Tuesday, May 27, 2008

RS: Seven Year Itch

Ray Sexton was my grandfather. Saturday was his birthday. He’s been dead 7 years now.

I always wanted to be like him when I grew up. He was a great man. Great, lower-case g. The world didn’t know him; but those who did knew a man of incredible generosity, though not a man of wealth, one of those shirt-off-your-back kind of guys. He built the longest swinging bridge in the county. As you walk across it, you wonder how on earth he did it. Much of his life was lived the same way. He supported 7 children on what is unquestionably the rockiest farm known to man. And that swinging bridge, so pivotal to the industry of the rock quarry when built, now leads to nowhere, outgrown and outdated. That too could have been a metaphor for his life. He never had much to speak of—a field of abandoned cars overrun by weeds and good intentions, a modest home run down over years of neglect and rowdy children, and way too many peacocks, creatures as annoying as they are beautiful. He was also beloved by every one of his grandchildren, without exception.

He was the gentle giant to my grandmother’s rabid dog. My only memories of her in my childhood are of her screaming. She seemed to always be angry at the world and often at us kids or at the spouses of her own kids, who to her just happened to be the only 7 perfect human beings ever to lurch across the planet. (If we're grading on a curve, the planet is indeed in peril.) She was also desperately afraid of being alone. But it was my grandmother, Mabel, who kept things going. She brought paddled behinds into my grandfather’s world of patted heads.

My grandparents didn’t sleep together. They had separate beds for as long as I can remember and often barely tolerated the other’s existence. But they loved each other with a fierce loyalty. She must have resented that he was unconditionally loved while she was actively avoided. The entire family teetered near collapse in 1990 when my grandfather suffered a massive heart attack and required quintuple by-pass surgery. He was not expected to live.

I was on the road, in a children’s tour of Babes in Toyland, playing a seven year old in lederhosen and tights. I was hovering just above the poverty line, unable to muster the airfare home or get out of my tour commitment. I did all I had the power to do. I sat down and wrote a song, a crude melody croaked into a tape recorder and sent with fingers crossed that it would get there in time for him to hear. The words came in about 20 minutes:

GRANDPA’S GENTLE HANDS
I remember when I was four, creeping through the door
Of the house of the man with the pipe and the La-Z-Boy chair.
And he reached out his hands to me, to lift me to his knee,
For a ride on my favorite horse that was going nowhere.

And I felt Grandpa’s gentle hands holding on,
Making me feel like nothing could ever go wrong.
And though I didn’t think too much
About the love in Grandpa’s touch,
It seemed to say to me, “Hold on, be strong.”

I remember when I was ten, creeping through the door again,
Hiding from the man whose pipe had just disappeared.
And I closed my eyes and cried, because a chair’s no place to hide,
And later I’d be found asleep in those arms I had feared.

And I felt Grandpa’s gentle hands holding on,
Making me feel like nothing could ever go wrong.
And though I didn’t think too much
About the love in Grandpa’s touch,
It seemed to say to me, “Hold on, be strong.”

I remember a year ago, the years had begun to show,
And his face looked worn like the arms of that La-Z-Boy chair.
Though I was too big for his knee, he reached out his hand to me;
And I thanked God for the man whose love had always been there.

And I felt Grandpa’s gentle hands holding on,
Making me feel like nothing could ever go wrong.
And though I didn’t think too much
About the love in Grandpa’s touch,
It seemed to say to me, “Hold on, be strong.”

And though he is so far away, if I could be with him today,
I would hold his hand and say, “Hold on, be strong.”

He lived another decade, in a fairly sad physical state, but delighted every time he saw me in telling me how much he loved that song. He considered it one of the greatest gifts he ever received. I sang it at his funeral. It is the proudest moment of my life about which I have no memory. In his final years, my grandmother stopped screaming and is now one of the most loving and gentle people in my life. Aside from the chewing tobacco, she bears no resemblance to the woman she once was. But she is still terrified of being alone.

