Tuesday, August 9, 2016

You want vicissitudes?

I'll give you some vicissitudes.

(Alternative title: Another Really Horrible Thing That Happened to my Family)

Life is... terrible. Have you noticed?

It is also beautiful.

The last few months have been an incredible case in point of these two realities.

A horrible thing happened two weeks after my mom died. Like, totally and completely, utterly messed up. In the way only life can be.

So, in this post I'm going to talk about some of the bad, and also some of the good, and I'm going to share the really difficult thing that has happened, and you need to brace yourself for a swear word.

This post is longish and meandering and sad and a little angry and confused, but also really hopeful and kind of beautiful. It's where I'm at these days.

*   *   *

Wrote this snippet a couple weeks ago:

Oh, grief and its wild permutations. Tonight it was the tube of toothpaste that I used to brush my teeth. I was in the downstairs bathroom, having finished the dishes late and not wanting to disturb Lolly, and I was in the middle of brushing my teeth when I noticed that the toothpaste was nearly gone. It was a tube of toothpaste that had been left by Jenni, my sister, when she was here for Christmas.

She had been here for Christmas, and then I remembered that Mom had also been here for Christmas.

Somehow, since Christmas, a tube of toothpaste has lasted longer than my mom.

This is not okay.

*   *   *
A few reflections:

May was a busy month.

There were four Weed birthdays. Lexie J's was May 11, mine was May 12, Anna's was May 16th, and my youngest brother Chad's was May 22. I mention this because there were a couple of weird, tragic intersections.

First, though, was Mother's Day, when I saw the final picture of my mom. She looked like a ghost, sitting awkwardly, holding a plant my sister had sent her. It was jarring. I must have sensed what was coming. The whole thing shook me, but I couldn't register what my subconscious was picking up on.

Later that week, Lexie's birthday was joyous, and she ate cake. Here's a picture.

On my birthday the next day, I yearned to honor Mom somehow. It occurred to me, for the first time somehow, just how much the day of my birth was an important day for her. It was the day she became a mother. I went out to Mexican and ate a chicken chimichanga (her favorite) in her honor. My day was filled with reminders of her and distractions from her. Late that night, my brother Chris and I talked. "She is going to go," he said. "I felt prompted not to take classes this semester. I really think she's going to go soon." I could tell it was true. It still felt distant and vague.

Four days later, on Anna's birthday (16th), I got the text saying she had taken her last bites of food and had been put on Morphine. I couldn't concentrate at dinner. I decided to book a flight. It kept occurring to me over and over "I'm going book a flight to see my mom for the last time." It felt surreal. Anna was very sweet and understanding when, instead of doing cake, I had to go upstairs and crawl in my bed.

Flew out to Idaho. Was there five or so days. The last day was Chad's birthday (the 22nd). This was the day I said goodbye. We had all prayed mightily that she wouldn't be taken that day, to spare Chad the coinciding of these two events--having to share his birthday with such a sad thing would be particularly cruel. Saying goodbye to her was one of the hardest things I've ever done. I talk about that dreadful day here.

I flew home.

The next six days were a nightmare. I don't know if I've had worse days in my life. I was in bed, flat on my back, in emotional agony. Occasionally I would talk to Jenni who'd also had to go home to take care of her family. When we'd all been together, the pain was manageable. Now it felt unbearable. She and I would chat several times a day. We didn't really commiserate--there was no need to. There was just simultaneity--we were having identical experiences and we knew it. No need to comment on it. Just lengthy, empty, painful conversations about who-knows-what, peppered with things like "can you believe this is real?" and "when will she finally go?" to keep our minds off of what was happening.

I tried to go on runs. It was my big event of each day. I'd roll out of bed in the evening, run a few miles (and cry as I ran--I'm sure I looked like a spectacle) then take a shower and crawl back into bed. I tried to eat at least one meal. If food was placed in front of me I ate to bursting. If not, I ate nothing all day.

In my profession, I'd talked a lot about grief. I knew all the stages and symptoms. I knew it would be terrible. But this was the first time I'd come to know it on this visceral, personal level. Its ability to incapacitate. The way it deadens everything, and distracts a huge portion of your brain from everything else. Like brain damage.

For six more days she did not die. And each day was spent pleading for and dreading in equal measure the call I knew was coming.

It happened on the 28th.

That morning, I was up writing a poem (about her) early. I couldn't sleep. I listened to an interview of Ezra Koenig, pressing play, then play, then play on each segment until it was done. The sun was up. I went upstairs and lay down intending to go back to sleep. I started reading a story by Annie Proulx. It was several pages into this (or maybe I'd fallen asleep a wink?) that I heard Lolly's phone ringing and, in one of those flashes of intuition that are inexplicable, I knew what it was, even though it wasn't even my phone that was ringing.

I looked at the phone. It was Dad. I didn't pick up because, though irrational, my brain told me I needed to hear this on my phone. I searched for my phone. It was downstairs on the windowsill. I picked it up. Dad and my brother Chris had both called. Chris had left a message. "Hey, Josh, this is Chris," his voice was cracking, "just give me a call when you get a chance. Bye." I went into the closet in the master bedroom to be alone. I prefer solitude in moments like this.

I called Dad. He did not answer.

I called Chris. He picked up. "She's gone," he said simply. I started crying. I thanked him and told him I'd call Dad later and hung up. It had finally happened. She had finally gone. Shellie Weed had gone.

I cried for a long time.

* * *

I realized the other night--watching her sing "Borderline" on Jimmy Fallon--that my mom is (or was, rather) only three years older than Madonna.

* * *

The days leading to the funeral are a blur. Pain. Disbelief. Relief. I posted to Facebook which felt monumentally difficult but necessary. I helped some with arrangements. We drove to Utah.

The funeral was not in May. It was June 2nd.

I talk about that morning here. It was a brutal, cold, lonely morning. I had to go early to practice the piece I was playing. I got there. I practiced with John, my accompanist. Then I put my violin away and it was time for the viewing.

The viewing. The last time I'd ever see her.

The room was full of family--some close, some distant, all there to honor this great woman. Mom looked serene, yet totally unlike herself. Her make-up was done like an elderly person's, not like a woman just emerging from her fifties. I walked over to the coffin, looked at that caked-on layer of cosmetics, and wished for something, anything, that would remind me of her, not this weird vision of kind-of-her. And then I looked down. I saw her hands. Yes, those were her hands! They were the hands of a middle-aged lady. They were not old and decrepit. They were hers. Her exact hands, with her fingernails that jutted outward slightly as they always had--just like the fingernails of several of my daughters. I touched those hands for the last time--touched my mommy for the last time, and though cold and stiff, they felt like her.

I went and stood by my Dad as the rest of the extended family paid their respects. And then, as my sister, Jenni, placed the veil over her head for the last time (flash: going through the temple for the first time, standing next to her, feeling her hand in my hand there) I started crying openly. So many last times: this was the last time I'd ever see her face.

Then the service. My aunt gave a beautiful tribute. Then me. I played, and sobbed as I played. It felt as if the violin was crying with me. And then I went straight into speaking. (This was poor planning.) I couldn't keep myself together at all. I was crying so openly and so loudly I had to apologize several times and just blubber. I'm sure my Grandma Mousley--my mom's mother who was there watching, and whose basic philosophy has always been "composure in all things"--was horrified by this public display of emotion, but of course I cried for my mom at her funeral. Of course.

