Thursday, August 20, 2015

TBT.

I spent yesterday afternoon putting old letters in chronological order because I'm going to read my correspondence and journals from 1983 and 1984. I think there's a play somewhere in there that I want to write. I found 2 letters from Eduardo, my first serious boyfriend, that I didn't know I had.

There had been a lot of letters from Eduardo. A few months after we met, we were separated for a while. I went back to Indiana to finish school (which I didn't do, not then) and he stayed in New York. We broke up soon after I returned.

During our breakup, I threw a shoebox full of his letters in a dumpster. I did a lot of things during our breakup that I later regretted. I thought all the letters were in that shoebox, but I found one a few years ago. And then 2 more yesterday. I also found, clipped to one of the letters, a scrap of paper with his phone number written on it, which he must have given me when we met.

I guess it might seem strange for a happily married man to be so enamored with past love ephemera. But my husband knows I'm obsessed with this kind of biographical archival stuff, and also it was over 30 years ago and Eduardo is dead. So.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Mom.

We had a memorial gathering at Mom and Dad's house on Tuesday evening. Around 50 people came: Mom's friends from the League of Women Voters, her book club and wine tasting and neighborhood friends, friends from earlier days, and family. My sister Kay, with help from her and Mom's friend Susan, made our favorite cookies from Mom's recipes. Mom's grandson Aaron -- Kay's middle son, my nephew -- played Nocturne in F Minor by Pius Cheung on marimba. (Mom was immensely proud of Aaron; she was so happy the last couple years watching him become such a serious young musician.) And I read the following words:

>--<

So many people have said to me these last few days, “Your mother was a remarkable woman.” I always knew that. I’ve always felt proud of that.

She was born on September 1st, 1939, which was also the day Hitler invaded Poland, so I never had any trouble in school remembering the date WWII started.

She grew up on a farm in Illinois. Graduated high school at 17, got married at 18, had a child a year and a half later, another the next year, and the next year started thinking maybe she didn’t want to be Catholic anymore. (With a little family planning, she had my sister six years later.)

She and my dad made a life for themselves, full of things they loved, things that were important to them, things that brought them pleasure, and they saw it as their job to make sure that Mike and Kay and I were able to do that for ourselves. That’s what I think I learned, more than anything, from Mom. How to make a meaningful life. I think a testament to that is how Mike and Kay and I all have pretty different lives but have all found fulfillment and meaning and love.

Growing up, there was no place I wanted to be more than with my mother. We spent hours together, usually in the kitchen, talking about whatever came to mind.

She loved cooking and baking. One of my earliest memories is of her baking big sheet cakes for neighborhood association meetings. In the late 60s, a black family moved into our neighborhood on the northeast side of Indianapolis and almost overnight a couple dozen For Sale signs appeared in front of white families’ homes. She learned about blockbusting, which was a tactic where realtors would target a white neighborhood and sell one house to a black family and then blanket the neighborhood with fliers offering quick cash to white families who wanted to sell. Then they’d sell the houses to black families at higher than market financing. They were taking advantage of racism to make a killing, and to Mom, this was so obviously wrong that she helped create a neighborhood association to fight it.

My mother taught me to cook, and she taught me to look around, to get involved, if something is not right to say so, and to do something about it if you could.

We wrote letters back and forth all through my 20s, then email, and then with Facebook we were in touch often daily, sometimes more.

Conversation with my mother was one of the great pleasures of my life. I feel so grateful that on the last days I spent with her, her last days, we spent time sitting in the kitchen, talking. About food and politics and whatever came to mind.

She taught me an appreciation for beautiful things: art, flowers, the landscape, mountains, lakes, music, leaves in the fall. From her I learned the rewards of curiosity -- reading, history, culture, and travel. She loved to travel with Dad, whether it was just up to the lakeshore in Michigan or a drive cross country to Colorado and Utah.

She saw my artistic temperament, so she enrolled me in art classes on the weekends and Suzuki violin after school. When we were very young, she took us kids to museums and concerts and plays. It’s because of her that I wanted to have a life as an artist. She told the home nurse last week that she was still looking forward to coming with me to the Tonys and sitting in the front row.

She didn’t get to come to the Tonys, but she did get to come to my wedding three years ago. Her joy in that, her joy that that was even possible, was, I think, even greater than my own.

She was remarkable in the way that she loved her family. These last few years when she was experiencing so much uncertainty, and fear, and pain, she helped US all deal with our own fear and emotional pain. She never stopped thinking about what we needed, what would make us happy and calm and reassured. When we were so scared, so worried about her these last few years, she taught us how to face it, taught us by example to calm down, that she was going to be okay. We looked to her, as we always did, for guidance, even when eventually it was guidance in how to care for her. She let us know that there was no good in panicking, that the only way to do it was one day at a time.

