Voices from the Beyond


Today my friend M. called.  He lives in Oregon, and we spent a week together doing a workshop in like, 2009?  2010?.  He reminded me of my friend Steve, who I loved like a brother, and who disappeared from my life and community.  I told M. about this, and he said he felt an instant kinship with me.  He offered, I think, to be my new brother.

Anyhow, one week together at a workshop in Arizona, not even in the same group, and we still talk every couple months.  No awkwardness, just a jump right back into what’s really going on at the center of our lives.

I am so grateful for this.

So this morning, getting ready to go assist at Tristan Binns’ Iyengar Ropes class, then to the gym, then to meditation practice group, I just rest in one moment of utter gratitude.

I’ve adopted and been adopted by so many surrogate brothers.  I love the men in my life, their tenderness and the ways they secretly or not so secretly long for a safe place to land.  I hope, always, to be that place.  For me, being a feminist is somehow linked to this sister/brother thing that I had to break to learn how to really do.  I fight for my voice as a woman in a world that doesn’t always want to hear me.  And I listen to the men in my life, who are often terrified to speak.

And today, a day of yoga and Buddhism, I am grateful for all of it.  For my friend M., and my partner, the boy-girl one that she is, blurring all gender lines, teaching me that we can only define ourselves, and hope for a witness.

When I am open enough and wise enough to give this, I am grateful for everything.

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The Fault in Our Stars


That’s a stolen title.  From a book I just read, in which the main character is a teenager with cancer.  Read it.  If you want to be ripped open and sobbing at 2am, that is.  (Yes, like me.)

I’m just back from NYC, which always seems to be revelatory for me.  This trip, I got to see how acting, meditation and yoga come together in my life, as well as to take this little dive into early morning mortality and despair.  What a strange, strange trip we’re on (which is a misquote from the Grateful Dead, and I know it because I gave my younger sister a Dead album and then she and the next youngest brother became Dead Heads and followed the band around the country.  Oh, how our simplest actions come back to haunt us).

Anyhow, I rode Megabus back to the city, nauseated the whole way (why do I use that line?  $3 ticket is why…), and in the middle, because I couldn’t find my Ipod or my headset, and I was too nauseated to even try to read, I called my friend A., who reads Noam Chomsky and just about everyone else (though he may not have finished college, he is the smartest person I know), and talked about doing my new monologue, about a woman who’s ex neglected to watch their youngest, knowing the girl was uninhibited and impulsive, and so the girl drowned.  After 15 years of refusing to take responsibility the husband shows up to torture her again by absolving himself and threatening to take away her house (which he owns), so she kills him.

My kind of monologue.  And A., who misses nothing, said, “Why is it your kind of monologue?”  And I said, out loud on Megabus, “Because I can just really relate to a life of unbearable and endless injustice.”  And then we started cracking up.  Which is, of course, why we’re friends.  I mean, not everyone would see that as funny.

I don’t know what the people on the 6:10pm from New York to Boston thought.  Probably not my business, anyhow.

Here’s the thing–in America, we are taught to be happy.  Pretend-happy, as it turns out.  At least, I find true joy to require open heartedness and a willingness to be dashed against the rocks.  Pretend happy just requires that you pretend all the bad shit happening around you isn’t happening.  My family specialized in that kind of pretend happiness, and I couldn’t stand it.  It has left me with a lifelong passion for unpleasant truths.

So today I sat in an acting workshop in New York, having a bad day at best, watching the perfectly made up (everyone was super made up and super chosen in their outfits as only actors can be) and very talented actors try to hit.  I saw some great craft, and some very skilled acting, and heard some very great instruction.  I thought about how acting requires an ability to not be thrown while truly opening up to the unknown moment in which we live while everyone is judging you.  I thought about how acting requires a comfort in your own skin, with your own body, a comfort in revealing your personality, at least, and hopefully your soul.  I thought how I don’t want to forget that acting is about that kind of meaning and courage for me…and I do.  My ambition has always made me unhappy, because acting then becomes about staying thin, and getting my teeth fixed and other ridiculous shit.  Like every other actor, I keep asking, how do I get them to let me in the game?  And if I get too scared that they won’t, I’ll go start my own theatre company and make myself miserable.

