Thursday, July 16, 2015

Stardate: Chattanooga

BREAKING NEWS: There were no shooting deaths in Hong Kong today. There were no shooting deaths in South Korea today. There were no shooting deaths in Singapore today. There were no shooting deaths in Poland today. There were no shooting deaths in the Netherlands today. There were no shooting deaths in India today. There were no shooting deaths in Spain today. There were no shooting deaths in Australia today. There were no shooting deaths in Hungary today. There were no shooting deaths in Denmark today. There were no shooting deaths in Italy today. There were no shooting deaths in Sweden today. There were no shooting deaths in Iceland today. There were no shooting deaths in Greece today. There were no shooting deaths in Israel today. There were no shooting deaths in Japan today. There were no shooting deaths in Germany today. There were no shooting deaths in Canada today. There were no shooting deaths in France today. There were no shooting deaths in the UK today. There were no shooting deaths in Korea today. I think you see the trend without the list continuing.

Remind me why we have guns freely available in the United States? Guns kill more people every single year in my country than any terrorist attack ever will domestic or foreign. Approximately 31,000 lives are lost every single year. The availability of guns is a public health epidemic, plain and simple. Mental health problems do NOT play into this epidemic as every other country on the planet also has mental health problems. Our country should be deeply ashamed that we have let this become the norm. We have been lulled into collective non-action. We have let ourselves be held captive, LITERALLY with a gun held to our collective heads, by the NRA, the very people that SELL these guns, who do NOT care about your children, for DECADES. At some point, hopefully in my lifetime, this lunacy will stop, and guns will be illegal in our country. Period. End of story.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

The Dust

I have not picked up a musical instrument in over six months. Not for enjoyment, not for performance, not for love, not for hate, not to laugh, not to cry, not to write, not to relax, not to vent, not for work, not for catharsis, not for anyone else, and certainly not for me. It has been a pretty sobering reminder of what can happen in life when one sinks into the depths of oneself after surviving the trauma of losing 11 years of love, trust, and friendship to the cold betrayal of deception, fraud, and the heartless theft of ones home, attempted theft of ones beloved dog, and the ensuing court battle. (Thankfully settled out of court). All of this from my absolutely lunatic ex who decided to go off her medication cold turkey and attempted to destroy my life. And for a little while, she won the battle. But I think we all know who wins the war in these cases. I feel very very lucky.

But then there was last week. And in an instant, a rising river from a vicious sustained rainstorm caused an older dam to collapse. One that was meant to hold back flood waters for 100 years. I spent the past week running through rising flood waters, trying to find a way out. But drowning while standing on my feet, at times stranded on a roof, with no boat, and no FEMA. Very grateful for the friends who have reached out from their own boats weathering their own storms... Tossing me supplies and support.

Where I have been is not an unfamiliar place. It's a place that I have spent far too much time in my life. I know all the hallways, I have keys to all the doors. The doorman knows my name, and I even have roof access with a private swimming pool. It is dark, it is sick, is heavy, it is solitary. It is home.

About a year ago, I met with Eastman Guitars in Nashville when they came in for the NAMM show. Ironically, I had just purchased a beautiful home with my ex and we were reviewing plans to build a  full-size recording facility in the lot behind the house. I was especially fond of Eastman's parlor size guitar that they were bringing to market. I felt a special connection to the E10OO-M and had been looking for a smaller body guitar to take on the road. At the time, only two existed in the entire world. So, I had to wait for Eastman to build me one. But, build it they did. My guitar was delivered late in the fall, just weeks before the walls of my world came crashing down around me and the earth crumbled beneath my feet.  I was in a free fall, and it lasted the better part of six months. Welcome to life. Again.

That gorgeous guitar has been calling out to me for the last two months. Every day she calls out louder, and every night I hear her, but I feel powerless to answer. Last night, I could no longer ignore her cries and finally gave in to her desires. Like many of us, she longed to be held. See, she had a purpose... She was built specifically for me, to take in everything I had to give; to listen, to receive, to decode and to translate, and of course to communicate what she has learned.

