Sunday, January 8, 2017

the story behind UNDER the GUN


I curated an art show about guns that opens this Friday at Work | Release, but I hope we don't talk about guns at all, to be honest with you.

I don't want to talk about background checks.

I don't want to talk about the Second Amendment.

I hope, just for a minute, we can get out from under the weight of this machine and instead focus on the person holding it.

This is where we all agree: mental healthcare should be better in America, starting in all our communities.

Let's start there. And let's stay there until we've worked together to help heal our community in lasting, tangible ways.


It was back in August that I was approached by two strangers who have since become friends: John Rohrs, rector from St. Andrew's Episcopal Church in West Ghent, and Harold Cobb, rector from Grace Episcopal Church on East Brambleton. From the beginning this felt special, if for no other reason than you had two groups from opposite sides of the city coming together for a greater good. 

They had left their comfort zones for a common cause: to use art as a catalyst for community activism in ways that lead to less gun violence in Norfolk. They asked me to curate the show, and while I definitely didn't have the time, the opportunity was too great, and this cause too important. I asked my old partner, Hannah Serrano, if she would co-curate, and we were off and running. 

I did some research on gun violence.  I knew that mass shootings are an outlier (less than 1% of all gun deaths every year) so the focus shouldn't be there. What surprised me to learn was that the real problem with gun violence, when you look at the statistics, has nothing to do with terrorists, mass shooters, or even gang violence. It's suicide. 

The ratio of suicides by guns to murders by guns is almost 2-to1. These deaths aren't splashed across the TV news the way that terrorism or mass shootings are, but I refuse to let myself be manipulated by this sensationalizing. The statistics -- reality -- demand that we first move away from the gun control conversation to address the self-control situation.

It's not some "bad guy" who is most likely to kill you. 

You are.

Suicide takes about 20 veterans a day, and they kill themselves a lot more than us civilians do. "Veterans make up less than 9 percent of the U.S. population, yet account for 18 percent of all suicides in America."

As reported by the BBC, the suicide rate in the US has surged to its highest level in almost three decades, according to a new report. The problem is particularly acute among white men. "In 2014, more than 14,000 middle-aged white people killed themselves. That figure is double the combined suicides total for all blacks, Hispanics, Asians, Pacific Islanders, American Indians, and Alaska Natives."

While the mass shootings cause giant splashes that shake our communities, suicides cause just as much splash, in their own way, in the worlds of the deceased.

According to a report from Harvard Health called "Left behind after suicide," "People who've recently lost someone through suicide are at increased risk for thinking about, planning, or attempting suicide."

So if we really want to protect the innocent from gun violence, it's not the outlier maniacs we should be worried about locking up; it's the mental health services we should be opening up and expanding.

It's the depression stigma we should be trying to expel.


The art is going to be great. Hannah and I reached out to some of the most talented people in Norfolk we know to create new work. We are also bringing in some great art from around the country, made by artists who are addressing the issue in interesting, thought-provoking, and beautiful manners. 

In a way the art will serve as candles in the window, calling all to be a part of these processes of healing and empowerment that are going to be going on during the run of the show.

The art is a beginning, a spark of inspiration. The programming is how we change our little world here.

There are three events set-up to address mental heathcare and stigma.  
- There will be an all-day training for local clergy, helping them to better identify those in their flock who might be suffering from mental health issues, how to talk to them, and how to get them help. This happens 1/19.
- There will be a similar training for local bartenders and hair stylists, key "gate keepers" in our community. This takes place on Monday, January 23rd. Please reach out to me if you're interested in attending.
- The big event is a Forum on Mental Heathcare & Stigma in Norfolk. We'll have representatives from the Navy, Sentara, and Community Services on the panel, and community members will have a chance to tell their stories, give feedback, and ask questions. This happens on January 26th from 6pm to 7:30pm. Sometime in February the City of Norfolk/ Community Services Board will lead step two of this process of figuring out how our community can do better.

We felt like it was also important to address domestic violence in an empowering way. The facts are alarming: "people with a history of committing domestic violence are five times more likely to subsequently murder an intimate partner when a firearm is in the house," according to EverytownResearch.

