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!

 

[CBR10 – 6/13] Lies We Tell Ourselves

(Cannonball Read book review #6 – original post @ CBR10)

It’s Juneteenth, AND Pride month, which makes an incredibly appropriate time to review Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley. This book was on my radar since it first came out in 2014, but it took a wee bit of time to actually find time to read it. (Seriously, on this site, I know I’m not the only one who’s reading list is longer than the time I’ll ever possibly have to read over the course of my entire life…) What first drew me in was that the book was about desegregation and I knew there was likely going to be a romantic subplot, but I didn’t know at first that it was a lesbian romantic subplot. And not just that, it was a white girl and a black girl falling in love with each. In the south. In 1959. You don’t have to know a whole lot about American history to know this is not going to be a happy story. However, Talley manages to take a difficult and complex story of racism, politics, history, growth, and first love and infuse hope, joy, wonder in it. I already knew I was a fan of Talley’s when I read and reviewed her second book What We Left Behind but this was a very different reading experience.

Format-wise, Lies We Tell Ourselves follows a similar back and forth POV style to What We Left Behind with the story being told from each of the protagonists perspectives. There are also some great internal monologues from all four characters between the two books. But that’s where the similarity ends, I think, because Lies We Tell Ourselves doesn’t give you a moment to breathe from the very beginning. What We Left Behind starts out happy, lighthearted. A dance. A first meeting of the couple. Lies We Tell Ourselves first page opens with the chilling title “Lie #1: There’s no need to be afraid” and the very first sentence is “The white people are waiting for us.”

If that doesn’t shoot you in the heart with dread, I…don’t know what will. I tend to try to put myself in the shoes of characters I read about to understand people from different places, times, cultures, classes, etc better. I thought about what it would be like to walk into a throng of angry people who hate me…just based on what they see and think they know about me. Granted, the one thing I can relate to in that regard is that being a larger person, I’ve been read as lazy, ugly, stupid, pitiful, and disgusting by many people…just based on the way I look and the reason people think I got this way. And while that is NOTHING compared to hundreds of years of institutional racism, and does not mean in any way, shape, or form that I understand what that feels like, it has given me a tiny window of empathy and I try to be a better person with it.

So there I am, in my mind, walking with the ten teenagers into the Jefferson High School and it’s terrifying.

“They’re out there all right,” Chuck says when he comes back. He’s trying to smile, but he just looks frozen. “Somebody sent the welcome committee.”

No one laughs. We can hear the shouting, but the sound is too disjointed for us to make out the words.

We learn from there that the teens have been assisted and coached by the NAACP on this transition. Sarah, the main character on the desegregation side gives us this run down:

My father and Mrs. Mullins and the rest of the NAACP leaders have been coaching us on the rules since the summer, when the court first said the high school baord had to let us into the white school. Rule One: Ignore anything the white people say to you and keep walking. Rule Two: Always sit at the front of the classroom, near the door, so you can make a quick getaway if you need to. And Rule Three: Stay together whenever you possibly can.

I’ve been reading fiction about desegregation, the South during the 20’s – 50’s, slavery, and runaway slaves and I never came across that kind of description before. I knew the kids who were the first to face desegregation were brave, but I never fully grokked what this looked like on a moment by moment basis until this book. And this is only on page three of the book. By page five, these two paragraphs stopped me cold:

Police officers line the school’s sidewalks in front of the boys. They’re watching us, too.

I don’t bother looking back at them. The police aren’t here to help us. Their shiny badges are all that’s stopping them from yelling with the other white people. For all we know they trade in those badges for white sheets at night.

The rest of the chapter is just them getting into school the first morning, and it’s filled with hate, name-calling, intimidation, and it’s unclear if Sarah, her younger sister, and their friends are even going to make it in the building. They do make it in, after an almost mosh-pit incident and chapter/lie #2 is “I’m sure I’m doing the right thing” and the new students try making their way to their classes, worrying about getting detention if they’re late. Sarah rightly wonders “but if we have to deal with shouting crowds every day, won’t we always be late?” Makes dealing with traffic or any of the hundreds of other things that made me late over the years for school and work seem more than a bit insignificant in retrospect.

That first day is marked with students screaming at them to go home, threats to them, spitballs, milk being dumped on her, and pencils being bored into Sarah’s back. But we also get the set up for her closeted lesbianism and her budding crush on Linda, a red-haired student.

My mind is running to scary places. The images come too fast for me to stp them.

I imagine what it would be like if I were alone with the red-haired girl. How it would feel if she smiled at me with her pretty smile, and I smiled back, and-

No. I know better than to think this way.