I said my words. My siblings spoke and said theirs. My dad spoke and opened with a joke. He riffed on the fact that the song I played is often accompanied by a famous ballet portrayal made famous by Anna Pavlova, saying something like "As Josh mentioned, there is a beautiful ballet that goes with the piece shared. I will be performing that dance for you now..." It was legitimately funny, and so perfect. He then spoke such beautiful words about his beloved. My heart was full, and my sorrow was also full.

The burial came next, of course. It was bright and sunny. I was tired. It had been a long day/week/month/year/decade.

With her burial came some level of closure. My mind was able to click into the fact that it was over. The horrible journey of Alzheimer's was, at last, over. I enjoyed the remaining days there with my family. We grieved together, and ate together, and laughed together. Best of times and worst of times and all that jazz.

And then I came home. I started back at work in earnest. Losing myself in other people's stories was good for me, although I had absolutely no bandwidth for much else--I avoided most social things and I couldn't tolerate hearing anybody's stories in social settings (which is normally something I actually enjoy). I had no room to hear other hard things--I'm still in that place to some extent. I was in survival mode. But I was doing it. I was surviving, and the very first tendrils of healing started to unearth themselves.

*    *    *

And this is where the story gets ugly and confusing and brutal.

One of the things I have most looked forward to as a result of Mom's death--something I've pined to see since she first started her decline, and my dad sacrificed everything to stay with her--was the emancipation her passing would bring him. He is relatively young. He wouldn't even be retired yet had this not happened. He has decades of life ahead, still. He has so much to do and accomplish. No, he will not be able to serve the missions that he and Mom had planned and saved for since I was a child. But now, untethered by the weighty responsibility of being a caretaker, he could start afresh.

I was looking forward to watching him regain his life--a new, different life, tinged with loss and sadness in some ways, but beautiful and productive all the same.

13 days after burying my mom, Dad had an MRI.

Two weeks to the day from placing his wife in the ground he got the call saying that he has Multiple Sclerosis.

Again, we all got a confusing, terrifying call saying that our parent had a chronic, non-curable, degenerative disease. Again we felt pangs of denial and confusion. Again there were talks of diagnosis and prognosis and life-expectancy and coping. Again there were prayers for the miracle that would probably never be realized--a cure. It was happening again. We had just buried my mom because this happened eight years ago, and now it was happening again.

I can't emphasize how traumatic this has been for us all--for me and my siblings. And I can't even begin to fathom how breathtakingly difficult this is for my dad.

And why now? Why two weeks later? Why could my dad not have had a moment's peace? Why could he not have some relief after all he did for her?

The irony. The bitter, soul-crushing, faith-challenging irony.

There is more irony and tragedy that I can't even mention, but believe me when I say: my family has been through hell these last three months.

At first, everyone I talked to tried to tell me how totally okay this was, how totally unlike Alzheimer's M.S. is. It's the teeniest, tiiiiniest, chronic degenerative neurological disease! Ever so minute! It's not a death sentence! they would say.

Except, yes it is. Not in the same way as Alzheimer's. But when M.S. reduces your life-expectancy by an average of about ten years and you get it when you're 61, how could it be viewed as anything but that?

Not to mention the fact that the disease can be so brutal, so unyielding and unforgiving. Dad could be a wheelchair in five years for all we know--or sooner. There are different paths the disease takes, certainly. Perhaps we will see miraculous things happen. Perhaps life will be merciful. Perhaps this diagnosis will somehow not be significant and tragic and life-altering and horrible. Perhaps.

But when you see your mother get a disease like Alzheimer's, and everyone around you sighs and tells you anecdotes about their grandparents saying funny things and forgetting to buy milk, and then you see the way a disease can demolish a life--swiftly, brutally, unyieldingly, with terrifying speed and total humiliation and devastation, until they are brain-dead wearing diapers in a bed on Morphine for 12 days before being lowered the ground in a wooden box--it's difficult to pin your hopes on the vague possibility that this new diagnosis of a horrible, degenerative disease will somehow be merciful.

Sure, it might be. But that's not the point. The point is this is happening. The point is it could be, and probably will be, absolute havoc. The point is my dad is already physically wiped out by the symptoms, and half his face is paralyzed, and he almost lost total vision in one eye. The point is that when something like this happens, a person needs you to sit with them in the horror of it and not point to some wispy, vague, unlikely possibility of healing or hope, but instead just hug you and say that fucking SUCKS

Because it does. And it just as likely might rip my dad away from us brutally and horrifically as not. No platitudes, please, then. Please no more of that. No more articles about miracle drugs and testimonies about essential oils and amazing life-saving berries and scientific breakthroughs. I've already had ten years of that, and we tried many of them, and not a single one of those things kept my mom from her speedy trajectory towards that box in the ground.

I'm good, thanks. My dad is a smart man. He, and his doctors, will figure this out.

Eventually, I realized this was people's way of dealing with their own horror of looking at me, two weeks after burying my mom, and seeing the trauma and pain in my eyes. And I don't begrudge them that. It really, really is horrible.

So, yes. Vicissitudes. Life has them.

I spoke in this post about sweetness and my family and my hopes for 2016, and my gratitude that my entire family was still here on Earth.

That has changed now. 2016 has been a year of profound suffering, of painful loss, of national tragedy, of obscene racial inequity, of disquieting bigotry, of political upheaval, of seeing pictures of children I actually know carrying their sweet gay friends--also children--in caskets to their graves because of a church policy and a beloved faith community that consistently, unrelentingly tells them they don't belong here and/or don't exist. It's been a year of confusion and crisis, of feeling rejection, of losing once-supportive friends, of horrific news, of loss, of tragedy in the absolute worst and most unimaginable shades scopes and depths. I haven't even mentioned all that's happening to me and those in my immediate family, but believe me, it would chill you to know of the depravity and horror and irony and brutal timing of it all. People I love are suffering in ways unfathomable. 

And yet--and this is the gift life gives us, I suppose; these are the vicissitudes that make this experience valuable and worthwhile--there is still hope.

Little things.

--I've been writing more, and my poetry has begun to reach a state of quality I have yearned for my entire life.

--My memoir has shifted and morphed and is becoming something more beautiful and heartfelt and meaningful than I ever imagined possible, and I can't wait to share this multi-year project and journey with you all.

--I felt my mom. I might write about it in more detail another time. I didn't feel her for a long time after she left, and I wondered if I ever would. Her death, as the cold reality of death is wont to do, made me reflect in new, literal ways about what happens next. Was all I've believed about life after death a fanciful fairy-tale? Was the atomic and chromosomal make-up of my mother's person all there was to her, and was that pile of matter sitting in that box in the ground, rotting, never to be sensed or heard from or felt again except in dreams and memories? Was that the logical, scientific end, really, and I'd been deluding myself about spirits and feelings and visions and visitations all along? Was all of that an anthropological defense mechanism against the unsettling impermanence of existence and our desire to remain connected to those we love, because we are animals who have cognition and fear death and crave continuity? These weren't mere musings--I really wondered these things as I watched my mom hanging in a casket above her hole in the Earth soon to be lowered, and for weeks afterward. I hoped for a visitation--some appearance that felt real and vibrant where I could sense her in ways science could never assess but that felt undeniable and real to me--but I wasn't counting on it. But then, in probably the most unexpected moment I could conceive of, it happened. It happened in a way I could never have anticipated, with enough random synchronicity and beauty and heartfelt tenderness (such that in the end, my entire tiny family was holding each other in a group hug in the living room crying together, feeling her presence) that I have something to hold onto, and when I choose to believe in what happened to me, and what my mother communicated to me (instead of viewing it with the pained eyes of the cynic, which do appear from time to time), it heals my soul and gives me understanding and perspective and hope. This experience was an undeniable gift.

