Not for the Sinless
Oct. 7th, 2013
I can't count the number of blogs I've started in my head, in notepad on my phone, or even here on LJ.
It's been almost a year since I finished one.
It used to be that if I had an idea, I rushed to get it out. I'd blog it, and people would respond, and then I'd go on to the next thing. Breaking that habit has been excruciating. I feel like at some point I decided that if something was worth writing, it was worth growing and editing. Good ideas needed to be allowed to have time, I rationalized, but here we are and it's been almost a year since I put a real piece of writing into the world. I even have a hard time writing Facebook statuses of any depth, because I don't want to give that much of myself away.
I always said that LJ was the only thing I stuck with. I started in 2001. A dozen years is enough for anything to wear out, I'd say, but the truth is, even though I haven't been blogging, I have been writing.
In July of 2012, I started the real work on what has evolved into a novel. It's a coming of age story, a year in the life of a very lost young woman named Hannah who is languishing in a boring job when she reconnects with one of her college professors. The professor has a new career writing sex books and offers our heroine a door into a world she'd never dreamed of. Hannah steps through into a free-fall that takes her from the red light district of Amsterdam to the coke-fueled parties of Hollywood to an anonymous hotel room in the heartland where everything starts to break apart.
It's a story about the messy, tragic ways we try to connect to each other and the people we become while we're trying to figure out who we are.
It's a love story between two flawed people who are more comfortable fucking than they are talking about their feelings.
It's full of kinky sex, which I think walks the line between "kinky sex that furthers the plot" and "kinky sex because kinky sex."
I'm 60k words in and have another 35 or 40 to go. I know where it's going and the ending has already been written, but it will take a lot of work to fill in the gaps.
At some point, this book will be done and I'll have to let it go. By then, I will probably be two years into the process of writing it.
I am absolutely terrified that it's garbage. I wake up in the middle of the night gripped with fear that I'll release it to the world and the world will call me a freak. I worry that strangers will think that I'm a slut and acquaintances will think that it's autobiographical, but not as much as I worry that my father might read it at all.
I have never been this scared to release a piece of art.
A friend once told me that I was like a house. I'd gleefully show everyone the dirty laundry on the floor of the bedroom and the dishes in the sink in the hopes that they wouldn't notice that the attic door was locked.
This book is what lives in my attic.
I'm hitting "post" before I talk myself out of this.
Oct. 30th, 2012
FYI to those wondering: we are safe in Bushwick and were lucky that we didn't lose power or water service. Keep those who were not so fortunate in your thoughts. <3
Oct. 29th, 2012
01:15 am - For Becca
Earlier this week, a remarkable person named Becca Rosenthal died.
Becca was known on twitter as @becca_darling and she blogged about music as The Bee Charmer.
This is the first photo I ever took of her:
She's the one in red, which makes sense because even if everyone else was wearing black, Becca wasn't afraid to be the spot of color.
We'd been up late working on a music video. I think we said about five words to each other over the course of the 12 hour shoot. I was the new kid on the block, nervous as hell, and she was intimidatingly cool. I didn't think we'd have much to talk about, but that night we stayed well past dawn, shivering on someone else's kitchen floor as we traded stories.
I have a terrible memory but since I heard she died all I can do is remember. It's like my brain is worrying the idea of her like a grain of sand and the pearls are rising to the surface. Technicolor details of that first night flash and pop and crash into moments of the night I knew we were over; she kept trying to get me to come up to bed but I stayed on the stoop, smoking until the sun came up. Those moments dissolve into the night we went to see her friend play a show in NYC. I took a photo of her holding an honest to god Emmy, then we ended up at a diner. The crowd dwindled until only three of us were left. Becca and her glamorous friend were covered in glitter and speaking French. I understood not a word of it, but appreciated that I could relax and not worry about being witty or charming.
She was witty and charming enough for both of us.
I keep wanting to write about who she was when no one was looking, that underneath it all she was fragile and gentle, but I have no words to explain what the world has lost. She wasn't just the Bee Charmer, the arbiter of cool, a music savant who always knew who'd be the next big thing. She wasn't just the girl who so perfectly played the bitchy best friend in that music video. She wasn't just our pal, our drinking buddy, our sometime lover, our secret keeper, or our walking French immersion course.
