Monday, May 30, 2011

Coming Out Story #5 - Michael G. C.

Michael G.C. was born in 1973 and is just shy of 38 at time of publication.

Born in in Ontario, Michael moved with his mother to Manitoba at the age of 2.  Here his childhood was split into 2 totally separate worlds - living with him mum in Winnepeg as basically a latch-key kid and living with his grandparents on the Fisher River First Nation Reservation where he spent his time roaming fields, making forts in the bushes and catching fish in the rapids.  When with his mother, life was uneventful.  She was in the nursing program at the University of Manitoba, so he spent a lot of time alone hanging out with friends.  When with his grandparents, he lived in the biggest house on the reserve on a tract of land along the Fisher River. It had 2 floors, a basement and running water while some homes still caught rain water in big barrels for inside use.  He remembers, "It was a simple life.  All the kids would be let out to play during the day and then as supper time approached, you could hear all the Grandmothers yelling up and down the river for the kids to come home and eat."  Christmas memories here involved lots of his grandmother's baking (stored on the veranda because it wasn't insulated and would keep frozen) and a house bursting with relatives.


While much of his childhood was what dreams were made of, there were dark moments.  When he was only 4 or 5, Micheal was sexually molested by a teenage boy of perhaps 16 or 17.  "That encounter awakened my 'gayness' for lack of a better word.  After that I knew I was different... I remember feeling ashamed, alone and somehow wrong. I felt I had to live a secret life and was terrified that other people would find out. I wished I was a girl so that my feelings would match my gender. I ignored it, didn't talk about it and hid it as best I could."  There are memories of asking to play with a Barbie instead of a GI Joe, having the friend's mother look at him oddly and never being invited back.  In grade 2 he drew a picture of a boy he liked and put, "I love you" on it.  The boy never spoke to him again.  By the time he entered grade 10 he had learned to "butch up" to be accepted.  Through high school and university he had girlfriends to make the picture complete, but there was never a doubt in his mind about who he was or what he wanted.  "I remember telling myself that I didn't want a wife or kids because I wasn't 'normal' and didn't want to mess up other people's lives."


At age 26, Michael finally accepted his orientation and began to frequent gay bars.  While a few of his old friends supported him, he found a whole new set among the gay community. But there was a price - addiction.  "Drinking and drugging to excess made me feel cute, confident and like I belonged. "  One weekend his mother was there for a visit.  After he came home extremely drunk, she heard him crying in the bathroom.  When his mother asked why he was crying, he realized the moment had come.  "I told her I was into guys and she told me to go to bed and we would talk about it in the morning."  The next morning there was a phone call about his aunt and uncle dying in a car accident and, as they left for his cousin's house to offer support, he realized, "tomorrow never came."  They never talked about his being gay again.

On coming out, Michael's sister gave nothing but love, acknowledging she had always known.  His aunts and uncles also proved to be very supportive.  "I was really lucky.  I spent so much time being afraid of what people would think and no one said anything negative - EVER!"  From this he found the courage to face his addictions by entering AA.  Now an addict/alcoholic in recovery, there are still the consequences from his past to deal with.  "My excessive partying led me to some risky sex practices and in 2007 I tested HIV positive.  It was like coming out all over again. I told my family and friends, contacted HIV support and tried to educate myself on the virus I was carrying.  People have been really accepting of my HIV status."  Despite this acceptance, Michael was sure that being positive would mean the end of any serious relationships.  When he felt a strong connection to someone last year, he openly share his positive status right at the beginning sure that it would go no where.  He was wrong.  "This man is now my boyfriend and accepts me for who I am.  That is a real gift."


In closing are Michael's answers to a couple of questions.

1.  What has it been like since coming out? - "It feels like I have lived so many lives already - from sexually confused country bumpkin, to angry club kid, to messy older bar star, to the slightly older and responsible gay man I'm evolving into.  I spent my entire life afraid of what others thought and not believing in myself.  That is no way to live.  Dragging my secret out into the light and embracing it has given me true freedom.  I still get called a FAG from time to time, but so what.  I spent too much time living in my own fear, why would I want to worry about the fear others carry around?  Life it too short!"