--I have had other spiritual synchronicities as well. Things that have the signature of the Divine. Things that are beautiful and personal. Small, meaningful things that--when taken in totality--add up to power and meaning and a life-mission that has merit and importance even in the face of all this horror and loss. And that also add up to Heavenly parents who love and cherish me, my wife and my girls in ways I am only beginning to understand.

And on that note, I will share my most recent cherished vicissitude.

We drove down to Utah, and my entire family (minus my sister Maquel who had to remain in Nebraska, though she was deeply missed), and most of Lolly's family too, gathered for two important religious rites on Saturday: a baptism, and a baby blessing.

The day started with something even more unlikely and unexpected: a family reunion put together by my Dad's cousin Shanna Hardy, whom I'd only recently met. I had never been invited to a Weed family reunion in my life. My grandparents divorced in 1958, and my dad went with his mother, and he didn't see his father again until he was 17 years old. He was lost to the Weed side of the family. We all were. But in a strange sequence of connection on, of all things, Facebook, (thanks Chad Perkins!) I met my dad's cousin, and recently went to visit her when we were at Disneyland. And I met my dad's only living aunt. And I heard her tell jokes, and say things that sounded so familiar, and it was so uncanny--like I'd been hearing it all my life, only we'd just met. I sang songs with Shanna's daughters and we compared pictures and notes. And then, Shanna reserved a park in Utah and invited all my dad's estranged family, and we all got together and shared desserts and talked and met each other for the first time. It was so strangely wonderful and beautiful. We all looked somewhat alike, and we all felt the ropes of family connection somehow, and instead of playing the planned games and sports Shanna had brought, we all just talked. We hugged and laughed and connected. It was really, really lovely. And my Grandpa's older brother Gordon, who is 90+, gathered the family together--for the first time, really--and said a prayer as the patriarch of that family, and he blessed us all--as a unit, as a group, as a family.

 Bet you want some of these Weeds in *your* garden, dontcha?
Family... isn't it about time? (Yes. It's ABOUT FREAKING TIME WE WERE A FAMILY AGAIN.)
"What do you do with a park pavilion? You putchyer Weed in it!"

It was truly wonderful. It was connective in ways I needed, but simply didn't realize I needed. It reminds me that family is one of those phenomena that we simply don't understand fully, but whose importance cannot be underestimated (and whose influence cannot be escaped from!)
Then, later that day, my family and Lolly's family all got dressed and drove to a chapel in West Jordan, Utah. And my little Viva and I put on white jump-suit-thingies. And Lolly's brother conducted a sweet baptismal service (combined with Lolly's sister's baby blessing). 
Viva was nervous, so we practiced in hallway beforehand until she felt ready. Then we walked into the warm water of the font, and I raised my arm and said her full name--Olivia Michele Weed--and then I baptized her. I was not expecting to feel so moved, but I cried as I walked from the font to get dressed. The feeling was sweet, calming, peaceful--that oh-so-familiar feeling, which is indescribable, which we call the Holy Ghost. It is a feeling I don't feel as strongly in any other context. And it was strong and beautiful and very clear in that moment, and I felt so close to my daughter as I pulled her from the water and she looked up at me and laughed. And close to God.
Afterwards, my dad got up to share some words on the Holy Ghost. And he was crying. He had forgotten Viva's middle name. It had taken him by surprise to be reminded that she was named after my mommy. He said, "You'll have to forgive me. It's only been two months since she left us." And he paused and collected himself for a moment. Then he talked of missing her, and of the ways in which the Holy Ghost had fulfilled its role as a comforter since she had passed. 

And then Viva sat at the front of that room, and I placed my hands on her head, and was joined by the hands of all of the men in that room--a network of masculine support and family that loves and adores her--and I used the Priesthood to give her the Gift of the Holy Ghost. And I said a blessing that contained phrases that didn't come from just me, and that spoke of a wonderful, beautiful life, and of her connection to Deity.

There are still so many questions I have. Even about those ordinances. (Why only men? How does this work, really? What does it all mean here and in the hereafter?). But the actual events--the actual acts themselves--were crystal clear, and so obviously a gift from God to me and my little family, there in that tiny corner of the Universe. 

I don't know much. And a lot of the things this year has brought me have been horrific spirals of pain and complexity and confusion. But that day was simple and beautiful, and the feelings of joy and connection and peace--and of the Holy Ghost--were undeniable and unforgettable. 

The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away. 

 Blessed be the name of the Lord.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

"The Swan"--a tribute to the victims of the Orlando shooting

My mommy was laid to rest two weeks ago tomorrow.

I woke up to birdsong early on the morning of her funeral. The birds were so loud, they woke me up at dawn--way too early. I couldn't get back to sleep. I felt sick to my stomach. Jenni, Chris and I (the first three born) had eaten at Leatherby's the night before--the very Leatherby's where Mom used to take us as children, right near where we grew up in Kearns. It was nostaglic and sweet and I'm glad I have that memory.  That morning, though, everything felt cold and bleak and my stomach felt unsettled. I took a shower. I put on my suit. I got my violin. I looked over my notes for my talk. Then, by myself, I walked over to the chapel where my mother's body lay.

It was a horrible feeling, that solitary trek.

I got to the chapel and was shocked to see the hearse, and then individuals who had arrived early to the viewing to pay their respects. I didn't know how to react and was dazed and numb and very morose. My accompanist, John Sargeant, saved me and pulled me into a quiet room with a piano so we could practice. Before we started playing, John got out his camera and asked if he could record us. My brain didn't know how to process this. It felt odd and weird to record myself feeling so somber--this horrible day, my mom a few rooms down in a casket. He said that I might never want to use the footage which would be fine, but that it would be good to capture it so that I could use it if I ever did. My mind felt skeptical, yet at the same time, something in me knew he was right. We recorded two takes. Only one worked because of the angle of the camera.

Today, I have realized I want to share that footage. I emailed John and told him to take his upload off of "private." I want to share it so you can see this part of how I said goodbye to my sweet mom, certainly, but more importantly, sharing this footage is the only way I can think of to memorialize, in my own small way, those who died in Orlando.

Before I do, I need to explain why this song is significant to me. I explained this in my talk at the funeral and I was crying so hard I could barely make it through the explanation. "Le Cynge" ("The Swan") is a piece by Camille Saint-Saens, who is one of my favorite composers.  It was very significant to my mother's family as it is one of the songs my grandfather used to play through the halls of their home as they all fell asleep at night. Even through all the years of her illness, my mom always recognized "The Swan," and wept every time I performed it for her.

What I had never realized until I was preparing to play this for her funeral is that this piece depicts a dying swan. It is the "swan-song"--a representation of the legend that there is no sweeter birdsong than the song of the swan, who has been mute all its life, as it dies. This legend is, of course, inaccurate--swans do not sing a sad, beautiful song as they die, nor are they mute--but the symbolism of the piece is so powerful to me. It makes me think of my mom's song as she died--those ten terrible years, in which, as she left us, she communicated beauty, grace, longsuffering, gratitude, and endless faith. The song of my mother's death is the most beautiful song I've ever heard. She was the swan of this piece--shuddering, flapping--eventually folding into death with grace and beauty and tragedy. The last four notes of the piece felt like a message to me as I practiced and performed. In them, I heard the words "I'll see you soon..." each time. It brought me peace.

