WOUNDS & THE NEW NORMAL

The thing about losing someone...

After a few years, you start getting used to them being gone that you don't even think about it much anymore. You get used to not calling them or them calling you. You start (unintentionally) getting used to them not being in your life at all. Like, you look at your close circle (& in my case my immediate family) & realize that you've been seeing this new circle as "normal" lately. So you do what you can to think about the person you lost. You look at pictures. You watch videos. You reread old text messages. You actively do whatever you can to bring this person back to the forefront because as much as it hurts to think of them again- as much as it hurts to reopen that wound- it hurts a hell of a lot more to get comfortable in this new "normal." You don't want this new "normal" because you know there's nothing normal about that person missing from your life now. 

I miss my sister. I almost started crying waiting at the mechanic's cuz I was going through her pictures. I hate hate hate that sometimes I forget she was here once. Call me a masochist but sometimes I don't like that the wound is healing. 

I don't know if that makes any sense...

HAVING EVERYTHING

4am, couldn't sleep, & had a fuckin breakthrough. Like, real talk.

I get panic attacks. Not severe ones but enough to make my heart race & cause stress. Enough to debilitate me or keep me from wanting to do anything. And I realize that it's always triggered by fear & worry (that's not the breakthrough. I've always known that.) 

What do I worry about? A lot of things. Things like what if something is wrong with my health? What if the cancer came back? What if I die early (since a lot of people I've loved has died early)? What if the shows stop coming? What if no one wants to watch me perform anymore? What if my dreams & ambition are for nothing? What if I fail? What if I go broke? What if I can't sustain being self-employed in this kind of career? What if I have to get a 9-5 that I hate? What if being a person of color makes us targets under the current government? What if there was mass deportation or internment camps or segregation all over again? 

I know, a lot is far-fetched. But I'm just being honest about what keeps me up at night. 

So rather than going through this inventory of thoughts that cause panic, I decided to think of just 5 things for which I'm truly grateful. Just 5. I'm sure there's more but I wanted to really narrow it down to the 5 most important things in my life. What came to me was this:

1. The love I give & receive from Jessica
2. The joy & pride of being Aris' father
3. The family & true friends I have who I know will always have my back no matter how successful or unsuccessful I am. 
4. My gift of creativity & my hunger to keep creating & the happiness it brings me when I'm in the zone
5. My faith that has always gave me hope & strength through the darkest times.

Now here's the breakthrough: those things can never be taken away from me. A creditor can't come & repo it. Money can't buy it & I don't need a loan to have it. I don't need to purchase a policy to insure it. Also, I don't have to search or work for it. I already have it. Plus I have it in abundance & it's a never ending supply! 

The breakthrough is that I already have everything I could ever want! The breakthrough is that I could never lose it no matter what the world tries to take from me. The breakthrough is that I don't have a want for anything anymore!

That's huge because we are always in pursuit. We are always in hustle mode & once we get something that's not even meaningful, we want more of it. Riches. Fame. Status. They become drugs & we get hooked.

But only now, at 4am, that I realize I already have everything, am I suddenly free to do anything without anxiety. Without fear. Without panic. 

My wife said to me a few weeks ago that there's still a lot in me I have yet to reveal. Maybe it was out of fear I didn't reveal those things. But now I'm realizing what she meant. Now I'm realizing what it really means to lay down your burdens. 

Damn. There's a lot of freedom that takes over you the moment you realize you don't need anything more than what you already have.

BREAK THE CYCLE

Today I went to get breakfast before my errands. First off, the line was hella long cuz someone wanted to order an entire breakfast for, like, 200 people- like he's feeding a small country- & he's doing all this in the drive-through! #DamnDudeGoInside!! After getting my food I look in & realize they never gave me napkins (Because they never do!) Then I find they got my order wrong. Then when I look at my coffee, I find that that was wrong too. Like forreal? The entire order??

