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This Trip Is So Gay

Wandering Gay Jew Excerpt

Ken Schneck, the host of the popular podcast This Show Is So Gay, next month releases a travelogue of his many adventures. In this excerpt, Schneck gets in deep at a hippie retreat.

In the third (of five) adventures in Seriously, What Am I Doing Here? The Adventures of a Wondering and Wandering Gay Jew, Ken Schneck stumbled into a hippie healing retreat in Big Sur, Calif., after the demise of his marriage for a workshop called "It's Time: No One Is Coming to Save You." This was day 3.

Day 3
October 25, 2011

For the record, I really am trying. I am trying to be present. I am trying to go deep. I am trying to dance when the music is played.

And lest you think that the dancing and music were metaphors, oh how wrong you would be. When we entered the room this morning after breakfast, Mary, our plucky 80-year-old retreat leader, began by speaking passionately on the importance of dancing. She explained that it is crucial that we give our inner child a chance to play at the start of each day so that our inner adult can focus more fully on the work for the hours ahead.

Then, before we had a chance to question whether this was a vague parable to decipher, Mary whipped out an old-school, circa 1998 CD player. She pressed play and, being gay, I immediately recognized the opening notes of Irene Cara's 1984 Oscar-winning anthem "Flashdance . . . What a Feeling." Even more hilarious, it was a cheap, knock-off remix of Irene Cara's 1984 Oscar-winning anthem. That wasn't Irene Cara singing and this version definitely did not win an Oscar. It was suddenly like the gayest and most low-rent Bar Mitzvah ever.

Mary didn't come right out and command us to dance. But when that plucky 80-year-old started dancing herself, most everyone followed suit. How could you not? That is, unless you were me. I didn't fully throw myself into it; the surreal element of the scene was simply far too much for me to not be wide-eyed and frozen. But I did move my hips a bit and maybe clapped a few times. For me, in that room with that song playing, my slight movements were a full-on, Ken Schneck-on-Solid-Gold choreographed routine.

After the song faded out, Mary closed the dancehall and told us it was time to get to work. The crux of the day was spent identifying and addressing our Defenses: those coping methods that we have always put into place that we think are helping, but are actually causing us problems. About thirty Defenses were listed, and we had to identify our top three through a combination of assessment, dialogue, and what we know in our hearts to be true. Most everyone had the same experience of reading the list of Defenses and saying, "Oh. Yeah. Those would be mine." I was no exception.

My three Defenses were oh-so-clearly The Entertainer, The Perfectionist, and The Intellectualizer. I didn't need to read their descriptions to know they were my very best friends; their titles alone were convincing enough. Then, I read their descriptions and confirmed that they were indeed my very best friends. I could feel them seated beside me in that room.

The next step of the process was to talk to our Defenses and try to convince them to take an extended holiday from our lives, a permanent one if possible. Mary explained that, sure, we could just think through the activity in our heads. But if we really wanted to make progress on addressing our issues more authentically, we should have an actual, out-loud conversation with our three Defenses. And not just an actual, out-loud conversation, but a dialogue in which we anticipated how our Defenses would respond and counter with what we thought would be effective responses.

Immediately, The Entertainer, The Perfectionist, and The Intellectualizer got together and crafted a witty, meticulously composed, and uber-cerebral memo outlining their collective doubt that I could live without them. It was a bulleted list that pretty much amounted to them scoffing at me for even approaching a process where the end result would be my leaving them behind. One of those bullets somehow worked in a priest, a rabbi, and a duck walking into a mineral bath, all of it underscored with a corresponding adult development theory. And each bullet was time stamped.

Look, I know my Defenses, and I know how they would respond. Heck, I even really did compose that fake, preemptive strike of a memo that I was pretty sure my Defenses would write. But when I sat in the corner and spoke with them individually, it was actually an engaging and nigh-revelatory exercise.

The Entertainer needed to be convinced that people could like him even if he lets his sad and broken side shine through. The Perfectionist needed to be shown that the earth would actually not stop rotating on its axis, even if I were being honest about both how much I had messed up in my past alongside the reality that I couldn't actually change it. And The Intellectualizer just needed to be told to shut the fuck up. My three foes weren't permanently banished to the hinterlands in the short time I sat with them, but it made me feel a might bit more confident that they could be controlled. For that, I was appreciative.

My sessionmates and I had lunch a bit later and when we returned, Mary informed us that there was only one activity on the docket for the rest of the day. But it was, of course, a super intense one. We had to find a partner and reveal various truths about our lives to this person who was only slightly-less-than-a-stranger. When one person finished sharing, the other person would respond with an earnest, "Thank you." We rotated around the room many times, sharing four or five truths about our lives to seven or so partners. By chance, I ended up with partners who were willing to immediately reveal some truly deep-rooted issues and anguish. Or, everyone in the room was like that and there was no luck of the draw involved. Either way, I then had to share deep-rooted issues and anguish of my own. How could I not? I would have looked like an ass if the conversation had resembled anything like this:

PARTNER 1: I'm a three-time cancer survivor.
KEN: Thank you. I really like tennis.
PARTNER 1: Thank you.

PARTNER 2: I came home one day to find my husband hanging from a tree in the backyard.
KEN: Thank you. I sleep with a stuffed cow named Cow and a stuffed elephant named Elephant.

PARTNER 2: Thank you.

PARTNER 3: I barely made it out of a fire and will always have burn scars covering a huge chunk of my body.
KEN: Thank you. I can throw an incredible Chinese-food-themed dinner party without anyone ever knowing it was a 100 percent vegan meal.

PARTNER 3: Thank you.

I should also note that I immediately felt out of place in this group as those were very real truths above that were shared with me by my various partners. Cancer, suicide, fire, and so much more. And I'm here . . . why? Because my marriage ended? I feel like an overdramatic charlatan. Now, I did reveal quite a bit more than I ever thought I ever would, including the very real and inexcusable role I played in the demise of my relationship. But, still, I felt like a drama queen whose issues paled in comparison to the deep pain in the room.

After dinner, I did, however, go for an incredible run along the highway above the staggeringly beautiful cliffs of Big Sur. I ran farther than I had originally planned. I wanted to keep my body in motion because to stop would be to consider what I shared today and to confront the truths I had always known but had never before voiced. I felt like I was at capacity for the day, so I just kept on running.

My physical exhaustion coupled with my mental fatigue now have me ready to go to sleep and, amazingly, have The Intellectualizer, The Perfectionist, and the Entertainer all plum tuckered out. For now, they're keeping their mouths shut and the silence is golden.

Advocate Channel - The Pride StoreOut / Advocate Magazine - Jonathan Groff and Wayne Brady

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