This month I started Crossfit, tarot classes, and creating comics. I don’t know what the fuck I’m doing.
My oh my, a month gone by. And what do I have to show for it? Surprisingly… a lot. Since my last little rant, I’ve invested a lot of time into more creative endeavors, and while little is visible above the surface, I’ve accomplished a lot: a dozen or so drawings, some wood carvings, a linocut or two, and too many preliminary sketches to count, all pointing to something…new. Spiritual developments, an adjective that makes truly everyone uncomfortable, abound, as does growth across almost all areas of my life and it’s both too much and desperately needed. Be careful what you ask for.
Maybe the biggest development, a new job, a major change at work. After a year laboring under one of the most aggressive, bellicose managers in my life, I suddenly find him terminated, swiftly and cleanly, his desk vacated in the first hour of work last Tuesday, and just as decisively I have filled his role. Everyone asks if I knew it was happening, everyone wants to know what I knew when, as if this was some sort of covert military coup. I knew it was happening 45 working minutes before it did. Was I “in” on it?? Well, the week prior I had spent all my free time putting together my portfolio in what I felt was a for-sure career change in the very near feature: indeed, I had several calls scheduled.
But god, how long has it been a problem that I needed to be addressed? For me it was 7 days into my position, 18 months ago, a very real Arrested Development “I’ve made a huge mistake” moment. 18 months of just dreading every meeting, every one-on-one, every review. A year and a half of everyone on our team sitting scattered across the office, anywhere but the desks in our team area.
So it’s a welcome change, but one that comes with a LOT of new challenges. This is the second time this has happened to me, where I am the proverbial greener grass on the other side of a grisly fence. Last time, I built my dream team and in a short year found myself walking away from them after a shit show of corporate machinations, turn over and broken promises. A year doing the job of the man I replaced, and never having his title or pay conferred to me. A year of treading water, trying to make head way but ultimately failing my team and myself. A dead spot on my resume with nothing to account for my time.
With any luck that experience prevents a replay here, but who knows? So many of us had a foot or two out the door, and that inertia is very difficult to reverse.
However, I’m excited, and I know the team is too, and hopefully that buoys us through the change.
At home, a routine finally manifests. My coffee rotation is a know commodity. Go Get Em Tiger knows my order, while Maru studiously does not: their faces a rehearsed tabula rasa with every regular who enters — they’ve never seen me in my life.
Nearly every day in Los Feliz begins gray and cool, just the way I like it, and by noon I’ve been forced to change into the shortest shorts, so often taking videocalls in a nice shirt and next to nothing below the waist, beads of sweat rolling down my back: the air conditioner is too loud to run while on call.
Last Friday, renewed with a sense of purpose after a team meeting and fully assuming the mantle of team manager, I got back from San Francisco and decided that the current set up of living room was not only all wrong, but actively preventing me from doing anything productive. I pulled everything into the kitchen, and rearranged the whole thing. The end result is 1,000,000% better, according to everyone who walks in: me, and John. The space feels activated, welcoming, and wide open. We love it.
No drawing today because it’s just One More Thing. Lately I have felt such a surge of creative drive, and it’s gotten to the point where I feel like I am going to burst for the lack of ability to just Do It All. As I type this I feel like I am going to puke, I’m so overwhelmed.
There is absolutely no one pushing me to do this, really, but suddenly it feels as if a great amount of time has escaped me, and I need to make up. Everyone in my field is expected to be a jack of all trades, and yet everyone wants a succinct, no frills portfolio to prove it. I want to show that I can draw, that I can design graphics, that I am more than capable of launching new products, that I am a competent leader, and comfortable speaking to both business needs and emotional drives. I want a portfolio that is bursting with capabilities. I want my creative self presented in its entirety.
For who? Who else wants that? Who else cares? I have no idea, but it seems so dumb at this point to have coworkers who don’t know that I like to draw. That I have over a decade of successful, award winning, internationally know design stuff under my belt. I hate this winnowing of a personality that happens as you progress through your career.
I dunno. I’ve been drawing more, designing more, making things more, pushing myself more. And I have nothing to show for it if anyone asks.