It’s not just actors, of course.  We’re all dreaming of things we may or may not get–who knows.  And, going back to the cancer book, there are both possibilities and impossibilities.  That’s the problem, really, in this United States, where supposedly anyone can pull her or himself up by the proverbial bootstraps.  We look to the possibilities, and we are pretend-happy.  Or, we are happy where the possibilities open, and try not to deal with where they don’t.  (Jane Goodall, miracle woman, but so much trouble in her marriages.)

I love that Buddhism is the bummer religion.  I love that meditation is about coming to terms with “what is.”  I love that yoga challenges me to find the truth of my body in so many ways.  My love for unpleasant truths tells me that acting asks me these things:  1) to get over my insecurities, 2) to be relentlessly present, 3) to reveal what I most want to hide, 4) to have openhearted joy and be willing to be thrown against the rocks.  I did manage to spend years learning the craft, but if I’m not relentlessly present, the craft can be pretty useless, and if my insecurities get me, I can’t be relentlessly present.

I find, that because I relate to lives of unendurable injustice, I have a story to tell.  I find that this story is mine, and it is as much about impossibility as possibility, as much about surrender as accomplishment.  It is, in other words, a human story.  And because I relate, I have depth, but because I relate, I have insecurities.  This means I don’t find it a walk in the park to be relentlessly present.

You have to take that paradox somewhere.  I take it to the mat, to the cushion, to the page, to the phone, and then I find myself laughing with A. about the absurdity of everything.

We don’t get to be happy all the time.  As it turns out, happiness isn’t about resting, or stopping.  The real joy that comes seems to require the pursuit of something terribly difficult, a dharma you don’t necessarily get to choose.  As Stephen Cope quotes in his book, The Great Work of Your Life, “You can be anyone you want, as long as that person is you.”

This is me, at 2 in the morning, after a bad/good day, nauseated on Megabus, not relentlessly present in NYC, not having a day in which I can show who I am, and loving my friend A. because he laughed, and my partner because she understood my shame enough to give me a lift out of the hole.

This is me, understanding teenagers dying of cancer, and the impossibility and possibility of dealing with unendurable injustice.  My own, and therefore yours, and maybe, if I meditate enough, everyone’s.

This me.  May we all be well, may we all be happy, may we all be safe and protected, may we all be at peace with what is.

You Can’t Get There from Here: Chapter Four


You Can’t Get There from Here

by Lyralen Kaye

Chapter Four

            The next night, after listening to Janet talk about Thomas and his negotiations with the priests—he’d agreed to pay a generous monthly stipend, but wanted to see Beth every other weekend—Erin called her friend Patti from the kitchen phone, and made plans to go to Collette’s Bar that Friday.

“I’m going nuts,” Erin said, wrapping the phone cord around her wrist and slinging one leg up over the low partition. “My Mom is either bitching or telling me about all the ways I can help her. Beth asked if I was gay. I’m thinking of heading to Mexico. Like, yesterday.”

Patti laughed, but her voice was serious when she offered to let Erin stay at her apartment. Erin declined. She just wanted to go out. She wanted, she told Patti, to get laid.

“Better watch it,” Patti said. “You’ve got a bit of rep around here.”

“Come on!”

“You always pick someone up.” Patti’s voice was dry. “Rachel hears about it.”

“I thought we’d been through this.” Erin tucked the phone between her shoulder and head, looked around to see if Janet were nearby.  “About Rachel, I thought I told you–”

“They call you a heartbreaker.”

Erin’s leg dropped to the floor. “What do you call me, Patti?”

Patti didn’t answer. The silence stretched between them until Erin started moving, her foot tapping the floor in regular beats, like a metronome.

“Patti? You’re my best friend. What do you call me?”

“I think you’re the queen of all exits,” Patti said. “But I didn’t mean to get you upset. Let’s just go and have fun, eh? Tell your mom you’re staying over if you want.”

Erin agreed. She hung up, pale eyebrows drawn together.

She spent the day going through her backpack and doing laundry. Late in the afternoon, she borrowed Janet’s car, drove over the bridge into Portsmouth, staring at the ice floes, the strong currents eddying dark in the gray light of winter. She parked in town, stopped to talk to a travel agent about Mexico. Then she went to the bank where she kept the money she’d earned during her two years in Japan—the most money she’d ever made in her life, and she’d managed to save nearly all of it. Once, she thought she saw a gold car snaking through traffic behind her, but she couldn’t be certain. When she’d left the house, Janet had been on the phone with Thomas’ lawyer, arranging visitation with Beth. Thomas would see her for the first time in over a month on Saturday, and had asked if Erin might come along.

