There WITH Grace Go I…

Yesterday was Lazarus Sunday, there was a lot of talk of resurrection.  The preshow to main event I suppose.  I suppose if you could perform one miracle, raising the dead should be expected from people around you.  Our Deacon gave the Homily yesterday, he is always very intriguing and yesterday’s was no different.  He talked about resurrection in our own lives.  He talked about personal tragedy and helplessness while someone he loved floundered in darkness.  He couldn’t save her, and in the end, she couldn’t save herself.  He talked about resurrection right now.  Not in the end of the world sense but in our own hearts.

I am all for the resurrection of my own heart, my own love, my own broken relationships, my own future with my partner.  She and I continually meet people we are compelled to apologize to for the way we ended our marriages, and the way we came together.  We acknowledged to each other that that will be something we will probably be doing for the rest of our lives.   That acknowledgment doesn’t make our apologies less sincere.  It just makes them our reality.

There are things in all of our lives that we continually apologize for.  It doesn’t undo the damage, but it doesn’t make us candidates for stoning either (at least in this culture – at least not yet).  It helps us acknowledge our humanity.  It gives us markers of comparison to the damage others do to us. It helps us grow compassion from the fertilizer of our own transgressions.  How can you forgive if you have never needed it yourself (speaking strictly from a human perspective)?

I am considerably less self righteous than I was in the past.  I could jump on that Julia Sugarbaker soap box with the best of them.  (That was a 1980s Designing Women reference for all you youngin’s).  I am not much of a jumper these days… not MUCH… I can still go off on homophobes and racists and men guilty of various offenses.   I suppose I am not as devastated by diatribes as I used to be.  That doesn’t mean I won’t put up boundaries to keep me safe.  It just means I am not prone to the hatred that I once was.

Last Sunday, two bike riders training for a triathlon were killed a few miles from my apartment.  The father and son started out their morning in pursuit of something they loved.  The father was dead at the scene and the son lingered for a few more days before he died.  Yesterday, my very good friend could have been killed on her scooter.   Her new scooter totaled, but she is alive and relatively unharmed.  Their days started one way and ended another, “There but for the Grace of God go I.”   That is something we say a lot in AA about slipping or those who never make it into recovery.  I have to think did those things happened when God blinked?  What makes me any more graced than they?  The “but” somehow implies they didn’t have God’s Grace… I can’t believe that.  I think maybe it should be, “There with the Grace of God go I.”

I have come to believe that Grace of the divine kind is internal.  I think it’s a way of seeing the world and our function in it.  If you see your internal self as a sanctuary of peace, then who could the external hardships really touch you? If your internal temple is a temple of shame, then your external paradise will still be a living hell.  Sure you can get run over by a drunk driver while pursuing something you love doing, but how cheapened would life be if you never pursued anything you love?  I personally don’t want to die in my bed at 100 if it means I can never truly live.  I think that the Grace is in the pursuit of living.  I think shame paralyzes us from the joy of really living.  Of course, really living means screwing up or not being able to prevent someone else’s screw up from changing your life completely.  Really living is a risk my couch is a very safe place but if you lay on it too long it makes your back hurt.

Before I put up my donate button, I thought about how doing so might affect what I write, the way I write, if I write, what I will think of those who read it but, don’t, won’t, can’t or don’t think about donating to my cause.  Will I be cynical, skeptical, so utterly grateful I will turn in to a sycophant?  Will I be bitter and angry because the whole world didn’t put me in the category of the survivors in Japan, the Middle East, Afghanistan, those who are victims of slavery, of sexual abuse and there is so much suffering to even mention?  Will I be afraid that people will think less of me because I asked for help from friends, strangers, everyone?  Will I feel like an internet panderer?  Will people know I am in need?

Those are only some of the things I thought about before I put up my request.  Asking for help changes you in some ways.  In a way it is a resurrection on your vulnerabilities.  It’s like the dog lying down to show its vulnerable underbelly.  It doesn’t make it less of a dog; merely a dog who knows when to submit.  There’s a better way of saying that… .

It is expressed better in a song we sing at church or at Cursio (that is a retreat that Episcopalians like to go on – very uplifting and loving).  It’s called “The Servant Song” byRichard Gillard.   Some of the lyrics are:  “won’t you let me be your servant.  I will be like Christ to you.  Pray that I may I have the grace to let me be your servant too.”  I am doing the last part right now… or trying to do it.  I keep reminding myself that needing help doesn’t make me less of a person, just a person who knows when she is in need.

I am not the greatest or most noble charity on the planet not even in my own mind.  I can recommend lots of noble charities.  My favorites are Make Way Partners, (http://www.makewaypartners.org/).  That charity helps fight human trafficking and takes care of orphans in Sudan, Romania and other places.  The one Episcopalian (http://www.episcopalchurch.org/ONE) charity is another favorite.  That one helps support the UN millennium goals to help end worldwide poverty and promote the rights of everyone.  Those are noble charities, and tax deductible.

It is funny what desperation does to you.  Right now my desperation centers on fund raising for my legal fund since I have no familial support or notable credit from which to borrow.  I have sold almost anything of value.  My act of desperation was also an act of faith putting out a request for help.  I thought it through before I acted.  My whole sense of good in the world isn’t riding on one dime of support.  My sense of self worth isn’t either.   It’s just a request for help, and those who feel it will and those who don’t or can’t won’t.   I asked something of our new director at work a few weeks ago.  I knew it was a long shot, and it was denied; however, she told me that she was glad that I had asked because so many people don’t ask, and you know what the answer will be when you don’t ask.  That was a Grace – full answer.

I guess that this moment is a resurrection of my humility.  My resurrection of knowing that, like others in need of something (and I believe that we all are), I am okay.  I guess resurrection is about Grace in one’s life.  So with that, “There with the Grace of God go I…”  Thanks for reading.

I am probably not going to get eaten…

Friday, April 22, 2011

The other day someone said that when people figure out that the diver isn’t going to get eaten by the shark, they stop watching the dive show.  Since I do a lot of those show dives where I work, I got a bit of a chill down my spine — not because I am afraid I will really get eaten by a shark, but that seeing me eaten alive is at least a minor motivation of some people to watch.

Just let me say that I am not afraid of our sharks.  I have become accustomed to them and know their body language pretty well.  I have been diving with these particular sharks some three-hundred times.  I have never felt threatened by them — not once.  I have been thumped by Permit fish, charged by grouper, the angel fish has bitten me as well as the trigger fish and the spade fish have pulled out my hair, but not once has a shark even looked at me with any interest.

The next time I dove, I did think about it, however.  I thought about people wanting to see me get eaten.  I climbed down the ladder into the acclimation tank and three sharks swam by me as they were making their loop around the tank.  A stingray had settled right under the ladder, so I took a giant step out and over so that I wouldn’t scare her, and just as I did, one of the sand bar sharks swerved out of my way so that we didn’t collide.  It didn’t seem interested in biting me.  It just wanted to get out of the way, and I was clearly in the way of its greater purpose — swimming to breathe.

It is funny how I used to be afraid of sharks.  When I stepped in the ocean, I was sure I was on the shark radar and on the list of what’s for dinner.  (Thank you Peter Benchly and Steven Speilberg).  The movie Jaws really put sharks in the hot seat and they have suffered mass annihilation for it.  I have realized that my fear was very self-centered.  I don’t think I register on shark radar. They have more important things to do than worry with the likes of me — like catching smaller prey that they recognize as food, and food that actually tastes good to them.

All my fears center in myself.  When fear controls me, there is no room for the presence of a higher power in my life.  Sometimes I trick myself out of fear with statistics.  For instance, “you are more likely to be struck by lightening than to be bitten by a shark;” or “if you have been bitten by a shark, it is nearly statistically impossible that you will ever be bitten again;” my favorite, however, is “Nearly 80 percent of all statistics are wrong.”   Though I know these statistics are probably more fiction than truth, they are tangible concrete things my mind can cling to — kind of like that buoy in the opening scene of Jaws.

When visitors view the sharks swimming by the windows of the tank, there is usually an exclamation of awe, fear, or trepidation but rarely a warm and fuzzy sort of response.  I hear visitors exclaim all the time about the puffer fish looking at them.  “Oh look, he is looking right at me,” most likely the puffer is looking at something colorful and shiny to chew on.  But they do appear to connect. They are cute yet alien and they “look right at you.”  Sharks don’t seem to acknowledge you at all.  I guess I focus more on the teeth than the eyes when looking at the sharks.  When I am in their presence, I seem to be just another obstacle to swim around.  When I am having a bad day or feeling very self-conscious, I forget that I am just another obstacle to maneuver around to most people.  On a bad day, I think everyone is looking at me, everyone is noticing all of my faults, but I know that is not true — somewhere deep down.  Like the sharks, most people swim with another purpose.

It occurred to me that if people want to see the diver get eaten, it is probably because they want to see something that will change their lives.  People talk about the dramatic events that they have witnessed and usually the description of the incident is followed by how it changed them.  How they were before and how they are now.  If it wasn’t for that dramatic incident, they would never have experienced the change.  For many, something good comes in spite of the bad.

I think we are all looking for that moment that changes us.  That moment where we learn a new truth, but what I sometimes forget is the change is on the inside, and it happened because I was ready for it to happen.  The external incident might be the trigger but the real change is inside.

I would like to think that that is what people want.  I hope that our fascination with the violent and grotesque is based on our need to see an inner truth about ourselves and not the inner organs of an unfortunate victim (or should I say survivor — that holds more optimism).  At least, I hope that is what we want because I trust my friends in the tank will leave all my parts just the way they are.

Despair… regroup… coming to terms… despair.

Monday, May 2, 2011

I wonder if losing custody is like facing a death of sorts.  Yesterday was the first day of this new custody arrangement.  I didn’t get to see my boys.  My partner kept me distracted.  We went to church and got a tremendous amount of support.  The homily was on when your faith is shaken lean on those around you who’s faith is strong and when your faith is strong be there for those who’s faith is shaken.  I believe that was written for me… I am sure many in the congregation felt the same way.  Yesterday, I leaned.  A lot.  I remember that feeling of anger and resolve I felt on Saturday.  I remember the utter despair I felt on Friday.  It seems like a cycle.  Today its back to despair.  I am sure there are those who think I brought it on myself.  That is an easy answer.  In some ways, I did.  I dared to live my truth.  Truth or consequences should actually be truth and consequences.  I know this will be a fight.  I know it is a fight that is worth it.  I would rather build my relationship with my children on truth than on a lie of who the world around me wants me to be or who it is used to what I once thought I was… If you are confused, you are not alone.  This is baffling for a whole lot of people.  I, however, am not one of them.

Finally, after 42 years, I know who I am.  As I go back through my history, I can see moments of where I had girl crushes but summed them up as something else.  After that summation, followed a physical ache in my chest, a crushing loneliness that felt like it would kill me.  I could never name it because I just couldn’t see it.  I thought I found a soul mate in a man who had his own loneliness to overcome.  We connected for awhile, and then we didn’t.  That soul crushing loneliness was pervasive.  Until I finally, finally, finally came to terms with being a lesbian did that loneliness vanish.  It was essential for me to discover who I am.  Booze couldn’t cover it up and not knowing made my depression worse.  I am finally free within myself.  Now, I am in a cage of a different sort.  I have that soul crushing loneliness again but for my boys.  Why must anyone ask me to choose my real self to share in a relationship with my boys or my boys themselves?  What world asks us to choose?  These are rhetorical.  You cannot answer my questions just as I cannot answer yours.

Since my spiritual journey brought me to the Episcopal Church, I have sought the truth about my relationship with God.  I have sought an authentic vision of myself.  There are many who have helped me on this journey that now I think must be horrified at what I have discovered.  Many think I am selfish.  I think it is selfish to live a lie just to preserve your own security.  I think that is selfish and wastes the lives and relationships of those around you.

I am “in for a penny in for a pound.”  I am walking this path for the right reasons.  I am being true to myself, to my children, to God.  I am walking this with so many other women who have that hole in their soul for missing their children.  I am walking that path toward wholeness toward a reunion in relationship with my boys.

Right now I am in the ashes.  I am waiting for the rising phoenix.  It hasn’t risen yet.  Today is a bad day.  I am going to the beach in a little while, and I am going to listen to the roar of the ocean and hope that is calms the roar in my heart.  Thank you for reading…

In Your Face Burrito Boy!

Friday, May 13, 2011

“In your face burrito boy!”

Next time you are frustrated walk into a random crowd, firmly plant your feet, ball up your fists, turn your face up to the sky and shout, “In your face burrito boy!”  And calmly walk away.  I tried it today.  It was genuinely refreshing.

This morning I was having a conversation with a friend who is also separating from her husband.  He is very controlling down to nearly every bite she puts in her mouth.  He provided her lunch even though she was going to a cook out, she left it in the staff refrigerator.  As she threw it on the shelf and slammed shut the door, that is what she yelled.  It was so hysterically funny, I thought I would try it.

It is equally as satisfying out of context and especially at a completely random moment.  I once had a dream of starting a bumper sticker empire.  Being true to my bi-polar nature, I would naturally start an empire — not a business.  That would be a top seller for sure.  A good friend was going to head the T-shirt division, but we haven’t gotten the empire moving yet.

Another friend jumped the gun and went ahead a produced her own bumper sticker.  Instead of I “heart” my wife, she designed I “bone” my wife.  I was instantly jealous of her cleverness.  Whomever came up with, “Visualize Whirled Peas,” is an absolute hero of mine.  I wish I were that clever.  Today, I decided on a performance piece instead of an actual product.  I borrowed my friend’s frustrated declaration and randomly applied it.  First of all, there were no men (or boys) in the food prep room — just women still steeping in their first cups of coffee.  The bewilderment that filled the room was just enough to get my day started in the right direction.

I am still in recovery from the custody hearing.  I am still a little numb with disbelief that things have turned out the way they did, so a little display of randomly mild insanity is to be expected.  I was portrayed as a substance soaked lunatic, I might as well get a little mileage out of it.  If I have learned one thing in this whole process, it is how incredibly naive I am.  I had no idea that court was as ugly as it was.  I think my future ex found it distasteful as well.  Since our hearing, we have had several meetings about working out an agreement that is mutually agreeable and good for our children.  I am naively hopeful.  In fact, the bracelet I am wearing is an elastic band that says “HOPE” on it.  I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

The lawyer referred to my living as a lesbian as a “reorientation.”  I guess that might be a technical term.  I don’t really feel “reoriented.”  I feel settled, right, calm, “normal” (whatever that is), serene (at times), but never “reoriented.”  I feel more like me than ever before.  You know that moment right after you do that full body stretch you feel refreshed and relaxed all at the same time?  That is how I feel.  I don’t think that is “reoriented.”  Re-oxygenated maybe but not reoriented.

