Shephard Summers

THE BOOK OF SHEPHARD

**this is not a review, but a reflection on things happening in my life**
**NO spoilers** 

Last week, we revisited Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s BOOK OF MORMON, and while the Nat’l tour was every bit as good as the Bway production –as ribald and outrageously funny, as tuneful and joyful— I was reminded of how the show shocked and surprised me by its positive and wise perspective. If you don’t mind a little profanity, the show is profound and an amazing evening of theatre.  But that’s not what I’m writing about here.



We all search out beliefs that make us feel safer, more positive about the future, and a sense of belonging.  It’s so simple.  We inherit these beliefs from our parents and community, modifying them based on how much support the original beliefs made us feel.  We rebel and find new beliefs. We are comforted by the number of other people who believe what we believe. The more who believe, the less need to check facts. 

Each and every one of us do this in some area of our lives. Whether it’s beliefs about minorities, beliefs about religion or politics, beliefs about the city we live in or other countries. I’m going to cite a few short examples; stick with me til I make my point.  


Example One:
Last week, I had a very short political discussion with a friend, in which every fact that came out of their mouth was grossly inaccurate.  It would only have taken them 10 minutes on the internet to check those facts and see that they had unwittingly become the victim of party-line propaganda-spreading. But they were believing what they wanted to believe, so they didn’t want to look it up and find out they were wrong.  Because all their fear and hope was pinned on the choice they made.

Example Two:
We believe that the people in The Middle East hate Americans. Yet I’ve heard from soldiers, news correspondants and people who have actually been there say the opposite is true.  Astoundingly, the majority do not hate us.  But we believe this, because we are taught to hate the people instead of the government. We are taught that the people feel the way the government tells them to.

Example Three:
Atheists are another example. Many of them are filled with anger at the injustice that masquerades as religion, but they spin this anger into a pragmatic science-based belief system that shames anyone who doesn’t agree with them.  They choose beliefs that make them feel righteous and protected from the gross injustice and favoritism toward religion in the world.  I’m not saying they are right or wrong, and I love science. But I am saying they too choose things that make them feel better. That their beliefs are based on concrete facts and fairness doesn’t change the point: they choose beliefs that make them feel better. 

Example Four:
Another person told me that I should be glad that state laws like California’s can override federal laws and protect my marriage. I should not be surprised that this person isn’t even aware that state laws do not override federal laws, and that marriage equality only lasted 4 months in CA.  They don’t care, it doesn’t affect them, so why would they know this?  Why wouldn’t they just believe what they were told that made them feel better about their choices of who and what to support?

 



Hope, the Most Powerful Narcotic
Hope is a pretty powerful narcotic. Without hope, life would be terrible and bleak and unforgiving. The astounding thing is…. that even hope wrapped in a pack of lies can uplift and make a positive difference. The truth is always better, but lets’s face it…  people are not taught to face the truth. That’s just a fact of life.  It would be nice if people didn’t believe they have to hurt others to be safe; but that’s their karma. 


A New Good Fight 
I’ve reached a point where I realize what fighting the good fight means. 
I’m not going to bother trying to talk people out of beliefs they have identified as hope.  They will simply turn a blind eye.  I’ve had no fewer than 4 instances in the last month where talking someone out of their inaccurate perspective would have actually done more damage than good.  Instead, I try to help them see hope in other things if possible.  That’s the good fight.

I won’t lie and say my own hope hasn’t taken a few hits in the last couple years.  It’s very hard to continue to believe in the good of humanity when I’m staring down the barrel of ignorance and selfishness.  But then I remember this Gandhi quote:

“You must not lose faith in humanity.  Humanity is an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty.” 



And that’s what I need to believe to keep hope.  
For me, the priority is choosing a set of beliefs that don’t hurt others. And while this is not everyone’s priority, I won’t lose faith in the entire ocean of humanity because of the “dirty squeaky wheels.”

~Shephard


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Forty Freedoms





So your good friend asks a favor of you. 
You agree to go to an acquaintance’s party.
You’re just doing your good friend a favor.

A girl who knows so much more than you is wearing a button advertising her political and religious beliefs, and she bluntly asks you what you think. And you politely say your beliefs are in another direction. And she disagrees, and is not happy you don’t share her anger, and you smile and validate her right to disagree.

And you move on. And you later learn from your friend’s friend that this girl decided she didn’t like you and what kind of person you are from this encounter. 

And you don’t care.  Because she doesn’t know you. Because her opinion of you and your life simply doesn’t carry any weight. You’re a feather floating blissfully high above the stormy ocean, and its turbulence simply doesn’t affect you.

That’s what being in your 40’s is like. 

You know who you are, what you believe, and you simply don’t get all worked up or invested in what other people think about this.  You don’t care.  You don’t hide what you feel. You’re bolder.  You’ve been through a myriad of life’s tribulations, and you know deeply in the fiber of your being what really matters… and what doesn’t.

When you’re in your 20’s, you claim you don’t care. You go through relationships and people like tissue, and the ups and downs and people just keep coming in endless supply.



In your 30’s, you slow the pace slightly, and you’re pretty sure you don’t care as much, though there are exceptions, and you’re more aware of your denial and insecurities, and people do matter, and there are really important relationships, and you compromise and experiment a lot and it’s all an adventure to make it work any way you can, the cost be damned. 

