11 min read

January and February 2023

Hello! This is the first installment in my personal newsletter, an experiment in keeping a public diary and, hopefully, replacing one aspect of the role Facebook and Instagram have played in my life.
Sunflowers in a blue vase on a table, with a window revealing bright blue skies. The sunflower is illuminated by morning sun.
Sunflowers illuminated by the morning sun. Nice burst of warmth on these winter mornings!

Hello! This is the first installment in my personal newsletter, an experiment in keeping a public diary and, hopefully, replacing one aspect of the role Facebook and Instagram have played in my life.

If you're reading this on the website, know that you can subscribe and receive these by email. If you're reading this in your email inbox, thanks for coming along on this journey with me — I don't take your time and attention for granted.

If this in your email, you can simply reply to this email to start a conversation!

What follows is a roll up of what I've been up to through the lens of 10 vignettes. All photos were taken by yours truly unless otherwise noted.

You can find all of my microblog posts, blog posts, photos, readings, presentations, and media appearances at each of those respective links.

1. First annual letter to friends and family

Losing my brother Scott unexpectedly last year forced me to take stock of what I really want in life, and a big part of that is spending more time with friends and family. We don't know how long we have together.

Josh Simmons (right) and his husband, Chris Neugebauer (left) attended the Light Up a Life event at Walnut Park in downtown Petaluma on Friday, December 2, 2022. The annual community event, hosted by Hospice, lets people gather in remembrance and celebration of the lives of lost loved ones. Josh’s brother, Scott Deihl, died suddenly last June. (CRISSY PASCUAL/ARGUS-COURIER STAFF)

To that end, Chris and I wrote our first annual letter to friends and family. I've always treasured the cards and letters that folks sent me, and my late Grandpa Beveren sent cards like clockwork.

It was a monumental effort, having to first clean up my Rolodex and get up-to-date contact info for everyone, then prepare more than 100 letters.

It has been so rewarding. In the course of doing that, I reopened lines of communication with old friends and have received numerous letters and cards in reply.

Even still, we missed 50-80 people that we had hoped to include. Next time!

2. A little bit of summer in my winter

Now that I know how to navigate the heightened risk environment (gee thanks COVID) with relative confidence, I finally made my way back to Australia. Suffice it to say, three years is too long to go without seeing this side of my family.

A photo of the whole Aussie family that Josh married into, from left to right: Josh, Chris, Michelle, Rolf, and Rory. Everyone is smiling, to some degree, and Rory is throwing a peace town. Behind them is a stand of verdant subtropical plants
Josh's Australian family during a visit to the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary in Brisbane, Queensland. From left to right: Josh, Chris, Michelle, Rolf, and Rory.

Because the airlines are still screwy, our inbound trip was 42 hours door-to-door across 27 hours of flights. That was brutal, but it was so worth it.

First we went to Hobart, Tasmania, where Chris grew up, and did a whirlwind tour of brunches, lunches, and dinners to reconnect with our Taswegian friends. We also had a multi-hour visit with Chris's de facto grandmother Merri.

After that, we traveled to Brisbane, Queensland to stay with Chris's parents for a few days and celebrate our sibling Rory's 30th birthday together! We did some crate diving at record stores, visited a sanctuary where Rory and I got to hold a koala (!), and even squeezed in a trip to King's Beach in Caloundra.

I confess the beach trip, taken in Australia's summer while atmospheric rivers hammered California, felt decadent! Those beach trips have become a bit of a tradition when Chris, Rory, and I get together. It also made me remember Scott, as one of my most treasured memories is of the time we spent floating in the water at Goleta Beach talking about everything under the sun.

Scott's passing, the 2022 holidays, and the lack of sunlight had me feeling low. Seeing all these folks I hadn't seen in three years was restorative in the extreme.

3. My journey with disability and creativity

When I was very young, I loved to write short stories and poems. But my spell as a fundamentalist Christian, which dialed my shame and self-loathing as a closeted queer man up to 11, made me small. I stopped writing.

A photo of buildings in Iceland, it is edited to be black-and-white except for the queer bar which is painted in the colors of pride.
The queer bar in Reykjavík, Iceland is appropriately colorful. Chris and I visited Iceland on our honeymoon in 2019.

In 2015, I was diagnosed with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome (hypermobile type), ADHD, and anxiety. I had clocked my mental health issues years before, but hEDS, a physical disability, presented an entirely new kind of journey for me.

For a long time, I was the kind of person who, when presented with my own disability, would retort, "Yeah, but it's also kind of a super power." Which isn't exactly wrong, but also papers over the many ways in which this way of being, in the world as we've built it, is wretched. I reconcile these views by way of the social model of disability. Coming to terms with disability has helped me find support and build solidarity with other people. But it took a while.

