Wednesday, January 30, 2008

For Troy and D-man

D-man's partner Troy left for his tour of duty yesterday. This is the candle I'm burning for them both. It sits in front of a ginger jar with the Chinese character for marriage, or "double happiness." With the candle's smoke, I send up my prayers that Troy comes home safely, and that both of them live out their days together in double happiness.

Monday, January 28, 2008

What is success?

A beloved friend was talking about issues of success and not reaching the expectations we (or others) had for ourselves. Oh what a vexed and thorny issue whose roots go deep into our pasts.... For me, it begins with my mother. She was the youngest of three children of very successful, well-to-do parents, and by the time she was born they were both out in the world a lot and away from home. So she was solitary, imaginative, bookish, with dark eyes, straight black hair, and olive skin - a genetic throwback to the unknown native-American ancestor that left his or her traces in our dna. This was not the ideal for girls growing up in the Country-club, debutante South. When my grandmother was around, she was urging my mother to perm her hair, dye it blond, and be more like her hugely popular older brother and sister. In fact, the last words my grandmother - in her 90s then and lost in the wilds of dementia - ever said to my mother were, "You need a little curl in your hair." We laugh about it, but ouch. My mother is also one of those people that everyone adores. If I had a nickel for every time someone told me, "Oh, I love your mother!" well, I'd have a shitload of nickels. But I'm her youngest child, her only girl, the only one she tells these childhood sadnesses to. So I know she has gone through life feeling like a failure.

And what about me? You know what they say about the apple and the tree. I'm the youngest of three kids. I'm small, with dark hair and eyes, dreamy, and bookish. I'm the flakey one, the one who dropped out of that good Ivy league school you could brag about, the one who dated unsavory men and had impractical dreams. I'm the child who ran away with the circus and, when she came back home, brought the circus with her. Both my brothers are hugely successful in their chosen fields and my mother brags about them constantly. But when she writes to her alumni magazines, she lies about me because what I do and what I am is not impressive enough. And it's OK with me, really. I know she loves me and I know it's not about me. If she felt proud of herself it wouldn't matter what I do or don't do.

So, do I feel successful? My answer is a resoundingly schizophrenic yes and no. On a purely personal level, I do. There's one thing I know I'm very talented at, and that's loving people. I am the CEO and president of love, and I've created a world around me that is overflowing with it. Two of my kids come from an orphanage, one of my kids is special needs, my husband comes from an abusive, neglectful home, and I've given them all a safe harbor in my heart, and a happy, loving circus of a home to return to at the end of each day. I look at that and I know I've done well.

And do I wish that my book would get accepted and published so that my mother could look at me with pride? Of course I do. But I threw in my lot with the circus freaks a long, long time ago, and if I don't ever have a book contract, I know they'll still be proud of me for who I am and what I do every day, which is why I ran away and joined the circus in the first place. I try and hold that feeling to my heart and I will try to pass that feeling on to my kids- that no matter what they do I am proud of them for being good, kind, loving people. If I manage that, then I guess that'll be a pretty big success.

What about you? What does success mean in your life? I'd love to hear.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

A wonderful night of music

I went to an amazing concert last night. Patty Griffin, Emmylou Harris, Buddy Miller, and Shawn Colvin sat on the stage as if they were in their own living room, and played music, listened to music, accompanied and harmonized, joked, teased each other, chatted, put on their reading glasses to check lyrics, and tossed flying monkey stuffed animals around the stage. It was intimate, unscripted, and absolutely enchanting. And, superficial person that I am, here's what I've come away with: Emmylou Harris is the most beautiful woman in the world.
Exhibit A. This is not a retouched publicity photo. The woman's over 60 and this is what she really looks like in person! I rest my case.

All the time that I wasn't being transported by music I spent thinking things like, 'My god! Her hair is amazing. If I had perfectly shining white hair like that I wouldn't dye mine either.' Or 'She has fantastic bones, and how does she stay so slim. Oooh, I'd love to be able to carry off black cowboy boots. I'd just look tacky in a crushed-velvet coat like that, but she looks fabulous.' I'm clearly a very shallow person.

