Tag Archives: friendluv

loving a friend from far too far


This is the postcard display at the Lobster Shack down at Two Lights in Cape Elizabeth. All but two the postcards feature Jeff’s cartoons.

I have been finding my friend Jeff’s cartoons everywhere around Portland since we got here a week ago – his work is on magnets and shot glasses and pint glasses, coasters, sweatshirts, calendars, playing cards, coffee mugs, and more. I was so excited to find how big he’s hit it, how broadly his products are available now. Jeff creates cartoons about Maine: lobsters, moose, and the stereotypical Old Mainers show up in his panels. I’ve run across items adorned with his wisecracking characters in just about every touristy shop we’ve stopped into.

I couldn’t wait to write to Jeff and just be generally excited in his direction.

I thought the same thing when I was here a month ago. And last year, too. I really should write to him and tell him how great it is to see his work everywhere! But I hadn’t done it yet.

Back when I lived in Maine, Jeff and I were in a writing group together; we met regularly along with several other folks, gathering at different’ member’s houses or at local cafes (did we meet at cafes?) to talk about the work each of us shared with each other. We had someone working on children’s books, another who wrote sci-fi, fantasy, literary fiction, poetry — Jeff was working on horror, and I was doing whatever it was I was doing: poetry, maybe, or little things I called poetry, and some of my erotic fiction. I had found the group through a co-worker of my then-wife’s; that co-worker’s partner was in the group (our fantasy writer: amazing). Over the time that we were in the group together, Jeff and I got to be friends. He was a bearish sort of guy, a little taller than me, bearded, with eyes that sort of sparked when he talked to you, and he loved to laugh and to make other people laugh. He was ten or so years my senior, lived alone in — Falmouth, was it? We met now and again outside of the group, to talk about life and relationships and the deep desire we each had to get our writing out into the world. We were writing friends; I thought he was funny, supportive, and deeply kind and caring. We stayed in touch, just now and then, after I moved; he sent emails periodically, reminding me that he wanted to get together when I came back to visit Maine.

But I didn’t go back to visit Maine for a long time after my ex-wife and I split up. I felt like Maine was hers, like I didn’t deserve it anymore, like part of my penance for how I ended our relationship was to cede the whole state to her (please note that she didn’t ask any such ridiculousness of me).

Once I did go, though, with my subsequent partner, and I met up with Jeff and my ex-wife’s former coworker’s partner, R, at a Sudanese restaurant near the Old Port. As delighted as I was to see them, I was also ashamed. I assumed that R would have some allegiance to my ex-wife, given his partner’s connection to her, and I was waiting for my former writing compatriots to judge me. (Judge me for what? For leaving my wife – the person to whom I had said forever, for getting immediately involved with a coworker of hers after nursing a crush on this person for months prior to my marriage ending, for not telling her about this relationship, for all of it. Who was doing that judging, though? That’s right. I was.) The meal was difficult, uncomfortable. I didn’t know what to say to these once-upon-a-time writing friends. I felt like I should be explaining myself and my relationship actions, though no one had asked me to do so — my Maine friends just wanted to know how I was doing, wanted to tell me how they were doing. But I was so spun up in projecting my guilt onto them that I could barely taste my food. Jeff and I hadn’t gotten together since.

We had a couple of exchanges via Facebook in the last few years, I think. At some point in the last year, I’d posted a photo to his Facebook page, an image of a book of his cartoons I’d seen in the Portland Airport, or maybe it was the picture I took of someone in Oakland wearing a sweatshirt with one of his cartoons on it. He didn’t reply, but I didn’t think about it — after all, it’s not at all uncommon for me not to respond to friends, even though I am very glad to hear from them. And I was getting ready to finally be ready to get in touch with him when I came back to Maine for these long visits. I’m like that – I can go years between contact with the people I call my friends. The folks who I can call best friends are the ones who put up with this from me, who don’t give up on me, who can pick up where we left off when finally I make the call or send an email or make a lunch date. Sometimes I call this being a terrible friend. Other times I call it being an introvert writer. Still other times I call it being a survivor who isolates by way of survival. Still: I was looking forward to finally reconnecting with Jeff. I wanted to make amends for that last dinner, explain my distance and behavior, and then introduce him to my new love. I wanted to hear what was going on with his life, and celebrate the success he’d found with his cartoons.

