My first grade teacher, Mrs. Walker, wrote in my report card, “Johnnie has beautiful dreams.” 

Her gentle way of saying my mind wandered. Although I believe she meant this comment to be cautionary, I have always embraced my daydreams as a virtue. I feel very fortunate that they were encouraged. My dreams enabled a strong sense of empathy and openness to different ways of thinking. They have fueled a fearless, and sometimes reckless, desire for new experiences. They have allowed me to  visualize possibilities and embrace opportunities. They helped me imagine living the life I have today.


I entered the University of Minnesota BFA program in the early eighties. I learned how to navigate an academic environment and survive critiques by thinking and communicating in reasonably fluent "art speak." During that time, I also had the opportunity to spend six months at L’Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Montpellier, France. I was living a stereotype – art student by day, bartender by night. Collecting great experiences and stories, I was able to pay most of my tuition with tips from bartending, something that would be impossible today. Aside from the incalculably valuable life-skill of being able to mix a good cocktail, having a job in the service industry allowed me to see people at their best and worst. I had to communicate with strangers in a professional and transactional way – sometimes in deeply personal ways. It was incredibly powerful and satisfying to be able to give people what they wanted, even if it was only a drink. I learned to not argue with drunks, that a good cry is therapeutic, and that drag queens are the source of a lot of hard-won wisdom. Ms. Dorian told me once, with a sigh, that, “Sometimes you just need to put on a dress and get back to reality.”  If you had known Ms. Dorian, in and out of drag, you would know that she was simply stating that we all wear masks. Wholeness and happiness requires you to take them off and be who you really are. It was good advice, although it took me a while to figure out what exactly that meant for me.