Gay Family Stories

daniel-kevin-zander
Daniel, Kevin and Zander were kind enough to entertain me for a few hours last weekend as I listened to stories about what it was like to be a gay family.

The last 13 years have been “a wild, wonderful ride” since adopting Alexander in 2000, said Kevin. Daniel’s thoughts on acceptance of gay families: “It’s no different than… I hate to say traditional [families]… but its the norm.”

Kevin and Daniel got to know each other working at the Clarksville Public Library (in Tennessee) in 1980. After a cute stand-offish/flirtatious period, they became a couple and have been together ever since. There was a two-year period when Kevin was in the Peace Corps in Malawi, but they credit that as their only time to build a true romance: fueled by rare, poor-quality phone conversations and many letters (that took six-weeks to be delivered). Once back together in the US, Kevin says “I knew we had to leave Nashville if we wanted to grow as a couple, professionally… it was still oppressive.”

“I felt a lot of guilt when we left there… first of all we were leaving all of our friends, we didn’t know really know anybody [in San Francisco], and if people like Daniel and I were to leave the South, how is the South ever going to change? I think a lot of gay men from the South probably have these kinds of feelings… In the end I decided I couldn’t carry the burden of all of that. I needed to do what was right for us and our family.”

They adopted Alexander in 2000 and are soon open their family to two french bulldogs. Listen to their stories below, view on cowbird or soundcloud.

Eric Niragira : Advocating Victim Assistance in the Arms Trade Treaty

This interview was three years past due.

I met Eric Niragira in 2010, while backpacking through Burundi. After an introduction from a mutual friend, we met over dinner in a small restaurant in Bujumbura. I listened to Eric share his story and decided I had to try to do something to help him share his story. I arranged for us to meet the following day to do an audio interview, but when I woke up the next morning sick with food poisoning, I couldn’t make it.

Fast forward to a couple weeks ago when I was visiting New York City and found out via Facebook that Eric was in visiting. He was at the United Nation’s Headquarters to work with colleagues from around the world to advocate for victim assistance in the 2013 Arms Trade Treaty – something in itself was under-reported throughout the tiny news coverage of the Arms Trade Treaty.

By the end of the conference, the Arms Trade Treaty was passed — with some recognition of the need for victim assistance. The preamble recognizes ”that civilians, particularly women and children, account for the vast majority of those affected by armed conflict and armed violence” and “the challenges faced by victims of armed conflict and their need for adequate care, rehabilitation and social and economic inclusion” but I feel cynical in my beliefs that the support may only be on paper.

To continue to change the realities on the ground for many of the victims of armed violence and conflict, we need to continue to support organizations like CEDAC (Eric’s NGO) and help people like Eric Niragira carry out their inspiring work.

I WANT YOUR STORIES

stories

Stories are important.

Storytellers momentarily manifest a world filled with the artifacts of their experience, open for listeners to explore. As listeners, we enter these stories in exchange for our empathy —our effort to understand, to give compassion, or solidarity— because only through story can we experience the world beyond our own perspective.

Stories are the primary bond that holds us together. Shared experiences are treasured differently than occurrences experienced alone and storytelling welcomes listeners to enter, and forever take with them, an experience to make their own.

Tell me your stories.

I want your stories to feel, learn, love, and know you.

Listen to the first stories of this project below.

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Adventure Every Week

hudson

In thanks to the fine members of the “hudson adventure society” for letting me join them for a day of exploring local quarries and forests, I want to remind everyone a good rule of thumb:

ADVENTURE EVERY WEEK.

If not every week, every day.

With practice, I think it’s even possible to never stop exploring.

Juxtaposition

jux·ta·po·si·tion [juhk-stuh-puh-zish-uhn] noun. - an act or instance of placing close together or side by side, especially for comparison or contrast.

Our minds are wired to find associations, patterns, and connections between the things we observe, ourselves, and our environment. This is a simple, powerful, dangerous, and beautiful thing.

I shot these photos years ago, but thought I would bring them back to life.

Embracing Vulnerability

jay simpson rim of africa

I remember the exact moment when I decided to break one of my few personal ‘rules’ on the Rim of Africa. My rule was to never walk into cloud cover on a mountain, alone. I knew it was not safe to walk without being able to reliably navigate (I did not carry a GPS while walking), but I felt I had no other choice. It was past 5pm and I was tired and wanted to set up camp, but I was on an exposed part of a mountain side and the wind would blow away any attempt at setting up my tent.

wind-and-cloud

That evening I walked into the cloud, and remembering that the wind was coming pretty much directly from the East (where I was headed), I just kept walking with my head down directly into the wind.

It was terrifying in a way because I had no guarantees. I had no idea what was ahead of me, if I was still heading in the right direction, or if I would be able to find a more suitable place to sleep for the night.

It was totally freeing in a way because I let go of doubt and worry. There was no other option and no possibility of having any control over what was happening. I surrendered to the wind, cloud, mountain and my journey.

It was magical in a way because I could feel the life in my viens racing to remain alert, to be listening and present in every sense of my body and mind.

And as this all happened, I found forgiveness in the cloud and wind. I didn’t realize it, but after years of carrying guilt, shame, and regret, I forgave myself for my mistakes and flaws. I found a deep respect, love, and a belief in myself that I never knew I had lost.

