& i know i will carry it with me for a long, long time.

i’ve been passing as a guy now for 2-4 years now, depending on the situation (and people still think i’m a lady on the phone).  which i guess means that’s what i really am now.

i was thinking about that the other day and this huge feeling of responsibility came over me.  because now that i am who i want to be, i have to remember and take care of who i’ve been.  even though the world sees me as a straight, married man with a baby, i have been a girl, a woman, a lesbian, and a non-passing transguy.

and even if i had never been any of those people, now that i am in a place of much greater privilege, i really need to be a really good ally.  because as strong as we all are, we need each other to have our backs, because the world is not an easy place.

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driving lessons

i got my driver’s license last month.  i am 32 years old, have been teaching for the past 3 years, and am engaged to my pregnant partner, and i got my driver’s license last month.

when i was 12, i read that 50 simple things kids can do to save the earth book, and then immediately after it read kids can save the animals: 101 easy things to do.  i was finishing it in the car, and decided to become a vegetarian.  we’d been running errands all day, and my grandparents pulled into mcdonalds.  horrified, yet lacking creativity, i ordered my usual cheeseburger.  soon, i decided that i would cut out red meat and until the middle of my first year of college declared myself a “partial vegetarian,” eating fish, chicken, and turkey, but not beef or pork (that mid-first-year of college moment was when i decided to be a total vegetarian– now i’m more pescetarian).

the books made me more patient with the fluorescent light that took forever to turn on, in my great-grandma’s bathroom, and it made me an easily thwarted crusader for paper, rather than styrofoam for my school’s lunches.  (after a letter to the principal, i got called to the office for i think the only time of my entire school career, for a conversation that went something like this: principal: “i hear you want us to stop using styrofoam but instead use paper instead.”  me: “yes, please.”  principal: “well, the styrofoam is a lot less expensive than the paper, so we have to keep using it.”  me:  “yeah, i guess that makes sense.  thanks anyway.”)  i bought the greyish, fibrous recycled looseleaf paper, and used it religiously, horrified when the boy i had a crush on complained about it.

i had seen the old lorax movie many times as a child, and i knew i was someone who cared a whole awful lot.  i didn’t do everything right, but i did what i knew about, as much as i knew how to do it.  to this day, in my head, there is a dying person in a hospital bed during the nuclear apocolyptic endtimes, who’s life is either prolonged or ended by the extra lights i turn on in a house (but only lights… and refrigerators and cars… trigger this thought– computer use, temperature control, stereos don’t).  i was responsible for life to continue on this planet by my choices.

early in my sophomore year of high school, there was a horrible car accident involving some of my classmates, and one of them died.  we weren’t friends, but i felt the loss, because i thought she was cool but i was too shy to talk to her.  around the same time, one of my pen pals also lost a classmate to a car accident.

so, as i neared my 16th birthday, and people started to ask me about getting my drivers’ license, the combination of environmental responsibility and terror of dying a horrible fiery death took away all motivation.

when i was 19, i did try to learn.  my mom and i went out in her pick-up truck, cruising around some school and church parking lots.  but as soon as we went on the road and i saw another car (across the median, in the furthest possible lane), i pulled over and burst into tears.

i’ve never been clear on my relationship to driving.  as a passenger, i’ve tried as hard as possible to limit myself to trips people were making anyway, getting a ride to errands with people already going on them, or asking for a block detour to run an errand i need to run.  realizing how terrifying riding the bus can be sometimes, and then biking more, helped me get over a lot of the fear aspect, but there’s always been resistance.   i cannot figure out if it’s self-righteousness, fear, god, prescience, preciousness, or what.

then at the end of last school year, i had to make a choice.  i could either follow my amazing colleagues and the wonderful students at my school to a school that is entirely inaccessible by bus (up a giant hill, it is a 45 minutes walk from the nearest regular bus stop), or i could gamble on a move to another school– and it looked like it was probably going to be a middle school.  meanwhile, t was pregnant, and i decided that the responsible thing to do was to get a drivers’ license.

i hate that kind of responsibility.  that decision between “how do i help the people closest to me?” vs. “how do i help the whole world?” (and it sounds like parenting is a lot of that)  there have been times where i’ve wondered if my time waiting at bus stops was getting in the way of my world-saving time, but in general, i’ve always felt really good about my decision not to drive.

