Saturday, September 30, 2006

overboard (over-bored?) blogging

"Space smells like a burned almond cookie," according to the Yahoo!News headline which purports to quote from a blog entry by the first astronaut tourist. What?? How asinine. You can't smell space (contrary to the existence of "space" scratch-n-sniffs from the 80's) -- there's no *air* in space to smell!! Maybe the inside of her space helmet stinks, but space itself, I imagine, isn't something she's had a chance to sniff out considering that she'd die from it.

Anybody want to argue this point??

i love earplugs

I am cheating on my favorite coffeeshop (the Black Cat Cafe on Alberta and 12th). Instead of walking all the way up there to study, I decided instead to check out a new joint that just opened up very near my house. It's called Bean (I think) and it's on Prescott and 15th. I don't think I like it. The flaming barrista is playing some really loud, really annoying music and the cavernous and echoey place has been full of loud, shrill young women jabbering about personal gossip I'd rather not listen to.

Enter: my bright orange earplugs which I am in love with. I pinch them and roll them and shove them down my ear canals and viola! The outside world of racket begins to fade to a tiny little buzz and I sink even deeper into my own little happy, muffled reality. I like my happy, muffled reality.

Plusses of Bean? It's open and spacey and sunny. Also, there's a gorgeous photograph of an old, rusty car on a bright Cuban street in the bathroom. If I had money I'd offer to buy that photo. I love it. One final plus is that it's close to my house. Very close. Minuses? Besides the gripes I've already mentioned, I was offered my house coffee in a paper cup even though I was staying. No ceramic, reusable mugs? What about the trees, for god's sake??

Also, the prices are a little higher than they need to be (ie: my 12oz. paper cup of house coffee cost me a quarter more than my giant soup bowl of house coffee at the Black Cat yesterday). And the atmosphere is too super-fancy. It feels like someone put a lot of money into the decoration and furniture without considering that they were opening a coffeeshop, not a cocktail lounge. Coffee doesn't make a ton of money and cocktails do. How will they cover their overhead? Not to mention they opened in a residential neighborhood in a town already saturated with coffeeshops. Who will see the place besides those of us right near by? And who will come *here* rather than their other favorite coffeeshops? (Don't say "you" because I probably won't come back. And don't say "that bunch of jabbering young women" because they were all friends of the barrista and they're gone now. I hope the barrista has a lot of friends b/c other than the people coming in and chatting with him, this place has been pretty dead.)

I'm predicting they tank. I could be wrong, but this just seems like a bad business move. I'll keep you updated. Now, back to my homework. This break has been brought to me/you by and the makers of bright orange earplugs, putting the plug back in your ears. Thanks for reading.


Just so you know, work was really weird this week. I like to write about my work because, personally, I think it's interesting. Three of our clients got kicked out this week and I was the one who called 911 for one of them. She said she was going to kick my ass, which is a threat I didn't even hear, but the bossman heard it and he said "call 911, she just threatened you."

Usually it takes more than the drunken mutterings of an angry client to get the cops involved, but we'd been trying for almost an hour by that point to exit her from the building after she'd been told she was kicked out of the program and she was showing no signs of leaving. In fact, she was only digging her heels in.

The weirdest thing of all about that was the striking resemblence that woman had to my dear old ex, CB. Unless you've ever known a real, true drunk (not just somebody with a drinking problem, not just a frat boy who goes on binges, not just all my friends of three to five years ago who used to drink to excess several nights a week and then drive home like assholes, but a real, bonafide "walking drunk" who is always, any time of day, just a little bit sauced) unless you've ever really known a drunk, you can't know the totally twisted vortex their always altered reality creates.

I walked into the room to ask this woman to leave last week and her behavior, her affect, her language, her defensiveness, her slipperiness, her lying, her intentional "misunderstanding," her combative attitude, her rapid switches between hostility and tearfulness, her sheer manipulation of every emotion available -- it was like looking back in time at CB last year when she was in the middle of her bender. It gave me a shivver of disgust. Thank god I got out of that and no wonder it still mystifies me. CB went from being my kind of wild and irrepressible yet still human partner, to being a completely self-involved, constantly drunk, emotional whirlpool of a pickled fucking zombie, practically overnight, and it lasted months. Word on the street, a year later: she looks awful. Which does not indicate to me that she's gotten her shit together any since the last time I saw her which was January.

So... yeah. Work is weird and especially weird when it mirrors real life. The good thing though, after booting three of the most troubling folks (all for legitimate reasons and by legitimate channels, don't worry) things ought to calm down a bit down there. Then maybe I can get some homework done on my shift. I mean, don't those people realize I have things *besides* work to do while I'm working?? Geez

** NOTE ** Speaking of work, a post I wrote from work during the week but lost has miraculously turned up. It's a few posts down and called "every little step." It's a thrilling account of my preparation for writing group at work and a plug for our writing group blog. Please. Go read that post. It feels lonely because blogger is a piece of shit and kept it locked in an e-closet for several days before releasing it to my blog. Damn you blogger. Damn you to hell.

Friday, September 29, 2006

word of the day, because i say so

Not just a shitty car anymore...

Pronunciation: 'fE-&t, -"at, -"ät; 'fI-&t, -"at
Function: noun
Etymology: Latin, let it be done, 3d singular present subjunctive of fieri to become, be done -- more at BE
1 : a command or act of will that creates something without or as if without further effort
2 : an authoritative determination : DICTATE (a fiat of conscience)
3 : an authoritative or arbitrary order : DECREE (government by fiat)

Fiats are, in my opinion, the specialty of the current administration.

And here's a bonus latin phrase of the day, because it seemed to come along with the merriam webster definition of fiat I just looked up. Enjoy. Two for the price of one:

fiat justitia, ruat caelum
Pronunciation: "fE-"ät-yus-'ti-tE-ä "ru-"ät-'kI-"lum
Etymology: Latin
: let justice be done though the heavens fall


indian summer

It is a gorgeous day here in Stumptown. I mean. Gorgeous. Like, gorgeous enough to use exclamation marks. Like this: !!!!!

The sky is vividly blue, the leaves are starting to turn, they're swirling a stark yellow against the grey pavement. It's hot! It smells like the sweet beginnings of decay. I'm happy. I spent the morning helping SK move into our friend Dutch's basement. Nice basement. Well-finished basement. Big basement. But basement nonetheless. We are both, now, basement dwellers. For the winter at least.

But solo basement dwellers. Meaning: I have no roommates and she, for the most part, has no roommates either. She will share the kitchen and some living space with Dutch upstairs. But she's got a bathroom and a huge downstairs space all to herself. No more roommate in the bathroom. No more roommate's weird energy sliming all over the common spaces. No more roommate awkwardly jockeying for the couch and the dvd player.

Solo basement dwellers also means: we're not living together. We are not now dwelling in the same basement. Which is sad for both of us, but for slightly different reasons. I made a committment to myself to live alone for at least a year after the break-up with CB. I also made a verbal agreement with my land-people that I would stay in my little basement for at least 12 months and even though it's not on paper and my lease is only month-to-month, I didn't want to break that agreement.

So I'm staying in my basement and SK is now staying in her basement and we will spend the next few months pining away for each other until the time is right. The frustrating thing for me is not knowing when and where and how the time will be right. I will maintain this horrendous schedule (working 4-midnight four days a week and going to school and doing homework in almost all of my freetime) until the end of February. Then I'll be done and, in theory, I could then start looking for a place with SK.

However, SK and I both have loose and ever-shifting plans to travel in the Spring. She wants to go to see her family in England and I want to go to Spain. Eventually we will both end up in the same country, but when? And which country? Probably the US, at first, but for how long? Who knows. And why am I boring everyone with this giant rehash of my current, semi-long-term plight? I'll be quiet now.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

each little step

I am sitting in the loft at work, waiting for the coffee to brew. Each Thursday evening, I host a writing group here and one of the few things I'm able to use to lure people into attendence is free caffeinated coffee. I use the coffeepot in the loft, which is a staff-only area. Besides making coffee, I have a million other little things to do to prepare for writing group and here's a list:

1.) gather all the coffee supplies and put them on a tray (this often includes washing coffee cups because these are usually all dirty by this time of the night)
2.) get the clipboards out and put paper on them
3.) get the pens
4.) get my group notebook
5.) tape the sign on the door of the second floor kitchen which is where group is held. the sign is really cool and was painted for me by SK who I adore.
6.) run back up to the loft to grab the coffee
7.) assemble all the coffee stuff and run back up to the group room where I am usually late, but I'm the one carrying the free coffee so nobody minds.

