Saturday, October 29, 2011

My way of thinking/ Ordinary Miracles

It is a rare thing indeed to find a photo with the four of us in it. We always plan to have friends take a few pics of us when they come to visit but we get to talking and I completely forget. This picture is from about three years ago, during our blond period. It was taken at Koffi, our favorite coffee place. We love to take our dogs, and the dogs we foster, there. They have a huge grassy area in back where the pups can meet other pups. It is particularly good for the dogs we have in our home 4 days a week. We get two a day so they can be out of their cages and see what a loving home is all about. We often get adoptions right there at Koffi.

I was thinking last night about all the little miracles that we tend to take for granted. What sparked this thought was looking to my right and seeing our boy Charlie sleeping in his own bed. He has avoided his bed since the day we bought it, but Roxy has always slept in her bed. I guess he finally got the idea that it looked pretty comfy. It was one of those sweet moments that deserve to be savoured.

Things like the bus running right on time, or being in a long line that moves quickly; these are the kinds of things we sometimes forget to be grateful for. The beauty of the mountains, the majesty of the ocean, the trees that move and sigh with the breeze; these are things we see all the time so we can stop being in awe of these ordinary miracles. We shouldn't allow ourselves to ignore all the things that make life so wonderful. Just taking a second to recognize those little things that make life worthwhile can make such a difference in the way we approach each day. If we are grateful for the small things that happen, think how grateful we can be when something big comes along. Our mind is already set up to experience the joy of something wondrous!

I begin each day by meditating. I use the sunrise as a focal point. I am not a closed eyed, cross legged, mantra chanting type of meditator. Rather I use the power of the sunrise as a focus to calm me, allow my mind to be quiet and still, and allow the power of the dawning light to fill me with energy. It is always my first miracle of the day.

I just thought I would send out a gentle reminder of how important it is to remain grateful for the ordinary miracles that happen every day. By recognizing the good, we are better able to combat the bad. We can choose what we want to see and what we don't. It just takes practice. And maybe a slight nudge every once in awhile.

                                           Peace and Love,



Wednesday, October 26, 2011

my way of thinking: Phil part 3

Parts 1 and 2 told the story of my brother Phil's difficulties with drugs and alcohol. We have gone from his birth in 1956 to 1986.

In February of 1986 I was living with a partner, Paul, and was doing a show in Santa Barbara. I was so busy during that month that I had very little time for anyone. But I still spoke with Phil every day. He was having financial problems (what else is new?) so I did my best to give advice over the phone. I hadn't seen Phil for a couple of months. He didn't say anything about his health other than to say he had been to a doctor for a "slight" infection.

On February 26th I was finished with my show so I invited Phil over for dinner. Paul and Phil got along great so we were both excited to see Phil after several months. We were in for a shock. When Phil walked in the door my heart dropped into my stomach. Phil, who was 6'7 3/4", looked like a refugee from a concentration camp. I had never seen him so thin and haggard looking. He was weak and could barely walk. I freaked out. Phil had been in the hospital many times during his adult life. He seemed to get pneumonia about once a year. So I thought that he was going through that again and told him so. He agreed and promised to see his doctor the next day.

Being Phil, he didn't go to the doctor the next day or the day after that. We continued our phone conversations but they changed tone. I was the nagging big brother and Phil sounded weaker and more tired every day. I asked our Aunt Ruth Lee to drop by Phil's apartment and check on him. That was on March 6th.

The next call I received was from our aunt. She was calling from the hospital (less than a mile from where I was living) to tell me that Phil had been admitted and was in the ICU. I wasn't terribly surprised. My main thought was "here we go again" as I got in my car to go to the hospital. I had done this before so I stopped by admissions before going up to see Phil. I was a little taken aback when they started asking me questions about next of kin and d.n.r. (do not resuscitate) orders. I had never been asked things like that before but I figured they were just being cautious.

When I got to Phil's bedside I was shocked at how bad he looked. He had been sick before but this time it was different. There were tubes everywhere and his skin was gray. I was convinced that this was another bout with pneumonia but Phil had let it go too far. He had gone through it so many times that I convinced myself that he would get over it and I would give him another lecture about drugs ruining his health etc.

By the next day Phil had been moved out of ICU and into a private room. Our Grandmother was being brought to the hospital to visit (Phil was her favorite person in the world) and I began to feel uneasy. When I got to Phil's room I was confronted with a quarantine sign. That's when it dawned on me that this was something more than pneumonia. My aunt was in the room, looking pale herself. She had alerted the rest of the family (aunts, uncles, cousins) and I had this horrible sinking feeling. This was serious but I still thought that Phil would pull out of it. After all he always had before.

