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Twenty Years Ago Today…

Shane - LouvreIt is astounding how our bodies hold and store memories, filing them away, only to open their drawer unexpectedly to remind us of their presence. I had planned on sleeping in late this morning, as I rarely do anymore given that we have kids, but our dog Toby was whining to be let out. Even so, I tried to remain half asleep as I did so, returned to bed, and placed an eye mask over my eyes. On my first deep inhale to restore sleep, though, I immediately woke fully: today marks Shane’s last full day of life, exactly twenty years ago.

It seems impossible that so much time has gone by, as so much of him and that experience remains within me, prompting memories such as this. I think of him often and relate to our children each year, as we unpack Shane’s trove of nutcrackers, just who he was and what he meant to me. And yet I’ve also packed so much into those subsequent years (a commitment ceremony, the birth of Mason, the unexpected and dramatic breakup of that relationship, subsequent costly court battles with my ex, the years of trying to heal, eventually meeting Russ, adopting Marcus, getting married, writing books and embarking on countless other new adventures), that the length of time also seems substantial… As if another life, one so disconnected with the life I lead today.

Just a few weeks ago, on March 5, I turned 50. It was twenty years ago, on the day of my turning 30 in 1995 that we checked Shane into the hospital, where he would die two weeks later.

That year, we had planned for me a simple 30th… Given Shane’s months of decline, I could not bear any major celebrations, of attention being placed on me instead of Shane, and instead opted for my family to join us in L.A. for dinner and cake. When I called my mom to tell her that couldn’t happen, as Shane would be in the hospital, her words and tone communicated to me that she felt as if his health were a direct attempt to sabotage her plans.

For this year’s birthday, I opted for no celebration as well. For some reason, I just didn’t want the attention. I took my birthday off Facebook, blocked the ability of people to post to my wall, and decided instead to have a simple family dinner. Many thought that I was hesitant about turning 50, but I have no qualms about aging. I wear my years on earth and my varied experiences as a badge of honor. But this morning I realized that my reluctance for attention is also tied into Shane and what he was going through 20 years ago on this very day.

Shane and Kergan - Eiffel TowerIn the fall of the prior year, 1994, we’d gone to Europe. I’d never been and Shane wanted to return, both as a likely last-hurrah and to share it with me. While he’d had a few minor health incidents in the months leading up to our trip, as well as a decline in t-cells, he was still relatively healthy. But our 5 week journey to France and Italy took an increasing toll on him as each day progressed. By the time we got to Rome, from which we’d depart, it was physically apparent how taxing the trip had been–you could see the strain on his face. All of the walking and stairs had been too much, and those last few days he would journey out from our hotel only once each day, to quickly take in a sight, sometimes just from a taxi cab window, and then we’d return back to the hotel again. Too weak to go out for meals, I’d bring him takeout–he was craving McDonald’s–and I became inordinately familiar with their location near the Spanish Steps.

Upon our return to the states, his health began to quickly spiral downward. He began having mobility issues. Walking down a straight corridor, he would suddenly veer to the right or left, or stumble. Driving, he would either abruptly stop short, or too far into a crosswalk. It soon began to affect his speech, as his words became muddled.

His eventual diagnosis was Progressive Multifocal Leukoencephalopathy (PML), which essentially is a lesion which grows on the brain and increasingly affects the motor skills.

Shane Michael SawickIn just a few months, he went from a vibrant young man, filled with exuberance about life and excitement about our upcoming trip, to a bedridden, shrunken figure, rarely leaving our bed.

While we had hoped to keep Shane at home and comfortable, his body and organs began to fail him, leading to his hospital admittance. In just two short weeks, he lost the ability to speak, as well as the ability to blink to signify “yes” or “no,” and even to squeeze my finger. He was fully alert inside, with all of the knowledge and emotions he’d always had, but he was completely unable to communicate any of it. Each night, after his mother had returned to our apartment and all visitors were gone, I would crawl up alongside him in bed. I would talk to him about my love for him, share the news of the day, and remind him of all the wonderful things we’d experienced together. I talked often of Italy and France… Of the countless kitties of the Pitti Palace. Of the jasmine-like scented grapes we ate in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence. And of our last night ever of sex, in Rome, when it became clear the end would soon come.