I remember seeing the detail of the leaves on the trees after I got glasses for the first time.  It was a calming relief, but I was still me.  I wasn’t reoriented I was just in focus for the first time in a long time.  In fact, the deterioration of my vision was so gradual that I didn’t know I couldn’t see well until it was corrected.  I guess until I figured out my sexuality I couldn’t live well until that part of me was in focus.  I was still me but with better vision.  Now, I am still me … but with better vision.

This morning when I yelled out in the food prep room, I felt good.  I had no desire to hide out or fit in or disappear into the crowd.  I don’t have to do that anymore.  I don”t need to hide and worry if people think I am not ok because I am.  I figured out who I am.  That is not a bad thing.  That is a pretty darn good thing.  Figuring it out and living it is like putting on the glasses.  The shadowy figures that used to scare you clear up and you can see them with less fear.  You can wear those glasses fearlessly.  They used to say, “boys don’t make passes at girls who wear glasses.”  — GOOD.  That always made me a bit nervous and uncomfortable.  Now, it makes sense why.

Some girls do make passes at girls who wear glasses.  I say, GOOD!  That’s more like it.  That seems right to me, that seems “normal” (whatever that is!).  It feels right and natural and good.  That’s all.  I am still me and able to understand why I feel the way I feel.  Understanding myself gets me connected.  I finally feel plugged into the world.  I can be really connected to my Higher Power, and I have a lot more peace.  I am still me but instead of existing in a hell I don’t understand.  I live in God’s Kingdom on earth (or at least am closer to it).  I am still exactly me.  I can choose hell or heaven.  I choose the latter having survived the former.

Re-oriented isn’t the right word.  I am not sure what it is yet, but its not that label some snotty oppositional lawyer put on me.  So to him I say, “In your face burrito boy!”  Wow, after all these hours, it is still an extremely satisfying exclamation.

Forgiving

Friday, May 20, 2011

Forgiving

This is not an entry about me per se.  It is about those people around me or who are achingly absent from me.  Today on Story Corps on NPR I heard about this man who killed another when he was a teenager.  While in prison, the mother of the slain boy came to see him.  They forged a relationship.  On a visit to see him, the mother hugged the young man when she said goodbye, and at the moment realized that she had forgiven him.  Now that he is out of prison, they live next door to each other.  They are in a relationship like a mother and a son.  They give each other relationships that are otherwise absent from them.   The key ingredient that made it possible is forgiveness.  

I don’t know how it happens.  I don’t know what internal transaction takes place that makes manifest the act of saying, “I forgive you.”  I don’t know.  It is something, depending on your spiritual inclinations, in the line of miracle, magic, divine gift or something else that I haven’t thought of but probably you have.  It’s not for me to say what spiritual ingredients make up your life.  I am still trying to figure out the spiritual ingredients of my own life.  

I remember sitting in our basement as a child, taking the red clay from the earthen floor and making bowls with it.  They looked much like hollowed out dormant volcanoes.  I remember taking chunks of white dirt clods harvested from another area of the basement and pounding them into powder to decorate my volcano bowl with white lines and zigzags and squiggles.  I remember wanting it so desperately to mean something.  I remember wanting to be met with some sort of approval for my industry.  I don’t remember getting it to my satisfaction.  Whether I did or didn’t, I don’t know.  I just remember feeling pride in what I had made followed by an emptiness made from fruitless effort.  Sometimes, I feel that feeling still.  It was a good activity for a rainy day and no cable or satellite TV.  I remember imagining someone from a long lost tribe occupying that very spot doing that very same thing (I ascertained that the red clay deposits of our mountain would have made excellent ceramics).  I imagined some long ago kindred spirit admiring and even copying my work.  In those moments I felt a timeless connection to someone that in moments of time that ticked away the seconds into minutes was filled with a loneliness I could never shake.   Tapping into some imaginary past or otherworld gave me relief because I could connect where I rarely felt connection in my waking world.  Coming out tapped me into the world.  Sometimes I feel awake for the first time.  All of me is here.

Like I said this isn’t so much about me (well, as far as it cannot be about me because if this is experiential writing, by definition, it has to be about me).  Now that I am awake (more than I am not), I see the relationships that I have.  I see the ones I have lost.  I see the need to forgive and the need for forgiveness.  I cannot grieve so much for what I have lost because I have gained me.  Costly treasure requires a certain amount of sacrifice.  I feel a loss of some older friends.  Once I taught a Sunday school class, and I was the youngest member of the group by approximately 25 years.   I remember the genuine sadness some of the members had for homosexuals who could (or wouldn’t) be re-educated or reoriented or whatever that misguided endeavor was called.  They truly believed you could choose.  I guess they never had to choose.   It never occurred to me to choose either.  Of course for me the choice was to be me or to be something else.  I decided to be me.  Maybe that part is a choice to choose to live the truth or to live a convenient lie.  On second thought, that’s not much of a choice.  That’s more of a condemnation – to live the lie that is.  I have not discussed coming out with any of these people, so I can only speculate their reaction.  I have not been invited to a coming out celebration either.  You can draw your own conclusion.   I miss those older friends, but am smart enough to know that some doors cannot be shut once they have been opened.  

I have observed that the closer you look at something, the harder it is to make a judgment.  The harder it is to condemn.   A friend of mine, whom I hurt very deeply, forgave me.  I asked.  She granted.  For her, that internal transaction took place.  She could forgive.  Now, our friendship is stronger.  I was in need of that forgiveness and she gave it and now my love for her is deeper than it was before.  I think Jesus had something to say about that.  The woman who washed his feet with her tears and dried them with her hair I think that is the story I am remembering… (You are smart … you can look it up).  When someone forgives you after you have hurt them, that is a truly precious gift.  It’s that kind of love that truly brings you closer to the heart of God.   

It is ironic that the moment I stopped letting other’s define who I am is also the moment I accepted a different definition of who I am from someone who was my “Jesus with skin on” as I have heard some people say.  With my first transgression in discovering my true self, an acquaintance whom I hurt very deeply, forgave me.  She didn’t care that I am gay.  She didn’t care that I am bi-polar.  She didn’t care that I am a recovering alcoholic.  She cared that I asked for forgiveness.  I didn’t put up a defensive wall and tell myself I had a right or I didn’t need another friend anyway.  I didn’t turn away and ignore what I had done.  I asked for forgiveness.  Somewhere in herself, she saw the importance of granting it.  From that act of forgiveness, I saw myself as still having value still being under the shadow of God’s grace.  Now I have a real friend in this person.  I am a real friend to that person.  

We are not the woman and the murderer.  We are not Jesus and the weeping woman.  We are who we are, and like the others have the very real change in our lives that forgiveness brings.  Thanks for reading.

No Punch Backs

The other day while driving to Aikido class, my elder son Blade was complaining, no fussing , no actually, raging at me because he has discovered at the age of ten that life is not fair.  I am sure at any age that is a difficult lesson.  I don’t actually remember when I learned it.  I can be naive at times, so somewhere deep in the recesses of hope, I might actually have a shred of the belief embedded.  However, Blade reminded me that life is indeed not fair.  He was angry.  He is angry.  He is angry at me for moving out.  He is angry at my partner for breathing.  He is angry at his father’s girlfriend for the same audacity to also breathe.  No, literally — he doesn’t appreciate that they are or ever have exchanged O2 for CO2 ever in the history of the Universe.  He is angry at his father for having said girlfriend and a myriad of other things.  Right now adults are the enemy.  Our conversation went something like this:

“I hate her,” Blade said.  

I glanced back at him in the rear view mirror.  His face was contorted and red.  His eyebrows scrunched down and his lip quivered slightly.  I wanted to stop the car and hug him, but we were running late as I could not locate Chopper’s Gi and white belt although if he is a white belt much longer, he will appear to be a black belt in the traditional way.  One does not wash one’s obi, but I digress.  Chopper was sitting quietly content looking out the window.

“Hate is an awfully strong word, Blade,” I said and turned to go on to the bridge.  

“She has ruined everything, and now Daddy isn’t coming home tonight,” he shouted.

“It is hardly her fault that the boat didn’t arrive on time and work was delayed another day.”

“It is her fault,” he protested.

“No,” I tried to remain calm.  “It isn’t anyone’s fault.  It’s the weather and the wind.”

“If she didn’t breathe so much, the wind wouldn’t have blown the boat and made everything go wrong,” his retort was weak, and he trailed off toward the end.

“Seriously?” I exclaimed.  “Do you seriously believe that?”

“Yes!” he shouted.  “If she and HK(my partner) and you and daddy weren’t so self…” Blade fell silent mid-word.

“Punch buggy, no punch back,” Chopper exclaimed and punched his brother squarely in the bicep.   

I scanned the rear view mirror apprehensively.  A jubilant smile spread over Copper’s face, and he returned to scanning the highway for more Volkswagen’s.

Blade looked as if his brain had short circuited.  He hands were frozen in a half clench.  He mouth was open and his face was red.  He wanted to continue blaming someone – anyone for his misery.  This time it was the new girlfriend who wanted so much to get a long with Blade.  His half clenched hands indicated that he did not intend to follow the time honored Punch Buggy rules and if he could straighten out the messages going to his brain, he would soon pound his little brother.

I thought to myself, “Oh Chopper, one of these days I am going to be scraping you up off of the floor…”  

Chopper was oblivious.  He was doing his own thing.

I said to Blade, “Buddy, life isn’t fair, but you have the advantage of learning that very early in your life, and that way went something unexpected happens, it won’t be a huge surprise and that knowledge alone will make you better prepared to handle it.”

“Yeah, whatever,” he conceded. He turned his head and began looking out the window.  Later, I asked him and his brother to give their dad’s new girlfriend a chance that she made daddy happy and that that was a good thing.  

Chopper said he would try.  

Blade remained uncommitted.  

Then I stated to think about it a little more.  I always vowed I would be truthful with my boys.  I said I would always be open to them.  I wondered, am I telling them what I pray is true or what is truly true?  I mean the best person on the planet got nailed to a cross.  That should be the ultimate lesson in the realization that life isn’t fair.  I started to wonder about fairness.  Do we really want what is fair or do we consider getting what we want as being the meaning of fair?

When I was a learning differences tutor in college, I remember learning that fair doesn’t mean everyone gets the same thing, but everyone gets what s/he needs.  After all, when I teach CPR, I do not teach that to be fair, after you give the victim CPR, you should give everyone involved CPR so that you are being fair.  That would be not only ridiculous, it would also be dangerous and a litigious action.  Maybe getting what you need is following your truth and as that truth unfolds, having the courage or endurance to change paths. Sometimes your truth is altered by someone else’s, maybe fair is summoning the fortitude to take one more step forward when your life is unexpectedly or unwillingly changed.  I guess that would be a version of “fake it ’til you make it,” meaning if you act a certain way (like happy) eventually you will begin to feel it.  

It is fair that Blade is lashing out.  It is an honest reaction to his situation.  He is hurting and confused and afraid.  It is fair that Chopper punched him … after all, it wasn’t his fault that his big brother wasn’t paying attention to the VWs on the road.  It is fair that I pursued an authentic life, and it is fair that my soon to be ex is angry that life didn’t go the way he expected.   I guess fair isn’t pleasant.  I guess fair isn’t pretty.  

My God Mother says, “you shouldn’t should on yourself,” and I believe that is true.  Like, “I should have lived a lie so no one else is affected.” or “I should have known this earlier about myself.”  The fact is, I didn’t know and I don’t believe in perpetuating a lie.  Or, “I should have waited,” or “he should have waited…”  Fact is, should doesn’t make it better for anyone, and obsessing about what is “fair” is often subjective, especially when it comes to relationships.

I think I like the AA saying of ” trying to do the next right thing.”  That is a bit situational, but I think that is appropriate.  Too many hard and fast rules eliminates compassion.  I would like to believe that doing the next right thing means giving the situation and the people around you the consideration of doing what is right for everyone including yourself.  Doing the next right thing means you take into consideration relationships.  You consider people and you consider yourself.  

I don’t really know if life is fair.  I do like to fall into the arms of Universal Grace, however.  I do like the concept of mercy.  I think anyone who deeply considers life would find his or her memories peppered with fair and unfair with a heaping dose of should haves and shouldn’t haves.  I know that when looking at other’s I want justice, and when looking at myself I would much prefer mercy.  I think that is the ultimate break down of “no punch backs” after you have delivered your own brand of justice.  Maybe I should just pray for mercy for us all, but I reserve the right of no punch backs whenever a VW bug crosses my path.  

As always, thanks for reading…

 

Friday, May 20, 2011

Forgiving

This is not an entry about me per se.  It is about those people around me or who are achingly absent from me.  Today on Story Corps on NPR I heard about this man who killed another when he was a teenager.  While in prison, the mother of the slain boy came to see him.  They forged a relationship.  On a visit to see him, the mother hugged the young man when she said goodbye, and at the moment realized that she had forgiven him.  Now that he is out of prison, they live next door to each other.  They are in a relationship like a mother and a son.  They give each other relationships that are otherwise absent from them.   The key ingredient that made it possible is forgiveness.  

I don’t know how it happens.  I don’t know what internal transaction takes place that makes manifest the act of saying, “I forgive you.”  I don’t know.  It is something, depending on your spiritual inclinations, in the line of miracle, magic, divine gift or something else that I haven’t thought of but probably you have.  It’s not for me to say what spiritual ingredients make up your life.  I am still trying to figure out the spiritual ingredients of my own life.  

I remember sitting in our basement as a child, taking the red clay from the earthen floor and making bowls with it.  They looked much like hollowed out dormant volcanoes.  I remember taking chunks of white dirt clods harvested from another area of the basement and pounding them into powder to decorate my volcano bowl with white lines and zigzags and squiggles.  I remember wanting it so desperately to mean something.  I remember wanting to be met with some sort of approval for my industry.  I don’t remember getting it to my satisfaction.  Whether I did or didn’t, I don’t know.  I just remember feeling pride in what I had made followed by an emptiness made from fruitless effort.  Sometimes, I feel that feeling still.  It was a good activity for a rainy day and no cable or satellite TV.  I remember imagining someone from a long lost tribe occupying that very spot doing that very same thing (I ascertained that the red clay deposits of our mountain would have made excellent ceramics).  I imagined some long ago kindred spirit admiring and even copying my work.  In those moments I felt a timeless connection to someone that in moments of time that ticked away the seconds into minutes was filled with a loneliness I could never shake.   Tapping into some imaginary past or otherworld gave me relief because I could connect where I rarely felt connection in my waking world.  Coming out tapped me into the world.  Sometimes I feel awake for the first time.  All of me is here.

