Saturday, July 06, 2013

What the Inside of My Brain Really Looks Like

Looking through some poems to submit for an anthology tonight, I realized that MOST of my poems are these sort of weird, stream-of-consciousness things. It's just that those aren't usually the ones I publish or submit. I choose the more sensical ones for that. Here's a "brief" tour into the inside of my brain. I think I remember part of this poem coming from book titles on a shelf in whatever room I was in, and part from a dream I'd had the night before. 

Archer’s Son

Owl’s song,
The Comfort of Recipes,
Teens talk,
Fireplace stories,
Cherry red moon over the trees.
The owl hoots. Canaries
Fly in the dusky light.
Below, a child’s swimming pool.
Sands of disturbance waking into light.
She opened the curtain.
Red, cherry red, cherry cherry red.
Why was the owl’s song so new?
You came when I called, but I didn’t call. Candles burning
On the stove. Oil of cloves. Jack Robinson.
Picture this: a girl on a swing,
Hair flowing like wheat. She is my daughter.
Her feet kick in the air and she rides the calls of birds.
Once, when I was a gentleman, he said,
I opened the attic trunk to find my dagger.
Are you listening? Strains of reeds fly over the hill.
The carnival arrives marching and tumbling and the girl begs
To see the stiltwalkers, the tiger, the man on the trapeze.
Fire eaters stroll into the den, disrupting my hard-earned peace.
They toss rings, release doves into the rafters,
Vault from the ceiling beams.
That’s when the police blow in,
Daggers cloaked, searching for the peace-disturbing miscreants.
They find me clutching a desk leg and a table lamp whose stand is covered in gum.
They jostle me to jail with their billy sticks.
No more of this, they say. No more reading such profane screeds.
In jail I pray with an inmate clad in a dotted blouse.
We ask Jesus to come down to rescue us from laws like stones.
In a barred window a leprechaun alights,
Small and dancing. “Jesus sent me,” he says.
“Do you trust me?”
The woman in the dotted blouse says yes. I say, “Like I trust tigers,
Like I trust the scales of fish.”
“Well enough,” he says. “Jump!”
And when we do, we’re taken up into the clouds. 

Wednesday, April 25, 2012


I've been planning to take this blog down. Now that my book is about to launch, it makes me nervous that someone would actually read this. But it seemed sad to end on such a low note as the last post. Almost a year later, Dad is hanging in there and is a lot more together than last year. Melody is married now, and I like my new son-in-law. Lancelot is in school, training for a new career. All good changes.

I had a vision last summer, and while I did write it down, it feels too personal to post. The gist of it is this: God loves my child even more than I do. And there is no gender in heaven. It has brought me to a place of--if not joy--acceptance. This one isn't mine to fix and Melody is more important to me than her gender. I will never be completely on board with the "transgender cause." But it doesn't matter. I love my child and we have what we have. I've gotten a son-in-law in the bargain, and that's a pretty good bonus. And I can't spend the rest of my life mourning Maverick when Melody is standing right in front of me.

Sometimes you just have to open your hands.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Everything Changes

Maverick/Melody has not spoken to us since March, angry that we cancelled her medical insurance. The insurance, beginning this year, would have covered 100% of gender reassignment surgery, so she had scheduled it immediately and was headed for California in July to get the body she's been longing for.

The insurance was a benefit of Lancelot's job--a job he disliked, but did to support our family. After much deliberation, we decided that we had to draw the line at our resources being used for a surgery we feel is destructive.

But Maverick doesn't see it that way.

So now we're down a kid, since Maverick no longer considers himself a member of our family and has boycotted all family celebrations, shut us off from his Facebook and sent Lancelot a "you suck" email too hateful for me to want to read.

Though I'm talking blithely, I'm not blithe.

The year has been a series of losses/changes/transitions/however you want to label them. A week or two after canceling Melody's insurance, Lancelot was laid off, rendering all of us insurance-less, which made the act of canceling it moot. Dad fell and broke his hip in February and we had to put him in a nursing home. It is, if one can believe the irony, directly underneath the Aurora Bridge. A few weeks ago, he and I sat on the patio there, looking up at the bridge and discussing jumpers.

Now he doesn't discuss much of anything. Three words into a sentence, he gets lost, his hands fluttering over the bedspread looking for his missing thought. I go see him every Tuesday and I sing to him. I have no idea whether he likes this or not, but I try to choose songs he is familiar with. I sing in competition with the blaring television in the next bed, with its musical ads for antidepressants ("may cause suicide") and Depends.

