Sunday, October 23, 2016

Elaine Lucille Armer: Strength

Elaine Lucille Armer

The most important lesson my grandmother ever taught me was that there is never one single answer to any question. To her there was always but one truth – it was how you looked at that truth that made all the difference.

My grandma loved to tell me about her childhood. A simple, magical time in which she was often in the care of her older siblings Don, Bob, and most especially, my aunt Dorothy. The kids roamed the hillside picking wild flowers, having picnics and reading poetry.

The gentle guidance of her siblings gave my grandma an early, extensive appreciation of the arts. She kept the sketches of her brother Bob in a keepsake box near bed. If I was on my very best behavior she’d take it out the box and we’d hold those impossibly thin sheets paper up to the streaming sunlight of her bedroom as if they artifacts in the Smithsonian. Don, she’d tell me, was mechanical genius, the kind of guy who could and would take apart anything and put it back together better than before, just for the fun of it. Dorothy, strikingly tall, eternally gentle – unless you moved her stuff – my grandma’s true soul sister, never have a more quietly mischievous pair existed. Least we never forget the infamous wrapping paper fight of Christmas 2004 -- in which aunt Dorothy most subtly gathered up one perfect ball of wrapping paper, wound up her arm, and fired the first shot – to which my grandma finally threw up her arms and sighed, “Well, ok, then.” Armery chaos as usual.

Of course, like so many of their generation, caught in the harsh shadow of the Great Depression, my grandma and her siblings grew up poorer than poor. Non-Mormons on the outskirts of Salt Lake City, the mixed family was often isolated by the societal misunderstandings of a different era. Christmases of perfect Orange Oranges actually meant the only fruit the children would see all year. “Magic butter” was just lard that needed to be colored by hand via a yellow dye packet that came with the bucket.

She’d always hold a place in her heart for Salt Lake but when she’d moved to Tempe as a teenager, the spirited presence that we always knew and loved truly blossomed into something of its own. She met truest lifelong compatriot, Merle, and the inseparable duo shook up the sleepy desert town. They appeared on radio shows, in school assemblies and even at high society events delighting the crowds with their smart humor and sweet harmonies. They had big dreams, they were going to Hollywood, they would be darlings of the stage and screen. Reality had other plans though. Merle went off to college and my grandma enrolled in nursing school.

I often wonder if the sisters at Saint Joseph’s began to question their vows when they took on my grandma’s class of mischievous students. Along with her kindred spirit, Anna, my grandma tested the nuns' faith and their medical knowledge with a stunning ability to sneak out undetected, stay out all night, and “sleep with their eyes open” in class the next day. Still, my grandma’s time at Saint Joe’s instilled in her two unshakable devotions; she was from then-on forever committed to both the church and to medicine.

Nurse McMaster was sharp and dependable, and she quickly worked her way up the ranks of the hospital. It was during her patient rounds in her early career that she met a quiet cowboy with eyes as blue and endless as the Sonoran sky. My Grandpa Frank instantly fell in love with my grandma’s sharp wit and love of all God’s creatures. They connected over a shared belief that the best cure for anything was quiet contemplation, wide open spaces, and clean, fresh air.

It wasn’t long before my Uncle Tom was on the way, and then, one right after the other, five more boys joined the crew. The Armery was born.

What can I say about this ragtag group of kids for whom clothing was always optional and property lines non-existent?

Uncle Tom, the ringleader, who took it upon himself to deliver the most spectacular display of pyrotechnics any neighborhood had ever seen each 4th of July. There was no greater thrill to my grandma than to call up to his office and have the secretary transfer her to DOCTOR Armer.

My Uncle Steve, our family’s representative member of the counter culture with an uncanny intuitive understanding of classical music which he shared with his mother.

My Dad, Jim, the gentle giant, who would begrudgingly try to take charge of his brothers because it's not like anyone else was going to do it.

My Uncle Pat, definitive proof that mischief is a genetic trait. If he's got that Elaine twinkle in his eye, just, uh, stay alert.

My Uncle Dan, the only person with the distinction of nearly being killed TWICE for mouthing off to my grandma. Who would’ve have thought that when he’d left his Mardi Gras bead collecting days in N'Awlins to come home to Albuquerque he’d become such a consummate caregiver for his mother? I will never in my lifetime see such an act of total love, complete devotion, and absolute compassion as the care that my Uncle Dan gave to his mother in her later years.

