Sunday, December 7, 2014

Song of the Morning



A Christmas morning like so many others. The pajama pack sat, each in their designated spots surrounded by their particular pile of presents. The mother was the only one not sitting, busying herself in the kitchen with pans of bacon and eggs, lending fragrance to an already warm scene.



Five mostly grown kids bantered back and forth while the grandfather, who was blind, sipped his first coffee carefully, using the tentative tip of his index finger to test the temperature of the steamy liquid. The oldest child, a wild and restless young man who hardly ever came home to visit, was playing his mother’s guitar and singing softly by the bay window. The porch wind chime, pealing its random carol, seemed to ding in time.

The boy’s grandmother came and sat beside him. Suffering the cruel confusion and ravaging agitation brought on by Alzheimer's Disease, the grandmother perched on the love seat by the sun-streamed window with her wiry and ginger-haired firstborn grandson. He turned slightly toward her, serenading her with his guitar.

Her agitation melted and she began singing along, oblivious to the fact that she did not have a clue about his song or its lyrics. No matter. Grandmother and grandson shared a moment -- an unexpected gift.

It was to be the gift of the year.

The grandmother passed away in her sleep one cold January night, a short month later, her departure catching everyone unawares. As her casket was guided down the church aisle by her five grandchildren, the oldest grandson broke away from his siblings and walked up the shallow marble steps to the lectern where his mother’s guitar waited. Pulling the strap over his head, he took a breath and sang to his grandmother, one last time.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

A Mother's Prayer

No mother's son should die.
No mother's son should be the target of ignorant hate. Ever.
No mother's son should be afraid to go to school, the corner store, the local library.
No mother's son.

No mother's son should beat his girlfriend.
No mother's son should abandon his children.
No mother's son should steal and threaten.
No mother's son.

A mother's son should honor his mother.
His sister. His girlfriend.

A mother 's dream for her son is for
peace
prosperity
honesty
love

This is the prayer of the mother,
for her son.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Playing Music Loud in the House

a nod to Jamaica Kincaid


Wear your hat in church; if you forget your hat, you must put a kleenex on your head; make sure your uniform skirt goes to the middle of your knee; when you dust the furniture, make sure you dust the legs too; when you mow the lawn, go from side to side and don't forget to overlap a little each time; why don't you play with Alex anymore? He has been your friend since you were two; I think he likes you; Is there another boy that you like at school? I heard Jimmy asked you to the prom; I will make your dress for you; we will go to the pattern store and pick one out; how about this one? it has a modest neckline and if we use yellow material, Jimmy can wear a matching shirt; I want to go to prom, but not with Jimmy; I want to have fun with my girlfriends; why did you break up with Jimmy? he is such a nice boy; except for his music -- so loud; don't play your music so loud in the house, it gives me a headache; it's not really music; why did you cut your hair? you look like a boy now; if you don't go to Mass every Sunday, it will be a mortal sin on your soul; when you go away to college, find a Catholic church and go to Mass; don't let hippies influence you; don't have sex until you are married; don't read The Godfather; don't read the National Enquirer -- it will be a mortal sin on your soul; it is better if you marry a Catholic boy; I don't want to marry a boy at all; when are you going to give us grandchildren? You don't ask my brothers that question! You should raise my grandchildren Catholic -- it is the one true church; which church is better -- the one Jesus Christ started or the one Martin Luther started? Why don't you quit working and stay home with your children; that's what I did when I got pregnant with your brother; don't breastfeed in public, go to the ladies room if you have to; come visit for Christmas; help with the dishes, and, no, the men don't have to help, let them talk at the table; take care of me now that I am getting older and senile; your brothers are busy, it is your responsibility, you are the daughter; but when do I get to do the things I want to do? Go where I want, play my music loud in the house? After I am gone, after your children are grown; it's a good thing I won't live to see you divorce, come out, good that I won't hear your music loud in the house; it would kill me.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Montauk Night

"Mom, do you want to come down to 
the beach and look for shooting stars?"

Margery startled awake at her teenage daughter's entry and entreaty. "Um sure. Give me five minutes." She flipped off the motel TV and rummaged for a sweatshirt. Zoe was already outside on the second floor deck of Daunt's Albatross West, staring at the clear August night sky, oblivious to the beer-and-red-solo-cup revery down below.

"Okay, I'm ready," Margery said, fumbling with the room key with the large plastic oval bearing the mostly rubbed-out room number. Room 27. They all noted the coincidence on arrival. Their house number was 27, as was the house numbers of three of their good friends. 
And Margery knew -- but didn't say out loud -- the eerie significance 27 had in the music world. All those famous rockers who died young -- Jimi, Janis, Kurt, Jim -- they were all 27. Margery shivered a little, aware that her oldest son, who was not there on this particular trip, was also 27.

Since Zoe's sister Kasey and Kasey's boyfriend (also named Casey) were already asleep downstairs, Margery and and she set out together. The beach was a block away, with a sandy easement that ushered the ocean novice in with awesome simplicity. Zoe was the baby of the family, the youngest of five and had, in her younger years, been very close to her mother. "Joined at the hip," Margery often said, indicating Zoe's old familiar perch on her right hip.

