From The Editor

This is my 27th issue. This means that I’ve got a full year’s rotation of 26 issues behind me as the Managing Editor of Lavender.  Do you know how long I’ve been waiting to be able to say that?  Just how I’ve yearned to have at least one year behind me so that not everything is brand-stinking-new?  Oh, it’s a good feeling.

I’m not one who wants time to pass too quickly, but knowing that a full year of issues had to happen before I would fully know my ear from my elbow with regard to the editorial calendar, I was antsy.  And, now that it has passed, I can reflect on a year of great successes and challenges.  Many of the successes are fairly easy to identify:
1.) The 26 issues exist in their entirety, and nobody perished during the production of them. Sure, there were late nights and a steep learning curve, but producing a magazine is something that is learnable.

2.) Between 26 issues lies a revamped and reinvigorated website that has more content for you, accessible all the time and to a greater extent than anything we can do in print.  It’s growing, it will become even more robust, and I can’t wait to see what will happen this next year at www.LavenderMagazine.com.  The stats show us that more of you are coming to the website and you’re staying longer, which means that we’re doing something right.

3.) The iPad and iPhone apps are booming.  People are seeing that they can get the latest issue of Lavender delivered right to their devices and that we actually add more content to it, including clickable web links and embedded videos.  And, that same Online Magazine with its links and videos is viewable at any computer and on any smartphone.  You can get Lavender wherever you can get internet connection.

4.) Our online interactions are growing.  Facebook and Twitter followers increased by 44% this last year.  Excellent.  We’re getting messages to you in a more timely and relevant manner, trying to match the message with the medium.  That means more content in different ways to more people.

5.) We see more of you.  You’re appearing at events and commenting on Facebook posts.  You’re sharing our links, retweeting our tweets, and showing up in our online photo galleries.  You’re sending in critiques and you’re passing along props.  This means we’re becoming the interactive community that we’ve wanted—and needed—to be.  You’re hopefully feeling our credibility increase as we’ve embraced transparency and discussion. We’re nothing without our community and your feedback is crucial.

6.) The ads tell a story, too.  When you look at our publication, know that it is possible because of the advertising.  The growth in diversity of advertisers both online and in print this year means that more businesses are seeing worth in this audience, whether it be as a financial power or as market influencers or any other reason.  And, more people are seeing our publication as a vehicle for reaching this audience.  Look to them as resources that believe in you and this community.

 

The challenges are fairly easy to identify, too, but I’ve had a revolving list of those going since Day 1. The most basic challenge is to provide an attractive and relevant lifestyle publication for the GLBT community (and its allies) of the Twin Cities, Minnesota, the region, and the whole World Wide Web.  No big thing.

So, looking at the next 26 issues, I challenge us all to continue to grow as an interactive community.  Seek out conversations.  Defeat harmful political campaigns.  Remember that there is a whole online world of content at your fingertips that doesn’t rely on a press and that allows you more of a voice.

And, when you get down and out, look at the kitty on this cover and sit in a moment of “Awww.”  It’ll do you good.

With thanks,
Andy

Friend Request Sent: General Mills

I was able to attend the 2012 General Mills Pride Reception with a great many GLBTA members.  Can we call that historic?  I attended the Historic 2012 General Mills Pride Reception?  Let’s go with it.  What happened at that event was important.  The attendees filed into the auditorium, listened to the welcoming remarks, watched a performance by the Project 515 Players, and then heard the CEO of a Fortune 500 family institution oppose the anti-marriage amendment.  I don’t know about the rest of the folks there, but it kind of happened in slow-motion.  You know when you’re watching a show and you can tell that something’s going to happen as it’s happening? It was like that. Ken Powell was speaking and suddenly it was said: General Mills opposes this proposed amendment that would define marriage as being between a man and a woman.

We applauded.  It hit us.  We applauded harder.  It hit us harder.  We stood–together–as a wave of professional people who were just validated as mattering and gave him a standing ovation.  It lasted.  So did the goosebumps.  Phones came out–we tweeted, we posted to Facebook, we shared the news.  We shared that moment.

What is interesting to me is what came out of that event and the morning after.  I’m guessing that the press release from the event focused on the business nature of the announcement; that General Mills supports a diverse, inclusive culture for a better workforce.  That it’s good for business.

I heard more than that, as the only member of the press who was present.  I heard Mr. Powell say that it’s about business, yes, but that General Mills is in the business of nourishing lives; not just some of them, all of them.

That’s different.

That’s worth lauding more than a wise business decision.  Yes, it’s important that this community be seen as a credible force in the market–GLBT community members are valuable workers and buyers.  But, more than that, GLBT community members are valuable people.  GLBT community members’ lives are worth a Fortune 500 company standing up against discrimination.  This Fortune 500 company has fed us.  It’s made many other decisions in its history to make lives better, from going multi-grain to removing high fructose corn syrup from its yogurt.  For heaven’s sake, couldn’t “Americana” be just as easily be defined “Mom and Cheerios” as “Mom and apple pie?”

Cheerios believes in this community.

I know that we all joke about corporations and how they’re not people.  Sometimes, it seems like they are.  No, I can’t be “friends” with General Mills on Facebook.  I won’t invite General Mills to my birthday party. General Mills and I might share some recipes, but we won’t meet up for Happy Hour because General Mills is not a person.  But, General Mills is something we’re all in a relationship with…and it just got less complicated.  For us.  The brunt of the backlash that General Mills will face by proponents of the anti-marriage amendment is complicated and can’t be underestimated, which makes me want to be friends with it even more.

No, it’s not the first corporation to oppose the anti-marriage amendment and it won’t be the last.  We can be grateful for each and every one that stands up and says out loud that this community deserves to not be discriminated against.

What I can’t wait for is when corporations and politicians stand up and say that the Defense of Marriage Act should be repealed and same-sex marriage should be legalized.

That’s different.

When it is voiced that this group should not be discriminated against by an amendment, that’s one thing.  When it is voiced that this group should be allowed the same rights and freedoms as heterosexual citizens…that is historic.

Each and every time.

With thanks,

Andy

Politics: An Interview with Governor Mark Dayton

Gov. Mark Dayton. Photo by Sophia Hantzes

Q&A with Governor Mark Dayton:

1.)   You were quite the crowd-pleaser at the Pride Parade in 2011 as the first governor of Minnesota to participate.  What were your thoughts last year and can we expect to see you again at the end of this month?

Everyone at the Pride Parade is so welcoming and encouraging that it is one of my favorite parades in Minnesota!  I have walked in Pride Parades since 1981, and I am looking forward to participating again this year.

2.)   We’ve got Marriage Equality on the ballot this year.  Can you give your impressions as to how we got to this point, what your position is, and what you predict might happen in November?

