Life In The Apocalypse 4. Thursday April 2, 2020

Discerning Daddy

I have been in “lockdown” for 18 days. Roughly. There was a day or two in those early days where I went to the gym. My boyfriend and I have driven to the beach, and once into the Angeles National Forrest, exploring the mountains. I go for walks. And bike rides.

And we are finding ways to have fun, sexy adventures. On Sunday night we joined a zoom circle jerk group, jerking off with 15 other guys. During our drive through the mountains we pulled over in the flats to pee. He ended up fucking me over a rock, the expanse of sky and mountains breathtaking.

One of the things I’ve learned during this time: I’m not built for cynicism. I’m not built for fear. Even as things are getting scary, even in those moments, alone in bed, when I can’t breathe, sure I am dying, afraid about money, about my career, I still keep falling back on hope.

I find that most people are being super kind, friendly.

Here’s a story: a week ago I was at Pavilions. A man and I reached for the same last jar of pasta sauce. I pulled my hand back, saying sorry, and he smiled at me, took three jars of the same pasta sauce out of his cart and handed them to me.

“I already have too many,” he said.

I was in my teens and early 20’s when AIDS hit New York City. I watched as many of my mother’s friends died. Young gay men, a community devastated.

One of these men, David, before he got sick, told me,

“We are all learning about who we are right now. All of us. The whole world. It’s easy to be nice and kind, to stay hopeful, when the world is on your side. It’s almost impossible when the world turns on you. But that’s when you need it the most. It’s these times that define us. What kind of a man do I want to be?”

Before he got sick David was tall and muscular, beefy and hairy. The last time I was home my mom showed me a picture of him right before he died. He looked emaciated: so skinny he was almost unrecognizable. His cheeks were sunken in.

He was sitting outside, by the river, smiling. That smile will forever stay with me. That smile is the man I want to be in this time.

18 days and it’s not easy. My Facebook page is filled with people who are sick, know someone who is sick, posts about people who have died, non-stop information about the virus. I find myself getting annoyed at small little things that happen in my house. Annoyed at my roommates, my boyfriend, the dog and cats: but then I remember how lucky I am. That we are all here. Together.

There is a lot to be afraid of. And then there is that picture of David, who knew he was dying, but smiling anyway. And there is a lot to be hopeful about too.

Even if it’s the fucking apocalypse I have to believe there is still beauty.
My best friend Amy taught me this very important mantra, that I keep written on an index card on my desk, and as a screenshot on my phone:

What if it’s all just going to be ok?

These words save me in times of doubt and fear.

And I’m really glad my boyfriend still wants to fuck me in parks. That’s gotta count for something.

Life In The Apocalypse 3. Thursday March 26, 2020

Discerning Daddy

Today’s record, GoGo Penquin, A Humdrum Star, Deluxe.

I woke up feeling discouraged today. And horny.

I keep thinking, this has to have meaning. I have to find a way to allow what is happening in the world to change me.

I’ve been meditating a lot. Jerking off less than I would have thought. I bought a bike and try to spend an hour each day riding it, exploring new neighborhoods. I go for walks. It’s nice to be out, even if at a distance, seeing the world, knowing that all of you are out there too. I try to smile and say hi. I read somewhere that saying hi, that smiling, is good for the immune system. Either way, it makes me feel better.

And I’ve been writing.

I set a goal for myself: I will read two new books a week and I will spend less time on my phone.

But today I woke up feeling discouraged.

“I think things are going to go back to normal sooner than we think,” my friend texts me from San Francisco. She is married with two kids. The four of them quarantined in their two-bedroom apartment in the Mission.

“I hope so,” I write back, but what I am really thinking is: what is normal? What does that mean exactly?

“By your birthday for sure,” she texts. “God, it has to be all over by then don’t you think?”

My birthday is May 8. And I don’t know what to think.

“I think this is just going to be what it is.” I say to her when she answers her phone, deciding we needed more than just texting.

“I don’t think I can live like this,” she says to me. “I have no space. Nowhere to go.”

We are silent: the two of us breathing.

“Sometimes I could just run away,” she says. She says it softly. “Sometimes I think I could just run away and leave them all behind. Does that make me a bad person? A horrible mom?”

“No,” I say.

“What if I did it? Would it make me a horrible person then?”

“You won’t do it so it doesn’t matter.”
“Remember when we were in College and we would eat mushrooms and wander around the Lower East Side and the Village? And we felt so free. So limitless. I want that feeling back.”