The men and women who died in Orlando were swans. Their voices and struggles were, likely, largely unheard. Lolly served her Spanish speaking mission in Orlando, near the very place they died. She has still not brought herself to look at the list of names to see if she knew anyone who passed away, but even if she didn't know them, she knew them, the Latino population of Orlando, and she loved them. She and I also deeply love our LBGTQIA+ brothers and sisters. This group is part of the great queer collective to which I belong. Because of this I know something of their muteness, or of the inability of some of them to share all of who they were in life. And it breaks my heart to know these beautiful lives were taken so early.

What I have noticed in the days since their murders is that, in death, each of them is singing a loud, beautiful song. I have been amazed at the voices of empathetic response from surprising corners--unlikely people who have heard this collective swan-song and had their hearts softened to the humanity that was lost. Their song is an anthem that people all over the world are finally hearing: that they lived, that they were real, that their journeys mattered, and most of all, that they should not have died for being, and celebrating, the beautiful people they were.

This rendition is my gift. I performed it on the very day my mother was buried. This footage is sacred to me. Yet this very personal monument of grief is the only fitting tribute I can make to those who died. It is a feeble offering, and I am no professional, but I hope the melody conveys the tragedy and beauty of the deaths of these beautiful swans, whose song will live on for years and years to come. And I hope that in those final four notes, you too hear the words "I'll see you soon..."

Saturday, May 28, 2016

She's Gone.

She's gone.

After more than 10 long years of suffering, and 12 days of being largely unconscious and not taking food or water, my sweet mother Michele Mousley Weed passed away this morning at about 6:00am PST from complications of Early Onset Alzheimer's disease. She developed the disease in her late 40's, lost herself to it piece by piece through her 50's, and died today at the age of 60.

I keep reading that paragraph over and over, crying.

I was able to fly out last week and spend several days by her bedside. I will always treasure that opportunity. 

This picture is the day I said goodbye, which was Sunday. Before catching my flight home, I kept saying my last goodbye and then going back to her bed to kiss her forehead and say goodbye again. I kept saying "how do I just walk away? How do I walk away from her?" It felt so gauche, so crude, to leave her there in that bed so I could get on a plane. I finally gave her one last kiss, then made myself walk out the back door of the care-facility because I knew it would lock behind me and I couldn't get back in. The urge to run back to her was overwhelming and primal. My sister Jenni followed me out, and she and I just held each other sobbing (she was saying goodbye then too). I still feel it now, that urge. I still somehow regret I didn't run back to her, though there had to be an end, a separation, at some point.

That moment felt so arbitrary.

As the days continued to pass, it started to feel like she might never go. Denial set in, telling me that she would forever be in that bed in Idaho, receiving morphine every three hours, stirring occasionally, largely peaceful, her body still warm and living, her spirit still inside of her.

And now, she's gone.

She's gone at last.

She's gone decades too soon.

She's been gone for a long time.

I will forever be grateful to my father, Stewart W. Weed, who stayed by her side until the end. He promised her he would never leave her side when they got the official diagnosis and she was very afraid. And he kept his promise at great cost. He retired early, sold his home, and moved to a remote town he'd never been to in Idaho so he could afford to live with her in a care facility. His health began to fail in the last year due to the extreme stress. He nearly died himself, keeping that promise. His love and devotion, and ability to stand by his word even at incredible sacrifice to himself, is the greatest example I've ever seen of true love. It is something I will treasure all my days. It is the example I will follow.

It's now time for me to walk downstairs and tell my daughters that their grandma, whom they never knew without this horrible disease, has died.

And yes, something has to be done about Alzheimer's. Something has to be done about this terrible disease. It is vicious--more vicious than most people realize. I had no idea, myself. And we need to realize it. We need to understand that it is about so much more than forgotten names and missed appointments, and repeated stories--that is so much more horrifying than old grandparents saying funny things that make no sense. It is more degrading, heart wrenching and debilitating than one can even imagine, and the number of its victims increases every year. We need to be doing something about it. We need to be finding a cure. I have more to say about this, but I will have to say it another day.

Today, I will be with my tiny family, and I will cry a lot, and will write down memories, and I will help plan a funeral for the best person I've ever known.

Love to all.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

The truth about the Mormon Mental Health Association

If you have ever contemplated looking for a Mormon therapist, or are interested in mental health as it relates to Mormonism or issues around sex addiction and pornography addiction, this post will be of interest to you. If not, this might not be your thing, and that's cool.

How do I even start this?

People often say that human beings love a scandal, and I'm not sure I disagree.

And, as it turns out, there's a bit of a scandal happening in our own backyard. If it's not a scandal, then it's at least something to be aware of if you are an LDS person who ever seeks out professional help from a therapist.

I don't report on this "scandal" to be sensational. As you'll see, I have very clear and specific reasons to be talking about this, and for attempting to set the record straight about an organization who has chosen a name that affords it credibility and status that, frankly, it doesn't deserve.

Consider this post as warning.

A couple of years ago, I was thrilled to find a new organization called the "Mormon Mental Health Association." I am Mormon, I am a psychotherapist, I love fellow Mormons, and I am deeply committed to helping people find ways to maximize their mental health. It seemed like joining this organization was a natural fit. Plus, as I looked into it, I noticed that this organization had a solid stance against reparative therapy (therapy used to try to "fix" gay people and make them straight, which, turns out, is impossible and serves to really mess people up when it's attempted for reasons you can probably imagine). As someone who was subjected to reparative therapy for many years as a youth and young adult, I was incredibly happy to see a Mormon-based organization that so clearly disavowed this highly problematic therapeutic practice, which is being outlawed in many states because of the way it harms people.

I was one of the very first people to pay money to join this group.

Since then, there have been events that have occurred--from the mildly fishy to downright manipulative and professionally negligent--such that I, for one, am no longer associated with this organization, and I regret giving them a dime.

Things got weird right out the gate.

First, the organizer of the group told me she needed to interview me before I could be "admitted" as a member of this organization. This seemed very odd to me--as a Mormon and a licensed mental health professional, was my credentialing not sufficient evidence of my qualification to be included in a group of Mormons who specialize in mental health? I was disconcerted, but I was also willing to go forward with the interview because I had nothing to hide.

Then, the interview never happened. There was some scheduling difficulty, and then . . . radio silence. I was baffled. I didn't know what to make of this, especially when a dear friend and colleague let me know that she was never asked to do an interview in the first place.

After that I didn't hear from the organization for a really, really long time. When the same colleague would mention receiving messages from MMHA (she and I had both joined right around the same time) I couldn't figure out why I wasn't hearing from them. Eventually, by accident, I discovered the problem. Somehow, instead of sending information to the the email address I had listed in my application, they had begun to send me information to another email address I had created half a decade ago when I started my private practice, and had never really used. To this day, I still don't know how they got this email address. Did they find it in an online search about me? Were they worried about me being a part of this group, and if so, why? As a gay Mormon, was I not "Mormon" enough for the Mormon Mental Health Association? I couldn't figure out what the problem was.

Soon, the real issue became clear. And it shocked me.

Several months ago the head of the organization sent out an email to its members to hold a "vote" on a position policy regarding, of all things, sex addiction.

