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The following is a post I wrote recently as a guest on the blog of Mentor Me Executive Director, Deborah Dalton, with whom I have worked for much of the past five years.

Once upon a time, in another life I once led, I was a Baptist preacher.

On one Sunday, in a service led by one of our church members, a sermon was given about what it was like to be gay. Our church was very progressive for this time and had been ejected by our local association for valuing and honoring both gay members and gay staff, and so this basic theme was not unknown to anyone sitting in the pews.

To make the point of what the struggle of being gay in the world, in America (even in San Francisco) at that time our guest preacher made the statement, “if you aren’t gay you can’t possibly understand what it’s like to always be living in a closet.”

Sitting in the middle of the church, I looked up, startled, and my eyes grew wide and my mouth dropped open.

Seriously!? I was astonished!

Did he really believe that there are no other kinds of closets in the whole realm of human experience!? Did he really feel that his pain was so completely unique that anyone who did not share his exact experience could not possibly understand the feeling pain, isolation, and horror that living in a closet could bring?

At the time, I was living deeply buried in a closet of my own making that had nothing to do with being gay, my closet – closets actually – tended to be of a different nature, yet ones just as isolating and alienating as the closet he had experienced and was now describing.

For me, in the midst of this church filled with people who were my closest friends, I suddenly felt alone, unseen, unknown and unvalued. I was hurt, and not just a little bit angry.

How could my pain and my isolation be so unimportant as to be completely disregarded in the church where I had served as pastor for a year and called my spiritual home for over a decade?

Since that time 30+ years ago, I’ve stepped out of some of those closets, and I’ve remained in others, and I’ve even found a few new ones to step into from time to time along the way. Each closet is different from the others, and my experience inside them is certainly unique to me.

As unique to me, as his was for him.

Yet all of them have been dark, and tight, and silent, and cold. All of them have left me isolated, alone, and in deep pain.

That is the nature of closets. Not only do they keep us hidden from the world, they keep us out of touch with that world, and even hidden from and out of touch with ourselves. With no light, no sound, and no room to move, we can’t live our “one wild and precious life” (as Mary Oliver describes it). We are instead reduced to silence, frustration, and sometimes despair so deep and so vast that it can even lead to death.

When I was in 5th grade I was a really good student (at least academically, though perhaps not so much behaviorally). I got really good grades and was accepted into the “academic club” that my teacher created fro some of us. It was sort of a 5th grade version of Rotary. WE were supposedly the high achievers who would then do service work, like painting the black top for the basketball courts, and cleaning up around the school.

One day in class, I got in trouble for talking to loudly and too much (anyone who knows me now will not find this particular behavior difficult to believe). For my transgression I was summarily ejected from the club, which seemed completely unfair, since the qualification for the club was based on academics and not behavior, but in addition, I was exiled to a closet in the back of the classroom where I was left to sit in the dark, with the door locked for some, now unremembered, extensive length of time.

To my 10 year old brain (and frankly to my 63 year old one now) it was an enternity; I remember that experience very clearly even to this day.

When I was finally let out of my closet, I didn’t speak.

When I went home I didn’t speak.

When I returned to school for open house that evening, I didn’t speak.

And I kept it up… for a month!

At the time, my 10 year old brain told me I was taking a stand for justice, that I was being courageous and defiant. I was proving to myself that, “I am the master of my fate. I am the captain of my soul.”

As I have carried the experience with me through the years, and as I ponder it now, I realize that this was the reaction of a traumatized little boy.

Ultimately, that is what the closet does to you!

That very literal closet that I was forced into as a 10 year old has affected my my whole life. I still have moments when I act in a certain way, or react to something that happens, with the stubborn angry silence I took on after experience and I very quickly recognize the root cause of that behavior.

I can also point to circumstances throughout my over 50 years since the experience when I have avoided a challenge, or simply chosen to shrug off a difficult situation because of an innate fatalism that, upon reflection,stands up and identifies itself as the little boy at Highland Elementary School in 1964.