Her singing's not too shabby either! Not a perfect voice, but oh so expressive, full of heartache and depth. Patty Griffin does have a near-perfect voice. She was the main reason I went to the concert, and hearing her sing I knew I was in the presence of an artist at the height of her gifts. it was a privilege. If you don't know her music, go download "Heavenly day" from her new CD or "Mary" and "Top of the World" from her older ones. She's an amazing musician, songwriter, and singer. Buddy Miller was terrific, too, and now I'm going to have to go on itunes, myself, and get some of his music and some of Shawn Colvin's more recent work. Wow, was it a wonderful evening. Oh, and Emmylou Harris is a total babe.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

I'm Not Dead...

It's late January in the rustbelt, the lousiest time of year, I have a virus that's making me feel like junk, and this song just about says it all for me.

Monday, January 21, 2008

The company we keep

I was reading a post over at Java's blog and got to thinking about how we choose and are chosen by the people we call our friends. An acquaintance once remarked to me that she wished she had more gay friends. I was surprised because I just kind of assumed that any open-minded person would have a percentage of gay friends that reflected, at least, the percentage in the population around them. I'd assumed this because I've always had a lot of gay and lesbian friends. But as I thought about it more, I realized that, for me at least, there's more active choosing than I'd realized. For example:
1. When I was five my best friend was a boy named Kieth (I called him Keithy) who loved to go out in the field near our house and pick flowers with me. Hmmm.....
2. When I was a sweet young college drop out, leaving behind the frigid wasteland of the Ivy Leagues (and the weather sucked too!) I moved to San Francisco. I wandered over to the nearest commercial district, which was Castro Street. I had no idea that Castro Street was a gay mecca, but I knew it felt comfortable to me, so I got a job at Cliff's Variety store and proceeded to learn all about "screws" and "nuts."
3. When my relationship with The Lying Cheating Scumbag ended I found comfort in the metaphorical embrace of a large group of gay men, and was inducted officially into the order of the "hag." (There's a secret initiation rite and it's kind of like the Mormons, but the underpants are less magic and more fabulous. I can't say more because I'm sworn to secrecy!)

So the question is, why? Why was little Keithy my best friend? Why did Castro Street feel like home? Why did my broken heart lead me straight to hagdom? I think the answer, for me at least, is that I've always been an outsider. I grew up largely in Asia, where I was often the only white person for miles. I was stared at of course. But people would also walk up to me and finger my curly brown hair, stroke my pale skin. Hi, my name's Elizabeth and I'll be your sideshow freak today! It bothered me some, but it was just also part of my life.

It was actually much harder when I moved to the U.S. and looked like everyone else, but wasn't actually like them. All my cultural references were different; I hadn't grown up watching TV for instance, and missed a lot of the shorthand references kids used. (Always the eager student, I studied hard, though, and caught up quickly!) As kids do, I worked hard at trying to fit in and be like the kids around me, and I ended up doing a passable imitation of a "regular" American kid. But I wasn't really. Because I knew what it was like to wander around the dirt roads of Laos and Cambodia, to be the only white kid in a tiny village where the houses were on stilts and the pigs slept under the house. I knew what it was like to play in the dirt with kids whose only toys were sticks and stones and farm animals. I hid it, but it was always there.

So I think that when I met my first openly gay man,* it was like a brisk and sweet-scented wind blowing away all those layers covering my own difference. If they could "say it loud, say it proud" then so could I. I see now that I gravitated to people who had felt within them some deep difference growing up and had learned to embrace it, so that I could learn to embrace mine. I still do.

(*Footnote for Sageweb: I did hang out at SF dyke bars too, and admire the Dykes on Bikes. But I'm such a femme that I felt more naturally at home with my boys, picking flowers and trading fashion tips.)

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Up to the Mountain - Patty Griffin's tribute to MLK

Because Monday we celebrate his life. And because I'm going to see Patty (with Emmylou Harris, Shawn Colvin, and Buddy Miller) in concert next week.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Hello in there

Walking through the parking lot of Whole Foods today, I was startled to see a woman in full chador loading groceries into an SUV. I live in rust-belt middle America, land of empty factories and declining populations. It's not exactly a mecca (!!) for international travelers. Here and there, you see women who wear head scarves, but that's all. So this woman, covered head-to-toe in flowing black robes, with only her eyes showing, really stood out. I wanted to stare, and I wanted to NOT stare, so what I did instead was glance at her and look quickly away. Which isn't an awful thing to do. The thing is, I know better.