I can’t take any risks. Especially not at this school. If anyone found out the truth about me it would mean – I don’t even know what it would mean. I only know it would be horrible. It would be a hundred times worse than what happened in the parking lot this morning. A thousand times worse.

As the day progresses, there are more lies. “I don’t care what they think of me,” “I’m not lonely” and “They won’t really hurt me” forever” hit pretty hard. We learn that while Sarah’s father is in the NAACP, Linda’s father is the editor of the Davisburg Gazette. “He’s the one who writes the editorials opposing segregation. He’s also Daddy’s boss.”

Whelp. This story just went from star-crossed to totally fucked in two sentences.

There are bits sprinkled in about how the white people view the black people and one of Linda’s father’s editorials details how “Negro children should be taught only Negro teachers, for our own benefit, because no one else can understand how “uniquely” our brains work” but we don’t fully get the white perspective until a few more chapters in when we switch to Linda’s POV.

That set up was very telling of the privileged mind of someone who’s never had to examine her own biases and privileges. Linda’s first lie is “None of this has anything to do with me.” And the first sentence of her first chapter? “They canceled the prom today.”

Because the prom is CLEARLY the most important consideration at that moment. I swear, I’ve rarely wanted to slap a fictional character so badly as I did when I first read that. However, Talley knows how to skillfully turn that self-centeredness and build layers into the story very quickly. That first sentence was followed with:

Because of the colored people. Everything that happens now is because of the colored people.

If Daddy has to work later at the paper it’s because the integration teachers are making up stories. If I’m behind in English it’s because the NAACP forced the school to close last semester. If I get caught daydreaming in Math its because the colored girl in the front row distracted me.

Well, now. Apparently Linda is also taken with Sarah. But it’s disturbing to get into Linda’s head, even as skillfully as Talley brings us there. Linda theorizes, the first time she’s in a bathroom at school with Sarah, that “touching her probably feels like touching sandpaper.” Also that black people have a certain smell to them that “stink” up places. I think the most incredulous was that some of the white people wanted to know where the black people kept their tails. This kind of literal dehumanizing was clearly spoon fed to these people from birth and they just accepted it as fact. But what I love about this story is that we see and witness Linda as her thoughts change as she falls in love with Sarah.

Y’see, during that first time in the bathroom, Linda and Sarah get into a bit of a spat because Sarah dares to be anything but polite and deferential to Linda. This pisses Linda off to no end. At first, she uses it to justify her narrow world view:

Daddy was right. The Negro students think they’re entitled. They think their own schools – the ones set aside specifically for them – aren’t enough. They think they have to come for our schools, even if it means hundreds of us have to suffer just so a handful of them can be satisfied.

Linda doesn’t see that separate but equal rarely, if ever, actually means equal. She doesn’t see the suffering that black people have endured at the hands of white people for centuries. She can’t see beyond her own small corner of the world. But Sarah is about to change all of that. Because of the first convo in the bathroom, Sarah and Linda (and Linda’s friend Judy) are late to French class and the teacher decides that that means they’ll be grouped together for the French project.

Now Linda and Sarah have to figure out how to work together, but not only how, but where. Clearly they can’t be seen anywhere together in the white parts of town and it’s also likely not a good idea for Linda to be going to the black parts of town, either. Judy works in Bailey’s Drugstore in town, which has a back room that they can meet in because no one is in there after 4pm on a school day, so they all three agree to meet there. And that’s where the meat of the story really starts unfolding. I don’t mean to disrespect the desegregation parts at school, but it’s when the girls on by themselves and the mob mentality isn’t allowed to prevail that Judy and Linda can start to see that Sarah isn’t stupid. She’s not ugly. She’s not uppity or “entitled”. They begin to learn about the humanness of each other and that they’re more similar than each had previously thought, especially from Linda’s perspective:

The part about her parents and her church choir was strange to read. I’d never thought about what the colored students do when they’re not in school. Sarah must have a house somewhere. She must do things like help her mother with dinner or iron her clothes for church. The same kinds of things I do.

But this is one of my favorite parts of their conversation, after Linda calls Sarah and “agitator” like it’s wrong:

“The point is, we didn’t force your governor to do anything,” Sarah goes on.

“My governor?” I say. “He’s your governor, too.”

Sarah lifts her chin and looks me straight in the eyes again. “He’s not my anything if he doesn’t treat me the same way he treats you.”

My jaw drops.

“That’s anarchy,” I say quietly. I wait for her to take it back.

Sarah doesn’t even blink. “No, it’s not. If the law is wrong, we have to say the law is wrong.”