In the end it all worked out. I walked until it was too dark to see, stumbling into an rocky and thickly vegetated Afromontane forest. As I set down my pack the sun set with golden light piercing the clouds —from below. It was a surreal experience and my exhaustion made it all the more illusory.

This was just another moment, test, practice round of embracing vulnerability. The end of my 2012 brought many of these trials for some reason, teaching me a lesson I was not expecting to learn. Through listening to myself, my body, and trusting my journey I believe I passed the test. But the tests haven’t stopped, now instead of physical feats of climbing mountains I face important life decisions and emotional quandaries. It would be easier if these tests stopped, but I don’t think that would make my life what it is, what I strive for it to be, or remain true to the past I’ve created.

Life, Present!

claudia 6am

6am at Landudno Beach, Cape Town, South Africa – The water is absolutely frigid, but in it I find something elusive in many other places… complete present-ness. To me, being “present” means experiencing a moment with total, active awareness. This goes beyond just listening to what is there, but engaging with your existence in the dance of life.

Swimmin holeMy love for swimming in cold water is a recent change in my life – it was only three months ago that I was complaining about the cold water I used to bathe while hiking in the Cederberg. I remember one time distinctly – it was about 3 days since my last bath and I was determined to wash in a stream that cascaded through a parade of small pools hidden in reeds and boulders. From the start I knew the water would be cold as it was early spring and likely that some of the water could be from not-too-distant snow-melt. I stripped, stepped into the edge of a pool, took a breath, and said “go”. My muscles clenched but I didn’t actually move an inch.  My mind again tried to steer my body into the water “Three… Two… One… ” Nope. Like a stubbron horse my body refused- there was no fooling: that water was going to be miserably cold. By this point my feet had gone white and numb and standing on the slick rocks without being able to feel anything beneath my shins was likely to turn sloppy. I retreated to the bank of the stream and waited to be able to feel my feet again but I never mustered the strength to get in the stream.

Then I came to learn it was not a matter of strength when swimming in cold water – and not stupidity or brute force either. If I focused on trying to hold onto warmth, I would be consumed by dread as the cold sucked it out of me – absolutely disempowering. So I flipped my perceptions and started to focus on the cold – to bring my awareness right to the edge of my skin where the cold bites at it most. The water is still freezing cold, but instead of trying to disagree with it you have to just love it. Make it like your first time feeling cold before, remove all your past fears and associations, and then feel how strong your body is against it.

By changing how I tried to experience cold water I was free to bathe in the mountain streams, whoop under incredible waterfalls, and play in the waves of the Atlantic. It became almost a daily ritual to wake up in the morning with Claudia, run on the beach, then swim naked in the blue icy water before anyone else was awake to start their day.

cold atlantic

Like running open-chested into the waves at the beach (when it causes a glorious spray of water all around you) I’m learning to live life in a new energy. I’m challenging myself to be present: feel the struggle, pain, playfulness, love, joy, fear, pleasure, and strength in every moment, love them all, and allow those things to guide me. And now when I look at the open, cold water I no longer dread it with anxiety, but know underneath the surface is an experience ready to unfold.

ITS A NEW YEAR

I welcomed the coming of 2013 outside on 34th street in Hampden (Baltimore, MD) with my boyfriend, good friends, a creepy santa, complete strangers offering Norwegian liquors, and a 46 yr-old man dressed as baby new year.

But don’t let my evening of hiding from loud illegal fireworks and trying to play Taylor Swift at the local dive bar mislead you- I take the coming of a new year seriously. There really aren’t many other times in our lives where we pause to reflect on what just happened in the last 365 days of our lives and maybe even take the chance to dream what the next 365 days could bring.

So I send emails to my future self. Here is what dropped into my inbox this new year.


(you can send emails to the future too!)

It’s a good way to remind yourself of where you were and what you hoped would happen for the next year. For me,

2011 sucked. It was a year of stagnation and frustration. I was afraid of being broke, worked at three jobs (concurrently) that I didn’t like, and felt trapped in a place where I wasn’t happy. By the end of the year, I was ready to make the radical changes I needed to make to break out of it – quit the jobs, pack the bags, and throw caution to the wind.

2012 was good. I moved back to Cape Town and worked for a website, but I was determined to leave job-hunting/work behind and just create my own projects and work. I raised over $3000 to bicycle from San Francisco to Los Angeles (545 miles) for the AIDS/LifeCycle Ride. Then I applied for the National Geographic Young Explorer’s Grant, got it, and carried out my own expedition in South Africa. Boom. This was the year of being unafraid to dream and fight to them happen- and somehow I did it. I think learning to not be afraid of being broke helped.

2013 is the year $hit gets real. Time to make a living (income) off of doing what I want to do (media projects). Be professional, and act the part. Stop being the backpacker/vagrant/vagabond – time to buy clothes, wear deodorant, and remember to floss. Keep running, cycle even more, and remember to make time for backpacking trips into wilderness areas. Sing karaoke whenever possible and remember to be silly and playful (especially when everyone else gets too serious).

I am going to dream bigger, travel further, and work harder to get there. Be open and present to every experience and person I meet. To trust myself and be true to what makes me happy. Cause I deserve it and think that everyone else does too.

So if you haven’t thought about what you want to get out of 2013, do it. Cause this year is going to be good.