now, i have a drivers’ license.  i get up in the morning, get ready for work, and then drive through the woods to get to my job.  it is gorgeous.  sometimes there are deer.  sometimes there are turkeys.  it’s crazy to remember that i’m even in oakland.  my favorite part, though, is listening to music.  i’ve been resurrecting cds from my collection, bopping along to wonderful and hilarious selections, like the disney peter pan soundtrack, a lot of ani difranco, and the andrews sisters’ greatest hits.  i relish my dorkiness as others pass me.

but my exercise has gone way down.  i’m trying to fix that in other ways, but the balance hasn’t been reached yet.  and it’s stressful.  it’s really really stressful.  riding the bus, you aren’t in control of this giant thing and sometimes you hear scary people say scary things, but you can retreat into books.  you don’t have to be present and in decision-making mode the whole time.  one of my friends whose been teaching me to drive, outside of that context mentioned that she read a study about how people in modern american society all show symptoms of ptsd, and she thought that made sense.  i do too.  and during one of our drives together, i asked her if she thought a lot of it had to do with cars, because i do.  these giant metal death machines that move with the merest touch of a foot but that are fueled by greed and war should NOT be how the majority of our country gets around.  i am now one of those people, but i am not okay with it.

AND at the same time, i am remembering that a good part of the reason i didn’t want to drive was because i thought that there was a possibility i’d like it too much.  and part of me really does like it.  it is sort of fun.  it is sort of easy.  i get to pick my music.  it is fast.

in the first couple of weeks of the school year, t expressed concern that maybe i was drinking too much coffee because i was so stressy.  but then we realized that i’m actually drinking less coffee than last year.  and there are definitely plenty of things to be stressed about right now so i chalked it up to adrenaline.  but at the birth class last weekend, as the teacher was talking about endorphins, and oxytocin, and adrenaline, i started to put a lot of it together with my driving.  my fight-or-flight time is way up, and my exercise time is way down.  just like much of america.

*sigh*

“i want to blog this weekend.  i have so much to say!”

“about what?”

“well…  driving… and gender.”

“what about it?”

“well, i want to write it down first, because it gets all garbled when i try to say it out loud.”

in other incarnations of this post, in my head, i’ve had really good segues and connections between these issues, because parenting is part of why i’m driving and part of why i’m thinking about gender a lot right now.  but i ended that driving part pretty nicely, so i’ll use that dialogue and this monologue to change the subject.

“what are you having?”

the question is like nails on a chalkboard to me right now.  it is a complete overreaction, i know, but when i hear it, part of me wants to snap back an adolescent (adrenaline-filled?) response about how that very question goes against the very fiber of my being and all of my beliefs, and how could they ask me such a thing and and and and and!

i don’t know.  and i won’t know even when i do know.  and i still think it’s totally irrelevant to who this little person growing in t’s tummy will be.  unless they want it to be relevant, and i know there are times when it is vitally important for them, and that’s fine.

it’s hard when there is something that you believe in so strongly that is so counter to mainstream thinking.  i remember a woman at a school i worked at in seattle, who was so upset about a family raising their kids to be vegan.  “how can they impose their values on their child like that?”  i didn’t say it (i basically never say “it” btw, whatever “it” is), but i had this epiphany.  if you don’t raise your kid by your values, you are raising them by mainstream values.  you are saying that what the mainstream believes is fine and ok.  and maybe it is.  it might be.

and then in my case, it’s so tricky, right?  i don’t actively want to have a transgender child.  i don’t NOT want a transgender child, but i don’t plan on raising our kid to be trans.  binary gender assignments seem to have worked more or less okay for most of the population for quite awhile now, so i can’t assume that any bit of it will chafe on my child the way it has chafed on me.  but i really want to counter all of the messages about what is and is not okay to be that our society feeds to all of us all of the time.  that is vitally important to me.  and the idea that our favorite colors, things, and way of dealing with the world are pre-determined for us, now even before we pop out of our parents that have the right plumbing to pop us out, makes me itchy, scratchy, irritable, cranky, tired, and sad.

how do i make my child’s self as filled with possibilities as possible, without limiting it by deciding that that limitless is important?  how does my belief in that limitlessness limit my child in a world that believes so gosh-darn fiercely in those limits?  how do make sure to honor the possibility that our kid could be totally gender-normative, without just going along with the culture’s assumptions that that is how it will be?

