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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.

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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.

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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.

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.

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.

Ain’t Where You Was

Ain’t Where You Was

5/8/13

 

“You might not be where you want to be, but you got to be glad you ain’t where you was.” – unknown


I’m not yet where I want to be (back in the Sunset, gazing out at the fog and the grey ocean from my large picture window), but I am damn glad I ain’t where I was. I have more of what I want than I once did: a home of my own, a patch of earth, a job that, while still full of its petty indignities and irritations, pays the bills decently and allows me to buy fancy cheese on impulse. And I earned it: I’ve been working since I was 15 years old; hustling, climbing, clawing, earning, learning, mastering, and mustering up whatever it took to put in another day.

 

My gay husband (and best friend of 22 years) and I had a three-hour conversation the other night and he pressed me to remember all the mornings of getting up at dawn to take the 21 Hayes bus downtown to make $9 an hour taking messages in a security brokerage or putting in 11-hour days at a dotcom for none of the payoff promised; all the cleavage I flashed and booty I shook when working in the nighttime trades; the endless cheap sandwiches from Lee’s eaten at ugly desks in windowless offices; all the freezing, endless waits at Muni stops and the profanity and creepy come-ons and space invasions thrown my way once I rushed into the warmth of the train; all the sexist requests to order cookies for meetings the men never cleaned up after; the narcissistic bosses and duplicitous coworkers; all the sighers, toe-tappers, loud eaters, pursed lips, raised eyebrows, and people who just can’t do their fuckin’ job without having their hand held or ego stroked. And don’t even get me started on the ninth circle of hell that is the copy machine.

 

I lived in a flat with two girls for five years and the other (sleepless) night, I counted how many jobs I had in the those five years. The answer? Ten (and that’s lumping all the freelance production assistant jobs as one): a bank, a veterinarian’s office, a trophy wife’s Pacific Heights estate, the brokerage, a law office, a university, various freelance production jobs, a music marketing company, a porn website, and a dotcom.

 

He also sharply reminded me to recall all the sacrifices I made in my accommodations in San Francisco, the most expensive city in the US outside New York (and I think that’s debatable now); all the crazy, thieving housemates, the psychotic, manipulative landlords, the janky cheap fixes, the basement studios, the hauling my dirty drawers on my back several city blocks to the laundromat, the outrageous ‘security deposits’ that landlords considered signing bonuses and never returned, the refrigerator shelves and kitchen cabinets each designated to a housemate, the guests and crazy lovers and exes of said housemates, the disgusting carpets and the cave rooms with no light.

 

I know what it is to grind. I know what it is to pay my dues, to accept less than I want or deserve, and I recognize that half of success is just getting the fuck up, putting one’s shoes on, and getting on bus or in the commuter lane. I am proud to look around at my succulent garden, my bottlebrush tree, my house with rooms I don’t even use, my four plump little dogs, my swelling shoe collection, and feel something in me almost collapse and the tears rise up as I remember those endless cold mornings at the bus stop, on the bridge, in the gridlock, in the grey soulless glow of the Xerox machine, the unkind fluorescent lights, year after year after year, a girl alone in the world, just showing up, just grinding, just believing that someday I’d have something better to wake up to, to go to, to be proud of.

 

I’m still that girl. Now the trip to work is too hot rather than too cold – a result of both age and geography – and rather than shivering at a bus stop I dash through a scorching parking lot. I have a home bigger than I need and I spread my things throughout it and it’s mine, though I look out the window at the green lawn and long for sand and sea instead and I tell myself, someday. 

Payback

Dear Breeder Friends,
Remember those to-die-for handmade organic booties I brought to your baby shower that cost more than my own shoes? I do.

And do you recall how I suffered with a smile through the hours of The Diaper Game (for the uninitiated, this is where interesting varieties of baby food, from apples and pears to chicken and beef, and deposited into the ground-zero area of a baby diaper and passed around so that guests can stick their noses into it and take a stab at that substance they’re smelling)? I know I’ll never forget.

You will, of course, bring to mind all the cute, clever, and fabulous gifts that I, the ‘cool auntie,’ have produced for your children’s Big Days – birthdays, baptisms, Bar Mitzvahs, Christmases, kindergarten graduations – year after year. After year.

And you know you’ve gotten off light – you’ve never had to pony up for a Petunia Picklebottom diaper bag or Peg Perego stroller for my baby shower because, well, I chose not to have kids and somehow new rescue dogs just don’t engender the same womanly insanity and retail orgy that a howling, furless, helpless infants do. But that’s OK. I love you, and I love your children, and I love finding just the right gift, so it’s all good.

But there’s something you should know – the jig is up.

