Monday, April 30, 2012
Utopia is Now
Now is utopia.
Huh? You might be thinking. With all the problems in the world how could this possibly be utopia?
For one, we're alive now, which is preferable to being dead, at least in my view. So Now has that going for it, at a minimum.
But that's hardly enough to make the case for utopia, so here are my thoughts: Sure, there's war, famine, humanity being horrible, lack of freedom, disease, overpopulation, and looming water shortages to name a few problems out there. But the thing is, these are all within our power to make better. We might not be able to fix anything - seeing as people are going to continue to be horrible long after we're gone, and there will always be war and famine - but we're not helpless. More importantly, we're not hopeless. By small acts and larger ones, we can do our part to make the future brighter for those who follow. So volunteer to help with Special Olympics, or drink tap water instead of bottled, adopt from a pound instead of having a dog bred for you, contribute to a Kickstarter project, be gentle with people, and for goodness sakes - VOTE. See? Not all that hard. A bunch of small steps can add up to one heck of a journey.
How many times have you heard that it's the journey, not the destination? There's a reason why most of our stories concentrate on the hero's journey rather than the destination. The destination is the end. It may be satisfying, but only because it wasn't easy and yet the hero/ine prevailed. While the end is something to focus on as we try to keep to the right path, just thinking about it doesn't get anyone anywhere. Only action matters.
I chose Seurat's Sunday in the Park for my illustration because it's the most famous example of pointillism. If you were to peer closely enough at the painting, you'd see that it consists of millions of tiny dots of color. Each dot is nothing on its own. Together, they make a huge difference.
You can't take action in the past. Time travel stories aside, the past is over and immutable. So don't waste time lamenting that you should have done something way back when. Your starting point is always Now. Now might not be your image of utopia, but frankly, the Now is as good as things are ever going to be. Unless we make it better.
Sunday, April 29, 2012
By Lisabet Sarai
Saturday, April 28, 2012
Sex, Ritual, and Magic
By K.D. Grace (Guest Blogger)
Friday, April 27, 2012
The Rituals of Children
Being an older mother when my children were born (42 for the first, 44 for the second), I am hypersensitive to the idea of "normal." When strangers feel compelled to ask you while you're pregnant if you're worried about Down Syndrome or autism because of, well your age, you become sensitive. You rub your large watermelon-sized belly and you try to be polite even while you want to slap them silly for being so insensitive and downright cruel. Or maybe that's just me.
Rituals are the things of day-to-day life. The weekday rituals, the weekend rituals, the holiday rituals, the home rituals, the work rituals. They happen without thought. They are not truly rituals with a capital R, steeped in mysticism and profound significance; they are routines-- small r-- just a part of normal life. But what is routine and what is ritual? What is normal and what is abnormal? What is healthy and what is pathological?
I watch my two year old-- he's almost 29 months now, so nearly 2 and 1/2-- and how he processes household routines. He is at the age where he wants to do everything we do even though he doesn't always understand why we do things. He knows his dirty clothes go in the hamper and he puts them there each morning, but he doesn't know why he can't dig his favorite shirt out of the hamper and wear it again tomorrow. He knows the wrapper from his favorite cheese snack goes in the trash, but he doesn't understand why he can't pull something else out of the trash can and play with it. He understands that he has to share his toys with his little brother, but doesn't understand why he can't also share all of his food, too.
My son is trying to fit into the world-- our little world-- and make sense of the things that his young mind haven't quite figured out yet. At the same time, I'm trying to understand his garbled requests and the must-be-fulfilled rituals that aren't just delaying nap time or bedtime, but are crucial to his sense of order. And I wonder if this or that is "normal" or if it's a sign of something else. And then I wonder why "normal" is so narrow and rigid when it's clear that he is a beautiful, healthy, happy boy no matter what he does.
He lines his Hot Wheels cars up on the edge of his toddler bed each night before I tuck him in. A dozen or so cars are assigned sentry posts against the railing, the rest of the crate of cars tucked at the foot of the bed. He carries his Big Monkey around the house and on outings in the truck, his comfort toy, his "lovey." He changes seats at the kitchen table for various things. Dinner is in his own chair with the booster seat. Pre-bedtime fruit cup is in my chair. Breakfast is in the chair next to his brother. Three or four times a week, he drags the condiments out of the refrigerator and lines them up on the table-- ketchup, mustard, barbecue sauce, mayonnaise-- even if we're not having anything that requires condiments. Often, he will asks for dollops of each to be placed on his plate with his meal. Even if it's spaghetti, even if it's a bagel. He prefers his orange socks over all other color socks. He must find just the right CD for bedtime (lately, it's Matchbox 20) and turn on his star turtle. He much watch "video-video-video" on my iPhone; he is fascinated by videos of himself and will wave and hold up various Hot Wheels cars to show his video-twin. He must always push the button to open the garage door to let me leave.
And so it goes. Some routines/rituals fade away and are replaced by new ones. Some cause me a moment's pause-- is it normal for a child to line things up the way he does or to run full force at the wall again and again and then laugh hysterically when he crashes into it? Is it normal the way he repeats a word three times? Some of his antics just make me shake my head. He is a toddler, after all. A two year old trying to understand our adult rituals and making up a few of his own. Trying to learn the language so he can communicate what he needs instead of pat-pat-patting the refrigerator for more "joosh-joosh-joosh" or the floor so I will sit next to him. Trying to fit in and be a part of his community, even though his community so far doesn't extend beyond our house.
Rituals serve the purpose of helping us cope with life, fit in with our peers and live in our community. We wear blue and gold to honor our favorite sports team, we put on costumes to celebrate a holiday, we blow out candles to mark another year of life. We have rituals that are just our own-- a favorite color socks when you're two might be you're lucky color socks when you're twenty.
I'm rediscovering the importance of little rituals through the eyes of my son. The ritual of singing "Itsy Bitsy Spider" at bedtime or when he's hurt. The rituals of cheek kisses and high-fives and head-butts before I leave the house. The little things that make his world feel safe and secure-- the little things that make my world feel safe and secure, too. His brother isn't quite eight months old yet and is already showing preferences for toys and patting the table and making screeching noises to communicate. His rituals will form soon, the things that make him feel safe and secure. And because I've already gone through so much with his brother, I will worry less about what is normal and spend more time enjoying the individualism of his necessary rituals. Yes-yes-yes, I will.
Thursday, April 26, 2012
The man isn’t proud of what he plans to do. In some part of his soul, he wishes he could be as irresponsible, as moody and distractible as his wife. Yet he knows that in this life, he has to live out his destiny.
He bears the name of generations of proud men, those who ruled their households with strength, with resolve, with integrity, with love. Yet the honour of proud men rests in the hands, the eyes and the fickle loins of women.
He doesn’t believe she has betrayed him yet. She is only tempted, and looking for chances to escape from her luxurious home like a wild animal that prefers the desert to human civilization.
What did he expect when he married her? Loyalty, happiness. She was so beautiful then, and she said her vows in a voice that trembled slightly, as though she knew what a serious thing it was to join with him for a lifetime.
In only three years, she has changed. Perhaps childbearing gave her a change of focus. The new baby, like a new lover, seemed to steal her attention from his father as a casual wind could carry a ring into the air and drop it in a place where it could never be retrieved. Other people, both male and female, now receive her smile, her curiosity and her interest as often as he does.
She made a promise to him, not to the world at large. There has been talk. Even worse, there have been smirks and muffled laughter. Sir, do you know where your wife is when she’s not with you? Do you know what your little son has seen? He’s too young to tell you, or maybe he keeps his mother’s secrets.