What these bald facts mean to me is evasive. I get lost on the way to meaning. But they must mean something.
"Good" changes have happened, too. I sold my book; it comes out next year. I'm applying for a residency in France. (I don't know if a mere application constitutes "change," but it's causing me to dream again.)

And maybe none of these changes are good or bad. They are all transitions. Sorrow is just as worthy an emotion as joy, though I don't want to lose sight of joy. I'm learning I can't skip over loss, though. I either feel it or I get sick or crabby or depressed. Better to live through the loss.

Coming out of the nursing home tonight, I felt all slowed down by sorrow. Dad may be dying. Or he may remain this lost for the next decade--there's no way to say. On a whim, I texted Melody, who has answered a couple of my texts in the last couple of weeks--generally only able to maintain civility for two or three exchanges. I texted, "Sad. Granddaddy going downhill. Can't finish a sentence. Gets lost. Everything changes."

Was this manipulative? I've been accused of messaging him as "bait," just so I can hear from him, when I need to let her stew in her own juices. But I don't care. I miss my child. I am angry enough at her to scream, and I miss him.

She texted back, "I'm sorry to hear that."

I imagine her texting this coolly and disinterestedly, "Granddaddy" being someone from that "previous" family--the one who didn't love her enough to give her what she wanted. Clearly, I am unable to maintain the kind of imperiousness one needs in order to remain unruffled by one's children. I was never much of an authoritarian parent. Maybe that's why Melody hates me for drawing the line.

But still. "I'm sorry to hear that" was better than more icy silence. And if being grateful for it makes me pathetic, I'll have to live with that.

"Thanks," I texted back, not daring to say more.

Once upon a time, I was wise. But everything changes.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

In Which I Out Myself as the Parent of a Transgender Child

…but of course, I do so on my “secret” blog.

Maverick has now legally changed his name to "Melody Lani" and sometime next week will be legally declared female. His (her) friends, and many of our family and friends are cheering enthusiastically.

Normally I do not allow my emotions about this to rise to the surface, but today I am simply a grieving mother. And it's hard to know where to go with that. My child, who I love deeply, is, of course, still living. And he (she) is still the same compassionate, creative, intuitive person as before. I have friends whose children have died and it would be inappropriate to compare this to that.

But every time I tell myself that, I tamp the pain down neatly and move to the cleaner, more antiseptic philosophical plane where gender doesn't matter all that much and my beliefs about God, sexuality and human identity are only one approach among myriad others.

I am reading Love is an Orientation, by Andrew Marin and am very impressed by it. In fact, I have barely put it down these last couple of days, taking it with me everywhere, like I did with books I loved as a kid. Though Andrew is evangelical, he has thrown off some of the key characteristics that ultimately drove me from the evangelicals when I was one: the compulsion to preach, in biblical language at people who embrace neither preaching nor the Bible (and then declare those same people “lost” and “shake the dust from one’s feet.”); the us/them attitude; the shuddering and condemnation over “sexual sin”—particularly homosexuality; the smug self-righteousness.

Andrew Marin lives, with his wife, in Boystown—a largely gay-populated area of Chicago. His goal is to build bridges between the evangelical and LGBT communities through respectful dialogue. And this sort of dialogue is what I like to do—but at the moment I am derailed by a piercing sense of loss.

When Maverick came out as gay five and a half years ago (at the age of 14), I felt as if I got “outed,” too. My progressive, spiritually diverse friends (including Jonathan, a gay man I loved like a brother) had no idea I had such traditional beliefs about sexuality. While they didn’t accuse me of being cruel and hateful when I did not want Maverick to go this direction, they did have a hard time knowing how to support both me and Maverick. The exception, ironically, was my beloved Jonathan, who we lost less than two years later to cancer. He listened patiently and validated my feelings, though my beliefs seemed to challenge his own identity. I told him that I didn’t know how he walked that kind of a tightrope, but I know he did so out of love for me. (He had also been the first adult Maverick came out to.)

Now that “Melody” has moved from gay to transgender, I find myself in a conundrum. I love my child. We have always been close, even through our disagreements about his being gay. I feel sadder every week we don’t have contact and happier when we do talk. The last we talked, Melody was interested in hearing about my feelings and in honoring them. As “she” has continued on this journey and had the support of friends and some family, she has been more able to consider my opposition as a deeply-held belief, not an attack. I appreciate this very much.

