Tuesday, October 21, 2014

My Performance Piece

This is what I delivered from memory at the Feminist Festival of Transformational Art. It's assembled from pieces I wrote for various Mothertongue scripts, for my synagogue's prayerbooks, for the heck of it, and for the festival itself:

Hi, there, my name is Dana.

I joined the Festival because I wanted people to laugh at my wit and recognize themselves in my foibles and trials.
I wanted to help the other performers realize their intentions.
And I wanted to hear what they have to say and learn from it.

So, here’s what I have to say. When I was little, I hated the color pink. It was too girly and feminine, and conflicted with my self-image as a tomboy. Blue was my favorite color then, the boys' color, the color of strength and action.

When I was in law school, a woman friend told me that pink blouses would look good with the blue clothes I usually wore. You know what; they do. Now I'm a fairly butch lesbian, so all of my pink blouses come from L.L. Bean, and my favorite one is plaid flannel.

How did I become butch? It might have something to do with being raised by single men from when I was nine years old until age 15, first my widowed grandfather, and then my divorced Dad. When I was 15, Dad died, and my brother and I finally went to live with our mother.

Here are some things my mother said to me:

"When I'm alone, I'm in bad company."
"Pain is inevitable; suffering is optional."
"Pray for potatoes and pick up the plow."
"They tell me I was a cuddly drunk."

"That poncho is ugly," the one I designed and made for myself out of fake fur.

When we first came to live with her, she said to us, “I figure you’re grown up enough, and I won't try to raise you. I’ll just make meals and write checks from the money your father left you.”

Many years later, she said: "I want you to complete the following sentence: Mother, I hate you because ..." I declined to respond, knowing that I wasn't ready to say, and she wasn't ready to hear, what might come up. My brother, not so canny, had replied - 'I don't hate you, but I don't love you either, since you weren't there while we were growing up.' After that, she never had a good word to say about him.

In light of that caliber of mothering, it makes sense that I’d be fond of flannel. I'm driven to seek softness to make up for my lack of cuddling as a child. In fact, I have quite a fetish for softness - for really soft sheets, towels, and T-shirts, for fuzzy plants and my cat's fur. My nearly irresistible urge to pat a crew cut - on a man or a woman - or to stroke velvet or fur that's being worn near me.

I also wonder about my thing for silver foxes. From my 30s, at least, I've had a soft spot for women with short silvery hair. So much so that my longest relationship was with a woman 15 years my senior. I'm probably still seeking the mothering that I missed as a child. But now I'm the one with short silvery hair. Hey, maybe I can be the mother that I've been looking for.

Getting back to my father, though, he never remarried after the divorce, but sometimes there was another man living in his house when my brother and I visited him. Only after his death did I learn that he was also gay. So, we never talked about his gayness or mine. Maybe it would have helped me with my lesbian identity. God knows, my years as a Christian didn’t help.

In fact, I’m still angry at the Christian Church because of the damage it did to my developing sexuality. As a little kid, I played doctor with my friends, male and female alike. I got crushes on my girlfriends in school, but it wasn’t until college that I had a full-fledged affair, with my roommate. So far, I knew my sexual activities should be kept secret—but I had no problem enjoying them.

Then, when I got involved with Campus Crusade for Christ, I was told that homosexual behavior is an abomination. OK, I thought. I was in love with God at the time, and it didn’t seem too much of a sacrifice to end the affair.

After moving to San Francisco, I started meeting gay Christians and Jews and envied their freedom to be both spiritual and sexual. But I couldn’t just pick up my sexuality where I left it. By rejecting my entire sexual being, I damaged it big time.

For example, sometimes I “clutch” during sex. I start wondering if and when I’m going to have an orgasm, and then I shut down.

I think, “Am I going to come?” “What can I get her to do that would make me come?” “Could I ask for the vibrator without hurting her feelings?” or “How long before I can just get her to stop?”

Then I try to stop thinking at all, and maybe start up my mantra to help with the rapidly mounting anxiety. I want sex to be fun again.

I was also left with body image issues:

Two different women look at me from the mirror. The one I see most often has a round face, a pasty complexion, and acne. Her expression is blank; she is plain. The other woman has cheekbones and a chin line. Her skin is clear and she looks wise and confident. She is attractive and I enjoy looking at her.

How can the women be so different? How can they both be me? If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, is the difference in my head rather than my face? Is it that how I feel about myself affects how I look? Or maybe I just look better at some times than others.
I don't know. But it would be nice if that attractive woman were the one I saw most often. 