“No way,” Erin said to Janet. “What does he think this is, old home week?”

Janet frowned. “Think of me,” she said. “And of your sister—”

“Forget it, Mom,” Erin said. Then she’d grabbed the car keys and headed for the door.

Now, she looked back over her shoulder. No gold car. But Thomas wanted her back, and Erin knew how he was. Apologies and gifts would follow her like a virus, as they had when she’d been studying in Paris. She had known then to send them back, to build a fortress of refusals. But this time she could feel the jacket he’d bought for her settling over her shoulders like a belief in love. She kept seeing his broken skin, the slack flesh around his jaw. She tried to steel her body back into strength, tried to tell herself she didn’t feel sorry enough for him to do what he wanted.

Before she drove home, Erin stopped at the Portsmouth mall, where, counting out the bills like days she was giving up in Mexican cities, she bought more Christmas presents for her mother and sister, the conservative sweaters and skirts Janet liked, new leather sneakers and an IPod for Beth along with a gift certificate for ITunes. Then, she bought a stereo for Patti’s truck.

Janet was in the kitchen when Erin came in. Her head was bent over a laptop, her blonde hair gathered back from her face with a scarf, a navy turtleneck hugging her chin. She looked up and smiled at Erin with just a small turn at the edge of her lips. Erin noticed the plea in her mother’s eyes just before Janet began to speak.

“I’m looking for a job,” Janet said. “I’m afraid it’s rather hopeless. I don’t even know what to do. Your father never wanted me to work.”

Erin stopped, raised a blonde eyebrow. “You want to get a job?”

Janet nodded. She looked back down at the laptop’s screen. “Beth’s in school,” she said. “And we’ll need money. There’s a job here, just temporary, at city hall. It’s on a computer, typing in records. They say they’ll train.”

“Email them,” Erin said.

Janet turned all the way around in her chair so she faced Erin, her arms upturned at her sides, her face open in appeal. “I don’t know how.  To write a resume.  Or what to say to them.” She looked at Erin from under her lashes. “Would you ever do it for me?”

Erin started to shake her head.

“Just this once? To find out what I should do?” Janet looked up into Erin’s face. “It’s so easy for you, Erin.”

Erin head tucked down toward her chest. She started to blow up her bangs, then stopped herself. She looked at her mother.

“Please?” Janet said. “It’s really hard for me.”

Erin looked at her mother for a long moment, her stomach tight with pity. She pulled up a chair, opened Word, and typed in her mother’s name, address and phone number.  “Tell me what you’ve done at the church in the last five years,” Erin said.  “That’s your job experience.”

Janet ticked off duties—household budgets, shopping, taking messages, scheduling home and hospital visits.

“And you do all this for free?” Erin asked, typing quickly.

“I’m happy to do what I can,” Janet told her.

Erin opened Gmail, created an account, taught her mother how to hit send.  She wrote an email and attached the resume.

“Thank you, Erin, really,” her mother answered. “I never could have done that.”

“You can do it now,” Erin said.

“I don’t know.”

Erin began to pick a thread out of the fraying cuff of her leather jacket. “I may not be here next time.”

“You could be,” Janet said.

“I’m heading to Mexico after–”

“And you’re a good daughter to help your mother,” Janet told her. “Thank you.”

Erin frowned. “I’m not a good anything,” she answered.

Janet stared, her cameo face stripped of artifice, vulnerable. Her hands clasped and unclasped on the table top, so Erin sighed, then explained how to save the resume into a file folder, how to attach it, how to make changes if the job had a different focus, the words like gates trying hard to stay closed. Janet’s green eyes grew wide as Erin handed her a pen, made her take notes. For a moment, Erin wanted to touch her mother’s hair, hold her as she would a child, say it would be alright. She clenched her fists. She couldn’t afford to love her mother, couldn’t afford to remember that once, after days of grounding and hitting Erin, Janet had gone to a parenting class at church and had come home with an assignment to tell Erin what she loved most about her. Voice thin with effort, she’d told Erin she loved her protectiveness, the way Erin always noticed when something was wrong. Erin had been sure, when Janet reported back to the parenting class, that her mother would get an A, but what Erin remembered was the strain, as if saying anything good about her daughter cost effort, as if it were work. Another time, when Erin was a teenager, Janet had come up behind her in the bathroom, touched the long strands of Erin’s hair, let the pale red-gold silk drift through her fingers, and said the word pretty. Both times, Erin fell inward, collapsing into the detonating force of her mother’s approval, the desire to hold it, to find an way to inhabit that brief moment forever. But almost immediately she felt the moorings of her life begin to disappear. Without the familiar structure of anger and distance, Erin thought she might fade away completely.