I know better, because I have a daughter who is different from most of the world. My twelve-year-old is autistic. She's not "Rain Man" autistic - the shut down, affectless, savant. She's exuberant and affectionate, but has motor problems that make it hard for her to control all her muscles- eyes, tongue, arms, everything - and she has trouble seeing/focusing, talking, and performing simple tasks like tying her shoe. So, though she's also tall, pretty, happy, loving, and bright, her autism makes it so that those things are not what most people see and remember about her. It's like her Chador, hiding her true self from the world. I hate it when people stare at her, and I react in different ways to it depending on who's doing the staring. Sometimes, if it's a kid, I talk to them in a friendly way. Sometimes if it's an adult who is being excessively rude and should know better, I meet their eyes in a challenging way as if to say, 'What the hell are you staring at?' In other situations, I simply smile, to make us all remember that we're human.

It's not that I mind the looking, per se. She is different. I know that. And because we choose to take her with us anywhere we think she might have fun, rather than only keeping to places her differences will be accepted, she is out and about in the wide world having fun and getting stared at. So I don't mind if people look, or even if they look longer than is typically socially acceptable as they try to figure out just why this girl seems different. But what I truly wish for is that, while they're looking at my sweet baby, the challenge and light of my life, they'd smile. That's all. Look in her pretty brown eyes and smile. Which I didn't manage to do today, in the parking lot of Whole Foods, to the woman in her full chador. And as I walked away, after it was too late, I was mad at myself for not automatically doing unto others as I wish they would to unto me and mine. I'll keep trying, though, and maybe next time I'll get to that smile, the one that says, " the light in me honors the light in you."

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Coming out of the closet (not that one)

I have been, for the past couple of weeks, a basket case, a bundle of frayed nerves. A month ago, I sent my young Adult novel off to be considered for publication. I knew nothing would happen before the holidays were all gotten through. But once New Year's day had passed, I knew I could hear from them any time - could be this week, could be next month - and as each day passes I become more of a wreck.

Publishing anything anytime is a crapshoot. Your little book, that you've poured all your heart and soul into, has to run a daunting gauntlet. If it makes it past the first hurdle of the editor's personal taste, then it has to fit with their "list." Then it also has to be reviewed by marketing (and everyone knows marketing is all about publishing great literature! Screw the bottom line.), and it can fail at any of those points for any number of reasons. And just because I'm me, I have added some extra hurdles. My book is Young Adult history/fantasy hybrid. It's set in San Francisco in 1978 and is about a 14 year-old girl who runs away from home and washes up on the shores of the pre-AIDS Castro. She's taken in by a gay man. Adventures ensue. I lived and worked in the Castro, and the book is, in large part, a love letter to the innocent exuberance of that time and place, and of the men I knew. I know my book is well-written, heartfelt, funny, and exciting. And I also know that, because of the subject matter, it's going to be much, much harder to publish.

I haven't been writing about it on the blog because I thought it would be easier for me to keep it under wraps. I didn't want people asking, "have you heard yet?" And if the publisher passes on it, I thought it would be easier for me to handle if it was private. But, in case you haven't noticed, when it comes to myself, I have absolutely no sense of privacy. And the fate of my book is practically all I've been able to think about lately; it's been hard to write about anything real here, when I couldn't write about the thing that is most real to me now. Anyway, I decided to share this with you, because I have come to know many of you a bit, and you are all such thoughtful, lovely people. So I decided it would be safe.

There. it's out and I feel much better. ( I'm great at keeping other people's secrets, but I suck at keeping my own.) So wish me luck, but don't ask me if I've heard yet. I'll let you know.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Friday, January 11, 2008

Meme and my checkered past....

That scamp Sageweb dinged me, so here we go....

