Treat Yo Self 2014!

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Last Wednesday was my birthday and for the first time in my life, I actually felt like I could enjoy it. I’ve always had an interesting feeling about my birthday. It wasn’t until I was 18 that I decided to make an attempt to spend it with friends– with mixed results. Before then, I hated it with a passion. Imagine everything most people do on Christmas eve. You’re running to the grocery store because you’re out of pepper. You’re in the mall trying to get a toy that you think that your child may recognize because you’ve put off shopping until the last minute. You’re spending the rest of the day cooking. Basically, you’re doing everything you can to make sure Christmas Day runs smoothly. Now with those things in mind, try throwing a birthday in that.

I’ve always felt that your birthday is the one day where you get to use the phrase “Its all about me today!” or “Its my day!” (unless you’re a bridezilla) and its actually sort of true but when your birthday is December 24, Its never about you. Its about Christmas. That set the stage for some pretty lousy birthdays. While my older brother and cousins got to have birthday dinners with cake and celebrations or a cook out (they’re summer babies) I was more times than not left wondering when my party was gonna happen while all the adults took care of their last minute Christmas errands. To this day, I can honestly say i’ve never had a birthday party and I’ve never gone out barhopping on my birthday. To this day, it is not uncommon for me to get a message from a family member or a friend telling me happy birthday and me responding “Thank you, it was a week ago.”

As I got older, I began to realize that if I truly wanted to have a “happy” birthday, I would have to be the one to turn it around for myself. And I did. Starting with my attitude. Sure those all those lonely birthdays as a child were scarring, but just like my crush on the original red Power Ranger, those days were temporary and they eventually became the past. So for my silver anniversary, I decided to make this day entirely about me. Obnoxious to say that? Sure. But you only turn 25 once right?

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Remember that episode of Parks and Recreation when Tom and Donna “treat themselves” for a day? That is exactly what I planned on doing this year. I cooked, I had my penis cake (I really felt like Lorraine Bobbit when i cut it) and i had a nice quiet dinner with my boyfriend. As nervous as I was that the day would suck, it actually turned out to be quite the opposite. I realized that treating myself shouldn’t just be limited to one day. With the new year fast approaching, I’ve decided to make this my one and only New Years resolution. Needless to say, by treating myself I don’t mean living a life of extravagance or doing what I want. I’m talking about small things like a movie every now and again or taking a day to focus on you. I personally don’t think I do that enough. Everyday can’t be a me day but maybe once a month will work for me. For me, learning to relax and treat myself is the perfect bookend to 2014 and the most fitting introduction to 2015. Let’s see what it has to offer.

21

We all know that there are several milestones that come in a person’s life. Most people’s parents go all out for the first birthday. Ladies, how many of you had a sweet sixteen? Even in the Jewish faith, thirteen is the age of maturity and that’s celebrated. But in a young adult’s life there’s only one birthday that matters. 21.

I recently went to a good friend of mine’s 21st birthday party and I had a blast. It was everything I wished my 21st would have been. A packed bar full of friends, hot guys from wall to wall, and endless drinks. It was a far cry from my 21st. My big day consisted of an empty bar, just me and my best friend drinking wine coolers. We ended up home for the night by 9 because it had started to snow. That’s how you roll when your birthday is on Christmas Eve. But unlike my birthday, this was an actual party where people actually have fun.

The next morning, I woke up stumbling out of bed slightly hung over with a trail of dried drool that lead from my lips to top of my Ninja Turtles onesie when I began to piece together the events of the night before. For some reason, the only thing that came to mind was the fact that I hadn’t been out like that in so long. In a way it made me miss that period of my life. That carefree period where every Saturday night is an adventure. You get dressed, go out, and see what the universe sends your way. Looking back, I was sent a lot. Maybe too much. As my trip down memory lane progressed, all could think about was the fact that those days were far behind me. I then began to wonder. Had I grown up too fast?

