Thursday, January 29, 2009

Birth Day

Today is my birthday. Happy Birthday to me. I sit in my bathrobe and check my email after writing in my journal and drinking coffee on the day-bed by the window. This is what I do most mornings, being a mostly-unemployed writer and all, but on this day, I remind myself that I needn't feel guilty for it, don't need to measure this day's success by how many things I check off my to-do list.

I feel better today than I did yesterday, I feel the love coming in, the calls from old friends, the one-liners on Facebook, the small ways we reach out to people and strive for connection each day. But I must admit, I've been feeling melancholy the last few days... mostly hormonal I suspect, and yet, what do hormones do but bring out to the surface what is already there? Latent sadness, depression when checking craigslist for jobs, feeling overwhelmed by the hugeness of my goals and the smallness of my accomplishments.

I used to always feel a certain melancholy on my birthday. I wanted to be honored and surrounded by my friends, and yet I also carried a certain heaviness, a desire to be alone, contemplative and silent. I wanted to throw parties and bring together the small scattered community that I knew, yet I also did not like being at the center of attention. I remember throwing a small party one year and not even telling people it was my birthday. In truth, I wanted the attention, but I feared opening myself to that wanting and then being disappointed.

Today, I mostly feel gratitude. Gratitude for the constants in my life, the deep souls that are with me, the support and the faith that people share with me, the knowing that I have made conscious choice after conscious choice that have led me here to this moment, and that I don't need to be anywhere else than where I am. I know my own challenges, goals, fears; I sit down each day to face them logically, calmly, as I cross things off a list, and then wind down at night to face them emotionally, passionately, drinking wine and listening to music, sometimes reading back on what I've started by day and editing from a deeper place that has no tolerance for half-truths or evasion.

The other night I had one of those moments of sheer gratitude, looking back and taking in all the work I've done, knowing I wouldn't have done it any other way, even if that means my resume reads as a series of one contract job to the next, trying to cover up all the gaps, and even if that means that I sometimes only feel qualified to write, or teach writing, or to help people go deeper into their stories and unmask the deepest intentions of their heart.

I guess what I want to say on this day, my birthday, my day of official of striving for no guilt or judgment for doing what I'm doing and being who I am, is to remember to honor yourself in this same way, every day. To remember that you are beautiful, and that all of us, no matter how we present ourselves or seem to be in life, are just trying to figure things out, trying to find love and happiness and balance, trying to figure out what is most important to us, how we can pay bills and feel safe and secure at the same time that we stay rooted in our deepest, wildest essence. That, my friends, is not an easy thing to do.

I wrote to myself this morning that I know when I am old I will look back on my life and shake my head and think, "Child, you worried too much." I need to remember that we don't ever finally arrive at that plateau we were always striving for, that THIS is it, and if we don't grasp it now, if we don't hold on and love and shine and laugh and celebrate our beauty and freedom now, we never will be satisfied. This is the place from which I want to live and love, this place of gratitude, vitality, deep breaths, and tears. Yes, tears. I welcome them when they come, a shedding of skins, a cyclical outpouring, releasing what has slowly risen day by day and now overflows at the surface. I am not afraid of tears-- yours or my own.

Happy birthday, happy birthday, happy birthday to me, happy birthday to you, may you walk this day with gentle acceptance, may you cradle your own heart in the palm of your hand, may you stroke your own hair with the same tenderness that you would a child, may you never forget how precious you are and how far, how far we have all come.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Destroying Closet Doors by Shelley Gillespie


Last night I watched The Times of Harvey Milk, the documentary that the recent movie Milk credits as a source of inspiration. You must find his story, Anne. Such an amazing, dynamic man. The documentary came out in 1984. We were nine in 1984. We probably had sticker collections and talked about Michael Jackson's hair catching on fire. Okay, I'll speak for myself. Sometime in 1984, it must have been that year, or possibly the year before, my mom sat me down on the wood steps of our house in Leschi to tell me about my dad. I already knew about him and didn't want to talk about it. I do remember a sense of safety and relief, however, that she was willing to be open. I didn't talk about my dad and Kirk for the next nine years. Not even with you, right?

Do you remember that piece I wrote that evolved from a fiction into a non-fiction version, exploring the idea that I inherited my father's closet? I've been thinking about it. The opening scene in both versions was sparked by something my grandma told me. She said that my dad pulled their telephone into the hallway closet to call my mom to invite her to the high school prom. My dad says he doesn't remember this. My grandma isn't the kind of storyteller to make up such a detail. Of course, I am the kind of storyteller that latches on to such a detail and turns it into a bloated metaphor. In the fictional version, I wrote a scene in which I came out of my bedroom closet after I couldn't take how ashamed I felt for denying my father and stepfather. That's what I mean, bloated metaphor. Thankfully, I realized that I didn't need fiction, nor the closet scene to explore how deep the silencing runs and how much courage it takes to come out. Of course I can not compare my experience with my father's but the silencing is inter generational. Harvey Milk is quoted as having said, "If a bullet should enter my brain, let the bullet destroy every closet door."

That bullet was shot in1978. My parents were still married in '78 and living in Eastern Washington with a wood shingled house and a garden and a law practice in which my dad's services were sometimes paid for with venison and sides of beef. My dad says he doesn't remember Milk's assassination. San Francisco was a long way from our life, I suppose. Still, the closet was as real as ever for him.

Hours after watching Milk many weeks ago, I burst into tears while I was brushing my teeth, thinking about the opening scenes of footage of round ups in gay bars in the fifties. My dad knew he was gay as a boy. He says that all he could figure out about how he felt was that it was criminal or a mental problem. My grandma told me recently that even when they took him to have an encephalogram done she had a hunch. An x-ray photograph of the brain. They both knew the truth.