So I pull off to the front of the building to head inside. I kept pulling at the restaurant door only to find that side is locked. But as I'm pulling it & it won't budge, I'm dropping my bag of food. When I went down to pick it up, my other hand drops my keys. Then finally a lady opens the other door & as I try to go in, I drop everything again while the door is swinging closed on me. I just couldn't get my bearings & I'm getting clumsy AF. Now I'm irritated & ready to start hurling this wrong order of donuts at people like ninja stars.

But then the lady (who just opened the door) steps out & as she keeps the door open for me she asks, "Bad day huh??" & I'm like, "Yeah, it's only 8am & alrdy I'm going through it." And that's when she says, "It always starts out like that. One little thing sets the rest in motion. So whatever you do next, whatever words you speak, do it positively & happily. Break the cycle."

Then she leaves. Just. Like. That.

THE TRUE MISSION STATEMENT

When it comes to our occupation there are 3 ways we describe it: a job, a career or a mission.

A job is dangerous. You don't enjoy a job. It's something you're doing to get by & survive. It's mundane & doesn't offer value in your life except monetarily. 

A career is also dangerous. It's just another name for "job" albeit probably provides a heavier paycheck & usually there's a specialty in a specific field. You're a professional, yes. But it's dangerous in that it's easy to get consumed by a "career". You see it all the time. You see us trudge along to do work we hate or go to school to get a degree in something that will provide a stable life. Still, in this stability, something is still missing. Our lives still feel empty.

I'll get to "mission" in a minute.

You ever notice during small talk the first thing people ask is, "So what do you do?" And isn't it funny that the first answer we give is our occupation? Why is that the thing that defines us? "I'm the district manager for AT&T." Really? That's what encompasses you? I believe we are soooo much more.

When I'm asked that now, I always respond with, "I'm passionate about..." Then after I've given my answer, I ask the person what they're passionate about. You would be surprised how much more someone opens up. You would be surprised how their face lights up & is willing to engage. Because everyone loves to talk about their passions. And trust, the conversation is a lot more interesting than hearing someone talk about their Weekly Estimated Net Usage Statistics (or WENUS...big ups for the Friends reference). 

The life I wanna lead (& the kind of example I wanna set for my son) is a life with a mission. I want to add value to the world. I want to know that when I wake up every morning I'm doing something that I not only love but that it somehow leaves the world a better place than I found it. This is it...the one life on earth that you have. Do you want to spend it at a job or spend it with a big mission in mind?

How about you? What kind of occupation do you have? Is it a job, a career or a mission? If you tell me you love what you do but it's a career, reframe it. Think about WHY you do it & you'll find that there's a mission there. Cuz who knows? You might have a "career" as an accountant but you love the hell out of it. That means that you DO have a mission...to help people navigate their financial lives. In the same token, you might have a "job" or a "career" & it brings you no joy whatsoever. I also understand you can't just get up & go. In that case, it's even more pertinent that you find a mission ASAP. You may not be able to do it for a living (yet) but you can still find a way to put time towards it. Point is, without a mission, life is always going to feel empty & devoid of meaning.

Start thinking of your mission & I can bet you'll start waking up every day with more purpose & live a more meaningful life. 

(Side note, I wrote this status from my own head but it was inspired by what I've learned reading the book Minimalism. Pick it up & read it if this interested you. It's pretty eye opening)

THE KINDNESS OF FANS

Today, I finished up my 2-week midwest tour with an amazing show at NE Wisconsin Tech and it was EVERYTHING. So many came out and I sold almost all my merch.

After the show, as we were leaving the building, a girl came running up to us with a bag in hand and said she bought us some stuff at the bookstore just as a thank you for coming out.

Last night a group of people drove two hours to watch our show. Before that, we've had other students from one school show up to our show at another school that's also about a couple hours away.

Something has been happening lately that I can't put my finger on but it seems as though we've been gaining a kind of following that has been such a blessing lately. And it's a blessing I've needed specially when doubt creeps in as to whether it's worth doing what I'm doing.

Put simply, thank you to all the new fans and also the loyal fans we've had for years. You've given me a life I never imagined and I am so thankful to all of you.

WORLD OF COLOR

The other day, while driving, I was completely silent just staring out. Jessica saw this & asked, "What are you thinking about?" I said, "Oh nothing. I have an idea for this leather piece I want to make & I'm conceptualizing it in my head." She replied, "It's so good you're always being creative."

