#valentinesday

Maybe the longest (so far) of my ever-growing collection of Facebook status updates that tell the story of my life. Is it a happy story? Is it a sad one? Is it a horror novel? I’ll try to let the work speak for itself.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Everybody laugh.

No but really, here we are, coming up on everyone’s favorite day of the year (right?), and not only is the pandemic nearly one year old, but I, officially, have been single for one year during a global pandemic, a Recession that’s getting pretty Depression, the Great California Burning, the most nerve-wracking election ever, and an attempted coup. All while finding it much harder than usual to avoid being confronted daily by what what the general public considers to be good television.

But who’s bitter?

Honestly, not me. But there is a deep irony that while I have, my whole life, worked to be as Valentine’s Day indifferent as possible, the Universe has often had other plans, throwing everything my way from a boyfriend who dropped his first “I love you” on Valentine’s Day (followed by the part where he’d also be moving 6,000 miles away in two months), to my former fiancé and I breaking up a mere two days before this 100 percent legit holiday that is certainly not perpetuated to reinforce dominant heteronormative social institutions like monogamy or co-dependence (or gender stereotypes) and definitely is not a blank check for wildly insecure folks, coupled or otherwise, to really let their light shine publicly.

(Tap dance interlude.)

Technically, the majority of my adult Valentine’s Days have been as a single man, and my usual practice in my precocious handsome youth (which was the last time I was single) had been to actually shave and take an unattached female friend to dinner, and, you know, “treat her right,” (because straight men weren’t gonna do it). Last year, in the wake of my break up, I opted to have a therapeutic threesome instead but I think that’s understandable. Since neither option is safely available to me this year I decided that this time I would celebrate not being single, per se, but all the wisdom I have accumulated (and still often ignore) in my life as a romantically active human being AND maybe also catalogue all the ways it’s inspired and influenced my art. And what better way to do that, than with a skating on the edge of good taste and thoroughly reductive countdown list?

Also, I lied. There were way more than two guys at that threeway.

CONTENT WARNING: Though I won’t be identifying anyone by name, because coding everyone’s name is more fun anyway and reduces legal liability, I will be sharing some intimate details so if you are, say, one of these people and you’re not up for a reminder of how much I love(d) you, then skip this. Additionally, if you’re the current partner of one of these people, please don’t get weird about this, as I respect where you folks are at, we’re all friends here, and the fact is, I love you too. That said, if this is TOO much for anyone just drop me a line and we can talk about where your need for privacy and my need for public gestures intersect.

Additionally, if you’re someone I’ve had a moment in the woods with, and you don’t see yourself here, please note: that doesn’t mean it wasn’t important to me. It almost certainly was. But if I didn’t cap this list at some point it could go on for a really, really long time. Yes, thank you, I know, to whoever that was who just slut shamed me. Anyway, if you’re feeling forgotten, you aren’t, and you too are welcome to reach out. Chances are, I’m happy to hear from you. Plus this could be how you get on the next list.

Finally: jokes aside, writing this was not easy. But it was also easier than I thought it would be. Frequently I found myself laughing, joyfully, over the past. A handful of times I cried, good kind tears. Once or twice I found I had to stand up and walk over to the window and look out for a while. Overall, however, I found myself experiencing wave after wave of gratitude. I have always known that I was lucky enough to have crossed paths with so many people worth loving. Sometimes I forget that I too am worth loving, and every time I rediscover it, usually thanks to one of you, it feels like the very first time.

And with that… and in NO particular order…

12 TIMES I HAVE BEEN IN LOVE

MY OWN PERSONAL PAUL DENTON

The name is a reference to a character from THE RULES OF ATTRACTION by Bret Easton Ellis, and that’s probably all I need to say about our relationship. The well of hurt was so deep on this one we’ve never managed to be friends but in the last decade we’ve achieved a distant peace, which is progress. He was the first and he always will be. There’s challenges and blessings to that.

Favorite Moment: It came years down the line after all attempts at romantic partnership were long done. At a concert we attended together, during an (unsuccessful) attempt at friendship, out of nowhere, he turned to me and said, “I just hope we’re going through a good patch when I die.” It was sincere, it was heartfelt, and I remember wishing that, in spite of everything, it was something I could promise him.

