THE OBLIGATORY BIRTHDAY POST

I have about half an hour left before my birthday ends. I've gotten tons of greetings, a lot of love, some clowning about my age, you name it. And I welcome it all. Even the ones about being old. Because being old just says I've managed to survive for a loooong time.

And I'm sitting here after an amazing show and I just keep thinking about my life. And the one thing that keeps coming back to me is this:

A LOT of poets, when they talk to me about me, have said, "Dude, you're the hardest working poet I know. Your hustle is insane." I took pride in that. Now I'm not so sure.

Because I'm sitting here and this is what I'm realizing...

When I've failed, I wouldn't be happy. As necessary as failure is, we know it feels like shit.

When I've succeeded, I still wouldn't be happy. Because with success comes the need to go further and succeed more; you set up unrealistic expectations. You climb higher thinking there's some magical peak but there never is. They don't say "sky's the limit" for nothing. It means you'll just keep climbing up, above the clouds, further and further until you're in the nothing of space.

My life's philosophy is changing, yo. At this age, it's changing.

Now, it's just about learning to "be." I'm learning happiness is already there. It's when my family jumps on top of me to wake me up the morning of my birthday. It's me performing poems for total strangers who just have their mouth open the whole time or wiping tears from their eyes. It's reconnecting with old friends and them making you laugh. It's the text messages and phone calls of people that truly care.

My whole life I kept after this pursuit of something "great" not realizing (and this is should be ALL our mantras) I was already pretty great to begin with.

We will never find happiness when we think happiness is some place you have to get to. You will never find purpose when you think purpose is marked by milestones in your life.

Happiness is every day. It lives in you and will manifest itself outwards to people if you allow your daily actions to reflect it.

Purpose is every day. It lives in you and will manifest itself in your life's work if you just fall in love with the process of what you're doing. What results from that process is not in your control. Either way, the results shouldn't stop you from doing what you love.

Many, many years ago I was talking to a very successful design friend of mine who was running a million dollar agency. I asked him why he wasn't doing photography anymore since it was his photography that I loved and made me a fan of his work. He said to me, "Fuck that. No money in that. I have to hustle." And that's understandable. His wife had just passed away and he had to raise his daughter on his own. He had to turn this small business into this very profitable one in order to provide an amazing life for her. And I think that's what fueled the hunger for me and made me work as hard as I did to get where I am.

But now, after always trying so hard and never finding happiness in the hustle, I'm realizing that I am most alive when I just do what I love. When I allow my creativity to flow purely and without agenda. I am most alive when I'm with my family and we are wrestling on the bed and making jokes. I am most alive when I write that new piece and people gravitate to it.

I hope you all discover the happiness already inside you. I hope you don't have to grow older to realize it. I hope you recognize that you can start living with purpose right now, immediately, soon as you finish reading this. I promise you- do those things- and watch as a huge burden is lifted from your shoulders and life opens itself up to you in ways you've never expected.

THE POWER OF PRAYER

I didn't get pissed off today. I did something else...

A lot of you saw my post earlier about getting into a minor car accident when my car slid on the ice. I was stuck waiting for a tow truck that couldn't even get to me meanwhile the heat inside my car was starting to turn colder since the car wasn't moving. I've seen this on the news before...people freezing in the cold while waiting to be rescued. I started to worry if that just might happen to me.

Meanwhile, I was told that this area of town isn't the safest as far as crime and drugs. And in my car there are a ton of equipment that I could be robbed for. Cameras, laptops, tablets, phones, you name it.

Still..I didn't get pissed. I did something else...

I prayed.

Let me tell you...as soon as my prayer ended, I looked down the street and I see 5 young guys walking with hoodies and sagging pants. They see my car and one of them points towards it and they start to walk towards me. But I wasn't scared. I don't know why but I didn't feel worried.

When they approached, they motioned me to roll my window down. In any other circumstance I wouldn't have but for some reason, I had this feeling of it being okay.

When I did, one of them said, "Hey man, you alright?" I told him yes and he said, "Hey...don't be freezing out here yo. If you need anything, we up at that blue house right there. Come through if you need to get warm."

Then soon as they left, no joke, my phone rang and it was my poet friend Jon Goode. He asks where I am. He didn't ask if I need anything. He just asked where I am and that he's coming to get me. That was it. 20 minutes later he gets there and got me back to the airport safe and sound.

God comes in so many different forms sometimes.

At the airport the flight kept getting delayed. I was also worried that my bro-in-law wouldn't get there in time. 3 hours later he finally made it but our second flight was still being delayed. Over and over until finally it was cancelled and we were rebooked. At the new flight, we were actually able to board and I thought, okay, I think we can still make it to our show. But then, even then we got delayed again.

