the old upright piano in the room off the kitchen and she eventually showed me some easy tunes I could play myself. It was Aunt Martha who introduced the concept of music notes and how you could read them to turn them into sounds with your fingers. Sitting in Aunt Martha's lap was always a highlight because I relished the attention and her encouragement. She was possibly the first person who recognized some tiny kernal of talent I might have had in those days.

So, by about age 6, I had a passion to learn to play the piano myself . I begged and begged until mom and dad gave in and bought me my own secondhand Baldwin upright! And, they agreed to send me for some piano lessons to learn to play it.

I still remember mom driving me to Ellenboro , which was out in the country for us folks from the urban Forest City world (pop. 7000). I had no idea what to expect, but I was squirming with anticipation during the whole ten minutes it took to get there.

We arrived at what looked like a regular country house, pulled into the gravel driveway and circled around back of the house to a tiny, plain white building, I'd soon come to know like my own room.

We sat in the car for what seemed like forever before suddenly, a small white haired woman emerged from the main house back door, beckoning us towards the small white building with small windows.

I remember her as kind and funny, with a deep Southern drawal and a natural grace about her. When she opened the door for us, I could finally see the small studio Yamaha piano, back to back with the electric Hammond organ, just like the one at our church. She and my mom worked out the details of our arrangement while I tinkered with the keys: half hour lessons, once a week, $5 a lesson, plus the cost of the music books. With a gentle nudge that I would be expected to practice at least 30 minutes a day, she winked and smiled and thus it began.

My official relationship with Mrs. Taylor lasted for almost 10 years after that, the ups and downs of those lessons, week after week, month after month and she taught me to play.

I know I wasn't always an easy student. As much as I loved the piano and loved music, it was sometimes hard to stay focused on the practicing, earning me many pseudo-threats of the lessons stopping until I found the discipline to work at it. As much as I sometimes hated the thirty minutes of scales and music theory, I also continued to love the breakthroughs in my ability to play real songs.

No matter what else was going on in my life, every week I found myself in that little room sharing the love of music and the ins and outs of the rest of my life with Mrs. Taylor. She laughed at my jokes and brushed her tiny pomeranian's fur, pausing occasionally to correct my hand position or timing, with the gentle patience of a true teacher.

Under her guidance, I became fairly accomplished at the piano, enough to eventually perform at my parents' church and later at school and at the local arts council.

One day, at my regular lesson when I was 15, she surprised me by asking if I'd be interested in becoming the pianist at her church, Ellenboro United Methodist, for $15 per service (at the time, a fortune!). She had been the pianist for years and was ready to retire at that point she explained. She also felt that I was ready and could handle the responsibility as long as my parents agreed and could bring me to church and pick me up after.

I was a little concerned about my folks' reaction since they were devout Wesleyans and taking this job would mean that I would no longer attend church with them, but I wanted to try it more than I'd ever wanted anything. It strikes me as funny now that I seemed to have no fear about it. I was just a kid who could earn some bucks and have some fun at the same time- oh, and the opportunity to escape the harshness of the fundamentalist Wesleyans that I had come to despise as a young man. At that point in time, I had been struggling with my sexuality for a few years.

Although I respected and cared for Mrs. Taylor, I wouldn't say that we necessarily had an openly loving or family-type relationship. She was my teacher and I was her student. I knew virtually nothing about her life outside that little white building. We spent ten years together, sharing our love for music and the piano and occasionally we talked about other things and laughed. Twice we met outside of the white building and church, both times on her initiative to expose me to music at a larger scale: a piano performance at Isothermal Community College and a music teachers' convention a few miles away for the afternoon.

At close to 17, my life became much more complicated as I began my first love affair, struggled to maintain my grades and dealt with the horrible coming out process with my family. Being gay back then meant that you were evil or sick and my refusal to reject that part of myself led my mother to say things to me that a mother should never say to a child.

Piano lessons got pushed aside and although I continued to play professionally, I left the comfort of those weekly meetings . Within the next couple of years, I struggled to survive until I left town for college, rarely looking back to Forest City. Mrs. Taylor wished me well with a quick hug and one last prod for me to continue my musical life after high school.

Over the years, I'd occasionally give Mrs. Taylor a call to say hello. She always sounded the same- excited to hear from me and happy when I could say that I was still playing. But I can say that I thought about her on more than a few occasions, the woman who was probably the most consistently positive force in my young life. She was always warm, always gentle and always happy to see me, 50 weeks a year for ten years.

