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.

the opposite of survival – part TWO

Screen Shot 2014-04-23 at 7.22.17 AMSee part 1 – here

The story didn’t end there? Why? Because I was not ready for abundance – YET.

With my necklace clasped around my neck – shouting, but delicately shouting, because I was not yet ready to be shouting anything so life affirming: “I call for your abundance like an armor of ships.”  ~ Leonore Wilson

I wore it everyday. So proud. I also wore it next to my other Jeanine Payer necklace: “She looked at her own Soul with a Telescope. What seemed all irregular, she saw and showed to be beautiful Constellations: and she added to the Consciousness hidden worlds within worlds.” ~ Samuel Coleridge

I wanted abundance, there is no doubt about that, but I was still looking inward. WHY? Because I needed to make some changes to be able to BE in abundance, but I didn’t make many changes when it came to abundance. I went back to doing what I was doing. And THREE times that necklace broke. And I could say it was just shoddy workmanship, but I have other Janine Payer pieces and none have ever broken, only abundance.

Life’s metaphor for me. Abundance – kept breaking. As beautiful and horrible as it was there I was breaking abundance. I didn’t get it.

The first time the necklace broke, I was miserable. What is the meaning behind this? I thought to myself and I discovered, I was not living in abundance, I was afraid of what bad thing might happen, I was worried about worry and still trying to protect myself from being hurt, killed, or fail – old habits die hard.

I was surviving. So, I continued to look inward. Things don’t change until they change, so all I could do is keep looking. I got the necklace fixed and it broke again.

I left it broken for almost a year.

Each time it broke, I had it repaired by Jeanine Payer’s studio in San Francisco. I’d send it back to them. They’d repair it and send it back to me.

This time, I put it back on and it broke almost immediately, within minutes. This was too delicate of a subject for me. Man, what is the lesson here? What do I need to know about myself that will allow me to believe in abundance and not fear it. To live it?!  I was in a miserable job, I was not living the life I really wanted to live, I needed to change, but I was stuck.

I sent it back again and after a few weeks, it came back to me and I wore it carefully. This time, I also removed the other necklace – the looking inward necklace. I stopped wearing them together.

It’s not that I stopped looking inward, but I stopped dwelling on the looking inward. Something shifted, it always does, but it took time, took patience took me doing the work to get there, shifting my thoughts from surviving to abundance. Not standing still but GOING and DOING looking to change. Not at a frantic crazy pace, but at the pace I could do it.

Sometimes your friends push you to be a better you, like my friend pushing me to get that necklace and sometimes, most times – you have to do the work yourself to actually live what you’re pushed to do. When you’re ready. You’re ready. Don’t stop trying.

Boom. Again. A message from the universe. The necklace has not broken since.

What if it’s all true

Screen Shot 2014-02-17 at 8.43.04 AMWhat if it’s all true?

What if every bad thing someone has ever said about you is true? Or has some truth to it.

What if you let it in? Consider it? There is truth in all of it. Might not be my truth, or yours, but there is some truth there. The choice to believe it or dismiss it, that’s what’s up to you. I most times want to go on the defense when I hear something negative about myself, but what if I let if sink in? What harm could that do? Am I obsessive? Am I micro-manager? Can I go with the flow or do I always need a plan? Am I contrary just to be contrary?

On the flip side, what if all the good things anyone has ever said about you is also true. Am I ambitious, tenacious, smart?

That’s the balance of life. We are both – and – only we know the real truth about who we are, but everyone else sees it every day. You can hide the good or the bad, but people see it and so do you. And maybe it’s not “BAD” of “GOOD” at all. Maybe it just is. Maybe our strengths can also be weaknesses.

What if I let the comments in?

Freedom. Freedom from trying to be someone, freedom to be yourself. The good, the bad, the best. We’re all of it.

Revolution_revelation_love_2014

Screen Shot 2014-01-02 at 6.25.05 AMIn 2012, I started the year by writing about REVOLUTION. Last year I started by writing about REvolution and REVELATION.