The reason I'm waiting for the coffee right now is to check the machine. The past three weeks I've done the group, I've run back up at the last minute for the coffee only to find a major coffee disaster. The filter keeps getting clogged and causing the coffee to back up and leak out the top of the maker. Bad news! Big mess! Terrible!

So I'm hanging out to make sure it doesn't happen again (I solved the problem by switching filter type) and keeping all of you updated because, fortuitously, our "break" computer is right near the coffeemaker! Lucky you guys.

If you're interested in the fruits of our labors, our writing group has a blog!! It's called The In Between Places and can be found at

Check it out, it rocks!

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

taking it personally

I got asked out by a client at work last night. Anyone who reads this site regularly knows I work in a transitional housing facility for the homeless mentally ill. The kid who asked me out was just drunk enough to have poor judgment, but not drunk enough to stumble and slur, and he'd been goaded to come talk to me by an older, sneakier guy for whom my little would-be paramour was just an entertainment.

The kid was sweet, but I politely declined. It got me thinking about how easy it can be to take things about the job personally. One of the first things I realized when I started that job was that "it" could happen to anybody, "it" being whatever it takes to land an otherwise normal person in a souped-up homeless shelter. This point was hammered home by a client I met early on who had a phonetically identical name to my own (though spelled differently) -- in fact, it was a big joke among the staff when I started because I appeared to have the exact same name as this client. It caused troubles with phone calls all the time and sometimes with mail.

Anyway, this guy had been a doctor, living a normal life full of normal things, when a series of unpredictible, unpreventable "bad" things happened to him that left his life completely unrecognizeable. All the normal things that had filled and defined his normal life were gone. Depression ensued. Before you know it, he's sitting on our couch reading pulp fiction all day and letting fungus grow over his bald spot because he's too debilitated by his depression to shower. I mean... wow. That's a big change for an otherwise normal guy. And if it could happen to him, why couldn't it happen to anybody?

He was my first example, and especially meaningful to me because we shared a name, but there have been tons and tons of other examples over the years. We've had clients who had been successful entrepenuers and business owners, psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, registered nurses, engineers, even a famous punk musician. What I have seen over and over is that there isn't always a clearly drawn line between a good life and a life spun out of control and the distance between one and the other is sometimes frighteningly small.

What's that got to do with the drunk kid asking me out? Why shouldn't he ask me out? It's not like we're from two different species, just because he's on the other side of the desk, as it were. Of course, in my private life, I have a million reasons why I wouldn't want to go out with him and, in my professional life, I have very important boundaries that would prevent me from going out with him even if I wanted to. But as two people, spending time in the same space, knowing the same people, sharing some little bit of life, it makes sense that we would sometimes see each other as people and not just as the roles we're filling in the moment. It would make sense that the drunk kid might see me as someone to ask out, or that I might see another client as someone fun to play cards with. Boundaries are necessary in this kind of job, to protect both staff and clients, but sometimes it's more humane to at least look beyond the roles of "staff" and "clients," while not aboloshing them, to see and acknowledge the actual real, normal people who exist underneath.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

speaking too soon is my specialty

Just as I finished that last post, with a nice vision of me in my bed getting some much needed sleep, I was startled out of my little reverie by the very loud and very unwelcome sound of the shrieking fire alarm. My situation was quickly downgraded from stuck-at-work-but-passing-time-amiably-at-a-computer-in-a-nice-office-upstairs-until-time-to-catch-the-bus to helping-with-a-full-scale-building-evacuation-for-no-good-reason-at-1-am.

Fifteen minutes later, 50 annoyed clients are all standing around outside the building in their pajamas, smoking and grumbling and watching me leaning against the front door, waiting for a signal -- they're waiting for a signal from me to let them back in, I'm waiting for a signal from the fire department guys who are all inside scoping out the building which is clearly not on fire in any way. Fire guys come out. All clear. Probably a faulty sensor in the basement.

At least it wasn't burnt popcorn this time, I'm sick of that one. Just once I'd like to come out during the fire alarm and find a raging trash can fire in the smoke room. I'd like it to at least be something interesting, but not actually life-threatening. I guess I missed the night a woman set her mattress on fire and then someone threw it out the window. I don't know if that's actually true, but I have it on good authority. Who knows.

I'm going to bed.

wastin' away again...

This is hardly Margaritaville, but I do feel like I'm wasting away. It's nearly 1am and I am still at work. My replacement overslept and is on his way here now, but I'll be stuck here until my next bus at 1:36am. And that damn Margaritaville song is going over and over in my head. Make it stop!!!

I've got a kind of grueling schedule, but at least I don't have early mornings. In fact, I could sleep in quite late tomorrow with only minor ramifications, the biggest of which would be the feeling of wasting my day, which brings me back to my theme song of the evening. Wastin' away again in oversleepingville.

Wouldn't hurt. I'm underslept and this post is proof. Rambly rambly. I just saw a picture from a Lewis and Clark Law School graduation on someone else's blog and now I'm slightly regretting that I am boycotting my graduation ceremony in December. The robe you get to wear is a serious upgrade from my completely plain black robe of college or the plain and really cheap navy blue robe of high school. It has billowy sleeves with purple swaths over them and something that looks like an orange hood hanging far down in the back.

For two seconds I think maybe I should go to the ceremony just so I can wear the cool robe... and then I remember that the cool robe will probably cost me 150 bucks and I think, you know, fuck the cool robe, maybe I'll just go out for a nice dinner and... you know... use the rest of the money for groceries or to pay my rent or something legitimate. I don't know. I'm not much for pomp and circumstance. Well, maybe circumstance, but pomp can go to hell.

Yeah. I need to go home and get some sleep. This is ridiculous.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

procrastination: understood, overcome

SK has frequently encouraged me to try and better understand my tendency to procrastinate. And, you know, I was *going* to try and better understand it, but I never really got around to it...

Ha ha. But seriously, I never got far. It was like I wasn't asking myself the right questions or looking in the right directions. Just the other day, though, something just came to me out of the ethers and I suddenly understood my tendency to procrastinate in a whole new way.

I was sitting in class making a "to-do" list for later. Often, when I'd like to pretend I'm not procrastinating, I make "to-do" lists. By making the lists, I seem to be "doing" something while not actually "doing" the things I need to do. Those things just go on the list.

So I was sitting in class making my to-do list and it suddenly occurred to me to wonder who I imagined would be doing those things "later" rather than "sooner?" If I didn't want to do those things in the present moment, then who did I imagine I would be in a few hours or days if not the same person, still not wanting to do those things.

I realized, when I thought about it a moment, that when I put things off for later (especially complicated or onerous projects) I actually imagined a different version of myself would be there to complete them, a version of myself who was somehow better able to deal with those things. I realized that, without actually naming it, I had split myself into a "present me" who was lazy, and a "future me" who was responsible. Not just responsible, I realized I had embued "future me" with lots of great qualities: "future me" was smarter, more confident, more articulate and more thorough. "Future me" was somehow really grown up and mature, like the big sister, while "present me" was kind of a whiny, bratty little sister, always dragging her feet and complaining.

As it was, "present me" was always passing off all the hard stuff to "future me," ensuring that "future me" always had a harder time and never really got a break. It is clear that this attitude spreads to all areas of life including finances -- if I use borrowed money or credit cards now, it's just an example of "present me" doing something easy in the moment that "future me" will literally have to pay for later.

A radical (if obvious) realignment of this situation seems to fix everything. Start with the premise that, if "future me" can exist at all (in ten minutes or five days) then she can (and does) exist right now. If I can be smarter and more responsible tomorrow, I can be smarter and more responsible today, I just have to pick it up and identify with it in the present. This effectively swaps the roles of "future" and "present" me. Rather than theoretically living all the "breaks" in the present while forcing myself to pay for those breaks later, I will now be keeping up with all the work in the present and fully paying for the breaks that I will be able to more legitimately enjoy in the future.