Women need to know they are strong enough to survive after walking out that door. To that end, a group of dear friends, amazing, empowered women, have set up free women's self-defense training and an empowerment workshop, led by a former Virginia Beach police officer. That happens Saturday, January 21, at 10am.

There will also be a lot of great entertainment happening in the space while the show is up. I'll be sharing those on my Facebook page as they come. 


I need you involved.

Our community needs your help. 

Personally, I can promise you that I'm going to stick with this until we have made what is a structural difference that leads to outcomes like: 
- Lessening of the stigma of mental health issues. 
- More gatekeeper training of clergy, bartenders, hair stylists, teachers, and the like. 
- Increased access to mental healthcare, be it through the private healthcare systems, local and state government, and/or the faith community.

This time it's personal. 


A special group of people have come together to make this show and programming happen. I am hoping that not only do we make progress on this vitally important issue, but that we have built a coalition of compassionate doers that will continue to work together on other community-centric initiatives. 

A lot of good can happen when the artist community, the faith community, the healing community, and the local government come together to address problems in a united way. 

Big thanks to: 
John and Andie Rohrs, and the whole St. Andrew's family, for leading the charge.
Harold and Sheliah Cobb, and the whole Grace Episcopal family; and Win and Cathy Lewis, and the whole Christ & St. Luke's family, who have each offered such important leadership, willingness to make connections, and spiritual guidance.

Meredith and Brother Rutter, for saying Yes and for being such generous hosts.  
Careyann Weinberg, for being awesome to work with every day. This lady gets shit done. We had a meeting the other day to lay out the show..... which Careyann completely controlled -- in an excellent way -- while also being on the other line ordering a new oven. She's a beast.
And Charlie for being crazy/brilliant/wild Charlie, always coming through with the next great idea to take something to the next level. 
The whole team at Work Release has been great to work with and interact with. High five to Thomas Wilkinson, art handler and dignified gent extraordinaire. 

All the artists. We've got all first round picks in this show. Everyone has been amazing to work with. (I'm going to do a future blog dedicated just to them.) Hannah found some great artists, and also thanks to Cheryl White and Ashley Berkman for clutch suggestions. 

The City of Norfolk has been great to work with, specifically James Rogers in the Community office, and Sarah Fuller at Community Services Board. These people are smart, dedicated, open, and so clearly care about the people they serve. You'll never see their faces on the cover of a local magazine, but they're the kind of people we should be naming buildings after. They are true civil servants, and I admire the hell out of them. 

The women behind the empowerment brunch: Reese Beeler, Marcella Nicotra, Nicole Carry, Trish Ferris, and Jessie Lynn Williams. This is happening the same day as the Women's March on Washington. I'm delighted that there will be such a solid local option for people who can't make the trip. 


We are going to make a difference here. I look forward to seeing all of you out at opening night, at some of the programming, and throughout the process going forward as we find ways to heal our community from the inside out.

I know this is an issue so many of you care deeply about. Here's an opportunity for us to make a difference. THANKS Y'ALL. LOVE.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

we would

We would have had a daughter.
We would have used her as a prop in artfully-framed joke pictures
and loved her more than ourselves
more than our projects
more than we knew how to love each other.

There's nothing we couldn't have done together
no dream too audacious
the moon tied by a string to our sweet house in the mountains.


I would have stared into your glacier blue eyes until my soul burst through.
Lovers like cats, I would have licked you clean every day until we died.

Pulling off the main road to find the most romantic place to sleep,
our souls alive through flesh, I knew it the moment I saw you
that your shine could overpower me, could heal me, could erase myself
in the smell of your neck.


You would have talked me into moving to Africa
to work at a home for children
and to dance
in the courtyard
and free.


We were both like argon that came and went as is pleased
through a hole in neon signs that glowed with a thousand italicized exclamation points in a row.
Brash and self-assured brilliant, we crackled through the world
like twin teardrop flames chasing a serpentine line of gun powder across the sky.

We would have done whatever the fuck we wanted
the only way we knew how
as teardrop flames
burnt our ankles black.


You would be letting me believe I was leading as I danced you through the streets of New York,
over benches
under branches
as strangers can't help but smile
because nothing ever went wrong
and what we would have been
would be what we actually are. 

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

a love unbridled

I want a love unbridled
 like 1000 cosmic horses
 tearing purple rips across the sky.

