Wednesday, November 17, 2010

art

I spent some time recently having some work done on my body. I've been doing a lot of work on my internal stuff, so it seemed time to decorate my outside. Here's what my arm looked like early last Friday afternoon:


I had booked an appointment with Jennifer Moore at Sanctuary Tattoo in Portland, Maine back in July? August? It was months ago, I know that much. The economy is in the toilet, but she's booked solid for months ahead. Go figure. I made a second appointment at the same time, knowing that we'd need more than one visit for the work I wanted done.

Regular readers here know that I am attending seminary with designs on becoming a minister in the Unitarian Universalist tradition. Luckily, it's a rather non-traditional tradition. The symbol of the UU faith tradition is a chalice with a flame. There are lots of versions of it out there, some official, some not, some ornate, some simple. I found one that was made in the style of a Celtic knot and decided I wanted it on the inside of my right arm. Like so:


The placement of this tattoo is purposeful. It is for me to see, not necessarily for me to show the world. I want to be reminded, always, that every time I reach out my hand, I am a representative of my faith tradition. I am that UU that someone might remember, and I want to be mindful of that in my interactions with people. How do I want them to remember that UU minister? Yeah. So that's there for me. The picture above shows the original transfer of the design. Jennifer and I wanted it to be taller, but to do that would have meant the wings of the chalice would have wrapped much too far around, so she free-hand drew longer flames. Here is what it looked like by the time she got done inking in the outline:


See the longer flame? It ended up being more trinity-ish than I had intended, but that's ok. I am not as fearful of the Trinity as some. Christianity is part of our tradition, even if the Unitarians rejected the notion of a god with three parts, the Universalists had less issue with it. I like to grumble on occasion that UUs will celebrate the holidays of every god but three. We'll do solstice, we'll do Hanukkah, we'll do Kwanzaa, hell, we'll do things that one member might remember from childhood in the old country even though none of the rest of us have ever heard of it, but look out! Don't we freak out a bit when someone mentions baby Jesus on December 24. Look, I know that the UU church is a faith tradition of many refugees who have been treated badly by other churches, and that many of those other churches were Christian. But I won't give the guy called Jesus a hard time. He was a man after my own heart: loud-mouthed, opinionated, prone to pissing off those in charge, a champion of the oppressed. There is a fair amount of mythology built around his life and teachings, including the belief that he was the son of god, the second arm of the Trinity. I find that idea no more or less ridiculous than believing in tree spirits or the gods of water and air. It works for some. Good for them. It doesn't work for others. Good for them, too. But no hitting, kids. There is value in all faiths. Sort out the bullshit that mankind has built up around each faith and you're likely to find very similar things inside. And that's good. End of sermon for today. I have a trinity flame on my wrist. I like it there. And here is what it looks like shaded in:


The heart is important in a lot of ways and for a lot of reasons. A Celtic knot of interwoven hearts is a beautiful thing. I liked this design:


Minus, of course, the rosary beads. But really, that's the image I liked best. Jennifer did amazing things to that design, stretching it here and there, squeezing it in other places, to make it so it would translate well on a three-dimensional irregular cone that is my forearm. Oh, and one that moves and will twist in interesting ways. Here is what it looked like in process:

We decided that the spaces in the knot would be black, so Jennifer set about filling them in. It was a long process, and when we took a break and she snapped this next picture, we'd been at the actual tattooing stuff for about 5 hours:


Yeah, I was tired. For the record, five hours is about when the endorphins just completely run out. The last hour was brutal. But here's what it looked like when the voids were filled:

and here is what the chalice looks like overlapping the edges of the heart knot:


You can see at the bottom of the chalice where we left the two ends of the knot open. Jennifer is going to connect them with some custom thing she'll draw for our next appointment. I was done after this session. I was exhausted, and I am sure she was too. She smeared me with gooey salve stuff, wrapped my whole arm thrice in plastic wrap, taped the edges and sent me off into the night with aftercare instructions and a hug.

The tattoo is healing well. It was really sore for a couple days, but now it is at that awful itchy stage where all I want to do is take at it with a green pot scrubbie. Aaaarrrrgggghhhhh. I won't do it, but DAMN it itches.

I will go back next month to get all the colors done, plus to fill in a couple gaps and to finish that knot across the underside of the chalice. I expect that date will hurt as much as this one did. Oof. Still, it's going to be very, very, VERY cool when it's done.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

oh dear. I'm a bass.

ok. so I am not doing so well at this NaBloPoMo thing. that's two days I have missed in 9. oops.

I am not going to beat myself up about it, but will continue as best I can with truths.

Day 10 truth: I am a bass.

I fish. You know that. I fish for trout mostly, and bass later in the summer when the trout slow down. First a few words about their personalities.

Trout are persnickety fish. Temperamental. Fussy. Uncooperative.

For example, if the water temperature is too cold, they won't bite. If the water is too warm, they won't bite.

If the water level is high from a rain, they won't bite. If the water is low from lack of rain, they won't bite.

If they want a fly and you offer a worm, they won't bite. If they want a worm and you offer one, but don't put it in exactly the right place and make it move in precisely the right way, they won't bite.

If the moon is full, they won't bite. If they are within a few miles of the coast and the tides are astronomically high, they won't bite. Even safely in their freshwater lakes.

Pain in the ass fish, trout.

Bass.

Bass are larger, bulkier fish. They have hard scales unlike the silky tiny things on a trout's skin. Bass are territorial, staking out a place they like and defending it from intruders. They will eat when there is food available, even if they are not hungry.

You throw something out there that makes a splash, sparkles, wiggles a little bit and maybe makes a little noise, and that bass is going to hit it.

every.
damned.
time.

Which is why, when someone wants me do do something, to volunteer for this or that, they'll have the pretty woman with the flirty charms call and cajole me into it. Because they know I'll strike at it. Every. damned. time.

This weekend, I shared this philosophy with some friends. Most of the guys sided with me on the bass end of the scale. Most of the women agreed that we were bass. And most of them appeared to be trout. Even the ones that sparkle and wiggle just right.

Sigh.

It's not easy being a bass.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

made it! (Not quite)

It is just past midnight and I missed the deadline for NaBloPoMo for Saturday.

But you know what? I wouldn't trade this Saturday for the world.

Bonus is that this post now counts for Sunday. I'm going to try to keep the rest of November honest and post every day. Tired now. Will write more on Monday.

Friday, November 5, 2010

weekend at home with some friends

Day 5 truth: I am in a happy place right now.

It's the truth. Not Disneyland, but happy just the same. And having been to Disneyland as a child, I'd hazard a guess that this retreat/workshop weekend is wholly less weird and creepy than 7-foot tall "dwarves" with heads the size of Barcaloungers. Just saying.

Where I am: I am at a conference center in the Berkshires of Massachusetts with something like 70 of my closest friends. I walked in the door and got hugs and greetings from a dozen people and it was marvelous. These people are serious about hugs. Black belt huggers, I think would be an appropriate description. These are not those silly cheek-to-cheek-kiss-the-air-in-your-general-vicinity kinds of hugs, oh no. These are full-frontal, heart-to-heart, warm, loving hugs that can last a minute or more. It is heavenly.

I had a massage this week from a Reiki Master, ordained minister in the church of the Feminine Divine who also happens to be a psychiatric RN and has a bunch of other impressive initials after her name. She was referred to me by my therapist, and she does lots of work with people healing from childhood trauma. It was the first nurturing touch I have experienced in a while, and it was overwhelming. I expect this weekend will be overwhelming as well. I'm looking forward to it. So much so that I'm not going to freak out too hard if I don't make Saturday's NaBloPoMo entry. Oh, I'll pledge now to try, but I am not going to give myself a hernia to make it happen, especially if there is wonderfullness here that I would rather partake of instead.

Be well.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

digging deep

Day 4 truth: what happens to an infant matters later in life.

When a baby is born, there are some pretty basic things it needs: one end kept full, the other end kept empty, warmth, no loud noises, and being held and cuddled and cooed over.

When I was born, I was the sixth child of a single mother 23 years old. I was the only one sired by my father, the first three having one father, the next two another, and then me. No high school education, no job skills, and the year was 1965. Birth control was illegal in Massachusetts back then. A woman in my mother's situation didn't have a lot of choices about how she could support herself. Chances are good she hooked up with men who could take care of her and her kids. My parents never married. Indeed, they split up early in my life. I did not get a lot of regular attention as far as I can tell. What probably happened was I woke up yelling, was changed, given a bottle and stuck in a playpen. When I yelled, chances are the pattern was repeated, but not always, and not regularly.