2012 = Revolution – everything in life got turned on end, things changed quickly, my therapist of 8 years moved away. I lost my job. I got a new job. I decided to figure out how to work for myself. I started all over again.

2013 = Revelation – everything in life revealed itself.  I evolved. How I was going to work for myself revealed itself. I started my own business. I worked my ass off for ME. I believed it could work. Not everything was perfect. My dog died. I couldn’t write as much. I had some complications. It wasn’t the easiest thing ever, but I changed because of what I saw around me. Life revealed itself because I was willing to stay with it. 2013 was revealing how to thrive.

Why do I tell you this?  Because dreams do come true. I am proving it everyday. Dig deep, you can be happy, believe it, BELIEVE it. You can’t sit there doing nothing to have it happen, you have to keep working at it, but it can happen. If you imagine it.

Just before the new year 2014 – I had a dream – I was texting with my friend Kate – which is ridiculous that texting is now in my dreams. Note to self – less texting in 2014?! We were texting about the new year ahead and I said: Revelation and Revolution got me to 2014, I’m happy that I changed my life with the flow of those.

Kate responded:

this year
is love.

I’m in. I woke and thought what does that mean? I thought about it and thought about it.

It means, go with love, just love it all the way it is. If I’ve learned anything these last few years it’s that patience with yourself and love for the way things are is where it’s at. Right now is all we really have anyway – so you can stop trying so hard to be good enough, stop trying to be perfect, stop pushing, imagine how you’d like things to be and start letting things fall into place they way they should be, the way they are – right now – for right now.

2014 is for Love – it’s for loving things exactly as they are, the messiness of life, the brilliance of life, to love not knowing, to love knowing, to love the past, the present, the future, to watch in wonder of how things flow, if you let them.  Just love. GO! for 2014.

What’s your word for 2014?

Authenticity

IMG_0474I began to write about authenticity and how we sometimes live split lives because of our political values or our inability to be genuine with people because our beliefs don’t match theirs. Or we can’t be honest with ourselves and admit who we really are and live a split life out of fear.

This all began because of something I read on Facebook.

I like Facebook in general because it helps me keep up with people, but many times I see people use Facebook to – as my Mother used to say “air their dirty laundry” and in general say things to other people they would never say to their face. Which is a strange techno-behavior that we’ve all been seeing trend upward since Al Gore invented the internet.

And that was where I started to think about authenticity.  What came next though was what happens some days – I got a status update from David Whyte – which always brings a sense of future and freshness to my Facebook experience. Instead of people complaining about people on food stamps, I get a taste of future and freshness.

The Opening of Eyes

That day I saw beneath dark clouds,
the passing light over the water
and I heard the voice of the world speak out,
I knew then, as I had before,
life is no passing memory of what has been
nor the remaining pages in a great book
waiting to be read.

It is the opening of eyes long closed.
It is the vision of far off things
seen for the silence they hold.
It is the heart after years
of secret conversing,
speaking out loud in the clear air.

It is Moses in the desert
fallen to his knees before the lit bush.
It is the man throwing away his shoes
as if to enter heaven
and finding himself astonished,
opened at last,
fallen in love with solid ground.

From River Flow: New and Selected Poems. ©David Whyte

So I read this and thought to myself – that’s it – again authenticity. But it changed my view on writing about someone else and I returned to writing from my own experience.

For me, right now, I’m happier than I’ve ever been in life, that’s a scary thought. What if I’m never this happy again?! So, I feel myself clinging to these moments as if they could end tomorrow and what I know from being unhappy for a very long time, I did the same thing. During the unhappy moments – while I longed for better times, I clung to the bitterness, and the hurt, and the past, because it was what I knew. And I knew when it changed – things would be different and change is a terrible and awesome thing, but we don’t like it, because we don’t know what’s on the other side of where we are.

So what’s the point ?

I’ve seen happiness is a state of mind, it’s not money, it’s not politics, it’s not anything other than being open – as David Whyte says – it’s speaking out loud in the clear air – the secret conversations of your own heart.  That’s pretty deep.