These days they were often at odds, fighting over anything, it seemed. That Zoe wanted her mother to join her on the beach was miracle enough to get the exhausted Margery up and out. 

The sky was awash with stars! A net of white Christmas lights hurled across the sky, wrapped in a milky band that traveled west to east. Margery rummaged through her youthful memories, looking for the file marked "Astronomy Class 1972." This elusive file contained the names and locations of the five major constellations, which, on a clear night, could be seen without a telescope. At one time she could look up and find them all. Now she was not so sure.

"There's Ursa Major and Ursa Minor." She pointed up. "And there's the North Star, attached to Ursa Minor. 

"Where's Orion's Belt?" Zoe asked.

They walked along the cooling sand, flip flops in hand, until they came to a soft flat spot. Pulling up their hoodies, they lay down, shoulder's touching and goose-bumped knees extended. "I'm not sure," Margery said, searching the sky for those elusive three stars, lined up like marching soldiers.

Just then, a star, a faded one, shot away from its assigned spot and arched away into oblivion. "Wow!" Zoe was excited. "I've never seen an actual shooting star before!" Margery smiled at her daughter's exuberance. Her smile remained fixed as the two stayed in their spots for the next hour, talking about stars and siblings.

She was glad the single tear that ran down into her left ear was invisible to Zoe who was lying on her right. This last of her five constellations would soon be shooting off into her own wider space. Margery felt a twinge in her right hip.




Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Invisible



           Nothing notable about him.

He owned exactly two suits, one a blue pinstripe, and the other a milk chocolate brown. He had two pairs of shoes to go with his suits, black and brown wingtips that made his feet appear  large and hobbit-like when holding up his diminutive frame. He had black hair, parted on the left -- a little too greasy -- and matching black framed glasses.

Joseph Perry was twenty-seven, but looked older. The most interesting thing about him was his salt-and-pepper beard. Sometimes a whole thing, connected ear to ear and detouring over his lip, and sometimes, a lopsided goatee, with the ear connectors removed. It was clear he lived alone (unless one counted the elderly couple living downstairs) by the inept way he attempted to groom himself for his fidgety flock of fifth graders at Saint Edward the Confessor School. But always a collar tab stuck out at an unruly angle, a tie knot slightly off to the right, one sideburn a little longer that the other. A teacher rendition of Maynard G. Krebs.

Miss Byczek, the tall, willowy science teacher with Cher-straight long, black hair, light pink nail polish and an unbelievably even tan, walked by him without a glance. The even shorter and nerdier French teacher Henri Mageean, a mouse of a man with a ridiculous pencil mustache, was not put off. "Bonjour, Mademoiselle," he sonorized in his made-up mash of British and French accents.

Both Henri and Joseph lay awake at night in their respective one-room flats, imagining themselves with the floaty, enigmatic Miss Byczek. During the school day, only Henri, either by pluck or idiocy, spoke to her, his large nose only reaching her sternum. However much Joseph saw the silliness in Henri, he had to admire his bravery. How many times since the beginning of the school year had he rehearsed a casual greeting, a subtle arm brush in the hall? Every time the moment opened up, he froze, blinking harder and faster behind his black plastic frames, his lower lip quivering invisibly beneath the jet black beard.
The clock radio woke him. 

Cousin Brucie’s caffeinated voice jarred him into a sitting position. He smacked the off button on top of the plastic radio (a free gift when he opened his first grown-up bank account) wiped the sleep spittle from his beard and rolled sideways off the futon which doubled as his daytime couch. “Davenport,” he thought, smiling a bit, remembering the funny word his midwest grandma used for such furniture.

Joseph shuffled into the kitchenette, plugged in the hotpot and reached into the metal cabinet for his can of Maxwell House. While waiting for the water to heat, he opened a can of A&P cat food, scooped out its contents onto a melamine saucer and placed it on the windowsill. Leaning out the open window, he pursed his lips, making a soft psss-ing sound. Within five seconds, a skinny tuxedo cat appeared with a dead mouse in her teeth. She dropped the gift on the sill and looked expectantly at him. “Your welcome,” she said, and began eating from the saucer.

After showering and beard trimming, Joseph put on his remaining clean white dress shirt. “Blue or brown?” he wondered, grimacing inwardly at his own poverty. He remembered it was Wednesday and therefore the day of the weekly teachers' meeting. He opted for the blue suit. "More sophisticated," he thought. That meant black socks, black belt and black wingtips. His tie of choice (he owned three) was navy blue with pink paisley amoeba swimming throughout.

Joseph grabbed his worn book bag and headed out the door. The elderly woman who lived with her toothless husband in the downstairs apartment, was watering geraniums on the stoop. "Morning," Joseph mumbled, rushing past her, not wanting to seem rude, but not wanting to encourage a conversation that would reveal his ignorance of her name (was it Edna? Elba? Irma?). He needn't have worried, since she did not even bother to look up.

