An Open Letter to Alcohol on my 21st Birthday

As I wrapped my grandmother in a bear hug as she got herself out of an Uber, 1000 miles away from her home, I couldn’t help but feel the hand of the ghost of her ex-husband. He was a man with dark black, curly hair. He loved Seattle, the Denver Broncos, and you. It was always about you. His second wife, the younger and prettier one who worked in his office gets called the adulterer in our family. But it wasn’t her, was it? It was you. You were his first and truest love. You were there for him the way none of us were. Not his daughters, not his bride, not his grandchildren, not even John Elway. It was always you.

As I stare you down, over the Birthday check his wife sent me in the mail, the wife I’m not allowed to see, I can’t help but wonder what it is about that brings a grown man to his knees. I hate the man you made. I hate him with everything in me. But I’d give everything I own to see him today. To hold him. To be held by him.

Fuck you fuck you fuck you fuck you. Now that’s something I could drink to.


A Working Diary From my Time in Hell: Meditations on Mental Health, Love, and Failure

Part One: Damned  

Different traditions call it different things: hell, purgatory, the underworld, sheol. Of it’s many depictions, the most horrific (and real) to me is the punishment inflicted on King Sisyphus in Greek mythology. Perhaps it is because it it the antithesis of life itself.

King Sisyphus, who is punished for his false belief that his wisdom surpassed even that of Zeus (the head God in the Greek pantheon), is sentenced to an eternity of pushing a boulder up a hill, only to have it roll back down when it is near the top.

The struggle? That sounds like life. Financial struggle, relationship struggle, the struggle to be perfect, the struggle against social inequality. I think we’ve all pushed a few (or more than a few) boulders up a hill. What gets to me is the eternity of Sisyphus’ struggle.

Eventually, our storms clear: our finances change, we break up or make up, we accept ourselves, we make progress little by precious little. There’s some level of resolution that caps, or at the very least cliff-ends, our bitter, uphill battle. The thought of it continuing on forever is horrific, perhaps because I can understand it.

See, when I got the call that my sister, halfway through pregnancy was struggling with depression and a kidney infection; when I then heard my aunt was diagnosed with breast cancer; when he was the latest guy to dump me; when I failed an exam; when I didn’t see the sun for weeks on end; when I was sick; when I couldn’t sleep; when I realized everything was crumbling down around me and I had no power or control over what happened next, it wasn’t the light at the end of the tunnel I saw. It was – it is – overwhelming, suffocating darkness. It’s pushing a boulder up a cliff only to watch it slide, inch by inch, back down to me, not knowing when – or if- I’ll reach the top.

If you’re a part of the damned, join King Sisyphus and I in pushing this boulder straight up hill. Settle in, kids: we don’t know where we’re going.

Why We Shouldn’t Believe Rape Victims

I’ve been struggling against myself. With the rise of countless victims, we have seen newly invigorated advocates pushing for justice. The Public has demanded that the perpetrators be locked up, fired, castrated. Isn’t this good? Isn’t this what we’ve wanted, what I’ve fought for?

It says nothing of the Black victims, of the boys or of the men, of those who are freely placed and trapped outside binaries and labels, yes – but it’s something deeper, too – more complex.

I am unsatisfied because my assault, because rape, because sexual injustice is not supposed to be special. It should not be an exemption or an easy call. Not unless murder is. Not unless theft is. Not unless drug possession is.

It would be ludicrous to believe a person stole without an investigation. It would be ludicrous to question the outfit of a murder victim. Yet, when we encounter the victim of a sexually-based offense, we trap ourselves in the black and white. We can either support them fully – without question, without doubt, with our anger, with our firings, or we can damn them – question their outfit, question their sobriety, question their every being. But we cannot give them the respect of a due process. We cannot ask questions, challenge the defendant, take ownership of the truth. We victimize the victims of assaults and rape a second time by not allowing them the authority over their own truth.