When I came to live with my father's sister and parents, I was eight months old and could not sit up on my own. I thrived on the love and attention I got there, but some pretty basic lessons had already been learned. Life was not secure. Sometimes I got hungry and nobody fed me. Sometimes my diaper needed changing and nobody did it for a long time. And sometimes I was left alone in my playpen, with no stimulation for a very long time. I was not held or cuddled or nurtured much at all, I bet.

Psychologists tell us that the first year of a baby's life is when she learns that she is loved and safe and that people care for her and keep her warm and fed and dry. I didn't get that until I was 8 months old. Irreparable damage was already done. Much as I absorbed the love and affection and nurturing heaped upon me by my aunt and grandparents, there was an underlying desperation that made me want to crawl inside their skins to be with them and be held and loved. It is only now that I am able to identify and name that need.

I remember when I was little, after my father married and took me away from my aunt and grandmother, how I longed to go back for visits, how I loved to be held and cuddled and hugged when I went! My father and stepmother did not hide their disdain for my need for physical affection, and instructed me not to hug my aunt and grandmother (my grandfather had died by then) like I wanted (needed) to. I was scolded and punished if I was too affectionate with them.

The pattern was set. My source for love and affection and physical touch for my formative years was going to be my aunt and grandmother, and my father controlled when I got to see them and get my need for love met. I don't know whether it was fortunate or not, but my grandmother loved me very much and would insist that I come visit during school vacations. That set things up for me to be used as a pawn. My father extracted all kinds of things from his mother in order for him to bring me to her. He needed money to fix the truck. He couldn't afford my braces, so she paid, and countless other things I heard discussed in tense tones over the telephone in the kitchen as I lay in my bed praying that I please, please, please God, be allowed to go to visit over the holidays.

Thus, love became a bargaining chip, a thing that was withheld as punishment, a thing that could be denied if I misbehaved, or if my grandmother did not pay up. It was never guaranteed. It was always something I didn't dare hope for, for fear of having my hopes dashed. But my heart hoped anyway, and often it was broken. Often I was denied.

I remember wanting my father to love me. God, but I just wanted him to be happy with me, to be proud of me, to tell me he loved me for no reason but I was his daughter and he was glad of it. But it didn't happen.

I still want it.

Inside, I am still a very hurt child who wants her father to love me, to show affection, to hold me just because and to tell me he's proud of me.

As far as I can tell, he has never been capable of that. The truth of the matter is, he probably will never be capable of showing me the kind of love I needed from a father.

And now I have an opportunity to go see him on his birthday. He will be 69 years old. He has Alzheimer's. He's never going to be better than he is now. And what he is now is not great.

This will take some more thinking.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

truth: trepidation

Today I am tired.

I was up very late last night reading about Christians in Africa, and getting more and more disgusted with the human race and western missionaries in particular. Good grief.

Learned a lot, wrote a little, and then learned some more in class tonight with a really cool guy who just happens to be a Christian from Africa. Only he's a native African. Waaaaaaayyyyyy different perspective. Very, very cool session.

I won't go into the political situation out country and my state is in after yesterday's elections. I have bigger fish to fry.

You all know my story of infant abandonment, I have probably outlined some of the bullying and abuse that my father visited upon me as a child and the manipulation and passive-aggressive behavior instilled by everyone else.

And you may remember that my father has been diagnosed in the past year or two with Alzheimer's.

My sister told me yesterday that he has asked that I be invited to celebrate his birthday this year in early December.

I am unsure what to do, beyond checking with my therapist and thinking hard about such a decision. It could be an opportunity for closure. It could be an opportunity for healing and forgiveness. It could be an ambush.

I am concerned, and with reason. I am learning now in therapy just what lessons about safety, security and love I learned from this guy. I am sure he did not intend to screw me up forever, but he could not give what he did not have, and I came from a rough place to start. Whatever the case, I learned some pretty screwed up things at the time in my life when I should have been learning security and love. I'll write more about them tomorrow. Tonight I am just trying to get enough written to post before midnight and not feel embarrassed about a pathetic effort.

And I think this just barely makes it.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

breathing

In the cold light of morning, things often look differently than they did the night before.

After a night's sleep, some morning coffee, a gently prodding yet compassionate note from a friend, I was able to regain the focus that had been so skewed last night. On the ride to church, I was able to do some thinking, and I came to some pretty profound realizations.

First, what happened last night was I got triggered. My past stuff got brought right to the surface in a very uncomfortable way. Once again I was a scared kid in the schoolyard, pushed and shoved by kids who fit in and laughed at by everyone, with no one to step in and protect me. Once again I was being bullied at home, humiliated and shamed, screamed at and threatened, and nobody -- no other parent, no grandparent, no aunt, no cop, no neighbor -- came to my aid. I would go outside afterward, knowing that the neighborhood had heard me scream and cry and be ashamed that I was bad and had been punished and they all knew. If I could hear their dinner table conversations in a summer evening from my bedroom, I knew they could hear me screaming and begging from inside my house.

The time I speak of, I was 11. It sucked.

So I was triggered by the idea of an adult who, in my mind, could do something to stop a kid from being bullied, but who did not.

And then there is the other side of that coin.

I am not a huge fan of the concept of sin, but I will use it in this instance.

The sins that weigh heaviest on my soul are the instances in which I could have stepped in to stop a bully but I did not, for whatever reason. I think I have told the story here about a young kid who wanted to wear an outrageous t-shirt to a political march, and some adults took him aside and pressured him to change his shirt so as not to offend anyone. They used their positions of authority as adults to bully this kid into conforming to what they thought he should be. I didn't intercede on his behalf, and it has eaten at me ever since.

So what I've got is a basic case of Freudian reaction-formation: what I cannot abide in myself, I shall loathe in others. I will hold others to a standard that I fail to meet. Ouch.

Oh dear. So it seems that my rage and self-righteous indignation last night are really all about my own shit. Well, ain't that a grand Sunday morning kind of revelation? Hmph.

The question that faces me now, as I begin my path as a minister who must be concerned with people's hearts and not an activist concerned with the often heartless world of politics, has to do with compassion and not judgement. The former will be my job. The latter will not. Nor, for the record, is it now.

How, then, do I arrive at a place of compassion without first wanting to smack someone soundly in the chops? How do I get to a place where I can meet a person where they are and lead them gently to where they can be?

Yes, kids are dying. Yes, this is urgent. But urgency on my part is not necessarily enough to overcome a lifetime of shame and fear in someone else's present.

There is much for me to learn.

Blessed be.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

trembling with rage

I am home early from an event. A political fundraiser. Cheap, over-cooked spaghetti dinner and silent auction of items I didn't want and didn't bid on. Seated with a group of people from my old church - the one I left last spring, we talked politics and disagreed immediately. Let's just say we have very different understandings of what "liberal" means. I mean "liberal." They mean "centrist."

Then Mr. Political Big Shot walks into the room.

Mr. REALLY BADLY CLOSETED Political Big Shot. The one who votes for glbt people all the time, but who never has come out himself. Only I remember his early days, back before he was as big of a big shot as he is now, when he was casual about his gayness, when it was nobody's BIG SHAMEFUL SECRET and when I kinda respected him.

But then he got to be a kind of big shot in local stuff, and he ducked into the closet a little. Then he ran for bigger offices, and kept going further and further back into the closet until now, when NOBODY will talk about the BIG SECRET.

He's gay.

And that's great. I am too. Whoopee.

I am glad when people are happy with their orientations and identities and all. I am happy when people adjust and change their expressions as they grow and evolve, and I do my best to be supportive of all types of those expressions. Even if I don't get it, so long as nobody's being hurt and everybody's consenting, I won't much squawk.

Gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, questioning, queer, and just plain different kids are being bullied to the point where they think the only way to get out of that kind of horrific pain and loneliness is to kill themselves.

Kids are dying. Children as young as 12 and 13. Young adults of 19 and 20.

They are dying of SHAME.

That shame is something they are taught by us adults. We, as society, tell them that sex -- particularly non-straight sex -- is shameful and should be hidden. We tell them that being gay is not OK when we lie about who we are and whom we love.

To remain closeted in this time, when kids are dying, is to put one's own comfort, one's own personal motives -- whatever they may be -- over the lives of our kids. KIDS. CHILDREN.

We are grown-ups. IT IS OUR JOB TO LEAD. It is our job to SET A GOOD EXAMPLE. Not to reinforce all those shameful messages the kids are getting from too many other sources.

Dante said that the hottest places in hell are reserved for those who, in times of great moral crisis, stand idly by and DO NOTHING.

This is about protecting our children. I remember what it was like to be bullied and have nobody step up to protect me. At school it happened, and at home it happened.

And nobody spoke for me. It is a wonder I lived. It is a wonder I am as high-functioning as I am. I am lucky.

I won't out him. But I'll be damned if I'll shake his hand, either, or stay in a room where he is.