My first order of business at my new place — like, day one, waking up after 3 hours of sleep, before having to move the nightmare uhaul to the aformentioned costco parking lot — was finding a new coffee spot. My coffee spot. In the past couple of year, I’ve become, to my chagrin, a creature of habit. In San Francisco I was a morning regular at Verve. Day in, day out, every morning, sometimes after work. I always ordered the same mocha, no whip; I always tipped. Everyone knew my name, and on days when Alejandro was working, I would be greeted, in the mode of Norm on Cheers, with him shouting “J-J-J-Jory!” to the tune of the Chia Pet jingle. I got free coffee, A LOT. Often my drink would be ready before I’d even gotten through the line, because Christine would start it when I walked in. I think I used to be embarrassed to be predictable? But having your needs anticipated and met is actually very nice, it turns out. I like having a routine — on days when I’m reluctant to get out of bed, there’s nothing like a habit and a gentle addiction to get me moving.
Beyond that, the number one counsel I got from everyone re: working from home was “give yourself a routine, a ritual, to get you into work mode.”
Anyway, here Maru has won out for my morning spot. I get up, listen to The Briefing as I get dressed — we got one of those Google Home Hubs and it starts up automatically when I get up — and then head out to grab a cup. It’s a good walk, and it’s a pretty little spot to sit and get my head together before work: all blonde wood, wabi sabi aesthetic and a twee soundtrack. 3rd wave, restrained menu, a courteous, but largely silent staff. It’s close to the supermarket, too, so if I want to grab something to prep for dinner, it’s on the way.
In the afternoon, if I need a pick me up, I head the opposite direction, both geographically and spiritually to Caffe Vita. It’s boisterous, more of a second wave vibe, cheerful and talkative staff, and seasonal drinks. Right now they’re offering a Sevilla, described as an orange peel mocha. It’s delicious, but the distance between your expectations when ordering an “orange peel mocha” and then receiving a mocha with... actual orange peels in it is both infinitely small and also impossibly vast. But what did I expect? In any event, I’ve had three since Wednesday.
Well, we’ve been settled in LA for eight days now, and it has been a… ride. Moving itself was harrowing; with a too big truck delivered to the wrong address at the wrong time by U-Haul, late arrivals from tweaked out movers, terrible driving conditions, a sketchy, pornotel abandoned at the last minute, and culminating with me sitting in said truck for six straight hours in a costco parking lot? I don’t want to move again for a long time.
Working from home has taken some real adjusting on my part. I wasn’t prepared for how lonely I would get, what an island the apartment, even in the heart of one of the most walkable neighborhoods in Los Angeles, could feel like. I wasn’t prepared for the disparity between moods at the end of the workday between John and I. He arrives home exhausted from commuting, interacting with a office of over 100 people, and just wanting to decompress — I, on the other hand just want to talk talk talk, go somewhere, anywhere, after being cooped up all day. It’s take some doing to get used to things, and to figure out our strategies going forward. Jason wisely (hi, Jason) counseled finding a way to be out of the house when John got home, to just give us both some space in those liminal moments.
I joined a rock climbing gym on Tuesday, in a fit of work related rage. I’d been meaning to join a gym anyway, as I hadn’t been in any real capacity since January, and it’s begun to show (gained 15lbs, pants are tighter). But honestly, the chief benefit of going to the gym for me has mainly been one of stress relief. I burn through so much anxiety, anger and tension during physical exercise, and on Tuesday I had all three in spades. I’ve…never climbed anything before, so that’ll be interesting, but they offer yoga 16 times a week, HIIT classes, climbing clinics, lifting and kettlebell classes. I signed up for the latter that day, and attended my first class shortly after. It felt great, if absolutely punishing. Wild swings between unwieldy and heavy burdens ? Oh honey, I’m familiar!
For the past week I’ve been hitting up my favorite tiki bars in SF and Oakland, one final lap through each, snagging all the commemorative mugs on my way out. On Monday I ran over to Kon-Tiki and picked up their enormous Muntiki mug, on Tuesday I ran to Pagan Idol and completed my collection with their skull and leviathan 12 ouncer, last night I hit up Smugglers Cove and got their matte brown Ku, and tonight I rode the cable car up to the Tonga Lounge to pick up the Tangaroa and green lantern mugs.
The Tonga room is… so special to me. The height of kitsch, a tiki paradise; it weirdly marries the most disparate parts of my life — my childhood love of the Tiki Room at Disneyland, my mission to Hawaii, the earliest days of falling in love with San Francisco’s weird neverland magic on work trips, John meeting my dad for the first time — it holds so many memories for me. Utah, San Francisco and Hawaii are linked in real life, a side effect of Mormons’ westward exodus and Polynesian colonial schemes, but with me, here in this colossal basement bar, the dreamy fantasy versions of all three came together. It’s a castle in the fog, a place that never quite materialized, that exists in ideals and scuttles on the rocks of grim reality.
