2015 Manifesto: New Year’s Revelation

This is the Year of Yes.

This is the year when I say fuck fear. I no longer deal in timidity, fright, paucity, or sitting on the bleachers watching life. I no longer decline the invitations, sit out the game, or get off on my eternal role as astute observer.

I am here for courage, vitality, climbing up hills, diving into pools, Saying The Thing, boarding the plane, getting on the boat, being my own Star Player. I am here for bravery, risk, reward, abundance, flow, truth, picking the fruit from the tree and taking a huge bite out of this fat apple of life. With my own hands I make myself King.

Thank you to those beautiful people who have traveled with me through my dark hours and years of scarcity and fear and suffering and striving. To all those I have connected with an loved, and to those I don’t know yet that I will connect with and love, here is to you. This is to be a year of bravery and fullness – get on the plane, row the boat, climb the stairs, take the reins, turn up the music, get on the road, say the thing, do the thing, be the band – my wishes for abundance and blessings are extended to you ALL.

This Is The Year

This will be the year.

I feel it in my bones, the way I did nine years ago, heading into a year that was a supernova in countless ways.

2013 was all about blowing it up, detonations, demolitions, middles not holding and sinkholes opening up and swallowing decay and dysfunction. It was the beginning of the end.

2014 was the beginning of the beginning, year of fire and ice, of burning away and freezing out, of true freedom. My home my own, my truths undenied, my house cleaned, my spirit claimed by crows and drowned ancestors (I’ve never lost a war, and never will), my body reclaimed and given back to the world.

I come into this year surrounded by love and abundance – the love of many friends and second mothers, the promise of opportunity, the brink of prosperity, the certainty of long-awaited travel and the deepening of connections on all levels with so many people of substance and quality.

Here is to the loss of all that is dead – extraneous relationships, outmoded arrangements, paucity, fear, powerlessness and grief; and here is to all that is coming – courage, opportunity, pleasure, prosperity flight, growth, good decisions, connections, and an endless and overflowing abundance.

Morning Sounds

These are the kind of mornings I live for – hushed, quiet, the soft hiss of rain falling as the crows and gulls and songbirds that thrive in the lush hillsides outside wake and begin their day. The Christmas tree lights illuminate this otherwise gently lit room and the fountain bubbles peacefully over the hum of its pump. The dogs sigh and snore beneath the heated blankets and though are errands I should do, I’ve nowhere I must be. I’ve got a book, a diary, a notepad for lists, and am arsenal of remotes for visual entertainment, and the usual battery of migraine weapons to kill the elf trying to claw his way out from behind my eyes – coffee, Imitrex, ice packs, pornography, cannabis, red meat. Though I’m in pain, things are pretty, and soft around the edges, and in this moment I am most content.


Midwinter Lights

It’s funny the way you come around to things you rejected long ago and, statistically speaking, probably will again. Years ago, when living on Fell Street with my housemates, we had a battle of epic proportions over Christmas tree palettes that resulted in a detente of white lights with silver, gold, and a token few red ornaments. So whole and rigid was this aesthetic that even years after moving out I tirelessly stuck to it, afraid to branch out, though my barrio soul screamed out for a riot of Mexican color.

novatotreeIn 2008, uprooted and exiled to the suburbs,  I bought my first string of colored lights in a 15 years, along with several boxes of colorful ornaments. My boyfriend at the time was overjoyed to see the eight-foot riot of color that exploded in our sitting room that year and we kept it up, even the year we opted out of a tree and decorated my potted yucca with a string of colored lights and a single turquoise-and-pink horsehead ornament. We always had a playful debate of which kind of tree was best – thick and wide and fluffy was his preference, while I craved a tall, slender, airy tree suitable for best showing off my ornaments. The first year we lived in this house, my first piece of property, we got a big fuck-off tree that silenced us with its enormity and which he named Roxanne. We stood, staring it soberly, wondering if we’d perhaps gone a little big……but I got out the stepladder and, after our annual ritual of arguing while winding lights about the trunk, I made Roxanne look like the painted tramp The Police must have been writing about in their classic song.