I almost teared up ya'll.

I'm an affirmation kind of guy & my whole life- as many creatives know- sometimes people don't understand when we space out. They don't understand why we're always up late. They don't understand why we tinker on things to no end. They don't understand our thought process.

In fact, I used to get in trouble in school & once almost got fired from my job because during lectures or board room meetings, I would be using my notepad to doodle instead of writing notes. Both teachers & my bosses didn't understand that I actually think BETTER when my hand is aimlessly sketching things out. It's soothing & helps me concentrate.

STORY 1: In high school I had a photography teacher Brett Klement (who I finally found on FB after over 20 years btw!) who had the most unorthodox class ever. He had no tables and no chairs and everyone sat on the floor on a mat. And even if it was photography he was supposed to be teaching, we were told that he doesn't care what we did as long as it was something creative. Photography, painting, sculpting, drawing, it didn't matter. You just had to be moving. And when I was at risk of dropping out of school, he told me that he would give me an "A" if I at least showed up to his class & spend the semester painting a mural on the wall of his class. I have never felt so validated for being creative.

STORY 2: Growing up, random ideas would just pop into my head and if I didn't do something about it, it would eat me up. But sometimes these ideas required materials I didn't have (like when I went through a phase of building board games and another time I wanted to build a kite). So all day I would think about what materials I needed and would eagerly wait for my dad to come home from work. Soon as he stepped into that door, I would beg him to take me to the art supply store and despite how tired he was, he never said no. Ever.

STORY 3: My mom still reminds me to this day that when I was a kid I ruined all of her watercolor sets. She was going to design school & so she would have really expensive professional equipment. I remember it too- I would take her watercolors & I would just start mixing and painting & when she went to do her work, she would find her watercolors all mixed up & every color turned to brown from all the mixing I did.

I say all this because if you're a creative person- the kind that can't rest or sleep until you express what you need to express- don't be ashamed of it. Nurture it. Feed it. Let it continue to grow. It's a fulfilling life...one that births limitless possibilities. Anyone who tries to stifle that- whether it's a teacher or a boss- screw them. Their lives are probably boring and lacks color.

HEART OF GOD

I've been debating writing this because I didn't know if I should just let it pass. It might be a bit long but if you're willing to lend an ear, we can discuss.

Today, I had my first college show since performing at APCA last week. During my set, I perform my sister Carla's poem "Pink Crayons" which deals with transgender issue. Normally no big deal but today I felt super weird doing it. And the thing is, it had NOTHING to do with the subject matter. It had more to do with faith. Because last week, I had my faith rocked and snapped backwards and not necessarily in a good way. It's been plaguing me since.

Ok let's backtrack:

For my showcase at APCA last week, I decided to honor both my sisters by performing their poems. "Awakening" for my sister Kate and "Pink Crayons" for Carla. I had a great showcase. I felt good.

Afterwards, I was approached by a Christian singer/songwriter. He told me that I had a great set and that I was extremely talented. He starts asking me about my inspirations and what moves me, etc. Then he came around to what I believe is the reason he wanted to pull me aside: he starts to talk about Pink Crayons. He asks where specifically in the bible would back my theory that God creates and loves us for what we are even if we were transgender. I told him that my sister has always been that way since she was born- before she knew what transgender even was- so why would God create her to feel/act that way only so He can disapprove of her lifestyle later. His answer was that we are born into sin and bent away from God and that it's our job to realign ourselves with him.

The thing is, he didn't come at me in judgement or to give me a lecture. He came at me sincerely and I'm open minded enough to have conversations like that- as uncomfortable as they may be- with anyone. 

The specifics of this conversation is not important right now. That can be discussed in a different post. Reason I'm writing this is during our conversation, he starts mentioning specific phrases in the bible in the most intellectual way. He starts spouting Romans and other books and I'm not good at all with remembering numbers. I know bible phrases but where they're found, I have a hard time remembering.

Point is, I have never felt so inadequate with my knowledge of Christ. Like, this dude made me feel so inept because when I was cornered, I didn't know how to respond.

