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.

the courage to speak

IMG_1745I’ve written about courage before, here and here.

I was in Charleston, South Carolina recently, a place that I once called home. A place that echoes a mysterious call to me. The food, the Charleston drawl, the landscape – the secrets.

Walking around in the older parts of Charleston, I can almost hear the whispers of hundreds of years of history. I can also hear and feel the pain of those whispers. Some of those whispers are my own.

On that trip, I ended up on a boat with some friends and friends of friends and some older white men and women who were obviously from money, or trying to seem like they were from money. Some were dressed in Polo shirts and khakis that were ever so crisp, others layered with beautiful linens and looked ever so “done”. Makeup, hair, clothes all in perfect alignment.

We were surrounded by beauty, the inlets off Morgan Creek, the scent of pluff mud, the green grasses and marshy water, the sun high overhead with a cool breeze. As the booze flowed and we made our way through fresh oysters and beaufort stew with shrimp caught that very morning, conversations broke off into groups. Music and a little dancing began, it was exactly as Charleston should be.

I sat on the edge of the boat looking off into the marsh, remembering other days, other times and was sinking into happiness, when off to the other side of the boat I overhead a man, late 60s early 70s say something about “some nigger”.  My heart dropped and my chest puffed out, did I hear that?  And then he said it again.  I thought to myself “I’ve got to say something right now. He cannot say that.”

Instead of jumping right up and marching over there, I was paralyzed. I’m on a boat with people I do not know, some are colleagues of one of my friends. I want to go say something to this man and let him know it is not okay to say that in front of me, in front of anyone. And yet, I cannot move, I’m a character in this story, this is not my story. It’s not my place, my people, I do not have to work with these people, my friends do.

It reminded me of a time when I was in college as a Sophomore at the College of Charleston, it was a Friday, I was in my dorm room and there were parties going on out on the breezeway and in some rooms. My roommates and I were having beers. I went out on the breezeway and was smoking and just down the way were some Citadel cadets, obvious because of their haircuts. I didn’t know them, but one called out to me “Hey dyke!” I looked and said “What? What did you call me?” he said “You’re a dyke right?” I was seething, but what could I say back? I didn’t identify as a dyke, I’m definitely gay, but I’m not all that butch or anything. I’m also a Sophomore in college, still trying to figure things out in life. What do I say?

From out of nowhere Brandon, a former Citadel Cadet that I knew through his girlfriend appeared and called these young cadets to attention and pressed them against the wall.

“Hey! You apologize to her, right now. That is not behavior appropriate for a cadet.” He barked.

The Cadet apologized to me.

Brandon told the rest of the guys that he’d be sure to see them back on campus and they should head there now. They filed past me, nodding and apologizing, shame holding down the bold words they said before.

Brandon had the courage to say something and it made a difference to me.

This is the South I remember, this is the South I left behind, the good, the bad, the courageous, the ugly.

On that day on a boat in Charleston, the whispering of old Charleston sat right beside me and I said nothing. I didn’t have the courage to speak up in the same way that Brandon did. It wouldn’t have mattered, to anyone, but me. It would have mattered to me. And I have to admit, I let myself down that day.

With everything going on in the world today, from Furgeson, to Peshawar, to Sony executives, to Bill Cosby, to change any of it, I have to start with myself and what I bring to the world everyday, not just what I say I am, but who I truly am. The things I allow in my life, the way I speak in private, is who I am.

I have more work to do. We all have more work to do.

my halloween costume

Screen Shot 2014-10-31 at 6.39.30 AMI don’t dress up for Halloween.

That’s just how it is.

It seems, to me anyway, that most people love to dress up for Halloween and when I tell them I don’t, their exclamations deflate. Thud.

Maybe I’m not playful enough, maybe I don’t like to have fun, maybe…I don’t like to dress up as someone else.

When I try to explain, sometimes I get strange looks or random comments.

Why is not okay to say, “I don’t want to and I don’t like to” – and have that be enough?