And you know what? I won't vote for his opponent, but I sure as hell won't vote for him, either.

Kids are dying. It's time to get over yourself. Come out! Kids are dying.

The next dead kid is on your hands, Mister Big Shot.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Fire hose

I am not sure how it happened, but it is October already. I received a gentle reminder from a friend that there are people who are interested in how the school thing is going and an update might be well received. I am blessed this week with kindness and love in many forms. More about that later.

School is amazing. It is challenging and invigorating and overwhelming and exhausting. It is like trying to get a drink from a fire hose. There is so much information to absorb and it seems to be coming from all directions at once. I find that every waking moment not involved in cooking or eating meals or personal hygiene seems to be take up with reading. I have never experienced this volume of work before in my life. There is no time for work work. I am reading and writing between 50 and 60 hours each week. Student loans will keep me afloat this year.

For classes, I am taking: Introduction to Buddhism, Introduction to the New Testament (part 1 of 2), Introduction to Islam, and History of the Church in the Global South. I drive to school three days a week, for classes, most of which are in the evenings. Books were moderately expensive, and there are dozens of them. I have papers to write every week, meditations to practice, and it seems like the more I learn the less I know. It's an amazing process.

Of the eight incoming new students I was a part of at orientation in September, all are women and half identify as queer in some way. I am the only Unitarian Universalist student presently enrolled at the Bangor campus, which makes me something of a curiosity in many of my classes. I had expected to struggle with sexism and/or homophobia from my colleagues and professors, but the thing that seems to set me apart from them more than any other is the fact that I am not Christian.

I tell you, at a Christian seminary, it's a conversation-stopper.

Colleague: You're not Christian?
Dawn: Nope.
C: Really?
D: Really.
C: And you're what faith tradition again?
D: Unitarian Universalist.
C: D: And that's not Christian?
No. Not since 1960 when US Unitarians and Universalists merged.
C: Really?
D: Yes.
C: So you don't believe in Jesus?
D: Oh, I believe in him. I just don't believe he was god or the son of god. I don't believe in the trinity. Or the virgin birth. Or the resurrection.
C: *head tilt* So, do you believe in God?
D: Well, not like most religions describe god.
C: *head tilts in the other direction*
D: I'm not a strict monotheist. I tend to believe that there is a force (or forces) for good and love in the universe. I don't tend to think that it is out there, removed from us up in heaven or far away, but that it exists in all of us. I think god is too big to fit into any one description or faith. And that it probably wouldn't do us any harm to be nice to each other.
C: Uh-huh.
D: Yeah.
~pause~
C: So how are these classes going for you?
D: Complete foreign culture immersion.
C: I bet.

And that's the truth of it. Seminary is like complete foreign culture immersion for me. I am learning a new language (that of Bible study, not Greek or Hebrew) a new history, a new way of thinking.

Growing up Catholic, I was given a bible and told to put it on a shelf, that the priests would tell me what I needed to know of its contents on Sunday mornings. So that's what I did. Later, I became a Unitarian Universalist, and we don't refer to the bible often at all.

So now I am in class with people who not only read the bible regularly, but with people who have multiple versions and translations in their homes. And they believe what is contained in the pages.

Multiple versions? Really? Yeah. Really.

I knew there were four gospels, but not much else about the New Testament. I am learning a lot. Mostly what I seem to be learning is how little I actually know. It is a humbling experience.

The cost of this adventure is as daunting as the amount of work it involves. School leaves me no time for work that would bring in money, so this term I am relying on financial aid and student loans. Looking long term, though, I can't afford to do that every year. Graduating with $75,000 in student loan debt is crazy. There is no ministry job on the planet that I could get that would make those student loan payments.

So this week I spoke with a friend of mine that I know from meetings. She's got some family money of the very, very old variety, and I know she does a far bit of philanthropy. She supported a series of 11th step retreats for women that I coordinated a few years ago and really liked them, so I am a known entity to her. I told her that I'd like to ask for her help, and she said to call her on Saturday. So call her I did, and she wasn't home so I left a message. Last night after I got home from doing errands, she returned my call.

We chatted about school, about how seminary is graduate school, so the classes are seminars and the work is intense, and about what classes I have to take and what my faith requires of me in addition, and about the Bible and the gospels and the men who wrote them, and AA and ministry and a little bit about my hopes.

Then she asked how much I needed.

I had no idea what to say. I need a lot in order to not graduate with a ton of debt. I told her that I did not know what or how much to ask for. It was honest.

So she threw out a figure.

I can give you X a year. Will that work?

Her figure had one more zero on it than I had dreamed of asking for.

I gulped and stammered and sputtered and very nearly cried.

She laughed and told me to thank God, not her. She's glad to do it.

I sputtered some more.

I heard her get out a pencil and a piece of paper.

"I'll send it to you," she said. "Now, hon, what's your last name?"

Yeah.

What's your last name?

She knows me from meetings. We don't use last names there.

But she was willing to write me a check with what I consider a lot of zeros on it, without ever knowing my last name.

It's the kind of thing to make me sing praises to Jesus and Yahweh, and the Buddha and Krishna and Gamesh and the Prophet Mohammad and all their saints. No kidding. I am blessed.

Now my job is to do well in school. I don't have to worry like I did about how I will pay the electric bill or buy heating oil this year. I'm OK. I've got some breathing room. And I am going to be OK next year and the year after, too. She's offered to write that same check each year that I am in school.

I am blessed. And humbled. And honored.

And I have reading to do.

I'll post back again when I can. Please be patient.

I am truly, truly blessed.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Auntie duty




I took this picture with my phone last evening on the cliffs near Thunder Hole. The surf was pretty spectacular as high tide approached, and the crowd was pretty good about obeying rangers' warnings to stay off the rocks where the waves were crashing. Last year a little girl and her father were swept off the rocks and into the sea while they were watching the waves after a hurricane. Emergency personnel were able to rescue the father, but the little girl perished. We found out later that the crowd on that day did not heed rangers' warnings, surging back out onto the rocks after officials repeatedly asked them to move back. The story of that day traveled up and down the crowd of people at the path's edge yesterday, and when rangers said to move back, the people did.

I am providing ... I'm not sure what - recreational opportunity? educational adventure? weekend away from UN-cool parents? A couple of days' respite for the 15-year-old daughter of a friend. Kid came out as bi a couple years ago and mom is doing her best to make sure her daughter has all of the role models/resources/non-parental supports a queer kid could want or need growing up. Somehow, the kid likes me, and I seem to get along pretty well with her, so she's here. Why this all is, I have no idea. She's a geeky semi-goth girl in skinny jeans with long hair and a decidedly feminine style. What I might have to offer her is a mystery to me, but she was excited to come for a visit, so here we are.

I taught her how to make sushi rolls Friday night (her request) and Saturday we had planned a day of adventure at the Blue Hill Fair, but when we awoke to a torrential downpour, I nixed that idea in favor of a drive around Acadia to see the surf and the stupid people who want to go stand in it.

After noon, the rain stopped and the sun came out and we had a marvelous day puttering around the island. The summit of Cadillac was mobbed with three motor coaches filled with Japanese tourists, but we were able to walk the paths around the summit area and see the white surf pounding the windward sides of EVERYTHING as far as the eye could see. We had lunch at a table in the sunshine on the lawn at the the Jordan Pond House and then toured some of the shops in downtown Bar Harbor before going back to Thunder Hole for the incoming tide (high tide was at approximately 8 pm) as it was pretty but not magnificent when we visited the first time at around noon.

We returned home tired and dusted with salt from the spray, and I made some seafood newburg with eggs from some hens kept by friends. Hand-raised, corn-fed chickens produce the YELLOWEST yolks of any eggs I have ever seen in my life. The newburg was like something from a box of crayons. It was YELLOW. Like school bus yellow. Yikes. My young charge had never had newburg before, so she was unaware of the nature of its alarming appearance and just ate it and liked it. I am still disturbed by the color of the stuff now stored in plastic tubs in my refrigerator.

This morning our plan is to attend church where a friend is preaching and then go to the fair in Blue Hill. The women's frying pan toss is at 4 pm and is the highlight of the afternoon's offerings. No, really. The grandstand is packed well in advance of the first pitch and the crowd cheers heartily for each woman in all of the age groups. The occasional wild toss (straight in the air, landing behind the thrower, or careening near the grandstand) will bring howls of alarm and delight from the crowd. It is a good time for everyone. While we are at the fair, her mother will meet up with us, we shall watch my young friend and her sister go on some of the rides, and she will travel home with her family. I expect to come home and collapse.

I have a new respect for parents, particularly single parents. This kid is pretty much self-contained and self-propelled. She has her own laptop, her own cell phone and her own money. She looks to me only for "this is ok, right?" kind of approval, not "may I please have an ice cream cone?" kind. I cannot imagine the work involved with supervising little ones. Holy crap.

