Saturday, August 14, 2021

triple whammy–mini 1000 - 06

I was all set to write this last post of the mini-challenge about body hair and our sometimes ridiculous attitudes towards it. But, the day presented one piece of sad news after another. So I need to talk about sorrow.

This morning I found out that one of my best friend's niece had died.

I did not know this child. I know her parents, her sister and of course, her loving uncle. Why has her death hit me so hard? The tendency for people to adopt the tragedy of others and wave it as a flag for their own need for attention is repugnant. I do not want to appropriate this tragedy as my own. It is not.

Yet, what is it about this news that has me at sixes and sevens? Why does this create more pain than other tragedies I read about every day?

  • First, it is connected to someone I love dearly.
  • Second, the woman was only 31 years old. With two children of her own.
  • Third, she had struggled with the lifelong disease of addiction and finally died from it.
  • Fourth, I have two children who each have struggled with different issues over their lives and I find it unbearable to think about losing them.

When I hear people even subtly hint that the person suffering from a mental illness is to blame, I get furious. Ditto for blaming the parents. Partly because I used to be as judgy and smug and I'm ashamed. This child suffered from an illness like cancer. She didn't ask for it, she just had it. Her parents went to great pains to get her treatment, help raise her children and support her. If they had sent her to chemo and radiation therapy for cancer everyone would be clear about empathizing and not blaming them. But this was about addiction so lots of folks insinuate that something more could have been done or something could have been done differently, etc.

My children have grown past most of the developmental minefields that keep parents awake at night. We are never completely free from danger but the recklessness and confusion of adolescence/young adulthood ups the ante quite a bit.

The announcement was made 10 days after her death, which was weird as I would have expected my friend to call or write me. Until I found out the family didn't find out about her death immediately. She had been dumped at an emergency room without ID and I assume she died there, so it took days to identify her. There are few things more heartbreaking than a parent having to identify their child's body at the morgue.

That was the hardest news of the day.

***

We have a standing lunch date with another close friend who is housebound due to illness. He is a great person and incredibly dear to me. He should not be living alone but his wife died unexpectedly a year ago and he is coping the best that he can. It is painful to see him struggle to stand up or slowly shuffle from place to place with a cane. I took him to the pharmacy (first time he has ever left the house with me or gotten into my car) because they were supposed to deliver his medications and kept putting him off. 

He is one of the least confrontational people I know but he stood there, all thin and stooped, and explained to the face of indifference that he's just taken his last pill and that if he didn't get this prescription by noon the next day, he would begin to have seizures. The idea of him having seizures alone in that now chaotic house chills me. He and his late wife have a beautiful home. She kept it up immaculately and tastefully. But the February freeze caused extensive damage and the house is literally torn up. Drywall cut away, tiles upended, furniture piled into different rooms. He is living in three rooms. His dining room table (makeshift closet) is piled with clothing like a mock garage sale. He hasn't had hot water for 6 months. I have repeatedly asked him to get me the name of his contractor so I could maybe move things along but he says he wants to handle this and I don't want to usurp his autonomy. It's just hard because he's pretty ineffective.

In spite of all this, it is fun and good to spend time with him and his beloved little Yorkie dog. We bring lunch, help him change refrigerator filters, move cases of water off the floor that are too heavy for him to lift and troubleshoot any mechanical problems in the house and yard. He has a good sense of humor so we laugh a lot. I love him so much.

***

On the way home from lunch I called my friend whose niece had passed. I hadn't seen him in almost two years because of the pandemic but he and his husband were due to visit in less than 2 weeks and we were so excited to see each other again. Except we weren't going to because they decided canceled their trip. Fucking COVID 2.0. (This Delta variant is sweeping the country, especially in Texas where idiocy rules the day with a governor who will not only not issue a mask mandate but forbids school districts and other state agencies from imposing one.) I didn't fully realize how much I was looking forward to this visit. Man, was I bummed out.

Being retired is like an endless weekend for me. Seriously. I keep getting told that this feeling will wear off and I'm sure it will but it's been seven months and my delight persists. But weekends for the employed do create a structure and rhythm to one's life so visits, travel, occasions and celebrations had replaced this structure. I love my everyday life but I look forward to and mark time with these goalposts more than ever.

I'm also in a low-level panic about the possibility that our trip to the Netherlands (in exactly two months) will be canceled for the fourth time. We need to see our grandchild. We have already missed their entire babyhood and the thought of postponing again just breaks my heart. Of course, I don't want to expose that sweet child to this damned variant either. Ach.

***

Everyone has to deal with shit like this. Sorrow is inevitable. I am an incredibly fortunate human being. I live with a woman who is goodness personified. I have my dream house. I am healthy and financially secure. I adore my grown children and they return the sentiment. It's just when your get hit three times in one day, as another beloved friend suggested, you get to wallow in it a bit. So I did. And said friend was there to hear my sadness–another gift that has no price–and then, she had fresh cookies delivered to cheer me up. And well, eating my emotions never tasted so good. Today was hard. Tomorrow will be better.

Thursday, August 12, 2021

mise en place all over the place–mini 1000 - 05

This subject keeps popping up with friends and strangers so I've decided to give it some space. The conversation is about how we take our ideas and turn them into art or literature or food or whatever creative expression we choose.

