Z is for Zany

Z

za·ny
zānē/
adjective
1. amusingly unconventional and idiosyncratic
noun
2. an erratic or eccentric person


As I mentioned before, I have been a lifelong lover of NPR and a devotee of WNYC, and that means I get my news, entertainment and conversation starters via that medium. One of my weekly listens includes something called The Moth, a storytelling podcast. I had been hearing strangers stories on,  for years and at the beginning and end of every one, there is an entreaty for more. You can call the pitch line, give a short summary of your tale and hope for the best.

Have you ever had a moment when it all seemed to make sense, as if you stood outside of yourself and could see beyond your own internal dialog? At my daughters 4th birthday, that is what happened for me, as I watched everyone enjoying the sunny day and good company.  I was momentarily overcome by seeing the proof of what we had built, this shining thing that was something I never thought I would have.

During this moment of internal jubilant peace, I decided to call and pitch the story of my journey between one child and the next. It had all spiralcome together for me, in one hippy dippy moment, becoming a perfect circle. I called, I pitched and hung up in a panic. I called Robyn and told her I had done this incredibly idiotic thing.

A week or so later, I got a call, they liked my story, they wanted me to put it on stage.

What follows can be read elsewhere in this blog, but I can not articulate strongly enough, how amazing this experience was.  If you read back you can find out more about it here and here. It has put me in the company of people I admire greatly and shifted my perspective yet again. I found a new fight/drug/meditation to make the world shiny.

I didn’t find space to talk about my job in this month, so here’s the short explanation; I run an office that focuses on Transgender health, we provide the counseling and medical care for the transition process. I started working there because another adopted family member Dr. Lisa, asked me to run her office and I have been there for the past 6 years. I tell you this only to provide some background.

I get to help people everyday, through some of their hardest moments, I have a beautiful, weird, safe and healthy family and on top of that, I got to share my story with the world on a show I have been a fan of for years. It’s been a pretty zany, lovely, heart-growing ride.

I told my story in The Boys city, with all of his clan in the audience. I think that moment will be in my personal jewel box until the day I leave this world.thestory