When I was first came out here, the pressure was on. I had a league of doubters back home (my family) who thought I would fail miserably. But I quickly found a job, I was staying in the dorms (while crashing with friends in between semesters) and the only real bills I had at the time were food and my cell phone. I knew I had to start saving for an apartment but the rest was mine to play with and that’s just what I did. It turns out that I was one of a number of millennials who decided to take a new approach to living life. Gone are the days of work now, play later.

According to a 2013 poll conducted by the Global Press Room, 71% of millennials feel that work interferes severely with their personal life. Now before you boomers and GenX’ers start, that doesn’t mean that we’re lazy or we want to be paid without doing any work, or that we don’t take things seriously, it just means we find a little time off beneficial. I certainly do. Most folks within 2-5 years of me completed high school just as the economy was falling apart. We saw a lot of people who spent their twenties and early thirties building their businesses and careers only to be suddenly be left at square one in the wake of a recession.

For me, after seeing that I decided to approach my adulthood differently. I work full time and i go to school part time and that takes a good 80% of my time. That other 20%? That’s for me. I don’t see a problem with finding a bigger balance between working and having a little fun–especially when you’re young. Of course the time you spend away from work has to be within reason. You cant take week long vacations every month or something like that. I usually take one day a week. I do a little work from home and then I try to get out and enjoy my day. Or sometimes I stay home and just watch TV all day but the point is to do something that helps you unwind and take your mind off the stress of the week.

So I guess I hadn’t grown up too fast after all. Instead, I’m one of millions who are re-writing the rules of balancing work time and play time. It may seem lazy to people now but I know plenty of folks who get up everyday and work their asses off just like I do. We work, study, pay bills, start careers, and hustle all at the same time. And if you want to reward yourself by going out and turning up on the weekend, then I say party your young ass off.

I’m Coming Out… Revisited

October 11 is a special day for me. Not only is it the birthday of Halle and Annie on The Parent Trap (starring the Lohan we all miss) but it’s also the day I celebrate the moment I told my mother I was gay. The actual day was October 16 but it’s close enough. I celebrate it on the 11th because it’s National Coming Out Day. This year marks 10 years for me and what a roller coaster it has been.

When I first realized that I was gay and I came to grips with the fact that this is indeed who I was and it wasn’t going anywhere, my response was fear. Keep in mind, this was ten years ago. It was no where near as cool as it is now. Gay marriages were not legal anywhere. People flipped out when Britney and Madonna kissed on the VMA’s the year before (she also kissed Christina but has anyone ever cared about that?). The only successful shows with gay people or characters in it were Queer Eye, Queer as Folk and Will & Grace. I used to watch those shows and think about how fictional it was. I just knew that my world would never be like that.

Ten years later I can honestly say no. It’s nothing like those shows. My life is better. When Dan Savage says It Gets Better, it sounds cliche but it’s so true. The hard part is enduring all the verbal, mental, and sometimes physical abuse that comes with being who you are. My coming out was not easy. But I was very lucky to have my mother there for me. In some ways I think it made us closer. I’ll never forget spending the night in my room crying the night I told her I was gay. She looked at me and said, “I’m not gonna love you any less. You’re still my son.” To this day, that still means so much to me. We talked for about an hour after that and I went to my room and just sobbed. That was an incredible weight off my shoulders.

My father on the other hand wasn’t as accepting. His initial response was, “You know that’s a curse on me?” I still don’t know what that means. He even dragged me to see our pastor and the two of them had me read every bible scripture aloud that condemned homosexuality as I sobbed. The combination of his rejection and that experience was so devastating that I didn’t set foot in that church again until my grandmother’s funeral this past January. It also sent me into a deep depression that led me to attempt suicide twice. Fortunately, I had a good support system of family, friends, therapy, and antidepressants to pull me out of that. Unfortunately, my relationship with my father never really recovered. Even now, we still don’t see eye to eye on the subject. Some of you may be thinking why is he sharing all of this? The reason I share the story of my father’s disapproval so openly is because sometimes we don’t all get the happy ending. Sometimes you have to agree to disagree and move on with your life. That’s what I had to do at least.