These last few days since she died have been so full of her presence; she’s still so much here, in this house, in every conversation. She’s only been gone four days. But my mind wanders to the future, to when I’m back home doing what I do, and all the countless times during a day when I have something to share, some small success or something I read that I think she’ll get a kick out of, and I think what am I going to do without her? My hero, my biggest fan, my faithful correspondent.

But so much of that constant presence of her in my life wasn’t even about talking to her, seeing her, it was just the way I felt her in me, the way I feel her in my head when I’m reading the paper and griping about Mike Pence. I feel her in my arms when I put a chicken in a pot of water to make soup. Or send an email to my state senator. Or feel outrage at some injustice. Or vote. She lives in me in the way that I love reading and Patsy Cline, in the way that I hate noise and grocery store tomatoes.

A sense that she is alive in me: the only thing that makes this bearable is telling myself that that will not go away. Because now I just want so badly to hear her voice on the phone, to see a message from her show up in my inbox. To see her face light up when she says my husband’s name.

She lives in all of us she touched in countless ways. It has been comforting the last few days, all the sweet words from her friends, my friends, our scattered family, and everyone here today. It does feel like we share the pain of her loss and that lessens it.

Mom had a good life, and she was well loved.

Friday, July 24, 2015

I Reject the New Normal Like I Rejected the Old Normal.

I was just moments ago poised with my little finger over the Return key, in danger of being one of those people on Facebook who write 1000 words in a comment field, and then I remembered "I have a blog!" And I haven't posted anything in a month.

A few days ago, my friend T sent me this link to a story about drag queens being banned from a Pride event in Scotland, and I posted it to Facebook with, "Will someone tell me again how assimilation leads to freedom? If this is gay rights, I don't want rights. I don't think I even want to be gay any more."

A good friend suggested that this ban is stupid but that it is a well-intentioned desire to shield people from pain. My friend is serious and thoughtful and supportive of greater freedom for everyone, but I think, like many "liberal allies" he's wrong on this one. I hope he will not take my response personally.

I don't think this policing of queer expression is as benign as that. Part of it is about protecting people from pain, yes, but the larger part is about suppressing behavior that doesn't conform to their worldview. It's particularly noxious when it's directed at drag because drag queens have always (explicitly and also just by their very existence) been the ones fighting hardest, taking the biggest risks, provoking the hard questions about gender and sexuality and identity that have made it possible to even have a Gay Pride event in the first place, let alone gay marriage and civil rights and all the other stuff. Rather than shutting them out of the celebration, we should be down on our knees thanking them every day for the modicum of safety we enjoy.

Before I got married -- a fact that complicated but didn't essentially change my stance -- I was much more vocal about the danger of putting all our energy into the gay marriage campaign. I, along with many many other queer people, saw this coming, and it's infuriating to see it play out. All that shouting and marching and writing -- and loving -- has led us to this, a world where expressing a trans identity means looking like Caitlyn Jenner and expressing homo love means getting married. And the whole range of expression outside that new norm is suspect if not banned outright.

I am so mad!

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

3 Things I Saw From the Balcony Monday Night at About 9:30 p.m.

A slightly stooped grey-haired man in black pants and white shirt, wearing a black yarmulke and carrying a thick black book at his side, walked at a relaxed pace along the sidewalk that cuts through the playground from our building to the building opposite.

Our neighbors next door, who have lived in that apartment since this development was built in the late 50s when they were a young married couple, whose window I can see into if I lean over the railing, sat at their kitchen table under a bare fluorescent light fixture with books open in front of them and talked animatedly.

While I was looking at a star about 40 degrees up from the horizon and due east, wondering what star it was, the only one visible and so perfectly centered in my view, just below it a burning meteor made an arc across the sky and disappeared behind the Williamsburg Bridge.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

On The Porch.

We have a balcony. I keep calling it the porch, and maybe a balcony is a kind of porch in the way that an apartment is a kind of house.

When I lived in Nashville in a rented room in a big purple Victorian house while I working on my film (2003?), every afternoon all summer there'd be a thunderstorm of Biblical proportions -- you wonder why they're so Bible-obsessed in the South? It's the weather -- and I'd take a break from logging footage of my life falling apart and watch the deluge from a big wicker chair on the wrap-around porch. The thunder could make me actually jump -- one time the lightning struck so close it split a tree right across the street.

When I lived in Austin on East 15th St. with J, there was usually no place I wanted to be more than the porch. In the afternoon when the 100-degree heat felt sexy as long as you stayed in the shade with a cold beer and didn't move a muscle. In the evening when it cooled slightly and the air was thick and swampy like a ghost story.