“Let’s add it to the list of life in the age of coronavirus goals,” I say, and we both laugh.

It’s so easy to be sad. To be afraid. It’s so easy to struggle against what is happening: to deny it even as the rising tide of it seems to be growing. It is so easy to say it’s just a conspiracy.

It would also be so easy to just sit on my couch and watch Netflix and jerk off to Pornhub (they’ve even made their premium videos free during the crisis…it’s an endless cornucopia of gang bangs and bareback loads).

And yet I can’t help it: I need there to be meaning to this. I need it to have an impact. I don’t want to resist what is happening. I don’t want to slip into denial so I can just go back to normal when this is over.

When I found out I was HIV positive I remember thinking, “This will change me. It should change me. I want it to change me.” When Jon died I refused let him just slip away, to allow the sadness of it to destroy me, instead I demanded it have meaning. Because if I could find the meaning in what had happened then I could find a way to not just survive but to grow.

I want to do more than just survive this. I want to live. I want to experience. I want to grow.

And some days I will wake up discouraged. Some nights I will be so wrecked by anxiety and fear I can’t breathe.

But then I will get out of bed. I will read and write and drink coffee and then I will get on my bike and I will ride through the empty streets, saying hi to anyone I see. And I will eat lunch with my boyfriend and I will reach out to my friends and my mom and dad and brother, I will send dirty jokes to my nephews, and search for pink and sparkly headphones for my nieces and I will say to myself: this matters. This will mean something. This can change us if we let it. Even in all the fear and loss and pain this can be an opportunity.

If we let it.

Check out my book, Accidental Warlocks, on Amazon. Your support means everything.

Life In The Apocalypse 2. Tuesday March 18, 2020

Discerning Daddy

Today’s record, Bon Iver, “For Emma, Forever Ago”.

Every morning begins with panic. Not at the virus, or the fear of becoming sick, but at what we might have lost. And fear for what is coming.

I get out of bed, 8:30am. I think, why? Why not just sleep? Why not just turn the tv on and hunker down and just fuck it all…but I make my coffee. I open my book. I write in my journal. I choose the records I’m going to listen to, and I get to work.

Because I have faith. I have hope. That we will come out the other side. I’m not sure what the other side looks like, or what we will look like, but I know there is an other side.

I had a friend in New York, years ago, 1992. In my book, Accidental Warlocks, I called him Laurent. Laurent had AIDS. I would go sit in his apartment in Chelsea and read him Lorca poems, we would sit in one of those pools you could buy at Kmart, the small ones: he had it set up in his living room. We drank champagne and ate strawberries and chocolate and talked. He would tell outrageous stories about orgies and alien abductions and art.

“I believe we are beautiful,” he said to me one night, sitting on the couch, listening as the rain outside hit against his window, purple lesions on his chest like a map of his past, a prediction of his future. “Even when all we can see is the ugly, I still believe we are beautiful. Just a few years ago the world seemed happy to let all our gay brothers and sisters die, but we haven’t died yet. We are still here. Filthy and gorgeous, the most beautiful of all the ugly little monsters. I love every single one of us.”

Back then we came together to mourn, we danced and went out, we threw ourselves into each other, the only safe havens we knew. Now we are told to stay away from each other. We are told about social distancing and that it is safer in isolation.

My friend Jake and I went for a walk through Echo Park yesterday. My boyfriend and I ate Lasagna and cuddled up on the couch last night. I FaceTime with my ex in Berlin. I check in on friends. My brother told me that one of my nieces, she’s 12, facetimes with her friend as she makes herself snacks.

“Sometimes they don’t even talk.” He says to me over the phone, from the East Coast. “They just do their thing, but it’s like they are doing it together.”

These connections, to our friends, families and our partners, are essential. In some ways they are more important now than ever.

Alex and Matias and I will go outside later and lift our DIY weights and stretch and jump rope and get as much sun as we can. I will meet a friend for a walk (we keep six feet from each other but we can still talk, we can still feel close). And I will keep writing.

And I will have faith. And hope. In us.

“We are all there is,” Laurent said to me. “We are the reason.”

He put on a record. We got high and danced in his living room, the fading summer light golden through his windows.

I fell back into the couch, too high to really understand what was being said to me. But I remember this, I remember this the most, Laurent standing bathed in that golden fading sunlight, breathless and beautiful, and saying,

“And if they all turn their backs on us, if the whole world refuses to see us, I will always see you. We will be family. We will save us.”

