Friday, September 28, 2012

Anxious

It's taken me a long time to admit to this, partly because I simply didn't realize it about myself. I'm an anxious person. The best relief to my anxiety seems to be found in helping others, and so I'm always vigilantly in search of rescuees. I find myself unable control the urge to jump to the aid of those around me--even strangers at times--when they seem to be struggling with something, even if they don't expressly ask for rescue. From the ambling forlorn tourist to the crying waitress to the dejected friend: I'm on the job. Thank goodness I'm here right now, because I know how to make this better. I can fix it.

 I've always assumed that my reasons for such involvement were purely altruistic. I'm helpful, I'll think to myself. I care more about others than I care about myself, I'll proudly muse. If I'm overly opinionated it's because I don't want to see anyone suffering if I can help it, and I can help it, I'll respond when acquaintances comment on my evergreen helpfulness. I'm an advocate. No sufferer left behind.
We're all responsible for one another on this earth as brothers and sisters. We're all connected, I'll testify. Sometimes, while jumping in to another human being's quagmire, my body will begin to tremble. Only by reaching a perceived repair of the quagmired circumstance can I calm down again.

 Last week, my close friend Wyatt told me that one of our mutual friends had described me as manipulative. "Manipulative?" I said. I may be a lot of things but certainly not manipulative. "Why did he think that?" I quickly retorted (anxious--how can I fix his opinion of me?) "He said that you always think you know how to fix everyone's problems, and you are very forceful and directive about the way they should fix them."

It was 100% true. I did do that. I do that. Denial: impossible.

"Behold, here are the waters of Mormon (for thus were they called) and now, as ye are desirous to come into the fold of God, and to be called his people, and are willing to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light; Yea, and are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in, even until death" (BoM Mosiah 18:8-9).

Taken proverbially, it's just a golden rule-esque equivalent. You guys, let's all help each other out and bring casseroles over when times are tough. But taken literally, it's an extremely serious commandment. When another being mourns, you too must mourn; actually mourn with them. If they are crying and hopeless and sobbing on the floor, you must also fall into a heap and cry as well, thus sharing and lightening their burden of sadness. Or at least you should lift them up off the floor and help them feel better; give them a shoulder upon which to cry and hold the kleenex box.

Because I took almost everything literally when I was an active Mormon, I must've engraved the fullness of these charges upon my very soul.

Now, to help others and bear up those who are in need of comfort is unarguably noble. To comfort those who stand in need of comfort, to have empathy for the other human beings that we encounter in this life cannot but enlarge us all. But in my case, "Was I really seeking good, or just seeking attention?" Further, if you're mourning, does it actually help you to have me mourn with you? In your dispair, does my added dispair relieve yours? Can I actually share your sorrow--divide it so to speak--or have I actually doubled the pain in the world by joining you?

Last week, I found myself in an airport security line behind a young dad, his son, and an older man--presumably the little boy's grandfather. The young dad seemed tired (it was just after 6am) and irritable. His face was blank and stoic. A backpack straddled his broad shoulders (probably the reason I noticed him so quickly) and he appeared to be struggling to remove it. After 10 seconds of unsuccessful shimmying, he incisively tapped the older man and pointed at his backpack as if to say "Remove this now." (my projection) The older man freed one strap from the offending deltoid, and the backpack came off at last.
Thirty seconds later, after removing a baggie of food, and with one strap already on again, I assumed he would want to return the second strap back to it's original spot. I felt a surge of adrenaline rush through my body, and I instinctively lunged forward to help. At that precise moment, he moved, and my assisting hand missed the strap. Shocked at my own intensity I stood still and didn't attempt to help again, embarrassed by my exuberance. He kept the backpack on just like that, content with just one strap. Like a zebra in the African savana, my fight or flight response had been triggered by this man and his overly tight backpack straps.

When a friend or co-worker presents a struggle or problem, even to someone else within earshot, I feel a similar tightness rise up within my stomach and chest. In it's grip, it seems to shout, "You have no right to feel good while this person suffers. Fix it so that you can feel better. And if you can't fix it, your good day is screwed." With the quality of my inner life is on the line--my very happiness hanging in the balance--it's no wonder I can be a little manipulative. Pushy even. I am aggressively desperate for that person to feel better as fast as possible. "I need you to get past this so I can feel better," I might as well say. But if I said that, I probably wouldn't seem as redeeming or helpful. And God forbid that.