I told my story because it is hard to say these things over the kitchen table during a weekend visit. I told my story so that my children would always have it, which is a pretty big thing for a kid without anyone to remember her childhood story. I told my story for me too, so I never forget my blessings.

~~~~~ 5660_148666960751_609560751_3493031_2062122_n

I did this as part of a larger project, both personally and professionally, but even if some of that doesn’t come to fruition, I really enjoyed the challenge.  I found a lot of new stories while I explored the other people participating in  the A to Z Challenge, which has been awesome. I also learned a lot about the habit of writing and myself.  So, thank you for reading this and thank you for being a part of this process with me!

 

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Y is for Yearn

Y

yearn
yərn/
verb
1. have an intense feeling of longing for something, typically something that one has lost or been separated from.
2. be filled with compassion or warm feeling.


When I was a kid there were no parties, there were no presents. The first gift I remember getting was a 12 pack of Play-Doh for Christmas, that I shared with my brother, and that was it. Later (from age 9 to 13) I lived with my mother’s parents and they did give gifts, in fact they were the giftsole expression of interest and love. During a therapy session I had told my therapist that my grandparents never told me they loved me or showed affection, she insisted that I tell my grandmother.  I assume she thought it would be helpful. I told her, and her response? “ We provide for you, we buy you gifts at the appropriate times.” That’s it, that was her response, except to add that I did not react properly to said gifts and perhaps I should address THAT with my therapist.  So lets just go forward with the knowledge that I have some issues, big, cringey. pathetic issues when it comes to gifts and celebrations. 

6180_138001065751_6851742_nWhen my daughter turned 1, I made it, a big deal. My kid would always know how precious I thought she was, she would always know how celebrated her life was. Once a year, she would have an awesome party with everyone that loved her. Around 60 people attended her first birthday party, I took out a small park to accommodate it. I know this is more about me, all of my insecurities, and perceived failings, but sometimes self-awareness doesn’t even slow me down. Rented tables, crafted projects, tulle, costumes and full menus are all part of my yearly homage to the life of my daughter and she knows she is the princess of her own little tale.3oncouch

Soon after Asha turned 1, I finally kissed Robyn, who had been one of my best friends for years and secret crush for some time. She (literally) ran away, or as she says “walked briskly”, but she returned and kissed me back. We got married and she legally adopted Asha, bringing her official momma count up to, 2.

AquabatsAfter the first year, that party evolved to be both a celebration of Asha and a greeting of Spring. It’s the one time we have a big party and see everyone, especially the people we rarely get to see during the rest of the year. The Boy and Gretchen came the first year and the third, but Gwynnie was still teaching classes and couldn’t come. When Asha was turning 4, I made sure it would work for Gwynnie and they were all able to drive down. Gwynns sister and partner drove out from Brooklyn too. Asha and her cousins were into The Aquabats, so they were also making an appearance, in the form of one doting mother, and assorted Uncles and Aunt.

We had just moved to a sleepy little town on the Delaware River. The kind of place that is filled with walking and cycling paths. The weekends fill the main drag with antique hunters, bikers in leathers, cyclists in spandex and families strolling with sticky-fingered children. It was the first time since I gave The Boy up, that Gwynnie would be in my house; also the first time I was proud of where I had made a home. It even had a garden and tiny porch!

Everyone came, everyone talked, laughed, and ate well. As Gretchen sat on the porch talking music with my broth-in-law, Gwynnie chatted with her sister in the backyard and The Boy chased his sister around while she squealed, I realized some deep shit.

 I could, maybe, let up on all of the heartfelt yearning, because..here it comes.. I had a family.

It was filled with people who didn’t have any blood connecting them, and there wasn’t a language to easily explain it to outsiders, but it was strong and fierce and mine. More importantly, it was my daughters’ and her brothers’ and they would both be okay, neither of them was ever going to be alone.kisses4yrs

X is for Chemical X

Chemical X
Sugar. Spice. And everything nice. These were the ingredients chosen to create the perfect little girl. But Professor Utonium accidentally added an EXTRA INGREDIENT to the concoction…. CHEMICAL X. Thus, the POWERPUFF GIRLS WERE BORN

In April 2008 my daughter was born. She was exactly 8lbs, had all of her fingers and toes, she was perfect. A c-section helped.Asha42508_zps40ff6b64

 

A small note about c-sections, I don’t understand why anyone would get one voluntarily. I’d choose the pain over and over again. My daughter was breach despite every effort to shift her. I was strapped down and I couldn’t hold this baby that I was getting to keep, it broke my heart. Thankfully it was a sad whisper among a joyful noise.

My room was filled with people and gifts and smiles. I couldn’t have asked for a better welcome for this new life.  Spring, sprung in during the time I was in the hospital and everything seemed to of flowered to welcome this child destined for sunshine and warmth. It was  a stark difference from how alone I was the first time, or how very sad I was then. Instead of loss and heartbreak, this was all about love and life.