2.  Any advice for those still struggling in secrecy? - "Find a healthy support group, being out alone can be hard.  Come out sooner rather than later because secrets make you sick.  It does get better, so hold on."

For anyone who would like to be a part of this series, please email me at justbusiness1@gmail.com.

Links for support groups -
LGBT - www.qmunity.ca
Out in Schools - www.outinschools.com
PFLAG Canada - www.pflagcanada.ca
Check Him Out - www.checkhimout.ca

Friday, May 27, 2011

Make-up Artist Extraordinaire - Jennifer Little

At a recent charity event, Out in May - Let the Games Begin, make-up artist Jennifer Little volunteered her out-of-this-world body painting skills to create 3 stunning models who circulated through the crowd doing raffle ticket sales.  Needless to say, the raffle was a huge success.  She has always been high on my list of artists to write on, so now seems the right timing to showcase this exceptional Vancouver talent.

Jennifer Little was born in Nanaimo, but grew up in North Vancouver and she's here to stay.  "I love the energy of this city.  As long as I'm near ocean and mountains, I feel at home."  Growing up she was drawn to the arts and COLOUR.  When it came to friends and activities she never really fit any one mold, but creative expression always gave her joy.  "The only classes I liked were Photography, Art, English, Drama and surprisingly, Earth Science.  I tried to skip the rest."  She innately knew whatever her career choice was, it had to be "creatively driven".

While attending a job fair in grade 11 or 12, she had a eureka moment at the Blanche Macdonald Applied Design booth.  What drew her was the full-time program in Makeup Artistry for TV and Film.  Here was a career that combined colour, design and working with people!  Once her parents were sure she was 100% committed, they backed her choice fully and she enrolled right after graduation.


On completing the program, a make-up artist is faced with the difficult job of building her own business.  For Little this meant doing her friends make-up and fun photo shoots as much as possible.  She also worked at drug store make-up counters, Holt Renfrew and Shopper Drug Mart to build her retail skills.  Then she immersed herself in the spa industry with a 5 year stint at Spa Utopia.  Along the way she met some really great people including Jon Paul Holt of Avant Garde Hair Salon.  They worked together on the Utopia creative team and she remembers, "He definitely had the creative energy that I had been looking for!" 


Although Little has been a make-up artist for 10 years now, it was 7 years ago that she took her first basic air brush course.  "I've always been intrigued by the human form. I think from being a beauty make-up artist by training and an artist at heart, painting on the body was just a natural progression."  As with any new skill, she had to spend countless hours practising to reach her current level of expertise.  For 5 years now this artist has painted live at the Vancouver Taboo show, something that really, "...builds up your design speed and makes you think fast on your feet. You see some very crazy things. 8-10 hours of trade show painting can make everyone rather insane and delirious.  The antics are like none other as you can imagine."

Inspiration for her work comes from everywhere, "...shadows in a puddle, high fashion runway, nursery rhymes, nightmares and even my cats.  If I'm struck by a new inspiration I have to write it down or talk it out so I don't lose it.  It's hard on my sleep because as an artist, I'm very nocturnal by nature.  The best inspiration seems to come late at night and then I can't sleep thinking about it. My business partner and I also regularly make an inspirational list of concepts we want to do. I think we're at about 40 now and it's growing.

You begin to get an idea of the success Little's drive and talent have brought when you look at her extensive resume.  Her busy schedule now includes corporate and private events, weddings, grads, competitions for both beauty make-up and body paint, on-call work with CTV, teaching at her former Alma Mater - Blanche Macdonald - and special request assignments for Avant Garde Hair Salon.   A recent career highlight she is particularly proud of was being contracted by the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Games to spend a month in Whistler plying her air brush skills. Other top moments include producing a stunning body painting calendar in support of breast cancer last fall, placing first in a Body Painting competition in May and best of all, shooting her first magazine cover this month!


