From FEAR to WONDER

I’ve been having nightmares. Not the kind that are irrational and scare the crap out of you, but full cinematic pictures that mirror real life, deep-seated psychological thrillers. The kind where you wake and you question if it was real.

This election has really done a number on me. My childhood memories of a bullying Father who knew no boundaries has me wrapped in a child-like coma, rocking in the corner of my mind repeating “I want Momma, I want Momma,” creating nightmares underneath all the outer wrappings of adulthood. I know that that little girl from way back then needs me more than ever and this is my time to help her, to help myself, and in turn to collectively help all of us.

It’s also a time for great anger and whenever I see anger, I know that anger comes from fear and behind fear is something missing, some longing. So, for me it’s a chance to look back and see why this is causing such a deep fear and deep mourning for myself. That’s how you get out of anger, fear, loathing and into elation, wonder and curiosity.

When I was 17, in May of 1988, I graduated from high school.

In April, I had come home from school to find my Mother sitting in her rocking chair on our screened in porch next to the washer and dryer.

~

She looks very serious, which is not unusual for her. She’s like that and I’m like her, I can switch my mood from serious to hilarious in a moment’s notice and so can she. There is something different this time though. I don’t want to talk to her, because I can sense it underneath, something is very wrong. This is something I’ve always done and we can all do, if we pay attention, we can feel what someone else is feeling.

“Mom – what’s wrong?”

“I’ve got cancer” she says in a whisper “Gaaaaddamnit.” she says, always drawing out that  sound in the front and saying it like it’s one word.

I look into her eyes and all of her suffering, all of her pain, all the light that brightens her eyes is gone. She is very serious.

I hold my fists tight and start to cry and then I’m out the door and I run, down the street, around the corner and into the woods until my lungs are heaving and my legs won’t go anymore. I bend over, hands on knees, tears rushing, mind racing, heart pounding. Giant long pine straw needles cover the ground and a tree is down on the ground next to me. I put my hands on the trunk of a pine tree, look up and scream, because there is nothing else to do. My life is beginning and hers – is ending.

I am going off to the College of Charleston, on a shoe-string volleyball scholarship, a pell grant (which is government money for poor people to go to college), and no cash. I have no idea what is in store for me, but I am going, it is the only way out.

My brother Jim’s wife Tina just had a baby and I’m going to stay with them for the summer in Florida before I start school in August. I’ll watch the baby while they work. My parents are moving back to Michigan because of my Mother’s cancer. Most of my brothers and sisters live there and I guess they’ll help out while Mom is sick.

My high school graduation is a few days away and no one from my family is going to it except for me and I don’t even want to go, but Mr. Bobby Whitehead, the high school principal tells me if I don’t go to graduation I can’t get my diploma and I need that diploma to get to college.

I don’t have anything to wear and I’m definitely not wearing a dress, which is what is required for “young ladies.” I don’t have any shoes to wear either, but a friend of mine had a pair of old ugly white flats, with a diamond cut-out pattern on them that she gave me, so those are what I’ll have on my feet.

I decide that no one will know if I wear my cap and gown without anything under it except my bra and underwear. They will all think I am wearing a dress, because technically my red graduation gown will be my dress.

So, I go to graduation in my gown, we are told we cannot throw our hats a the end because it’s inappropriate and that if anyone does throw their hat they will not get their diploma. I want to throw my hat anyway, but I don’t risk it. My graduating class is 89 people, we had 93, but 4 didn’t pass, so we’re 89 now and I’m near the end of the graduation order and it feels like all day long sitting in this heat, by the dirt track in back of the school.

I finally graduate and catch a ride with someone who is “going that way.” Everyone else is going to lunch with their families or doing something to celebrate. I’m going home to pack and get the hell out of this country town.

At home, I have a bunch of journals that I wonder if I should keep, but decide that I don’t want to hold the memories in those too closely to myself. I want the freedom to become someone new, so I throw them in the trash bin.