For many years (until his deserved #MeToo fall from grace) I listened to Garrison Keillor's "Writer's Almanac." I did love his baritone rendition of beautiful poems but the main appeal was listening to him talk about great writers. Mostly, about the how they did what they did. There were writers who wrote books in frenzied 3-month jaunts. There were writers who only worked at night. There were others who wrote only on weekdays from 6am to 2pm and then stopped to have tea and play chess every day. There were as many approaches to writing as there were writers.

I love learning about process. What motivates an artist? What daily rhythms create sympathetic vibrations with their craft? What timing or settings help propel them? How do they approach the execution of their art? What do they do when they can't get there? What does it feel like when the struggle (finally) yields a perfect sentence?

My creative process can be fundamentally split into three parts. The first is about inspiration. You read something or have a conversation or have an experience that takes your breath away. Then, there’s the exciting idea-explosion part. How do you take inspiration and craft it into something that captures that feeling? Finally, there's the execution. The technical crafting of a thing.

(Incidentally, this is seldom a linear experience. You could collide with, trip over or have any one of these parts settle into your lap in any order. Like when some random material trips a switch before you've even decided to create something. Or when the need to put pen to paper whets your hunger and the inspiration follows. And sometimes, the execution takes you to places you had never planned to go.)

For those of us driven to make, write or express, this shit will not be silenced. There's this itch. There's this tickle. To take an idea and breathe life into it through whatever art language you speak. To find an angle, to find a light that makes even the familiar sparkle again. The first two parts, inspiration and brainstorming are usually seen as the creative parts. What will this look like? How will it feel? But right now, I want to talk about the last part. Execution. Often seen as the tedious and deep-in-the-muck phase.

When I am designing a thing or when I am preparing to write, I am also thinking about how it will come together. I’ll use the example of a piece I did for my house because it's easier for me to talk about the creative process as it applies to a tangible piece of art. But the principles apply to writing an essay, baking a cake, building a table or knitting a shawl.

I made this mosaic backsplash for my new kitchen:

Above: The backsplash before range and exhaust fan were installed.

For months before I started the piece, I poured over patterns and colors before I settled on this (uncharacteristically whimsical) trompe l'oeil style. I imagined how it would integrate into the wall. I daydreamed about seeing it every time I used the range. I asked questions and tapped the expertise of friends. Then, I cobbled together lots of images and drew others myself
into a 3' x 4' layout. Finally, I began the actual building of the piece. I just had to get started, mistakes be damned.

Aside: I had always thought of myself as chaotic and unorganized. As a kid, I was a mess of sagging socks, misbuttoned coats and creased paperwork crammed haphazardly into every container. As I've gotten older, and according to my friends, I'm not only not disorganized, I'm Sister Attention to Detail. I'm over-the-top about precision. (Which, I cannot emphasize strongly enough, has nothing to do with creativity--it's just a personality tic.) I have learned to tame the chaos I used to live in for one reason only: so I can do more creative work. Chaos got in my way. Chaos meant I couldn't find my tools. Chaos meant that shit got dirty that wasn't supposed to be dirty. Chaos was a fucking roadblock.


Anyway, I embraced the process of getting things done as an art form of its own. There was beauty in the engineering of this piece.

Which brings me to the mise en place part of our show. When professional cooks prepare meals, they get everything they need ready: garlic minced, liquids measured, root vegetables diced, dry ingredients weighed, spices arranged in small bowls, etc. This part can be tedious as hell, and if you don’t have the time and guests are coming over, frenetic. But, when you spend the time setting up the bits, the actual cooking part is a pleasure. You can pay attention to how quickly the meat is cooking, rather than racing around trying to find the next ingredient. You can focus on folding ingredients together rather than look for the right spatula while your egg whites deflate.

When I constructed this mosaic, I used the same approach.
The tiles all had to be sawed into the same size tesserae. The matching cut tiles were organized in trays which made hunting for the right color and size unnecessary. The shelves with tools were arranged so that if I needed to change a broken saw blade or grind down a jagged edge, I'd just have to reach over to grab it. Extra glue and bottles of water (to keep the saw/grinder cool) had their place. Wrenches to change out grinding bits and tweezers for picking up the little weird-shaped tiles were lined up and accessible. Ditto safety goggles and rags. 

I taped down my image, overlaid it with a large mesh fabric grid to which I would glue hundreds of small square ceramic tiles. I would need to custom cut and grind the edges of additional shapes. Before I started installing the small tiles, however, I would need to cut away the larger, background subway tiles so the image would look like it was integrated into the wall. I approached each step as its own project with specific tools and materials. (If I looked at the whole, it was too overwhelming.) And while most of it was technical, there were times that creative solutions were needed to deal with an unexpected challenge. For example, I cut down standard square and rectangle ceramic tiles so I ended up with many sloped edge pieces. I found that some of the shapes (like the kettle handle and knife edges) worked well with placing all the sloped tiles in the same direction.

All in all, the prep made the actual doing seamless and enjoyable. For the most part!

If you don’t like the tedious or don’t have the patience for what some people find mad boring, then don’t do this kind of work! Use a more freeform style or choose a variety of mosaic stones so uniformity is not a component of your piece.

I’ve never gotten into yoga. Or meditation. They feel like a waste of time. But when I settle into a repetitious process that builds something beautiful, it feels like what others say meditation and yoga feel like. Grounding. Calming. Peaceful.