I had noticed that his cartoons weren’t carried by DownEast Magazine anymore, and I wanted to ask him about that, too. Was there some sort of falling out? Political differences? What happened?

A couple of days into this trip, my sweetheart and I were heading into Portland for a date night: we wanted dinner at Hot Suppa and then time to wander around a local bookstore. I looked on Google and found several bookstores in the city that were new to me, including The Green Hand Bookshop, which looked fantastic and right up our alley. Unfortunately, they were closed by the time we were heading into the city, but when I looked at their website on my phone, there was my friend Jeff’s name in the first paragraph of one of the blog posts, plus Jeff’s picture. Oh cool, I thought — Jeff’s connected with this bookstore! Maybe he helped open it, or — 

And then I opened the blog post, and discovered that my friend Jeff had died. Back in April of 2014 — over a year ago — he had a heart attack and died while driving himself to the hospital. I felt a stun rush through me. I looked up his name and read the articles that ran after his death in the Portland Press-Herald and the Bangor Daily News. I read about who he was to so many people who loved him and stayed active in his life. I caught the summary, having missed the main screening.

I missed him. I missed my chance to say hello again, to say nothing of being able to say a truly open-hearted goodbye.

I’ve got no moral to this post. Of course, I keep telling myself that I need to contact everyone I’ve been out of touch with and tell them hello, tell them I love them, tell them I still think about them often (it’s true) even though I haven’t been in touch in ages. Mostly, right now, there’s a sadness resting heavy in my chest made up of regret and disappointment, more for him than for me. Fifty-five is too young. He should have had more life. Good night, Jeff. I hope you’re writing hard and laughing harder wherever you are now. I’m so grateful I got to know you when I did.

these constellations of selves we are

My body is having a hard time right now — let me not get into all the details, just stretch into the results, which are that I’m fatigued and somewhat anxious and did not swim in the ocean at all today. Granted, it was a grey and chilly day — there was a walk around the long beach at low tide with dearest friends from way back, and the chill in the air made the water seem warmer. It seems like you’ve gotta swim for sand dollars this year anyway. I should’ve had my suit on, but I think my body would have complained.

Time with friends from school is good and tenderizing in ways I don’t have easy words for. Always, at some point during our time together, I notice myself splitting in a way, peeling apart: one half the self I was when we were regularly in each other’s lives — the just-post-trauma, the just-coming-out, the just-discovering-alcohol, the just-discovering-life self — and the other part the me I have become these twenty-some-odd (ahem) years later. I find myself trying to speak, to engage with them, through both of these lenses/selves at the same time. This makes conversation a disconcerting, vertigo-inducing adventure. No wonder I can get kind of quiet when I’m hanging out with these old friends who knew me When, around whom I become more whole because they carry parts of me — memories, conversations, nighttime walks through deserted streets, drunken and revelatory conversations over empty pool tables or across a candle-lit roughhewn tavern table — that are not complete when I’m away from their company. Perhaps I carry similar parts for them, too.

It is maybe not surprising that my body went wonky. Plus the other thing that I can’t mention. Plus this body’s predisposition. Plus all that sea water. So today I took it easy, piled on the holistic treatments and attempted to cut back on my sugar (which is difficult on this vacation, let me tell you) so that my body could begin to find a way toward rebalancing itself.

All these constellations of selves we are — inside and outside, swimming within us, networks of necessary flora, undulant and symphonic in their responsibilities, and, too, the entanglements of social selves, perceived selves that we have to perform, or even (is it possible?) just be.