I’m not saying the legal system is a mode of equal access to truth. I’m not saying it’s an access to truth at all. But blindly believing victims because we pity them, or blindly discrediting their story because we’re uncomfortable, is not the same thing as supporting them. You do not support me when you believe me. You sure as hell don’t support me when you don’t believe me. But my giving me the authority and support necessary to claim my own truth, by weighing what I say objectively, by questioning the existing order of things with my new accusation, you do support me by allowing me access to the truth.

When I say we should not believe rape victims I mean part of what I say. We should not believe rape victims because it’s easy. We should not believe those who are assaulted because it’s uncomfortable. We should not believe the people who have been harassed because they might be telling the truth. We should believe them only because it is the right thing to do.

Labor Day Reads for Wherever You Are

Hi Friends,

Can you believe summer is almost over? Yeesh – where’d the time go?? My sister and I have been planning on Labor Day Weekend trip all summer, only to find out the band we were going to see broke up last week. We’re scrambling now to put a lake trip together.

What are your plans for the weekend? Whether you’ll find yourself in the mountains, on the beach, on the road, or stuck at work, if your plans involve reading, I’ve got you covered. Scroll down to find some great reads to pack with you.

Beach Balls

If you’ll find yourself toes deep in the tide, beach towels on the sand, consider one of these beachy reads:

As Close to Us as Breathing by Elizabeth Poliner – This family drama (fiction) stars three Jewish sisters and their kids, as they spend a summer at their family cottage on “Bagel Beach.” But when a terrible accident occurs, the family must rally together – or split apart – to make it. Told from 12 year old Molly’s point of view, this is a beautiful, touching novel about the bonds and limitations of family, and the cost of guilt and grief.

(Review) (Goodreads) (Barnes and Noble) (Amazon)

The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware – Travel writer Lo Blacklock, after a terrifying break in, is looking forward to a week on the water upon one of the world’s most luxurious and intimate cruises. All is well until Lo sees a woman thrown overboard and no one on the boat is missing. Who was this girl and what happened to her? Or did Lo make the whole thing up? Ware’s sophomore novel is perfect for fans of The Girl on the Train and will keep you guessing until the very end.

(Review) (Goodreads) (Barnes and Noble) (Amazon)

The Soul of an Octopus by Sy Montgomery – Naturalist Sy Montgomery journeys into the deep blue to meet one of the sea’s most famous creatures.  Both in aquariums and in the wild, Montgomery befriends several octopuses and seeks to answer the biggest questions – of both them and us. Montogomery’s project is a delightful and probing narrative into what makes octopuses, octopus, and humans, human.

(Review) (Goodreads) (Barnes and Noble) (Amazon)

All At Sea* by Decca Aitkenhead – Award-winning Guardian journalist Decca Aitkenhead turns her investigative attention to herself as she spills out her partner’s heartbreaking story. Tony, Decca, and their four year old son are vacationing in Jamaica when the unthinkable happens: their son starts to drown. Frantic, Tony jumps in and saves him, and then, right before Decca’s eyes, drowns. A heartbreaking, powerful story about a couple who finds each other at the exact right moment, and a musing on what happens when unexpected death steals away those we love.

(Review) (Goodreads) (Barnes and Noble) (Amazon)


To the Mountains

I just got back from the mountains myself, and can swear that these books are perfect around the campfire or as a precursor to staring at the stars:

The Dog Stars by Peter Heller – Hig, Hig’s dog, and Bangley are among the last of Earth’s survivors after a flu epidemic. The three spend their days protecting their land against raids, scavenging for food, and flying their plane. But when Hig hears a call through the plane radio, he flies past the point of no return, searching for hope in the wasteland. Told in choppy but beautiful prose, Heller’s novel shines as a love letter to humanity.