"The imagination of the artist transforms
the human body into something magical - it is
a living breathing canvas." 
- Jennifer Little


Ten years have passed since Jennifer Little stepped out of school and there has never been a single doubt that this was the correct path for her to follow.  While there can be low moments when job are slow, she finds the joy of creativity, the creative control, the chance to collaborate with other talented artists, the tears when a bride is happy and the satisfaction of a successful shoot or event make it all worth it.  Even working from home in her pajamas has become a favourite part!  She is also happy to mentor others and in closing offered this advice for those thinking of this career.  "Be prepared to work your butt off for a long time without much pay or recognition.  Stay creative.  Do as much collaboration as possible with people who are as good as you are.  Build your portfolio and brand yourself - confidence and image is key.  Network as much as possible. Making a living as an artist is hard work, but well worth it."


Links - 

www.artistjenniferlittle.com

www.facebook.com/artistjenniferlittle

Twitter - @alittleartistry

Instagram - @artistjenniferlittle


Wednesday, May 25, 2011

To Jog Or Not To Jog - That is the question!

A couple of months ago I wrote a column called "Kicking Butt at Home."  As I work from home most days and spend long hours at the computer, I found I wasn't - #1 getting enough exercise and #2 getting out to the gym.  I bought several workout DVD's and reviewed the first one above.  I have to admit I fell soundly off schedule when things got busy and as much as I like the all over work-out in the DVD I reviewed, what I found is I got really sick of listening to the same banter over and over again.

The time has come to get back to getting in shape and while I will still be using the DVD reviewed, I know I have to mix it up a bit.  I have 2 others to try, but really wanted to take advantage of the great weather and get out of the house.   I don't know how many friends I have had over the years sing the praises of jogging.  I have NEVER had good wind and running was always a chore.  I actually love a great sprint, but pounding away on the pavement for 20-40 minutes has never been something I enjoyed.  Everyone continues to assure me once I get past the first hurdle, I will begin to experience those endorphins and learn to love running.  So a little over a week ago I decided to give jogging another try.  It gets me out of the house into the sunshine and there is no annoying person trying to encourage me to, "lift that weight one more time."


I ran 3 times last week and had my first run this week.  Now let's face it, I use the term "run" loosely.  I am not young and not a runner.  As a former dancer I am always concerned about preparation and injury, so have taken it really slow.   There were several beginner training programs to chose from. The one I picked that seemed to be most common at the time ended up being too ambitious, so I have adjusted it accordingly.  Now in doing a search, I have found lots of alternatives that are milder.


As my goal is not really to run a race, I am sticking with my original schedule, but just stretching it out.  I am doing Day 1 for 2 weeks and then will move on to Day 2.  If I start to get in the groove I might start moving through the program at the rate they give, but for now it seems to be best for me to do each day for 2 weeks. Let's face it, I'm in no rush and have no plans to run a marathon of any kind.   Here is the beginner's schedule I found at Runner's World to train for a 5K race.  Again, a bit ambitious for the total novice so I have offered links at the end to programs that are more realistic.

WEEK ONE
Tue Run 1 min, walk 1 min. Do 10 times  
Thu Run 2 mins, walk 4 mins. Do 5 times
Sun Run 2 mins, walk 4 mins. Do 5 time

WEEK TWO 
Tue Run 3 mins, walk 3 mins. Do 4 times
Thu Run 3 mins, walk 3 mins. Do 4 times
Sun Run 5 mins, walk 3 mins. Do 3 times


WEEK THREE 
Tue Run 7 mins, walk 2 mins. Do 3 times
Thu Run 8 mins, walk 2 mins. Do 3 times
Sun Run 8 mins, walk 2 mins. Do 3 times 

  
WEEK FOUR
Tue Run 8 mins, walk 2 mins. Do 3 times  
Thu Run 10 mins, walk 2 mins. Do twice then run for 5 mins
Sun Run 8 mins, walk 2 mins. Do 3 times 


WEEK FIVE
Tue Run 9 mins, walk 1 min. Do 3 times
Thu Run 12 mins, walk 2 mins. Do twice then run for 5 mins
Sun Run 8 mins, walk 2 mins. Do 3 times 


WEEK SIX 
Tue Run 15 mins, walk 1 min. Do twice
Thu Run 8 mins, walk 2 mins. Do 3 times
Sun 5K Race!