Just once I’d like to have a conversation with my oldest friends and not fall apart somewhere inside. These are the people who love me most deep, who apparently still want to spend time with me even though they have seen me at my worst. How terrifying.

For all this might sound catastrophic, please let me say right now that it was a wonderful visit. There was good food and a walk through an absolutely deliciously terrifying seaside thunderstorm (complete with hail and bolt lightning) and candlelit conversation with everyone huddled together around cups of tea after stripping off our soaked clothes and changing into whatever dry wear to be had. There was much tastiness, a dessert to celebrate a birthday, talk of books and bodies, aging and work, politics and race and writing and sex and school.

This evening, after they left and I rested, I went down to the beach and walked just a bit of its length, the tide as high as I’d maybe ever seen it here. I listened to how my body was drawn to the water. I listened to the mosaic of myself begin to settle into something more akin to a singularity again (though it never quite gets there). I felt a little like crying, felt embarrassed, felt grateful, all the while scanning the surf for sand dollars. Then I biked back to the cottage and, while cardinals and goldfinches sang to one another and dive-bombed across the driveway from one birch tree to another, took a couple of hours to get work done on my book.

extra:ordinary – the cracks are filled with hard culled gold

(This week’s contribution to the extra:ordinary project (stories of everyday resilience and survival) comes from Jenni M. In her piece, Jenni gives us insight into what it’s like to be a child of a military family, as well as another side of military abuse. So many thanks, Jenni, for your fierce words of survival, recovery, vulnerability and strength.)

The military is wide-open space for children being abused. It’s already Government-sanctioned and employs people specifically  to be violent, and for the military-raised children, there is no protection, as the military keeps its own secrets. I am a military brat and I learned early on that child abuse was something to be hushed up, not told about, and never reported. I learned this when my best friend came to school with bruises on her  face and I told my own parents, one who was a  dad doctor and one mom teacher, about what I saw and they said, that’s a family problem we don’t  get involved. They would be legally mandated to report the abuse then, and now, yet no matter what physical signs there were on my friend that they would physically see, they never reported anything as it was well known that the offender would just get a talking to by his commander and then he  would go home and beat his family more for causing problems within a military career. This saturated me to the bigger realization that whatever was happening in our own household, this was of no consequence to anyone else either. And there was a lot going on.

I survived my parents craziness, their divorce, their hostility, anger, inability to communicate, and then I became a teenager, then was quickly sexualized by society and my mother.

My mother was  then remarried. This man that came into her life quickly then started grooming me to accept his inappropriate advances and tell no one. I was already conditioned  not to say anything as my previous experience saying the truth only brought me trouble and never the other person to consequence. He would push me against the wall, even before he married my mother, while we were both drunk and drunkenly kiss me. I felt that as a 17-year-old  I had a right to drink as I was so European, but now I realize I was just a young  alcoholic. I also was taught that when people drink things happen and it doesn’t really matter because you’re drunk.

The night before he married my mother, he followed  me into my 17-year-old bed single, the only male ever in my bedroom until that moment, he lying next to me  masturbated until he came on me. My mom outside and my aunts who can come for the wedding the next day were just 20 feet away on the sunken patio.  I was in the room just inside on the first floor with the window half-raised above the  patio. No one could see in as I tried to pretend I was asleep. I still hear my mom and my aunt’s voices  in the back talking about the next day and they were drunk also, it’s a family trait.

I had never been taught that I could say no to any adult touching me. Stating boundaries was considered rude and I was taught I should politely just extricate myself from the situation as that’s what Nice girls do. This would’ve worked except he was drunk and I was drunk and my mother was outside and I was frozen as the circumstances themselves were so Otherworldly.