Tim. The baby of the family. He thinks he’s the favorite, but we all know he was just shielded from the repercussions of his outright Armerness by my grandma’s sheer exhaustion. His youthful exuberance provided the comic relief to an otherwise challenging existence.

If you’re keeping count that’s six. Boys. If you know the Legend of the Armer Boys, you already knew that.

Six boys.

Maybe another thing that got lost in the story is that my grandma raised those six fine boys all on her own. My grandfather’s rancher’s lifestyle meant that he was only in town for brief visits throughout the year, his untimely death made my grandma a widow with nothing but her wits and her kids, all at the age 39.

Should I also mention that this was all BEFORE women’s lib?

My grandma, of course saw that one truth. She had but one goal: to survive. She gritted her teeth, put on some pink lipstick, held her head high, and just laughed it off. She refused to look on anything but the bright side of things, because even God she said, had a sense of humor.

And, maybe just to see if she could make God laugh, my grandma would, every Sunday, attempt the impossible and try to reign in the chaos of those six boys. Making it to church just barely on time, the only pew left was that one in the very front row. So, she’d stick out her chin and sit with her in that front pew with those six boys like it had been reserved just for them.

My grandma always told me she liked the front row because it was the best way see everyone’s shoes when they went to communion.

It was my grandma’s way of tackling those larger things in life.

A few weeks after my cousin Sarah’s wedding, I asked my grandma if she’d heard from Sarah:
Well, she’s got my fertility,” she said.

When she dropped sandwich during a picnic at White Sands:
Welp, it’s not that different than salt,” she said.

When my dad was in the hospital recovering from surgery it was
Well, I guess those nurses are doing an alright job without real training.”

She taught me to focus on the good details, the finer things in life. Petit fours and tiny glasses of Kahlua at Christmas. The delight of warm cashews on an unexpected first class flight. The importance of good seats in a well-designed space – it helps to have buddy like Gil in the orchestra to get those seats comped. The way the sun ends each day by shattering itself on the Sandias. Lilacs in the spring. Humming birds buzzing for nectar. The laughter of children outside your bedroom window – after you’d finally just decided to lock them outside for the rest of the day.

Today, as I find myself in the throes of incomprehensible grief, trying to to figure out how to say goodbye to the incredible spirit who shaped me in ways I have still yet to understand, I will try my very best to focus on the bright side of things. I will embrace the gift of my grandmother because it’s the only way I know to survive her profound absence. 

Monday, August 29, 2016

FIFTEEN: Shane Evan Tomlinson



Shane Evan Tomlinson, age 33, was among the 49 victims who lost their lives in the bloodshed that took place at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida on June 13. A gifted vocalist, the smooth crooner had a devoted fanbase as the frontman of the band Frequency. With Shane at the helm, the group was popular in Orlando for their high-octane take on hits from the 70's and 80's which could get any crowd going - from wedding parties to nightclub partiers. Shane was celebrating what would become his final earthly performance when he took his place in the heavenly choir. 

When I think about some of the greatest nights of my life, someone like Shane has always undoubtedly been behind them. Wedding DJs, folk singers, orchestra conductors and rock stars have been responsible for giving me some of the most transformative moments of my existence through music. These individuals have something beyond technical ability, a rare talent for creating unity by tapping into that frequency that runs through us all.

Admittedly, I am not a musician, my stubby fingers are far more attuned to plunking QWERTY than CDEFGABC, but I've been tentatively calling myself an artist, a writer, these days.  I've always known that I have a talent for words but I'd felt that talent was better used on the words of others. For all these years I've only called myself an editor. The distinction is likely minor to most, but to me, a person overcoming chronically low self esteem, it is everything. To allow myself to deem my own voice worthy of my own gifts means I've reached an unprecedented point of growth.

Kicker is, my voice has always been valid, I was just letting a lot of stupid things keep me unheard. All you people like me, who maybe felt like they've had to keep quiet your whole lives, you are valid, you deserve to be heard and your contribution is needed. Others can disagree, but disagreement does not beget silence. 