“Love takes off the masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within. I use the word “love” here not merely in the personal sense but as a state of being, or a state of grace – not in the infantile American sense of being made happy but in the tough and universal sense of quest and daring and growth.”
–James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time

this is one of those times that i’m posting when a number of posts and themes have been rumbling, boiling, roiling, and bumbling around in my head, and i’m trying to see if i can distill them all into something cohesive, together. 

recently, i finished reading the bible for the third time.  the first two times were in high school, one right after the other.  what the three reads have in common is that they were relatively textually easy editions that i read at night, before bed.  this reading was the message: remix, meant to be read in small chunks, over either 1, 2, or 4 years.  i took a little over 3 years, reading at a variety of paces throughout that time, sometimes missing a few days to a week at a time.  i found myself baffled and concerned by the frequent old testament battles and the bloody imagery throughout.  i felt disconnected from the frame of mind of early jews, trying to translate my own experience into this entirely different worldview.  the bible resonates the most with me when treated as metaphor, but there were so many stories and events, and long narratives, that i couldn’t find the use in, and that seemed to run counter to my own ideas of morality and god.

one piece of that that’s interesting is that in my quaker journey, i’ve found a lot of resonance in contemporary jewish writers, sometimes more so than in contemporary christian writers.  it’s actually through jewish writers that i learned to feel more comfortable looking at religious stories metaphorically.  and a reality about myself is that whenever i’m in new york, i get self-consciously giddy by all of the jewishness.  i am worried about my tendency to romanticization and exotification as i press my nose to the bus window going through hasidic neighborhoods, but my justification is that i am fascinated by that ability to live one’s faith out loud like that, jealous as a white kid who believes he has no culture.

shortly after finishing the bible, i was part of a conversation where someone was talking about his atheistic respect for this person who had actually read the bible and lived by it, despite how ugly it was.  this person and the person he was referring to were thinking about the bible of the eternally angry god.  i was saddened by this, but unable to counter it, both because of my natural timidity in conflict, the power dynamics involved, the level of alcohol consumed, and my awareness of the confusing ugliness i’d found in the bible.

one thing he said was that many christians don’t acknowledge how hard it is to actually live by the bible.  and even as i create the bible in my own image, unsure how to grapple with the pieces that make me deeply uncomfortable, i still find it difficult to live by the pieces that i absolutely believe in.  god is love.  there is no fear in love.  love your neighbor as yourself.  who is my neighbor?  the good samaritan.  these things can be distilled into fluff, i guess, but at their core, they are terribly terribly hard.  if we all succeeded in living by them, i believe the world would be a much better place, but they seem to be ignored by the people flocking to chik-fil-a, boycotting funerals, and engaging in warfare.  these people have their own piece of the bible, too.  how do i justify my piece of it, in the face of the other side of things?  is it fair to take the bible piece by piece?

i will probably continue to live my piece of the bible as much as possible.  my view is something like that comic strip that says something, “what if it’s all a hoax?  what if we fix up the ozone layer, replant trees, and make the world better, for no reason?”  that is the world that i want.

confessions of a professional grad school applicant, pt. 1

2 out of 10 or 11 schools have been visited and now i have a weekend to rest, reflect, and spend time with friends and family before i visit 2 more on monday.  so many adventures have already been had and we only left the bay area on tuesday.

the school year closed on June 15.  June 18 was a teacher work day.  June 19-21, t & i went to art trainings sponsored by the school district.  while t was learning about a whole year’s worth of art curriculum, i was off learning <a href=”http://selfassuperhero.com/students.html”>how to turn myself and my students into superheroes</a>, through a workshop run by the <a href=”http://www.ahc-oakland.org/index.html”>attitudinal healing connection</a>, one of the many fun activities i’ve participated in in the bay area that makes me vaguely concerned i’m joining a cult.  but the workshop was fantastic and i had a great time and am excited about how to use all of that in the classroom.  and i mean, it’s rare that i get to spend 3 days making art.