Now, I am a Certified Sex Addiction Therapist (or CSAT). What this means is that along with helping people with many issues like depression, anxiety, marital discord, and communication, I also spend time helping people who find themselves unable to control compulsive sexual behaviors. These are often people who are deeply religious, people who you wouldn't imagine to have such struggles. They are good, good people. And they are experiencing the horror of not being able to control their behaviors, doing things ranging from hours and hours of pornography use to taking advantage of prostituted women or men on a daily or weekly basis, to exhibitionism to . . . you name it. These are things my clients--who are amazing people--experience in their lives. These behaviors are devastating to my clients. The consequences are real, and the pain these people feel--often interlaced with profound religious shame--is breathtaking. And that's not to mention the betrayal trauma inflicted on spouses when discoveries of these secret compulsive behaviors are uncovered, which is another thing I specialize in. I work hard to help spouses cope with the deep wounds they feel when they have experienced a betrayal, the pain of which I outline in this article.

Therapy with people in these challenging circumstances is incredibly intense, multifaceted and complex. I have paid thousands of dollars and have spent hundreds of hours in trainings and supervision with incredibly gifted clinicians to learn how to appropriately and effectively treat individuals and families that have encountered these problems. And the number of people who experience difficulties with these issues is staggering. This is something that affects many, many Mormons.

I was stunned when I got the email regarding a vote on this issue. Guess what the vote was? It was to exclude sexual addiction from being talked about as a problem amongst Mormons.

Yes. You read that correctly.

They were voting to take a position that sexual addiction is not real, that any behaviors related to sexual compulsivity are the result of religious messages and other mental illness, and that treating sexual behaviors that people can't stop (after years and years of trying) as an addiction is not an acceptable way to help clients. They were making this claim even though there is no peer-reviewed science backing up their conclusions whatsoever.

They were going so far as to not letting clinician use the words "sex addiction" as they describe their specializations and even worse, not letting people like me list the fact that they are officially certified to help with sex addiction in their biographies.

I find this highly negligent.

If I am seeking help with eating disorders, I want someone with experience and training in treating eating disorders. Therapy with someone without that specialty can lead to worsening the problem, not helping it. Likewise, if someone has discovered that they or their partner has dealt with years and years of compulsive, clandestine sexual behaviors that has put their marriage (and sometimes their very lives) in jeopardy, they need to be able to find someone who is trained to help in that very complicated circumstance. CSATs have extensive training and supervision regarding how to treat trauma, how to help marriages where betrayal has happened, and how to heal relationships without worsening the trauma. Couples who see someone without that training are often told very damaging things. Wives who have been betrayed by their husbands are often told that they are the reason their husband is acting out sexually because they are repressed and prudish--when really they are neither of those things. Instead, they are traumatized by the betrayal, as well as by the ways sexual addiction has affected a husband's behavior (both sexually and non-sexually). Not surprisingly, the response to that trauma often includes not feeling comfortable or safe having sex with their husband, the very person who has hurt and betrayed them. These spouses' traumas are then discounted and explained away by theories of religious repression and lack of sex ed. Often, they have been told that told they are the problem by their sex-hungry husband for many years, and this message is then reinforced by the ignorant clinician (or religious leader). This further traumatizes the spouse, often leaving the marriage in a shambles. This is just one example of the deeply complicated, multi-layered complexity of working with people who are confronting a type of betrayal that, because of its addictive nature, happens again and again and again.

Someone without the appropriate training would not be able to make heads or tails of situations as complex as a multi-year marriage interlaced with multiple betrayals and the profound denial-based messaging this dynamic creates in a couple. It is my observation that untrained clinicians often do more damage than good when they try.

Being able to see the designation of "Certified Sex Addiction Therapist" is critical for clients in this vulnerable state.

When I got this email, which included a "survey" for the members of the organization to "vote" on the issue, I was deeply frustrated and very, very concerned. Not only was the fact that this issue was being put to a vote incredibly concerning to me, but the voting itself was profoundly biased. It did not present two sides of the issue and ask a group of professionals to use their discretion and judgment to make a collective choice. Instead, it presented one side of the information very sensationally, cited no research to back its claims (aside from quotes from a few random Master's level clinicians), and gave no primer on the actual issues being discussed. This was how they were deciding an official policy decision!

I suddenly realized that this was the modus operandi of the entire organization--even with the issues I happened to agree with. This was not a scientifically robust community searching out the answers and positions that would best help the Mormon community. It was a very small pocket--perhaps even a pocket of one--of people who wished to project the biases of their own experiences and opinions onto an entire organization, and in turn an entire culture--all while brandishing the name the "Mormon Mental Health Association." More about that later.

I reacted quickly and incisively. I found the email address of every member of the board of the organization and sent them a lengthy message with my concerns. (If you're interested, I've included the email I sent them below.) To summarize, in the letter I point out that the field of process addictions is so young that there is very little robust peer-reviewed science for or against sex addiction, and that to take such a drastic stance against sex addiction with such a paucity of data verges on unethical. (Interestingly, even in the months since sending that letter, I have encountered groundbreaking articles establishing a clear connection between pornography and addiction-based neurological reward centers, like this one or this one. If the MMHA were truly an organization interested in robust scientific inquiry as they claim, they would have already encountered this research, and would not require someone like me to point such articles out.) Additionally, in the letter I pointed out some of the logical fallacies of their conclusions, explained why a position against sex addiction would not be good for Mormons, and then said that if this action went forward, I would no longer be a member of the organization. I also informed them that if they took this step, I would feel professionally obligated to alert people to the highly problematic nature of this decision.

Though I heard through the grape-vine that my email had caused major waves, the formal response was pitiful. A tiny email from the founder of the group which said basically nothing--one or two sentences long. The response was so drastically negligent and non-conversational that I had other members of the board contact me separately apologizing for how wildly inadequate the response I got was.

After sending the email and getting no response, I felt powerless and very concerned. It seemed apparent to me that the action of taking this official position was going to go forward--how could it not, when the system was rigged to get the outcome that fit the leaders' bias?--and I didn't know what to do about it. Part of me wanted to fight. Part of me wanted to rally all the professionals I know who are passionate about helping the issue of sex addiction and push against this. But then, as I thought about it, I wondered if my time would be better spent building something different and more helpful rather than trying to tear something down I disagreed with. I contemplated the idea of doing nothing directly about MMHA and their policy (kind of a "not my circus, not my monkeys..." stance) and instead focus on building resources that would help the vulnerable population I was concerned about. I have many plans in play to accomplish this end. As months passed, I forgot about the situation and was leaning towards not acting.

UNTIL last week when one a dear friend of mine contacted me in a panic. This person texted me asking what my thoughts were about the position she had just read by the Mormon Mental Health Association regarding sex addiction.

Do you see the problem here? Do you see how that question sounds? Do you see how what she saw must have struck her? How it must have felt to read that position coming from a group with that name?

This is a personal friend, whose story I happen to know. I happen to know of her devastation when confronting issues of sexual addiction in her marriage. I happen to have seen her shed tears, and wonder if she should leave her husband (an incredibly good man) because of his dishonesty and his compulsive sexual behaviors. When I received this text from her, wondering how a Mormon Mental Health Association could so blatantly disregard her real-life experience--both the pain she went through for years, as well as the recovery and healing she experienced when she and her husband received treatment from Certified Sex Addiction Therapists--I knew immediately I needed to write this post.

There is a reason my friend texted me within days of this organization posting their official statement. It is because she felt harmed by this position, most especially in the context of the word "Mormon" brandished in this organization's name.

There is a reason the church does not generally allow organizations not affiliated with it to use the word "Mormon" in their title. It is because that term has cultural significance. It is a term that adds credibility when being assessed by populations who have no way of knowing that credibility was earned by nothing more than typing the word "Mormon" into the name itself.

