Saturday, May 18, 2013

One Year In.

Minnesota legalizing same-sex marriage is particularly poignant because it’s where my father grew up, and my father’s father was homosexual and, as far as I or my dad or really anyone at this point know because I don’t think anyone in the family ever talked to him about it, he was troubled as you might be troubled if you were homosexual and coming of age in the 1920s in Minnesota.

When I was a teenager, we took a family trip to the area north of Chicago where my mother’s family lived: Waukegan, Libertyville, Gurnee, and then up to Winona, Minnesota, on the Mississippi River, where my dad was born and lived as a child. I have a stack of Instamatic photos I took of houses on that trip. As we drove around town, my dad would point and say, “There,” “There,” “We lived there.” I think I took pictures of about a dozen houses where he lived for a few months, a year, two. There would be an indiscretion, a rumor, a scandal, and the family would move.

Several times my grandfather disappeared, and my grandmother (Grandma Lenore, who I write about so often) would pull my dad and his sister out of school and go find him where he’d usually be living with a man. One time they followed him all the way to Waukegan, Illinois and stayed for a while. That’s where my dad met my mom, who grew up on a farm in Gurnee, which used to be a couple of long roads intersecting a few fields of corn and soybeans, a red barn or two, but now it’s mostly Six Flags Great America.

My only regret about my wedding is that I forgot to raise a toast to my grandfather at the reception. I had planned to say that I wonder how different his life could have been if he’d known that he could -- not if he actually had but just if he had known that it was a possibility for him to -- stand up in front of his family and commit his life to a man he loved, rather than marrying a woman (whom I have no doubt he loved, but that’s not the point) and being compelled to a secret life of pleasure and shame and fear. When I was three years old, he died drunk somewhere in New Mexico, his corpse lying in a public morgue for days or weeks before the news reached anyone who cared. And now same-sex marriage is legal in Minnesota.

The argument for gay marriage – in response to those like me who have argued that, as the focus of the gay rights movement, marriage is too conservative, too limited, that rather than moving us toward sexual liberation it takes us backward, it binds us to a regressive institution, limits the possibilities of relationships, family structures – the argument is that it changes the culture. It lets society see us as normal, ordinary, with the same wish to belong to stable families and communities. It lets us into the fold. And isn’t that what we wanted all along anyway, just to belong? Maybe.

No doubt that framing of the issue (the conservative argument for gay “equality,” which is basically that homosexuals exist and no amount of Christian nonsense is going to change that so why not figure out a way to turn them into productive members of society instead of outcasts and criminals?) is what has turbocharged the movement these last 15-20 years. But if homosexuality is on its way to becoming ordinary, I’m feeling sort of grateful that I was born on the cusp of that change, that I got to be around for a while when it was still extraordinary to be gay.

C and I celebrated our first wedding anniversary two weeks ago on May 5th. We’re saving our money for the adoption (do you have any idea how expensive that is?), so instead of the pricey restaurant we’d usually choose on a special occasion, we had dinner at Joe Allen (I’m not not thinking right now about how different my life is now with C than it was before, that I would think of Joe Allen as a moderately-priced restaurant) because it was where we were when C first told me he loved me. It was an accident, I think. We’d only known each other for a few weeks, though we’d been more or less inseparable. We had just sat down for dinner before a show, and he said, “I love this place. And I love you.” As soon as the words left his mouth, we both froze. Then laughed. I said, “Okay, I love you, too.”

People ask, “How’s married life?” and in many ways it’s true that it’s ordinary. We sleep, watch TV, eat dinner, have a couple Manhattan cocktails when we get home from work (well, maybe that’s not ordinary for everyone, but what use is gay marriage if we can’t pretend we’re Darrin and Samantha Stephens every once in a while?)

But here’s what’s extraordinary. I think maybe I’ve tried to express this before, but I am surprised and amazed to discover that within this structure, this institution, this ironclad commitment, I find an extraordinary freedom to be who I am completely. With C, I don’t have that fear anymore, that fear which was a huge component of every relationship, every encounter I had with men, the fear that there is a point at which I would expose too much, the danger that he would eventually discover something about me, something I did or believe, some angle from which he’ll see my body, that will extinguish his love for me. It's a huge burden lifted.