Like I said this isn’t so much about me (well, as far as it cannot be about me because if this is experiential writing, by definition, it has to be about me).  Now that I am awake (more than I am not), I see the relationships that I have.  I see the ones I have lost.  I see the need to forgive and the need for forgiveness.  I cannot grieve so much for what I have lost because I have gained me.  Costly treasure requires a certain amount of sacrifice.  I feel a loss of some older friends.  Once I taught a Sunday school class, and I was the youngest member of the group by approximately 25 years.   I remember the genuine sadness some of the members had for homosexuals who could (or wouldn’t) be re-educated or reoriented or whatever that misguided endeavor was called.  They truly believed you could choose.  I guess they never had to choose.   It never occurred to me to choose either.  Of course for me the choice was to be me or to be something else.  I decided to be me.  Maybe that part is a choice to choose to live the truth or to live a convenient lie.  On second thought, that’s not much of a choice.  That’s more of a condemnation – to live the lie that is.  I have not discussed coming out with any of these people, so I can only speculate their reaction.  I have not been invited to a coming out celebration either.  You can draw your own conclusion.   I miss those older friends, but am smart enough to know that some doors cannot be shut once they have been opened.  

I have observed that the closer you look at something, the harder it is to make a judgment.  The harder it is to condemn.   A friend of mine, whom I hurt very deeply, forgave me.  I asked.  She granted.  For her, that internal transaction took place.  She could forgive.  Now, our friendship is stronger.  I was in need of that forgiveness and she gave it and now my love for her is deeper than it was before.  I think Jesus had something to say about that.  The woman who washed his feet with her tears and dried them with her hair I think that is the story I am remembering… (You are smart … you can look it up).  When someone forgives you after you have hurt them, that is a truly precious gift.  It’s that kind of love that truly brings you closer to the heart of God.   

It is ironic that the moment I stopped letting other’s define who I am is also the moment I accepted a different definition of who I am from someone who was my “Jesus with skin on” as I have heard some people say.  With my first transgression in discovering my true self, an acquaintance whom I hurt very deeply, forgave me.  She didn’t care that I am gay.  She didn’t care that I am bi-polar.  She didn’t care that I am a recovering alcoholic.  She cared that I asked for forgiveness.  I didn’t put up a defensive wall and tell myself I had a right or I didn’t need another friend anyway.  I didn’t turn away and ignore what I had done.  I asked for forgiveness.  Somewhere in herself, she saw the importance of granting it.  From that act of forgiveness, I saw myself as still having value still being under the shadow of God’s grace.  Now I have a real friend in this person.  I am a real friend to that person.  

We are not the woman and the murderer.  We are not Jesus and the weeping woman.  We are who we are, and like the others have the very real change in our lives that forgiveness brings.  Thanks for reading.

Posted by Layla Proudfoot at Friday, May 20, 2011 0 comments

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Friday, May 13, 2011

“In your face burrito boy!”

Next time you are frustrated walk into a random crowd, firmly plant your feet, ball up your fists, turn your face up to the sky and shout, “In your face burrito boy!”  And calmly walk away.  I tried it today.  It was genuinely refreshing.

This morning I was having a conversation with a friend who is also separating from her husband.  He is very controlling down to nearly every bite she puts in her mouth.  He provided her lunch even though she was going to a cook out, she left it in the staff refrigerator.  As she threw it on the shelf and slammed shut the door, that is what she yelled.  It was so hysterically funny, I thought I would try it.

It is equally as satisfying out of context and especially at a completely random moment.  I once had a dream of starting a bumper sticker empire.  Being true to my bi-polar nature, I would naturally start an empire — not a business.  That would be a top seller for sure.  A good friend was going to head the T-shirt division, but we haven’t gotten the empire moving yet.

Another friend jumped the gun and went ahead a produced her own bumper sticker.  Instead of I “heart” my wife, she designed I “bone” my wife.  I was instantly jealous of her cleverness.  Whomever came up with, “Visualize Whirled Peas,” is an absolute hero of mine.  I wish I were that clever.  Today, I decided on a performance piece instead of an actual product.  I borrowed my friend’s frustrated declaration and randomly applied it.  First of all, there were no men (or boys) in the food prep room — just women still steeping in their first cups of coffee.  The bewilderment that filled the room was just enough to get my day started in the right direction.

I am still in recovery from the custody hearing.  I am still a little numb with disbelief that things have turned out the way they did, so a little display of randomly mild insanity is to be expected.  I was portrayed as a substance soaked lunatic, I might as well get a little mileage out of it.  If I have learned one thing in this whole process, it is how incredibly naive I am.  I had no idea that court was as ugly as it was.  I think my future ex found it distasteful as well.  Since our hearing, we have had several meetings about working out an agreement that is mutually agreeable and good for our children.  I am naively hopeful.  In fact, the bracelet I am wearing is an elastic band that says “HOPE” on it.  I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

The lawyer referred to my living as a lesbian as a “reorientation.”  I guess that might be a technical term.  I don’t really feel “reoriented.”  I feel settled, right, calm, “normal” (whatever that is), serene (at times), but never “reoriented.”  I feel more like me than ever before.  You know that moment right after you do that full body stretch you feel refreshed and relaxed all at the same time?  That is how I feel.  I don’t think that is “reoriented.”  Re-oxygenated maybe but not reoriented.

I remember seeing the detail of the leaves on the trees after I got glasses for the first time.  It was a calming relief, but I was still me.  I wasn’t reoriented I was just in focus for the first time in a long time.  In fact, the deterioration of my vision was so gradual that I didn’t know I couldn’t see well until it was corrected.  I guess until I figured out my sexuality I couldn’t live well until that part of me was in focus.  I was still me but with better vision.  Now, I am still me … but with better vision.

This morning when I yelled out in the food prep room, I felt good.  I had no desire to hide out or fit in or disappear into the crowd.  I don’t have to do that anymore.  I don”t need to hide and worry if people think I am not ok because I am.  I figured out who I am.  That is not a bad thing.  That is a pretty darn good thing.  Figuring it out and living it is like putting on the glasses.  The shadowy figures that used to scare you clear up and you can see them with less fear.  You can wear those glasses fearlessly.  They used to say, “boys don’t make passes at girls who wear glasses.”  — GOOD.  That always made me a bit nervous and uncomfortable.  Now, it makes sense why.

Some girls do make passes at girls who wear glasses.  I say, GOOD!  That’s more like it.  That seems right to me, that seems “normal” (whatever that is!).  It feels right and natural and good.  That’s all.  I am still me and able to understand why I feel the way I feel.  Understanding myself gets me connected.  I finally feel plugged into the world.  I can be really connected to my Higher Power, and I have a lot more peace.  I am still me but instead of existing in a hell I don’t understand.  I live in God’s Kingdom on earth (or at least am closer to it).  I am still exactly me.  I can choose hell or heaven.  I choose the latter having survived the former.

Re-oriented isn’t the right word.  I am not sure what it is yet, but its not that label some snotty oppositional lawyer put on me.  So to him I say, “In your face burrito boy!”  Wow, after all these hours, it is still an extremely satisfying exclamation.

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Posted by Layla Proudfoot at Friday, May 13, 2011 0 comments

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Monday, May 2, 2011

Despair… regroup… coming to terms… despair.

I wonder if losing custody is like facing a death of sorts.  Yesterday was the first day of this new custody arrangement.  I didn’t get to see my boys.  My partner kept me distracted.  We went to church and got a tremendous amount of support.  The homily was on when your faith is shaken lean on those around you who’s faith is strong and when your faith is strong be there for those who’s faith is shaken.  I believe that was written for me… I am sure many in the congregation felt the same way.  Yesterday, I leaned.  A lot.  I remember that feeling of anger and resolve I felt on Saturday.  I remember the utter despair I felt on Friday.  It seems like a cycle.  Today its back to despair.  I am sure there are those who think I brought it on myself.  That is an easy answer.  In some ways, I did.  I dared to live my truth.  Truth or consequences should actually be truth and consequences.  I know this will be a fight.  I know it is a fight that is worth it.  I would rather build my relationship with my children on truth than on a lie of who the world around me wants me to be or who it is used to what I once thought I was… If you are confused, you are not alone.  This is baffling for a whole lot of people.  I, however, am not one of them.

Finally, after 42 years, I know who I am.  As I go back through my history, I can see moments of where I had girl crushes but summed them up as something else.  After that summation, followed a physical ache in my chest, a crushing loneliness that felt like it would kill me.  I could never name it because I just couldn’t see it.  I thought I found a soul mate in a man who had his own loneliness to overcome.  We connected for awhile, and then we didn’t.  That soul crushing loneliness was pervasive.  Until I finally, finally, finally came to terms with being a lesbian did that loneliness vanish.  It was essential for me to discover who I am.  Booze couldn’t cover it up and not knowing made my depression worse.  I am finally free within myself.  Now, I am in a cage of a different sort.  I have that soul crushing loneliness again but for my boys.  Why must anyone ask me to choose my real self to share in a relationship with my boys or my boys themselves?  What world asks us to choose?  These are rhetorical.  You cannot answer my questions just as I cannot answer yours.

Since my spiritual journey brought me to the Episcopal Church, I have sought the truth about my relationship with God.  I have sought an authentic vision of myself.  There are many who have helped me on this journey that now I think must be horrified at what I have discovered.  Many think I am selfish.  I think it is selfish to live a lie just to preserve your own security.  I think that is selfish and wastes the lives and relationships of those around you.

I am “in for a penny in for a pound.”  I am walking this path for the right reasons.  I am being true to myself, to my children, to God.  I am walking this with so many other women who have that hole in their soul for missing their children.  I am walking that path toward wholeness toward a reunion in relationship with my boys.

Right now I am in the ashes.  I am waiting for the rising phoenix.  It hasn’t risen yet.  Today is a bad day.  I am going to the beach in a little while, and I am going to listen to the roar of the ocean and hope that is calms the roar in my heart.  Thank you for reading…

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Posted by Layla Proudfoot at Monday, May 02, 2011 1 comments

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Friday, April 29, 2011

Today my oldest son turns ten, yesterday it felt like I lost him and his brother.

We had the hearing yesterday for temporary custody and child support.  It did not go as well as I had hoped.  We both share joint legal custody of our boys, so I do get to be a part of the decision making process for them.  My estranged husband got primary physical custody, and I get them every other weekend essentially and every other Wednesday for dinner.  Plus, he gets nearly one half month of my monthly pay for child support.  There are some other stipulations, but I will not go into those.  I will now see them less than I already did.  I cannot comment on what the court thinks, as I have no idea.  I do know that I asked my lawyer to do this with as little bloodshed as possible.  I think I erred.  I don’t think that was a stipulation on the side of the defense.  If my estranged needed public vindication, yesterday, he received it.  I guess this is what justice looks like.  I was the one to leave.  I was the one who left without taking the boys with me.  I left them because I didn’t want to cause them trauma.  For a separation to occur, someone has to leave, so that is what I did.

I was portrayed as a self centered, crazy, impulsive drunk by the other lawyer.  I never thought of myself as self-centered and selfish.  Maybe people who are don’t see themselves that way.  I know I am not crazy or a drunk.  Everything important to me wasn’t there in the facts yesterday.  Facts aren’t feelings … I hear it over and over and over again.  To me, feelings are very much a factor.  I grew up in a very unhappy home.  At least it seemed that way to me.  Others remember things differently, but the fact they all supported my estranged husband in this custody case gives credence to the type of support I felt growing up.  I always felt like we were dodging my father’s anger, and that my mother was weighed down with sadness and depression.  She had a lot of migraines.  She went to bed early a lot.  I remember a lot of evenings laying beside her in bed just to talk to her.  I remember many rides in the car with my father in uncomfortable silence.  I know they loved and still love me in their way, but I don’t think they knew how to express it to me, or I didn’t know how to receive it.

The last several years before I really got on top of this depression, I found myself sleeping a lot.  I found my estranged husband and I sitting in uncomfortable silence or arguing over money or lack of it.  We argued about not connecting.  We held onto our resentment of our growing apart.  I said yesterday that I wanted the boys to have two happy homes instead of one angry and sad home.  I still want that.  I still want happiness to come out of this through all this carnage.

None of that came out.  I want more for my children and oddly for my estranged husband.  I want more for myself.  I guess if needing to know who you are is selfish, then I am guilty of that.  I want to know who I am so that I can help my boys with the process of figuring out who they are.   The only way to have real connections is to be real in interactions.  None of this stuff comes out when you are on the stand.  Its all numbers and do you recall this or that…  what ever it is you are supposed to recall.  Even though you go over all of this with your lawyer, when you are on the stand after you just put your hand on the Bible, all you want to do is get it exactly right so that you are exactly truthful — at least that was my experience.

I am also guilty of falling in love.  That also sounded very sorted and terrible at the pronouncements of the other lawyer.  It wasn’t sordid or terrible.  It is love.  As I have said in past blogs, we didn’t do things as we should have… that is what did come out in court, and it sounded different than it really was.  I am not ashamed of who I love.  I am guilty of wanting my boys to know her and to like her.  I want whomever my estranged falls in love with to be good to my boys and for them to love her as well.  That didn’t come out either.  Not really.  I guess I ring true to my Myers-Briggs INFP label.  (Introversion, Intuition, Feeling, Perceiving.)  My exact opposite is ESTJ (Extroversion, Sensing, Thinking, Judging).  I am perceiving that an ESTJ makes a good lawyer and an INFP not so much.

I have learned that not being orthodoxed costs.  I have learned that feelings are not really admissible in court.  I know that choosing to live authentically costs.  I pray that down the road my children will forgive me for what it cost, and that we will be able to be together more in the future.  I know that being real is better than being sad, angry, depressed and suicidal.  I know that being sober is better than being drunk.  I know that there are a lot of people who still love me, and know that I am a good mother.  I have tried to be the best mother I can be.  I know that being true to yourself has value.

Today I am regrouping.  The fight is not over.  I will be smarter (who am I kidding – the fact that I am actually posting another blog – yet another article of evidence used against me yesterday — indicates I will not be that much smarter).

I just hope that Rob Bell is right.  I hope that Love Wins.

As always, thanks for reading…

Posted by Layla Proudfoot at Friday, April 29, 2011 0 comments

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Friday, April 22, 2011

I am probably not going to get eaten…

The other day someone said that when people figure out that the diver isn’t going to get eaten by the shark, they stop watching the dive show.  Since I do a lot of those show dives where I work, I got a bit of a chill down my spine — not because I am afraid I will really get eaten by a shark, but that seeing me eaten alive is at least a minor motivation of some people to watch.

Just let me say that I am not afraid of our sharks.  I have become accustomed to them and know their body language pretty well.  I have been diving with these particular sharks some three-hundred times.  I have never felt threatened by them — not once.  I have been thumped by Permit fish, charged by grouper, the angel fish has bitten me as well as the trigger fish and the spade fish have pulled out my hair, but not once has a shark even looked at me with any interest.