Wednesday, August 11, 2021

heaven can't help me–mini 1000 - 04

I mentioned in my last post that I fucking hate religion. Let me clarify. The vast majority of the people who know and love me are believers. They are kind and generous human beings. For the most part they do not communicate any of that "love the sinner, hate the sin" nonsense. I am grateful that they are in my life. My inner-inner circle has quite a few more atheists but there are believers in there as well. I still hate the power religion has over humanity but I love my people.

So much damage has been caused by religion over the millennia that you might be tempted to blame it on ancient shit. You know, doctrines based on biases from hundreds of years ago. Stuff that should be dismissed as a relic of another time. But you would be wrong. The damage is still here in spite of progress made by feminists, anti-racists, psychologists, philosophers, sociologists, etc.

How do I communicate this without outing anyone? Okay, here's the anonymized story: one of my best friends is a bright star in this world. Full of love and acceptance for everyone. Fiercely anti-racist and supportive of her LGBTQIA brothers and sisters both literal and metaphorical. She is both delightful and passionate. She has two children. One of her children recently found religion with an It's Yahweh or the Highway kind of fervor. This "revelation" has been rapid and smells like cult behavior. But, not my kid, not my nightmare. I do, however, ache for the pain my friend is experiencing. Let me explain.

Her youngest grandchild (offspring of this now “saved” child) is a toddler. He is an adorable bundle of a baby. Recently, she bought him an outfit. Here's what it looks like:

https://www.mydomaine.com/thmb/XGVA3gjWBNnC3TyvsQm2pSEIjAE=/700x796/filters:no_upscale():max_bytes(150000):strip_icc()/cdn.cliqueinc.com__cache__posts__237981__gender-neutral-baby-clothes-237981-1507309519604-main.700x0c-e0c0538dd67548748d1bf67ffb7d560b.jpg
Pretty much standard fare and pretty much adorable. Yet, here is the text her child's partner sent to her about this gift:

I'm not a fan of this weird ass crap you're running with buying these gay ass unisex/girl clothes. I'm grateful for the other clothes but I've been told you how I felted [sic] about that crap. If you feel like you can't buy normal boy clothes keep your money and your clothes. I don't need that gay stuff pushed on my seed. You can wait until a real baby girl is born. Stop with that crap. I'm trying to be nice about this.

All this bullshit because there was a UNISEX label on the outfit.

Let me start off with this irrepressible internal commentary: 

You’re not trying to be nice, you dick-for-brains. You are making an issue out of something so benign it defies comprehension. Also, "normal clothing" is a social construct (see how we dressed boys during the Victorian Era, moron) and he's your child, not your seed, bible-fucker. Your homophobia is so over-the-top one might question your own sexual issues. But your sexual hypersensitivity aside, let’s get back to religion.

Obviously, my friend’s child has taken her partner and his church’s dogma in: hook, line and sinker. The real shame is that this grown child was raised with more significant queer people in her life than most. If she had godmothers (or godlessmothers, as I like to refer to them...but enough about my preferences), they would be the two lesbians her mother has been close to for 35 years. If she had a (fairy) godfather, it would be my friend’s best friend. Not to mention all the relatives and teammates–a veritable cornucopia of queer goodness.

Now, suddenly, her child sees homosexuality as a sin and a choice. 30 years of exposure and she does this 180° turn. I’ve known this kid all her life. She is warm and funny and loving. She has always been headstrong and smart–the makings of a born feminist if I've ever met one. But I know this flip-flop can happen. Sometimes kids find one of their parent’s heartfelt beliefs and subconsciously choose to step hard on that core nerve. Anyway, my heart breaks for my friend. I am slightly hurt but I don’t take it personally. I think this kind of religious fervor is a type of mental illness. Oh, shit, there I’ve said it. Yes. When your life experience is absolutely contrary to the dogma you hear and you make the illogical choice to embrace fanaticism, well, I think there’s something amiss in your noggin.

Which is why when you don’t agree or understand a tenet of religion and are told to “take it on faith,” I am moved to vulgarity. Taking it on faith is the most manipulative and unprovable dodge of them all. Better you were told, nobody knows why, rather than that. But no, you get: God works in mysterious ways. We are not spiritually advanced enough to understand. What a clusterfuck of Mount Olympus proportions.

Or my other favorite: God is testing you. Oh, do fuck that. In my own period of religious illness, I used to think the story of Job was sacred. Look at his long-suffering! Look at his faith! Look at his humility! Over the years, I have revisited this archetype of the God-is-just-testing-you stories. So, God and Satan get in an argument about Job, the faithful servant. Satan says if God allows misery and hardship to rain down on him, Job will curse him. God says he won’t. Satan says he will. JUST YOUR TOP LEVEL MYTHICAL PISSING CONTEST. Of course, God takes the bait and lets Satan destroy everything Job loves, except the Evil One is forbidden to take Job's life. He destroys his livestock, his home, kills his family and afflicts him with boils (because what good Bible story worth its salt doesn’t include boils?). Why? As an example to believers about what righteousness looks like.

Remember we are told that God is a loving father and blesses us if we obey him. 

Unless there’s a hidden agenda, like when a baby dies of some curable, painful disease or from some vicious abuse and we’re handed this: they were so precious, God called them home early. Or some other shit-coated platitude. 