5660_148663340751_3041154_nI named her Asha which means “Hope” in Sanskrit and “Life” in Swahili. It seemed apt. I think names are important, they are one of a mothers’ first gifts afetr life and I hope hers’ shapes her well.

When I spoke with The Boy after she was born, he asked how much she weighed (he was 8.6) and he was quick to point out he was bigger. I brought her up to see them when she was 4 months old. It was probably one of the easiest visits I had ever had, as the dynamic began to shift.

I was only a few years older than their oldest niece and nephew, yet I was not a peer for those kids or for the adults, it had always been an 1113_51130610751_8253_nunsettled place to find footing, along with all of the rest. Now, a decade later,  I was a mother in the true sense, and it was new unblemished ground.

4503_110684995751_3927311_nI still don’t know if it’s accurate to say that Gretch and Gwynn started speaking to me differently or if I just started listening better. The shift felt massive to me, but again, who knows? I spoke to them about baby stuff and they happily shared their experiences. I didn’t have this anywhere else, there was no mother, Auntie or grandmother to call with questions. I don’t want to give the impression that they were my go-to, because I was never that comfortable (which is on me) but they were a touchstone that I didn’t have anywhere else. I’m sure they would of answered had I been willing to reach out.

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I was the first of my friends to have a child, and they assumed I’d just figure it out, I had always been that type of person. I do not know what parents did before Google.  I was at a loss and in the ER, for diaper rash, more often than I would like to admit. My daughters first year, like the rest of my life was a lot of trial and error.

When I had left the hospital with her, I remember thinking “What is wrong with these people? Why are they letting me leave?? I have no idea how to take care of this tiny person!”.

4923_117602705751_2372088_n

Most days, I still feel that way.

V is for Value

V

val·ue
ˈvalyo͞o/
noun
1. the regard that something is held to deserve; the importance, worth, or usefulness of something.
2. a person’s principles or standards of behavior; one’s judgment of what is important in life.
verb
 1. estimate the monetary worth of (something).
2. consider (someone or something) to be important or beneficial; have a high opinion of.

How do you qualify value? I sat around a lot with that question rolling around and bumping against old wounds. Joseph felt I didn’t have any. My own family felt I had even less. All of that really felt like the faded strains of an old sad song that I really didn’t have time for. I was just sick of that sad, sad tale. What did I have to offer NOW?

core-values-wordcloud1

Joseph had been right about me not having much, but I had people. I have written about some of them, a few that were part of seminal moments or personal realizations; but over the years, those numbers had risen, friends that grew over time through trial, tribulation and celebration.

I was surprised by their reaction to the “Oh fuck! I’m pregnant” news. They seemed to of had caught Jori’s fever, they said “Yay! Baby!”. I had never been good at asking for help, I went hungry or homeless instead of asking for help, but that all had to change now. I asked, and it was like they had just been waiting for that allowance of pride from me.

Jori and her partner Diana headed up the posse. They sent out emails, made up ads on craigslist and called in favors. They took out a much larger storage space, than I had for my pile of books and they started filling it. Diapers, formula, crib, car seats, clothes to cover this new life for the first two years of its life…SO much stuff, we had to upgrade storage space.  Another friend let me have first crack at the estate sale of an interior designer, and my friends filled up another van full of the furniture, I was never in one place long enough, to collect.

My friends didn’t want me to leave and they wanted to be a part of this baby’s life. They talked me through panic and tears. They helped with plans and finding a place to live. I don’t know how to sound anything but trite with this, but these people who chose to be in my life, they made keeping this baby possible, they let me keep my promise to provide support and a net to hold us up when we fell. They thought I had value, that I could be a mother, they believed in me.

What was my value? If it could be measured by the company I kept, it was far greater than I had given any merit to.

Ultrasound 11.02.07 (1)

Of course, they could all be delusional..

H is for Halve

H

halve
hav,häv/
verb
1. divide into two parts of equal or roughly equal size.
2. reduce or be reduced by half.

smoke

I spent two years in a haze, coming up for air every once in a while only to realize that, yes, it still hurt too much to breathe. Yet there were neglected parts of me that I couldn’t ignore. When you spend most of your time in a drugged fog, you only seem to amass people who are as fearful of themselves as you are. I’m as surprised as you.

I worked two or three idiot proof jobs at a time to keep busy. I lived with a girl who was not bright, but infinitely loyal and didn’t expect anything much of me. I chose women that would never truly challenge me, which says a lot about my character at the time.  We hung out with lowlifes and stoners and it was enough for a short time, but then I grew bored, no matter what I ingested. Boredom has always been the worst enemy of my apathy, boredom always seems to win the war.

