Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Writings 9/30/15

When I Was 25 (in 3-word sentences)

Law school's over.

My first job. Court's law clerk.

AIDS is rampant. Too many funerals. Worry about friends.

Harvey Milk assassinated. Overlooking City Hall. Cop cars gather. March with candle. Attend his service. His recorded testament. Bullets open closets.

Join gay Lutherans. Trips to conventions. Flirtation in Minnesota. Canoe and kisses.

Fight Briggs Initiative. Surprisingly big win.

Equal rights marches. Swim on Sacramento. Rain mutes speakers.

Attend Daniel's seder. Too much wine. Tampons in bathroom. What a mensch!

Dan White's trial. Disappointing manslaughter verdict. Avoid the riot.

Join gay synagogue. Learn Hebrew songs. Lead many services. Chant the Torah.

Mothertongue Readers' Theater. Women speak openly. Love Corky Wick. That's for me. Write and perform. Survival, sexuality, peace.

March on Pride. Sing with synagogue. Blow plastic horn. Collect parade buttons. Feet get sore. Back gets sore. Crowds oppress me.

First SF relationship. Woman with baggage. Husband, child, dog. I end it. Breaks my heart. Grief outlasts relationship.

My next relationship. She moves nearby. Then moves repeatedly. We hold seders. We sing together. She wants kids. I do not. We break up. She moves away. Life goes on.


Layers of Clothing

She often shares her belief in the layered approach to dressing. It offers many gradations of warmth, which are increasingly needed, as her ability to regulate her own temperature seems to be fading.

A T-shirt and a long-sleeved blouse are standard. Part of the reason for the T-shirt is modesty, because her button-front shirts often gap between the buttons, or a button comes undone.

But the warmth is the main thing, in an air-conditioned office or her cool flat. She usually also wears an overshirt of corduroy of chamois. This is part of the uniform of a butch lesbian of a certain age, and increases the number of pockets she has available for storage.

Below the waist, she always wears long pants, knee socks, and laced shoes. The pants used to be corduroy, but recently they tend to be blue or black jeans, perhaps because they don't wear out as quickly as corduroy does. Only when it's really hot out does she wear lighter-weight pants or ankle socks.

The clothes mask her shape, which has been getting steadily rounder over the years. And, more recently, they protect her skin, which has started to have skin cancers and sun allergy.

Holiday from Hell

The worst holiday I can remember is when my father and I hiked to join my brother for the last night of Boy Scout Camp on some lake in the woods. I'm not an outdoorswoman. The scenery was spectacular, but I spent all of the hike in discomfort from having soft, tender feet in suboptimal shoes on an uneven path laden with sharp rocks. I must have been carrying a small pack, and probably got tired easily and often.

Then I can't imagine that the camp was very comfortable, the food very good, or that it was easy to fall asleep or find the facilities. I faintly recall some oddness about the sleeping arrangements -- were some folks seeking paired privacy?

What I do remember is slipping on a stone and somehow both cutting and bruising the sole of one foot, so that each step on the hike out was particularly painful. But at least we didn't travel very fast. My father was having g.i. problems, and he stopped to vomit at least once on the way back to the car.

Yep, that part of the holiday was a great deal of not fun. There may have been some pleasures on the road driving to or from the lake, but that part of the trip is shrouded in the mists of time.

Harvey and Me

I was working at my desk in the southwest corner of the old State Building when we noticed an unusual number of police cars parked hastily in front of City Hall. We wondered if something was up.

I don't remember who first found out, or how, but we came to learn that our mayor had just been assassinated, along with the City's first openly gay supervisor, my district's supervisor, Harvey Milk.

I was still in the closet at work, and was unable to share my full horror and grief in the offices of the appellate court where I was a law clerk. But I soon found out, from other gay friends, that a candlelight vigil would be held that night in front of City Hall.

I attended the event, and was comforted to be surrounded by gay and lesbian mourners.

I also attended a Jewish service for Supervisor Milk. Maybe it was there that I heard the statement he had recorded, anticipating that he might be killed in office. He said, "If a bullet should enter my brain, let that bullet destroy every closet door."

I took his words to heart, and was soon marching on Sacramento for equal employment rights, co-chairing the Council on Religion and the Homosexual, and representing my synagogue in the World congress of Gay and Lesbian Jewish Organizations.

I've been out of the closet ever since, and am not going back.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

New Writings 9/13/15

Unhappy Dreams

I am happy to awake from most of my dreams, especially the ones that take place in a post-apocalyptic world. More often, though, my dreamwoes are mild. I often dream I have started a new school year and I haven't written down where and when each of my classes are, and then I have troubles finding out where I can get that information, troubles finding the classrooms, or both.

Another common dream is one where I'm looking for a bathroom and not quite finding what I need no matter where I look. These dreams probably stem from a full bladder, and I'm glad to have awoken so I can take care of it. It is less pleasant to awaken from a dream in which I've found a toilet and relieved myself -- which can result in a need for replacing my pajamas.