My boxes are packed. My room is empty. Jim and my Dad take the trash up to the green boxes, where country folk take their trash, because there is no weekly trash service in the country. When they come back,  Jim comes into my room and tells me “Dad took your journals out of the trash and kept them.”

“You let him?”

“What was I supposed to do, he said you were wasting good paper.”

He’s still trying to do this thing to me, to have power over me, from the time he moved in to now, it’s always a struggle to decide who is in charge. He wants me to come talk to him or challenge him, so he can prove something. That’s what guys like him do. They try to control you. They invade your privacy. They say things that cross the line of inappropriate about you. He wants to stop me from going and he’s not going to do it.

“He can have my stupid journals. There are a lot of thoughts about how much I hate him”

What I don’t say is there are love letters to girls that I have a crush on, poetry, and private thoughts that are not private now. He wants me to feel shame and in this moment – I do –but I won’t forever.

On Sunday, I get in the car with Jim, Tina, their 6-month-old baby and we drive away. Forever.

~

What I didn’t know then was that I was angry. I felt slighted. I felt terrible about myself and I went on that way for years. Slowly though, those things fell away. That small girl inside of me saw a way out and she took it. She couldn’t stand up to her Father, but she could get away. She didn’t know that leaving all that behind was about curiosity. She could have stayed, but she didn’t. She was curious about the world. We have a chance to stay curious, we have a chance to wonder and through curiosity and wonder, we can find elation. They are on the opposite side of anger.

I only wish I could breakthrough to the other side of this anger I feel about the election faster than I am. It took me 13 years last time. I’m hopeful that it will take much less.

i am not an activist

Pink_triangle.svg.pngI am not an activist.
I am an active participant in my own life.

In the early 90s, I was 21, my parents were both dead, I was living with a woman who was not very good to me and I was working my ass off trying to get through college, in Charleston, SC.

I wasn’t openly gay, I mean, I was, but I wasn’t. It wasn’t “safe” to be that way. To say someone is openly gay now seems so odd to me, at that time, many people suspected/knew I was gay, no one ever asked me and I never told. It was hard to live two lives, but it’s what we all did.

One weekend, I went to Atlanta to see the Indigo Girls, which is something all good 20-something lesbians did at the time. They were super hot and fresh back then and they looked like me and they sang things that felt like the things I was feeling. They too were from the South and this was the first time I saw someone like me doing something big. They were not openly out in the media. I’m not sure they hid it, but I don’t remember reading anything about them being gay back then. Mike at work, a fellow college student, warned me that I should watch out, because those girls might be gay. Mike was probably trying to see what I would say. I said nothing.

The opening band that night was a group called disappear fear.  They sang with this sweet harmony and also a fiery passion that only two sisters (sonia and cindy) can. They sang of gay activism, no more wars, gay pride and a call to LOVE OUT LOUD. I loved it. I laced up my combat boots, pulled on my ripped jeans, put on my worn out t-shirt and sang at the top of my lungs. I became a groupie and spent a lot of time traveling around to see them play after that.

I was naive to “gay” culture and living in the South I was also naive to most things culturally. I did have two gay brothers who both lived in California, but I didn’t really know anything about them, other than the fact that they were gay and my older gay brother Michael was HIV+. There was no handing down of the gay culture. No one teaches you what gay looks like, because like anyone who is straight there are so many varieties of people, being gay is not a “thing”.

In the middle of summer, in the Charleston heat, I was sitting outside of Cafe 99, with Sonia and Cindy and their band. They mentioned something about a pink triangle. I was like “What? What’s a pink triangle.” They told me it was what homosexuals had to wear in addition to the Star of David during the Holocaust. Whoa. Cindy and Sonia are Jewish and not only had I never heard of the pink triangle, I had never met anyone that was Jewish, or at least I didn’t know that I had.

I had always been fascinated and terrified by the Holocaust. Even the word itself has a certain sense of terror to it.

They told me that people in DC and Baltimore, where they lived, were wearing the pink triangle to take back that message that there is something wrong with being gay and to be more open and out. To see each other.