And I’m still working on other issues. I put off doing the things I need to do, and I do other things I know I’ll regret. In short, I’m at odds with myself. I have this committee inside my head, and not only does control shift wildly from one member to another, but sometimes it’s completely deadlocked.

So how do I kindly and gently, and with curiosity and humor, recognize all the recalcitrant parts of myself, and persuade us that we're all on the same team? That we'll accomplish more and be happier if we act together? Perfection ain’t gonna happen, but a little progress now and then would be nice.

I'd like to have compassion for myself when I get stuck in a painful place, instead of beating myself up about it. I'd like to remember that hope can return when I journal, meditate, take a walk, stretch.

Even if I just remember to breathe with awareness. Although each breath is a new one, I'm inhaling molecules that originated in the stars and have been breathed before by many, many people over the millenia since they were created.

Remembering these things helps me realize that I’m just another human being, no better and no worse than others. And that’s enough.

So now I’m going to close with a hope of mine:

I want to write something with such beautiful images that reading it would lift anyone's heart, would give hope to the most despairing person, would bring a smile or a tear to any face. I want to write a picture so beautiful that it creates in all who read it a yearning to be better, a yearning to live in hope, and the recognition that this beauty is here and now, right here, right now.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Recent Writings

I got to do two writing sessions in the past week. Here are the better bits:

A good day tomorrow would begin with a good sleep tonight. My car won't get a parking ticket. My SFOP meeting will be productive, relaxed, and fun. The weather, or a friend, or the hand of the Goddess will draw me outside for air and exercise, and I'll find in myself a modicum of discipline, enough to get my chores done. And enough to do a little tai chi or yoga, to keep my body from seizing up. What I write in my journal will be pithy and gratifying. And the food I eat will be tasty, good for me, and easily digested.


Asked to write something about the flow of nature, I wrote:

Thinking about flow brings other people's poetry to mind. Nature and I interact like snapshots on postcards--fall colored trees, red mingling with green mixed with yellow. A sunset with that magenta shade of pink against the blue and white of clouds, some mysterious erection black and featureless beneath the sky.

Such moments of beauty prompt me to praise and thank their creator: good job on the sunset, God; that's quite nice.

What nature has done for me lately, though, is to make it so hot outside that I'm even less likely to go out than usual--which isn't much to begin with. Mouth-breathing to get enough air dries the inside of my mouth to dust in seconds, while my hair squishes against my sweaty scalp.


A thank-you letter to Sen. Elizabeth Warren:

You are my heroine. I was watching you being interviewed by Rachel Maddow tonight and had to tear myself away to come here to write. But I comfort myself that the DVR is watching for me, so I can finish watching you when I get home.

You are so straight-forward, so honest, so candid about who you are fighting for - America's vanishing middle class. You clearly see and explain how the game has been rigged against us, and you have moved mountains to get the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau established. It was a major snub that the Republican Congresscritters wouldn't let you head the bureau, but their opposition backfired on them. Now you're a Senator, and are free to champion all manner of middle class causes.

Many of us would love to see you become President. I can't help believing that your good-hearted wisdom would be so refreshing for this country. Even if you were able to accomplish only a quarter of what you took on, we would be so much better off.

I admire your optimistic approach to stating your convictions, your hopefulness and absence of cynicism. Maybe you get grumpy and tired in private, but we'll probably never know for sure.

Thank you, Senator Warren, for what you have achieved so far and all the promise that you bear.


I also wrote about a time I asked a teacher for help.

When I asked Corky for help, I was literally asking a teacher, because she teaches public speaking at SF State. I was also asking metaphorically, because her performance in Mothertongue Readers Theater so many years ago was so inspiring that I joined the group for a decade.

Many years after leaving Mothertongue, I joined a weekly brunch group that Corky also attended, and we resumed our friendship.

A few months ago, I was trying to construct an 8-10 minute monologue, using an assortment of pieces that I had written over the years - not just for Mothertongue but also for my synagogue's prayerbook and for this feminist festival of transformational arts that I was preparing to perform in.

I lack perspective on my own pieces, and asked Corky to come over and help me deal with them. She told me which pieces she found most powerful, reminding me of what I already knew - that the most idiosyncratic, revealing, and discomfiting pieces were where the juice was. She also helped me put them in a good theatrical order. And she made costume suggestions and lent me a lovely floral necktie to complete my ensemble.

I memorized my script, and performed it without memory gaps, to great acclaim.