Linda freaks out about this and again, uses it to justify her views, calling Sarah a Communist. Sarah says she’s not but Linda counters telling her she’s going to tell her own father about Sarah being a Communist. She thinks she’s going “fix integration.”

Sarah very smartly asks how she plans to do that when Linda’s father doesn’t even know they’re working on a project together.

Linda’s list of chapters/lies for this section are little insights into her own mind:

  • None of this has anything to do with me.
  • I’m exactly who I want to be.
  • I’m sure I’m doing the right thing.
  • If I keep pretending, everything will be all right.
  • She’s wrong.
  • This doesn’t change anything.
  • I hate her.

The story truly unfolds from there and Linda and Sarah grow closer while the tormenting at school gets worse. By the end of that section, though, which is about halfway through the book, things come to a head between Linda and Sarah. And right after, we switch back to Sarah for next quarter of the book. Sarah decides that the best thing to do to combat how she feels about Linda is to ignore Linda and put her energy into dating Ennis, one of the other students integrating with her. As we watch her do this, we also get her internal process of how she doesn’t feel that spark with Ennis that everyone says you’re supposed to have with a boy…that she definitely has with Linda.

It makes an odd juxtaposition to Linda’s musings about her fiancee, Jack, and how the pin he gave her “means I belong to someone” and that “Jack is all I need. He’s more than I deserve” whereas when Sarah starts to think about marriage to someone, possibly Ennis, and having existential crises while theater goers are gossiping around her on date, she thinks:

I envy these women. I bet none of them ever doubted whether they should get married. I’m sure none of them ever had any unnatural feelings.

As she’s trying to puzzle this out, she keeps dating Ennis and she and Linda avoid each other. Until Linda seeks her out to tell her that some of their classmates are planning something terrible for the choir concert tomorrow. Because after initially being told they shouldn’t join any extracurriculars at the white school, Sarah’s incredible vocal talents get her into the school choir. The classmates tried to sabotage Sarah by not having an accompanist for her solo. However, Sarah handles it in her own, graceful way.

After this third section of the book, we suddenly get a change. The last section is called “Amazing Grace” and from there on, we get three chapters, one each from Linda, Sarah, and Sarah’s little sister Ruth. Those chapters are now titled with “truths” instead of lies, to mark the journeys that each of them has taken:

  • Truth #1: (Linda) It’s up to me.
  • Truth #2 (Sarah) None of them can touch me.
  • Epilogue, Truth #3: Ruth We did it.

These last few chapters wrap up decisions that Linda has to make, including whether or not to confront her father, what she was going to do about her fiancee, and, by extension, the rest of her life.

Sarah has to face some of her own demons, too. And some things that have happened to her classmates. One got hit with a baseball bat, one was nearly killed by a band of white boys, and then near the end of school, someone pees on her desk chair and the teacher tries to make her sit in it and won’t listen to why she won’t. The teacher gives a choice to sit or leave, so she leaves and goes right to the principal’s office. That conversation is fascinating as all hell to get into yet another white person’s mind from the time about on how all this looks and should work. But after what could’ve been a very disheartening meeting, Sarah left feeling not angry or sad, but more confident in herself:

I can keep sitting quietly, like a good girl.

Or I can get out the letter that came yesterday and decide for myself what happens next.

The book ends on Ruth’s chapter, “We did it” and we get to see Sarah graduating after a brutally hellish year at Jefferson High School and then a small window into where Sarah will go next. I like that there’s hope in this chapter and in this book. It’s more than I was expecting during a volatile, difficult time. It also seems appropriate that it passes to Ruth, who is the next in line to stay on to fight next year when she attends Jefferson High School in the fall.

Even given all that hope at the end, the thing I hate most about all this, though, is how relevant it all was to the current political climate. Today, in 2018, this was scarily too similar to the rise of Neo-Nazis and white supremacy and it’s horrific and depressing to think we haven’t come all that far in 60 years. There’s still more to fight, more to overcome, more to change, but I’m so glad that there are authors like Talley out there on the front lines helping to make that change happen one reader at a time.

[CBR10 – 5/13] grl2grl

(Cannonball Read book review #5 – original post @ CBR10)

I’d been wanting to read this compilation of lesbian YA short stores from Julie Anne Peters for a few years, so I was very excited when I discovered a copy in my county library collection. As a fan of Peters for a while, since I love how she draws me into believable worlds of lesbian and trans teen characters with humor, warmth, and great writing, this book didn’t disappoint. In fact, it went beyond my expectations in terms of variety. Without going into spoilers on specific stories, it covers the fear of coming out and going to a Gay/Straight Alliance meeting, breakups, cheating, first love, sexual abuse, trans hate crimes & violence, impossible crushes, religion, classism and the complications of friendship, non-traditional families, less common pronouns, online dating, and so much more.