Now, she dug her fingernails into her palms. She finished the job instructions, picked up the bags of presents, and walked up the stairs to her room, thinking of Patti’s moon face, her stubborn chin. Erin couldn’t wait for the evening to come. For the first time in days, she might be around people who possessed some form of sanity.

*                        *                        *

Erin left the house at nine, telling her mother and sister she was going out and wouldn’t be home until the next day. Identical frowns creased both their faces. When her father had lived there, and Erin came to visit, no one had ever spoken about when Erin came and went, where she slept. But now four tiny lasers circled Erin all the time, trying to hold her in place. She walked down the gravel driveway in darkness, thinking of the maps tucked into her backpack like tickets—to the beaches of Cancun, the ruins and waterfalls in the jungles of the Yucatan.

Patti’s truck was parked at the end of the road. Opening the door, Erin slid into the cab next to Patti’s new lover, a woman she hadn’t really met, only seen asleep the first night she’d arrived. Older, gray haired, the woman had a face so young it shone. Patti’s lovers were always at least ten years her senior; they always left Patti at the first sign of trouble. Now, Erin looked over the woman’s shoulder at Patti and grinned mischief, her nose crinkling. Patti started to protest, shaking her head.

“You’re a lot younger than Patti’s last girlfriend,” Erin said to the woman.

Patti’s lover turned. “Really? Tell me about her. Patti won’t.”

“Shut up, Erin,” Patti said. “Older women are great.”

“That’s why I like you.” The woman leaned over and kissed Patti on the cheek before turning back to Erin. “You don’t agree?”

“Erin’s an equal opportunity lover,” Patti said. “Over-twenty females is her only criterion.”

“We’re not talking about me,” Erin said. “We’re talking about your ex.” Erin turned to look at the gray-haired woman. “She was a jerk, that’s why Patti doesn’t like to talk about her. She left, what, two days after your grandmother’s funeral?” Patti glared, but Erin continued. “And Patti’s grandmother was the only one who still talked to her then.” Erin lifted an eyebrow, kept her eyes on the woman’s face. “We’d hate to see something like that happen again. I mean, Patti’s got the most generous heart of anyone I’ve ever known.”

The woman stared at Erin.

“Ignore her,” Patti said. “She gets really obnoxious after she sees her family. Plus, she thinks she’s my mother. Make sure you get her permission if you every want to ask for my hand in marriage.”

“I think it’s terrible that anyone did that to you,” the woman said, laying a hand on Patti’s arm. “You should have told me.”

“That’s what we want to hear,” Erin said, relaxing against the seat.

“Yeah,” Patti said. “Right. Can we talk about something else, please?” She frowned at Erin, muttering her heart wasn’t so generous she wouldn’t consider a well-placed kick to shut a certain person up, but then Erin smiled and her pale eyes held Patti’s affectionately until her friend’s face softened.

“Okay,” Patti said, turning her eyes to the road. “I’m a fucking saint. Now what else is new? Really.”

The rest of the ride was punctuated with loud laughs from Patti and her partner as Erin told the story of her mother asking Erin to help her get a job.

“Maybe I should go to the interview in disguise,” Erin said. “In drag, most likely. Pretending I’m her.”

Patti hunched over the steering wheel, laughing, but when they parked in downtown Portsmouth and got out of the truck, Patti touched Erin’s arm. “You alright?”

“My father gets to see Beth tomorrow morning,” Erin whispered.

“Shit,” Patti said, shoving a clump of thick hair behind her ear. “You better not be there. Want to have breakfast at my house? If you can keep your mouth shut, that is.”