She told him she wants to go to the university to broaden her knowledge. Household management can’t hold her attention.
The man has been unable to take a second, a third and a fourth wife because his first is unsuitable as the Head Wife of his household. Instead, she would sow seeds of rebellion.
What is the difference between civilization and anarchy? Custom, tradition, ritual. When he wraps his belt around her neck and squeezes, he will bless her while offering her release. He will assure her that her child will be well-raised while she will be free of burdens she could not bear. He will tell her he loves her, despite her failures.
The man knows what this ritual would be called in more “modern” cultures, where people worship the latest technological toy instead of a timeless God. Those cultures have waged war on his people because they want the land, the oil, the minerals. Honour is a concept they don’t understand.
A man must defend his honour. He feels as trapped by this knowledge as a wayward woman feels trapped by her marriage. He enters the bedroom where she is supposed to be waiting for him in their bed.
She is not there. She and the baby are nowhere to be found, and they have left behind a silence as dense as smoke.
There is a note on the bed. Even from a distance, he recognizes her handwriting, and even that looks too arrogant to be the expression of a gentle wife. He reads:
“I belong to God, not to you. I have learned your moods and even your thoughts in the time we have spent together, and I know your plans for me. Husband, there is no honour in this. Yes, we are destined to part. Someday we will be parted by death, but I am not ready to die while I still have a new life to nurture.
Do not look for me or our child. We will live somewhere else, and be known by different names.
Slaves and prisoners have always looked for escape, and have taken comfort in the holes in dungeon walls that let in light. The most determined servants – as you would call them, the most treacherous – have spent years widening those holes until there is room for a human body to slip through.
You will say I have lost my way, that I have thrown away centuries of tradition that have served our people well enough. You might even say I am possessed by the demons that bring madness.
I loved you once. I love our son, knowing that half his blood comes from you. Perhaps he will invent new ways of showing love.”
The man can hardly breathe, and yet he feels as though he has been reborn.
Wednesday, April 25, 2012
Holding the cigar in his lips and cupped hands he lights it with the match, moves his lips like a swimmer drawing breath and soon the blue clouds emerge and wreath his head like father Christmas. The air is so still the smoke rises slow and curls.
He passes the match box to dad.
Dad takes a wooden briar pipe from his pocket. At home in Iowa he has a pipe rack with a glass humidor in the center filled with luscious smelling tobacco. I like to stick my head in the humidor and inhale the tobacco fumes and the brown apple core that he keeps at the center of it. From another pocket he takes a red, flat, flask shaped tin of Prince Albert pipe tobacco. The shape of the can is made to fit comfortably in a jacket pocket or a desk drawer. He flips it open with a thumbnail and shakes out some tobacco into the bowl of his pipe while Uncle Joe watches his motions like a cat watching a bird. He presses the lid closed, and put the tin down on a little table on the porch next to his rocking chair. The cicadas fall silent, holding their collective insect breath for another aria as Dad tamps down the tobacco with his fingertip, glances at it, measuring it against some interior knowledge and puts the pipe stem in his mouth. He takes Uncle Joe’s matchbox and pushes open the little drawer and shakes out a match. He cups the pipe in his hands and his brows frown with anticipation of pleasure, yes, but also of meditation, of conversation. Of some chat about Grandpa’s health and the rumors about why Aunt Florence didn’t show up. He strikes the match on the box and holds it to the bowl and moves his lips, differently from Uncle Joe and goes on frowning. Pipe tobacco crackles when air is drawn through it. It’s not like cigarettes. It more like autumn leaves piled, jumped through and at last set afire and carefully attended.
From my pants pocket I take out a glass vial filled half way with cinnamon oil I bought at the pharmacy. There are wooden toothpicks soaking in the oil. I unscrew the top, handling it like plutonium, and remove a toothpick and put in my lips. Its sweet and it burns my tongue.
I’m thinking about Dad’s pipe as I’m driving my wife to work at Macy’s. After I drop her off, I’ll go off and work on my writing because Saturday morning is the time I set aside for doing the blog post here. Why is it pleasure that is so often postponed or moved back into a corner? Why does pleasure need to make an appointment?
We’re driving too slow because of a guy on a bike in front of us. It’s a whip thin speed racing bike with a zillion gears and four hand levers. It has an insectile modern creation, ascetic and sternly utilitarian, not like the bulky, curvaceous pipe work of my first bike. The rider is wearing a yellow, tight, shimmery spandex T shirt that grips his body like a superhero, aerodynamic I suppose, and black spandex riding shorts that grip his ass like a matador’s suit of lights, and probably show off the outline of his balls when he walks in them. The old bull fighters used to stuff a well shaped handkerchief down there to impress the ladies in the stands. Maybe he does that too.
He has high tech toe gripping, heelless riding shoes that have never trod the earth, and military issue shooter’s sunglasses beneath an egg shaped, goblin pointed bike helmet that makes him look like the creature in “Alien”. He’s doing about 20 miles an hour in 45 mile zone. He lifts up on his toes as he pedals, maybe so we can admire his ass.
At the mall I drop my wife off and turn around and head fast to the Starbucks at the Barnes and Noble. Fishing through my book bag near the driver’s seat I take out a bright green capped tube and drop it into my shirt pocket. I dig under the seat and find a battered red tea tin I’ve had for years, and from my book box – my portable book library which I always keep in the back of the van - I take out a pack of Biscoff cookies and put two cookies exactly in the red tea tin and stick it in my brown leather bag among the mouse cables and extra laptop batteries. I dig around some more and find my legal pad and choose a book of Anais Nin stories and I’m off.
As I walk away, I wonder - did I lock the van? I think I did.
I go back and check and hit the button again just to make sure.
I’ve got my wallet, bag, notebook - okay. Half way to the Starbucks, I stop.
Did I lock the van? I think I did.
But . . . fuck it.
In the Starbucks Morgana the cute barrista calls out with a big smile. “How are you Mr. Garcia?” No one ever calls me by my first name. They look at my face and call me mister. It makes me feel lonely.
“Okay, so far. Day ain’t over yet.”
“Same old stuff. Thanks.”
At the cream and sugar stand a woman has an anodized aluminum water bottle with a screw down lid and belt clasp. She unscrews the lid while I wait. She wipes the rim with a napkin while I wait. She wipes the vacuum seal with a napkin while I wait. She removes an internal water filter and sets it down on a napkin, rinses it with a little water and I marvel at the complexity of a water bottle composed of four pieces of three colored devices with a philosophical slogan and a little Grateful Dead bear and a screw down vacuum sealed lid, while I wait. She shakes out the filter and examines it. I lurch across her arms and glom a couple packets of sugar and she jumps back.
A slug of half and half. One pack exactly of raw sugar and a yellow pack of Splenda. Stir with wooden stick. I usually drink coffee black at home. Can’t drink Starbucks black.
I always sit at one of three tables in the far rear corner because I want to Drukken myself.
Drukken is an old Yiddish phrase for a concept developed by a habitually persecuted people living among their oppressors. Drukken means to make yourself small, to make yourself so insignificant in a room that people will forget you’re existing in the same time and space with them. To will yourself to disappear like a cockroach in a silverware drawer. In the far corner I throw my invisibility cloak of solitude around me and Drukken down.
The brown leather case was given to me on Father’s Day in Panama. It’s battered and scarred and was my companion for fifteen years in three different countries. It has soul. I take out the laptop and set up the battery, wireless port and the mouse and fire it up. It takes a long time to boot up this old thing. Sometimes you have to boot it twice.