1. Three exes I would pretend not to know today.
Most of them I wouldn't mind seeing. But that's boring. So there was one, the first man I was in love with, the first man I lived with, and a total and utter mindfuck. Eric, who shall henceforth be known as The Lying Cheating Scumbag. He picked me up on Van Ness Street (in SF) after a poetry reading. As Lemony Snickett says, "a bad beginning." Poets, feh. He had dreamy green eyes, wrote poetry, and played the sitar. To this day I'd rather stick a fork in my ear than listen to sitar music. But I digress. He was, and still is no doubt, a compulsive liar and a compulsive womanizer. He picked up women left and right and screwed anything with two legs and no penis in between. Given that this was the late 70s and early 80s, it's amazing he didn't give me AIDS or at least clap. He did give me crabs, though. Ewww....

2. The most scandalous rumor that passed through my high school.
I went to high school in Taiwan during the Vietnam war, so the GIs brought every drug known to man, and some not, to Taipei for R & R. So there were LOTS of strange things going on. But i think the # 1 would have to be that Eva Chow got arrested for using heroin and was thrown into a Taiwanese prison for a long, long time.

3. The time I knew Santa didn't exist.
i am a fairly tough little creature because I grew up with two older brothers (you know who you are!!!!) who tortured me endlessly. When I was four, they told me that Santa was a crock. I was devastated. The odd thing is that I continued to believe in the Easter Bunny for years after that. And, really, anyone can see how a fat guy couldn't really come down the chimney with presents. But a large bunny carrying chocolate eggs, on the other hand, is totally possible.

4.The funniest thing I did in a house of worship.
My own family is Presbyterian, and Presbyterians never do anything, let alone anything funny, in church. but in high school, one of my best friends became a born-again Christian. I wanted to be supportive of her, so I went to church with her sometimes. So we were in church with her holy roller, speaking in tongues, pentecostal congregation. The minister asked, "Is there anyone here who hasn't received Jesus as their personal savior?" I don't know what I was thinking or what I thought he said ("Is there anyone here who hasn't received snack yet?" maybe), but I raised my hand. And for the next hour the entire congregation spent the entire service staring at me like a starving man stares at a pork chop. Once I'd gotten out of there alive, I thought it was pretty funny.

5. Best excuse I had for being out past curfew.
As I said, I had two very tiring older brothers. By the time I got to an age where I needed a curfew, the parents were too worn out to worry about it. I once dragged my ass in at dawn and no one said a word.

6. Sunday Cartoon Character I had a crush on.
Johny Quest. He was totally hot, and the alternatives were Felix, Popeye, and Fred Flintstone.

7. Cartoon character you wanted to be.
There weren't a lot of great female characters on the cartoons then (Wilma Flintstone? Veronica? Betty?). So I think I'll have to fudge this one and say Nancy Drew. I read those books by the stack and dreamed of zooming around in a little blue roadster with the virginal Ned Nickerson by me in the front seat, and the gals, butch George and femme Bess, in the back seat. Everyone knows George was a dyke, but It occurs to me now that all the pals could have been gay!

8. Foods I can no longer stomach.
Liver. Always hated it, always will. Other than that, I'll eat anything.

9. Tacky pick-up line you used that worked.
Well, I'm not bragging, I'm just telling the plain, unvarnished truth. I never needed to use a pick up line. I had to fend them off from - since it was San Francisco - girls as well as boys.

10. Secret hangover recipe.
Barfing? Does that count as a recipe?

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Moving on, moving in

I've been cleaning my bedroom today, more like excavating actually. The history of this archaeological dig begins five years ago. My husband was in the ICU with a life-threatening clotting disorder, we had just sold our house and were preparing to move into this one, and I had four kids, nine and under. Luckily I also had, and have, wonderful friends and family who took over the move and the children so that I could concentrate on being at the hospital with my husband to advocate and care for him. I've written about the long-term effects of this on me, and us, before (PTSD or just plain old life?), so I won't go into that here.

On the day were to move, an amazing crowd of friends, neighbors, and complete strangers showed up. I felt like Dorothy as an Oz-like tornado of human kindness lifted us and our things out of one house and plopped us down into another. Of course, everything was higgledy piggledy and I cared not at all. Over the years I've slowly organized the post-move mess, almost everywhere. The living spaces were wrestled into shape first, then the kids rooms. But never our bedroom, because there were always other more important things to do. As a result, there are boxes in our room that are in exactly the same spot they were dumped in five years ago. God knows what's in them. And on top of those boxes, I've put other boxes, from the other rooms I was organizing, till the pile has become a fixed 'Monument to The Move' that we just walk around with seeing anymore.