friday…  we did more things, i don’t remember…  saturday and sunday were about packing and socializing, and then monday was crunch time.  a lawyer appointment (student loans are already separate when you get married and war tax resistance debt is illegal so it can’t be covered in a pre-nup anyway, so we don’t have to get a pre-nup, thank you <a href=”http://www.milesfamilylaw.com/about.html”>dylan miles</a>), a gps purchase, an oil change, shoe exchanging, prescription pick-up, and a car drop-off all meant for a busy day and very little sleep because there was still cleaning, sorting, laundry, and packing to do.  and a bag of split peas to spill all over the floor because that’s just fun at 1 in the morning.

tuesday morning, i got up and biked as fast as i could to the vet to pick up secret’s thyroid pills and then back home.  then i walked as fast as i could to the pet food store to get cat food and litter but it wasn’t open yet so i walked back.  i finished up the laundry and other bits of things, and then went back to the pet food store, ran home, stocked up the cat food, and changed the litter box.  we dashed to our flight, and after t and i stood around waiting for them to find a female security guard to frisk t because she didn’t want to radiate the baby, we finally made it to our flight just as they were calling our name on the intercom.  this was particularly tragic because we hadn’t refilled our water bottles or gotten extra food for the pregnant lady.  but we made it onto the flight, hurray.

after a transfer in atlanta that seemed ridiculous because we would be renting a car to drive to atlanta (and where we finally got properly hydrated and fed (we DID get t as much water as possible on the plane, don’t worry)), we got on the next plane.  in line in front of us was friendly chatty woman and a young man.  the woman engaged us all in conversation and the young man wound up telling us all about how he had just gotten back from teaching english in china.

we made it to rdu at about 11 at night.  as we were going to baggage claim we found our english-teaching friend surrounded by his parents, covered in “welcome to the usa!” paraphernalia, smiling ruefully and sweetly into a camera one of them was holding up.  it was totally charming.

i sent t off to the rental car place while i waited for our luggage (which only got checked because we were so late and there was no room in the overhead bins).  when i got to the rental car place and found her, she was standing next to a giant SUV.  GIANT.  it was totally hilarious to me, and potentially hilarious to t, but currently terrifying and annoying.  fortunately they’d told her she could return it the next day and probably get the economy car she’d requested, so we headed off to quickly stay the night at the house of my good friend, j from the internet and her lovely husband.  the house is an absolutely adorable home with a screened-in porch in durham, nc.

then in the morning, we poked around getting ready, probably a little too long, and then got on the road back to the rental car place.  it took them awhile to find us our promised economy car, but eventually we had that and were really back on the road.  after stops in random places for things like soup at panera bread, gas from gas stations, and coffee from coffeehouses too far into town, we arrived at athens, georgia at 7:01 for our 7:00 dinner meeting with a grad student from the language & literacy education department at uga.  The food and conversation was lovely, and we talked a lot about the lower cost of living.  one topic was the price of traffic and parking tickets, and so it was funny when we got back to our rental car and found a $10 parking ticket on the windshield.

then we drove to lawrenceville, a suburb of atlanta that i’d visited before, to stay with one of my lovely friends from college, her husband, and her stepdaughter.  we had an entire little basement suite, and there were friendly cats and a fridge stocked with string cheese and luna bars just for us.

the next morning, we went back to athens where i met with three professors from the lled program.  they were all fantastic and great to talk with.   i got fed and everyone was just super friendly.  i think athens could be a really good fit for our budding family and uga would be an excellent place to go to school.  there are still questions about the livability of the funding, but t & i were pretty excited by our second day’s visit.