Place In My Art: ENDYMION NOUVEAU was written between phase one and phase two of us.

Lesson Learned: My ex is a person too. Also… guys… I’m gay.

THE GENTLEMAN

So called because he is a total class act from top to bottom. A mutual friend who used to affectionately refer to him as “OUR GENTLEMAN” once summed him up as “The guy whose car you get into and when the stereo flips on it’s playing classical music and you just know that it’s because he actually really loves classical music.” He was my first real relationship and our dates were a catalogue of stuff you’re supposed to do on dates: the opera, hiking in scenic places, fondu. Looking back, I was always trying really hard to impress him because on some level I never thought I was good enough for him, which means many of my memories are ones where I look positively ridiculous. He has the distinction of being the first boyfriend I brought home to my parents, and the only one to have ever met my dad.

Favorite Moment: There were a lot. We had a good time together, and have stayed pretty good friends, in spite of some real challenges to that from both our sides. We broke up a week before Thanksgiving, but we still had it together because again, he’s a class act. Though I spent most of the evening in the kitchen washing dishes because it was all hurting so much, at one point he joined me and we unexpectedly and passionately kissed. It remains one of the best kisses of my life. Also, because of me, he once tripped over a giant idol made of ramen being worshiped by my college campus. But that’s another story.

Place In My Art: The EXILED was written over the summer we were together.

Lesson Learned: There is a mature way to handle pretty much anything, but the most mature thing is to recognize sometimes people aren’t going to be very mature about stuff and you don’t hold it against them. This guy taught me forgiveness and that I was forgivable. He also introduced me to tiramisu.

THE ARTIST

So called because he epitomizes, to me, what an artist is, and it’s the only time in my life I’ve ever had a romantic partner also be a principal collaborator. That we continue to work together, and continue to be good friends, has been an incredible comfort over the last year. Rumor is, we were once engaged to be married. Has the distinction of being my longest relationship, and the last boyfriend I’ll have to have met my mother. Which trust me, was always an adventure.

Favorite Moment: Impossible to pick. We had a whole life together, and it was a good life, even if we ultimately grew apart. We traveled together well, which is a rare, rare gift, and a lot of my personal favorite moments with him are on trips we took together. If there is one I’d hold above all others, though, it was when we were in Puerto Rico, at the castle in San Juan. A massive storm hit, potentially stranding us there, but we saw a taxi cab waiting at the far side of the vast parade grounds which separated the gates of the fort from the street and, thinking it was closer than it actually was, we decided to make a break for it, hand in hand. Thirty seconds into a run accross a meadow the size of three football fields, soaked to the bone, we realized we were too far to turn back and way too far from the taxi still, and that’s when the hysterical laughing began. We never lost our grip on one another’s hands.

Place In My Art: So many places, but he has the distinction of being the only person I’ve ever included as a character in a play, who bears his actual name and nearly every line he speaks is something he actually said. Perfection doesn’t require editing.

Lesson Learned: The more you love, the more love you will have to give.

THE ACTOR

I met him during one of the rare times I was in a show as an actor and so could indulge in things like a showmance. Not that we hooked up during that show. Oh no, it took like… a whole year of working together before that finally happened, but when it did I remember, right after he shamelessly propositioned me, I picked him up and carried him to the bed like a groom carries his bride when it was still romantic to be like, “I have conquered you.” For the next three years (right?) he did a lot of lingering around after play readings to “clean up” before life caused us to gently drift back into friendship so easily I didn’t realize that’s what we’d done until one day I texted him just to check if either of us was upset or mad or anything. We weren’t.

Favorite Moment: The Actor has the distinction of being the lover around which I have had the least amount of drama. Which should not be construed as a lack of investment on my side. I’m endlessly fond of this man, and most recently, when I was having a massive “poor me” moment, ashamed at my own feelings and having expressed them, he was the person who was like, “fuck that, don’t regret what you feel or telling people you love them.” I think about that a lot. Also, I got him stoned for the first time. Which was lovely, and fucking hilarious.

Place In My Art: He created a role in THE EDENITES and it’s now impossible for me to see anyone else in the part. Which is why that character as never appeared in the EDENITES related plays I’ve written since, but probably has a one man show coming.

Lesson Learned: Being cool is such a bore compared with being who you are.