My grandfather treated my grandmother with accommodating hands, relenting hands, not necessarily gentle hands. And that is where a great man became all too human. When my uncle (their youngest child) was in fifth grade, he stopped going to school. When the truant officer came to visit, my grandfather told him there was nothing they were going to teach him that would help him nearly as much as working the farm. Despite threats of legal action, my uncle never returned to school. With that, my grandmother would never again be alone. The decision was not without its consequences.

He sexually molested a fair number of us nieces and nephews, perhaps because he too was alone and lonely. I don’t think my grandparents ever considered that this son would have needs and urges that would demand fulfilling, regardless of access. He has become a pathetic, unkempt, unsocialized, porn-addicted freak—a bundle of needs, no longer with access, in no small part because all us nieces and nephews know better now. My grandmother is well into her nineties, in poor health, and grateful beyond belief not to be alone—it never occurred to her that when she died, her precious Dwain would be.

It was a mistake and irresponsible of my grandparents to keep my uncle home from school. Not as much because of what he would become as what he might have been, might have developed into. I have no idea if he was a monster in the making or a desperate man who made monstrous decisions. I’m not sure it matters. A forest fire burns just as hot whether the match was struck in anger or by accident, and the earth gets scorched exactly the same.

But my grandfather, great and gentle as he was, gets some blame for what happened. I tell myself in my grown up moments that it no longer matters. But I didn’t inherit my grandpa’s gentle hands. I’ve scorched a fair amount of my own earth, and I can’t help but wonder who put the match in my hands. Whatever my uncle’s responsibility, I know with absolute certainty that my grandmother’s funeral will be the last time I will be in his presence. I’ve smiled through my last Christmas, gritted my teeth through his last dirty joke, and glared across a room, feeling a phantom hand pushing down on the back of my head for the last time. I will not miss him for a moment. It would not surprise me at all if he were to blow his brains out shortly after the funeral. It would not bother me at all either. It may not be entirely his fault what happened, but it is completely his fault what he did.

I have heard that our cells completely regenerate every seven years. That means I am a completely different person today than when my grandfather died. I wish he could meet me now. All too human to all too human. I feel different. Maybe not completely regenerated but different. More wound up than wounded. And ready to forgive him. And ready to tell him that he needs forgiving. I would tell him I love him. Tell him I respect him. But also tell him that I wish he’d treated us all with a little firmer hand so that we might have treated ourselves with some of that gentleness he doled out so effortlessly.

Today, I went to see my therapist for our quarterly tune up and prescription renewal. We typically chat about nothing in particular. I was rambling, filling the time until we exchanged signatures. He stopped me and asked me to close my eyes and envision myself as a child feeling alone. It was surprising that an image came to me immediately. It was me sitting in a large, brown, Naugahide, faux La-Z-Boy that used to sit by itself alongside a wall in my parent’s living room. I couldn’t envision my face, just a nine-year-old arm resting on a chair, rocking gently watching television. I could see the right side of the room perfectly, the other side was blacked out. We did a lot of symbolic, Kumbaya stuff about “little Rodney” and “detached Rodney” that ended up with a very clear vision of that same brown chair, that same little arm, then with an identical little arm appearing, draped over “little Rodney’s” little shoulder. He then asked that “little Rodney” collect all his needs, get up and sit on “big Rodney’s” lap. Suddenly, the left side of the room came into vision, there I was sitting on the couch and this little person got up out of the chair and walked over to me and crawled up on my lap. Odd thing was, nothing but that one arm ever came into view. I opened my eyes just seconds ahead of the Schmaltz Police, ready to cuff me for felonious metaphor.

Perhaps my grandfather lives on a bit in me. Perhaps my hands have regenerated in kind. Perhaps none of it does matter.

So, on my grandfather’s birthday, I’m ready to treat my memories a bit more gently and see him for what he was, a great man who made some incredible mistakes. I always wanted to be like him when I grew up. I’m half way there—I’ve made some incredible mistakes. In another 7 years, well, who knows?

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

RS: Chiming In

I was thrilled and delighted by the ruling in California. Like WC, however, I am distressed by the timing. And I agree with AC that equality always comes too late. For me, with this ruling, last Thursday was the first time I believed that John McCain could be elected President.

