Friday, August 1, 2014

First Fruits of a Poetry Class

Either I just noticed or I just became interested, but last night I started going to a poetry class that's part of Roke's Feminist Arts festival. It was especially attractive since it includes not only the opportunity to perform a piece or two, but also to have it published in a booklet.

Anyway, we're trying to write portraits of a person, place, or event that reveal the pertinent emotions. My memory being nearly as bad as my imagination, I figured I'd start with something recent that I wanted to write about anyway - the dance at the OLOC (Old Lesbians Organizing for Change) gathering that I attended last week. So here it is.

Old Lesbians’ Dance

I had a high old time

the other night

at the Old Lesbians’ Dance.

All I knew of the music

were a few songs from the 70s

and that it was way too loud

for talking.

I duded up,

jewelry and all,

and tucked my stuff

in a fanny pack

to clear the decks for action.

Earlier that day,

I watched the workers

finish laying the tiny dance floor,

tearing duct tape with a shriek from its roll

to fix its edge to the carpet.

Way too small

for three hundred women,

but we made it work somehow;

you can sway from side to side

on carpet as easily as on wood.

The lights were low,

but we could see faces

maybe halfway across

the dance floor.

Not only did most of the women

I asked dance with me,

but one or two actually asked me to dance.

Up on the dance floor,

we danced together or apart,

scent-free, of course,

this being a lesbian gathering.

I found myself

dancing next to a white-haired

firecracker, singing

“Rolling on the river”

to each other

on the choruses.

We all began to glow

with our efforts

as the evening wore on,

breasts mashed up against breasts

during the slow dances.

92-year-old woman,

looking mighty good in her

embroidered vest and smile,

leaves her scooter to dance

by attaching one hand to her partner

and the other to her cane.

I surprise myself

by lasting through three or four

dances before heading off

for a cup of cold water

and an upholstered bench.

Women from my past

swim into view,

fellow recorder players

a lesbian studies professor

women from my synagogue

the author of a play I was in a few years ago

and two others from the cast.

There were no snacks,

and I passed on the wine,

but I got high

on the women

and the music

and belonging.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

More Writings with Roke

So, I've been to several sessions to create and plan this year's Siren Project adventure. In several writing sessions, the following bits manifested:

Asked to write why I'm involved in this project, I wrote:

I want to make people laugh. I want to share my trials and awaken recognition in others -- surprise, validation, the feeling that I'm not the only one after all.

I want to be clever and wise, and have folks laugh at the cleverness and have the wisdom sneak up on them later.

I want to take cultural narratives of femininity and rework them until they relate to me and my life, letting folks see what a prison they can be and what freedom can look like.

I want to have fun, get to know some women batter, use my theatrical and other experience to help them realize their intentions.

I want to listen to what others have to say and learn from it. I want to hear in what they say something that I recognize as universal and wise.

I want to learn what others see and hear when I speak, so that I can get a true appreciation of myself and my gifts - one that is skewed neither by unfounded pride nor by baseless self-criticism.

____________________

Here are two other little bits that came out:

Part of me want to write about my softness fetish - for really soft sheets and towels, for fuzzy plants and my cat's fur. My nearly irresistible urge to pet a cute crew cut - on a man or a woman, or to stroke velvet or fur that's being worn near me.
My theory is that I was seriously deprived of cuddling and holding as an infant, so that now I'm driven to seek comforting contact to make up for the lack.

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

Thursday, May 8, 2014

It Is Enough

Fairley asked us to write a response to the following nifty yoga poem by Danna Faulds:

It is enough right now
to taste one moment of
peace. Of course I want
more, but at least the
door is open.

It is enough to draw a
conscious breath and
let my hands relax,
fingers releasing their
tight grasp on things
outside of my control.

It is enough to shed a
layer of stress as if
taking off a jacket or a
pair of too-tight shoes.

Ease of being has to
start somewhere.
This breath is my
first step.

_____________
Not knowing the yogic context, I responded as follows:

"To taste one moment of peace." This reminds me of an article I read recently about six things you can do in 30 seconds to make you feel better - take some deep breaths, smile, stretch, etc.

The important part, however, comes right before doing anything. It's stepping outside of the badness far enough to see that badness isn't all there is. Getting out of 'helpless and hopeless' enough to see the possibility of things being different, of me being different. Being stuck inside a black cloud, we need something to remind us that somewhere else the sun is shining, and that we ourselves have enjoyed that sun in the past. Only then can we believe enough in the possibility of returning to the sun that we can even imagine doing something that can move us in that direction.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Writing with Roke

I'm joining the Siren Project for another production, a bit like the one I was in two years ago, Mad Love. At an introductory session last Sunday, we had a period of writing to the prompt "In my perfect world, I would ...", to which I wrote as follows:

In my perfect world, I would have a perfect balance of action and rest, of being with others and being alone, of doing and writing about what I've done. I would love myself and not say mean things to me when I'm not perfect. I would love others, and think about ways to bring them pleasure.

I would wear clothes that are attractive and comfortable, and not frayed or stained.