I want a love like fresh
 squeezed orange juice,
 the manna of god in
 humanity with every lick
 along her thighs.

I want to taste her spit.
I want her to go for a
 run so I can smell
 her when she gets home.

I want a love that is full
 release, a tap out, silent
 screams of mercy
 every time her eyes
 lock with mine.

Love like mercury.
Love like ice
  on the tongue
  of a snake
  you want to bite you.

But also sweet.
A cornucopia of tenderness.
Sweet like she's my
  daughter and I'm her son.
Sweet like we never lost
  our puppy breath.
Sweet like she never has
   to lift anything again, unless
   she wants to, in which
   case I'll help her pick up
   the world plus two lesser solar systems.

Love like there's a part of me
 excited to watch her get
 older to see how her eyes
 still shine brightest when she sees
 me, after all we made it through.

I used to want a love that
 was like a reward
 for all my pain - a
 reparation as much
 as a unification.
I used to think love was a game.
I used to have a hole in my heart.
I used to a lot of things,
 that I'm not anymore.

Now I want a love unbridled
 like 1000 cosmic horses
 tearing golden rips
 across our shared purple canopy of sky.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Christmas morning, 2015

Fond recollections of a Catholic childhood
'Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved'
as the Christians in Connecticut
throw their hands up, throw their hands up.

Holidays are wormholes to our inescapable former selves
You can't take back that break-down.
You can't take back that hair cut.
Selves worm out of one version of us, exposing the next version of us, the nesting dolls of our souls

There is a new generation in the family and I'm scared for the future of this world.
I guess one of the reasons we were called forth to multiply is that to create life is to have hope for that life.
You have to believe in tomorrow
To get you through today.

The smell of pineneedles. The sting of jealousy as you count (and recount) and find your sister got more presents than you.
The taste of pancakes.
The strategy in the order you unwrap.
The sprints across the room to thank an elder for this gift, for this everything.

Smile for the camera.
This might be the last present you unwrap coddled in the warmth of original innocence, and I need to hold to this forever, and you do too.  

Smile, dummy, this is for you.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

on the Greyhound back from New York City, somewhere on the Eastern Shore

You learn as much about something in its absence as you do in its close proximity. Perspective flows into the space where the thing once was, like plaster filling a cast, leaving something whole, if wholly hollow, in the place of what was. In the emptiness left behind after a recent love there is confusion, self-doubt, nostalgia, and longing, but the shape of things I see is death. What I’ve learned from losing love, this time around, is how much my quest for love runs parallel to my quest for eternal life. In love there is something that never dies; it is an evergreen, stalwart as the world around it goes from spring green to autumn bursts to the brown of winter, and back again. In this aloneness I feel less connected to the eternal, a balloon that is joy in the hands of a child but fateless once it leaves her grasp. 
The instinct to have children, which had crusted over in defiance of a tethered life, flickers like embers from beneath morning sand. Children are the thread that connects us to the beginning of humanity; they are our lottery ticket to earthly eternity; they are insurance bought against the prospect that our silly little lives will soon be forgotten. I don’t take my own instincts of procreation seriously because I know where they come from, and I know where they belong. In our boundless universe there is endless space to be filled with longing, space that no child, or children, could possibly fill. Neither can, even, the grandest love. Our deaths are final no matter how much love our lives manifest, an irreconcilable fact, a battle we cannot win but also cannot stop from fighting.
The saddest part of losing love once you’ve reached a ripe enough point of life is that you know, too well, from experience, that you will indeed love again. Gone is the post break-up play we act ourselves in where the self is the spinster, the wicked man shuffling down the street, a forgotten man left to decompose in a common burial ground with the other Eleanor Rigbies. I will love again. I will be loved. By someone new. Someone old, most recently or who knows. Even when love is gone in the present tense, it’s always there, the holy ghosts of our relationships leaving hints of the smell of cherry blossoms in places we least expect, and the places where we go to inhale most deeply to keep the ghosts alive.
Primarily, in this phase, the idea is to love myself, to jump the tracks and to, in myself, find the sensation of eternal life in the interconnectiveness of it all. In the empty spaces and in the people and relationships and things now whole. The forever I seek is in these empty spaces. It’s a love with the lights turned out. It’s the eternity in the space between our breaths; the impossible heights reached with our heads held high; the fire of God in the eyes of other seekers; the things in the dimensions past the horizon, in the place that is the absence of everything we have come to know.  