While I wait I scarf down a Biscoff and wash it down with coffee and open the legal pad to a blank yellow page and take the green plastic tube from my pocket. I open the tube and shake out a fat black J Series Esterbrook fountain pen with a 9668 Broad General Writing Rigid nib with the celerity of a Zen rishi conducting a tea ceremony. This pen is one of my “old ladies”, about 60 years old at least.
Fountain pens have as little in common with modern ball point pens as briar pipes have to do with cigarettes. Like a pipe, a fountain pen is a lifetime companion. It is language’s lover and thought’s companion. They aren’t meant to be thrown away. A fountain pen, well loved and maintained serves the imagination forever.
I begin each writing session exactly the same way. The coffee. The Biscoff cookie. The legal pad. Unveiling the old lady, taking her in my hand and leading her to the bed of foolscap.
Shall I write with the cap on the end of the Pen? Or without the cap?
Let me search my mood.
With the pen cap laying on the keyboard and the capless pen flying in my fist over the legal pad, the old lady would feel light and frisky, with quick hands, curling toes, eyes squeezed shut with the intensity of pleasure and short gasping squeals evoked by pinches and kisses, and probing tongue. She would be small breasted and fragile of hip requiring presence and consideration of mindful making.
Writing with the cap on is an old lady as jolly wench, bawdy, bouncy and hefty in the hand, with expansive breasts that spread out and sway like ocean waves with each squeal of the bed.
This time I put the cap on the end of the pen, which I usually don’t do. It changes the balance, shifts the feel of the grip back towards the web of the thumb and the heft of the pen from a Wakizashi to a Katana. Today I want that hefty Katana feel. I want that fat lady feel.
I begin dumping words, shutting down the world, drukkening my self tight. Becoming invisible until I cease to exist, even to myself.
The desktop is ready and the hard drive spin has settled. I cap the fat lady and put her away with a sated sigh, examine what I’ve scribbled and begin from the top of the page.
I’m about ten years old and sitting on a porch in Liberal Kansas and Kennedy is the President of the United States. . .
Tuesday, April 24, 2012
My Weird Fetish
But they're not as bad as the one ritual I can't seem to get rid of, no matter how hard I try:
When I watch Masterchef, or any other food program, I have to have something to eat. Which doesn't sound that bad, until you realise how much I LOVE Masterchef. Like: seriously. My Sky planner is packed to the gills with every iteration of this show.
Australian Masterchef. Australian Kid's Masterchef. Masterchef On Ice. Masterchef For Dummies. You name a Masterchef - even the ones that don't exist - and I'll have watched it. I even know the theme tunes for most of them, and can state the things the judges are going to say before they say it.
For example: I know John Torode hates fish paired with orange. I understand that Greg Wallace does not really assess food - he simply lists the ingredients in it and what they usually taste like. "You get iron rich spinach, beefy steak, tangy garlic..." Well yes, I kind of hope you do. It'd be weird if you were getting spinach rich with zinc and steak that tasted like chicken.
But anyhoo - I digress. About Masterchef, and what I absolutely have to do while it's on.
I have to eat. And it's gotten so bad that I've had to start lining up my meals with watching it - otherwise I'd just be eating all the time while my television turns into the Masterchef box. It's worse than that, in fact, because the other day Husband noticed that I wasn't eating the dinner in front of me. And then he realised why: it's because he'd paused Masterchef to go get himself a drink.
Which probably makes it less of a ritual and more of a weird fetish that I can't shake.
Sorry, Lisabet. I've discussed the wrong topic. I thought we were on "Mad Things Charlotte Likes To Do For No Good Reason", and penned this post accordingly. Maybe after I've had some beans and toast while watching Greg Wallace describe how food tastes, I'll be able to come up with something that makes more sense...
Sunday, April 22, 2012
By Lisabet Sarai
They meet, infrequently, to perform the ritual. She waits for him to arrive, heart slamming against her ribs, stomach twisted with nervousness. When he enters, they embrace, awkwardly. It has been so long. She attempts lightness, a joke, a jibe, pretending that she does not know why she is here. Then he gives the sign - a mere eyebrow, arched in a question - and her protective humor slips from her along with her clothing.
The ritual demands much of them, the steps choreographed, but always with room for improvisation. First he binds her, with rope, or silk, or leather, ceiling-hung with thighs spread, or splayed across the bed, or bent double over a hassock. Sometimes he will position her limbs and bind her to stillness with his command alone.
Then he teases her, dabbles his fingers in her wetness, lovingly mocks her sluttishness. She melts at his slightest touch, sinks liquid and helpless into the ritual spirit, moaning just as he intends. She could drown in his rich voice, nuanced and full of power. He pinches her nipples into aching peaks, captures them in clothespins, or cinches them with rubber bands. All the while he strokes her pussy, calls her his pet, muddles the pains and the pleasures beseiging her.
Next, he beats her. Here the ritual has many variants, but all with a single purpose: to invoke the purity of her surrender. She writhes under the lash, twists away from the hairbrush, whimpers as his bare palm reddens her buttocks. She does not wish to resist him; her only thought now is to please. But the pain is difficult to endure. Breathe, he says, soothing, encouraging, even as he scourges her. Open yourself. Yield yourself to me once again.
His voice is the key that unlocks her. Some barrier shatters and she floats free, each stroke of the whip an ecstatic kiss. His mind moves with hers now, sharing her agony and her joy. His breath comes in gasps like hers. His organ is granite. Now, come to me, my love, he whispers, entering her front or rear or spraying her marked thighs with his burning seed. She obeys, sliding into climax as he slides inside her, white hot fringed with red streaks of the pain.
Transcendence. Communion. Completion. They do not speak of it as they dress. There is no need for speech when the ritual is complete.
They meet infrequently. Sitting alone, on the plane or the bus taking her homeward, she savors the gaping, twitching sensations in her rear hole, the sharp echo of her stripes as she shifts in her seat, the slickness, still, in her sex. His voice echos in her mind.
Theirs is an old love. She thinks of him daily, imagines his life, her chest swollen with bittersweet aching. He thinks of her less frequently, but when he does, he gnashes his teeth, driven almost to madness because he cannot possess her. Then he recalls her sweet pliancy, her willing debasement, and his lips curve in a smile as he strums on his cock.
The ritual renews them. When she lies in a dentist's chair, or on the surgeon's table, when she wakes in fear in the night, she remembers him. Breathe. Open. Surrender. She relaxes into the fear, trusting as she trusts him.
She is sure that she will think of him, that way, when she surrenders herself into the arms of death. And then, perhaps, their meetings will be more frequent, and the ritual will be perfected.
(You must all get tired of this theme, over and over. But I can't help it... ~ Lisabet)
Friday, April 20, 2012
One Night in Heaven
On Tuesday night, I spent my first night away from baby #2. I had not been away from baby #1 since last August, when I was hugely pregnant with #2, so this night away was a long time coming. Last August, husband and I went away for one night, followed by one night on my own. It was relaxing and peaceful, but since I had the constant reminder of baby #2 kicking me in the ribs or dancing on my bladder, it was also exhausting. I hardly slept, never able to get comfortable or stay asleep for long. I still enjoyed it, just as I had enjoyed other nights away, but I have been longing for a good night's sleep and a day/night to myself for months. Finally, on Tuesday, it happened.