The next day at the wedding I just remember getting more and more drunk. I knew this man was trouble but I knew no one would believe me. And when I did finally tell my mom many many years later that was proved to be right.
He had mean eyes. I would see him drunk and he would do things right in front of my mom to say that this is his household and that we were his domain. Pushing me against hot burning radiators and I would beg  my mom make him stop and she would tell me to not make a fuss, not cause a scene. Her exact statement were I was embarrassing HER at a restaurant. I started having panic attacks whenever I visited her in Turkey, where she lived at that time with him. She was the main breadwinner as a Department of Defense civilian, completely financially independent from him easily, as he had a job as an ESL teacher at a language school but the inequality of income he constantly took out his  frustrations  in mean drunken verbal assaults against her and me. He started physically abusing her and she politely put up with that for a few years, as for her having a second failed marriage was worse than being physically abused until one point he started having affairs with her friends that was for her enough, and it was public, something she would not tolerate.

She left him and I thought this moment would be the time to tell her about what he did to me. I never wanted to say that their marriage broke up because of what he did to me as it was my shame. I felt that wasn’t enough of an assault. But I look back now and see that the  sexual grooming, inappropriate touching, sexual assaults and violence and verbal assaults was abuse.

I survived this time by drinking, blacking out and being on the merry-go-round of “what I did last night drunk ” that was shame ridden, blackout unknown. My alcoholism was very distracting  and time-consuming, yet socially sanctioned by my family. I mired myself in this instead of what happened earlier in life that made me not want to remember or feel my present feelings.

I remember telling my mom after I believe she left him for the last time, and her telling me that it wasn’t that bad and I should’ve said something that night and that, meanly and mainly, I was just imagining it. She also mentioned that I was drunk too so I was also responsible. He was 40 and I was 17.

I now live in the present, I stopped drinking at 26  and started going to therapy all the time. I had a few suicide attempts. Made the rounds of psychiatric hospitals and psychiatric meds, hoping that these doctors knowledge would somehow make these horrible feelings go away.

This went on for a few years and realized that I had to be my own savior. There was no white knight, there is no magic pill, there’s  only the hard work of tears, and anger, group therapy, individual therapy, acupuncture and yoga. And writing.

I  confronted my mom about what he did and she still does not really believe me, She says “words,” these words that make these  sentences. “It was 27 years ago can’t you stop blabbing about it.” But it wasn’t 26 years ago because he still is my mom’s Facebook friend until last year,  six years ago he called in the middle of the night, knowing I was at her house, threatening to kill himself. He still had her number across all these  continents and years. Five years ago he asked to be my Facebook friend finding me under my fake name  looking at pictures under my mom’s Facebook contacts.

I survived both of them, Yet the cost has been very high. I don’t really trust that when I am in distress  or physically in danger that anyone will respond.  I distrust being around people who have had a drink  who are not even alcoholic. The relationship I have with my momster  as I call her is one fraught with anger. She has never accepted  any responsibility for her part in this monster man, and  she felt the need to be Facebook friends with him until I told her that she could have one relationship either him or me. She unfriended him on Facebook in a magnanimous effort of redundancy.

She  has remarried someone with the same mean drunk eyes and demeanor and wonders why I don’t want to visit when he is there or  demand the need for locked doors.

In her mind even today I am over-sensitive and dramatic, she devaluing every emotion that she does not find acceptable, and the only emotions she finds acceptable are pleasant, kind, and polite. The stabbing jobs of womanhood and the expectations that follow.

I have survived, I have two cats, I’ve traveled around the world knowing that as long as I don’t drink (13 years and counting ), I can have great boundaries, see danger, remove myself.  Trusting  my intuition, knowing that the end of the day I keep myself  safe and sane and no one else can do that for me. I completely endeavor myself to the world  of books, movies, crafts,  and photography. I have a wonderfully close friends for over 20 years who help me laugh ,see the absolute absurdity in my past , travel to far-flung places with me, who have seen the arc of my alcoholism my psychiatric destabilizations and my fractures of self  and still love me and support me. I am one that is not exactly whole but the cracks are filled with  hard culled gold and the broken is  continually accepted  by me alone as whole.