(Review) (Goodreads) (Barnes and Noble) (Amazon)

A Poet of the Invisible World by Michael Golding – In thirteenth-century Persia, Nouri is born perfectly normal except for his extra set of ears. Orphaned early on, Nouri is raised up in a Sufi order. Following his life, as he moves from place to place, Nouri’s journey is one of sexual and spiritual formation. Golding’s novel reveals the world’s most treasured intricacies, in beautiful and sweeping tones.

(Review) (Goodreads) (Barnes and Noble) (Amazon)

Wilderness Essays by John Muir – Muir was one of the earliest writers and explorers of the American West. He was also one of the first incarnations of environmental activism and preservation. His travel journals and essays ring true to this day – full of wonder we know, and nostalgia we don’t, Muir dazzles in this collection of valleys, mountains, and glaciers.

(Review) (Goodreads) (Barnes and Noble) (Amazon)

The Stranger in the Woods by Michael Finkel – Chris Knight holds a few records. For 27 years, Knight avoided all human contact, camping out in the deep woods of Maine. To survive, he broke into dozens of homes thousands of times, likely a record for crimes committed without capture. Told in full fledged honesty, Finkel’s biography is the portrait of a hermit, and an exploration into silence and loneliness.

(Review) (Goodreads) (Barnes and Noble) (Amazon)

On the Road

Driving America’s scenic highways this weekend (or, like me, driving through flat plains and cornfields?), plug in one of these audio books and keep your eyes safely on the road.

I’m Thinking of Ending Things by Ian Reid – Jake’s girlfriend opens the novel with a confession – she’s thinking of ending things. On a long, snowy drive to her boyfriend’s parent’s house, our unnamed narrator muses on love and destiny. And then they get to the house. And everything changes. Reid’s short novel is a non-stop thrill ride with an ending that will, truly, take your breath away. Runtime: 5h23m

(Review of the Paperback) (Goodreads) (Audible) (iTunes)

What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions  by Randall Munroe – Blogger Randall Munroe makes a living off of people’s absurd hypothetical scenarios. In this collection, the best (and worst) questions are assembled – with detailed and hilarious scientific answers.

(Review) (Goodreads) (Audible) (iTunes)

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum – Confession: I haven’t actually listened to this one… yet. But The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is one of my favorite books I own (I have a 1940’s copy) AND this one is narrated by ANNE FREAKING HATHAWAY. I’m literally dying to go back to school so I can listen to this one on my way to work. Please let me know if you like it!

(Goodreads) (Audible) (iTunes)

Stuck at Work and Home

For those staying at home, I highly recommend The Simplicity of Cider* by Amy E. Reichert. You’ll feel like you’re walking through Sana’s apple orchard, following a budding romance between her and Isaac. It’s a perfect novel for the time between summer and autumn, and you’ll feel completely at peace no matter which season (or living room furniture) you find yourself in.

(Review) (Goodreads) (Barnes and Noble) (Amazon)

If you’re stuck working this weekend (my mom feels your pain), unwind with these quick novellas and other shorter novels.

And Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer by Fredrik Backman – There’s a square that grows smaller every day. Noah, Grandpa, and sometimes Ted (Grandpa’s son and Noah’s dad) sit and laugh, discussing their lives and math. This tiny novella packs a big punch, and is the most original, personal thing Backman has ever written.

(Review) (Goodreads) (Barnes and Noble) (Amazon)

Grief is the Thing With Feathers by Max Porter – A widower and his two boys are visited by a strange crow after the tragic death of his wife and their mother. A long form poem, Porter captures what it means to grieve and move on, and searches in strange places for help.

(Review) (Goodreads) (Barnes and Noble) (Amazon)

Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt – Rediscover this childhood classic of three seemingly random events in the first week of August: a man walking down the road in a yellow suit, a family with a dangerous secret reuniting, and a young girl talking to a toad. A beautiful, if somewhat shallow, novel.