It's hard to explain to someone who doesn't understand how important it is for me to get my alone time. Prior to the arrival of baby #1 in December 2009, I had an abundance of alone time. With a military spouse who was deployed several times and whose schedule when home often involved long hours and duty days (overnights on the ship), I was often alone. And I loved it-- most of the time. Then my best friend came to stay with me in November prior to baby #1 and then baby #1 arrived and then... I was never alone. Ever. Even with my husband deployed, I still had an infant in the house.
It was August of 2010 before I went off for a night alone. It was a deliberate and conscious effort to separate the "me" from the "mama"-- a night in a hotel just twenty minutes from my house. A night for my husband to be alone with the baby, a night for me to relax. It didn't go well. I didn't sleep, I was out of sorts, I felt strange and guilty. The second time I went away, I went far, far away-- to Portland, Oregon-- for five days. That was semi-work related, I had readings and events scheduled and hung out with writer friends, which I could justify as work-related. But, really, it was another attempt at getting myself back, getting the alone time I needed. Four nights in the beautiful Heathman Hotel, my body rested, my brain fed with new sights and wonderful conversations, I came home refreshed and rejuvenated. Baby #1 was ten months old and I felt like I could conquer the world as a writer, partner, mother. I was determined to go away a few times a year, to refill the well, so to speak. To feed my soul...
And then, two months after I got back from Portland, I got pregnant again. My goal to get away regularly evaporated as I faced another pregnancy and all the fun stuff that goes along with it. I did go away a couple of times for more work-related stuff-- readings in Richmond (two hours away), Baltimore (four hours away) and the Williamsburg weekend with my husband-- all with mixed results. Being pregnant and hormonal, I was physically and mentally exhausted most of the time and any time away involved dealing with other people's needs, as well. With the exception of that last night in Williamsburg, I didn't ever feel like I was truly getting what I needed for myself. Then baby #2 arrived September 1, 2011 and once again any thoughts of getting away disappeared into the fog as infant care (and toddler care) took precedence over my needs.
This time after the baby was born, even though I was making promises to go to this conference or that event, I wasn't sure if I'd ever be able to get away again. Two kids are more work than one kid, especially when they're less than two years apart in age, and I didn't want to put that on my husband even if he was willing to do it. But the nature of my job means doing at least some very basic promotion and event attendance and so I've had to commit to a few things, including an event at a bookstore in Richmond on Tuesday night. And so, while I was sort of reluctant to go because it involved my husband taking off work and a rather dull two-hour drive, once I was there... I felt like myself again. Checking into a hotel alone, spreading my belongings around a hotel room and bathroom, having nowhere to be until 6:30 PM and the ability to wander the neighborhood unencumbered by babies and strollers and diaper bags. Oh, it was lovely. So lovely. That was me-- that was my life-- for so very long and oh, how I've missed it.
I had 29 hours alone, from 11:30 AM when I left my house Tuesday morning until 4:30 PM when I arrived home Wednesday afternoon. Of those 29 hours, I spent 11 of them in bed, 5 of them in the company of other people (which was lovely, too) and 13 blessed hours completely and utterly alone. You cannot imagine what that is like. I know I couldn't have imagined, pre-kids, how much of a gift it would feel like to be given a day or night to myself. I wasn't in denial about parenthood-- if anything, it's turned out to be easier than I expected (I expected the Apocalypse-- anything less would be easier). But I underestimated my need for solitude. I thought it would be enough to have twenty hours a week in the coffee shop to do my work and the hours after the babies went to bed. But while those times are nice-- and necessary, if I'm going to do my job at all-- my mind is always on the clock. What time I have to be home, what time I need to go to bed in order to get any kind of sleep to prepare me for the rigors of two energetic boys. Being able to go away and not even look at the time, to wander into a coffee shop and sit there for two hours reading and daydreaming, to wake up in the morning, roll over and go back to sleep, to take the scenic road home even though I'm not familiar with it and might get lost... these are things I took for granted before I had children. And they were the things that fed my creative soul.
We make do with what we have. We find ways to create without the things we crave. We do. We have to. At least, I have to. And so I do. But that doesn't mean my soul craves it any less. And so I have to carve out those times, even if it is a hassle to plan around the childcare, even if there is maternal guilt over leaving my children and spousal guilt for putting the parenting duties fully on my husband for a time. I'm lucky that I have not only a flexible job but one that gives me opportunities to go away, as much or as little as I want or can. I will probably never go away alone more than a few nights a year, for both financial and emotional reasons, but knowing that I can again-- knowing that I have a trip coming up, that I will get a few days here and there to recharge and plan and plot and create and connect with other writers... that's my idea of heaven. That's what feeds my writer's soul.
Coming home to my family after just one night away, I felt like I'd found my center once again. I felt refreshed, more like myself. I missed my babies, even for one day, and I came home earlier than I needed to just to be there when they went to bed and to spend a couple of quiet hours with my husband. I might run away, but I'll never run far or for long. I'm a free spirit with wanderlust in my soul, caught between the family life I adore and the solitude I crave, always searching for that elusive balance between the two that will keep my domestic and creative selves happy. This week, I found it.
Thursday, April 19, 2012
What Feeds Me
by Jean Roberta
1. Animal companions. My spouse & I have 3 dogs and 3 cats who all get along with each other. We’ve seen interspecies snuggling interspersed with play-fights. (Small, female dog barks ferociously at large cat, who arches his back and hisses. Moments later, they curl up together for a nap.) I’m not sure if keeping pets is a distinctly lesbian tradition -- most people we know here on the Canadian prairies have animals, and folks who live out of town tend to have horses, goats, pigs, etc.
However, note the above portrait of writer Radclyffe Hall and her partner Una Troubridge, about 1930. (I have noticed that using animals as accessories is generally not a good idea, much like using children for the same purpose.)
2. Clothes-shopping. Much porn or erotica that is aimed at women uses detailed descriptions of clothing as a kind of foreplay leading to the main event. In some stories, clothes-shopping and sex are a delicious combination of activities that lead to a grand climax in a fitting room, with ridiculous shoes and frothy lingerie as part of the scenery. I try not to carry this motif to a cringe-worthy extreme, but here is the opening scene of “Opening Ceremony,” set in a boutique which hasn’t opened for business yet. This is one of my stories which were published in a “Wicked Words” anthology from the now-defunct Black Lace Books (UK):
Pru’s tall, slim body was coiled elegantly on the leather sofa in her new shop. Her grand opening was scheduled for the next day, but for now we were alone, like two actors on a stage before the curtain goes up. I couldn’t help admiring the glow on my friend’s dark lively face, or her elaborate hairdo. She had learned from a Nigerian woman how to wrap dozens of tiny braids in black thread that caught the light from different angles whenever she moved her head.
“Well, what do you think?” she asked.
“It looks good, Pru,” I assured her.
Pru’s clothing store was decorated to look like a forest, and the effect of the murals on the walls and the indirect lighting was surprisingly convincing, despite the full racks of dresses, suits, blouses and trousers that seemed to be blooming in the unexplored wilderness. The furnishings were in earthy shades of green, gold and brown. “It looks like a sacred grove,” I ventured, running the risk of offending her.
This story was very loosely based on my relationship (so to speak) with an upscale women’s clothing store in my town where I could barely afford the items on the “reduced to clear” rack, circa 1985, but I visited regularly. The owner, a glamorous woman from the Caribbean, often waited on me herself, even though I’m sure she could size me up (as it were) as a low-income wannabe customer. The store did so well that the owner expanded by opening a restaurant next door. Unfortunately, this mini-mall didn’t last long. Both businesses folded, and the owner disappeared. (In spite of this, I still admire her vision and guts.)