In college, I wrote to my favorite 8th grade teacher, and told her what a difference she had made in my life. And she shared these same insights with me about being in her forties.  The forties are a relief and a joy.  You’ve learned which relationships and life battles are worth fighting for, worth the cost, worth your valuable life and investment. 

After so many years of keeping so many things afloat, so many plates spinning, the priority has shifted.  Relationships are evaluated by how much of a support or drain you are on each other. The freedom of not caring what others think of your choices settles in like a comfortable blanket. You are who you are, and you’ve already been through experiments in modifying that for yourself and for others, and now you just see it so clearly: that’s a waste of energy and time. Precious time: gold dust pouring through the hour-glass. 


Time ceases to be the enemy when you fall into the moment, and stop projecting the past into the future. Fear of the past and fear of the future. They are greater enemies than Time.  As are apathy and cynicism, bi-products of giving up.

From time to time, I hear friends lamenting their age.  I think what they’re really lamenting is the loss of time, the regrets of not knowing sooner what truly should take priority. 



I’ve had this conversation with several friends in their 40’s, and I marvel that we’re all basically on this same page.  It’s like a truism that is never spoken aloud, a quiet membership. We’ve all reached a point where we see the broader view. Elementary perception, maybe. But it feels wonderful.


If you learned from your twenties and thirties, and life and circumstances let you reach your forties, celebrate.  Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.

~Shephard

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Someone Has to Go First

 

***UPDATED***



I went to see a musical with friends the other night:
a closeted gay movie star fell in love and it began to unravel his life.  
At the breaking point, the man he loved told him that it was time to face the music and stop hiding (ripped from today’s headlines?).  


 
One of the songs really hit me. My friend Ellen knows the book-writer of the show, and was kind enough to get the lyrics for me.

Someone Goes First
(music and lyrics by Lori Scarlett & David Manning
from the musical JUSTIN LOVE)

SOMEONE GOES FIRST
SOMEONE ALWAYS GOES FIRST
SOMEONE TAKES IT HARD
SOMEONE GETS IT WORST
SOMEONE MAKES THE TOUGH CHOICES
SOMEONE GOES TO BAT
THEN SOMEONE GOES NEXT
AND SOMEONE AFTER THAT
SOMEONE LAYS THE GROUNDWORK
SOMEONE PLANTS THE SEED
SO SOMETHING CAN GROW…

SOMEONE HAS TO GO FIRST
AND IF YOU CAN GO FIRST
YOU SHOULD GO.

SOMEONE GOES FIRST
SOMEONE ALWAYS GOES FIRST
PUTS HIMSELF ON THE LINE
TO SEE INJUSTICE REVERSED
SOMEONE STANDS FIRM
SOMEONE STAYS STRONG
SOMEONE KEEPS GOING

UNTIL THE WORLD COMES ALONG
SOMEONE LAYS THE GROUNDWORK
SOMEONE PLANTS THE SEED
SO SOMETHING CAN GROW
SOMEONE HAS TO GO FIRST
AND IF YOU CAN GO FIRST
YOU SHOULD GO.

It was the truest and most honest message in the show.  
When I thought about it this way, 
I realized what was at stake.
We all know what happens 
when no one goes first.



Days later, the message had time to sink deeper into my brain, it seemed like such a personal message –not just because I’m gay– but because my life has been about being different, going first, and struggling with being the undiluted “me.”

But then I realized, we  ALL struggle to feel okay showing the world the undiluted us.
The Big Picture:  more than likely several someones must go first, and that even then, it might be two steps forward, one step back. But it doesn’t change the fact.  Someone. Has to go first.



Those who go first often have more to lose. 
Those who go first… often have no road map or directions.
New territory… the unknown … is sometimes lonely.
Those who go first… often have more to lose, and even more to gain.

In your life… 
you will have situations where you have to go first.

Maybe you are the first to say at the family table… I think that’s racist.

Maybe you’re the first at work to say… I think women are getting the short end of the stick here.  

Maybe you are the first to reach out to someone whom everyone else is ignoring. 

Maybe you will be the first to ask for help. 

Maybe you will be the first to say “I was wrong, I’m sorry.” 

Maybe you will be the first to make it easy for someone else to be wrong. 

 
Life is too short to wait for someone else to go first.  

Although I’m not the first gay author to write a novel with a happy, well-adjusted male main character, I am certainly up there in the 1% (for books published).   Publishers and agents are afraid.  It is after all, a business, and they do have to make a living. But sometimes fear is just that. Fear.  Fear of change. Fear of having to work harder.

I’m willing to work harder. I’m willing to go first. 
For me, it’s a call to arms. 
And I’ll find an agent and a publisher who aren’t afraid of going first.

As I look at this photo of our world … knowing that there are MILLIONS of gay teens and adults on this planet who would enjoy reading uplifting, positive portrayals, millions who would want to see themselves and their unlimited futures in the pages of books. . . . it seems quite silly to me that so many are so afraid of going first, that they blindly cling to beliefs and perspectives that don’t reflect the world they’re actually living in. 

 
 
Someone goes first.

 

~Shephard

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