I looked around and found a group, a LGBTQ group that met up once a week, and much like a new mother sick to death of baby talk, went in search of adult conversation.

The group was held in a church. When I walked in there was a table set up, with three smiling people armed with a multitude of sharpies and brightly bordered name tags. I was greeted with the kind of enthusiasm that always makes me skittish. There was normally a 3 dollar fee but since I was new, it was waived. I got may name tag and was directed to the library room to the right, where all of the women were. The mens group was across the way on the left.librarybooks

Whenever there is a room lined with books I feel slightly more safe. The room was ringed with folding chairs, that were already mostly filled with women ranging in age from my 20 to well past middle-aged. There is a uniformity to lesbian gatherings, comfortable clothes and sensible shoes, a distinct lack of make-up and a weird fascination with bandannas. They were all chatting with each other, while i found a seat and tried not to look as awkward as I felt. Why does sitting “normally” seem suddenly impossible in a new and scary setting?

The group began, one woman starting with her name and an introduction to what the group was. This was a safe place for people to meet up, and talk about whatever was going on, politics,  current events, personal concerns, food for thought, whatever might strike up a conversation with the group. You could choose to participate by raising your hand to respond or just hang out and listen. The moderator always came up with some kind of starter, but first we would go around the circle and introduce ourselves.

name tag

I really wanted to say “ My name is * and I am an alcoholic/addict/klepto”  to see what would happen; I didn’t, I followed the rules and had several intelligent exchanges with strangers, which for me, felt a little miraculous. These were women with good jobs, long-term goals and savings accounts. I was smart enough to hold my own, even if my life reflected a stark lack of that intelligence, they didn’t know and I wasn’t telling them.

Afterwards, many of the women went to the local Bennigans, had dinner and/or drinks and spoke about all fo the stuff that might not be acceptable for the group at large.

I felt as if a little straw had appeared that let me take tiny sips of fresh air through the miasma.

I started going every week. I split in two. There was the life of stoned low expectations at home and this other life that started to spread with trips to the beach, dancing at the local gay bar and treks into the city.  I had started to make friends, or at least half of me had.

meow mix

 

 

Possibilities

Monkey Ride

I’m going to share a short story I did for The Moth @ Tour De Fat. I will follow this with more details on that event, since it was,  fucking awesome. Like Mardi Gras for cyclist and beer, totally amazing.  All the stories for this festival (hosted by New Belgium Brewing) had to have a bike at their core. Hopefully you like it:)

LookMaNoHands

When I was young, the ultimate punishment in my life was having my bike taken away. I was a foster kid, and lived in many different homes over the years but each family learned pretty quickly that my bike was the key to some measure of good behavior.

By age 14, I ended up in The McGregor Baptist Childrens Home in Ft Myers Florida. The Childrens Home held the homey charm of any incorporated institution that worried its inmates might rebel and attack at any time. Everything was graded on a point system. when I say everything, I mean it. Shower time, drawer organization, vocal tone, helpfulness, bible study readiness, anything you can think of was on that list of assessment. Then those points or deductions (perhaps you can guess which was more relevant for me?) were applied to THE BOARD, a giant whiteboard in the center of the house. Levels were denoted by precious metals, Platinum, Gold, Silver, Bronze and Copper.  Whatever your current metal was, represented your freedom level. Staying in your room, chore responsibility, going outside, all of it was something to be graded on. Most importantly the bikes were a high privilege.  The Home had a huge rack of bikes outside, donated through the generosity of our holy sponsors of course, and they taunted me. Only Gold and Platinum level were allowed you to use them and even that was confined to the car park and the cul de sac that the Home resided at the end of, but they soon became a desperate symbol of freedom for me.

I came into the house in late November and I thought; yes! Just in time to have yet another awkward holiday dinner with strangers filled with horrible food and worse conversations. But this time it was different because there was another kid that came in at the same time as I did, his name was Tom. He had a horrible attitude problem, was highly combative and was possibly more snarky than I was and I LOVED it. I found a kindred spirit and some company for the copper and Bronze realm of our world. When we were allowed out we would lie on the merry go round in the yard, watching the sky spin and making big plans for when we were out. Inside life at the home felt like a slow suffocation with all of the restrictions, it felt as if each of those points, taken or given were pieces of ourselves being stolen away. We needed something, so  we began to hatch other, more immediate and achievable plans. We got a notebook to keep our conversations private and that notebook became the path to our salvation. Within those lined pages, secret, furtive conversations began to be hashed out with bullet points and diagrams,.