My mentor, Corky, really came through for me, and I love her.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Writing With Janell

Openhouse has started a writers' group led by Janell Moon, an author, college writing instructor, and hypnotherapist. Here's what I wrote:

It was fun running into Mickey at the entrance to the LGBT Center, and recognizing three of the five women in the writing group (4 of 6 if you include the leader), so I feel a hint of belonging.

In two weeks, I'll have this writing group on Monday and the 24th Street one on Tuesday, which makes me feel positively wealthy. It almost makes me want to undertake a writing project of some sort, with that amount of support.


Women of the Castro

Too many of the women I see in the Castro appear to be straight -- e.g., arm in adoring arm with a man. Many women of the City have been priced into the East Bay. Those who are left seem to be towards both ends of the socioeconomic spectrum. But it could be that my economic judgment is as poor as my gaydar. What kind of person do I appear to be, when I shuffle around the Castro?


My mother, brother, cousin, and I spent the whole night reciting poetry in the Disneyland Hotel room. (Mr. Disney would want you to pick up your lamb chop to eat it.) Our voices were hoarse in the morning, spent with the energy of our recitals, but we stood in enough lines to rest up for the rides.

What would a list of the pieces we'd memorized show about teachers' tastes in poetry over two generations and on both coasts? Did Sir Launfal have his vision on Main Street, U.S.A.?

Everything in Disneyland is part of the show. We played our roles in the production with the last of our speaking voices.


The man who held my hand while we bought a building in San Francisco had learned real estate at his mother's knee, long before I met him in the Bay Area Lutheran Chorale. All six foot, five inches of him were immersed in the beauty of the music and the Spirit of the Divine. When we dined together, he picked up the tab gracefully and often. He doted on Victorian architecture, knowing his Stick from Edwardian from Romeo.

Handsome enough to have a partner whenever he wanted one, which was all the time; his nest of a home gave him strength. A devout country western dancer, with well-broken in boots, he naturally held his 60th birthday party at the Sundance Saloon.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Writing for Social Change

I took a brief workshop on this topic at the Feminist Festival of Transformative Arts yesterday, and here's what I wrote:

I had a textbook in high school called The Irony of Democracy. As best as I can recall, it claimed that democracy became less effective when more people participated in it. I wonder if the authors were Republicans.

In theory, the more people participate in political discourse, the more ideas are presented and discussed and thought through, and the decisions reached after such an inclusive process should be wiser and better than the alternative.

If, however, a group that has power and seeks to keep it despite the way it crushes others into the dirt, their goal is to keep those others from having power. Make money into speech, so people without money don't get heard. Allow fewer days for voting, so people who work many hours can't get to the polls or stay in lines the hours it would take to cast their votes. Challenge everybody with an unfamiliar name to prove their right to vote with documents they may not have. Especially make it hard for anyone who might vote Democratic - students, minorities, the elderly. Let's go back to the days when you had to be a white, male, property owner to have any voice in running the country. Those guys knew what was what. We can't let just anybody vote; they might upset our applecart.

More writing with Eanlai

A Clock and A Time When Time Was Important

When I was in college, there was a clock in every classroom, so I stopped wearing a watch for a while. It took some getting used to, since I kept looking by habit at my left wrist and seeing only a band of lighter skin, but I managed to get to my classes on time somehow.

Then, however, I decided to try wearing contact lenses. Suddenly my appearance was more important than the familiar security of my specs. I can't quite remember what prompted this decision. Maybe I had recently become lovers with my roommate, and the glasses were awkward. However, I needed to be very accurate about how long I wore the lenses while I was still trying to break them in, and back came the watch. Just my luck, my eyeballs are too delicate for contact lenses, hard or soft, so I gave up on them, but kept wearing the watch.

Nowadays, younger folks use their smart phones to tell time, and the only ones who still wear wristwatches are old fossils like myself. I must confess, though, I carry an ipod touch in my breast pocket, mostly for reading and sudoku, and I do occasionally resort to pulling it out to confirm what date or day of the week it is, and, if it's in my hands already, I will sometimes press the button that brings up the time in digital format, instead of turning my wrist to read the time on the face of my analog watch.

I also use the itouch as a timer when I'm sitting with kittens in the medical wing of the SPCA, and my watch is covered by a plastic gown and latex gloves. The alarm tone on the timer lets me know when my visit is complete, if I remembered to start the timer before starting the visit.

Nature and Self-Worth

Are you a religious person? Does the spirit move you to pray when you meet the beauties of nature, in forest groves, or when being misted by a waterfall? God creates such wonderful beauty, and some creatures reveal her sense of humor, and yet we so seldom think of ourselves as beautiful parts of God's creation.

