Real Love

I’ve loved Ted for 52 years.

Aside from my birth parents, this is the longest relationship of my life. The fact that it’s a relationship with an inanimate teddy bear does not change the fact that I truly and deeply love this hunk of fabric, fiber, and buttons.

Love is mysterious.

My teddy bear and I met 52 years ago when I was only two years old, shopping with my mom at a garage sale in North Platte, Nebraska. At least that’s what I’m told. I don’t remember. It was 1967 and I was two years old.

Grandma Derra found two buttons in her ample sowing kit that became perfect eyes for my new best friend.

Knowing he had already had his eyes and most of his fur loved off of him (at least that’s the story of his haggard appearance that I choose to believe) I felt that he brought important wisdom to our relationship. He had been there for another young boy or girl and was now ready to handle the needs a new little boy, a boy whose parents were about to divorce. 

I named him “Ted”, an act of irony I felt was unappreciated by the adults and other children around me.

This ode to Ted was written 12 years ago as a writing exercise. I had recently broken up with a man I was not ready to let go. Using the writing prompt, “who or what was an early love?”

This is what poured out.

My boyfriend Dennis took this when I introduced him to Ted.

Ted, you have been with me for 42 years now.

Your fur is mostly rubbed off and the holes I did surgery on when I was six years old, meant to keep your stuffing inside, have reappeared.

You’re back on my bed again.

Back because Keith left me and went back to San Francisco, back on my bed again because someone has chosen to leave me, just like mom did when I was two.

Were you in my bed back then too Ted?

Smelling like garage dust because we had bought you second hand at a yard sale? It must have been you there keeping me company when my young parents argued and ended their marriage.

Mom is the only one who has told me the story of their breakup. How her drinking and crazy nature were the cause of it. It’s interesting that she is the only one who told me how it all played out since I ended up living with Dad.

Ted, you must have been there in that tiny bedroom I can now barley remember, first door on the right, off the living room in our single wide trailer home.

Ted, you must have been there because you are still here with me today, waiting patiently, if not a little decrepitly, on top of the boxes I store thousands of dollars worth of cycling clothes in. You usually sit facing my new fancy mattress that sits in my new fancy West Hollywood condo.

You sit patiently and wait with unconditional love even though you have been shut away in closets while I lived with Steve Chaison, and Tony Peruzzi, and John Nieto, men who shared my bed for five-year stints or died in a hospital room leaving me no one to come home to except you, Ted.

Ted, you have soaked up tears of a child left behind, have been pushed aside to make way for fucking, you have endured my private shame as a bed wetter, and you have placidly worn satin outfits I made for you out of scraps found in my step-mom’s sewing basket.

You came with me to Tucson to visit Mom in the psych ward. Your presence told her instantly that consoling love had arrived. She pulled you close to her heart and soaked in twenty-five years of reassurance.

She was unhappy when the attendants would not allow you to stay with her overnight, but I was secretly glad to be able to hold you while waiting for her to find enough healing to be released.

You see Ted, between my parents and you, it’s been you that’s been there the most for me.

You were there to calm my 8-year-old nerves when I was alone in bed and monsters in the trees threatened to crawl through the window of our first house on 6th Street in North Platte, Nebraska.

You were there to commiserate with when my stepmom gave her daughter the bigger room and the canopy bed in Cheyenne Wyoming.

You were there when I unpacked the box marked “Mike’s Room” in Pocatello, Idaho after my parents moved (unannounced) from Wyoming to Idaho, couching the information in a birthday card they sent to their son who was five thousand miles away on an adventure picking pineapples on Maui.

Nearly hairless and formless, you have never given up on me Ted.

Your fancy button eyes sewn on by Grandma Derra have steadfastly kept their gaze on me for over four decades. Watching and waiting for my need of comfort to return. Your threadbare head is ready to be nuzzled by your boy. I know you can’t help it that that wire pokes out from your ear and jabs my tender lips.