Yet I do feel my child has been stolen from me. I don’t feel I have a right to dictate my adult child’s life, but in my gut is the sense that other people, who consider themselves more enlightened, progressive and healthy than I, swept in six years ago and snatched him away.

On her Facebook account, Melody is receiving a veritable standing ovation—some of it from relatives and friends of ours who must know we are grieving. It’s hard to know where to go. This is beyond politics, beyond issues of sin and condemnation, beyond opposing sides squaring off against each other. And while I believe strongly that gender matters and that we are created male and female, I also believe that it doesn’t matter—that in Christ there is no male and female. I know I am capable of fair-minded dialogue between progressive and traditional points of view. But I must keep my emotions at bay in order to accomplish this—especially now. And so I carry this sorrow in me as a hidden thing.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Why I Need to Keep Writing

I haven't blogged here in a long time, but I am up late and it feels exhilirating to venture in here again. Tomorrow I dive into several days of fulltime rewrite, as I am now -- glory be! -- an agented novelist. Hopefully, I'll finish this puppy up before the month is out.

I've been thinking a lot about shame, anxiety, despair -- the usual villains. But a couple of weeks ago I did a reading where there were a lot of young people who had a lot of pain. And at this reading they were able to stand up and share their pain and be acknowledged. I was moved by the importance of this -- far beyond teaching people to write. When it was my turn, I shared poems about Dad instead of the funny stuff I'd planned to read. Some of them still make me shake a little, even after all this time. But I wanted to share something that opened me up, that touched my pain, but ended on a note of redemption.

And I realized once again that I want to write and read redemptive work -- to write my sorrow and anger, yes, but also my hope and Who my hope comes from.

The other night my brother was painting a grim picture of Christianity -- it was a religion of darkness, vengeance, coercion and abuse -- and he had the Bible stories to prove it. And I didn't want to argue, because I found myself frozen. What he describes is not what I believe. But what I believe felt so private and tender at that moment -- I didn't want to open it to ridicule.

All I have against such an attack (and I don't think he meant it to hurt me) is my work. If God has given me the ability to sometiomes access that deep place through words on a page, and if I have hope in my life as well as pain, and if my honesty -- which is both blessing and curse to me -- goes into my writing, then I need to QUIT HIDING inside my shame and come out.

I want to let kids know that there is resurrection -- that it is part of the fabric of the universe; that it is woven into their cells. And I'm suddenly struck by the fact that they don't know that -- that regardless of their religion, a lot of kids are running around without hope; they don't know that life comes out of death -- they believe there is nothing but darkness.

I have an interview on Monday and I've been dreading it. It's about my work-in-progress, which has to do with parental suicide. And I've felt weird about it being a "therapy" book for me, and weird about embarrassing my parents and weird about still feeling weird. But there are kids who are locked in their despair and who need a key. Can't I tell them that it will get better? That their life is essential to someone--to themselves? That their parents will mellow, become sweet, that they will love them almost more than they can bear?

When I talk about this, my prose becomes purple, but that's what anonymity is for. I write for the girl who needed the book when I was sixteen. I write for the girl, or boy, who needs it now.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

On the Threshhold of Happiness

Lately I’ve been feeling that peace is within my reach--that I’m right on the cusp of freedom. I’ve lived so long with fear as a companion, dogging my steps--that pit-of-the-stomach dread that always floated at the periphery of my thoughts. Now I want to grab ahold and give it a good shaking, see if it’s a real dog or a phantom.

I’ve been noticing my own happiness. Yesterday, I reveled in the wind, which all but blew me over on the top deck of the ferry. I am happy when I’m teaching, happy when I’m planning lessons, happy when I’m having a conversation with a student, happy when I’m reading or writing, happy when I’m riding my bike. I’m even happy when I’m budgeting or cleaning the house. I was surprised to realize that I am happy almost all the time now.

The fear comes when I believe I am about to fail, to be irresponsible, to disappoint others, to look unprofessional. The fear comes from the things that are yet undone—the things that interrupt my thoughts with the menace of my neglect.

I have stopped using the word “procrastinate.” It is a useless word. I really don’t procrastinate, which would assume that I have loads of leisure time and that the one important thing is the thing I am avoiding. There is more than one important thing and as I pay attention to each one, I am not able to work on the others. That’s reality.