I don't want to dwell on the days leading up to March 10. It was a parade of relatives and an absolute blur to me. My aunt and grandmother were there day and night. I came by several times a day but continued to work. On March 10, I was at the hospital at dinner time to try to get Phil to eat something. He was too weak to lift a spoon so I fed him. The only thing he was willing to eat was a small cup of vanilla ice cream. I told Phil I loved him and he told me he loved me. Then I went home to make dinner for Paul and myself.

At 10:00pm the phone rang. It was Phil's doctor. He told me that Phil had slipped into a coma right after I left and had died at 7:30pm. I couldn't register those words at first. Then I was furious that I hadn't been called immediately. Then the reality of the situation hit me like a ton of bricks. I became hysterical. When my parents died I was grief stricken but this was different. Paul did his best to comfort me but I could not be consoled. I had to make those horrible phone calls to relatives. The worst was telling my aunt and my grandmother. I'll spare my readers the details. I needed a drink and beer wouldn't cut it. Paul went out and bought me a bottle of scotch and I drank all night.

The next few days happened with me in a fog. Memorial service, burial arrangements (Phil was cremated but buried with our mother), these arrangements were made somehow but I barely remember all the things I had to do. I just kept drinking and my aunt did the driving. Then suddenly it was all over. According to the death certificate Phil died due to complications caused by HIV. AIDS. What a dreadful, horrible word.

During the year that followed I continued to drink far too much. Paul couldn't take it and left me by sneaking out. I didn't even know he had gone til he called me from our apartment in New York to tell me he had gone. Then I looked around the house and finally noticed that all his stuff was gone. I hadn't known there was any problem.

That was my rock bottom time in my life. I owe Paul a thank you for bringing me back to reality. I stopped drinking and started reading lots of books with metaphysical subject matter. I decided then and there that I wanted to rejoin the human race. I wanted to share all these wonderful ideas I had been reading about. I wanted to apply the concepts to my own life and that's when the real work began. I evolved over time. I became calm and peaceful as meditation became a daily ritual. I reached out to friends I had been ignoring. I counted on Phil's beautiful spirit to be with me and I believe he is with me to this day. Not a day goes by that I don't think of my little brother. He was only 29 when he moved on but I see him as still with me. So he has aged right along with me in my mind. Nothing and no one dies as long a they are remembered.

This was a hard story to tell. Believe me it is only a thumbnail sketch but it is a window to my soul. All the challenges that I have faced in my life made me who I am today. They made me strong. They gave me understanding and empathy for others. They helped me to love more deeply and to share my love more freely and fully. Something good can always come from something that seems so bad. It's all in how you choose to look at things.

                                            Peace and Love,



Monday, October 24, 2011

my way of thinking: Phil part 2

Part one was about my brother Phil's life as a child. I left off with him beginning High School as a very troubled teen, constantly in trouble and doing drugs.

Half way through High School our Mother passed away after her very long battle after having an artificial valve placed in her heart. Her body finally rejected the artificial valve and there was nothing back then (1972) that doctors could do. Mom's death changed our family forever.

While I went immediately back into rehearsals to reprise the role of El Gallo in "The Fantsticks"( I had played the part in repertory the summer before) , Phil continued his downward spiral. I was in turmoil but worked through it by getting back to work with even more determination. Phil reacted by getting into more trouble, smoking cigarettes and pot, taking pills, and lots of alcohol.

When our father remarried just 5 months after our mom's passing, Phil and I both reacted with horror. I moved out but Phil was stuck. Dad sold our home in Arcadia and moved to Fullerton, California. Phil had to change schools. That could have been a fresh start but Phil only became even worse. My father couldn't deal with him and called me to say that he was going to put Phil in foster care. Today I'm not sure if that was an idle threat or a foregone conclusion. Either way, I couldn't allow that to happen. I moved out to Anaheim and took Phil in as my roommate. It was the only decision I could make.

Phil was graduated at the end of his junior year (an interesting way for the school to get rid of a trouble maker). Once away from school he seemed to straighten up and I breathed a sigh of relief. I was in college and working as a directory assistance operator so I didn't have a lot of time to supervise my kid brother. It was every man for himself time. My relief was short lived.