Are you still with me? Because, even though "present me" lives the breaks, she doesn't really enjoy them because, deep down, she's worried about all the stuff that she's not taking care of. She might steal the free time away from "future me," but she can't really appreciate it because she knows that time isn't really free. By switching these roles, everybody's happier. I could (and probably should) go deeper into who "present me" really is and why she needs laziness and free time and space so much. But for now, I will put her and her need in the future and draw the more responsible version of myself back to the present so that I can get some work done.

I have to say, it feels much better this way.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

word of the day


Main Entry: ful·crum
Pronunciation: 'ful-kr&m, 'f&l-
Function: noun
Inflected Form(s): plural fulcrums or ful·cra /-kr&/
Etymology: Late Latin, from Latin, bedpost, from fulcire to prop -- more at BALK
1 a : PROP; specifically : the support about which a lever turns b : one that supplies capability for action
2 : a part of an animal that serves as a hinge or support

I like this word a lot. It came up in a therapy session I had yesterday and I wanted to look into it a little more deeply for what it could tell me about the process I was unfolding when it came up. I especially like the 1:b definition -- "one that supplies capability for action."

Then, last night, I had the strangest dream. I was in a museum, a vast, cavernous space that seemed completely empty, but as I walked through, I noticed there were narrow, floor to ceiling panels (and the ceilings were immensely high, so these panels were very, very long) that were all through the room, but they were constructed out of a special material so that they only became visible when viewed from a certain angle. Pretty cool. Even cooler, the screens were like windows into the night sky -- they showed live images of stars as seen, presumeably, from Earth. I stood and watched and noticed a satellite passing. Each panel showed a different slice of the sky and, as I said, the room was full of these panels.

It was an amazing dream -- the magic of the vast space that seemed empty at first but instead was full of futuristic computer screens stretching to the ceiling, designed to be invisible from most vantages; the view of the sky, the stars, in long strips, as if we were all watching for something. In the dream, we were studying the stars for clues to a suspicious death on Earth -- a boy had drowned and we expected the stars would help us understand why. Significant, though, because my session yesterday had a lot to do with imagining the sky, the stars, a kind of fulcrum between earth and heaven, a portal between one world and another. The dream really amplified those feelings. It was pretty cool.

Friday, September 22, 2006

spoke too soon

Tuesday I was worried that my family wouldn't even bother to open my email response to their anti-immigrant message because of a misunderstanding. Looks like I was wrong, they were just slow to react. Tonight I got two very different messages from two different camps.

The good message came from my "favorite" aunt (who I recently disparaged, but who has definitely redeemed herself) -- she is, ironically, the one who forwarded me the obnoxious message in the first place. Her message to me tonight was perfect (or at least it was the best I could expect under the circumstances). She said I made good points in my message, she made some generalizations about politics that were pretty bland and she thanked me for the "good discussion." She ended the message with a very welcome "love you." All in all, it was respectful and felt like it came from someone who cared about me. That was cool.

The bad message came from my dad's brother's family. I hate getting messages from them because they always sign their messages generically so I can never tell exactly which one of them wrote the message. I guess that's one family style (to let the family subsume all the individual identities within it) among many, but it creeps me out a little.

Anyway, the bad message just didn't make a lot of sense and felt defensive. It mentioned that our family's first American immigrant married a Cherokee woman, as if that absolves us for still living on the land our collective forefathers booted Native Americans out of. Then it talked a lot about how each succeeding generation contained family members who fought and/or died in various wars and conflicts to preserve our American freedoms. And then it pulled some of my own language out of my message to obliquely chastise me for calling them on the bullshit they perpetuate among their "list of email friends who have earned the right to do so."

Earned the right to do what? And anyway, I must be on that "list of email friends" b/c I got the fucking message too. So what about my "right" to have and express an opposing opinion?

Yes, which perfectly illustrates my next point. The bad message got me a little riled up. I noticed I felt angry and defensive when I read it and my first reaction was to start imagining all my come-backs. I had half a retaliation email written in my head before I stopped to question all this intense reaction.

So I dug a little deeper past that anger and defensiveness and noticed I felt really hurt and really sad. I certainly braced myself for a response like this when I sent out my message, but I was definitely hoping for something more like the other message I got, the good one. I wrote my message very carefully and as respectfully as possible so as not to alienate anybody and further polarize them. I wanted to present my side in neutral language in hopes it would actually be heard and also to preserve whatever relationship I had with the people who would read it.

Basically, even though I feared my family would reject me for my opinion, I deep down hoped they would hold me in spite of my opinion -- possibly even appreciate me for it. Big hope! But look, my favorite aunt came through. She did exactly what I didn't even realize I was hoping for. She didn't treat me as if I was some outside attacker, threatening her beliefs and way of life. She treated me like someone she's known and cared about and still knows and still cares about and it felt good.

The other folks from the other message -- that blob of undifferentiated family who can't seem to sign their actual names to anything -- they treated me like an attacker. I didn't feel held or heard or cared about at all. And that's unfortunate. I notice, though, that just naming it helps dispell a lot of the sad feelings and hurt. If I really look, I see that I don't hold them either. I have never had a particularly smooth relationship with them and I never go out of my way to see them when I visit. In fact, they're the only aunt-uncle combo I didn't see during this last trip, and they live, literally, across the street from where I stayed.

So if they respond as though I'm an attacker, maybe I should pick up the attacker and say "Yes, I just attacked your life and your opinions. You're right. You should get defensive. That's appropriate. I shouldn't expect you to like me or be nice to me anymore." If I notice the absence within myself of a deep core of caring and loving feelings for them, then maybe it's ok to leave all this as it is. Maybe this is the most congruent place for it to be...

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

two more hours to go

Ten o'clock. I am sitting at the computer in the drop-in-center at work and the boys I work with (my ex-pretend-boyfriend Fat Tony and On-Caller #1) are playing chess at one of the big tables. As far as clients go, one guy's pacing around, one guy's watching the riveting chess tournament and two are sleeping on couches. I have to stay here until midnight.

Working until midnight four nights a week and going to school at the same time means two things: 1.) I don't get enough sleep and 2.) I don't get to see SK enough. She's got a friend in from London this week, so I'll be seeing her even less. School will be over in three months, but then I'll have to start studying for the bar. That won't be over until the end of February. But after that, SK's going to be heading off to London for a little while and I'm going, perhaps, to Spain.

London, Spain... that's all fine and good, but I'd like to be beginning some imaginings of settling down somewhere with SK. We're both a little flummoxed by our personal geographies these days. Neither of us are sure where we want to end up or when we want to get there. All I know is this: I want to be spending more nights sleeping next to SK, with the goal of achieving "all nights" status in the not too distant future.

Where will this magical domesticity take place? The US? The UK? Spain? Australia? Canada? I don't know. However, I do know that I have been taking this relationship more slowly and seriously than any other relationship I've had (and oh there have been many) and this dip into domesticity will definitely be on solid ground when it comes... just not sure what continent that ground will be in.

el diablo esta aqui

"Yesterday the devil was here. This place still smells like sulphur."

I don't usually respect political hyperbole, but this little jab at dubya by Venezuela's president Hugo Chavez delivered during a speech to the UN today certainly gave me a little giggle.

I mean, I know dubya isn't smart enough to be the devil. He's more or less like that Adam Sandler character in Little Nicky. He's evil alright, but a little too dim to get the job done as the leader of the underworld. I guess Rove is like Harvey Keitel's satan, taking care of business and calling all the shots from his throne in hell. Of course, it follows that Cheney is like the little talking pug that follows Little Nicky around on earth and basically tells him everything he has to do to be successful.

Basically, if you've seen Little Nicky, you know all you need to know about our current administration. Case closed.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

deafening silence

I sent out that email countering my family's ridiculous, anti-immigrant message and braced myself for a negative response. I was nervous every time I opened my email yesterday, but got nothing regarding my message. I sent that thing to over twenty people, mostly family, and I expected at least one person would write back and say "what's up, commie?" But nothing. Now I think I know why.

