The Adventures of Apartment Life (Quick Update Blog)


I admire the view of the street and the empty grass parking lot. I hear vehicles driving by on the street and the neighborhood children playing outside. I notice the smell of barbecue coming from the neighboring apartment complex. The noise of a siren, coming from the nearby volunteer fire station, disrupts my attention for about thirty seconds. The sound of several passing fire truck sirens soon follows after the station’s winds down from its half minute blast. I attempt to divert my attention to whatever I was doing before that blaring sound interrupted my concentration.

I am surprised that I managed to grow accustomed to those sounds in the almost seven months I have been living in my apartment. As a matter of fact, there are times when they occur in that exact order! I’ve experienced all of those sights and sounds before. I usually thought nothing of them back when I lived with mom and dad. Why do they capture my attention now? I suppose it’s because I am residing in a place that was previously unfamiliar to me. It is a place I will manage to call home until I take up residence elsewhere.

The ability to live independently is essential for someone like me. Let’s face it, we all need our space for varying reasons. Probably the most important reason for my independence is because I know I am a gay man. I could not be more grateful for my parent’s who continue to be loving and supportive of me. Many gay people consider that a luxury simply because their biological families have been everything but that. However, there becomes a time in every gay man’s life when he must go out and explore this essential aspect of who he is as a person.

I would be false to say that apartment living has turned me into a brand new man. However, I can say that it has given me the courage to stop hiding the things that make me who I am. It’s hard for anyone to talk about sexuality when they are in their parent’s house, let alone express it openly. I currently display autographed pictures of Steve Grand flaunting his chiseled physique on my bulletin board. I hope to run off some pictures of my mom, dad, sister and my adorable curly tailed dog named Cinnamon to add to my display.

With that in mind, I know that living on my own comes with its fair share of responsibilities. I now have to keep track of adult things like rent, utility bills and making sure I take out the garbage before it stinks up the whole unit. I also know that I must focus on things like finishing my English degree at community college, finding employment and exploring career opportunities. These are what make independence more rewarding.

 

 

 

Brief Reflections On The Shooting At Pulse Nightclub


It happens every time there is a mass shooting. We sit and watch the television in hopes that the death toll will not continue to rise. Details about the perpetrator and possible motives start to fill social media. Everyone is desperate to know the real answer. Why would someone commit an act so violent, evil and hateful? It was hard to keep my emotions in check when other gay people have said they no longer feel safe at bars, nightclubs, and events that are supposed to be safe places.

I cannot form words regarding today’s events. So, I am going to leave you with a song by somebody who I truly admire. Steve Grand’s “We Are The Night” reminds us that “it’s our time” and “we will rise.” There are plenty of things regarding today’s events that are bound to make us burst out in anger and sadness. Despite that, we must do everything in our power to push for the chance we want to see. Because we just want to be free!

Steve Grand “All American Boy” Review


“Homosexuality is anti-American!”

One can expect to hear many variations of that phrase. Bigots insist upon uttering it every time a celebrity or politician comes out of the closet. They say we are trying to promote an agenda. They think that being Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual or Transgender is “anti-American.” Well, singer/songwriter Steve Grand is proving that it is as “All American” as hot dogs, apple pie and baseball. I have written about him many times. However, I finally listened to his first full length album “All American Boy” and I have wanted to write a thought out review. There is so much that I want to say, but I don’t know where to begin. This brought me back to the day I first discovered him back in July of 2013.

Strangely enough, I cannot remember where or how I discovered Steve. However, I will always remember the impact he still continues to have on me. I am trying to figure out where I am truly destined in life. Things are coming slowly. Although, I know that the only way to do that is to find out as much information as I can and go do it. It is easy enough to say “no” in fear of the outcome being less than desirable. This is why I will always cherish “All American Boy.” It has truly exceeded my expectations! Each song has its own character, but they all reflect the passion and authenticity of the Steve Grand who I have truly come to admire. Here, I have decided to highlight some of my favorite tracks.