Nose-less and mouth-less you exist only for my solace, seeking nothing for yourself.

How could I possibly not love you as fiercely as I do?


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Pool Party: Contempt & Love

…under that wave of fear is a desire to connect heart-to-heart with true friends – to share love – to be able to see people I know and love them and feel their love in return.That’s the good stuff. That’s the true Holy Grail I seek. Until now, I have found it hard to admit, even to myself, that I want it so bad.

It’s Sunday morning on the last day of June and it’s time for me to participate in a Southern California ritual that still makes me uncomfortable.

The pool party, or more specifically, a gay pool party.

This one is at an impressive home literally under the HOLLYWOOD sign. I know the host and have been to this location before. Guests will be able to see the HOLLYWOOD sign above, a view of Hollywood Lake below, and the skyline of the City of Los Angeles in the distance. It’s stunning.

Since I’ve been trying to identify my emotions lately, let’s unpack what happens during the arch of the event, starting with the instant I become aware of the party’s existence.  

Immediately I feel contempt.

That’s right, my out of the gate feeling is not gratitude, excitement, or anticipation, it’s contempt.

I feel the contempt as tension in my upper chest, the back of my neck, and the top of my skull. I tell myself the contempt is because I’m above the need for beautiful houses, beautiful views, and beautiful bodies.

That’s right. I lie to myself.

Under that feeling of contempt are the feelings of fear and jealously born out of my fragile-male-ego-Facebook-comparison-capitalistic-consumer, need to compete. My ego tells me I need to come out on top as the prettiest, most entertaining, guy with the most toys and prettiest friends.

You know, a “winner”.

To feel comfortable, I feel like I need to be dominate in the socially elevated arenas of money, property, and prestige that come from possessing two superficial things: 1) resources and 2) beauty.

Ugg! Rather than being above it, I’m a poster child for conspicuous consumption.

The pool party is a perfect time to exercise the kind of conspicuous consumption Thorstein Veblen discussed in his nearly 100 year old essay The Theory of the Leisure Class. The party is an arena to enjoy publicly displaying our resources and beauty, or maybe acquiring said treasures so that we might move up the social ladder and be accepted by the ruling class – whoever that is.

But, what is really going on here?

Well, feeling contempt is my way of protecting myself from confronting my vulnerable truth. What’s really going on is that I’m afraid, afraid of not being enough. I feel the fear in my gut and in the shallowness of my breathing. I have fear that my now waning beauty or moderate income don’t possess enough social prestige. I fear that I won’t measure up.

And yet, I persist on going. Why?

Well, under that wave of fear is a desire to connect heart-to-heart with true friends – to share love – to be able to see people I know and love them and feel their love in return.That’s the good stuff. That’s the true Holy Grail I seek. Until now, I have found it hard to admit, even to myself, that I want it so bad.

I want to belong. I want love.

That’s why I write this blog and teach yoga the way I do. I want to give and receive unqualified love to and from my gay brothers.

But that’s too scary to confront. So, let’s talk about what’s not scary, you know, profile pictures. With the Facebook invite open, it’s time to dive into what really matters – assessing who is invited.  

Who is “Going”?

There are usually one of three reactions to the list:
1) Being appalled at the unattractive crowd,
2) Being overwhelmed by the crowd’s beauty, or
3) Seeing that although you won’t be the hottest guy there, at least you’re within striking distance of the top tier hotties.

The real reason I’m looking forward to this party is that I’ve been working on my body and know that it will present adequately AND the more important reason, the reason that makes this in an investment in my current happiness and my future contentment, is that a few of my gay family will be there.

I have taken clear unambiguous steps towards identifying my gay “family”. Through a ritualized process, we have committed to each other our trust, honor, and respect.

With that comfortably sorted in my mind (who is most important in my life) I am able to shift my focus from conspicuous consumption to sharing love with my family.

It’s not a light switch I change from off to on, from superficiality to love, it’s more like setting down to meditate in an attempt to still the monkey chatter of my mind. The intension is clear, but sometimes the thousand thoughts remain.