The person we lost cannot be quantified so easily, because there is no way to factor in the hundreds of hours of conversations that will never be had, the hundreds of thousands of steps on new and familiar streets, or the innumerable moments with people who loved her or with those who would have if they'd had the chance.
She spent the years I knew her seeking out connections, opening her heart and her brilliant mind. She risked and flailed, fell and got up again, put on a new layer of eyeliner and walked on unsteady feet to the next fork in the road. Two roads diverged in a wood and she was the one crashing through the underbrush, eyes on a horizon I couldn't even fathom.
I want to believe that she found what she was looking for before it ended so suddenly.
My heart aches with the possibility she didn't.
It's times like these that I wish I believed in god.
It's times like these that I wish I was an atheist, because I secretly suspect that god does exist. If he does, then I have to face the rock and the hard place, the concept that either he is incapable of alleviating human suffering or that he chooses not to.
It's times like these that I wish people wouldn't spout platitudes about how now she's an angel, a star in the sky, in God's arms, in a "better place" or always in my heart. I know grief is terrifying and leaves all but the best of us speechless, but in those moments, I'd rather you just be speechless than so clumsily tell me to look on the bright side.
There is no fucking bright side.
I cried in front of one of my coworkers, and she listened to my tearful guilt that I couldn't remember the last time I talked to Becca and now I never will again. My coworker said she didn't know what to say, because "I'm sorry" seems inadequate at times like these.
That simple acknowledgement that some losses are bigger than words gave me so much comfort.
I just don't understand how a 27 year old goes to sleep one night and never wakes up again, leaving the rest of us to wonder what she would have accomplished if she'd lived to 72 instead.
I am older now than she will ever be.
I keep remembering moments we had together and realizing that now I'm the only one who knows about them. No one else was there the night we sat on the steps and she told me stories about her childhood. We stayed until it was too dark to see and past that, until a baby opossum skittered across our toes and chased us out into the street as we shrieked like little girls.
She was there that morning when I went downstairs while the neighborhood was still sleeping, preparing to bury a sparrow that I'd tried to rescue from a storm. I'd found it, shivering and cold on the sidewalk, then took it home and put it in a box. I put the box by a lamp, and that's where it was when she rang the bell at 2am.
She was still asleep in my bed when I took the box outside for the grim chore, so she didn't get to see the bird stretch its wings and fly away when I lifted the lid.
I woke her up to tell her about it and she said, "That's beautiful, pal." The tone made her seem unimpressed but I could tell from her face that she meant it.
I am telling you this because some moments are meant to outlive the people who shared them, but there's no way I could articulate the way it felt to know her in that moment.
I don't know why sometimes sparrows get second chances and sometimes people don't.
Later that afternoon, I gave her an antique key. It was one of hundreds in my apartment; I didn't know its story, but it was tiny and beautiful. The head of it was shaped like a clover, and I imagined that it opened a diary or a secret drawer.
She wrapped her hair through it and it became part of her dreadlocks, her collection of the bits and bobs that meant something.
I wonder what her hair was like the last time she looked in the mirror. We hadn't seen each other in a year, but in my head she still has the dreadlocks. In my head the clover shaped key is still there, among the records of all her adventures, a testimony to the fact that the moment existed, even if I'm the only one left who remembers it.
(photo by Olga Nunes)
We traveled together for just a little while, deciding to be friends rather than lovers going forward. Becca needed a woman who could speak French and watch films with subtitles, who would appreciate her razor-edged good taste in music and who wasn't terrified of commitment. I needed a woman who would be amused by my love of 90s alt-rock and stay in with me to watch crime shows without wishing she was out dancing.
I wish I didn't feel like I failed her by taking for granted that she'd always be around, by not calling more often, by forgetting her birthday this year, by not somehow knowing it was the last one she'd ever have.
She'd never been to my new apartment, but somehow the glitter came with us when we moved. I still have a book she accidentally left behind one of the last times she visited. I thought I kept the note she scribbled down one morning when she left before I woke up, but I'm worried that I threw it away in one of the moves. It didn't say anything profound, but I liked that she was the sort to leave notes and the thought that it's mouldering in a landfill somewhere makes me immeasurably sad.
Last night, in the quiet darkness of pre-dawn New York, I pulled a shoebox from under the bed and crept downstairs. The street lights illuminated the scraps I'd saved going back almost 20 years. Love letters, post-it notes, journals, demo CDs, photographs--- all chronicle my life up to this point, starting before I was even a teenager.
