What is bold leadership for Indiana?

I keep hearing and reading stories of people clamoring for “bold”, “new”, and “innovative” leadership for national and state leaders. When it comes to Indiana politics, I don’t think it’s so unwieldy or difficult to think about deeply and with purpose.

So when I hear “bold leadership is needed” by the likes of Governor Mike Pence and his upcoming Democratic challenger John Gregg, I don’t always hear much bold anything. It’s usually a twist on some existing policy or announcement. Like Tuesday’s announcement from Pence that we’d magically make $1B appear over the next three years to fix some state roads, but not all, and not with much gusto, and not with anything for local governments where people actually tend to, you know, live.

I had some ideas rattling around in my head on what I’d consider to be actually “bold” leadership ideas to fix what is arguably one of America’s worst states in a variety of areas that aren’t that hard to fix:

  • Double the cigarette tax over the next three years, pulling Indiana to about the 3rd place for highest cost per pack in the nation and reducing us from the dubious position of having one of the highest smoking rates in the nation.
  • Require all restaurants with more than 5 locations to display calorie counts on menus. Indiana’s obesity rate is 9th in the nation.
  • Tie the gas tax to the rate of inflation so we stop getting in this crunch of road funding before we get too far behind.
  • Pence says “if you’re going to call yourself the Crossroads of America, you’d better have the roads to back it up.” Well, if you’re going to call Indiana one of the best business climates in America, you’d better have the workforce to back that up. And ours sucks. Hoosiers are overweight, poorly educated, and in poor health. So declare no new roads (looking at you, Kentucky bridge to nowhere), and divert new roads’ funding to the construction of trails, parks, multi-use paths, and invest heavily in local governments. No one was asking for roads around small towns.
  • Finally eliminate township government. No one knows who those people are anyway and their work can just as well be done by Counties.
  • Guarantee access to library service for every Hoosier through a statewide rural library service system. We have one of the highest numbers of Carnegie libraries in the country, yet 41% lack coverage and some pay for it and don’t even get to use it.
  • Vision 0 for the whole state. We rank 23rd for pedestrian deaths. Mostly because we’re too cheap to build some tiny little sidewalks.
  • Get a handle on why there are too many cities, towns, and counties sharing police protection. In Indianapolis alone, who do you think is our “top cop”? The Sheriff, the Public Safety Director, or the Mayor? If you guessed the Mayor, you’re weirdly right. Yet the other two positions also exist. In rural counties where Sheriff’s deputies patrol rural areas, small towns end up picking up the slack outside their jurisdictions all the time, just because they were slightly closer to an emergency. It’s time to establish a mechanism to let cities, towns, and counties have merged police departments with a clear person in charge at the top.
  • Add statewide non-discrimination protection of gays, lesbians, and transgender Hoosiers (John Gregg has proposed this).
  • Recommend the establishment of 4 or 5 year term limits for a variety of offices, including Governor, mayors, sheriffs, representatives, and councilors. There’s decreasing value in having a lawmaker spend 30 years in an office.
  • Independent, non-partisan, districting commissions. To our credit, we have one of the least-gerrymandered maps in the country (2nd to Nevada) … for federal offices. State offices are a disaster.
  • Child welfare services, such as advocates, investigators, foster care, child advocacy centers, and protective services, should all be under the umbrella of the State’s funding.

That’s bold.

I need you to get in shape

I have had the unfortunate disposition of seeing a significant number of people do two things lately:

  1. Die.
  2. Get fat. Which usually leads to #1 faster

I need you to stop doing both.

My grandfather was in generally terrible health. He smoked, drank, overate, and while physically strong, he succumbed to bone cancer.

My mother was also in generally terrible health. We never ate well, often eating out of boxed dinners and frozen foods. She never exercised. She drank nothing but soda and mostly Big Red. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m convinced her brain tumor was caused by a poor diet.

I’m getting to an age where my body is obviously slowing down its metabolism. And my friends are in the same spot. But it’s been impossible for me to not notice some of my friends are, uh, expanding.