There is one thing that definitely makes an album worth listening to. It is the occasional presence of tracks with titles that make a new listener question the lyric content, rather than jump out at them immediately. The beautiful ballad “Back to California” is definitely one of those. This is without a doubt the most personal track on the album. The lyrics are about his long-lost best friend from high school and how she always stood by him. Being gay in high school is no picnic for many people who grow up in small towns with mostly Conservative upbringings. Far too often, this negativity is often internalized and imposed on people who have done nothing but live their own lives. Being someone who happens to be gay and diagnosed with high functioning Autism, I truly admire and respect that someone recognizes the importance of friendships.

Like I said earlier, it is important for anyone who dreams of achieving success in this world to find out where they are truly destined. “We Are The Night” has a very different feel. It’s dance like beat reminds me of The Scissor Sisters, while it’s progressive lyrics very much resemble Lady Gaga’s Born This Way.

And we just wanna be free
Is there anything more lovely?
We got our whole lives to love
And tonight we’re as young as we’ll ever be
So don’t you never look back
Today could be our last
And we’ll just live as we are
Unmoved by the darkness we face
Cause we are the night
They’re gonna say we just ain’t right
But we are the night
We are the night

Homophobia will continue to exist throughout our years on this earth. People will continue to bitch and moan every time a celebrity or public figure comes out of the closet. However, the title track “All American Boy” is also one of those tracks that truly defies the societal boundaries of sexual orientation. This video has received a lot of praise, along with negativity from a few angry and potentially misguided gay people. The video is a fantasy about a gay man who expresses undying love for his straight friend, who is already with a woman. Steve’s fantasy ends up becoming a short-lived reality. He and his dream beau rip off their clothes, jump into a pond and kiss. This alone has angered a few of the nasty critics I just mentioned, mainly because of the clear difference between fantasy and reality. Then again, some gay people just don’t like the patriotic theme because many (but not all) “patriotic” Americans are racist and sexist god fearing Christians who think being gay is the spawn of the devil.

Nevertheless, I sense that this video and song was ultimately intended to remind us all that there is nothing wrong with thinking that we are in love with someone, despite the fact that we cannot have them.

“Stay” is a track that I can picture Steve and his band singing around a campfire. A banjo, mandolin and guitars accompany this lighthearted toe tapper. It sends Steve’s future beau a very clear, yet upbeat message.

Stay with me, we don’t never have to leave
You my southern king, we live it for the daydreams
So don’t you laugh—Notre Dame he had his chance
And he’s a good, good man
But there’s some things he just don’t understand
So when my old man’s out of town but a couple days
I think that you should stay
Oh, won’t you stay
Hmmmm

“Soakin’ Wet” is another one of those upbeat pop/rock type songs. I would consider the lyric content to be sexy in nature, without putting so much emphasis on sexual details. I don’t have anything against people who are “unfiltered” in those regards. However, it is nice to see someone who recognizes that being gay goes far beyond the things we do between the sheets.

I got you out on the water, soaking wet
Got that white t-shirt clinging to your chest
Yeah, the sun’s going down, but it ain’t gone yet
We can dry off a little later on
‘Cus we’re having a little too much fun
Being soaking wet, eh, eh
Being soaking wet, eh, oh

“Time” is by far my favorite ballad. As the title suggests, it’s about the quick progression of time and how relationships can suddenly take a turn for the worst. People are not always as charming as they seem. We swoon over their good looks, sense of humor, their money, cars and stylish clothes. They go on and on about how amazing they think they are. We are completely oblivious to who they truly are. They just want to use us for sex, money or anything else they can brag about to the next person they want to stab in the back. While the song was about the painful end of a romantic relationship, I am sure the lyrics are relatable to anyone who knows how it feels to be mistreated by someone who they previously perceived as genuine.

On that note, I do hope that Steve will consider something in the future. Many artists have created music videos that are either slightly or completely different from your typical visual reenactment of the lyrics. The music video for Garth Brook’s “The Dance” is a remarkable example of that. He used it as a tribute to inspirational leaders who have died and pondered what the lyrics would have meant to them. I listen to the chorus of “Lovin’ Again” and notice how it changes from the beginning to the end.

“You just might keep me, you just might keep me, from lovin’, lovin’ again.