But I still didn't get pissed. I did something else...

I prayed.

When we finally landed in Asheville, they lost my brother-in-law's luggage...the equipment he uses to play the music for our show. On top of that, the car I rented had low tire pressure and I had to wait in line again to exchange it for a new car cuz I'm not driving that in the snow.

But I still didn't get pissed. I did something else...

I prayed.

By the time all was said and done, it was getting dark out and everyone- even the school where I'm performing- advised that we don't make that 2 hour drive through the mountains. And even if we did, we would barely make it to our show. Instead, we just called it and I ended up grabbing a hotel in Asheville.

So to recap- I almost got stuck in the middle of nowhere. I got delayed. I missed my show. And now I'm out $3k for that performance along with the flights and hotels and rentals cars I paid for to get here in the first place. I don't even know if the rental company earlier this morning will charge me for towing. I don't even know if our show tomorrow in Spartanburg will still happen cuz schools are still closed. I don't even know what else is happening because we only have 3 shows this week and I'll be out a LOT of money if all three are cancelled.

And yet I'm still not getting pissed. I'm going to do something else.

I'm going to pray.

It's the only thing I know TO do. I've done everything else I could in my power. I've made the right calls. I've prepared myself to stay warm. I came up with plan B and C and D and E. But I know that at some point there's only so much I can do and the rest I have to just lift up in prayer.

Prayer saved me today. Prayer kept me safe and alive. Who knows why all these things are happening but right now, money is money and God is working something I may not see right now.

So I'm going to pray. You can pray with me if you want. That everyone is safe and that we get to wherever God intends us to be. You can pray that everyone is warm and that people who need help will have angels show up in their life the way they showed up in mine today.

To those guys on the street. To all the poets and friends that checked up on me. To those who I've never met except on Facebook who said I have a place to stay if I need. It reminds me of what I wrote a long time ago...that really, God isn't the one that performs miracles. People do. And it's always through those people that God works his miracles through...

WHAT IT MEANS TO BE CHILDREN OF IMMIGRANTS

WHAT IT MEANS FOR CHILDREN OF IMMIGRANTS....

The other day I was watching a documentary and in it, they discussed how turbulent times were in the Philippines in the late 70's early 80's. At that time, I was less than 6 years old and I still remember it somewhat. 

Quick history background: The people of the Philippines were rebelling against Ferdinand Marcos and it seemed the entire country was rallying behind "People Power." Everywhere there were protests and a unified goal to take down Marcos. Why? Because prior to that, a candidate named Ninoy Aquino was running for president against Marcos and the country was excited for him to win. And then he was executed. His execution was what made the people say they've had enough of govt corruption and decided to all rebel. Because of this rebellion and riots and protests, Marcos ordered marshal law and the streets were paved with soldiers and tanks.

Oddly, I still remember this. Our family too was part of the rebellion and my father would join in with the protests and rallies. We ALL wore yellow emblazoned with "People Power" or "I (heart) Ninoy." Yellow bandanas, yellow t-shirts, yellow flags. We would chant with people on the streets or honk our cars when we drove through protest areas. 

About a year ago I was having a conversation with my dad and he was telling me a bit about that time. He was telling me how it was starting to get pretty dangerous in the Philippines and despite that he wanted to stay and fight, our safety was much more important. 

Sometimes you have to make the choice to flee instead of fighting- not out of cowardice but because there's a bigger war that needs to be fought.

So we all fled to the US and watched from here as the rebel forces won and took down the dictator in what is now known as the People Power Revolution.

Fast forward to this morning...

I woke up to the sound of Aris eating breakfast. I looked out the window at the beach in our backyard. I flicked on the Christmas lights and reminded myself to wrap presents after he leaves for school and I was thinking about where I was going to hide them. I checked my emails. Made some business calls. Did some house chores. Ran errands. 

The whole time I'm thinking...how must have it been like to have to parent a child in a time of nationwide crisis? I'm thinking could I even be strong enough to keep my family from tanks and marching soldiers and burning cities when my biggest issue that I'm facing today is getting through the long lines at the post office in time to pick up my son from school.

And I realize...I get to do these mundane things today because my parents fought for it to be so. They protected me and provided for me a better life so that my biggest worries would be what to feed my son for lunch. They led me out of a turbulent environment so that I can look out my window and around my house and say, "Wow, my son gets to grow up surrounded by all this." Their fight was not only for me but for the generations that would come after.