To put it bluntly: I really don’t want you to die. I’ve lost way too many people in my life at ridiculously early stages of life to a variety of different means. I’m kinda tired of it.

I need you to exercise. And I mean actually exercise as a part of a fit lifestyle. I’m talking about more than just 30 minutes of exercise a day, because I don’t think that’s enough. I need you to do an hour a day of elevated heart rate at least 5 days a week. If you’re not in pain for the first month, you’re not doing it right.

I need you to stop eating shit. I need you to stop buying and consuming soda entirely. I need you to never go to a chain or fast food restaurant ever again. I need you to eat more vegetables. I need you to stop smoking and drinking so much alcohol.

I need you to put aside the idea that your fat is somehow “who you are”, or that your body is just predisposed to being overweight. By that rationale we’d never treat pimples or remove tumors, because “they’re just who I am.”

I need you to put aside this notion that you have no time. You have just as much time as anyone and everyone else. I don’t care if your kids are weird or your cat is needy. Kids are people, too, and they also need exercise. It’s time to start making some really hard, long-term, permanent adjustments to the way you live. Maybe that means moving. Maybe you have to wake up earlier.

And, if you need it, I need you to ask me for help. If I have to show up at your front door on Saturdays to bike 50 miles, or if you need someone to compete against or bounce off of, so be it.

So many of the people I know at my age are leaving a time when they can relatively easily lose weight and get healthy with a minimal or modest amount of effort. We’re also fast approaching an age where it’s going to require so much more effort to achieve the same results. Get ahead of the game and treat this like your retirement: start early.

I’m not entirely tone deaf on this matter. And I’m no extreme body builder. But, at least for now, I’m not overweight because I’ve worked at that.

If you think you have no time, I need you to ask yourself: how many hours of sleep do you get at night? Is it more than 7? How many hours of TV do you watch a night, or per week? Is it more than 1 or 9, respectively? Do you play video games? Do you dick around on the Internet for an hour or more a night? Then you have time to exercise instead.

Pay attention to juice labels and don’t be fooled by things like apple, orange, or cranberry juice — it’s loaded with sugar, which turns to fat.

At dinner, take your plate and immediately scrape off half of everything. Refrigerate that and whatever else is left in the pan. Now you have lunch or dinner for tomorrow. See, we’re saving money and calories already. If you’re still hungry, eat a bag of carrots. I’m not even kidding.

Figure out what helps you pass time better when you’re exercising. For me it’s listening to podcasts while cycling.

Figure out what motivates you. Is it fear of death? Is it embarrassment that keeps you out of the pool or water park each summer? Does someone have to publicly lord something over you? (I remember websites years ago that would take a mostly nude photo of a person and reveal one small tile of it per day if a person didn’t check in on a scale or hit some other goal regularly).

Seriously, I like you and would appreciate you not being an amorphous blob incapable of walking up stairs when you’re 40. Or being dead. Because I’m tired of that.

Marriage

About 14 or 15 years ago my mother had a goal to see me graduate from high school. At the time, I was a freshman and she was slowly dying. Today that seems like a tacit admission of ignominious death. Had she lived a little longer, I suppose the next goal would have been to see me get married.

She and I never had a conversation about love. It wasn’t really discussed in our house or in any of my circles. That probably has an overbearing impact on who I am today.

One of the greatest unknowns in my life is whether she recognized, knew, or suspected that I am gay.

For heterosexual people (I dislike the term “straight”, as it implies I’m somehow bent, curved, or crooked) this isn’t much to think about. For me and I suspect many gay men and women today, it’s a potentially life-altering admission that isn’t always for the better.

My father, for all the good things he did for us growing up to provide for us, work in incredibly hard conditions, and be a generally very good person, once blatantly said, “I wouldn’t want one of them living in my house”. This was regarding a suspicion that I might be gay. I denied it. It wasn’t worth fighting. We haven’t spoken in the last two-going-on-three years. I suspect to most of my remaining family I am either living somewhere far away or possibly dead.