I just noticed the copy I sent myself sitting in my in-box and noticed that the subject line is so similar to the original, people may not realize it isn't the same message just forwarded on. In my family, a lot of these types of messages get bounced around all over and I often get multiple copies from several different relatives. What if they all got my message and assumed I was just forwarding it on again because I liked it so much?!? That would suck. They probably wouldn't even bother to open it and they'd never see my clever come-back or realize that I didn't agree with them.

I'm pretty disappointed, but doing anything else to call attention to it at this point seems a little over-the-top. I'll just have to make a note: the next time I'm sending out a big, breathtaking retaliation against some of my family's bigoted, fucked-up stuff, I'll have to be sure the subject line clearly indicates that I'm sending something different than the same stupid message. Augh, technology.

Monday, September 18, 2006

growing up

I recently had some feedback from an anonymous commenter who, among other things, encouraged me to grow up. My first response to this comment was to think that maybe the commenter ought to *also* consider growing up, but all sniping aside, the commenter had a point. I do need to grow up.

SK and I were walking through Forest Park yesterday talking about my family and my role within it. One way I managed myself as a young person within my family was to put up a very big, well-fortified, protective wall around myself so that they couldn't hurt me or even really see me. This has involved a great deal of silence over the years: silence about my sexuality, my politics, my whole life, really. There was a time when this kind of silence felt important and necessary to stay safe, but now there's just no reason for me to keep hiding behind this big wall. SK correctly pointed out that this kind of silence and invisibility affects me in all aspects of my life from my career all the way to my physical health.

My first personally monumental act of dismantling that wall happened this morning. I frequently get forwarded emails from my family that espouse all sorts of (to me) offensive conservative rhetoric attacking all sorts of "liberal" causes. Yesterday, I got one from my so-called "favorite" aunt about illegal immigration. This message equated illegal immigrants with people who break into your house and demand to be allowed to stay because they have cleaned up your house for you and because they're only trying to better themselves. It went on to explain that the house-breakers also demand that you pay for their medical insurance, educate their kids and learn their language to communicate with them. I found the message to be fucking ridiculous and offensive and an insult to the intelligence of anyone who read it.

In the past, I have read these messages and fumed about them, but always deleted them and spent a few days feeling hopeless about my family and people like them. Why haven't I been writing messages back, countering all these stupid things?? I have given myself lots of reasons not to, including that they don't want to hear it, won't pay attention to it, or won't care. Worse, I have imagined that I'd get an onslaught of messages back telling me what a commie they think I am and uninviting me to any future family functions.

Well, those are all bad reasons. This morning, I did a little bit of research online, then wrote a very long, detailed, well-crafted explanation of some of the reasons we Americans have to take responsibility for the surge of illegal immigrants, including the disastrous effects of NAFTA on Mexico's economy and environment, and the fact that an ample number of US employers are very happy to give jobs to people they *know* are working illegally because the desire for cheap labor trumps their interest in obeying the law. If we screw up their economy and environment with NAFTA, and if we have plenty of people willing to employ them (even "illegally") here, how can we turn around and blame them for coming? I asked why we, as Americans, weren't taking responsibility for our actions and the actions of our politicians and companies and I pointed out that it was meanspirited and short-sighted to simply blame the immigrants. In the end, I returned the metaphor of the house break-in and reminded readers that our American anscestors were the first ones to break in to a "house" already occupied by Native Americans and every single person who still lives in this country today continues to benefit from that original break-in and is, in fact, still living in someone else's house.

Then I "replied to all" and sent that message to every single person who got the original message from my "favorite" aunt, including most of my aunts and uncles and my dad. We'll see if anybody even bothers to read it. I felt nervous about it, but ultimately good. I think this is one step towards growing up, although my anonymous commenter may return to tell me otherwise. And SK may return to tell me to "deepen the experience" more, all of which would be true. I'm trying. Be patient with me.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

play by play: last part, the highlight reel

Here are the things that were good:

1.) Standing on top of Black Rock Mountain looking out over the valley, holding my old grandmother up beside me and remembering all the times I'd been there as a kid and how fun and magical that place had always been. It's just a big smear of volcanic rock on top of a mountain, but I always thought it was otherworldly.

2.) Walking through the tall stalks of okra with Margie, cutting off the ripe ones and throwing them in the basket she held.

3.) Eating the last of the blueberries off the bushes (carefully avoiding yellow jackets and hornets) with Margie while my Dad ploughed a place for Margie's patch of greens.

4.) Pickled corn.

5.) Kneeling down with my dad to clear the cut grass off my brother's headstone after my stepmother mowed through her family's portion of the cemetery. I blinked back tears the whole time and realized that, while I've only been to his grave a couple of times since he died in 2001, my dad has been tending it pretty regularly since then. I blinked back even more tears then because I know that's not the kind of relationship my dad planned on having with his son who should have been 24 now and still alive with his twin brother, still cracking jokes and being the family clown.

6.) Looking at old pictures and feeling nostalgic. I had a minor revelation as I turned page after page of an album and revealed pictures from so many different eras of me and my cousin Lacey. We are about the same age and were inseperable whenever I was down in Georgia visiting. There are pictures of us as toddlers in matching dresses (you can see how pissed I was about the dresses, I look like an angry cat in a bath), and pictures of us at every other age ending around thirteen, climbing trees together, blowing out the candles on a birthday cake together, picking up snails in the woods together. The pictures were great and I noticed, looking at them, that Lacey was part of what was missing from my experiences of Georgia. Lacey long ago went "wild" (according to my family): smoked a lot of pot, ran away from home, got pregnant at 17, then again and again. Now she's married to this cop and they live in Maryland and I haven't seen her since my brother died and I lived in Georgia for 3 months. I look through the album and see us as a little proto-couple: me in my butch t-shirts and jeans, her in her femmey little shorts and tops, me with my short hair, her with her long. She was like my first girlfriend and I realized how much I missed her presence there.

7.) The morning we left to go to the airport, my dad stopped at the end of the road at somebody else's pasture and said, "I want to show you something." My brother and I followed him out to the man's barn and climbed over the man's fence (while a bunch of curious cows watched and moo'ed lethargically at us) -- then we saw a goat with two tiny babies. Baby goats are pretty amazingly cute and these were especially so. That was a good way to leave.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

play by play: part 4, the people we see

On the second full day of my visit, my "favorite" aunt and uncle drove up from their home in suburban Atlanta, bringing along my two "favorite" cousins, who are now sixteen and eighteen years old. I remember my aunt and uncle as a young couple, when I was just a kid. My aunt had just come back east from living a few years in Arizona and, in my mind, that made her pretty worldly. She met and married my uncle, a vietnam vet with a wicked sense of humor and a beard, and to me they seemed like the best kind of couple. They wore matching fatigue pants and t-shirts and went on adventures together, traveling and camping and talking about books. They seemed casual, adventurous and smart. I thought they were great.

Now that they are in their 50's and have two nearly grown kids and now that I am in my 30's and have a slightly different perspective on life, I think they suck. It turns out that, in addition to being funny and outdoorsy, they were also fundamentalist christians and really conservative, more and more so with each passing year. Wow. I spent a little time on this trip arguing with my uncle about taxes (he supports a porposal to do away with all taxes and the IRS, and to impose a flat, 26% sales tax on *everything* to make up the difference -- he does not see how that disproportionately screws poor people and disproportionately boosts rich people), and I got to listen to my bug-eyed aunt cackling about how "stupid" and "shortsighted" these liberals are who want to "negotiate" with terrorists rather than continue our military presence in Iraq. What she was saying made so little sense, I couldn't begin to argue, but I did wonder how a woman married to a Vietnam Vet could miss the parallels between Iraq and that other unwinnable "military operation" (or whatever euphamism they called it at the time).

Then my enormously obese cousin Cathy came over with her brood of illegitimate children and left one of them behind for us to hang out with. The one she left, Katie, is seven and medicated with ritalin because she is supposedly hyperactive. I guess, compared to her mother, she might be. But compared to any other seven year old, she seemed pretty normal. She's very smart, very precocious and probably hard for a lazy, lethargic mother to manage. So the obvious solution is medication. We all piled into my grandmother's ancient mini-van (a relic from the days when my grandfather was still alive and needed something big to drive his giant oxygen unit around in) and drove a couple of miles up the road to the Black Rock State Park, which is up on top of Black Rock Mountain and provides a gorgeous view of mountains and the valley below. Margie forgot her cane, so I walked around with her arm-in-arm and we had a pretty decent time.