Because it’s SOOOO much fun for everyone else that I must be missing out. And I seem like someone who would be SOOO much fun to go to a Halloween party with.

Trust me. I am not.

No. At over 40, I can say no and explain and leave you to dress up on your own.

When I was 7 or 8, maybe even younger – this was the early 70s right around the time that people stopped making their own costumes and started buy store-bought plastic thingies that looked like cartoon characters we didn’t have the money to do that so – we put on someone else in my family’s clothes, remember there were 10 of us, that were too big, or too small in some cases, tied the pants around the waist with a piece of rope, opened the coal stove, rubbed some soot on our face and called it Halloween. Going to school or trick-or-treating with my family of hobos, wasn’t so far from everyday life. So maybe that’s where it all started?

Then there’s the time when I was 11 and I lived alone with my two brothers (you remember that story), I really wanted to do something fantastic for Halloween. I had the best idea that I could make a mask out of oatmeal and plaster oatmeal all over my face, hair and head.  OR they could buy me a mask.  They opted to buy me a mask, but we waited until the last day to go look at masks, so all that was there was a hairy-faced ape mask, so I settled for that.

I pulled that on after school and ran around the neighborhood with a giant pillowcase, hoping to come home with it full of candy. What happened though was that I couldn’t see out of the mask and I ran right into a construction stake with a bright pink tag on it that was in someone’s yard and tore my pants and gashed my leg open.

The next year, I was back living with my parents and my Dad told me that at 12, I was too old to trick-or-treat. So, after that I didn’t. Maybe that’s it?

Or, maybe it’s because all those years all I wanted was to look like everyone else with normal clothes and not hand-me downs and to just be me.

Throughout my 20s, I never did Halloween parties. I was spending so much time trying to figure out how to be normal in the world and desperately trying to figure out who I was. I went from mini-skirts to dresses with white flats, to button downs, to argyle sweaters and socks, to short shorts with combat boots – a complete train wreck of an identity. I couldn’t imagine trying to create another persona that I could dress up as for one day out of the year.

Some people might say that’s the release, that’s the great thing, you can be whoever you want for one day!!!

In my 30s, I finally settled in and really started to figure out who I was and what I wanted in the world and figured out that I’m really okay. Me. I’m good enough and I’m ok with that.

So, if you want to dress up that’s awesome. DO IT! FUN FOR YOU! But I don’t and I won’t and that’s okay too. I’ll dress up as Me today. I spent half my life trying to dress up as someone else or someone I thought I should be, so I’m done putting on the mask.

So, if you invite me to your Halloween party, I’ll come as Me. If you say COSTUME ONLY, I’ll come as ME. It’s the best costume and character I have.

And I’m totally fine with it.

 

Before you are_believe you are.

Screen Shot 2014-10-28 at 6.00.54 AMBefore you are whatever you are – you have to believe you are whatever it is you want to be.

I used to say I could never be a consultant or work for myself. There was a part of me that knew I could and I’d be great at it, but some small part of me doubted it could work.  So, I didn’t do it.

When I started to shift my mind around the whole idea of working for myself, I’d wake up every day and think I’m a consultant and every day I focused on that. That’s where my energy went and today – my business is almost two years old and I’m doing it. Making it.

Sometimes it takes a small shift to make a big shift.

When I was working at a design studio, an art director who was struggling asked me. “Do you think I can do this job well?”  I replied “That question is not for me to answer, but do you believe you can do this job well?”  My response was not what he wanted to hear. In fact it made him furious. So furious he quit that very day.

If you are looking outward for acceptance, you may not get it. Accept yourself where you are FIRST.  It doesn’t mean it can’t change. It can. It will. Believe it.

What do you want to be – feel, know? Before you are, you gotta BELIEVE it. GO!

The past is passed.

Screen Shot 2014-05-29 at 7.18.10 AMThe past is passed.