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Shine Guys

Had kind of a surreal night----there's no one here to talk to so I'm going to gibber at the box.
The mural party was great. In a life of social media posts and stories that come and go one after another, like calendar pages flaking away sped up (like in a movie where the director couldn't think of any better way to show time passing).... it's nice to be a part of something you feel like has a chance to last a few years.

Socially I felt like an alien, but I am an alien, so I'm used to it.

As I was leaving a mostly stranger said, "I knew you when you were young," which was weird, since I've only lived in Norfolk for five years, and we hadn't met before that. "No, I know," he said. "But you were young and hopeful then. Now you're beaten down like the rest of us."

1. Going from 29 to 35 are probably the years most people go from looking *young* to non-young. So that's fine. Being stripped of our youth is a horrible affliction we've all got to deal with.
2. But it's true though! At some point along the way I did leave a hunk of hope at the door. I can see the last 5 years on my face, too. They're not the lines of a fight I lost, but some points of impact never fade. Scars that mirror knuckle creases. I'm listening to Lana Del Rey in my headphones--she's right though: we are born to die. We're born with a will to survive and a drive to procreate, yah; but are those Truths? The only universal truth of life is death. No matter the drugs, money, sex, children, legacy, all paths lead to forever, and we're not taking these bodies with us. Some of that hunk of hope left at the door, maybe, is the hope of eternity. If not for everything, why anything?

I was supposed to have a date after but I got stood up. Which was weird. She'd sent me all these texts the day before about how even though we'd only hung out once she adored me. Her mom said I was the kind of guy she should be with. All those sweet and lovely selfies where it felt like she was looking right at me and only me---I've been missing that. So what the fuck, right. I've had that happen a handful of times recently. A woman will reach out, tell me she's stoked to hang out, and then bag out when the time comes. What could it mean, what could it mean. Bah, anyhow. I don't expect love these days. Maybe that's what the guy saw in me at the mural party. Maybe that's part of what being an adult is all about----------the potential for love's not at the next lunch table; it's not in the eyes of the next cute girl who smiles at the bar; it's simply a potential less palpable as you get older, like being able to feel on your skin it's not going to rain that day.

I went by Bob's to check out that mural. So many colors, shadows that look like you could climb on them, purposefully disorienting, insanity falling from the sky in color bricks. I got to talking to a guy outside the tattoo parlor who seemed pretty fucked up. He was telling me how Norfolk doesn't want mom and pop shops or local culture---that the City sets the rules up that way. Well, fuck, right. At least there's a little body electric on Bob's now. atleast.

I stopped by Cure to wait for official word that I'd been stood up. The guy next to me at the bar knew who I was. "I've had a lot I've wanted to talk to you about," he said, and then to the barista, "this guy, whatever he wants, on me." He didn't want to talk about Norfolk or writing or any issues. He wanted to talk about me. "You're a shine guy. Shine guys need people's eyes on them," he said, counting one with his finger. "They need money," he said, two. "Or they need pussy. You seem like you've got two out of three. I hope you do, on the last one. You can't tell me you don't like the eyes on you when you walk in a room. I know there's some ego there, but you're a shine guy. You're special."  I tried to explain to him that I don't like the eyes---and while there's some ego there and I can guess what it looks like, it's the other side of it for me. I feel like I have to prove myself every day, multiple times a day. I always need to re-earn the love. Self-love is that rabbit the dogs are chasing---a rabbit rigged to always be just out of reach.

"Nah," he said. "Then there's something wrong there. You're a shine guy. You shouldn't feel that way." And then he got it in his head that what I needed was to get into a fight. With him. Right then, in his backyard around the corner. "It'll be good for you. You need it. Trust me."

"I'm not going to fight you."
"Fight me."
"I'm not going to fight you."
"You can have the first shot."
"The first two shots."
"I do believe your intentions are actually pretty good in this fucked up proposition, but I'm not going to fight you."
"Yes you are," he said. "Fight me."

