The Thing I Thought He Should Know

Unfurling Tattoo

It is morning and I am writing
about a book from 1940 about sex
and men and women and the rules
that no longer apply to me
and maybe never did.

And suddenly it’s 1997, July:
I’m remembering that first time
he and I swam across the pond
together — my 23 to his 31.

How right about in the middle
I stopped to catch my breath
and, treading water, looked at him
and said, gravely,
“There is something you should know.”

He waited, eager to know
all the things about me
that would seal some agreement
we didn’t even know we were making.

(I look up from the writing
for a moment at my wife,
who is stretching side to side,
her naked body soft and mine,
the undone tree inked on her back —

a reminder that
we don’t always finish what we started
in the way we planned way back when.)
I swim at this pond all summer long,
and sometimes, when I am floating

on my back in the middle,
I remember that moment
when I told him I’d been bulimic.
I shake my head in such a way

that you wouldn’t even notice,
marveling at the way life
unfurls and we, with it, as if thrust
from the unfolding itself

into the thing behind the thing
that I didn’t know yet
and so didn’t say:
“You’re really nice,
but I’m really gay.”

Want / Need

Easy Love1. A New Idea

What we want is never simple. – Linda Pastan

This morning, I read you a poem by Sharon Olds called “Topography.” Earlier, I’d snoozed the alarm – 10 more minutes, 15 more minutes, 5 more minutes. Pressing my back and bum into your rib cage and bowl of belly, our bodies sealed together just like the bodies in the poem forming one country: I am east, you are west, and we close the space between by remembering the dream that remembers us and living it together, even on days when one of us is off-kilter or ragey, hormonal or achy.

We take turns holding and being held, and I wonder if what we want, in some way, is simple. Maybe it is time for what Mary Oliver calls “a new idea.”

What I want is something that for so long I trained myself not to want, as if I had an “override” button and pressed it so many times that it stayed in a permanently depressed position, no wanting allowed, only gratitude for what I already had. But that wasn’t the whole truth, never was. I wanted so much and it was bigger than the container I’d contorted to. No wonder I ached.

But I do not want to write about the past. I think I did dream the dream last night, where if I ached it was for so much stillness and spaciousness, the kind I still clutter with too many tasks, too many physical objects and things that want me. Our bedroom is cluttered and what I want once again is a kind of emptiness. Empty room. Empty time. Not empty as in meaningless, but empty as in space for meaning to actually arise in its own time, space for feelings and new ideas and long, slow breaths I don’t realize I’m desperate for until I stop and allow emptiness to fill me.

What I want is to live from the center of a dark summer pond. To float, to feel resistance as delicious, as my own strength pushing though water, the water that is me meeting its environs and a meeting of bodies and a meeting of minds and a meeting with time that’s unhurried, where I’m not holding my breath in my upper chest but taking it into that hollow place and following it through windpipe and nostrils into lungs and belly.

What I want is beach and a long stretch of sand. What I want is wordless. What I want is to listen closely for the sounds of songs that have never been sung or written down.

What I want is trust, to trust time to be long and kind. What I want is to a beauty magnet, a bastion of worldly success, a haven for hurt, and a beacon of light. What I want it to quiet the judging voices with such harsh opinions of me, so discouraging.

What I want is a year under the Tuscan sun, a year in field of barley, of glory, or lavender for miles. What I want is a living painting and a poem that can breathe underwater. What I want is two feet on the ground and a nervous system that’s only rattled by true emergencies.

What I want is simultaneously severing and healing, severed so that the healing can happen, and I don’t know how to be in the between that catches behind my eyes like feelings entangled in nets and frantic to unhook.

Breathe. A slow, steady, bright, balanced unfolding of days.

What I want is peace in my heart, for the water to run so clear in my heart you could drink it unfiltered from clean, cupped hands, you could splash it on your face, cool and awake. What I want is for what I want to be really that simple.

What I want is simple: To be calm. To belong to my life. To love well, to parent well, good enough mother, good enough not to disappear. I want to live inside of the mandala of justice turning wheels, to meet people’s eyes and to speak and write in ways that matter.

What I want is this: Quiet room. Color. Stillness. Books and blank pages. I want to stay and stay and stay until something moves me to move. I want to wait and wait and wait until instinct or inspiration say “go.”