(Much gratitude to you, Jenni, for this powerful piece!)

a world larger than the tight wound I’d come to inhabit

Good morning — it’s finally beginning to feel like “early” when I wake up. Today the alarm went off at 5, and I started that inside conversation:

you keep saying you want to get up early, come on, now

but I’m so tired. do I really have to get up?

It goes on like that for awhile; I won’t repeat all the parts.  Outside, it’s still quiet. Outside, it’s still dark. Here at my desk, I actually need the candle, and even though I’m yawning, I’m so glad to be here. I’ve missed the sense of being at the computer so early that I can barely remember what it is that I’m saying as I type it, and my head says: what are we doing here? and outside the birds are still asleep and, back up in the North Bay, this would be the time that the owls were talking to each other. No owls yet here in midtown Oakland. No deer either. The wildlife look different here.

Still, this is what I know: the earlier I can rise, the more writing I can do in the morning before I have to go in to “work.” Also, the earlier I’ll get tired, so the (ostensibly) easier it will be to get up and do it again tomorrow. Why am I telling you all of this? Because it’s early, and I’m tired. And I’m proud of myself for getting out of bed.

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This morning I am thinking about trauma and community, about intimacy and how we learn to find something like home in others after home turned out to be the unsafest place of all. Last night I went to hear my friend Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore read from her latest book, The End of San Francisco. It’s a novel memoir, wrangling with hope and possibility in communities that crumble, communities of folks who are all facing death all the time– Continue reading

what do we deserve?

This morning I am all soft song and heartbeat. How do we reckon with all the love we are offered? How do we hold our bodies open into that warm and sticky possibility that not only did we always deserve love, but that we are surrounded every minute by more love than it’s possible for us to hold — we have to let it flow over and through us instead. We have to trust that the flow will continue. There’s nothing to grab onto anyway.

I know, all the poets have already said this. But today I am astonished again. Today I can’t believe that I am still worth loving — when I have forced those who love me to prove their love over and over again. Of course, that’s not what happened. I didn’t force anything. They choose to remain steadfast. Still: more than I believe I deserve.Who teaches us these things? Continue reading

the poetry of the soul’s home

(here I am listening to some of the brilliant writing shared on Sunday)

Good morning on a Tuesday. This morning is bright sun, warming my chilly apartment, is homemade oat & oat flour Irish soda bread, is a happy puppy settled into a sunspot, is the steam from the green and mint tea flourishing into the sunlit space before me. This morning is Cheb i Sabbah radio on Pandora, is time for morning pages at sunrise, is settling back into home after three days in Atlanta. This morning is Rumi and Minnie Bruce Pratt — this is a morning for poems.

What is this morning for you, so far?

I want to tell you about Atlanta, about the home-ness of it for me, and about a quiet Sunday morning in one of the last feminist bookstores in the country, and inviting a group of Atlanta writers to ease–through their writing–into their bodies. Continue reading

where do we find our teachers?

silhouette of a dancing person, before a multicolored backgroundGood morning this morning. I’ve got a green Earl Grey tea this morning, which is nice and odd. I woke up from a difficult dream that involved my mom, and I only captured the very end of it, where I was in a bed making, spelling out the word AMAZING using my finger dipped in frosting and letting the letters dry on some hard surface. I was looking for housing in Crete, Nebr.

How have your dreams brought you into this day?

This morning I am thinking about other mothers, about teachers, about who we learn from when our parents aren’t able to be the ones who give us the lessons we need to move into and through life.

Anne Lamott talks about this in her book, Traveling Mercies. She describes the women who weren’t her own mother, mothers of friends, who took her in, who told her she was beautiful, who brought her through girlhood and womanhood with a steadfastness and encouragement, people you felt accountable to, whose opinion mattered to you, even when you were going to go ahead and fuck up anyway.

I am thinking about who we learn from.

Continue reading

do femmes get to be comfortable?

young woman/girl in a red tshirt looking through a view master toygood morning and happy Wednesday — what’s rustling around under the skin of your morning dreams today?