“I’ll be good,” Erin said. “I just do it because I love you, you know.”

“Yeah, yeah. Family sucks and lovers leave.” Erin held up her hand; Patti high-fived her. An awkward silence filled the truck.  “It’s just something we say,” Patti told her girlfriend.

“After her last girlfriend, you can see why,” Erin explained.

The woman looked from one of them to the other. “Okay,” she finally said. “Whatever.”

They pulled into the parking lot and got out of the truck.

“How to win friends and influence people,” Erin whispered to Patti.

“Fuck you,” Patti whispered back.

“In your dreams,” Erin said. “Now go make up with your girl.”

They walked into the half-light of the bar. From upstairs the sound of guitars and women’s voices floated down like smoke, but the ground floor fanned noise forward from pool tables in the back toward an empty dance floor up front. Erin breathed deeply, slid through the women at the bar and bought three beers and a shot of tequila. She tossed the shot back as soon as the bartender put it in front of her, took a breath that ignited the burn in her throat, then carried the beers to Patti and her lover, whose heads bent toward each other, talking intently. Erin handed them their beers, then backed away.

She went to the pool table, signed up to compete. Erin racked up, knocked three stripes in, dominated the first game. And she kept winning, so long after Patti and her lover had made up and gone to talk to friends, Erin still bent over the table, the cue’s narrow tip staining her fingers chalk blue. She’d been drinking all along, lining up her beer bottles on a wall shelf to keep track. By the fourth game, she’d had seven.

In between games, she’d move out of the light and lean on her pool cue, one hip jutting out, her T-shirt pulled tight over her breasts. A ball of heat grew in her belly as she watched the women. Sometimes, when one walked by, she’d make eye contact, a smile breaking surface on her face. One woman stared at her, frowning; Erin swore at her softly, turned back to the pool table, but underneath the breath of cold, she could feel warmth. She played another game and won, then asked for a break. She walked to the bar, conscious of her movements. She surveyed the room quickly. A woman was watching, her eyes dark in a face that shone copper and brown. Spain, Erin thought, Latina. The woman started walking toward Erin, her movements slow as summer.

Erin leaned back against the wooden lip of the bar, stretched out her legs. When she took the woman’s hand into hers, gave the woman her name, breath eased out of her mouth in one long slow sigh.

“I’m playing pool,” Erin said. “I’ll be done soon. Then we can dance.”

“Don’t you forget.” The woman cocked her head to one side. One hand touched the end of Erin’s braid.

Erin tipped her head to the side. “No worries,” she said.

Back at the pool table, her first shot sent three balls into corner pockets. She won easily. Occasionally, she looked up into the line cast by the other woman’s gaze, let it reel her a step forward.  Then, near the end of the game, she spun around and saw Rachel at the bar, dark curls falling over a thin face with its pointed chin and delicate bones—a face that looked only slightly different than Erin remembered, a little older, less innocent, but still open, Erin thought, still carrying that odd mixture of intelligence and bewilderment, as if the world Rachel longed for was just out of reach.

Erin didn’t know what to do. She hadn’t seen Rachel since they’d both graduated college, hadn’t really talked to her since they’d broken up in their sophomore year. Rachel lifted a bottle of mineral water, drank. Her face, with its sharp and asymmetrical bones, was too oddly shaped for prettiness, but her deep set-eyes were beautiful. She watched Erin without smiling and lifted a hand.

Erin signaled she’d come over and talk, then went back to the pool game. She’d been leading by four balls, but she lost badly, missing every shot. She stood staring at the floor, memorizing its cigarette burns and beer stains, turning the cue around and around in her hand. When the game was over, she high-fived the woman who’d beaten her, a wry twist to her lips. Then she walked across the room to Rachel, smiling first at the woman who waited for her near the dance floor.

“Still the same?” Rachel asked, her head tilted toward the woman.

“Rach,” Erin said, softly. “Does it matter?”

Rachel looked up, and their eyes met. Erin felt heat rising in her face. She started rubbing her own pale arm with blue-stained fingers, leaving behind streaks and dust.

“I’m sorry,” Erin said suddenly. “You know I am.”

“Let’s not do this,” Rachel told her. Then she sighed and tried to smile. “What country you in from anyhow?”

“Spain.”

“So tell me about it. How come they got gay marriage if they’re so Catholic?”