Perhaps the cry is coming from someone who is trying to come to terms with more than just a “love gone bad.” For example, his boss could have fired him for being gay and he could be struggling to find a new job and live his life again. Life’s contradicting messages are nearly pushing him to the breaking point. He finally finds the courage to get up and remind himself…

“You won’t keep me, you won’t keep me, from lovin’, lovin’ again.”

All in all, Steve Grand’s debut album “All American Boy” is more than just an authentic display of defiance towards the societal boundaries of sexual orientation. It is a reminder that we must not be afraid of experimenting and seeing where we truly belong. It takes time, patience and confidence to find that, but it is something that we must do if we want to.  achieve true success. Steve epitomizes someone who can truly achieve that!

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It Was The Worst Day of My Life (Recognizing Emotions and Overcoming Them)


I have written about depression and mental illnesses several times. I wrote about the tragic death of Robin Williams. I expressed great disappointment in Fox News analyst Shepard Smith and his claim that Williams was a “coward” for taking his own life. I am someone who firmly believes that a mental illness should never define everything about who we are. However, the human mind can be a very fragile thing. It can often cause us to do things we never knew we were capable of doing. These things can certainly be wonderful, but they can also be devastating and tragic.

I recently read a story about Virginia Gentiles, a mother from Pasadena, California. She is suing a local Target store for false imprisonment, intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligence and wrongful death.

http://www.nbclosangeles.com/news/local/Target-Faces-Lawsuit-Over-Employees-Suicide-289662711.html

Her son, Graham Gentles, committed suicide on July 18, 2014. Three days earlier, store security and local police met him at the front of the store as he arrived early. They grabbed him, emptied his pockets and hat, then paraded him around the store to an office. This practice is commonly called “the walk of shame.” 

“The walk of shame is a Target policy to purposely cause shame, embarrassment and emotional distress to any Target employee who is suspected of stealing from Target. The policy consists of employees being arrested and paraded in handcuffs through the Target store in full view of co-workers and customers.”

Long story short, the alleged harassment was not because he stole from the store. Graham’s mother stated that the supposed theft was all fabrication by the multiple media outlets that have reported on this story. It was due to a previous altercation that occurred between him and an employee, which also happened months beforehand. After being taken paraded around the store, police drove him to the local station for questioning and released without any charges filed. To add more devastation, he was wrongfully fired from his job. When he spoke to his mother about the ordeal, he said it was the worst day of his life. Unfortunately, this day was so terrible, he decided to take his own life because he could not bear the pain and humiliation anymore.  

Reactions from the public have ranged from very supportive and sympathetic to downright hateful and disrespectful. I cannot say that this surprises me, mainly because mental illness is such an under recognized issue in our world today. Normally, I would agree that the loss of a job alone is not a reason to commit suicide. However, this is the dark side of living with a neurological disorder like Asperger’s Syndrome. The emotional pain we experience in life can overpower our ability to think things through and find ways to cope. 

If there is anything this story has taught me, it is the sheer importance of finding positive ways to cope with negative emotions. It doesn’t matter what I am feeling or going through. Sometimes, I have no choice but to think it through and try to understand why I am feeling this way. This is when I like to take time to myself. I use what I do best. My gift in writing. “My Letter to Steve Grand” is one of those examples. I don’t normally share these writings with people. However, I decided to make a rare exception this time. 

Please understand that crushes, love and romance are very new feelings for me. Life with Asperger’s Syndrome has always made me a loner. The high school social scene considered me the loner who was a “loser.” I was an awkward, uncoördinated kid with zero confidence who walked around with a scowl on his face. My “phases” changed throughout that time. I refrained from talking to anyone for most of those 4 years, and then I became this kid who could not control himself and acted out just for the sake of acting out. I desperately needed a way to handle my pain and that was the only release I could find.

When I was a small child, my issue with emotions was not recognizing them. I’ve always known what I am feeling. However, there were times when I knew my emotions way too much. The thing is, it is still one of my demons today. My mammaw and papaw (southern talk for grandma and grandpa) used to tell me this story from when they came to visit us in Pennsylvania. It goes back to when I was somewhere between three and four years old.

