Mourning is Essential

This is a really great article about the difficulty of the past year and mourning has been. It also has helpful suggestions about how to creatively and collectively grieve. When my mom passed last year, one of the hardest things for me was how lonely it felt. The lack of touch and how being held was both what my body was screaming for and terrified of because it might cause more death was a cognitive dissonance I’m still trying to unravel and process. My (step) dad and I agreed to have a ceremony later this year for her, but I still do not have words for the gratitude I feel towards the two dear friends that I negotiated very carefully with to create a tiny in person memorial once the orb that was made with my mom’s ashes was delivered. I had little idea what I was doing, so I consulted the internet, close friends, pagan books on life rituals and just did the best I could to honor her memory. With loved ones, with rock music, with a ritual, with a little bit of dancing, with food, with a fire and talking and laughing, and crying. I was able to negotiate touch and a few hugs and I’m just so grateful. It’s highly personal, the grieving process. It keeps changing shape and surprising me. But overall, this article is spot on. Make the time to mourn. It hurts so friggin’ much, but I’m finding it’s also given me the ability to be more deeply open to love in all its complexity, and to be more gentle with myself.

“You’re able to give some real thought to, ‘What does this service need to look like to honor and celebrate that life? What does my participation need to look like?’” said Bryant Hightower, president of the National Funeral Directors Association. “You begin to understand your needs a little more than you would have initially.” Think about the tone and substance of your program and eulogies, and talk openly with other family members and friends about your plans.”

https://www.nytimes.com/2021/05/14/well/make-time-to-mourn.html

I legit set up a shared word doc with the rough outline I worked on and shared it with the two people that were at the ritual. I also set up a chat thread to negotiate risk factors and asks in a more real time way. I freaked out regularly thinking the orb would never come, that I would die before it arrived, that it would get lost, that my two dear friends would decide it wasn’t worth the risk for them (which I would’ve completely understood). Trying to process all that and the actual grief was difficult. But they were incredibly supportive and communicative and once I surrendered to “I don’t know what tomorrow will bring so I’m just gonna take it one day at a time and trust them to use their words and go from there” it all….flowed.

None of this is easy. But it’s important. It’s important to remember the people that mattered and that matter in your life. Love can be new discoveries and NRE and bonding over generations of shared experience and growth and it’s also loss and disappointment and anger and confusion and fights and resolution. It’s sharing playlists for a celebration of life ritual and also creating playlists for blooming love. And love that took two decades to bloom.  It’s a memorial on sacred ground and then spending hours in a sex temple and reminding yourself that you’re alive and to take pleasure in that. The facets are multiple: luminous and dark, sharp and feathered, stark and gentle, gutting and joyful. It’s all there. It all needs to be honored. And it all takes time.

How has it been a year already? How?!

Struggling today. I’m having a lot of trouble getting moving. I keep remembering the voice mail from my step dad, knowing what the waiver in his voice meant as he was telling me to call him back right away. I still have the voice mail. I have various voice mail messages that are important to me. I still have three voice mails from my mom, so I can still hear her voice. But I’ve only been able to listen to them once since last year.

I remember calling my sister. Deb sent food. It was so dark. Noah came home from work and we ate. I told my Amazons, who were amazing and offered support. But it was so lonely. No one could come over. There was no hugging. Barely any touch. I was afraid of everyone dying. I couldn’t conceive if getting through the year.

I have my mom’s orb right above my bed in the window. I say good morning and goodnight and I love you too her every day. I took her with me to buy a car. I’ve taken her to the ocean with me. I’ve been writing about her, trying to make sense of family hurt and pain and love and trying to stay connected to my family (chosen and blood) as best I can. There’s been so much grief. Last night, all the grief of last year hit me again and I just… couldn’t do anything by cry until I fell asleep.

I’m grateful that this year, this week has been full of seeing dear friends in person. With hugs. With delicious food. Laughter. Beauty. Art. Connection. I don’t have words to express the gratitude I feel towards everyone. Those checking in on me, those there with a hug and an ear, those I’m seeing and have seen this week. I love you all so much.

I love you, too, mom. And there were a lot of roller coaster times with us, I’ll never deny that. But overall, I’m so grateful for you in my life. To help me learn to stand up for myself, be myself, sing and say my truth, for the love of music and driving and dancing and paganism and so much more. I also miss you so much but I’m trying to do what you kept telling us to do. Take care of ourselves. I’m working on it. Thank you. I love you so much.

How has it been a year? How?

How do I even people?!

Okay, I’m part of the two shot club…NOW WHAT? It’s been a long, lonely year full of grieving and while I had a pod that I negotiated early in the pandemic, it disbanded over the winter due to various and understandable risk assessment differences due to life occurrences. We all learned and communicated through it all, though, which made my heart so grateful and full of love for my chosen family pod. And also…it still sucked to not touch another human being for nearly four months again. As I’ve been prepping for seeing people again as I and they get vaxxed, I’ve also been trying to quell the panic blooming inside me. I’m also seeing articles popping up with the same fears that’s running through my head…how do I people?!?

This co-incided with a friend’s post on FB today, sharing how they’re grappling with social anxiety and depression in a pandemic and also severely don’t know how to people. I had space and time to offer some suggestions of things I’ve learned and asked my friend if they wanted me to share with them, and if so, how. They said they did and what came out was…a lot. As I was typing, I realized I’ve done a fuckton of work over the past twenty years, but in the last five to ten especially regarding self care, support network building, taking responsibility for my life and happiness, and battling the inner trolls (call them what you like: critic, critical parent, hosebeast, one author I know calls hers Frank…whatever works) that tell me that no one wants to hear from me, that no one wants to spend time with me, that I don’t matter, that I’m too much, etc etc etc. And then I thought, “huh. I think I just inadvertently wrote a blog post here, and I’mma turn it into one so I can save it for easy reference in the future. Which is also applicable to part of the post. Win!”

Here, in all it’s glorious length, is what I’ve learned about overcoming fear to try to people like a real, live human (with some parenthetical notes and edits made to make more sense as a stand-alone post):

So, let me preface this all by saying YMMV. Also, there’s no magic “done” point. It’s all a process, and takes time and will come with lots of frustration, sadness, happiness, breakthroughs, and mistakes. So! I used to be legit terrified to start convos with people. In person, via DM or text, phone, all of the ways. Here’s what’s helped me:

1. One of the best things that helped, you’re already doing: THERAPY. Great job on prioritizing your mental health! (If you’re reading this are aren’t in therapy, I strongly suggest it, if it’s possible.)