This morning I got up and made banana nut bread with chocolate chips. It is still baking and the house is beginning to smell heavenly. I just woke the kid so she could see four huge, full-grown turkeys that were in the yard, gobbling and poking among the tall grass looking for their breakfast. Now we are up and each on our computers in companionable silence, me at the kitchen table with my coffee, she sitting cross-legged on the fold-out couch, flanked by a small dog and a large cat.

I think it's been a pretty good couple of days. I am exhausted, but she seems to have limitless energy. I am looking forward to the fair this afternoon, although not so much church this morning. This is the church that I used to attend and that I quit back in June. The internal dysfunction and drama were too much, they managed to run the minister out and that really pissed me off, and well, right now, I need a minister. I need to go to a church that has a minister, even a long-term sub while they find a regular one. So I plan to attend at a church about 45 minutes from here. But this morning, because my friend is preaching, I will go back into the church building I left. I will sit in the sanctuary and I will participate in the service, and when it is over, I will leave and probably be sad. I'll ride that out when I get there.

For now, I am going to drink my coffee, have a slice of banana nut bread with chocolate chips while the chips are still all ooey-gooey melty and wonderful, then a shower and we'll see what the day brings.

Stay tuned.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

new beginnings

I have had a good few days in a row. It has been brutally hot here, but my emotional well-being seems to be in pretty good shape.

Tuesday brought a phalanx of plumbers and engineers to the site, and a new batch of adjustments to be made to the project, not the least of which is that we're stopping work for a few weeks for the clients to regroup. The cost of the thing has gone way beyond what they had planned (dead raccoons and rotted sills will do that to a project) so now they're taking a breather and figuring out what they want to do next. I should know if I will have work for the fall by the end of September.

It's scary, but I have a sense of peace and faith that I will be OK. I have student loans that should come through in the next week or two. I have enough cash on hand to pay the rent and the electric bill. My car and insurance payments are taken care of, and I even have money to pay the herbalist I'll see on Monday and the therapist I will see on Tuesday. I will only need groceries and gas for the rest of September, and my larder is pretty well stocked right now, so I'm not as freaked as I might be otherwise. Which is not to say I am not nervous, I am. Just not flat-out panicked like I could be.

I can't tell if the hormones are finally working, if the cohosh and DHEA are working, if the moon has passed through whatever phase it was in that played hell with me or if this is just the normal cycle of my hormones, but I have been feeling better. I can feel tweaks during the day when I get a piece of bad news or when I get worried about this or that, but they do not lay me low with a hammer blow like they have been doing. I can't tell if that is me refusing to feel the pain, anxiety, insecurity or fear, or if it just is not hitting me like it did. This is uncharted territory. I have no point of reference, so I can't tell what is me, what is normal hormone stuff, what is pharmaceutical hormone stuff, what might be diet, or the moon. I just ride with it. Whee.

Or something.

So anyway, today is a big day for me. I am up early - 5:30 a.m. is when I rolled out of bed - and watching the sun brighten the yard as it rises over the wild meadow at the end of my road. It was dark when I woke, so I looked out and thought perhaps the clouds from Hurricane Earl had arrived early, but no, it was just not light out yet. Oops. I feel kinda like a slacker for not knowing that it's still dark at 5:30 a.m. on September 2.

Right. Big Day. Very Big.

Today I go to the seminary for my student orientation. Or, as I have heard people here in Maine say it, "I'm goin' to get orientated."

In preparation for this orientation party, I went yesterday to the little spa area in my local Hell-mart and got a haircut (1/4 inch long in the back, all bristly and soft prickles back there now) and a pedicure with a shade of red that can only be described as "that party'll cost you $800, mister."

I daresay Mary Magdalene would blush at this color. It is utterly delightful.

And didn't the facebookies have fun with it! Seems I surprised more than one with my behavior. Oh well.

I could go into the motives for getting my toes painted cheap hooker red, and I suppose there is a graduate-level thesis somewhere in there. But really? I do it because it tweaks people's preconceived notions around gender roles and gender presentation and what they might assume or think appropriate for a big, bad, butch lesbian to do. I also do it so that I don 't take my big, bad, butch lesbian self quite so seriously. I mean, I can still verbally lay someone out to whaleshit if I need to, insulting their misogynism all the way down, but it goes better if I'm gentler about it, and I am more inclined to be gentle if the world can see my bright red toenails. Because otherwise they might giggle, and that would be bad.

So, armed with a new back-to-school haircut and a pedicure, I truly think I am as ready for this seminary experience as I am likely to be. Pray for me today. I'm more than a little nervous.

(And here's a pic of the piggies in question.)


Friday, August 27, 2010

the upswing... and a near miss

Today I am beginning to feel legitimately better. Emotionally, if in no other way, but hey, I'll take it.

I was able to make a flitratious advance before my second cup of coffee and was able to keep the flirty mood up for most of the day. That is HUGE progress. A week ago, I couldn't give a damn about feeling sexy. Bleh.

So I am still very, VERY tired. My muscles still ache - weird ones, too. Bicep, triceps, pecs, abs (cleverly hidden under a protective layer of fat) back, shoulders and quadriceps. They all hurt. Gluts, hamstrings, and calves are all fine. I can't figure out a rhyme or reason to it, just taking note. And my balance has gone wonky. What's up with that?! Any readers out there (among the six of you) been through this menopause thing and experience vertigo? Very strange stuff. And problematic. I work on ladders and scaffold and such. standing near a high open edge today, I got lightheaded and grabbed hold - in as nonchalant a way as I could manage - of a big stack of gypsum board to steady myself. A couple of times I noticed I just felt dizzy, and I can't figure out why. It is worrisome.

So, I had a good day. My emotions are back up, I got a little work done, I've got a plan for doing things next week, I got paid, I tucked a little money away to pay for some serious ink I have been contemplating for a while, and I had a decent supper.

I find that an upswing can be easily derailed, though.

An offhand remark by a friend can plant a seed of doubt, and the waves of insecurity can start rushing back. I did my best to let it go, to not dwell, but it still lingered.

I went to soak in the landlord's hot tub and relax my muscles. The doubts still swirled. I am not out of the woods yet.

On my way out of the screened gazebo that houses the hot tub, the landlord's cat greeted me. His master is away on vacation, and the cat has access to the house, but apparently he lacks company. I petted him and he purred. I scooped him up to bring into the house and he was not as happy about that as I had hoped. There was no hissing or scratching, but he seemed grateful when I dropped him at the cat door and he darted inside.

I stood in the driveway, lit only by the just past full moon and thought, "I do hope Wayne has a black cat."

I walked toward the path behind the school that leads to my place, and turned to look at the moon. She was beautiful tonight. Almost full, waning just a bit, in a sky clear and midnight blue and dotted with a million stars. It took my breath away. Instinctively, I faced the moon, put my hands together and murmured "let us be in the spirit of worship."

And it was.

For the first time in months, I worshipped.

I did not pray specifically to the moon, but to the mother spirit of the universe. I prayed for strength and patience to get through whatever this is, and I thanked her for reminding me that there will be balance in the world, and in me.

I stood in the driveway, lit as though in daylight by the bright shining moon, miles from anything that most people would recognize as civilization, and I let the moon's rays wash over me. There will be balance. What I am going through will even out. The boat must rock a bit before it settles again.

The peace that came over me was amazing.

I squatted on the ground, not quite kneeling, but still with hands clasped in prayer formation, and allowed myself to submit to the power of nature, the power of the yin and the yan, the balance that spins the planet at just the right speed to keep us all from flying off, the force that runs the tides and makes them come and go and cleanse our shores. It was wonderful.

Filled with peace and wonder, I stood to turn and go home.

And the moonlit yard swirled around me.

I dropped back to my crouch, hands on the ground in front of me.

Dizzy. Swirling, nauseatingly, world-spinning-like-a-ride-at-the-fair-dizzy.

I exhaled.

OK, better. Inhale, exhale. Inhale, exhale.

This is NOT where and how I want to pass out, thank you. In the driveway, in a bathrobe and crocks with a towel over my shoulder and a cat that may or may not belong to my landlord as my only witness. Wouldn't that be something for the catsitter guy to find in the morning! Um, no.

Slowly, and mindful of the lesson I had just learned, I gradually raised myself from my crouched position to a full stand. Breathe in and out a couple more times just to make sure I had the hang of it, and OK.

Thank you, mother moon spirit, for the blessing and the lessons. Thank you auntie cat for your supervision of this evening's worship.

I turned and walked into the darkness of the path and back to my own yard.

I have some ideas for self-care for tomorrow. I need to go to bed now so that I can get up and do them. Good night.