There is a funny way of seeing the world that says, "I can't feel good unless those around me are _________." The parent thinks to him/herself, I can't have a good day if my child comes home with bad grades. The boss thinks, I can't feel good unless my employees respect me and honor my wishes. The religious leader thinks, I can't feel the spirit of God unless my sheep remain morally clean. I think, I can't be calm and content when people around me are in trouble.
My intermittent anxiety has remained mostly unacknowledged because for most of my life it has hidden behind some fantastic scapegoats. While a practicing Mormon, I constantly juggled anxieties about my future. How could I stay in the church, be faithful to God, and righteously manage my ever self-asserting incongruent sexuality? Will I ever be able to get attracted enough to a woman to get married and have children? Will entering a mixed-orientation marriage be fair to her? Will I be able to manage and successfully compartmentalize my sexual attraction to men?? Every cute boy with big hands and a crooked smile brought a fresh shower of anxiety over my spirit. But rightfully so! I'm not anxious at all- my circumstances are producing the anxiety. And plenty of it. It's not me. It's my gay mormon-ness. And was I not taught to be anxiously engaged in a good cause!? Being merely truly or wholly engaged in a good cause is not enough. One must be anxious.

After leaving the church I found a boyfriend to serve as a shiny new scapegoat for my continuing anxiety. Why can't he be happier and more optimistic? He's so negative. He doesn't have sex with me enough. Why can't he get along better with my friends? I found myself constantly and agitatedly striving to ease his emotional pain, even steamroll his inconsistencies of spirit. "Will you please feel better so I can??" my mind begged him. Eventually it became, "I think I need to break up with him. Oh no, that is really going to hurt him. But I'm not happy and so I need to break up with him. That's really going to suck. But I probably have to do it, sometime." Every unwanted interaction between us poured fresh aqueous anxiety over my restless spirit-- albeit via a different shower head than before.

Now that my relationship has ended after six and a half years, I still find myself occasionally waking up in the morning feeling anxious. Can I continue working as an actor and make enough money to support myself throughout my life? Will my body (which is sometimes extremely sore) be able to continue my 8 show/week schedule into the future? Did I choose the right career or should I have pursued something more stable? Maybe I should have become a doctor after all. Should I go back to school and do something else? Why am I so anxious anyway? Now that I'm aware of my anxiety, am I going to be too anxious to find a happy relationship? Should I go back to my old relationship and try again, even though I was not happy? Maybe my anxiety poisoned it.

I have to face the facts. There is something going on inside of me that needs attention.

I must learn to acknowledge that each person on this earth is a powerful creator in his/her own right, and is not only responsible but fully capable of helping him/herself feel better. If people want help, they will ask for it. For me to feel the need to anticipate everyone else's needs is a huge source of anxiety.

My belief that I am worthless beyond my ability to help others is something that I must also face head on. I must accept the fact that I don't have the answers to the problems that others face.

I should probably also accept the fact that sometimes people don't want to feel better right away, so trying to force them to do so is futile, and not helpful at all.

And finally, I've got to accept the fact that I am allowed to be happy even when others are not. There is always someone suffering. Life is full of people who have lost a loved one, found out that they are sick, lost their job, or gotten dumped. If we must mourn with all of them, then it is likely that we will perpetually be dressed in nothing but black. 

Eventually, I'd like to discover a way to help others without hurting myself. But that begs the question, where did I learn that one should suffer innocently--even unto death--to redeem and comfort people who struggle? Maybe when you live that way you're not intended to live longer than 33 years. I'm 35-- maybe that's the problem.

In this moment, I have an opportunity to learn. To breathe.

After the showers of anxiety, I find that the plush towel of abundance works wonders. To replace thoughts of fear, anxiety, and lack with recognition of abundance--of fullness-- is the most incredible tool I've discovered so far. When I see others in distress, I want to learn to recognize the truth: that they can handle it, and that they will learn from the distress that they themselves have brought into their experience. They don't need me to fix it. They're going to be fine.