I predict that this November, Minnesota will become the first state to defeat this divisive and destructive anti-marriage amendment.  I believe Minnesotans are better than this, and they will rise above the mean-spirited politics, which put the amendment on the ballot.  It would deny certain Minnesotans the right others have to marry the persons they love.  That unequal treatment should be unconstitutional, and it is certainly unMinnesotan.

3.)   We certainly didn’t think we had a fight to keep discrimination out of the Constitution when we elected this last- set of politicians.  Do you have any words of advice to give our readers as we approach the next election day?

Elections have enormous consequences.  Look at the 55 bills I have vetoed during the past two years; you will see what would have happened to Minnesota, if I had not been fortunate to be elected Governor.  However, many of my initiatives were stymied by a Republican-controlled legislature.  This November will be a pivotal election in Minnesota, in which voters will decide upon our state’s direction for years to come.  And we must defeat two very bad Constitutional amendments.  Ask your readers to please get involved and please vote!

4.)   Considering the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is on the books, do you think we’ll see nationwide Marriage Equality in the near future?

I believe that all couples should have the same right to marry.   Equal rights and protections under the law are essential Constitutional guarantees.  I am encouraged that the First Circuit Court of Appeals has struck down part of DOMA, and I hope that the US Supreme Court will uphold this decision.  I believe that the campaign for Marriage Equality has made remarkable progress in our country during the past decade.  Not enough progress, but nevertheless remarkable.  Polls show that the next generations of Americans strongly support this essential Equal Right.  We’ll get there; the only question is when.

From the Editor: The Pride Issue

It’s early in the morning the day our Pride Issue finishes going to press.  I can remember writing a similar “From the Editor” letter when I first started this job, over 24 issues ago.  The relentless two-week print schedule coupled with the round-the-clock website schedule often means I’m finding time to write when the hours are wee.  Doing the math with 24 issues in mind, I joined the Lavender crew the weekend of Pride last year.  Not beforehand, not after, but during the Main Event.  Now, this morning, I’m laughing my fool head off that we ran Solera out of Ketel One at our First Thursday event which doubled as the Pride Kick-Off Party last night.  What a wild ride, Pride.

My first task at this new job was self-appointed. I photographed (double-fisting my iPhone and my SONY camera) the entire Pride Parade, live-tweeting it as it passed us by on Hennepin outside of Lavender’s brunch.  As all of the floats and cars and marchers and walkers went by, I marveled.  The colors, the anime, the excitement…well, the pride…was exciting. It was both a blur and in stop-motion with each photo I snapped.  I’ve thought of those photos often in this past year as I’ve met new people and been introduced to organizations in the community.  Working on the Local Music Issue last year, I could recall seeing and hearing both the Women’s Drum Center and the Minnesota Freedom Band in the parade last year.  I could visually recall their photos.  Attending OutFront’s 25th Anniversary, I could mentally pull up photos of their brightly colored superheroes zooming along Hennepin in the parade.  It’s as if my life flashed before my eyes during the Pride Parade of 2011 but I didn’t realize that until just now.

As the editor, my email inbox runneth over.  Recently, an email message came in via the “info@lavendermagazine.com” address that was short, but to the point. The writer expressed disappointment that we never covered the Pride Committee who works so hard to put on these events for us.

I’ve become accustomed in this last year to what I think of as neglect critique (statements like “I don’t know how that wasn’t in Lavender,” or “Lavender never covers this or that group,” or “Lavender doesn’t cover anything that applies to me”).  Every criticism has merit.  Every person who critiques us has a valid point of view.  Every critique gets investigated by me. Some don’t quite shake out exactly as stated, some do.

This one? I usually replace any “nevers” with a big grain of salt.  But, thinking about the last year, no. Starting at Pride and now coming full circle, I have not given a proper shout-out to the group that throws our biggest party of the year.  I certainly can’t recall their float or appearance in the Pride Parade like I can with most of the other organizations because THEY COORDINATED THE PARADE.  They’re the ones who are volunteering their time and talents to celebrate this community, and they do a smash-bang job.  They do great work and I can’t wait to enjoy the hell out of it again this year.  This list doesn’t include countless folks who aren’t mentioned on the TCPride.org website, but I’d like to give a big hand and cheer of encouragement to the Pride Staff (paid and volunteer): Dot Belstler, Andi Otto, April Maye, Dana Karpinske, Darcie Baumann-Fern, David Judd, Dillon Gherna, Eric Zimmerman, Eric Zucker, Jo-Ellyn Pilarski, John Bigger, Karen Broman, Matt Shaw, Michael Olson, Nicholas Wicklund, Rochelle James, Ron Lischeid, Roxanne Anderson, Steve Haussy, Tasha Villette, and Zach Kingen, as well as the Board of Directors: Scott Feldman, Brian Harper, Jason Ledeboer, Lisa Anderson-Gaber, LaToya Scott, Rob Anderson, and Daniel Zillmann.

Even last night at Solera, I had a lovely exchange with a Pride volunteer and ended up leaving the event with a temporary tattoo of the Pride logo between my shoulder blades.  Now that’s dedication.

So, as I said last night to many, many people, I’ll see you soon.  We’ve got a great many opportunities to encounter each other during the multitude of events this June and I couldn’t be more excited.  Please look for me during the Parade and smile when I take your picture to tweet to the masses.

With thanks,

Andy

Housekeeping:

In terms of content, don’t forget that we’ve got loads of space online where I put what can’t fit into the magazine. You want more pictures of you?  We now put all the photos from each event in the Photo Gallery section of our website–more than has ever fit on our pages. For each magazine we print, we also use the same layout to publish the Online Magazine as well as the iPad and iPhone app…but we add more pages to the Online Magazine.  In this issue alone, we’ve added more fashion pages, more articles (read about Marriage Equality from the stance of the MN ACLU), more photos of Corey and Jason’s Lavender Love, more gratuitous pictures of Channing Tatum and the guys from Magic Mike,  and videos (including just HOW Ross Sveback stacks and frost and sprinkles that six-layer rainbow cake).  You can hear Justin Jones read his “Through These Eyes” column with his soft North Carolina drawl.  And, in particular, this issue’s Pride Planner will come in handy (what a pun) when you pull it up on your smartphone to check what’s going on where during Pride.  We do this for you, our audience.

Finally, a shout-out to John, who asked my permission to use the restroom last night at Solera:  A clear nod to my last “From the Editor” in which I mentioned that I used to do the same at my first job,  such a subtle joke has never gotten me to laugh as long as that one.  Please, John, be my guest.

 

Living with Pride: Pets with Disabilities

Photo by Kris Getzie of Dog is Art Photography

Every day that I don’t wreck my dog is a gift. When I think of how much responsibility is in my hands, it’s overwhelming.  Grendel, my dog, is my dependent and his care is solely up to me.  It’s a wonder both of us continue to thrive as we do.