Celtic HeartOne thing I’ll say for my ex is that no matter how bad things were between us, how rough the going was or how broke we were, when he could he always made sure I had a beautiful Christmas tree. Even last year, when we were technically separated but doing the drawn-out, Irish-goodbye version of breaking up, he took me to the nearby Christmas tree lot and bought me a massive tree, brought it home, and set it in the corner by the window. He also helped out with the winding of the lights around the trunk, and then sat back and watched football while I OCD’d around the three, which took, as I recall, three days to complete. It was, again, huge and colorful and garish and fabulous. And all was well.

ramontreeAnd then I went to LA to spend Christmas with my best friend. He has only put up a tree a couple of times in his adult life and only did it last year because I was coming. I walked into his apartment and sucked all the air out of the room – his little tree, decked out in white lights and goldish ornaments, took my breath away with its sweetness, simplicity, and rustic charm. “I think the highlight of a tree is the tree itself,” he said, and I was instantly won over. So I came home and spent the weekend after New Year’s dismantling my tree and, in advance of my plans eleven months in the future, separated mine out into boxes of colored and white/gold/silver and even bought some special new ones – feathers encased inside glass spheres and drops – and packed them away to languish all year up in the garage’s loft.

swedishtreeAfter this year’s Thanksgiving plans went strangely awry but concluded happily, my best girlfriend drove over from the City the next day and we started a new tradition: Fishgiving, in which we gather together the day after Thanksgiving to drink wine, eat expensive cheese, roast a salmon, and go pick out a Christmas tree. Because she is apparently from another planet, my friend has never been to a Christmas tree lot, experienced the ritual of choosing a tree, or had the pleasure of bringing it home and leaving a carpet of needles in one’s wake, it was a night of firsts. I wound a few strands of white lights around the branches and called it a night, popped open another bottle of wine, and enjoyed the glow of the spare, airy, Scandinavian-looking tree.

octopusToday I started unpacking the boxes of balls and bells and drops and crystals and found it bittersweet. I said hello to the bizarre, horrific octopus that was a gift from a coworker who finds my taste ‘weird’ and ‘creepy,’ I sadly broke the squirrel that was last year’s special ornament, and I found a glittery bear that was a symbol of my ex and another silly snowman with his name on it. I set those aside and made a cup of tea in my new Male Tears mug and contemplated change: the swing from white lights to colored and back again, the stripping down of palette from hooker-carnival to maletearsSwedish severity, the air and negative space in my tree where there used to be endless fluffy branches, the first year spent choosing, buying, and decorating the tree without the person I’ve done it with every year for a long time, the new technique of mounting my tree on a low table, thus thwarting the dogs’ desire to Destroy All The Things and allowing me to put presents under the tree in a long time.

thisyearstreeThings and tastes come and go. I’m sure that sooner later I’ll see pink
and green and blue lights sparkling on my tree again (probably not next year, though), and there may someday again be a fluffy nine-footer. Who knows where next year’s tree will be set up, or with whom I will choose it, and, to get truly existential about it, if there will even be a next year. Nothing is certain, nothing is a given, other than that I love these lights, all of them, and these long winter nights full of quiet and cool and gold.

The Package

Those years when I lived one floor above Haight Street, my bed in a bay window over the intersection and a payphone, 2am screaming 3am crying 4am police sirens, housemate and I throwing beer bottles and shot glasses down at slumming interlopers from tonier neighborhoods, I prayed for a silent room in which to sleep. Now I have that room and a bed as big as an ocean and the silence, pocked only by the occasional chatty owl or pack of coyotes, swallows me. I descend into the maw of a moonless night and visit quietly with all the sins I’ve ever committed, one by one by one, like demon versions of the fence-jumping sheep that allegedly will lead me into the arms of Morpheus.

The thunk of the icemaker pulling water through the house’s pipes compels me up from the expensive sheets (courtesy of a homegirl who works in a bedding shop and is good at finding things that have fallen off trucks – we may carry good purses we paid full price for now, but scratch the surface and we’re still little street hustlers) and in front the white behemoth’s open door. The cold light spills out across the floor as I wince in the fluorescent glare and confirm that nothing has changed – inside is still cranberry cocktail, wine I never drink, chocolates I don’t eat, mineral water. Leafy vegetables bought with optimism and the best of intentions.