The next time I dove, I did think about it, however.  I thought about people wanting to see me get eaten.  I climbed down the ladder into the acclimation tank and three sharks swam by me as they were making their loop around the tank.  A stingray had settled right under the ladder, so I took a giant step out and over so that I wouldn’t scare her, and just as I did, one of the sand bar sharks swerved out of my way so that we didn’t collide.  It didn’t seem interested in biting me.  It just wanted to get out of the way, and I was clearly in the way of its greater purpose — swimming to breathe.

It is funny how I used to be afraid of sharks.  When I stepped in the ocean, I was sure I was on the shark radar and on the list of what’s for dinner.  (Thank you Peter Benchly and Steven Speilberg).  The movie Jaws really put sharks in the hot seat and they have suffered mass annihilation for it.  I have realized that my fear was very self-centered.  I don’t think I register on shark radar. They have more important things to do than worry with the likes of me — like catching smaller prey that they recognize as food, and food that actually tastes good to them.

All my fears center in myself.  When fear controls me, there is no room for the presence of a higher power in my life.  Sometimes I trick myself out of fear with statistics.  For instance, “you are more likely to be struck by lightening than to be bitten by a shark;” or “if you have been bitten by a shark, it is nearly statistically impossible that you will ever be bitten again;” my favorite, however, is “Nearly 80 percent of all statistics are wrong.”   Though I know these statistics are probably more fiction than truth, they are tangible concrete things my mind can cling to — kind of like that buoy in the opening scene of Jaws.

When visitors view the sharks swimming by the windows of the tank, there is usually an exclamation of awe, fear, or trepidation but rarely a warm and fuzzy sort of response.  I hear visitors exclaim all the time about the puffer fish looking at them.  “Oh look, he is looking right at me,” most likely the puffer is looking at something colorful and shiny to chew on.  But they do appear to connect. They are cute yet alien and they “look right at you.”  Sharks don’t seem to acknowledge you at all.  I guess I focus more on the teeth than the eyes when looking at the sharks.  When I am in their presence, I seem to be just another obstacle to swim around.  When I am having a bad day or feeling very self-conscious, I forget that I am just another obstacle to maneuver around to most people.  On a bad day, I think everyone is looking at me, everyone is noticing all of my faults, but I know that is not true — somewhere deep down.  Like the sharks, most people swim with another purpose.

It occurred to me that if people want to see the diver get eaten, it is probably because they want to see something that will change their lives.  People talk about the dramatic events that they have witnessed and usually the description of the incident is followed by how it changed them.  How they were before and how they are now.  If it wasn’t for that dramatic incident, they would never have experienced the change.  For many, something good comes in spite of the bad.

I think we are all looking for that moment that changes us.  That moment where we learn a new truth, but what I sometimes forget is the change is on the inside, and it happened because I was ready for it to happen.  The external incident might be the trigger but the real change is inside.

I would like to think that that is what people want.  I hope that our fascination with the violent and grotesque is based on our need to see an inner truth about ourselves and not the inner organs of an unfortunate victim (or should I say survivor — that holds more optimism).  At least, I hope that is what we want because I trust my friends in the tank will leave all my parts just the way they are.

There WITH Grace Go I…

Yesterday was Lazarus Sunday, there was a lot of talk of resurrection.  The preshow to main event I suppose.  I suppose if you could perform one miracle, raising the dead should be expected from people around you.  Our Deacon gave the Homily yesterday, he is always very intriguing and yesterday’s was no different.  He talked about resurrection in our own lives.  He talked about personal tragedy and helplessness while someone he loved floundered in darkness.  He couldn’t save her, and in the end, she couldn’t save herself.  He talked about resurrection right now.  Not in the end of the world sense but in our own hearts.

I am all for the resurrection of my own heart, my own love, my own broken relationships, my own future with my partner.  She and I continually meet people we are compelled to apologize to for the way we ended our marriages, and the way we came together.  We acknowledged to each other that that will be something we will probably be doing for the rest of our lives.   That acknowledgment doesn’t make our apologies less sincere.  It just makes them our reality.

There are things in all of our lives that we continually apologize for.  It doesn’t undo the damage, but it doesn’t make us candidates for stoning either (at least in this culture – at least not yet).  It helps us acknowledge our humanity.  It gives us markers of comparison to the damage others do to us. It helps us grow compassion from the fertilizer of our own transgressions.  How can you forgive if you have never needed it yourself (speaking strictly from a human perspective)?

I am considerably less self righteous than I was in the past.  I could jump on that Julia Sugarbaker soap box with the best of them.  (That was a 1980s Designing Women reference for all you youngin’s).  I am not much of a jumper these days… not MUCH… I can still go off on homophobes and racists and men guilty of various offenses.   I suppose I am not as devastated by diatribes as I used to be.  That doesn’t mean I won’t put up boundaries to keep me safe.  It just means I am not prone to the hatred that I once was.

Last Sunday, two bike riders training for a triathlon were killed a few miles from my apartment.  The father and son started out their morning in pursuit of something they loved.  The father was dead at the scene and the son lingered for a few more days before he died.  Yesterday, my very good friend could have been killed on her scooter.   Her new scooter totaled, but she is alive and relatively unharmed.  Their days started one way and ended another, “There but for the Grace of God go I.”   That is something we say a lot in AA about slipping or those who never make it into recovery.  I have to think did those things happened when God blinked?  What makes me any more graced than they?  The “but” somehow implies they didn’t have God’s Grace… I can’t believe that.  I think maybe it should be, “There with the Grace of God go I.”

I have come to believe that Grace of the divine kind is internal.  I think it’s a way of seeing the world and our function in it.  If you see your internal self as a sanctuary of peace, then who could the external hardships really touch you? If your internal temple is a temple of shame, then your external paradise will still be a living hell.  Sure you can get run over by a drunk driver while pursuing something you love doing, but how cheapened would life be if you never pursued anything you love?  I personally don’t want to die in my bed at 100 if it means I can never truly live.  I think that the Grace is in the pursuit of living.  I think shame paralyzes us from the joy of really living.  Of course, really living means screwing up or not being able to prevent someone else’s screw up from changing your life completely.  Really living is a risk my couch is a very safe place but if you lay on it too long it makes your back hurt.

Before I put up my donate button, I thought about how doing so might affect what I write, the way I write, if I write, what I will think of those who read it but, don’t, won’t, can’t or don’t think about donating to my cause.  Will I be cynical, skeptical, so utterly grateful I will turn in to a sycophant?  Will I be bitter and angry because the whole world didn’t put me in the category of the survivors in Japan, the Middle East, Afghanistan, those who are victims of slavery, of sexual abuse and there is so much suffering to even mention?  Will I be afraid that people will think less of me because I asked for help from friends, strangers, everyone?  Will I feel like an internet panderer?  Will people know I am in need?

Those are only some of the things I thought about before I put up my request.  Asking for help changes you in some ways.  In a way it is a resurrection on your vulnerabilities.  It’s like the dog lying down to show its vulnerable underbelly.  It doesn’t make it less of a dog; merely a dog who knows when to submit.  There’s a better way of saying that… .

It is expressed better in a song we sing at church or at Cursio (that is a retreat that Episcopalians like to go on – very uplifting and loving).  It’s called “The Servant Song” byRichard Gillard.   Some of the lyrics are:  “won’t you let me be your servant.  I will be like Christ to you.  Pray that I may I have the grace to let me be your servant too.”  I am doing the last part right now… or trying to do it.  I keep reminding myself that needing help doesn’t make me less of a person, just a person who knows when she is in need.

I am not the greatest or most noble charity on the planet not even in my own mind.  I can recommend lots of noble charities.  My favorites are Make Way Partners, (http://www.makewaypartners.org/).  That charity helps fight human trafficking and takes care of orphans in Sudan, Romania and other places.  The one Episcopalian (http://www.episcopalchurch.org/ONE) charity is another favorite.  That one helps support the UN millennium goals to help end worldwide poverty and promote the rights of everyone.  Those are noble charities, and tax deductible.

It is funny what desperation does to you.  Right now my desperation centers on fund raising for my legal fund since I have no familial support or notable credit from which to borrow.  I have sold almost anything of value.  My act of desperation was also an act of faith putting out a request for help.  I thought it through before I acted.  My whole sense of good in the world isn’t riding on one dime of support.  My sense of self worth isn’t either.   It’s just a request for help, and those who feel it will and those who don’t or can’t won’t.   I asked something of our new director at work a few weeks ago.  I knew it was a long shot, and it was denied; however, she told me that she was glad that I had asked because so many people don’t ask, and you know what the answer will be when you don’t ask.  That was a Grace – full answer.

I guess that this moment is a resurrection of my humility.  My resurrection of knowing that, like others in need of something (and I believe that we all are), I am okay.  I guess resurrection is about Grace in one’s life.  So with that, “There with the Grace of God go I…”  Thanks for reading.

Posted by Layla Proudfoot at Monday, April 11, 2011 2 comments

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Thursday, April 7, 2011

Give a man a fish, and invariably, he will find a shark’s tooth in it.

The other day I was able to take my boys to the beach.  Their friends weren’t at home, it was a beautiful day, and with my entrance into their father’s domain, an uncomfortable pall had already settled over the house.

On a whim, I said to the boys, “Let’s go to the beach.”

They almost beat me to the car.  It turns out, whims are expensive.  Lack of planning tends to cost more.  When we neared the beach access, I realized my mouth was dry and pasty.  My stomach was grumbling too.  The boys were parched and famished.   We stopped at a convenience market and got some water, soda and snacks.

Apparently, once you cross the bridge to the island, there is a tariff of some sort on paradise.  I think it is called the “you forgot to plan the trip the beach, stupid” tax.  Everything costs more on the island even though technically, the bridge that connects it to the mainland kind of negates its islandness.  It doesn’t matter.  There is one way on and one way off and if you forgot the potato chips, well it’s your dumb luck.

We were like abandoned lion cubs on the Serengeti, or baby polar bears on drifting ice, or strangers from the hinterland without sunscreen.  In reality, we were refugees fleeing our uncomfortable limbo for the afternoon.  Now, I know why on June 1st there’s a mad rush on bottled water, batteries and playing cards – survival gear for hurricane power outages.  If you haven’t stocked your hurricane kit by the opening day of hurricane season, you are behind in the game.

I made a note to self called “go to the grocery on the other side of the bridge.”  I looked at my boys already getting tan for the season and knew this would be an expensive mistake.  They looked back at me sensing my trepidation and seized the opportunity for sodas, chips, candy (which I tried to point out would be nasty as soon as the wind caked sand all over it’s sticky surface) and beef jerky.  Every adventure needs a little beef jerky.  We had ours.  My jaws still ache from chewing its salty, leathery goodness.  By the time we made it to the public access, we were well sated.

We had the best time walking the beach looking for shells, again, grandmother shells, but this time something amazing happened.  My oldest son, Blade and I finally cracked the code of finding fossilized sharks teeth.  A friend of mine once told me that once you see them, you will begin seeing them all over the beach.  You won’t be able to look down without seeing one.  In fact, not seeing them will be harder than seeing them.  I didn’t believe her as she is sometimes prone to hyperbole.

The boys and I had walked all the way from the access down to the retaining wall looking for specimens.  The wind kicked up, and soon we were in the middle of a stinging sand storm.  At that point, several things happened all at once.  It was like walking through that door you can never go back through.  My mind opened to the practicality of traditional Arabic dress and the reality of what actually happens when you exfoliate.  I shouted over the roar of the waves and the thunder of the wind to explain this to my sons.  They were underwhelmed.

My youngest, Chopper said, “Well, sometimes it’s painful to be beautiful.”  Then he jumped into the water where the numbing cold was more appealing than the stinging sand.

We knew that fossilized sharks teeth were black and shiny, there are lots of black bits of things in the ocean, and when they are wet, most of the time they are shiny.  We picked up broken pieces of shell and debated on their shark toothyness.  As hard as we tried to see the shark’s tooth in each fragment, invariably something would give it away until there was no denying its inner shellness.

We were determined to find teeth, but the biting sand was a distraction, and finally, as we approached our destination, Blade said, “Mommy, lets go back.”

Chopper said, “Let’s go to the pier.”

Blade agreed that the pier was a better choice than the beach, no sand, lots of pelicans, plus the allure of the gift shop glimmered in Blade’s eyes.  And even though it was tucked away, under the seat in my car, I could hear the faint whimper of my wallet.

I didn’t want to give up.  The previous day when my partner was on the beach; she had found some beautiful specimens.  My competitive drive kicked into overdrive, I couldn’t go home without at least one tooth (even if I had to buy one at the gift shop pier).  I was in quandary.  Do I appease my boys and turn us around or continue onward around the edge of the rocks?  I had this feeling that if we just kept going, we would find a pocket of shells in some shallow pool or convergence where the water eddied and swirled, depositing the motherlode.  We just had to stick with it.  (I think that I should stay out of Vegas for sure).

It occurred to me there are sometimes many paths to the same destination.  We could go back an alternate route.  We could circle behind the dunes, just above the do not enter signs that created the invisible shield between the law abiding and the turtle nests.  Behind the dunes we would be protected from the fierce wind, and though I felt my chances for shark’s teeth slipping away, I told myself, “Where there is sand; there is hope.”

Blade was skeptical.  Chopper thought anything that came between him and the sand pelting his bare legs was worth a try.  So up the shore we went.  We followed the rocks to the Gazebo; hobbled tender footed down the blacktop path and followed the trail carved between the dunes from others who had had similar revelations in the past. The wind died down from a gale to a breeze behind the dunes.  I could see why the live oak trees grew the way they did.  The leaves sloped up from the ocean-side, nearly touching the ground.  They formed these imaginary hills that were formed by shear determination to grow in spite of the wind into imaginary hills reaching up into the sky.  The live oaks had figured out how to grow in spite of their circumstances.

The car was still far away.  My back was beginning to hurt from walking hunched over.  And suddenly almost like seeing clearly for the first time once you get those first pair of glasses, I could see them.  They stood out like gleaming stars but in reverse.  They were black diamonds on a light canvas.  They were so obvious they almost floated above the sand.  I looked at Blade and Chopper.  I could tell my oldest could see it too.  Chopper ran from one sandy hillock to the next, sprinting from one safe place through the wind tunnels to the next.

I looked at Blade and he looked at me.  Then we dashed.  It was like the pre-school Easter egg hunt where teachers just put the eggs on the lawn and the children race out to gather them in plain view.  I picked up gleaming fragments of the past and as my son filtered fists full of sand through his fingers.  We compared specimens and moved on to the next find.  By the time we had made it to the access ramp, Blade and I both had handfuls of shark teeth fragments, whole teeth, and later to find out, a fossilized stingray barb.  I didn’t want this visit to be over.