At least six times a day, we face certain peril in the concrete and steel stairwells that we’re required to use in my loft building.  No dogs are allowed in the elevator. Three times down and three times up is our minimum.  If we meet a dog we don’t like (Grendel hates black dogs and pugs…I don’t know why), it’s a cage-match.  If he plummets down the stairs too quickly, I fear for his toes or his legs or his belly and how they might get caught or scraped on the unforgiving steps, being he’s a low-riding dog.  I try to mitigate the risks.  I make sure to take us through as many doors with windows as possible, so nobody unknowingly opens a fire door into his wee face.  I strive to make sure that there are no other dogs in the stairwell when I take him up or down so that no tempers flare wildly out of control. And, I try to slow down the little juggernaut as he excitedly makes his way out to sunshine and freedom as our building exits onto a very busy St. Paul thoroughfare.

He loves being outside.  The outdoors is a cornucopia of things for him to sniff.  The world is his oyster, and he wants to mark it as his territory.  Slowly.  He goes in hyperspeed to get outside and then everything slows to a sputtering stop.

Contrary to Grendel’s enthusiasm, I get outside and see all the branches that can poke his ice-blue eyes out.  I fear the guy who always drives too fast while talking on his phone in the parking lot.  I stiffen up as I see the dog owners who break the rules and let their dogs off-leash, worried that they’ll approach us and all hell will break loose.

You know that book the Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook?  I’m all over that, except without the Survival Handbook part.  I pretty much just see the worst-case scenarios.  Why?  Because he’s my guy.  I don’t want harm to come to him.  Injury and illness might be inevitable to some extent, but I want to do all in my power to avoid them, for Grendel’s sake.  I can’t watch the end of Marley & Me, let alone imagine a time without this guy.  To think of him in pain is simply unacceptable.

Though, it’s entirely possible.

Photo by Kris Getzie of Dog is Art Photography

As I started researching the topic of pets with disabilities for this issue, I had catastrophes in mind.  A dog that loses a leg because of a car accident, a cat that was attacked by a dog, a pug that has a bad eye.  Surely, the gauntlet we run every day and emerge from unscathed has claimed many victims…just not us.

I asked some of the veterinarians around the Metro Area what some of the common disabilities are for pets; one response was that of surprise: We don’t see many pets with disabilities as, often, they’re put down. That was a chilling—but somewhat understandable—reaction.  When our pets’ health is at risk, we feel helpless and don’t know our own capacity for handling the challenges of aging or ailing animals.

As the answers started coming in from veterinarians, it became clear that more common disabilities are not from running the gauntlet of worst-case scenarios, but from just plain aging.  Arthritis is common as can be intervertebral disk disease and other musculoskeletal problems.  There are meds and supplements to be taken per the veterinarian’s orders, but there are also other holistic and adaptive techniques to handle health problems.

As far as advice is concerned, the vets were very helpful:

 

“Appropriate diagnostic tests to fully understand the cause and extent of the disability is important. Once we have a clear understanding of what is going on with the pet, we can offer the best advice for management.  Pain control is key.  We have so many great medications available for pets now, that pets don’t have to suffer.  We also offer acupuncture and rehabilitation therapy for pets.”  –Dr. Teresa Hershey, CCRT, CVMA

 

“Having a geriatric or otherwise-challenged companion animal adjusted by a properly qualified animal chiropractor can do wonders for them.  Most often, owners report they see a little spark return to their friend’s eye and a restoration of some level of function after the initial visit.  Supporting greater comfort with chiropractic care may assist healing, decrease anxiety and help the animal deal with whatever physical challenges they may be facing.”  –Annie Seefeldt, DC, CVSMT

 

“When a pet becomes disabled, it is important to educate the pet’s guardian as to what to expect and how to best manage discomfort and life quality. There are also support groups online, including petswithdisabilities.orgblinddogs.com, and deafdogs.org.”  –Heather Douglas, DVM, MBA, CVA

 

“The main goal is to keep your pet comfortable and content.  This usually involves medical treatment as well as practical, common-sense changes that can make things easier for your pet.  One of the most important things owners can do to help with arthritis is to keep their pet at a healthy weight.  Extra weight puts unnecessary strain on already painful joints. Exercise is beneficial to pets with arthritis.  It helps to keep the joints mobile, and also helps to keep the weight in check. Some other hints for around the house:  Ramps or stairs can be used to curtail jumping, but still allow pets to access beds, couches and vehicles.  Dishes should be elevated to reduce neck strain.  Harnesses can also help reduce neck strain during walks. Non-slip runners are helpful on hardwood or tile floors.  Cats will appreciate litter boxes placed in areas that are easy to access, not in the far corner of the basement.”  –Dan Anderson, DVM

 

“Trauma is always a concern. Trauma can lead to injuries that may result in limb amputation or paralysis of the legs. There are ways to get pets back up and walking again if they become paralyzed. HandicappedPets.com is one company that specializes in wheels for dogs. One good thing about dogs and cats is that they can get around pretty well on just 3 legs.  Other disabilities that pets may develop are things such as blindness or deafness. Most pets can get along pretty well after becoming blind or deaf. Some of them actually develop pretty close relationships with other dogs or cats to help notify them or help them get around.  I also like to remind people that as pets age it is a good idea to get them a little more padding in their bedding. Their muscles atrophy as they age and provide less ‘padding’ on their joints.” — Dr. Mary Philippson, B.S., DVM

 

I joke with Grendel, sometimes, that he’s only 42 to my 35…we should both be a little more chipper and active.  But, I’m not that far off.  Even when he’s 77 to my 40, it’s my job to keep him as comfortable and active as he’ll allow.  The weight needs to be managed as much as catastrophes need to be avoided.  As short as he is, I can imagine a loft full of ramps and steps as he ages.  Hopefully, that’ll be the extent of any adaptation that will be required.

Now, as we turn in for a good night’s sleep, I hope I won’t roll over and smother him in the night, just like why new parents aren’t supposed to co-sleep with their babies.  Then again, he’s 48 pounds and carries it all in his torso, keeping his short legs curled in front of him like a beetle.  I’d have to roll over really hard to accomplish anything damaging…but I won’t rule it out.  Vigilance is key.

 

For products recommended by these veterinary professionals, see the Pet Product Guide.


From the Editor: Fountain of Youth

I’m sitting at my desk in the corner of Lavender’s office building, thinking of my first job out of college.  I worked for Twin Cities Public Television’s now-defunct corporate subsidiary, Point2Point Communication Solutions, in Lowertown St. Paul.  Our office was on the top floor of the building that now houses The Bulldog Lowertown; it’s exponentially cooler now than then.  Back at the turn of Y2K, it only housed a dingy convenience store and an Insty Prints.  Overlooking Mears Park and connected to our parent company by skyways, it was a fantastic setting for working; there was plenty to look at, it had access to other business people and lunch destinations, and there was a little hubbub, but not too much.