A side effect of collecting these mugs, as they all come filled with very heavy pours of overproofed rum cocktails, is me getting pretty tanked at 5:30 in the afternoon, and having all my emotions bubble right to the top.
On my way home on the Muni, an older woman nervously tapped me on the shoulder. “Do you know which stop the big Safeway is at?” I told her it was at Church, where I was getting off, and that she could follow me out. I watched her hobble across the crosswalk with a wave and got teary real quick. This is my city! I know it like the back of my hand. I can answer any of those questions here! How long will it be before I can do that in Los Angeles?
Back in the Tonga Room I stood by myself overlooking the pool while the fake lightning flashed and “rain” gushed down, texting John. I can’t believe my time in San Francisco is over. This was the first place where I really felt like I could unfold and build the life I truly wanted. I’m so excited for this next chapter, and like John responded, I think we’ll be surprised at all LA has to offer us, but this will always be my spiritual nativity and leaving her is brutal.
The thing I’m most… apprehensive? unsure? about moving to Los Angeles is rebooting the tiny communities, hobbies and familiarities that I’ve had to build from scratch here. My rowing group, my trivia team, the guys in my figure drawing groups. I know I can find that stuff in LA, but it all happened so organically here, and developed over time. I’m bummed about leaving it.
Live figure drawing is still something I struggle with, but I’ve really loved meeting up with folx and drawing together. I know I’ve improved, and it’s been really… affirming and rewarding to center drawing in my identity, and to have a skill/talent be affixed to how others know me, rather than just… like, bar persona, party person, etc. Ground breaking revelations: friendships based on shared passions, interests and hobbies are… good?
Last night we drew my friend Lukas and it was such a treat. They’re formally trained as a dancer, and working with that skill set as a figure model? They know their shapes, they know their lines, they know their space. Lukas knows how to just add a little twist, a little tension, and flex to make things a little more dynamic.
I keep thinking… should I just start something new? I keep joking that it’s going to be aerial aerobics or like… juicing. Just really leaning into a Silverlake sensibility. I recently did a kalari intensive with a choreographer from the UK, and it was just… so galvanizing. I’ve missed kalari so much since leaving SLC, so I think that might be something to really dig back into. It’s such a fulfilling practice, and it really challenges my body, my mind, etc. There’s a kalari group in LA that I could sync up with, so that might become a reality. I might spend some time digging into a more focused yoga practice as well to support that.
A whirl wind trip to LA. John and I fly down at 6am on Saturday morning. Before we even get to drop our bags off at his folks’ home, we have looked at two apartments. One in Los Feliz, another down near Koreatown. One is cute, but too small; the other grand, with a sketchy management firm. Both are too far from everyone we know. Who do we know? Do we know anyone? I feel fully dizzy and the polar opposite of grounded. We swing over to John’s folks’ place in Altadena, say hey to his sister who we are officially in town to celebrate — she’s just turned 30. We have light drinks, walk Hex, and then jet back down to Westlake to look at another place. Huge, incredible architecture from the early 20s, in a wreck of a neighborhood, and a potential nightmare to maintain. I cannot get over this one towering window in the entryway: two stories, multi-pane, french-door style, opening inward. All I can picturing is my climbing monstera and passion vine up and over the molding and I am in love, but I know better: there is not a square angle in the whole place.
Westlake, Pico Union, Arlington Heights. These too-precise and unknown names that seem to exist on every internet mapping service and in the mouths of precisely no one. We reference these, we get blank stares, and with comical swiftness we are in a Californians sketch again: it’s south of the 5 but not quite over to Glendale, if you’ve gone past the 101 you’ve gone too far. My eyes glaze over.
Back home we have ribs, chicken, rolls and cake for Em’s birthday. Wine. Beer. Champagne. Fresca. I fall asleep on the couch holding Hex, 10 Things I Hate About You in the background.
We have a miserable sleep in a too-soft memory foam bed in the guest bedroom, and we are up early for the first of 10 more apartment viewings the next morning. My back hurts. I’ve had too much to drink the day before, and worry it’s actually kidney pain. Maybe it is? I’m not sure. It is hot in a way I forgot days could be, and I need water. We zig zag across the city for five hours seeing place after place after place. We put good vibes out and we get them back.