He has a disinterested and disengaged party base that ain't buyin his big bag of bullshit. I look at John McCain and, while fairly impressed with his body of service to the country and maverick spirit, have watched him sell his soul to the devil in his support of George W. Bush. It is a sad end to an otherwise fairly respectable career (for a Republican) but he's traded his credibility for goose-stepping boots, reinforced toes to tow the party line. I think he sold his soul in the promise of party support for the Presidency. To true conservatives, he has no credibility either. He can't be trusted. Coupled with the growing disgust for his predecessor, it seemed the only thing standing in the way of a Democratic win for the White House was our history of standing in our own way and tripping ourselves at the finish line.

That conservative base that doesn't much care for John McCain cares plenty about gay marriage. My family lives smack dab in the middle of where the Bible Belt meets the Tornado Belt. There's a lot of hot air that blows there year round. During the last election, members of my family received at least one call about getting out the vote for the specific goal of "preserving traditional marriage". It was not only to support a ballot initiative--that passed--but also to support George Bush. For the record history has shown that where goes Missouri, so goes the nation regarding selection of a President.

The Democratic primary campaign has, for me, been extremely exciting. People are engaged and states that normally had little voice get one. That's great--even if it may be tripping us up right here at this first finish line. My greatest fear is that the gay marriage noise may add to the madness and create a perfect storm.

I don't think there was any political mal-intent driving the timing of the decision, but I do believe there will be political ramifications that could do more harm than good, at least in the immediate term, AKA the next four years. I do believe that gas prices might trump gays in terms of overall noise, but the anti-gay lobby owns the hearts and minds of the fundamentalists who may be newly activated.

I am braced. In the meantime, I am thrilled for all those who have someone in their lives with whom they want to make a lifelong commitment and have that commitment recognized by the government. I think the Mayor of San Francisco is a mighty fine fellow and one of those brave, straight advocates that will be required to make true change happen. And this decision may ultimately make a profoundly positive and permanent difference in the life of that 14 year-old coming out of the closet. Selfishly, I hope we don't keep taking two steps back throughout my lifetime.

I am also ready and willing to be wrong. I remember cheering wildly in a crowd of gay men in San Francisco when Bill Clinton was elected. We took more than two steps back during his administration, but it doesn't erase the memory of those wild cheers. I'm cheering wildly for all you folks in California. I happened to be doing research in San Diego the day of the announcement. During introductions, one of the physicians stopped the proceedings to say that he was very proud to be from California that day. Unexpected, unsolicited and unbelievably wonderful. I just hope I get to cheer wildly at the announcement of Barak Obama's election in November. I'd take a delay in that California Supreme Court decision, though, to gain immediate protection of the US Supreme Court. Under John McCain, I shudder to think how much further back we'd be forced on the bus and trapped there well beyond the next four years.

But things happen when they happen, and maybe the only good time for a positive decision toward gay marriage is now. I have to believe that a 14 year-old coming out of the closet today is coming out in a better world than any of us emerged into and, despite the ugliness of any hate-fueled debate, she's luckier to be gay today than ever before. Honestly, aren't we all?

Monday, May 19, 2008

WC: More on the California Ruling

Andrea: Please don't misunderstand. Of course it's thrilling.

But an equality ruling can be too early if it sets off a backlash.

Some pundits seem to think this one won't. And how can you entice the right to the polls with an anti-gay-marriage proposition if your state already has one, as so many do?

But it really is possible that, without the anti-gay-marriage propositions to vote for in 2004, the far-right turnout might have been lower, and Kerry might be president.

With all my heart, I'm thrilled that you all can get married in Calif--in particular, you Andrea and Aida. And of course I understand why waiting some more, after all the years we've waited, is not an attractive option.

I just hope, hope, hope that (1) the anti-gay-marriage proposition on California's November ballot doesn't bring out enough of the far-right to cause damage; (2) that the right doesn't manage to parlay this ruling into enough fund raising to help McCain beat Obama; and (3) that the rhetoric won't get too ugly.

Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe this is the exactly right time, rather than December, after the elections. I sure hope I'm wrong!

Saturday, May 17, 2008

AV: Real People

I don't ordinarily "cross-blog," but I want to respond to Wendy's comments about what's happening out here in the great state of Cali-for-n-i-a.

My first answer is that equality is both never too soon and often too late. But that's perhaps rhetoric that doesn't answer the question completely. Why did the Court rule "now" and not "later"? Because a lawsuit filed in 2003 finally made it through the system.

To clarify:

The CA Supreme Court agreed to hear a case that was appealed from the Appellate court prior.


See, a few years ago (2003, to be exact), an upstart young mayor in San Francisco (Gavin "Hottie" Newsome) realized that the statutes governing his city (which, unlike other cities in CA, has a lot of autonomy in its governance) don't say anything about restricting marriage to opposite-sex couples. So ... with a gender neutral shift in the marriage license language, thousands of same-sex couples got hitched in a couple of weeks.

Fast forward to a CA Supreme Court decision that annulled all of those marriages and a subsequent lawsuit filed by some of the couple who were affected by that decision.

The case wound its way through the courts: the suit was validated in the first court, then overturned at the Appellate level and then, as we knew it would be, the suit was appealed to the CA Supreme Court which then agreed to hear the case during this session.

In March of this year and almost unprecedented 3 1/2 hour hearing was televised and broadcast online as well. Many many questions were asked and answered and the Court, after hearing all the evidence and testimony, had until June 6th to deliver the ruling.

They chose last Thursday.

We're real people in California. I'll have more to say about this in a few days, but for now, I'm still a bit in shock about the whole thing. After a lifetime of being less than, the magnitude of the ruling is beyond true comprehension.

Friday, May 16, 2008

WC: Gay Marriage News: Oy

I don't mean to sound ungrateful. After all, it's great news that the California Supreme Court overturned the gay marriage ban in California.

But did they have to do it now? During the run-up to a presidential election?

Couldn't they wait til December?

I've been out of the closet for almost 31 years, and for years--decades--I've been able to listen to anti-gay rhetoric without letting it affect me too much emotionally. Til recently.

Perhaps it's because I'm just going through an emotional time, or perhaps it's because I know a 14-year-old who is just coming out of the closet, bless her courageous little heart, but my sensitivity to anti-gay slurs and bullshit is at an all-time-high. I also find myself angrily counting gay characters in the movies and shows I see. (Hmm, zero, zero, one, zero, zero, kinda one, zero--you get it.)

Because of this ruling, it's likely that the anti-gay bullshit is going to go sky-high again. And even our "liberal leaders," Obama and Clinton, are against gay marriage (and Clinton's husband signed an anti-gay-marriage bill while in office). They're willing to give us separate-but-unequal domestic partnerships, which I suppose is the middle of the bus rather than the back of the bus. Of course this stand probably represents their desire for votes, rather than their actual beliefs, but it's very depressing anyway.

I'm so tired of being a political football. And I don't want that 14-year-old hurt by hatred during this tender time in her life.

But this Cal Supreme Court ruling is going to put gay issues front and center in the political news, and the nasty right is going to have a lot of fun.

I know I should just be happy about this. But couldn't they wait?

Thursday, May 15, 2008

RS: Church of the SubGenius: Hour of Slack

A quote from Sarah Vowell's Radio On:

SubGenius Reverend Susie the Floozie, who has "a metric ton of Jezebel spirit bursting out a ten-pound bag," delivers this interpretation of her religious archenemies, the fundamentalists: "Fundamental is right. You take out the fun, then you take out the mental, and all you're left with is the duh. The carrot they dangle in front of you is the promise of inheriting the Kingdom of God. Well, I'm not sticking around waiting for that old fart to die!"

Sunday, May 11, 2008

DW: Truces and Cookies

Keep your fingers crossed. I think that I've signed a truce with myself.