We were celebrating my sisters 6th birthday. The local bowling alley was our chosen venue. The familiar sounds of bowling balls hitting the pins, people chatting and music playing filled the bustling local hangout. My attention was not focused on any of that. It was focused on the family to the right of us. They also happened to be celebrating a birthday and rented a helium tank and were using it to blow up balloons. I immediately covered my ears. I was terrified of the possibility that they were going to pop. My attention became hyper focused on those balloons and the possibility that they were going to burst and make a loud sound. 

Crying was the only way I knew how to handle it. My mammaw tried to give me a set of ear plugs, but that didn’t help. My papaw sensed that I needed to get out of the noisy room for a few minutes. I needed to tell him what was wrong and I needed to be reassured. While he did not say it in these exact words, this was the gist of the message he gave to me. 

“The world is full of things that are much scarier than balloons popping.” 

That is the one thing that we all need to be reminded. The world is full of things that cause a lot more pain. Sometimes, those experiences are directly caused by our tendency to negatively dwell upon those little things. I failed to realize that when I was a young child. I failed to realize it when I was in high school and feared that people were not going to like me. I fail to realize it today when I discover that things just don’t work out the way I anticipated them to. The big question is, how do we stop it from dictating our lives?

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Being Brave (In A Cowardly World)


Selfish: having or showing concern for only yourself and not for the needs or feelings of other people. 

Coward: 1.) someone who is too afraid to do what is right or expected 2.) someone who is not at all brave or courageous. 

Fox News analyst Shepard Smith was recently put under fire for insulting comments regarding the recent death of actor and comedian Robin Williams. The 63 years old man committed suicide on August 11, 2014. Smith referred to William’s death as “cowardly” in a recent news segment. 

One of the children he so loved, one of the children grieving tonight. Because their father killed himself in a fit of depression. It’s hard to imagine, isn’t it? You could love three little things so much, watch them grow, they’re in their mid-20s, and they’re inspiring you, and exciting you, and they fill you up with the kind of joy you could never have known. And yet, something inside you is so horrible or you’re such a coward or whatever the reason that you decide that you have to end it.

Rightfully so, his comments were not well received. Criticism has come from people who know how it feels to live with severe Depression. Many have actually contemplated or attempted suicide. They know how it feels to reach that point where you feel like there is no hope. They are left with two choices. Do I end it all or do I face my fears and find the help I need? I live with Asperger’s Syndrome, a mild form of the neurological disorder known as Autism. I still find it difficult to connect with people, even though I try so hard to do so. Whether I like it or not, I have to do it if I want to survive on my own. This condition has made me especially vulnerable to Depression and Social Anxiety. I am also a gay man. I love men! It has taken me a long time to find the confidence to say that. I am this complex person who nobody else will even care to understand or even get to know. (At least that is what I hear from the occasional troll who loves to comment on my blog.) The truth is, Depression is a very difficult topic for me to explain. It is mainly because the condition affects people in many ways. Australian writer and illustrator Matthew Johnstone described his journey towards overcoming Depression in his book “I Had a Black Dog (And his Name Was Depression.)” As the title suggests, the black dog was used as a metaphorical alternative to the word depression. 

I had a black dog and his name was Depression. Whenever the black dog made an appearance, I felt empty and life just seemed to slow down. He would surprise me with a visit for no reason or occasion. The black dog made me look and feel older than my years. When the rest of the world seemed to enjoy life, I could only see it through the black dog. Activities that used to bring me pleasure, suddenly ceased to. He liked to ruin my appetite. 

I have learned not to beat myself up and try to figure out the exact cause of my symptoms. Personally, I don’t care if it is directly because of my Asperger’s, obliviousness to my sexuality or just biology and genetics. I was shy, socially challenged and closeted kid who insisted he was “just going through a phase.” If I were to suddenly find out the cause of all my problems, I can guarantee that my symptoms would worsen. I would be this miserable, unhappy guy who constantly focused on everything that is wrong in my life. They could even push me to the breaking point. I know that I have to stop it from going there if I want to survive in this world. It’s very hard to do, but life is not always a walk in the park. 