Interesting thought

Yesterday and today I was/am exhausted. Today I can kind of see it, as I worked hard yesterday. But being tired yesterday baffled me. I had not done lots of hard work on the day before. Really, I had done some errands and washed the cat. OK, so that was traumatic for both of us, but still.

A guy I am working with had an interesting take on what I am going through. As far as he can tell, menopause seems to be like puberty, but in reverse. OK, that makes sense.

And as such, the chemical changes going on in my body are pretty profound. Again, that makes sense.

Those changes can demand an enormous amount of energy that might otherwise be used for doing everyday things. Remember what it was like when you were 16, he asked? You could sleep 10, 12, even 14 hours at a whack? Of course. That's what teenagers do. Right. Because their bodies need it. They need that kind of rest to recuperate from the rigors of daily life on TOP of some pretty profound hormonal/chemical changes.

Oh.

Gotcha.

So this makes sense, after a fashion. I don't remember puberty having such violent mood swings, but I do remember it (me) being pretty dramatic. Hmm. He's pretty smart about girls stuff for a guy who's never actually had his own set of ovaries and the plumbing/hormones that come with them. Huh.

Tired again this morning. Glad I will be able to sleep in if I need tomorrow. Got some things to do to prepare for school, but I can get a bunch of them done over the weekend. That feels good. The pile of textbooks for this semester is growing daily. Oh, and it looks like I will be the only person in the classroom with the professor for one of my classes. The other four students will be participating via closed circuit television in Portland, around 100 miles away. In the parlance of my younger friends, FML. No slacking in that class. Crap. Not that I look for ways to slack, but being front and center does seem to add some pressure to actually know what is going on all the time. Yeesh.

More later. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

not all better, but better. Except for the cat.

hmm. woke up without an alarm this morning (I forgot to set it last night). That was nice. I was hungry, so I ate breakfast and then had an upset stomach. Phooey.

My muscles are still kind of sore, but not as bad as they were yesterday.

The weather has shifted, so that might play a part, too.

But in other adventures today...

Kitten had an appointment at the vet.

He has had this rash/itchy stuff/sores on his neck and down his back to the base of his tail. It's been nasty, and I wanted to get it looked at before I get busy with school, so I made an appointment.

My cat does not like traveling.

He does not like motor vehicles, as far as I can tell, and he mightily resents his car carrier.

I brought it in from the shed and left it in the living room. Cat and dog both ignored it, as did I.

Kitten seemed particularly oblivious, lying near me in the kitchen as I worked on the computer, easily within reach should I suddenly decide to scoop him up and put him in the box.

Which, of course, I did.

That fucking cat grows extra arms and legs the minute he sees that travel case, I swear. Trying to stuff him into that thing is like trying to arm-wrestle an octopus. get his hind legs in and he's got a hold of the handle with his front claws. Detach his front claws from the lid, and his backside is out of the case again and making moves toward freedom. All the while he is whining piteously.

Eventually, I manage to stuff all of his arms and legs and one tail into the box and find my jacket. He begins to yowl.

And I don't mean little meows. No. He howls.

ROOOOOWWWWWWWWRRRR

YOOOOWWWWWWWWLLLLLL.

YEEEEEOOOOOOOWWWWWWLLLLLLL.

I watch to see that he does, in fact, inhale between the yowls.

I carry him out through the pouring rain to the car, where he settles in for some serious noise.

I call friends so they can share in my misery. To a person, they laugh. One friend actually hands her phone around the room so her family can hear my cat's complaints.

When I suggest to another that he might need a harmonica and a tin cup to bang on the bars, she says "I really don't think he needs a harmonica. No, not at all."

The volume of noise that can come out of a 13 year old, 15 pound cat is impressive. He is a formidable performer.

I grumble that if I ever find the person who taught him to yodel, there's gonna be hell to pay.

At the vet's office, still securely in his cage, he pees.

And not just an "ooh! the sniffing dog startled me!" kind of pee, but a "I am miserable and I am going to squeeze every drop out of my bladder that I can because then the humans (who are obviously to blame for this humiliating ordeal) will have to clean it up" kind.

Oh, he's a bastard.

So he dripped pee all over the exam table, the vet techs had to hose out his carrier and put in newspapers for the trip home, because now his fur was all soaked with urine (ew). The vet gave him a shot, stuffed him back in the cage -- with no more ease than I had managed earlier, it was gratifying to note -- I paid the woman at the front desk and we headed home.

Yowling.

Still yowling.

Only now he was noisy and smelly. Ew.

I stopped at the grocery store for a couple things and to give genius cat a chance to bathe while I was inside. Came out and he's still yodeling at volume 20. Sigh.

Groceries in the trunk, and off we go home, cat screaming all the way.

By the time we get home, I have devised a plan.

I put the groceries away, leaving Kitten in his prison. He is silent, now. concerned about his future.

He had good reason.

I brought his carrier down the hall and into the bathroom. I grabbed a couple towels from the closet and stripped down. I turned on the water to let it warm up. I shut the bathroom door.

I opened the pet carrier and Kitten stepped out. I picked him up, opened the shower stall door, and he grew those extra legs and arms again. Holding him in a most undignified way, I got us both into the shower and shut the door.

He looked up at me and gave the most ear-splitting howl I've heard in ages.

I grinned.

I took the shower head spray gizmo, set it for a concentrated spray, and soaked him down.

He tried mightily to open the glass door. While he was reaching for the handle, I hosed down his tummy area.

He stepped on my foot to get a better purchase, I think. He sunk his claws purposefully into the flesh of my instep and reached as high as he could for the door handle.

Working hard not to scream, I reached down and carefully removed his foot from mine. The pain was intense. My world went white.

I realized I still had my glasses on.

he got lathered up with pet shampoo, then rinsed off and we got out. I toweled him dry for as long as he would tolerate it and freed him to the rest of the house. My foot throbbed for an hour.

We spent the rest of the afternoon sulking at different ends of the house.

Now I am going to soak in the hot tub, and head to bed early. I may sleep with one eye open so the cat does not rip out my throat in the night.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

backlash

Today was better than yesterday. I still felt emotions coming through in waves, but not the debilitating kind I endured yesterday.

What surprised me today was the level of physical fatigue I felt. All of my large muscle groups were sore today - biceps, triceps, quadriceps, all over my back and neck, and just after lunch I got flat-out exhausted. My head was never really entirely engaged today, so I played it low and didn't attempt any high-wire aerobics (or ladder work). I bumbled through the day, glad to have a competent helper who was both patient and understanding. Together we got some stuff done, and I think I might have even helped some.

I am trying to track how I feel from day to day, and it gets difficult when things are good. I don't want to write anything down, because, well, there's nothing to complain about. But then I have a spate of days like this last few and I remember again that I need to write it ALL down so that I can follow what happens and see if I can figure out why.

I am exhausted today. I am making supper and going to hit the hot tub for a little while to soak my sore muscles, then I am going to bed at a decent hour. Sorry this is a dull report. But honestly? I'd rather have this kind of dull than the fireworks I had yesterday. Oof. Thanks for your patience. Clever and witty commentary will resume once things level out a bit.


Monday, August 23, 2010

like grasping sand

The hormones - and with them either sadness or anger - seem to come in waves. A friend likens depression to cramps in the same kind of way - it comes in waves. Take some Advil, breathe carefully, ride out the bad parts and keep moving when you can.

This morning, I wrote at the depth of the wave. Or the height. Whichever. I was deep underwater, as deep as it gets.

Later this evening, after a day of encouraging and caring calls and notes from people in my real life world and here in bloggyland, I was feeling better.

It was like in high school physics class. Mrs. Davis would explain the formulas, explain how the calculations worked, draw them out on the board, and we'd all dutifully write them down in our loose-leaf notebooks. I could do the problem in class. I concentrated, to be sure, but Lisa Doherty and Bonnie Colby and me and someone else ... Mary Manley, maybe? Holly Light? but anyway, our team would figure it out, work the calculations and come up with the answer we were supposed to get. Something to do with the coefficient of friction or something. The little wooden block car with wheels traveling down an incline at X rate of speed and Y rate of acceleration maybe.

The bell would ring, we'd pack up our gear and head off to lunch or literature or whatever, assignments carefully noted for the evening's labors at the kitchen table.

Where it all disappeared.

All of it.

The numbers, the formulas, the coefficient of friction, the methods, the reasons, all of it evaporated as soon as I walked out of Mrs. Davis' class and was long cold dust by the time I opened by notebook six hours and many miles later.

I would sit and look at my notes. They were foreign to me. I had scribbled arrows and notes in margins that had something to do with inverting fractions or multiplying something with an exponent or something, and now it was all gone.

That's what the sadness and depression is like.