Or unless a favorite child of God (because face it, God plays favorites) had to die because a couple of ignoramuses in a garden ate some fruit, damned humanity and down the line, somebody had to pay hard for that. Because that’s logical as fuck. 

Or unless there’s a point to prove.  Remember that old chestnut: God commands you to kill your own son to show that you REALLY love Him. Attempted homicide as proof of love.

Okay. My point is that religion is illogical and unprovable. Some religions accept this and don’t try to explain contradictions or they weave new information into their story, like in the case of Intelligent Design (and I don’t have enough words to discuss that truckload of shit). But fanatical religions demand that you cede your logic (and quash your brain’s natural inclination to question) to this immovable monolith of obedience and faith. And that’s where the deep damage happens.

So anyway, fuck religion.

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

when agony killed the ecstasy–mini 1000 - 03

You know what happens to children if major developmental stages get blocked or interrupted? They don’t learn that thing well or ever. For example, if a child is not held or given affection they may grow up to have attachment issues or difficulty navigating social encounters. If they aren’t interacted with verbally, their speech and cognitive abilities may be delayed or permanently stunted.

So what happens when a child’s hand is figuratively or literally slapped every time they try to explore their sexual selves? What happens if the words dirty, naughty and sinful are repeated about their genitalia or breasts or anuses? What happens if sexual urges are made taboo and painted as disgusting? Well, look around you. We are a nation of sexually repressed, sexually deviant and sexually maladjusted humans.

Religion is fucking hateful. Some of you might say, C’mon, Epiphenita, this isn’t just religion’s fault. Really? How about the generations of religious doctrine that have cemented themselves into our culture’s structure about virginity? How about all the modern ways religion hijacks a woman’s right to control her body? The anti-trans, anti-LGBTQIA legislation that we see today? Moral judgments that dehumanized Black Lives were pounded into minds of stupid (and not-so-stupid) people openly from the pulpit for centuries. Hard-wired into most of our psyches are knee-jerk responses to the immutability of gender and sexual orientation. We are damaged by generational ignorance cloaked in religious dogma.

I am damaged. The neural pathways to pleasure were roadblocked/choked off by righteousness. Attempts at self-discovery were slapped and scolded into atrophy. Exploration in early relationships were taboo or awash in so much shame that any pleasure was poisoned by regret and fear.

One of my many memories about how I should see myself, my body and the mysterious “down there,” was from a church lesson. An old Sunday School teacher offered us a stick of gum and when we accepted it, she first unwrapped the gum and chewed it, substituting the new gum for a chewed up wad. Which, of course, was a not-at-all-veiled lesson about our purity. If we fooled around, we would be offering our future husbands a used piece of gum instead of a fresh, unbroken hymen. Let me count all the ways that that is a clusterfuck…

Another trip down Shitty Self-Worth Lane was when the bishop (lay minister) asked me in a private interview if I was “morally clean.” I was 13 and clueless. I didn’t know what that meant so, naturally, he began to list all the ways one became “unclean.” I was mortified. Worse than that, I began to scour my innocent little head for any infraction I had committed when I was younger. Perhaps as a little kid I had accidentally befouled my modesty and touched myself while taking a bath. I spent years sewing extra layers onto the hair shirt gifted to me by puritanical teachings, in the name of atonement.

Don’t get me wrong, long before we became Mormons, the taboo about not touching (or acknowledging) “down there” was clearly communicated. And it was rooted in cultural morality, a direct offshoot of religion. Mormonism just codified the fucking thing in my life.

Among the deeply fucked up ideas here was that all this was wrong and carnal UNTIL you got married (to a man, of course). In one “I do” moment that carefully crafted, meticulously riveted modesty belt was to be shucked and sex was suddenly okay. Not just okay, sex was necessary and righteous (for procreation, of course).

The upshot of it all was that even a married woman didn’t need to explore her sexual pleasure because A.) women weren’t sexual and B.) the man would know what to do and/or C.) the missionary position would be sufficient. Godknows you couldn’t tell your husband what to do to give you pleasure because you didn’t know yourself...unless you did, in which case you would implicate yourself as less than virginal before marriage. This is a formula for lifelong frustration.

I remember the first time I felt sexual arousal. I was probably 12 or 13, reading a “dirty” book at the home of one of the couples I babysat for. The pulsing sensation in my crotch was unexpected and frightening. More frightening because the shame was threaded with pleasure. (That’s a whole lifetime of therapy right there.) I squeezed my legs together, not because it might feel good but because I needed to kill the sensation. I never touched myself. I never got close enough to anything to even enjoy pressure on my genitalia. It was forbidden.

If it hadn’t been for decent pre-internet research skills, I might have entered marriage in a fog of ignorance. But I knew had to read and I learned a lot about sex and pleasure. Book learning. After a couple of years of marriage and reading Penthouse Forum, my ex gifted me with a vibrator and for the first time in my life, I finally understood what all the fuss was about. But it didn’t come easily, pun intended.

“Getting there” required an enormous effort to silence the self-righteous voices of authority in my head. The static was loud and interruptive. The moral judgments deafening. The resulting failures were damning and damming. I began to think of myself as Broken. Unfixable. Damaged goods. (Basically the same adjectives I was told would apply to a non-virgin before marriage.) This, of course, did not help. I also wondered if I had a physical condition that hobbled me. While pleasure short of orgasm was plentiful, it was also frustrating. To complicate things, I was gifted with a strong and thrumming sex drive. It all seemed a terrible cosmic joke at my expense.