I was speaking to a friend on Friday about my sadness and frustration regarding how different my life is now versus how it used to be pre-Aventine. While Aventine is one of the seven hills of Rome, it is also my company, my work, my lifestyle, my sandbox, and my laboratory. It's about the contrast to my former life in Mayberry. That life was rich and delightful, and I absorbed every drop of collective, creative moisture available to me. I had a tribe, a magical kingdom, and the equivalent of an even more magical tree house where I could have tea parties and speak to real and imaginary creatures. As someone born in the state of Loss, I've always known that nothing lasts forever. Thus, when it was time to move on, it was really OK, because there wasn't one single crumb left on the table in terms of experience that hadn't been tasted, swallowed, and metabolized.

Now, figuratively speaking, I'm in Gaza. That's ok too, because I can read/speak some Hebrew and mumble in broken Arabic if necessary. Symbolically, every day of my life now is about the creativity inherent in being in charge of what happens to you while you're awake. I came across a very sobering quote by Einstein last night that was something like, "Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts." Somehow, that perspective seems very resonant with what's happening now.

Of course, life comes in pairs of opposites, so with the sadness and frusration, there's also joy, wonder, and gratitude. As I think I've said before, I'm so very grateful that I don't have to commute an hour a day and work for someone I don't like, doing work that isn't very interesting. I had to take the PATH train a few weeks ago, and it was a very telling experience. One, I wasn't sure if I needed a Metro Card or not, since I rarely take it, and of course it's awkward standing in front of the machine reading slowly while others are impatiently waiting. Finally, I managed to find the train, sat down and started reading. Then this group (not gang) of young kids with skateboards came on and started speaking loudly, cursing, etc. All of a sudden, I felt vulnerable. I was out of my 07042 ecosystem and I wasn't feeling so safe and protected. Then, the train lurched forward, and instead of going in a straight line, like most trains, it started whipping around in wide turns, jerking back and forth. All I could think of is how nauseous I would be if I had to stand and do this twice a day with 500 other people, 50 weeks per year.

So, like everything else in life, Aventine is a mixed blessing. It's distanced me from people I love and whose lives were once the center of my own life. Now, Aventine is the center, and I'm in the center of Aventine, and I don't wake up worrying if a close friend has chosen the right color dishwasher, because I'm now figuring out the next new venture while increasing the net proceeds derived from this one. Well, maybe it does bother me a teensy-weensy bit about the dishwasher, but fortunately something else invariably comes up to distract me from dwelling on it too much.

Oh, the truce. I've decided that I must stop feeling guilty about being so focused on my work versus being more recreational. Yesterday I said to my husband that I'm going to try to do more "small" things that just fit into my current vista and not punish myself for not having a theater subscription. Predictably, there's a very interesting article in the Sunday NY Times about the importance of leisure and how leisure is different for different people. It can mean sitting outside with a cup of coffee, taking a walk, or studying French for 10 minutes during the day. That seems like a very reasonable approach. Today my husband and I are going to take a walk then go to the park and enjoy the day.

The most important thing I can do now, while doing what's in front of me, is imagining waking up at some point not doing what I'm doing now and being happy with whatever that other thing turns out to be. So, just like when I lived in Mayberry, I'm taking the cookies off of the table a handful at a time, savoring every bite, and trusting that my nose is fully capable of discovering other tasty morsels wherever they may reside.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

RS: Unanswered Prayers

I am not a do-gooder. I want to be the kind of person who cares, but I don’t always have the wherewithal to appropriately care for myself. I watch others with awe. I have friends who volunteer their time, others give money to charities, some help friends in need, one has made a career of changing the world, many care for animals more than people but they care and do. I do not.

I was talking to a terrific guy on my birthday weekend about the fact that I share a birthday with Audrey Hepburn. He said he could see the resemblance in my long skinny neck. I said sarcastically that the similarities ended there—I don’t care to swat flies off starving kids in Africa. Then, it occurred to me. I don’t care. It isn’t possible that I care because I don’t do anything. Certainly, you can’t participate in every cause. You can only do what you can do. I do not.