A friend and I in high school, both confided in each other that we were gay during my senior year. Or rather, we talked about the fact that we might be gay, because the way all straight people talked about being gay was that it might be a phase. We weren’t sure. We always thought it would be great if everyone were gay had some sort of symbol to let one another know, not only because we were desperate at the time to know gay people, but also as a sign of unity – Yeah – I’m with you.

I had my symbol – the pink triangle, so I put one on the back of my car and I wore shirts that had this simple symbol on it. It was a small thing to say – “Yep. I’m gay.” That small action allowed me the freedom to feel more comfortable with myself and who I am, without necessarily feeling unsafe.

I gave up my pink triangle back in the late 90s. Things had changed. I’ve felt safe. Safe to be who I am and maybe that’s because the world has slightly shifted.

Maybe we live in an illusion that this is true. Most of life is an illusion anyway, until you wake up to the fact that it’s not.

Back in the 90s I was called names when I lived in Charleston, DC, Salt Lake City – especially Salt Lake City, even in Portland less than 10 years ago, two kids yelled out of their car at me and called me a homophobic slur.

Being from the South, I’ve always felt this underlying current, that this is not over, where you slide your eyes to the left to see what that old white gentleman is saying about you to his pals. I’m not sure it’s ever gone away. We’ve swept it into the shadows and now, by living in an almost unanimously liberal city, I’ve had the chance to avoid it.

What about all those other places though? The places we all moved from – to get away from hate – or to simply find our people? It’s why I left the South. It’s why I refused to live in Salt Lake City.

Is it okay for them to be them and us to be us?

I don’t hate “them” for hating me.

I know I want to feel safe and for the last week or so given what our President-elect has said and spewed. I don’t.

Now more than every our voices need to be heard.

If I need to wear that pink triangle again. I will. I’m ready.

I am an active participant in life.

 

 

 

 

anyone can get to normal.

When I was a child growing up in rural Michigan with my nine brothers and sisters, life was normal. Our Father, who was married to someone else the entire time he and my Mother were having children together, had multiple women friends all over the state of Michigan. Our life was normal. Normal? Yes, because it’s all we knew – and what could we do about it anyway? We were children.

When my Father’s wife finally left him and he had had enough time to convince my Mother that he had changed, she finally married him. This became the new normal.

My Father wanted to raise us right, so he took away the freedom that my mother allowed us – to run wild and free in the swales, swamps, and forests of our small town. He turned off the tv and turned on old music from Jim Reeves, like:

He’ll have to go

Put your sweet lips a little closer to the phone
Let’s pretend that we’re together all alone.
I’ll tell the man to turn the jukebox way down low.
And you can tell your friend there with you, he’ll have to go.

At where I am now in my life now, I see that he was trying to help and trying to do something good for us in the only way he knew how, but there was one thing missing.

A conversation.

This guy moved into our house, he was a man I barely knew, even though he was my Father – he changed the rules, changed the locks, changed the tone, without ever telling us why he was doing it, what good it would be for us, or ask what we thought about it.

We were children.

There was one thing he couldn’t take from us though – the fact that we never invited him, we never asked for him – we did not vote for this. And those of us in the family that were young and had many years left to live with this guy, had to figure out how to cope.

Initially, at ten, I tried to kill myself, by hanging myself from a curtain cord in a Days Inn motel room, in Ocala, Florida, where we were on vacation. Vacation for us, meant that we lived in a motel room in Florida, instead of in a house in Michigan, there was no trip to Disney, no fun for a kid. My parents played cards and my brother and I, who were the two youngest, sat in the air conditioned room, longing to be home.  This new normal was not anything I wanted to be a part of. I was getting out whatever way I could. I wasn’t successful in this cry for help and no one even noticed that I tried. My Mother came in while I was hanging from this cord and said. “Get down from there Amy Beth!”  I never tried again. I knew it wasn’t the answer – and I know that it is not the answer.

I don’t know how or why – even at ten – I knew that one day I would not have to deal with this guy anymore. He could control this small part of my life, but he couldn’t control how I related to it, or my future.