I’m reading a book called Hauntings by James Hollis. It’s not about ghosts, like dead people haunting you, but about ghosts of experiences haunting you. There are many words in the book that resonate with me, but 3 ideas are the most powerful. Paraphrased here: How often has our failure to show up in our lives revealed immaturity on our part, a failure to grow up, an active participation in victimhood? Wounding moments hurt, sometimes for decades, but our willing participation in those wounds perpetuates them. What new values or opportunities may appear if we stop serving the message of the haunting? Reflecting back on experiences shapes me and sometimes heal me. No knight in shining armor can do that for me, no one is going to come and save me, if I am not willing to save myself. Sure, people can help and people will help, but the hard work is mine. For me it’s about growing up. Looking at the past, using discernment to sift through what happened, why and how it impacts me or limits me now is not always easy, but in doing so I’ve found I’m able to live more fully. I’d like to look at all the good parts of me and ignore the “bad” parts. But at some point realizing that the bad parts aren’t actually bad, they are just parts of me that I’d like to change or maybe embrace or just let it be and move on. My hauntings are almost always based on fear. Sometimes a rational fear and sometimes an irrational one. I used to, and sometimes still do, start sweating bullets when I have to get my blood drawn. Why?  Well, rationally I can say it shouldn’t be a big deal, but when I think back – when I was a kid  – if any of us got sick or injured – my Mom’s “guts would start rolling” and she’d be out on the front porch puking, because we didn’t have any money to pay doctor bills or a way to get to the doctor without having to ask for help. Her anxiety about all of this and the puking and crying – THAT made me hate getting sick and pretty much made me deal with every illness, broken bone, blah, blah, blah as if it was no big deal. Nothing to see here, my leg’s falling off, but please don’t be upset Ma! Because of this and other instances related to medical issues, my fear was in overdrive. It wasn’t rational, but it was still real. I took on my Mother’s anxiety about it and eventually had to be held down to do a simple finger prick for a glucose test. Then I learned I could take a Xanax and I could tolerate the blood draw – IF I was laying down, turned my head, and I counted to 20, while they were doing whatever they were doing – which I could not speak of. I couldn’t walk through a hospital. I couldn’t think about going into a hospital. I could go to the doctor, but the mention of a blood draw would make me woozy. What did I do with that? This was no way to live, eventually I was going to need to get a blood draw and at some point visit a hospital, eventually there would be an emergency and I was going to need to be present. I needed help. I needed to take care of myself. I read somewhere that the Dalai Lama passed out once when he was having his blood drawn and started to have anxiety about blood work because of it. So each time before a blood draw he would visualize the needle going in his arm and also allow himself the luxury of passing out if he needed to. Give it up – go ahead and pass out. So, I took up the same practice, because I was having to get blood draws more frequently for a thyroid test. At first it stressed me out more, I was so worried about passing out. I also still took the Xanax. Sometimes we get stuck in a childhood memory or haunting that doesn’t allow us to let go, to face it, to grow up. So, I kept focusing on growing up, I kept facing it, kept understanding and sifting through all the memories of the instances that contributed to this childhood fear. I’d ask myself, What are you afraid of? What’s the worst that could happen? I’d remind myself, you have insurance, you’ve always paid your way, you always find a way through if you run out of money. I kept having the conversation with myself. I realized this haunting was holding me back. It took a long time to uncover it all, but in the last few months something has shifted, maybe I’m desensitized or maybe I’m willing to grow up a little more and say, I can do this and am no longer haunted and stuck in a childhood nightmare of blood and guts and dying and someone puking off the front porch. Now, I can get a blood draw without a  Xanax, sometimes.  And while I was working on this fear I realized that other fears were dropping away as well. I do feel more grown up. As if I evolved somehow, have a greater consciousness of this fear and how it haunts me and how to work with it and not against it. And at the same time work with kindness with my 10-year-old self, who still trembles at the thought of a blood draw, telling her that this fear has no place here anymore, I’m a grown up and I got this. Sometimes as children or after some experience as an adult, we make a decision to protect ourselves out of necessity, but we also need to know when that protection is now holding us back. What’s haunting you?