His car was parked two blocks away. It was a Datsun 240 Z, a cool car, which, had it been new, would be wildly beyond Joseph's means. His was navy blue, like his suit, and was no longer shiny. Its sides were sprinkled with dings and rust spots and the driver side door creaked as he opened it. Nevertheless, Joseph loved his car so much that he had given it a name and believed it had a soul. Pepe, he christened it, after his late father. In reality, Pepe Pereira was far from dead, but had disappeared when Joseph was a child. Rumor had it that he had returned to Guatemala, and had fathered twenty more children since his dalliance with Joseph's mother. But Joseph preferred to think of his father as a hard-working-but-unfortunate immigrant who lost his life in some sort of mysterious, heroic way.
Pepe (the car) whined and complained as Joseph woke him into action. After four tries, Pepe finally gave in. Joseph pulled away from the curb and rumbled off to St. Edward's School.

He arrived late. Pepe had cause problems on the way, stalling and coughing. When Joseph finally walked into the conference room, the meeting was already in progress. He found a metal folding chair and sat down behind a group of nuns. He didn’t know their names -- they taught the younger grades -- and even if he did, they were not the women’s real names. Sister Mary Alphonsus, Sister Mary Norbert, Sister Mary Francis. Looking at the back of their veiled heads, he wondered what their actual given names might be. Betty? Sally? Judy?

Joseph was amusing himself so thoroughly, he did not hear his name called at first. “Mr. Perry? Are you with us today?” Sister Mary Sebastian the school’s perpetually red-faced principal was at the head of the table. Joseph stood up. Henri Mageean was also standing (had he been the whole time? And why does he look like he’d been crying?) “This affects you too, I’m afraid,” she continued. “The bishop has decided that all the elementary schools in the diocese should should be taught only by women, either the lay women teachers, or by the Sisters of Mercy.”

More like the Sisters of NO Mercy, he thought, smiling at his own joke in spite of the seriousness of the moment. He shrugged and looked over at Miss Byczek. She was not affected by this sweeping edict, so why, then did she also look like she was going to cry? She was looking back at him with what appeared to be real concern. It seemed odd to be so much taller than she at this moment, since she was sitting, one tanned willowy leg crossed over the other, and he was still standing.
The meeting ended and the teachers gathered their things to head off to their classrooms. Joseph straightened his paisley tie (was that a stain?) and reached for his briefcase. “I’m so sorry Joseph.” Miss Byczek was standing next to him, touching his coat sleeve. He froze for a moment. “It’s okay,” he stammered, frozen with instant fear, and at the same time, ecstatic that she knew his first name. It has been very nice working with you, Lucille.” “It’s Lorraine,” she said, flipping her hair and walking off. 



Tuesday, August 12, 2014

A Brooklyn Afternoon


“Savlanut, my bubela, savlanut!”
Patience. Hard for a seven-year-old dervish with payos flying.
Patience. Babbi was not old, but wearied faster these days than when her own boys were seven. On this Friday afternoon, Bnayahu plunked down on the kitchen chair with an exaggerated sigh, eyeing the box from Wall’s Bakery with feigned innocence. He was thin as a whippet, all tanned knees and elbows, his bare feet held clear evidence of where his Teva straps had been.

Babbi pulled the pie from the oven and set it to cool on the counter. She washed her hands and took off her apron. “Now bubela, I’m ready,” she smiled, tucking a stray hair into her scarf. “Get your shoes on -- no, not your sandals, real shoes that cover your feet. And a jacket you should have. Meet me at the front door in two minutes!”

Bnayahu ran up the stairs and was down again in thirty seconds, his dark jacket inside out and his shoes undone. “Hurry Babbi,” he yelled. It will be dark soon!”

“Savlanut, my boy.”

He sat on the bottom step, carefully lacing and tying his shoes in the bunny-ears way his grandmother had taught him, double knots and all.

Finally Babbi appeared, dressed all in black, pulling on her special gloves, worn only for this occasion. “Oy,” she moaned. The autumn chill seeped into her bones these days even before telling her skin of its arrival. “Pull your payos back and straighten your kipa,” she told him as she carefully strapped the child’s helmet around his chin. She snapped her own helmet over her headscarf and pulled closed the silver zippers that criss-crossed her leather biker jacket.

Bnayahu clambered onto the back seat of the Harley and clung tightly to his grandmother as she expertly snapped the kickstand with the heel of her black Frye Harness boot, checking the mirrors and pushing off, revving the engine of the rudely-awakened beast.

“Hold on, bubela!” she yelled into the wind. The pair roared off onto the streets of Borough Park where all the people dressed in black. But not this kind of black.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Taking It Out of Neutral

During the past week, the media has carried a lot of news and opinion pieces about the recent Supreme Court decision which basically states that corporations could be counted as individuals and therefore have the right to practice their own brands of religion. This particular case involved a large, for-profit corporation claiming to be a cozy Christian  "Mom and Pop" business and therefore had the right to deny contraceptive care to its female employees. Interestingly, the company is fine with covering viagra and vasectomies for its viril men while insisting that its women's vaginas remain virginal.