This memory serves me well today, in this time, when we have a President-elect that is not normal. Someone who thinks he’s the only guy with the answer. Where millions of people did not vote for him, where his idea of a rigged election became our nightmare.

Where he’s trying to make us believe that everything will be fine. Where he’s implying that he’s got this. And all along, he’s installing men, who are exactly like him in positions of power. It’s not normal and yet –  it’s the new normal

What’s missing?

A conversation. Our president-elect has not engaged with us in any appropriate manner. That’s what narcissists do. It is not normal.

We should not let it be normal.

We cannot let it be normalized unless we want to fade away.

What can we do?

We can contribute in the way we know how. Whatever your talent, you can offer it out to the world, if you are a healer – heal, a writer – write, an activist – act, a mother – raise your children to think for themselves, a father – have that conversation with your children, a teacher – teach, a reader – read.  Do what you know how to do.

Now is the time to create the new normal within ourselves.

We are not children anymore.

and some day – he’ll have to go

Hope

Hope does not come from being in the light.
Hope comes from being in the dark.

These are dark days – even the season is pushing us to go into the dark and reflect and find hope for the Spring.

It would be easy to turn away from the darkness – to turn on the light.
Sometimes staying with and holding onto the darkness is what we need to find the light.

I think back to when my Mother died and how dark that time was for me.
I turned away from grief then.
I was young, I did not yet have the skills to cope or understand that I needed to grieve and to wallow until I was ready to inch forward.
Instead I moved full-steam ahead, grasping at any light that would get me through.
It only brought me more darkness and with that came emptiness.

If we always look for light out there, we are starting in the wrong place.
The light is not out there, it’s in all of us and sometimes we have to have to go into the dark and be gentle on ourselves and grieve for the light we’ve lost.

It may take a long time, it may take 4 years, but what is four years in a lifetime? A long time to grieve, yes, but life is long.

I want to be angry, but right now, there is nothing but sadness.
I want to grieve and allow the time for uncontrollable sobbing.
AND THEN
I want to take a long look at myself and try to understand my own fear, hate, and bigotry – because this darkness is somehow a reflection of all of us. I want to stay with this darkness.

Darkness gives us the chance to find meaning. It gives us the ability to make change. It gives us the ability to make real change. Not ones that we’ve known before, not what we think change looks like, but what it really is and sometimes that is the scariest place – not knowing.

While this might sound a lot like hope, there’s much work to be done to get to hope

David Whyte says it this way in his poem Sweet Darkness:

Time to go into the dark
where the night has eyes
to recognize its own.

There you can be sure
you are not beyond love.

The dark will be your home tonight.

The night will give you a horizon
further than you can see.

Now is not the time for hope. It is time to go into the sweet darkness. Hope will come, it always does. And you know what hope does?
Hope gives us the ability to see that there is light, our challenge is to find it.

Our challenge is to help those that don’t have the skills to grieve, help those who have only known darkness, help each other find our way through this darkness.

This is our wake up call – are we willing?

The only way out of this darkness is through.

 

Because I can’t

I have been working on writing other things and haven’t touched this blog in months.

But I can’t ignore this. This tragedy in Orlando. This mass shooting.

On 9/11, I watched and watched all of the coverage. I couldn’t believe it, but continued to take it in and I was quietly thankful that I no longer lived in a “big” city. I didn’t identify with people working in the World Trade Center, although the media humanized them for us and I felt it deeply. They weren’t necessarily “me”, again secretly thankful that that could never have been me. I was concerned but not completely connected.

About 9 months after 9/11 I started to have panic attacks. Real visceral fear welling up out of me so much so that I would pass out. I was more connected than I thought.

It takes 9 months to birth a baby and many times it takes about 9 months to see how you’re going to process something.

Where will we be in 9 months? I’m hoping that we all don’t just breathe deep and hold this in, but I hope we let our thoughts and feelings out and that we birth a better connection to each other.