This the damage that closets do. Both literal and metaphorical closets cause deep, long-lasting trauma and damage. Virtually everyone experiences these closets at some point in their lives.

We humans are really good at making ourselves and others hide the reality of who we really are.

If anyone – the teacher, an assistant, a parent, or another student – had stepped in and opened the door on that little boy sitting isolated in the dark, his face would have brightened, he would have breathed a sigh of relief and he might even have said, “thank you.” He would have most certainly been spared years of slight hauntings and unexplainable pain. He would have felt, and thereby been able to give, more love.

We as mentors, friends and family members, stand in a position to step up to, knock on, and open up these closet doors, and in so doing relieve the pain and isolation of the one inside.

If that seemingly well-intentioned, but imaginatively limited preacher from 30 years ago could have gotten out of his closet long enough to see into mine, we both would have found relief.

As Springsteen sings… Closets are for hangers… winners use the door.


When Meryl Streep was honored, for lifetime achievement, at the Golden Globe Awards last night, she could have quite justifiably spent her time talking about herself. She chose instead to talk about things that really matter, for all of us, right now.

In typical fashion, PEOTUS sent out several of his lengthy multi-tweet twits declaring her “overrated” and a “Hilary flunky.” Yeah… that’s presidential.

But his junior high school bully response is not the point (we’ve all seen that act by now). The point was what Ms. Streep felt compelled to communicate to the world in this rare opportunity to use her own words to communicate her heart as herself. She felt compelled, and as she always does, she walked out onto that stage and answered the call.

It was her time to shine and shine she did. She did that first by pointing out the delightfully expressive “foreign” nature of the business, people, and practice of cinema arts, secondly by speaking to the cultural ugliness and enjoyment of bullying that has so fully come to pass in our reality because of, during, and since this past election cycle, and finally by calling us all to support the press in its efforts of holding those in power accountable and true to their calling. She closed with a quote from Carie Fischer to “take your broken heart and make it into art.”

This is what being an artist and making art is really all about. It is forming something fresh, something that has not been seen in the world before, forming it from your own life experience, observation, consideration, and practice and creating something fresh, engaging, and beautiful; something that, hopefully, makes a change in the world. And this is what, in this time, each and everyone of us is called to do, with our own broken hearts, in our own way, and our own places of calling.

In a previous lifetime, when I was a seminarian (and a preacher), I came to love one story in the Hebrew scriptures more than any other. That feeling continues with me to this day and it seems particularly poignant in these times and at this moment. The story comes from the Book of Esther, when Esther is trying to find a way out of going to her husband the king to beg for the lives of her people. Her cousin, Mordecai, comes to convince her of the opportunity, the imperative, and the gift of the awesome responsibility she is being asked to take on and, in Esther 4:13-14, sends her the message, “For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?””

I believe that last night Meryl was given, and accepted, her Esther moment; the moment to stand and speak truth to power for people who are, or will be soon, in need.

Each one of us, as artists, as thinkers, as caring human beings, bears the very same responsibility and I believe that last night Meryl Streep issued to all of us a personal call to responsibility and greatness.

The only question left is will you… will I… will we, accept the call to turn our broken hearts into art (of whatever kind) that changes the world?

Like Meryl last night, perhaps YOU have come to the kingdom for such a time as this.

Originally posted at: Vocabulary of Expression

Television producer Shonda Rhimes (Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, How To Get Away with Murder) presented a TED talk about a week ago that showed up in my morning email yesterday. Like most TED Talks it’s very much worth the 18 minutes it will take to view. And it just might give you something to think about.

Stop reading for the moment, and take a look… Go ahead… Do it right now.