In my journey, I have always searched for the HEART of God. I seek His love and grace and mercy. I seek to be a better person and to love all people regardless of who they are. But after this conversation, I had never felt so distant from God's love. As if, after everything, I apparently don't know Him at all. I felt like in an instant, I wasn't "smart enough" to get God.

This guy told me that when it comes to God, we can't just pick and choose which parts suit us and which doesn't. I agree with this which is why I also love my enemies. But in his eyes, if you are transgender, you are already living in sin. He even said that I should continue to love my sister but maybe I can also have a sit down and talk to her about how it's wrong (lol he obv doesn't know Carla AT ALL. Lolol) In this conversation he also said that because I'm a poet and I speak to a lot of people, I have to "be careful" with the message I'm spreading (this is when he brought up the verse of false idols etc.). When I told him that my sister loves God and prays to Him and is a good person to everyone, his reply was that wrong is wrong regardless of how "nice" someone asks. His analogy was that a child might be the sweetest child in the world but if he keeps throwing his cup on the floor and we don't correct it, he'll grow up thinking throwing cups on the floor is okay when it's not.

Again, his views didn't change mine when it comes to transgender issues...I love my sister and who she is and nothing will change that. But it just made me doubt if I knew anything about faith. It made me doubt if God's love is not being given to me because I'm supporting "sin"...that maybe I'm not qualified or good enough to talk about His love for all people. 

It made me feel like I was doing everything wrong.

I hope not. Because honestly, I still believe God made us who we are and we live our lives using all the talents in which we've been blessed. I still believe we have to get to the heart of God rather than the mind of religious scholars. I believe God's love comes from within and not from knowing specific bible phrases. Because honestly- if the God He believes will punish loving people for being who they are when there is so much real evil in this world that needs to be dealt with- then I'm not sure I want that brand of God. If that makes me wrong, then honestly, I don't know what to tell you.

VESSEL

"Sometimes we're really good at attaching our thoughts and our ideas to these moments of inspiration and call them God's. I don't want to do that. I really want to get heaven's thoughts on these songs." Joel Houston

I'm working on this poem and I'm finding that I'm flowing really well. I'm inspired. I'm coming up with good metaphors. But I had to step back and quiet the world and ask if this is really what God wants to say. Because if we like to claim that we're just messengers for something outside of ourselves- that we're just the vessel for the universe to speak through- then we have to be really in tune to what that message is supposed to be.

So I'll be back. I got some listening to do.

MOVE WHEN HE MOVES

In the past two days, I've done two of the most important shows of my life. But here's the thing: they weren't college shows. They weren't corporate gigs. It wasn't a show that would be on television or would be on YouTube in hopes of going viral. They won't propel my career in any way. In fact, I didn't even get paid. And yet, in my entire career, it turned out to be the most significant.

I performed at a prison and at a rehab center.

A week ago I was making jokes with my agent that this must be Asia Pro Bono week. At the time, I haven't yet grasped the scope of what I was about to take on. I have never performed at a prison or a rehab center before.

In fact, I was apprehensive. All I kept wondering was how could I- a person who has never been in prison or have had any addictions- relate to these people? I felt like I would just be coming in there and they would look at me and say, "What would you know about what we're going through?"

I almost cancelled because of this.

When I spoke to Jess and asked if I should still go, I made it clear they aren't paid. I asked if it's worth it for me to spend the money to fly down knowing there's no money to be made here. I asked if I'm more needed at home to help take care of Aris. But my wife, she's amazing. She said go. She said I may never know who would need me and what I'm being called to do.

We always preach that when God moves, we should just be obedient and follow. But most times I doubt Him. Most times I choose not to go because of the discomfort it will bring me. If it's outside of my comfort zone, well- let's leave that to the others who are bolder.

And discomfort it was.

As I stood there outside of the prison looking at the barbed wire and fences, the way in which you have to wait for doors to unlock, the fear for your own safety, the look in the inmates eyes as you walked into that room...let's just say I did everything I could to hide my overwhelming nervousness.