Orlando — it could have been me. Young, gay, feeling more free than ever among my own people, who were only my own people, because we were all gay. Some people say “Why do you have go to a BAR to feel free?” Unless you’re gay you wouldn’t understand. We sometimes have to hide our own truth, or risk being bullied, ridiculed, discriminated against.

I went to college in Charleston, SC. That was where I first went to a gay bar. The Arcade was right near campus and my friends and I would walk by being curious, but not curious enough to try and get in, especially during Freshman year. After Freshman year, we were ready, but you could only get in with an ID that said you were 21, my best friend had one, one we made one night with one of the seniors on our volleyball team. I didn’t and she wasn’t going to go without me.  Somehow as luck would have it, I had another friend who worked in public safety and she gave me an ID that looked nothing like me, but it looked enough like me that I was going to try it.  Crystal was my new name. I wasn’t sure how I was going to remember that if someone asked me, but we were going to The Arcade!

The first time we went in, we had to drive up our courage to walk up and open the front door, nervous not only because we were using fake ids, but also that someone might see us going in, or see us inside, what was it going to be like?  That first time was incredible, dancing even though we were not big on dancing at all, or just standing there seeing people like us. A mirror for who we might be when we were actually 21 or 30 or 50, because everyone who was gay used to go the gay bar to hang out. They weren’t weird. They were real people. Why a bar? Because it was the only place we had to go. Because we lived in the deep south or in the midwest or anywhere really. Because when you are young and gay, or maybe even just young, you want to find your people, your tribe, but really what you want to find is your connection to this world.

A few weeks later, we were leaving volleyball practice late in the evening and one of our teammates jokingly said “Hey where are you guys going now The Arcade?  Oh uh, whoops.” It was a common joke among straight college people to say that to one another and our teammate, our friend, looked at us in that moment knowing we might be and probably were gay, and I could see she felt shame, but not as much shame as I felt in that moment. Shame, because everyone knew, and at that time, I couldn’t even say that we didn’t even really like the The Arcade after going there. It was not really our scene and I never really felt all that great going to gay bars, being segregated from the rest of society like I didn’t deserve to be myself outside of those walls. I always thought — why do we need a separate place? Shame — that I was who I was.

In 1992, I moved to Washington, DC and was so excited that Bill Clinton was about to be President. Bill, although he had his faults, was going to make progress for us gay people. And while it might seem like not a lot happened, I know it did.

On April 25th, 1993 there was a gay march on Washington. There were more than 800,000 people like me, walking together yelling. “We’re here, we’re queer. Get used to it.” I felt alive, included, and necessary for the first time in my life. I promised myself to live my life as out as I could forevermore. The key word is could, because it could still be very dangerous to be gay. Dangerous to relationships, work, life in general.

The next year I met someone and started dating her. I called my sister, who I had never told I was gay, although I know she knew, and announced “I am so excited, I met this woman named Michelle and I think I might be in love.” She hung up on me.

I moved to Utah and had a rainbow sticker on my car. People yelled at me while driving down the highway. At work, people inched away from me when I told them I was gay, one friend told me that at work they felt like it was invasion of the lesbians, because I was very open about who I was. I moved away, not only because of that, but partially.

At another job, I was once told that I would never get promoted, first because I was a woman and second because I was gay. He was right. I ended up leaving the company.

I now live in a liberal city, where I am fine with who I am and this city seems to be too, but gay is not the first thing I think of at all. It is another part of who I am.

My life is no longer segregated by what I can be and can’t be in front of anyone.

I also know there are places and spaces where if someone knows I’m gay they may hurl an insult or worse.  Yes, even here in my liberal city, I’ve been disparaged. “Dyke, carpet muncher, faggot.” Who calls a gay woman a faggot?! All these have been yelled at me here in this city and not just once.

This tragedy reminds me that I am gay.  It reminds me that I am New York. I am Paris. I am Orlando. I hope we can all see that. This is not just about being gay. This is about how we are all connected. How we treat each other matters.

I will not hold all of this in.

I will not live in fear.