2. my BFF tells me this so much it’s almost a broken record, but BE GENTLE WITH YOURSELF. This has taken me years to only BEGIN to absorb and reprogram my inner critic/saboteur and it can be exhausting. But you have to actively work on the things YOU can control and that is YOU. Leading to the next point:

3. You can’t control anyone else’s actions by what you do or don’t do. You don’t exist in this world to make other people’s lives easier. You exist in this world for yourself and what you bring to the world. It’s other people’s responsibility to handle their own stuff. To try to control theirs is codependency. I keep telling myself over and over to bring the locus of control inward to the only person I can control, which is me. I’m a huge fan of a newer serenity prayer that I learned last autumn:

Higher power, grant me the serenity to accept the people I cannot change, the courage to change the one I can, and the wisdom to know that one is me.

No joke, this blew my mind when I heard it for the first time. It is now a guiding force in my life.

4. Your feelings are valid and you have little control over them. Things usually go better when you don’t try. Just give just them space to just be. Even the painful, messed up, scary, overwhelmed, angry, lonely, yearning, happy ones. But you control your actions. You have more control than you think. If you are able to, try reining in the fear of what other people think and just give yourself some homework that YOU can control. Bringing us to the next point:

5. You said that you used to challenge yourself to compliment 3 people a day and that helped. Do that again! There’s a reason I take on challenges like Cannonball Read and NaNoWriMo and writing songs and posting videos or doing livestreams. There was a time when I was petrified to sing in front of people. I detested the sound of my voice on video and recorded on audio and was afraid everyone would laugh at me. So I came up with challenges to confront these fears and slowly asked trusted friends to help me and encourage me. 

6. Don’t ask unless you have done the mental work to accept “no” as an acceptable answer. Rejection hurts. But people have all kinds of reasons for saying no and most of the time, they are NOT a reflection on you. Usually they have NOTHING to do with you. My therapist keeps trying to tell me that other people’s reactions to things are a reflection of THEM. My reactions to things are a reflection of ME. And even if their reaction is something you’re worried about (your ask is “too big” or “too much” that does NOT mean YOU are a bad person. It means you are human.) Give yourself space and grace to be human. This ALSO is a process. But seriously, I have made it a mantra and a motto to not ask for things unless I am as ready as I can be for them to say no. And it’s not a self-defeating preparation. My mental process literally looks like this,

“okay. I want to ask for this thing. It’s big and scary and I’m afraid they may laugh at me or get upset with me or ignore me and say no. If any of that happens, what will I do? Okay. I will likely be upset, but I can touch base with X or Y to talk about it. I can also talk about it with my therapist. I can write about it. I will be okay if they say no. They have a right to say no if they can’t do it and this is not a reflection on me. I WILL BE OKAY IF THEY SAY NO.”

Like…legit this is the talk I have with myself before asking almost anything. And like I said, it’s not expecting the worst. It’s PREPARING for various likely outcomes. I understand how easy it is to get lost in the fear of what the other people’s reactions are, but again, you do not control them. You control YOU. You have power to take care of yourself. So if you pivot the focus on self care before an ask, you have a game plan already set in case someone says no. This is the less glamorous side of self care. 

7. Given your concern about memory, communicate that to people. “Hey, I might’ve asked you this already, but my memory is really rough lately…” We’re in a pandemic. People will largely understand. Also, I’ll tell you my go-to secret for memory issues, which I am also suffering from because grief and depression fucking suck. MESSAGING AND TEXT SEARCH ARE MY SAVIOR. I adore messaging and texting people because I can search convos to see if we ever talked about a thing. FB messaging has a search function and most text apps do too. And I archive my texts, and can search those too. I learned an important lesson working at a library a few lifetimes ago. The reference librarian told me “you don’t have to know all the answers….you just need to know where/how to find them.” Give yourslf permission to not know the answer to something. It’s okay. 

8. WE’RE IN A PANDEMIC. You are not alone. There are reasons there are articles popping up on all of the major sites about “how do I even people now?” Read those. ((Oh, hey, apparently I wrote one, too…)

9. No one else can fix any of this for you. However. I’ve found having a support network that I have built over time is amazing to help you learn and grow helps so much. It’s taken me nearly two DECADES, and lots of people fading in and out to build what looks like a massive and hella strong support network. And I say “what looks like” not because it’s NOT. Because it so is. But it’s also not failproof. There have been times when I’ve been hella low and I have this incredible support network and….EVERYONE said no to me for various reasons. One person was dealing with another crisis, one person was having a crazy busy day at work, one person was on vaca and left their phone in the hotel room, one person was moving. This not a hypothetical example. It happened. That day was really fucking hard. Some days, it’s just gonna seem like the entire Universe is conspiring against you and hates you and you don’t matter to anyone. These are dark times. Not gonna lie. They suck. But they are not forever. I promise. 

10. Be overflowing with gratitude. I tell people to their face that I love them and I’m grateful to them. That I appreciate them. Via text, on the phone, in person. I do gladgame posts to remind myself that there is good in the world. Remember when we did the month gladgame challenge? If I’m not mistaken, you said it helped you a bit? We could do that again, if you want. You also said you don’t do much that’s worth talking about. Start doing things. You’re welcome to read any of my books that are in the apartment still before you guys move. If you want to take a few with you to read, let me know which ones and most likely that will be fine. Is there something you want to learn about? Seek out articles or someone you know who does that thing and ask about it. 

11. Give yourself room, space, and grace for failure. You are human. Some days will just be bad and you will fuck up. Do your best to make peace with that ahead of time can soften the blow. When you fuck up, apologize and do better. 

11. I could go on and on, but these are some of my go-to’s. It’s up to you to customize your self care list, to cultivate and prioritize what you want in your life. If you want connection, put that energy out into the Universe. Do new moon rituals to manifest connection and then start working on making it happen. Challenge yourself to connect to people. Understand that some connections may not last, but as you focus on being the best you you can be, the people who are aligned with that will naturally gravitate to you.

(And yes, there were two “11”s in the original post. To give concrete proof I am human, too, I left them in. It also made me giggle. This post goes to eleven…TWICE!)