All alliteration aside (although fun!) it does seem that the country has taken a few dangerous precedent-setting steps backward. And although the court's vote was decided by a narrow 5-4 margin, it is noteworthy that all three of the women justices (and one brave man) voted in the negative. 

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was especially eloquent when, in her dissent, she wrote, "Suppose an employer's sincerely held religious belief is offended by health coverage of vaccines, or paying the minimum wage? Approving some religious claims while deeming others unworthy of accommodation could be 'perceived as favoring one religion over another,' the very 'risk the [Constitution's] Establishment Clause was designed to preclude."

No matter what side of the argument one might land on, I do believe that one vital thing should be agreed upon. This is a women's issue. It should be decided by women. The three women on the court made their objections eloquently clear. So why are five men deciding?

Maybe the Supreme Court should change the makeup of its members depending upon the case set before it. If it is a women's issue, (especially reproductive in nature) let the women decide. If male-pattern baldness is on the table, let the men decide (right, Mr. Scalia?) If it a racial or ethnic issue, let the panel have those representatives in its stable. How about a rotating set of justices to suit the occasion?

Oh, and while we are at it, can we possibly resist the urge to assume the white male system of everything is the accepted baseline from which all other things spring? In my kids' high school, the sports mascot is the Viking. The boys teams are all just "the Vikings" while the girls teams are "the Lady Vikings." In professional golf, its the PGA and the LPGA (yep, the L is for Ladies). And when was the last time a news article described a male politician's hair and wardrobe?

Really?

In her opinion piece for The Huffington Post entitled Let's Stop Neutralizing Men, author Valerie Alexander speaks to this nearly invisible topic.


"The issue of establishing women's achievements as "women's" but allowing the male position to be the assumed baseline goes far beyond sports. When Sonia Sotomayor was being confirmed for the Supreme Court, members of Congress repeatedly asked her (repeatedly) if, as a Latina, she would be able to remain neutral. I don't recall ever in the history of confirmation hearings, anyone asking, "As a white male, do you think you'll be able to remain neutral when deciding issues of law?" Given some recent decisions, maybe they should have!

We have to stop assuming that the male position is objective, unbiased, nonpartisan, with no need to be qualified as male. All one has to do is notice that the (mostly) rich, white men in charge have done nothing to punish the (entirely) rich, white men who crashed our economy -- and in fact, took steps to ensure that their financial advantages be maintained -- to see that men are anything but objective when it comes to assessing the achievements and crimes of other men, who happen to look exactly like them."

I don't usually get overly political in this forum, but chose to make an exception this time. I am glad to live at a time and in a country where individual freedom and personal rights are deemed vital. As a woman and especially as the mother of three daughters, I felt the need to speak.



Thursday, June 26, 2014

Fear into Festival



My oldest daughter just graduated from the University of California at Santa Barbara. Yes, THAT school, where just last month a very disturbed young man killed six people in the adjacent student enclave of Isla Vista.

Over the past four years I have visited several times and by now, I know Isla Vista pretty well. My daughter lives there. When I called her in the early hours of that awful morning, I was relieved to hear her sleepy voice assuring me that she was fine.

I flew out for her graduation last week and again walked the streets of Isla Vista. Impromptu memorials were set up at each of the locations where shooting occurred. To say the experience was surreal and chilling does not adequately describe the feeling.

And yet, there was festival in the air. Graduation week energy swirled around every corner, music played and laughter rang out. Barefoot kids whizzed by on beach cruisers and skateboards. Outdoor tables were filled with families there to celebrate their graduates and help them move their stuff out of funky Pacific front apartments.

In the Gospel of Matthew, the evangelist teaches that the human spirit cannot be overcome even when the body's breath is stilled. Here in Isla Vista, we're still breathing, still singing, still rocking out.

Amen and rock on.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Sunshine and Thunder



I was awakened early Saturday morning by a call from my brother. "What's up, Chris?" I said, annoyed at the interruption of my weekend sleep. "I just heard on the news there was a shooting near the UC Santa Barbara campus," he said, his voice a bit shaky. "I wasn't sure you had heard."

My stomach flipped. "I'll call you back, Chris."

Now, I am planning to flying out to UCSB in a few weeks to celebrate the graduation of my oldest daughter. For the past two-and-a-half years, she has lived in the student enclave called Isla Vista, just steps away from the main campus. Now a resident advisor on campus, she still spends much of her free time with friends in Isla Vista, where that oceanfront village is like everyone's outdoor living room.

This is where, last Friday night, around 9:30, a disturbed and angry former student went on a rampage, killing six innocent young people, all of whom were around my daughter's age.

After hanging up with Chris, I called her, hoping she was okay and that, at worst, she would be annoyed to be awakened at 5 a.m. her time. She picked up quickly, and it sounded like she was anticipating my call. "Hi, Kori, it's mom," I said, trying to keep my voice calm. "Just checking in. I heard what happened last night. Are you okay?" "Yeah, I'm fine, mama," she said sleepily. "Everyone I know is okay."