then we drove through the famous heavy traffic, to gsu in atlanta.  as we were driving up, a woman leaned into a cop car and started talking with the officers and then walked in front of them and a whole bunch of other fast traffic.  i was there to speak with grad students from the special education program.  i’ve been realizing more and more that special ed programs are frequently about interventions and quantitative research which is wonderful and important but maybe i’m more of a critical theory person.  the students i spoke with at gsu were wonderful and friendly, but i started to think that maybe i wasn’t looking at the right program there.  then i went outside to wait for trisha and observed some sexual harrassment, had someone creepily ask to use my phone, and saw the same 2 guys walk around the block multiple times.  i finally went back inside because i really needed to use the bathroom, and then after passing the gauntlet of a couple making out against the bathroom door, there was another guy trying to get me to give him my student card for him to use….  when i told t that maybe gsu wasn’t for me, she was relieved, because she’s just spent that whole time battling the traffic.

we went back to the little suburb and after trying to find a publix with the gps and instead driving to the publix warehouse, we went to dinner with my friend and her family.  that was great.  after some family tv watching, we all went to our bedrooms.  i took a shower and then trisha took a shower, but as she was showering, it sounded like the toilet flushed, and then the water that had been building in the tub also went down the drain.  after she got out of the shower, the whole floor from the bathroom through half the kitchenette was covered in water, and so we cleaned that up, washed our feet and went to bed.

the following morning i had a meeting with the dean, who is the brother-in-law of one of the members of the sf quaker meeting and who sounds like a paragon of integrity.  i was told by the quaker brother-in-law that he would be honest about all of the schools i was looking at so i sort of used the time to go through my list with him.  unfortunately he couldn’t find a bad choice on my list.

after that, t and i met with some grad students at the home of the professor who was sort of hosting this trip, and we went out for food, and then gave us a lot more information about the program.  i am absolutely sold on the program and trisha was absolutely sold on the town.  the only flaw was the funding.

then, as we were driving out and the gun shop billboards started to fly past, she got a little more nervous, but we are in agreement that even if we choose athens and uga, it doesn’t have to be forever.

we got back to the car rental at 11 again, and j from the internet bravely drove us back to durham in a giant wind storm.

i’ve been emailing professors at schools like crazy, and it’s stressful but also a lot of fun in many ways.  it’s nice to have people helping me out and talking with me (and taking me out for food!).  it’s a great way to spend a summer.

Published in: on 30 June, 2012 at 4:38 pm  Leave a Comment  

ignore-ance.

in one of my first zines, i waxed poetic about the way the word “ignore” is in “ignorance.” i’m not sure what all i said about it, and it’s very possible that this post is just a rehashing of some epiphany i had at 21 years old.

but one of the things that breaks my heart and frustrates me the most is the way that part of human nature seems to be a certain pride in ignorance. the way that when we don’t understand another person’s belief, culture, or ideas, they must me stupid. the way that so many liberal folk think the bible is nonsense, sort of based on the fact that they’ve never read it.

i had a conversation with someone this week in which i was trying to explain my frustration and sadness over the way that smart liberal folks have in many ways just handed religion over to “the fox news people” (… i never watch fox news, so i was doing it right then, right?). and somehow what that person heard was that i was frustrated and sad because smart liberal people are stupid enough to believe in god. it was the oddest thing, my complete inability to communicate that what i meant was that there really is something in religion for smart liberal people but so many of us refuse to access it.

i’m one of the few people in my group of friends who are my peers that was either raised with religion or who still have religion. and so i see this pride in ignorance a lot. i LOVE my friends and i’m reluctant to say this because it sounds pretty critical, especially since i’m too shy to say it when it happens, but there have been times when we’ll pass a church or something and what the church says on the outside looks so ludicrous to the person and they will make fun of it, but it’s something that makes sense to me. but i can’t express it. i can’t figure out what to say to make it make sense.

we passed a church once that said “church of god in christ” and my good friend just thought that was the funniest thing. “how can it be ‘of god’ and ‘in christ’ at the same time?” and i couldn’t figure out how to explain it…

this post is becoming more about my inability to express myself and be an advocate for my faith than i totally feel comfortable with.

what it was meant to be about, and what i’ve been thinking about the most, is what a part of human nature all of that is. how we choose what we are experts in. how i don’t watch the news, watch sports, stay current in music… but how i get frustrated when someone doesn’t know all the classic movie stars or bad ’80s tv or y.a. lit that i know. we know what we know and we like that we know it and we think everyone who doesn’t know what we know are deficient in some way. and people who know things different from how we know them is also deficient, because they are clearly paying attention to the wrong things.