As many of you know, I moved out to the Bay Area four years ago and my life really has not been the same since. A whole new world has literally opened up to me in the time since. I challenge myself in ways that I never did, I have dreams and goals that I never had the nerve to set, and most importantly I have the drive and confidence in myself to make them happen. I have more friends than i could have ever imagined and a loving boyfriend who is always loving and encouraging. To me, that’s a far cry from the boy who had to nervously gather the courage to tell the most important people in his life something they probably already knew.

Tea Time

What’s going on everyone? It’s Tuesday and a brand new season is upon us (in television and autumn begins in two weeks) so I’d like to introduce a new segment id like to call Tea Time. It consists of three things going on in the world and my opinions of them (“spilling the tea” as the kids call it).

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BREAKING NEWS

1. Ray Rice cut from the Ravens

Normally I would start this off with REAL news like Bravo cleaning house in New York or J.Lo’s love life. But this is hot off the presses and I feel it requires my two cents. Some of you shake your heads at the headline and keep it moving. Others may think like I do. Another person with all the talent and potential in the world sending it all to hell. And for what? You wanted to be the new Chris Brown by punching the lights out of that lady. I’ll be the first to say that the NFL made the right decision. These athletes are never gonna learn their lesson unless they know there will be repercussions for their actions just like any other responsible adult. Just because you have talent doesn’t mean you can act like a donkey wherever you go. As far as the coach… they totally knew! These sports organizations need to be held responsible as well. None of these things should be condoned. And I find it funny how we allow players with rap sheets– that’s no problem at all. Literally. It’s not an issue. I actually think it’s a secret requirement. But you let one gay guy in and all the eyes of the world are watching you and everything you do. Not to mention the fact that suddenly you have to watch your back in the shower. Now that I’ve dropped this theory, take a moment to ponder the absurdity of those two things.

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2. So Long, Joan

Can we talk? I know very few people who didn’t love Joan Rivers. She was always one of my favorite comedians mainly because she was one of the few people who could get away with saying literally whatever they wanted. I always loved her for that. I think the reason she was so loved and despised by people was because deep down we all wanted to be her. We all want to have people fall out laughing at something horribly offensive and not care about it. I share her philosophy that laughter is the best way to get through anything and she was always one of the only ones to point out the fact that we don’t know how to laugh anymore. I think that’s very true. We all want to be politically correct and in some situations, it’s necessary but sometimes you have to learn how to laugh at yourself and the things that can happen in life. It’s hard to explain but I know it’s helped me more times than I can count. Even if I’m the only one finding humor in a dark time in my life, it helps. She was a true original and she really will be missed.

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3. Another Year….

It’s September which is my time to go back to school. 15 weeks of running around like a chicken with my head cut off. May 15th literally feels like yesterday now it’s September. Before you know it, it’ll be Christmas. I’m more than half way to the finish line (my degree) but the thought of going back is a hot like going full speed ahead on a train now to the (supposed) most wonderful time of the year.

Welcome to the Real World…

My room after I cleaned it out  8/27/2010

My room after I cleaned it out
8/27/2010

By the summer of 2010, most of us still liked American Idol enough to watch it live. A generation of children who had grown up decided to give “Toy Story 3” one last hurrah. On the radio, Katy Perry’s Teenage Dream was just beginning. I on the other hand, spent the first half of the year experiencing my first real heartbreak from a guy that dumped me. Making matters worse, I read online just days before that ABC was canceling “Ugly Betty.”

“First my favorite show gets canceled then, the guy I really liked dumped me? My life is over”, I cried to myself. In the midst of my (now humorous) funk, I figured this was the perfect time to make a change. By this point, it was spring time and I had just got my tax return and I decided to go away to college. I specifically remember googling, “art schools far away from home” and The Academy of Art came up. Within a matter of days, an adviser had called me and we were talking enrollment info and sharing life stories like old friends. She asked me if I would be ok moving to a new city. Without missing a beat, I said (in my high pitched Jennifer Aniston in the pilot of Friends voice) “Sure!” If Ugly Betty could move to London, I could certainly move to San Francisco.