My Body is No Longer An Apology

(Cross-posted to Cannonball Read 13 Challenge – Review 2/52)

For the past few years, I’d been hearing about this book “The Body Is Not An Apology”. When I read the synopsis (and, let’s be honest, saw the gorgeous cover of the author gloriously splayed atop larger-than-life flowers in her birthday suit, and decorated with strategically placed flowers, the whole thing arranged to look quite yoni-esque) I knew I wanted to read it. No, I had to read it. It promptly went on my wishlist and two holidays ago, I received it as a gift. To be honest, I was surprised at how slim it was. Surely, a book with this much clout would’ve been….thicker? Contain more? I was especially curious and slightly confused after I listened to Brené Brown’s glowing and astounding podcast with the author, Sonya Renee Taylor. Seriously….this teeny tiny little book, all 116 pages of it, was causing all this commotion? I mean, I know a book doesn’t have to be War & Peace length to have a great message, but 116 pages? Clearly, I was not prepared for what a wallop those 116 pages would pack. (Note: There is an updated edition that contains an extra chapter. This review is based on the original version)

The prologue opens with a little bit of history of how Taylor got to the place of a digital media and education company and a radical self love movement. How it all began with a woman named Natasha, a “thirtysomething year old woman living with cerebral palsy”, in a hotel room one night while the author and her team mates were preparing for a National Poetry Slam Championship Tournament. Through conversation, Natasha shared that she was afraid she might be pregnant from a sexual encounter with an occasional fling. Taylor asked her why she hadn’t used a condom, and Natasha responded honestly that her “disability makes sex hard already, with positioning and stuff. I just didn’t feel like it was okay to make a big deal about using condoms.”

When we hear someone’s truth and it strikes some deep part of our humanity, our own hidden shames, it can be easy to recoil into silence. We struggle to hold the truths of others because we have so rarely had the experience of having our own truths held. Social researcher and expert on vulnerability and shame Brené Brown says “If we can share our story with someone who responds with empathy and understanding, shame can’t survive.” I understood the truth Natasha was saying. Her words pricked some painful underbelly of knowing in my own body. My entire being ran gin resonance. I was transported to all the times I had given away my own body in penance. A reel of memories scrolled through my mind of all the ways I told the world I was sorry for having this wrong, bad body. I was from this deep cave of mutual vulnerability that the words spilled from me, “Natasha, your body is not an apology. It is not something you give to someone to say, ‘Sorry for my disability.'”

This blew my mind. Also, mind you, the book hadn’t even officially begun yet! This was the prologue! The actual page count of one wouldn’t hit for another three pages!

It also brought up a whole reel of my own, all the ways I have apologized for my wrong, bad body over the last four decades. With partners, terrified to see disgust in their eyes the way I had once. With friends, cringing every time someone worried about getting fat with that tone that said that was one of the worst fates ever so clearly they couldn’t do that. With family and for being afraid to come out as queer. With myself, when my inner critic had a field day calling myself stupid for mistakes I made, ugly for not having an hourglass figure or because my tits were too small and my stomach was too large. And especially when it came to mental health issues like depression, anxiety, or C-PTSD. If only I could control my body and make it better. I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m so sorry. Again. This was in the prologue. I began to understand what I was in for over the next 116 pages.

The composition of the book makes it easy to break up into bite-sized reading pieces so you can actually absorb the enormity of Taylor’s message. There are five sections:

  • Making Self-Love Radical
  • Shame, Guilt, and Apology – Then and Now
  • Building a Radical Self-Love Practice in an Age of Loathing
  • A New Way Ordered by Love
  • Your Radical Self-Love Toolkit

Within each of these sections are between two and six subsections to help break down the message even further, and within each section, there are “Radical Reflections” that help you start to think about the messages and how they affect your own life, and “Unapologetic Inquiries” that ask questions to delve even deeper into your journey of radical self-love. Taylor tells us that “racism, sexism, ableism, homo- and transphobia, ageism, fat phobia are algorithms created by humans’ struggle to make peace with the body. A radical self-love world is a world free from the systems of oppression that make it difficult and sometimes deadly to live in our bodies. A radical self-love world is a world that works for every body. Creating such a world is an inside-out job.”

Thankfully, she doesn’t just leave us with our brains quietly imploding at the enormity of this concept, but helps to break it all down for us. But be prepared for a rather fast pass through some really huge concepts. By page twenty-six, she dives into “Body-Shame Origin Stories” so we know where a lot of our own body shame likely came from and how we’ve integrated that into our being and our views of other bodies. By page thirty-six, she ties in how the media plays a large part in these messages we absorb, and introduces what she calls the global Body-Shame Profit Complex (BSPC) and by page forty-one talks about “Buying to Be ‘Enough'”. She talks about how “we humans are masters of distraction, using makeup, weight loss, and finely curated self-image to avoid being present to our fears, even as they build blockades around our most potent desires.” She goes on to talk about ways we buy things to avoid the bigger, harder things in our lives, yet she also is clear to not condemn all beauty products or purchases completely.

“We are not ‘bad’ or frivolous people for buying beauty products. Nor am I proposing that lipstick or any other such purchase is innately evil. Personally I love a good MAC shade. (Film Noir is poppin’!) I am proposing that reflecting on our purchases gives us an opportunity to investigate whether we are in alignment with our own unapologetic truth.”

By page forty-five, though, she jumps from the media to how we should have “A Government for, by, and about Bodies.” She talks of how “our leaders mode and uphold systems of body government that directly affect our experiences of body shame and body-based oppression…the power to create laws also endows governments with the power to influence which bodies we accept as ‘normal’ and which we do not, all through the validation of legality.” She takes us through some staggering facts of what types of bodies are still legally oppressed throughout the world and in our own country and page fifty gets real blatant with the section titled “Call It What It Is: Body Terrorism.” In fifty-six pages, she points out things I had thought I understood but reframed it all to show me how much more interconnected things like racism, sexism, ableism, homo- and transphobia are.