Erin started explaining the country, the women she’d known. Rachel wanted to know about Judaism in Spain, about the history of the Inquisition and the effects of the Holocaust, how the European Union had changed the culture. Erin answered her questions, feeling the slide into familiarity, something she couldn’t afford: warmth, the light of ideas in Rachel’s eyes, the remembered feel of small hands on her face, the way Rachel’s fingers had whispered over the bruises that stained the oblong plates of Erin’s quadriceps, thighs, shoulders, back. Rachel had hidden Erin in her bedroom late at night, after Thomas had thrown Erin from his house, made love to Erin as if her skin might break if Rachel didn’t touch her so gently. At the end of high school, Erin had lived with Rachel’s family until she could move to Provincetown for the summer.

“I wish you could see these places,” Erin said.

Rachel looked away. “Sometime,” she answered.

“My mother kicked my father out of the house,” Erin said. “That’s why I’m here.”

Rachel turned to face her. “Oh Erin,” she said.

“He wants to see me.”

“Why? He in the mood to break someone’s arm?”

Erin’s shoulders curved forward.

Rachel reached out a hand, put it over Erin’s longer and paler fingers. “I’m sorry, but I saw what you looked like after he hit you, remember?”

Erin wanted to lean into Rachel, give over all the tiredness that hovered just under her skin. A mistake, she thought. I keep making the same mistake. Then she felt a hand on her elbow. She followed its pressure, looked into the dark eyes of the woman she’d picked for the night. Her body went cold.

“Go ahead,” Rachel said.

Erin looked at her.

“It’s okay.” Rachel let her fingers brush so lightly over Erin’s that Erin wasn’t sure if they’d actually touched her or not. “Just be careful at home, all right? Take care of yourself.” Then she turned away.

Erin’s pale eyes followed her, stunned. But when the other woman took her hand, Erin walked out onto the dance floor. She glanced back to where Rachel was standing. Some woman had come to join her. Their heads bent close; they kissed.  Erin lifted her head and felt each small mirror of the strobe light bounce off her skin. She began to dance. When the woman reached for her, held her waist with both hands, Erin let herself slide forward. Rachel had someone, didn’t she? It didn’t matter what Erin did now.

*                        *                        *

They kissed in the bar, then outside, in the shadows of a Portsmouth alley, their hands inside each other’s coats, searching for skin. Their breath steamed into each other’s mouths. Erin thought, Now, here, I don’t care about anything. But the woman was already pulling away, laughing, leading Erin to her car, a Honda with Massachusetts plates. They began to make love on the leather seats, their clothing opening under each other’s fingers. Erin tried to push Rachel’s face from her mind—the tangle of dark curls, the stubborn off-center chin, but it hovered even as Erin moved her mouth over the other woman’s breasts, as she shut her eyes, leaned back, let herself move into forgetfulness.

When it was over, Erin hungered for more, for the woman’s skin, rich and textured, for a deeper erasure of Rachel’s touch, of her parents’ voices. They went to Patti’s, where the door was open, a note left for Erin to be quiet. They spoke only in whispers, going to the kitchen for hot drinks, but as the woman backed Erin up against a counter their breathing grew deep, exhales coming with force, like wind, like tides. Erin’s mug crashed onto the tiled floor; she heard Patti’s voice in the bedroom. The woman asked if she should stop, but Erin waited only a moment, and when Patti didn’t appear, pulled the woman’s body against her own.

Finally, toward morning, they fell asleep. Erin woke to the woman kissing her good-bye. She watched the long slow movements of the woman’s body as she dressed, as she walked to the door. They didn’t ask for each other’s number. Erin lay back down, tossed her braid out from under her shoulder, and went back to sleep.

Ayurvedic Cleanse, Day 4: Surrender and…Being Female


I felt my body give in.  Just a noticeable shift…I will stop fighting you.  And then the intuition that instead of ending the cleanse early tonight, I’ll extend and do the purgation on Sunday night and end on Monday when I have a day off.  Meaning, on Monday I’ll eat rice, and then on Tuesday I start reintegrating foods.

So, I’m sitting here burping rice bran oil with a sense of serenity.

Hey, if it can happen for me, it can happen for anyone.  (Of course, the day is just starting and it has therapy in it, yuck, but probably good, because the anniversary of Don’s death is approaching and I miss him so much.)