Today, in honor of Shane, I commit to use my voice to spread joy, peace, and comfort. It's time to speak up. It's time we all commit to use our voices for good. We have to let the world know it can't keep going on this way.

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Tuesday, July 19, 2016

FOURTEEN: Luis Omar Ocasio-Capo

Luis Omar Ocasio-Capo


Omar, just 20 years old, saw his hopes of becoming an actor and dancer come to a halt in the mass shooting at Pulse nightclub on June 12.  It was barely a year ago that Omar walked across the stage during his graduation from La Vergne High School in his native Tennessee before heading to Orlando to pursue his life-long dream.  Remembered for charisma and complete dedication to his craft, Omar was also proud to be openly gay. His dynamic personality made those around him feel inspired and empowered. To anyone who knew him, there was no doubt he was profoundly talented and going to be famous someday. Unfortunately, that fame came in the form of being slaughtered by an insane radical with an assault rifle. 

One of the particularly admirable traits of people like Omar is their ability to bring people together by treating them with respect and kindness. A look at Omar's fundraising page shows that the customers he served as a barista in a Starbucks in a Target in Orlando mourn the loss of his life alongside his high school classmates. Imagine that, one guy, in a chain coffee shop, in a chain megastore, in a giant city, made a distinct impact, he was able to create a community within a notably sterile corporate macro bubble.

As a final testament to Omar's life,  something incredible happened to his grandmother as she was flying alone to Orlando for his funeral. A flight attendant learned of her recent devastation and passed around a sheet of paper so that other passengers could offer their condolences. One sheet of paper turned into several, and by the time the plane touched down the flight attendant had collected a book of handwritten support for his grieving grandmother. On the way out, each passenger stopped and hugged Omar's grandmother, a uniquely personal gesture in our usually impatient existence.  In other words, a bunch of passengers on a cramped, budget airline, abandoned their usual crabbiness and cattle chute deplaning to console a stranger's heartache. Even in death, Omar brought an unlikely group of people together in one last community.

I tend to be a casual bystander in a lot of the communities I belong to. I'm there, but not present, and sometimes it feels like more of a geography thing than anything else. Today, in honor of Omar, I'm committing to become a more active participant in my communities.  If I join with others working for a common good then we are one pair of hands stronger. Many hands working together has the power to provide the support and strength to build a better world. We're all in this together.

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Friday, July 15, 2016

THIRTEEN: Deonka Deidra Drayton

Deonka Deidra Drayton


Dee Dee, as she was lovingly called by her friends and family, died at the age of 32 in the mass shooting at Pulse nightclub where she worked as a bartender. Dee Dee was raised in Midlands South Carolina and her early life was not without its struggles. As a young child, she suffered a brain injury as the result of a car accident in which she was thrown from the car.  Throughout her teens and early adulthood she struggled with addiction and subsequently had several run-ins with the law. That had all recently changed though, and Dee Dee was in the midst of a personal renaissance. She had turned her life around, she was headed in the right direction before she was so abruptly and permanently removed from her path.

Dee Dee fits the profile of the kind of person our society so readily gives up on: an addict with a rap sheet. There are those who would believe that such attributes automatically make her ineligible for to the sanctity of life, that Dee Dee was a valueless thug. However, despite everything she was up against, Dee Dee just kept going. One day at a time, one foot in front of the other, she was living proof that through love and support no one is beyond rehabilitation. Her absence from our world further illuminates the value of her singular existence. 

Today, in honor of Dee Dee I'm motivating myself to keep moving, whatever my setbacks may be. So often I'm tempted to give up on  - or not even try - things that may seem too hard, telling myself that nobody really cares anyway, that I don't make a difference. Looking at a story like Dee Dee's it's so apparent I am privileged to have only myself as an obstacle. 

I hope others will join me in never, ever, stopping trying to be a better person. With persistence, we will find peace.

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Thursday, July 14, 2016

TWELVE: Mercedez Marisol Flores

Mercedez Marisol Flores


Marisol, as she was known to her family, held a special place in their hearts as not only the baby of her family, but the only girl as well. She was gunned down in the Pulse nightclub shooting alongside her best friend, Amanda Alvear, on June 12, 2016. Known to be profoundly kind, studious and a bit soft-spoken, Marisol lived up to her namesake, Maria de la Soledad, a testimonial the Virgin Mary quietly contemplating the loss of  her son. Marisol grew up in Queens, NY, but moved to Orlando to study Literature at Valencia College where she had a reputation for being profoundly insightful and endlessly friendly.