 

My first trip to the Golden Gate Bridge 9/11/2010

My first trip to the Golden Gate Bridge
9/11/2010

Most importantly, the big move forced me to put myself out there and meet different kinds of people. I went from being the only black guy or the only gay guy to being just one of the guys. I can honestly say I was very lucky to meet the people that I did. For a 20 year old guy who had never even been on an airplane, this could have easily been an epic disaster. But I was fortunate to meet the people who would become my friends and co-workers and classmates. They really made this move bearable and much easier that it could have or should have been.

I was oddly intrigued by the fact that i was holding actual 8mm film... 12/17/2010

I was oddly intrigued by the fact that i was holding actual 8mm film…
12/17/2010

 

No matter what the future brings, I’ll never regret my time out here. I honestly feel that you have to take risks sometimes in life and for this chapter in mine, this was the big one. It was terrifying and scary but I’m always proud of the fact that I stuck it out and worked my ass off to accomplish my goal of living here. I’m certainly not where I want to be in life, but I know I’m on my way. I guess the line in the pilot of Friends is true. The real world does suck. But I love it.

The Truth About Muffin Tops and Stretch Marks

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Last spring…

If you’ve ever spent a great deal of time in the Bay Area, then you should know that the weather is tricky. For those of you who haven’t, the area is made of a series of microclimates which is wonderful if you live in any other part of the country. But for me it’s a total pain. I spent this entire afternoon figuring out what I could wear that could still fit me, keep me from baking in Oakland, and keep me warm once the fog rolled into San Francisco. I guess to be fair, my limited wardrobe options had less to do with the weather and more to do with my shrinking waistline and muffin top.

As I approach my weight loss goal of 40 pounds (I have 5 more pounds to go!!!), I suddenly find myself asking why did I do this? Who did I do this for? Many people have asked me in the last few months, what made me decide to do it. Sure my health was a prime concern–at first. Diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease all run in my family. (Can you tell I’m from the south now?) I knew I wanted to get it under control while I was young instead of waiting until I was “older” to do it. (By older I mean after 30.) But for me, the question remains. Did society play a part in this? Was it really my health or was it that need to be thin to be considered attractive?

The truth is that a number of things became a factor in my weight loss. In some ways it really was my health. I’m 24 now, but I’m not always gonna be. I knew my diet and eating habits were not good and I also knew they’d get worse as I got older so I figured why not nip that in the bud? But even more than that, I’d be lying if I said society didn’t play a part in this. We always hear about women struggling to look a certain way and I always think to myself, why don’t we ever hear about the men? Not to make this a sexist debate, but have you ever looked at a Calvin Klein ad? I’ll certainly agree the pressure is worse for women but it’s not a bed of roses for us either.

Turning 24 in style... and the sun

Turning 24 in style… and the sun

I’ll never understand why people think being overweight is so repulsive. I never thought I looked too bad when I was heavy. But I knew others who were far more critical. Sure I looked drastically different from the way most were used to seeing me but I didn’t think I looked that bad. Come to think of it, I met my boyfriend when I was heavy. I wasn’t sure what he wanted in the beginning but I figured whatever it was, it wasn’t me. So when it came to the point where we liked each other enough to start spending nights together, I made sure it was that time of day. Night. Lights off with candles going. As if the candlelight would make my fat magically disappear. I quickly found out, not only did he like me the way I was but he actually didn’t mind being romantic before the sunset.

For me, what made my weight gain difficult wasn’t the fact that I was growing out of every stitch of clothing I owned. It was really the endless stream of repetitive and sometimes hurtful comments from family, friends, and co-workers. I’ve been made fun of my whole life and I have a very sarcastic personality so I can certainly take a joke. But when it comes to looks and body size I feel that should be off limits. I don’t go there with people and I expect the same. In this case I was dead wrong.