We had tried to show Chopper what we could plainly see, but each time we huddled around a tooth and tell him, “Look over here to see if you see anything.”

Each time he would scour the area with his eyes (sometimes placing his hand right on the tooth to balance himself on his hands and knees), he would exclaim, “What!  Where!  I don’t see it.  I just don’t see it!”

Blade looked disgusted.  I could tell his impatience was growing.  I could tell he wanted to scream at his little brother.  His frustration was building.

I could almost hear him shouting, “its right there!”

Before that happened, I touched Blade’s arm and said, “remember, just a few minutes ago we couldn’t see them either.  He will see them when he is supposed to see them.”

That seemed to assuage Blade’s irritation.

When we finally made it to the car, we put our treasures in a breath mint box for the boys to take home.  I didn’t take any with me.  I had nothing to show for our day — toothwise.

I thought, “Give a man a fish and feed him for a day.  Teach a man to fish and feed him for a lifetime.”  In my sons, I could see each part of the saying.  One day Chopper would see them too.  Until then, Blade and I could supply him with his fare.  It was a good day on the beach.  It was a good day to be the mom.  I could tell you about the pier, the gift shop and the pelicans, but that is a story for another time.

Posted by Layla Proudfoot at Thursday, April 07, 2011 0 comments

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Sunday, April 3, 2011

Jellyfish Jail

Now I know why Tolkien invented his own language for writing.  I wish I was savvy enough to do that.  I am doing well to make adequate use of my native language.  My partner, who has an eye for these things, constantly finds the little grammatical mistakes that hold me back.  Some people have an eye for that sort of thing.  I have come to accept my weaknesses with language, but I digress.  My point was going to be that if I had been able to write in my own special language, then Monday in court when reviewing the evidence of my estranged husband’s articles of evidence, I wouldn’t have had the utter shock of seeing my journal entries included as evidence.  I wouldn’t have seen the first fourth step I had written for AA from 2005 included as evidence — evidence of my crazy, substance abusing unfittness to be a mother.  I was incredulous.  I have worked hard to stay sober and those efforts are being used against me.  I guess all is fair … but it seems pretty smarmy to me.  Seeing the affidavit signed by my parents was shocking, and two of my good friends, and two other friends… It is very sad how this process becomes like bear baiting, people form a circle and break one direction or the other at the equator to watch the blood bath.  I guess it is a shedding of old friendships and a clinging to new ones, or steadfast ones.

Divorce is a stripping away process on many levels.  When you throw in infidelity (on both sides I might add in my own defense) and coming out, there is a whole other level for judgements to be made and sides to be chosen.  I had affidavits too.  Some said I was perfectly sane and sober, some said I am a good mother, some were more disparaging to him just as his were about me.  I am not sure if we are trying to convince the judge of our own fittness or if we are just casting blame in one direction or the other.  I have not said he is a bad father.  He has said I am a danger, unfit mentally and emotionally ill and a substance abuser.  I am not.  I am not any of those things.  He has even used this blog as evidence of my insanity, although altered and out of context but used and abused just the same.  If this is how the game of divorce is played, it has an dirty and viscous rule book.  I would rather not play this ugly game.

I would rather agree that we should work together to raise our sons.  I would rather agree that we need to go our separate ways so that we can find out what happiness is.  I would rather not tear our boys apart in an effort to be the most right or at least the least at fault.  In truth all I really want is my children out of this mess.  I want to have a relationship with them independent of this broken marriage, independent of his critical eye, independent of his home turf.  I want to teach my boys to love everyone.  I want them to know that being gay isn’t a target for hatred.  I am going to live as if that is true.  I want to take my boys to the beach.

My eldest and I went walking on the beach while his dad and little brother went to Aikido class.  We talked some and walked some and picked up seashells for his grandmother.  I stuffed the resentment I had for her at that moment.  I don’t want to interfer with his love for people who betrayed me.  Relationships are complex and confusing.  I want to catch people doing the right things and praise that instead of condemning the wrongs.  It is easier to find the wrong instead of looking for the right  — especially right now.  As we walked, we found a portuguese-man-of-war on the beach.  I have walked the beach a lot and have never seen one.  I would have to say it was beautiful.  Deadly and beautiful.  It was freshly washed up and its swim bladder was still inflated.  It was an irridescent blue and the sail waved in the breeze, for a moment, my son thought it was trying to get him.  Then he did what I imagine all of us do or think about doing when facing deadly danger, he poked it with a stick.  He very timidly and quickly jabbed the swim bladder with a stick and then threw the stick in he ocean as if whatever venom may have gotten on the stick would creep up it and sting him.  It was not an aggressive poke.  It was more of an inquisitive poke.  It was even a gentle jab, so gentle in fact, that it didn’t even deflate the sail.

My son is not an aggressive boy.  He has a kind heart.  He was in a quandary of what to do.  He thought we should scoop it up and throw it in the trash, but we didn’t have a shovel.  He wanted to send it back into the ocean, but again, we had no means of transporting it.  He wished there was a turtle around so it could have a tastey snack and solve our problem of a deadly creature washed up on the beach for some unsuspecting beachcomber or unleashed dog to step on it.  We stood there for a long time staring at the hydroid (a friend of mine told me that the man-of-war isn’t really a jellyfish but it is a colony of animal working together for survival) trying to figure out what to do.  Finally, my son thought that we should gather the stalks of beach grass and build a jellyfish jail around it.  That way it would be easily seen and thus avoided.  I thought that was a marvelous solution.  So that is what we did.  We put the hydroid in jellyfish jail.  We did what we could with what we had to work with.

I guess that is what we do even in ugly moments of life like divorce.  We do with what we have to work with even if it is out of context, out of history or out of character.  I think we just grab whatever validation we have at desperate times even if it is tearing someone else down.  I am just trying to understand the uncomprehensable.  Maybe I will get it when I look back, and we all survived it.  I hope so anyway.

Buy Jesus the Cat and Other Stories at:

Posted by Layla Proudfoot at Sunday, April 03, 2011 2 comments

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Sunday, March 20, 2011

Sometimes, You Just Need A Good Walk In The Woods

This week we will experience our first wave of court proceedings.  Divorce isn’t for the faint of heart.  I received volumes of paper in the mail yesterday forwarded from my estranged’s lawyer.  There are lots of invasive financial, personal and sexual questions I have to answer.  Since I have been forthright about everything I have done and who I am, I don’t know why this is a necessary part of the process.  It feels like intentional cruelty to me.  It feels like a bright light interrogation.  It feels like a tactic to waste the retainer I have until I run out of resources for court.  I will do what it takes to get to be with my children.  I have to find people who will vouch that I am a good parent.  It is interesting because I never said that he wasn’t a good parent.  I never asked for more than joint custody.  My children need both of us in their lives.  It just hurts so damn much.  I miss them.  I love them more than anything.

There are people who have said to me that it was my choice to leave.  Yes, it was my choice  to leave the marriage.  It was never my choice to leave my children.  My elder son is very angry.  I hope one day he can forgive me, but I will never stop fighting for him and his brother to be with me.  I have and always will want them in my life.  I still have some things that are rightfully mine that I can sell.  I will.  I don’t care about stuff.  I don’t care about property anymore than I want to continue to be someone else’s property.

I will never live a life that tells my children, “You don’t matter.  You have to do everything for everyone else always.  It doesn’t matter if you are miserable, sad, depressed, fill in the blank…  because you don’t matter…”  I want my children to know that they matter and that whatever their choices or discoveries are, I will be there behind them.  I want them to know that that is really unconditional love.  Its not the ones who use you for a sounding board or an emotional crutch or even a maid.  Real unconditional love says, “I got your back.”  I may be across town, but I got their back.  I didn’t drag them into the unknown with me.  I didn’t traumatize them by just taking them against their father’s wishes.  I have a place for them just has he has kept a place for them.

We have to take pictures for court to prove we have a nice home for the boys.  We did.  We have a nice home.  It is clean and uncluttered.  It is a home.  I have to prove that to strangers.  I will.

Anger disguises itself as so many noble causes.  “I am ‘protecting’ the children,” is sometimes just code for I am going to use them to punish you.  The absence of them will cut a deep pain in your heart just like you have cut in mine.  “I don’t agree with your lifestyle, so I am turning away even if you are my own.”  That is fear, embarrassment, shame, blame or upset expectations.  “You are having a mid-life crisis, and I reject this about you.” I used to believe in the mid-life crisis crutch maybe until I had one?  I don’t know… Maybe until I finally came to find myself?  I will never again judge someone because they finally found a direction that is fulfilling or at the very least less miserable.  It is funny that sometimes you come to yourself and like what you see finally and then you turn around and see that people around have discovered that they hate you.  Then you look at all of the others who are loving and accepting…

I don’t want my children to live life for me.  I want them to discover themselves and live the life God made them to live.  A friend of mine couldn’t be more opposite than me.  He doesn’t get it, agree with it or comprehend it, but he still gave me money for a consultation with a lawyer.  He still loaned me the initial fee.  He said it was “because that is what real friends do.”  It is good to have good friends.  Sometimes, it is good to have good friends with two-hundred dollars.  (I will pay you back buddy … I promise).

My partner and I went walking on the beach this morning.  We took the dog with us.  We walked and cried and walk some more.  We made our way to the river.  We talked about how the boys would love it there.  We cried some more.  We then visited a historic cemetery and discovered that things could be worse.  We could be staying there instead of just visiting.  I thought about the pain and shame and blame and sadness and sorrow covering all those souls like so much dirt holding them in place.  I don’t think life should hold you in place.  I think it should push you along to a better you -regardless of what other think about it.

One tombstone read, “I’d rather be riding my Harley.”  I thought, “sing it brother!  I would too.”  Maybe someday soon I will.

Posted by Layla Proudfoot at Sunday, March 20, 2011 0 comments

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Friday, March 11, 2011

And silence fell over the blog…

I haven’t been very insightful lately thus no blog from me.  The process of divorce is very difficult.  It is easy to get swept away with emotion.  I stood by friends and family during their ugly divorces.  I tried to be faithful to them throughout the process.  I went through to some degree the ups and downs, triumphs and setbacks, righteous indignations, depression, fear … .  It is funny to see who will reciprocate and who will not.  It is interesting to see the mettle of those close to you.  You learn the character of others.  You learn whose love is unconditional and whose is not.

Lately, I feel stripped down to just bare feeling.  I know now why forgiveness is essential when you are hurt.  If you can’t forgive or won’t forgive, your hurt leads you to uncharacteristic actions and you begin to do mean things to others because you feel justified.  Then you start to do mean things because it becomes a habit of being.  I see why forgiveness is essential.  I am observing that those who won’t forgive start to become asses.

My partner and I went to see the priest about how to wade through this difficult time with some self-respect and dignity.  He reinforced that being vindictive is a sure way to lose the respect of your children.   It is easy to fall into the trap of vindictiveness.  It is not so easy to be mindful enough to stay out of the trap.  The trap gets ever so enticing the first time you realize the locks have been changed, and you are literally locked out of the lives of your children.  It is hard not to want to be vindictive.  It is hard not to throw a brick through the front window.  But it is good not to.  It is really, really good not to do it.

I try to hold onto the idea that in the end love is the most important thing.  I will try to love those who aren’t acting very lovable right now.  I try to remember that because people don’t agree with me doesn’t mean that they are intrinsically bad or wrong.   When I am feeling defensive, it is easy to feel that they are bad or wrong.

For a long time I lived to try to please others.  It drove me crazy and made me sick.  Now, I try to be the person God made me.  I am much happier being an openly gay person.  I am happier not lying to myself.  Trying to make others happy is just one way of living a lie.  Being who you are will not make everyone happy.  Making everyone happy is clearly not being who you are.  Even Jesus pissed off a lot of people just by being who he was.  I guess if we are to strive to live a Christ-like life, then pissing people off comes with the territory.

My partner and I have acknowledged that we didn’t do things the right way and in the right order.  It seems to me that in asking for forgiveness we are not only trying to get it but also to accept it.  Even though we have asked and some have refused to grant it, we have still put that acknowledgement of doing the wrong thing at the wrong time out there.  We have said we are sorry.  We have done our part.

We have also forgiven ourselves and each other.  The priest welcomed us to the human race.  Even though we have hurt others, we have been honest about it.  We have tried to live rightly from here on out.  We fall away from love as many times as we return to it.   We try.  The upside of screwing up is that we know what it is like to need forgiveness.  There is no room for righteous indignation in a tarnished life.  There is only room for compassion and love even for those who don’t even know us but still choose to hate us.

I still find it incredulous that there are those people in the world who hate us because of who we love.  I still find it crazy that you can watch a thousand different ways to kill someone on prime time TV but show a woman kissing another woman and people start protesting the station.  I guess the only way for me to do this is to try to live openly and honestly and with dignity.  I will try to do the next right thing.  What I won’t do is wallow in my mistakes and failings though there are those who wish that I would.  Hair shirts do nothing for my complexion.   I suppose this is an inelegant and rambling entry, but some days are like that.

Anyway, its been a bad couple of weeks.  The details aren’t important.  It’s just been a bad time.  I continue to pray for healing for everyone.  As always, thanks for reading.

Posted by Layla Proudfoot at Friday, March 11, 2011 0 comments

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Thursday, February 17, 2011

My Grandmother’s China

When I was in my early twenties and just out of college, my grandmother flatly declared, “You might as well have the china. You will never find a man to suit you.  You will never get married.”

It had always been her intention to give her china to the grandchild who married last. We always knew that the last one to marry (in later years it was refined to the last one to marry for the first time) would get “The China.”  I am four years younger than the next youngest cousin, so by age alone, I was probably the most likely candidate, but I don’t think any of us were holding off nuptials in order to win the prize.

However, as each relative fell one by one to wedded bliss, someone would inevitably say, “Well, it looks like you aren’t going to get the china.”

I had only seen the china a few times in my life.  My father had only dined on the china once in his life to his recollection.  We had heard about the china more than we had seen it.  Who would get it, how she got it and how it doubled in the thirties.  My grandmother lived in coal country in Pennsylvania.  There we a lot of immigrants there and she was surrounded by diversity.   As with many families in the 1930s, her neighbor, Russian immigrant who attended the Eastern Orthodox Church, met with hard times and reluctantly had to part with her china, which miraculously was the same pattern as my grandmother’s.

I could only imagine the Shashlyk and Pelmeni and Borsht that had once covered those plates.  I close my eyes and almost taste the Borsht (which I learned to make and consequently love). I sometimes look at the stacks of dishes in my china cabinet and wonder which ones would have held Russian fare.     Because of the Russian lady’s misfortune; my grandmother’s china became service for 16.  She also acquired all the accouterments of table ware that go along with fine dining and civilized living.  If the Queen or Governor or president of the mine came to dinner,  she could set an elegant table.