(Review) (Goodreads) (Barnes and Noble) (Amazon)

What Belongs to You by Garth Greenwell – An American teacher begins a journey into predation and lust when he enters a bathroom beneath Sofia’s National Palace of Culture. He pays Mitko for sex and keeps returning, unraveling the story of this strange young man and the country he calls home.

(Review) (Goodreads) (Barnes and Noble) (Amazon)

What are your plans for Labor Day? What books are you planning to pack? Leave a comment down below to let me know!!

You can follow Ben on TwitterTumblr, and read along with him on Goodreads.

*denotes a book provided by publisher via a giveaway. This in no way affected reviews or placement on list.



My Journey Through the Fun Home: A Review

Hi Friends,

I’m convinced that every theater kid has a show that is irrevocably linked to them. It may not be their favorite, but there’s something about it that seeps into their skin like a heroin needle to the vein. Destructive and compelling and dangerous.

My Fun Home journey began 85 years before my birth. If you’re a Denver native, you might know where I’m headed with this. In 1912, the Titanic sank. One woman, a Denver socialite, boarded the legendary ship as it was the fastest route to her dying grandson. When the Titanic struck an iceberg in the early morning hours, Miss Molly Brown jumped into action, assisting passenger after passenger into lifeboats. When she was finally forced into Lifeboat #6, she persuaded her lifeboat passengers to turn around and look for survivors. Years later, a musical would be made about her life, and, years after that, the show would return revitalized on one of the smaller stages in the Denver Center for the Performing Arts complex. Beth Malone, an old friend of my theater director, starred as Molly Brown.

My high school theater company went and met up with her after the show. Weeks later, during a performance of Lord of the Flies, our company recognized a familiar face in the private box across from ours. We met Mrs. Malone for a second time. We knew Unsinkable Molly Brown was closing and asked her what she would do after. She mentioned working on a show about a funeral home and a weird father/daughter relationship. Um… no thanks! Not for me!

A year later, some of our company, loosely guided by our director, ventured to New York to see 6 shows in four days. Our theater director made some calls and got us tickets to Beth’s show Fun Home. None of us were excited to see it, but accepted due to a talk back with Beth after the show. We barely made the showtime but scooted in as the house lights faded. The musical, played in the round, irrevocably changed my life.

It made me a better artist and storyteller, stimulating design ideas and plot construction. But it reached beyond that and forced me to face my own unconventional family, my own humiliation and family difficulties. My house was broken since the day I came out, words unspoken and lines crossed. Two years later, the tour came to Denver, and, being season ticket holders, my family had two tickets. I was still at school but I encouraged my mother and sister to go. They did and were devastated by the story line. I’d like to think that night softened their perspective.

It was because of my intimacy with Fun Home, the way it seemed to stare down into my naked soul, that I avoided reading Bechdel’s graphic memoir the musical was based on. Yesterday, as I was picking up a book I ordered from Barnes & Nobel, I found myself inexplicitly drawn to the history and biography section over and over again. I couldn’t shake the feeling I was supposed to pick something else up. And then, on my fifth time around the shelves, I spotted the shiny green spine. It was time.

I curled up on the couch and dug in. I love graphic novels. I love memoirs. Alison Bechdel’s graphic memoir seemed like a perfect fit. But as I turned each page, I felt a gnawing surprise. Fun Home has a depth and intelligence I’m unused to in the genre. This isn’t to say I think graphic novels are shallow or dumb. Tan’s The Arrival, Tomine’s Killing and Dying: Stories, even Collins’ The Gigantic Beard that Was Evil all exhibit great depth and knowledge. But Fun Home has such literary depth. It’s an elongated metaphor; it builds from literature’s greats; it’s artistic and beautiful and illuminating. It is wholly original, not just for the story, but for the storyteller’s wit, charm, and class in delivering her story.

