By Ben Cartwright | Back Out With Benny
I’ve been writing columns for local LGBT publications for more than a decade and sometimes it’s just really hard to think of topics to write about.
Sometimes, I’m fired up or excited about something and my fingers work magic and whip something out in minutes. Other times I sit for hours trying to think of something that will resonate with readers and get people talking.
This week was one of those weeks.
I wrote introductions to about seven different column topics, but just couldn’t carry them through (I’ve saved all of those paragraphs and will certainly revisit them if the inspiration hits). Then I had several ideas for columns that sounded fun (sex, dating, hookup apps) but they’ve all been done before.
So there I sat at Babycakes, wine in hand, staring at the screen, wishing for some magic inspiration. “Writer’s block” is rare for me, but when it hits, it’s painful.
Then suddenly, like my wishes were being addressed by some higher power, a man I’ll call “Mr. Wizard” approached me. He asked if my name was Benny and if I write a column for the “Gay News of San Diego” (he meant Gay San Diego, but he was close enough). I told him yes and that it was funny he had asked at this very moment, since I was in the process of trying to pen my next column and was struggling to come up with something.
Mr. Wizard then asked if he could sit down and although my first thought was that he was just going to suck up a lot of my time talking my ear off, I agreed. He started out by asking why I like to write. He wanted to know the purpose and whether I was just doing it for attention, or hoped to make a difference with my writing.
I was very honest with him and said that when I started writing for Update newspaper in 2005, I think I did it because I wanted attention; I wanted the community to really get to know me. There wasn’t much in the way of social media back then, so traditional media sources were still the best way to get your name out there.
He asked why I wanted to get my name out there and again, I was honest and said I think I was just a hotheaded 25-year-old who wanted attention.
Mr. W then told me that he’s been reading my columns and other writing off and on in various publications for several years and can tell when I put my heart into it and when I don’t (reminds me of my favorite editor who is also very good at ‘reading through the lines’ of my work).
His advice to me was to only write when I think I have something important to say. Don’t follow the new reality of trying to get reads with salacious headlines, or the tired old gay stories about the hook-up apps, but to really pour my heart into it. He said that the best work I’ve produced really seems to come from a personal place inside me that I’ve let spill out on the pages.
What is the point of telling all of you this? I’m not quite sure, but what I do know is that we all need to use our voices in the most effective, heartfelt place to create change in our world.
Right now, in the midst of this very heated election season, there are millions of voices screaming at each other on social media, traditional media and out in the public square. We are not being productive by letting our immediate emotions (usually anger and fear) guide our words; rather, we are only inciting more anger, wasting good energy on the wrong things.
I’m one of the lucky ones who has been given the opportunity to share with my community through the news pages and I pledge to always do so as responsibly as possible.
Like everyone else, though, I also use social media and other methods to speak out, and I do my best to never respond with anger, hatred, or strong emotions. Our words are our best tool and we should all use them wisely.
We have seven more months of this nasty election season and I don’t want to see any more relationships or friendships crumble because of differences of opinion on political candidates. The best way to spread the word about your viewpoints is to simply post positively about what your candidate can do and then step out of it.
With that said, I hope a lot of the energy that is being used on social media translates to the ballot box! Speaking up on Facebook has some effect, but your real power is your vote.
It floors me to find how many people I know (who regularly post about their viewpoints) tell me that they don’t vote!
Please, please, PLEASE vote! If you aren’t yet registered or need to update your address, you can do it at events.thecentersd.org/vote.
If you are a San Diego County voter who has requested a mail ballot, it should hit your mailbox this week! Be sure to fill it out completely (there’s a lot more on the ballot than just the presidential primary), and send it back in by Thursday, June 2 to ensure it’s received in time to be counted.
Early voting has also begun and everyone is welcome to cast their votes at the County Registrar of Voters Office — located at 5600 Overland Ave. — through Election Day, which is June 7. Whatever you do, just vote! So much is at stake.
Get Out With Benny
Also, don’t miss the Harvey Milk Diversity Breakfast on Thursday, May 19 at the Hilton Bayfront. This annual event brings together over 1,000 movers and shakers to celebrate our community’s diversity and the memory of Harvey Milk. The event always sells out, so those who want to attend should purchase their tickets and tables now. This year’s keynote speakers are former mayor of Houston, Texas, Annise Parker, and Legislative Assemblymember of Alberta, Canada Michael Connolly. More information is at events.thecentersd.org/hmdb.
The Center will also celebrate Frida Kahlo at the annual Pachanga de Frida on June 11, from 6 – 10 p.m. This event raises funds for The Center’s Latino Services, and is so much fun! There’s a Frida look-a-like contest, lots of dancing, and lots of tequila! My favorite local band, The Manny Cepeda Orquestra (which can also be found monthly at #1 Fifth Avenue’s Havana Nights), will perform and keep everyone dancing all night long! Tickets and info at events.thecentersd.org/frida.
By the time of my next column, the Presidential Primary in California will have passed and we’ll have a better idea of what we’re looking at for November. Please make sure you have a part in these decisions by getting out there and voting!
—Benny Cartwright is the director of community outreach at the San Diego LGBT Community Center. He can be reached at 619-692-2077 ext. 106 or firstname.lastname@example.org.