If someone in my family or one of my friends was suffering, I would help. I would do something. I would care. On my worst day, I haven’t suffered, at least objectively, as much as many people in the world on their best day. I’m not talking about happiness and being lucky, I’m talking actual suffering—the human condition crushed by inhumane conditions. And they aren’t friends or family, just strangers, faceless, nameless others. Some have enough generosity for others. I do not.

I go to church because I want to be better, but I often feel worse. There are religious zealots who are among the most uncaring people I have ever encountered—mostly faceless and nameless, but they have a voice (and inexplicable television access) so they are on my radar. I happen, in my church, to be surrounded by people who care a great deal, and they do. They get that being a Christian is about following the example of Christ. Some of them actually pull it off. I do not.

I sat in the sanctuary this Sunday, happy with my life, grateful for what I’ve been given, most especially the love and kindness that envelopes me. I also prayed for a few things, trivial in the grand scheme of things, but important to me. The sermon, from the book of John, recounts Jesus’s final prayer with the disciples before that whole betrayal/crucifixion/resurrection business. In Cliff’s Notes format he prayed that we all be as one. Eliminate the otherness. So, the minister asked, what if we answered that prayer. What if, instead of asking God to answer our prayers, we answered his? It is so easy to feel powerless in the world, especially compared to an omnipotent being. Is there a power greater than to answer the prayer of God? Perhaps, some people know the power of answering the prayers of others. I do not.

So, after years of asking (and sometimes receiving), I was overwhelmed with the possibility that I might be able to give back, answer God’s prayer, be connected to the faceless, nameless, understand that I do know their name—it is me. All I have to do is figure out how to help me. Again, I’ve never been good at that. It doesn’t take much. All you have to do is do something. I do want to do something, anything. I am hopeful that I can find my way toward something, anything. Do some good. It was a powerful experience. I wonder if I might be changed by it. . . I do not.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

A Quiet Sunday Morning

It's Sunday morning and I'm sitting in my jammies with my MacBook on my lap. The husband is taking a shower. The son is still asleep. Last night he went to a drive-in with tons of his friends to see Iron Man and Cloverfield. I know he is a happy boy. He loved Cloverfield, and he already saw and loved Iron Man on Friday night. The daughter is in the basement relaxing and watching The Little Mermaid after a tough night of stomach pains and throwing up. Oh, and of course the cats are napping.
Me? Life is good and/or I've just finally learned how to be content in the moment. It's been hard for me to just sit and read or just relax. It used to be when I was reading and relaxing I felt I should be doing something else. Perhaps tackle the piles of clothes on the floor in my bedroom? But when I was doing something else all I really wanted to do was read. Now I just sit and read and I'm happy to be sitting and reading. That is progress, huh?

I just finished reading The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher, a nonfiction account of a brutal 1860 murder. There's a 1940s British film called Dead of Night I first saw when I was a little kid, which is an anthology of mysterious stories. In one brief episode, a teenage girl playing Sardines hides in a big house, avoiding the seekers. She hears crying, and meets a little boy who says his sister wants to kill him. His name is Francis Kent and his sister is Constance Kent.

About 15 years ago, in a thrift store in Connecticut, I found a very used book called Victorian Murderesses. In the little paragraphs about each murderess on the back of the book, I saw the name Constance Kent, and read about how she murdered her little brother Francis. I had no idea that there was any truth in that Dead of Night story!

FYI, Dead of Night is not available through netflix, but if you ever get a chance to see it, do. It's very well crafted and entertaining...and scary. Victorian Murderesses by Mary Hartman is well worth reading. I loved it so much, in fact, I wrote Ms. Hartman a fan email. She was lovely in her reply.

Back to the Kents.

Entertainment Weekly's book review section profiled The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher and mentioned the Kent murder. "Kent" is hardly a rare name, so I did some research to see if this story was the Francis and Constance story, and it was! The author, Kate Summerscale, deftly brings together transcripts of the trial, contempory interviews with those involved, newspaper accounts, maps of the house and county where the murder happened, and weaves it all together with current events of the day, and includes other murders around that time period. Mr. Whicher of the title was one of the first detectives as we know them. Charles Dickens knew him. Many fictional detectives owe at least some of their make up and character to Mr. Whicher. The book was fascinating, and made me SO SO SO happy to be alive now instead of then. Now things can bad; back then things were ROTTEN.