Shane and friends - Boothbay Harbor, MaineI hold Shane up today, as I have continually over the twenty years since. In that time since, his dear mother has died and his beloved sister, whom I think he loved most of all, has bravely battled cancer. Shane’s best friend Vivian still lives on, but Shane’s L.A. circle of friends has drifted apart. We lost David to AIDS not long after Shane’s death. Another of the group with AIDS came close to dying, but through the miracles of an experimental treatment is alive today. I know Shane would be disappointed to know that this dear group of guys, with whom years of memories were made, would not survive his passing. In many ways, he was the glue, and his absence led to consequences none of us would have imagined.

Shane Michael SawickAnd so today, on the 20th anniversary of his last full day on earth, I hold up Shane Michael Sawick. Without loving him, I don’t think I would have come to love myself. Without him, I would never have become a writer. And without him, I couldn’t have grown up enough, to have explored myself enough, to be the father and partner that I am today.

Shane died on March 22, at 12:22am. He was surrounded by his family and friends, and we played a tape cassette of his beloved Bette Midler singing his favorite song, “Shiver Me Timbers,” as they pumped morphine into his veins and he took his last breath.

He will not be forgotten.

Interview with Award-Winning Novelist David Pratt

Looking After JoeyDavid Pratt, Lambda Award-winning novelist for Bob the Book, is back with a funny and touching new novel, Looking After Joey (Wilde City Press). In it, Calvin, a single accountant, must look after Joey, a porn character who unexpectedly steps through the TV into Calvin’s life–and can’t go back. Calvin’s friend Peachy comes to the rescue, declaring that he and Calvin will teach Joey what he needs to know to be a gay man in this world—from Cher and Liza to how to cross the street without getting hit. But on a deeper level Joey’s presence causes Calvin to reevaluate what he desires, and his yearning for connection propels everyone through the story, as they find themselves forming a family of choice.

As our work shares many themes, primarily those of love and family, I appreciated the time Pratt took to connect to discuss our definitions of family, particularly their meaning for us as gay men.

Kergan Edwards-Stout: David, thank you so much for taking the time to chat! As you know, I was a big fan of Bob the Book, and was so pleased to hear of your new novel. One of your gifts as a writer is in bringing objects to life. In Bob the Book, you animate a book, and in Looking After Joey, you create depths and layers in a porn character.

David Pratt: In Bob, I actually created humans in the guise of books, who live as books might if books were sentient. In Looking After Joey, it’s Joey’s vulnerability and curiosity that bring him alive. He’s a porn character who crosses into our world, like a baby bird fallen from the nest. His reactions to what we call “real life” are hilarious and touching. Or both at once, as when he sees his first handicapped person. There is humor to it, but the scene is also gripping.

Edwards-Stout: Key to my enjoyment of the book was the role that family plays in it. Your lead character, Calvin, is on a quest to find a relationship, but ends up finding much more than that. It occurred to me, though, that while I know much about you as a writer, I don’t know much about your personal life, aside from your relationship with your partner, Rogério. How did you meet him? Read the rest of this page »

Rated G Radio Appearance

Looking forward to chatting once again with the personable Garrett Miller and Rated G Radio! Garrett Miller I’ll be on-air Thursday February 19, 7PM (Pacific), and while I have no idea what we’ll be talking about, our conversations are always stimulating!

UPDATE: It’s a good thing RatedGRadio​ is not televised, as my IPL photofacial today left me looking–well–lobsterish. Garrett Miller​, I look forward to talking to you tonight at 7PM Pacific. Anyone wanting to listen in or call with a question, check out the phone number and streaming broadcast here.

Fun to See Our Family on The Huffington Post!

Christmas 2011After being interviewed by Corinne Lightweaver of RaiseAChild.US for this The Huffington Post article, I flashed back to when I first met our youngest, Marcus, in his foster home. When my social worker and I walked up to the door, Marcus–without knowing me or why I was there–ran up and gave me a hug. I took that as a sign… (I ignored “the sign” of my next visit, when I took him to a park and he cried for two hours uncontrollably.)