Did I mention that my grandmother didn’t cook?  When she made her declaration and passed the china to me, it was in pristine condition – it still is.  In keeping with family tradition, I have never used it.

After doing some research, I found out that the china was made in 1921, and it’s Noritake.  The pattern name is Sheridan.  It has a delicate pattern of little flowers with a light blue checked border and a gold rim.  It is definitely not microwave safe, and I wouldn’t dare put it in the dishwasher.  It is very dainty and delicate – a fitting pattern for my grandmother.

They say men look like their dogs; well maybe women resemble their china patterns.   She was delicate and dainty at 5 foot nothing and maybe a hundred pounds soaking wet.  Until she started to speak, then she seemed a lot bigger.  She was pretty feisty with a big attitude.  She was fond of saying, “lips that touch wine will never touch mine.”  Little did she know that when the men in the family gathered in the trailer, they were not catching up on each other’s lives but hiding out and drinking beer.    

She was a teetotaler and coincidently, she liked tea.  She had a tea cup collection – china cups and their matching saucers were a prominent display on her china cabinet.   That is not where she kept “the china”.  It was buried far back in the kitchen cabinets in the place no one could ever reach.  It was safe from everyday selection or accidental use.  It the china came out it was completely intentional.

After I gained possession of the china, I threatened once to bring it out for Thanksgiving dinner when my parents drove the 394 miles to stay with us for the holiday.  My father said he had never eaten turkey off of those plates and wasn’t about to start now.  That day I vowed to myself that I would keep the family tradition; I would never cover those delicate flowers with mashed potatoes and gravy.  In fact, to this day, I have never eaten off of those plates.

I started thinking about the china and what it meant to me and my past just the other day.  I have been obsessing over it lately wondering if I would have to sell it to survive this separation and inevitable divorce.   The china had nothing to do with my marriage.  In fact, my grandmother never met my husband.  As far as she knew, she was right about me until the day she died.   She died safe in the knowledge that I would never marry.

I was thinking of this the other day as I packed the dishes in a cat food bucket.  It seemed the safest way to transport those dishes from the house to the apartment.  It occurred to me that my grandmother may have been acknowledging something in me way back then that I never truly knew but warily suspected was there.

You see my grandmother’s best friend’s daughter is a lesbian.  She and her partner of nearly 40 years were “roommates” as far as my grandmother was concerned.  She had known these women for many years; they took her on their vacations with them to their cabin on the lake during the summers.  They would play cards at night and traverse the lake in a paddle boat by day.  One of my favorite pictures is of my grandmother, her friend and the “friends” is of them sitting in the paddle boat, wearing big brimmed hats and large sunglasses. They all had happy, carefree smiles.  She loved those women dearly.  In fact, the daughter and her brother are both ministers, and they both preached my grandmother’s funeral.  They loved my grandmother too.

I suspect the gift of the china was a way of giving me what she thought I would never have.  In her world, a lesbian couldn’t marry her “friend”, so there would be no occasion for china.  Maybe that was her way of giving me what she knew no one else would.  Maybe she knew long before I ever did.  Maybe she saw in me what she had seen in her best friend’s daughter.   Maybe…  Of course, I will never know in this lifetime, but I do know this, when I marry my wife to be, because somewhere in my world that is possible.  When we marry, we will be eating on that china after the wedding.  I may have to do some convincing to serve Russian food at the reception, but we are going to break that family tradition.

We are going to break a lot of family traditions… but that is another story for another time.

Posted by Layla Proudfoot at Thursday, February 17, 2011 1 comments

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Monday, February 14, 2011

The Other Side

I saw flashes of light burst through the water out of the corner of my eye. When I looked down into the tank they were gone. When I looked away, there were more flashes. I thought I was having a stroke or something. Luckily, I figured it out before I called 911. The little bursts of light were flashes from visitor’s camera’s who were taking pictures of the sharks. They were on the lower level of the aquarium looking in, and I was standing above them.

There is twenty-three feet of water and 8 inches of acrylic between me and the aquarium visitors, but still at the end of the day when the lights are dimming and the visitors are thinning, it can be a creepy walk from the dive locker office to the hallway. I was tired and my mind was elsewhere, but the flashes of light brought me back to myself. The flashes were little fireworks of cameras from visitor’s twenty-three feet below on the other side of the aquarium acrylic. They were dry and warm. My hair was still wet from the two dives I had just completed and no amount of hot water from the shower could penetrate the coldness that had settled in my core.

It is funny what being on the other side of things can do for you. I remember once when I had visited the aquarium wanting to be a part of things there. I wanted to dive with the sharks and the eels, but I never thought they would want someone like me. At the time, I didn’t really know what “like me” meant. I think it was just a way of lumping others into my self-hatred. Thinking “like me” was less stinging I think because that would imply that there were people in the world similar to me, and if we all met somewhere for coffee, at least we would have each other to hang out with and commiserate our misery. Thinking they wouldn’t want “me” is a far lonelier scale of low self-esteem. But now I am on the other side of the glass. I don’t stand out front and just take pictures. I can take pictures from inside or outside of the tank.

The flash of the camera’s reminded me of a night off shore when I was on a night dive. I remember looking up and seeing the flash of lightning from an on coming storm. The flashes played on the surface that was beginning to swell and surge. I remember the boat lurched up and down against its mooring as I ascended the anchor line. The water heaved me up and pulled me back as I tried to climb the swim ladder. I maneuvered one foot on each rung and locked my knees as the boat lunged up and then flexed as it crashed back onto the surface of the water. I slid halfway across the deck before I got my gear off and secured it against the rail. One by one wide eyed divers flopped on to the deck and locked in their tanks. I had been paired up with another single diver who didn’t know a soul on board. I made sure she was on deck, and then I wrapped my hand several times with some deck line. I knew if I fell overboard that no one would notice until they did the final head count at the dock. I didn’t fall overboard. I did find out that a thunderstorm is much more pleasant under the surface than on a rocking, salt sprayed, vomit covered, boat heading back to port.

There is the surface of things and the depths of things. There are at least two-sides to everything. Life is very three dimensional or maybe even multidimensional if you count the past and the future. At lunch the other day someone tucked in the shirt tag of a co-worker.

She said, “was my fag tag sticking out.”

I remember that was a saying some twenty years ago (give or take). I remember saying it often.

I said, “geez we have tags to worry about too!”

I was joking around but suddenly something in my brain sparked to life. I was on the other side of things. I was listening with my newly discovered lesbian ears. That old phrase took on new meaning. It was a calling out of a group that I never knew I belonged. There really are others like me.

It sounds silly I know. We all have tags and labels, but some of them carry more weight than others. I am a diver, a woman, a mom, an estranged wife, a girlfriend, a lesbian, a friend, a would be writer. Only one of those sticks out with any stigma – possibly two – how many times have I heard my boys call each other “girl” to insult each other? Its been countless if you want to know the truth. I tell them if you are a girl then being a girl is a pretty good thing. Being whomever you are is a pretty good thing – no matter what label you choose to carry and what label you choose to reject. It matters that we see ourselves and, for that matter, each other from different sides and angles no matter from which side you are looking, there is always another one to be considered. If there is a surface there is always depth. If there is an inside there is an outside. I am not totally convinced however that there is a completely right side and a completely wrong side about a lot of things. I guess that kind of pondering is for another time.

Posted by Layla Proudfoot at Monday, February 14, 2011 0 comments

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Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The contents of the backpack.

Over the last several months, my backpack has gotten heavier and heavier.  I usually have a book and some extra medicine and of course my purse (I am a purse carrying lesbian).  Later, I added a tooth brush, my makeup (would that would make me a lipstick lesbian?), some “smellant” repellant… these things alone are light, but cumulatively they would cost me extra on a flight to anywhere.   Then there’s my coffee cup and water bottle each has its own mesh side pouch, and they swing and sway with each step I take like saddle bags on a pack mule.  Later, I added the extra set of clothes  and then the pajamas.  Then I put in the valuables and keepsakes — the things I was afraid would disappear from the house in my absence.  I looked like a walking tinker’s wagon except instead of fixing things along my way, I was tearing them down – me included.

I think there is a lot of tearing down that one has to do when searching for one’s authentic self.  I told my counselor once that I wished I could be a Vulcan, like Spock on Star Trek, no emotion just pure sensible logic.  I would be set.  I might even understand the eleven uses of the comma that in 42 years and two master’s degrees later still somehow escape me.  I used to tear myself down with the constant berating I would give myself.  If I treated my friends the way I treated myself, I would probably be in jail.  Self-hatred is a common hobby among women I think, but my skills are professional.  My drinking was to drown that inner voice that told me how ugly and stupid and useless I was, but that inner tyrant is a good swimmer with a good microphone.   At first, my sobriety only amplified that voice – loud and shrill and mean.

I found out that that my depression was anger turned inward and my anxiety was self-centered fear.  If the Universe did revolve around me in my angry self-centeredness, then I was a black hole where misery stood still and festered.  I am not that person anymore.  That tyrant may not be dead, but she is in a vegetative state.  I do not mourn her loss.   

I know that as I have gotten older I have had to mourn death.  I have mourned the death s of two grandmothers, the deaths of classmates, the deaths of old lovers but it has been in sobriety the last few years that I have begun to mourn other deaths.   I have finally mourned the death of that person I thought I would become.  I thought I would have been successful by now, but professional and financial success has eluded me.  I had the luxury once of tasting what wealth might be like.  Years ago, my husband and I made nearly thirty thousand dollars in one month.   I immediately did the calculations in my head and assumed that by the end of the year we would be well on our way to being millionaires.  Security, luxury, ease would be ours.  I would be happy joyous and free, but that was not exactly the feeling I experienced.  I just wanted to drink more.  I wasn’t happier.  I wasn’t fulfilled.  I was just able to buy more expensive drinks.

That month of illusionary wealth left me in a “now what?” state of wondering.  The next month our business fell apart, and we were left owing thousands in taxes as we had neglected our quarterly responsibilities.  It took nearly seven years to pay off the taxes.

At least that was one hurdle I don’t have to lunge over.  I know what I would feel like without the burden of debt.  It left me realizing that it was the inside that needed comforting not the outside.  I wish money could buy happiness.  I would have had the best month ever.  For me, it can’t.  At least that is one shadow I don’t have to chase anymore.   I couldn’t pay off the inner tyrant to be silent and chasing money was only a distraction, so if I couldn’t buy her off, I would have to get rid of her in another way.

I also had to face the death of professional achievement.  As I mentioned, I have two master’s degrees yet have failed to put them to use.  I remember with my first degree thinking that once that was accomplished I would feel smarter and that would make me feel better.  When my diploma came in the mail all framed and matted with the gold school seal embedded in the mat, I remember feeling like an utter fraud.  So in all my wisdom, I thought maybe a different degree would do the trick. The very next semester, I was in another program at another school pursuing a new dream.

My husband was in the program to be an underwater archaeologist.  It looked like fun.  It seemed like an adventure, and I, being as learned as I am, had done a lot of research about marriage and education, and I decided that if we had the same degree, we would keep similar interests and thus maintain a rock solid marriage.  That didn’t work out either.  I guess I didn’t count on the alcoholism, the bi-polar II-disorder and the discovering I am gay.  I was looking outward and covering my –isms with distractions and alcohol – anything I thought would make me feel better not be better.

One of my favorite writers, Anne Lamott wrote that, “Not forgiving is like drinking rat poison and then waiting for the rat to die.”  That goes for self-forgiveness as well as forgiving others.  My marriage has failed maybe because our relationship didn’t growing in ways that we did.  I forgive us.  There are people in my life who are disappointed, angry, disgusted, devastated… and feelings I am sure I haven’t identified yet, but they feel these things because I am a lesbian.  I forgive us — them because they can’t yet accept who I am and me because I did not know who I am.

Self-discovery is an essential ingredient to a meaningful life, of that, I am convinced.  I had no idea how difficult and wonderfully painful a journey it is.  I am discovering that I am not such a terrible person after all.  This girl who was awkward and strange trying to do the straight thing is not all that awkward and strange as the lesbian God made me.

Although, I have this backpack with my stuff in it, it can only get so heavy as there is only so much room in it.  My stuff consists mostly of things I need to function properly in this society.  The other bits are pieces of my past and mementos of my history that are somehow also clues to my future.  They don’t have to be the baggage anymore, just items that fit in my backpack, and when my backpack gets too heavy, I can put it down, I can silence that inner tyrant and I can rest.

Posted by Layla Proudfoot at Tuesday, February 01, 2011 0 comments

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Friday, January 28, 2011

The Tug of War…

I sit and wait for my two boys to go to sleep.  I hold up in my room and he holds up in his.  It’s a standoff to nowhere.  We wait for the other to blink I guess.  My heart hurts to be with my children, yet I sit in my room.  When he is around the tension is too great to leave it.  The silence is palpable.  I want to take the boys with me to visit my friend.  He, of course, forbids it.  When did I get to be so afraid of this man I loved for 15 years?  When did that start?

Maybe when I began to realize that his agreement was the key to having my children. That he has a lot of power over me still.

My friend says to me in angry moments, “he’s not your daddy.  You don’t need his permission.”

When it comes to my children, I do need his permission — especially in this conservative, small, southern city.  If I want to have a chance at joint custody, I do.  My boys are divided.  My youngest wants to go visit and spend the night.  My oldest says he doesn’t want a step-mother.  My shrink says these are age appropriate responses.

Life right now feels like powerless chaos.  I am the rope in the tug of war.  I just made myself the helpless victim.  That is not good.  The truth is, if I were to tell myself the truth, I started it, and I can finish it.  When I got sober, I prayed for self-knowledge (and nobody said God doesn’t have a sense of humor).  I wanted to get at the source of my awkward, uncomfortable core.  I wanted to know why, the big “Why” of me.   I have uncovered a lot of things.  I think my higher power revealed my sexuality to me when I was ready.  I am a slow learner.

If I am the rope, I am the rope that tied around this man whose dreams were appealing.  He was kind and gentle and seemed reasonable, and I didn’t distrust him like I did all the other men I have known.  He had damage from his own life.  Our damage was very compatible.  If I am the rope, I intertwined with his strands, and we strengthen each other in some ways, strangled each other in different ways.   I think the choking got to be more unbearable than the strength could hold.  I am not innocent and neither is he.  We are both perpetrators and victims of our own making.  It’s time to cut the rope and let the strands spin and fray and fall where they may.

