Whenever Vancouver Men’s Chorus stalwart Len Cousineau delivers the announcements at intermission, he begins by telling the crowd “You are the Best AUDIENCE EVER!”
Over the years I’ve heard numerous other people try versions of the same schtick. No one pulls it off like Lenny. You hear it, and you believe it – because you’re convinced Lenny believes it, too.
Every performance gets the same treatment. Regardless of the artistic or technical fiascos that occurred in the first act, and no matter how catatonic the audience seems so far, we all believe today’s performance still might turn out to be Vancouver Men’s Chorus’ best ever. Really. Lenny – and therefore the chorus and the audience, too – remain supremely confident that somehow tonight’s magic can pull it off once again.
The Peace Arch border crossing between Washington and British Columbia is closed for the first time since 1814. Vancouver Men’s Chorus cancelled all our performances and rehearsals for the foreseeable future. Wednesday’s weekly Showtunes Night in Canada is also on indefinite hiatus. Meanwhile, I’m trapped in the wrong country with three kids, two dogs, and no school. Obviously I’m going through withdrawal.
It’s not just me. The rest of the men of VMC have similar chorus-sized holes in their lives. All of us miss the music and the hugs. (Even the introverts in VMC are huggers. It’s weird.) Increasingly desperate for a big gay fix, we’ve started Zoom meeting online on Wednesday nights at our regular rehearsal time – just so we can hear a few boring administrative announcements, then sing a shockingly atonal “Happy Birthday” to all the guys with birthdays this week.
The coronavirus pandemic leaves huge holes in everyone’s lives. We’re filling them with old and new vices like Doritos, alcohol, and Tiger King episodes. All of us who thought we’d whipped our iPhone addictions are again wallowing in a sea of indignant anti-Trump editorials and BuzzFeed personality quizzes.
Last week someone in the chorus challenged us on Facebook to identify something positive from the quarantine experience. I found myself grasping at straws. Does the cheapest unleaded gas price in decades mean we’ve reversed climate change? Were both of the new Star Trek television programs truly bingeworthy? Do I really need this much quality time with all three of my children, and both dogs? Will you be allowed to have favorites in an actual Zombie Apocalypse?
Then I read about the perilously low blood supply. After three decades of homophobia and bad science, coronavirus desperation finally loosened the FDA’s irrational ban on gay blood donors. It’s been four weeks since I was trapped with my children fulltime as a result of the closure of the schools, border, businesses, etc. I’m looking forward to becoming a first-time blood donor very soon.
Any challenge to identify the best impacts of coronavirus quickly turns my thoughts to the pandemic’s worst consequences. Not that I’m a pessimist – it’s just that there are so many more bad consequences to choose from.
Right now my worst-impact vote goes to my seething frustration with how quickly everything unravelled. As I wrote in my previous Rock Bottom essay, “Better-Ish,” on a personal level at least, things finally seemed to be going well in 2020. After several terrible years in a row, all the important stuff in my life was going better. I was doing better.
Now lots of new and old stuff aren’t going well at all. My rage is prepared to combust at any moment. But I can handle it. Because I was doing better.
Every gay man from my generation bears the scars of AIDS. In an eerily prescient burst of inspiration, I took a break from writing about kids, brains, and dishonest lawyers in January, and for the first time wrote about the experience of coming out of the closet into a world dominated by AIDS. As I wrote in “Avoidant,”
I’ve never endured physical or sexual abuse, war, or a serious accident. Instead, like too many other sensitive Mormon youths, I was the victim of emotional abuse from a pervasively homophobic and authoritarian message that denied our very existence. Those unhealed wounds reopened thirty years later, when I experienced “unrighteous dominion” at the hands of ignorant employers and dishonest bureaucrats.
But there’s a sixth common cause of PTSD: “Witnessing/Experiencing a Mass Disaster.” A big gay mass disaster, which resonated with and amplified the horror of the closet.