Interestingly, I'm actually not trying to be like Jesus at this moment.

And I think that's a good thing.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Rock Center: Mormon in America

A few weeks ago, I received a phone call from our press office about an opportunity to be part of an hourlong primetime special on what it is to be Mormon in America today on NBC's Rock Center. As an original cast member in The Book of Mormon on Broadway and bonafide returned missionary and now ex-mormon, I excitedly agreed to participate. Just a few days later, several members of the incredibly talented Rock Center team met me at the Eugene O'Neill theater before a Friday matinee and we filmed all the raw materials for the segment in which I'd appear. Later, editors from the team went to work putting together all the pieces.

Visit NBCNews.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

I am so grateful to have been a part of this story, and for the opportunity to share pieces of myself with others. I'm so happy to have grown up Mormon, in a faith that brought me so many marvelous opportunities and encouraged me to develop myself in so many areas. I am also happy to have had the strength to leave the faith in a way that was honest and authentic. When the observation of the religion began to feel damaging and painful, I chose to leave and search for happiness elsewhere. And though I will always be Mormon in many ways, and cherish my heritage, I continue to feel that my choice to leave was an extremely healthy and important one for my personal faith journey. I am simply in awe at the way my life has come full circle, and at the incredible opportunities that have come into my experience!!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Prop 8 Ruling Rant

I know I haven't blogged in forever but I simply must take to my trusty keyboard today in light of yesterday's ruling in California which found prop 8 unconstitutional. Gay marriages are still stayed for the time being, but this is a major victory for anyone who believes that two loving people should be able to marry one another regardless of sexual orientation. All the people who fought for NO on 8 are thrilled at this decision, and for those that were the victors in the YES on 8 campaign in 2008, well... they're not happy.

I was interested to read that the LDS church immediately issued a lengthy statement about the overturn. Their main point being, "California voters have twice determined in a general election that marriage should be recognized as only between a man and a woman. We have always had that view. Courts should not alter that definition, especially when the people of California have spoken so clearly on the subject."

Wait.. what? You have always had that view? Are you sure? POSITIVE?? Furthermore, the way the church affairs are run are not by democracy-- it is more like the court system than anything else, with leaders being appointed by other leaders, none of whom, by contrast, were elected by anyone in the body of the church.

California voters have spoken so clearly on the subject? Doesn't anyone have a memory-- or google for that matter? Wasn't the vote 52% to 48% basically? I am sorry but I don't see that as a clear victory. The statement continues "Millions of voters in California sent a message that traditional marriage is crucial to society." Yes- thats true. But MILLIONS of other voters also thought that traditional marriage should be expanded to make room for new families who should be fairly recognized. To be exact- just over 7 million supported YES on Prop 8 and just over 6.4 million supported NO on 8.

Now I get it. You're mad. You tried so hard to get into law school and now you wish you had just never even gone to Harvard- to quote Elle Woods. You tried SOOO hard to make sure gays in California couldn't get married and now they probably will be able to by the end of the year (barring a supreme court appeal). But at the end of the day, you're just not going to win this one-- or as Adrian screams down the stairs at Rocky, "YOU CAN'T WIN!"

I still can't quite understand what the church was thinking getting involved in this clearly political battle. I don't see it as advancing the church's mission of perfecting the saints, preaching the gospel, and redeeming the dead. You don't want anything to do with homosexuals, feminists, and liberals-- well and good. It's your church and you get to say who is and isn't welcome to be a fully authorized dealer of mormonism. But I hope we have all learned a valuable lesson here. No matter how you spin it, you can't hide the facts: Until 1890 Mormons didn't believe in one man and one woman, and in terms of after-life doctrines Mormons still don't, and the vote to decide if gay rights are civil rights was simply too close to get an honest read on what rights California wanted to bestow or withhold from gay and lesbian couples in 2008. But beyond that, it is not really the people's job in our country to decide who gets rights or not. That is why we attempt to elect fair minded leaders who will attempt to elect fair minded judges to make the right decisions for ALL people- even if those decisions are not popular with ALL people.