I will continue to tell my story.

Cemetery Mary

Screen Shot 2015-03-04 at 6.50.50 AMThe other day I saw someone wearing a shirt that was bright neon green. On the front of the left breast, was a word I couldn’t quite read. The text was laid out in a way that made the word look like AMY TH. I was having a conversation with this person and at the same time was trying to work out what the letters meant. “Why was my name on her shirt?” “What does that say.” And then the letters came in and out of focus and the words finally appeared. A MYTH. And for the first time in my life I realized my name was in A MYTH. It was a message from the myths themselves. I’ve been studying myths in my own time for over 12 years now and I could probably say that most of my life has been dedicated to studying myth, or maybe the myths were studying me.

When I was small I would walk through my small town, from the far end where my house was, to the swamp, to the woods, from blackberry brambles to tall weeds and the Mill Pond, Cromaine Library, The Village Market, to the cemetery. The cemetery was one of my favorite places. In the cemetery, there was no sound, I couldn’t hear my brothers and sisters, no one hits you in the cemetery, no yells, and no one cares that you are not where you are supposed to be, which is usually wherever you are. So, before leaving the house I would get two slices of American cheese and 8 saltine crackers, put them in a paper towel, hide them under my shirt so no one would ask what I was doing or where I was going and I would run. Run, run as fast as I could – to the cemetery, down the back dirt path, down Henry street, along the painted black wrought iron fence on the outside of the cemetery, to the back entrance, down a short pathway, to a statue of the Virgin Mary. She stood facing me, with her arms held out as if she wanted me to be there. As if she welcomed me. I’d sit down on her concrete pedestal and open my feast of cheese and crackers and give one to Mary and one to me. I would tell Mary all my worries, which were many, even at that time. She was someone I could talk to. Where I could pour out all the things that I could not feel, that I could not hold inside of me any longer, and for a moment, feel better. After telling Mary my woes, I’d stand up, turn around, look up at her, her concrete face with sun shining on it, look down to the crackers and cheese left for her, say goodbye and run, run, run, off to some other place in town.

My family had no religion, although my Mother would tell anyone that would listen that she was Catholic, as if they couldn’t tell from the 10 kids she had given birth to. The only signs of religion in our home were in her bedroom, one cross with Jesus nailed to it, her rosary, and her communion bible, which were hidden away in her banged up jewelry box.  She had to deliver her communion in Polish, don’t you know? This is all I knew. She didn’t pass this religion on to us. I have no idea why and I never asked and I never told anyone that I shared these secret moments with Mary.

If I had been wise at the time – I would have seen that this was the beginning of A Myth of my lifetime. AMYTH, with my name in it. The Virgin Mother, the idea of the good Mother, the Mother Mary, my first altar, the anti-masculine, the divine feminine, where I offered food and my thoughts to the purest myth there is.

AND now I cannot un-see it. Whenever I see the two words together I know “I am a myth”. I have to laugh and almost squeal in delight because for me, this was a small sign from the universe that says, you’re on the right path. Keep going. You got it. GO!

The intention of MIStakes

Screen Shot 2015-07-26 at 10.21.12 AMA mistake or a misstep is not the thing that will bring you down.

Letting it slide is. IF letting it slide is not intentional.

If you let repairs at your house go unchecked, soon you’ll have to replace/repair on a larger scale.

Life is the same way, the longer you wait to address the change you need to make or to correct your misstep, the longer it will take to get back to where you were going.

Which means that maybe the misstep was a distraction or a divergent path in your life story anyway. But was it intentional?

The first time you let the error go out and knowingly don’t correct it, is the first time you lower your standards – IF it is not intentional.

The first time you lower your standards leads to the second time and by the third time  everyone around you is lowering theirs.

It’s not perfection we should be looking for, it’s intention. What blemishes are we willing to allow people to see? How do we perceive ourselves? If it’s not intentional people see it before you do and change their perception of you. Maybe that’s your intention?

Letting the error slide is fine, but letting it happen again and again might be something that needs more attention and intention.