There was a constant ratio of children to adults required at the Home, including at night. Counselors would do regular rounds through the girls and boys wings, checking each room. Timetables were drawn and filled in. A date was chosen and soon we were ready.

Night fell. Doc martens were donned. I stuffed pillows and clothes under the blankets and laid down on the floor to wait. Soon enough I heard the footsteps coming toward my room, I tried not to breath.. The door was quietly opened and a flashlight’s’ beam began its sweep. After it seemed to pause on my bed much too long,  it retreated and the door closed as quietly as it opened and  the soft knock on my window almost made me pee. I helped wrench up the window from the inside as Thom worked from the outside. We had spent a week on good behavior to get outside privileges, so we could sabotage the locks that were on the outside of our windows and I had taken olive oil on paper towels from the kitchen to grease the frame so no telltale squeak could give up the game, all of which finally paid off as it finally went up smoothly. I shimmied out. We inched away from the house and its watching windows, in a silly crouched (stealthy!) crab walk towards our goal. The bike rack. We set our watches for two hours. He chose a mountain bike with aggressive looking tires and pegs on the back. I chose a bike that looked like it was from a different era, it was pink with a banana seat, wide handlebars, and a basket, it was only missing streamers.

We walked those beautiful bikes up to the main road. Florida is really flat, there are no hills to speak of and that flat wide expanse at the edge of town stretched before us like the beckoning hand of God, just asking us to conquer it.   We sat on the seats and pushed off and began our ride, singing, laughing and congratulating ourselves on our brilliant escape. We had done it, we were so awesome! We tested our skills at riding with no hands, mocking each other and exploring the world in the hush of deep night, when everything seems a little more special and intimate. It felt as if everyone had decided to give us this moment. There were no people and almost no cars.   We took Colonial Blvd down towards the town center and turned left onto Summerlin. It felt like the laughter I couldn’t stop was the first real thing to come out of me in years. I hooted at Thom and we both almost took dives when I flashed him from my banana seat perch. In our efforts to avoid a patrol car we found ourselves in a massive cemetery with wide paths over acres of resting space. We explored crypts and gravestones and made up stories about their lives. No one was watching, evaluating or grading us, we claimed freedom that I knew the Home would never believe we earned, and I realized that what we took was better than anything they were willing to give.  It didn’t matter if we were Gold or silver, it was just the two of us out in the world and that was enough.

We would repeat this adventure, every night that we could, and we became our own little biker gang of two.For two hours and 7 miles we took back pieces of ourselves. We found some place to be joyful, those rides were a way to stay sane,  a joint meditation of sorts.

I am still friends with that boy that has become a man and he is still my brother in arms. Some of those dreams came true and some never did; but that feeling of riding through the night, laughing, arms outstretched, possibilities ahead, I still dream of that.

The Moth (plus everything else)

themoth.org

On Wednesday I performed at The Moth, in a main stage production. If you don’t know what The Moth is, you are missing out and I recommend you go check it out. In short it is a storytelling program, where all the stories are true and told without notes. There are story slams where you can show-up, put your name in a hat and if picked, tell a short story and compete with everyone else chosen. If you’re lucky you win and go to a Grand Slam to compete against other stories. These are held all over the country. You can call their pitch line and give a 2 minute story pitch, and if it’s good enough you get on stage, maybe even do a Main Stage show. The other way is being asked to participate, as many noteworthy people have been. If you go to the big main stage show you get a producer assigned to you and they help curate your tale and get it ready for the show, a 300 person audience in an amazing venue, where people pay to hear you!

I called the pitch line and got to be in a Main Stage show at The Players club in NYC. IT WAS FUCKING AWESOME! I was assigned a producer, Jenifer Hixson and she partnered with me over the last couple weeks getting my tale ready for the show. Jen was/is amazing. I feel so blessed to have worked with her. She has the ability to turn the lowbrow to refined genius. She is brilliant and so funny. I kinda have a gigantic (platonic) crush on her, but that’s how I make friends, I fall in love with them.

I got an email that they were interested in my tale, and then a call to see what the story was in full. I was told it might be a few months, up to a year before they found a show that would work with my story but they liked it and wanted to use it. Within two weeks they contacted me again, would I like to do the July 11th show they were putting together? YES YES YES, of course I would do the July 11th show (that was, three weeks away at the time)! I thought I had months to be anxious about this whole idea but luckily I could compress all my anxiety and self-doubt into a much shorter amount of time.