I open the freezer, for the sake of finishing the job, and on the fourth shelf down sits a butcher-wrapped package of Cajun red-hots I brought home a year and half ago, bought with hope and visions of a pleasant Sunday afternoon barbecue, smoke from the grill and lemonade and maybe a movie, all phantom projections of an afternoon that never happened. Hot tears sting at the corner of my eyes, I let the freezer door close itself and I sink to the floor, fist to the back of my lashes, wondering why it had to be this way, and think of the other package, more tightly wrapped, more cleverly hidden in the back, behind the frozen cubes of fresh-squeezed lemon juice I made in ice trays before I moved from the last house.

Trio No. 3 (daily prompt)

A Lot of People Say A Lot of Things

“A lot of people say a lot of things,” someone once said to me, under particularly harsh fluorescent lighting, in a particularly unpleasant place, when I had professed my loyalty.

“That’s okay,” I responded, “In time, you’ll see that I’m one of the people who mean what they say,” and I was, at least in the context I meant at the time, though whether he would agree with that may be up for debate.  That said, his words haunt me. As the years have passed, that simple phrase has reared its head time and again and proven itself a fundamental life truth. A lot of people say a lot of things.

That’s true – yet not a lot of people do the things they say they will, are the people they say they are. It seems so simplistic, so ‘walk the talk,’ so very obvious, but again and again, we are all fooled by the words that fall from the lips of people we want to believe.

In our culture, we place so much value – overmuch, perhaps – on the value of the word. When we discuss communication, most of the time we’re talking about the way we speak to each other, even though science has generally proven that most communication is nonverbal. What I’m thinking of, though, has little to do with tone, body language, or words – it boils down to deeds. Action. Real acts in real time that are the living proof of all those words.

In this era of Facebook likes and ‘single-serving friends,’ the ubiquity of the word ‘love’ and sentiments like ‘ride or die’ and ‘BFF (best friends forever)’ can obscure the real struggle to connect with flesh-and-bone individuals who actually show up when it’s, like, possibly inconvenient, messy, or requires work.

So now, I don’t pay so much attention to words – the potential invites, the professions of love, the vows of fealty, the ‘maybe someday we’ or ‘hey we should’ scripts. I shut my mouth and I take note of how people show up, or don’t. Those who will drive over the bridge to visit – or not. Those who buy the plane ticket – or not. Those who take care of their children, their animals, their friends, themselves, the way they say they will. Those who stick to the plans, who make the call, who show up for the day – you get the picture.

I’m not such a harsh taskmistress as I may be making myself out to be. Life happens. I’m as overwhelmed, stressed out, and busy as anyone. I get it. I don’t always feel like Doing The Thing, and I’ve been known to back out and engage in self-care when absolutely necessary – but I’ll tell you this: when the chips are down, when the shit hits the fan, when it well and truly matters, I am there. No matter how far I have to drive, money I have to spend, hours of sleep I have to lose – I show the fuck up, and I mean what I say, because that shit is important. I don’t want to be the person who says a lot of things – I want to be the person who doesn’t say a lot (<–probably not doing so well at that)  but when she does, means it and delivers. And most of the time, I am.

The tricky part is not being in love with all those words people say. Words are so seductive, and I believe that for some people, speaking is the same as doing, when it isn’t really at all. It feels good to say that you’ll do or this or that, it feels good to profess this or that sentiment, but without the act behind the words one becomes just another person who says a lot of things. Just another talker. Another vehicle for pretty, empty sounds.

Precious Love

Sometimes you stumble onto something so heavy and laden with raw love that it brings you to your knees, tears your heart open, and spills your innards out all over your nice custom coffee table, the one you commissioned from this dude in the Carolinas and had shipped clear across the country. That happened to me last night after I re-watched Paris Is Burning, the critically acclaimed 1990 documentary about the Harlem drag ball scene in New York’s late eighties.

Paris Is Burning introduced me, at age 20, not to gay culture, which I was already immersed in, but to a gender-bending underground scene in New York City created by gay men of color, most of whom were formed in a crucible of crushing poverty. It also reinforced the lesson that life could be short and brutal for the different – the gay, the brown, the poor, the artistic, the Other of any kind. It was then, and remains now, a beautiful film, a time capsule of New York in a time and a place that would soon disappear, a chronicle of the era of pre-cocktail AIDS, when being black and gay, let alone trans, was an almost certain death sentence of either disease or violence.