I can remember nothing of the competence and happiness and security I feel when I am not in it. Like day six of a bad cold, I can no longer remember what it feels like to be healthy. Only this has been happening a dozen times a day or more.

So tonight, while I understand what is going on, I am writing it down. Hopefully, the act of writing will put the knowledge into my long-term memory where the clouds of sadness will not obscure it completely.

A friend today suggested that I ride out the wave, to dance it out in a chaos rhythm. I like that idea. Sort of a participatory Zen approach. Let it flow, ride with it, let the madness spin me round round like a record and leave me gasping but unharmed at the end of the dance. It is not a bad image to contemplate.

I do not know how I will approach the next wave of sadness when it hits. I'd like to hope that I can remember what I have written here and that I can just ride it out, relax and let it flow around me like water around a stone in a stream (that's the Zen part).

Whatever happens, I have made progress today. I have done no harm to any human being, including myself, and I have received some solid and useful advice for the next tide. I have cared for myself, fed myself, set a couple goals and achieve one (washed the dog - she smelled foul!). I have nurtured myself with a soak in the landlord's hot tub and am now heading to bed at a reasonable hour. Tomorrow I will give this thing another shot. Stay tuned. And thanks for your patience.

Friday, July 30, 2010

a break

WARNING - discussion of girl parts and womanly bodily functions contained within. The squeamish might not want to go beyond the end of this sentence. Just saying. Mel has some gorgeous pictures up over at Cabezalana if you're looking for something less... intimate.

I have been battling hormone-related mood swings of late. To the point where I was really frightened for my own safety and freedom. I made an appointment with a doctor, who looked like he might have been Margaret Chase Smith's doctor when she was young. But he listened, and he didn't order a bunch of stuff I couldn't afford, and he prescribe me some hormones. Not a baby dose to start out like with most people, but a mid-range dose.

The past month has been pretty brutal. Sometime in late June I experienced what I believe to be an ovarian cyst bursting. Holy crap. Pain like none other I have felt in this lifetime. Wow. Like someone was trying to remove my ovary with a grapefruit sectioner and no anesthesia. I have heard that pain compared to the pain of kidney stones or childbirth. Wow. I never never NEVER want kids. I mean I didn't before that, but I sure don't want them now. Yowch. So, after the cyst thing, I got my period like normal, but the mood swings kicked in within a week or two of that. And they got worse. And worse. And then even worse. I became irritable in the extreme, then depressed in the extreme and then angry and filled with rage to the point where I just stayed home rather than go out and possibly do real damage to some poor schmoe who happened to step in front of me in the grocery store.

Then I had the doctor's appointment. My prescription cost me $4 at Hell-Mart, where I also picked up some black cohosh and some DHEA, both supplements that have not been proven to do a damned thing, but that have been recommended to me by women who use them with great success. I asked the doctor about using the supplements, and he looked unimpressed, but said they would do no harm, so I got them and started taking them right away. Then the most amazing thing happened. Less than 24 hours after my doctor's appointment, I got my period. 15 minutes before I took my first dose of estrogen. Within 18 hours of that moment, my mood changed, I was able to sleep (9 blessed hours that first night!) and all kinds of things fell into line. I am no longer depressed or angry -- well, no more than is my baseline disgruntled state -- I am able to work and concentrate at much better levels. I no longer sit and cry when I think about life and what I've got for friends and things going on. Things are better.

So, what made the difference? My guess is that my period made the bulk of it. Pent-up hormones finally broke through, if that is kind of the right term, and things evened out. It could also be the emotional relief of knowing that I finally had medicine to help - often the knowledge of a treatment's eminent start is enough to start the healing. I don't know, and I don't much care. All I know is that I feel a lot closer to human now than I did two weeks ago.

Oh, I'm still grumpy. Things are not all roses and sunshine and unicorns farting sparkly rainbows. I still wonder why Sarah Palin exists, how people can be so stupid as to listen to or believe Faux News and any of the people on it, why nobody has bitch-slapped Pat Buchanan yet, and why Flush Dimbaugh can keep managing to find new women to marry him.

That attitude is not likely to change. But the depression and rage have dissipated, and I am glad. That is all I have to report today. Tomorrow or later on I might tackle politics or cooking or something fun, but for now I need to drink my coffee, make some breakfast and get to work.

Stay tuned.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

we did it to ourselves

I had an interesting exchange with a liberal political hack friend of mine today with regards to a blogger from the left who seems as much of a stark-raving lunatic as many of the teabagger and birther bloggers of the right. My friend winced at what this woman was writing, her unsupported accusations and insinuations, rumors and hints and things written as questions so that they do not actually cross the line into the perilous legal area governed by libel laws.

"So, does X beat his wife? We can't tell, he won't answer our calls so we can ask. Why do you think that might be? What is he hiding?"

That kind of stuff.

Wince-worthy? Sure. Especially since it's being done in the name of liberal politics.

Ouch.

We like to think ourselves above such nastiness. We like to think ourselves beyond the petty crap, the dishonest stuff, the underhanded, illegitimate, not-entirely-legal world of political hijinks named in the 1970s by operatives and practitioners as "ratfuckery."

We don't DO that, we tell people. We are the ethical ones.

For the record, ethical lines got blurred so badly during the heyday of ratfuckery that some boneheads thought it was a legitimate political tactic to break into the headquarters of the opposing political party and tap the phones and steal information.

The break-in was a bad idea to begin with.

The cover-up changed the history of the world.

Think of where we would be today if Richard Nixon had not resigned in disgrace, if people had not been caught and prosecuted and bribes paid and cover-ups attempted and failed, and Gerald Ford took over and pardoned everybody and then Jimmy Carter was elected because he seemed homespun, but then he turned out to be homespun and kind of out of his depth and then we got Reagan. Eeeeeejeebus. See what I mean?

What would have happened if Nixon had finished out his second term? What would have happened? Who the hell knows. Nobody can guess.

In the 1980s, Ronald Reagan had a guy in his administration who was just bonkers. Guy's name was Thomas K. Jones, and he was the Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for strategic theater nuclear forces. Jones got everyone riled up when he argued, in front of a reporter with a pen and notebook at the ready, that an attack by nuclear missiles was easily survivable: "Dig a hole, cover it with a couple of doors, and then throw three feet of dirt on top. Everyone's going to make it if there are enough shovels to go around."

Yaaaiiiiiiieeeeeeeee.

I remember that. Doors and shovels. Yep, way easier (and cheaper!!) than all those bomb shelter kits people bought during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Clearly Jones was a nutter. Nobody really argued that. I mean, nobody locked him up where he could not get out, but really, a lot of smart people paid him no mind.

But a lot of not-so-smart people liked the easy simplicity of his words, they liked that he told them a fairy tale that made them feel safe, and after all, it is easier to go along with a myth that does not challenge us to get off our butts, even if we have an inkling of an idea that it might really be a myth.

And somewhere, a large lesson was learned and a large lesson was missed.

First, the lesson that was learned.

(Actually there were several.)

Surrounding yourself with a variety of people is a good idea. Making sure that at least one of them is fucking nuts (but politically manageable) is brilliant.

Because while everyone flipped their shit about Jones and his doors and shovels, that one comment suddenly made Ronald Reagan's other neo-fascist henchmen look, well, not as bad as that guy.

Ding. Valuable lesson: being around crazy people makes you appear sane in the way being around short people makes you look tall. Doesn't mean you are, just means it appears that way.

The second valuable lesson learned was that vast numbers of people really want to be led like sheep. And sheep are happiest when other people do their thinking for them, just so long as they have grass to eat and someone keeps an eye out for wolves and stuff. And sheep will do things that are actually against their own best interests if they are convinced that there is a threat driving them.

Ding. Valuable lesson: you can get people to do what you want, if you scare them. You can get them to hurt themselves if you tell them it will keep them safe from the imagined threat.

Shortly after those years came the emergence of conservative talk radio, and the charge was led by that dipshit multi-million-dollar-a-year champion of the working man, Flush Dimbaugh.

Lots of people understood that Dimbaugh (I refuse to use his real name and garner the inevitable google hits and trolls) was a circus performer, a barker who riled up the crowd and got people excited. Lots of people understood that he made up great swaths of "information" on his radio program and that, even if it was corrected by smart people who were right, the fact that the lie was out there once was enough to give it a life of its own.

Ding. Valuable lesson: If you say a thing often enough, people will believe it, even if it is patently false.

Conservatives in America were learning these lessons very very well. They encouraged dipshits like Dimbaugh and his ilk to bleat loud and constantly, secure in knowing that a scared populace is easily led, to the point where it will hurt its own members and blame someone else for the actions of its own members.

OK, so we've established that the right is willing to lie and abuse people -- even its own -- to further its agenda.

Let's take a look at what happened in the progressive world during those same years.