When you can finally admit to yourself and to everyone around you what your own secret longing is, no matter how foolish it might sound, that’s when you can be authentic, true, real, genuine.

The beginning.

8377624411_bc015d132c_b“You are revealing a lot about yourself on your blog Amy.”
“Yeah, I know that.”
“How do you do that? How are you okay with it?”
“Well, how do you do what you do everyday?”
“Hmmm, well, I couldn’t, wouldn’t.”
And then “Aren’t you afraid that a future employer might read this and not hire you?”
“No, I wouldn’t want to work for someone who wouldn’t hire me based on what I write.”

And so it is. I do what I do. You do what you do. That’s what we do.

And then the small shameful part of myself wells up and says, you know what? She’s right. Why are you doing this? And I don’t have an answer other than it’s what I do, at least for now.

Believe me, I judge people all the time for things I THINK are inappropriate and when I get over judging them – I remind myself – well, that’s what they need to do right now, that’s where they need to be.

I also believe we need more vulnerability in the world, more honesty, more authenticity. Maybe this is my way of starting that process for myself.

Sometimes when I say my dog Wonder died, people say “Was she old?” That’s the brush off, people don’t want to be vulnerable. It’s too hard. It’s too much to understand the aching. “She had a good long life” is another one. Yes, she did, but when anyone dies, just because they lived and lived well and lived a good long time, doesn’t make their absence any less. It’s easy to say she lived a good long life, but to look into my eyes and say you must be heartbroken. To be vulnerable, to understand that we’re all having these times together – that’s what I hope for – to see each other. To hear each other – not with our own ears but someone else’s.

Vulnerability isn’t a bad thing, it’s not about holding onto the past, it’s not about pushing the past down to get to the future, it’s understanding that our experiences drive who we are and how we choose to deal with them and share them changes not only ourselves, but each other.

Joseph Campbell says:

Whatever your fate is, whatever the hell happens, you say, “This is what I need.” It may look like a wreck, but go at it as though it were an opportunity, a challenge. If you bring love to that moment – not discouragement – you will find the strength is there. Any disaster that you can survive is an improvement in your character, your stature, and your life. What a privilege! This is when the spontaneity of your own nature will have a chance to flow. 

Then, when looking back at your life, you will see that the moments which seemed to be great failures followed by wreckage were the incidents that shaped the life you have now. You’ll see that this is really true…The crisis throws you back, and when you are required to exhibit strength, it comes.

The strength always comes. The money always comes – or it doesn’t. And that’s exactly right as well. While my backstory might be sad to some, I just see it as my life and I lean in and say yes, that is my life, maybe I reveal too much, or maybe I reveal too little. Some days I want to feel terrible about it all. I understand living is necessary and so are all the great failures and wrongs and rights that happen in it. It’s not the end. It’s always the beginning.

Ashes to Ashes

6782686535_f10c0ee9df_bWonder dog’s ashes are in the kitchen on the counter in a red and yellow flowered tin. No one asked – plastic bag? box? plain silver tin? I thought this was getting easier and yet – today it’s so much harder. I held back tears at least 10 times. I mean that’s what you are supposed to do – right? when you can hold them back you do? when you can’t you don’t? They all came out later, but in the moment I didn’t want to cry anymore.

We picked up Wonder’s ashes at Dignified Pets Cremation and drove to the Oregon Coast with the windows down and Wonder in her tin. Zelda our other dog laid in the back of the car as if nothing was different. The day Wonder died little Z went over to Wonder’s bed and laid down in it, but other than that nothing seems different for her.

I asked Wonder for a sign – I know that sounds silly – seeing as I don’t believe in an afterlife. I do believe energy is energy and it has to go somewhere. So, I asked and at the Coast nothing remarkable happened. No sign – okay.