Now we’re all living through the stress of a “Mass Disaster.” Not everyone emerges from war, abuse, disaster, or other traumas debilitated by PTSD. But for some unknown percentage of us, our traumatic experiences during the coronavirus pandemic will result in lifelong wounds.
In the meantime, everyone must endure continuing major stress. Human brains “react in predictable ways in unpredictable situations.” For example, stress can make us scatterbrained. Many people have weird dreams. But we all respond as individuals: even in the small sample of our household, I’ve observed certain of us sleeping, exercising, reading, or eating more than usual, even as other family members sleep, exercise, read, or eat less.
Even though I’m a stress-and-trauma veteran, life has been a struggle lately. Some of my most effective coping strategies remain unavailable to me, such as hugging Vancouver and Vancouver Men’s Chorus. Ordinarily my adorable children are an asset; when they remain in my hair full time, the kids frequently become liabilities instead. Meanwhile, my feverish attempts to impose order on chaos have only made things worse.
Eventually I stopped fighting. Frankly the house feels less crowded when half of us get up by 7 am, and the other half get up at noon. I’ve also accepted that true “home schooling” only works for anti-vaxxer fundamentalists. The arrival of spring helped, although Bear and I are wearing out Buster with our long mindful walks. (Buster is an overheating fur ball who thinks dog grooming should be considered an “essential service.”)
It took a few weeks to get here, but last Friday we finally had a Great Day. I did what I could, and endured everything else with my family and a smile. I finished a blog post, plus some other legal and nonlegal writing. The dogs and I frolicked in our favorite parks. I read a book and stared at screens in appropriate ratios. I took a shower, even though I didn’t need it. The whole family made it outside with minimal wailing and gnashing of teeth. Back indoors, we tidied the living room before watching the new Pixar movie Onward.
I even got some good news. A couple of weeks ago I published a blog post, “Have Fun!,” about how my Mormon mission started with traumatic drama. My friend Todd was sent home from our mission in disgrace when an overzealous BYU sanitation employee found incriminating letters in a garbage can from Todd’s secret gay lover.
Decades later, “Have Fun!” concluded with a happy gay ending:
A few years ago, I got an email out of the blue from Todd. I was still a frustrated lawyer/single dad in Seattle. Todd revealed that after facing a few more challenges in his twenties, he got his life back on track. Eventually Todd became a gay English professor.
Damn. Isn’t that the definition of a happy ending?
I lost touch with Todd after moving to Bellingham and encountering mental illness, but I still had his email address. Because my blog post included preposterously gay photos from our youth, as a courtesy I forwarded him a link to the essay. Last Friday he responded with an email updating me on his life. Excellent news – Todd no longer is a gay English professor. Instead, he’s now a gay academic administrator. In my experience, that’s a huge demotion.
Quarantine still sucks. And life isn’t a competition. But if life were a competition, I’m back in the running.
A big part of my improved mental health in the last year came from transformations from a “fixed mindset” to a “growth mindset.” Being forced to deal with one disaster after another eventually taught me how to bounce back from repeated failure.
So a big part of my frustration with pandemic living was the fact that the sheer suckiness of everything suddenly made it impossible to plausibly tell myself things will be getting better any time soon. However, on our walk last Friday I finally regained my ability to tell Bear and Buster, “yes we have lots of challenges, but today still could end up being the Best Day Ever.”
One more pandemic bummer: I’m currently suffering from my worst bout of carpal tunnel and tennis elbow ever. I wish I could say it’s because I’ve been writing too much. Screen time on my computer is indeed up 685% over January. But phone usage is up an exponential 7,080,500%.
So here’s one of the numerous handy BuzzFeed items I’ve run across: All The Disney Princes Ranked From Least Gay To Most Gay. (at #10, “Aladdin is the Nick Jonas of Disney princes.”) Sadly, just about everything else in my life is less gay than ever. It’s like all the “gay” has disappeared from “Gay Sitcom Dad.”
Nevertheless, today still could be the Best Day Ever. If so, odds are today will also be the Least Gay Great Day Ever.
Previously in Rock Bottom Stories: “Better-Ish.” Next: "I am Karen"
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