There are a few considerations.  A good pair of running shoes with proper support is a must. As well, for the novice I would never run the streets.  The pavement can be really hard on you.  I am lucky where I live to have a local track with a rubber surface, but any local school usually has a grass field you could run the perimeter of instead.  If you're near a beach, that would be another great option.   To do most programs you also will need a way to keep track of time.  Stop watches are one option, but most new smart phones usually have a stop watch option that works great.  You must also eat properly and drink lots of water.  Running on an empty stomach or with little water reserves is just plain dumb.

One thing I have found true over the years that I NEVER see discussed is that you should know your bio-rhythms.  I learned in my 20's that I'm not an early morning work out person.  Someone talked me into hitting the gym at 6 a.m. and I threw up.  For me it's between early afternoon and mid evening.  Each person has their own best time to work out based on many things (when you get up, when you go to bed, when you sleep-eat-drink) and unless you fit your work-outs into the right timing, you're doomed to fail.  This advice is not from the experts, just something I find.  Working out the wrong time for me means not feeling well during or afterwards, while when I do it at my high energy times I come away feeling great.

They say it takes at least 3 tries to quit smoking and I think exercising is the same, only in reverse.  You have to keep trying new things and taking new directions until you find a way that exercise fits with your life.  So if you're like me and it comes and goes, don't be discouraged.  It will eventually stick if you just keep trying new directions.

The Joy of Jogging 
1. For every mile you jog, you add one minute to your life. This enables you, at the age of 85, to spend an additional five months in a nursing home at $5,000/month.
2. The only reason I took up jogging was to hear heavy breathing again.
3. I joined a health club last year, spending $400 in the process. I haven't lost a pound. Apparently you have to show up.
4. I have to exercise early in the morning, before my brain figures out what I'm doing.
5. I like long walks, especially when they are taken by people who annoy me.
6. The advantage to exercising every day is that you die healthier.
7. I have flabby thighs but fortunately my stomach covers them.
8. If you are going to take up cross-country skiing, it helps to start with a small country.
9. I don't jog; it makes me spill my milk shake.
10. Actually, I don't exercise at all. If we were meant to touch our toes, we would have them farther up on our body.


Other programs for Novice Runners (and there are lots more!) -
http://training.runinthesun.com/beginners_programme.asp
http://running.about.com/od/getstartedwithrunning/ht/getstarted.htm
http://marathontrainingacademy.com/5k
http://sla-divisions.typepad.com/files/run-a-5k-training-plan-1.pdf

Saturday, May 14, 2011

BBQ Season - Bring on the Mac Salad

The BBQ season is fast approaching and with it comes a growing number of invitations to the ubiquitous BBQ where everyone brings something - my first is tonight.  As much as I am a fan of the deluxe green salad, it usually wilts pretty fast if dinner spreads over a couple of hours and left-overs really aren't all that appealing.  So unless there is a fixed time for dinner, if I am on the list for salad I tend to bring either a veggie tray, a fruit tray or one of a number of salads that travel well.

Growing up in South Dakota many years ago, the potluck was a tradition.  From the summer one in the park with the entire congregation, to back yard family BBQ's,  the variety of easy-to-bring recipes were endless.  Fresh produce wasn't as available, so there were many forms of "salad" that didn't need lettuce, travelled well and the left overs could be eaten for a couple days.  I still remember Traditional 3 Bean Salad made with rinsed canned beans and sliced onion.  Then there were the jello salads with celery or fruit in them or one jello concoction called Ambrosia (more reminiscent of dessert than salad) that you can still get from the deli counter in Aberdeen, S.D.  A unique one I haven't seen since childhood was pea salad -  mainly peas and cubes of sharp cheddar cheese with mayo that actually tasted pretty good. Macaroni salad was a definite 4th of July tradition right along with apple pie.