When people hear that "the Mormon Mental Health Association" thinks this or that other thing, they are often, just as my friend did, going to assume that the Mormon church, or an organization endorsed by the Mormon church, thinks that thing.  That is not okay.

And I have to take ownership of my own problematic behavior here: back when it was associated with a cause I believed in (the disavowal of reparative therapy), this incongruous messaging didn't seem so bad. I regret not thinking more deeply about this then. Now that it is affecting me professionally, and affecting people I love, the highly deceptive nature of the branding, the poor messaging, and the biases of this organization sing out loud and clear.

The truth about the Mormon Mental Health Association is that it is neither Mormon, nor particularly concerned with the pursuit of scientifically-based mental health. More so, the organization is a reflection of the cultural biases of its creator and some of its leaders, who appear to hope to make an impact on the trends of Mormon culture by using the word "Mormon" as part of its branding, even when it is highly deceptive, and perhaps even illegal, to do so. This is ironic when their own code of ethics reads: (2.4) MMHA members seek to be aware of personal bias, such as religious or ideological views, which could interfere in allowing clients to explore freely within a therapeutic process.

Obviously, it would behoove them to follow their own stated guideline.

And here's the real kicker: being Mormon is not even one of the requirements of becoming listed in the directory of the Mormon Mental Health Association, nor is there any requirement to clarify one's connection to the LDS church at all. You can be Mormon, former-Mormon, never-been-Mormon, or even excommunicated-Mormon--and there is no requirement to outline your link to the church. The only thing ostensibly connecting any of these therapists to the Mormon Church is the very title of the organization itself--a very flimsy umbrella of association for a public who will be hungry to find therapist who who share their beliefs. To be clear, I have great confidence in well-trained clinicians of any religion or creed to treat LDS folks--indeed I often refer my surplus of LDS clientele to professionals who are not LDS (and always inform said clients of the religious difference so that the client can make an informed choice). What I am saying here is that I believe that to become a member of an organization called the "Mormon Mental Health Association" as a non-Mormon, and then to not clarify your status with the religion, is tantamount to false advertising. Yet the organization makes no provision that a practitioner make explicit these differences in believe.

Apparently, they're so busy making sure professionals aren't allowed to mention their documented certification as a sex addiction therapist that they can't be bothered with minor details like making sure an LDS client seeking out a Mormon therapist from the Mormon Mental Health Association is informed whether or not the therapist listed is, in fact, an actual member of the Mormon church.

In conclusion, I want to say that I really don't relish in posting this. There are people I know and very much respect who are part of the MMHA, and I don't want them to be maligned in any way because of this association. I dislike the idea of trying to tear something down instead of spending my energy elsewhere--building something I believe in. After this post, I plan to do exactly that, and let the cards (if any) fall as they may. That being said, I would feel deeply negligent if I didn't publish a post outlining what I know about this situation so that people like my friend (when searching for Mormon therapists or even Googling "Mormon Mental Health Association") can find helpful information regarding some of the more troubling details of this group instead of just assuming--as the advertising implies--that this is a legitimate group affiliated with the Mormon church.

All right. Enough serious talk for me for one day. Time to go play with my kids.

Below is the letter I sent to the board:

Dear MMHA board,

I recently got your email with the proposed changes and direction regarding sex addiction within the MMHA community. I am sending you this email because I have some significant concerns about it that I thought you might want to be aware of. I have written the following in response to the emailed proposal, but wanted to email it to the board specifically (instead of submitting it in the form) so that it can be a dialogue as opposed to a random, anonymous response.  Consider the following as if it were written in the “comment box” on the survey you sent MMHA members:
The opinion that sex addiction does not exist is not based in science. It is based on the personal biases and conclusions of individuals like the clinicians quoted in your proposal. To wit: instead of peer reviewed science backing the claims contained in your proposed statement/position, you have included nothing more than quotes from practitioners who hold the opinion that sex addiction does not exist, or could be explained through differential diagnosis. However quotes from probably-very-good clinicians do not a peer reviewed, robust scientific analysis make. For the MMHA to take such a definitive stance on this issue without proper scientific backing is very concerning and, in my opinion, verges on being unethical.

While general addiction science and treatment is well established and recognized in the psychological community, the science behind process addictions (like hyper sexuality, gambling addiction, food addiction (binge eating disorder), and internet gaming addiction) is still very nascent, as evidenced by some of the research proposed within and about the DSM-V itself. While at least one field study has already indicated that proposed criteria for hypersexuality are valid and reliable, it will be many years before our field has definitive answers regarding the diagnosis and classification of any of these disorders. And that's okay. That's how science works. Sometimes it takes time.

In one of the quotes from your proposed statement, a clinician admits that the "struggle" of hypersexuality (or at least its symptoms) "is real." That means that these symptoms are showing up in practitioners’ offices, and must be responded to. At this point, the science is so fledgling that no specific modality, treatment model or even diagnostic criteria for said "struggle" has been decided on by the broader scientific community. As such, taking a stand that bars a completely valid treatment model (addiction therapy) when there is not sufficient scientific research to justify its exclusion is jumping the gun in a big way, and in this case seems to reflect deep bias and a profound misunderstanding by MMHA of the sex positive, non-religious-based stance taken by Certified Sex Addiction Therapists, of which I am one. 

Weak, mostly anecdotal articles exist that will buttress the biases of either side of this dialogue, but there is currently a paucity of robust, peer reviewed literature on this topic in either direction.  It is important to note that a lack of robust scientific studies is not proof that sex addiction (hypersexuality) isn't real in the same way that a lack of people testifying that the sky is blue does not prove that it is purple. This is a logical fallacy called argumentum ex silentio (argument of silence) and it is a grossly negligent basis for a policy decision like the one(s) proposed by MMHA.

Inchoate science and a lack of definitive research does not preclude clinicians from treating presenting symptoms of this "real struggle" using best practice, research based modalities like cognitive behavioral therapy, motivational interviewing, and group therapy, etc, which are the bedrock of the addiction model. To claim otherwise before there is robust scientific data sufficient to back that claim is a severe overreach.

If this is the policy that MMHA adopts around this issue, not only will I no longer endorse, support, or participate in this organization, but I will feel a professional obligation to publicly discredit the non-scientific, non-research based nature of this decision. Obviously, I am only one voice, but I feel strongly that publicizing accurate information about this decision would be especially critical for the LDS community, given that the sex negative messages propagated by the LDS church arguably create a larger population than average of people who--because of negative messaging around normal developmental behaviors like masturbation, arousal, developmentally appropriate experimentation, etc.--have especially maladaptive sexual dysfunctions that call for appropriate, best-practices-based interventions (like addiction therapy, among others) to resolve.

This is not to say that addiction therapy is the only solution. Naturally, any good practitioner will rule out differential diagnoses, as the quotes in your proposed action suggest. But when those rule-outs come up empty, addictions treatment is a perfectly legitimate, scientifically sound therapeutic modality choice for the treatment of the aforementioned “struggles” of those who present with symptoms of hypersexuality while we wait for the science to further elucidate this issue. Furthermore, to conflate religiosity with professional sex addiction treatment is a blatant mischaracterization of a professional modality that is not connected to faith traditions of any kind, has a fundamental aim to reduce shame around sexual behavior, and that arguably helps thousands of people effectively respond to the deep wounds and poor sexual health caused by negative religious messaging—i.e. the kinds of wounds and poor sexual health we so often see in the Mormon community.