Anyhow, with surrender comes a question–who taught me to be a woman?  I mean, I’m working with men and have asked them who taught them to be a man, and what that lesson was…with surprising results, I might add; and I’ve read this new book about it, that adds to my collection of men’s movement literature.

In the men’s movement, the premise is that only a man can initiate another man into manhood.  The unhappiness of so many men, they say, is the absence of a connection to their fathers.  To make happier men, we must make better, more loving, more available and connected fathers.

I get that.

But what about women?

I find that many of the women of my generation did not admire their mothers, did not feel positively connected, and did not want to follow their mothers’ paths into womanhood.  Low end jobs, being a housewife, lacking power in the world, dependence on a husband–the women of my generation sought a different life, including equal partnerships with men, whether or not they were able to find them.  And for those of us who are queer, the path was unbroken–not that there weren’t brave people forging the way ahead of us, but that being fully out was rare.  Just being out and being with another woman started us into the garden…

I always crack jokes about my German mother.  When I’m not cracking jokes about my inappropriate Irish father.  And while I don’t want to do a stroll down childhood lane, with all its monsters and heroes, it seems important to look at who taught me to be a woman, and what it means to be a female.

I love being a woman.  People perceive me as powerful, and I have all this experience of being with men, and disliking my own vulnerability, and hating to process (I mean, I HATE to process), which is hardly typical.  But for me being female is about getting to love beauty without hiding, being intuitive, and inward, and into flow, listening to the world, loving with sensitivity, being utterly receptive, easily moved by what’s around me…it’s about getting to embody the feminine principle without shame.  I may not like to be openly vulnerable with many people, but I love the tides of emotions, and how they rise, fall, open you to newness, to landing in right now.  I love getting to change my mind, and how I am, truly, in my essential nature, endlessly fluid, airy and mutable.

I also love the little give in my body when my partner, who nurtures me in a very masculine way, opens my car door, or takes my hand, or looks into my face with a very particular strength–it’s a sexual thing, responding naturally to masculinity–I mean, I am so very yin, when you uncover me.  And there is power in that…I love the power in femininity.  The confidence of being a strong, intelligent woman, who no one better f&*k with.  I love friendships with other women, the kind of friendship in which nothing is hidden…I’ve gotten to have that, over and over, in my nomadic life.

But I don’t know who taught me to love being a woman.  My father contradicted himself constantly–sometimes treating me like a boy/tomboy as we hung out with his friends–in those moments, he told me the world was mine to claim.  But if I crossed some invisible line, suddenly I was a girl and not equal any more.  My mother believed that women should never compete with men, should shore up men’s egos, hide their intelligence.  She also thought that women were catty and untrustworthy and didn’t have close female friends.  My mother didn’t join the women’s movement when it came along, and never moved beyond a secretarial position though she was noticeably intelligent and had a college degree.  I’m not sure what she felt to be her life’s purpose, or that she would have told me if she knew.  We just didn’t get along most of the time; and she wasn’t much for confidences of that nature, period.

I had female advocates and mentors outside the family right along–teachers, mostly.  I saw women who were strong, who did what they believed in…and those who didn’t.  But if I think of who taught me how to be a woman, I go to Maria Dolores Garcia Fraile in Sevilla, Spain.  Maria Dolores had left her husband in Catholic Spain in the late 1970’s/early 1980’s, after Franco.  He was cheating on her; she thought she deserved better, so she kicked him out and began to take in American students for income.  She had dark hair with dark gold highlights dyed in, stood as tall as me (I’m 5’8″), with olive skin, and green eyes blurred by the beginning of cataracts.  She taught me to dance Sevillana in her kitchen, and I’ll never forget that–the turn of our hands in the air, the challenge and sexuality of the dance, of her, but no attraction, just a woman who owned her power, her selfhood, her life force and sexuality, effortlessly, with pleasure.  She had courage, Maria Dolores.  From the beginning, I bonded to her as I never had with my own mother, and if there was a rite of passage to be had, she led me through.  She never said these words to me overtly, though we talked about our lives in great detail once my Spanish improved, but this is the message I received:  Make your own life.  Leave who you have to leave, bear what you have to bear, but bear it with pride, with the pride of knowing who you are, with your passions and your ability to love intact because you have not betrayed yourself and in some way you never will.  Love being a woman for its richness, for being able to ground down into feeling, for being able to create life, and a life, in whatever way you do so.  Go.  Go find out what the world has for you.