It’s the intension that matters and it’s a constant effort.

In yoga the effort is called Dharana, the practice of focusing the mind on a single point. In Darren Main’s book Yoga and the Path of the Urban Mystic, he illustrates the utility of the 6th limb of yoga. He shows the pragmatism of Dharana. It’s not just a practice of focusing the mind. It’s not a practice of set it and forget it. It’s a practice of focusing the mind, acknowledging it’s drifted away, and returning back to the intention of focusing the mind. That’s Dharana, focus, drift, focus, drift… That gets us to the 7th limb, but that’s not what this post is about.

Even the ancient yogi’s acknowledged that the human mind’s condition of drifting away from single pointed thought is normal and should be expected, even accepted. The key is NOT to judge ourselves for having monkey brain in the first place. Our practice is to NOT judge ourselves for being afraid, or anxious, or full of contempt.

So they developed a tool for getting us back to where we want to be.

When I’m overwhelmed with up scaling my social prestige through conspicuous consumption, I give myself a break, acknowledge that my ego is doing its job of trying to protect me, and then bring back into focus what really matters; the smiles on my true friends faces when I’ll see them, the comfortable hugs we will exchange, and the beauty of the heart to heart connected love we will share in that moment.


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Drama Club: A kiss that saved my life

Inside my new memoirDrama Club  

During the summer between my junior and senior year of high school, Bart and I attended a ballroom dance camp held on the campus of BYU. In our shared dorm room, my life realigned after our first kiss and I no longer had thoughts of killing myself.

Only two months earlier another boy had my heart soaring through joy filled fantasies of a perfect future together. “You look like Superman,” I said looking directly into Bart’s eyes as we lay facing one another on a tiny dorm room bed. We were dressed and ready to head out to dinner with our ballroom dance teammates, but had found we shared more in common than our fashion sense. “Shut up!” He giggled, looking away, and just as quickly turning his face back to mine. Our eyes stayed locked together. I heard the sound of my own heart pounding in my ears. The smell of his Polo cologne was intoxicating, and our knees were touching sending bursts of passion through my entire body. 

When he stopped smiling, panic gripped me. Was he going to freak out? And then, as if we were two celestial bodies caught in each other’s gravity, we moved together and kissed. Our lips touched, and a surge of truth and ecstasy rushed into me. The kiss that was supposed to be so wrong simply wasn’t, and if it was wrong, it was worth risking everything.” 


These photos were taken in the wedding reception hall we used for ballroom dance rehearsals in the Pocatello. Bart is in the Micky Mouse shirt and I’ve forgotten the names of two girls. 


Drama Club: He loved and protected me

My stepmom called me from Idaho to give me the news of R.L.’s death from a brain tumor. She didn’t know who R.L. was, or why his mom had called her and asked her to share one of R.L’s dying wishes with me, but my mom obliged the request. Standing next to the phone (they were all land lines in 1985) in San Diego I received the news that my mentor of six years was gone.
When other men would not talk to me, I’m guessing because I was so young and therefore illegalR.L. shed light on the realities of life for gay men in the late 70s and early 80s. The law, STDs, and queer vocabulary were just some of the subjects he coveredHe was a mentor, a lover, a Wikipedia of information. I needed all of it to mitigate the risks of navigating the secret world I’d found by reading the writing on the walls of public bathrooms.

He loved and protected me. I loved him and broke his heart. He continued to love me anyway. He hosted me for a secret three day stay in Cheyenne so that I could attend my first Gay Pride March in Denver Colorado, before rendezvousing with my non-gay friends in Cheyenne. 

This photo was taken then. It shows the hubris of youth; the admiration and concern of experience. I learned about my own selfishness that weekend. With love, R.L. pointed out how unattractive it can be. He softened the lessons I had to learn in the School of Hard Knocks. And for that, I will be forever grateful.  

More experiences with R.L. are in my book new book Drama Club.