I’m thinking these days about what it takes for us to be comfortable in our skin, to be comfortable in our selves. There have been years when I felt like I would never be ok, in the world, just as I am, that I’d always be performing some version of myself in order just to engage with other human beings. Does that make sense? But I just came from the 2012 Femme Conference, where I had a very different experience of girlness/femaleness, community, and ease.

Continue reading

snowflakes and shouting and safe hearts

graffti of a red heart, vaguely realistically drawnGood morning to you, over there. Are you warm enough? Keep that scarf on — don’t catch a chill.

I’m thinking about the people I love who are in the Northeast, who are in the middle of winter already, who have been without power, who are well under this new snow. I’m remembering why I left, and I’m nostalgic for the chill of it, the work of living there, how strong I felt, bundling up against the cold, digging out, stirring the coals in the woodstove and blazing it up each morning when I came down into the kitchen — add paper and kindling, then one log, then three, get it really going. Then I’d pour my coffee, settle at the kitchen table, write into the daybreak. No power meant no electric heat or gas, I don’t think, because those were electric-powered. Maybe the gas heaters would work, but we couldn’t use the fan to spread the warmth around (not that the fans worked all that well, anyway). Not living there anymore, I’m left with the romance of my memory, chapped cheeks, sharp and bright red, coming in to work at Stone Soup or Family Crisis, how I was bundled in a plaid barn jacket and boots, hair shorn, smiling at everyone in our shared burden of cold and ice and snow. I forget the deep depression I fell into every  winter, the seasonal affect business, how the cold got into my bones and wouldn’t leave, how I felt I couldn’t get warm, not ever. That part I don’t miss, I don’t even let myself remember. I miss the deep dark of rural Maine, and, too, the way the night spread itself bright through the woods when the ground was covered with snow, how I stood at my bedroom window on full-moon nights and the backyard was as light as midday with the reflection back up from the sparkling, ice-coated white.

Be safe over there, friends. Send me some snowflakes.

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Today’s day 1 of NaNoWriMo 2011! You can write that novel — are you joining in?

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Two poem-prompts for this morning, maybe to use to kick off your novel writing practice:

by Joanna Klink
Am I not alone, as I thought I was, as I thought
The day was, the hour I walked into, morning
When I felt night fly from my chest where prospect had
Slackened, and close itself off, understanding, as I thought I did,
That the ground would resist my legs and not let them
Break nor let them be released into air as my heart, in its
Muscle, might be released from the body that surrounds it,
Like someone who, placing a hand on a shoulder's
Blade, felt a life move inside an hour and a day
Break from the day the hour meant something more than weakness,
More than fear, and flew forward into the depths of
Prospect, your arms, where you'd been, before me, waiting
For me, the way the body has always been waiting for the heart to sense
It is housed, it is needed, it will not be harmed.

and one more, from Kwame Dawes:

by Kwame Dawes

            For August Wilson

No one quarrels here, no one has learned
the yell of discontent—instead, here in Sumter
we learn to grow silent, build a stone
of resolve, learn to nod, learn to close
in the flame of shame and anger
in our hearts, learn to petrify it so,
and the more we quiet our ire,
the heavier the stone; this alchemy
of concrete in the vein, the sludge
of affront, until even that will calcify
and the heart, at last, will stop,
unassailable, unmovable, adamant.

Find me a man who will stand
on a blasted hill and shout,
find me a woman who will break
into shouts, who will let loose
a river of lament, find the howl
of the spirit, teach us the tongues
of the angry so that our blood,
my pulse—our hearts flow
with the warm healing of anger.

You, August, have carried in your belly
every song of affront your characters
have spoken, and maybe you waited
too long to howl against the night,
but each evening on some wooden
stage, these men and women,
learn to sing songs lost for centuries,
learn the healing of talk, the calming
of quarrel, the music of contention,
and in this cacophonic chorus,
we find the ritual of living.