At the end of the 1970s, the progressive movement was divided, scattered and unsure what to do with itself. The was in Vietnam was over, Reagan had trumped Carter and the hostages were home from Tehran. The economy was on the upswing, the ERA was dead, the liberals had all split into separate camps and the gay men had begun dying from a mysterious illness without a name. Feminists had ousted the lesbians, who went off to communes and pouted. Progressive men had been branded as sweater-wearing academics and wimps who were run by their wives, except for the Kennedys, who were just run by alcohol and their dicks.

At some point, progressives looked around and decided to get mobilized. By our nature, we like to be inclusive and honor the thoughts and ideas of each person, but somehow, every time one of our fringe elements would speak up, Flush and his crowd would point and laugh and we'd lose ground.

So we started cutting off our fringes. We tossed them overboard. The radical fringes of our political side of the aisle disappeared.Only a few holdouts remained. The Dennis Kuciniches and (pre-sell-out) Howard Deans of our party were (and still are) ridiculed and teased as starry-eyed true believers, pie-in-the-sky idealists and dreamers and fools. Kucinich was referred to by liberal commentators in recent years as "the Democratic Party house elf." LIBERAL commentators called him that. Including me. Paul Wellstone was viewed largely as a kook, a nut with such high ideals and ethics as to render him useless in serious debate.

We decided, for better or for worse, that in order to get votes, we were going to have to act like the popular guys who were presently getting votes. So we started doing things foreign to our natures. Instead of arguing that rehabilitation might be a better path for our corrections system, we "got tough of crime" and supported more prisons and less preventative measures. We buckled under to a lot of what the conservatives were doing, and eventually drew off some of their supporters. But in doing so, we had become them.

So we muzzled our fringes. Progressive commentators hunkered down in print journalism where they could write one or two pieces a week and never have to ad-lib a thing, and they STILL got hammered by the right. Meticulously researched facts and pristine prose have a hard time standing up to a barrage of myths and accusations applied with the four-inch fire hose of talk radio.

Some progressives got out of the game almost entirely, withdrawing to the ivory towers of academia where they got tenure and job security, even if they gave up the adrenaline rush of the political world.

Then, suddenly, in 2010, some of us looked around and said "how is it that we worked so hard to get a majority in both houses and the white house and we still are getting kicked in the gut at every turn?"

Well, a couple of things here. First, we have become our own enemy. We have been so careful to not threaten the dominant paradigm that we have become part and parcel of it. We have become more effective at shutting down our renegades than our opponents ever could have hoped.

And we have become the pigs in Orwell's Animal Farm. We are running the farm, overworking our people, and treating them as harshly -- perhaps even more so -- than the humans had before us.

Dissent is not tolerated in the political sphere. Not among progressives. Conservatives handle it better than we do: "well, Flush doesn't speak for everyone, but he's got a right to say what he thinks. First Amendment and all that..."

Us? We drum people out in stupid, ill-advised, politically correct ways (can you say Shirley Sherrod? I knew you could!) then look the fool when someone mentions that the emperor has no clothes.

We had a moment, in the 1980s, when ACT-UP and Queer Nation and the Lesbian Avengers made some noise and made people uncomfortable and raised awareness, but by the time we marched on Washington for glbt rights in 1993, those folks had been ushered first to the back of the bus and then under it. We wanted to be like our oppressors. We wanted to not threaten middle-class white America, so we became middle-class white America, and anyone who did not fit that design was quietly (or not so quietly) told that they were not welcome at the party. Butch dykes in leather? Um, can't you just put on a nice pant suit? Drag queens and high femme boys? Can you at least try not to lisp?! Jeez, we're trying to be taken seriously here.

Our fringes have now gone underground, where it is safe from both the enemy without and the one within our own houses. Our fringes have become bloggers. Our fringes have been largely ignored for a while, but might be making some inroads as Internet access becomes more available.

But the point remains. How pathetic is it that we have done to ourselves what our opponents could never have accomplished? We have assimilated. We have been absorbed. The "progressives" of today are more conservative than Richard Nixon was in his day. Truth. Nixon created OSHA. Nixon went to China. Nixon appointed Supreme Court justices that today represent the most liberal arm (ineffective flipper, perhaps?) of the court. Yes, he was crooked and wrong about a lot of things, but his policies would be viewed as nearly seditious by modern standards.

So, when a liberal blogger rants and rails and raises difficult questions, I say good. We need our fringes. Our diversity is our strength. The diversity of any organization is its strength. Look at what the conservatives have done. Their party chairman is a black man. The governor of Louisiana is an Indian-American rumored to have practiced voodoo healing rituals and the governor of Hawaii is a closet... um, no, can't go there. The governor of Florida is a closet... no. The Senator from Idaho is..., oh, hell. Um, anyway, the Log Cabin Republicans are pretty active.

We NEED our fringes. We need them desperately. We need our version of the guy yelling about doors and shovels. We need our version of Pat Buchanan. I'd say we have it in Rachel Maddow, but she's smarter, more articulate and more accurate than Pat. Not to mention way better looking.

When I was in college, I was a student activist. I got on the news occasionally, and sometimes I made the mainstream queer movement people cringe. What was I trying to do? Undermine all of their hard work? A Maine State Senator came to my defense one day at a meeting of the glb (we had no T in our world back then) political folks. "We need Dawn," she told them (paraphrasing here), "Because she and her very brave friends doing actions in Farmington, like the ACT-UP folks, make is much easier for me to talk to people in the state house. Without her, and without them, I am the radical fringe."

Our diversity is our strength, not a liability. If we are ashamed of our members, how do we expect to gain the respect of anyone else?

I say let us celebrate our fringes. No, they don't speak for all of us, but they've got as much right to the First Amendment as anyone else, and I say let them use it fully. Let us not abandon all of what makes us us in our effort to achieve the same rights and freedoms as the rest of society. Media whores? We need 'em. Political insiders? We need them, too. Gay republicans? Not sure why, but we probably need them as well. Academics? Yes, we need them! Clergy? Absolutely! Big dykes and drag queens and foster moms and accountants and lawyers and Teamsters and poets - we need every bit of us, and we need ALL the input to make us strong. Some will do the political thing. Some will live on the fringes. That's fine. But we need to not eat our own in this battle.

Let us celebrate the liberal version of doors and shovels!

Oh, one last thing. Here is a very cool video that made the rounds on facebook last week. Enjoy!




Thursday, July 15, 2010

expectations

Let's talk about expectations.

I often say I hold the world and myself to unreasonably high standards. That is true.

It means that I am disappointed often, by both the world and myself. That is also true.

So what do I do?

They say that happiness is an inside job and that a person who has no expectations cannot be disappointed, and I understand that.

But it seems counter-intuitive to me.

I have been doing self-esteem work and self-image work and affirmations for long enough that I know I get to say "I deserve to have my needs met."

Only when I hope that someone or something outside of me is going to do that, I get disappointed.

Always.

So do I rely on myself to meet my needs? How does that translate into my need for intimacy? love? gentle touch? Can I do that?

I don't think I can.

As a human being, I live in a world with other humans. That in itself, seems to be the problem.

I need other humans. I need conversation and connection and contact.

But they are human like I am and have their own frailties and faults and weaknesses.

They let me down.

And right now the disappointment I am feeling is pretty intense.

It's been a rough spell for me in these past nine months. Some shit has gone down, and I have had to deal with a fair amount of loss. Sometimes I think it has been an unfair amount of loss.

It seems that the universe is teaching me not to rely on any people, places or things to bring me happiness. It seems that every source of joy in the past nine months has fucked up in one way or another. Campaigns lost, relationships ended, sources of security and affirmation became sources of pain and betrayal, and joy and hope become anguish and need.

I guess I need to look within for happiness. I get that. But I'd really like to have something on the outside of my skin work out well sometime this year. I'd like something to go the way I'd like it to. I'd like something to work out so that everyone involved is happy and fulfilled. Maybe school will be that thing. I don't know. I am not inclined to believe in it right now.

You know how I like to rant every now and then about wanting nothing more in life than truth in advertising. I'd like things to work the way they are supposed to, for people to do what they say they will, and for the weatherman to be right every now and then.

I fall short of what I would like to be able to do. I suppose I can give the rest of the world some room to wiggle as well.

It is Thursday and already this week has felt very long. I have more to accomplish than I can handle, and something is pressing down on me, making it difficult for me to move. I have things to do today, but I can't seem to get out of my chair. I have coffee, and it is strong and sweet enough to motivate almost anyone, but I can't seem to budge.