THE PRINCE

Named so because he was, at the time, everything I’d ever wanted in a boyfriend. Our time together was relatively brief (three months) but it was filled with all the things: profound conversations, kissing in the rain and at the museum, and just enough edge to make it all feel very real. It was the great romance of my twenties, synched by his move to Europe for two years, thus crystalizing in amber this period of stolen time by ending it with a no blame (well… more or less) heartbreak. When he returned it was… awkward for both of us, but eventually we built one of my most treasured friendships. He was going to be one of my groomsmen at my wedding, and most recently he talked me out of a spat I was having with a close friend by reminding me that friendship is more important than whatever bullshit two people have let get up their respective craws (and he would know). Once, when he was pushing his own boundaries, he referred to giving something a chance as “Channeling his Inner Stuart” and hearing that, Dear Reader, was better than “I do.”

Favorite Moment: So many, but if I have to pick one, it’s the night we were laying in bed together, inventing a story of two princes who were living in separate towers and sent love letters via carrying pigeon, ended with us dubbing one another. To this day we still use the names of those characters to bolster each other when either of us feels like God’s being a real right fucker.

Place In My Art: Graham in DRY COUNTRY is modeled on him, and Simon in MATHEW 33:6 is modeled on the me who needed to reconcile his unresolved feelings about him after he returned home.

Lesson Learned: No one leaves for good, even if they go. Either they themselves, or the impact they have made on you, will be with you forever, and if you choose so, that can be a good thing, because while losing people sucks, to have met at all is a miracle. Also brunch. This guy really taught me to appreciate brunch.

THE OLDER MAN

Ahem, so… um… we met via Craigslist. And for those of you old enough to remember what that means, you know what that… means. I feel like it’s okay to share this fact about us because he’s always been so open about it while I, for a long time, had a weird thing about this because, on some level, I was ashamed and his total lack of shame- his pride even- made me painfully aware of my own inadequacies in this department. For the record, it was never he himself I was ashamed of, but I was heartbroken when we met, and cruising for… you know… trouble… so when it showed up with a brain and heart of its own that liked me of course my first reaction was: GO AWAY. Except that he didn’t go away and I kept letting him come back but always with this very clear message of “This will never work.” At the time I decided it was because he was “too old.” Now, at the age he was when we met (slightly older, I think) it’s very clear to me the reason it was never going to work was because I was running away from my own feelings and afraid of getting hurt again. Thankfully, we’re both masochists, and have become very good friends.

Favorite Moment: Again, too many to really isolate. This guy has been an incredible friend over the years, and since I tried to make that hard for him, I’m just grateful he wouldn’t take no for an answer and is still around. That said, when I look for an example of just what a charming bastard this guy can be, the one that always comes to mind is during a post-performance drink when I ineptly proposed we should go home together and he smiled and replied, “Are you trying to seduce me, Mrs. Robinson?” I see what you did there, Daddy.

Place In My Art: Has the distinction of being asked like a dozen times to play a certain Greek God who shows up in my work like a dozen times.

Lesson Learned: If someone doesn’t give up on you, maybe it’s because, in spite of evidence to the contrary, and your massive imposter complex, you might actually be someone worth knowing.

THE FILM-MAKER

Another older man I met during the time when I was dating but should have been… you know… in therapy… this guy was the epitome of a generally good dude who saw the best in me and didn’t let the various defenses I’d erected scare him off. I was, naturally, often terrible to him, but somehow we managed to still have fun together, and over time he got me to just chill the fuck out about stuff. Whenever he pops up in my life now, which is not often, I find I’m super happy to see him, and we have great conversations. This all the more remarkable because his generally optimistic attitude and kind demeanor used to drive me crazy. Also has the distinction of being present when I met my artistic idol and acted like a complete idiot in front of him.

Favorite Moment: The one where he totally stood up to me as I was ranting about how love was basically torture. “You say this because some guy hurt you and I hear that,” he said to me, “But I think it’s a good thing. Everyone is always saying how love is pain but I’m happy when I’m in love.”

Place In My Art: He has plugged away at his own film career the whole time we’ve known each other and he’s never given up even when faced with brutal criticism (including from me) or lack of resources. I find him incredibly inspiring because of this. And I do not tell him that enough.