Page fifty-seven through the rest of the book begins what feels like the enormous task of starting to come to terms with all she just skillfully unpacked and laid at our feet. The rest of the book gives you tools to begin your own practice of radical self-love. There are pretty much three key components, she says:

  1. Make peace with not understanding
  2. Make peace with difference
  3. Make peace with our bodies.

No big, right? Simple as that. But if you’re anything like me, I read that list and as Brené said in the podcast had happened to her a few times when she was reading the book, wanted to throw it across the room. I honestly feel reasonably confident in my ability to make peace with difference. However. I detest not understanding and….I have some issues that I likely should make peace with regarding my body. So this was a rather tall order. I also imagined other people reading this book. Like, I don’t know if anyone else does this, but I start thinking of what would happen if that sexist co-worker read this, or that racist family member, or that even friends whom I love dearly but also sometimes have their own struggled with some of these concepts. Then I start thinking about who to recommend the book to and then I realize I might be avoiding the actual message of the book and try to make my brain go back to my own journey and what I was learning. Which, y’know, was a LOT.

Thankfully, Taylor walks us, if not gently, lovingly through ways to practice these key compenents with The Four Pillars of Practice, which are:

  1. Taking out the Toxic
  2. Mind Matters
  3. Unapologetic Action
  4. Collective Compassion

She expands on what each of these entail and by page eighty-six, she covers “Unapologetic Agreements” we can can use to to transform ourselves to “a radical love that creates justice and equity in the world.” She acknowledges that that may seem like “a tall order” but points out that by this point, we are “already on [our] way.” And she’s right. By the time I got to chapter five on page ninety-three, I felt ready to open my radical self-love toolkit. Taylor breaks down the toolkit into ten pieces, and explains which parts of the Pillars of Practice they fall within.

Overall, the book covers so many important, massive concepts but does so in easy to understand, humorous, warm, caring, intelligent ways. I felt shifts happening within me as I read, as I answered the unapologetic inquiries and actually reflecting on the radical reflection snippets. I’m so grateful to this book, to Taylor as an author and activist, and can’t recommend it highly enough.

A Breath of Fresh, Fierce, Queer Air

(Cross-posted to Cannonball Read 13 – Review 1/52)

From the first time I heard author Gabby Rivera’s laugh and her description of her book on Brene Brown’s podcast “Unlocking Us”, I knew I had to read Rivera’s debut novel “Juliet Takes a Breath”. After a mix-up at the local bookshop where I ordered it from was cleared up (they handed me the graphic novel and not the hardcover I ordered – and I have nothing against graphic novels, I just wanted to read all of her words first), I went home and devoured the entire book in two and a half days. In 2020, I had a bit of a reading block and only read a grand total of seven books, so signing up for Cannonball Read this year for a full Cannonball was a big challenge to undertake. Thankfully, the journey began with Juliet taking her queer, delightful, irreverent breath.

The story starts with a preface, a letter from Juliet to “legendary author” Harlowe Brisbane, the “ultimate authority on feminism, women’s bodies, and other gay-sounding stuff” who is “sure to help [Juliet] figure out this whole ‘Puerto Rican lesbian’ thing.” The first paragraph grabbed me into Juliet’s world with so much force, I almost (happily) got whiplash.

Dear Harlowe,

Hi, my name is Juliet Palante. I’ve been reading your book Raging Flower: Empowering Your Pussy by Empowering Your Mind. No lie, I started reading it so that I could make people uncomfortable on the subway. I especially enjoyed whipping it out during impromptu sermons given by sour-faced men on the 2 train. It amused me to watch men confronted by the word “pussy” in a context outside of their control; you know, like in bright pink letters on the cover of some girl’s paperback book.

How’s that for an opener? And it just gets better from there. The preface spells out Juliet’s life in the Bronx. Not a bad life, but one where she’s on the cusp of coming of age…. and coming out to her family. Like literally, the actual chapters start with her plan to do it at dinner the night she is to fly across the country to start the internship the preface letter landed her. We meet her vibrant, loving, if somewhat “traditional” family at that dinner table. Her little brother, Lil’ Melvin a dreaming teenager with an affinity for Twix bars, her mother, doting but also distrustful of this “opportunity” her daughter has to fly to Portland, Oregon to work for free for a white lady. You can feel her mother’s love for her leaping off the pages, but you also get an immediate sense that this coming out process will not be smooth for either of them. Her father is there, too, but I never got much from him. Which, honestly, is refreshing in a story about a lesbian. He was a supportive father figure, bucking the tired trope (which, of course, comes from too much real life, but also is not the entirety of the lesbian experience) of the abusive father who gives his daughter “daddy issues” that she “becomes a lesbian” to deal with. Heaven forbid you just have women who like to fuck and love women. But no, he just loves his daughter, and I love that. Then there’s Titi Wepa, the badass NYPD cop, Titi Mellie, and Grandma Peralda. That’s a whole lot of female empowerment and family love, and it’s awesome to be brought so strongly into that world by the strong writing, expressive dialogue, and the food and music references throughout the book.

The coming out doesn’t go well. (I know, quelle shock for a book set in 2003. Or, unfortunately, even now, though it is getting better. But I digress…) Juliet’s mom takes it the hardest, leaving the table and locking herself in her room, refusing to talk to or say goodbye to Juliet. I lost my mom last year to COVID, so that part hit me especially hard. Like….make sure you say goodbye. Always make sure you say goodbye. But it’s not that kind of book, so that particular kind of tragedy doesn’t happen. But Juliet and her mom are clearly estranged as she’s setting out on this big adventure and it’s very hard for her to process while also suddenly living in a very different world. A white woman’s suburban attic, this local celebrity of the lesbian and feminist movement. And Juliet is gonna have many adventures in Portland, finding so many different ways to take a breath.

The chapter titles, a few of which are followed by a relevant quote from Harlowe’s book, gave hints about some of those adventures:

  • PGPs and Big Punisher
  • Celesbian Skin
  • On The Road To Polyamory and God
  • Ain’t No Party Like An Octavia Butler Writer’s Workshop
  • Operation: Wallow In My Sadness Forever (proceeded by the logical follow up chapter, Operation: Still Wallowing In My Sadness)
  • And one of my personal favs, When All Else Fails, Take A Fucking Nap

In the course of one summer, Juliet criss-crosses the country a few times, learns about gender pronouns and polyamory, queer and womanist theory, how “white lady feminism” leaves many women behind and how even her heroine Harlowe was not exempt from that and needing to learn and do better. Juliet learns not just how to take a breath, but how to find her breath, center herself in it, and in herself. She learns about love, in many different forms, and how it can and usually does change. But that even when you’re afraid someone doesn’t care about you, they may, but they may have their own struggles that get in the ways sometimes. It doesn’t pull any punches and packs a helluvan adventure into its 304 pages. I love that people were held accountable for shitty behavior. I adored that there were so many strong and flawed, fully human women in this book, and also that there were other different identities represented, as well, such as powerful, positive trans characters. I love that there was fierce love, and support, and surprising places of acceptance and a believable arc to Juliet’s coming of age. Her questions about what was happening to her and around her and inside of her resonated with me, even now at 20+ years her senior, and are still valid and important in this day and age.