If you’re like me you were expecting a different story than the one she focuses on telling here. The Big Hollywood “Titan” playing with her kids is not the story you imagine coming from the woman who created Olivia Pope, yet it is a story that we all need to hear. Her conclusions not only explain her own process, and the rejuvenation of her passion for her art and work, but it draws a path for all of us who struggle daily with the creative drive, seeking ways to stay fresh in our work, while at the same time struggling with the daily realities of “putting it together” as Stephen Sondheim so aptly described it.

Rhimes’ discovery of “The Hum” she had lost in her connection to her children and to love is the path that sooner or later we all must find if we are to truly grow as artists and as human beings.

What about those of us who aren’t “Titans?” What about those of us who are still struggling to find our inner strength and creative drive and perhaps have yet to experience The Hum that Rhimes describes as her life force. What about those of us whose day is so filled with just getting by that the idea of 15 minutes to play with our child, or read a book, or watch an episode of Scandal, is as far removed from our reality as the idea that we could be a writer like Emerson, or Beckett, or Harper… or Rhimes?

What about those of us for whom The Hum is simply drowned out by the ROAR of struggle, demands, hardship and loss? Hearing The Hum in the middle of The Storm becomes not simply a challenge, but an absolute impossibility. What then?

Don’t misunderstand me here. I am not challenging the efficacy of Shonda’s ultimate YES. My reaction to the talk was one of absolute delight and I sat watching, silently saying Amen, and setting off on a trail of imagined people and places to say Yes to on the way to discovering a greater depth of The Hum from inside The Love.

Yet I am still left with a loss on the question about the times when I can’t even grab at the straws of love, and the people for whom those straws simply set sail on the wind.

In the midst of all the noise, when resources are depleted (or where resources can’t even be found), is there a way to find the quiet center that might lead to the place of calm that lets you find The Hum again? How and where do you find it in your child, or your friends, or your work… or yourself?

Where do you go to find The Hum?

When can you find the time?

When life seems to only be saying No… How can we help you find the YES?

Originally posted at Vocabulary of Expression

So last week I asked the literary (and cinematic) question, “What then must we do?”

Over the weekend, I got the answer, or, at least an answer. Two answers really.

The first came in the form of a NY Times story about an employer in Seattle who decided to make a big change in his employees standard of living by funding a substantial company pay increase by dumping his own million plus salary. 

What I find most interesting about this story is not so much the action of the CEO, but the reaction by some of his employees, customers, and other Seattle business people. This well meaning entrepreneurs’s actions have elicited reactions that range from mild astonishment (and support) to anger, and in the case of the entrepreneur’s brother and business partner, a lawsuit.

Taking action – personal action – to ease the burden of others, or even just to make their day a little brighter, seems to make a lot of people angry. The guy even drew the self-aggrandizing ire of professional radio asshole Rush Limbaugh, who called him a Socialist (which is not only clearly untrue, but a perfect illustration of how little The Bum Rush understands about either history or economics).

The very basic lesson of this story is that people can do amazing things if they simply decide to do them. The second lesson is clearly a perfect illustration of the old adage that “no good deed goes unpunished.” What’s most significant to me is the fact that this Seattle CEO did what he felt was right for no other reason that it felt right and after the inevitable blow back, he chose to stick to his position and weather the storm. 

What he did took imagination, courage and chutzpah. Ironically, these are the same characteristics he demonstrated in creating his business in the first place.

The second answer came this morning in a story from the SF Chronicle. It’s actually a follow up to one of the stories I wrote about last week. The story of how one mother reached out to another mother and, in so doing, bridged the gap of pain and alienation and eased the suffering of both. It is a story of how the mother of a little girl who was mudered, reached out and embraced the pain of the mother of the boy who murdered her daughter. It’s a story of loss and grief and pain and compassion and it’s another example of how the world can be if we can somehow get in touch with the fact that we share this journey and we share each other’s pain.

So… there you have it, a look at possibilities in the midst of struggle, and compassion in the midst of pain.

Just two examples of what can be done if we choose to do something. Two examples of the crack that lets the light in.