Mixed in with the ticket stubs and my high school graduation tassel, I found a plastic giraffe. I'd given her one just like it and dozens more, tiny plastic charms that came with margaritas at a restaurant that doesn't exist anymore. She liked the monkeys best.
One day the restaurant was out of animals, so they put mermaids on the rims of the glasses. I collected four of them to give to her. By the time I got to Boston, one had lost a tail. That one was her favorite.
The last time I saw those mermaids, they were perched on a lamp in front of a wall of VHS tapes in the Cloud Club. Well, three of them were. I am pretty sure she kept the other one, maybe even in her own shoebox under the bed.
Halfway through my shoebox I opened a letter that I knew wasn't from Becca. A Polaroid fell out and there she was, looking up at me. Fifteen seconds before I'd thought how much I regretted that no such Polaroid existed, but then there it was and the memory of taking it backstage at the Pops came rushing back.
I couldn't find the note I remembered, so I scoured the bookshelf and found the book she left behind. As I held it in my hands, I realized she still has one of mine. Had. I wondered if she read it, or if she liked it if she did.
When I opened the book, I found a sheet of paper with notes she'd jotted down about truth in art. They're so complicated that I put them away for a time when my brain is up for a challenge. Even at my best her philosophy is sometimes still beyond my comprehension.
She was buried on Saturday. It was Sylvia Plath's birthday.
Sylvia outlived her by three years.
Becca was buried and I wasn't there, because I can't stand the thought of her being underground, alone.
She liked my tattoo, the one in Latin that means "no one dies." It's shorthand for a mantra that soothes me when I disappoint myself, that I'm not a brain surgeon so no one dies from my mistakes. She didn't ask about the story behind it, just translated it in her head and nodded her approval. Becca was the sort of person who understood such things.
Another friend looked at that tattoo once and when I told her the literal meaning she countered that everyone dies.
I brushed it off, but she was right. At some point, we all shuffle off this mortal coil.
One of my closest friends lost her last living grandparent. He'd just turned 91.
A week later, we lost Becca at 27.
Death comes for us all, and the most we can hope for is that we used the time we had, however long it turns out to be, to love, to create, and to leave the world a little better than we found it.
By that standard, Becca succeeded brilliantly. She left behind poetry and a legion of people who are mourning for her, all of whom will be forever changed by her existence.
I know for a fact that I am a better person because our paths converged for a little while.
I thought about her that day, before I found out but after she was gone. I want to tell the story, but as I started to write it, I realized that it's another one that I'm the only living witness to, and maybe that's for the best. But you should know that in it she was brave and merciful to someone who'd hurt her. She was kind in a moment when I would have been vindictive, and years later I'm still proud of her for having such an incredible heart, even if in the end it was a heart with an early expiration date.
I can see her--- red dreadlocks, sunglasses, dozens of thin bracelets, big eyes and pale skin--- rolling her eyes at my tears and saying, "pal, what are you, sad?"
Yes. I wish I could tell you how much, pal.
I think that's the last photo I ever took of her.
I have so much more I want to say but there are no words.
I love you.
Jul. 18th, 2012
04:31 pm - Meals of Pachyderm
I've never done a proper blog about being an "atypical" ADD kid or finally getting the diagnosis at age 27 that literally changed my life. I don't think this will be that blog, but who's to say what a "proper" blog is anyway. I want to talk to you about creativity and productivity but first I have to talk to you about ADD, because for me all three of those things are intertwined.
ADD is my double-edged sword.
( Read more...Collapse )
Jul. 8th, 2012
"Privilege is perpetuated in part by the silence of people when one of their own group does something questionable. This can be an inappropriate joke, or someone admitting that they committed a crime against a non-privileged person (eg. rape), etc."
-Andrea Rubenstein, from "Check my what?" On privilege and what we can do about it
This blog has been percolating for me for more than two years but the incident I keep going back to happened almost a decade ago. Most of this blog was written in 2010 but I couldn't make it come together the way I wanted it to. It still hasn't, but I think what I'm trying to say is important, so I'm posting it anyway.
FYI, some of the incidents I talk about in detail below happened months or years ago now. Those involved may have changed their thinking or behaviors. If that's the case, I'm thrilled, but it doesn't negate the statements made in the past, nor does it eliminate the value of the events as examples.