In reality, I feel that all practitioners within MMHA have similar goals in helping LDS people who have been hurt by the religious pathologizing that happens around sexuality in our congregations: we want our clients to rid themselves of shame, and we want them to be able to live sex positive, healthy intimate lives with their partners. Cognitive behavioral therapy, motivational interviewing, and group therapy, etc. (the essence of addictions treatment), and the sex addiction treatment model as a whole, are perfectly reasonable modalities to employ in order to achieve that aim.

I realize this is a new organization, and growing pains are inevitable. However issues like the one I address here have me questioning whether this organization, which I was thrilled by initially, can adequately represent Mormon mental health practitioners like me who are tired of the church-tethered, insular practices of former decades and wish for an organization based on sound scientific research instead of fear-based, reactive biases. (Biases, misunderstandings, and fear-based exclusions of healthy clinical models are something that the church has been plagued by for many years, so it is frustrating to see that happening here as well, in the other direction.) It makes me question this organization's perception of science, its assessment of what constitutes best practices, and its ability to participate responsibly in cutting edge social activism that would promote the mental health of Mormons. In other words, I contend, and plan to publicly point out, that if the MMHA takes this stance on sex addiction, it will fail to meet its own objective "to be up-to-date on credible, peer-reviewed, best-practice approaches to all issues surrounding mental health and serve as educators of such information.”

At the same time, I appreciate the methodical nature of your decision making process, and the opportunity you have given your members to contribute to the dialogue around this issue. I would be happy to engage in a conversation around these ideas if that were of interest to you. Thank you so much for your time.


Josh Weed, LMFT, CSAT

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Lamb of God

I'm doing something very new to me.

This Sunday, and the Sunday after, I'm singing a solo in an oratorio called "Lamb of God." I'm playing the character of Thomas.

I've never, until three weeks or so ago, had a voice lesson. No training. Just a lot of singing loudly in church choirs and being told to "blend, Josh. Blend!" This is a total departure from what I know of myself as a musician--usually I'm in the orchestra. Not on stage, singing.

If I think about it too much, my hands go numb and my gut clenches and I want to crawl into my bed and not come out for a week and a half. But then, I also feel a surge of excitement, and a feeling that I know I'm supposed to be doing this. Remember when I mentioned in my New Year's post that I would be fearless this year? That I would throw my hat in the ring and do things, even when they feel terrifying? Well, this is one of those moments.

There's a whole, long story about how all of this came about that I might get into later. But for now I want you to know this one key thing: I have struggled so much to know how to articulate my thoughts around the policy that happened in November. My thoughts and feelings are incredibly complex, and my pain around it is deep and difficult to put in words. I have been unable to write about it, but please know that--hokey as this might sound--my singing of this song is part of my response to the policy. Words have largely failed me. But this music has encapsulated my emotions and hopes and feelings in a way I've never experienced before, and I mean that sincerely. I've never connected to music on this level, and the circumstances of me doing this were very providential.

So, if you live nearby and if you want to truly understand my feelings--not just about the policy, but about a great number of things--I would be honored if you came and saw my performance. This is an instance where, perhaps for the first time in my life, what I feel in my heart is better expressed not in written word, but in song. (I'm trying hard not to feel cheesy about how that sounds! Because I mean it.)

Please come. If your heart is hurting, come. If you feel confusion of any kind in your life, come to this performance. Not just to see me, but to experience this powerful piece of music, which has made me cry pretty much every day for the last three weeks. The entire oratorio is a treatise on Christ, on His atonement and sacrifice, and on why we are permitted to have hope in the face of cruelty, death and profound difficulty. (Here I go again, trying to describe something in words that can be better described in music.)

If you have a heavy heart for any reason, or just need a spiritual pick-me-up; if you feel disenfranchised and frustrated; if your faith has taken a hit, and you need to feel God's love, this performance will be a safe place for you.

Come. Enjoy this music. Celebrate the ministry of Christ.

Watch me do something utterly terrifying.

And please, whether you come or not, say huge prayers for me that I'll be able to do this scary thing with courage and a solid sense of self, in a way that's pleasing to God.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Winds of Change that Change Nothing

 Photo attribution: here

I am feeling the winds of change here at The Weed.

But that's nothing new. I feel the winds of change over here regularly. And then I write about those winds of change, becoming all meta, and then 80% of the time, nothing actually changes. It's how I do life.

If you've read here long, you've seen posts about blogging--several a year, at least. It's actually one of my favorite topics to write about. I blog about blogging a lot, I think, because like so many things in my life, blogging is something I strive to get better at, and when I suck at it, I try and analyze why through writing. I pick at it over and over and over trying to psychoanalyze and motivate myself. I blog about blogging because I'm constantly trying to crack the code of how to remain committed to doing this, even with my ADD and my four kids and my career as a therapist and my other career as a writer of books that haven't been published yet. There is a seemingly endless concourse of starts and stops in the history of this weblog--always, the epiphany: "Ope, I'm finally gonna do this regularly herewegoooooo!!" leading, sometimes just days later, to a big red stop sign in my head.

In recent years, those halts have been brought on by huge, cataclysmic (to me) events that stop me in my tracks. One of the most recent was the church's new policy, which I have yet to tackle in writing (it has taken me a long time to process that sucker, and I'm still heartbroken for so many people I love, but I've found some peace with it. I'll probably write about that soon. (Famous last words, as my Grandpa Woody used to say.)) Other halts include: the time a guy threatened my family on Facebook; the time my Mom went to a rest home; the time I posted about marriage equality and then took the post down days later cuz God told me to; other crises too personal to mention; Etc.

Before things got serious here--back when this was an ADHD blog and a then a humor blog--the halts came mainly with me getting annoyed with my limitations of voice. For much of that time, I felt like I had to be only funny and absurd, and there was no room for serious things, and it stymied me. As I've chronicled before, my coming out post in 2012 (over three years ago! Whoa!) was, in part, the result of me having writer's block on this very blog and Lolly saying, in what felt like an almost offhanded remark, "I know the problem. The problem is that you need to come out of the closet."

I had no idea how right she was. Doing that opened up both worlds of authenticity in my blogging, as well as worlds of complication.

When I started this blog in 2010, it was on a day where I felt similar to how I feel in this moment. I was about to turn 30 years old, and I was frustrated by my inability to do stuff. I felt disorganized and sporadic and desperately wanted to find a routine. I opened a blogspot blog for the sole purpose of having a place to list, online, the stuff I wanted to do to get organized. Instead what came out of me was this post where I came out, so to speak, about having ADD (presaging later revelations in ways I could never have guessed.)

It's no secret that one of the things that trips me up most as I write in this sucker is knowing how to deal with people's crappy comments. I could give master classes at this point on all of the ideas I've tried in order to overcome this hurdle. "Water off a duck's back!" I say. "Just ignore it," I say. Somehow, though, I have such a hard time with that. So much of the feedback I've gotten over the years has been beautiful, wonderful and supportive. So, why then the one comment that's grating? Why is that the one the tinges the conversation for me, gets me distracted, makes me waste time?

I've been having some thoughts about that--about why negative comments trip me up so much. Maybe that will be tomorrow's post.

If I post tomorrow.

Because that's the joy of the life of Josh Weed. I never know the staying power of anything I start. I never know if some effort will last six years, as this blog has now, or come screeching to a halt the next day. When I started this blog in 2010, there was no indication, whatsoever, that it would become a blog written about in major periodicals around the world, or that it would end up with a tally of visitors in the millions. That heyday has, of course, seen more robust moments. But that's the beauty of my spastic, impetuous life: who knows what the next heyday will look like? Who knows but that I start something today, just like I started in February of 2010, that through hard work and luck, will yield amazing dividends that change my life for the better in innumerable ways as I keep plugging along, just like this blog has?

