This Old House

Fixer Upper
Today we are having some work done on the house.

If you own a home, you know what a scary sentence this is. Strangers invade, banging, sawing, talking in code about things you know will cost more money. Things start, then stop and you’re not sure why. Music you would never listen to is turned up to cover the sarcasm and  pissing contests that ensue. And you have to ride it out. You are at their mercy. You hold your breath, pray to the gods of renovation that in the end it turns out alright. That your bank account is not completely empty and your house settles back to its old self after all the upheaval and violation.

Today I’m surrounded by all the crap in my coat closet so a construction guy can climb into my attic and put in a vent. It’s amazing how much there is in the coat closet besides coats. That’s the other thing that happens when you start these kind of projects. You uncover more. You find something else you’ve been ignoring that really needs attention. Like the hoarding problem you’ve been hiding in the closet. The stockpile of grocery bags you buy so you don’t use plastic but then forget to bring to the store, so you buy more and forget those. The binoculars you thought you would use to look at birds in your yard. The cans of Spray Starch without their tops next to an underutilized iron. And all the board games from the ghost of Christmas Past.

When you write, it’s like this. You are working on something. You bang and saw and go at it. But it just uncovers something else that’s weak or broken or needs attention. And you don’t want to go there. It’s overwhelming. Why can’t you just put the vent in? Why do you need to clean out the closet too? And then fix the leaky faucets and nail in the step into your TV room so no one breaks their neck and figure out why the light over the basement stairs is flickering on and off like Gus the firefly?

Because it’s never finished. Never, ever.

You just keep at it, until, well I don’t know exactly until when. Because I’ve never finished anything. Nothing’s ready to send out. Nothing’s done, or good enough, or safe. I just keep trying to fix the leaky faucet, or more accurately, stick a bucket underneath and leave it for awhile.

OK, enough of this metaphor. But seriously, what do you do when your writing is an endless fixer upper?

 

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It’s a Cold and It’s a Lonely Hallelujah

chipsForgive me Father, for I have sinned. It’s been six months since my last blog post.

Not that I have anything to write about.

I suppose I could rant about  Donald Trump but if I get started I won’t stop.

I could talk about this book I just finished that was the saddest story I have ever read. So well written you should run out and get it now. But so heart wrenchingly sad I can’t possibly recommend it. But the writing…I know, why did I even bring it up? Ok, A Little Life, but don’t blame me if you can’t get through it.

I could talk about eating clean. I want to eat clean. I bought a Prevention Magazine guide to eating clean in the check out line at the supermarket the other night, alongside a bag of sour cream & onion potato chips. I felt a little dirty buying the chips. I ate half the bag reading the magazine.

I could talk about the fact that The Good Wife is ending or that Elizabeth Keen is dead or that I really don’t like what’s happening to Callie & Arizona on Grey’s, but then you would realize that along with my dirty potato chip habit, I watch way too much television.

I could tell you about my daughter’s chorus concert this week. The auditorium looked like a bare threaded pair of suit pants on an old man. The solos lovely, pure, off-key here and there, heart-in-throat adolescent angst and glory. These sung by seniors – a farewell tribute. My daughter, only a sophomore, doesn’t have to face this yet. Doesn’t have to take the rose at the end of the concert and have something announced about her future in front of all of us expectant adults – the college they are going to next year where 30% will drop out, the majors they have chosen that 80% will wind up changing. Those 3 kids who were announced “still undecided” looked a little embarrassed but I clapped hardest for them.

Or maybe, since it is Mother’s Day, I could talk about what this day is like for us mothers who have lost their mothers. My mom died almost 5 years ago at the young age of 75, and I still have Mother’s Day cards in my bedside drawer that I bought for her. My mom would have loved my daughter’s concert, although she didn’t visit much. One of the things she said to me when I was taking care of her at the end (and she said this in a flat tone as she was taking some of the last steps she would ever walk) is that she loved me more than I would ever know.

But I knew. I knew all the dynamics that made it hard for her to show love and approval to me. I knew she didn’t understand me and my choices. I knew she was jealous of me in my youth, and later felt I could do better on so many fronts. I knew she chose other people over me – to visit, to listen to, to share her love. And I knew she knew I was angry at her and unforgiving.

We are all a mess of good intentions gone bad and repeated tiny heartbreaks balled up with hope. I miss my mother like my arms have been taken away, like I’m wandering the streets of the place I grew up and no one recognizes me or even speaks the same language. I can’t stand that she left so soon, before we could figure it out just a little bit more.