“You’re filling out real nice. (Followed by hysterical laughter) “

“Your boobs are bigger than mine. That’s so disgusting.”

“Wow! You used to be skinny?”

“Todd. What’s going on man? You got fat.”

When you’re hearing things like that on almost a daily basis, they begin to take their toll. I didn’t put on the weight because I was unhappy, I just liked food. Junk food in particular. But after a while I began to believe those things. And that’s what made me want to make a change. Not only to my body but to my self esteem. I knew enough to know that the ones who had the most to say were really the ones with the problem. No longer would I take other people’s insecurities as my own. If you hate yourself that’s fine, but I, not gonna let you make me feel the same.

My first pair of skinny jeans

My first pair of skinny jeans

I’ve learned so much throughout this process. I’ve learned how to develop an exercise routine and I’m still learning how to eat right. But more importantly I’ve learned to love the guy I see in the mirror.  Flaws and all. The muffin top, the stretch marks, my eczema marks– all of it. That’s a far cry from a year ago when I would look at myself and cringe. So you could say that it was society or the comments that were made that played a part in my weight loss but regardless of what started the process, the lessons that were learned make it a process that was well worth it. I may not have the most fit body but i’ve got more confidence than ever before. To me, thats more attractive than any six pack of abs or beer. I guess learning to love yourself really is the greatest love of all.

Were the 90’s Really the Last Great Decade?

Ahhh the 90’s. For many, it was the decade where OJ Simpson went from running through airports for Hertz to running from police in a white Bronco for a double murder. It was also the decade when we first buried our faces in a computer screen. And we haven’t looked up since. The National Geographic channel is doing a three part series on the entire decade and just hearing the title instantly made me think. Were the 90’s really the last great decade?

Doing what I do best... Sleep, April 1990

Easter 1990

January 1, 1990. George H.W. Bush was president, the Cold War had been averted, and in cold and snowy Louisville, Kentucky, Rosa and Maurice Anthony were adjusting to life with their week old newborn. In case you haven’t figured it out, that week old newborn was me. As indicated by the picture above, my memories of the decade are from the perspective of a child. You see, when I was little, we were doing the Macarena, not twerking. All the electronic games we played came courtesy of Nintendo (Remember the Game Boy? or Duck Hunt?). And if we wanted to find out what our friends were up to, we had to wait until the next day at school to find out. Its easy to look back at the 90’s as a decade of firsts. Reality shows, the internet, cell phones– it all rose to prominence and we can’t live without to them today and its the reason I look back on the 90’s as a decade of lasts.

ca. 1994

ca. 1994

I am certainly not a parent, but I’m a proud uncle. I look at my nieces and nephew, (ages 7, 12, and 5) and I feel like the teens on that AT&T commercial. I look at how they are and the things they do and I find myself turning into those people who start their sentences  with “in my day…”. In all seriousness, I remember the 90’s the same way baby boomers remember the 50’s or 60’s. Compared to today, it was such a simpler time. Of course, lots of things pre-9/11 were simpler. Especially when it came to being a child. It was a time where children weren’t familiar with terms like “sexting” and “terror threat”. It was a time when we played with action figures and dolls instead of iPads. (Don’t even get me started on the Power Rangers and the Ninja Turtles–they were my life.) It was also a time when our internet usage was monitored. Thanks in no small part to the rather limited world of the web at the time. No social media, no texting, no cyber bullying, no phone, no lights, no motor cars, not a single luxury– you get the gist.

ca.1998

My third grade school photo, 1998

To me, that was the best part of being a child in the 90’s. Millennials are the last generation to go to school, come home, do our homework, and play outside. We ate pizza and chili dogs at school and washed it down with chocolate milk. Was it healthy? Of course not, but no one cared.  We are the last generation of children to grow up without a co-dependence on technology. If anything, technology evolved as we came of age. But there wasn’t this instant access to the internet and more importantly, there wasn’t a need for it. Kids could simply be kids and we stayed in the place of a child. So with that said, I guess there’s only one simple answer to this question. Yes. The 90’s really were the last great decade.