Another frequent dreamtheme is looking for my shoes. I have taken them off (a rare occurrence in reality) and now cannot find them. I attribute these dreams to cold feet.

Finally, there's the action thriller dream, where I'm on the run from a powerful enemy, or am actually fighting with one. A couple of years ago, I dreamed about physically fighting someone and awoke to find myself kicking the bedroom wall. I dropped back to sleep and did it again. The next time I awoke, I had the wits to turn onto my back, so at least my kicks would be directed at air rather than into the wall. This decision prevented additional damage, but ice packs were needed the next morning for my poor, stubbed toes.


Modern neuroscience to the contrary notwithstanding, I firmly believe that I once was able to multitask to a fare-thee-well. When I was in high school, I distinctly remember spending my evenings watching TV, reading my homework, and knitting at the same time.

Recent evidence suggests that multitaskers believe they are getting a lot done, but that objectively they are accomplishing less by the end of the day than are people who tackle the same tasks one at a time.

Now, I don't know how to measure the efficacy of my high school TV viewing, nor can I recall if I knitted less effectively with a book in my lap than without. But the fact that I graduated second in my class of about 1,000 pupils does suggest that the quality of my studying couldn't get much better.

Nowadays, I deliberately switch between tasks, e.g., I read during the commercials while watching TV. Knitting with the TV on doesn't work as well as it used to, either. I tend to drop stitches when knitting while looking at the screen. I should probably pair knitting with listening to the radio; maybe NPR would provide a nice level of mental occupation while leaving my eyes unemployed.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

More Recent Writings

Ink Stains

I keep in my wallet a slip of paper with the brand and model of my printer, so I can buy the correct type of ink should I remember that I need some while I'm out and about.

It's usually more efficient to buy in bulk online -- either the actual brand or some generic or remanufactured equivalent.

Some years ago, I was so appalled at the price of new ink cartridges that I bought a refilling kit and bottled ink. That worked for a while, I seem to recall, but the printer, like all its ilk, eventually died and I forgot about the refill option.

Which somehow casts my mind back to the ink cartridges I used to use in fountain pens when I was in high school and college. I savored the flowing line of ink and the link to the quills of gracious times past, without the hassle of sucking ink up from a bottle, whence I suspected it of wanting to issue in all directions. As it was, I got plenty of ink on my fingers and shirt pockets from the cartridge pens, and would occasionally smear the ink around the page before it had dried.

Which recalls another relic of times gone by - the ink blotter. How many mysteries have I read in which a clue was furnished by writing that was inadvertently transferred to a blotter and then read by the detective using a mirror?

And then there's the old trick of wiping a pencil edge on a pad of paper to reveal the impressions left by a person writing on the top page before removing it from the pad. Ahh, for the good old days of analog communication.

A Family Superstition

My mother would always light a cigarette when standing at a bus stop, to make the bus come. I mostly pull out something to read, but for much the same reasons.

The theory of the superstition is that the universe is perverse, and that by preparing for one outcome you encourage its opposite to happen. This perversity is also apparent in sayings about not counting one's chickens before they're hatched, etc.

But using such techniques also makes perfect psychological sense. Focusing my attention on a book keeps me from being impatient or fretting. Distraction really works for avoiding unpleasant thoughts or feelings.

That's not to say that distraction should blossom into full-blown denial, or at least not for very long. Reality can only be avoided for a little while, before it strikes back.


Underwater Living

I used to spend a lot of time in and near the swimming pool at the country club in Pennsylvania where my grandparents belonged. I even took some swimming classes there, because they didn't want any of the kids drowning on their watch.

My favorite part was being under the water. It was so silent and still, compared to the shouting and splashing that might be going on topside.

I'd practice swimming from one side of the pool to the other, completely underwater.

I'd turn somersaults under water, forwards and backwards, by curling up and waving my arms.

And once in a while, I'd get a friend to pretend to have a tea party with me, both of us seated on the floor of the pool and sipping from our pretend cups and saucers, in between visits to the surface for air. Our immersions troubled the lifeguards a bit, until they understood what we were up to.

I can't hold my breath very long, and my skin prunes up in no time, and the sunburns, ... But it was so hot in the Pennsylvania summers, and it was oh so quiet and cool at the bottom of the pool.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

New Writings

Allison and Me

Allison Bechdel's graphic memoir, Fun Home, has become an award-winning Broadway musical, and I'm reminded of how much I identified with parts of her life when I read the book some years ago.

Her father was gay and closeted. She learned this during his life. My father was also gay and closeted, but it was only after his death that I understood what my mother had been trying to tell me about his friends and roomers. I wish we had had the chance to discuss our shared homosexuality and how it affected our lives.

Her father was run down by a truck on a road near their home, and she believes he committed suicide by throwing himself in its path.

My father overdosed on prescription medications that he had reportedly abused for years. His death certificate raised some question of suicide. But I don't believe he would deliberately overdose, then sit reading the newspaper in the living room of his own house, for his daughter to find him in the morning. But I imagine he was in such poor mental health that his intentions may have wavered. I'll never know for sure.