Later, more aunts and uncles came over and we went out to dinner at a new restaurant featuring, of course, hearty Southern fare. I ate a hamburger. So much hearty Southern fare was already backing up in my intestines and refusing to proceed. The next morning, my aunt made biscuits and chocolate gravy (a family favorite) for breakfast and that only added to the cement in my guts. But, if you've never had it, biscuits and chocolate gravy is quite a treat. I learned that morning that my aunt is on anti-depressants which she believes are necessary because her chemicals are so out of balance she can't, otherwise, be happy. I think it's her fucking conservative, fundamentalist, consumerist *life* that's so out of balance, but what do I know? I know it takes more than a pill to cure misery.

A couple of days later, my dad and stepmother drove me up to the top of another mountain to see my stepmother's family. As much as my stepmother is an evil snake, her family is sweet and kind. They're all just simple mountain people. Hillbillies, in fact. Like the Beverly Hillbillies, but w/o the Beverly. My dad and stepmom dropped me off in her mother's kitchen while they went out to mow the yard and I sat for almost an hour trying to keep up conversation with a very sweet woman who had never been further than fifty miles away from that house her whole life. Fortunately, my stepmother's brother Doug was there too and between the two of them they managed to keep each other entertained and they didn't ask me too many questions. Doug had a huge bucket of grapes from his vines and was working on picking them off their stems and collecting them all in a giant glass jug to make wine. I used to have a little crush on Doug when I was really young and I watched him with his shaved head and his uber-fluffy, Sam Eliot moustache, and laughed to myself at this man who is apparently the origin of my attraction to the kind of guys who hang out in leather bars -- this sweet mountain man who would be a big hit at the Dirty Duck back in Portland.

He got up after a few minutes to get himself an ear of pickled corn. He offered me one and I gladly accepted. I'd never had pickled corn and it was really tasty, though I knew they were both watching me, the city girl, to see if I'd really like it, if I'd really eat it. I did and I did. Pretty soon it was time to go and I wasn't sad to leave them. They're so sweet but there's absolutely nothing for me there and I have no idea why I keep agreeing to go back to visit. That's a feeling I'm starting to have about the rest of my family. Why bother? What do I get out of all those visits? I learn more and more how hopeless they all are, how different I am from them. Why keep torturing myself and wasting a lot of money on airfare to do it? It doesn't make any sense.

Friday, September 15, 2006

play by play: part 3, the things we do

At the microscopic Asheville airport, I caught a glimpse of my stepmother sitting in a waiting area by the baggage claim. I kept walking and for several seconds the waiting room was obscured by passing people and a big column, during which time I said, "shit, shit, shit, shit, shit, you fucking bitch," loud enough for other people to hear me. I had to get it out of my system.

Turned out, my dad, 24 year old (half)brother and stepmother had all come the hour and a half to pick me up. How lovely. I hugged my dad without actually looking at him and my stepmother reached out and grabbed my arm for about half a second. It was awkward and I didn't make it any easier for her. She was trying in her own way to be affectionate and kind, but twenty-five or so years of hate running between two people is hard to ignore and I'm not yet a big enough person to take steps to change our relationship. She's also still a selfish, obnoxious bitch, so despite her occasional attempts to be nice to me, I still don't feel safe around her.

The long ride "home" was surprisingly ok. Every now and then some miracle sparks a bit of levity among the three of them and they talk and joke with each other like regular people. Otherwise, they are a bitter and quiet lot who sigh often and complain about other people as their main mode of communication. My know-it-all brother Alex stubbornly argues about everything, my stepmother behaves as though she's got the weight of the world on her shoulders and my dad simultaneously argues impotently with Alex and does everything in his power to appease my stepmother. It's disgusting. My dead brother Isaac was the fun one, the funny one, the jokester. He always held and carried all the humor and now that he's dead, nobody else has picked it up.

They were actually talking and joking this time, though, and that was good. I was just exhausted from an entire day in the air and I was quiet and dazed. They dropped me off at my grandmother's and we soon went to sleep. The next morning, my dad came down to Margie's and ploughed up a strip of garden for Margie's patch of greens. Together, after the tractor and plough were back in the barn, the three of us spread fertilizer and planted spinach and two different kinds of curly mustard. Margie, who is 88 and otherwise pretty sharp, couldn't keep track of which step of the process we were on. "Have you planted this row yet?" She asked me after standing and watching me spread fertilizer over it. No. Obviously not. But she couldn't remember.

Later, I went up the hill with my dad and we cranked up the new tree-trimmer (looks like a weedeater on top with a really long pole and a tiny chainsaw on the end... safe...) and trimmed branches out of an old hemlock that were hanging over a power-line. One ice-storm and they'd snap the line for sure. I stood with my stepmother under the tree, pulling on a rope that was, in turn, pulling a branch low enough for my dad to reach it with the tree-trimmer. Sawdust and hemlock needles fell on my head and kept me from looking up at his progress. At any moment the branch, or, worse yet, the tiny chainsaw, could crash down on my head. Fortunately, nothing crashed down on my head and soon my stepmother and I were dragging sawed branches down below the "orchard" for later burning.

Doing farm stuff is all my dad does on his days off and that's all I do with him when I visit. I used to be jealous of my other (half)brother Dave who used to go cool places and do cool things with his dad after my mom and stepdad divorced. My stepdad would take him on trips or to amusement parks and I would always feel a little shafted. "What did you do in Georgia at your dad's?" "Well, I helped bail hay and, uh, made sure the pigs had plenty of water every day...? It rocked!" I actually like(d) the farm stuff and didn't mind not going to amusement parks with my dad. What I was really jealous of was the specialness and aloneness of my bother Dave's visits. My dad and I never did anything alone together when I visited. I was just added into the family in a way that made clear I didn't quite fit. Not enough chairs around the kitchen table, not enough bedrooms, not enough fishing poles, not enough room in the truck. My bitchy stepmother made every moment uncomfortable and my spineless, worthless dad didn't do anything to protect me. So there you go.

Instead of having time alone with him, I'd just follow him around in his farm chores or be dragged along to "help" with this or that project, but my stepmother always made sure I felt like the city girl who didn't know her ass from a hole in the ground. My dad would philosophize about the difference between "book learnin'" and "common sense" and I could tell from what he said that "common sense" was best and that the somewhat suspect "book learnin'" is what I had. Oh well. Why did I keep going back? Good fucking question. That's what I'm trying to figure out right now.

play by play: part 2, airplanes

It started going downhill on the second plane of my three plane journey, sitting on the tarmac in Phoenix, bound for Charlotte, NC. The guy in the seat ahead of me was flirting with the girl next to him. He had a thick, South Carolina accent, the slick, almost syrupy voice of the ball-capped good ol' boys I could never stand. "You went to Clemson?" He said. "Of course, you did, sweetie. All the pretty girls go to Clemson." I listened to him patronize her and condescend to her for fifteen minutes. When she told him her dad wanted her to be an engineer, but she hadn't been interested, he said, "Of course not, sweetie. Most girls' minds just don't think like that." That's when I kicked his seat.

What I wanted to do was say, "Shut the fuck up before I stand up and vomit on you." I wanted to explain to him that he was being an asshole. I wanted *her* to say "hey, leave me alone, you're being an asshole." I wanted to take away all the fucking privelege that dude had ever been handed that told him it was ok to talk the way he talked, to say the things he said. Instead, I kicked his seat and said "oh, sorry," and then sat feeling frustrated and angry, dreaming of some kind of revenge. That was the beginning of the end of my empathy.

I officially lost my voice on the next plane, the one that would take me from Charolotte to Asheville, NC where my family would pick me up and drive me an hour and half back down to Georgia. I didn't lose my ability to speak. My normal voice was just hijacked by the Southern Me who lives hidden in me like an absorbed twin and who comes out sometimes to carry me through these visits home. I sat next to a guy wearing a Western Carolina polo shirt who asked if I was from Asheville and explained that the old, white man at the front of the plane, bumbling around with the overhead compartment, was a state senator and he'd just seen him at a conference in DC.