Sure, I gave your kid all that amazing stuff out of goodness of my heart, but not without an agenda, and here it is.

The day your child turns 13, and I mean before the confetti from the Bat Mitzvah is vacuumed up, said child will be farmed out to me, by you, to solve all of my software and technology problems.
Remember the hand-made lace Christening booties from Ireland? That warrants a software upgrade and file backup.

The awesome Red Flyer wagon? Now we’re talking iPhone setup and optimization.

And you’ll recall, I’m sure, how your little sprite begged and pleaded for an iPad and I came up with one? That’s worth a home theater setup, no doubt.

Right this very moment you probably have a surly teenager taking up space in your house and polluting the atmosphere of your home with her stomping, moping, and bleatings of boredom. It’s time to put that child to good use, and remember, those Baby Einstein gyms didn’t come cheap, sister, so pack up that bundle of emotional fraughtness and drop her off at my house.
I’ll have her back by dinner. It takes a village.

Love, Auntie Fahrenheit

The Night Is Long

‘The night is long, but our dream is longer.’ – Haitian proverb

 

I was just telling my best friend today that I want this tattooed on the backs of my shoulders. When people ask me why, I will say there are so many meanings.

 

One of which is: when I feel so low that I cannot see my way out of it, when I am lying at the bottom of the river and I contemplate never coming up, of letting myself be washed out to sea, I remember that I am needed

 

by my best friend

by my four dogs

by my circle of loved ones

 

but these are all ‘of courses’ and I also remember that I am needed

 

by the voiceless

by the hopeless

by the beaten down

to 

fight the good fight

to tell those thrown out like trash (people dogs teenagers especially the gay ones) that they are beautiful

and can and will be loved

to help teach the little girls in my life how to be a woman and a decent human being

to speak, shout, scream, drop science

to be counted

 

to remember

 

to light the spark

 

to dream the dream that will outlast the night

Notes From A White Girl

Sixth grade. Berkeley. In the middle of one of the most horrible years of my life – the year I was eleven – I transferred back to Franklin Elementary, a shabby gulag of public education on the fringes of West Berkeley (read: ‘the ghetto,’ and not the Gourmet variety).

 

Franklin had several bilingual classes and I was assigned to the Spanish-English classroom of Mrs. Mock, a Panamanian matron some might describe as a benevolent matriarch but who showed me a very different side.

 

Like I said, it was a bad year. My attendance was spotty, my state of mind stressed, and my behavior probably subpar. So one day, she kept me after class, and that’s when she dropped the bomb on me I’ll never forget.

 

She started by saying to me, ‘You know, I work very hard for my students of color. They have a lot problems and they really need the help. But you – you’re white and your father drives a Mercedes. What kind of problems do you have?’

 

She couldn’t know. She probably couldn’t even conceive of my suffering – the absentee parents, the empty cupboards, the subcultural hippie trash that seemed to wash up on my Dad’s couch with regularity. She couldn’t know about the loneliness, the hunger, the confusion, and the dirty laundry with no way to wash it.

 

All she saw was my face, and it’s color or lack thereof. She judged me, the way white people have judged those with darker faces for hundreds of years, the way people have judged other people somehow different from them since time immemorial. But here’s the difference – she was an adult, while I was a child. Not only that, she was an educator, and I use the term with copious irony considering what it was that she taught me that day. 

The Manifesto

I am someone’s daughter. Someone’s sister. Someone’s friend. But no one’s mother.

 

I am the last leaf on my tree, the last stop on the line. I am the terminus. After me, no other.

 

No one will walk the earth looking through the same blue of my eyes, I will always be an odd branch on any spindly family tree. I am the alpha and omega, the beginning and end. The only of my kind.

 

My refusal to leave one after me is my gift to the world. I was here, but I will not leave another after me to prove it. There will be no daughter, son, or descendents to validate the eyeblink of time I walked these streets, these beaches, this earth.

 

Some have children so they can assuage the deep human desire to be immortal, to not fade and disappear from the face of the earth, be forgotten, for we as people want nothing so much as to be remembered, and we think that those who come after us, if they have our eyes, our name, our gestures, will remember. But they won’t, and eventually they will be forgotten as well. It is inevitable and it is The Way.

 

I choose to create my immortality through the ripple effects of my actions. My choices are my children’s blue eyes. My words are my descendent’s names. When I am kind, when I extend an act of graciousness or consciousness, it changes the life of another, and he or she becomes different, and he or she in some way passes on my act, and so it continues, infinitely. In this way, I will never die. My time here on earth will have its legacy, the same as any grandmother. My name will be nameless, a wordless beautiful thought, a right choice, the wash of well-being over some unknown soul in the unknowable future, and this will be my bloodline.