I would pick up a companion for a walk or a meal as easily as I choose a book to read or a TV show.

I would understand politics and make powerful presentations to officials and voters that make this a better place to live.

I would have friends to cuddle with whenever my cat is not enough.

I would be able to share a wise perspective with friends, and be able to hear their perspective on my and my doings.

I would wake up refreshed and eager every new day to care for my body, mind, and spirit, and to get out into the world to play and work with others.

What I really want to say is that my world is pretty darn good right now, but I do tend to isolate myself. I need encouragement and support to get out and be active, and I need to accept that I also need time alone to recharge.

In my perfect world, I would get up in front of audiences and blow them away with my comedic ability and wit. I would sing funny songs that I wrote, and people would understand every word. I would cconvince people that I am whatever character I was playing.

I would go to sleep satisfied with all I did that day.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

I Complete My SPCA Training

I continued serving in the Purr Posse for most of the past year. I also started knitting little cat blankets for the office to sell as fundraisers, and am occasionally called in to help with mailings to donors. I actually enjoy stuffing envelopes now and then.

I took a little break from volunteering last month, when I developed a rash on the palm of my right hand that wouldn't have benefited from being stuffed into a rubber glove, and might have been contagious.

After the rash healed enough, I went back to the adoption center, to ease myself back into the swing of things without the complications of gowning and gloving. Turns out, I've gotten better at this over the months. I visited three singleton cats, and two of them climbed into my lap (which hardly ever happened in my early months in adoptions). The third cat had behavioral issues and a full page of detailed warnings that volunteers should wear long sleeved shirts to avoid bites on the arms and instructions on how to remove your hand from his mouth if bitten. I treated the cat with respect and he was a perfect gentleman with me.

Then I thought I might as well take the last training, on matchmaking visitors with cats or kittens. I don't expect to be doing much of that, but wanted to complete my training and get my own Cat Volunteer apron, so I could quit relying on whatever tattered rags were in the bins for partially trained volunteers. It's particularly annoying to have sanitized items falling to the floor through holes in the pockets, and having to replace them with clean ones.

So a week ago I took the class, and am now the proud possessor of my very own maroon apron, a brand new one, with no holes! I have arrived.

Sermon on 29th Anniversary of Congregation Sha'ar Zahav

Here's a sermon that I delivered in 2006 and somehow never got around to posting on this blog:

Sermon on Chukkat and Synagogue Anniversary, July 7, 2006

Last month I marched with the synagogue in the Gay Day parade for the first time in several years. I first marched in the parade in 1979, and marched every year after that for about a decade. Every year I marched, I collected the official parade pin. At the parade this year, I wore a necktie on which I displayed my pin collection. The first pin said simply 1979 Gay Freedom Day Parade and Celebration. Several people asked me what the parade had been like back in ’79. Smaller, I said, and less corporate and marchers didn’t give beads to the watchers. The real difference, though, was that marching back then was much more serious and risky. If we marched in public in a gay parade, somebody might see us.

Those were different times. Back in ’79, most homosexuals were in the closet – our families didn’t know we were gay, our friends didn’t know we were gay, our co-workers didn’t know we were gay, and most especially, fellow congregants of our churches and synagogues didn’t know we were gay. Most religious organizations believed that homosexuals were sick and sinful and unfit to pray to God. When we were allowed to pray, it was only to acknowledge how sinful were our desires and actions and to pray that we might be converted to heterosexuality.

But the gay rights movement had been percolating along for several years, and it was beginning to reach into the hearts of religious people. Congregation Sha’ar Zahav was founded on July 9, 1977, by three gay men – Daniel Chesir, Shamir Ofel, and Bernard Pechter. 1977 was a particularly intense year for gay rights. Anita Bryant had spearheaded the passage of a law in Miami that prohibited gays from being teachers. That hateful slap at our humanity galvanized the gay community and our supporters into the largest San Francisco Gay Freedom Day parade so far. I haven’t asked Daniel, but I suspect it’s not an accident that the three of them decided to claim their Jewish gay identity shortly after that year’s Gay Freedom Day parade. And I don’t have to ask them to know that they wanted to create a place where they could be Jewish and gay at the same time – a place to be Jewish without having to give up being gay, and a place to be gay without having to give up Judaism.

So, Monday, July 9, marks the 29th anniversary of the founding of Congregation Sha’ar Zahav. The challenges of founding a gay synagogue included finding a regular place to meet, finding publishers who were willing to accept advertisements for Sha'ar Zahav services, and gaining acceptance from Jewish organizations.

I first attended the synagogue in 1980. At that time, services were being held at the Jewish Community Center. The first night I came to shul, I was asked to do a reading. That made me feel welcomed and honored. I had grown up in a Reform synagogue; so some parts of the service were familiar and other parts were new to me, but not for long. After a while I was asked to deliver a guest sermon, even though I was a member of a Lutheran church at the time (it’s a long story). I grew away from the church, and joined the synagogue.