I invite you to read these poems aloud. Think about using one or both of these as your writing prompts for today — grab lines or phrases that stay with you, that spark your imagination, like:

For me, the way the body has always been waiting for the heart to sense
It is housed, it is needed, it will not be harmed.


find me a woman who will break
into shouts, who will let loose
a river of lament, find the howl
of the spirit

and begin there. Show me what comes up for you as you read those lines, what voices you hear, what memories arise, what vision or fantasy or story. Follow your writing wherever it seems to want you to go! Take 10 minutes, at least — then give yourself another 10, if you really get in to the writing.

Thank you for the eloquence of your deepest heart-voice, the one that never stops telling the truth. Thank you, always, for your words.

bring that beat back

graffiti of a turntable, painted onto the side of a grey concrete building ornamentationGood morning — how is this morning treating you so far? Here it’s rainy and it took me a long, long time to wake up; I think I hit snooze about 20 times.

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What’s going on this morning? I can’t remember my dreams — in the dream I wish I’d had, my grandmother, one of them, or maybe both, came to me. we were sitting in a city park, on a dry bench, and they were holding hands. They looked like I remembered them, washed grey permanents, slightly bent bodies, deeply kind faces, my father’s mother’s face a little more open than my mother’s mother’s face, but still both so very much there. They pat the space between them, want me to sit down there. They tell me things I need to hear, they tell me about the time when I was gone, the time when their families were missing two grandchildren — this is what the holidays were like, they say, this is what it felt like to miss you and your sister. The space didn’t fill in around you, they say, there was just a hole. We didn’t talk about it much, but we all knew it was there.The wind blew against our faces, gentle, and somehow they were sitting next to each other and also around me.The air was blue, fresh, the sky was open. There were other people, far away, walking. My grandmothers explained about their lives, they told me how to go forward in my own. They opened their hands and let me put mine there, they let me see how our hands are so much the same. You see, they said to me, look at our hands. You belong to us. You’re home here.

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Night before last, I went with a good friend to see Erasure, a band whose music saved me when I was coming out (and when I say that I mean both coming out as queer and also coming out from under my stepfather; these are always intertwined for me). I want to tell you about dancing, about dancing there in the way high seats at the Fox theater with my friend and hundreds of other people, about opening my mouth to sing along with a favorite song and realizing that hundreds of other people are also singing, about not being ashamed of loving something this much, about letting my body explode with and into this intertwining. At one point, when I was singing and all these other people were singing, and we were hollering for the artists who made the music, people we would never meet, who would never know us personally but whose work had touched us, had maybe made us feel heard and understood and welcome at moments when we believed (we knew) no one would ever really welcome us again, I understood sports fans. Just a flash, but it was there: this was a place of communal celebration, a place of connection — because we shared a love for those artists on the stage, we could share a love with one another.

Erasure takes me back into the very early 90s, full on, to the time when dancing saved me more than anything else ever could, because he had never had his hands on dancing. He’d had his hands on everything else I loved, every other spot of possible escape, including writing, even including alcohol, but dancing was all mine, and like swimming, I could get lost on the dance floor, alone and also intimately interwoven with the bodies and energies around me.

Yesterday I unpacked all my Erasure cds, both to share with my friend, and to copy back into my life — I uploaded them to my music playlists, haven’t listened to them much since moving to California. Somehow, being in San Francisco was like having Erasure, all that bouncing queerness, all around me. But, of course, San Francisco I’ve found is less bouncing queer and more please I need a job or a gig so I can pay the rent so I can have some time to do my art, and under the weight of that pressure, a little Erasure (I mean levity) must come.