Trigger Warning: below the cut you'll find transphobia, racism, ableism, fat-hatred, homophobia, and related slurs.
( Transphobia, Ableism, Being Fat --- and Being an AssholeCollapse )
Jun. 29th, 2012
08:05 pm - Ghosts of Apartments Past
The guy who lives in our old apartment came down today to drop off some mail. He said something about mail forwarding and I said, no, the important envelope I'd mentioned only went to them because of sender error. Of course they didn't still have that one, so I'm back to square one.
He introduced himself and we shook hands. He didn't know about the vacate. I reassured him I'm sure his apartment is legal now, since it's been renovated.
"Yeah, it's a dream up there," he said and I wanted to ask if they were gouging him on the rent as much as I suspect they are, and how many people they've crammed in there.
I wanted to tell him that when we lived there the windows leaked, and once the ladder up to the third level broke and I fell. Kayla had to come rescue me because I ended up half-hanging upside down.
I wanted to tell him that I learned to love cooking in that kitchen, with its haphazard vinyl floor that my brain always tried to find patterns in. I wanted to tell him about the summer mornings we woke up roasting because there was no insulation between our room and the roof, because back then the windows were covered with graffiti and didn't open.
I wanted to tell him that I lost the first ring Kayla gave me down a gap between the wall and the floor, but that it's okay because she forgave me and gave me another one.
I wanted to ask him if there's any shadow left of the safehouse graffiti I painted on the closet wall, or if our old bedroom is still blue. I wanted to ask if the new neighbors are as loud as our old ones were, or if management finally installed the soundproofing we hounded them about for a year and a half.
I wanted to tell him to look for the Beatles sticker on the beam under the stairs to see if it was just painted over or if they scraped it off.
I know they covered up the stenciled quote on the wall of the kitchen that read "somewhere, something beautiful is waiting to be known" and took down the climbing wall in the living room, and that things like that can't be explained to someone new once they're gone.
I know they repainted the red kitchen and the orange wall in the living room back to plain cream. They didn't need to repaint the bathroom because it wasn't until just a few days before the vacate that we'd finally agreed on a color for the walls.
I didn't tell the man who inherited our old apartment any of those things, but now I sit here, wondering if they're still fishing lost Amanda Palmer buttons out of the cracks in the floorboards.
More than wondering. I'm hoping they still are.
I think my point is that his dream and my dream are different dreams, and I don't live in that apartment any more. I live in this one, where the kitchen is red and the living room wall is orange and the bathroom is dark purple and has old vinyl records on the walls.
I live in a loft with almost a hundred things on the walls, instead of in the other one where I was afraid to hang anything up because it might not be permanent. I love that this place is so fully ours, with its wall of windows and the spice shelf I made out of an old piece of the floor, even if we might get priced out when they raise the rent in November. Because if that happens, we'll take everything down and pack it up and take it to a new place, and that new place will be ours as much as this one is.
That old apartment saw tears; it watched me discover how to stand up for myself, but that discovery was hard won and the end result of so many bruises. We hit rock bottom in that apartment, again and again. That apartment saw us almost break up, while this one has only seen us planning our future.
That old apartment wasn't our home when we got engaged. We'd just lost it by order of the buildings department and so we were camping in a temporary apartment that had roaches as big as matchbox cars. We had a mattress on the floor, four cats, and each other when gay marriage passed.
I knew then that the safehouse symbol painted on the wall didn't make that old loft our haven; it was the person waiting for me when I climbed the ladder up to bed that did. It wasn't the quote in the kitchen, the climbing wall or the leaky windows that made that place home.
Just about a year ago, life taught me that I could walk away from all the stuff, as long as I still had Kayla.
It's a lesson that still stings when I think about someone else falling asleep in our old bedroom, but it's one I am so grateful for.
Today was a hard day, but I feel better now.
Jun. 18th, 2012
04:10 am - ADD Brain at 3:30AM
The insomnia rarely visits these days, but tonight I'm wide awake at 3:30AM. Months of enforcing a sleep schedule that would satisfy even the most strict of Catholic nuns has convinced my body that 3:30AM is for dreaming and snoring, so I haven't seen this dark of night in quite some time.
Tonight the house is dead quiet, even though there are eight living beings in it. That's not counting the ants and the ladybug that lives on the windowsill, since they don't make much noise.