I didn't tell anyone about life at my father's house in middle school, or later when I went for summer visits to San Francisco in high school. You know this, Anne. Here's something interesting: I didn't remember ever having told a soul, until I was eighteen. About a year ago, I hung out with my high school boyfriend. We talked about our crazy days together, and how we helped one another to grow and change. I said, I never told you about my dad. He said, Yes you did. I did? After a night when he was with a bunch of friends and they violently harassed a gay man. I broke down crying, telling him that that man could have been my dad. That changed him forever, he said. After so many years of silencing, and feeling ashamed for that silencing, this shift in memory gave me a small dose of redemption. Damn, Anne, I hope our children and on down the generations will only know closets as places to store things. And hopefully, they won't have excessive amounts of things to store.

Write me,

Friday, January 9, 2009

Coming Out of Hiding

Coming out of hiding... yes. Why do I feel that for so much of my life I have been in hiding? The deepest, purest, craziest parts of me can be difficult to share with most people and difficult to put in words...

Of course, I have never had that problem with you, Shelley dear. Somehow we just clicked from the moment our teenage boyfriends introduced us one afternoon; from those days we would wander through Interlaken Ravine and marvel at the beauty of the yellow fallen leaves beneath our moving feet; from those many afternoons and evenings spent sitting on your bed in your attic room listening to Led Zeppelin, Alpha Blondy or Tracy Chapman, tripping out on our new-found evolving exploration of life, what it is, and what part we wanted in it.

Now, here we are, almost 34. Old, in the eyes of most teenagers, yet still poised on the brink of discovering what our lives will be, eternally poised on that brink, it seems, always looking to the future, looking to grow, shed old skins, let go of fears that still linger in connecting strands, when other parts of us have long abandoned those old tired ways of thinking.

I see this blog as a place to explore my ideas with you, Shelley, and you, fellow Heart Radicals out there, in a version of my writing self that is less edited, more raw, than so much of the writing I work on for weeks, months, sometimes years before it finally reaches another pair of eyes. When you think about how quickly our lives can change, how quickly we could stumble and fall off a cliff or be hit by a car (not to be over-dramatic, mind you) it is kind of ridiculous that we spend so much time crossing out and adding, rereading, rewriting, second-guessing, getting rid of extra adjectives and words. Of course, I appreciate tight beautiful meaningful prose like anyone else, but the publishing world is tough, and there's so much beauty and heartache and randomness to take notice of each day, so why not put it out there more regularly, less refined?

And of course, when I think of you, Shelley, as my audience (for now) and not some imagined anonymous blog world, it gives me freedom to wax poetic as we've always done in our letters back and forth, especially those we wrote in our early twenties when you were off becoming an organic coffee farmer in the hills of Costa Rica, and I was roaming through Western China, enamored by the Tibetan people and landscape, enamored by my Chinese tongue coming out again in full fluid force after so many years of post-childhood hibernation. I loved your letters, arriving in fat envelopes, not afraid to go off into the land of mystical reverie, never afraid of sounding idealistic or naive. And I loved writing you, my perfect reader, knowing you'd relish in all the fine detail I could give you (tell me about what the farmers are growing, you'd ask), at the same time that I would not lose you when I went off on revelatory tangents of my own.

Of course, older and 'wiser' now, we can roll our eyes and cringe at our rambling journals and words of those days. Yes, they can be tiresome to read. And yet, sometimes I also miss that wide open amazement toward life and the universe and god that I felt then, that newness of discovery, that feeling that you've just stumbled upon the secret to all living, the vastness of the heart and connection with all beings, and the sense of being led forward and deep on my path, guided and receptive as one meant-to-be happening connects to the next. It's not that I have lost that sense now, but it is tempered by age, pragmatism, balance, and yes, wisdom. While many spent their post-college years getting jobs and developing their careers, we spent the bulk of ours writing, traveling, and seeking god. Now, I'll speak for myself, I've been catching up a bit-- learning to live and thrive and connect with others, rather than hiding in my intense solitary self. Learning how to stay connected to that intensity, receptivity, awareness of beauty and the preciousness of life, at the same time that I am no longer so afraid of technology, of television, of words like 'networking', and of speaking my truth to people who-- on the surface, anyway-- seem absolutely different than myself.

Well I think this is enough for one post. But it is liberating, I must say. For if I were to try and express something similar in an essay, lord knows it'd take a long time before it was exposed to the world.

So, time to eat breakfast now (one of my New Year's resolutions), and consult the list of things to do, oh that eternal list.

Love to you-- and you, and you,

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Teasing Out the Soul


Here begins a new era of correspondence. I remember your notes on lined paper, folded into squares I could slip into my notebook. Those notes warded off my teenage blues and those abhorrent hours of the golf coach's drone through European history. European history, right? She might as well have been reading off her grocery list. She engendered that much care and interest. I remember your treasured letters from China, epic tales written on thin, transparent paper arriving to offer a salve to my isolation on the farm. Here begins the new correspondence.

Reading Wandering Time by Luis Alberto Urrea I found this:

"Writing is not strictly a process of putting words together. It is a spiritual and mental and emotional process. What we do in a literary friendship, or a romantic swoon that features copious letters, or a vibrant pen-pal relationship, is tease out the strands of each others' souls. We are tending gardens, watering plants, harvesting fruit. We are urging another side of each other's writing spirit to come out of hiding. That is feedback. That is guidance. And that is workshopping of the highest order."

Come out of hiding, you!



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