I want to weep and break and then be so loving with myself in the after space of open and exposed. I want to make art out of postcards we collect on the road and to make my letter to the world before I go. I want to die just to see what it would be like.

I always used to say I wanted it all. I still do. The difference now? “Everything I need is right here in my hands, right here in my hands.”

2. Kindred Spirits

“Kindred Spirits” is a phrase that has stayed with me since single digits, on a rock in a field at a camp in Connecticut, where barefoot we danced and under a lunar eclipse a counselor told me what this meant.

“Kindred” is a word I loved right away. Something even in my child self knew this to be my home, sitting on a rock in the night in the company of women. This is how I know life is here with me, has never once abandoned me. This is how I know I am here with myself.

Kindred. All those years of missing in action really not lost at all but seeking the kindred spirits I could know and call my own and call my home. Now I am my own home, an she is my kindred spirit – just look at how in the photograph those two delight in each other’s company.

What I want really is that simple then, like that butterfly there, fluttering around them: To allow myself to change and evolve and transform in the company of another, on a dark summer night in a field teeming with fireflies and cicadas, the pond a flat mirror of moonless sky, the earth a shadow passing over and eventually, morning comes and with it, light.

To be kindred in this lifetime, nothing missing from this moment? I see as if for the first time the gift of taking delight in another’s presence. I hear the truth of it – how this is the answer to the question I didn’t know I was asking. The question I was living and living into.

When you feel lost, come back to this rock, I hear her whisper. And I’ll be right here, waiting for you.

3. A Series of Small Confessions

Confession: I used to be a slacker. I wrote poems at work on hidden Word files and mastered the art of looking busy. Always a good student, I knew how to play the role of hard worker, but secretly I scoffed at anything remotely bureaucratic or institutional, as if I was somehow an exception to the rules. In this way, I learned how to doubt myself.

Confession: The other word I remember learning is “privilege,” on the front porch of 378 Crescent Street in Buffalo from my middle sister, who didn’t have a middle name and made fake homework for me when we were 5 and 9.

Confession: I am afraid to make things. I wanted for so long to make a living by “just being myself,” and now that I’m doing just that, the space between creating and working has collapsed and I am groping again for the space between. The empty space. I know it’s here somewhere.

Confession: I am online almost all of the time, or so it feels. I feel some shame about this.

Confession: My wife keeps offering to help me make a schedule. Taking her up on this would surely open up wonders of psychic and creative space and help me be more, not less, present with the many people I work with. (Whereby I confront the notion of “stuck places.”)

Confession: I have this recurring fantasy that someone will give us a gorgeous house, and we will get to live there, writing and loving.

Permission: To start experimenting more. To write down what’s working and what’s not working. To shake up shitty habits.

A New Idea: Try something new.

4. Saying “My Wife”

If I knew everything was going to be ok, the greatest sense of ease would flood my body, as if all of life was leading to this moment. I’d live and work slower, not fill all the waking hours. I’d leave some pages blank. Sit. Blink.

In a blink, everything would change again. And again after that.

“Your hands feel nice,” she said this morning as I stroked her hair back from her forehead – not like a cat or a child but like my one and only woman.

Confession: I felt shy saying “wife” when we first got married. Not embarrassed or ashamed, no, it wasn’t like that, but just shy – new – a bit tickled and incredulous. Saying “my wife” was synonymous with saying “everything is ok.” And saying “everything’s ok” was an admission that I could exist and take up room with the signature of struggle I thought was my name.

It wasn’t.

I changed my name then and started trying on a new one: Ease. Easy. It was strange and enticing and a bit scary and wonderfully not-dangerous. In the dark, I’d whisper to her, to my wife, “Is everything going to be ok? Really?” And she’d reassure me that yes, not only would it be but it already was.

Just like that, I practiced believing her. I started leaving this “what is everything falls apart” question at home more and more often. Am I really still afraid of the thing that already happened?

This is my new definition of trauma: Fear of what already happened.

Some young part of me stays scared of getting in trouble, of being scolded or called out or caught. I want to surround myself with beauty and shields and strength and light. I want personal bodyguards. I want to hold hands with the night herself. To be crescent moon and muse and wind and storm and place where ocean and sky touch without fusing.