And the panic has subsided a little. Just the act of writing this to you, whoever you are, has saved me a little. Because I know you are out there. You are reading this. And maybe you understand, maybe you can identify a little, and maybe this act alone will remind us both:

We are not alone.

Life In The Apocalypse Part One. Tuesday March 17, 2020

Discerning Daddy

Record of the Day: Francis and the Lights: Farewell, Starlite! (“My City is Gone” is my favorite song on this album, but fuck this record is incredible)

It is easy to be afraid. It is easy to allow what is happening around us, the fear and panic, the lines at grocery stores, the mixed messages handed down from our President, to overwhelm us.

I woke up today and looked at the NYTimes and instantly started to panic. Sunday night, the bar I work at in LA, the Eagle, shut down, along with all the bars in Los Angeles. My household all works in gay bars and in queer nightlife. This is going to affect us.

This is going to affect all of us. In ways none of us can understand.

Not just the virus itself, but how we handle the virus. Currently, watching the Trump Administration, it doesn’t feel like we are handling it well. It feels like we are racing toward more panic and fear.

I am a 51-year-old HIV Positive gay man. I remember clearly the AIDS pandemic that decimated our community in the 80’s and 90’s, which still continues today with close to 37 million people living with HIV/AIDS world-wide and almost 800,000 people still dying yearly. I remember the fear and the loss and the horrific mishandling of the situation by the Reagan Administration.

I also remember falling in love. I remember making out with cute boys on dance floors. I remember my community and the way, in spite of all the death and fear and abandonment by our families and government, that we took care of each other.

We are still that community. We are strong. I have so much faith in us. Who I am as a man, as an artists and a writer, who I am as a human being, is intrinsically linked to my queerness. To my community.

With the gay bars and queer spaces being closed down across the country, I am looking for ways to connect. To stay together even as we are told to be social distancing.

Isolation will not save us. I believe we are stronger together.

I am thinking of ways to maintain that balance: safety and community.

I’ve been thinking about online queer book groups, bike rides through the empty streets (you can keep a safe distance but still be together), walks and hikes.

Are there ways to volunteer in this time? Things that will get us out and together but still maintaining personal safety?

I live in a house with two other gay mean. My boyfriend lives just blocks away. This morning, one of my roommates, Matias, was in our front yard lifting DIY weights Alex made from bricks, plastic bags and towels. We are jumping rope and doing yoga. My coworkers and I from the Eagle have a group chat where we check in on each other and share information. Last night we made a family chicken soup dinner and watched horror movies. I Facetime with friends around the world.

I am finding ways to reach out, to be together, I am finding ways to survive this new life.

And I am writing. Because that is how I ascribe meaning to the world. And right now we need meaning.

I’d love to hear the ways you are finding meaning and community in the world right now. Feel free to comment and message and let us all know that we are still here. Together.

Look for my daily instalments of Life in the Apocalypse. Without you there is no meaning. I’m counting on us.

Who Am I? Or Why Ocean Vuong Hates Me

Discerning Daddy

It is Monday, February 10th, 2020, at 9:17am, and I am wondering why Ocean Vuong hates me.

The truth is, Ocean Vuong, the writer of On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, doesn’t hate me. He doesn’t even know me.
But I’ve decided I know him. I know exactly who he is. He is who I want to be, or well, he has probably nothing to do with who I think he is, but still, in my mind, he is the embodiment of what I want: hardwood floored New York City Apartments, Jazz and Classical Music, windows with fire-escapes to sit on, conversations about art and writing and music, about life and philosophy and books.

He has books. I know it. Lots of books and amazing chairs to sit in and he is smart and respected and people want to sit with him and listen to what he has to say. And if he didn’t hate me, or if he knew me, we would sit, we would be friends and drink tea and my life would look exactly how I know it is supposed to look.

Exactly how it doesn’t look. Except I do have hardwood floors. And I have a record player that plays lots of Milt Jackson, and I have books everywhere…so what is it that I’m missing?

What is this feeling?

I have everything I’ve ever wanted. I have hardwood floors. I have a house, rundown, in desperate need of work but still: a house, a 1910 craftsman, in Hollywood. I don’t own it, but it’s mine. I have a boyfriend who loves me. I have readers who read me. I’ve published a book. I get to travel. I have chairs to sit in, though I wish they were more comfortable…the point is…I have the life I am jealous of.