There are two ends in a tug of war.  The other end is held by two loving and wounded hands — hands that are strong but give way when she needs to wipe away tears.  Hands that have pushed back a lot of anger and fear and down-right terror.  I know some of what those hands have felt.  I also know there are experiences I can’t ever know.  That’s the way life works as I understand it. Those are the hands that tug toward the future, but they have to let go of the rope.

If this blog is to be of any worth, it has to be written in truth.  This is the truth as I have understood it.  I can’t be the rope anymore.  I can’t allow those hands to pick me up off the floor anymore.  If I am to join my hands with hers someday in marriage, I can’t be the rope.  I have to transform myself and pick myself up.  I need to know what it feels like to be this new me in the world.  I have to walk in that new world.  I am a lesbian. – not a Lesbian – because that is not all that I am.  I have to know how that weaves my life anew.  I have to be a partner — not a victim or a weakling or a ward that needs care.  I need to stand equal with my hands in hers and hers in mine.   That is really the only way to do this.

This is a bleak one – this entry.  I have no celebrations or triumphs to report.  I am at an emotional bottom.  I know that I have many limitations and many challenges to overcome.  I have to let go of the fear.  I have to let go of the illusion of being controlled or even being in control.  I can choose.  Right now I keep telling myself to take it slow.  I have to be in relationship with my children.  I have to let go of the past and forgive and ask forgiveness.  I have to look at the future with blurred vision.  I cannot know what is around the corner.  I cannot hold so tightly to the dream of the future that I crush it.  I cannot break those hands that have so lovingly held me.  One day at a time is a good motto in this situation as well as many others.  So today, it is going to be about today.  And all I can handle is the right now.

Posted by Layla Proudfoot at Friday, January 28, 2011 2 comments

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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Seventeen Seconds to Homophobia …

A friend asked me not to use that title.  She said it was too much like a phrase she said to herself regarding a similar experience.  Her phrase was seventeen seconds of Heaven.  I guess that is the difference between a heterosexual kiss and a homosexual kiss.

In AA you often hear about the “pink cloud” of new sobriety.  For some of the newly sober everything seems to be a euphoric experience.  “These are the greatest flip flops I have ever owned.  I mean I can really feel them on my feet.  You know what I mean?  I mean have you really ever just experienced the feeling of a good pair of flip flops?”  That’s just an example, but it seems to be a common phenomenon.  Then one day the newness wears off and you have to live with those flip flops even if its winter and they are still the only shoes you have.  That’s when the real work begins.  That’s when the real experience of a real life starts.

I guess until a few weeks ago, I was on a rainbow cloud of self discovery.  Every experience was new.  My brain felt whole for the first time.  I could love someone with my whole person.  I didn’t feel like someday I would probably just eat the business end of a .38.  Finally, the mystery was solved.  I finally knew the real reason I like the Logo channel, and that I love “The Big Gay Sketch Show” for more than just because it’s edgy like Saturday Night Live was in the ‘70s.

Even the bumps along the way have been fairly surmountable.  The first time I kissed my girlfriend in public – a little awkward, but nobody got killed over it.  My parents near death experiences and their “Jesus will not approve” speech was survivable.  They didn’t kick me out of the family, and I didn’t disown them.

I finally felt free.  When I got my haircut, I didn’t immediately wonder if someone might think I looked like a Lesbian.  I didn’t have to worry about what people thought about my pre-occupation with Xena and Wonder Woman reruns.  And when I put on my comfortable Keen’s to go to church to play my guitar, I could finally say.  “Damn it, I will wear what I want.  I am a Lesbian, and I can be comfortable without guilt.”  Besides they are tan and looked great with the khaki shorts… but I digress.

Until those fateful seventeen seconds, I didn’t quite understand that vigorous inhale my future wife seemed to hold in public.  She never could quite let out that cleansing breath and look relaxed.  The one day she did relax, she paid for it.  She is still punishing herself for love.  It is terrible to watch someone you love suffer because that person loves you.  It’s not quite a Ramona and Juliet story, but it is damn near close.

The place I work always felt like an island of causal liberalism in a vast sea of conservative tension.   Since I came out, my partner and I have been pretty open about our involvement.   Our colleagues seemed pretty supportive.  This whole lesbian thing was going to be cake!  We were in the right place at the right time and all would be well.  In fact, there are a lot of couples in our work place, and we would just blend in with the rest.  The joke that circulates among the employees has been that they don’t pay us enough to have hobbies, so we make our relationships our extracurricular activities.  It turns out its only partially true.  For some couples, seventeen seconds is heaven.  For others, it can be a ticket to hell, ridicule and possibly the unemployment line.

Anyway, here’s what happened:  It takes seventeen seconds for the staff elevator to travel between floors and to my knowledge; a lot of kissing can and has happened in between floors in that very elevator.  Some staff members don’t even seem to make it to the elevator.  On this particular day, a heterosexual couple was embracing and kissing in the staff hallway in front of the elevator.  It was after lunch and my partner and I were taking the elevator, and just as the door began to close, a colleague – nay – friend (or so we had assumed) jumped on with us.

My partner said, “Aw now we can’t make out!”  She feigned disappointment and said, “Well, we will just have to show him.”  She gave me a quick kiss on the lips.  She did this in a joking manner.  It was quick.  It was innocent.  It was meant to be a joke.  Our colleague said nothing, and I thought nothing more of it.  Even later when she was called to her supervisor’s office, and I was summoned to the conference room by mine, I still didn’t think about the elevator.

We both received reprimands.   We were both warned that our positions were in jeopardy.  Although it wasn’t until after my meeting, that I learned what this reprimand was truly about.   I was told that it was a PDA, public display of affection and that was as detailed as my offense was explained.

Interesting.…  As far as I knew, the heterosexual couple was still kissing in the hallway.

Both our reprimands were prefaced with the statement, “this isn’t a gender issue.”  Forgive me if I seem skeptical.  The director has kissed her husband right out in the public area in front of everyone.  Another couple had been spotted on the bike path, and the hetero-couple were still kissing, hugging or hitting each other like third graders in the hall.

After our seventeen second decent into homophobia, I finally understood why my future wife never seems to breathe in public.  She spent several days berating herself for letting her guard down.  I spent several days contemplating a drink or suicide or both because I felt crushed under the jackboot of hatred.  (Yes, I can be a drama queen, and yes, I do devastate easily).

In seventeen seconds, my rainbow bliss faded into a cold, wintery, monochromatic gray.  Clearly, I have not developed the thick hide of a seasoned, tested, been around the block, dyke or is it dike?   I will have to look it up.  It will take me a lot longer than seventeen seconds to get used to being different to people I thought I knew and I thought knew me.  I am still me.  I am just more me than I used to be, but that’s for another time…

Posted by Layla Proudfoot at Wednesday, January 19, 2011 2 comments

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Friday, January 14, 2011

The Free Toaster

It hasn’t come yet, and let me say, I am disappointed.  Years ago a lesbian friend of mine told me that straight people thought that all gay people were out “recruiting” and if they turned one, they would get a free toaster.  Maybe it was a nebulous “they” that has me confused — was it “they”, the gay ones, turning the straight ones or was it the straight turned gay “they” to which she was referring?  If it was the latter and not the former, I haven’t gotten my toaster yet.  If it was the former and not the latter, my partner, someday wife, hasn’t gotten hers either.  It is a damned shame too because we need a toaster.  I am not good at broiling bread in the oven and she doesn’t cook.  We could use that toaster.

What a funny idea anyway.  I am on a mission to turn all of the blue eyed people into brown eyed people.  I hear there’s a free iron in it for me if I can.  I wish it were that easy — this turning people into something else business.  If it were possible, I would turn my husband into a homosexual and then he wouldn’t fight this divorce idea so much.  I would turn my sister into a lesbian just as a cruel joke — she loves men — her two previous and current husband will attest to that.  I would turn every evangelist and Bible thumping homophobe into lesbian or a homosexual just for kicks.

Mostly, I would do it so that they could know at least a little bit what it feels like — what I feel like every day.  They could know what it feels like to finally feel right in your own body, but suddenly thrust out of the “rightness” of the mainstream.  It is one thing to feel wrong in yourself but going with the flow along with everyone else.  They would know that enduring all of that wrongness inside isn’t worth fitting in on the outside.  When life is all wrong out in the world, you eventually get to return to the safety of your own home.  When life is all wrong on the inside, there is no escape.

When I first came out, I did it with a vengeance.  I told everyone.  I was so relieved.  I told strangers.  I would work it into a casual conversation.  For me it was a celebration.  I no longer felt like I was going to eventually die from all of the pain that I carried inside me.  I finally felt like I was going to live.  I had no idea how my life was changing.  I had no idea of the lives around me would erupt in turmoil just because I figured out the most central element to my being — my sexuality.

I have done a lot of shitty things in my life.  This is not one of them although you would think by the reaction of others that I was a serial killer or bank robber or dare I say worse.  I have always known that being different is no picnic, but I never really knew until I felt it in other people’s reactions.  I remember the first time I kissed my future wife in public.  We were walking on the boardwalk at the beach.  It was a Christmas lights festival and the whole town was out.  I was caught up in the excitement and kissed her right there in front of the bandstand.  In front of God, the townsfolk, the angel perched on the stable roof and everybody.  The angel did not fall off the roof.  My partner looked surprised (she has been out longer and endured much more prejudice than I have endured).  The old men on the boardwalk looked apoplectic, and suddenly I felt a little self conscious.  I hadn’t even thought about it when I kissed her.  It seemed like the most natural thing in the world.  I must say that there were a lot of people there and a lot of people didn’t even notice, but I became acutely aware of the ones who did.  I could almost feel the fire burning in their eyes as they glared at me — at us.

Standing near the bonfire made me think of toasters in a whole new way — especially when being burned at the stake vaguely crosses your mind as a possible ending to an otherwise pleasant evening.  Little did I know that a simple affectionate kiss between two women, no matter how innocent, can turn your whole life upside down.  I am slowly learning what a risk it can be to be a lesbian in a small southern city, but that’s another story for another time….  

Posted by Layla Proudfoot at Friday, January 14, 2011 0 comments

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Monday, January 10, 2011

Searching for a Mama

Today a friend asked me how I knew, after all these years, that I am gay.  How do you get to be 42 and have no idea that you are gay? That is something I have been thinking a lot about.  Was it the first time I realized that sex with my husband wasn’t working for me?  Was it all the comfortable shoes in my closet?  Was it my affinity for my Leatherman?  I guess they were good clues for my friends, but I never figured it out – at least not until five months ago.  I thought the sex problem was from being molested.  I thought the shoes were just good sense, and really, who doesn’t love a good Leatherman?  

Truthfully, I don’t think I was healthy enough mentally or spiritually until recently to really see the truth about me.  I got sober nearly six years ago.  I got diagnosed.  I got medicated.  I got therapy.  I got religion.  I got a Godmother.  Nothing ever filled that hole in my soul.  I always had a barrier between me and other people — men and women.  I never felt particularly close to men and could never get close enough to women.  I have been trying to pin point that moment of revelation, and I am pretty certain I knew before I went down … to the river to pray … so to speak.

I have had a lot of women friends that were older.  They always seemed a bit motherly and a bit funny and a bit affectionate.  Hug me once and I would melt in your arms and follow you like a puppy chasing a cat with a steak tied to its tail.  It was pathetic, and I had no clue.  I thought I would always be lonely until I couldn’t stand it anymore and then the only answer would be in a solid bit of lead.

I was saved from my loneliness by listening to a good friend.  A good friend of mine said to me, “Yeah, I had lots of older women friends… I always thought I was searching for a Mama.  I wasn’t.”  That was an aha moment for me.  I think that is when my stars aligned, and I finally crossed that threshold.  It is amazing how bright the light is in the hallway when you finally do come out of the closet — especially when you had no idea that you were fumbling around in there in the first place.

My reaction was, “Thank God!  I thought I was crazy.  It turns out I am just gay!  Hallelujah!”  Its funny how solidly that bell rings and when they say, “you can’t unring that bell.”  They (who ever they are…) know what they are talking about.  But that is a story for another time…

Returning Home

I went to Virginia to see my family, and yes, they are still family.  There are many sides to the story of a family.  I can’t possibly know all of the sides in my own story much less the stories of the members of my family.  I took the boys to see the family.  I took my car for my father’s approval.  I still need that.  I still need my mother’s approval.  I went to get it.  I went to show them I am still me.  I went to see what happens next.

I didn’t realize it, but my partner had really initiated the trip.  One afternoon when I was just overwhelmed with missing my sons and feeling so lonely, she said, “Do you want me to take you to your mom?”  At the time I thought that was an odd question.  That planted the seed I guess, and finally when “I” got the idea, I thought I had just had an epiphany.  I wonder if all epiphanies are sprouts of the seeds we didn’t know were planted there.

As much as I would like to orchestrate my story, I cannot.  Truthfully, when I write fiction, I cannot control the lives of my characters.  When they come to me, they just do what they do, and I record it.  I don’t know what I am having for dinner tonight.  That is how in control of my world I am.  (I think Yoda would like that sentence).

We arrived late at night.  It was nearly midnight.  When we pulled into the driveway, my elder son’s crying fit over missing his father was over.  Seven hours into the trip he begged me to turn around and go back.  It was a rough ride.   When I opened the door, the air mountain was dryer than the air we drank at the beach.  It wasn’t much cooler, but less sticky and comfortable.

My parents came to the car with open arms and hugs for all even for me.  I think I got a new take on the prodigal son parable.  I got a personal meaning for right now.  I am sure that parable will have a different meaning for me in the future.  I will be a different character perhaps, but for now, for that moment, I felt like the returning prodigal.

For me that parable isn’t about greed or gluttony or disrespect, the way my life is reading it is more hopeful.  The prodigal left because he wanted something he wasn’t getting at home.  He broke free of what was expected and tried to be himself, but he tried to do it all on his own.  I think his problem wasn’t that he struck out to find himself, but he did it all by himself.  He didn’t trust his father enough to confide in him.  He prejudged.

Like I said, I cannot control the characters in my stories, and I definitely cannot control the people in my life.  It took me 42 years to realize that it was not only my right but it was my duty to figure out me and to be who I am.  I do not have to do it alone.  We do not have to do it alone.  For the prodigal’s part, I don’t think the story is about frivolous living.  I think it’s about coming home.  I think it is about moving into who you are but not forgetting where you are from, but that is enough of my theology.

Truth is I am not a prodigal.  You probably aren’t either.  I am sure the prodigal didn’t think he was either.  He probably thought he was on the right path, and when he came home again, he was wiser and poorer and had a greater capacity for compassion.  As for his big brother who did everything “right” but never followed a dream he is the subject for another story.  As always, thanks for reading.