If everything really is ok in this moment, there’s no good reason to believe it won’t be in the next and the next. Why do our thoughts love catastrophe? I want to be a lover and a fighter – only her lover and only a focused fighter, not flailing and exhausting myself in shallow water, waist-high, where I could just stand up if I knew. If I was new. And if you knew, too. If we stopped with the falsehoods, stepped out from behind the convenient covers of drama. Easy things do not have to be hard. What if we saved struggle for things that are actually struggles? Yes, let’s.

I want to hold knowing and not knowing gently, like I would a small bird, not squeezing or entrapping. Some things fly away and other stay close. Stay close.

It always comes back to this: Your reassuring voice in my ear, my hands in your hair, full circle to sealed bodies, stamped with each other’s new names. You do? I do, too.

Whether we have a week or six months of fifty years to live, what difference would knowing make and where is the pivot point between patience and urgency? Can urgency be calm and easy or is that a paradox?

Would it matter if we knew? It might, it might not. It’s too many questions. My answer is here in the here and now in the now, knowing and not knowing like birds on a wire.

5. Future Self

I am 62. Fully grey. My hair is short again, a halo of curls. All is well.

Little by little then all of a sudden I shed the last layers of living in fear. There is a simplicity to our days here, an easy balance.

I need to know where everyone is, especially my kids. They are 33 and 30. Parents in their early 90s. I don’t know who has died. I don’t know what I’ve written or what Mani has written or what we’ve published or whether there are royalties. I don’t know so many things, only that we are coming up on our 22nd anniversary. We are planning a trip, as we do every year. We love our home. It is the home we dreamed of for so long, but even better.

Money is not a problem; we comfortably give away more than 10% of our income, help all the kids, and skimp on nothing. I teach and coach small groups in our beautiful home and host retreats here, too – everyone loves the pool, and the ocean so close by, and the bliss of connecting and creating. I lead writing workshops in the nearby homeless shelter on Monday afternoons, and thrill every single time someone I’ve worked with publishes a poem or an essay or another book or discovers some new dimension of her voice.

I love this life.

What began as a hustle slowly became as solid and soft and lived-in as a quilt made of so many threads and patches and images and by so many hands, hands from all over the world, hands of people we’ve met on our travels, friends from long ago, and people from so many parts of our lives.

The future started so long ago.

The future was a breath away and then it wasn’t, then it was already gone, but where? We say “behind us” but turn to look and there is nothing there. Noting but memory. And then an idea of what might be, and all along, the DNA of our imagination is unfurling and there’s no way to know what will become and what will decay.

We ache that time is passing and step all the way into its mighty current. We fall asleep and wake up in so many beds, in so many buildings and rooms, always looking straight away for each other’s faces, eyes, lines of familiar songs running through our heads like hands through water, nothing sticks, we are fluid, solid, dark, light, hungry, sated.

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Ranting About the RNC

photo-1465667226977-fadb849f7fa3.jpg

[Actual books about actual American history, the kind Donald J. Trump does not read.]

I started the day with strong coffee and the Republican party’s official stance on transgender people’s human rights:

“[The Federal Government’s] edict to the states concerning restrooms, locker rooms, and other facilities is at once illegal, dangerous, and ignores privacy issues. We salute the several states which have filed suit against it.”

KJ Rawson, a professor at the College of the Holy Cross, made the implications of this very clear:

“So let me be blunt: if you support the Republican party, if you vote for Trump, you are voting against my right to use restrooms, locker rooms, and other facilities. There is no equivocation, no uncertainty, no shades of gray.”

I then proceeded to read through the full platform of the 2016 Republican party. (Head’s up: Unless you are a Trump supporter, do not read on an empty stomach.)

**

Part of what’s so unbelievably disturbing is that even if HRC wins the election, Trump’s off-the-rails, fascist candidacy (I do not use the word “fascist” lightly) has unleashed and made permissible so much misogyny and racial hatred.

These have never not been there, but now they’ve all but become official party views. Ditto white supremacy and antisemitism, Islamophobia, downright disdain for women, for LGBTQ+ people, for intellect and art, and for the planet itself; rejecting all things fair and just is posited as the only to “keep us safe,” when the biggest threats of all are running the damn show.