After the first time I lost my car in the parking ramp at TPT, I vowed to always park in the same place forever and ever, amen.  After the boss took me to lunch in the skyway system and then made me find my own way back, I decided to pack my pockets with bread crumbs for any future forays.  After a member of the board tossed his keys across my desk telling me to park his car as they slid to a stop, I learned that I was the lowest on the totem pole and some people will always slide their keys to whomever is paid to catch them.

I lived in a combination of earnestness, fear, humility, and righteousness.  Being a fresh graduate of Macalester College, I truly believed that I could change the world.  It was mine to dissect and deconstruct as a Social Scientist—my degree said so.  Though I started my first job asking to use the restroom every time I had to go, I had this odd flipside of confidence that made me feel like I was made of steel.  I sat at the front desk, answered the phones, and was the administrative assistant to a handful of creative, hilarious, personable people.  It was a job that I didn’t know was as fantastic as it was…until after I went to the next ones that weren’t so fantastic.  At age 22, I sorted the mail and answered the phones.  I did the bank deposits.  I took graphic design courses.  I had three weeks vacation from the get-go…and sick days were on the Honor System.  I loved it.  I had important work to do, a great place to do it, and I was paid money.  Yes, money.

As far as work and employment were concerned, I was particularly engrossed in the topic of Bentham’s Panopticon as a spatial model for my work space.  As the administrative assistant and receptionist, I was plunked smack dab in the middle of an open office area, surrounded by private offices.  I was the center of a wheel; invisible spokes radiated out from me and separated the offices of the company’s leaders.  If you Google Bentham’s Panopticon, you’ll find neat images illustrating a prison system that was similar to an Honor System.  Envision a wheel—in the center are the prison guards, radiating out from the center are prison cells; the walls between them are the spokes of the wheel.  Beyond the cells are windows letting in light and effectively backlighting the inhabitants of each cell for the prison guards to be able to monitor them at whatever time they wanted to.  Here’s where the Honor System similarity comes in; because of the lighting and positioning of the guards and the prisoners, the prisoners couldn’t see the guards and never knew when they were being monitored.  So, they never knew when to behave and, arguably, had to behave all the time in order to be in compliance with their incarceration.

What’s my point?  When I was 22 years old and working in the center of an office as the lowest on the totem pole, I was convinced that I was in a Reverse Panopticon.  It was a reverse model because I was the prisoner in the middle.  The people with power were all around me and able to monitor me at any time.  Not only did they have legitimate power over me, being my superiors, but they also had visual control over me as I never knew when they were watching or listening.  My Nonverbal Communications course reminded me how my desk, being accessible and visible from 360 degrees, left me without privacy. They could overhear my conversations and see what I was working on, so I’d best behave.

I usually did behave.  In fact, I was probably the best behaved then…when I was fresh and new and pliable. I realize that I’m comparing it to a prison system, but I think it’s because I was finding my way from a rigid school structure and into the freedom of adulthood. I was testing what I thought was freedom against what I thought was constraint when, really, there is good behavior in freedom, too.  Freedom does not just mean getting to do whatever we want to the point of misbehaving.  Perhaps, unfortunately, we’ve redefined what it means to misbehave, too.  There just aren’t tremendous consequences for getting things wrong, not listening, not handing in assignments on time, or treating others discourteously…at least not like there were back in school.  Perhaps we do need more of a Panopticon, reverse or not.

These past few months, I’ve had the pleasure of working with students volunteering from the University of Minnesota and Augsburg College.  What I’ve noticed about them is that they do what they are asked.  They are well-behaved.  They don’t necessarily ask when to use the bathroom, but I’d rather they didn’t…so that works out well.  They show up.  They call when they’re late.  They are smart and inquisitive and on the top of their games.  They still know good grammar and punctuation, not quite having slipped into what some of us might refer to as “business colloquialisms.”

Now that I’m no longer the lowest on the totem pole in the middle of an office (my position of power is located in the rear windowless corner of a former Kingdom Hall for Jehovah’s Witnesses), I can say that I really like working with these future and current additions to the work force.  It’s a shame that so many of the new graduates are not finding work—are you kidding me?  What they lack in experience, they have in work ethic.  They’re prepared to get the jobs done.  But, what they don’t know is that they’re not in a Panopticon.  I’m not watching their every move—because I know they’re behaving.  I trust that if I mentor them well enough, they might not backslide into lax adulthood like the rest of us have.

At least when no one’s looking.

With thanks,

Andy

Sexy Liberals Hit the City: The Sexy Liberal Comedy Tour

Stephanie Miller’s Sexy Liberal Comedy Tour is coming to the State Theatre today, May 12, much to Minnesota’s delight.  We’ve had a roller-coaster week with the Veep endorsing same-sex marriage, North Carolina’s Amendment One banning same-sex marriage, and the POTUS endorsing same-sex marriage, while hearing of more bullying and girding our loins for more campaigning against our own anti-Marriage Equality Amendment.  God, grant us some levity.

An answer to this prayer?  The Sexy Liberal Comedy Tour.

Do you need a safe space where you can gather with people who will laugh in the face of preposterous political stories and opinions?  Do you want to crack a smile and guffaw while throwing political-correctness out the window for simple, brazen opinion?  Even better, do you want to sit self-righteously in the knowledge that what you’re hearing is morally defensible, historically accurate, and intelligently constructed?  Yes?  We hear a bit too much about “reparative therapy” here in our fine state, so make sure you come out for some group therapy tomorrow night brought to you by laughter, the best medicine.  Homophobes will be called homophobes.  You’ll come out of this comedy show better able to argue in a political or religious debate than when you went in.*  Do yourself and your cause a favor and come hang out with the Sexy Liberals.

I had the opportunity to talk to John Fugelsang, one of the sexy outspoken members of the tour, yesterday morning.  John is known not only for his acting and comedy, but also his sharp commentaries regarding religion and politics.  Lavender will run a longer feature about John, his parents (a former nun and former Franciscan brother), and his thoughts on all-things-sociopolitical at a later date, but here are some serious snippets to woo you into joining the Sexy Liberals for some of your own reparative therapy…the kind that will hopefully undo some of the stress caused by the fight at the fore.  Imagine comedy…fueled by these philosophies.

Andy: The Sexy Liberal Comedy Tour has been touring the country for a year–how has it been received?