I'm reminded that the nights I spent awake while everyone else slept were solely mine. With no outer distractions, and with the medication long worn off, my ADD-addled brain was free to bob and weave its way through endless lush fields of thought. Often I would end up miles away from where I started, and in the middle of the night, I didn't have to mind.
Like tonight. Somehow I ping-ponged from reading the latest on that missing girl in Louisiana who shares a name with one of my favorite fellow travelers, to pouring over endless biscuit recipes in search of the best one, to plummeting into the black hole of debate on whether fanfiction is a valid literary pursuit.
You'd think a girl who is easily distracted would be happier living in a cabin in the dark, quiet woods, but I'm for NYC, all the way. Even now, in our little loft outpost in deepest Bushwick, the lack of traffic and trains and voices is unsettling. I always wonder if I'll wake up to this same stillness, discovering with horror that I am the only one left, and I'll never have those comforting noises again.
In the middle of the night, I'm an alarmist. I worry that I'm the last person left in the five boroughs, I worry the reason my hands sometimes stop working is that I have some exotic form of MS, I worry that if we have kids I'll be a bad mother because I'll take antidepressants while I'm pregnant and I'll swear around the kid even after it's old enough to understand.
I worry all of those things in half a second, before I've moved on to scouring ebay for a suitable facsimile of a lamp I once wanted to buy in a vintage store but didn't. The lamp leads to looking at stills from movies leads to "whatever happened to that script I almost had finished, the comedy about the chicks who kidnap a celebrity to detox her?"
Yes, that script exists, in my hard drive along with thousands of words on other topics, like my immoderate feelings on polyamory (immoderate in opposite directions at different times, it's worth noting). They're both tucked in there along with a four-act recounting of seven years ago that tells the story of how I fell in love with a girl. Now, I just love her, even if we're 3,000 miles (give or take a few) apart. Deep in the subfolders there's also the play I wrote for her, a love story with strange S&M undertones that I shake my head at today. Not because it's poorly written, but because at 23 I was so willing to share everything that I was and thought and had. It was noble and stupid at the same time, and the whole thing is baffling to me today, but here I am, still talking about everything (sort of).
Someone once told me that I talked a lot about things that many people found to be intimate, so everyone would think I was open, when I was actually extremely private. She was probably right, because I can write about my embarrassing lesbian S&M play but I won't talk about betrayal and forgiveness even though those things are much more relevant to my life.
Although, looking back, the lesbian S&M play was actually about betrayal and forgiveness (and love) so maybe not that much has changed. I dealt in metaphors and stories then, the same way I do now, so I don't have to tell you the real details of the whole sordid mess that was my life at various points.
Back to the hard drive (and it's worth noting I RARELY come back when my brain is spiraling out of control like this, but apparently tonight is special), but back in the hard drive is a collection of monologues I wrote, each one the story of a different member of the same support group. It was an odd concept, because I doubt one support group would have a compulsive eater living in the shadow of her anorexic sister, an obsessive with a criminal record, a cutter, a rape survivor, a compulsive liar, a thirty-three year old woman dreading a high-school reunion, a closeted lesbian, and a straight woman struggling with her unexpected attraction to a transman. But it exists, at least in that play, because I wrote it, and some of it was pretty good, although I look back now at how I dealt with the trans storyline and I cringe because my worldview was just so LIMITED, you know?
And from there, ADD brain leaps to "How would I react if I found out Kayla was male-assigned at birth," and I can't honestly say because it hasn't happened. Which leads to a serious mental debate on whether or not penises (penii?) actually gross me out or if it's just that I'm socially constructed to be repulsed because I self-identify as a lesbian. Several seconds later I've determined that it probably doesn't matter because the only dicks I'm likely to see these days are on the shelves at Babeland and not actually attached to a person who might be offended that I think a part of their body is weird looking.
And THEN I start thinking about -isms and how many times I've laughed at jokes that were offensive, and how many times I thought "I didn't mean to offend" was an actual excuse, and that leads to the recurrent thought of how much I want a t-shirt that says, "Intent is Not Magical."
For what it's worth, I also want t-shirts that say "Get Mad" and "Social Justice Warrior Princess." And matching t-shirts that "Mrs. Gaybo" for me and Kayla to wear.