A few years back, when my second book, The Gay and Lesbian Guide to Self-Esteem was published, I included Mrs. Taylor in the Acknowledgements section, among the other important people in my life who made a difference. She believed in me and made no demands on me other than to practice and to make good music. I never told her about it. We didn't talk about things like that. But she was the only consistently positive and regular adult presence in my life, who didn't judge me or manipulate me. I owe her for my self-discipline, a virtue which has brought me successes that I never dreamed at 13 that I could achieve.

Two years ago, I was thinking about her again, wondering how she was and remembering our times together. It hit me suddenly that maybe I had underestimated my relationship with her.

It's hard to know what kind of kid I must have been to her. What kinds of things did I really talk about with her? How much time in the 30 minutes did I really spend playing and how much did I share with her the details of my life?

I had always thought about what a wonderful "coincidence" it was that, just as I was feeling the peak oppression of my parents' fundamentalist beliefs while trying to understand myself, she "retired" as the pianist for the somewhat more progressive United Methodist Church and convinced them to offered me the job. Was I really that good? or did she have something else in mind?

What if, I wondered, Mrs. Taylor knew about struggle I was facing, without even a conversation about it. Surely, even in the back woods of Rutherford County, she had experience with little boys with a talented ear and musical expressiveness. Was it possible that this wise woman knew me better than I knew myself? Instead of divine intervention that took me out of that homophobic church under the spotlight of the small town mind, maybe it was Mrs. Taylor's way of rescuing me. Did she know me and my folks well enough to understand that without her intervention at that point in time, who knows what would have happened?

I choose to believe now that she did. I choose to believe that she was proud of me and loved me, quietly and patiently. During the times that I didn't love myself and thought I had nothing good inside, she was there every week. Recently, I revived my keyboard life, fumbling through some easy Beethoven and beginner Mozart. I wish I had practiced more during my life.

Good night Mrs. Taylor and thank you for believing in me when no one else did. I love you.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Living in a Clean House

I feel like I'm on an adventure.

We're in the process of trying to sell Brad's condo and it's the first time I've ever been involved with this procedure.

Open houses, I can tolerate.  You basically get the place in perfect order, leave for a few hours, and then when you come back, it's done.

It's the keeping the place spotless EVERY DAY that's the hard part.

I'm not exactly 
known for neatness (although I have to say that I'm not into's more like having organized little piles).  I'm not sure exactly how I missed that part of the gay gene.  I mean, I do clean up when guests are coming and Brad's gotten me into the habit of making the bed everyday (well, except for when he's out of town), but cleaning everyday is just not important to me.

Maybe I'm working out issues from my childhood?  

I remember mom's insistence on a clean house.  Before "no wax" floors, I remember my dad stripping and waxing the kitchen floor every Saturday night.  It seemed like it took hours of scrubbing and polishing.  And there wasn't a Saturday morning without the vacuum buzzing through the house, spoiling my complete enrapture with cartoons, from Bugs Bunny, Casper,and  the Flintstones, to the Archies, Josey and the Pussycats in Outer Space and Fat Albert.  

Cleaning was a priority in our house on Price street, and I learned quickly that it was a way to earn favor and spending money.  Taking out the trash, folding the laundry and washing the dishes could mean, I don't know, three dollars?  

Maybe it's just a "lifestyle choice"?

Who says that neater is better?  Who? WHO??

I think it's a matter of personal preference.  I mean, little piles don't bug me.  Honestly, there's something kinda nice about a comfy home that is "lived in".  It's like my own personal little rebellion against the shoulds of the world.  "It's my house so I get to live in it like I choose."

Except it isn't my house.

It's OUR home.

Two adults with separate identities, who choose to make a life together.

Which means we choose to compromise.

I make up the bed and Brad ignores a few little piles.

And miraculously, I am surviving living in a museum while we anticipate owning our own place together, continuing the compromising that is love.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Obama Obama Obama

I'm finally ready to talk about it.  I was so stressed out about it for the last two years, I just bring myself to blog until the climax was over.

The election I mean.

Somewhere between the press annointing Hillary as the Democratic Nominee and the second oath of office after the John Roberts' screw up, I knew that Barack Obama was the man for me in the White House, er, maybe the Multiracial House now, we should call it.

I probably did more in this election to get involved than I ever have before.  I started by trying to get to know who this man really was, first by reading "The Audacity of Hope" and then by really listening to his plans and his speeches.  I put his bumper sticker on my car long before it was cool and it was inevitable.  That's how committed I was this time around.