One of the first ways we tend to deal with tragedy is to relate some part of it to ourselves, if only to grasp the scope of such a thing. In the tsunami of news reports that came in the after-shock of the Orlando Massacre, I immediately saw not only myself, but perhaps my own children in Marisol. It shook me to the core to see my own virtues snuffed out in another person like they meant nothing. I've been meditating on the value of individual life ever since.    

Today, in honor of Marisol, I'm focusing inward, contemplating my own values, morals and privilege and I encourage my friends to do the same. Take a moment, shut up, and just THINK. That's all. Contemplate, give in to what your mind think needs the most attention, map it out, go on a journey, prepare to end up at an unanticipated destination. The only way to figure our way out of this bigotry-filled-ALL-CAPS-chaos-bubble that has encompassed our society is to give it the thought it deserves. 

We are smart enough to get ourselves out of this mess.

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Wednesday, July 6, 2016

ELEVEN: Amanda Alvear

Amanda Alvear


Amanda Alvear, barely 25 years-old, saw her life cut drastically short in the Pulse nightclub shooting on June 12, 2016. Amanda had recently gained a new lease on life, shedding an incredible 180 pounds through surgery and an intense commitment to fitness. The transformation not only reshaped Amanda's body but her outlook on life. She was in the midst of celebrating the freedom of her twenties, the uninhibited joy of dancing all night in the club with her best friend, feeling safe and accepted for the first time in her life. Amanda had an infectious personality and a keen sense of fashion. She was incredibly close to her family and cared greatly for her young nieces, of whom she loved to spoil with shopping trips for the latest fashions.

Amanda, in so many ways, embodied the modern idea of the "Millennial," a young person, just a kid. Plugged in, just like all her friends, Amanda happened to catch the moment gunfire erupted in the club via SnapChat. What was supposed to be an instantly deleted blip of chatter became Amanda's final recorded moment. Our mortality becomes so much more apparent when we realize we can die at literally any time. The constant possibility that we might be dismissing some moment as trivial before we can realize it is profound is the stuff of existential crisis. Does anyone really have any control?

The only solution, pardon the cliche, is to live each moment as your last. Give the best of yourself to each moment so that when it passes you will know that you couldn't have done it any better.

The only consolation in Amanda's death comes from knowing that she died at peak happiness, her last moment one of unfiltered exuberance, at the successful conclusion of an unexpectedly last battle.

Today, in honor of Amanda, I'm committing to trying to make each moment matter. It's so easy to lose motivation and slip into cycle of learned uselessness, the best way for me to stay out of it is to know for a fact that I don't want to die there. We are all meaningful, our moments are meaningful, we just need to make sure we're living to full potential.

More Information:

49 Days Project

Monday, July 4, 2016

TEN: Antonio Davon Brown

Antonio Davon Brown


Capt. Antonio Davon Brown, a soldier in the U.S. Army, survived two tours in Kuwait before he was gunned down in the surprise attack on American soil on June 12, 2016. Described as a "gentle soul," the decorated veteran was known for his loyalty to his friends, family, and country.  Barely 29 years-old, he held a bright future working in the HR departments of the U.S. Army reserves and Lowes. For him it wasn't just a job - he took the "human" part of "human resources" to heart and was dedicated to truly enhancing the well-being of those he worked with. He will be remembered for his kind spirit and wonderful sense of humor.

It's interesting my last post focused on "celebrity," because when a celebrity dies, the event garners an astonishingly high amount of media attention, everyone is suddenly caught up in the intrinsic value of that particular human life, they certainly don't need me memorializing them on my dinky little blog. It's immensely sad then, every single day soldiers die brutal, horrible deaths defending our liberties and nobody blinks an eye. It's insane that people are willing to line up around the block to honor some star they never met but soldiers who protected their freedom of assembly are laid to rest without a single mourner present. I didn't plan this juxtaposition, but it sure seems to hone in on my point: we cannot forget the specific value each of these lives held before they dissipated forever. 