On my 20th birthday, I was taken to see a musical at The Schubert Theatre in Century City. Nothing could have made me happier. When I arrived back to our Orange County home, I found Phil completely out of it with two empty bottles of over the counter sleeping pills on his nightstand. It was only 5 days before his 18th birthday and we had been looking forward to getting Phil a place of his own so I could move closer to U.C.L.A. Instead I took Phil to the hospital where he was admitted to their psychatric unit. No matter how much love I gave Phil, no matter how much help I offered, I couldn't heal the hurt he felt inside. I had to get out. I secured him a chance to live with our Aunt Ruth Lee and proceeded to pack up and move back to Arcadia.

After Phil's release from the hospital, he moved in with our Aunt, stopped drinking and doing drugs, and got a Realestate license. As always, I was hopeful. As always, I was disappointed. I forgot to mention that our father passed away shortly after Phil moved in with me. Another factor that had very different effects on the two of us.

When Phil began slipping into his old patterns, my Aunt decided that they would move to Hawaii. They left. I went on a 3 month tour of "My Fair Lady" and then I moved to NYC. After a year, Phil parted company with our aunt and followed me to New York. He stayed with me for a month or so and found himself a place to live. He was surviving by being a prostitute. A call boy not a street hustler. By this time I simply stuck my head in the sand and kept out of Phil's business. There is so much more to that part of the story but....

Phil spent a year in NYC and moved back to California after a failed attempt at a relationship. When I finished my last show in New York, I moved back to California too. Phil bounced from one car rental agency to another. He got bored so easily. I don't think he ever kept a job for more than 6 months. Somehow he always kept a roof over his head. We remained close and spoke by phone every day. Phil continued to have an on again/off again relationship with reality. He never did use that realestate license. He also never gave up the drugs.

By 1985 I had been with a partner, Paul, and Phil had been in a major car accident that wasn't his fault. He received a $113,000.00 settlement and proceeded to blow it all within a year. Oh Phil. You wouldn't let me help you with all that money. Things went from bad to worse in 1986. Phil was shooting up cocaine and his health was failing. My crying and begging him to stop fell on deaf ears.

Well, there is going to have to be a part 3 to this story. Give me a few days and I will bring this to a conclusion.

                                            Peace and Love,



Saturday, October 22, 2011

my way of thinking: Phil

In case there was any doubt, the handsome young men in the photo are my younger brother, Phil and myself. We were 4 and 2 on the left and 3 and 1 on the right. This is the only picture of my brother I have left. In 1997 Hurricane Georges hit Key West and Jon and I lost a lot of stuff. But we had each other. We survived and came back to California. I'll take an earthquake over a Hurricane any day. I grew up with earthquakes so they don't frighten me much.

I want to tell you about my brother. Phil was a miracle baby. In 1956 when I was just 16 months old, my pregnant mother, my father, and I were in a terrible car accident. My mom was thrown from the car and fractured several vertebrae. My father fractured his back as well. And I was thrown into the back seat with only a bump on the head. No infant car seats in those days. The doctors didn't see how the fetus could survive such trauma but the docs didn't know my mom. They didn't know Phil either.

Phil was a delightful child. While I was always focused and intense, Phil was happy-go-lucky and mischievous. If he could take something apart, that's what he was compelled to do. Trouble was, he hadn't figured out how to put things back together. He was always in trouble. I used to feel so sorry for him but I was more than happy to have the spotlight on him rather than me. No matter what, Phil was loved by every person with whom he came in contact. He was my polar opposite.

Phil and I had things in common but, where I was passionate he was mostly just trying to keep up. He was too interested in playing with his matchbox car collection than to do things like take piano lessons etc. I loved dogs and horses. Phil liked them because I did. He was always a step behind and that began to manifest itself into an inferiority complex when he began Jr. High.

Phil had lots of friends. Like I said, everyone loved him. But at age 12, Phil began to separate from his nice friends and started hanging out with the bad boy crowd. He began running away from home and his grades went from straight A's to C's and D's. Phil was a genius you see and school couldn't keep up with him. At this same time he began experimenting with drugs. Our family was constantly in turmoil over Phil. My mother was ill. My dad travelled a lot on business. And then there was me. Barely a teenager myself, but I had a very well developed sense of responsibility and loyalty. By God, I was going to make everything alright for everyone. I could get good grades. I could still be in singing groups after school. I could cook dinner and do laundry. I could be superboy and, to an extent, I was. But I couldn't change Phil. I loved him, but for the first time in my young life, love just wasn't enough.