John: The audiences have been wonderful.  I really wanted to do this tour because I really believed there was an audience for it.  A progressive political comedy tour.  There are so many people in America who identify as progressive or liberal or Democrat or SANE or ANTI-EVIL and these folks are afraid to put an OBAMA bumper sticker on their cars when they go to their jobs or their church.  And Obama’s not even all that liberal in the big picture. We really wanted to bring this as a way of telling people ‘You’re not alone’ and in the most entertaining way possible.  What I really love about Stephanie is that I think she’s  a real radio innovator.  She’s the first person to take that zany, wacky morning zoo format and do something smart, moral, and political with it. We wanted to try to get that on the stage.  We wanted it to be the smartest, the funniest–the most morally defensible comedy show you’ll ever see.  There are lots of dirty jokes but they’re for a pristine cause.

Andy: I saw on The Sexy Liberal Comedy Tour’s Facebook page that you’re going to be bringing a big GAY Super-Sexy Liberal Party to us Saturday night.

John: Oh, yeah?  I didn’t see that, but it is certainly in the news this week and very relevant.  I was going to be talking about a bunch of other political issues but suddenly gay marriage is back on the front burner and I’m really excited about it.  There are few things I like talking about more than homophobia in a Christian context.  With my background especially, I get pretty angry when people try to use Christianity as a cover for bigotry.  I don’t know if you know about my parents, but the backbone of what I do is take what the Bible says versus what Jesus’s unauthorized fan clubs claim to believe.

Andy: North Carolina made the news this week with Amendment One.  Minnesota has its own anti-marriage amendment on the ballot this fall and we’re very serious about it.  Will the Sexy Liberal Comedy Tour hit the issue from a more fun perspective?  Be a little group therapy by way of humor?

John Fugelsang: Yes. From a fun perspective, but also from a moral and intellectual and Biblically correct perspective. Billy Wilder said that if you’re going to tell people the truth, make it funny or they’ll kill you…and that has been my guiding principle behind doing any kind of political stand-up and with the Stephanie Miller Show.  The good news for people who aren’t homophobes or haters is that when it comes to the issue of marriage equality, the Constitution, morality, Jesus, and intelligence, history are on our side.

Andy: About opening our minds, the topic of nature v. nurture has been coming up lately.  Do you have anything to say on the topic? 

John: I sure do, yeah. First off, in the big picture, nature v. nurture doesn’t matter if you’re serious about words like liberty and freedom for our society.  Whether you’re born that way or not born that way, if you believe in liberty and freedom, it’s irrelevant.  You can’t claim to care about liberty and freedom and then deny happiness and equality to taxpaying gay American citizens.  Now, my mom is a 78-year old former nun.  She said to me the other night after the announcement, “Who would choose to be gay in this culture? Who would sign up for a life of being scorned by their peers and […] being despised by your own culture?  Who would sign up for that?”  And that was what a 78-year old ex-nun who was born in the segregated south said to me the other night.  I couldn’t phrase it any better than that.  We’ve all known gay children.  We all have.  And, you know, I don’t believe that “gay” and “straight” are fixed identities. I believe in the Kinsey Scale and that you can be more one than the other. Quite frankly, I’ve known gay men who occasionally have been with women and I’ve known lesbians who enjoy the occasional hook-up with a man and GOD BLESS THEM. Lesbians who enjoy the occasional romp with a man have helped me go on living.  I believe in sexual fluidity.  I don’t get hung-up on this black-and-white mentality.  I believe in self-identification and that people get to decide what they are.  We have the freedom, this is what liberty is about.

Andy:  Where do you think this whole GLBT rights movement is going?

John:  When I was a teenager, I moved to Greenwich Village.  I still live there.  It was in the ’80s right when ACT UP was beginning to flourish.  I live right across from Stonewall in Sheridan Square.  To this day, I am astonished by how much progress we have seen in 25 years.  No other minority group has achieved so much equality in such a short period of time as the LGBT population. It makes me believe in America, it makes me believe in the human race.  The great irony of all of this is that it might never have happened were it not for a plague. AIDS and the devastating indifference to AIDS by the Reagan and Bush Administrations made the LGBT people mobilize and get together and get active in a way they probably never would have without it.

You know, irony is the one religion that will never let you down.  I think that we can look at this and say that beauty can come from the most horrible of tragedies and I think that the progress that LGBT citizens have made in the past 25 years is a direct credit to the human spirit.  That a devastating plague and societal indifference to it led to the greatest, most rapid advancement of civil rights for any minority group in human history. And I give credit to all the heterosexual folks who helped it all happen, too.

Andy: Speaking of administrations, what do you think of our right-wing Minnesotans?  Any words of support you can offer us?

John: It is the cruelest bitter irony ever that the state that gave us Bob Dylan also gave us Michele Bachmann, isn’t it? You know, look.  You can’t stop progress.  The status quo is always more organized–that’s why they’re the status quo, because evolution takes a long time and social progress takes a long time.  Michele Bachmann and Tim Pawlenty will live long enough to be ashamed of where they stood on marriage equality in the eyes of their own grandchildren.

Andy: Do you think it’ll just happen one day that we’ll wake up and everything will have changed for the better?

John:  No, it’s gradual. Our grandchildren will be shocked that gays were despised in our culture just as I’m shocked when my mother tells me about the segregated South that she grew up in. It’s a sign that we’re improving as a species. It’s generational.

Andy:  I was reading the other day about how tired we are of culture wars–how they’ve just got to stop.  We’re tired.  We’re done with them.

John: It’s never going to happen. It’s human nature to be fearful.  All this liberal/conservative crap, it’s really just a struggle between love and fear.  Are we going to to open our hearts and open our minds and grow and evolve or are we going to hide in our caves with our rocks and keep everyone else out?  Loving involves risk. Anytime you choose to love a person or a child or a group or a cause, you’re gonna get your heart broken. You’re gonna get disappointed. You’re gonna look silly because you chose to love. And it’s still the right way to conduct yourself.

Indeed.  Many thanks to John Fugelsang for taking time out of his busy day in Madison yesterday to talk to me about the show tonight at the State Theatre here in Minneapolis.  This was a generally serious conversation, but now you know what will be fueling the funny tonight.

Stephanie Miller’s Sexy Liberal Comedy Tour (with John Fugelsang and Aisha Tyler)
Saturday, May 12, 8pm
State Theatre, Minneapolis
Tickets: HERE 

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Follow John Fugelsang on Facebook and Twitter.

The Stephanie Miller Show can be heard on AM950 from 8-11 weekday mornings.

*In the spirit of objectivity, please be sure to inform us when the Sexy Conservatives come to town to talk about Marriage Equality and fighting homophobia and we will promote the hell out of that event.  We’re serious.  Take us up on it.

 

Shopping & Dining in Vacationland

The family cabin.  Through blood and good relations, I am fortunate enough to have a cabin in the family.  Built by my great grandparents in the 1950s on a small lake near Brainerd, the descendants share our inheritance between the great-grandparents’ three children, meaning the Liens get it every third week of the non-winter seasons.  And, now that I can get wifi up there with my phone (I know…gasp…it’s sacrilege), I try to get up there as often as possible.