He chewed up my memory and my ability to concentrate. Doing anything, or going anywhere with the black dog required superhuman strength. At social occasions, he would sniff out what confidence I had and chase it away. My biggest fear was being found out. I worried that people would judge me. Because of the shame and stigma of the black dog, I was constantly worried about being found out. So, I invested vast amounts of energy into covering him up. Keeping up and emotional lie, is exhausting. Black dog could make me think and say negative things. He could make me irritable and difficult to be around. He would take my love, and bury mine to the sea. He loved nothing more than to wake me up with highly repetitive and negative thinking. He also loved to remind me how exhausted I was going to be the next day.

Having a black dog in your life isn’t so much about being a bit down, sad or blue. At its worst, it’s about being devoid of feeling all together. As I got older, the black dog got bigger and he started hanging around all the time. I’d chase him off with whatever I thought might send him running, but more often than not, he’d come out on top. Going down became easier than getting up again. So, I became really good at self medication, which never really helped. Eventually, I felt totally isolated from everything and everyone. The black dog had finally succeeded in hijacking my life. When you lose all joy in life, you can begin to question what the point of it is. 

Thankfully, this was the time that I sought professional help. This was my first step towards recovery and a major turning point in my life. I learned that it doesn’t matter who you are, the black dog affects millions and millions of people. It is an equal opportunity mongrel. I also learned there is no silver bullet or magic pill. Medication may help some, but others need a difficult approach altogether. I also learned that being emotionally genuine and authentic towards those close to you can be an absolute game changer. Most importantly, I learned not to be afraid of the black dog and I taught him a few new tricks of my own. The more tired and stressed you are, the louder he barks. So, it’s important to learn how to quiet your mind. It’s been clinically proven that regular exercise can be as effective to treating mild to moderate depression as anti depressants. So, go for a walk or a run and leave the mutt behind.  Keep a mood journal! Getting your thoughts on paper can be cathartic and often insightful. Also, keep track of the things that you have to be grateful for.

The most important thing to remember is that no matter how bad it gets, if you take the right steps, if you talk to the right people, black dog days will pass! I wouldn’t say that I am grateful for the black dog, but he has been an incredible teacher. He forced me to reevaluate and simplify my life. I learned that rather than running away from my problems, it’s better to embrace them. The black dog will always be a part of my life, but he will never be the beast that he was! We have an understanding! I’ve learned through knowledge, patience, discipline and humor, the worst black dog can be made to heal. If you’re in difficulty, never be afraid to ask for help. There is absolutely no shame in doing so. The only shame is missing out on life!

Matthew Johnstone “I Had A Black Dog (And His Name Was Depression) 

If there is anything that Depression has taught me, it is that none of my differences entitle me to sympathy from other people. When I meet a new person, you will never hear me say anything like this. “Hi! I’m Derek! I’m gay, I have Asperger’s Syndrome and I’m Depressed! Woe is me!” The only way I will ever believe that someone genuinely respects me is if they chose to look beyond all of those things that make me appear “different” from the rest of society. I do not care if people know that I am gay. I have grown used to the fact that people are going to find out sooner or later. However, I have a very different expectation for disclosing my diagnosis. Should I ever tell any person I meet, they must not disclose it to anyone else without my explicit permission. I know that people can be very judgmental when they find out someone has an Autistic Spectrum Disorder. They believe the stereotypes portrayed in fictional television shows and by news media outlets. (For example: Dr. Virginia Dixon on Grey’s Anatomy and Dr. Temprence Brennan on Bones.) I wrote that heartfelt letter to Steve Grand because I was confident in the belief that he was actually willing to listen. I hate to be this way, but most people could care less. I am greatly improving in my ability to “hide” my symptoms at times and places when it is necessary to do so. I must admit, it can be very overwhelming! Society does not think “high functioning Autism” is a “legitimate disability.” Regardless, it is “legitimate” to me! 

There is one thing I have learned about the tragic death of Robin Williams. When the world overwhelms, frustrates and saddens me, there still is hope. I am not selfish. I am not a coward. I am just someone who needs help coping with the world. It took me a long time to realize that. I often wonder if Robin would still be here if someone would have told him those words. Even if it cannot bring him back, it can still help people who feel like they have lost hope. That is one of the many reasons why I write the way I do! 