What I have done, though, is hide from the things that scare me. I may make lesson plans instead of calling my dad, or counsel a friend instead of making lesson plans. I may clean the kitchen instead of paying the bills. What seems to scare me the most is being scared—of fear wrapping its tentacles around me and not letting go. (Yes, I see that the dog now has tentacles. It is a very scary dog.)

I have only recently realized that not everyone lives with anxiety at the back of their thoughts. Since I’m experiencing expanses of time without it, I’ve begun to wonder if it’s possible to be rid of it for good.

I’m trying to pay attention to the pit of my stomach—to notice when and why I am afraid. Right now I am edgy, nervous. My hands are clammy. It’s because I’m thinking of people reading this—of being shameless enough to post it instead of keeping it in my journal.

Shameless is not the word, though. The word is shame. And that’s an interesting thing. A few months ago I was late picking my son up from an after-school event. Twice. I’ve struggled with time all my life. And I’m ashamed of this. My lateness not only distressed my son, but it kept the teacher and parent volunteers waiting. One of the parents came out to my van to tell me that I simply couldn’t be late. I told her that I didn’t think my tardiness was okay and that I was mortified. She said, “Oh, all right. That’s good, then.”

And it struck me that we think it’s good for people to be ashamed. And maybe it is. Maybe I need to feel the pain of the trouble I cause to others. But I don’t know if I need to feel it all the time. I don’t know if I need to let it define me. And I don’t know if my shame is truly of benefit to anyone else.

I told one of my dear young writers how often I feel like a complete failure and she laughed. She was astonished. Her perception of me is different. She looks up to me. And I want her to. She, too, struggles with anxiety and I want to cut a path for her through that wilderness. I want for her to believe we don’t need to live in fear.

That’s why it’s so important to me that I find the honesty, clarity and courage that seem to be so close. I want to hold on to my happiness while I am facing down my fears. I am feeling fear now. God help me.


Friday, February 20, 2009

World and Wilderness

Yesterday I walked and talked with a very insightful woman whose career is in marketing. She is a naturally intuitive person, picking up immediately on the nuances of things I said, and willing to challenge me on my assumptions. I want to get better acquainted with her. What she reflected back to me was that I love writing and I love teaching, but I hate marketing. She wondered aloud why I would want to run my own business, this being the case, but she understood that I like to have control over my endeavors.

This last sounds unsettling. I'm not eager to be perceived as a control freak. But I do understand that I'm happier and more effective if I have creative freedom both in my writing and in my teaching. When I have this, I am able to share more authentically my thoughts, feelings, visions and dreams. And these things, both in writing and in teaching, are at the heart of what I do.

Of course, it helps to be reassured that these things are helpful to my readers and my students -- that we have somehow made a human-to-human connection. When I receive emails from a classroom full child readers, as I did the other day, or words from a parent that my class is sparking her teen's creative imagination, I use these good words as fuel to continue my work.

My friend, J, calls the dual realms of creation and people-connection "wilderness and world." Sometimes I think that for me, the two realms overlap -- as they do now, while I blog very private thoughts, knowing that there may be a reader or two. Maybe it is my inclination to live as an open book that brings me to jarring moments where wilderness and world collide and I want to scurry for cover. (This is why I avoid PTA meetings.)

Do others have some extra layer of protection that I tend not to bring with me? I have the writer's "thick skin" recommended by all editors. But I do not seem to have it in the world of "marketing." If I get a vibe that I'm annoying someone with my notices of classes or church services or books available for sale, I use that as fuel to postpone mailings until it is nearly too late, to hesitate before sharing, even sometimes to procrastinate on sending information to interested parties.

So if marketing is about perceiving what people need and then seeing if I have something to meet that need, I seem, in my more vulnerable moments, to be favoring those who don't need what I have.

And this is silly.

What I need is a sense of "holy apatheia," similar to, but not exactly the same as the Buddhist's detachment from the self. I am clinging too tightly to myself, to my ego, so that I am not allowing the Spirit to work in me. I am equating my gifts with my survival.

Today I will focus on the work -- the writing and the teaching -- as its own self, an entity that can exist under its own power with or without me clinging to it like a worried mother.

And I will bless each emotion that comes and let it come and move through me, but I will not follow that emotion until it leads me away from my center.

In order to do the work, I need an emotional attachment to it. But I also need a strength to separate from the work and trust that neither it nor I will disappear.