We spoke for a few minutes about the event, the details of which were still being doled out sparingly by the media. Relieved to hear her voice, but longing to beam myself there to hug her close, I hung up and turned on CNN.

What can I say? There will be much written and spoken about this tragedy in the days and weeks to come. Next month's graduation ceremony is certain to be a more somber affair, as we will surely pause to remember those students who died and the others who were injured and otherwise affected.

That would be all of us. In recent years, unbalanced young people have declared unofficial war on campuses around the country. As a mom, I felt each one, but never like now. My child was just steps away from this one and, on any other day, she could have been in this young man's sights. That knowing is a continuous punch in the gut, so awful it is excruciating to obsess about, yet impossible not to.

Kori is launching into the world, and the world is lucky to have her. When she steps up to accept her diploma next month, the moment -- its triumph, and its tenuousness will warm me like sunshine and shake me like thunder.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Girl: Old and Gay



(This was a slam-style poem written for a Women's Studies Project)


The air I breathe reeks of youth and men and straight.

The air I breathe blows east, then west, then east again.

The wind in my trees howls its angry message; “You are too old, too female, too gay.”

The wolf at my door huffs and puffs, and tries to blow my house in.

But I am no Straw Pig, no Stick Swine!

I am built of red bricks,

Forged in the fires of

Catholic Church, School and Religion.

I am steel, tempered in the fires of

Fear and furtivity.

Proper and prosperity.


I was young and weak.

Now I am old and strong,

Stronger than words,

Stronger than looks,

Stronger than pre-conceived ideas of what a Woman,

A Gay Woman,

An Old, Gay, Woman -- should look like.

Sound like.

Be like.


I fit no bill, act in ways no one understands.

I am an enigma.

For how can a mother, a white-haired, small-boned, mini-muscled mother

Be all that?

I am that!

I revel in that!


I celebrate the lines in my face

Just as surely as I rail against the lines

Drawn in the sands of the narrow-minded men

Who would vote me off their Island

To be replaced by the Young, the Ripe, and the Restless!


I tell you,

You, who will listen,

There is Awesomeness in Old.

There is Glory in Gay.

And there is Wonder in every Woman who ever walked

The breadth and scope of this Wide, Wide World.

Her celebration begins today.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

5



Five

Five is my favorite number
Five is red and round and loud.

The world has so many Fives:
Five fingers and five toes
Five work week days
Five senses
Five-cent analysis
Five dollar foot-long

Five is the third prime number
and the Fifth number in the Fibonacci sequence

Five seeds in an apple (who knew!)
The Fantastic Five
Five Olympic Rings
Five GOLDEN Rings
Five players on the Basketball Court at any given time
High Five!

Pentagram
Pentagon
Pentatonix
People.

My people . . .
Five bellies,
Five births,
Five babies born and breastfed
Five burgeoning beauties
Balancing on the cusp of adulthood

These Five . . .

The most Fierce
Most fiery
Most ferocious,
Most fabulous
“Five” of them all.

My Five.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Out-er Limits: To be an Older, Gay Woman in a Young, Straight, Man's World


(This was a paper written for a Women's Studies Class)


I am an older gay woman. For many many years, I existed in the traditional heterosexual wife-and-mother role. That was fine to a certain extent -- especially the mother part -- but there was a constant strain on my soul, like an instrument that was warped, but playable, always just slightly out of tune, so slightly that the untrained ear could not perceive the dissonance.
When I came out six years ago, leaving a 27-year marriage behind, both family and friends in the wider spheres of my life were perplexed. “Why would she leave such a secure life? Why would she risk her reputation? Why would she do this to her children? Why upset the status quo? Why throw a wrench into our world?” Why, why, why?
Despite the fact that I live in a liberal, urban environment, I still see signs that my decision to live as an out, unapologetic, older gay woman forms ripples in the water. Somehow I represent a threat to other heterosexual people, and when I was out with my former female partner, we cause discomfort wherever we went. Disapproving stares aimed at our hands held while walking down the street, were often shot at us from heterosexual couples who are themselves exhibiting far more explicit displays of affection, they without fear of any repercussion. Passing mutterings of, “f...ing dyke,” and such are common enough experiences. Nearly always, it is the men who stare and mutter.
Why is a small 58-year-old white-haired woman perceived as such a threat? I wonder. Gay rights activists, both male and female have been fighting an uphill battle for generations. But it is most hard on the lesbian community. Instead of being thought of as independent, self-sufficient women who choose to love other women, we are perceived to be hard, ugly, man-hating bitches who must be marginalized at best, and stamped out at worst. Some say outwardly I do not fit the stereotypical idea of what a lesbian should look like. This is partially due to my age and partially, I suppose, due simply to the fact that I do not drive a motorcycle, wear black leather or hate all men. As the mother of two grown sons and the sister of two brothers, I look at all people for who they are inside (or at least I’d like to think I do!) or as Martin Luther King stated, “for the content of their character.”
In her essay Homophobia and Sexism, author and activist Suzanne Pharr speaks in blunt terms about who the enemy really is, when it comes to the withholding of even basic civil and human rights for gay men and lesbian women, but especially for the women. Pharr, the founder of the Women’s Project and author of the book Homophobia: A Weapon of Sexism, writes with stridency when she says, “To be a lesbian is to be perceived as someone who has stepped out of line, who has moved out of sexual/economic dependence on a male, who is woman-identified."
Pharr may be strident, but her point is succinct and gets right to the heart of the matter. She points out that the lesbian label is trotted out by some to mean any independent woman who does not feel the need to depend on men for their sense of self-worth.