Kayla, who, by the way (and this is another tangent, obviously) has forbidden me to take her as my "lawfully wedded gaybo" or any other similar slur that we've reclaimed as a pet name. But she has agreed that we can use the theme from Voyager for the processional, so I guess it's okay if I have to say "wife" instead of "*redacted*" in the vows.
This is my brain. That was a tiny fraction of the brain-cascading I've been doing for the past fifteen minutes. People who don't have ADD ask me to explain what it's like, and what I usually say is that it feels like my brain is moving extremely fast in a dozen different directions as once, and that's true, and when I'm on medication it slows everything down and I can think about one thing at a time, and that's also true.
But in the middle of the night when no one is mad at me for not paying attention and seeming to wander from task to task and going off on mental tangents, I kind of like the way my brain works naturally. It's chaotic and loud and sometimes leads to places I never expected.
It's after 4AM and the alarm will go off at 8:30AM and I WILL be getting up no matter how little sleep I get because that's the only way to make sure my finicky body stays with a sleep rhythm. The last thing I needed to be doing is pouring out the contents of my head, but I did and now something exists that didn't exist before, and I pretty much always think that's a good thing.
Off to try to claim those 4.5 hours of sleep.
Love (and ADD),
ps - For what it's worth, I've been planning to do a REAL ADD/ADHD post with actual facts and a bit about my personal experience with the battle for focus, but tonight all I've got are brain fireworks.
May. 30th, 2012
Today is my 30th birthday. I've started to write this blog a few times (well, mostly in my head) but haven't quite found the way to say what I want to say. I still haven't, but time's up so this is what you get. It's better than draft #1, which was a list of all the famous people I've now outlived.
A few weeks ago, I found out that Amy Jo Johnson, aka Jules on Flashpoint, aka the Pink Power Ranger, wrote and performed a song called "Julia Roberts." The song isn't earth-shattering, but it says something real. You can Google it if you want the lyrics or to see it on YouTube, but in a nutshell, it's about how Amy Jo Johnson wanted to be Julia Roberts.
Guys, the gorgeous, famous actress who played the PINK POWER RANGER wanted to be someone else, someone she saw as being MORE gorgeous and MORE famous. That means that when I was 12, sitting in my living room wanting to be the Pink Power Ranger, she was sitting in her apartment in LA wanting to be Julia Roberts!
This idea was both profoundly satisfying and extremely disturbing to me. The idea that the people we idolize are idolizing other people is a total mindfuck, because it drives home a basic tenet of humanity:
No matter how successful, or beautiful, or famous a person is, there is probably someone out there whose success, beauty or fame makes them feel inadequate.
Today, on my birthday, I'm thinking of all the times I wanted to be someone else, and all of the times I almost succeeded. There was the year I spent driving someone else's kids around in a minivan and wearing Doc Martens, and the year I wore blazers and ate organic food and didn't use microwaves. There were the years I wore corsets and heavy eyeliner and drank too much wine and slept far too little.
It didn't change anything. I was still me, in corsets or Docs or blazers, no matter whose style I was emulating. I was still an awkward, artistic, bleeding-heart liberal who loved cats. My only mistake was thinking that the outer trappings would change that--- or, more importantly, that it needed to be changed at all.
I am who I am. I take beautiful photographs and I write things that sometimes make a lot of sense. I'm a pretty great partner, even though I sometimes nag. I try to give love to those around me as freely as possible. I can be petty and sometimes I hold grudges, although sometimes I also forgive too easily and get hurt again. I get depressed if I don't take my medication, but I worry that my art was better when I was still miserable. (It wasn't.) I drink beer instead of wine. I never really liked wine. I'm secretly an excellent cook. I've done a lot of different jobs, and none of them define who I am, but all of them say something about me. I get grumpy easily and am not always great at being polite when I'm feeling that way. I can build useful things. I make an excellent cat bed. I'm happiest when I'm doing something crafty around the house. I'm great at solving problems and dealing with crisis situations. I'm afraid of heights. Being catcalled makes me uncomfortable. I'm embarrassed to admit that my life is much, much quieter these days, even though I like it better than what I had before.
I still sometimes want to be Julia Roberts, but those moments are fewer and fewer as I get older. In the past year, I've walked through fire and back, and with the help of Kayla and my friends, I've come out the other end, perhaps not unscathed, but definitely seasoned.