There was also another child there at the foster home, Christian, who was about 11. He was a beautiful kid, loved basketball, and he asked if I was there to adopt Marcus. I told him that I might be, and it was clear to me that as happy as he was that Marcus might be adopted, he knew the chances for himself were slim. I walked away from that home happy that I’d just met the newest member of our family, but also sad that I couldn’t manage to take Christian as well…

Did you know that the number of LGBT people willing to fost-adopt children FAR OUTWEIGHS the number of kids in foster care??? Simply by making adoption by LGBT people across the U.S. legal, we could provide houses for all the kids in foster care. Astounding, and sad–for all the “Christians” in the world–that we can’t do just that.

Thanks to Corinne Lightweaver and Raise A Child, USA, for the chance to chat! Read the interview here!

Did You Miss My Appearance on Rated G Radio?

Thanks to Garrett Miller and Rated G Radio for another great interview! Garrett Miller Last night Garrett and I had a wonderful and provocative discourse on everything from World AIDS Day, to my writing, to safer sex, to family life, and to the holidays… As always, it was a fun time, as Garrett always asks thought-provoking questions. If you missed it, you can listen to the whole thing here.

And for those wondering, YES, I did discuss my new writing project, my memoir entitled Never Turn Your Back on the Tide!

 

Read It: Bob the Book

Bob the BookIf ever I become a book, I want to be like Bob. This Lambda Literary award-winning book by David Pratt is everything you want a book to be: smart, funny, thought-provoking, unique, and heartfelt. Admittedly, I had this sitting in my To Be Read pile for far too long, as I didn’t think I’d fully embrace a book about a book, but now that I have, I readily proclaim–I’m in love with Bob…

Now, how do I break up his current relationship with a cute hardback?David Pratt

Throwback Thursday: My Finest Acting Moment

DynastySo today’s ‪#‎TBT‬ comes with a story… When I started at UCLA, I wanted to be an actor. The truth was, though, that as I hadn’t yet explored my soul, I wasn’t very good; all artifice and posing. My favorite shows at the time were DYNASTY and KNOTS LANDING, and when they were on, I’d hide in my dorm room with a towel blocking the bottom of the door, so no one would think I was there and disturb me. I was convinced it was my destiny to end up on DYNASTY. I thought–if only the casting director would see me–they’d write a role for me as the teen son of Alexis: a brooding, sexy, tormented young man. I was so thoroughly certain this would happen that I actually practiced my DYNASTY title sequence, walking and turning to look directly into camera, smoldering, as if caught unaware.

As luck would have it, I heard about a special day-long Cold Reading class on campus, taught by none other than the casting director of DYNASTY. I knew that once I made an impression on him, I would find myself on the show. I spent much time picking out just the right outfit and concentrated on this brooding character I’d conjured in my imagination.

There were about 100 actors in the class that day, which was held in a lecture hall, so very little chance of me even meeting the man; still, I felt certain. The whole morning he talked about the key points to cold reading, which requires you to not have any preconceived ideas about the scene, as you have no time to even read it. It is all about being “in the moment.” Finally, as we broke for lunch, they announced that when we returned, one guy and one girl would be selected at random to cold read for the class. MY CHANCE–AT LAST!

All through lunch I ran through imaginary scenes in my head, each one more emotive and darker than the last. I probably even practiced my squinty “sexy pout” a time or two. After lunch, he asked for volunteers who wanted to read, and every hand in the class shot up, including mine. And he picked me! (I knew it!!!)

As the woman and I stood up and walked to the front of the room, we were handed our sides. We began to read, and I tackled it with all the force and passion I’d been storing up since my early days of first watching DYNASTY. I was intense, in a bad way–but befitting an Aaron Spelling production. I was Hamlet, only to find out mid-scene that the piece I was reading was witty, light Noel Coward-quipy comedy. I was utterly mortified, having committed to this part, but had no choice but to see my folly through to the end. After we finished and I returned to my seat, I could feel the other actors shrink away from me, fearful of catching my bad-acting bug.

Which is why I’m a writer.