My next book is The Da Vinci Code. Have you ever heard of it? I just couldn't bring myself to read it during its reign on the NY Times best seller list. I frequently, purposefully avoid zeitgeist entertainment, perhaps because I can't read a book or see a movie on its own merits when the world is shouting in my ear about how great something is. Well, time has flown by, and The Da Vinci Code is old now, so I'm ready to read it.

One thing is certain: I'm always happier when I'm reading. I'll read eight books in quick succession, and then I'll take a break. Then I realize something is missing in my life, and it's reading. Thank goodness for a well-stocked library and a Barnes & Noble gift certificate.

Ah, life is good this very moment.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

AV: Washing the Body

Don't be alarmed. No one has died. Not corporeally, at least.

The title of today's entry is for my apartment/duplex. I am moving officially this weekend in with Aida and the family. Yes, I've been living there for months, but I have kept my own place throughout. It's where my cat, Molly, lives.

This place also houses my furniture, tv, kitchen things, artwork, books, cds, curtains, bed and linens ... all the things that I both dragged with me through my breakup with my former partner of 13 years and chose for myself when I finally moved into my own space. When I finally chose to live with myself.

All the little things. The kitchen trashcan, the bathroom cabinet and shower curtain rings selected to work together. The fireplace set. The baskets and vases. The dishes and the kitchen towels. The placemats and napkin rings. The clock radio. The lamps. The toilet brush.

Everything. Chosen. By me.

The irony is that this ended before it began because of something that I did not specifically choose.

In February of 2006 I began the delightful dance of intimacy with a woman who still awes me with who she is. In June of that same year our lives changed irrevocably; she was diagnosed with cancer. And the idea of what my life was going to be shifted.

We did not have the luxury of discovery and the delights of exploration that we wanted to have. Each day since that terrifying day she was admitted to the hospital almost two years ago has been one of uncertainty and adaptation. We only know that we have this day ... and even that can change. And neither of us chose that.

What we did choose was each other and to see where the dimly lit road might lead us -- together.

And so the time has come for me to release whatever grasp I had on the idea of who I might have become, the idea of myself in late 2005 who, in reality, no longer exists. I am a new and different person, with a different understanding of what life is. I cannot retrace my steps. The path is obscured and ahead of me is an idea of a different woman. No better and no worse, but different.

And this house contains not only furniture and things, old spices and foodstuffs never used and bed linens still in their wrapper. It contains the ghost of someone who never was. And the time has come for me to open my hand and let that go.

I am sitting here in my favorite chair with boxes and the things that will go into them all strewn about. I am looking at each thing, each vase, each basket, each plate and cup, each pillow and candle. I am leaving some at the curb for the local thrift resale venture to collect in two days time. And some I am lovingly swaddling in newspaper with today's date. Friends have offered to help me to pack, but I didn't want that. I needed to be alone with it all ... to honor this passing.

And so I am wrapping and storing and loving each piece, no matter how small, as if it were a limb of that lost self. I am wrapping each like a mummy waiting for the hand of Osiris ... waiting for the touch of the afterlife so that it can someday live again.

The movers arrive on Monday to carry it all across the river to where it will wait for us to claim it.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Thursday, May 1, 2008

RS: Laissez les bon temps roulez

She is called the Soul Queen of New Orleans. Standing in the pouring rain in the front row watching Irma Thomas sing at Jazz Fest, I was certain she is both the heart and soul of my beloved city. It is not my home, but it is part of my history. It was a place of firsts: the first city I ever lived in, the place where I tasted alcohol for the first time, had sex with a woman for the first time, lived on my own for the first time, and grew up a little for the first time.

When the levees broke, I wondered if the city would ever recover. It is a place like no other in the country, music its pulse, decadence its past and its promise, Mississippi mud runs in its veins, the air about 80 proof. The very idea that it would not thrive again was sad, the idea that it would not live again was unimaginable.