3. Surprising myself with my actual skills. On bad days, I don’t really believe I’m good at anything, so discovering that I’m actually competent at something is always a revelation.
3a) Note to all wannabe singers: it is possible. Trust me. If I could sing in a choir, you can do it too. With practice and a reasonably good ear, you can hit the right notes most of the time, and when you don’t, you’ll be drowned out by the rest of the choir (with luck). Practice is the key. So is a good, patient choir director. Even if you don’t have the makings of a real diva (as I don’t), you and a group of other moderately-talented voices can join forces to sound better than the sum of your parts.
3b) I’ve just finished copy-editing 12 essays by a diverse group of academics, all writing on gay/lesbian/bi/trans subjects. Once I got started, I realized that I have much more perspective on other people’s writing than on my own. I could spot awkward or unclearly-constructed sentences at first glance, and typos or (OMG) grammatical mistakes jumped off the screen at me. So far, 11 of the contributors to the book I’m co-editing have responded to me, and they’ve all accepted most of my suggested revisions. Several even thanked me for polishing their prose. Yep, this is something I can do. (Over 20 years of grading student essays must have taught me something.)
4. Actual food. Luckily, my appetite seems to have decreased as I age. (Good thing – otherwise, my ass would have increased along with the years.) I seem to have broken my addiction to coffee, which used to be the fuel I needed to get going every morning. Now it’s a luxury, and I savour one cup on special days.
Chocolate has never lost its appeal, nor has red wine. (I’m not fussy – anything above the level of the cheap stuff sold in gallon jugs suits me fine. My spouse claims that most red wine tastes like tree bark. All the more for me.)
Most kinds of seafood appeal to me, although considerate dinner hosts (who are not female and/or not lesbian) have told me they avoid serving fish to lesbians, because this would seem like a tasteless joke. Not tasteless at all, I say, though a surprising number of my sisters in the local community say they don’t like to eat anything that came from an ocean or a river. (Then how do you --? Oh, never mind.)
5. Sunshine! Despite the general state of the world, there is nothing like a sunny day to give me hope that something good is on its way, even if I don't know yet what it is.
Wednesday, April 18, 2012
The Deeper Gods
As I head out across the parking lot, across the street, heading for the Barton Field parade grounds, I’m blinking back tears. I did this to myself on purpose. I’ve been sitting in the car listening to a CD I bought by the Chieftains called “Voice of Ages”. There’s a song called “School Days Over” which tears me to pieces every time. There’s a handful of songs that do this to me and I reserve them for the days I'm going to write. Listening to one of these personally sacred songs is an act of communion, like standing on a cliff over the sea, blowing a conch shell to invoke the deeper gods. They bring up to the surface that interior part of me with all of its scars and images, up from the dark and the cold, up to the surface where we can commune and look each other in the face. Music is how I conjure the gods and the demons both.
“School Days Over” has to be one of the saddest songs I’ve ever heard, but only because it speaks to me. A Irish father is telling his son to wake up, put on his pit boots and work clothes for the first time. He’ll have to drop out of school, give up whatever he hoped to be, and begin his first days in the coal mine as a laborer who will be old before his time. With a soft mixture of pride and grief he sings "Put on the sark and moleskin trousers, time to be on your way." Trading dreams for the pick and shovel is what men have always done for those who need us to do this and need us to be that. Its how the male soul defines itself to women and children, and ultimately to ourselves. Women do this too in their own way. A man purchases his manhood with his freedom. A woman purchases it with her happiness.
As I reach the two mile dirt track, young men and women go jogging by. A small squad of them gallop past as a sergeant chants cadence. They’re wearing exercise uniforms and sneakers, but the pit boots are there nevertheless.
I take off my shoes, pull off my socks. I stuff the socks in the shoes and roll up my pants cuffs. It’s a warm day in the deep south, with some wet thunderheads on the horizon. I want to walk barefoot. I want to feel the cool oiled sand under my feet, even though I’ll walk with a funny penguin gait. It’s what I want more than anything right now.
Walking under the trees, with my shoes tucked under my arm, thinking about the coal miner and his schoolboy son whose childhood is over. Letting my mind wander anywhere.
Last night I was watching James Cameron’s masterpiece “Titanic”. I don’t know anything about romance, but the passion and poignancy of the romance between Jack and Rose speaks to me. Jack might have been that coal miners son, who decided to step into the unknown and find the world for himself. He refused to let anybody dictate what he would be. Especially the wealthy swells of the time who tread contemptuously on the miners and Irish poor in the steerage. When it was time to man the life boats, the steerage poor were locked down below so that the "people of quality" might have the boats to themselves. All that changed in only a few years. That iceberg may as well have been World War I crashing into British society and sinking it, But the ending bothers me. Rose, the old woman, dies and is reunited with Jack the young man. They are young and on the stair case.
But wait wait.
Who is Rose? Is she the old woman, married at least once and with children and grandchildren, or is she Rose of the Titanic? Who? And who is Jack, frozen in time? Is he a ghost.
But wait wait.
Is that what a ghost is? An image, like the gray of a flashbulb on the retina, of a moment frozen in time? If this is the best possible moment for Jack and Rose will this instant last forever repeating itself endlessly? Is that what a haunted house is? Is this the real meaning of Heaven, life’s best moment repeated in an endless loop. But what is Hell? What of Jack and Rose's worst moment, chained to a pipe as the ship fills with ice water? Is there a frozen ghost of that moment? Is that Hell?
But wait wait.
If we’re sitting at the bottom of a well of circumstance and neurology, who are we really? Who is the real me walking the track?
Freud and Jung together made the conjuring of the unconscious their craft and laboratory. Freud realized that the unconscious doesn’t distinguish values, it doesn’t distinguish between fantasy and reality. If I imagine love making vividly enough, I’ll get hard and feel desire for release. A woman, imagining passion will dilate and become wet, ready to receive. The unconscious doesn’t make a distinction.
Jung understood that the unconscious works in imagery not in words, maybe that's why it doesn't distinguish reality. He was fascinated by tarot cards and dream imagery and the mystery of coincidence.
Magick, ritual magic as opposed to stage magic, is based on the concentrated projection of imagery and imagination. Almost any image will due if it can be imbued with emotional content. It’s the power of a song to make a man cry, when he sees himself there. Its an unspoken language. So much of magick as I’ve read of in books is about focusing the will and the imagination together to bend reality. Very few can do it. But religious people do it with acts of faith all the time. There is a theory in Tibetan Buddhism that the afterlife is composed of the images of our strongest desires and fears made real to us. If there were a Jack and a Rose there is no reason they wouldn’t find themselves on that stair case, frozen in their moment of greatest happiness.
Overhead a red hawk is circling and I feel the great urge upon me, because writing is an urge. Its not just something you do, its something you can’t help but do.
I see the hawk circling above. I’m imagining a room with predatory animals as trophies on the walls. I’m imagining a man with an eye patch and a silver haired girl is talking to him and he tells her of his fascination with predators. That he is a hunter, a predator himself. And what is the ultimate predator? A man? No, he says. There is one greater.
Would she like to meet her?
I’m done walking. I need to write. I’m on my way to find the table, one of three locations I sit at depending on where I am, because I know the sea god is waiting for me there. My rituals are about to begin.
(If you would like to see a performance of "School Days Over" by the Chieftains and The Low Anthem, you may find it here:)
Tuesday, April 17, 2012
1. Literally food. Which is bad, because it means my soul is all fat and satisfied and filled with chocolate, but it also means my ass is fat and satisfied and filled with chocolate.