I told her that I loved her. I told her it was ok to go. But I wish I told her I forgave it all. I wish I said, I understand you. I understand.

Happy Mother’s Day to all you moms out there trying, hoping, loving. It is practically impossible to get it right. There will books written about you. My Name is Lucy Barton, for starters. It is impossibly sad and beautifully written (another one!) and about a mom and a daughter and I think you should read it. Elizabeth Strout is my hero.

So many times I come back to this blog and promise to write more and then wind up at my default of silence. So no promises today. Just a few words. A few book recommendations. And a shout out to my mom. XO

 

 

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Howlings

o-WICKED-WITCH-OF-THE-WEST-facebook

The witches are stirring the pot. Stirring, stirring.

Our screen door blew off, screaming and kicking, dangling by a chain.

The dog escaped like Houdini from a hidden hole in the backyard fence.

5 candy bars have disappeared from the trick-or-treaters basket.

We ran out of milk in the middle of making pancakes.

Friends are coming tonight and I swear a tornado hit the kitchen and dining room.

My 15-year-old wants a nose ring.

Stirring, stirring…

I feel like Dorothy, trapped inside the witch’s crystal ball. Life swirls around me. is it Kansas or Oz? Are there ghosts in the cupboards? Zombies on the living room couch?

We are the House of the Full-Size Bars. Swarms of children wearing neon glow necklaces and dressed like Olaf or Donald Trump will storm the front steps. Adolescents in black hoodies will push pillowcases at me and grunt. Pumpkin beer will flow down our street behind parents and crazy uncles let loose for the night. No one will notice the screen door has flown the coop. No one will recognize the hag at the door dressed in mom jeans.

The witches are stirring the pot and I can’t decide – drink from the cauldron or not? Roll the crystal ball off the table and watch it shatter? Run away with a warlock and get a tattoo? Clip the single blood red rose left clinging to its thorny branch and clamp it between my teeth? Go all day without a shower?

Loosen the hinges of your soul tonight, even just a little. Watch the corners of the room for creeping shadows and thorny dustballs. Blacken a tooth, wear a gypsy shawl, turn your underwear inside out, juggle pumpkins and bananas and a thorny rose. Ride on the back of your Swifter and scatter candy corn across the moon.

It’s Halloween. Do you want to howl with me?

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I Shall Wear the Bottoms of my Trousers Rolled

e74cd0b699ff04ed2d01dff3ca86736dAnother birthday here and gone. Essentially nothing has changed. The same wish list that’s scribbled in my high school journals persists:

1) Have better posture

2) Loose weight

3) Become a Broadway star

4) Figure out the meaning of life.

Is it weird that I think a few of these things are still possible?

I saw someone the other day who I hadn’t seen in at least 20 years. She claimed I hadn’t changed a bit. Should I feel good about this? They say as you get older you don’t care what people think about you but I find that just isn’t true. I still can’t go out of the house without mascara. I am getting more, not less socially awkward. And just the other day my daughter and I saw two old ladies wearing sequined baseball caps and ordering Tuna Melts at the local Newport Creamery. Adorable, yes, but if I start wearing sequins to Newport Creamery just put me in the nursing home.

On the other hand, I do feel less pressure to complete a sentence when I’m talking. People just nod and carry on. There is a certain fog that rolls in at my age, not always unpleasant.

But I do feel a bit untethered. My sense of home has unraveled. I have no bucket list to speak of. There is no plan for retirement and no driving goals.

Except reading. I can’t stop reading. (The Enchanted by Rene Denfeld, anyone? Holy crap!)

And then there is the writing. Which is about so many things, like time and faith and luck. And at my age you realize more acutely than in earlier years, that these things do in fact, run out.

But I am pessimistically optimistic or optimistically pessimistic, depending on the day. And what this means for someone my age, is that you just keep at it. We are, after all, if not Broadway stars, shining stars.

So here’s to birthdays coming and going. Shine on.

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You’re Just My Type

images-5A few days ago my car broke down. It was outside a Starbucks near Brown University. I waited for a tow for an hour and a half. Between calls to the dealership, the tow guy, and the vet (Dog Number 3 had her lady parts removed), there was a lot of good old fashioned people watching.