I have not picked up a musical instrument in over six months. But last night I played for six hours. Last night, I played an hour for every month I had missed. Last night, I played until every muscle in my torso had seized up. I played until every finger was raw and bled onto the strings below it.  I was in a trance, unconsciously yelping and moaning and singing and crying until my voice was long gone. What emerged from the ashes was the dark and murky dust of a song. It arose from a deep wound, an infection of sorts, filled with dark pus that needed to be brought to the surface; a demon waiting to be exercised, this song, this disgusting beast, this misunderstood child that no one wanted. And yet, there he was standing in front of me, a perfect reflection, staring directly into my eyes without speaking a word, as if to say: I am here. I have been waiting for you. I have been here this whole time.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Men are victims too

2015 #Cosby #Rape #TriggerWarning

This video. And some things I haven't yet shared with the world. I couldn't watch the whole thing. And it's only a few minutes long.


There. I said it. And what I am about to write is not very easy, but I feel it is very important.

Like everyone else, I have been following the events of the #Cosby case unfold in the media. But it wasn't until the last few days, when disgusting details of the case were confirmed by the words of the man himself spoken under oath in an unsealed deposition given 10 years ago, that the pieces began to fit together and the stories of 49 'accusers' began to crystalize. It happened. This man is guilty. He is a sick and perverse predator who carried out attacks over 4 decades... that we know of. This is no longer speculation and accusation. While he may never face any jail time due to the statute of limitations, the case has been made and the verdict is guilty.

I watched the video this morning. And it did something to me that I know it will do to others. It 'triggered' some deep emotions. I write what I write today in hopes that it helps even one person out there who might be suffering through pain silently. Because as rarely as sexual assault against women is reported, rarer still is the reporting of those same assaults against men. The stigma is even worse. I was watching this video while eating breakfast and as the accounts went on, one by one, all the same, start to finish, the details so familiar to me, I started to panic, my pulse quickened, I lost my appetite, and had to stop the video. I had to sit back and let myself feel this, to take some deep breaths, and to write. I am not nearly as famous as many of my friends. However, I know when I speak on certain topics, a fair amount of people hear me. And I feel at times a certain responsibility to speak out on topics, even when, and perhaps especially when they are personal to my life.

From the age of 12 through 17, I attended a summer camp for the Performing Arts in Upstate New York. In many ways, it was a wonderful and magical time and place. It cultivated long standing friendships and relationships in my life at a time when my home life was in ruins. It gave me a creative outlet to explore and expand upon that I wouldn't have otherwise had access to. But there was a very dark side that not every camper was exposed to. Those vulnerable male campers like myself, the 'targets', the boys who came from homes that were falling apart, the boys with depression, the boys with substance abuse problems, the boys aching for attention and love from adult male figures... we were at great risk there. Little did we know or understand at that time, but mixed in among well meaning caretakers and counsellors were many older predators, drug pushers, sexual abusers, sadists, and physical abusers. They got me high when I was 12. They touched me inappropriately when I was 13. The owner of the camp took sexual delight causing extreme pain to the young male campers; sometimes alone in his office, and other time openly, in full view of a group of other campers, as if to display his dominance and control. I thought they were my 'best friends'. I thought 'they accepted me' and thought I was 'their equal'. I will not name names here; Not the abusers, and not the other male campers I have spoken to over the years who have shared with me eerily similar experiences.

And yes, I have wondered at times if by remaining silent, I have caused other children harm over the years. I carry around that burden as well. But sometimes the memories of that time are hazy. And at other times, like when watching the video linked above from CNN this morning, a memory from 24 years ago is crystal clear, as if it happened yesterday. The memory of being drugged and abused by a popular director and conductor who was well respected at that camp.