The congregation was small then; maybe 40 people came to Friday night services, and most of them were men. There was a part-time rabbi named Allen Bennett. He and I had already met, having served as co-chairs of the Council on Religion and the Homosexual for a couple of years. Then more women started attending services, and there was some wrangling until feminism took hold.

The congregation grew, and we moved from the smallish room into a gymnasium. After another while, we bought the building on Danvers Street and hired a full-time rabbi. We joined the Union of American Hebrew Congregations. In addition to Shabbat worship, we conducted weddings, and funerals, and baby namings, and Bar and Bat Mitzvahs. We acquired land in a cemetery and started taking congregational trips to Israel. We became a full-sized, full-fledged, full-service synagogue.

In this week’s portion, Chukkat, the Israelites are still developing into a congregation. The portion opens with the laws concerning purification of those who have touched a corpse by anointing them with the ashes of a red heifer. Eleazar the priest is commanded to sprinkle the heifer’s blood towards the Tent of Meeting before the heifer is burned and turned into ashes, which are stored outside the camp. Everyone who touches the heifer or its ashes becomes unclean by so doing, but the ashes are to be used for purification. It’s rather mysterious.

What draws my attention is that the blood sprinkling is to be done by Eleazar, the son of Aaron. Sometime between last week’s portion and this week’s, 38 years have passed. This week’s portion records the deaths of Miriam and Aaron, and we know how much time has passed because the Torah tells us elsewhere that Aaron lived 40 years after leaving Egypt. In this portion, also, God tells Moses and Aaron to take the rod and assemble the community and order a rock to bring forth water. Instead, Moses hits the rock with the rod, and is therefore condemned to die outside the promised land.

A changing of the guard is happening; the generation that left Egypt is dying off, and only Caleb and Joshua of that generation will survive to cross the Jordan. Those whose minds were shaped by slavery could not get the hang of following God’s laws and depending on God for food and water and safety. Only a new generation could trust in God enough to succeed in conquering the land and making it home.

We’ve been having something of a generational shift at Sha’ar Zahav, too. We’ve shifted away from a synagogue founded by and for single gay men to one that consists largely of families, of all configurations, and many of them with children – there’s an aufruf, a wedding, or a Bar or Bat Mitzvah nearly every week. Children of members are starting to co-lead services. Not to fear, the synagogue is still a good place to meet someone special; there are still some single members (such as yours truly). In fact, there are some liturgists among us who are interested in writing rituals for non-family occasions such as menopause and retirement.

A synagogue is a place for communal prayer, and is also a place to make friends, to learn about Judaism, to receive prayers for healing, to be comforted on a loss. Sha’ar Zahav has for 29 years been the place where we come to present ourselves to God in all our diversity and uniqueness. And it’s where we come to help each other with our life journeys, and to get encouragement and guidance in our task to help repair the world. Long may its banner wave.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Latest Writing Workshop

Yesterday I went to Alameda for an afternoon writing workshop using the Amherst Method of writing to prompts in a group. My favorite way of writing. There were three prompts, and I'm willing to share my responses to two of them with you.

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."

"You can do that; you're free, white, and over 21."

"That was an E-ticket ride."

"They tell me I was a cuddly drunk."

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

"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.'
Because of her alcoholism, we were raised by grandparents, and didn't come to live with her until we were in high school. Anyway, after my brother's response, she turned against him for the rest of her life.

"Action is the magic word." As she put on lively music to help us with house cleaning.

What I really want to say is - we only spent holidays with her until we were teenagers, so it was an unusual and odd relationship, more like playmates than family. Then when we came to live with her, she told us in so many words that she figured we were grown up enough, and that she wouldn't try to raise us. She'd just make meals and write checks from money that our father had left us when he suddenly died, and she had finally stepped up to be our mother to the best of her minimal ability.

*******************************

If

If I could convince the crowd inside my head to all be on my side, at least most of the time, at least most of the crowd.

If I remember and love my inner child, and wish her a nourishing balance of play, structure, and security.

If I look to each new day with hope - if not instead of, then at least along with dread or numbness or boredom or shame.

If I pick up the phone and write email in the assurance that I am worth spending time with.

If I look in the mirror, if not with appreciation for what I see, then at least with compassion and a kindly curiosity.

If I set pen to paper every so often, knowing that either something interesting will come out or the practice will do me good, maybe even both.

If I walk, or dance, or yoga or tai chi most days, knowing that it's good for me and that I'll probably feel better for it.

If I pay attention to what I choose to eat, getting full enjoyment from it and letting my inner wisdom help me make those choices.

If I read my email like it contains buried treasure, and I can find new people, places, and activities that will enrich my life,

If I choose to go to workshops and demonstrations, and dances, giving myself permission to make the choices that seem good at the time, and knowing that there's no blame in deciding to make different choices next time.

If I allow myself to have dreams about how I could share my experience and abilities to add beauty and justice to the world.

If I can enjoy reading my mind candy and occasionally read some non-fiction or literary fiction, or magazine articles that I allow to make me think.

If I dust off my music collection and allow the notes to touch my emotions however they will.

If I really live this part of my life, who knows what could happen?