Does anyone out there do this anymore? I think 95% of the folks who passed by were looking at or talking on their phones. Including the adorable young man wearing faded blue overall shorts, his legs sprouting sun-bleached poodle curls, his hair a white David Bowie cut. Same with the portly Lucius Malfoy look-alike in his black pants/shirt/suit jacket. And the minions of pony-tailed students wearing jogging bras and athletic shorts.

Then there was a woman, probably in her late forties or early fifties, dressed to go out for the evening, little black dress, high heels, thick shoulder length tree-bark colored hair. She was pacing back and forth in front of Starbucks, maybe waiting for a Match.com date, a limo, Lucius Malfoy? And under her arm, where I thought she would be holding a stylish clutch, was a package of Oreo cookies.

The next day I was telling my 15-year-old daughter about this woman and she said, “That’s amazing. I want to be her when I grow up.”

And there it was. With that brief description a full-blown character had leapt forth, real enough to be my daughter’s hero.

Right now the writing is killing me. It’s partly because I have to make stuff happen, like, uh, plot. But more than that, I think it is because my main character is boring the crap out of me. And that’s because I don’t know her well enough. So the other day I started one of those exercise things everyone always says will help but I hate them because I think I should already know this stuff (which I don’t) and it makes me feel like I’m wasting time when I should be writing the actual novel (which I’m not). But I was desperate and so I started a list of things about this character:

X is someone who:

Uses humor to deal with complex feelings

Is a little beaten down by the way she thought life would be vs the way life really is

Too vague, I thought. So this:

X tried a lot of outdoor activities because she wants to be an outdoorsy person – loves to go into REI and look at all the cool clothes, gadgets, tents and hiking boots. But nothing sustains her interest long enough to get good at it and in truth she would rather stay at a nice hotel and take a bath

And then, of course, I realized why this character bores the crap out of me. She IS me.

When you are writing a novel (and it truly is a novel – there is a ghost in it for Pete’s sake and a lot of stuff that never happened to me and people who are completely fictional), but you base a character on a lot of what has happened to you, it is hard to make this person his/her own true self.

How do you get this person to break out of your shell?

Maybe more of these exercises? Maybe you get her to do things you would never do and see what happens? Maybe you make an on-line profile and see who she attracts? Maybe you put a package of Oreos under her arm?

This is really stalling out my writing. I probably need to do more people watching – hang out at Starbucks or Roller Derby or go to a lot of yard sales or interview people who think they are vampires. Any of that, of course, would be better than writing.

Character. I love it. I hate it. Time to get some.

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Love Makes a Family

magic-kingdomAfter all these years, I am still rendered silent. I was visiting my dad when the same sex marriage ruling came down. He is eighty, a widow of almost 4 years, lonely, bitter about the loss of my mother, and generally crabby and critical. I love him dearly. And I couldn’t express my joy at the Supreme Court ruling. I couldn’t even bring it up. And no one else did. I have 3 adult brothers and 3 sisters-in-law – none of them mentioned it.

Homophobia is a sneaky bastard. You think you are free of it but it sits there waiting for just the right opportunity to rear its ugly self. I have a lot of excuses going through my head about protecting my dad, not wanting to get into it, not wanting the attention. A lot of crap. I just didn’t have the nerve. I was afraid to bring it up because I know how he feels. He tolerates, but he does not accept. When I got married (8 years ago), my parents refused to attend, and if we had any kind of reception or celebration (which we did not), I was told under no uncertain terms, they would not attend that either.

During my recent visit my spouse was back home, my two teenage daughters were with me. I talked to them about it and we looked at photos of the White House and Disneyland lit up in the colors of the rainbow flag. I said something lame about not not mentioning it to Grandpa because who knows how he would react and we chuckled. We chalked it up to his grumpy nature.

But I feel lousy about it. I feel like I failed my kids and myself. I am out to my dad and my brothers, but I felt like I was back in the closet. It’s an awful feeling. A numbing, soul crushing feeling.

Love makes a family, but love is complicated. For me, love has meant hiding and appeasing and balancing who I am with who my parents, my brothers, even my extended family, want me to be. And I’m pretty old for this. At this point, I really shouldn’t care. But in the house I was raised in, with my father and my brothers and the ghost of my mother in every plate and painting and throw rug, I went silent.

It is hard to love people so deeply when they are closed to who you really are and what you are up against.

I am working on a novel, and this theme is at its crux, so no wonder I hem and haw and work hard to avoid writing. Those personal things are so, well, personal. But they are the stuff we have to get at if we are to make the writing worthy, whole, beautiful.