If  you've been reading my prior posts, you can tell that I have a problem with the Republicans as well.  Honestly, I have a problem with the Democrats too, but at least they are a bit closer to how a real democracy should function than the current crop of neocon crybabies ("nobody listens to us anymore so we don't wanna play with you!").

I have to admit, I had a few seconds of doubt after Rick Warren, the blowhard evangelist from Southern California was selected to give the invocation (see my earlier blog on this idiot).  And, I worry whenever Obama tries to go "bipartisan" on me.  After all, what exactly have the Republicans done RIGHT over the past eight years?  Anybody?  Anybody? 

Why would anything they have to say matter right now since they were the ones who messed us all up to begin with. Seriously, would someone please tell the Republican leadership that they lost because they screwed up? And that they'll keep losing as long as they keep doing it?

Watch them play games with the stimulus package just so they can "win" the media wars and try to make Obama look bad.  Watch Judd Gregg play games with the bipartisan attempt by Obama to represent the economic perspectives of by accepting Gregg's offer to be Commerce Secretary. Watch Illinois GOP leader Jim Durkin call for Blagojevich appointee Sen. Roland Burris to resign so that a "special election" can be called. that the national Repub party can pour resources into Illinois to prevent Obama from ever reaching 60?  Or how about Norm Coleman, defeated by Al Franken, filing frivolous lawsuit after lawsuit, to prevent Franken from taking his rightful seat in the Senate.  They'll do ANYTHING folks.  No matter how un-American.  

Enough about those lunk heads though.

I'm still excited about Obama, the man.  

Yes, he's got to clean house with the vetting team.

And, he really needs to stay on top of the media wars and define the arguments.

But I have to say this, his personal intellectual brilliance, his grasp of the important issues and his refreshing candor, make me more excited about this country's future than I've felt in my life time.

I think he knows what he's doing.  

I believe he has a plan for how to save the economy, how to bring respect back to the US in the eyes of the world and how to, most importantly, change politics as we know it.

For example, in a couple of years, when the economy is turning around- and it will- people will see Obama as the stimulus for that.  And people will remember that the talking heads for the Repubs were against it.

I have to hand it to the Repubs...they have balls.

Part of my dismay for the Dems is that they don't stand up and fight back.  And they are too timid to take a political risk that might pay off big, but might also blow up in their faces.

Repubs however do whatever it takes to win.  And right now, they are losing bigtime.  They are on the wrong side of history.  And they are paying for the idiocy of the Bush-Cheney-Rove years.

Obama however has balls I think.  Big ones.

It took cojones for him to run for the U.S. Senate, AND then for the Democratic nomination, AND then for President.  

He defied the odds.

He'll continue to defy expectations in my opinion.

So, when I feel frustrated with the moment, or hear a Rush Limbaugh or Ann Coulter or Sean Hannity windbag, I click my heels together three times and say "Obama, Obama, Obama".

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Why I Love My Husband and I Don't Need a Hallmark Valentine

In lieu of a big mushy Valentine's celebration this year, I thought I might muse a bit about while Valentine's day isn't really necessary for me.
When I was growing up in that small Southern town, for the longest time, I thought I was the only gay person in the whole world. With no books, or internet or Will and Grace, there was no way to know that what I was feeling was shared by others, so on top of the shame and fear that I was feeling, there wasn't even the possibility of finding someone to love.

In high school though, I found out a few things that were encouraging, like the fact that there were other gay people in the world and that sex with them was good. But the idea that gay people were entitled to love was still a pipe dream. What I learned in the 1970's was that being gay was about sexual freedom and exploration, not about commitment and intimacy. Not very many people talked about making "commitments" and gay marriage wasn't even on the radar.

My 20's and 30's were about trying at failing at relationships. I realized that I was not mature enough, nor ready for real love in those attempts, but as time passed, I became less optimistic that the right person would come along.

And then, Brad came along.

Just as I was about to give up (at least for a while) on and blind dates from friends, a whole new bunch of possibilities entered my life by showing up at my door with flowers.

Forty year old at the time, and nursing scars from my previous long-term relationship that ended badly, I had just about decided that either I was too jaded at this point or that gay men in urban environments were too cynical for a serious relationship.

Little did I realize that a couple of things were about to happen.

First, I would meet someone who would completely disarm me with his sincerity and his gentle, sweet nature.

And second, I would enter into a relationship for the first time in my life in a mature and thoughtful way.