As I watched it, I kept wondering how many of the people in the film were still alive – not many, it seems, and several died within a few short years of Paris’ release. There was much bitter sentiment that the subculture had been exploited and appropriated and the principals cheated out of the acclaim and money due them by the film’s success. More happily, there was the flowering of Willi Ninja, ‘Mother’ of the House of Ninja. Willi is largely credited with being the father of voguing and was able to knit together a career after the springboard of Paris Is Burning. As I read about him and his artistry, and his death in 2006, at the age of 45, of an AIDS-related heart condition, I stumbled onto this video, which tells a story, in six short minutes, about family.

The communities of the ball scene so deeply considered themselves family that they organized into ‘houses’ of ‘mothers’ and ‘children’ to form loyal networks created for mutual survival and self-realization. They fed each other, housed each other, claimed their dead, celebrated their kin. These were individuals who were the lowest of the low in society’s eyes: rejected by whites for being black, rejected by the middle class mainstream for being the kind of poor that is hard to imagine if you didn’t come up in it, rejected by their faith, God, ethnic communities, and families of origin for being gay. These people knew about being invisible and forgotten, and yet in the face of a kind of wholesale rejection and marginalization that most of us could never conceive of, they had the strength and sheer will to create families and to embrace life, art, and beauty in ways that have deeply influenced our culture. They are our Godfathers.

As someone who has always felt, and has been singled out, as ‘different,’ and who has suffered a fractured and troubled relationship with my relatives, like many of my kind I have found solace in the form of the tribal and communal bonds formed with friends that have truly flipped the script of what ‘family’ means. For those of us who have been rejected by our families or communities because we were not like them in whatever way – religion, appearance, beliefs, mindset, who we love – this restructuring of family and kin has been nothing less than transformative, validating, and lifesaving. Those of us who have learned to make something from nothing, to cobble together a life no one thought we’d ever rise to, know what it is to be redeemed by love.

Our patchwork families have taught us that we are of worth, that we can and should be loved, that we are allowed to have the dreams society, our teachers, our parents, or the media told us we had no place having. While we were encouraged all our lives to render ourselves smaller and more invisible, and preferably to just disappear, these neo-families taught us to claim our space, to exhale and make ourselves taller and wider, to speak with a resonant voice and take our place at the table.

These are the people, these outsiders and Others, who take care of me, who see me though the dark times and share my joy in the good ones, and know I have their back and will put a knife in someone else’s if they ask me to. These are the people I know would come take care of me if I were stricken with cancer, and they know, without any shred of doubt, that I’d do the same for them, right up to the last day, the last minute, the last breath. Because of them, I know that though I am childless, parentless, distant from biological family, I don’t have to live in fear of being sick or dying alone – these bitches will be by my bedside and will sing me over to the other side.

To see the raw emotional response of the clearly unwell Willi Ninja – the love, the exhaustion, the gratitude, the passion that wash over his face in waves – to his chosen family and community’s great outpouring of validation and affirmation, brought me to tears, as did the unstoppable love in Barbara Tucker’s voice – pure love, sheer love, distilled into an otherworldly voice that will sing his glory down through the ages.

This is what kind of love was born in torn-up Harlem halls full of brown men stuck between worlds. This is what kind of love was born in the thump of the rave and house clubs that were our ‘church,’ our sanctuary from the grinding rejection of everyday people, when we were younger and much more unsure of our place in the world. This is the kind of love born through midnight phone calls from coast to coast, cheap Southwest plane tickets, brunch, homemade soup, and robotic vacuums. In a way, we are lucky as much as we are unlucky – though somehow we are Other, we are Together, and I only hope when I die that my friends will sing and shout for me like this, and know how grateful I am for them and that my love is true, and it is long, cheating even death.

Hater Tuesdays: I Did It For My Kids

Want to watch some people go absolutely apeshit and foam at the mouth? Suggest that some children behave inappropriately in public while their useless parents let them, or that thrice-daily Facebook updates about a progressing pregnancy might just be a bit much, or that some mothers and fathers use their children as an excuse for why they never pursued their extraparental dreams like writing a bestseller or brush painting at the foot of Mount Fuji. Make one of these statements and then just sit back, pop some popcorn, and watch the fur fly, because all of these things (and more!) will make the breeders go mega-ballistic.

I can go one better.