On the other hand, something rubs me the wrong way about some people who seem too pleased with themselves, too comfortable in their skin, too perfect. I get angry with them - want to point out the mistakes they will make, that they'll grow old and die, like the rest of us. I get defensive when I compare my insides with their outsides.

I want to really believe that I'm doing the best I can with what I've got to work with. But there's a critical slave-driver sitting on the committee in my head, who always thinks I could be doing more, doing better, in justifying my place on earth. But waterfalls don't have to pass tests, forests don't have to meet quotas. They simply
are, valuable and beautiful as they were created.

What I really want to say is to wonder what would happen if I really accepted myself as I am, if I didn't compare myself with Mother Teresa or Bill Gates, but simply lived out being Dana. Would I stop contributing anything to the world and lose all self-respect? Would I become the self-satisfied, smug sort of person who grates on my nerves?

The Natives are Restless

There was a wildlife convention this morning in my backyard. I saw this mid-sized, mid-brown bird pecking at the recently cleared dirt next to the stepping stones. I grabbed the binoculars that live near my back windows, and tried to focus my weak eyes on it as well as I could. It pecked at the earth, and also seemed to be digging in it, with both feet at a time, in a hopping move. I really wondered what it was doing -- digging for food, digging a nest, performing a display of territory or courtship? Whatever it was doing came to a halt, and it disappeared.

A few moments later, I saw more motion, on the side fence. It was a squirrel, standing atop the fence and batting at the neighbor's tree with its paws. Also quite mysterious.

Finally, I saw a pair of smaller birds, back on the ground, pecking at the pink knotweed that the gardeners had cleared of weeds. Were they finding insects on the blossoms or sipping nectar and pollinating them? Heck if I know, but this morning I saw more animals not our cats than I've seen in the entire previous year.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Write Now!

So I joined this writing group that meets at a bookstore on 24th Street once a month. I wasn't taken with anything I wrote last month, but here's something kinda nice that I wrote last night.

Soundtrack of My Life

The music that comes to mind from my Harrisburg years is Broadway show tunes, played on a stereo encased in a wide wooden cabinet that matched the rest of the furniture.

The music that comes to mind from my Berkeley years is Laura Webber's folk guitar instruction book, which I wrote to the TV station for, and folk songs that I sang with Joyce Roop and her mother (and her sister, before her suicide). I still remember when we were singing for some people and I began the song alone, an octave too high, and Mrs. Roop stopped and corrected me.

The music that comes to mind from my Santa Monica years is Eric Coates' London Suite, and whosit's Grand Tarentella, that mother put on the record player to enliven our efforts at housecleaning.

The music that comes to mind from my UCLA years I listened to in the music laboratory, which had maybe 20 stations with headphones where you could listen to the assigned music, and I chose to work on my musicianship with the Rutgers University Music Dictation Course. I also sang with the UCLA Madrigal Singers one year, and the Brentwood Church Choir for at least two years, including challenging music like Poulenc's Stabat Mater and Mozart's Requiem.

The music that comes to mind from my law school years is hymns and anthems I sang every week with the church choir, and played on the bass recorder with my tiny hands because I was the only player who knew both the bass fingerings and the bass clef. I also remember singing Britten's War Requiem with the Civic Chorale.

Post-law school, the music that comes to mind includes what I worked on in voice lessons, like the duet from Delibes' Lakme, and what I played on the recorder at the memorial for a friend's mother - a Bach selection that was just a bit beyond my capabilities.

Nowadays, I enjoy whatever music the classical radio station sends my way.

Friday, August 22, 2014

New Poems

I write about what's on my mind. See below.


My legs ache
when I sit too long
in most chairs.
The ache starts
in the backs of my thighs
and steadily grows.
Stretching doesn't help
jiggling my legs doesn't help.
The only thing that helps,
other than getting up and walking,
is propping my feet
on a footrest,
to get the pressure off
the backs of my thighs.

A Few Good Things

My mother learned
a few good things
in those twelve-step rooms,
while smoking like a chimney
and swimming in coffee.
She learned to avoid
getting too Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired.
She learned to seek out others -
"When I'm alone, I'm in bad company."
She learned the trap of stillness -
"Action is the magic word" and
"Pray for potatoes and pick up the plow."
She learned that you can choose
how to respond to challenges -
"Pain is inevitable; suffering is optional."
She took care of herself
and her sponsees -
her children, not so much.