Over the past few years I was introduced to/discovered two things. One was
The Vulva Gallery. (Eternal thanks to my youngest for this recommendation.) What a treasure. Seriously. Pages and pages of unique, gorgeous vulvas. As a young woman, I could see pictures of dicks without much trouble. They were everywhere. But an image of women’s genitalia? Non-existent outside of the few over-shaved and mostly homogeneous vulvas belonging to thin white women in pornography. But here was a rainbow of shapes and sizes. Here were prominent inner or outer labia, frilled or smooth. Clits of every size and shape. Some barely peeking out from the clitorial hood, some out and proud. Fuschia pink and deep brown and every shade in between. Vulvas covered in hair, vulvas sporting a thin line only. How wonderful. How comforting.

The second thing is this
site. OMGYes (such a great name) is basically a how-to for women’s pleasure. It is mind-blowing to me. It is what I might have discovered had those purity manacles not been slapped on me so young.

I don’t know if I can undo the damage. I hope so. I really hope so.

Monday, August 09, 2021

the second coming (out)–mini 1000 - 02

The first time I prepared to come out to my parents I was 25-years old. I'd been married, divorced and had two small children. It had been over seven years since I'd been financially dependent on them. And most importantly, I had a rare adult relationship with them. I wasn't going to ask for their blessing or permission, I would just be sharing my life with them. They weren't going to get a vote.

Being independent was empowering. It is hard for me to imagine having this discussion with them at 13 or 14. Yet, if they rejected me it would still be very painful. I arrived for our annual winter holiday trip with my two kids in tow. I planned on breaking the news at the end of my weeklong visit...I'm not an idiot, if this went south I didn't need 7 days of conflict.

Debbie and I had been involved since late summer of that year. I was fairly sure that this first relationship with a woman wasn't going to last. But I was also fairly sure that I would continue to see women. My parents had drifted away from Mormonism by then, as had I, but they still held very traditional, conservative views about marriage and children. At the same time, they treated my decisions with respect (or at least, without comment), so that was promising.

I was ready to have this conversation. At some point during the day before we were to leave, the phone rang with terrible news. My godmother, my mom's sister-in-law, was in the hospital ICU. Her ├╝ber religious second husband had beaten her unconscious and left her in a pool of blood. My mother, of course, ran to the hospital. Needless to say, now was not the time to come out to her. I decided to talk to my father without her and would ask him to wait for me to talk to her after the crisis had abated.

My father and I had a good adult relationship. I didn't see him as my sisters did with the love/hate adoration seen through the eyes of the children they once were. My father could be a real asshole but we had carved out this mutually respectful friendship. His rejection would not shatter me. My mother's rejection, however, would be awful.

I walked into his room, sat down and told him that I was in a relationship with a woman. I never called myself a lesbian or even a homosexual because I'm not. He was quiet and then said the thing that all good parents should say, you are my daughter–I love you no matter what. I knew he didn't approve but I also knew he would be respectful. I asked him not to tell mom, that I would tell her once the trauma of my aunt's situation subsided.

Well, he didn't wait and when I talked to my mom the day after I got home, she let me know that she knew. She was distant but still there. It broke my heart but the coming out was done.

I ended the relationship with Debbie not long after this. It was not pretty. Layered over this experience was the growing concern that my ex-husband's previously open mind about my sexual ambidexterity was unexpectedly closing fast. I decided to go back to dating men. And I did. In spring of that year, I met the Saint at work. I was very attracted to her but skittish about my ex and truthfully, skittish about any possible long term commitment, so I kept my distance romantically. We became good friends. By the fall, I stopped fighting my attraction and we started seeing each other. I, of course, shared this information with my parents, who predictably had hoped the end of my first relationship was also the end of this phase. Sorry, folks.

It took another year for them to agree to meet her and the rest, as they say, is history. My mother's love for my spouse rivals her love for me. And I'm so good with that. For the first few years my father didn't quite know what to do with her. Chuck her on the shoulder or give her a hug? (a hug, Dad, always a hug, you nincompoop), offer to watch football with her (my father hated sports) and/or offer her a beer?, etc. Eventually, he got as comfortable as he got with anyone so she was mostly ignored by him while he did whatever he wanted. She became their fifth daughter.

About twenty-five years later my older sister came out. I like to roll my eyes with a: Puh-lease, I’ve already blazed this trail and broken them in for you! (I’m quite sure it was still not that easy for her.) My parents now were batting 500 on the straight/queer daughter stat and they became exemplary in their acceptance and love for us and our spouses.

All good, right? They added a gay grandson to the mix and soon the family will include my NB youngest, who is not quite out to them at this point.

Then a few years ago, because of a comment I made or perhaps something I had posted on social media, my mom asked me a question. She said, I didn’t know you were bisexual!? Like, she was upset. I said, well, I thought you knew because I’ve never hidden that and I've talked about it openly. She asked if my late father knew, to which I replied, I thought he did but perhaps not? It floored me that having done the work and practice of accepting her (I guess she thought of me as a lesbian) gay daughter, the idea that I could still be attracted to men was very foreign and upsetting to her. How is that for a second coming out? My sweet, traditional mom was completely comfortable with me being with women and unnerved that I might be attracted to men!