Over time, fresh produce became more widely available and affordable and potluck salad recipes went through a metamorphosis - at least on the West Coast.  There are now many recipes for marinated vegetable salads that are delicious.  Most have you blanch or partially cook vegetables such a broccoli, cauliflower and carrots, rinse in ice cold water and then drain until completely dry.  If you like you can toss with other ingredients such as mushrooms, shallots, marinated artichokes and fresh herbs, or leave it simply as is.  Then add any oil and vinegar dressing you like.   Pasta salads have also become more popular and have a similar cook-toss in a few extra ingredients-add vinaigrette preparation.   I personally am still a huge fan of the macaroni salad - it's comfort food from my childhood - but have chosen to up the ante a little.

Probably the most traditional version is simply cooked elbow macaroni with chopped up hard boiled eggs, diced onion and celery and mayonnaise.  For my version I wanted a lot more eye appeal, flavours and crunch, plus a little less mayo.  So here is the current list of what I put in mine.  As with most of the recipes I share, it's just a starting point for you to develop your own unique version.  This needs to be made either in the morning or the night before so it has a chance for the flavours to mix and mingle.

Macaroni Salad - the 2011 version

4 cups      small shell pasta
3-4          eggs (usually I use 3 but sometimes get decadent)
4-5           green onions diced
1              yellow pepper diced
1 cup       frozen green peas thawed and drained
1/2 cup    shredded carrot - just an approximate guess
2              large roma tomatos diced (or 3 small)
Either 2 stalks celery diced or 1/2 of a long English cucumber diced.
1 cup       sharp cheddar cheese (this is always a whim - sometimes 1-1/2 cups or more)
Vegetable Oil
Reduced fat Mayonnaise
salt, pepper and herbs if you like (I enjoy a bit of Thyme or Dill - but usually just go with salt and pepper).

(Note - I know some who use their favourite Ranch or Caesar dressing in place of the Mayo, but I prefer the traditional version.)

Fill a really large pot full of cold water and add eggs.  Put on burner and bring to a boil.  Add small shell pasta and give a quick stir.  Turn down heat slightly so it doesn't boil over and cook according to time indicated on package - usually 7-9 minutes for small shell pasta.  Remove the eggs and set aside to cool.  Drain pasta and rinse under cold tap water until cool to the touch.  Set aside to drain.  

Place the pasta, onion, pepper, carrot, tomatos and celery or cucumber in a large salad bowl. Add herbs if you like and a small amount of salt and pepper (you will adjust just before serving so use a light hand.)  Drizzle in some vegetable oil - I use this to keep thing the salad moist and to reduce the amount of mayonnaise necessary.  Unfortunately I kind of eye this - but probably 2-3 Tablespoons.   Add 1/2 cup mayonnaise and stir until really well mixed.  Then add more 1/4 cup at a time until it has the consistency you want. Just be sure it is well-mixed before you add more and try to err on the side of too little. More can be added just before serving when you adjust the seasoning.  Diced hard-boiled eggs are added after they have cooled.  About an hour before serving time, I check if the salad needs more salt or pepper and adjust to taste.  This is also where I add more mayo if it seems a bit dry.


So whether a BBQ, a picnic in the park or a balcony get together, it's time to step out of the box and experiment with some other salad choices. You can be sure any left overs will quickly be eaten up the next day - that is if you have any left-overs.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Coming Out Story #4 - Anna S.



Anna S. was born in the 1980's and is in her early 20's at time of posting.

Anna S. grew up in a quiet city neighbourhood in a loving family.  Dad was a doctor and mum was keen, as are all mums, to see her become a model teenager.  As the youngest, with siblings quite a bit older, she found herself surrounded by more "sophisticated influences."  She remembers feeling, "..easily embarrassed and naive. I had a happy childhood on the outside, but on the inside I felt burdened and scrutinized."