I would think that the LDS church would be the first to understand and support that concept, were it in regards to something important to the church's welfare or freedom to "worship how where or what they may".

Thursday, August 25, 2011

La Publicité

Being in the Book of Mormon on Broadway is one of the highlights of my career, if not my entire life. Not only has it afforded me the coveted and joyous opportunity of performing to sold out audiences who are clamoring to see our 9 Tony-winning show every night, but beyond that it has given me a platform from which to discuss my life and journey as a gay mormon man. Of course I already have my youtube videos, but this has given me a much larger metaphorical stage from which to speak! My story, which mirrors that of many gay men and women of all faiths, has suddenly become of interest to media outlets looking for a personal interest piece involving our fantastic show.

Anyone who has met me knows that I have A LOT to say- so lately I've been just like a pig in you know what.

My first story appeared in Newsweek's blog, The Daily Beast.

Subsequently, I spoke to a man who had not yet seen our show, and clearly thought I was an active mormon on NPR's The Takeaway.

Then I got the royal treatment, being named Broadwayworld.com's Gypsy of the Month. This interview was extremely in depth, and I absolutely loved the questions that the writer/interviewer Adrienne Onofri asked.

Most recently, I also spoke to Pia Catton of the Wall Street Journal. That interview has proved difficult to find, so I am going to post it here in it's entirety.

When Clark Johnsen takes the stage as a member of the ensemble in "The Book of Mormon," he knows whereof he sings and dances: Mr. Johnsen, 34 years old, grew up within the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, graduated from Brigham Young University and spent two years on a religious mission in Mexico.

Playing a Mormon onstage is one of the last things he ever planned to do. "If someone had said 'You're going to play a missionary on Broadway' -- while I was shlepping 10 Books of Mormon around Mexico -- I would have said 'Well, that's impossible. There's never going to be a musical about the Book of Mormon.' "

But in fact "The Book of Mormon" -- with nine Tony Awards to its credit -- turned out to be a hit. And though Mr. Johnsen has since broken away from the church, his upbringing made him a perfect fit for the show. A resident of Hell's Kitchen, this triple threat grew up singing and playing the piano and clarinet as part of a well-rounded childhood. "That was part of our family script," he said. "We play instruments. We are good at sports. We get good grades. We have lots of friends."

That was just the first stage in his artistic development. While at BYU as a pre-med student, he took dance classes to fulfill physical-education requirements. His dance teachers encouraged him, as did his academic advisers -- on the thinking that a liberal-arts major would stand out, he recalls: "How many modern dance majors were there going to be applying for med school?"

In the end, Mr. Johnsen wanted to focus on his acting and graduated with a musical theater major. Then, during his mission in the Sinaloa state of Mexico, he learned the skill that every actor needs: how to handle rejection.

"Doors were slammed in my face all the time. You must develop a plucky attitude," he said, comparing missionary work with the casting process. "You just know: This isn't about me."

After graduating from college, he struggled with the idea of heading directly into medical school. "I thought, 'I'm just going to move to New York for two years and give it a shot,' " he said.

That was 10 years ago. In that time, he landed in "The Addams Family," "42nd Street" (in Russia) and "La Cage Aux Folles" (directed by Jerry Zaks and Jerry Mitchell). When he joined "The Book of Mormon," he was the only newcomer to the cast that had been workshopping the musical since 2007.

"Clark understood the tone of the piece and the sense of comedy. He nailed it right away," said casting director Carrie Gardner. "It's super friendly, always happy, but slightly heightened so you can laugh at it, though not too much. Clark has an open, bright, happy face. That's what draws people in."

Indeed, even in speaking about his life and path, Mr. Johnsen has an earnest, sunny bearing. "What forged the ultimate positivity of the Mormon character was the trek across the Plains. I don't believe in the religion at all, but it makes me emotional to think about those people trekking across," he said.