For the past 48 hours, all anyone on social media wants to talk about is the finale of Breaking Bad, which was, admittedly, awesome. Amid all the brilliance of that episode’s script was one key quote from long-suffering wife Skyler that illustrates this point perfectly. As her estranged spouse, the doomed drug kingpin Walter White, appears before her to say his goodbyes, he seems ready to claim, yet again, that he ‘did it all for her’ and the kids. She looks at him with a weariness and cynicism that made even me shiver and derisively declares, “If I have to hear one more time that you did this for ‘the family’,” and in a moment of transformative and, dare I say, revolutionary raw honesty, he admits, “I did it for me. I liked it. I was good at it. “ I wanted to stand up and applaud – no, scratch that; I wanted to set off fireworks. Thank you, writers of Breaking Bad, for having the cojones to let Walt admit that all the destruction and suffering he created wasn’t sprung from nobility or magnanimity – it came from a place of pleasure, power, and selfishness. It’s just that simple.

‘I did it for my kids’ is a phrase that’s right up there, in my book, with ‘it’s just business,’ which loosely and universally translates into ‘I don’t care how egregiously I’m about to fuck you and yours over, Imma get mine,’ or, as my Grandma Dottie used to say, ‘Screw you, hurrah for me.’ Listen, if you’re greedy, just admit it. If you’re out to feather your own nest at the expense of others, just admit it. If you’re about to really hurt someone who doesn’t deserve it to make your own situation better, just admit it, and stop using your innocent children, who have nothing to do with anything about this grimy equation, as the front for your sorry, amoral behavior.

I’d like to suggest here (and let the foaming begin) that far more people than would be willing to admit use their children as an excuse to metamorphose into the avaricious, selfish, scheming opportunists they always were inside but were afraid to act on without the convenient justification of their precious progeny’s well-being as a rationale. For a few among us, reproducing seems to give one license to be as cutthroat and self-serving as one pleases, with a convenient little out – ‘it’s not for me, it’s for the children.’ Oh, please. Save me the song and dance and just admit it – you did it for you. Because you like it. Because you’re good at it. 

Get Thee To A Nunnery

I’m not a particularly religious person, but there have been times when, sitting the cool, darkened, Frankincense-scented silence of a church, I have instinctively understood why a person might choose to opt for a life of contemplation within a convent, seminary, ashram, or the like. In these moments, I consider what it might be like to turn one’s back on the often-uphill climb of everyday life, with its bills, bosses, and buses, its exhausting search for a soulmate to partner up with, its grocery shopping and credit scores and performance reviews, its dog shit and mortgage lenders, and give it all up for a small room with a chair and a bed, a simple schedule of prayer and housekeeping, some peace and quiet from the endless buzz and noise of the secular world.
There is an invisible, inviolable wall between the world outside the doors, with all its worries and countless petty annoyances, and what feels like a serene simplicity inside, where one need only be concerned with connecting to the Divine. I close my eyes and dream, for a moment, of a life tending roses in a nunnery garden, chopping carrots for a dinner to feed dozens, hours spent slipping beads worn smooth through my fingers, mind still and all other concerns gone, set sail on the ship that was my life outside the walls.

I don’t believe this sentiment unique to the Catholic church. I would wager it’s likely palpable within any religious community that offers the opportunity for sequestering oneself from the pressures and pains of our mundane lives. I can particularly understand why women of eras past would have chosen the convent after a lifetime belonging to a man – father, husband, brother, or son – choosing instead to belong to a long-dead prophet who won’t come bleating for a beer or pork chops or a clean shirt. To be relieved of the chattering demands of family, the crushing poverty and cruelty of the external world, the worries of getting by in those viciously misogynistic times, could prove too alluring to resist.

Of course there is the bloody Jesus thing. The resurrection thing, which I’ve always found problematic. Those power-mad bishops. The corruption of the hierarchy (and I don’t just mean the Vatican; I think pretty much an organized religion – any organization, really – gets pretty grimy at the top) and it’s dirty secrets. The inequality of the sexes. The working one’s fingers to the bone for nothing, the ripe potential for exploitation. So, yeah, there’s that.

And I know I’ve already got too much skin in this game, am much too of this world, to turn my back on it. It makes me tired and often it makes me cry, but I’m in. So I wrap up my grandmother’s rosary, light a candle and place it as close to any status of the Virgin Mary as I can find, and I walk out of the quiet dark and back into the chaos, the noise, the everyday search and destroy missions of this life.