Like a snake that unhinges its jaws to swallow enormous prey, something in my mouth came unhinged and when I started talking to the man beside me, I sounded like him. I asked about his work at the university his shirt advertised and, in a very southern way, was able to say, "My cousin Alisha went to Western. I went to ASU." This was good, familiar and Southern because 1.) I got to mention a cousin, 2.) I got to bring up a college rivalry, and 3.) I was talking to somebody who knew I meant "Appalachian" not "Arizona" when I said ASU. And I said it all in the disjointed and rolling lilt of the mountains I was born in. For that moment, I felt only mildly like I belonged.

play by play: background episode

I decided, on this trip, to try and really track everything as it happened -- to put on my "therapist's cap" and use that different perspective to try and see my family, my feelings, my reactions, etc. more clearly and objectively. I thought this would help me understand myself better -- why I do certain things, why I struggle with particular emotions or demons, etc.

To that end, I filled 17 pages of my Moleskine travel journal with tiny, nearly indecipherable writing, starting on the 7th at the Portland airport and ending yesterday at the airport in Charlotte, NC where I changed planes. I just sat here and reread it all and now I'm ready to try and synthesize some things.

But first, some background: I grew up in the South but, for some reason, though I was always "in" the South, I was never really "of" the South. For a variety of reasons, I never felt welcomed into any Southern community and always felt like an outsider, an other. That "otherness" applied in two spheres, the narrow sphere of my Georgian "homeland" where all my dad's family had lived for generations, and the larger "South" into which I moved further and further with my mom and my stepdad until I finally left, first in '98 to go to Columbus, OH, and again in 2001 to come here to Portland.

I was an outsider in the larger South because we moved around a lot, because we lived for a time in a bigger "city" (Durham, NC), because I didn't have much of an accent compared to my friends (which was because my mom, who grew up in Miami, didn't have much of an accent to pass on to me), because we were Mormons, not Baptists or Methodists, because once we finally settled in our last little Southern town, Smithfield NC where I lived from 4th grade to graduation, it was too late: nobody knew our "people", we didn't go to the right church, we didn't sound like everybody else, etc, etc, ad nauseum. I was in the odd position of being called "Yankee" by some classmates (and believe me, it wasn't meant as a compliment) even though I had never been furthern North than Richmond, VA.

I was an outsider among my dad's family in Georgia for similar reasons: I lived far away, I only visited twice a year, I talked a little different, and, worst of all, I was considered a city girl. (Also not a compliment.) It didn't matter that the only real "city" I lived in was the relatively small city of Durham, NC or that we only lived there for three years. It also didn't matter that we otherwise lived in small, rural towns. If I didn't live, like them, out a long road in the middle of nowhere with nobody but family as neighbors, with nothing but barns and fields all around, then I lived in a city and that was all there was to it.

That outsider-ness only became more and more pronounced as I grew up, became queer, shed my christianity like a dead skin and pursued an intellectual sort of life. Those three things: queer, not christian and intellectual, were possibly the last three things any Southern person in my position could possibly want to be. It is true: there is a Southern aristocracy, a wealthy Southern elite who read big books and think big thoughts, who have "culture" and "intellect," and who are, perhaps, not christian and who are also, perhaps, (some at least) queer. But this Southern elite is small and nowhere near my family or anyone my family ever knew.

No, in my experience, the rural South was characterized by deep suspicion and distrust of anything that looked or smelled even a little bit different from the status quo such as it was. I never felt there was any room to move in that system and I never felt there was any loyalty or love that could save you, no matter how you traced your bloodline, no matter how long you'd lived right there, safely below the mason-dixon line, if you began, in any way, to be "different."

on my triumphant return

I'm back after a very long week in the alternate-dimension I like to call Georgia, visiting my family and getting a good dose of "how the fuck did I come from these people??" I started feeling homicidal after just a few days. Between the blasting television and my wilfully ignorant family, I began to understand how people are able to walk into the family room with a shot gun and start shooting.

I'll write more later, for now I just want to say I'm back and I'm still alive even though I've got a sore throat and feel a little sick. Blah. Thank god for SK who picked me up from the airport at almost midnight last night when my plane was late and brought me home and put me to bed. I love you SK. I'm so glad I'm back.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

farewell (blogging to the bitter end)

The cab will be here in 35 minutes and blogging right now is the human equivalent of the cat about to be lowered into a bucket of water who spreads all four legs and tail and clings to the edges of the bucket to keep itself from going in. I had a two hour nap and I've been up now for an hour, I'm all showered, I'm drinking my coffee and savoring these last minutes of my house, my life, my space.

I'm determined this time to really try and track this experience from stem to stern -- to pay attention to myself, my feelings, my reactions, all the way through. I will try not to check-out or fall into my old storylines about how that place operates. Meanwhile, I will hear a deafening cacophony of crickets and tree frogs in the evening and I will also see lightening bugs, so there will be magic too. See you in a week and a day.

odds and ends

Getting on the number 8 bus at midnight downtown is like stepping into a bar after last call: it's too bright, it's full of dazed and wilted people and the air is thick with the warm, sweet smell of exhaled liquor-breath. It is 2am and a cab will be here to take me to the airport in four hours. Should I even bother laying down to sleep? What difference will it make, since I will sleep all day tomorrow on the plane?

I got home from work at 12:30 and finished up all the little odds and ends I'd left hanging from earlier: finished packing, washed all my dishes, watered my plants, etc, etc. My bags are unusually light, which only seems unusual until I remember that I haven't been back east in the summertime in years. Instead, I tend to go around x-mas and then my bags are heavy with sweaters and long pants. My surprisingly light bags seem to be calling out for more stuff and as I glance around my tidy little apartment, I see a hundred little comfort items that would love to take with me to Georgia to help keep me sane: books, magazines, knick-knacks, etc.

I will resist the urge to fill my bags with extra stuff because none of it will really help. I have all the school books I need plus one pleasure-reading book about a man who walked the Camino de Santiago in Spain with a donkey. In fact, the only extra "luxury" item I will pack tomorrow to keep me company on my trip is Carlos the small, stuffed donkey SK got me a month ago. Carlos will come because SK can't. But thank god for SK, who has borrowed my little golden chariot and gone to the coast for a seminar this weekend. She did my laundry for me earlier in the week, which was not only super helpful but also really perfect because now all my clothes smell like her and now I'll have her smell with me all week. Between her smell on my clothes and Carlos the donkey, I'll be well-cared for.

I went out with a bang at work tonight. Wednesday nights have long been my favorite nights to work. I enjoy my coworkers, Fat Tony and Chunk, and Wednesday night is also bingo night. Bingo night has been much more exciting since I bought what I affectionately refer to as "the bingo enforcer." The bingo enforcer is a super-soaker style water blaster that I use to keep everybody in line. For instance, if you call out "bingo!!" when you don't really have bingo, just because you think it's funny, the bingo enforcer will let you know in a heartbeat just how *not* funny it is.

People love the bingo enforcer and do all sorts of things to provoke a blast from it. They laugh and joke about it and get annoyed with me when I forget to bring it. However, there's always the danger when you start squirting people with water that they're eventually going to want to squirt you back. To minimize this risk, I am *very* moderate with my squirting, I try to be faultlessly fair and I even squirt *myself* if I do something obnoxious that would get anyone else squirted. These risk management techniques have worked so far. Until tonight.

The Chief had been warning me all week that he was going to get me on bingo night. He never came right out and said it, he just grinned and made sly little comments that led me to believe he'd managed to score himself some kind of superior water-blasting toy and planned to turn it on me during bingo. I was very careful to establish myself firmly as the alpha-water-blaster at the start of bingo tonight, bullying the Chief back into his seat so he couldn't go get the blaster I suspected he had, but I could only hold him off for so long. Eventually, long after bingo was over and I'd almost forgotten about him, he surfaced with this weird, homemade, ramshackle blaster and straight-up ambushed me while I sat, innocently playing skip-bo with some clients.