By High School, Phil's life had completely unraveled. He was constantly being suspended. He considered that vacation time. He could not be controlled by anyone. My parents were talking military school. I was incredibly busy with music and theatre. I had to try to stay out of it as much as possible. Staying out of it would become impossible very soon.

I just realized that I am going to have to make this a two parter. In order to do justice to Phil's story, I want to be complete. There will be a point that goes along with my general theme. I promise.

                                         Peace and Love,



Tuesday, October 18, 2011

My way of thinking/25 Random Things About Me

One of my new blogger pals, Franziska San Pedro, came up with this wonderful idea for each of us to write 25 random things about ourselves. We being a group of bloggers who share on The Circulation Desk on Facebook. What a great way to get to know each other better and maybe to learn a little something about ourselves. Here's some Austin's Random thoughts.

1. My favorite color is red. It reminds me of strength. Don't ask me why. If you start asking questions this won't be a very fun exercise.

2. Almost all of my friends and family from before 1973 call me Bill. Many of my new friends call me Bill because my connection to them is through my old chums. Truth is, I have been Austin for 38 years. But I am happy with either name.

3. I have always loved horses. To me they are giant dogs that you can ride.

4. After being hit by a car last April, I had an epiphany. Realizing more than ever how short life is, I redoubled my efforts to make a difference in the world around me.

5. My mother died when I was 17, my father when I was 19, and my brother when I was 31. I am an orphan.

6. I am one of the happiest people I know.

7. I saw my first Broadway show in 1959. It was "Flower Drum Song" by Rodgers and Hammerstein. I was 5. From that moment on I never wanted to do anything but theatre. So that's what I did with unwavering dedication.

8. I am happy to be my age. Glad that I learned a thing or two along the road to 57 years.

9. I have very strong political views but I don't discuss them often. Divisiveness is not my thing.

10. I was brought up by a very religious mother. She was a Christian singer from the age of 6 until she became ill in the early 1960's. Boy can I quote The Bible. I am a nightmare to people who try to "convert" me.

11. Jon and I met through a mutual friend. The friend thought that he was taking Jon out on a date but invited me to join them for a beer. Needless to say, we no longer have that mutual friend.Oops!

12. I love London. After New York City, it is my favorite city in the world.

13. I talk way too much. Jon says so. He also says that I tell everyone everything. Is that really a fault?

14. I believe that I loved music in the womb. Without music I would not know who I am.

15. Stephen Sondheim is my favorite composer/lyricist. I quote him a lot, sometimes breaking into song while quoting him.

16. I am a Disney fanatic. I love animated film, particularly from 1937-1967. You know. When they actually drew it.

17. I am a natural teacher. I am a good learner as well.

18. I dislike actors who are walking, talking job applicants 24/7. That used to be me so forgive me if I don't recite my theatrical history.

19. I said nothing about TV. I was the Pearl Drops Tooth Polish guy in 1973. Ha Ha!

20. I am a very good swimmer even though I am still working on being able to walk again.

21. I believe that meditation is key to inner peace and tranquility.

22. Laughter truly is healing. I know because I make Jon laugh a lot. After almost dying, he is now in top form. We watch a lot of comedy.

23. I sleep very little. Too many interesting things to do. Not enough hours in a day to waste them in sleep.

24. I read quite a bit but only on the go. This is the longest I have sat still in days.

25. I can't quit smoking. Don't bother yelling at me.

Well that's 25 pretty random thoughts. I just let things pop into my head. That's pretty much my writing style anyway. Now. Let's hear more random thoughts from the rest of you fabulous bloggers.

                                                                 Peace and Love,




Monday, October 17, 2011

My way of thinking/ friendship

Is there such a thing as having TOO many friends? This is a question I have been asking myself ever since I took the plunge and put myself on facebook. My original plan was to find a few old chums (30 at most) and keep in touch the easy way. You know, without too much personal contact. Yeh. And how's that working out Austin? 312 friends and growing, that's how.

It is wonderful that I have been blessed to know so many people in my life. Those are just the friends who are on Facebook. Then there are the ones who aren't. My emails are something I both love and dread at the same time. There are days when it looks like a full time job. Trying to answer everyone individually is impossible, so I end up sending out group emails. Then I feel guilty for being so impersonal. Someone is bound to feel a bit ignored and then I find myself dealing with someone's hurt feelings. What's a guy supposed to do?