I have memories both of time spent at the cabin as well as time spent roaming around the Brainerd Lakes area.  We’d go see Paul Bunyan.  We’d visit Deer Land.  We’d romp around the best flea market I’ve ever been to that used to be held every weekend in Nisswa.  Grandma and Grandpa would always go and be looking for something…farm implements, Skelly memorabilia, books.  We’d have breakfast at Sportland or Ganley’s.  Often, there would be evening drives to Crosslake or Gull Lake, many times finding a Supper Club for cocktails and dinner.  I’d order orange roughy or shrimp and Grandpa would tell me I’d grow monkey ears from eating the shrimp tails.  So, I’d eat more of them, hoping he was telling the truth.  Afternoons would be spent swimming, sometimes golfing.  The cabin meant leisure and this was a Vacation Wonderland.  Vacationland, even just for a weekend at a time.

As I’ve gotten older and come up here either with friends, family, or alone, I’ve challenged myself to find the places from my childhood memories.  I was thrilled when I stumbled upon Howard’s Barn, a place where my grandparents would golf.  One year, I recall that because I didn’t want to go golfing, they bought me a Tiger Beat magazine, instead.  It was one afternoon, ages ago.  To find it was more than a figment of my imagination last year by seeing it in person, I felt validated.  So, I go exploring.  I see if I can do like they did and I just start driving and see where I end up.  Or, I have a planned route and make it happen. Both scenarios are equally satisfying.

Recently, friend Aisha was up for a visit and we did a loop that took us over to Nisswa, up through Pequot Lakes, over to Breezy Point, up through Ideal Corners, and over to Crosslake…before coming back down to the cabin which is near Merrifield.  Did you get that?   It’s over, up, over, up, over, and down.  Easy.

It was an off-day, which is something I call the days when Vacationland isn’t swarming with people.  Off-days are not Saturdays.  They’re not Fridays or holidays, even.  They’re the midweek days or Sundays when everyone is heading back to the Cities.  Off-days are the best days to go adventuring in Vacationland.

Nisswa is a town that I lovingly remember for its souvenir traps.  Like a moth to a flame, I was drawn to them as a child–like my niece and nephew are drawn to them now.  I swear, the Totem Pole on Main Street shines like a beacon to all children within a 10-mile radius of Nisswa.  It was–and is–full of a lot of novelty.  Knowing exactly what’s in there, I now choose to skip it unless I’ve got the kids with me.  It used to be where I’d start, but now it’s where I walk past with a smile on my lips.

Instead of novelty, I start with Adirondack Coffee.  That belies my age, for sure.

Adirondack Coffee has a wonderful aesthetic to it–well, it’s an Adirondack aesthetic and they pull it off well with the furnishings and the construction materials.  As we ordered our coffee drinks, I scanned the bakery case and decided to get an almond-encrusted croissant.  Their pastries are baked at Adirondack daily, which surprised me, and the croissant was delicious, which delighted me.

Not only was it encrusted in almonds, but there was a channel of almond paste within.  Lovely.  Adirondack sells its own coffee, some of it named after local landmarks like “Hole In The Day Lake” which is located just outside of town.

Adirondack is attached to a lovely store called Carriage House which was closed this off-day afternoon.  Unfortunately.  What once was a bastion of knick-knacks and Americana has matured into a gallery-style boutique.  It is classy and sophisticated.  I left a nose smudge on its closed door.

Walking into Buffalo Plaid (named for the Woolrich wool pattern, I presume), I could see that it wasn’t one of the usual stores on the street.  Many of them are more pleasing to the feminine eye, this one was much more masculine.  As the gentleman who was arranging items said, its merchandise is that of a more Craftsman style toward the front of the store…and more traditional toward the back.  Yes, it would appear that way with its retro items that were both playful as well as substantial.  What I couldn’t help but think was how deliberate the staging was, that each vignette seemed carefully collected and curated.  I loved it.

There were so many nice, classic items in Buffalo Plaid.  None of them cried out “CABIN!” as so many of the other stores seem to stock and I appreciate that.  There is still an air of whimsy without embracing the full-on kitsch.

Next, Zaiser’s.  This is the hit of the street.  It’s the belle of the ball.  When I was little, it was where we’d pop in and I’d hope to get snorkels or flippers or nets or other cheap fun toys.  It might’ve even been something of a hardware store, I can’t recall.  It certainly wasn’t the Zaiser’s that’s there today.  For the folks from the Cities, you could kind of compare it to a Patina or a Bibelot. Eclectic, hip, and good-looking.  At the front, there are kitchen wares; both food and food implements.  Interspersed are some novelty items.  All are higher-end, smart goods.

Everything is appealing.  There is a large toy area for kids, but I didn’t go in the section or take any photos since I didn’t have the kids with me.  Also on the way toward the back of the store, there are shoes–both Keen active shoes and fancy dress shoes for women.  The pair that Aisha picked up to admire had a price tag of $220.  I decided not to photograph any of those, either, since there weren’t any there big enough for the drag queens and me.  So, I play favorites.  Instead, I went for the striking and funny items.  The ones that made me smile.  Gag gifts and jewelry and canny decor, again…smart wares.

As we left Zaiser’s, we didn’t realize that it was 3:57…three minutes before The Chocolate Ox closed that day.  We waltzed in just in time–Shakira was blaring and the place was still packed with people getting their sugar on.

I love me a candy store that looks like a candy store.  Bright colors, big displays, tons of candy.  A fudge counter, Jelly Belly Jelly Bean Bar, and baskets of bulk–The Chocolate Ox is a candy Mecca.  And small.  But, still.  It’s packed.

Noting the time, I marched back to the hand-dipped ice cream cone counter and tried to read the kinds of ice cream on the case through peoples’ hips.  Not knowing what their specialty is, I asked.  And, I’ll tell you, the time to ask a disinterested teenager who’s apathetic on a GOOD DAY is not 2 minutes before closing.  I got curt and cursory for responses.  She sang along to the song when I thought she was answering my question.  Don’t worry; I’m not mad.  I found out between verses that I could split my single scoop into two flavors and I chose from the descriptions that her deadpan face told me were written on the freezer case after I figured out that maybe I shouldn’t have asked her to rattle off the ingredients when they were so plainly written right there and she was so obviously singing along to a song.  Whoa.  Anyhow.  So, I chose the White Swan with pistachio and white chocolate and the blueberry cheesecake.  It was a happy ending.  The ice cream was heavenly and cheap–only $3.00.  And, she’s a lovely girl who’ll grow up to marry rich.  No worries.