 

 

My Letter to Steve Grand


I am sure we all know how it feels  when we finally get the chance to meet a person we idolize. Last night, I had the opportunity to meet Steve Grand at Pittsburgh Pridefest. Our meeting was short, but I was so glad I finally had the chance to give him a hug. I did not have the time to say the things I really wanted to say. So, I figured it would be best to say them in writing. Without further due, here are my words to Steve.

Steve,

You, your music and your talent have made an incredible impact on me. I wish I could personally thank you for everything you have done for me. It all started when I watched “Back to California.” It put me on an emotional rollercoaster and I could not figure out why.  It reminded me of my lonely and painful high school journey without that one friend whom I could rely on. I could not hold the tears back. Several minutes later, I finally gave myself a mental slap. It’s almost like God was telling me to get a hold of myself and think it through.

Like many gay youth, my high school journey wasn’t wonderful. I didn’t have friends. I was an awkward, closeted mess of a kid who had no idea how to interact with people. I was picked on and I allowed them to control me and I acted out in return. I was afraid to take risks and put myself out there.

Please understand that crushes, love and romance are very new feelings for me. Life with Asperger’s Syndrome has always made me a loner. The high school social scene considered me the loner who was a “loser.” I was an awkward, uncoördinated kid with zero confidence who walked around with a scowl on his face. My “phases” changed throughout that time. I refrained from talking to anyone for most of those 4 years, and then I became this kid who could not control himself and acted out just for the sake of acting out. I desperately needed a way to handle my pain and that was the only release I could find.

“In the midst of our lives, we must find the magic that makes our soul soar!” I immediately thought about you when I found this journal. I am at an unknown time in my life right now. My previous path did not turn out to be the one for me. Anxiety is overpowering me. I am debating whether college will truly help me discover myself or if I will have to form my path to success, happiness and love. I know that I cannot just sit here. That will not help me accomplish much of anything. So, I have no choice but to apply for a temporary “job.” I need interaction with people, even though it can be frustrating. There were days when it frustrated me to tears. I try my hardest not to let shallowness, judgmentalism, ignorance and hatred kill my confidence. I know that I cannot let it define who I am.

Speaking of which, I know that my differences cannot prevent me from loving a man with my heart and soul. I truly wish my handsome prince charming could be exactly like you. I’m sure this isn’t the first time a fan of yours has admitted to having a crush on you. Let’s face it, your talent, your looks and your incredibly hot body makes you the perfect package. I know eventually that “someday my prince will come.” (thank you, Walt Disney)

As I maneuver the world at large, there are several things I have to keep in mind. For my well being, I have to be very careful with the men I chose to date. Bitchy, brutally frank and shallow gay men are not my concern. I am concerned about those who really do come off as sweet and respectful. They seem to be able to handle homophobia and all the typical prejudices LGBT people are subjected to, so they think high functioning Autism (Asperger’s Syndrome) is no match for their confidence. He may claim to appreciate my quirkiness, honesty and articulateness. He could very well be that handsome prince I have dreamed about since I first discovered my love for men. However, he will not act shocked or offended when he discovers that my Autism will always be there. Although your struggles may be different, finding that right person who can love you for yourself and not the singer Steve Grand, I feel that you are with me in my journey of finding true love.

I keep trying to remind myself that I am destined for great and wonderful things in this world. Aside from publishing my first memoir, I want to spend an entire month in the state of California and drive the entire coast. I will be sure to think about you when I finally get the opportunity to do it. It’s funny how one song can cause a person to become so emotional. It reminded me of that time in my life when I felt like I would become a dismal failure. I try to stay positive, even though it is very hard at times. I try not to ask for too much from people I don’t know. However, I do ask this. Please do not forget me! Please keep up the fight and continue to write such amazing and touching songs. Finally, I hope that we will get to meet someday. Please keep and use this journal as a token of my gratitude for you. I know that magic is out there somewhere, but I know in my heart I will find it.

With all of my love, affection and support,

Derek

I truly hope you enjoyed reading this special post. Much love and happiness to all of you, too!

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