are there ways to bridge that?

he’s both a fish and a mammal and i hope he’ll never change

one of the big questions i wrestle with lately is about the necessity of christianity for me. i think it will always be a question i wrestle with, because christianity has so many different facets and meanings. “clearly” i have no use for the angry fundamentalist christianity that seems to be what most people equate with all christianity, and i hope to never go back there again. but it has its ghosts in my psyche, raw nerves i’m still nervous about touching.

my girlfriend, who i’ve been with for four years and who i’m planning a life with, was raised, basically, areligious. and i live in urban areas and queer communities that can also be fairly areligious. and there is a pride there that makes sense in the face of the religion that makes it on the news, the religion that seems to wear ignorance as a badge of honor. the problem then, though, is that ignorance of religion becomes the opposite badge of honor. i am continuously upset by the angry war between the religious and the nonreligious, because i think they’re actually on the same side which is the side of anger and fear.

my areligious girlfriend and i try to be on the side of love. and if god is love, is religion necessary?

the answer, for me, is that it can be helpful. it can provide a framework and a discipline for transforming and growing love past something shallow and greeting card.

the challenge, though, is moving past my own shy fear of unpopular opinions and desire for happy family life, and trying to ethically and honestly live a life based somewhere in religion while living with, loving and honoring my girlfriend and her traditions.

you say “well hey, it’s about time” and i say “no, no it’s about love”

there’s a post i’ve been holding onto for months, maybe years. i’m actually sitting here trying to write it and have managed to get halfway through it twice before highlighting the whole thing and hitting delete. i think of it as the post that’s gotten in the way of writing here regularly anymore, but it just won’t come out either.

it’s about my confusion about accountability to myself, from others, and to my meeting. it’s about calling and that falling away or shifting and not knowing where it went and not knowing how to ask for support and feeling bitter that it wasn’t just offered and feeling guilty for wanting other people to follow all of my whims and fluctuations. it’s about my desire to be more aware of others’ whims and fluctuations. it’s about accidentally almost joining a cult. it’s about the death of a member of my clearness committee. it’s about diversity and social justice and the question of if quakerism really is for everyone. it’s about how still and all, the majority of my friends are white. it’s about struggling as a teacher. it’s about crying at the meeting retreat two years ago because i just desperately wanted to give all of my students the type of experience i was having right then. it’s about how i don’t understand the valuable experiences my students have. it’s about wanting to write more. it’s about wanting to be more of what i think a quaker should be. it’s about living far from my meeting. it’s about feeling far from my meeting. it’s about feeling close to my meeting. it’s about unexpected phone calls from members of my meeting when i am feeling low or am across the country. it’s about feeling distance and then suddenly feeling overly close. it’s about being a grown-up. it’s about trying to infuse my teaching with quakerism. it’s about leaving and coming back. it’s about bitterness and angst and self-recrimination. it’s about deciding. it’s about not deciding. it’s about confusion, sadness, and joy. it’s about days slipping by. it’s about living.

maybe now that that’s all out of the way, i can start focusing on god again.

my summer of prequels, sequels, and nonconsensual sorrow

Three very important books came out this year: Sweet Valley Confidential by Francine Pascal, The Carrie Diaries: Summer and the City by Candace Bushnell, and Sisterhood Everlasting by Ann Brashares. I’m a teacher and as the summer approached, I was thrilled as I anticipated ordering the three from my local independent bookstore. When I called in the order over the phone, my girlfriend put her hand over her face in embarrassment, but I was too excited to care.

Books about girl friendship are my thing. I’m not totally sure why. I read or heard somewhere that every good TV show has as its base a fantasy ideal and maybe as someone who was socialized female but was always unpopular and confused, the cadre of girls who have my back is my fantasy. And I also have a distinct childhood memory of daydreaming about the future of The Baby-Sitters Club. I was excited to have found a series about young girls because we both had our whole futures ahead of us and I could read about their futures as I lived out mine.