I wish I had this book in 2003, back when I was a fledgling queer, shamed into not embracing all my enby-goodness. But I’m so grateful it exists now. I still feel Juliet with me, encouraging me to get an undercut and kiss women who are awesome no matter if it’s forever or not and to keep learning and growing and breathing and being true to myself. I know I’m blessed with myriad magical humans in my life who support and love me now, but it took me over twenty years and so much heartbreak and trial and error to get to this place. If only I’d had Juliet twenty years ago. But the good thing is, we all have her now, and that, as Roxanne Gay described this book on the cover, is “fucking outstanding”.

(Also, I’m thinking of signing all my emails now with how Juliet ended her letter asking for an internship with Harlowe “PS: How do you take your coffee? This will help me decide if we’re compatible social justice superheroes or not.” I think Juliet would approve.)

Songwriting, Tori Amos, and Creative Alchemy

“Being a songwriter is not always pretty. It can be scary because we are unearthing emotions that confront us with those portions of ourselves that we hide when posting on social media. The tension for me is holding the energy of service, to serve the song at all costs with a healthy dose of Fuck Off.”

And also

“One rule of songwriting I have found to be useful is that to understand a present situation I find overwhelming, I have to follow a current narrative’s thread to its tangled past.”
-Both quotes from “Resistance: A Songwriter’s Story of Hope, Change, and Courage” by Tori Amos

The book is amazing, and not only talks about songwriting, but also her songwriting process especially as it corresponds to the personal and political changes and events that have been happening throughout her life when she was writing. It feels incredibly important, especially right now.

The two paragraphs I quoted above practically leapt off the page and grabbed me by the throat and the heart. Writing a song used to be so…ephemeral and fleeting. It felt like such an impossible mystery to pull a melody AND lyrics from the ether, put them together, AND ALSO figure out the accompaniment on an INSTRUMENT and make something that not only I liked but that I liked enough to want to share with people and that they would hopefully like. Like, I couldn’t do that. Not reliably, anyway.

“Suzi Sunshine,” the first song I ever wrote (almost 30 years ago), was only the melody and lyrics because I wasn’t skilled in any instruments any more. So I carried the melody and lyrics with me for over two decades until a dear friend helped figure out the chords and accompaniment a few years ago. No joke, it was like I saw the sun for the first time.

Since then, I’ve been trying to learn to do that thing myself, trying to push myself to pair the songs I’m writing to chords I know while I’m learning new chords. Sometimes it’s exhilarating, sometimes it’s maddening. Many times, it’s both. But it always feels….powerful. Oh, and terrifying. Especially since one of the reasons I write music is to try to convey things I don’t feel like I can find regular words for. Usually about people I care about, in one way or another.

I recently wrote a new song. It’s one of my favoritest that I’ve ever written (technically, it’s in a threeway tie), but then again, I’ve only fully completed, with accompaniment, like seven songs? (Let’s don’t talk about how many half written songs I have…)

But this one….is scaring the shit out of me. The portions of myself I had to confront and the tangled past that it brought up are really fucking complicated and feels like a lot for what kinda sounds like a ridiculously simple, pop-y song. But also? I kinda ridiculously love it and it makes me so happy.

No More Apologizing

This podcast is wrecking my shit in the best way. First the episode yesterday that helped me write and process a whole bunch of grief and fear and now this episode.

I’ve been treating my body as an apology for so long, over a decade. There have been scant times when I haven’t. Though I’ve been told I “carry myself well” for my weight and some friends have told me they’d never guess nor expect that I had any concerns or negative thoughts about my body, because I seem to have such “self-confidence”… it’s with me every damn day. All the time. Most people don’t see me cringe when I hear people talk about “pigging out” or eating “like a fattie”. They don’t see the thought process where my brain convinces me that people I want to play with, and/or have sex with, and/or date, and/or have feelings for could never, ever, ever want those things with me. Contrary to my dating, playing, sex, and marital history. Contrary to all evidence to, y’know, the contrary.

And not just my physical body. My enthusiasm. My heart. My voice. Too big, too much, too loud, too dramatic.

I know I’m not the only one. And I know these aren’t the only struggles. Many people I love dearly fight similar demons, and/or are living in bodies that society doesn’t love for whatever reason, be it the color of their skin, disabilities, illness, age, injuries, gender, size, sexuality, etc.

Edited to add this paragraph: also, this ties into justice, how governments and social structure and the value of human life is built, white supremacy and how radical self love (which is different from and way beyond body positivity) is an interdependent route to revolution.

This podcast is giving me hope. It makes me want to sing louder, more frequently, reach out to more people, write more, share more, take up the space that my body takes up, stand up for and with others, seek pleasure, and love, and connection. It’s helping me to keep walking, literally.

What’s a thing that’s keeping y’all going today? What’s feeding you?

Not optional.

Life has been a struggle lately. I know; shocker, right? It’s almost as if the world is a political dumpster fire and I’m having a midlife crisis, facing down mortality between being in an accident and also facing medical issues for myself and family. No big.

I hate to say it, but since the accident in September, I’ve been fighting depression and massive anxiety. Thankfully, I have some medication for both and a truly amazing therapist. Work has been fairly understanding and all of my doctors so far are treating my pain as valid, which sometimes still amazes me as a heavier femme-presenting person. We don’t always get heard and believed right away, so I’m grateful for everyone who has so far. I think it has a little to do with the fact that so far, all the medical professionals I’ve seen have been women, but that’s another post.