On a product level, Bechdel’s book is almost perfect. The jacket design (unlisted) seems like it should be unsuccessful. The sheen green is an ugly color, and yet, for some reason, it’s wildly successful. The title font evokes a type writer, a common theme for the novel. The cartoon caption font is carried throughout the novel – from the copyright page to the acknowledgements – and makes the story seem well rounded and hyperrealistic – as though it exists outside the covers (which it obviously does).

Overall Fun Home is a life changing story in whatever form it takes. I’m glad I finally heard it in the original voice.

What art piece has linked itself to you? What did you think of Fun Home? Let me know in the comments!

You can follow Ben on TwitterTumblr, and read along with him on Goodreads.


Book Club Recommendations

Hi Friends,

I’m an uncle again! Meet Steve! 

I’m asked by a lot of friends for book recommendations. More often than anything else, I’m approached by friends seeking help with their turn at book club selections. I’ve read a lot of good books this week, and two of them happened to strike me as perfect for a book club. One is a creepy car ride between soon-to-be ex-lovers. The other is a lonely expose on the end of the world.

Book One: I’m thinking of Ending Things by Iain Reid

What It’s About

girl is on her way to her boyfriend’s parent’s house. The car ride from the city to their farm takes several hours. “I’m thinking of ending things,” the girl tells us, “Once this thought arrives, it stays. It sticks. It lingers. It dominates.” As the car rolls into the farmland, the girl contemplates her six week long relationship with Jake. Does she really like him? Actually? In the back of her mind, a sinking suspicion lurks – something is terribly wrong.

My Review 

It’s rare for me to finish a book and immediately need to leave my house. It’s incredibly rare for me to be out of breath, dizzy, and totally overwhelmed after finishing a book. Even for books I’ve reeeally enjoyed, it’s rare for them to stick with me. I don’t know why but it’s true. I’m Thinking of Ending Things left me with all of the above.

I love being scared. I love horror movies and suspenseful books. But I’ve never had to actually walk away in the middle of something just to decompress for a few moments. Reid’s short novel is so atmospherically dark, it was jarring to look up and see the noon sun high in the sky. If it were just dark and scary, it would be enough, but Reid’s novel is also deeply profound and lyrical. As often as I was scared, I was awed. His perspective on love and life were interesting and struck chords down inside me. His character building and prose really sealed this novel as a gut punchingly good read. I truly can’t gush enough about this book.

For those who liked The Girl on the Train because of it’s disorienting nature, or for those who liked In A Dark, Dark Wood because of it’s slow build up, pick this up.


What Makes It A Good Book-Club Pick 

The ending to this short novel will split your brain in two. You’ll need to talk to someone about what happened, need someone who will understand. The version I purchased (linked below) will offer you some starter questions in its Reader’s Guide, but I doubt you’ll need them. After you come down from the high of the thrill, you’ll have enough questions of your own.

Book Two: Good Morning, Midnight by Lily Brooks-Dalton

What It’s About 

The outside world has fallen silent, marred by some unknown disaster. At the top of the world, Augustine, a 70 year old astronomer, having declined an opportunity to evacuate, sits in an empty research station.. All that’s left in the Arctic Circle is Augustine and a small child of unknown  origins. Millions of miles above them, six astronauts are on a long journey back home following their trip to Jupiter. Houston has stopped responding, but their comm. system seems functional. Each person, on Earth and in the sky, must grapple with a rocky future, and process a lifetime’s worth of regret.

My Review 

Lily Brooks-Dalton delivers a quiet novel that’s hard to accurately encompass, let alone encompass without ruining anything. It was interesting to read a book that uses the apocalypse as a theme rather than a plot point. This isn’t a traditional apocalypse book in that it isn’t really about how the world ended, or even really how it’s going to rebuild, but is rather about what it means to be lonely and afraid and human. It’s a book about regret and acceptance, love and desolation. It’s beautifully written and wonderfully engrossing. (Full Review)

What Makes It A Good Book Club Pick 

Similar to I’m Thinking of Ending Things the ending in this book leaves you with more questions than answers. It’s turns, themes of loneliness, and desolate tone and landscape, will no doubt provide endless questions and interesting discussions among you and your bookish friends. This book is a tear-jerker, and nothing breeds comradery like walking to the ends of the Earth together, and staring back into the void.