Where do you see the daylight?

In my favorite scene from one of my favorite movies, the 1982 film The Year of Living Dangerously, Billy Kwan (played by Linda Hunt, who won and Academy Award for the role)  pounds on the keys of his typewriter, asking the question,  “What then must we do?” 

This deeply disturbing question returned to me this week when a friend posted a Facebook comment on the arrest and death of Sandra Bland thereby eliciting a firestorm of comments that ultimately ended with the shrug of collective virtual shoulders and a nearly audible electronic sigh of, “well, there’s really nothing that can be done.”

This is then accompanied by the news this morning of a particularly disturbing trend in evictions in San Francisco, the murder charge against a university police officer (in the town where I was born) for shooting a man in the head over a missing front license plate. All before coffee, and my morning pause to feed Mimo the cat the little morsel of canned food that I just found out is fished in the seas of SE Asia by slaves who are chained, starved, beaten and killed in a nightmare scenario of maritime  kidnapping, extortion and piracy that rivals anything from the days of Captain Blood… All for profits to Nestle and a satisfied meow from Mimo the cat.

What then must we do?

And then… There’s this… 

What then must we do?

A dear friend of mine is fond of saying, “you can be the pebble in the pond,” and she is both good at being that herself and at doing a wonderful job of telling the stories of others who do it too.

My daughter is amazing at caring and doing for people within her “circle of influence” as well as advocating for those outside that circle.

My friend Erica does this.

What about you? What then must you do?

Down in the shadow of the penitentiary
Out by the gas fires of the refinery
I’m ten years burnin’ down the road
Nowhere to run, ain’t got nowhere to go.
~Bruce Springsteen

Ten years ago this morning I wrote my first blog post. It was intended as the beginning of a long tale of adventure into topsy turvy as I prepared to head out from my long time home of Northern California into a new life in New Orleans.

Exactly one month later, my life was turned upside down again when Hurricane Katrina made landfall and I was on the road once more.

And I was one of the lucky ones.

Despite having moved to New Orleans without a car (one of the reasons I picked NOLA was because of a reasonably reliable public transportation system, at least at the time), I had access to a van, and a dog that needed me to evacuate her to safety. That got me far enough away from the chaos. Otherwise I would have been stranded in the heart of what turned into one of the worst disasters in American history. I had a place to stay the night of the storm, I had a place to go to when I couldn’t return, and I had friends who could help when two weeks later I returned to California with my proverbial tail between my legs.

That was ten years ago… and so now… here we are.

Over those ten years I’ve started and ended several blogs, on a widely ranging series of topics, from current life experiences, politics, religious perspectives, food and wine, blues music, and a fortunately short-lived series of rants on anything that happened to come to mind. If you’re bored, or curious, you can dig through them at your leisure. You might even find some things you like.

So much has happened in that time that I want to just sit down and write a long list of everything that has fallen into my lap and flown over my head during the last ten years, but I’ll spare you that, at least for now. Instead, I will try to find the words to explain what I hope to start again here, and why I hope you’ll stick around and join the conversation.

Some of that answer can be found at the original version of this blog. There you’ll find a sort of random exploration of my thoughts on events in the world in combination with the uncertain beatings of my hopeful heart.

In the coming days, weeks, months, and years I am going to seek to give life to ideas I have had roaming around inside my brain for a very long time as well as sudden bursts of things that have only just come to mind. I will take the time to look at events (both significant and mundane) and try to place them in the context of other things and other thoughts from myself and from people who are much bigger thinkers than I am. I plan to point to other people and other places that I find interesting in the hope that you may derive benefit from their perspectives as well, and I plan to express my thoughts and feelings on the things that cross my path as I head into (and through) my seventh decade on the planet.

And I’m hoping we can turn this into a real conversation where people feel free to talk back, give opinions, and point to their own truths along the way.

So… leave a comment, ask a question, point to something you find interesting.

Let’s get this party started!