Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Always With Me

It doesn't seem to matter how old I get - I feel as if I'll always remember so many individuals from the past, especially those who have influenced my identity. Jay was someone I hero-worshipped in high school. I wanted to be like him.

I had met Jay in church when I was 16 and our family had moved to a new town. He was a year older than me and a straight-A student. Immediately, I looked up to him. He went to UCLA after graduating as the class valedictorian. He had also been the school mascot, dancing and jumping around at football games in a cougar costume, like a giant, cuddly stuffed animal. I thought that was the coolest thing.

But best of all, Jay was a dancer, or at least, more of a dancer than me. He had taken some classes, and he knew the different ballet positions and French terms. He knew to turn out his foot while pointing it, and he could do split-leaps in jeté.

During the summer break, when I was still the new kid, Jay told me about "New Generation," the show choir he was in at school. It was the local version of 'glee' and I was desperate to become part of the group. After months of pining to be like the kids on the TV series "Fame" I finally had the chance to become a singer-dancer!

I also wanted to develop more of my rugged individuality, taking advantage of a fresh start at a new school. No one knew the old Peter from before, the band geek who was still afraid of taking a chance to stand out from the crowd. At my new school, people would take for granted any unique expression I used as part of my outward appearance, including the bandanna headbands I wore on a regular basis.

I loved being in "New Generation." I loved singing in four part harmony and wearing the same show choir outfit as the rest of the guys. Once, on a Sunday, Jay and I agreed to wear our matching pin-stripe shirts and knit ties to church, looking like twins. I had longed for such camaraderie as a teen, and I reveled in the solidarity.

I applied to UCLA (and didn't get accepted, initially, before appealing my rejection) because Jay was at UCLA. I pledged the Christian fraternity on campus because Jay was already a member.

Our friendship didn't last much longer after my freshman year. I dropped out after being put on academic probation (I had been cutting my math class to attend dance class instead). I also did not get accepted into the conservative fraternity, even after toning down my rugged individual ways. Part of not keeping in touch with Jay was that I felt ashamed, probably, for being a college dropout and a fraternity reject.

I wasn't able to keep up with him, on more than one level. I wasn't able to be like him after all.

Jay had always wanted to get away from California. In the yearbook, under senior goals, he had listed "To live and work in New York!" Even as a junior I had already felt abandoned by Jay, saddened by his future departure.

A couple of decades after high school, a mutual friend ran into Jay in New York. It was pure dumb luck running into him on a busy public sidewalk, years after having no contact. Jay didn't seem thrilled by the impromptu reunion, my friend told me. He made no effort to provide a phone number or email address, no mention of wanting to stay in touch or even meet up later to catch up.

Jay is not on facebook, as far as I can tell.

I kind of get it. In a strange way, I respect Jay's desire for wanting to get the hell away from everyone. Jay came out of the closet before I did, in the mid-80's, even while he was still a member of the Christian fraternity. Since I had always looked up to him as a big brother figure, I really thought that it would make us closer, and that he could continue to be my role model. But it only seemed to diminish our friendship, maybe because we had always been such good, Christian boys while growing up.

I think the increased distance between Jay and I, from coming out, was part of his overall defense system.

I would like to be in touch with Jay today, to tell him how much he influenced me in a positive way, and to tell him that I eventually became a dancer. I want to share with him that I got cast in a production of "A Chorus Line" once, the way we had always dreamed about in high school.

But I understand his need for maintaining distance from his old life, and the need to escape from all of the disapproval we came to expect from our parents and church and society while growing up. Even though I wasn't as accomplished as Jay was, I understand wanting to get away from all of the expectations of being the perfect student, and of being the well-behaved son . . . being the perfect, blameless Christian man.

Hopefully, Jay feels he is finally free of all of that, now, living and working in New York. Hopefully, he has been reveling in the fact that he accomplished his high school goals.

The photo above was taken during a rehearsal for New Generation in the choir room. Yes, that is me on the far right, the dork in the headband. "Let's get physical!"

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

So Pretty!

Carlos was a natural brunette, like me. But when we worked together in Japan, what was left of his shaved-head haircut was bleached blond. He was my idol because he had performed with Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, the all-male drag ballet corps

We would have dance classes between shows at Ocean Dome theme park, thanks to some of the other dancers who would volunteer their instruction. Madeleine was a skilled ballet dancer and teacher, as well as a fun dance partner in our cheesy little stage shows. During one of her classes, she demonstrated an intricate warm up exercise at the barre, a pattern that included rapid frappés with the feet in en croix formations.

"Are there any questions?" she asked.

Carlos was busy primping his hair in the mirror's reflection, his gaze and his fingertips on the 1/8 inch long platinum locks.

"Yeah, do you think I'm pretty?"

"Yes, Carlos, you're beautiful," Madeleine deadpanned before turning to the rest of us. "Are there any questions about the exercise?"