Food

Did you know that one in six Americans struggle with hunger?1  I checked it out this morning because I am feeling guilty, yet sorry for myself at the same time.  According to Share Our Strength.org, 17 million children go to bed hungry.2  Worldwide, one in seven people go hungry everyday.3  

These are numbers.  Numbers are cold.  Numbers don’t feel that ache in the gut.  Numbers don’t carry that fear of, ”How do we feed our children?”  Numbers don’t tuck away the guilt of when do I get mine?”

By worldly accounts, I am a wealthy American.  I can honestly say that for most of my life, food choices have been those of want not of need.  I have had the luxury of empty calories just because I want them, they taste good and are usually easy and cheap.  I have no right to complain.  (Although I didn’t qualify for food stamps, but that is a complaint for another time.)

That last sentence is an ironic caveat since I am about ready to start complaining.  In AA, they tell us to identify not to compare.  You see, if you identify with someones struggle, you can see what rings true for you and that gives you strength, and strength helps you stay sober and fix your own flaws.  If you compare, you will always be faced with the cold hard truth that someone struggles more than you do, someones past is more horrific and therefore, you have no right to complain.  The other side of the comparative coin is that someone somewhere has it better than you do; therefore, your wallowing self-pity is justified.  This knowledge keeps you down and sick and invariably drunk.

In spite of my advanced education, in spite of living in the world’s wealthiest nation, in spite of being employed and having a little money in the bank,  I am facing my own fear of hunger.  My fear might be superfluous, but it is mine, and I am struggling with it.  I am in fear of not being able to feed my children properly meaning a balanced meal rather than nothing at all.  As I said, I have no right to complain… yet I will continue because there is a point to this, and I am hoping to figure out what it is, maybe you will figure it out before I do.  Until then, I will keep writing.

I can’t know what it is like to actually be starving.  I carry too many extra pounds for that.  I don’t know what people in developing countries face.  I can intellectualize about it, but I can’t possibly really know.  I spoke with a friend of mine this morning about this, and she is in the same situation.  We are both over-educated and underemployed.  We are both in the middle of a divorce.  We both see our children part time.  We also both make food choices based on conservation rather than palette.  She told me this morning that when she isn’t with her child, she skips meals and when she does eat, she eats as cheaply as possible so that when her child is with her, she can make meals that are well balanced, so that he won’t go without.

I have been making those choices.  My partner made those choices when her children were little and now is doing so again though her children are grown.  There is a special ache in the gut when you hear, “Mommy, I’m hungry,” and you just can’t do anything about it.  We usually have something but fearing the moment we don’t looms.

I know what some of you must be thinking, “oh boo hoo, you and your friend aren’t going to starve and neither are your kids.”  Maybe that is true, but this is where the “identify don’t compare” comes into play.  That is where you defeat the guilt that keeps you in that self-pity and hopelessness.  When you identify with parts of my story, you start to face those fears you have tucked away.  Just as I do whenever I identify my similarities with others.

I have some eggs and some oatmeal and stuff for sandwiches.  My food choices have gone from what I feel like eating to what I can afford to eat.  I have some frozen vegetables and will get some chicken for when the boys come over.  We are not starving.  We have a home.

Someone said to me the other day when I was upset about my situation, “you knew this wasn’t going to be easy.”   My thoughts were yes I knew it but now I am feeling it.  Knowing and experiencing are different things entirely.  Just as wanting and needing are different as well.  Knowing you did the right thing doesn’t squash the fears you have while in the process of getting from an unhappy life to the possibility of a happy one.  It doesn’t pay all the bills, feed your kids, your partner or yourself or keep the danger of catastrophe from your door should just one little thing go wrong.  In the end, I don’t know what sucks more fear or guilt.  Gnawing fear or gnawing guilt… both are equally sucky.  

So go and enjoy your danish and coffee or cereal and juice or toast and eggs, fear and guilt do not taste very good.  Hope is a far tastier dish.  Meanwhile, if you are making food choices or meal skipping choices, know that you are not by yourself, but it doesn’t mean that you situation isn’t important.  If you don’t have to make those choices, remember knowing and experiencing are two different things.  There are lots of places you can donate to if you are fortunate.  If you are not so fortunate, there are sources to look for help.

If you need help, a great source is your local United Way.  They know how to pair people and their needs with organizations that can help.  Anyway, thanks for reading…

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1  http://help.feedingamerica.org/site/PageServer?   

  pagename=SEM_landing_page&s_src=Y11X1GSEM&s_subsrc=gamericahungerstatistics.

2  http://www.strength.org/childhood_hunger/?gclid=CP3q0KWp26oCFcE42god3yQ69Q.

3  http://www.worldhunger.org/articles/Learn/world%20hunger%20facts%202002.htm.

… And I Feel Fine

What I have figured out so far…

All my life I have wondered what those tingly feelings were when I looked at certain women… Maya Angelou, Sigorney Weaver, Lynda Carter, my RA junior year, my first creative writing teacher in college where some women I can readily think of who I assumed that they just had some magical powers that they could wield over people.  People like me… me.  

They wielded nothing.  It turns out that that “power” was some chemical response within me.  In other words — they were merely crushes.  I did not fall under the spell of some secret attribute that I could never put my finger on.  I was just attracted to these women, and I just had no clue what to call “it”.  Mystery solved.  the mystery was physical attraction.  Now I get it.  Now I don’t have to worry about “spells” or charisma or something they have and that I am missing and crave… .

Now it is so obvious, but then it was so uncomfortable because I couldn’t put a name to it.  I knew I was supposed to like boys, but my thoughts drifted to the girls.  I liked movies like Aliens because they had kick ass women in them.  I like the Terminator because Sarah Connor became a kick ass woman in it.  I liked Wonder Woman because … well, what’s not to like.  

For a person who has always been mired in self-examination, I was surely dense about my own sexuality.  Now as I have had a year to grapple with this newly discovered truth about myself, I have seen my past in a new light.  Some of the uncomfortableness of my childhood have been put to rest.  Not some of the dark and evil things.  No, I never asked for it, and no I don’t believe that any of us does.  What I am talking about are the feelings I had that didn’t match what my immediate culture was telling me that my feelings should be.  I pushed down my natural feelings and observations and desires and raised up the one I was “supposed” to have.  It wasn’t my sexuality that made me uncomfortable.  It was my inability to recognize my true feelings because that wasn’t what my culture was telling me I should have.  My God Mother tells me that I shouldn’t “should” on myself.  I am telling my culture to stop “shoulding” on us too.

This past year I have looked at what I like not what I am supposed to like.  It is amazing how just acknowledging what my heart wants makes me feel fine — not normal like the setting on the washing machine, or ok, or “right” whatever that is, but fine.  

Deep breath in…. long cleansing exhale out…

I feel fine…

 

Katydid Rockefeller, the New Dish for North Carolina Conservatives

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Katydid Rockefeller, the New Dish for North Carolina Conservatives

Well, here we go.  The last bastion of prejudice that good and decent people can have is about to be reinforced in North Carolina.  Gay people can’t marry in North Carolina already, yet the legislature passed a bill to bring what is already banned to a public vote.  

North Carolina’s unemployment surpasses that of the national average, yet the Assembly wasted its time on this?1  It is too bad they have to waste time limiting the rights of its citizenry rather than working on strategies to put people back to work or to help its people in any way at all.  If legislating my ability to marry my partner, because it is not morally sanctioned by their read on our bible, then to avoid blatant hypocrisy, they cannot pick and choose their theology for their theocracy.  

If this redundant Amendment One, SB 514 (or BS 514) is passed, then North Carolina is well on its way to becoming a state theocracy, but to be consistent with biblical text, our good legislators need to protect the citizenry from further harm that is rampant in this state and is clearly prohibited in the bible.  There are 613 biblical laws that will need to be addressed by the legislature in order to prevent any perceived hypocrisy or blatant attack on the human rights of its citizens.

The legislators of North Carolina must address a profitable yet clear violation of biblical law and that is to eliminate the shellfish industry in North Carolina.  They need to propose a state bill, BS 515, banning the sale, harvesting, consumption, import, export or in anyway enjoying or profiting from shellfish. There are clear moral guidelines that would eliminate shellfish from the state’s profit margin if the legislature is to be consistent with its moral stand.  In Leviticus, you will find that there are a whole lot of things that God doesn’t like besides us gay folks and shellfish consumption is one of those things.

9“‘Of all the creatures living in the water of the seas and the streams you may eat any that have fins and scales. 10 But all creatures in the seas or streams that do not have fins and scales—whether among all the swarming things or among all the other living creatures in the water—you are to regard as unclean. 11 And since you are to regard them as unclean, you must not eat their meat; you must regard their carcasses as unclean. 12 Anything living in the water that does not have fins and scales is to be regarded as unclean by you.”  Leviticus 9-12 (NIV)

If we are going to have a state that is morally forthright then kiss your Christmas oysters goodbye.  Clams, mussels, shrimp and crab — they are out too.  You can forget about calamari as well.  Those do not fall under the dietary guidelines set out in Leviticus.   

Why did those who are so apt to govern us in the tradition of the Old Testament let this slip by their regulation, but so steadfastly cling to another rule that is just a few chapters away (Lev 18:22)?  Perhaps because oysters, clams and shrimp are yummy.  Not just to our tummy’s but to our purses as well.  Seafood is popular as well as profitable for North Carolina although it is morally reprehensible fare.  In 2009 North Carolina coastal economies profited 255 million dollars from the seafood industry.2  That same year, 2.6 million of those dollars were attributed to the oyster harvest alone.3  North Carolina even licenses individuals to grow shellfish, it also leases ocean acreage for this reprehensible practice.  In fact, North Carolina’s agricultural commission claims that the state is one of the most progressive states in regard to aquaculture.  

There are over 250 individuals in the state who hold aquaculture leases for pond and tank operations.  Almost 300 individuals hold leases to raise shellfish on the ocean floor.4   That’s nearly 550 individuals in North Carolina who are willfully engaging in acts that are offensive and morally wrong according to the North Carolina Assembly’s newly adjusted moral compass.  Worse than that their actions encourage others to willfully stray from traditional moral values by selling their ill gotten gain to consumers in their own communities, across the state, all over the country and throughout the world.

This morally reprehensible industry does not just harm aquaculturists and harvesters, but restaurants, supermarkets, import and export corporations contribute to spreading immorality throughout our world.  This industry has so infected our culture that even the church participates in unwittingly supporting this abomination by using the imagery of shellfish in one of its most sacred ceremonies.  One of the symbols of baptism is the scallop shell.  Some Churches even have the audacity to use an actual scallop shell to baptize the most innocent humans on earth.  Infants are doused with water held in these unclean vessels in a ritual intended to cleanse that very same child.  

Not only are there valid moral reasons to ban this industry, there is solid scientific evidence that shellfish are dangerous.  The fact is this: shellfish can KILL people.  These creatures are dangerous when consumed.  There is a chance of shellfish poisoning every time you slurp down one of these gastronomic delicacies.  They can cause illness, insanity and even death.  There’s diarrheal shellfish poisoning, paralytic shellfish poisoning, amnesic shellfish poisoning, neurotoxic shellfish poisoning to name a few maladies caused by the consumption of shellfish.  Neurotoxic shellfish poisoning is so dangerous that toxins can be suspended in the air, and a person can get sick just by breathing in the fumes created by diseased shellfish.5  

Each person in the US eats an average of 15 pounds of seafood a year.  In 2010, Americans spent over 80.2 billion dollars on fishery products.6  The problem of shellfish consumption is a national one.  It is pervasive among all age groups, so protecting our young people from the dangers of shellfish is a battle in which our legislature must take an aggressive lead in protecting its citizens, especially when not facing it puts our youngest most innocent at the brink of the very decline of our civilization.

Once the shellfish ban is passed, North Carolina will need to retrain these errant aquaculturists and purveyors of unclean shellfish in order not to contribute to the already epidemic unemployment that plague’s the state..  Some would argue that these people cannot change their immoral behavior that they are just born this way.   But as Dr. Marcus Bachmann’s practice has shown that just as with homosexuals, it is possible to “reorient” these unfortunates into a way of living that is more pleasing to God.  Faith, prayer and psychological reconditioning can save these shellfish profiteers from their immoral pasts.  

One way to replace the shellfish industry with one that would be sanctioned by these biblical moral guidelines is to develop the insect harvest.  Our society can replace the forbidden fruits of the sea with the abundant fruits of the field.  Locusts, for instance, are perfectly fine for a snack and they are morally sanctioned ones as well as found in Leviticus 11:22.  “Of these you may eat any kind of locust, katydid, cricket or grasshopper.”  (NIV)  The benefits of eating bugs over the slugs of the ocean are numerous.  They are high in protein and low in cholesterol.  They are plentiful and do not stress the environment the way other sources of protein do.7  

Most importantly, eating bugs is sanctioned by God, and there is diversity in the kind of bugs that are permitted for consumption.  Many other cultures eat bugs, and our society would do well to reorient its culinary sins more to the liking of God as portrayed in the Old Testament.  So when you long for an appetizer of Oyster’s Rockefeller, try some Katydid Rockefeller instead.  

Once our morality is honed to this kind of legislation.  Then the misdoings of the textile industry can be addressed.  Cotton-blends must become a thing of the past.  The legislature must stop the moral turpitude of the textile industry.  Next will be to legislate those rouge hairstylists who insist on rounding the corners of our heads and shaping the beards of men.  Also, the North Carolina Assembly must enforce the ban on those men who have had a testicle or two removed, either for fashionable reasons or to save their lives from cancer.  This ban will make sure they do not worship in the church or temple.  After that, the Assembly must bring back the blue laws and reintroduce stoning as the punishment for working on the Sabbath.

The tattoo and piercing industries must be driven out of the state as well, and anyone with a tattoo must submit to laser treatments to have them removed. This mandate will not only conform to North Carolina’s moral compass, but it will also shore up the burgeoning healthcare industry that the liberals have so tortuously dismantled.  Finally and essentially, our legislature must protect its citizenry against those mercenary wives who would maim and shame a man battering her husband.  Remember wives, it is essential that if your husband is being assaulted, under no circumstance must you harm the genitals of his assailant or your hand will be cut off as punishment.  

What kind of a state do you want to live in?   

1http://pulse.ncpolicywatch.org/2011/08/19/nc-unemployment-rate-tops-10-percent-as-public-sector-jobs-eliminated/

2http://www.ncfisheries.net/statistics/socioeconomic/SeafoodDealerEconomic_and_BusinessProfileStudy-FinalDraft.pdf

3 http://www.ncfisheries.net/statistics/comstat/09land.htm

4http://www.ncagr.gov/markets/aquaculture/statistics.htm

5http://health.howstuffworks.com/wellness/food-nutrition/facts/shellfish-r-months1.htm

6http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/fishwatch/trade_and_aquaculture.htm

7http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/earthnews/3343288/Eat-more-insects-scientists-say.html