That’s not to say that no one ever offered me unconditional love, but that I never accepted it before now. I was not ready, not capable, hated myself too much, whatever. C asked me recently if I missed my wild days. It doesn’t feel like the right question. I don’t miss my wild days -- they still exist in my imagination. They’re part of who I am now. So maybe I had to have my wild days, and not just the wild days but the 50 years of love and sex and contemplation and meditation and therapy and the advice and example of friends and my parents and siblings, and books and plays and movies and pop songs, TV shows, and standup comedy, and walking the streets of so many cities and towns watching people live their lives, and learning from those who have loved me how to be loved, maybe I had to live all that life before I was ready for this.

Anyway, whatever, I think too much. However this happened, I'm glad. It’s really good.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Life in a Box, Again.

Today is my writing day, which means that at 10 o’clock I stop whatever I’m doing, walk into the office, sit down, and write. All day. Which means no blogging. Blogging is writing, but it is also a way to avoid the real writing. I hold my blogging to a certain standard but otherwise it has no demands except that I write what comes to mind, unlike the big projects, which have a scale and depth that bring their own demands.

I would blog every day if I had time. There’s always something I want to talk about. I’m still trying to write about my first wedding anniversary (I will, it’s coming), but today I have to keep it short.

Maybe you know that I (along with many talented collaborators) made a documentary film several years ago called Life in a Box.. It’s very good. But for reasons I still can’t grasp we were never able to sell it. It cost our investor/patron/fan over $200,000, screened in several festivals, but not a single distributor was interested. It may be the single work of my career that I am most proud of, yet no one other than friends and family and a few fans have seen it.

So we tried for a couple years with no luck, and we moved on. But the attorney who represented the film recently made another push and found some (very mild, I think) interest from a couple distributors. But in order to make the film ready to sell, we have to spend another several thousand dollars. We have to have something called E & O insurance, in case anybody sues us. I’m not sure why they would, but you have to have it. And we have to pay to use a Johnny Cash song that appears in the film. (No, it can’t be removed. I wish we’d been rehearsing one of our own songs that day when the camera caught that argument with great light and sound, but we weren’t.) I think it all adds up to between $10,000 and $20,000.

Since we’re saving up now for adoption expenses, we can’t even think about spending this much, even if I thought it was wise, and I’m not sure it is. How do you know when to cut and run? When you’re an artist, there’s a feeling of undeniability when you reach a certain point with a piece, I think, because the work feels so absolutely compelling that it’s easy to overlook the fact, the fact, that there will always be so much more art than audience. There is vastly, exponentially, more great art lost and forgotten than experienced and preserved.

I don’t know. I’m thinking about a kickstarter campaign? I have no idea if there are enough Y'all fans out there -- if I can even figure out how to reach them -- to make it possible to raise that much money. I have lots of cool Y'all memorabilia I could offer as premiums. I hate to think of this film never even having a home video release.

Okay, it’s after 10 now, time to write. I'm writing a play. Hopefully more than 25 people will someday see it. Here are a few clips from Life in a Box.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Our Mother's Day Weekend.

A little after noon on Friday I got an email from the director of the adoption agency we’re working with: “Call me right away.” I emailed C to ask if he’d seen the email. He said to call him. He said, “They have a baby for us. We have to pick her up at 6.” I know my husband’s sense of humor well enough to know not to take a statement like that at face value. I said, “Really?” He said, “Really.” I said, “No, really?” And he said, “Yes, really truly.” I said, “I’m going to be really angry if this is a joke.” He said, “I’m serious,” and then I knew he was.

He told me that a woman at the hospital near the agency in Queens had given birth to a girl on Tuesday, had decided to give her up, and had chosen us based on our “Dear Birth Mother” letter, a standard part of the adoption application in which prospective adoptive parents try to communicate to a birth mother who they are, what kind of life they hope to give an adopted child, and how much they sympathize with her painful situation and respect her decision. The agency had given the mother two of these letters, both from gay couples, and she’d chosen ours, saying “It was shorter, but it was perfect.”

