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 five stages of happiness

Anyone who has experienced grief of any kind is probably aware of the five stages of grief, first outlined by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross in 1969. I’m certain everyone who is everyone experienced grief in the same way long before that.

I also know that these five stages of grief, Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance, don’t happen in order, they happen in a circle, sometimes circling you all at the same time.

No one that I’m aware of ever explains the opposite though.

You get your big break, your dream job, your book sells, you meet the love of your life, buy a dream home, make ends meet, you do it. You wrestle through life and in some moment, you’re happy. Or maybe, you just get what you want. Finally.

People tell you how to get through grief. How to push through, get through, batten down, suffer it out, but no one ever says: here’s happiness and how you get through it, because once you are happy you can just be happy? Right? When you’re happy you don’t need instructions?  What now?

What now? 

THE FIVE STAGES OF HAPPINESS – which are quite similar to grief, but without all the angry parts:

1. Infatuation (approval)- YES, YES, YES, more of this please. I need more now, I want it all, all, all. I will marry you today. yes. I will do this forever. yes.

2. Elationover the moon, I can’t believe this is true, true, true. I love this feeling. WOW!

3. Insecurity – will it happen or won’t it happen? or continue to happen? This is a fluke, cling to what you know, you know how to struggle, but you don’t know how to be happy, someone will take this away from me. This can’t be possible! Save some of this for another day, don’t use it all now.

4. Reality – you begin to realize maybe this is real, it’s not over the top, over the moon anymore, it is real. Things calm down, you sink in, you’re good. It’s good. This can send you right back to insecurity.

5. Depression or Clarity – this can go either way – on the one hand, you’ve got what you want, but on the other you aren’t striving for more, better, faster anymore. That’s what you wanted – right? You might start to sink down into depression. It’s disappointing to let go of an old way of thinking. It’s disappointing to have failed all of your old ways by breaking through and believing in what you want and going after it. If you go the depression route, you’ll end up back at the top after you fight your way through it – again. Or you might realize all you’ve left behind was for good reason. This new reality is good, you’ve changed and maybe you can sit with it and be okay without striving for anything more. That can come another day. I’m clear this is real – and good – and I’m okay. Clarity.

After sitting with this piece of writing for a bit, I realize these five stages of happiness apply to lots of things, new babies, new jobs, new loves, new houses, life in general. Most of us are looking out at the world screaming I’m not happy yet! What happened!? Meanwhile we’re looking for something, someone, some experience to MAKE US HAPPY NOW.

And the point is – happiness isn’t out there waiting for you – it’s right here. We’re all circling all of these things all the time. Right now. It’s all the same process.

*After writing this I searched and found other people are talking about the five stages of happiness. Different from my view, but it’s out there.

grief

2224977554_581bfb9301_bI’ve wondered how to escape the feelings of grief. I’d like to put them aside once and awhile. The thing is, grief doesn’t agree with that. It doesn’t go anywhere. The only way out of grief is RIGHT DAMN THROUGH IT.

It took me 15 years to grieve the death of my Mother, my brothers, my Father, I thought I could trick it. I thought I could cheat it. Become busy enough to not care. Make enough money. Be the best person. Truth. It didn’t work.

I had to get to know grief in order to let it go. I spent months, maybe even years – 15 years after my Mother died, crying and mourning the loss.

Today, I get it. My dog is dead and I’m a wreck. The kind of wreck that doesn’t want to eat, move, breathe. But I get it. Grief makes you sick. I cry at the grocery store, the eyeglasses store, the running store and I just don’t care.

When my Mother died – no one told me how it would go, I read a pamphlet at the funeral home about the five stages of grief. That’s all the advice I got. A few months later or maybe a year – I saw a book called Motherless Daughter’s by Hope Edelman and I picked it up and devoured it. I got it and I thought at 20 that I had grieved enough. That I was all better for having read the book and that I could move on. So I did. I read in her book that I’d always feel the loss and it would get easier but I’d always miss her. FINE! CHECK!