This afternoon, I saw a video circulating from the RNC with a woman holding (or attempting to hold) a “No Racism, No Hate” sign inside the convention arena. She was physically harassed and assaulted and people tried to cover her peaceful sign up with the American flag.

The message is clear. In this arena, racism and hate ARE America. “Make America White Again” is the deadline facto slogan of the Trump’s republican party.

A CNN headline asks: “Where Are the Ideas?”

But the question is moot, because ideas have no place here. This party, this platform, this convention — not about ideas, but power. White, male, rich power. Period. That’s the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help us all.

The 40% of Americans who are falling for this must be living in fear of otherness; “danger” and “dangerous” are the leading words in the opening pages of this horrific document. As lovely as it sounds to say there is no “us” and “them,” I truly don’t know if I believe it at this point.

**

For many years — decades — I’ve had recurring apocalyptic dreams. These days, they seem less and less fantastical.

Last night, I dreamed I had a conversation with a Trump supporter who was willing to listen to and really hear my point of view. There was some promise.

Two nights ago, I dreamed I was clinging to a flagpole high above a giant ship. I was relieved not to be on the ship itself. I felt physically strong and grateful to be outside all day. I wonder if I was clinging to some abandoned ideals, as the flag itself was missing.

Last week, I dreamed I touched a black woman’s hair, only to be wildly apologetic afterwards. White privilege/guilt much? Once she saw the degree of my embarrassment, her edge softened and she totally poked fun at me, touching my wild curls in return.

I asked Mani what she thinks these dreams mean. Her insightful response required little interpretation: “You are WAY over-saturated in news and (social) media.”

No wonder I post so many photos of flowers on Facebook and Instagram! An ongoing effort to calm my nervous system and stay not only close to but deeply inside of my actual life.

**

Last night, full moon. “Let’s make wishes,” I suggested to Mani. She made hers, and then she chose a card from the beautiful deck she recently gave me as a gift. It showed a woman under a full moon on a summer night. No kidding. So cool. We even marveled at how much it resembled her, before reading the description of its accompanying word in the little booklet that came with the cards. It fit her wish perfectly.

My turn next — a big wish, the kind that seems audacious and you wouldn’t share out loud with anyone but your most intimate, trusted person or people. I slipped a card from the deck. A woman with wings. A woman surrounded by birds. The word on the card: “Listening.”

Listening. Speaking out is not always the way. Ranting? I seriously question its purpose and usefulness, though in this case I decided to do it anyway.

It can so easily slide into spewing, like some awful dinner party where everyone’s talking over and interrupting everyone else; the vitriol is enough to make you physically ill; and it’s all you can do not to throw your napkin to your plate and walk out without so much as a thank you to the hostess.

(Obvious problem with this metaphor: Who the hell is the hostess?

**

OK. Rant over, with one concluding intention: I am going to make an effort to rant less and listen more for the remainder of this election season, until or unless I have something new or useful to share. But I will not be silent or silenced.

We Were Strangers Once

half-mast
Almost exactly one year ago, same-sex marriage became legal nationwide. I know some LGBT folks were less than thrilled about this “mainstreaming” — as if by gaining the same rights as heterosexual couples, something vital was diluted or absorbed by convention. I disagreed; I want my cake and to eat it, too, thank you very much.

Something I keep coming back to since Sunday is this: We will always be other. No matter how equal by law, no matter how protected on paper, no matter how seemingly safe by virtue of geography or community, as a woman who loves — and is legally married to — another woman, as a woman who loves a genderqueer woman, as the mother of kids who may or may not identify as straight or use the bathroom of their biological gender, my family is other.

That means “other” is also my family.

I say this proudly, with grief, gravity, and most of all, love so big it doesn’t even know where to start. So today I am starting again right here, right now, refusing to feed or spread the disease of attacking each other’s other that’s eating us, collectively and individually, alive. I will not divide and conquer. I refuse to contribute to these knowingly — and hope not to unknowingly.

I don’t think I can read anything else Trump says. Like, ever. As Mani pointed out to me last night, what difference will it make?