My bleeding heart constantly struggles with such notions. The price so many soldiers have payed for our liberties is incomprehensible, their lives are just important as mine, and yet I would not have mine if they hadn't gave theirs. 

I can't make sense of any of it, but I do know that we should not take it for granted. We are all so, so fortunate. 

Today, in honor of Capt. Brown, and the birth of our fine nation, I encourage everyone to embrace the liberties so given to us by immense sacrifice. Let's put aside our political differences, take a look around and say "hey, this is all actually pretty good," and know that it came at an ultimate price. 

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

NINE: Luis S. Vielma

Luis S. Vielma


Luis, a "bright young wizard," as described by those who worked with him at Universal Orlando's Wizarding World of Harry Potter theme park, died in the largest hate crime against the LGBT community in U.S. history. A student of Hogwarts, the Sorting Hat rightfully placed Luis into Gryffindor, "where dwell the brave at heart, their daring, nerve and chivalry set Gryffindors apart." There, he served as a language interpreter and guide for incoming students. A bright, motivated individual, Luis was also pursuing a Muggle degree at Seminole State College where he was studying the magic of saving others through emergency medicine. 

In the immediate wake of the tragedy, social media began circulating a tweet by J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series, reacting to the massacre. She laments Luis's death with the shock and sadness as if he was one of her own, "he was 22 years old," she wrote, "I can't stop crying." Rowling's visibility undoubtedly brought scope to immense loss of individual life as she, and her fans, could connect in a tangible way to Luis. He was here. He was like us. He is gone.  

I've always had a sort of love/hate relationship with the notion of celebrities. I am unabashedly fascinated by watching the their craft and fame intermingle, whether it be acting, sports, writing, or even uh, Kardashianing? That said, I find it problematic when people don't seek guidance beyond their celebrity role-models because so many celebrities are under-qualified for the job, some just barely existing on cocaine and product endorsement smoothies. 

I don't think there is a way to stop people from listening to celebrities and that scares because it grants them such immense power. The consolation prize is celebrities can use their power to promote peace and goodness. Like J.K. Rowling, who transcends the term "celebrity," and is most definitely the Mother Theresa of our generation. Or these guys, 49 famous people using their voices to stand up to the never-ending violence and hatred in our society, only out of the ordinary when our favorite author beams it out from her smartphone.

Today, in honor Luis, I'm embracing my own celebrity, albeit the comparatively minuscule power of influence I have in my children's young minds. I commit to being the best person that I can so my children have a strong role-model to look to. I'm by no means perfect, but I can at least try to teach them the virtues extinguished in the victims of this incomprehensible crime. If we teach our children well, maybe their generation wont have to work so hard for peace because they will already have it.

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Monday, June 27, 2016

EIGHT: Cory James Connell

Cory James Connell


Cory James Connell was celebrating his 21st birthday with his girlfriend at the Pulse nightclub when his life was extinguished in a spray of bullets. A star athlete, Cory was chasing his lifelong dream of helping others as a firefighter. His final act on this earth was protecting his girlfriend, Paula from the gunman - she was gravely injured but her life was preserved by Cory's act of bravery.  Known for his charisma and welcoming smile, Cory was was a friend to all who knew him. The impact he had on his community was so immense that the City of Orlando posthumously made him an honorary firefighter and the Orlando Gay Chorus sang for his funeral. 

Cory, was, perhaps notably, straight and the fact that a popular football player such as himself had no problem hanging out at a gay club speaks volumes to how far our our society has come in terms of LGBT acceptance. Unfortunately we have not come far enough and violent acts fueled by homophobia continue to plague the community. Young people who come out to their families are still told "it's just a stage,"  transgendered individuals face scrutiny every time they need to pee, and closeted, angry individuals take out their rage on innocent people because they live in an environment where it impossible to embrace their own identity.

As a straight woman, I had my reservations about starting this project. Primarily, I was afraid of somehow co-opting the grief of the LGBT community. Then I realized, this isn't a "gay tragedy" - its a human one. Our entire population should be grieving the fact that 49 souls no longer walk this earth. That it hit a community so historically marked by adversity makes it all the more heart-wrenching.    

