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.

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.


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.

Reconciling Skeletons

Hi Friends,

When I walked into my 12:50 abnormal psychology class, I didn’t expect to see a ghost. That’s the thing about being haunted: you never see it coming. On November 9th, 2009, my maternal grandfather finally died. He had been comatose for a while, after my mother found him unresponsive at his home. By the time we got his brain scans back, he had already been long gone – his lungs just preventing the flesh from decaying. But even in death, he was still finding ways to leave a tornado-like path of destruction through our lives.

He was, to be frank, a pathetic drunk. More correctly, though, he was a suffering alcoholic.

It wasn’t a secret growing up, though I never fully understood what it meant until after he had gone. I doubt there are many kids that don’t directly see the drinking who do understand it. I knew that Grandpa frequently went away to places called rehab; I knew he was rarely around, and when he was, he wasn’t around for long. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I learned about the affair, the absenteeism as a father, and the drunk driving.

He wasn’t alone in the alcohol problems department. Several cousins, my father, uncles, and a host of others in my family all wrestled (or wrestle) with alcoholism. Cognitively, I know it’s possible to drink for fun – my sister and mom do, but every time I consider taking a sip, I remember feeling like a stranger at my grandfather’s funeral (a funeral which, by the way, my mother and aunt were both banned from due to my grandfather’s mistress-turned-wives deep-seeded hatred. My cousin and myself were the only representatives from our side that were there.), and, worse, hearing people on the pulpit bemoan his loss. Two boys from Seattle (1,500 miles away), grand-nephews or something, were devastated. He was such an important figure in their lives. The mom could not stop crying. I was thirty minutes away, yet had only a handful of memories. In that pew the seeds for the decision to never drink were planted.

In my psychology class today, we were asked to share our experiences with drugs and alcohol. Each time I’m asked, there’s a moment of hesitation. How do I represent myself as not being on a high horse, not being a prude, but also not detailing my long history, the things I’ve shared with you, and the things I haven’t? It’s a question I get often, and will get even more often after I’m 21. And I still don’t have an answer.

Each time I think of grandpa, holed up in heaven somewhere, asking for a beer. How do you reconcile with someone who isn’t here to say sorry, to someone who maybe never even wanted to? How do you answer these questions?

I don’t share this to shame alcoholics. I share it for the kids stuck at a high school party who can’t take a drink. I share it for the college students in classes on addiction, who could almost teach the course with their first hand experiences. I share it for the middle aged woman at her daughter’s wedding who turns down the glass of champagne.

For the people who still don’t know how to answer the question (and the few who do): I’m sorry you’re walking this road. I know it’s a long one. But it is not one you walk alone. When your table mates stare you down after detailing their drunken adventures, and hearing that you’ve never drank, know that I’m with you in spirit. I’m with you to stare back.

Note: Also, I owe you all an apology. Remember when I said I’d post on Tuesday, like four weeks ago? Well… whoops.   

I was in and out of doctor’s offices, ER’s, and Urgent Care facilities for most of April, and trying to catch up on school and work when I wasn’t in waiting rooms. Regardless, I’m sorry for my absence (and I’m also cognizant of the fact that I owe you all lots of book reviews). Hopefully I’ll be able to get caught up on this blog now that I’m feeling better! 

Book Requests – Norway/Scandinavian

Hi friends!

I’m sorry I haven’t updated in a couple weeks! I was on spring break and then trying to reenter into a new quarter (and am somehow already drowning). Regardless, new reviews will be coming at you Tuesday!

That said, I am desperately seeking books that are either:

a) Non-fiction books about Norway/Sweeden/Finland/Iceland/etc.

b) Fiction books written by Norwegian authors in ENGLISH

c) Fiction books written by Norwegian authors in NORWEGIAN

d) Middle-grade/beginning chapter books in NORWEGIAN

If you know of any, please comment below, message me, tweet me, or recommend to me on Goodreads!

I will seriously love you forever.


Thanks!! Like I said, I will have regular content every Tuesday again starting April 4th!

Love to you all,