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You can buy I’m Thinking of Ending Things here, and Good Morning, Midnight here.

You can follow Ben on TwitterTumblr, and read along with him on Goodreads.

Storytellers In The Digital Age

As I was scrolling through Facebook tonight, I came across one of those text videos that featured a very beautiful story of a helicopter pilot in the Vietnam war who saved some 30 odd people when no one else was wiling. Right as I was on the verge of tears and appreciation, the video continued with “Bet you never heard this on the news. Funny how the media focuses on Lebron James, sham marriages, and media superstars when it could never mention this captain.” My mood soured and the tears I looked forward to never fell.

These kinds of stories always make me disappointed. Just yesterday, me and two other coworkers ran through torrential rain. We had taken a dinner break and were coming back for our evening show when the rain hit. One of my coworkers was behind me, one was ahead. The one in front opened the door and waited for me and the girl behind me to get in before he followed in. It would have taken us only a few extra seconds to open the door, but he sacrificed getting monumentally more wet to save us the hassle. He didn’t get a story on the news.

Three weeks ago I got a call that brought me to my knees. Our producer, and a dear friend, passed away. He was 32. He was one of the kindest, funniest, and most full of life people I’ve ever met. It sounds cliche – like the right words for someone who passes away, but it was true. There was no challenge he couldn’t face, and no thing he wouldn’t do for the people in his life. The night he died he covered for a sound technician whose dog ran away, despite not knowing the board. He stayed late to help a reporter finish a story. Up until his last moments, he was selfless and considerate. Yet I’ve yet to hear his name on the evening news.

When was it we decided the only merit to a person was their marketability on the news? It seems odd for that video to have chastised the “media” for catering to celebrities, and not recognizing hard-working, ordinary people doing extraordinary things. Through my eyes, the only difference between the two gentlemen I mentioned, and the ones the video critiqued was press coverage. If everyone were covered by the news, no one would have earned it. They would be unremarkable and ordinary, and feats of bravery, big and small, would become bland and uninteresting.

It seemed especially odd to encounter such a thought on Facebook. Never before has the ordinary person been given such a voice. With Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Youtube, WordPress, Goodreads, Snapchat, etc. I have access to hundreds of people at any one time. Every thought or musing I have, every book or zoo I encounter, I can share with hundreds of people at once. And all I need is an email address, a password, some sort of computer and some wi-fi.

Every person and page with a social media account has an opportunity to tell a story. The creator of the video I saw amassed almost 19 million views. 19 million! It was shared by three different friends on my timeline alone. In creating a simple text story, a person (or, perhaps, groups of people) was able to share the story of an incredible man. And yet, even after that accomplishment, felt the need to undermine it with a critique on the media. If you have a voice, use it. Don’t wait for someone else to. Imagine how much richer our view of history could be if everyone in Ancient Greece tweeted out their daily thoughts.

I‘m not advocating for total social media addiction. I’m not saying you should live tweet your stream of consciousness. But if you have tools in your arsenal, use them. If you see something beautiful, meet someone kind, know a hero, use your own voice and tell their story. You’ve been equipped with a platform, and you have a responsibility and privilege to use it to your advantage.

Being a storyteller in the digital age doesn’t have to mean buying expensive cameras and going live on NBC Tonight. Being a storyteller in the digital age can mean updating your status or creating a text post. Don’t sell yourselves short. A happy story on my timeline can warm me the same way a happy story on the news can. When you tell a story, trust yourself enough to get it right – don’t come after the media for not doing it better.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this! How are you a storyteller? Drop a comment below and let me know!

You can follow Ben on TwitterTumblr, and read along with him on Goodreads.