We see potential. We see pitfalls. We see actual pits dug in the floor of the kitchen of one unit: “Before we go in, there are holes in the floor, they’re doing some work, they will NOT be there when you move in.” I assume we’re going to see some pilot holes drilled to fix wiring. Instead they are two 3x3x3’ enormous trenches dug in the floor down to the water main, with corresponding mountains of soil and concrete ejecta in the kitchen next to them taking up roughly 80% of the floor plan. “They will NOT be there when you move in.” As if we’d otherwise have been like “… gosh the location is nice, and a parking spot to boot… I’m just not sure about those gaping cavities in the kitchen, should we ask about that?” We meet property managers named Paizley, Jeizel, and Gwendolyn. We meet a certified so-cal hunk of a realtor with two first names as his whole name, whose pecs look like they’ve never lost a sale. We see an endless parade of kitchen arches, pedestal sinks, open floorplans, dimly-lit bedrooms, and subway tile subway tile subway tile.
We regroup at Pine and Crane. Learning my lesson from last time, I caution us both to order one thing each, as the portions are huge, and maybe a veggie to share (peashoots). We leave uncomfortably and catastrophically full. Waddling. Belching. Naturally, the next stop on our agenda is a house party overlooking a leather kink festival in Silverlake where most of the men, amply muscled and suitably bronze, are wearing nothing but singlets and harnesses. We are both struggling to suck our guts in behind generous t-shirts. This is a mess. This is wonderful. This is a wonderful mess. I’m able to rally, be sparkling for a second, and then before I know it we’re on our way back to Altadena, I’m asleep on the couch with Hex on my chest again, and then it’s time to leave. For me. John stays behind. He is officially an Angeleno again, and I am vagabond back in the bay, in a city that no longer feels like mine, but still feels like home. We’ll see each other again in nine days, hopefully with an apartment to call home, and all my stuff in boxes, ready to go.
This finally feels real.
Earlier last week, Sam tweeted “If you’re not using [some app] to know when to water your plants, what are you even doing?” To which I replied, only half snarkily, “Paying attention.” Sam took this jab in stride and responded “You mean ‘asking your boyfriend.’”
While John is the undisputed plant king in the relationship, I can confidently regard myself the queen. I laughed and replied that I had houseplants today that watched my marriage end and this relationship grow and it is wild to me that that is a true statement. I now have four plants (a monstera obliqua, a philodendron hederaceum, a strelitzia nicolai and three monstera deliciosa that began as a single plant) that I got well before moving to San Francisco, that have miraculously survived, the latter even thriving as cuttings in new pots. This wasn’t always the case, but I can’t quite trace back to how this all started. One day, it just was. At 30 years old it’s as if that bird of paradise just materializes in my home; three years later to the day after and I’m moving to San Francisco with a small nursery in tow.
I grew up with a mom that joked she had a black thumb: every plant she turned her attention to withered in no time. Kitchen window herbs blighted in a single day, cactuses turning to mush in a month. Then, we moved back to Utah and seemingly overnight, my mom decided this identity no longer suited her and that she would have a garden. Everything flourished in her gaze. Sprawling flower-beds bursting with blossoms, trellises that sagged and shuddered under the weight of explosive growth, vegetable harvests that were truly baffling. In her mid 30’s my mom suddenly decided plants were her thing, and every growing thing bloomed for her, and she for them.
I realized the other day that I had somehow done the exact same thing, at the same age, almost 20 years later; and that were I her, I’d have, in addition to a large number of plants in my care, a 16 year-old son and three daughters to boot.
This past weekend was the first Daytime Realness of the season at El Rio. Paul and I lyfted over, planning to arrive 40 minutes or so after opening, figuring we’d beat the line that inevitably forms as the day goes on. We were greeted by easily 150 people in the queue already, and we joined Tyler and Colin midway through. Once inside we were greeted by essentially every masc-of-center queer in the city, crammed shoulder to shoulder from front to back, filling the space well past capacity.
By the time we’d been there for an hour or so, I truly felt like I had run into or caught glimpses of every person I’d hooked up with, chatted with, had cruised or been cruised by in the city since moving out here in 2016. It felt like a fitting bookend to my time here, like an insipid allegory: people who I’d engaged in the briefest of dark-corner fantasies, twilight encounters, night-time rendezvous, all dragged out into the harsh midday sun at 2pm on a Sunday. Look at them! Some were people I’d hoped to meet up with again — that rarest of birds, the NSA serial hook-up — some I’d hope to become friends with, here they all were, crammed on the patio next to the realization that none of that would ever come to pass. Time is up, time to go.