Lesson Learned: Everyone deserves to heal.

THE CELLIST

My high school sweetheart, who I never officially dated, just hung around with a whole bunch. Like pretty much constantly. So much so that we are remembered as a pair. Which is what we were. Not a couple. In fact, she did a fair amount of dating and I did a fair amount of not dating (because that’s what you do when you’re gay but nobody else is gay) and we had a mutual friend who was basically the third point of our platonic love triangle but I was never not attached to her, specifically, from basically the moment she sat down at our lunch table for the first time. She was the first person I ever felt that kind bizarre combo of desire to protect and desire to worship that comes with infatuation and at times I would become incredibly, seethingly jealous of men in her life. In my mind, she was The Perfect Girl. Which is a lot of pressure, and because of it, partly, for a while after high school, we didn’t talk. Then at our 20th reunion she strolled in and we started chatting like no time had poassed and a film, which was a compilation of found footage from the time, was shown and there we were, just walking across the campus plaza together, and it was like being fifteen all over again.

Favorite Moment: We threw a themed Halloween party together one year, as pair of siblings from the Victorian era. I was the charming aristocrat host, she was my demented musician sister. She sat in my living room and played the cello, mournfully, for an hour as all the guests arrived, and I stood next to her, one hand on her shoulder, and morosely greeted them on her behalf.

Place In My Art: Lucy in ENDYMION NOUVEAU is modeled on her, as is Jill in RUMPELSTILTSKIN, and Una in DRY COUNTRY. Basically, she was my muse. And probably still is.

Lesson Learned: Friendship is not a consolation prize.

THE WRITER

Another lady (fuck you, I’m complicated) because the only thing more cliché than going to college to be a writer and turning out to be a homosexual, is going to college to be a writer and falling in love with some girl in your screenwriting class. I mean, we actually met in our dorm as freshman (yep, I dormcested with the best of them) but when we finally took a writing class together our junior year, she was such a fixture in my college life people assumed we were still together even though I was gay and she was dating someone else. And the fact is, when I look back on my college years, she defines them. We went through so much, together, but also separately at the same time, and as our respective journeys continued we often found ourselves the grounding force for the other to check in with. She also holds the distinction of having made me the single best mix cd I’ve ever received. Which means she essentially won the 90s. I still play that CD.

Favorite Moment: It’s interesting because I really wracked my brain here and couldn’t come up with a single moment that really stood out for me and I realize it’s because this person is so fully integrated into that period of my life that on some level they just… epitomize it. Here’s what I can say: there is a swingset at Reed College, just outside of the Anna Mann dorm, and whenever I think about this woman, that’s where I see her. On the swings, red hair swirling in the sun and the wind. Hair she later cut off, and gave me like a maiden in a King Arthur story, wrapped in a paper towel.

Place In My Art: Elaine in THE TROUBLESOME HISTORY OF JOHANN AND KRANE, and there is no way I could have written EVERYBODY HERE SAYS HELLO! without knowing her. To a lesser extent, Hera in the JUNO plays is also modeled on her.

Lesson Learned: Your Life Becomes Your Art.

THE STRAIGHT GUY

Is there anything more cliché than going to college to be a writer, exploring your homosexuality, and then getting involved with a woman in your screenwriting class? Yes, and that’s following it up with a brief but torrid entanglement with a heterosexual man. At the time this all felt very overwhelming but looking back it was actually quite flattering. We don’t talk much, but the morning after my fiancé and I announced our break up, this guy did post a song from “our time” on my Facebook page. The gesture did not go unnoticed and it actually got me out of bed that first morning.

Favorite Moment: It was right before we kissed for the first time. I was sitting on his dorm bed. He was sitting on the window bench, smoking, and drinking a beer. I was like, “I’ve got to be drunk because this feels like he’s hitting on me.” A second after that, he literally threw his beer over his shoulder, out the window, and dove onto me. I remember hearing the bottle break on the pavement outside.

Place In My Art: No specific one, but I often tell stories about him to actors when I’m trying to get them to embody a certain kind of cavalier.

Lesson Learned: People will surprise you, often for the better.