Being that I'm on an authenticity kick, as I've got one precious life and I'm damn well going to live it, I decided to challenge myself: to write poetry, and to actually publish it. Something I had never done before.

The result was my poem about disability, Stories I Used to Tell Myself.

4. Poetry, more poetry, and Black History Month

Poetry has always been a reliable way of shaking myself into the present, helping me process and learn about the world. I started building a collection of poetry books in 2020 to encourage more of that.

A photo of an art exhibit from Hobart's MONA: it is a room that looks like a library, but the books are all blank.
An exhibit at the Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) in Hobart, Tasmania. Chris took me here on my first visit to Tasmania in 2016.

But I didn't really make a habit of it until late last year, when I knew I needed all the help I could get processing Scott's passing. (I also started seeing a therapist again, which has been great.)

For the last three months, I've started nearly every morning with a poem, which I then share on BookWyrm and Mastodon because everyone needs more art in their lives. Almost every single book of poetry I read from has been recommended by friends or family — thank you for that!

In February, I took this habit and focused it on the voices of Black poets. That has been mind expanding. I might do it again. I've got refugees on my mind.

5. Duty calls Petaluma's token same-sex couple

A side effect of our civic engagement, and my role on the Petaluma Pride board of directors, is that Chris and I sometimes get rung up when someone needs a same-sex couple. And I'm a ham, so, I'm all about it.

Quick, act natural! Chris poking me in the face during the photoshoot at Petaluma's Penry Park. Photography by the wonderful Paige Green.

This really paid off last Valentine's Day when we had the privilege of sharing our love story for a special edition of the The Argus-Courier. We don't often get to tell that story, so that was very special. We're deeply grateful to friend and local journalist David Templeton for thinking of us, to Beulah Vega for her wonderful write up, and to Crissy Pascual for her always-amazing photography. Truly, we treasure that story and the photos.

Thanks also to Paige Green, another amazing photographer, who thought of us when assembling a diverse lineup of models for Healthy Petaluma, the rebrand of the Petaluma Healthcare District.

We got to spend a fun day in the park acting silly, and now we have all these amazing photos we get to use!

An aside, it was great getting to meet Christine Walker, founder of The Design Guild who had been contracted by Healthy Petaluma. Turns out Christine and I both rotated through O'Reilly Media's marketing department early in the last decade! There's some history there... We bonded instantly.

6. Shasta and Lucian are growing up so fast

Scott's kids are growing up so fast. Shasta, his eldest, just turned 18 and is considering which college to attend. Lucian is a few years younger, and already dreaming big and starting his own business. Both of them are lightyears ahead of where I was at their age. Scott was so proud of them. He still would be.

A family photo taken on a sunny winter day in our backyard. Lots of smiling faces against a backdrop of happy trees. From left to right: Chris, Josh, Jen holding Hunter, Carl, Greg in front, Abra, Shasta, and Donna.
Brunch in our backyard! From left to right: Chris, Josh, Jen holding Hunter, Carl, Greg in front, Abra, Shasta, and Donna.

Nine years ago Shasta and Lucian moved out to Austin, Texas, with their mom, Abra. It's been really hard to have all that distance between us, especially now that Scott is gone.

But we're blessed: Shasta and Lucian, despite being teenagers, actually like staying in touch with us, which, again, is more than I could say for myself at that age, and we've seen them at least twice a year since they moved.

Naturally, we were overjoyed to learn that Abra had booked a trip with Shasta to Sonoma County as a belated birthday gift.

We gathered for brunch and it was everything I hoped it would be and more. We were joined by Jen, my sister-in-law and mother of Scott's youngest, Hunter, as well as my parents Donna and Carl, my brother Greg, and, of course, my sweetheart Chris (who is a phenomenal cook and host).

We're so grateful to now have a home that can host family gatherings like this.

7. Cat status: nominal

Pico and Astra are doing great. Pico is my 15 year old long hair tuxedo cat. Pico joined me on this journey in my one fraught year at San Diego State before I dropped out. Astra is our adopted 4 year old short hair mask-and-mantle cat. But really, she's Chris's — seriously, they chose each other.

A photo taken at floor level inside Josh's house, with Pico-cat and Cat Astra both staring at the camera from their respective spots in the sun.
All the creatures in this house are fans of the light which streams through the windows facing our backyard every morning, and the see-through birdfeeder which was a gift from Greg.