I’m not trying to read too much into it, but it’s definitely informing how I want to approach trysts in Los Angeles. John laughed when I told him that, but I was being serious. More intent, less chaff… a more careful curation.
Last week Carson, a friend from Utah, was chatting me up on Grindr. He was 32 miles away in San Jose for a work thing, and wanted my advice on the best cruising spots in the city. We’d served our church missions together 15 years ago — both of us desperately horny, closeted fags, (literally and metaphorically on an island) but neither of us realizing there was a kindred spirit in the other (an archipelago!) nor brave enough to do anything had we recognized one another. After some some recommendation from my go-tos, a pause, and then “why didn’t we ever have sex?” He means when I was in town last, not on our missions, but I still don’t have a ready answer. Who knows? The attraction was there, as was the hotel room, the willingness ; nevertheless the timing hadn’t ever worked out in that precisely right, exactly correct, literally perfect way required for two friends with the metric tons of religio-societal traumas we share, separately, to relax into a sexual encounter without tainting it with the anxiety of the aftermath. And here I was, on the exact opposite side of things at El Rio: “why didn’t we become friends?” I mentally telegraph to all of them. With the same answer, and for probably the same reasons: Who knows?
Lately I’ve been wanting to draw my hookups, portraits. Not in some sort of black book way, not a score sheet — but maybe just as a… memorial? A way to say: I knew this person, however briefly, and I think I saw them, too. Boys, men, theybies, all. We were the same, we shared something, and it both was and was not enough.
It’s bright out, and from my office window I’m tricked into thinking the walk to coffee will not require a jacket. Familiar with San Francisco for almost a decade, living here full time for three years and I still fall for this trick, a nerd offered a handshake only to have the cool kid snatch their hand away: obvious and humiliating.
I need to escape work for a second, need to clear my head. The tech kids on meet and greets, amply padded in their puffer vests, sit on the shady side of Cafe Reveille, while I’m soaking up the sun at the bar in the window, almost sweating. I draw a house from my walk to kalari in Berkeley, a simple cracker box with stunning topiary. Outside the window, willowy North Beach girls fresh from yoga stalk shivering in the shade of Mr. Bings, off to who knows where.
“Strange to be almost fifty, no? I feel like I just understood how to be young.” “Yes! It’s like the last day in a foreign country. You finally figure out where to get coffee, and drinks, and a good steak. And then you have to leave. And you won’t ever be back.”
— Less, Andrew Sean Greer
I recently finished reading Less, and wow… the first time in a long time that I felt so connected to a character in a book. There’s a part where a character is taking the protagonist, a writer, to task and he says “You’re a bad gay — It’s our duty to show something beautiful from our world.” After reading so many books filled with queer men who were made to suffer by their authors — Barbie dolls in a tortured melodrama, pain writ large, book award bait — it was startling to see a life I could recognize on the page. I laughed a lot, I was startled by the beauty of the writing, and more than once I cried. The book felt like the last days of summer, like the sun going down and casting long purple palm tree shadows on a wall — inevitable.
I’ve been thinking so much about growing old. Wincing over it. Panicking about it. Paul is in town from Toronto. He’s nearly 5 years my senior, in his early 40s, gray at his temples and beard, fine lines annotating his face. He is handsome, and my friends (younger than me) all say so. We go to El Rio, we go to the Stud. I see myself standing next to him, and wonder if this makes more sense to others. The older guys together. Do they see me standing next to Tyler or Colin, in their perpetual 20 something youth, and think me tragic? My friends as incongruous as cargo shorts and bleached tips would be; a desperate clawing at youth as I slide over the cliff?
I’m 36 and my body is determined to make me look 10 years older. My beard, chest hair, and now even my arms are going gray, quickly. I’ve been bald since 20. I look at my dad’s dad, his brothers — catastrophic heart failures at 65, all. Is it in me? Am I more than half way done? Who knows.
24 years ago, in Clueless, Cher asserts that legs crossed towards another was an unequivocal sex-invite. My 12 year old brain took that as gospel truth, and I spent the next… well, 24 years being careful about how I cross my legs. The statement ensconced itself as a text-book truth. Recently, a friend told me that a 60 year old told him that at 20 you think your 30s are going to be the time of your life, but at 60, you realize it was your 40s. My brain has taken this as a hard fact, and good god, I hope it’s true.