The Baby-Sitters Club was my big series as a kid, and I attempted to start a book group about them a couple of years ago but I wasn’t as much on the pulse of my generation as I hoped I was. Fans are putting out “Where Are They Now” articles about them and my friends email me links to those because they know I will be pleased. Last summer, along with the first Carrie Diaries, a Baby-Sitters Club prequel came out. It was fine but I didn’t find it more engaging than just picking up Claudia and Crazy Peaches or anything like that. I’m a big fan of the graphic novels that were published a couple of years ago and I wish there could have been more of them.

Even though I knew of no big Baby-Sitters Club related publishing events, I was still thrilled. I’ve known about Sweet Valley Confidential for about a year and anticipated a second Carrie Diaries book since the first one hardly even got her into New York. I didn’t discover Sisterhood Everlasting until right as the summer began, and that was the one that my girlfriend was genuinely excited about.

The summer started innocently enough. We were actually having beautiful weather and while my girlfriend was at work, I would take Sweet Valley Confidential out into the back yard and read it, stretched out on a towel, even though I do not have a girlish size 6 figure with blond hair, blue-green eyes, and a dimple in one cheek. It was completely devourable, in the exact same way as the original books were- overly dramatic, simply written, and with familiar stereotypical/archetypal characters. There was some surprise gayness, an ending that untangled a lot of the romantic drama, and a list of “where are they nows” for an epilogue.

We had a trip planned for a few weeks into the summer and my girlfriend was planning to save Sisterhood Everlasting for that trip. She would grin when she saw the book, anticipating the joys it would bring. I would grin in response, pleased to be the provider of excellent girly fiction. Eventually she just couldn’t stand it any longer. She decided to just read the book, even though we weren’t leaving for a week. “Bee lives in the Mission!” she told me, as we were cuddled up together in bed. I was trying to extend my girly fiction summer and was reading The Dud Avocado for the first time. I felt the bed shake with laughter. “She had to dig through the trash to find her phone!” So like our impulsive Bee!

And then the bed was shaking again. I looked over, and there was my girlfriend, tears streaming down her face. “This is a bad book,” she said. My vision of myself as Good Provider Boyfriend shattered and I felt like Puppy Killing Boyfriend. She kept reading anyway, and her hints about loss in our own lives and my periodic peeking over her shoulder led me to figure out the tragedy in advance. And I’m going to tell you one part of it, feeling guiltless because it happens very early in the book and because it seems so frustratingly unnecessary as you are reading it. That one part is that, yes, one of the sisterhood dies.

How can this happen? This girl is not Beth March, Walter Blythe, Hilary Whitney, all deaths that you see coming and that have some sort of noble martyrdom in them. This is one of those “What the fuck? Why is this author mean!?” deaths. My theory, looking over Trisha’s shoulder, was that it was for the rest of the characters to grow. But as I watched my strong beautiful girlfriend who has already mourned so deeply in her life already, my opinion was still that the author was unnecessarily mean, even as I tried to comfort us both with my theories that growth would be involved in all of this. I mean, I hadn’t let her read Commencement, and here I had handed her this razor blade apple of a book.

I finished The Dud Avocado and then a reread of Rainbow Valley and then dove into Carrie Diaries: Summer and the City. I have a love/hate relationship with the Sex in the City TV show and movies, baffled in some ways by where the love comes from, having a lot to say about the socioeconomic, race, gender stereotypes and messages. But I’ve seen it all and think of “the girls” as some old friends who I know well and who never change. I read Sex in the City as I was about halfway through watching the series a few years ago and I thought it wasn’t very interesting, except that Stanford Blatch had long hair (I have only since watched There’s Something About Mary). But I grabbed the first Carrie Diaries book as soon as I could and read it quickly. It reminded me of Ellen Conford’s books or some other poky, sort of boring and dorky, sort of scandalous, somewhat dated paperback I would get out of the spinner at the library in the mid-90’s. Like in the other book and the series, Carrie’s epiphanies are not that impressive, but she’s just charming, flawed, and likable enough to keep you going. The last chapters get interesting as she finally makes her way from the suburbs to New York and one of the other “girls” makes a surprise appearance.

Summer and the City is set almost entirely in New York City and reminded me of all the ways being eighteen and naive makes everything seem like an epic adventure. It makes me miss the epic adventures but not enough to be stupid enough to make them happen again. I’ve only been to New York City once and am planning another trip, so the romanticized glamor of New York, amidst fabulous Carrie fashion decisions, made the book a really fun read. Nobody died and more characters from the TV series show up, and I was pleased by this fluffy read as well.