I'm no dummy, so I had my bingo enforcer loaded and ready to go by my side. One hit from the Chief and I was up and going. I felt like a ten year old again, running around and playing. I chased him all over, eventually chased him out the door and down the street. He came back and we started all over again. He got me pretty good a few times and I got him back and meanwhile everyone around laughed and laughed at us. It was really fun.

Now I'm exhausted and happy and trying to stay awake. I don't want to lose a moment of this time in my little house because in four short hours I'll be swept away and I'll spend the rest of the week in a tumult of old drama and other people's energies without a lot of freedom or space to myself. It will pass really fast, though, and before I know it, I'll be right back here in my little chair at my little desk writing more blogs like I never even left. Hmm. So here I go.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

desparation blogging

I will blog up till the last possible minute. It's how I'm holding onto something of myself before the swirling vortex of my family sucks me in for a week. I'm supposed to be in a meeting with the new Pro Bono coordinator here at school who will counsel me on possible non-profit, public interest career opportunities for after I graduate. Unfortunately, she's had a family emergency and won't be in at all this week, so I sit here in the LRC with my not-strong-enough coffee and wait for my class in 45 minutes.

I got home late last night then stayed up till almost 2 blogging about racism. I set my alarm for 8:30, which would've given me 6 and a half much needed hours of sleep, but the kid upstairs woke me an hour early, banging on a pot and screaming "ee-i-ee-i-o" at the top of his lungs, over and over again. It was pretty fucking infuriating and I lay there with a pillow over my head, trying desparately to fall back to sleep for that last hour, imagining my hand tightening around his little, two-year-old throat. He's kind of a shit, but it's not his fault that somebody upstairs is letting him scream at 7:30 in the morning. It's not like they don't have another human being living in the basement who might be trying to sleep. I'll email them. I think they'll be understanding about it.

Meanwhile, I'm daydreaming about a breakfast of bacon and eggs and fried potatoes, but this is a breakfast I will not have because there's nowhere to get it. The "cafeteria" doesn't even open till noon here and they don't do breakfast. I could get a muffin or a bagel from the coffee cart guy, but a muffin or a bagel seems pretty lame compared to my fantasy of bacon, eggs and potatoes. Oh well. Sorry for boring posts. Expect a few more before I leave tomorrow morning.

the learning curve

My grandparents were democrats. My grandmother, I'm sure, still is. My grandfather has been dead now for 8 years. They taught me about recycling and composting before those things were commonly practiced. My grandfather, a farmer all his life, consulted the farmer's almanac, planted by the moon, and incorporated organic gardening principles into his farming, though he never gave up certain pesticides. They were/are both thoughtful, compassionate people -- they both love(d) books -- they are/were spiritual.

I list these things now to prove or at least offer evidence that they were/are good people. Sort of progressive, even. Because it's very hard to look at the reality that these people who I really love and who really love me were/are also racist and xenophobic and homophobic. I remember a conversation I had once with my grandmother who explained very carefully that she thought interracial marriage was ok because all people are alike on the inside, *but* (and this is a very big but), the children of interracial couples will be the ones to pay the price because they will be ridiculed for their mixed race status: the only solution, in my grandmother's "progressive" view, was for mixed race couples to be sterilized. Yes. Sterilized.

I remember also the last couple of conversations I had with my grandfather. It is easy for me to think only of the last trip I made to visit before he died in 1998. He was laying in a hospital bed they'd set up for him in the dining room where he'd been laying for months after stroke upon stroke had rendered him unable to walk. He called me into the dining room one afternoon, just the two of us, and told me all the sweet things he wanted to tell me, knowing as he did that this was probably his last chance. He told me how proud he was of me and how much he loved me -- how he and Margie always thought of me as one of their kids, not just one of the grandkids, and how they always wanted to be able to help me in any way they could. I am very fortunate to have had that conversation and it still makes me cry to think about.

It's much easier to remember that conversation than another one we had about a year earlier. It was during a family reunion when he was still able to dodder around a little. The night was winding down and we were all getting ready to leave. Someone had already packed him off into the van and I was encouraged to go out and keep him company while Margie finished up some things. I went to the van perfectly happy to hang out with him, but when I got in he was strangely quiet. He seemed to be thinking about something and didn't respond to my joking. After a very long, heavy silence he said, "It's just not right. You, at your age, not to have a boyfriend. Not to *ever* have a boyfriend. It's not right." He wasn't joking or whining or cajoling. He was telling me it wasn't right. He was being stern. I'd only ever encountered him "stern" once before, when Margie wanted to take me shopping for clothes when I was about 15 and I didn't want to go and was being an asshole about it. He got stern with me that day and I deserved it. This time, in the van, it made me sick. What he was saying and why he was saying it. I was shocked, in the moment. I hadn't seen it coming at all. I was coming out to keep him company, I was happy to do it, and he took the opportunity to tell me I wasn't right. I sat for just a moment, I stared out at the reunion, I didn't say anything. Then I got out of the van and closed the door. That was it.

Why am I writing about all this? Why lump these two stories together? Margie and her sterilization and Grandaddy and his stern warning that I wasn't right? Why stop with just these, why not tell the story about my dad calling the women in a prison "queers" or the time my mom told a very little me (5 at the max) that I shouldn't be friends with a black girl in the neighborhood just because she was black. Why don't I also explain how my mom's dad taught me that Jane Fonda was a communist and that Martin Luther King Jr. was a troublemaker, which led me to refuse one day (at age 9) to join the music class singing the song "We Will Overcome," because I thought it represented something I wasn't supposed to agree with or support. I would like to dredge up and lay out in stark and disgusting detail all the big and little ways I was taught to be racist by people who were also taught, somewhere along the line, to be racist. And don't forget homophobic. And xenophobic too, though the evidence for that is less stark and harder to explain.

But still, why? Why now? SK and I have talked about race a lot lately and we talked about it again tonight, in the context of my trip to Georgia this week. We keep coming back to a couple of conversations we've had during which I've told her some of these stories with a totally flat affect and she has been left to hold all the emotion. Initially, when she expressed dismay that I could tell her without emotion that my grandmother wants to sterilize interracial couples, or that my mom told me not to be friends with a black girl, I couldn't understand her concern. After all, for me, these are old stories. I know them so well, I've had them with me a long time. The thought of getting angry or upset telling them seemed almost ridiculous.

When SK and I talked about it tonight, I noticed I was feeling really uncomfortable. I was starting to shake as we talked and I felt cold all over. I decided to pay attention to that feeling. I noticed I wanted to argue with SK. I wanted to be defensive about my relationship with my family, defensive about their beliefs. I wanted to make SK wrong somehow. I talked a lot, tried to explain a lot of things, tried to justify some stuff, but eventually petered out and we got off the phone. I felt annoyed with SK, like I wanted to be stroked a little more, taken care of more, not challenged all the time. But then I realized that I was channeling all the emotion I was feeling into an easy beef with SK, when all that emotion was really about something totally different. It was all the emotion that should have been associated with the heartbreak of all those stories I just told: all the -isms I've been talking about.

It was easier to feel annoyed with SK because that kind of annoyance is immediate and much more known. It is way more complicated for me to let myself feel all the frustration and disappointment and fear and sadness that has been building and building over the years because of my family. All their -isms come from ignorance, but ignorance isn't a good excuse. They haven't been challenged to learn, challenged to change their perspectives and grow. Those -isms create a field of aggression, even if it's subtle. That field of aggression is scary and painful to enter and I spent a lot of time building up big protective walls and creating coping mechanisms to keep myself safe from it all. On this trip, I will challenge myself to actually feel some of the feelings associated with my family -- our personal relationships and the -isms that are also there -- because the feelings will be there and if I don't actually feel them as they come, in the moment, they will just end up hidden and unexplored, stored away somewhere to resurface later as a body symptom or depression or displaced anger or whatever. And if I don't look at it all now, I'll never be able to understand all my own -isms and I'll just keep perpetuating the same ignorant mess.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

i wish i was going to mom's

So, here I am, in my little basement, trying to get all my junk ready for my trip to visit my dad's family in Georgia. I leave early Thursday morning (early = a cab will come get me at 6:15am = holy shit = I get off work at midnight the night before = I will feel like total shit when I wake up after four hours of sleep = that sucks = what's up with all the equals signs?)