2. Films/television shows. Not only do they feed my soul, they also feed my stories. Images from film, particularly the films I loved as a child, are my single biggest writing influence. And yeah, I know it should probably be books, but it's just not. When I write about a lonely soldier on an outpost on some planet, falling for an android in the middle of a monster attack, it's the movie Aliens I'm seeing behind my eyes. The iconography of that film has stayed with me all these years: the visceral look of the creatures, the action beats played out perfectly, the interpersonal conflict, the distinct but raw sketching of the marines...it's all echoing through me currently. Just as Labyrinth echoed through me for Tigerlily, and Secretary echoed through me for Power Play.
3. Books. Films are the driving passion behind my writing; books are the reason I can write.
4. My Husband's silly ways. Nothing gives my exhausted, battered soul more succour than Husband's little daft comments, his strange attempts at comfort, his random hugs, his steady love. He is my Sunday best and my daily bread, and I eat the soul food he provides greedily.
I think I'd pretty much starve, without.
Monday, April 16, 2012
Way back, when I lived in Oklahoma, there was the long way to school on paved streets, or there was the shortcut through open fields of sweetly scented prairie grass and a little gully with a stream and trees. Guess which one I took? Even though it meant sitting on the front porch pulling burrs off my knee-high white cotton socks and a search for tics before I was allowed in the house, I always went the short route. Of course, it took me much longer than walking the "long" route because I had to check the creek for crawdads, climb into the rotting tree fort, stop and listen to the meadowlarks, catch a horned toad, and sing songs I made up at the spur of the moment at the top of my lungs. Back then, I didn't care that I couldn't sing. The songs poured out of me like stories. I can't even remember what I sang about. I just did it.
I miss that effortless creativity. I don't understand why it went away. Or maybe I remember doing it more often than I did and I've always had uneven spurts of output. All I know is that sometimes I try to be creative and it just doesn’t work. It's not an on-off switch. It's not a bottomless well I can draw from forever. But I do know that it can be coaxed out if I don't try too hard. All I need is a little soul food.
When it feels as if my soul has run dry, I usually turn to nature. A visit to the Huntington Library does me a world of good. If it's winter, the camellias are in bloom. I've never seen a camellia I didn't like. And the succulent garden is in bloom. It's amazing to see the delicate flowers such prickly plants produce. In spring, wisteria covered walkways offer fragrant, cool tunnels of green and purple. Koi, living jewels, leisurely swim under lily pads in quiet pools. Hidden waterfalls burble like laughter under ferns and tropical leaves. In the Japanese garden, a moon bridge arches gracefully over a reflecting pool. And then there's the Zen garden - white stones raked carefully in rippled lines to represent water, boulders arranged to look like mountain peaks above the clouds, and in the background, a Japanese maple or an azalea, lending a spot of color to a monochromatic canvass. And then there's the library. They have a Gutenberg Bible, one of the original Audubon books, illuminated Book of the Hours, and even the Canterbury Tales.
I don't sing out loud any more, but as I stroll through the Shakespeare garden or the roses, I can feel my soul humming along - or maybe that's purring with content.
Sunday, April 15, 2012
Food is Love
By Lisabet Sarai
Let me start by admitting that I stole my title from Garce's amazing story “Miss Julia's Cake Club”. As I pondered how to address Kathleen's topic, “Soul Food”, this is what came to mind. I believe that Kathleen hoped we'd consider “food” from a metaphorical perspective, but I found myself stuck on the idea of real food and how it acquires meaning beyond its role as nourishment or sensual pleasure.
I've been living overseas for nearly nine years now, with annual visits to see friends and family. Six years ago, my planned trip happened to coincide with my step-mom's mastectomy. Needless to say, it was not exactly a happy time for her to welcome guests. She was exhausted from the surgery and the subsequent medications, not to mention nervous about the chemotherapy that she knew faced her as soon as she'd healed from the operation. My dad, not in the best of health himself, was practically paralyzed with anxiety. As for me, I felt helpless. My words of cheer sounded false even to my own ears.
So what did I do? I cooked. Nothing fancy, just the sort of things I'd make at home, if I were still living in a temperate climate. Pot roast. Meat loaf. Grilled fish. Scrambled eggs. Lentil soup. I spent most of the two weeks I was there either shopping for groceries, or in my step-mom's well-appointed kitchen, assembling meals for anyone who happened to be around.
I couldn't really express my fear. I didn't want to add to the general atmosphere of gloom. Instead, I contributed in a practical way, since, as my Jewish grandmother used to say, “No matter what, you've got to eat.” Preparing and serving food was my way of telling my dad and step-mom how much I loved them.
I do enjoy cooking – and eating. I'd much rather have people over for dinner than take them out to a restaurant, even though it's a lot more work. Food is a sort of gift that I offer our closest friends, tailoring my menus to what I know about their culinary tastes. Food is also a mode of creative expression for me. I'm not the sort to follow recipes. A recipe may provide a framework, but what actually goes into the pot will depend on what I have in the refrigerator, what I'm missing, and my own preferences. (For instance, there are very few dishes, in my opinion, that will not be enhanced by the addition of garlic!)
If food is love, though, how can I explain my years of anorexia? From my senior year in high school until I graduated from college, food ruled my life – through fear. In starving myself, was I actually indicating that I felt unworthy of love? I don't think that was it, exactly.
I craved food. I remember dreams where I'd be walking through lofty halls, past banquet tables heaped high with sumptuous delicacies – all my favorites. I knew it would be fatal to reach out and take what I wanted, yet it seemed so very easy... What I truly feared, I think, was my appetite – and perhaps this could be extended to an appetite for love, or sex. Certainly, during those years, I felt insulated and immune from sexual desire. I did have one or two lovers, but there was a kind of wall between me and them. That wall only began to crumble near the end of my period at university, when I'd recovered from the worst of my odd and dangerous psychosis.
And what about food in my fiction? I've never written a Tom Jones scene, where food becomes a stand-in for a lover's flesh (though I recently read a great example of this, in K.D. Grace's story “Eddie's All Night Diner”). Still, my characters tend to connect over food – frequently my favorite dishes – and I have a special fondness for a hero who cooks. And I have written at least one infamous food scene, in which chillis are employed for their sexually stimulating effect.
Somtow opened another bottle of wine and refilled their glasses. They continued to nibble on the exotic delicacies he had provided, sitting half-naked on the cushions in the balmy night.
Katherine found her gaze drawn again and again to his smooth, muscular chest. The folds of the sarong around his waist hid his penis from her eyes. She wondered what he would do if she reached down to touch him, as she longed to do.
Somtow was talking about Thai cuisine, the two thousand royal dishes and the hundreds of other, ’country-style’ recipes. Suddenly, it seemed, he noticed her looking at his body. She blushed a little. He said nothing, but reached across the table to pick up a bowl of raw chillis.
“Did you know, Katherine, that Thai chillis are considered to be among the hottest in the world?” He picked up a bright green pod between his thumb and forefinger, and raised it to his mouth. Instead of eating it, however, he ran the pepper across his lips, almost as if applying lipstick. Then he leaned forward, and kissed Katherine lightly.
The chilli oil made her own lips tingle and burn. “Mmm,” she murmured, as she returned the kiss with enthusiasm. She felt him untying her sarong, and then, his lips were on her nipples again, first the left, then the right.
She was not prepared for the sensations that assaulted her as the pungent oil touched her skin. Her nipples were still hard, sensitised from her recent arousal. They burned and throbbed, almost painful, as Somtow deliberately anointed them with the remnants of the pepper. The near-pain was overwhelmed by the pleasure, though, as a delicious warmth radiated out across her breasts.