It was quite a send-off, when my year with her ended.  She didn’t want me to return to my family because she knew my parents were bad for me, but she didn’t hold me, either.  I was 23.

I remember her lesson because it was the one I chose, because I wanted someone to believe in me who knew me intimately, like a mother, and she was that person.  Metta for you, Maria Dolores.  In this moment of remembering.  On this day.  For all you gave me.  You were an emotionally generous woman, and there is nothing better that a woman can be.

Metta.

Prom


The devised theatre piece I’m working on at Stoneham Theatre is entitled PROM, and we’re making it from scratch.  The people involved are so talented and smart it’s like going to heaven.

Which, for some reason, has me thinking positives thoughts about my own proms, remembering them.  I mean, of course, I hated prom.  I am too non-conformist to like prom, and perhaps going to my proms kicked whatever desire to fit in was left right out of me.  I mean, two evenings of feeling uncomfortable in my own skin and not knowing why.  Not fun.  Why did I go?  Maybe because I wanted to be another girl entirely, maybe because I was beginning to realize I would not have one normal American experience–that everything I did:  high school, dating, prom, college, adult life–would be outside the boundaries of normal.  I had half-embraced the notoriety of this, but I still wished for the dream we are all promised.  Of course, because of this, I remember both my proms as nightmares.  But the truth is, both had really good things about them.

It’s senior prom that has captured my attention.  I didn’t drink by then, didn’t get high or do drugs like the other people my age, had no intention of partying or having sex.  I just wanted to go and have it be…something.  I asked my friend Reed to take me–I was 18, so he was 20 or 21, and so beautiful.  Long dark hair to his waist, smooth unblemished skin, dark eyes, slim hips, part Native American, he had grown up outside the norm, was a hippie and had hippie friends.  We worked together, and had become close, which surprised me at first–he seemed so out of my league, really, when I first started at the restaurant…older, beautiful, sophisticated, very, very smart.

Anyhow, Reed took me to prom.  He asked me about the other girls, the teachers, about the facts of my life at this school–which I never told anyone about.  He was attentive that way, caring, the whole night.  I felt so awkward that my other conversations felt painful, so it was mostly just us.  I was embarrassed I couldn’t have a better time or make sure he did.  So it wasn’t until now that I remember how wonderful he was to me.

When I dropped him off–no after-party, just prom and the letdown, and going home–he kissed me.  We’d fooled around a little once (which he followed by calling me up as soon as he got home to tell me that he still respected me and I shouldn’t worry about that), but we were friends.  No romantic anything.  But it was the sweetest kiss–I remember it now, the little smile on his face as he bent toward me, the feel of his lips, that attentiveness, that generosity.  It was a kiss that said, I love you, and I am going to give you the best prom kiss I can, because I am your friend and you deserve this.

I think back to that girl, to her terrible hope that prom would lighten the hardships in her life, and in the middle of learning that it wouldn’t, that nothing would, this gesture of kindness, generosity and love.

When he pulled away I looked at him in wonder.  I had kissed before, of course, but it still was a first–to be kissed by someone who knew and loved me, who understood, who gave out of understanding.  I hadn’t been in love yet, but remembering, letting myself really know that kiss, I feel a sense of awe.  How lucky I have been in my friendships.  How well I have been loved.  How much people have wished goodness for me.  How lucky I was to have him.

And here’s the funny thing–I understand his tenderness toward the girl I used to be.  He used to say, “I can’t wait to see what you’re going to be like once you get out of Catholic school.”  I was terrifically young in some of the ways I approached life and life’s passages.  But Reed and I grew close because we were both so sensitive and smart, because we had trouble with our families, because we could talk to each other in a way we couldn’t talk to other people.  We spent hours on the phone.  We spoke the same language.  I think we just liked to be together.

And here’s the thing, I might not have been able to say to him that I knew what he’d been trying to give me, but I would bet you anything he saw it in my face.

“Thank you,” I said before he shut the car door.

Metta for Reed, still back in hometown USA.  May gestures of kindness and love follow him everywhere.  I was a very lonely girl.  And he loved me.