As ever, I’m thinking about radical self care, and about paying attention to what works for you, what self care looks like and feels best for you. Other people, back in those early days, for instance, went to the gym, went jogging, lifted weights, took boxing classes — I took the very best care of myself that I could on the dance floor; the dance floor, for many years, was the only safe place, where I reminded all the inner selves that, yes, look, we can be all the way in this body and be full of power, be a brilliant, explosive thing, be connected to something outside ourselves (that music, yes, that rhythm) and in each one of those steps, we can also be connected to these people around us. We can feel desire and let that live all the way in us, right here, just here if you want. Yes, body, we can feel delight and be safe, even powerful, in that delight. Powerful? Yes– that was it. I didn’t just feel safe when I was dancing, I felt wildly in control, both loose and firmly present. This was my meditation, my strength, my power.

I want you to understand, I want to find the words for you to be able to understand, what it meant to have something like that, a place like that, after living for a decade with a man who had made me believe that he had access to everything in me, who had shaped my insides to his own liking, who had crafted the perfect vessel for himself in me, not just in my body, but in my thoughts. In my thoughts. He didn’t have access to this place — even if I’d tried to share it with him, and once or twice, I probably did, in words, over the phone, long distance, coast to midland, doing the work that he’d trained me into: heaving all of myself into his hands, because that was the only way I could be made acceptable and worth anything — even then, he couldn’t really touch it. This was more than a miracle, more than self care: this was a crack in the thing he had made. this was the fissure I would escape out of. One time, when I was home on a school break, and I was in the home office (either working on the software application that our family business was supposedly producing for college students, or transcribing his notes for a new article about child sexual trauma), when I believed I was home alone, I put on some music, some something, and danced barefoot around the office (which had been my own bedroom before I went away to school). I turned the music up loud, I was taking something for myself from this house, allowing myself to be me, just for a few minutes, before he or my mom or my sister came home and I had to reshape into the scapegoat gnarl that lived only because she begged forgiveness or battled them every second. I was laughing to myself in that dancing, laughing out loud, I flung my arms out, sang along to the music, and then noticed that he was standing there in the doorway. I froze, flooded with adrenaline and terror, and shame, then stammered and went to turn down the music. He wasn’t paying me to dance, of course (let’s have a different conversation about waht he really was paying me for); we had to go downstairs to the living room and sit for an hour, more, talk about my priorities, my work, my psyche.

I think he saw, in that moment, what he couldn’t touch, what in me was already free.

There was nothing to replace that feeling, the work that dancing did for me, the work that dancing and I did together, when I stopped going, when I started drinking more, when the depression took me over for all those years. Here’s the thing: I can’t drink when I’m dancing; alcohol makes me sloppy and makes the dancing a mess. And so, for a long time, the drinking brought more oblivion than the dancing did, and for awhile, the oblivion was more important. Safer. No need to have any connection with others in the oblivion. I don’t write about that time much.

Since moving to CA, I go out maybe once every few months; with a full work and workshop schedule, plus needing morning time for writing, latenight dance parties are difficult to make and the dancing slips way off into the wayback machine. But every time I go, every time I fit my body back into that necessary place, I remember why it matters, I remember and am flush with gratitude for what dancing gave me, which was life, no exaggeration. And I make plans to go out again, and soon — even just monthly, couldn’t we make that happen? It helps to have dancing friends, one of whom was there at the concert with me, had shared his tickets; dancing friends know this place of resilient safety through connection with music and sweat and other people’s energy — they get it, and so we can call one another and say, ok, tonight? and they say, maybe, yes, tonight, and we go out into the world and make it a little more safe for ourselves and the others, the nineteen year olds there among us in bodies of all ages, the ones who are finding the space of safety that we had believed would never open up for (or in) us.
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This is the prompt: tell me about the music you loved when you were nineteen (or the music your character loved), a favorite song. Where were you living then? What about that song was alive for you, what drew you to that song or band or type of music? Who else loved that song? 10 minutes: take me there, then follow your writing wherever it seemed to want you to go.

Today I am grateful for house music, for synthpop and techno, and grateful, too, for all the music you loved that saved you, the stuff that streamed into your walkman, the music that you met yourself within. Thanks for allowing that to happen, for sharing it with others, for continuing. Thank you for your words.