“Oh...,” she sighed, closing her eyes and savouring the heat. “That is incredible.”
A light touch between her legs caused her to open her eyes. Somtow had another chilli in his fingers, brilliant red this time. With one hand, he parted her lower lips gently. Then, holding her open, he began to stroke the rigid little pepper against her equally rigid clitoris.
The effects were explosive. Sensitive though her nipples might be, the delicate tissues of her sex were much more so. Her labia swelled and ached; she rubbed herself against the fingers that held her open. The little knob of flesh directly in contact with the pepper pulsed and flamed. Part of her thought she could not bear it—and she knew he would stop immediately if she asked. Still, another part of her craved even more of this pleasure/pain, hotter, fiercer, consuming her flesh. She groaned.
Somtow made some soft sound in answer. Looking at him, she saw that he had crushed the pepper between his fingertips. Now he was rubbing the red pulp over his penis, up and down its stiff length, over the bulbous top. Katherine understood, suddenly, that his cock must be burning with the same almost unbearable intensity as her labia and clit. He looked into her eyes, without a word, and she knew he understood her wordless consent, as he plunged his fire-laden member into her vagina.
Katherine gasped and dug her nails into his shoulders. Intense sensation nearly overwhelmed her. She was still wet from their previous coupling. He moved easily within her secret cavities, spreading the incendiary chilli oil inside and out.
From Raw Silk by Lisabet Sarai
Re-reading this, I see the connection between food and lust, as well as food and love. That's probably what I was trying to escape, by depriving my body of nourishment, until I was as skinny and sexless as a twelve year old (though actually, when I was twelve I was well-enough developed, as they say, to pass for fifteen or sixteen).
I'm fascinated by the way the human imagination associates new meaning with something as fundamental as eating. Abstaining from certain foods becomes holy. Gluttony becomes a mortal sin. A meal can be an apology, a celebration, or a seduction.
No wonder we talk about “soul food”.
Saturday, April 14, 2012
I Could Have Died: Red Flags
Have you ever contemplated jumping out of a moving vehicle? The movie stars do it all the time. Just before the car explodes or drives off a cliff, the hero opens the door and jumps without hesitation. Lacerations, road rash or broken bones are nothing compared to the certain doom he or she is narrowly escaping.
I'm no movie star, action hero or daredevil and by no means do I have a death wish. In fact, the likely injuries and sheer desperate insanity of the act were all that kept me from doing it. One beautiful Sunday afternoon a few years ago as my then boyfriend and I drove through a serene national park I pictured myself undoing my seat belt, opening that car door and escaping. There was no bomb or imminent cliff, but the certain doom I was facing in that car could have just as easily killed me.
I had met him online years ago in an online role playing community. His character was known for being quick-tempered and a womanizer (red flag #1). After years of role playing together and getting to know each other out-of-character, we finally decided to meet in person. He had just left the military on a sour note (red flag #2). With no place to stay and no job, he needed a few dollars for the flight (red flag #3) to come meet me. Naively, I offered him a place to stay as he got back on his feet. Almost immediately he started talking about our future together (red flag #4).
The attraction between us was intense, overwhelming and all-consuming (red flag #5). I was fascinated by every aspect of him and accepted his faults along with his qualities. He seemed supportive at first, but soon he started in with these sexist and demeaning jokes (red flag #6). It only took a few arguments before he stopped that. I was a strong and independent woman after all – or so I thought.
We had a rocky relationship from the start. When we argued, it was an all out battle (red flag #7). He never laid a hand on me. He didn't have to. Instead he would yell at me, insist that I had mental problems or even laugh at me when I expressed my feelings (red flag #8). In many subtle and not so subtle ways, he undercut my opinions, beliefs and feelings (red flag #9). When something went wrong, the fault rested with someone else (red flag #10). Each time I tried to end the relationship he would always vow to change(red flag #11).
Little by little I was losing myself. He had me convinced that I was being selfish, neurotic, or unreasonable when I expressed concern about his online activities – infidelity was a recurring theme with him (red flag #12) – or lack of stable employment (red flag #13). It always came down to his word and against my perception. I no longer trusted that little voice inside that kept telling me how wrong things were. My friends and family couldn't understand why I stayed, and eventually I stopped talking to them about my problems (red flag #14). I was isolated and worst of all didn't even trust my own judgment (red flag #15).
The red flags just kept piling up, but by then I was in so deep I didn't see a way out. I believed that relationships involved working through the hard times. But there were always more hard times than good times. When I was dragged into yet another argument that Sunday afternoon, all I could think about was jumping from that car just to get away. I wanted to escape from him, my choice in staying with him, the sadness of feeling like a failure, the hopelessness of a never ending cycle of pain, the loss of a relationship that never was, etc. I was willing to pay almost any cost at that point, except my life. That's when I realized that this relationship was killing me.
I spent several more months nurturing the false hope that he had finally changed, followed by the inevitable agony of finding out he hadn't. Little by little my own life was changing for the better. I started taking martial arts classes again. Medication for depression and seeing a therapist helped get my brain out of the darkness that was consuming it. Eventually I developed the fortitude to end things for good the last time I found evidence he was being unfaithful. At the time, all I could think about was hiding away from the world and healing.
For months, I had nightmares that I was back in that eternal relationship loop with him refusing to leave. If he had hit me, I would have left immediately. Emotional abuse is just as insidious as physical abuse. It rots a person from the inside out. There are no bruises or scars to show anyone. Slowly, but surely, it eats away at your very sense of self until there is nothing left but the husk of a person.
Now I can see so many red flags and how ignoring them could have killed me. I'm just glad I found my way out before the damage was permanent. Saving my life didn't take anything as dramatic as jumping out of a moving vehicle. It just took regaining trust in my self and valuing myself enough to do what was best for me.
Friday, April 13, 2012
I had a childhood fascination with Joan of Arc. I read everything I could about her, rereading the same biographies again and again. I had a similar fascination with Anne Boleyn, Lady Jane Grey and other royal women who died tragically. I lived a safe childhood-- I really wasn't allowed to do anything that wasn't under my mother's watchful eye-- so I was intrigued by the adventures (and untimely demises) of historical women. I didn't want to die, of course, but there was something fascinating about reading the fates of those young women while safe in my bed.
My high school years were a different story. By the time I was fifteen, I was getting into bars (it was South Florida, the drinking age was 19 and the beach bars were lenient), playing stupid pranks, going where I wasn't supposed to go. But even my teenage rebellion was safe-- I rarely did anything that would truly qualify as dangerous. Getting into bars was more to see if I could than to get drunk or flirt men a decade or more older than me. (Ewww!) I was the DD more often than not, as well as the voice of wisdom when the pranks started. Generally, I kept my friends (and myself) out of trouble. I was a mother hen even then, it seems.
Like a lot of creative types, I've had periods of depression, dark valleys I wasn't sure I'd ever be able to climb out of, starting during those teen years. I did climb out, every time, but probably the only truly dangerous times in my life have been when I was tied up tight by the darkness in my own head. Sleep was my only comfort and sleeping forever seemed preferable to the pain of waking to the perceived darkness I was living with. But I didn't sleep forever-- I woke up and sun was shining. Eventually.
My adulthood has been relatively injury and accident free. The only scars I have are the result of birthing two large babies, the only hospital stays have been for those babies and a bad asthma attack. I've driven a sports car for the past twenty years, but I haven't gotten a speeding ticket since before I owned this car. I have no dangerous hobbies and my health is generally sound (though less so of late). There have been no near death experiences for me. I guess that's boring.