I found Aisha over by the chocolate.  Atta girl.  She ordered sea salt caramels and I got some Praline Nut fudge.  The very nice salespeople behind the chocolate counter redeemed my faith in young girls in the retail industry and, really, the world.  They were helpful and pleasant, despite the fact that it was after closing time on one of the most idyllic days so far that season.

Armed with ice cream and chocolates, we left Nisswa.  Yes, there is so much more to it than this.  But, this is what you get on a roadtrip that is hand-picked by me on a random day in June.

We raced up to Pequot Lakes and chose not to stop.  I was itching to hit the open road and had used up all my will to shuffle for the day.  Instead, the Pandora station was playing Moby, the top on the Jeep was back, and we had some exploring to do.

And explore, we did.  I drove “over” from Pequot Lakes to Breezy Point.  Knowing that my favorite radio station, KLKS, comes out of Breezy Point and that many a timeshare is reserved there, I wanted to see what it was all about.  We drove in and around the resort and saw what there was to see and headed back to our loop, not really over- or underwhelmed.  It’s one of those places that probably attracts people based on what you would do while you’re there rather than what you see when you drive around the grounds.  If I were a tennis player or a golfer or a boater, I’m sure I would’ve been much more interested.  As it was, I was hungry.

So, since we were dressed casually and it was a gorgeous day, I had The Wharf in Crosslake in mind for deck dining and boat watching.  My family likes to go to The Wharf if and only if there is outdoor seating available.  Inside, it’s really quite dark.  Not dark in a bad way, but the architecture does not leave much for natural light streaming in the windows.  And, in Vacationland, windows and natural lighting are must-haves.  Luckily, it was an off-day and, again, there was no mob scene to be found.  We had our choice of almost any table on the lower deck and were able to situate ourselves for some good bar food and boat-viewing.

Located near a bridge, the boats that pass The Wharf must slow down in the no-wake zone. And, as they do, we get to do some great people watching, not to mention see some beautiful boats.  I’m not talking about the fancy, I’m-overcompensating boats…I’m talking about the restored wooden boats.  The antiques.  The floating, flying works of art.

We ordered some cheese curds and burgers–she got The Wharf burger and I got the Crosslake burger with onion rings.  The fare was perfectly fine.  The curds hit the spot and the burgers were gooey and oozey, which was exactly what they should have been.

I guess that it should’ve been expected that the lack of people doing things out and about would also carry over to the boat traffic, but I was worried that I wouldn’t get to see any of antique beauties as we dined.  But, I can gladly say I didn’t go home disappointed.  Just before we got our tab, a lovely wooden boat by the name of “Irish Ayes” paraded past.  Ahh.  A feast for the eyes that followed a feast for the belly.

And we went back to the cabin, happy to enjoy our desserts of sea salt caramels and Praline Nut fudge as the sunset shone red across the lake, promising us a gorgeous day to follow.

For more of Vacationland, see video:

From The Editor: Getaway – Chicago Style

I’ve fallen in love with the photography of the newly discovered Vivian Maier. She snapped as she walked. She caught life. She was an undiscovered genius of The Moment. I stumbled upon a link to her first exhibition ever, taking place at the Chicago Cultural Center until the first weekend in April. First, I posted a link to her exhibit on Facebook.  Then, I posted that I wanted to go to it. Impulsive? A little. Doable? Definitely. Then, Heidi C. said she’d go. That was the tipping point. It was on. Heidi H. and Amanda B. quickly volunteered and suddenly we had a road trip.

We also had parameters. One day, to and from. With vehicle. Before the end of the exhibit’s run in April. On a budget.

We also had a little bit of feedback. From “that’s crazy” to “impressive.” I smiled at the challenge. I love this stuff.

It’s funny; some people got a little uncomfortable at thought of an 800-mile road trip in one day.  For an exhibit.   In Chicago.  From Minneapolis-St. Paul.  That it’s not only illogical and frivolous, but–because of that–it’s not a good idea.  Not true.  No, it made no real sense, but that’s not necessarily a good reason not to do it.  I considered taking offense to it, but no…people who found it uncomfortable probably did so because of their own feelings of being a bit threatened by it; the freedom, the impulsiveness, the lack of purpose…but abundance of whimsy.  I noodled with it.  I smiled at it.  I wanted to do it even more.

I love proving to people that fun is allowed.  The frivolous is still accessible, even in these austere times.  And, with four of us footing the bill, the whirlwind trip wouldn’t be a waste of anything–let alone our time or resources.

So there.

Then, you have the camp of folks who can’t fathom going to Chicago without much of a plan or guide.  I found that aspect terribly appealing.  I think it’s become my life goal to overcome the idea that–though I have no sense of compass direction–I can navigate the heck out of a trip.  That–though I grew up in corn and soybean fields–I’ve got no problem “driving Chicago.”  That–though we live in an era of Tom Tom, LoJack City, Magellan, and dashboard GPS consoles that dull our abilities to read maps (and will probably somehow lead to the downfall of humanity)–I can envision a route and make it all happen without anything that requires a cord that plugs into the cigarette lighter.  That–though I’m a woman–I won’t be overwhelmed by these manly things as I drive my diet SUV around a big city.  Sure, it’s the unknown…but it’s my unknown.

It’s a calculated unknown.

What you’ve got to understand is that the idea becomes much less overwhelming when limits are in place. 3-4 hours in Chicago with an exhibit as the goal gave us a location; a place we needed to park the vehicle. And, a window of time. Then, working out from there, I knew the Bean was close by as were the museums, planetarium, and aquarium (and Soldier Field). A trip in on the “L” wasn’t in the cards; finding our other Chicago go-to destinations weren’t for this trip, and a sit-down restaurant probably wouldn’t do the trick. But, we could improvise here and there and do just fine.

And we did.

The people who responded to my post were strangers to each other.  Add that layer to the mission and stir.  Perch a little paper umbrella on the rim and enjoy.

I daresay, the entire trip came off without a hitch…down to ending it with a final hour of iPod show and tell as we breezed back to St. Paul after 17.5 hours together.  Amanda is a Chicago-phile with great apps on her iPhone and great excitement in her heart. Marrying that with the capital-”P” Plans made for a great combination.

We started at a Polish market, Gene’s Sausage Shop, in Lincoln Square, came down Lake Shore Drive with Heidi H. snapping some great off-kilter shots out the dirty windows, drove through the museum area and back up to Millennium Park where we found ample parking. We abused The Bean for its photo opportunities and waltzed across the street to our destination.

Vivian.

And, the rest of the Cultural Center. My lands. What a treat.  We were viewing art within art.  Tiffany stained glass.  Marble.  Mosaic tiles.  Dramatic sconces.  And we even walked into an architectural exhibit featuring Louis Sullivan, something this lover of architecture positively trilled over.  Payout.