Some of this might be due to the stupid ideas people have about bisexuals or more accurately for me, pansexuals. The concept of hypersexuality and fence-sitting are old and outdated. The notion that pansexuals will stray in a relationship because they are attracted to more types of people confuses sexual desire with the choice to be in a committed relationship or not. Which is not about monogamy or polyamory but communication and whatever contract you have with your partner(s).

But some of this is probably due to the way we are overly comfortable putting people in boxes. If you think I am a lesbian and find out otherwise, it may fuck with your sense of order in the universe. The whole coming out process should jostle that process but it doesn’t always broaden acceptance of others-not-like-us. Rather, it can simply add another box or two that we can be plunked down into. A few new categories, same rigid approach to categorization. I think it's time to break down those boxes.

Sunday, August 08, 2021

can't believe i'm doing this again–mini 1000 - 01

Here we are again. I've accepted another writing challenge from Jami Attenberg. The timing is never great because my dance card is always full of (mostly) exciting and creative things to do. Ironically, writing is one of those things on the dance card that benefits from a regular push. It's also weird that this solitary exercise is shared by 2,000 strangers who have signed up as well.

Her suggestion to start this one off is simple: "I'm writing today because..."

There's a song by Anna Nalick called "Breathe." Here's my favorite lyric (and frankly, most people's favorite lyric from this song):

2 AM and I'm still awake, writing a song
If I get it all down on paper, it's no longer inside of me,
Threatening the life it belongs to.

I resonate with the way words can torture the life they belong to.

I have described the urge to write as mental voices clamoring to be heard in a crowd. Like a tense news conference. Or during a catastrophe. Or fans at a concert. A cacophony of ideas elbow their way to the front of my brain and demand release. And the loudest mostly win, though not always. This is a violent metaphor and it may not serve me well all the time but it paints the best picture.

I'm writing today because there are thoughts that stay tangled or obscured until I pluck them out, smooth them out and sort them out. The process of clarifying is so gratifying. Parsing out issues and discovering connections and threads of commonality among expected and disparate ideas...which process leads to other tangled ideas and an endless stockpile of mysteries and epiphanies (or in my case, epiphenitas).

Perhaps that's too academic. Perhaps I am just arrogant enough to think my worldview is worth listening to.

Then there's this. Every week I read the postcards on Postsecret.com. This is a real life project involving folks from all over the world sending anonymous postcards detailing their secrets to this guy named Frank. Sometimes when he talks about the project, it feels a little self-help-y which makes me wince. But mostly, I love when a secret strikes a sympathetic chord and someone out there knows they are not alone. I suppose that's another reason I love to write. I love the shock and awe of saying things that people think but are too uncomfortable, scared or ashamed to admit. I love the idea that someone reads my words and gains a bit of courage to acknowledge shit that they have hardly admitted to themselves. I love the idea of starting dialogue about cultural taboos that only serve to hobble us.

When I was a kid I kept a diary. A big thing that I made out of loose leaf paper and illustrated card stock covers. Children are dramatic because so many things are new and raw and shiny to them. They have yet to form callouses. Of course you know the ending to this story. My sisters found my poorly concealed diary and mocked me. I don't know much they mocked me because it took just the slightest pressure to hit all those raw, naive nerves. I was what you call a "sensitive" child. 

I destroyed the diary and never really kept one again. Until I started this blog some 20 years ago. But this is public and in that way, more carefully written. Words have been the way I make sense of the world, resolve conflict and tease out laughter for most of my life. Maybe I just love them and I want to play with them.

Television or movie storytelling is fraught with conflict, right? It has to be so we can be entertained by the resolution of such conflict. When I watch a show, I am terrible about people talking through it. It irritates the fuck out of me to have people talk during a story. However, how many times during a drama (particularly one that you are re-watching) that you want to yell at the screen, “JUST TELL HER!” or “HE DOESN’T UNDERSTAND” at the pivotal point where everything goes sideways and could have been turned around by the simplest of communications? How many times have you thought, all this shit could have been avoided if you just said how you felt? Or if you just told the truth about some overblown and foolish secret?

Okay, so plotlines are formulaic and people are not linear or emotionally clear in their reactions. I get it. But this is where I want to part ways with non-fictional and fictional stories. If someone tells me that I’ve stepped on their toes or I tell someone that I think they’re attractive, then maybe we can avoid years of resentment or misunderstanding because life is fucking short and what a waste! It does, however, require courage to bare one's soft underbelly.

I get why people shut the fuck up. Repress. Make pretend they are not offended or don’t have feelings. Because turmoil and untangling intent and words is damned hard. And awkward. But, for me, misunderstanding is worse. It’s the slow burn and murky undercurrent that fucks with my sense of being grounded in the world. Suppressing resolution is self-gaslighting. I can’t trust my gut reaction to a situation. Or I feel like the world is building a facade about reality because the truth is problematic. I don’t operate well with that. So I break those cultural niceties and smash taboos to get some clarity. Sometimes, it works really well but, more often than not, it remains awkward and unresolved. Mostly that’s a risk I’m willing to take.

Over the years of writing/communicating, I’ve learned a thing or two about timing and patience. I’ve learned that approaching an issue with more information, more compassion and less entrenchment makes me a better communicator. Even when I say I want to burn the whole fucking thing to the ground, I have to follow it up with words that do more than hurl 360° of emotional napalm. I want to understand. I want to convince. I want to hear solutions or ideas that change the course.