And yet, and yet. I have always believed in intuition, luck, fate, serendipity. I have indulged those instincts that say "turn around," "go home," "take this turn instead of the next," "walk faster," "don't go there today." I have come close to potential disaster a few times and only by the benefit of being in the right place at the right time have I avoided having an interesting story to tell. I've also avoided death, so I'm okay with being boring like that.
Once when I was a kid, maybe thirteen or fourteen, I made a milkshake in my mother's blender. Milk, ice cream, put the lid on, press the button, walk out of the room for a second to get something. Loud noise. Then, a louder noise followed by milkshake gushing out the side of the blender. I was confused. What had happened? I pressed "off," carried the leaking blender to the sink, poured the milkshake out and looked inside. There was a gash in the hard plastic blender and the blade was gone. It had come off while blending and penetrated the plastic blender. But where was it? I looked around and saw it lodged in the wall across the room. It was an utterly freak accident-- one that you wouldn't think is possible, except I saw it. I still remember feeling bewildered as I watched my failed milkshake trickle out the side of the blender and wondering how that could be happening. And seeing the blade in the wall-- sharp enough to penetrate hard plastic, fly across the room and stick in the wall-- or into me, if I'd been standing in a different spot.
Similarly bizarre situation last year-- driving down a dark road after midnight and having two deer dart out in front of my very small sports car. One deer got by me, but the other didn't move quick enough and I was going fifty miles an hour-- too fast to slow down in time and nowhere to go but straight into him. A jarring shudder on impact, but that was all. The car kept going, the deer was nowhere to be seen. The only damage when I got home was a broken light casing with just a bit of deer fur to prove that there had been impact of some sort. My husband insists I didn't hit the deer with my car, but that the deer kicked my car as he darted across. It's possible. Hitting a deer in my little car would be sure death for me.
I have dozens of stories like that. Near misses and almosts, potentially bad situations that turned in my favor before they were a real threat. I'm lucky. Really lucky. Or I have a guardian angel who's been really busy keeping me safe. I don't question it, I just trust my instincts and believe I will be okay. So far, I have been. Lucky me.
Thursday, April 12, 2012
My Date with the Snow Queen
We were in The Club, the only gay bar in town. The sexual tension between us was still hotter than a firecracker, but our incompatibility was becoming obvious.
Outdoors, the wind howled and the ground was covered with three feet of packed snow on the footpaths where sidewalks would emerge during the spring melt. It was the 1980s, when Canada still lived up to its image as the home of winter.
She looked Mediterranean. The love of her life had been a girl of Italian descent who had taken her to Italy on a marvelous family visit. “Connie” loved to reminisce about the wine, the sunshine, the family she wanted to join. She had thrown her relationship away by picking someone up at The Club, telling her girlfriend, and not forgiving herself. The girlfriend had married a male co-worker, but Connie still spent as much time as possible in their house, changing lightbulbs and fixing whatever didn’t work, usually when the husband wasn’t home. Connie also continued passing for Italian, playing the accordion (“Santa Lucia,” “O Sole Mio”) whenever she was asked.
Connie had been adopted as a baby. She didn’t want to admit that she was – as she herself put it – a “fuckin Indian.” She tried to make up for her imagined defects and real secrets by being as butch as possible. She had been banned from The Club for six months for fighting.
She usually lost at pool, but this didn’t stop her from accepting every challenge. She leaned across the green felt as though she could control all the balls with her mind.
I drifted out of the pool room, knowing where I didn’t belong. Connie had said she wanted to help me raise my little girl, who was currently spending the night with her grandparents. My little brown angel, the one good thing that came out of my marriage to a Nigerian.
Connie told other people that she wasn’t comfortable around children, not being the motherly type.
Even in the dim light of the bar, I could see Laurel, a red-haired warrior queen of the local Left. She was past president of the organization that lobbied relentlessly against uranium mining, despite its appeal to the government as a cash cow. Luckily, Laurel was alone, and she was always willing to talk. I asked her what was new, and settled in for a sermon.
Connie came looking for me as soon as she lost at pool. Her eyes were red, and barely-visible sparks seemed to shoot out of her aura. She hovered outside my conversation with Laurel like a visible threat. The more I tried to draw Connie in, the more sarcastically she pointed out that some people are full of shit. Laurel looked uncomfortable.
I drew Connie away. I was shocked to see tears spilling out of her eyes and down her face. She told me I might as well be with Laurel, since we were both Fancy Educated Women who were full of shit. “You have to stop putting me down!” she told me. She didn’t care who heard. She was drunk, pickled in beer and grief. Lightning bolts from her eyes showed me how much she hated everything she thought I stood for.
“I’m going home,” I told her. The Club felt too small to contain both of us.
“You can’t go out there!” she called after me. “It’s after midnight and it’s forty below.”
“Watch me,” I answered. I had no driver’s license or cash for a taxi. There were no bank machines in our town at that time. My apartment in the single-parent co-op was about two miles away.
What I was doing was suicidal, but I felt as if I had no choice.
Just as I had hoped when I barged out the door, my rage kept me warm enough for the first block, even while I wondered why no one had seriously tried to stop me from stepping out into air that felt brittle enough to shatter.
By the third block, I had to slow down. Breathing air into my lungs was painful, yet I had to take deep breaths to get enough oxygen to keep going. I settled into a rhythm of shallow-breath, shallow-breath and inhale-two-three-four. It was like the rhythm I used to breathe and push down when I was giving birth.
I was walking down a street near the centre of town, yet I might as well have been on the deserted prairie. The night was dark as hell and as cold as outer space. No one drove by. (Would I have begged for space in a stranger’s car?) All decent people seemed to be asleep in their warm beds.
Inside fur-lined mittens, my hands turned numb, then thawed, making me aware that I still had nerve-endings. Damn, it was cold. The sound of my boots on snow was hypnotic.
I was passing the large park that took up much of the south end of town. Sleep and warmth were trying to seduce me, and the snow banks looked like rumpled sheets in a big, welcoming bed. The wind had died down, or so it seemed. I could just curl up in the snow and take a nap.
I remembered the Snow Queen of Hans Christian Anderson. I could feel her all around me.
I gradually understood what was happening: hypothermia, the first phase of freezing to death. Part of me thought that was an excellent goal. My parents would raise my child. It wasn’t as if I played a necessary role in the universe.
And then my common sense kicked in. My child would be an orphan, and she would probably blame herself. In any case, my sudden absence was almost guaranteed to mess up her life. And I knew so many people with messed-up lives, usually because of something that happened to them in childhood.
It was past 2:00 a.m., but I would have to pound on the door of the nearest house and ask (with frozen lips!) for medical help. It was the only thing to do. If I could keep walking to the nearest house.
A car pulled up beside me, and a young man with a concerned face asked if I needed a ride. I remembered all the warnings I had been given, starting at puberty. Don’t accept rides from strange men!
Or what? I asked the parental voices in my head. Or I might suffer a Fate Worse Than Death? Really? I was tempted to laugh, but my face-muscles were locked in place.
I accepted the rescue. The warmth in the car felt like love, and it entranced me as we rolled quietly over the snow-covered street. Somehow, I managed to let the Good Samaritan know where I lived. And all he wanted was a chance to save someone who needed it.
I stumbled into my apartment, knowing the thawing-out would be worse than the freezing-up. I knew I would see my daughter the next day, and for many days to come. I would see Connie again, and we would both have to make some decisions. For better or worse, it wasn’t my time to go.