I experienced our government’s negligent homicide only through pictures and news stories. I was angry. Sad. Not surprised. That our great land, drenched in trails of tears and blood, should saturate to flooding seems mere self-fulfilling prophesy.

I was in New York on 9-11. I remember being so surprised when I spoke to people from outside the city. Hatred leeched through their pores. My experience of the city that day and in the coming weeks was enveloping humanity, the kindness of a population that rarely acknowledged the existence of another on the street, a city of blind eyes Lasiked into caring. The anger would come later, replacing numbness, but then, just then, there was brotherhood and sisterhood—all open hearts and helping hands.

I spoke to a woman who ushered people on and off the Jazz Fest shuttles. She lived directly across the river in a place called Algiers. She told me it was the second oldest part of New Orleans, after the French Quarter. I asked her about Katrina. She said she had a great time, one of the best of her life. I was instantly offended, and she must have noticed because she immediately began to explain. She was safe, she knew early on that she was safe, so she began to help. She rescued pets, pitched in where she was needed, and helped usher folks to the safe side of the river. She also drank, laughed, swam in a friend's pool, and got to know her neighbors—people who’d lived down the block for a decade, completely unknown to her, transformed by a shared experienced into family.

If you spend time in the French Quarter and traveling along St. Charles Avenue, you might not know New Orleans is a city struggling. To be honest, as I drove around, I didn’t see that much of the struggling up close, though I know it is there. I watch it, angrily, on television. But I happened to take a wrong turn onto a street being rebuilt by Habitat for Humanity. There were two blocks of newly built homes, true to the historical architecture, differentiated mostly by color. It was only two blocks, two small blocks among acres of devastation, but they were two vibrant and alive blocks, a flatlined neighborhood rediscovering its heartbeat.

Others are making a difference too. Like so many, my church is working to help rebuild a community there. And God love Brad Pitt, as if I didn’t before. (He is a fellow southwest Missourian, how could I not?) But, not nearly enough is being done. We could do more. I could do more. And without proper repair of the levees, efforts may prove vanity at best.

Bleeding always stops, though. It seems it might have in New Orleans. The patient is awake, alert and alive. I didn’t do much, but I helped. I pumped a bit of cash into the economy—though unlikely to trickle down to those who need it most. That shit never worked, now matter how many times Reagan called it shinola. In addition to the times I was spending, I was thrilled by the time I was spending, resting my head once again in my first home away from home.

Much has changed, but driving the old roads felt familiar, each stop light threatening déjà vu. And the roads weren’t the only thing that felt old. I walk through life feeling about 19. Were it not for mirrors and actual 19 year-olds, I could continue that self-deception completely unchallenged. Walking through the Tulane campus, even my memories felt old—could be because I graduated exactly 19 years ago. But it was revitalizing just being in the presence of youth, lives not fully imagined coming into focus. There they were living in my city, growing up a little for the first time. And there I was growing up a little in that city for the second time. I stayed in a hotel across the street from the two main gay bars. I left those bars years earlier overburdened with Mardi Gras beads, and I got them the old fashioned way. . .I earned them. This time, I didn’t have a single drink in those bars. Dating here in New York has proven most satisfying. It didn’t seem necessary to go trolling in a new city. Who needs instant gratification when constant gratification is at hand? And I bought my first piece of art. My singular piece of durable property.

The city was different this time, mostly because I was different in it—responsible shoes on unsteady feet; but like those kids on campus, verging on possible, the uncertain held definite promise. It’s how I would feel leaving the city. My anger had no place there, I was leaving her in good hands, in the good hands of the people who live there.

About half way through Irma Thomas’s concert, the rain stopped and the sun started to shine. Right before she closed the show with her album After the Rain, her response to Katrina and her first grammy win, she thanked each of us a second time for being there, just being there to support the city as it returned to itself. It didn’t come across as disengenuous or pandering or just one of those things entertainers say but don’t mean. She took it personally and so did I. Whatever New Orleans becomes as she grows up again, I got to be a part of it, both what she was and what she will be. Dual citizenship has its privileges.