‪#‎DontCountYourChickens‬ ‪#‎EpicFail‬ ‪#‎WorstAuditionEver‬ ‪#‎IamJoanCollinsSon‬

My Wedding Vows to Russ

Last night I was fortunate in finally being able to legally marry my wonderful Russ, after almost 12 years together. Our wedding had a French theme and was a joyous celebration of our love, commitment, and family. Thank you to all who attended, and for the support and well-wishes of our friends and family. Here are the vows I wrote and read, and the boys played a part in as well…

June 7, 2014

My beloved Russ,

We stand here today, before family and our dearest friends, entirely mindful that we are a product of our pasts. At the same time, we are fully invested in this sacred moment, publicly proclaiming our commitment to one another and detailing our vision for our collective future.  We can’t change where we’ve been, even if we wanted to, but together we can move forward with grace and consideration, charting together a map for the road we envision our lives to follow.

We both came into this relationship with a sense of purpose. As many people here know, we first met on Match.com. (I was attracted to his hair.)  Meeting with common intention, it took us a while to realize that the goals we’d each initially had had already been fulfilled. But the friendship that first formed between us during that on-again/off-again time provided the foundation for this life we now share.

As my profile back then stated, I lead an ordinary/extraordinary life. I was looking for someone to enhance the extraordinary factor, which you have in spades.

French writer Andre Breton noted that “Love is when you meet someone who tells you something new about yourself,” and you’ve done just that for me.  When we met, I was a struggling single dad, with an amazing two-year-old son and a dead-end job. While I’d had creative aspirations, I’d decided to focus on raising Mason, and my identity quickly narrowed. But in me, you saw a writer, and encouraged me to follow my passion.  You saw a person of spirit, and now our church family has become one of our strongest sources of support.  You saw more than my surface, and opened my eyes to the possibility of a new way of living.

One of the things I mentioned in my profile was that I was looking for someone to lovingly challenge me, and you’ve done that as well. While we initially saw our differences as obstacles—something to get over—we finally realized that these aspects of us were actually complementary. Your drive at work inspired my career determination. Your zeal for fitness inspired my love for boot camp.  And your creativity and unique take on the world helps inform everything from our home, to the trips we take, to our spirited family dinners. We continually bring out the best in each other, encouraging personal growth.

When it comes to our boys, you tend to not get the credit you deserve. Not only do you work tirelessly to create the best possible life for us, but your love, guidance, and support—even telling the kids five million times to pick up their clothes—all of that plays an instrumental role in shaping Mason and Marcus into becoming the best people they can be.

French dramatist Victor Hugo wrote, “The greatest happiness of life is the conviction that we are loved — loved for ourselves, or rather, loved in spite of ourselves.”  Neither of us is perfect, and never will be. But despite that knowledge, we continue to love, and our love grows only stronger as the years progress.

It seems only fitting that we are now taking this step into matrimony. We could have done this before, but today the time, place, and the people feel “right.” We are both committed to each other, to our children, and to completing our journeys together. And so this I vow to you…

Trust. I was a bit bruised, lacking in the trust department, when we first met, but you quickly cured me of that with your forthrightness. I vow to you my trust.

Faith. I believe in you, Robert Russell Noe. You have such gifts and creativity, and I fully support who you are. I believe you can do anything you attempt, and I place in you my faith.

Commitment. You’re it. There will be no other. This I vow to you.

And, most importantly, but not lastly, love. I love you. I believe that somewhere along the line, you never received the vital message that you are worthy of love, and lovable. But you are. And I want you to feel love—to experience love—and vow to show you every day that you’re worthy of love.  

Mason: I vow to show you my love.

Marcus: I vow to show you how much I love you, Pappy.

And, finally, if there is anything lacking in our relationship, I think it is spontaneity and surprise. While we came together born of purpose, we didn’t have those fireworks and ringing bells—the romantic notion of love—that many have. You and I made the decision to be committed to each other and the kids, and in our day-to-day attempts to ensure we do everything necessary to keep our lives afloat, sometimes romance and surprise take a back seat to practicality. But that ends today. I vow to you, Russ, romance, spontaneity, and surprises…

And that starts right now. (I then launched into singing “La Vie en Rose” with guitar and accordion accompaniment–with the intro sung in French, which I don’t speak!)