I admit that even I felt a little apprehensive about just what the payout was going to be once we reached our destination.  But, oh.  I was not disappointed.  Considering that many of Maier’s pieces are online (but nowhere near even a fraction of the collection), I figured I’ve probably seen many of the photos that are in this first-exhibition-ever.  I was right.  Many of them were familiar…and I loved seeing them again.  It’s art.  But, the fact that there was a small section of color prints was an unforeseen delight.  I don’t know about you, but black and white photographs default into an artistic category to me and my sensibilities.  Color photos have to work a little harder.  And the subtlety in photos that were heavy in dated colors like marigold, gold, and cyan were brilliant.  You had to let the eye see the art beyond the color.  It’s not like photos by David LaChappelle in which the artistry jumps off the page by way of great contrast and a techno beat…these took the viewer into them and showed them around a bit.  Oh, Vivian.  Thank you.

Our last goal involved taking in some Chicago Dogs. While Heidi C. snapped shots of the city through the sky slider roof of the Jeep as we blasted the heat, Amanda found a drive-thru dog dealer within blocks using her apps. Portillos. This was lucky.  Throw four people together who don’t know each other and you can expect the best…but, if left unfed in a large metropolis, things could run amok.  I wish I could’ve gotten photos of the bounty that was delivered through the Jeep window that dusky evening…like Santa handing over a bag of presents.  We were in the same four-block area as Hard Rock Cafe, Rainforest Cafe, and the retro McDonald’s, but we were bent on getting Chicago Dogs.  We’d already suffered the on-foot failure of finding another place for hotdogs by way of iPhone app, but upon walking to it, it was attached to a Popeyes.  No.  We know the difference between a dog that you get in Chicago and a Chicago Dog.  So, the five tube foods that graced the Jeep with raw onions, pickles, peppers, relish, mustard, and tomato halves, were God-sent.  The rings, cheese fries, and shakes were also entirely delectable.  Then, to munch from the Portillos cornucopia as we drove up Wacker Drive along the river as we wended our way to the freeway in the setting sun (beyond the skyscrapers) was like the ending of an epic film.  An epic of epic-ness.

Yes, a long drive…both there and back. But, for $34 a piece for gas and parking, we each had a pocketful of memories and experiences. And the novel claim to fame of doing a Chicago Daytrip on a day in March in 2011.

Illogical, artful, and utterly worthwhile.

And never to be replicated.  It just wouldn’t be possible.

See the fast-paced photography of Chicago in a Day here:

From the Editor: Nonprofits

Nonprofits.  My second job out of college was as a fundraiser for orphans in Latin America and the Caribbean.  Orphans.  It doesn’t get much more fundraisey than that.  Great work, great mission, good feelings.  Then, as I got older, I tried to stay involved with nonprofits even when I no longer worked for one—I volunteered, I promoted, and I donated.  Then, I lost my job.

Back in the summer of 2009, I had been working for a luxury architect and homebuilder. Talented and ethical bosses, they kept us employed longer than they should have as the industry tanked.  When the lay-off finally happened, it was the other shoe dropping.  We’d been waiting.  It wasn’t personal, it was business.

Plenty of folks run through the scenarios in their heads, “What would I do if I lost my job tomorrow?”  Many think, “Oh, I’d cut my cell phone.”  Cable TV, a vacation, eating out—those tend to be on the chopping block.  What I found was that I couldn’t live without many of those things; cell phones, internet connection, and eating out had become more integral to networking and business than ever before—especially when I had no physical presence in an office, only the green chair in my apartment in St. Paul.  I had to be present somewhere.  I had to keep myself out there and available.  People had to know what I was up to and that I was very employable.

This lasted two years.  Call it what you want; depending on the day, I’d say I was unemployed, underemployed, consulting, freelancing, and jobless.  The euphemisms were for when they mattered; they could be integral to interviews or when the ego was suffering just too much.  Sometimes, I referred to myself as jobless, simply to get the point across that it was a state of employment rather than a personality flaw. It was a big head game but I was usually winning.

Unfortunately, I’m certain that there is a multitude of people out there who can relate when I refer to just how psychologically taxing it is to apply for jobs that we’re both over- and under-qualified to perform.  Not getting interviews, not getting offers, not getting call-backs—it all chips away at the sense of self I had when I was “Director of” in my last few positions.  The arbitrary nature of the employment game became a subject of study for me.  There was no pattern to discern. There were no ploys or strategies that were useful as general application tactics.  All bets were off.  There were simply too many of us for too few jobs.

I didn’t lapse into a malaise.  Not really.  I had my moments, I guess, but I was fairly grounded in the reality that I just had to take things as they came.  I started as a statistic.  According to some people, I was a drain on society.  I was leeching from the government while popping bon-bons and watching daytime television (despite cutting the cable). I was balancing negative perceptions of the unemployed—as a group—while just trying to survive—as a single person.  I didn’t have to move home, thankfully, though it was always a welcome option (thanks to having awesome parents).  But, as I fell off unemployment insurance, exhausted COBRA, and became a more nebulous statistic that didn’t even count as unemployed, I was able to maintain a hold on my purpose and my hope.

How?

I volunteered.

One of the most eye-opening moments of my adult life was when I really saw how much better I had it than so many other people, even when my chips were down.  My unemployment check was more than most made working 40 hours a week, though it was a fraction of what I was used to making.  I didn’t do anything terribly special to deserve this status, I simply put one foot in front of the other and followed the path laid out for me: High school, college, job with benefits and a nice salary.  It was humbling, this privileged path.  And, it was hard to figure out what I could do about it.

As I was downsizing my life, I upsized my involvement.  I found communities that had no money and I helped.  I designed websites.  I developed campaigns for start-ups. I served on committees and groups.  I was the busiest unemployed person by virtue of my volunteering.  It kept me sane and it made me feel good.  And crazy.

I never lost my edge because of this volunteering way of life.  No wondering if I could still type 80wpm, no wondering if I could still handle the Adobe Design software, no wondering if I could develop WordPress websites with plugins and integration galore.  I had it.  And it prepared me for this job.  My portfolio grew.  I was still writing. Reunions happened and I co-chaired the committees.  I was open about needing a job at every post I accepted and every function I attended.

I had purpose.  A presence.  A place to be.  And I was needed.

As good as it felt to give of my talents while I felt like I had less than I’ve ever had, it still felt that much better to finally donate my first $5 to a nonprofit again after I got this job.  I’m only ten months into being employed again and the headgames are long over—I can do this job and I’m doing it well.  But the lasting impact of joblessness will be with me for a long time as will the lessons I learned.

What I found during my years of joblessness is that nobody can really give advice that would apply broadly to all—you can only pick and choose from what other people have learned.  Follow your instincts.  My instincts told me to get involved and help others.

And to keep heart.

With thanks,

Andy