C gave me the name and number of a social worker who was at the hospital and said to text her so she would have my number. (C’s phone was dead and he’d left his charger at home. Of all days.) We were instructed to meet the social worker at the agency at 6 where she would give us the baby. We would keep her for the weekend, then on Monday meet the mother. At that time, she would surrender the baby to us and we’d begin the 30-day wait. (By state law – though there are similar laws in every state – a birth mother who has given up her child has 30 days in which to change her mind, no questions asked.)

Officially, we were just babysitting for the weekend, but the social worker told us she felt optimistic. The mother was smart and knew what she was doing. She has a 2-year-old son at home where she lives with her father. She wants to go to college, and she wants a better life for her daughter.

My boss and co-workers (except one manager who handles HR, because I needed a letter for the adoption agency application stating that I worked there) did not know before Friday that I was preparing to adopt. C and I had only last week been approved by the agency, and we expected a long wait. The usual scenario, from what we could gather, is that adoptive parents are selected by a pregnant woman, establish a relationship, provide some support through the pregnancy, and then adopt the baby when it’s born.

I was very conflicted about not telling them yet, because it’s a small company and they treat me very well and it just felt cagey, but I thought I’d have plenty of time to talk to my boss, let him know that this was a possibility some time in the next year, and, though C and I had decided that I would be a stay-at-home parent, I didn’t want them at work to be gearing up to replace me when for all we knew it could be a year away.

Instead, I had to hang up the phone with C, tell the owner of the company where I’ve worked for 2 ½ years that I had to leave immediately to pick up a child I was going to adopt. I didn’t add, “and if this works out, I won’t be back.” I didn’t consciously leave that out, I was just too freaked out to convey much more than, “I have to go. Right now.” On my way out the door, I said to my boss that I would let him know how everything went, and he said, “You’ll probably need some time off next week, right?”

The manager I work directly with, who is an old friend and who got me this job when I returned to New York 3 years ago with pretty much nothing, had stepped out to run an errand and missed the whole thing. I did have my wits together enough to get a kick out of thinking about her returning to the office to hear that story.

I called my mom and dad on the way to the subway, texted my brother and sister and best friends, and met C at the Babies R Us on Union Square where we bought a bassinet, diapers, formula, a few blankets, and a couple onesies. We just got what we would need for the weekend. We had to carry everything we bought to the agency and then home, so we got essentials and planned to make a more considered shopping trip next week. I called my sister K from the store and she talked me through the supplies we would need which might not occur to us, like a baby thermometer, and helped us pick out a “Pack and Play,” which is a combination portable crib, bassinet, and changing table. By this time, we’d called our parents, siblings, and best friends with our amazing sudden news, and text messages were flying back and forth all afternoon. C’s sister is expecting a baby in June, a girl too, so the timing was perfect for her to have a little girl cousin the same age.

We caught the LIRR to Little Neck where the agency is, got there an hour early so had a bite to eat at a Panera in a shopping center around the corner. The social worker called to let us know traffic was bad and she’d be late. When she arrived, she hadn’t been to the hospital yet. She picked up a car seat at the agency and left, telling us she’d be back in an hour, at the most. It was more like two.

We were watching out the window and saw her car pull up. She got out and opened the back door of her car, detached the car seat, and started across the parking lot. We ran out to meet her and hold the door open. It was chilly so she had a blanket up over the baby’s face. Inside, she set the car seat on a table. “Here she is!” she said and pulled down the blanket.

Of course all parents think their babies are beautiful, but, you know, I think babies are usually kind of weird and unformed-looking. For sure, there’s something absolutely compelling about them, tiny nascent humans with one inscrutable expression after another. Hilarious definitely, but beautiful? If I’m honest, I want to say grotesque, really, and I would if I didn’t find it hard to call a human being grotesque, but on the other hand they don’t have any idea what the word means so it’s not like you’re going to hurt their feelings.