I am thirty today. This is not what I imagined my life would be like, but all in all I have so much to be thankful for. I'm still trying to figure things out, and that's okay. I think we're all trying to figure things out, no matter how old we are, and recognizing that this uncertainty is very human is part of the battle.
No matter how amazing a person is (and I know some AMAZING people), deep down inside, they've had moments of crippling inadequacy and self-doubt. Insecurity is universal. No matter how successful, beautiful, smart, powerful or rich someone else is, there's someone else they see through the same envious eyes you view them.
Even the Pink Power Ranger thinks you'd like her better if she was Julia Roberts.
So what to do about it? I say we take the advice of a t-shirt that I've long coveted but (somehow) do not own:
Let's not only be the best at what we do; let's be the best at who we are. My focus this year is going to be on being the very best me I can be.
I'm going to create as passionately as I can. I'm going to love as deeply as is possible. And I'm going to remember that somewhere, Julia Roberts is dreaming of being someone else too.
Love (and birthday cake),
May. 20th, 2012
I wrote this on April 9th, 2012, and it is important enough to be shared, I think.
Kayla's father died last week.
I never met him. I hope he would have liked me.
I'm alone in our room in New York while she's in Denver taking care of the business that must be taken care of when a person dies. I'd never really thought about it before, but after you die, someone else will need to take out the last of the trash that you tossed in the kitchen garbage. Someone will sort the things that were important to you into piles, and then some of those things will end up in the same bag as the peel from the last banana you ate, because just because a thing was important to you doesn't mean that it will be meaningful to anyone else.
I've been buying old wedding photographs from junk stores and trying to track down the families they belong to. My most recent find was a series of photographs of a WWII soldier and his wife. A creased snapshot with a notation on the back, "this is how my husband looked after eight months away from him." I managed to track down that couple. His name was George and hers was Amy. He died in February 2011 and she followed in November. They were married for 64 years and after they died their memories ended up at the bottom of a bin in a musty secondhand store.
My mother's parents died weeks apart when she was in her mid-twenties. Stunned, she gave everything they owned away, except for a brass cup and the keys that were stored in it, both of which belonged to her father, and the diamond ring I now wear. That ring would have been buried with my grandmother, but my aunt insisted my mother keep it.
I half-joke about who would take the cats if Kayla and I both died in a plane crash, but I've never considered what would happen to all the things I've been carting around this mortal coil. Any unlucky executor of my estate would no doubt be puzzled by the box of old photos that don't correspond to any known relatives, so George and Amy's wedding portrait would likely be on its second trip to the junk store. The delicate Lego spaceship on the shelf could end up in the trash, and no one would know that it was a gift to me from a small boy who I loved very much, who is now a teenager but who I hope still plays with Legos. The disjointed pieces of my memoir would be dumped onto a hard drive that would then live in someone's drawer until it became obsolete. If I got lucky, a box or two would be tucked into the corner of a friendly attic, to be opened fifty years later by curious children who would wonder who The Dresden Dolls were and why anyone would need 500 old keys.
I intended to write about how being gay can make a death in the family even more complicated and fraught than usual, but I think I'm too angry. Angry that Kayla has to deal with everything while I'm on the other side of the country, unable to support her. Angry that I never got to meet her dad, even though he probably wouldn't have liked me anyway. Angry that, if I were a man, neither of those things would have been true.
I'm also angry that, unless things in this country change, there are many states that wouldn't recognize us as next of kin, even if we've been together 64 years when one of us drops dead. (My guess is that it would be me, at 91, rather than her at a spry 83.) I hate the thought that some cousin or aunt would be deemed more fit to handle the arrangements by mere fact of shared DNA when we shared a whole life.
My hope, really, is that we'll get lucky and go out simultaneously in a hilarious "Nutella tanker truck ruptures; gay retirement community submerged" accident, when we're so old we can't remember what it was like to have teeth. And maybe if we're really lucky, we'll have a granddaughter who is just as much of a pack rat as I am, who will abscond with the boxes of old photos and the Lego spaceship before the more practical relatives consign them to the bin.
And if that granddaughter doesn't exist, I hope some hopeless romantic finds our wedding photos in the thrift shop and buys them and googles until she finds us, and when she reads that we were in love for six decades, I hope she hangs one of them on her wall as a reminder that it's not impossible.
I haven't posted a public entry since 2011, but I've written things since then. Nothing uncomplicated enough to share, but it's there, hidden away on scraps of paper and in half-finished emails to myself.