I just finished Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng. I imagine this is the book she had to write. It is pretty amazing. While I read it I had almost an out-of-body experience. I have never met her, but I could feel her writing it, I could sense what it took. I knew that writing journey.

Writing is an art, a craft I am passionate about. I never thought of writing my novel as a cathartic or psychoanalytical process. But in truth, this huge part of it. I am writing to break the silence. Seems a bit extreme – an awful lot of work to come out of the closet. But writing has always been my weapon of choice.

In the eighties there was a poster/bumper sticker that I never see anymore: Silence=Death. Created in the wake of the AIDS epidemic, it was a rallying cry for coming out, for dignity, for activism. It would seem we are beyond this, with our rainbow flags and equal signs, but I still hold on to this image. For me, it resonates beyond the political. It speaks to me as a woman, a lesbian, a writer. Silence for me has been a crutch and a coping mechanism. It choked me at my fathers’ home and when I read the dissents of the justices the silence welled up in me again. There is so much hate.

Yes, we can choose our family. We can create a circle of like-minded friends and peeps. But that family we came from, despite time and distance and push and pull, they still have a lot of power. So I hug my kids. I cry on the phone to my other half. And I write. I choose to write.

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My Vagina is an Open Book

2015familyday403My friend Cindy Rizzo tagged me in a Facebook post about Blogging for LGBTQ Families Day and so I’m writing this post in her honor. I don’t think this is what I was supposed to write about and I think I’m supposed to tweet about it too but I don’t know how to do that, so this is all I got. For you, Cindy! 

Here is the thing about being a lesbian mom that ‘s different from being a straight mom. People want to know where your kids came from. A lot of people wait until they know you a little better before they ask, others just hem and haw trying to get you to say something, and some blurt it out. My girls happen to look like me, which actually confuses people. Over the years I have told hundreds of people that I inseminated, from closest friends to new bosses, from colleagues to the dentist, from parents of my kids’ friends to the guy who came to fix my stove. I wrote about this a little in a previous blog post, and it continues to happen, even now that my girls are 15 and 19.

There are a million insemination stories, and I tell people a little or a lot, depending on the person and the situation. Sometimes it feels like a way of educating people, sometimes it feels like a rite of passage, sometimes it feels like stand up comedy. But always it is putting yourself out there. It’s letting people in on your orientation, your politics, your struggles, your biology.

The truth is, as soon as you start the journey of insemination, your vagina is out there. It took years for me to get pregnant the first time, starting from home-based methods and moving on to the most scientific and clinical interventions possible. It was the nineties and this was a relatively new way to go. I spent a lot of time charting my temperature, taking fertility drugs, jabbing myself with needles, getting blood drawn, and receiving vaginal ultrasounds. Over the years I have probably had more vaginal ultrasounds than mosquito bites. Countless technicians have brandished the magic wand inside of me, searching for follicles, those little indicators of eggs trying to pop out of ovaries, the promise and hope of conception, children, a family.

Here is perhaps my most vivid memory of the whole process: I am in the exam room after just having a nurse practitioner inject sperm into my uterus with a catheter. My legs are up in the stirrups, a white sheet thin as a Kleenex covers me to just below the knees. A tiny angel pin is clipped to my johnny, a gift from the only other lesbian couple I know who have gone through this. I don’t really believe in angels but I am weary and desperate and willing to try anything. The nurse practitioner is talking to my partner and before I know what is happening she asks her if she wants to see the sperm and they are out the door, off to a microscope in another area of the clinic. My partner, the last one out, leaves the door wide open.

A few other things that happened along the way included 1) a trip to the emergency room after a near death allergic reaction to the dye in a hysteropingogram; 2) encountering a doctor who didn’t think I should inseminate because a child should have a mother and a father and she was convinced I had too much testosterone in me, which was why I was a lesbian and why I couldn’t get pregnant (I wonder what she’s doing these days); and 3) selecting my final donor (I used a number of different donors trying to get pregnant and agonized over their profiles determined to pick the right one) when the nurse told me he was really handsome. Embarrassing, yes, but worth it because I finally got pregnant and later used his reserved “sibling sperm” for my second child.

As for actually parenting as a lesbian mom, well that’s a much bigger story filled with awkward father daughter dances and a strained relationship with my own parents, and a straight mom thinking the donor might be Mel Gibson, and relationships ending and beginning, and most importantly, two amazing children who are just as proud of me as I am of them. A wild and wooly ride but worth every page of the story.

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