But 10 years later I still felt small, weak, trying to outrun grief, ignoring the fact that I was miserable.

So, I sat myself down and thought – what the hell are you doing to yourself. Figure it out! And I began to grieve all of the losses, my Mother, my two brothers, and then my Father – because that was more difficult. I never liked him. So how do you grieve someone you don’t even like? You don’t. You grieve the loss of what you never had or believed you should have had. You feel sorry for yourself, you dig deep, you do what you have to do until you don’t need to do it anymore.

I kept telling myself you’re an adult now and you can choose to grieve and then be done with it. But the truth is – you’re not – that shit will come back to you in one minute and knock you on your ass.

My Wonder dog died just 4 days ago. I relive those last frantic moments her head flopping back as we picked her up out of the back of the car, me knowing she was nearly gone, the sweet vet techs that cleaned her up, put a heart on her bandage on her leg and put her on a table under a blanket. Posed as if she was sleeping. That moment. I remember. And then I stop and I remember all the other moments of grief. Standing by my Mother’s casket, picking up my Father’s ashes, hearing my brother Michael died on a phone call from his friend in California, holding my brother Bob’s hand as he took one last deep breath. My grief. I get it. But sometimes grief – I want you to back the fuck off. I’m tired. And yet, you keep it coming, you’re an old friend now. Fine, I’ll get back up ONE. MORE. TIME. Because that’s what we do. We don’t give up.

No one tells you that you grieve until you’re done. You cry until you don’t. The only way is through. It’s different every time. My good friend Kate once said to me – what’s a year of grief in an entire lifetime? I was done. I didn’t want to cry anymore, but she was right. What is a year of grief in a lifetime? Worth having loved – that’s what. 

What’s your story of grief and what story are you telling yourself about it?

Gratitude and WONDER

5207235883_d5a55a4807_bI’ve always said that when my dog Wonder dies, she’ll just keel over. She is full force or nothing at all. We were a pair from the start.

I saw an ad in the paper (Yes, an actual printed paper.) for Weimaraner/Labrador puppies at a rescue home in Clackamas, OR. I’d always wanted a Weimaraner but had heard they were a handful, high-strung and hard to deal with. I knew Labs were sweet and not very stressed. The combination sounded perfect.

When I arrived in Clackamas, the woman that owned the rescue talked to me about her program. She had a small number of animals and only took on animals that were in danger of being euthanized. The two Lab/Weim puppies she had were from somewhere in Washington, a litter of ten that had found homes for eight. The last two were going to the shelter and they didn’t seem to have much hope.

She explained that at 10 weeks old, both puppies were crate trained and with command could – sit, lay down and shake. They were also free feeders, they ate when they wanted to and never gobbled down food.  “All that at ten weeks?” I said – she replied “I work hard to train the dogs I bring in so they are guaranteed not to be returned for bad behavior.”

She opened the door of the crate and the two sweet black pups with bright brown eyes came tumbling out. Their giant heads and large paws leading their tiny bodies end-over-end. I laughed as they circled me nudging my legs with their heads, paws and all their other parts they couldn’t yet control. I sat down. Both ran around me. The male had a larger head with a labrador shape and a hard ridged brow, the female had a softer brow and longer ears like the Weims I loved so much. The male pushed his way under my hands for pets and then wandered off. The female circled me and then climbed into my lap and laid down. My heart melted. Story over. She was the ONE.

It took me three days to name her. I called her everything I could think of but the one thing she always tilted her head to was Wonder. Little Wonder Girl. and we began.

Over the years she’s seen me through a whole mess of things that were all about me learning to take care of myself first, finding my own voice, and finding my way to run my own business. Through hours and hours and hours of writing and reading – she waited patiently for me.

She mirrored my emotions always, when we were leaving the only home she ever knew and I was super stressed she barfed on the floor right before every real estate showing. Just as I wanted to barf over the whole thing. Sometimes when I get stressed I get dandruff and so does Wonder.