This post is about floundering, and finding my way out of it. I’ve been having a hard time figuring out what’s…next. I had a job I adored but that ended because I was in a toxic, untenable environment. I miss it so much, some times. The freedom to make my own schedule within reason, working with creative people, the opportunities to be creative myself, helping the communities I believe in and am part of. It took a few years, but I finally got to a place where I felt capable. Intelligent. Good at what I did and like I was making a difference. It didn’t pay all that well, compared to what people who were doing what I did in more corporate settings, but I adored with all my heart. I believed in the events and the most of the people. Some were people that I loved dearly, respected greatly, and to be seen as a peer, to be loved and respected in turn…it was amazing. If I could’ve turned it into a career, I would’ve. Maybe I still can.

Now, I have a job. It’s a decent job. It’s given me time to heal from all the massive upheaval of the last year and my previous job. I’ve met some wonderful people. There is a certain element of helping involved in this job that I like. The hours mean I don’t have to deal with rush hour traffic. But. It’s not a forever job for me. I am doing my best, but I’d prefer to do something that is less capitalistic and more based in helping the communities I love and adore, and being creative.

There’s a lot of stress in my life lately, since the accident. Dealing with many phone calls, emails, doctors, work, appointments. Trying to keep it all straight. And none of it was my fault. It just happened. Similarly, someone very dear to me has a terminal diagnosis. They didn’t do anything wrong. It just happened. And it makes life feel so tenuous, unfair, and uncontrollable. And it scares the hell out of me.

Also, I had decided to get divorced earlier this year. And we have to move by the end of the year. So nothing major.

On the plus side, my spouse and I have decided to live together for another year to figure some things out and to give us both breathing room from too much chaos all at once. But we still have to find a place and move. I’ve been looking, but so far, nothing yet.

During all of this, even during all the “New Year, New You” posts I’ve been making…with all the music making, and writing, and becoming a better witch, and all that good stuff…I have a confession to make. I’ve been living like a goddamn garbage animal at home. There are piles of clothes. I mean, we’ve got the requisite clutter. The one armchair laden with clothes for so long that half of it was winter clothes I never put away and now, I guess the bonus is that I don’t have to! The other half is a pile of stuff to get rid of that never made it out of the house to the consignment and goodwills and friends I wanted to spread them out to. There are piles of papers everywhere. My filing system is in shambles. I didn’t so much unpack from the various events I went to this year as explode in a seldom used corner of the bedroom. When I’ve needed something from that area, I’ve just waded in and plucked what I wanted from the pile…most of the time with minimal clusterfuckery, cursing, and tossing shit haphazardly onto other parts of the pile making it even worse.

My desk is over run with cute tchotchkes, papers, and other shit. The office table is just a never ending pile of old mail, books, little jars that I was keeping for a project I had in conjunction with an interest me and a now ex share…but no longer share together.

I haven’t been able to read much. Or write much. Thankfully, I’m still playing uke and singing. I was behind on my posting a video a month of me singing, until I played a show where I opened for a dear friend in October. There are now four songs online of me singing, which totally covers August, September, October, and November. But I’m behind in my New Year, New You. And my Cannonball Read challenge. And I started eating sugar again. After I found out that I lost a total of 30 lbs from March 2017 to September 2018.

Thing is, I’m on medication now to help with anxiety and I can’t drink while on it. So! 5″ real buttercream cakes have been my go to ways to cope and that’s a GRAND idea, right?

Right?

*headdesk*

I feel lost. I explained to a sister Amazon today that I felt kind of like a kid pitching a hissy fit and part of me feels numb. Can’t process all that’s going on.

But.

That’s changing, too. I had been reading a few months ago about the upcoming autumn and winter and how it was going to be an intense time of going within. To have a reckoning, to heal, to deal with the things I have to deal with. Sure enough, almost instantaneous as soon as the summer ended, the fall came literally crashing into me and changed everything. Now I’m not seeing people as often as I was. My poly life has been stripped down to the very basic relationship, for me, of me and my spouse and me trying to figure out the rest of what I need. I’m not able to drive as much. I have injuries that need to heal, literal piles of personal shit to sort through, and life and death that needs attending.

I haven’t been doing all that well with it. Going back to work has meant that I have a half hour after I get home to eat and decompress before I go to bed to do it all again. On my days off, I’m seeing doctors, running errands, and trying to keep my head on. I explained all this to my sister Amazon. How now is just not a good time. How I don’t know what I want out of life…beyond writing a book, recording a CD, having a poly/creative commune, and a job where I feel like I’m making a different in communities I love. Oh, and get healthier, be a better witch, keep a nice home, and own a Kia Soul.

Her response?

“Okay. So what will you do this month to move you closer to those things?” Because “every time is a terrible time. I’m not trying to be mean. It just is. ”

She went on to say that, “I’ve seen you in that space at cons. You need to bring that for yourself daily. That’s how this shit will happen.”

My problem, and what I said to her was that I have no idea how to get that mojo back.

To which she succinctly replied with, “you know how a bunch of shit is not optional at a con? You need to make that happen for yourself. It’s not ‘if I have the energy, I’ll write.’ It’s ‘if I don’t write 500 words tonight, I’mma have people screaming at me on the walkie’.”

Ooooooof.

That broke through a wall in my head, and I said as much.

And here I am. Writing. I have to sit down and reaffirm and restructure what’s important to me and come up with some clear goals and then, treat them as not optional. I am not optional. So. Tomorrow, I’m going to complete the next “New Year, New You” prompt and then I will have the next Cannonball Read review done by Monday. And I’m gonna get my ass back to posting twice a week. There are three books I’ve read that I haven’t reviewed, which means that I still need to read and review four MORE books on top of the other three I still have to review. But a little under two months is doable for that. I have to remind myself that I did the full Cannonball Read (52 books read and reviewed in one year) once.

And tomorrow night, my spouse and I are going to continue cleaning, keep looking for a place to live, and talk about finances and future stuffs.

This is a good start. More to come. Not optional.

 

Dealing with Impossible Tasks

Last week, leading into a huge Labor Day Sales weekend (and I’m currently in sales, so I had some trepidation going into that weekend) I came across this post about a “never-discussed symptom of depression” called The Impossible Task. This started when Twitter user Molly Backes (@mollybackes) posted some tweets talking about the fact that depression commercials never talk about this. From the article:

The Impossible Task, as outlined by Backes, cannot be defined by a specific. It varies from person to person and hour to hour. What to others seems mundane and simple appears insurmountable to many who suffer from depression.

To further explain one of Molly’s tweets:
The Impossible Task could be anything: going to the bank, refilling your prescription, making your bed, checking your email, paying a bill. From the outside, its sudden impossibility makes ZERO sense.