It was at the tender age of 5 that Anna S. began to spend long hours fantasizing about women.  By age 8, female authority figures were objects of desire and she started experimenting sexually with other girls.  Although she suspected that she was a lesbian, the term "mortified" her.   To deal with this she chose to live a double life.  "I began to compromise myself and became highly sarcastic, defensive and homophobic to appear straight.  I based my worth on how straight I could appear.  I went the whole nine yards until about age 16.  I even had boyfriends.  However, behind closed doors I was experimenting and had already become an Ani DiFranco fanatic."


Anna S. managed to fit in at school until around age 14, but there was a price to pay.  Drugs stepped into her life when she finished her first twenty sixer at age 11 and by age 13 she had already developed major substances abuse issues. A year later it began to spiral out of control.   "I used [drugs] to keep a buffer between me and the outside world.  I couldn't let my secret out.  I had been self-loathing since I could remember."  Friends began to fall by the wayside and she filled the void with a group of homosexuals she could "numb out" with.  At age 16 she chose to come out to her family with mixed results.  Brothers, sister and aunts were very supportive, but her parents were stunned.  Mum's response - she was only seeking attention.

By age 17, Anna S. had dropped out of school.  Psychotic, manic and out of control, she ended up in the psychiatric ward at VGH and then UBC.  Here she discovered that, in addition to her addiction issues, she was also bipolar. It took a year of recovery to become sober and medication helped to even out the mood swings inherent in this condition.  On leaving the hospital, she found she fit in at AA meetings, but not in the outside world.  "[Sobriety] did not last.  I wanted to feel as though I belonged with "normal" people that do not have problems.  I decided to try college after getting my GED, but it was too much too fast.  I quickly droppped out to use and party.  However, this time I had a crew of lesbians by my side - from DJ's to snowborders.  I actually thought I 'd died and gone to heaven."  They wrecked havoc.

Anna S.'s next "crew" were again women who partied.  She worked "joe" jobs to pay the bills and another year passed.  She compromised her health by not taking her meds and using marijuana, alcohol, ecstasy and acid.  A trip to Costa Rica took her from using cocaine occasionally to full blown addiction.  Her father actually flew there, sedated her and brought her home - saving her life.   On return, she was transported by ambulance to the hospital where she stayed for 3-4 months. When out on weekend passes she still used and after leaving, was re-admitted to Vancouver General Hospital.  She remembers, "...The obsession and cumpulsion continued for about a year and half of using cocaine and partying.  I was spending $100-200 a day.  The money came from my disability cheques and by forging chques which belonged to my father." 


In the summer August of 2010, it all came to a head.  "I overdosed on prescription medication and narcotics in a suicide attempt.  My brother and father rushed me to the hospital after I called to explain.  The psychiatric ward kept me for 2 weeks and then my sponspor Sheri brought me to a recovery house.  My parents have been amazing - helping facilitate the homestead, attending Al Anon in support of my recovery and letting go with love."  Now clean and sober for 9 months, Anna S. is back on meds to deal with issues arising from being bi-polar.  She has found a healthy gay community to support her recovery at the LGBT Centre (http://www.qmunity.ca/) where they hold specialty meeting for Narcotics Anonymous and at Gab Youth (http://www.qmunity.ca/youth/gab-youth-services/). With support, she has also found the strength to embrace herself.  "I am proud to be gay. It does not define me, it's a part of who I am which I accept. I have only recently found balance in my life for the first time. Being gay has proved to be amazing because we empower each other"



In closing Anna shares her answers to a couple of questions - 

1.  What are the positives and negatives since coming out? - " Self love was the biggest challenge of my life and it's a work in progress.  I face ignorance and intolerance every day, but am surrounded by many straight people who are extremely supportive and see me for me.  It's only a challenge if I question it or if I am insecure around other issues.

2.  Any advice for those still struggling in secrecy? - "Secrets made me sick.  It's not a choice, it's a circumstance."

3.  How have other medical issues affected you?  - "I am bipolar and in recovery. Being gay has complicated things for those analyzing or being critical in those areas. However their opinion is none of my business. I stay true to myself in my daily life."

To be a part of this series and share your coming out story - please email me at justbusiness1@gmail.com for the questionnaire.