I was afraid to tell everyone , since it all seemed surreal, like it would just be some elaborate hoax or they would simply realize I was a nobody and/or find someone who would fill more seats. It wasn’t a hoax and that meant I had to call The Hive in Maine, my sons family, because the story was about them and I needed to get permission. I think some small part of me was waiting for them to say “No, we’d rather not have our story put out in front of the world” , but that was a delusional thought. This was a whole family of performers and storytellers, whether it be through dance, theater or art. OF COURSE they knew what The MOTH was and they were so excited and supportive of me! Bleh….that out was quickly smashed.

I had pitched the story all about my journey between my first-born child and my second. I gave my first child up in an open adoption and the tale of how I got there and back was what gave me this opportunity. During my daughters 4th birthday I had, had one of those moments where you experience a paradigm shift, my whole perspective changed and I saw what was going on at a new angle, yet again.  On one hand I drive my whole life towards those moments when just a little turn this way or that makes you reevaluate everything you have thought or felt on the subject at hand. Moments like these mark growth, they are what makes life worth living, at least for me. On the other side, these moments mark how everything I thought might have been completely wrong. Sometimes this requires some apologies…..

I watched my 13 yr old son holding my 4 yr old daughter and realized, the whole thing had made a full circle. There was nothing to forgive, I had made the right choice despite all of my self-recriminations to the contrary over the last 14 years. My son by birth was a brilliant smart-ass kid (genetics, apologies to his moms) and he was going to help provide what I didn’t have for him, an amazing support system and family for his sister. On top of all of that super squishy goodness, his family was part of my family to, they taught me the only lessons I had to build from and they did a pretty damn good job across the board, which is why I picked them. In the middle of this goofy smile realization, I decided I finally had a story worth telling, so I pitched it. More accurately I blurted it in a panic and then hung-up..shockingly they called me anyway.

The story started at 25 minutes, it had to get down to 10. Many “darlings” were killed, and it was so much fun! I got to work with this amazing woman, Jenifer Hixson, who created The Moth Story Slam.

I realize not everyone may be as excited as me, but I am a super NPR geek, I’ve been listening to since I was 16 and I have the members tote bag to prove it. I would not want to be on a screen, but the thought of being on NPR, on WNYC? That is fucking awesome. It’s a nerdgasm.

Three weeks, a trip to Asbury Park and many many calls later, my time on the Sunday before the show was at 9min 31 sec. Monday was rehearsal In NYC with the other story tellers minus one who had to be elsewhere. My time bloated to 14 minutes, damn it.  Everyone got one more simultaneous ego boost/critique, and doors opened at 6:30 Wednesday July 11th.

The venue made me dearly wish I had hours of time to research and wander around inspecting plaques and the huge oil paintings that decorated the walls. Just the building itself was worth extensive inspection.

We did a sound check where we confirmed I might be part dwarf. I had to bring the mike down about a foot to adjust it and we would have to do it ourselves when it was our turn.

I had heard everyone’s story minus one at rehearsal, but we were all still a little rough, still missing beats. On Wednesday, we all seemed to pull it together. It was amazing. All the other storytellers are authors and storytellers, except me. I felt so honored to share this stage with these people.

1st storyApril Salazar told a story of her unconventional upbringing and how her nudist mom might of not been a member of the PTA but showed her love in so many other ways.

2nd StoryKemp Powers spoke about the trauma of accidentally shooting his best friend when he was 14 yrs old and the journey from there to the amazing man he has become.

3rd storyDamien Echols shared his story of his murder conviction, years spent in prison and eventual exoneration through the Innocence Project. He was the one person I hadn’t met. He received a standing ovation.

4th Story

I was the 4th story, I went up right after the intermission. It was the clearest I had told the story. I was more at ease in this telling than any prior. It was so much fun.

5th storySebastain Junger was the last story. He told of why he went into war journalism and why he left that behind after the loss of his friend and partner.

All of these people have impressive bios and are worth looking up.  I feel ecstatic and blessed to have met them and to have shared this moment with them.

Afterwards there was a lot of strangers thanking me and all of us I’m sure.  My story elicited many empathetic tales of children lost, found and adopted. Many teary smiles and grateful hugs. I did this for my own children, it’s their story from me, a love letter to the two people who will never stop being a part of me. I hadn’t anticipated this out pouring of gratitude for sharing a part of so many other people’s stories as well. Perhaps I should have, but it’s hard to see outside of our own little boxes of narcissism, self-doubt and internal dialog. I was overwhelmed by this, but to see my words, my little tale touch all of these people, I might never know the names of? It felt like my own personal evolution, my paradigm was shifting. I can not thank the universe enough for this gift.