Anybody who has met Pico knows he's particular. Very spicey. And Astra, who was rescued from a situation with ~50 other cats in one home (yikes), is very particular in a different direction.

They... haven't always gotten along. Their relationship has improved dramatically since we moved to this house, and every passing week we see progress. Now they play together, can sleep peacefully within a few feet of each other, and only occasionally fight. More cat photos here if you like!

I recently moved Pico to a new vet, where my dear friend Erin works, and am pleased to report that he's got a clean bill of health.

8. Carrying the family’s green thumb

Mine is a family full of green thumbs, from gardening, to horticulture, to floristry. My mom, Donna, who is a Master Gardener, has a lot to do with that.

A photo of helleborus orientalis, aka Lenten rose, a plant with mid-sized pointed and serrated green leaves featuring maroon flowers... and a lady bug!
Our backyard is full of gorgeous winter blooming hellebores, thanks to the previous homeowner, Glee.

I didn't always appreciate it, though. When I was growing up I was either glued to my computer or causing trouble outside with my friends.

But the last house that Chris and I lived in had a (shitty) garden, which gave us an opportunity to experiment. Of course, being a rental with a landlord who was alternately controlling and neglectful, we could only do so much and didn't want to get too invested.

I got the houseplant bug over the course of the pandemic (yeah I'm basic so what). And now that we own our own home, which came with a thoughtfully landscaped garden in front and back, we've jumped in with both feet.

It is a joy. I am now more in touch with the local ecosystem, including the bugs and the birds — I just participated in my first Great Backyard Bird Count. I feel more connected to the passing seasons, more a part of the march of time, and can better appreciate Sonoma County's microclimates.

Being able to understand and identify plants has made every day that much richer, even when I'm abroad. This is a wonderful shared experience for me and Chris.

9. We keep us safe

The COVID-19 pandemic continues, and the risk environment remains heightened. But you'd be forgiven for thinking everything is back to "normal" because, damnit, our elected and appointed leaders act like it is, and many have followed suit.

A photo of Josh and Chris leaning their heads together looking a mix of happy and concerned. They are indoors at the airport, wearing elastomeric masks.
Navigating COVID risk during international travel is hard. We swear by our Flo Masks which make a better seal than standard 3M N95s, and look less industrial than other elastomerics.

The science is clear, COVID presents a serious ongoing threat to every single one of us. And I, personally, have a lower risk tolerance than most. I am multiply disabled, I care for people who are immunocompromised, and my ability to stay gainfully employed keeps many people afloat. There's a lot to lose.

My career hinges on networking and maintaining a vast web of relationships, which has been much harder without in-person conferences.

But many conferences are acting like it's 2019, and have been too dangerous to attend. I've been horrified to see people I love walking into those risky situations, some who don't have a choice because of their employers, and I've been hurt by lost opportunities and professional development. Of course, my health comes first.

Last fall I finally got pissed off enough to act. Turns out, I am uniquely positioned to do something about it.

I started the Public Health Pledge, an initiative to raise awareness, push back on the status quo, and make events safer and more inclusive. It's early days, but already we have 150+ signatories and events are beginning to align to the standards I've developed.

I hope you continue masking diligently like I do. Get that booster shot if you haven't yet! Please, stay safe.

10. A new-ish professional journey

I've been working for a startup called Tidelift since 2021. I've served in several roles since joining the company and recently began as a Senior Principal Foundations Advocate. A mouthful, I know!

A photo of Josh balancing an apple on his head.
One of the wonderfully silly photos captured during the photo shoot with Paige Green. I always intersperse silly and straightlaced in my work. The last set of silly photos I used were by Julian Cash, and they were amazing, but are six years old now — and I've changed!

At Tidelift, we work with people who make open source software (upstream) and people who use that software (downstream). Upstream is primarily produced by volunteers and nonprofits, and is systematically underfunded.

Meanwhile, the demands placed on upstream by downstream consumers (including behemoths like the US Government, Google, and Amazon) have grown dramatically in the last 20 years.

Our work is to align incentives, and my work is to provide upstream support, such as money and training.

After a couple of years working mostly behind the scenes, my new role has me again being very public-facing. It's been challenging finding my voice in this new role, as I haven't had the benefit of in-person events to use as a laboratory.

But I'm getting the hang of it! I just finished refreshing my professional profile, website, and resume.

Let's close this out with an excerpt from a poem shared by my dear friend Jenn.

For M by Mikko Harvey

The number
of hours
we have
together is
actually not
so large.
Please linger
near the
door uncomfortably
instead of
just leaving.
Please forget
your scarf
in my
life and
come back
later for


Stay golden, beautiful people. I love you. Let's keep in touch.