My birthday is tomorrow. Maybe this funk is built around that. I will be 45. That means I am very likely more than halfway through my time on this earth. What have I accomplished? I don't know. I have built some things, some better than others. I have loved some people, again, some better than others. I have accumulated a sizeable debt in my pursuit of education, but have yet to have a job that successfully pays those bills. I live hand-to-mouth, paycheck to paycheck, I drive a 15-year-old truck that was given to me when my other one fell apart around me. I have a small dog who loves me and a cat who alternately loves and resents me, but I think that's how those relationships are supposed to go. I am single, after a fashion. I have a sweetheart, but she is on the other side of the planet, and that makes the loneliness ache even more. For reasons beyond my control, I cannot go to her right now. I must wait, and I am not terribly good at waiting. I have a couple of friends with whom I have the occasional date, but that is not what stirs my heart. The dates are fun, but not emotionally fulfilling.

I wonder if what I am feeling is just loneliness. I feel disconnected, like I am somehow apart from the world and people around me. I feel as though I go through my day without touching anyone or anything, at least not deeply. I brush by on the surface, make a ripple, but don't stir any real currents. And I feel like the world does the same to me - like it doesn't notice my presence, like I am invisible, sort of. I walk around and know that there is really nobody here who knows how I feel inside, what my fears are, what my hopes are, what I'd like for lunch, or what I had for breakfast. I feel like I have to shout to be heard or noticed at all, and that's exhausting.

I don't know where all of this is coming from, but I don't like the way it feels. I am sure my hormones are playing a part, but I dare not just write this all off as some kind of menopausal blip that will pass when the moon changes phase. That kind of conversation feels like it minimizes what I am feeling, and I don't like it.

I read somewhere (I can't seem to find the clip now) that Daniel Patrick Moynehan said, while eulogizing Ted Kennedy, "To be Irish is to know that the world, someday, will break your heart."

It is tragic and romantic, to be sure, but true. I wear my heart on the outside. It gets banged up by life. I think it hurts more when that happens. I think it feels joy and love and passion more than others as well. I don't know how to keep it on the inside. And honestly? I'm not sure I want to. I guess what I need is to learn some skills to deal with the highs and lows. Right now I just feel them as they are, raw and real and present. I howl with the pain, and I weep with the joy. Might I learn some other way to be? I don't know. It seems kind of late for that now, like I probably have the patterns now that I am going to keep for life. I am stuck feeling things this intensely.

And somehow, there is contradiction in this post. I feel things deeply, down to my core, almost at the molecular level it seems, and yet I feel as though nothing touches me as I go through my day. Maybe it is just that I don't feel that I touch anything else. I can't tell. What I do know is that it does not look like she is going to call this morning (it is afternoon now) and I must get moving about my day. My heart aches.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

new trechnology

OK, so I am not a big fan of new technology. Some of you knew that, and others I am sure could guess. Last night a friend gave me a new(ish) laptop. It is smaller and more lightweight than the big gray beast that I am typing this on now. It has cool political/sexual outlaw stickers on it. He loaded all kinds of necessary things onto it for me. Got me set up on a new gmail account, switched my email over from the old Outlook Express to gmail, did all the things I am rumored to need done to boldly step into the 21st century, and it was all very exciting.

Only there's a hitch.

Setting things up, he asked "so, what's your password for this account?"

"Password?"

"Yeah. You have a password."

"Oh. (long pause) Are you sure?"

See, my brain is filled with lots of important things, and is unable to remember passwords. For even 60 seconds, it seems.

OK, it wants you to re-enter your password.

I forget it.

What?

I forget it.

But you just made it and typed it in.

I know. But I can't remember what I made it.

~facepalm~

yeah.

You see, my head is filled with other things. Things like studs go 16 inches on center and it is important for things to be plumb and level and square and how to make them those things if they aren't and how to work around it if they refuse, how to measure and cut irregular trapezoids out of sheetrock to fit in a particular space and where the plumbers need to put vent pipes and how many holes the electrician will need to drill in my firewall and song lyrics to every hit record from the 1970s. And 1980s. And a fair number from the 1960s and 1990s, too. And all those little words at the top of the Budweiser label.

That's what's clogging up my brain. And somehow, I cannot dislodge any of it to make enough room to store a few passwords. Like to facebook. And to this blogger account. Oh, it will send my password to my Yahoo! account. Only I don't use my Ya-hell account any more and have no idea -- you guessed it! -- what my password is to get into it.

Sigh.

I have tried all of the normal passwords that I use for such things. I had them all written down on a sticky note once, but have not seen it in ages. I am screwed. I wish I could just plug this computer into that computer and transfer all of the data I want from old to new.

It is a given, of course, that the friend who helped me out with all of this is younger than I. That's fine. But it is frustrating that I am unable to master a thing. I used to be the one to do that stuff. I was the one "old people" asked to hook up stereos and electronics and such. Only with computers, I am out of my league. I am the "old person" now. I have not a clue what happens inside these things. I only know I want to turn it on and go where I want -- much like when I get in a motor vehicle. Turn the key, put it in drive and GO! I do not have to me a mechanic to drive my car. I should not have to be a software engineer to check my damned email or make a new blog post. Grr.

Anyway, that's my grumble for today. I am hoping that I can get this thing figured out, even if it means I have to resort to old-school technology and actually CALL some kind of customer support place to get it straightened around. Wish me luck. And as always, thank you for your patience.


Sunday, June 6, 2010

Relationships

Yesterday was a pretty long day. I went to a meeting, saw my sponsor and got a hug, took myself to lunch and then went to Andrew's graduation. It was interminably long, but mostly not terrible. When his name was announced and he got is diploma, a fair number of us cheered and that was nice. Afterwards, friends and advisers were met, dinner reservations made and met, and chat of politics, feminism, unions and music from the 1960s to 1980s was discussed. Andrew was part mortified that I could banter so with his friends and part relieved, I think. I was able to provide a distraction so that he was not 100% of the focus of every one's attention, and I think he was very grateful.

A friend later described me as "a COA parent" and that threw me a bit.

To Andrew, I am one of his "old" friends, which means that I am a friend of his who is old, not that we've known and liked each other a long time.

Certainly, I am old enough to be Andrew's mother, at least chronologically. He is 22. I am 44. Yes, I could have been his parent. Only our friendship does not feel like that kind of parent-offspring relationship, at least not any that I have seen or experienced. I don't think I fit in the "favorite auntie" kind of category, either. Andrew is cool. We hang out. I don't ask anything of him beyond that he eat now and then when I make food, and that he not trash my place and not clean it up. I tell stories about the dark ages (1980s and 90s) of lgbt politics and he looks at me like I am a museum exhibit, and then tells me of queer youth street theater troupes in Boston and Los Angeles. We have very different lives.

He works with autistic children and I build stuff. I think we both look at each other's work and marvel, but we don't get too freaked out about it. He can do stuff I can't. I can do stuff he can't. That's fair.

I guess I play some sort of mentor role, but that seems odd, too. I don't think he really needs a mentor, so I try not to bury him with advice and direction. I offer what I think and know that he can (and will) take it or leave it as he sees fit. I don't get too terribly bent when he ignores my wisdom. Sometimes it's wisdom, after all, and sometimes it's not. And he's a way better judge of that then I tend to be.

So how is it that I felt a kind of parental pride when I heard his name announced and saw him walk across the stage to get his degree? I don't know. Honestly, I have only known Andrew for less than a year. We both worked on the No On 1 campaign, but barely saw each other then. We joined the church together in January. I guess that's when our independent friendship began. I think that was it. I was the 12-step person who wasn't a jerk to him. And the gray-haired person who didn't try to run his world.

True, I watch in exasperation some days as he spins with the drama and angst that I had at that age, but I don't take it personally. I know that it's part of his process and that he'll get through it. He complied, analyzed and presented a crapton of data for his final project. He can do the big things. And he can help an autistic child use the bathroom without getting skeeved out about it. That's pretty amazing.

So where am I in all this? I have no idea. I guess part of my brain wants to put me in a box, to define who and what I am, and to define this friendship in terms that others will be able to recognize. I think part of me is just still amazed that I know how to have friends. I didn't, for a long time. I did not have the social skills to know how to give and take, to not bully, to not manipulate, to not be passive-aggressive, to allow others the flexibility that I desired. I take up a lot of space in a room. I know that. I am a powerhouse of energy and noise and opinion and sarcasm, and not everyone can handle that or enjoy it. Some of it is the leftover stuff from when I was raised by wolves, but some of it, I must say, is me and probably here to stay, at least to some degree. I know that not everybody will like me, not everybody will be able to handle my energy level, and not everybody gets my sarcasm. I will hurt and insult people unintentionally, and they will leave. I know this and try to temper my words, but sometimes I miss. So, I am pleased when someone either sees past that stuff or else decides it's something they can work with to be my friend.

There was a time break here and I entirely lost my train of thought, so I am going to post this as is and try to be intelligent again tomorrow.