As a young person, however, he did have to face the church's position on homosexuality, which lead to periods of "constantly dissecting in my head every choice and thought." It was a process that had implications onstage. "My acting teachers in college would say 'All you are doing is thinking. You are not feeling anything. You need to evoke emotions in others. You're being so cerebral,' " he said, adding that such observations only made him more so. "I was like, 'What do you mean by cerebral?' "

Before he left for his mission in Mexico, he had already come out to his parents and church leaders. When some of his companions on the mission (who change every three months or so, unlike in the musical) asked about his sexuality, he was honest with them.

"They would say, 'I'm glad you're trying to beat this thing,' and they would always share something with me, too," he said. "It opened a door for an emotional bond to form."

While the musical version of a young Mormon's mission is played for laughs, Mr. Johnsen is more amused by the similarities than offended.

"The costume is exactly what I wore on my mission -- only the name tags are bigger," he said. "And the way my hair is parted, that's how I used to wear it."

The Mormon reaction to the show, he says, is somewhat positive because it introduces the church's story. "Starting with Joseph Smith, there is this dream of fame, spreading throughout the world," he said.

Despite his independence from the church, Mr. Johnsen -- who has four siblings who are still active in the church and two who aren't -- considers his experience a net gain of life skills, including the ability to meet new people easily, ask questions and network professionally.

"I don't regret a second of it," he said.


My favorite thing about all of this has been what I see as a huge opportunity to share a holistic and positive view of this experience. Not only does it make me feel SO GOOD to speak about sexuality and faith in this context, I suddenly find myself in a position to either widen the gap of understanding, or build a bridge and shorten it. Even if my thoughts are but an undetectable blip on the radar of most mormons, I still feel that I have been given a true gift. The chance to explore a loving and accepting ideology in a public forum is EXACTLY what I have been wanting and seeking in my life.

My joy is full.



Sunday, March 27, 2011

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

High Maints Baby


I'm at the DMV right now waiting forever to exchange my expired liscense for a brand new one. The line would be moving a lot faster if the only teller was not occupied with a very high maints baby. Literally a tiny baby in Dora pajamas complete with footies is getting an ID. They keep trying to get a usable photo of her but she keeps looking away when they snap the photo. What are you? Hungry? Tired? You're so high maints baby!!! Baby's internal monologue, "listen- I'm going to need some breastmilk - in a sippie cup, I'm going to need a better photo background and I'm going to need you to replace this dingy florescent lighting honey. Then we can talk. And queen, hurry this up- my flight to Milano leaves in an hour and 20.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Delving back into the Book of Mormon

This week is the opening night for a new Broadway Musical:



Besides being really excited as a self proclaimed ex-mormon to have this musical come to the great white way, its even more exciting that I am able to be a part of it! I am in the ensemble of the show- which in this show means that I spend almost the entire show as a missionary. (Although I do make a brief appearance as Brigham Young!!) Being able to relive an experience that was as vivid as a mormon mission is a rare experience, and it is one that I am cherishing with every breath. The show is INCREDIBLY well written, well acted, and well directed and choreographed. It is one of those rare theatrical experiences where all the parts have come together in perfect alchemy to make solid gold.

During our preview process, I have already met a couple of people from the blogosphere at the stage door after the show! One young man told me that he has watched several of my youtube videos, and he introduced me to his boyfriend! Another pair of handsome guys told me on this last Saturday that they used to read this very blog- you know, back when I used to actually write in this very blog. In this very blog, there's quite enough love for one like me... I digress. In any case, it is due to those 2 new friends from Saturday that I am writing this post. I realize that this is going to be an experience that I am going to want to document- if for no other reason than just recording it for myself. After all, it is my heritage to record my personal history, and so I shall continue, even if sparsly so.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Freestyle

I'm not writing with a purpose today I am just writing because I want to. I have to say, one of the major remnants of mormonism in me, which may have been an innate personal characteristic regardless of religious inculcation, is my absolute love of learning. I find that when I am not reading a book, or learning something new, I feel much less like myself. I have created a sort of public persona that really goes along with it too. For most of my life, I have felt some amount of pressure to live up to this persona; to always be learning a language, reading a dense book, or visiting an interesting country.