I have come up with a solution that works for me. I have categorized my friends into groups. I shuffled up the group lists and left them in that order. No one list takes precedence over another. There are 5 separate lists and each week I pick 5 names from each list. I try to pick those people I haven't contacted in awhile. The friends I talk to all the time don't count. I couldn't stop them if I tried. The 25 people from the lists get my full attention, usually at 2a.m. after Jon and the pups are sound asleep.

I love people so much. I never want to slight anyone. But reality is reality. Love is truly a commitment of epic proportion. You do the best you can and trust that everyone will understand.

To answer my own question. No you can't have too many friends. Just as you can't love too many people. You just have to organize a little.

                                           Peace and Love,



Thursday, October 13, 2011

My way of thinking/anniversaries

Jon and I celebrated our 19th anniversary yesterday. So amazing to think about all the years, all the experiences, and all the adventures we have had together. We have shared every minute of it together. Good times. Not so good times. But always facing whatever happened together. How wonderful is that? When you have the confidence that comes with that kind of support there's no limit to what you can do.

If it sounds like I am bragging about the success of our relationship, it's because I am. I think part of the reason for our success is because we were pretty mature when we met. I was 38. Jon was 36. We had both been through failed relationships in our pasts and neither one of us was going to go that route again. We became best friends first with a good knowledge of who we were and what we wanted from each other.

I look back at all that now and it makes me smile. As cautious as we thought we were, there was still a long way to go. We both knew that relationships require work but I'm not sure that we really knew how much. Love is a big part of what drives you to do the work but commitment, patience, understanding, and the willingness to compromise are also such a big part of the equation.

I think our pups help us to remember all those necessary qualities. They are loyal, patient(unless they really,really have to go), always willing to give you love and to give you that happy wag of the tail whenever they get your attention. Jon and I feel the same way right down to wagging our imaginary tails. Hey, we could have been in "Avatar".

Thanks to everyone who sent us their good wishes. Our friends mean so much to us and they keep us honest. We are the luckiest family in the world. Jon, Roxy, Charlie and especially me.

                                       Peace and Love,



Monday, October 10, 2011

Austin's Thoughts: my way of thinking

I have to share with everyone our wonderful Saturday night. Jon and I were visited by one of my former voice students and her husband. Robyn, after 20 years and some persistant searching, found me on Facebook. She and her husband, Steve made the trip from San Diego to Palm Springs. It was such a touching effort on their part. I was thrilled to think that one of my students from 20 years ago would have that kind of regard for little ol' me!

Robyn was always an amazing student. She was determined to be the very best singer that she could be. She studied with me for 3 years and, during those years, she worked harder than anyone. By your students you'll be taught. I was proud to pass my knowledge to one so dedicated. And our work together paid off in so many ways.

Robyn is now a professional singer working in San Diego. She wanted my opinion on a number of songs that she has recorded. I felt honored and humbled by that compliment. We spent the evening on Saturday talking about the songs, her career, and our years of working together. Poor Jon and Steve. They had to listen to hours of technical vocal stuff that can't have been of much interest. They handled it with love and support. They were both happy to see people that they love having such a wonderful time.

I was not generally friends with my students. I loved them but kept that student/teacher relationship strictly professional. Now I get to drop that and have a fantastic new friend. And I get the bonus of having her husband, Steve as a new friend as well. Jon also gets to share in this deal. Talk about win/win!

We are blessed to have many friends. The love that flows through our lives is the fuel that keeps us going. Everything good that happens comes from love. We never allow ourselves to forget that. Not even for a moment.

                                      Peace and Love



Friday, October 7, 2011

Austin's Thoughts: my way of thinking

I have decided to just continue my blog right where it is. I know how to work this so, even if it's not as beautiful as some other's blogs, it is still my words that matter. I hope.

For the past several weeks I have been consumed with the redecorating of our little apartment. I shopped and shopped and spent tons of cash, but with our new shutters I am finished at last. What a great feeling of accomplishment! Oh, I got frustrated sometimes but all's well that ends well. Thanks to Shakespeare for that part.

I have been so gratified by the many comments and encouragements I have received. I am back on track and looking forward to sharing my stories with all of you. There is still a lot of adventure in store.

Charlie and Roxy have many a story to tell as well so we will just move on in this format and share many happy days filled with love. After all, that's what this blog is about.

Oh yes, I have taken the word "rant" away. Now it will just be Austin's Thoughts. Thanks for hanging in there with me while I learn and grow.

                                                                  Peace and Love,