Trisha was staying up late nights to finish Sisterhood Everlasting and in the end she declared it a good book. I stalled for awhile, reading High Fidelity before braving it. Finally, I did. I brought it to a coffeehouse one grey San Francisco morning, and as I read it my insides got chillier and chillier. I got angrier and angrier as I read, telling the author, in my head, that I and the characters had grown plenty before this book and this was totally unnecessary.

The real problem with the book was that Ann Brashares was writing about grief in all of its specific steps and stages from the point of view of three different characters, and it was all completely recognizable. It was a bad, cruel book because it dragged you unwillingly through the steps you already know too well. You see, it’s all about consent. I did not consent to be grieving in the middle of my summer vacation. And I didn’t want to grow. I just wanted pants magic.

And then, like always, it came. I’m a sucker. Each character grew and changed and lived on the page, and I was right there with them, like Bastian to Atreyu. We went through the mirror gates, we faced the Southern Oracle, and when we were done, we were able to wish and hope again. And even though I hadn’t consented to any of the sisterhood dying, it turned out it wasn’t a bad book, because it shook me up, cleared out cobwebs, and actually wound up being fun again, eventually.

Published in: on 4 August, 2011 at 6:45 am  Comments (1)  

it wasn’t about me but it hurt so much.

they never tell you how hard it is to call cps.

as a teacher, you are a mandated reporter. anytime you suspect abuse you are required by law to call cps. you are not the detective, you are told, they are. just call.

before i was a teacher, i went to numerous trainings about calling cps. one involved a graphic video, another role-playing, and over and over again, the mantra “if you suspect abuse, you have to call. don’t worry. just do it.” they won’t break up families, it won’t be an immigration issue, their job is to keep children and families safe, and together whenever possible.

someone i am close to had to call cps before i did for someone in their class. i told them over and over again they just had to do it, it was our job.

and it turned out it was even hard than we’d expected, in entirely different ways than we had thought.

and i’ve had to call three times now, and each time the experience is the same. you feel nauseous, scared and vulnerable, the connection is usually bad, and you are trying to speak these horrible truths clearly and loudly and you get a little numb because the connection is so bad you’ve had to say them over and over and over again. and then on the other end, “are you sure?” “did you ask this?” “have you talked to…?” “this is very serious.” by the time you get off the phone, you feel about 2 feet tall, clumsy, stupid. you doubt they are going to follow up, even though this is the second time you’ve seen bruises, and you feel angry and confused at those people who told you to call. because now it feels like if you weren’t there at the window witnessing these precious children getting beaten, you have no case, why are you even calling?

i’ve been wanting to write about that for awhile, and it’s not quaker-specific, but it is about trying to have integrity in a confusing world. and i haven’t written here much and i miss it.

i’m not sure if i prayed about it all, or even how to pray about it now.

it wasn’t about me but it hurt so much.

hmm… that sentence just about sums up last school year.

Published in: on 29 June, 2011 at 9:46 am  Comments (2)  

he don’t show much these days

i don’t talk about god much at all really.

i want to, but i don’t know how.

part of it is that so many of my friends are queerish and us queers have had such scarring experiences with everything about the word “god” that i find myself timid in the face of it.

recently, i had one of those moments where a friend sort of questioned why religion was at all important to me, and i completely blew it. i stuttered and hemmed and hawed and couldn’t really get a complete sentence out, let alone anything really worth listening to.

of course if i did it more, i would be less rusty at it.

my life still feels somewhat compartmentalized, though i don’t want it to be and it’s not intentional. it’s hard to bring together my late 20’s, early 30’s friends together with my quaker friends. is that even essential? not necessarily. i would just love to be a better bridge.

i would just love to feel confident in nonoppressive god-talk. or being firmer in my belief that even if god is not being spoken of, the same things are in the air and happening. and being able to point it out when it’s there and say, “this, this moment, this is what i mean by god.”

Published in: on 7 July, 2010 at 5:03 pm  Comments (5)