I May Have Been Drunk

As the child of an alcoholic mother, who missed being raised by her because of that alcoholism, I have a healthy respect for booze. It helps that I dislike the taste of most of it. And it can easily upset my stomach.

When in bars, I usually have nonalcoholic Shirley Temples - which are Seven Up with grenadine syrup. Sometimes I'll have Kahlua and cream, on the rocks. The cream counters the acidity of the booze, and the melting ice dilutes it to an acceptable taste.

That being said, I think I was drunk once. During or shortly after law school, I somehow grew a little close to my straight male dentist. This may have been during my period of trying to be straight, for religious reasons. Or he may have known me for a lesbian and thought he could cure me of that affliction. Yes, on second thought, I think he know that I favored women. One evening, he took me out to dinner (whether after an office visit or on a separate occasion, I can't remember). I do remember having one or two drinks before dinner and drinking two glasses of wine during the meal. I may have been drunk, but I retained control over my behavior.

We had some very pleasant farewell kissing, and he was surprised at my ability. I said to him, Lesbians kiss, too - or something similar. That's where we left it, and he deposited me at my door.

Maybe I was more drunk than I recall, because I was sick as a dog the next day. Completely hung over, I called in sick to work and tried to believe that I was suffering from food poisoning.


A Skill no Longer Needed

When I was much, much younger, and much, much lighter, I rode my bike all over Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. It was a blue Schwinn, I seem to recall, that I would occasionally customize with playing cards clothes-pinned to the wheel fork, that made a magical roar against the spinning spokes.

I had energy, and balance, and stamina, and the bike was the right size for my little legs. I flew down the street, the wind in my hair. I often rode in a skirt - believe it or not - since I was too young to be allowed to choose my own clothes.

Then I moved to Berkeley, California, and bikes were useless in the hills. I could have gotten another bike in flat Santa Monica four years later, but I didn't need one: I took the bus to high school, and was driven to the beach, and then was given a car in my senior year.

I did buy another bike and rode it in an AIDS benefit in San Francisco many years later. The ride was only 25 miles, and I trained for it for a month. But it was a deadly slog, especially since my partner at the time had injured herself and I rode alone, reaching the end long after the bulk of the riders.

That pretty much clinched it for me - I'm never going to be a cyclist again.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

What's Up

So I'm starting to get back into the swing of my pre-show retired life. I'm picking off some of the chores that were stacking up.

In particular, I've been working on my will. I've mostly settled the questions around distributing my estate, but I'm still working on the disposition of my remains and household goods, and on what kind of memorial to have.

These efforts are complicated by my frequent desire to sleep all morning and spend the rest of the day on my sofa. I got out most days this past week: went out to shows Tuesday and Friday, sang karaoke on Saturday, and went to a dance class on Sunday.

Next week I'm off to San Rafael for a week-long meditation retreat that I attended a couple of years ago. I don't need to get away from my home to be silent, but the energy of a whole group of people seeking to quiet their minds and nourish their spirits pulls me along with it.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

We Rolled Up the Pants

We performed Pants, The Musical, three times this week at the African-American Arts and Culture Complex. Their facilities are palatial compared to the variety of homes, churches, etc., where we rehearsed - two full dressing rooms and an elegant green room, not to mention lights and sound.

I met lots of charming and talented women, and managed to retain all my lines, songs, costume changes, and stage business. There weren't that many lines, but they were distributed among three different characters.

Our biggest and most energetic audience was on Tuesday night, and it was well provided with women from various arenas of my past - including one that I haven't yet identified.

I didn't panic before or during any of the performances, but the uncontrollable shaking of one hand while holding the mike for one of my solos makes me wonder about the state of my nerves, and whether there's some Parkinsonism in the family.

Anyway, I got compliments from my friends in the audience. One stranger hugged me and said I had broken her heart both nights. At something of a loss to respond, I was trying to apologize and offer her some glue.

Now I need to regather the threads of my life that I left hanging while focusing on the show.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Poems for Janell's Last Class

Two Prose Poems About Common Objects

A wooden box without a bottom, solid on top except for an oval hole in the middle. It probably has a name, but I know it as a cover to hold down the kleenex box while I pluck tissues from its stomach.


Standing in your base, a sentinel of sanitation, light blinking under soft button while charging, steady when charged. You serve your purpose when I pick you up, anoint you with the sacred cream, and stick you in my mouth.


Two more poems on the topic of lost and found:

A flake

of something white and papery

fell from the heavens

into my lap

as I sat at the front of the church,

casting about

for a way

to stanch the bleeding

of a scab I'd just picked.


When I finally got around to watching the movie Rent,

it included a wedding scene

in a sanctuary I used to know

like the back of my hand.

It had been decades

since I'd helped lead services there,

or sung in the choir.

Seeing that old familiar place

was like a cool breeze

from a younger sky.