She never chewed on things I didn’t want her to chew on, she never ran away, she never expected much of anything at all, just me and love. She was a funny dog, intense and curious. always. She once picked up a Scottish Terrier and shook it so hard I thought it was dead – but it wasn’t – thankfully.  She also thought inanimate statues of animals were real. We once saw a rabbit figurine in someone’s lawn. She stalked it, walking slowly, slowly up to it and then slammed her head into it and was startled that it didn’t move.  She circled a giant art installation that looked like a bear at a park in terror, until she got close enough to see it had no fur.

She saw me to this place – where I know myself. I have a life full of love and am grateful for every SINGLE day. Wonder was there through it all.

The last 13.5 years of transition and change has not been easy and just when I thought things were near perfect the universe looks down and says – REALLY? How about this? Wonder dog dies. Story over again.

In the end she did keel over.  She seemed 100% normal right up until that day – running and galloping after pooping – her favorite past time. Ten minutes later, she collapsed, unable to move. I rushed her to the vet and they brought her back. And then again, a week later she collapsed, rushed to the vet. Her heart – filled with fluid and burst – she had to break her own heart to go.

I was lucky to have time to say goodbye, to spoil her, to love her every minute of the day. I’m heartbroken too but so VERY grateful to have spent 13.5 years with devotion and love and companionship that never faltered, even when I did. She taught me to stay curious. She always showed up. She taught me to GO! or don’t go at all. She always smiled when she ran. She snuggled up to me when I was sad. She held my hand through it all, her paw always reaching out for me.

2393287537_1788f003fb_bWonder dog – you’ll always be my first dog – my best dog. We got through it. We carry on even if it’s dragging ass until we feel better. I know how to do this now.  Grateful.

sentimentality

8254174933_dd536912a2_bI try not to get bogged down in being sentimental.

I read this book years ago Conscious Femininity – Interviews with Marion Woodman and this passage stuck with me.

On how sentimentality robs us of our feeling:
Woodman: To me sentimentality is not genuine feeling. Sentimental people tend to ignore their own shadow, their own darkness. They cover up real suffering with self-pity, for example, and stultify their own growth. Or they may focus their energy on another person who is trying to deal with genuine feeling, perhaps genuine evil, and because they’re unable to face that in themselves they say, “Poor thing.” They take a condescending attitude toward people who are fighting for their lives trying to get to their integrity. Sentimental people refuse to suffer. Real anger or real grief are put into cotton wool that smothers any possibility of transformation because they cannot stand the fire, and real feeling is tempered in fire.  Real feeling moves into the conflict and hold the opposition until the new is born. Sentimentality fears the heat of passion. It takes a holier-than-thou attitude and pretends it knows no evil, feels sorry for anyone trapped in compulsive behavior. Nazis were sentimental. Children are not.

Today, I’m being sentimental about my life and feeling sad for myself and at the same time taking pause for where I’ve been, what I’ve learned and where I’m going.  In a way maybe it  is not actual sentimentality, but a remembering, an honoring of days gone by. Not wishing them different, not passing them off, but feeling them the way they come through to me.

Sometimes, okay most times, when I hear a Christmas song, it brings a lump to my throat or I see a family in front of a Thanksgiving table, it turns me to tears. I used to push that aside and not deal with it at all, thinking it was because of the wonder of the season, the magic, the miracle of it all, but it’s not.  It’s grief for what I missed. What I’ve lost – my mother, my father, my two brothers and all the other things – we all have things that make us sentimental.

So, while I’m feeling sad, I remind myself – I’m no “Poor thing.” I fought life for my integrity, my authenticity and I can be okay just grieving – what might take a thousand more days to grieve, but I know if I keep  letting it come in, come through – things will change. I’ve seen it. Instead of avoiding what’s going on, I ask – what am I avoidingAm I being sentimental or am I willing to really feel what’s going on? and then letting whatever that is in, without sentimentality, might change your life.