It's almost my birthday again. I won't rehash the past year, except to say that it was full of extremes of emotion like I'd never known before. My circle grew smaller, my life grew quieter. I don't know if either of those things are good or bad or if they both just are.
I still think about you, and by "you" I mean so many people who've faded or screamed me out of their lives. My mother has always been a great believer in that adage about people entering your life for a reason, a season or a lifetime. She believes in letting cycles run their course. I want to believe too, and I'm starting to, but I can't say that it's in my nature to let go.
I've been doing anything else to avoid writing this blog. Just a little more retouching to be done, a tiny bit more research into wedding photography advertising trends, a few more pleats to pin in the skirt I'm making.
I'm slowly coming to the conclusion that Kayla and I are very good at commitment but bad at having a wedding. I worry that it's going to be like the past few birthdays and housewarming parties I've wanted to have but haven't, and then it's too late and there was never a proper celebration. In a way, the wedding itself feels very much like an afterthought, because we've lived together since before our relationship began, and after 3 years of figuring out whose turn it is to clean up the cat puke, I'd say we're pretty darn committed.
The other day, she came home from work and we made macaroni and cheese. We ate it sitting on the couch, touching but not speaking, and I was so grateful that we get to do those normal things together. The highs and lows may mark the outer boundaries of our relationship, but it's the ordinary moments that truly define us as a couple.
I listen to Abby's old songs, the same ones I sang along with when I was 22 and broken-hearted. There's one that has the line, "I just want a love to call my own," and it always takes me back to the nights I laid awake, wondering if I'd ever meet someone who'd want to be mine. For years I settled for less than I deserved, for half-love affairs, for secret romances that were more about shame than subterfuge.
Birthdays are really complicated things. I take an odd amount of pride in the fact that by now I've outlived Sylvia Plath, even if I haven't written The Bell Jar, but there's still something unsettling about the yardstick this arbitrary date provides.
On my 21st birthday, I got irresponsibly drunk and made out with a girl who didn't really like me. I ended the night sitting under a table, amused as my best friend wondered aloud where I'd gone. Twenty-two was apparently not particularly memorable. Twenty-three was, I think, the last one I spent in Pittsburgh, which means I probably spent it with the woman I was dating at the time. I have vague memories of an Italian restaurant and trying not to fight with her, because it was my BIRTHDAY, and birthdays are supposed to be fun, right?
I turned 24 in New York City. I think KT and I went to see Rent. For 25, my girlfriend at the time planned the whole evening; we'd go to the swankiest, most exclusive restaurant, then hit the clubs. I told her I didn't think I'd be comfortable doing those things, and we fought, and in the end we had dinner at an Italian place near her apartment and spent a lot of time not speaking. What I should have said was that there was no place I'd enjoy spending my birthday less than a trendy restaurant and a club full of drunks, and that obviously she didn't know me at all, but I was so lonely and so afraid of being lonely.
I turned 26 on a stage in Houston. I was on tour with a rock band. I was finally cool. Nevermind the fact that cool is fleeting. Human beings aren't meant to live on wine and adrenaline, but I did, for a long time, even though I've never really liked wine.
27 was on a stage again, this time in Brooklyn. I'd just started to date Kayla; we went out with friends for sushi and she ate it, even though she hates fish and was grossed out by the fact that it was raw, because she knew I liked it and it was my birthday. It was the first time I'd dated someone who sacrificed their own comfort for my happiness. The gesture meant a lot to me, but I've never taken her out to sushi again, because neither of us should have to suffer through something we don't like. There are enough restaurants in the world that will make us both happy.
Oddly, I can't say I remember turning 28. I think I took a week off work; it was the first time I'd taken off after several years of working 60 hour weeks. My only sense of that birthday is the feeling of warmth and the color yellow. It was a good birthday, I think.
29 I drew a line in the sand. I embraced the life of being a full-time artist. It worked too, for a while, and then life kicked me in the teeth a few times and I lost my balance. It was a hard year, but it's almost over, and I think 30 could end up being really, really good.
All in all, I'd rather be here than in Pittsburgh or Battery Park or on a stage in Houston. And that's the goal, right?
ps - I'm just going to fucking post this, because I know if I wait to go back and edit it in the morning, it will go to the post graveyard like everything else I've written in the past 9 months. So here it is.
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