Today, in honor of Cory, I am celebrating alliance. To my friends in the LGBT community: I love you, I accept you, I am honored to stand by you. I encourage others to do the same - reach out and show your support and mean it. Only when we treat everyone with dignity will we be able to move forward in harmony.

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Wednesday, June 22, 2016

SEVEN: Christopher Andrew Leinonen

 Christopher Andrew Leinonen


Christopher Andrew Leinonen, Drew, as he was known to his friends, died alongside his soulmate, Juan Ramon Guerrero in the act of terrorism that took place at the Pulse nightclub. Drew was a film buff and dedicated mental health counselor, brimming with charisma and sharp wit. He proudly referred to himself as a "gaysian," finding great dignity in his unique identity as both gay and Asian. When Drew was in high school he established the first gay-straight alliance at his school. This inspired a lifelong dedication to activism which undoubtedly had limitless potential before it was so grotesquely snuffed out in this senseless act of violence.

Drew is about my age, so that means we would have been in high school around the same time.  I think about who I was in high school, about the people who surrounded me and the rhetoric of the era. I think about how words like "gay" and "fag" were casually thrown around as insults. I think about Ricky Martin and Lance Bass who had to no choice but to remain tortuously closeted for the sake of our delicate sensibilities.  I think about all my peers who've come out since we shared those four years of lockered hell and about how immense their burden was when everyone already felt so isolated, so alone, so desperate to fit in, so scared to speak up.

I think about all of that and I know that there was no way that I could've had the strength or courage to do what Drew did when we were that age. We cannot forget how monumental his actions were. Less than 20 years later our perspective has changed because of activists like Drew.

Today, as our congressional representatives sit on the house floor, refusing to move until American gun laws are revisited, I'm focusing on igniting the activism within myself. I'm using my voice to build on the change that activists like Drew have facilitated. For those of you who, like me, have spent a lifetime trying not to step on toes, it's time to be brave, it's time to make some noise. Write to your senators, speak up against evil, it's time to get motivated to do everything we can to restore peace to this planet.

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Tuesday, June 21, 2016

SIX: Franky Jimmy Dejesus Velazquez

Franky Jimmy Dejesus Velazquez


"Jimmy," as he was known to his friends, at only fifty years old, the oldest person killed in the Pulse nightclub massacre was still so young with so much life left to live. Jimmy was a professional dancer, specializing in Jibaro, a style of folk dance unique to his native Puerto Rico. The dance holds great significance in Puerto Rico as it is emblematic of strength and endurance of the pioneers to the island. Interestingly, "Jibaro" once held negative connotations, but Puerto Ricans took the term back for themselves and embraced and their roots as a source of power.

I started this project because it seemed like just a day after the bloodshed our nation was already being nudged to move on. Another unspeakable tragedy, in the same town no less, took the spotlight when a small child was drowned by an alligator. Immediately, the conversation turned to trying to prevent freak accidents from happening in sterilized corporate bubbles rather than focusing on doing literally anything to stop maniacs from spraying death in public places.

I wonder why we were so quick to move on and forget the scope of this nightmare. Is it because we are desensitized to mass shootings? Is it because the majority of people who died were gay men? Is it because the victims were not "American" enough? June 12 was not just the culmination of Pride week, it was also "Latin Night" at the club and the vast majority those killed were Puerto Rican. How do their lives mean less in a country where campaigns are won on the merit of "life is sacred?"

In honor of Jimmy, today I am encouraging others to draw strength from their own heritage to unite in peace. Jimmy embraced his heritage in the most authentic way possible and thrived on the legacy of his ancestors. No matter where we came from or who we love, we are all important. Our stories have meaning - even if they are in written a different language.

More Information:

The 49 Days Project

Friday, June 17, 2016

FIVE: Frank Hernandez

Frank Hernandez


Frank Hernandez, Franky, was only 27 years old when he lost his life in Sunday's terrorist attack. A fan of Beyonce and fashion, the Calvin Klein store manager proudly bore a "Love knows no gender" tattoo on the underside of his arm - one of the most sensitive and painful spots to be inked. He was known as a funny, lively and endlessly compassionate young man. He'd just celebrated his third anniversary with his boyfriend and the pair were ripped apart forever after that terrible night out at the Pulse. His family is now struggling to find the funds to bring him back to Texas for his final resting place.