This is what immigrant means. This is what land of opportunity means for us. It's not to take your jobs. It's not to take over "your country." It's not to take your resources and tax dollars. We do it because the love for our family is just as strong as your love is for yours. Now tell me again to "Go back to your country." You have absolutely no idea what you're talking about because you haven't had to raise your children smack dab in the middle of riots.

I want to teach my son that all of this- all these things he has- didn't come at a small price. It all cost his grandparents on both sides an insane amount of courage. It all cost his grandparents on both sides an insane amount of sacrifice. Everything from his legos to his boredom- it all came because 4 people were strong enough to keep us all safe amidst the bullets.

FAME VS SUCCESS

I remember back in 04 when I started to really get into poetry I had these dreams of making it big. Break into Hollywood. Act in movies. Take poetry as far as I can take it. Turn my Def Poetry & college touring into bigger things. Trust me, I tried too. But hustle as I might, it just wasn’t written that way.

And in a way, thank God for that. Because you see & hear all these stories now of the dark underbelly of fame. From Harvey Weinstein to Kevin Spacey to Louis CK and all the other celebrities who have lights suddenly shining on their darkest secrets. I think of the victims they've hurt and the environment in which these things are considered "normal." I wonder sometimes how it would have turned out for me had I gotten famous and had to deal with that environment. I wonder how much of my own integrity would be sacrificed.

Many of us ask for God to mold us. To protect us. And yet we get angry when He’s doing exactly that. When what He plans doesn’t line up with what we planned for ourselves, we ask why He makes us suffer. 

Over the years maturity has taught me that what I’m meant to do & my significance has nothing to do with fame & fortune. It’s about doing good work. It’s about mastering your craft. It’s about moving the people that need to be moved even if it’s a small few. And here’s the CRAZY thing..it wasn’t 15 minutes of fame. We are, to this day, still going steadily and consistently in this career that has now spanned 12 yrs. In this business, that’s pretty impressive. And there are no tabloids about me. My integrity is still in tact. My art form remains my own. I still enjoy what I do and I feel myself learning and getting better with each new poem and with each new show.

At the end of it all, that’s the kind of success I want.

PROMISES, PROMISES

I was gone for 2 weeks on tour. Came home yesterday & I fly out again in the morning. Today was the only day I had with the family.

So last night I told Aris that I’ll pick him up fr school today & after we can all go to lunch & then do some shopping. He got mad excited because this morning he’s like, “Daddy pick me up fr school today!”

When I got to the school they were in the cafeteria about to each lunch. Teacher tells me, “He said he didn’t want to start eating because you were coming soon.” I told her yeah, I promised him we would go out after I pick him up. She says, “Yeah, we know. He’s been talking about it since he got here. He kept telling everyone daddy was picking him up from school today.”

And now I can't help but think about his excitement all day. I can't help but think about how when we make promises to kids, it becomes their whole world. It's all they think about and as much as we think the excitement will pass, it really doesn't. I also can't help but think about other children who are continuously let down by promises adults can't keep and how disheartening it must be to them. I imagine them like I imagine my own son...telling everyone how excited they are only for the time to come and they are- once again- let down. 

I say all that to say...pleas fulfill your promises to kids. Don’t say things just to make them happy & then not come through. They remember these things. It’s these things that will determine the difference between them growing up a person of integrity or a person who doesn’t trust anyone. 

Sometimes we think we can just dismiss the promises we make to our kids thinking they’ll forget about it later anyway. I don’t ever want to do that. I want him to learn how to become a man of his word. I want him to learn that when a promise is made, the expectation is for that promise to be fulfilled. 

Tonight, while I was wiping him down after his bath, he randomly hugs me & says, “I love you daddy.” I told him I love him too & that I’ll always love him.

Now THAT’S a promise that’s easy to keep.

THE THING ABOUT "FAITH"

Over the next few days I'm going to write a series of long posts (I know, sooo unlike me right?? Lol) called "The Thing About" on different subjects. It's also going to be posted on my blog at theasiaproject.com. If you see a subject you like, I hope you take the time to read it. It's pretty personal and there will be some subjects I'm forcing my vulnerability to write. So here we go....

THE THING ABOUT "FAITH"

A few weeks ago I woke up with this crazy need to go to church. Like, I was just compelled to go. I had been going through some challenges and I felt I just needed to lift them up. I asked Jess if she wanted to go but she had worked 14 hrs till 1am the night before and was really tired and trying to catch up on sleep. So I went by myself.

I got there about 5 minutes early so I just knelt and started praying about what God wants of me. Like, I knew He had a plan but honestly I was just scared. I was scared of failure. I was scared of success. I was scared nothing is moving and I was telling Him to make things move on my time. In my prayer I asked to have more faith than Peter when Jesus asked him to walk on water. I asked to be kept afloat and to trust what God wants of me.