24 years ago, I was trying to 'make it' as an actor in NYC and this particular person had a lot of connections. We had first worked together for years up at the camp and stayed in touch. He invited me up to have dinner with him north of the city. I was just 18 at the time. He was 50 something. I was auditioning for roles and competing with actors in NYC and LA who were in top shape so I went to the gym daily, took supplements, ate very healthy and wore tight clothing to show off my progress in the gym. We went to dinner at a little out-of-the-way Mexican place. The topics jumped around wildly, but strangely kept going back to his sister's sex life and his fascination with bondage practices. As strange as this was, my instinct was to just go along with the conversation since he was doing me such a great favor. Helping me break into the business... (sound familiar yet?) After dinner, he invited me back to his house, 10 minutes away. He wanted to show me some videos of recent shows he had directed. Sounded innocent enough. We went back, he offered me a beer. I watched him open it. Felt safe enough, nothing to set off my alarms. He popped in the tape. It was a show about insects that he directed at a high school. And he kept rolling to scenes of the insects having sex with each other on stage. Bondage type of stuff. He had a strangely excited look on his face while watching the scenes. I remember thinking that was a bit odd, but he did direct that same show at the camp. He offered me another beer... I watched him open it. I had to go to the bathroom, and asked where it was. As I stood up to go, a long conversation happened in my brain within a split second: "take your beer with you" - "no, don't be rude! you are being paranoid! he will be insulted and not help you!" - "he is going to do something to you!" - "why would you even THINK that???" - I went to the bathroom. I left the beer. Open. On the table.

I don't remember coming back from the bathroom. I don't remember taking the next sip of the beer. I don't remember the next hour of time. But what I DO remember next will stay with me in horrifying clarity forever. I am slumped back in the couch I was on. Sweating profusely, just soaking wet. I can barely see anything except a small blurry circle in front of me. Everything else is moving and dark. My host, now seemingly not wearing anything is over me/on top of me. I remember him looking scary or scared and saying in a slow or affected voice (by the drug) "Russell, you don't look so good... why don't you come with me to the bedroom? lay down with me for a while..." I was so sick. I remember it was pouring rain outside. I remember feeling for my pockets and feeling my keys. Trying to stand up, falling down... He tried to keep me there. I tried to speak out as loud and controlled as I could that I felt absolutely fine... that everything was fine. I just needed some air for a minute. I saw the front door... grabbed for it. Opened it. Ran, falling, stumbling, in the pouring rain and found my car. Locked it. And somehow drove. It was a short drive by distance, but of course it was dangerous one and in my condition and in the pouring rain, it took forever. I was too terrified to go to a hospital, or to go to the police. I went straight home.

It took me many years to speak about the experience to other campers. First some male campers that I knew had similar childhoods to mine. I was surprised to learn that while some of my experiences were unique, not all of them were. And some of the same abusers that had preyed on me, had targeted other similar young boys. I was also somewhat relieved to learn that the girls from the camp knew nothing about this stuff. None that I spoke to had ever experienced anything like this there. And the truth is I took great comfort in that. Women experience such pain throughout their lives being victimized at the hands of men, I didn't need to know this happened to them there as well.

Anyway, I am sure there will be some of you that will be utterly turned off by the fact that I chose to share this information. But I didn't share it for you. In fact, I didn't share it for me. I shared it in hopes of reaching someone else out there who might be suffering. I spent years as a silent suffering victim. Feeling like something was wrong with me. Like I had done something wrong and that I brought certain situations and victimizations on myself. I wish I could go back and do things differently. But I cannot. I share this today, inspired by the 49 women victimized by #Cosby and in hopes that my story can help someone else out there.

I wanted to add that I haven't let this experience define me more than any other experience has. I have always taken every experience as another piece of what makes us who we are. And despite overcoming a batch of adversity, I'd like to count myself among the pretty well-adjusted and high-functioning members of our society (even if my friends might laugh at that). I live the hell out of every day and I don't really look at life as having limitations. It ends one day, but until then, I like to think that nothing is out of reach. :-)

-Russell Wolff