It's unshakably chilling that this massacre took place during the culmination of Pride Week. I've seen it described the same as "a church shooting during Christmas" for the LGBT community.  Today, in honor of Franky and all the victims,  I'm focusing on being proud of myself for my own accomplishments. I am proud that I have gotten to day five of this project even though the emotional toll of facing each individual loss of life is nearly debilitating. I'm proud that I'm using my voice to keep speaking out about this horrific tragedy with the popular news media trying to force me to move on. I'm proud to live in a country where marriage is defined by love and not genitals. I'm proud that no matter who my kids love, their mama will always love them more. 

Be a good person, and be proud of that, we have so much potential for peace.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

FOUR: Joel Rayon Paniagua

Joel Rayon Paniagua


Joel was only a teenager when he immigrated to Florida from Veracruz, Mexico seeking a better life for himself and his family. He worked tirelessly within the construction industry, giving every last bit of himself so he could send money home to his family. Joel's cousin explained why so many people like Joel choose such a hard life in the United States: "in our country there was a lot of crime, violence and death ... and we expect it should be more peaceful here." Joel's opportunity for a better life vanished in the wake of our nation's largest mass shooting in history.

In honor of Joel, today I'm embracing the opportunities within my life, many of which have just been given to me by accident of birthplace. We have so much potential to make this world a better place if we work hard and chase our passions. Embrace every opportunity because life is short and unpredictable and you might not get another chance.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

THREE: Brenda Lee Marquez McCool

Brenda Lee Marquez McCool


Brenda leaves behind 11 children, one of whom, her son Isaiah, was with her the night she died. Ever supportive of her gay son, Brenda was visiting Isaiah in Orlando and the two had gone out dancing at Pulse. When the chaos erupted, Brenda stood between the gunman and her son, saving Isiah's life, herself succumbing to a fatal gunshot wound. Brenda's other heroic efforts include standing as an outspoken advocate for the LGBT community and surviving cancer - twice.

In Brenda's short time on her she pushed the bounds of what most believe possible. In honor of Brenda, today I'm focusing on my own strengths and how to use them to best help others. Our population is stronger than any evil the hate machine puts out there. United by peace, we can grow even stronger.

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Tuesday, June 14, 2016

TWO: Akyra Monet Murray

Akyra Monet Murray


Barely 18 years old, Akyra had just graduated from her Philadelphia high school with honors. In fact, she was in Orlando with her family celebrating the occasion when she'd gone to Pulse with her brother as part of the festivities. Akrya was an outstanding athlete, she received a full-ride scholarship to play basketball at Mercyhurst College. Her undeniably bright future was cut short moments after she called her mom begging to be picked up from the nightclub because there was a shooter on the lose.

In honor of Akyra, today I'm focusing on my own vitality and I encourage others to do the same. Akyra was robbed of her vitality in a horrific act of terrorism but we still have ours. Embrace it. Celebrate it. DO NOT TAKE IT FOR GRANTED. 

Spread the love, guys, we're strong enough to do this.

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Monday, June 13, 2016

ONE: Top Hat Eddie

 Edward Sotomayor Jr.


Nicknamed "Top Hat Eddie," Edward, age 34, was known throughout his community for his sweet nature and trademark black top hat. He worked at for Al and Chuck Travel, an agency specializing in vacations catering to the LGBT community and it was more than just a job for him, it was a true passion. He is remembered as an enthusiastic tour guide who brightened the lives all who met him, even giving some the honor of wearing his top hat on occasion. 

Friends have described Eddie as having an unshakably positive outlook on life, and for that, today's virtue is positivity. I know it seems hard to to be positive in the light of such a horrible tragedy, but sometimes I like to start with the hardest things first. In honor of Eddie, I encourage everyone to live today with a positive and hopeful attitude. 

This will get better guys. It will. 

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The Next 49 Days

Yesterday, I watched in horror as the news reported the deadliest shooting in U.S. history at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida. 49 innocent people in the midst of a joyous celebration of their culture were shot to death at the hands of an insane radical with an automatic weapon.