Then 20 minutes later during the gospel reading, THAT was the exact verse they read. And THAT was the exact thing the priest preached about.

Like I said, I don't think there's such things as coincidence when it comes to God.

We are humans that WALK the earth. Our eyes fixed forwards and side to side to side. Sometimes we look up. Sometimes we look down. When we look down while walking on the street, there's not much to look at except the asphalt below us. Point is, we can only see as far as our eyes allow and most times, there's a lot that's blocking us from seeing further.

I think to have faith is to humble ourselves to be guided. To literally give trust to something that many don't even believe exists. We are putting our lives and our decisions based on this belief (and yes sometimes that belief is misguided and even evil cloaking itself as good).

Honestly, I don't know what's ahead of me. I don't know why God allows me to have some things and denies me others. The divine "plan" is so hard to figure out and sometimes it makes me question God's existence at all. It makes me question if I'm wasting my time. It makes me question if maybe I'm really on my own here.

But that's what faith is...not having definite answers to the questions we have but believing it's all working towards good. It's believing that God will always see us through no matter how bleak things might get from time to time.

And yeah, I may be wrong. I may die and nothing happens. But (lol) how will I ever know? Because all I know is right now, I need the faith. I need it so I can wake up each day with hope and optimism for the future. I need it so I know I'm not going at this alone...

...that if ever I had to walk on water, my faith will keep me from falling and being consumed by the dark deep.

WHAT'S BEYOND THE STORM

I'm sitting outside on the porch & I look up & there's about a gazillion stars in the sky. It's good to see considering that the last week- with the storm we just went through- it's been hella cloudy. Then I realized those stars have always been there...it's just been covered by bad weather. 

I don't know why I'm compelled to write this now- I'm thinking maybe someone needs to hear it- but I do know that whatever it is you're going through, relax. It'll be okay.

How do I know? Because just like these stars, deep down inside you are still glittering. Deep down you're still shining as brightly as always. Sure, it may be hard to see. We all face storms. And those storms have a way of clouding our judgment. When the storms roll in, it's hard to see what's behind it because all you can seem to see around you is nothing. Is hopelessness. Is bleak & gray skies. Is the fog of fear & insecurity.

But take comfort in knowing that not all storms last. It'll clear up. It'll move on & when it does, the skies will be as clear again as they've been before. 

Meanwhile, see it through. See through all the muck & thunder. See through the haze of your trials. See through the darkness that engulfs you. And I promise, with everything that's within me, that beyond all that is the amazing you that you've always known. It's always been there. It has never gone anywhere. 

The sooner you realize that, the sooner you'll start shining again.

HAPPY

It all began when we started Dave Ramsey's Total Money Makeover plan. One of the key things in there was to get rid of the unnecessary spending, buckle down and look at the great picture. Also, to rid yourself of financial burdens so you can start to live freely and give back to the world.

Then one night on Netflix I ran into a documentary called Minimalism in which they also quoted Dave Ramsey. I was intrigued by the concept so I bought their book. In it, it was about getting rid of unnecessary stuff that hold no value and rid yourself of junky (materialistically and emotionally) burdens so you can start to live freely and give back to the world.

After watching and reading that, Netflix suggested I watch a documentary called Happy where they studied people around the world to see what caused them happiness. It didn't come from riches (in fact studies show that people from affluent countries tend to be more depressed) but rather it came from living a life devoid of burdens and finding happiness in your passions, your circle of family and friends and, most importantly, giving back to the world.

Then yesterday, I was browsing through a GQ magazine in my bathroom (you already know what I was doing in there so don't ask) and there was an article about The Happiest Man Alive. He questioned our pursuits and why we pursue them when it only leads to greed because we can't get enough once we get a taste.

Ya'll...either I'm just seeing the same theme over and over because I'm looking for it or the world is sending me a message. Either way, I feel like I'm more in tune with life. I've started every morning with meditation. I've ended every night reading or watching wholesome documentaries. In between I'm working on my passions, spending time with family and exercising.

I'm happy. Like, worry-free and legit happy.

If you're not, take the journey with me towards happiness. If you know deep down that something is missing and you feel burdened, let me know. This world will consume you little by little and many of us don't realize it until we find ourselves in a muck and feeling helpless, hopeless and unhappy.

I think it's time you reclaim what's really important.

“Are we supposed to come to terms with unhappiness rather than make a genuine and intelligent attempt to untangle happiness from suffering? Happiness is a flourishing. It resides, right there, within us. But we have to find a way to free and nurture it. To quit our grasping." Matthieu Ricard dubbed The Happiest Man Alive

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...