I got married Saturday. My family wasn’t there. And, in retrospect, nor were many of the people I’d consider a friend. I found it difficult to send many people an invitation assuming they wouldn’t really want to come. It forced me to think about who I would call in an emergency. Who would agree to spend a Friday night out at dinner. Who would want to travel somewhere. That list is incredibly small for me. It was bittersweet, but it was the one thing I worried about the most was the rejection of attendance.

Which is rich coming from me. I never liked weddings. I spent years avoiding them or just flat out ignoring them. There was nothing about them that sat well with me. It was illegal, unobtainable, and a social situation I generally do not fare well in. It’s no one’s fault but my own. So it goes.

But Saturday there was a single chair in the front of a relatively small crowd that contained a single red rose. It was mom’s favorite flower and the one we draped her casket with. I’m not generally one for symbolism, but this seemed fitting, and Jeremiah also wanted to recognize the absences of some of his family. Thanks to Heather for bringing a single fresh flower Saturday afternoon.

A Year of Planning

About a year ago at the end of this month I asked Jeremiah to marry me. It was out of a pumpkin delivered by a team of people at the Aristocrat pub. I’m sure I will spend years wondering why he said yes.

It took us a year and despite my constant tremors at spending an unholy amount of money, it came together. Jeremiah is truly fortunate to have a large group of friends and family that dropped everything and collected every dollar they could to fly out here from Connecticut and elsewhere. It’s not lost on me that he left a lot to come here to Indiana where I’m much more comfortable.

And I’m glad that despite the obvious tilt in attendance per side, that the people who came for me were there. We spent a lot of time trying to ensure everyone was comfortable and enjoyed their time, and I hope they did.

Jeremiah’s vows to me were touching and heartfelt and I’m surely extremely fortunate to have someone who loves me in such subtle and obvious ways.

Below were the vows I wrote for him and presented Saturday. Judging by more than a few tears, they apparently touched on something.

12112443_10153043841791573_8017917417235694103_nMy Vows

This is an experience I did not imagine would happen. For a very long time it seemed impossible that I would ever stand somewhere here today. Not because I didn’t want to, but because far too many forces were pushing against me. Truth be told, I’ve only ever attended three weddings in my life, one of which was when I was a child. I’ve even made some effort to avoid going to weddings, of which I’m somewhat saddened by now.

But today I want to share three things with you. The first will give you some insight into my morning routine.

Every morning I put on my bike gear, snap on my cycling shoes, plug in my iPhone earbuds, and quietly tell Jeremiah to have a good day. Then I quietly walk out, give the dog a quick rub on his head, and get on my bike.

On the way to work I have 30 minutes of exercise to clear my mind and prepare for the day.

As soon as I get to my office I take my bike upstairs, grab my towel and a change of clothes, and head down to take a shower.

I say all this because there’s a process that extends beyond what Jeremiah sees every morning.

Because once I’m ready to shower, my ring comes off last. And when I get out of the shower, it’s the first thing that comes back on.

It’s a sharp change for me.

The second thing I want to share with you is when I knew something extraordinary was likely to be different about Jeremiah. It was on a cold day in Connecticut in September 2013.

We were sitting on that ridiculously large couch in your mostly empty apartment. You were talking about money.

I less than half-heartedly mentioned I knew a place “where you could live practically for free”. You sincerely entertained the idea of moving here to Indy.

And at some point a few weeks later when we left after dark in a big, rambling, moving truck, I thought, “Well. I guess this is a thing that’s happening.”

Which brings us to today, standing here before our closest friends and the third thing I want to share with you all: my vows to Jeremiah.

You took something of a vow that day when you reserved that moving truck.

You vowed with your actions to break through any pre-conceived notions about me and sought to understand and be with me. And I vow the same for you.

You vowed to let go of selfish feelings, attachment, and fear. And I vow to let go of selfish feelings, attachment, and fear. So that we can move forward together in everything.

I vow to be compassionate and to refrain from speaking harshly or deceptively about you or toward you.

And I vow to encourage you to be healthy, mindful, and, to do what is best now and in the future.

This becomes the new routine, but it extends beyond just every morning. It’s the new routine for every day. And it starts now.