Anyway. This child was undeniably gorgeous with her tiny head of fine black shiny hair, skin the color of pancakes, and long fingers. I picked her up and she began to fuss a little. She’d been asleep. But she snuggled into my shoulder and I bounced very gently and she dozed off again, breathing into my neck. In that moment something cracked open and in came rushing the gravity, the intensity, the wonder and magnificence of what we have decided to do. To raise a child. Here she was. This was not an idea, but a human being curled up like a pillbug in my arms and completely dependent on me not to let go of her. We brought her home.

Maybe I don’t have to say that we were not ready. Emotionally, maybe no one ever is. But I’m talking about our apartment. We have a tiny second bedroom in our apartment that we use as an office. When I’m annoyed I call it the garage, because, yes, there’s a desk and computer in there and it’s where I write, but there are also shelves full of old papers and books and things people have given us that we don’t need but can’t bear to throw away and our elliptical machine. (Shut up. We use it, not as regularly as we’d like, but we do use it.)

The office will be the baby’s room. Our plan is to to move all the stuff out, put it god knows where, paint the room yellow (pink and blue are lovely colors, but best avoided – that’s another conversation), and put in a crib. But we were waiting. It seemed unnecessary to have a nursery all set up when we might have to wait for months, especially since we didn’t know the age of the baby – we told the agency we preferred a newborn but were open to an older infant.

But we set up the bassinet in our bedroom and felt completely prepared for the short term, until we could begin making bigger changes. C figured out the slightly puzzling baby bottle, filled it, and we fed her, burped her. We changed her tiny, tiny diaper. She’s not crazy about sleeping on her own, so we took turns holding her, the other of us answering texts and emails from our mothers, sisters, friends dying to know how it was all going.

She’s on a 2-hour feeding schedule, so we didn’t expect to sleep much, and didn’t. As near as we can remember, we took turns getting up when we heard her fuss or cry. It became a bit of a fog, but I do remember one period of a couple hours when I just stood over her with my forehead on her belly so she’d stop crying but afraid to pick her up and sit in bed with her because I was so sleepy I worried I’d fall asleep and drop her or roll onto her. Eventually I brought her into the living room and sat on the couch holding her, feeling a safer sitting upright to doze with her on my chest.

In the morning, we made coffee and continued our woozy surreal life of taking turns holding her, feeding her, changing her, and staring at her as if she were a tiny alien come to simultaneously make us wonder what life was all about and tell us. In brief moments of clarity we’d wonder aloud what to do about the theater tickets we’d bought weeks or months ago: Far From Heaven, a new musical at Playwrights Horizons that I’d been looking forward to for months, and The Nance, a play by Douglas Carter Beane that takes place in the gay world of 1930s New York. And what about our vacation in Provincetown in July? We’ve rented a house for a week with a group of friends. Should we take the baby to the beach? Probably not. We’d have to call our friend who is a doula to see if she can recommend a pediatrician.

We felt, if not ready, then ready to become ready. We would learn by doing, become parents by parenting.

A little after noon, the director of the agency called on C’s phone. Seconds after picking up and saying hello, he said, “Oh, no.” And then, “We understand.” They talked for a couple minutes, but I knew exactly what was happening. The mother had been up all night crying, called the agency in the morning, and said she had changed her mind. She wanted her little girl back. The social worker would be at our house in a couple hours to retrieve the baby.

The outfit she was wearing when we got her was in the dryer, so when it was done we put it back on her, fed her, changed her, packed up a few of the things we’d bought and couldn’t use next time: a half full bottle of formula, an opened package of baby wipes. When the social worker arrived, we put the baby back in her car seat and handed her over.

C’s sister’s baby shower was Saturday afternoon, and he didn’t want to spoil the party with our sad news, so he waited. But I emailed my mom and we texted the rest of our family and friends. It wasn’t a specific kind of sadness or mourning for her. We’d really had so little time to get to know her and there was no buildup, no anticipation, it was so sudden and out of the blue and then over in 24 hours. But we did both cry some and I feel haunted by the image of that perfect beautiful tiny girl who came so close to being our daughter. I like to think of her curled up on her mother’s shoulder asleep, because I remember what that felt like, her breath on my neck.

When C finally did get to talk to his mom Saturday evening, she told him that his sister had put together a bag of baby things she could spare from her shower. She’ll put them aside for next time.