So now, five years later, my husband still has a life-threatening clotting disorder, but surgery and daily medication keep it stable. The four little kids are not so little anymore and are gone seven predictable hours a day. As for me, I'm finally moving into my own bedroom. Better late than never.

What do you say when you want to say "Thank you" and "I'm sorry" at the same time?

Like so many of us opposed to this war we're in, I struggle with how to express my appreciation for the men and women who are honorably serving our country who are doing their best to bring peace to a region that desperately needs it, despite our leaders poor planning and support of that mission. Being me, with a big mouth (and, I hope, heart), I want to run over to every GI I see, throw my arms around them, and say, "Thank you, be careful, I'm sorry you have to do this, are you OK?" In other words, basically act like an escapee from a psych ward. So I was really happy to find this video called "The Gratitude Campaign." Now I know that, without saying anything, I can still say "Thanks." Thought some of you might like it to.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

“As for the future, your task is not to foresee it, but to enable it.” (St. Exupery)

Today's a strange and significant day for me. It's the first day of the next phase of my life, the first time in 14 years that I am a stay-at-home mom home alone. I've had moments, hours, like this before, but never more than snatched and sipped, never routine and predictable. Technically, this big day should have happened last September when our special-needs daughter started school. But my husband was on sabbatical last semester, writing a book, so it wasn't just me, my house, and the rest of my life. Most stay-at-home parents would have reached this point eight or nine years ago. But because we have an autistic daughter who has been home schooled (because there were no decent schools for her until this year), I'm coming to this party late. But that's me, blooming late, as usual.

I spent the morning looking at family photos, because i want to start on drawings for a children's book I've written. I started out looking for pictures of my daughters when they were toddlers to use as models for one of the characters. But, of course, I got completely side tracked. I found pictures of my husband's French grandmother and her brothers taken in the Tuilleries sometime before WWI. One of the brothers would go on to fight in WWI where he was seriously wounded. He lived and was transformed by the experience and went on to become a world-famous surrealist painter. My husband's grandmother (the painter's baby sister) grew up to make an unhappy marriage to an odd American man and move to the U.S.

Then I strayed into pictures of my family. My parents are both 100% Southern (I could join the Daughters of the Confederacy on both sides.), yet childhood pictures show me strapped to the back of a Taiwanese Amah, wandering down the ruined steps of Angkor Wat, running barefoot and wild on the dirt roads of Laos. Taiwan, which was a repressive dictatorship when I was born there, is now a great democratic success story. The sleepy rural Cambodia of my childhood was tortured, murdered, killed by Pol Pot in his holocaust. And while I was happily roaming the streets of Laos, the CIA was running covert operations there, buying cocaine from Hmong tribes to win their loyalty as anti-communist fighters. Which worked out so well for everyone; Laos has been a Communist country for decades, and the many of the Hmong live desperately poor lives on the run from Lao forces. All of which makes me conclude that, despite all our planning, our best (or worst, hello CIA!) guesses, there is simply no way to tell how things are going to turn out.

This is a comforting thought for me today. Having a child who is very "differently abled," and who I know will probably live with me for the rest of my life, can be overwhelming if I stop and think about it too much. What will become of her when I'm gone? Who will love, care for, and appreciate her the way my husband and I do? But these pictures I've been looking at tell me there's no point in that kind of thinking. Who would have guessed that the young French boy in his stylish Sunday best, would lie bleeding all night on a battle field, watching the stars, and be transformed? That his little sister would leave Paris and live a strange lonely life in Ohio? That the lovely, quiet backwater that was Cambodia, would consume itself in insanity and hatred? That this American child with an Asian childhood would end up in the grey American rustbelt with a hybrid family of her own? No one.

As I sat alone in my disconcertingly silent house looking at pictures, I also thought about this new, uncharted phase of my life. There's so much I want to do: creative projects of all kinds - novels I want to publish, books I want to write and illustrate, windows I see in my head that I want to see in real life, and, always, children to love and help and worry about. The outcomes of all of these things are completely uncertain. I wanted to talk to someone, tell someone about it. But the husband is busy at work, family and friends are scattered and busy. So it was such a comfort that I had this place, and all of you, to come to and pour out my confused feelings and inchoate thoughts. Thanks for being there and holding my (cyber) hand on this odd, quiet day, as I make my uncertain steps forward into the always uncertain future. (And having written this, maybe tomorrow I'll actually get some work done!)