As a form of self-exploration I have, over the last few years, taken some time off from such lofty pursuits. I have spent quite a bit of time watching VERY delectable VERY trashy television (flavor of love 1, 2, AND 3-- nuff said), and have allowed myself a respite from my usual language studies. I haven't learned any weird alphabets and I haven't impressed co-workers by rereading "Heart of Darkness". I did, however, spend some time last Halloween speaking Russian to a random cab driver while dressed like Taylor from the Rachel Zoe Project. My cast mates were duly impressed, but I have to admit I was resting on the laurels of past linguistic pursuits. To illustrate, I was NOT speaking Hindi withe cab driver on the way home or even discussing the 5 Ks of Sikhism with him. And that haunts me to this day.

Just kidding.


But truthfully, after this self allowed cocoon from a persona greatly tied to my upbringing I have emerged the best butterfly I can be right now in my life. I have realized 2 wonderful things about myself: 1) that I feel most alive and most healthy emotionally and spiritually speaking when I am in the process of learning something exhilarating and fascinating and 2) I don't have to be doing it all the time to be a valid, whole, and happy human being. The "self" has no actual need for such rigidity after all! I think we are all expansive enough to realize and ACCEPT that we can be flexible with ourselves; even our own image of ourselves, and still be US. Not studying language did not take away my Clarkness. I didn't know that before, but now that I do, I can let my reading and studying and learning enhance my Clarkness instead of define it.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

YES DIVA!!!

This is so funny to me!

Living for Liza in a sequined teal flowy top. YES QUEEN!!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Why not?

It just feels right to write today. Writing with the right to do so, and with the right writing attitude. Its all right. Right? Write. Maybe its the fact that a huge snowstorm is supposed to be hitting the city tonight, or maybe its just that my sister is starting a blog and that made me remember how much I like doing this, and how nice it is to write thoughts onto a screen and transform them into words. Irregardless, (one of my favorite controversial double negatives EVER) I'm posting today.

So much has happened, I took a marvelous trip to Spain and the south of France, I went BACK to chicago to do the Pre-Broadway tryout of The Addams Family, and now am back in the big apple for an indeterminate amount of time. This is odd: for the first time in probably 5 years (I'm guessing) I don't have any future flights booked. Although maybe thats more normal than I think. Most of my family and friends I guess are always planning a trip sometime in the next year. I am NOT, which is very unusual for me. I am in New York, or as my dear friend Carlos says, "la ciudad de muchos sueños, ojala que sean realizados, no quebrados". It appears for me, for the moment, they are being realizados. So I'm going with that.

Tonight Constantine and I are seeing Carmet at the Met Opera. Its a new production, and it promises to be promising. I am back in rehearsals during the day for our impending Broadway opening of Addams Family. We have a new director now, Jerry Zaks, who is being credited as "creative consultant", but who is 100% in charge in the rehearsal room. Our prior director is still attached to the project creatively, but is not currently in the room with us. We have been told he will join us sometime after we get to the theater. I am not allowed to share details that have not been made public, so I'll leave it at that. Its been fun though, almost every show that is opening in the next several months is rehearsing in the same building, so were all one happy Broadway family. Were into the theater in about a week and a half. Here is our marquis.



Well thats all for now!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Obviously

I've been off of the blogging radar for some time.. I am back in New York City and have started working on my newest project-- the Addams Family! It is an extremely exciting adventure that is just beginning. We just have a 2 week reading right now, but we start up mounting the full production in September, and we will have our pre-Broadway tryout in Chicago from October-January! Its going to be a great show I hope. There are very creative people working on it, so I have high hopes!! Other than that I am just getting settled back here in the city. I hope that I can really start catching up with friends and acquaintances later this week! Constantine's birthday is Friday, so that will definitely be the big event of the weekend. New York is always fun to come back to.. it just never stops being New York, and I love that.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Hi

I've been away with my boyfriend and his mom for several days-- IN VEGAS!! It was an absolutely amazing trip and I will post some highlights later today. In the meanwhile, I found this amazing Marry Poppins remix-- its so clever! Its not a song from the movie, its a new song made out of different parts of the movie-- VERY EURO. I was mesmerized watching it!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Racial Backpedal

This is my cast's newest spoof! Co-conceived and co-directed by yours truly! Enjoy