YES. THIS ALL DAY YES.

For me, it’s not just depression but also a symptom of my anxiety disorder. I freeze with certain things. For instance, if my anxiety is really bad, it’s not uncommon for me to get a full blown anxiety attack in the frozen food section of Shoprite, feeling like the biggest weirdo in the world because I’m staring at frozen pizza, crying, feeling like the world has crashed in on me. This can happen in any large store or venue, actually. It’s happened in Walmart, IKEA, other large grocery stores, malls, large Goodwill shops, events, concerts, festivals. Any place that has a lot of people, a lot of choices, and nowhere for me to quickly retreat to feel safe and reset my brain will freak me the fuck out. And it makes little sense to most other people. I was once left in a record store on my birthday by a former partner because I couldn’t stop an anxiety attack.  Them telling me to “stop it” (and getting angry at me when I couldn’t) didn’t work, so they left.

Thankfully I now have people in my life who understand anxiety and depression a little bit better and know that telling someone to stop is not a helpful solution. I’ve learned (and tried to teach those closest to me who want to help) what things might could help when I’m in the throes anxiety and depression. But to people who don’t understand or have never had to deal with it, it makes NO SENSE.

Another Impossible Task I used to have a lot of consistent trouble with was making phone calls. I had what I would almost consider a phobia of phone calls. It didn’t matter how simple the call was, or how much I liked or loved the person on the other end, phone calls used to terrify me. Every once in a while, I could use fewer spoons to make or take a phone call, but generally, it took MANY if not all of my spoons. And many times, I just couldn’t do it. This one has improved a lot in the past few years, and I’m grateful to the person who magically helped with it. And while it’s come back a bit, it’s no where near where it used to be.

What fucks me up most, though, is when the Impossible Task is driving. This has only happened a few times in my life and it’s been brutal. Driving is my freedom. It’s how I cope with stress, depression, and anxiety. My car is the safest place I know and to not be able to get in my car and go…fucks with my head and makes everything else feel impossible.

Last week, right before I found the article I linked above, my best friend had invited me to join them for Vietnamese dinner as their treat. I’d been battling anxiety and depression for days at that point and this was an incredibly welcome invitation…except dinner was 45 minutes away where my best friend lived. And at that moment, I could not get in my car and and make that drive. A drive I’ve done countless times. Because I love to drive. I’ve happily driven four hours to see a partner, three hours to go to events, over an hour to see friends and visit the ocean. But on this day, even though it was to see my best friend for one of my favorite types of food, I could not make that drive. It was Impossible. I contemplated trying to mentally strong arm through it, and that almost threw me into a full blown panic attack, so I sent my regrets and asked for a rain check. Thankfully, my best friend is someone I can tell directly that I couldn’t do the drive. They were wonderful and gracious and supportive.

It’s incredibly frustrating for me, though, because I can usually multitask like a mofo, I’ve worked hard to become good at emotional labor for myself and creating a safe space for others, and pride myself on being competent and reliable and able to do complicated things quickly (well…depending on the things. I’m not an astrophysicist). My last job was all about that. Someone would be asking me a question, while my radio was going off, while I was on my way to do something else. And I would get into a zone, a flow state, working with synchronicity and trusting the Universe to guide me. The things got done. The questions got answered. Granted, I also had an amazing team helping me, but I was also confident and most comfortable (it only took about three years to get there…).

When anxiety or depression hit, though, or when they both hit at the same fucking time, it fucks me up royally. Because if my productivity gets hit, then I start to feel worthless. Like….what the fuck is wrong with me that I can’t make this ONE phone call? That I can’t complete a fucking grocery shopping excursion without weeping on my frozen green beans? Or why the hell can’t I put away that laundry? Why am I feeling a seizing panic when I think of sleeping anywhere but home? Why can’t I can’t just get in my car, crank up the music, and drive it all away?

And if I can’t do these things that I always am able to do, will people still care about me? Like, what good am I if I can’t perform basic human functions? And how will I ever see people I care about if I can’t fucking get to them? Also, how will I eat if I can’t even buy groceries? I tend to be really hard on myself and then I get locked in this loop of yelling at myself “what’s wrong with you; just stop it!” and trying to remind myself that it’s just anxiety, it’s just depression, they both lie, the world isn’t ending and I’m not losing everything and everyone. And yet, all people see is a weird person staring at a frozen food case or who just bolted out of a room.

Molly Backes says that we should try to apply the gentleness and empathy that most of us with depression (and anxiety) generally have towards others to ourselves. Which is waaaaay easier said than done. Especially in the middle of a full blown anxiety attack or depressive episode. But I’m working on it. And I’ve got wonderful people around me to remind me and help me with it.

Here’s to anyone else who also has to tackle the Impossible Tasks. You are not alone.

 

Sugar Sacrifice: Notes from the half way point

So, 21 days ago, I decided to sacrifice sugar for 40 days to show the Universe that I’m serious as fuck about making this new year a new me. Yesterday was the halfway mark…20 days without sugar.

Well, mostly.

Y’see, what happened was…

(And no, this isn’t one of those stories where I decided to abandon my course and had a cupcake. Because FUCK THAT.)

But what happened was…even though I was paleo for a while nearly a decade ago, I forgot about how SUGAR IS IN FUCKING EVERYTHING.

I wrote the post I linked to above, talking about how I was going to eliminate sugar from my diet and the process was all very…tra-la-la, I won’t have any desserts! It’ll be easy. A dear friend who both a) has done shit like this before and b) understands the gravity of making a sacrifice like this to the Universe cautioned me. It went something like this:

Day One

Me: Tra-la-la! I’m giving up sugar as my sacrifice.

Dear Friend: Okay…for how long?

Me: I dunno? 40 days? Maybe forever!

DF: Ummmmmmmmm. Back the bus up, (gender neutral) SisterQueen. 40 days is HARD. It may not seem like it now, but it is. I suggest logic and reason and thinking about this with a clear head and all these other really helpful suggestions. Like what about X, Y, and Z?

Me: Awwwww, (gender neutral) man. I don’t wanna do algebra. I just wanna go back to tra-la-la! But FINE. I suppose some parameters are a good idea. So I’ll write those out. I feel fine. I can do this. I am POWERFUL! The Universe will cheer for me as I journey ever onward towards enlightenment and self-care and being the best me I can be!