People of color have seen these days before and continue to see them, live them, every single day — no matter “how far we’ve come.” Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer people have seen these days before and still live them every day, no matter “how far we’ve come.” My Muslim friends are afraid, and with good reason.

So what can I do? What must I do?

I can and must remember that the Jewish people, my people, have seen these days before, and we must never ever forgot how the Holocaust happened. It happened like this.

I can and must take full responsibility for my own privilege as an educated white woman.

I can and must call senators and sign petitions and go to vigils.

I can and must hold space for people’s stories to coming pouring out without fear of judgment or repercussion.

I can and must say the victims’ names. Look at their faces. Read about who they were. And also make room to just be quiet — which is different from being silent. Families and loved ones are grieving amidst so much noise and chaos.

I can and must stop to smell the flowers, love my family near and far, welcome the stranger for we were strangers once, and write from an imperfect, searching heart.

That’s all I got.

Dancing Boys + Red Poppies

poppy

“This wasn’t just an attack on Americans writ large — it was an attack on the freedoms that LGBTQ people have rallied for for decades.” – President Obama

I took a walk this afternoon after a short nap with Mani. She was still asleep, and I slipped out as quietly as I could so as not to wake her.

The sky was that deep-dark grey that so often comes before a storm this time of year, and the sun flicked in and out from behind its cover.

A couple of weeks ago, out of the blue, Aviva asked me when I told her dad that I’d realized I was gay.

“The night of Sunday, June 6, 2010,” I answered, not looking up from the dishes I was washing.

She looked genuinely surprised at the specificity of my response. A bit shocked, in fact.

But it’s like that, coming out. My life really did flash before my eyes at supersonic speed. A slideshow of ten thousand moments instantaneously interpreted and understood. I was driving a blue RAV4. I was crying. I was punching the steering wheel and listening to those two songs over and over. It was June 2, in the afternoon.

That was a Wednesday. Four days later, I was telling my husband of nearly eleven years that I was gay. And yes, I was sure.

I’d never even kissed a woman, but I knew.

Had I grown in a time like the one my kids are growing up in — well, who knows. The bottom line is that they wouldn’t be here, and every single step on this path has been real and necessary and is mine. This is my life. I wouldn’t trade any of it for anything.

I remember one of the things my mom said to me in the wake of my “news.” I can see now, that it was a statement stemming from fear, which for better or worse, is so often the way all parents for all time express love.

She said something about it — being gay — being “a harder life.” Maybe it’s every loving parent’s wish for his or her kids, that life should be easy.

I think I know what she meant. But it wasn’t true. Life already wasn’t easy, and trying to jam a me-sized genie back into a slender-necked bottle sure wasn’t going to make it so.

No, what’s hard is trying to conform to a model for life that doesn’t fit. What’s hard is forcing yourself to “make things work” at the expense of everything your body is screaming at you — and it will scream after many years of tip-toeing around, of negotiating with life in order to keep things pretty and peaceful.

Peace and lies don’t co-exist very well, or at all.

And why, why am I writing this tonight?

On my walk earlier, that gusty wind tossing my unwashed hair around my unwashed face, the taste of love on my lips and my mind swirling just as much as the unseasonably cool air, I grieved the lives lost at Pulse in Orlando.

Everything from Trump’s incendiary tweets to lists of senators who voted against background checks to the first photos of the victims to pleas not to conflate one hate crime with an excuse to hate, all of this and more filled my Facebook feed and weighed on me and I didn’t know where to put any of it.

Where do I put this? I had asked Mani earlier, between grocery shopping, making food, and some Sunday morning housecleaning.

I read all of it obsessively. Every few minutes, I’d read some new element to her until finally it was time to put clean sheets on the bed and climb into it.

We made love this afternoon, and in my head, in my heart — I told her this later, our bodies curled around each other like they were, we were, made for this alone — I dedicated our love and our lovemaking to those boys. The gay boys. The dancing boys. The boys out for the night. The boys out, period. To their families and friends.

My heart breaks.

There are a million things to say about our country and I won’t do that here.

The dark, dark sky and the bright sun against it. How can there be so much darkness among so much beauty?

Rows of poppies down at the farm where I walked alone, each one like an announcement of itself, unapologetically red.