I cleaned my car out for SK to borrow while I'm gone, I cleaned the dead and dying things from my fridge (more or less), I straightened the piles and piles of papers (old newspapers, magazines, notebooks from school, books from school, pamphlets from school, many other things from school) around my desk, I got some things together to mail, I shaved my legs. *Gasp* I shaved my legs which is a big deal because I don't generally shave my legs, but I often sell-out when I go visit my family because it's a lot easier to wear shorts in the summer in Georgia when you don't look like a scary-hairy dyke. Will I regret these compromises some day? I don't know.

I keep confusing myself by imagining I am on my way to Florida to visit my mom. A visit to my mom would be *much* more fun than a visit to my dad, but ultimately both visits would be equally emotionally damaging, I mean, challenging. And either way I would've shaved my legs, but still, a trip to mom's would involve swimming in the ocean, playing with her dog Buddy, eating lots of really good food, watching lots of weird shit on tv and having always surprising and enlightening conversations about: aliens, mom's conspiracy theories, mom's conspiracy theories about aliens, old family drama, bizarre ideas about christianity (Bible codes? the Nag Hammadi library?) and stuff about ghosts and spirits.

Not to mention, mom just settled a long-in-the-works lawsuit and has a chunk of change in her pocket nowadays, so a trip to mom's might also be more fun because she'd feel more free to do more fun stuff with me. Usually we're both pretty broke, but with some money, mom might want to actually go out into the world and do things besides shop at Wal-Mart and walk around the mall. Of course, she's got a messed up back and can't walk very far or very much, so she might not want to do anything fun after all. Who knows.

Instead, I'll go to Georgia and see my 88 year old grandmother who will (even though she knows I'm a lesbian) remind me that she'd feel so much better if I just found myself a nice man to take care of me. I love my grandmother and it won't be all about finding me a husband and a church to start attending, but that'll be in there with all the other stuff. The best thing about visiting Margie is the family gossip she always unleashes on me. She always swears me to secrecy and then, for good, measure, tells me how bad it is for her to say the things she's going to say and how she shouldn't say them at all, and how maybe she'll just shut up now before it's too late, but well, I'll just tell you and you can't breathe a word to anybody else about any of this, now, this stays between you and me, ok?

Ok. Just spill it, Margie. Then she lets loose about the latest thing my sleazy cousin did or the way my dad's feud with his brother is tearing her apart or, more likely, the most recent terrible fight she and my stepmother had. They've been having terrible fights for the twenty-plus years since my dad built his house on the hill above Margie's and moved his family there. Well, my stepmother is a wicked, crazy bitch, so it's only natural that she would fight with my slightly selfish and manipulative grandmother. Then I get to hear about it all, first from Margie, then from "up on the hill," as it were. The official version of whatever happened according to my dad and stepmother. I'm usually sympathetic to both sides, even though I can't stand my stepmother, and in the end I always side with Margie anyway because I love her.

Wow. I'm just procrastinating. I have too much to do.

Monday, September 04, 2006

fixin' to git

Otherwise known as "getting ready to go" -- I head off to my southern homeland Thursday morning bright and early and I won't have internet access for a whole long week. Bummer. I'll be staying seven days and seven nights in the luxurious guest bedroom at my grandmother's house, which is nestled in the loving cradle of Wolffork Valley in Rabun Gap, Georgia, just twenty-odd miles away from my birthplace, Toccoa.

The bedroom isn't actually so luxurious, but the bed is pretty comfy and it's where I always stay when I visit. The room has red and grey carpet in a backgammon-board pattern that I'm sure has been there since my two aunt's shared that room in the 60's. It also has a warped mirror directly across from the bed, which always creeps me out a little bit, and two framed pictures of kittens hanging on the wall that I gave my grandmother for Christmas probably twenty years ago. On the dresser there's an old, dingy picture cube with a pic of my dad at 18 in his airforce uniform and a pic of my aunt Carla standing in front of an old Rambler in the front yard when she was about fifteen. Nearby, there's a double frame that holds a picture of my cousin Valerie on one side and me on the other. It's deceptive, because though I am several years older than Valerie, we are about the same age in the pictures (10-ish) and this pairing makes us look like contemporaries. Anyway, it's a terrible picture of me, pre-braces, and I've got the giant gap between my two front teeth that I am now so happy to be rid of. I have begged my grandmother to replace that picture with another, more recent picture, but she loves it. For years, when I would come visit, I would cut out a face from a magazine and tape it over my face in that picture. It would usually take weeks for my grandmother to notice, but when she finally did, she would call me and laugh about it and call me a monkey. I love her.

Unfortunately, she's not the only person I'll be visiting in Georgia. My dad and stepmother are just up the hill from my grandmother and I'll have to put in my share of time with them, as much as I'd rather just hang out with Margie all seven days. I'll get to see my brother too, which is good, and maybe some other relatives will drop by. There are tons of aunts and uncles living nearby, tons of cousins too, who may or may not turn up while I'm visiting. They're all pretty ok. As "ok" as a bunch of white, conservative, racist, homophobic, fundamentalist christians can be. I'm like a well-intentioned alien dropped in amongst them. They're nice to me and somewhere deep down they love me, even though they suspect we wouldn't get along if we actually talked about anything. So we don't really talk about anything and that's the best compromise we've managed to come up with.

Anyway, wish me luck. I may or may not be on again before I leave. If not, I'll fill you in on all the fun times when I get back on the 14th. Ciao.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

the vaux swifts

Something otherworldly is happening every night at the Chapman School. During the summer, a flock of vaux swifts begins to accumulate here, hanging out and eating insects, more or less vacationing in Portland before their big migration south. As summer wanes into fall, the flock of swifts snowballs to contain upwards of 20,000 birds. By itself, 20,000 small birds vacationing in Portland isn't so amazing. But they don't just spread themselves out at night in Forest Park or on Mt. Tabor. They don't disperse themselves through the city like pigeons. No. Every last one of them swirls and wheels it's way into the tall brick chimney of the Chapman School every single night.

Lucky for me, SK happens to live less than a block away from the Chapman School and we've walked over to see the swifts twice so far this season. It's the most incredible spectacle, I doubt I'll be able to describe it. The birds begin to circle the chimney early in the evening -- first just a few at a time. They dart towards the chimney and dart away just as quickly. They make high circles and then drop back down, always flirting with the chimney. Those few are soon joined by more and more until the sky is a dark swirling cloud of swifts.

This mass of birds moves as one ephemeral body. They spin and dance and fly far loops then return. Watching the swifts is dizzying as the eye tries to comprehend what the brain is explaining. They look like a mirage or an illusion. They don't look real. It's as if a giant, invisible bullfighter is standing in the sky with a black, lacy cape, swirling and flicking and sweeping it through the air. I watch the whole spectacle with my mouth hanging open because it is unreal.

Just after sunset, the cloud of birds becomes more dense as they prepare to enter the chimney. They swirl faster and their shape becomes like a funnel. Suddenly, they are plummeting into the chimney in droves. It looks then like the chimney is a giant vacuum that has been switched on and is sucking a cloud of dirt into its belly. It looks, also, like a drain that's been unstopped -- the birds swirl their way into the chimney like water swirls its way into a pipe. It takes several minutes for all the birds to enter -- and SK and I have noticed that, at the end, a little cohort of maybe 20 birds flies off to the forest rather than into the chimney -- then the sky is still and clear, like nothing special had ever happened there.

Meanwhile, on the bank of the field beside Chapman School, the crowds of people gathered to watch the swifts (more and more as swift season progresses) actually start to cheer and clap for the swifts who have now disappeared into the hole of the chimney. This crowd (people with their picnic dinners, bottles of wine, children, frisbees) also gasps and boos when the hawk, during the full spectacle, swoops in and snatches a swift out of the air. The audience is almost as much of a show as the swifts.

SK wonders when and how the swifts come out of the chimney -- if that is similarly spectacular. There aren't crowds gathered at sunrise waiting for the exodus. Do they shoot out like a blast from a hose, or do they rise, one by one, and trickle out to start their day. Who knows.

If you're interested, here are a couple of links with info and pictures: , ,

The first link has the coolest picture, but not much info. The last link has the most info, but no pictures.