We got home, fed Isabel the cat and Zelda and went for a drink and some dinner. We ended up at Cascade Barrel House. We don’t go there that often, but it was a spring-ish/summery kind of day and the only beer I like are sours and it seemed fitting for warm weather.  Julie, my partner of partners, my forever dream date, has been amazing through all of this, looks at the menu and says they have a Wonder Red on the special list. I hadn’t told her about asking for the sign and I hadn’t looked at the menu yet. Wonder Red? A sign? I don’t know – I’ll take it. I’ve never seen a beer called Wonder or another dog called Wonder. So maybe somehow the two mean something. Wonder. Wonder?

It takes me back to when my brother was dying. He was having a hard time coming to terms with it. He was 30 and I was 25. I didn’t understand it either. He had moved to Portland to be closer to family. I didn’t know that meant he was going to die soon. Looking back, it should have been obvious. He had once been tall and handsome. But now his 6’2″ muscly, strong body, had withered to less than 100lbs.

He pulled me aside one day, his soft pin-striped button down brushing against my skin, his cane clicking every other step as we walked. It was just after my birthday, where he had given me a diamond earring. Now I see he was trying to tell me something. But at the time, I only wondered why he’d given it to me. He’d never given me anything before, except a hard time, like any good big brother.

He stopped, his eyes dropped to mine, bending over a little. His blue eyes dancing, “I want to take you to breakfast this week, okay? Just us, okay?” “Yeah sure Bob, yeah.” He liked to be called Robert these days, but I could never come to terms with that change. He was Bobby to me. No matter what my Father said years ago about a real man not being called Bobby. He was a real man – an ex-Navy officer.

We went to breakfast at his favorite place and he ordered his bacon – soft, not crispy. I thought – who orders bacon in a particular way? It’s just bacon. That’s how he was though, unlike me he knew what he liked and how he wanted it. I took note that I might want to figure that out one day.

We sat and ate and talked about our Mother and Father, who had both been gone for 6 years. Then he stopped and with conviction said “Amy, I’m going on a trip, do you want to go with me?”
“Bob, you should ask your doctor about this trip, I don’t think you can go on a trip right now.”
“No really, I’m going on a trip and I want you to come.”
“I don’t think that’s a good idea.”
“I’m going with or without you.”
“Okay then, where are you going?”
“Somewhere like Hawaii or something tropical.”
I was young. Going to Hawaii was so far removed from my life that the thought of saying yes made me dreamy and so I did. “Yes, I’ll go with you.”

Bob ended up in the hospital ten days later. He kept saying he wanted to go home and see his dog Molly. He wanted to be home with her. While people left to get “home” ready for him, I sat on the side of his hospital bed “Do you need more morphine?”
“No, I’m fine. I just want to be home.”
We talked but not much.
His breath slowing.
“Can I hold your hand?” I asked
He smiled. “Yes.”
“I’m sorry if I start crying Bob, I know it’s probably weird to have people standing around crying when you are here feeling like this.”
“It’s okay.”
It was clear he was not going to be going home.
“You know Bob, if there is something after this, could you send me a sign? I’ve wondered if there is something else after this life and I know you understand that. So send me a sign okay?”
“Yeah, okay.”

He took his last breath not long after that. And he was gone.

I went about life as quickly as I could, working, being busy, getting away from grief. Bob came to me in dreams those first couple of weeks, continuing to talk about his big trip. I thought that was sign enough, but I was young and kept asking him for more signs.

I went camping not long after that. I loathe camping, but for some reason I was going camping. One night as a million stars shined down, I looked through the fire and there was Bob standing by a tree and he said – “I’m still going on that trip. Do you want to go with me?”

I don’t know if it was real or I was delirious from grief, but it scared me, so much so that I yelled “You’re scaring me now! I can’t do this – you have to go!”  I have not seen my brother again.

Was he trying to tell me that there was something after this life or that your energy doesn’t die? My brother and I agreed before he died that it was the latter. You don’t disappear you live on in some way even if only in the collective thoughts of everyone else.

That’s how life goes. We learn from our previous experience, or if we choose not to learn, we might experience it in the same way. For me – when I ask for a sign, I’ll take the first one. Thank you Wonder Red for appearing on a menu.
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