Today at the rehab, there was discomfort too. I stood on that stage looking out at the audience, wondering what they're thinking. Wondering if I'm fit to talk to those who are in need of help and going through things I could never fathom.

But like I said, when God moves, you follow.

For the first time in my life, I felt like my poetry meant something. Sure, people tell me that but it's easy to get applause when people come out to see you perform. It's easy to be admired when you're on stage throwing it down in front of an audience who chose to be there. It's easy to feel like a superstar when there are posters and flyers and marquees with your name on it or when you're flying first class to a college gig. It's easy to have your ego get blown up when your videos are getting a shitload of views.

But this time, my poetry was being used for healing. This time I was in front of the people that I knew for a fact really needed to be reached. Sure, our poetry reaches all audiences even those at open mics, but this is the first time you just KNOW that your audience are those who are not in the best of situations. It was an even heavier load knowing that when I walked out of that "venue", they would still be there, every day, for who knows how long.

My words felt different this time. Before, I would perform and I know it's for show. In fact, before I stepped into these facilities, I kept thinking I was a fraud...I kept asking if I'm just exploiting my pains by turning it into poetry so I can get paid gigs. But as I started to perform, it started to remind me of the place where those words came from. It reminded me why I wrote them and why they were important in the first place. It reminded me of my own vulnerability. Of my own demons and my own ugliness.

I have never felt this "gift" be used this way before- at least, not in my vicinity. Not in a way that is blatantly right there in front of me.

And the outpouring of love back was so tremendous and so vital that it transcended ego and superstardom. It was a humbling love. A needed love. A love-others-as-you-love-yourself love.

I can't quite grasp yet what this did to me but I know that I am a changed person now because of it. Ironic- cuz I thought I was the one going in there to change them. For this I am so grateful. I hope I was able to give back a fraction of that. I hope that my poetry did give some needed healing and hope.

I hope God smiled.

Because He moved. And I, as unworthy as I am, just did my best to keep up.

IT'S MY BIRTHDAY

So I turned 40 today. First thank you to all of you who sent wishes via FB, text and voice. I'm on the road (I'm always on the road on my birthday) so it gets kinda sad but all of you who reached out made me feel at home.

Yesterday, I was at the airport and the bartender at the lounge looked at my ID and said, "Wow, happy birthday. You're gonna be 40? Really??" And of course, I gave the ol' "Don't remind me!" answer. It seems like that's the answer we like to give when we are reminded it's our birthday. It's the go-to. Then that cues the person to say, "well you look great" and we thank them and go about our way.

Funny, when we were kids we couldn't wait to grow up. So much so, we would add fractions to our ages. "I'm not 5. I'm 5 and three quarters!" It's like we just couldn't wait. Then somewhere along the way, that turns into, "No! I refuse! I wish I could be 21 again!"

But ya know (and this is not just me trying to make myself feel better)...I LOVE having birthdays. I love becoming a year older. Because with all the things in the world that could take us out, each year is an accomplishment. It says we've survived in a world that's out to get us. Like, as primitive animals, we are constantly in a state of attack. Diseases, hunger, weather, calamities...credit card bills. Lol. So statistically, the odds are always stacked against us and every day is actually a miracle if we make it.

And I love beating statistics.

Problem is we take things for granted. We don't stop to remind ourselves of what we have in the moment. We don't stop to bask in the blessings in our lives because we are too busy trying to survive. We go about our day like the day before and then we look back wondering where it all went and so we regret our birthdays because it tells us we've been wasting our lives and now it's going too fast.

How easy we can slow our lives down if we stop to actually live it.

Because the truth is, we WILL die one day. And I know that sounds grim but it's true. So what are we doing? Why are we just trudging along and dragging our feet and then complain that time goes too fast and we're getting old? 

If we live always at the edge- if we live breathing in the air around us and marveling at the amazing things in our lives- if we stop and take an inventory of the awesomeness that surrounds us- I can guarantee that every second will feel much much longer. 

That's why today, when I turned 40, especially since I lived half of that acting stupid and reckless, I am grateful to still be here with an amazing family, loving friends and a pretty badass career. And on top of that, growing older affords you wisdom. It affords you a clearer vision on life in general. And wisdom should be coveted! It should be cherished and respected. 