Mostly.

And yet I still feel…lost.

I keep coming back to this gnawing question: Who the Fuck am I?

I am 51 years old. I am Queer. I am HIV Positive. I am a writer. I am a son and a brother and a partner and a friend and yet…who the fuck am I? How did I end up here, as this particular Jeff Leavell?

I’m sorry if you find yourself wondering when I’m going to talk about getting pissed on, or my philosophical stance on fisting, or poly-open-monogamous relationships, or all the ways and times I’ve been fucked.

I’m sorry if you came here to get your dick hard.

Sometimes I have these visions of the Jeff Leavell I want to be right now: I am walking the canals of Amsterdam, or climbing through the winding hill streets of some ancient City, and I am always alone. I am happy to be alone. I am on an adventure. I find a café and I sit, and I read. Next to me men are playing chess. A mother and daughter share a carafe of wine. It is always white wine. And the sun is out.

Or I am in Paris, crossing the Seine, wandering slowly toward Shakespeare & Company. I will sit in a chair and I will read. I will pretend that I live just up the hill, in the Latin Quarter.

I will not be afraid. I will no longer wonder who I am: because I will be exactly that man, right there, sitting in the large chair in the famous book store in Paris, and I will know, without a doubt that when I leave I will be swallowed up in the beauty of the City…and later that night I will meet a group of writers and poets and artists and we will eat dinner at a small restaurant and we will talk about what we are working on, about life, we will talk about the world.

I am so consumed with fear right now. I am so consumed with self-doubt. My skin itches so bad I want to claw my way out. My brain is on fire: my thoughts racing.

I want to write a fantasy for you: some decadent adventure I had while in Berlin, getting fucked so hard I almost forgot my name, or about gang bangs in Madrid, or falling in love in the rain in London…I want to write about anything but this moment, right now, where I am:

In Hollywood, on a Monday morning, struggling to find that word, any fucking word, just a word that will explain to you exactly what I am feeling.

Do you ever wonder how you will pay your phone bill? Or if you will be evicted because you can no longer pay your rent? Do you ever wonder if everyone you love will finally leave you, all alone, with nothing? Do you ever think that you missed every opportunity, that you fucked up so bad that now you will never get to live the life you always dreamed of?

Because I am terrified. That is what this feeling is: this feeling that my life is slowly dripping away, floating passed me and I am not participating, I am no longer a character in my life: just a bystander.

What if this feeling is no longer the fear of failure, but failure itself?

And then what? I am a 51-year-old, HIV Postive, Queer, failure?

And Jesus Fucking Christ, it’s just Monday, 10:21 am…and I’m already here, drowning in this self-doubt, this fear, this abject failure.

Do you ever have that feeling? What do you do in those moments when you’re so fucking scared that you’re immobilized?

Because if you do ever feel this way, lost, unsure, like your life is passing you by, that you’ve somehow missed the person you were supposed to be and you have no power: you’re not alone.

I’m right here with you.

So today, this is what I’m going to do: I’m going to play a Stan Getz album, Focus, and I’m going to write until I can’t, until the fear becomes so intolerable I might scream, and then I will take my little dog Paco and go for a walk, and maybe later I will meet a friend for tea, and I will try to remember that some days are just like this. Some weeks. Some months.

But I do have power. And that the writing will save me.

And that I’m not alone.

My father used to tell me, “Fear is just the lie you tell yourself so you don’t have to get up and actually do something. You can spend the next ten years afraid, or you can take ten minutes and put your shoes on and go do something. If you’re lucky you’re going to be 65 one day. And you will have either done the thing you’ve dreamed of or not. Which one would you rather be true at 65?” And my other favorite, “Worrying is just like praying for what you don’t want.”

And my mother once said, “I’d rather see you fail at something you love than succeed at something you hate.”

I’m going to commit to a walk. And to writing a blog post once a week. To finishing the projects I’ve started so that at 65 I actually can look back and say: yeah, I did that. Regardless of the outcome: I did it.

I’d love to hear your thoughts. I know this isn’t my normal kind of post (I promise, I’ll get your dick hard again soon). And I’d love to hear your dreams. Even if they terrify you. Even if they seem impossible.

And I apologize to Ocean Vuong. I have no idea what kind of life you have, and there is no reason to think you hate me. He did write a fucking beautiful book, though. You should go read it if you haven’t.