Anyway, that’s why I write today.

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

FU, SO (twos-14)

The theme of this post is Fuck Up, Start Over.

I fuck up as much as the next person so I'm not special. However, my tolerance for fucking up has been historically low. Unhealthily low. How you learn to manage fuck-ups is a life skill.

But first, let me tell you about my day: I spilled the cooked rice I was serving to accompany the salmon I was cooking for breakfast (savory for breakfast has been one of adulthood's delightful discoveries.) three times. I had to stop and clean up the floor and countertop three times because I assumed each time that was the last time I'd make that mistake. I also spilled those powdery flakes of Stevia sweetener all over the other countertop twice. My countertops are black. It looked like a dusting of new snow but not as endearing. I'm working on a small sewing project (that must remain undocumented because it's a little gift for someone who may not see it early...I am all about the surprise) that I managed to complete the hard part of (design and layout) only to repeatedly fuck up the easy part (execution). I also dropped my needle for the umpteenth time on a needle-eating area rug. Which meant everything had to stop while I darkened the room and shone a flashlight on a much wider area than you would think a goddamn needle would travel being dropped from 24". Not finding it, by the way, was not an option because this needle is big enough to create a viable piercing. I eventually found it.

Now, you may be saying, "wow, I wish I had such minor problems to kvetch about!" and you would be right. These are the stubbed toe of serious bodily injury problems. They are, however, the incidental things that break a person. The big problems require adrenaline and focus, the little things just pile up and erode you. They are also metaphors.

I am a plodder. Not an attractive adjective but there you have it. When shit piles up, I take a portion of it and begin the slow process of untangling. Actually that's a good metaphor. I will untangle thread/yarn when most people might cut out the snarl and tie the two ends together. It is a impatience-defying act. I haven't always been a plodder. I used to be a crier. A whiner.

When I used to fuck up physically, like falling off a step stool and bonking the hell out of my head, or emotionally, like upsetting someone because I didn't understand/pay attention, or creatively, like failing to come up with a good design solution, I would do a few things. First, I puled like a fucking toddler. Usually this was an internal sulk as I didn't like anyone to have a record of my tantrum. Then, I would fight imposter syndrome or self-flagellation for my stupidity and finally, I would begin the process of starting over. Talking myself out of imposter syndrome and/or stupidity has gotten easier over the years. First of all, I remind myself, you have a proven track record for doing good work and secondly, you are not stupid, so cut that shit out.

Starting over is where the heroics begin. Even if they're small and seemingly insignificant. Starting over is forgiveness, self-confidence and bravery. It is also where the most learning occurs. There is no doubt that we learn more from fucking up than we ever do from doing it perfect the first time. I'd like to think that's not just because the shame of fucking up makes us pay more attention or be more focused. I'd like to think it's not that punitive...and that the process of parsing out a mistake really involves some new insights and sparks new ideas.

I thought that one of the things I'd learn would be how to make fewer mistakes but I'm not sure that ever happens. I may learn not to make that particular mistake again (like the Saint and I have made a pact never to go above the second stepstool step unless the other one is there. That third step is a doozy.) but making rookie mistakes seems to be a thing that never really goes away. I continue to break egg yolks while separating eggs for baking–a task that I have done more or less successfully for 30 years. I have stubbed my toe in a space that I have walked past 300 times, as if someone moved the furniture but nobody did. I have put my shirt on inside out or mismatched my shoes and not discovered it until hours into my work day. I have, at 62, gotten too stoned for simple conversation.

But now, when I fuck up. I find it funny. Unless, it is dangerous. Oh, shit, I still find it funny. Let me give you an example (raise your hand if you've already heard this story.):

I did some contract work for a big company. The kind of company that has a compound where you can drop off your dry cleaning or get a haircut at work. Almost-like-you-could-live-there-and-never-leave-creepy. Anyway, I had a great boss who was on maternity leave. I was also still hustling for other contract jobs and that day I had an interview at Shell for another position. I'd worn a silk blouse and about halfway through the day for whatever reason, I started to perspire (probably undiagnosed peri-menopause) and I know how not-professional sweat-stained silk looks so I crammed tissues into my armpits to stem the tide. My boss needed to send me some work and had her husband drop it off in my office. He's a good guy and we chatted for a few minutes. After he left I glanced down and goddammit if I hadn't forgotten to rebutton my blouse after the erecting the tissue barricade. I had talked to my boss's husband with my shirt open and my bra proudly waving its bosom flag. Years before this, I'd have been mortified. Morti-fucking-fied. But fucking up had become less of an issue by then and laughter had filled in the spaces. A woman with more decorum might not have immediately called up her boss and shrieked that she'd just flashed her husband but I, not enchanted by protocol, told her anyway.

To recap, you gather up all the broken bits, skip the imposter syndrome and self-flagellation, and figure out how to start over. Sometimes that means starting over the next day once you've gotten some perspective and sleep. Sometimes that means sweeping it all in the trash and really starting over.

So, keep fucking up and starting over. It's the human condition and you might as well enjoy it.