Sentimental:
Marked or governed by feeling, sensibility, or emotional idealism
Dig into sentiment when you need to, DON’T forget to dig your way back out.
What are you avoiding? What’s asking you to suffer? What makes you sentimental?

DEEPression

I’ve been in a funk.

It’s definitely a funk.

The whirlwind of the last three months, trying to figure out what I was going to do next – were stressful, fretting – a lot. I was patient with myself and with the process, but it impacted me in surprising ways.

First, I had to let go of the idea of my old job and the camaraderie, my pals in BTV and NYC. Getting fired makes you feel like – crap – and in this case, it ripped people out of my life that I held in high regard. It was instantaneous. Like death. There’s no way around it – you doubt yourself and you wonder what other people think of you. Some people call or email and some people don’t and you wonder, is it their discomfort with the situation or did they never have any respect for you at all? So, I spent the time crying and grieving all that I needed and that dropped me down into the first part of the funk.

Signing up for unemployment feels like – crap – too. The process is antiquated, the usability of their website is challenging and then you submit and have to wait for approvalfor weeks. It doesn’t take as long if you weren’t fired, but if you were fired – they have to make sure you didn’t do anything that “caused you to be fired” – like punch someone in the face. Then, every week you have to claim a week of benefits, which reminds you that you don’t have a job and that you are receiving unemployment benefits. I understand why you have to do it, but it still feels like – crap. DEEPer funk.

Sunday nights and Monday mornings are difficult for the first 8 weeks. You know that everyone else is getting ready for the week to come and you are not. Monday mornings were 100% depressing. Lonely.  DEEPer funk.

Finally, sending out resumes, talking to people, networking, figuring things out – takes time and energy and it creates self-loathing.  I’m all for promoting myself in a genuine way, but you find yourself wanting people to look at you and affirm that you are good enough, which is weird. You know you are good enough, but for some reason, having someone else think that, especially after you’ve been fired, means something.  This was the DEEPest funk – relying on other people to validate me. Sad.

I felt terrible many days, but worked on being positive. I knew it would all work out, but that trust, in and of itself, was a challenge. But a good one.

What came through for me was this – I know that I sometimes want people to validate me, but it’s not really what I want. I want validation from myself and when I could get to the place where I could give it to myself and believe it. The funk – it lifted.

It’s going to be a great weekend. Get out in it. GO.

What puts you in a funk? What lifted the funk for you?

For_Mothering

When it’s over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was a bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened
or full of argument.

I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.

from When Death Comes ~ Mary Oliver


I knew my mother for almost twenty years.
As of three days ago, she’s been gone twenty-two.

In that time I have learned to be my own Mother.
A good Mother and a CHALLENGING Mother.
I have asked time and again how she would have spoken to me or laughed with me
And the answer is – silence.
I was sad to lose her so early, but also fortunate – it has taught me to be more alive.
More myself, there was no Mother to influence me, so I had to be ME, on my own

ME. ALIVE.

In that time I have taught myself things she could not in the twenty years I knew her – to not be afraid, to have courage, to stand up sometimes – even when I’m told to sit, to say NO when I don’t want to do something, to say YES when I really want it!, to believe in myself, to believe that everything is possible.

All things that were hard for her – are no longer hard for me. Maybe, I’ve healed us both in the work I’ve done to Mother myself. I hope so.

Every year I think, “I’ll forget this year”, or I’ll not be reminded of the grief that took me nearly 15 years to overcome. But then April 7th comes around and I think of her, and now, because I am a good Mother to myself, I no longer try to stuff it away, and forget, instead I honor her, even if only in my thoughts.  I honor her –  good and bad – and the life she lived and think about the one she could have had.

I am grateful for having known her and grateful that she left me in time for me to become me. 

Maybe your Mother was there in person, but absent? Or was there and oppressive? Or was never around at all? Or Mothered you fiercely in the exact right way? Or maybe you just don’t relate to one another?

In any case, I think taking care of yourself is a good skill to have.

How do you Mother your own self?