“If lesbians are established as threats to the status quo, as outcasts who must be punished, homophobia can wield its power over all women through lesbian baiting. Lesbian baiting is an attempt to control women by labeling us as lesbians because our behavior is not acceptable, that is, when we are being independent, going our own way, living whole lives, fighting for our rights, demanding equal pay, saying no to violence, being self-assertive, bonding with and loving the company of women, assuming the right to our bodies, insisting upon our own authority, making changes that include us in society’s decision-making; lesbian baiting occurs when women are called lesbians because we resist male dominance and control. And it has little to do with one’s sexuality."

For me, being older when I came out was a blessing of sorts. I was of an age where, after navigating life for many years, I no longer cared very much how I appeared to others. It was not so difficult to ignore stares and snide remarks. It was not difficult to feel comfortable displaying affection in public, despite obvious disapproval from men. Interestingly, it is most often younger men who are the most vocal in their upset. I have theorized that perhaps I pose a double threat. I not only represent loss of control and power, but I may remind them of their own mothers -- a thought they seem to find untenable.
In reality, I find myself more uncomfortable with getting old and gray, than getting bold and gay. I look in the mirror and do not recognize the wrinkled face before me. I don’t feel 58! But, damn, I sure look it! In her essay Over the Hill and Out of Sight, author Janice Keaffaber talks about women and aging and the fact that society -- again male dominated society -- dictates that only young-looking, heterosexual women are desirable and acceptable. Keaffaber is a co-founder of The Old Women’s Project, a San Diego-based organization that focuses its attention on the health and well being of older women in need of advice and assistance. The project especially serves women in prison, gay and lesbian women, and women in lower income brackets. To fellow older women she says, “we don’t talk about the true emotional challenges involved, [with aging] even with each other. We’re all too busy pretending we don’t notice the indignities that are heaped upon us as old women. Or worse yet, it seems so natural, even to us, that it doesn’t really register that we’ve become Outsiders.”
How awful! Have we become so brainwashed by our society that even we are unaware of our own predicament? These days, I am wearing a couple of odd-looking hats. The gay woman hat fits perfectly, but not everyone likes its colorful feathers. The old woman hat, a bright red one that covers a head of white also draws contempt at times. Worn together, stacked one on top of the other, they create a look I think is fabulous. And, despite the opinion of some onlookers, I have no intention of taking either of them off.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Blankie



A gift for a newborn -- this soft, silky, quilted, white batted, tiny-flowered blanket. It covered the baby as she lay in her crib, and followed behind her as she learned to walk, its one dirty, favored corner held tight to her cheek.

It went on sleepovers, surreptitiously stuffed into her overnight bag, never actually coming out, but available to the small hand seeking that corner in the night.

It went to school (in a way) when she cut off a strip small enough to fit into her uniform pocket, readily available to be touched in moments when comfort was called for.

It went to college and marriage and babies, from apartment to house, always settling behind her pillow, always waiting for the girl in the woman, the child in the mother, the little in the grown.

Covered and re-covered, washed countless times, this tiny quilt held an unconditional love, elusive in infancy, yet longed-for still, nearly 60 years later.

It sits, even now, folded, tucked behind her pillow, ready to offer its corners of contentment and calm.

Friday, April 11, 2014

I Am From

I am from
sun slanting in the late afternoon
on the shed side of the house.

I am from
summers in the mountains,
by the creek so cold and clear
I could see the tiny minnows ten feet down.


I am from
peanut butter Mondays,
tuna noodle Fridays
and chicken cacciatore Sundays

I am from
incensed churches
and saddle shoed schoolyards,
Schwinns and Keds and countertop candy stores.

I am from
stickball and tag and Monkey-in-the-Middle,
tree fort and Toughskins and tomboy.

I am from
record stores, vinyl, liner notes and wall posters
guitar strings and songs played over and over
until they sounded just right,
from late night harmony and sunrise songfest.

I am from
seed and belly and kicking feet.
from labor and birth -- theirs and mine
as I let go of them into the wider world.

I am from
car seats to driver seats
kindergarten to college
from there and from them, just as surely
as they are from me.

I am from
straight, to not straight,
expected to eccentric, false to true.
from fear and falling, ferocity and fulfillment.