P.S. I did it! I wrote 14 posts of 1,000+ words each. I am so proud I could plotz.

cafe con leche, lots of leche (twos-13)

The place where one distinct biome comes face-to-face with another is a place of dynamic change. No wonder borders are so fascinating. And so ripe for academic and cultural study.

I have lived in the place between cultures my whole life. I am not alone; there are so many brilliant books written on first generation vs immigrant, mixed race vs less-mixed-race, mixed-religion homes, etc. However, I think my transitional zone is a bit unique.

ETHINICITY

My first memory of straddling two, and consequently belonging to neither, cultures was about being half Puerto Rican/half Irish.* My surname and my father's darker complexion/hair placed me in the "other" category but my looks, dark hair and eyes notwithstanding, essentially pegged me as white. My father's weird mix of Puerto Rican pride and the push toward white assimilation was transferred to me and my sisters. I didn't learn Spanish and I didn't speak English with a Spanish accent, I just sounded like every other white person in my neighborhood. We ate some Puerto Rican foods but didn't hang out with our father's family that much (see next section: Religion). We didn't sport a Puerto Rican flag or march in the PR parade. We were raised far from New York City's barrios out in the safe, white suburbs.

I studiously worked at studying and speaking Spanish all my life but never came close enough to call myself fluent. I wanted to connect to my Latin roots but I never felt like I could.

My identity was mixed. Cafe con lots of leche.

One of my best friends in high school was a light-skinned, Black-Portuguese girl. We talked a lot about being barely-visible minorities. She relayed a conversation with a friend's mom about me being Puerto Rican. The woman countered with, well, she (me) could pass for French or Italian or anything. I remember this as the first time I consciously realized that being French or Italian or anything was seen as preferable to my actual ethnicity.

RELIGION

And if being a weird mixed ethnicity kid in a predominantly Italian/Irish/Jewish public school wasn't enough, Dad became a Mormon when I was eight years old. Of course, the whole family followed him because that's the way we rolled: whatever Dad did/said was what we all did.

Now, I belonged to a religion that was born and nourished by an enclave of straight white men in the conservative state of Utah. So I didn't fit in with my Catholic/Protestant/Jewish Long Island classmates and eventually I learned that I didn't really fit in Provo's (home of Brigham Young University and reduntantly bland casseroles) homogeneous Mormon culture either.

But I was a true believer. My fervent, nun-like obedience also made me an anomaly among my less religious friends (most of them) and that my religion was Mormon widened the gap. I was the only Puerto Rican/Irish Mormon kid in my class. Each of my sisters occupied the same weird place in theirs (though neither of them was as fanatical as I was).

Our family's adherence to Mormonism also drove a wedge between us and the extended family. I think we might have had more interaction with my father's family had our decidedly un-Catholic, teetotalling beliefs made it difficult to socialize with them or my mother's family.

After many years (and adulthood), my religious zeal petered out and I found myself most comfortable with atheism. And then I moved to fanciest buckle on the Bible belt: Texas. Sigh. Southerners don't love non-believers unless they think they can convert them. Another area where I just wasn't going to fit in.

ORIENTATION PLUS

Around the same time as I lost my faith, I discovered my ambidextrous queerness. A discovery that not only separated me from my family but also, by not picking the gay or the straight team, did not endear me to gay culture either. Not to mention that I had children which was not a way to win queer friends in 1986.

AND I was a terrible faux lesbian. I don't like sports, camping, plaid or pets. I liked art history, design and literature. My Venn Diagram didn't intersect with any of the Saint's softball buddies. And they thought I was "femme" which irritated me no end. I thought I could escape gender stereotypes in the gay community and boy (pun intended), was I wrong.

To add to the challenge: I'm not a fan of monogamy. A concept, ironically, that most straight and lesbian people are in total thumbs-down agreement on. I'm not an evangelist for the cause but I'm also not averse to talking about polyamory. It not often a comfortable conversation, however.

To top all this off, I am big. I am a 3X woman in a size 6 world. I have had to learn to navigate the White, Christian, Straight, Thin world of the 21st century. The judgmental noise from advertising, talk shows and compulsive diet/workout culture is deafening.

BEST OF ALL WORLDS

If this sounds all "woe is me" than I haven't written it well. These are the ways that I have lived between cultures. Just the reality of my life. But I don't feel rejected or depressed about any of it. If anything, my life without religion or religious acceptance is much richer. The fact that I don't fit into a neat gay or straight category is just fine. And the ethnic mix continues to evolve as does our society's acceptance of all kinds of ethnic mixes. I've derived great strength from accepting my physical form. No, more than accepting, I have embraced the largess of my largeness.

I've learned to value not fitting in; it just doesn't bother me anymore. And most of my friends today don't mind all the ways I overlap categories. Besides, our culture doesn't prize purebreds the way it once did. I think embracing my a-typicalness has been a great, healthy journey. I feel more interesting. I enjoy challenging my own and other people's stereotypes. I also find I'm quicker to accept a wider range of people because...well, who the fuck am I to judge? Finally, being open to other people who defy stereotypes has given me a humbling education.

I have learned to move through the world in my oversized body, my barely visible latinx-ness, my non-theism and my queerness. And take up space in all these quadrants whether others are comfortable or not.

* I used to think I was Puerto Rican and Irish. Through the mostly reliable DNA tracing craze I've learned I'm Puerto Rican, Jewish, Northern European with some Native blood and African ancestry thrown in.