Silence Is Power

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about silence, mostly because my drunken-monkey-mind has been in overdrive, to the point where, from the early morning’s first moment of semi-consciousness to bedtime’s last, desperate clinging thoughts of day, my mind has just been going amillionfuckingmilesanhournofasterthanthatfaster! And it’s not just this overflow of the mind that enslaves me; too often it spills from my head to my mouth and I hear myself talking and yoking myself with the legacy of my words (‘We are masters of the unsaid word,’ posited Winston Churchill, ‘but slaves of those we let slip out.’).

As email has become my communication method of preference and I’ve been sucked into the dualistic black hole of Facebook (along with everyone else in the Western world – with a couple of backwater Bolinas holdouts, you know who you are), where communication occurs at lightning speed and unresponsiveness is regarded as an affront, I find the pace of the dialogue in my head has ratcheted up to an almost unbearable speed, one where discerning between thoughtful analysis and mere chatter has become increasingly difficult. I also work for an extrovert in a department full of sociable, extroverted, hyper-opinionated females, and the one time I tried to remain quiet during a management meeting and said ‘I’m just listening,’ I got the suspicious side-eye. Even just a couple of weeks ago I told a colleague, ‘I don’t have an opinion,’ and she laughed right in my face and said, ‘Yes, you do.’ She knows me too well.

I feel required to have an opinion and therefore I spend a great deal of time formulating one – but, and here’s the rub – about every. fucking. thing. Syria? Yep, got one (no war). Miley Cyrus (euw, that ass), check. Gun control. Twerking. The demands of the emerging workforce. Refined sugar. Internet dating. How often to change out the dish sponge. The existential angst of the undead. The willful, elective spinsterhood of Elizabeth I. Our receptionist’s abuse of overtime. What do I think about this? Or this? Or this? ‘That’s why you get migraines,’ my best friend chimed in recently, ignoring decades of neurological research and organic rationale, but he may have a point anyway (am I literally thinking myself sick?).

I had a reading back in June in LA with an exceptionally brilliant Ifa priest, who told me, among other things, that I live too much in my head. You cannot intellectually solve everything, he told me. This was a revelation. What? You mean I can’t always think my way to a solution? Get the fuck outta here!

Along with the thinking comes the talking: the endless deconstruction of a bunch of shit that, in a month or a year or five years, will largely seem meaningless in retrospect, pretty much just a waste of time and breath. If I am tired of hearing myself think, I am doubly tired of hearing myself talk. If only it were just as easy as shutting up, but I’m beginning to learn that the process of mastering the cognitive shift from valuing ‘being informed’ and ‘contributing to the dialogue’ to embracing silence and giving oneself permission to not have – or not express – an opinion is a Sisyphean task.

Last year I stumbled upon a meme that resonated with me deeply: You do not have to attend every argument you’re invited to, it read.

You don’t say.

This is almost anathema to my ‘fighting Irish’/uppity woman’ personal identity. It’s hard work to walk away from the sense of duty to take a position and defend it. Yet all the requests for opinions – at work, on social media, in analog life – have reached a deafening crescendo that has brought me to my knees and leaves me yearning for the blank beauty of silence. Lately I’ve tried visualizing the water beneath the surface of a swimming pool – that lovely chlorinated turquoise quiet outside of time and gravity. For split seconds, I’m able to capture that otherworldly space and empty my head – and I feel sorrow when it recedes, replaced again by the freight train of thought. My hope is that, like a muscle, this ability to descend into disengagement is something that can be strengthened with practice.

And as for my mouth? Maybe we can start there with this silence business. When taking an inventory of all the coworkers and colleagues I’ve had, I observe that the ones I admire the most and the ones I wish to emulate are, ironically, not the fiery orators or showy alphas, but rather the cool, understated masters of their tempers, gliding gracefully down the hall in classy white trousers and well-kept secrets. I want to be one of those people, the ones who understand that silence is power – over both oneself and one’s environment. When one is silent, one conveys a sense of both wisdom and control that leaves others not only guessing but filling the void with their own verbal hemorrhaging, giving away their power with every word.

Deep, with Shallow Moments