I am from
the beginning
a time I take along even now,
as I continue, my past rolled under my arm
like a long thin blanket
ready to be referenced at any time,
like Torah scrolls in the tabernacle.

I am from
then -- and now
and from where I find myself tomorrow.
and tomorrow,
and tomorrow.





Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Seismic Shifts

I just pulled in the driveway after a full day at school.
I am in the middle of my fourth semester at Nassau Community College (NCC), and, as it should, after a year and a half, the workload has increased exponentially. I am loving the experience, still excited about learning new subjects and even more thrilled that my 58-year-old brain is retaining a fair amount of the material.

Such a time! My classes have been wildly varied. English 101 mixed with Logic and Set Theory. Stir in Journalism with The Bible As Literature, Women's Studies (honors), Human Sexuality (uh huh), add a dash of Environmental Resources, Psychology, Sociology, Algebra, Film Appreciation, Drawing, Voice, Communications, and Plate Tectonics, and, voila! You have the fantastic soup I call my college education!

Here is a composite school day. I pull into the eastern parking lot, where the spaces are bigger and my chances of not getting my doors dinged somewhat improved. A hopeful seagull eyes the coffee cup in my hand as I swing my overstuffed backpack over my shoulders. I power walk across the wind-swept brick promenade, past the library and the A-F clusters, the Tower, the CCB and G buildings. Then I make my diagonal way across Goose Poop Commons, walking a bit slower and more carefully now, until I hit North Hall, for my Women's Studies Class.

It is, not surprisingly, a class made up entirely of women, all young except for me and one senior observer. She is here for enrichment, not credit and does not have to do any of the homework. I hate her. Just kidding. In class we talk about women's issues ranging from the history of the Feminist Movement, to the present day global issues of women's health, equal and reproductive rights, to inequities in the workplace and in the home. The professor is a small soft-spoken woman with work-worn hands that look out of place coming from her academic sleeves. She guides the conversation fluidly, careful to land lightly on each head, as the members of this particular class span a range of socio-ethnic backgrounds. I am the only one in class (besides senior observer) who knows who Gloria Steinem is. They are much more cognizant of Rihanna's and Chris Brown's misadventures than they are of the efforts of Susan B. Anthony or Betty Friedan.

Class is over and I and my brain trek over to Cluster C for Beaches and Coastlines where my zany-but-brilliant professor will twirl around the room jabbering about divergent versus convergent plate boundaries, continental shifts, hotspots and how oceanic plates will always subduct and continental plates never will (because they are less dense and therefore more buoyant). How volcanoes form and how the seismic activity of the shifting plates causes earthquakes to occur. We have a test next week on Tectonics.

I hear the distant Tower Carillon warbling "You'll Never Walk Alone" in a pleasant, off-key sort of way, signaling another class change. Another brisk hike to the art wing of Building G to meet yet another eccentric-yet-brilliant professor. She charges in, curly black mop of hair bouncing over cat-shaped black-framed glasses. Even without her plum-colored lipstick and matching magenta man's tie, she awakens our sleepy post-lunch senses with animation and, yes, artistry. Today we have a live (read NUDE) model from whom to draw. He is an old man, who, I've gotta say, took a few moments to adjust to. But he was accommodating and game all the way and, after an exhausting couple of hours, I had a nicely improving set of sketches. Professor Plum approved.

I pull my lunch box from my book bag before leaving the studio to inhale a sandwich and a Diet Pepsi. Film Appreciation in South Hall (yep, across the poop again) is the last class of this day. Today we are watching Big Night, that wonderful Stanley Tucci/Tony Shaloub film from the '90s where two Italian brothers come to terms with living, working and relating in their newly adopted America. The lights are turned off and blinds drawn. I find myself nodding and shaking my head to stay awake, saying a silent prayer of thanks for the fact that I have already seen this one. The lights go back on and we discuss and dissect the meanings and symbols of every frame. The professor, one of my favorites, is the same woman who taught my Communications 101 class last semester. She is caring, careful and thorough. She is one of those special people who knows each student by name after one session.

Time to go. Jacket zipped, pack slung, I make a last pit stop and take my final lap across the field, through G up and onto the promenade, past the library, and down the path leading to the eastern lot. That same seagull (I swear!) is perched on the top of my car, happily pooping on the glass of my sun roof. He waves a jaunty farewell and flies off as I put it in drive and head for home.

If I could astral project and, after floating up to look objectively down at myself, I might marvel at the aging brain's ability to concentrate on such diverse topics, one after another. It is a big shift to delve into the humanities, jog over to science, switch over to art, film and literature, all in the span of one school day.
A big shift.
I'd even say a seismic shift.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

The Heart is a Lonely Companion

Yesterday was Valentine's Day. I was blue and weepie most of the day, since just a few weeks ago, my partnership of five (on-again/off-again) years broke up, and I had ensconced myself in lonely self-pity.

Seeing people coupled up was unbearable, and when I read Facebook comments from happily-married friends complaining about this romantic holiday, I wanted to thrash them. Don't they appreciate what they have? A loving partner who stands by their side through thick and thin? A co-parent, co-pilot, com-patriot?