In the midst of these reports, media focus was largely on the attacker, his history and his motivations. Through these reports he got exactly what he wanted - infamy from his volatile brand of hate.

I refuse to make this monster a celebrity. I don't want to know everything some journalist can dig up about him. I don't want to see his MySpace profile picture every time I look at a screen. He lost his right to humanity when he systematically stole it from 49 people.

I've spent the last 24 hours on the cusp of being consumed by rage. I have no words to describe the devastation I've been watching unfold.

I refuse to let this monster get what he wants.

49 individual human lives, with unique hopes and dreams and histories have simply vanished. 49 mamas have to lay their babies down one last time. Infinite grief to the power of 49.

We cannot forget these 49 beautiful souls 

For the next 49 days I will dedicate a page of this blog to the memory of one of the victims of the massacre. I will do my best to highlight their greatest virtues and I will dedicate each day to living in honor of each specific memory. It's a big task but it's the only thing I can think of to move forward. Please, join me in the commitment to spreading the love and honoring these innocents.

Let's heal this country.


Thursday, May 26, 2016


I'm one of the those individuals who falls somewhere between "Generation x" and "Millennials." I'm old enough to know what it's like to spend an entire summer playing in with neighborhood kids the street but I also used to charge those kids 25 cents a pop to come inside and watch us play Tetris. I'm tehnologically savvy and wired to the gills but so uncool that I thought "on fleek" had something to do with the Navy. Either way, it just seems more relevant to just round up my birth year and lump myself in with the younger, lost generation. 
Recently, Millennials have received an unfair onslaught of criticism from our media and politicians. We have been told that we are lazy, entitled and incompetent. We are expected to simply recover from things that we did not invent, like subprime mortgages, by showing more "gumption." 
I'll use my story as an example. I graduated from LLHS in 2001, took advantage of the lottery scholarship and enrolled at UNM. I earned a BA in English, a first-generation graduate, the American dream.
I landed a job as an editor issuing corporate press releases. I saw myself at the bottom rung of a golden ladder, eager to reach the top. My first summer, in 2007, I spent my days issuing an untold amount of bankruptcy notices, my workload read like a shortlist for government bailouts. I had a birds-eye view of the economic collapse but I focused on staying busy, grateful to be employed. After work I'd read stories of people living in cars and unable to feed their families. I was determined this wouldn't happen to me. I worked harder. My company had a round of lay-offs but I was promoted. I gave 100% of myself to my job and rung by rung I was making it up that ladder.
My life outside of work also blossomed. I got married and had a son. I continued to work as my husband finished up his master's degree at New Mexico Tech. When my husband landed a post graduate job at a hydro-geological firm I made the difficult decision to leave the workforce and to focus on our family. I had another baby and we were the ideal American family, one boy, one girl and a miniature pack of dogs. 
Then, my husband was abruptly laid-off. I've often tried to figure out what was the most humbling moment of that whole experience. Was it sitting across from a stranger at the WIC office tearfully explaining I couldn't afford to feed my babies? Was it the sobbing at my in-laws' dinner table asking for enough money to get through "one more month?" Was it the hours spent in front of a computer trying to get past online application algorithms in hopes that somebody would look at my resume? Was it the my daughter's first Thanksgiving Dinner, when I had to leave early to fold tee-shirts at my minimum wage retail job? Was it the monthly smack in the face when we got our student loan bills which we just couldn't pay?
We couldn't understand why we were working so hard and still had nothing. We didn't want a handout but we had to take anything we could get. We weren't lazy, we were exhausted. Finally, my husband landed a job that kept him on the road 4 nights a week. It wasn't ideal, the hours were long and the pay was low, but it was something. I found job ghostwriting academic papers for pennies a word. Next to nothing, but it still, something. For the first time we have hope, we are dusting ourselves off and starting to climb that ladder again on albeit, shaky legs. This is what we have to do, this is how we move forward.
My experience has shown me that we millennials are not struggling for lack of trying. We are the smartest, most passionate generation in history. Right now we are feeding on the scraps of a bygone era but we will emerge stronger. Tasked with making something out of nothing, we will bring about unprecedented innovation. We will get there, we've got this huge mess to clean up before we can find our bootstraps, but it'll happen.