Yes, I was overwhelmed with infatuation. You know, when you are swept off your feet, you spend less time parked and more time with engines racing, and become consumed with forever after. Reason takes a back seat to passion. I was always good at that part.

Maybe because this was on the heels of the last failure, or maybe because I had met someone who was mature beyond his years, but as much as we felt drawn to each other, we took our time and believe it or not, actually talked about the process as it was happening.

For the first time, at least for me, building a relationship together became an intentional process. We talked and laughed and played and talk some more.

There was no denying the instant connection that we felt with each other. A knowing that transcended geographical differences, the age difference, and even religious traditions. It was different from what we each had experienced in the past and I knew there was something special here.

Experience has taught me however, that love is not infatuation, or an unspoken connection. Love, in my book, is something that grows over time with cultivation, like a beautiful bonzai garden. Great relationships don't just happen, as I naively thought from my inexperienced life, they take work.

Brad was willing to do the work. And that was an incredibly powerful realization, understanding that he is willing to work hard to be with me. He understands commitment means that through thick and thin, we are there for each other, patiently waiting for the time that it is our turn to draw strength from the relationship. His commitment to me makes me more committed to him.

Beside his work ethic however, I'm most amazed by Brad's basic goodness. Over the past six years, I've watched him go beyond expectations to be kind. This is true kindness, not the type that's only for recognition or out of obligation. I respect him for his commitment to honestly and charity. He does this at work, with family, and most amazingly, with me. It's the first time in my life that someone surprises me with kindness and I'm speechless when it happens. He doesn't even know really how much those little acts touch me. It's just who he is.

I never imagined until these last six years, that I could really be with one person for the rest of my life.

Never has a relationship felt so real and so honest. I have been more of myself with Brad than I've ever been with anyone because he's earned my trust.

I don't need a Valentine to know that I am loved this year.

My Valentine is the way that he looks at me when we talk, the way he listens to me when I complain, and the way he reaches for my hand just because.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Publicity blitz..of sorts

I know I've been gone too long. I think about you guys a lot.

It's a lot of pressure actually, to think, sit down and write, especially with a life going on at the same time.

Let me apologize now for now for the randomness of this one. I'm going to try to catch you up on stuff going on with me and then the next one, I promise, will be about real issues again.

First, I'm having a bit of a media blitz, well a media blitz for me that is.

I was interviewed last week on the podcast "Ramble Redhead", which was an interesting experience for me in itself. Tom, the host (ol' Ramble himself) invited me to be on the show after hearing me on "Gay Men Talking" a few months ago and we finally made it happen last week.

My first assumption was that this was going to be mainly about the recent book, "Loving Ourselves" but I was sorely mistaken about that. It seems that Tom's goal with the shows is to really take an intimate look at gay men from all walks of life and to tell their personal stories, not just to talk about their work.

I don't know that I've ever talked so much about my self and my life, especially in the context of an interview for broadcast. I was on the phone for almost two hours, which I think he's going to trim down to two, half hour segments.

He's a pretty good interviewer, leading me to talk about all kinds of things including the first moments of self-awareness in terms of my sexuality, my early relationships and all about me and Brad.

For the morbidly curious, he should be posting the finished product within the next couple of weeks. He just posted an interview with comedian/actor ANT so I think mine is next after him. If it cures your insomnia (which would be my greatest fear), let me know.

And, interestingly, I'm set to appear on the local cable show "Outlook Video" which is taped at the studio of KMVT in Mountain View. We'll do the taping next Thursday the 12th and when I get an edited copy, I'll post a clip here. Wish me luck and I hope what they say about the camera adding ten pounds is just a myth.

Brad and I are also in the process of trying to sell the condo in which we live. Our goal is to buy a townhouse in the area together, which will be a first for both of us (owning a place with a partner). Yes, it always looks this clean and no, I never have a messy, unkempt closet nor do I leave my clothes lying around my room, REGARDLESS of what Brad says.


I have re-established contact with several friends from college and high school over the past few weeks. It's partly a Facebook phenomenon, but I've been enjoying finding out what happened to who. Those were the days. Yikes!


I am excited by the fact that the California Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case regarding the constitutionality of Prop 8 in March. I will be watching with baited breath, hoping that the $40 million spent by gay marriage foes was totally wasted. There apparently are homeless Mormons somewhere who donated all the life savings to support Prop 8, but are smug in their continuing attempts to define marriage (after they got the whole polygamy thing figured out).


The whole Obama thing has just been too much for me to discuss thus far. I wanted to just experience it for a while before I start talking about it. It's coming soon.