I sit down to coffee for one, moving my feet a few inches to the left on the coffee table to accommodate her phantom feet as we warm ourselves by the fire. I find myself looking at things in the store, thinking she would like this or that. Her habits I once thought were silly, have remained in my repertoire. I sleep diagonally on the big bed, vainly trying to cover the cold empty space to my right.

I miss shared stories, shared Smartwools, shared texts and toothpaste. In my naiveté I had been certain we would be together forever, even when all signs pointed elsewhere a long time ago. I think perhaps what I am most missing is an idea, a romantic idea that was never grounded in reality. I still grip the possibilities such an idea brings -- albeit with someone else -- with all my strength.

Although this doesn't make obvious sense, the emptiness echoes louder because she is around all the time. She lives nearby. We share friends and our daughters are like sisters. Our social circles run together like some cruel, in-escapable venn diagram.

If I could, I would hoist myself up and move to somewhere far away, where palm trees grow and colors are new. For now, I walk through my days in various stages of numbness and misery -- a Limbo I will gladly put behind me as time begins its slow heal.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Out of Order


Out of Order (def.):
not in sequence
broken
not following the rules or customary procedure


Life is a little scary these days. I walk the halls of Nassau Community College as a full time student, the only white head bobbing in a sea of youthful shining crowns. Life seems to be going backwards.

Backwards. Hmm. The familiar formula of high school/college/job/marriage/children/retirement, has not been my trajectory. High school/college dropout/work/marriage/children/divorce/come out/back to college. From the looks of it, I shifted into reverse somewhere along the line. But here I am, here, now, and somehow that feels right. Not always comfortable, but right, nonetheless. I had thought I was aiming at a degree, but it turns out that is not it at all. I am traveling, and the trip itself -- as it unfolds -- is becoming enough.

There have been many moments when I have felt broken, mis-aligned, "out of order." My drum beats differently and my ears hear a different song, a new song -- or maybe it was my song since birth but I could only ever hear snatches here and there. I am a musician and have tried to create my own song over the years, or at least uncover the one already within. I have had some success, I think, because my singing and guitar playing have moved and comforted many people and, in turn, hit a chord (so to speak) with myself.

Alan Cohen's moving essay, A Child's Song, tells of an African tribe that gives a special song to each new child born into their midst. This song is sung to the child throughout hers or his life, especially at milestone moments -- entry into puberty, major accomplishments, marriage and death. "You may not have grown up in an African tribe that sings your song to you at crucial life transitions," Cohen summarizes, "but life is always reminding you when you are in tune with yourself and when you are not." ("Sing Your Song," from Wisdom of the Heart by Alan Cohen, copyright 2002)

My song led me back to school. In my Communications class last semester the professor, a soft spoken woman with a wild curly mane, had us turn our desks to face each other, encouraging us to speak about the meaning of our names, our confidences, concerns and canons. Words spoken in trust, were breathed with care and attention. I had much to say (perhaps too much!) and my young compatriots listened and responded with their own stories. I told of a 27-year marriage, which produced five fantastic individuals, two sons and three daughters. The ending of that marriage when I announced to family and friends that I was gay. My new and finally authentic partnership. The feeling of freedom matched only by the stress this upheaval brought to the five I loved most. My children have supported me on my journey despite the pain they felt as they saw their parents' marriage (and a good deal of their sense of security) come apart.

In the preface of his book, Man's Search for Meaning, Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl speaks about happiness and success as byproducts of being true to one's path, as opposed to aimed-for goals. "Happiness must happen, " he states. "You have to let it happen without caring about it. I want you to listen to what your conscience commands you to do and go on to carry it out to the best of your knowledge." Later on in the book he says, "Man is not fully conditioned and determined, but rather determines himself whether he gives in to conditions or stands against them. Every human being has the freedom to change at any instant."

This I am doing! Changing, growing, re-interpreting myself. Not a re-invention, for in many important ways, I have been true to parts of my name, my song, my potential. But a big piece was missing and is just now filling in. With this new-found fearsome freedom, comes an even more fearsome responsibility, for five of my most important people rely so heavily upon me for their own visceral sense of security and fledgling worldview. Jumping ship, from an accepted and celebrated heterosexual life to a seemingly odd, surprising and churning sea of homosexual identity has been daunting. Yet its true-ness, its relief and release have spoken to me so clearly, saying my leap was entirely worthy.

These past few years, my life’s path has been rocky. Stones fell from the surrounding hills, blocking my path. These stones were named Loss, Confusion and Identity Crisis. I have had to stop, sit on these stones and weep for a while. It is only now that I can begin picking up these stones, stacking them along the side of the path, forming a cairn as tall as me -- the shadow they cast in my life’s mid-afternoon sun, pointing the way.

So what if I do things "out of order?" Family, then school? I am moving forward, swimming for all I am worth, often against the tide. My white head bobbing in the sea of shining crowns is swept along for the ride.