Here, our balcony overlooks the grounds of the co-op complex and a small playground. In the afternoons, there are dozens of children playing, their parents and grandparents sitting on benches watching them. They are mostly Jewish as far as I can tell, and I assume conservative (in the general sense, not the theological sense) from the way they are dressed and from the way that the playground clears out at about 5:30 because they all, I'm guessing, go inside to eat dinner as a family. There's something, at least from a distance, very appealing about such an old-fashioned way of life.

I read 25 pages today, which is a personal triumph. I haven't been able to read lately, now that I'm not commuting every day. I miss that 2 1/2 hours of built-in reading time, but that's not the only thing preventing me. I just can't stay awake. I never sleep well, have never slept well, but for the first few days here, I did sleep through the night and thought things had changed. I think it was just fatigue from moving. Now I'm back to the usual waking up every 30 minutes or so, lying awake for long stretches in the middle of the night, and usually waking up completely an hour or so before the alarm goes off.

After several days of not being able to read more than 3 or 4 pages without falling asleep, I decided to try napping. The last 2 days I've taken an hour nap after lunch. It's magic. Now I can read without falling asleep. I'm reading The Power Broker, a biography of Robert Moses -- which, despite the fact that it's like 8,000 pages long is kind of a page-turner, and when I can keep my eyes open it's quite entertaining and fast-paced.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Stunned?

 “I guess I’d say that I was stunned,” Seth Norton, a Wheaton professor and former wrestling coach who had led the Hastert center and worked with Mr. Hastert, said on Monday. “It was hard to imagine it being true and seemed extremely far-fetched.”
There used to be a great store in the West Village, I think on Hudson, that sold vintage porn. A lot of magazines, but the best stuff was the pulp fiction. Anyway, I always think of that store when another "coach" gets busted for molesting teenagers. Gay porn kind of writes itself.

(I should mention that Hastert is not being charged for the sexual abuse because the statute of limitations has long run out. He's being charged for paying someone not to reveal the abuse. There's a distinction, but only a legal one.)

When a man in his 70s is dragged out of the closet, why are people like Norton so surprised they didn't know? You didn't know because he didn't want you to know and he structured his whole life around concealing it from you. The fact that you had no idea is, to say the least, unremarkable. For hundreds of years few people who weren't queer had any idea queer people lived among them. We kept it secret. I thought this was obvious by now, but maybe not. We kept it secret because our safety, our well-being, our lives often depended on the people around us not knowing. It's called terrorism, and it saturated European and American cultures for centuries, with government and church carrying out the worst of it.

The 1940s and 50s, when Hastert was growing up, were some of the scariest years for lgbt Americans. Well, maybe not as bad as the Spanish Inquisition, but pretty bad. Being a queer was even worse than being a Communist. I can blame Hastert for a lot of ugly things but not for trying to conceal his sexuality.

Yeah, things are changing. Things are better. But queer people still consider their safety when deciding how truthful to be in any given moment about who they are. And not just in Africa, or Iraq, or the past.

C'mon people.


Friday, June 5, 2015

Here We Are.

I made the bed this morning for the first time since we moved in. I like a made bed. It calms me, gives me the illusion that there's order in the world. But until today, the apartment has been so disordered -- things still in boxes, things in piles because we don't know where they go yet, things that need to be hung on walls -- that making the bed didn't promise to have the desired effect.

We're still not completely together. I had to buy a special drill yesterday that can go through concrete walls (thank you, 1950s-era construction) before we can hang our pictures and curtains. But we're getting close enough that it feels like we live here. The last 2 nights I cooked dinner in my new kitchen that I love so much I want to sleep in it. I was thinking yesterday how it would probably look small to anyone who doesn't live in a New York apartment. But it's twice as big as our old one. I have empty cabinet shelves that I don't even know what to use for. The lighting is terrible. We're going to get some under-cabinet lighting when we're more settled. If the previous owner did any cooking in there, she must have Superman eyes. Or a couple missing fingertips.

I've fallen hard for this apartment, this building, this neighborhood. I'll write more about them. In the meantime, some other stuff on my mind, mostly  having to do with the TV.

I recommend the HBO documentary, It's Me, Hilary, about the man who illustrated the Eloise books, but, like any great doc, about so much more than that. And Phoebe Legere!

We finally got around to watching the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction last night. Three things: 1) Patti Smith's and Laurie Anderson's speeches, really the whole Lou Reed segment, were very moving -- it's those artists and that vision of New York that brought me here, 2) Green Day is better than I thought, and 3) I didn't even know it was possible for me to be a bigger fan of Miley Cyrus.

And, I can't wait for the Tonys this Sunday. I've never had so many friends and colleagues nominated, and I think this has been a really special season on Broadway.