That was over a decade ago. I am always tempted to quote Carlos's answer every time I hear someone ask if there are any questions.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Pity: Party of One (or, I Am Fat Goldie Hawn)

I allowed myself to indulge in some mild depression this past weekend. It was too easy to just stay in bed all day, Saturday, and watch movies on Starz and Encore, uselessly channel-flipping the day away. I have nothing to be seriously depressed about, but I wonder sometimes if it's just an inevitable part of my family's emotional legacy?

Usually, I consciously choose to fight my alleged legacy of clinical depression in any way that I can, even if it's just dancing to Britney Spears in my kitchen. I would rather drain that particular aspect of the gene pool before drowning in it.

I am lucky. I haven't had one of those get-nothing-done-because-I'm-depressed days in many years, not since I've met Domestic Partner. Even so, I remind myself on a regular basis that if I ever get to feeling sorry for myself I need to remember that there are those around me who are going through much worse.

Who am I to feel sorry for myself?

I remember a bout of self pity I had in 1994, at a time when a friend was losing her father to cancer. Another friend, a woman in my dance class, had just lost her grandmother. Her pain was made worse by her family's fighting over material property. Even our dance teacher was hiding her sadness over a miscarriage, bravely keeping her perpetual smile and motivation for her students in the studio.

Who the hell was I to feel sorry for myself?

Cheryl over at bread and bread is dealing with a fairly recent emotional roller coaster, a seemingly cruel ride of joy, at first, expecting twins - and then losing them early in the first trimester.

And a Disney friend recently posted a heartfelt note on facebook about how surprised she was to hear that her life was perceived as 'charmed.' In a flash, before verbalizing a response, she thought about how both her parents had died after years of living with the pain of cancer and other illnesses. Her young song was born with a rare genetic disorder, which she has often dealt with on her own while her husband was away on more than one tour of duty. She titled her facebook post 'Perspective' because that is what became clear to her when she looked at her loving and supportive family and their history through the objective eyes of her friend.

But I still hurt for her, and I hurt for Cheryl. I appreciate their willingness to share their pain so honestly, their willingness to be vulnerable so publicly. I appreciate the perspective they are providing.

Man. I have wasted a lot of my life feeling sorry for myself, and unnecessarily so. Did I mention that I'm lucky? (I know I've done so in previous posts - not just this one). I feel lucky because even on my worst days I can usually get to the point of laughing at myself, at how ridiculous I am being over petty problems. When I think about giving up, I immediately go to the extreme, and I picture myself turning into Goldie Hawn, the Fat Goldie Hawn in "Death Becomes Her." If I succumbed to self pity and depression, I know that would be me: 300 pounds and living alone in a small, run-down apartment, save for the twenty-three cats living with me, and eating cans of frosting as meal substitutes.

My worst year in life ever was 1995, when I was wasting time feeling sorry for myself, all but destroyed by Mr. Heartbreaker. I think of that time in my life every time the Fat Goldie Hawn scene opens with her bent over, a close up of her giant rear-end right in front of the camera. It always knocks me right into providing my own perspective, the one I need.

Even luckier still, I know I can never afford to spend too much time in self pity. I'm 45 this year, which means I have even less time than I used to, to work toward becoming Radiant and Ravishing Goldie Hawn in the scene of the book signing party, the one in which she's wearing that gorgeous, figure-hugging dress.

Yes, I'm a guy. I'm still inspired by Goldie Hawn, inspired by both images of her in that one movie. In a few years I'll be Fifty - and More Fabulous!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Eating Myself

The photo above has always been one of my favorites - just a random, posed shot taken in Japan when friends and I happened upon a small and random theme park in Kagoshima.

High-school-theater friend, Margaret, said that the head looks like the Caucasian version of me, to which I replied, "I'm eating myself!" She thought that was deep. I'm sure she was being tongue-in-cheek facetious, but I liked the symbolism of that: "white-me" consuming "Japanese-me."

From my perspective, I've always thought that the statue of this giant boy's head bursting from out of the ground looked very Japanese, including the color of the eyes and the shape of the eyebrows. But the skin tone may be too alabaster-white. Nobody is that pale, even the two albino people I used to know.

Growing up in Southern California, I never felt "white enough" or "American enough." I never felt good enough, even if that was only my own perception of myself. I knew I could never hide or disguise how Japanese I looked, no matter how American I felt or acted - or no matter how much I assimilated back into American culture after our family moved back from Japan when I was a fifth-grader.

Returning to Japan as an adult helped me to more easily embrace my Japanese identity, which helped to increase self-acceptance of myself (even if it also emphasized how Japanese I am not). The symbolism in this photo would actually be reversed in that my Japanese self helped to eat up the white self I was trying to perpetuate, the self that I was trying to make the larger part of my identity as a young man in the U.S.

Yes, you could say I'm all mixed up, but in a good way. Good Friend Ben used to love quoting an audience member he overheard after she saw my head shot before a show: "He's a mixture, isn't he?"