THE BOY

So called because after refusing to get involved with the surprising glut of younger men who seemed to be more into me with each passing year, I of course was sort of utterly blind-sided by one who managed to work his way around every boundary I put up. Though I tried to always treat him like the adult he was, his youth always played a role, whether it manifested as earnestness or thoughtlessness, by turns romantic and reckless. We didn’t end well, and that’s both our fault and nobody’s fault. Certainly neither of us wanted it that way but our feelings had other plans. But something I respect about him is that he never denied the love that we had, even when it started bringing out parts of us we probably wish the other hadn’t seen. And yes, while there are things I’d do more gracefully, there’s really nothing I regret. Life is to be lived.

Favorite Moment: This guy was part of what I consider one of the most perfect days of my life, period, and in general I just flat out enjoyed his company, but if I had to pick a single moment with him it might be the evening we went to see my favorite Christmas tree together, and sat on a bench in the cold, and talked, and were exactly at that place in knowing one another where you are comfortable and connected, and anything could still happen, but nobody needs it to. For a moment, you’re just there together, and that’s enough for both of you.

Place In My Art: Aidan in THE DEATH OF RUBY SLIPPERS is modeled on him.

Lesson Learned: Intentions are fine but love brings out the best of us- and the worst- and may be ultimately defined by the lines we cross for someone else so… lean in.

THE ENGINEER

This guy was my Summer Romance ™, in that we had both just finished our freshman years of college, and wound up working together on a play that summer. As the only two gay guys in the room we just had to fall for one another (I don’t make the rules). After a delightful few months together we both went back to our respective colleges and then things got sticky for a while as we both moved on but felt an obligation to one another because we were both really nice guys who didn’t want to be not-nice guys to one another. Also, jealousy. Eventually it all worked out, we became friends, we even lived together for a year- as friends- but our lives had always been going in different directions and ultimately did. About once a year we check in, and that feels totally fine. He’s a really good man and I love how happy his life has turned out.

Favorite Moment: Honestly… and rather unexpectedly… my favorite moment with this guy is the only out and out porn-y moment on this list. But yeah, on the last night of rehearsing in the rehearsal space before moving the show to the theater, this guy and I stuck around after everyone had left to, well, you know, in the rehearsal hall. It was a dance studio in a very old building, right next to some train tracks in the old part of town so there was this real aura of time and place to it all, and at 10 PM on a hot summer night in the twilight years of the 20th century, with trains rushing by and the building shaking, is how I like to remember us: two young men, at the dawn of their lives, eyes locked, pulling their shirts off, dropping their pants and letting themselves be lost to the incredible innocence of not knowing- or caring- what happens after this moment.

Place In My Art: This essay is dedicated to him.

Lesson Learned: Some moments are just a moment in the woods.

Something I do a lot since my mother died is let people know, as often as I can and whenever the mood strikes me, that I love them, and value the time we get to spend together, whether that is gathered around a campfire, a keg, a crib, or a casket. And yes, I’ve had life defining interactions with other people in all of those situations. Letting people know you not only care about, but treasure them, is not always easy- for them- and I get that but, “Don’t be mysterious: there isn’t time,” is, in addition to a long time favorite quote of mine from EM Forster’s WHERE ANGELS FEAR TO TREAD, a mantra that I’ve found only grows more profoundly true as I grow older, and as more people have passed in and out of my life, some to never return. Though I’ve been fortunate to stay friendly, if not full on friends, with most of the people on this list, that hasn’t always been the case. But…

In my opinion, Dear Friend, to really love someone unconditionally is to want them to grow. The condition can’t be that it’s only acceptable if you grow together. As I’ve worked to get better at letting go (still terrible at it, probably will never be as graceful about it as I’d like to be) that time when it worked is what I try to hold onto, long term, and this applies to most people who have passed through my life, not just lovers or love interests. It’s also why, while I might, at this stage, think you are the biggest asshole on the planet (and you may in fact be), I probably still have pictures of you from the good old days and have kept any gift you may have given me. If you gave it with all your heart, or even just basically good intentions, I will almost certainly have held onto it because I recognize that the real gift was knowing you, in whatever capacity, for whatever time we got to share. Even if it didn’t go as planned, it was an adventure, and I learned so much.

My Dear Friend, thank you.

My Dear Friend, may your life be filled with people who fill your life with learning and adventure.

My Dear Friend, Happy Valentine’s Day.

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