That's why I start again every time I fail. That's why I write about blogging so dang often here and constantly try to feel the winds of change pushing me towards consistency, even though they often lead to no change at all. That's also why every time I fail in my attempt to write here consistently, I pick myself up again, dust myself off, and start anew. I know it might be annoying to read about these attempts, or about my difficulties with critical comments. I know that each time I promise to be consistent and then only write for a few days or weeks and then fall off of the planet, I lose people's trust--that is totally understandable. I would have the same exact reaction as a reader.

As a writer, it's an occupational hazard. I accept it.

But please know that every false start is the way my brain knows how achieve my Goals with a capital G. Know that each time I try to recommit, I am committing to something deeply important to me. Know that I have loved every minute of writing in this blog, and I have loved interacting with all of you so very much, and hope to continue to do so for many years to come, if you don't get too sick of me.

When I'm being generous and loving and understanding to myself--giving myself grace, as they say--I realize that every "broken promise" in this endeavor is not a failure--it is simply another step in my tenacious pursuit of my dreams, kicking the stone farther and farther down the path. And if there's one thing I can, with 100% surety, promise you about myself it is this: I do not give up on my dreams. Ever.

No matter what.

Thanks so much for sticking around while I make those dreams happen in the face of internal demons and other adversity and lots of of starts and stops.

It means a lot.

In the meantime, I'm gonna be better at posting. No, really. Pinky swear!

(And thus my post about the winds of change concludes with nothing having changed at all, bringing this post, and probably this blog itself, full circle. Aaaaaaand scene.)

Monday, January 11, 2016

Trip to Rexburg + I won a thing!!! + Aging. (It happens.)

In September or October or some month in the past I spontaneously took a trip down to Idaho with a former early-morning seminary student of mine (shout out, Spencer Transier) who was going there to forge his destiny and stuff.

I was going there because my parents had just moved into an assisted living facility. Which, in case you were wondering, really sucks.

The drive down was great--uneventful and nice and picturesque, like any good road trip should be. Here's a poor picture from the drive:

I'm always amazed I haven't been tapped to work for a magazine with photos like this.
Oh, side story: at one point I was introducing Spencer to Radiohead (which I viewed as part of my responsibility as his former seminary teacher, obviously) and in order to give context to the brilliant progression of their musical output over time I was like "well, you know "Creep" right?" expecting him to know exactly what I was talking about. And he didn't. So I sang the chorus. "Cuz I'm a creeeeep, I'm a weeeeeeirdoooooo . . ." Still nothing. Then I was like "Really Spencer? It was one of the most popular songs of 1995. How have you never heard this?" And he was like "Josh, I was born in 1995."

And that's when my soul died.

Guys, Spencer isn't some junior high student. He is a returned missionary. He drives. He's done years of college. He is old enough to drink. Maybe. I can't remember. The new mission age thing throws me off. But the point here is that I might have never felt so old as I did in that moment. And for a man three gray hairs shy of officially being salt and pepper and three years shy of his 20 year high school reunion, that's really saying something.

Anyway, we got there, and a bunch of stuff happened that I have trouble remembering because it all happened months ago, but I'll try.


I walked around campus and visited the old haunts from when Lolly and I were there together. You know, last century. Literally.

Lolly lived in this apartment. I ate dinner with her and her roommates almost every day my Freshman year.

Here is the Snow Building (music), where I spent a lot of time my Freshman year. It looks the same as it did in 1999.

I spent a lot of time wandering the campus after a long run at the track. It felt so familiar and peaceful, and was really wonderful. Lots of good memories.

Later that day, we went to visit the assisted living facility where my parents are living. It was hard. The facility was nice though.

 My sister Jenni and I during the dinner they served us at the assisted living facility. We are Klassy.

 This picture of my dad feeding my mom breaks my heart and fills me with joy all at once.

After that we went to a park nearby to hang out with my dear friend Sarah Dunster. She and I have been writing friends for years, Skyping to workshop poetry and beta reading one another's stuff, and when I told her I was visiting my parents in Rexburg at the assisted living facility she was like "Josh, that is next door to my house. I am looking at that assisted living center from my window." I couldn't believe it. It felt moving to me, and very synchronistic. I feel a lot of comfort knowing that she lives near them while I can't. Anyway, she could only come to the park for a few minutes so I didn't get a picture of her, but I did get some of the rest of us.

 Mom and Dad on a bench.

It was such a beautiful day that Jenni and I decided to go walking through the park with the kids. The air was autumn-crisp. Her kids were chasing, playing tag. Jenni and I talked about life and about what was happening to our family. As we walked I saw some swings, and couldn't help myself. I hopped on, and it felt so refreshing to fly through the air like a kid again. I couldn't contain my childlike laughter as I soared higher and higher--it felt so freeing and wonderful, like I had accessed a part of me long forgotten. Jenni pulled out her camera and snapped some photos. "You're gonna love these," she said, and I was glad she thought of it. She sent them over to my phone and when I looked at them, I couldn't stop laughing. I don't know what I expected to see (something youthful? something carefree?) but it definitely wasn't this:

 What whimsy!

Such childlike wonder....

And/or I look like a disabled koala bear that's about to sneeze.

One of those two things.

The rest of the shots were also hilariously awful:

 That swingset's about snap old man. Go home.

 It's tragic that such genuine, childlike laughter could look so awkward. 

 My favorite part of this one is the shadow--somehow that shadow so perfectly captures the ridiculousness of the giant man-child soaring through the air above it.

I don't know why, but that moment of freedom and childlike wonder which I thought would be so beautifully captured on Jenni's phone and then the way the actual pictures bitch-slapped back to reality was one of my favorite parts of the trip. Absurdity is fun, I guess. And humor helps to process pain.

Here's a picture of me looking relatively normal. To restore balance to the universe.

After this, we had dinner at a Mexican Restaurant. It was really difficult. My mom struggled the whole time. But it was very nice to be together.
I had some really healing, beautiful things happen this trip. It was wonderful to be with my parents. Going to church with my dad was soothing--the way his ward was already reaching out to him (in part because of Sarah's advocacy in ward counsel before we got there) felt comforting. And then the last night I was there, my dad,  my brother Chris and I all had dinner together. We talked and laughed and ate really good food. It was cathartic. 

The next morning Spencer came and picked me up, but before he did I was able to spend time with Chris. I talked to him and gave him a blessing, and it was really really clear to us both that he and my parents were supposed to be there (he lives in apartment close to them), and that even though it was hard, God had some important things planned for all of them.  

I'm very glad I was able to make the trip.

I'm also really, really, really glad that I'm on Friday #2 of 2016 and I am on track of keeping my goal of writing a post every Friday.

Go me!!!! 

2016--I will OWN YOU.

Oh, PS, an awesome Weeder named Wendy Simmerman posted this link on my Facebook page yesterday, and I realized I forgot to tell you all about something important. I won a thing!!!! A year ago!!! And now I waited so long to tell you that the contest is open again!!!! Because that's how I roll!!! (If you click on the title it will take you to a PDF that I think is free, so you can read the actual piece. It was based on a blog post I wrote years ago, so it might sound a little familiar to some of you.)

(For the record, the plan is to write these things on Friday and post them on Monday--you know, when people are avoiding their horrible jobs all day more apt to have an online presence.)

All right. Finis.