So keep growing. Stop fighting it and get old. Attain wisdom. And live bad-assly. Let every stage of your life be what it is and love that moment with everything. Because life, as a whole, is a beautiful wonderful thing.

Happy birthday to me.

NOKIA MOBILE

I CAN FINALLY TELL YOU ALL THE AWESOME NEWS!

A few weeks ago WE were contacted and commissioned to write a new poem about the 2000's era (almost as a sequel to my 90's poem)...by Nokia Mobile!! You have no idea how honored I am to have done this for such a recognizable and iconic brand!

Poetry has taken me to so many places and as poets I am excited with the direction we are taking it. All of us, finding new ways to interject our art into everyone's lives.

So whatever you're doing, keep doing it. Keep writing. Keep pursuing. Keep pushing the envelope. And above all, practice and be prepared because when the world comes calling, you better be ready!

Shout out to Jollan Aurelio for the music...to Jace Oner for cancelling his day just to collaborate on the video...and also to Michael Pavlov for coordinating this whole thing. 

Let's get it yall!

SN: I would REALLY appreciate you guys sharing this with everyone. I am so proud!

Watch it here!

ITS ABOUT THE WORK

Last weekend, right before the Words United show, I was backstage seriously nervous. We had been on break for about a month & a half so I haven't performed for awhile. And when you get back on stage after a long break, it's easy to stumble over your poems no matter how well you know them. The week before I stumbled very badly at one of my features so now I was really nervous.

Then I had a conversation with my friend and colleague Lizz Straight before the show & we talked about how the work has to always supersede the artist. In other words, sometimes we get so caught up in our persona- we get caught up in "who we are" & the image we portray- that we put a lot of pressure on ourselves to maintain that image when we hit the stage.

However, if we can only remember that we are simply messengers of art- that our work is really the spotlight- then we can get on stage & just let the work do its thing. 

So many artists are caught up in who they are that they forget the work is what people came out to see. They want the praise. They want the recognition. And when they have it they have to maintain it but when the work no longer matches the persona, they realize quickly that fame is fleeting like a motherfucker.

Me, I don't want that anymore. I don't want someone saying, "You are awesome! I'm a huge fan of you." Instead, I would rather hear, "I'm a huge fan of your work. Your work has gotten me through some hard times." That's really what's important, you know? 

Maybe if we focused on the work & not how we look delivering the work, then perhaps we wouldn't be so nervous.

Yeah, that show turned out to be awesome.

See you all on the road...

WE CONTINUE

2016. Wow, what a year.

Professionally, for us, it was successful. We hired a new agency- one that has represented a ton of awesome bands- and they took us on as their only spoken word poetry act in their roster. With this move, we got back into heavy touring, having just finished a 3 month stint on the road this past fall. We're also writing a bunch of new material for our 3rd album and are excited about the tour taking place in the spring. 2016 was definitely great for setting all of that up.

But all of that doesn't take away from the fact that for many people, including myself, 2016 was a difficult one personally. There were deaths of iconic celebrities, deaths of close friends, a lot more divide between people and many times throughout the year we had to ask ourselves what the hell is wrong with us as a nation? There are people hurting. There are people afraid. There are people uncertain about the future.

What's important to realize is that we've been here before. We've all had our shares of trials and tribulations in our past. We've all faced fear and uncertainty. And yet, here we are, survivors of ordeals we didn't think we were strong enough to handle. Here we are, alive with our breath in our lungs. And we continue.

That's all we can do sometimes, really. Just continue. Just persevere. See it through, as I always say. It may not get better tomorrow or the next day or even the next year but it will get better. We just have to focus on knowing that everything that happens to us shapes us in some way. It molds us into stronger individuals. It creates in us a fighting spirit we never thought we had.

So I wish that for all of us- that we may not give up too fast too soon. Let's journey together amongst good people with the best intentions at heart seeking more for others than we do for ourselves. And just maybe, we can turn this whole thing around.

See you all on the road.