Hey everyone! I thought I’d use my first blog to let you peek into my story a bit and let you see who the man is under the hat.
I’m a small-town Iowa guy who’s dug up his roots and replanted them here in central Texas and, after six years, I’m starting to feel like a local. If you’ve seen the movie “Bridges of Madison County” or know where John Wayne was born, you’ve gotten a little taste of where I come from. Even though I wasn’t a farm boy and have never detassled corn, I was brought up on strong mid-Western values and work ethics. I had a pretty average childhood and was always encouraged to find and follow my dreams. The support that I received from my parents and mentors has led me right here, writing my first blog to you.
I recognized pretty early on that I tended to dance to the beat of a different drummer so I guess it’s not surprising that I decided to take the non-traditional route after high school. At the end of a pretty unproductive year at a small university where I was in constant search of my purpose, I landed a gig with Carnival Cruises and I spent a year as a production singer, touring the Caribbean, Hawaii, and Alaska. As an 18 year old that had never really left Iowa, my world was rocked – there actually was more to life outside of my little bubble. This began six years of my professional entertainment career during which time I performed in various theaters, theme parks, and cabarets in Chicago and Los Angeles as well as two tours of Europe. My life as an entertainer was exciting and fulfilling until I realized that I was halfway through my 20’s and had no security nor any real stability. I knew that I couldn’t spend the rest of my life behind a microphone wearing jazz shoes and I had yet to find that purpose that I had started looking for six years prior, so I needed to change my course. I packed up the contents of my garden apartment in Chicago and headed back to Iowa. I remained in Iowa for 10 years during which time I: met and married my husband, went back to school and obtained my undergraduate degree, bought a house, and planted roots back into the black soil of Iowa. That darn purpose, though, had yet to show itself to me. That is, until early 2011 when I attended a candlelight vigil. My internal fire began to burn that night and it’s continued to grow every day since.
This vigil was held in memory of victims of suicide who had been highlighted by the media for being gay/queer or perceived as such. It was devastating to see that members of my own community were falling prey to continued bigotry and hatred. I couldn’t help but see that 17 year old Justin in the faces of the victims and I kept thinking to myself: is there still no one out there to reach out to these folks and show them that life does get better? Well, my purpose reared its head that night - I am that someone who must reach out. By the end of the year, my husband and I had packed up our lives and our pets to start our new lives in Austin and, In January of 2012, I stepped foot into my first graduate-level social work class at UT. As you’ve probably assumed, I finished my academic career at UT and I’m now here – reaching out to you just as I said I would.
Thank you for letting me share my story with you. Now it’s your turn; I’d love to hear your story!