The place was closing. He promised me he wouldn't try to fight me and we went around the corner to sit in his backyard. "I'm kicking my wife out of the house tonight," he said. "That's her car." He was Saran-wrap over the world drunk by then. I probably was getting there too. He was a rich guy---after talking for an hour, now he started talking about Norfolk and working together. "You're not where you're meant to be," he said, meaning what I'm doing with my life. "You can't be happy."
"I just hope the ship is pointed in the right direction," I said.
"Bullshit," he said. "You're a shine guy. We need to figure this out for you."

A light on the second floor flickered on. I motioned towards it.
"Your wife's awake."
He nodded.
"You got anything to drink in there," I asked.
"Nothing she knows about."

We talked about drinking, jealousy (pity the man his wife's been talking to if he ever has to face this guy, FUCK), the 4-way nature of forgiveness (both have to forgive the other and the self), and what a motherfucker it is to process the fact that the woman that you love has loved other men just as much. I asked him if he wanted to make it work with his wife.

"It's too late."
"That wasn't my question---do you want it to work?"
"Then it isn't too late," I said. "What are the first three things she's say she needs you to change to make it work."
"Drinking and women."
"Can you give them up?"

Except he wouldn't know himself without them. Except all of his hope is at the door. Except the road to nothing may as well be lined with liquor and women if that's where it's headed. Except there's no one here to gibber at except this box, with Lana Del Rey taking Jesus off the dashboard, and an entire day ahead of me, wide open, my face a year younger for the knuckles that didn't hit me last night.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The Women I Have Loved

Somewhere in the shared space of memories and dreams. 


When I met K she was in New York to audition for American ballet companies. I've never made out with a stranger in a bar like that before or since. We fell in love that night, we fell in love again at the Metropolitan Museum of Art the next week, we fell in love again every time we saw each other. When I hear this song I remember us---we'd be holding hands as we walked and we'd come across a bench and I'd squeeze her hand and she would jump on top of it, dance the length, and then float back down next to me, still in step. It incited the most lovely smiles from strangers. We didn't know it, but her ballet career was already over. K is forever dancing around the frame of Washington Square Park in my mind.

H was like a firefly, except the whole world was the jar she was captured in. I'm serious though: you couldn't develop film with H in the room---I'm surprised people didn't ask me to put her away when we went to the movies together, she had that kind of brightness. I was going away to South Africa for 4 months. We both knew I loved it there. We both knew K was there. But we were also crazy in love; if we had ever had children, H+J could have provided the reaction necessary for our kids' active volcano science fair projects. We were in the parking lot at the airport, not ready to go in. I sang her this song and then she put me on the plane. 

A was dancing by herself at The Beauty Bar in San Diego. She had some great line, something like, "I think you're cute but I don't dance with boys." They had a row of those chairs where women sit under those clear domes, waiting for their hair to curl or dry or who knows what. We exchanged MySpace information--a fact I ask both reader and writer to ignore at this moment in the name of romance. I might have looked at A's pictures once a day for a year. Women like A are why so much of humanity's great art is meant to represent the female spirit and form. It was a damn tough year for me; for moments, looking at A's pictures, she was hope as distinct as a hard candy on my tongue. She came to my sister's wedding but it was just after my dad died and I didn't realize how far I had to go and I shouldn't have been dragging any woman through the mine field of my space (I know), no less a woman as sweet and lovable as A. She made me a mixtape. This is the song from it I play on repeat when I'm trying to write somewhere between my mind and whatever's on the other side of it. 

4. Teasing the Koi at the Pagoda. Camping in Charlottesville turned into couch surfing turned into sleeping on the floor of an empty house with the back door unlocked. S took me to this church in the country where the people were passing out in the name of Jesus. "Drunk with the spirit" was the way she put it, though I had a feeling a few of the true believers were proper drunk too. S and I dreamed about what it would be like to run an orphanage together. She went away on a mission trip and called me one day, possibly malaria high, and broke it off because I didn't share her faith in the way she wanted from a partner. Love falls from grace. Love resurrects. S's dream now is to live at the 24/7 prayer chapel they broadcast online from somewhere in the Midwest. Her beautiful brown eyes closed, long eye lashes curved like dancers, palms stretched toward a camera she feels--no, knows--is a portal to God.

L is too fresh. Wilco will have to be enough.