Monday, January 7, 2008

I think maybe my gaydar needs a tune up.

This afternoon I was driving a car full of teens to the mall. Thing 1 slips a CD into the player and her new favorite boy band starts to sing:
"This is gonna be a hard break up.
You just found me dancing in your make up.
Tell me just one thing before you leave,
Does this dress look good on me?"
No one says "ew" or "gross" or "that's so gay" (see, if you like, my earlier posting, Voices from the back seat, on "gay" as the new all-purpose put down.) and I'm surprised and pleased. I think about how the (straight) lead singer of Greenday, Billie joe Armstrong, wears far more makeup than I ever have.

Later, I meet the twins and one of their guy friends at Ulta, a cosmetics superstore. The guy says, "Oh my God! This store is great. I'm going to have to come back here with some money and buy some hair products." He shops happily with us and points out all the good sales. He tells me how the twins straightened his hair and it looked fantastic. We have a nice time and, when we're leaving, he tells the girls, "I love your mom!" and allows me to give him a big hug. He's had tons of girlfriends (which I know means not a whole lot). But the thing is, I'm truly confused. Is he, as my 70s fag-hag spidey senses are whispering to me, "gay, gay, gay," because he uses hair products and is adorable and openly emotive? Or is he just a new-millenium emo boy, at ease with products? No way of telling yet, but the fact that I'm confused is probably a good thing.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Rufus Wainwright - Gay Messiah

""He will soon be reborn
straight from 70's porn.....
Better pray for your sins
'cause the gay messiah's coming."

From his lips to God's ears! Happy Friday!

An brilliant singer and a wonderful night

I am totally, heart-palpitatingly, hyperventilatingly, Beatle-maniacally in love with Rufus Wainwright. I was sitting in the second row and it took all my self control (that, and the large black man strategically placed to prevent stage rushers) not to storm the stage like a crazed teeny bopper and throw myself swooning at his feet. If you EVER get a chance to see him perform, go! He is one of the most passionate singers I've ever seen. He writes his own songs, his voice is amazing - part cabaret chanteuse, part opera diva, part folk singer - and he has a deeply emotional way of playing the piano. The man is drenched in talent. And, girls and boys, he is gorgeous and mind-blowingly sexy. My god! Naturally, he's gay.

Well, as you can probably tell, I had an absolute blast tonight. Live music - in a small enough venue so that you can really see and feel the performer - is magic. No, it's art. And seeing art being created right in front of you; what a privilege and a joy!

Take a moment and watch the video below. It's Rufus, channelling Judy Garland but still making the song his own. He has another song (you can see it on Youtube) called "I want a gay Messiah." I think I've found mine.

Rufus Wainwright - Somewhere Over The Rainbow (Palladium)

Rufus, with his mother on piano.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

In your future I see....

In Asia, where I grew up, in preparation for the new year, people clean their houses from top to bottom, prepare lots of food, buy all new clothes. They do this because they believe that the way you begin your new year is very important because it will be the way you live out the coming year. So, basically, people, I'm screwed. Apparently, in the coming year, my husband is going to be working (well, no surprise there. He's got a wee touch of the workaholism.), my house is going to be messy (again, no surprise there because I'm... me and I just can't figure out where the servants got to.), and other people's children are going to be projectile vomiting all over my house. (Note to the mom of said child: She was the sweetest, most apologetic of pukers.) After four kids, a little thing like vomit all over my hall and bathroom is just par for the course. But as I wiped it up, then gathered up the reeking towels and carried them to the basement to be washed, I thought of my childhood - where you tried not to even say one unhappy or angry word on new years day, where you were careful to have the first guest in your home be an honored and auspicious person - and I had to laugh. Oh well. It could be worse, right? All the kids, and the dog, could have been puking. Now where did those servants get to?


Here's wishing you all a safe, happy new year full of love and joy. Thanks for all the pleasure you've given me by blogging, reading, commenting, or simply being around and about. Old friends, new friends, blessings. xoxo