Day Three:

Me: (Actual text to DF) Jesus fuck, I forgot how much stuff has sugar in it!

Seriously. All the things. Like the frozen bag of dinner pad thai that I had in the freezer that I thought was fairly healthy and quick to make when I get home after a 12 hour work day and need food but barely have mustered a will to stand, let alone actually cook. Second ingredient? Brown sugar. I do more research and apparently, sugar is a standard in pre-packaged AND restaurant pad thai. Which….fuck me since I had pad thai in a restaurant the day BEFORE I looked this up.

The last 20 days have been kinda like that. I have NOT had anything that I KNEW without a doubt would have sugar. Y’know, desserts, candy bars, soda, cake, cookies, etc. However…I remembers that bagels have sugar as part of the base dough. So I thought an egg and cheese on a croissant would be a fine subsitute. Until I got this clawing feeling that I should check into that, too. Turns out, I was fucking Wrongy McWrongersons. Croissants typically have sugar in their base dough, too. Plus a sugar glaze that’s brushed over them. Huh! Fascinating! I’m learning so much about food and how it’s made. And also, FUCK EVERYTHING.

It doesn’t stop there. Most mass produced pasta sauces, dipping sauces, condiments, yogurts, deli meats, cured meats, and bread products like hamburger rolls, hot dog rolls, and english muffins…sugar, sugar, and more sugar.

And of course, there’s not just one type of sugar. On, no! That would be too simple. There’s also:

  • high fructose corn syrup
  • regular corn syrup
  • glucose
  • lactose
  • fructose
  • brown sugar
  • demerara sugar
  • turbinado sugar
  • coconut sugar
  • molasses
  • maple syrup
  • honey (which, thank fuck I specified that I wasn’t giving up)
  • muscovado
  • stevia

THEN there are the sugar alcohols like maltitol and sorbitol, and don’t even get me started on all the artificial sweeteners.

It is. Fucking. EVERYWHERE.

So I have put in a good faith effort, especially since DF has made it clear that the Universe doesn’t fuck around if you renege on a sacrifice to it like this. I had refused sauces on salads and dipping sauces for things. I searched for bread that didn’t have sugar in it (if you’re wondering, rye and pumpernickel are pretty good…but the fresher the better. Things with preservatives tend to also add sugar so not all pumpernickel and rye is safe. I found my pumpernickel loaf in the fresher bread section near the produce in my local Shoprite, as opposed to the pre-packaged bread aisle). I made a choice to have a Thai dish with molasses in it’s base sauce since that was a mostly natural sugar (and I didn’t rule out “naturally occurring sugar, such as is found in fruit, wine, and honey.”) It wasn’t eating a cupcake.

Though, speaking of cupcakes and things like chocolate, I went about two weeks without even missing chocolate. Until PMS hit. Then I wanted ALL THE CHOCOLATE. At first, I thought I was thoroughly and completely fucked, but then I remembered that there was a recipe for chocolate frosting shots that was paleo that I loved back in the day. I decided to give that a whirl. And if I had actually READ the directions and NOT poured the liquidy part in the recipe along with the creamy part of the coconut milk, everything would’ve been fine. Alas, I poured most of it in. And so my frothy frosting turned out to be really thick chocolate milk. I was disgusted with myself but didn’t want to deal with cleaning out the Ninja blender, so I stuck it in the freezer and thought maybe I can make ice cream the next night. And the next night, I did! As I told a friend, it wasn’t Haagan Daas, but it tasty like slightly softer than usual healthy soft serve. And it hit my chocolate craving right in the core.

I also went to Trader Joe’s and got coconut cream to try for the recipe (fun fact: not only should you NOT pour in the liquidy stuff, but when they say refrigerate the coconut milk/cream overnight…they might know what they’re talking about and might mean it. Says the person who also didn’t read that part, either, and came up with chocolate milk again on attempt two and couldn’t figure out what went wrong AGAIN. Oh, right. You didn’t READ, dumbass.

My internal monologue has been fairly unforgiving lately.

So, anyway, I stuck that in the fridge, hoping that it would thicken up even after everything was mixed together. And it did! It was lovely and delicious.

Trader Joe’s also had some other no sugar things that were wonderful: goddess salad dressing, vodka sauce, and these citrus date bites that kick a sugar craving in the ass AND are easy to chew because I’m still having some teeth problems, which is a story for another post. Shoprite has ONE yogurt type that doesn’t have any added sugar (beyond plain). They’re tiny, because they’re meant for kids, but they’re sweetened with fruit juice, which I thought was also acceptable within the parameters I established.

This whole process has been an interesting, if sometimes frustrating exercise in spending time looking into my own health and being more conscious about what I put in my body and why. I’ve been proud of my resolve when it comes to this, too.

Like when I was handed a free drink at a burlesque show (double AWESOME) and as I took a sip of it, the bartender was listing what was in it. Whiskey (delish), chocolate bitters (I had pause but had checked the bottle and it was surprisingly okay), bourbon soaked cherries (OMG YES PLS), and a dash of simple syrup. As soon as I heard that, I handed the drink back to my friend and said “I’m sorry, I can’t have any more.” And that was that. I just have to get better at asking and/or research BEFORE I have something. I got that message loud and clear from the Universe.

I’ve found I can make a sugar free mocha coffee at home by adding unsweetened cocoa powder and a dash of honey and a splash of half & half to cut the bitter. Thankfully, I can drink most tea black or with a dash of honey. And actually, except for the two attempts at chocolate frosting shots and the adapted mochas, I haven’t had any honey.

So that’s that. The first 20 full days down. Sugar is fucking everywhere, but I’m learning how better to navigate it. I haven’t been perfect…I had three or four croissant breakfast sandwiches before I got the clawing feeling to check that before I got wrecked. There was that one pad thai dinner I had in a restaurant. One Vietnamese dish might’ve had meat marinated in something with sugar in it, but I didn’t know the name of it so I couldn’t look it up.

I’m not seeing OMG results in my waistband, but the first week, I was able to sleep a little bit better. However, now that my period is here, all bets are off. My colon isn’t happy, my sleep cycle is off, and I’m exhausted. My face might look a little slimmer? Not sure. But I think I’d need a bit more time to see anything really noticeable. Here’s to another 20 days!