The first story, Passengers, details a budding crush one teenager, Tam, has on a fellow classmate named Andi. How she’s observed her sitting alone everywhere. “In Art, senior seminar, lunch, on the train.” Tam and Andi are drawn as different from the get go because Tam says if she were alone on the train, she’d “find something to do. Read or work on homework or doodle, fake it, so if [she were] alone it’d look like [she] wanted to be alone.” But Andi doesn’t seem to care. Throughout the story, Tam brings the reader along on her crazy whim to get to know Andi. It seems like Andi confounds Tam. She doesn’t understand the other girl. Andi is a bundle of mystery, and Tam wants to know her better. We get a snapshot of one day where they spend time talking outside in the cold and then go into school library’s “Brittanica Boneyard” where all the library and other supplies go to die. It was nice to read a story that was just…a beginning and like any great author, I so wanted to know what happened the next day.

The next story is called Can’t Stop the Feeling and it’s about the utter fear of coming out. Mariah keeps wanting to go to the Gay/Straight Alliance meeting at school, and keeps getting closer to going in. However, she has some pretty abject terror: “The dread and fear of exposing myself to them was nothing compared to telling my friends. Did they even qualify as friends? There wasn’t one of them I could trust, or confide in.” It sucks to be that lonely and I found myself rooting for Mariah to get in that Band Room to be part of the Alliance finally.

After Alex hit me pretty hard for some personal reasons. In this story, Rachael’s friends tell her not to take back her girlfriend after Alex cheated on her, but Rachael is still knee deep in heartbreak and pining for the loss of her first love. So when Alex comes back around, begging Rachael to take her back, Rachael is thrown back into remembering the first time they really made a connection and snuggled on a train ride back from a GSA field trip. It’s funny; the story just before this one was about a character who was afraid to join the GSA, and in this story, Rachael talks about finally getting up the “nerve to join the Gay/Straight Alliance at school.” Then Rachael remembers the first time they made love and we come back to Rach’s friends trying to convince her not to get back together with Alex. This is the first story we get a definitive ending on, in that we know what Rachael does in response to Alex wanting her back, and I understand her choice oh-so-well.

Outside/Inside was a clever way to tell the story of a crush, via the outside and inside of cards that the main character, Logan, wants to send to someone she cares about at the beginning of winter break. It ends with the card’s presentation to the crush and I shook my head at Logan’s feelings. I remember having similar ones when I was in high school. I don’t want to cast spoilers out here, even for a short story, so I’m just gonna leave it by saying that things are likely gonna be complicated when Logan when she gets back from winter break.

On The Floor uses a basketball game and two players who’re on opposing teams to build a sweaty, fast-paced, well played metaphor of lust and sportsmanship. I really liked the short, quick sentences in this story and how the way she wrote it really did make give it the stop-start-screeching halt-quick sprint feeling of both a basketball game and the dynamic tension of a couple.

Stone Cold Butch was a rough one for me as it dealt with sexual abuse and how it’s hard for someone who’s gone through that to connect to another person in a romantic or sexual way. The main character, Cammie, calls herself a stone cold butch. She won’t let anyone do anything for her in that intimate way. She’s shut down. Which is heartbreaking to watch from inside her head when a classmate develops a crush on her and pursues her, even though Cammie verges on cruel.

In Abstinence Makes The Heart Grow Fonder, Peters tackles the subject of how abstinence-only sex ed affects queer students. Things like how birth-control wasn’t really a thing for same sex couples because, duh, no risk of pregnancy. Also, when Aimee, the protagonist, asks why should students who were gay wait for marriage when they weren’t allowed to get married and did that mean that they were just never supposed to have sex, I almost threw my fist in the air when reading. Aimee’s teacher gets snarky with her and first tells her she’ll be playing a lot of Solitaire (wtf?! But I can totally see certain teachers I had in school answering that way, and now I’m suddenly glad that I had fairly good NOT abstinence-only sex ed in school) and then later, when Aimee presses her for a real answer, tells her it’s between her and her god. I love the anger that rises in Aimee and also that afterward, in her head, she goes into a rant:

I stormed out after class. My god? My god? What did she know about my god? She probably thought since I was gay, I was godless. Against religion. But I’m not. I have a god. I go to church. My god isn’t her god. My god doesn’t scorn or condemn me. My god is kind and benevolent and accepting. We made a sacred pact. I’d be the best person I could be and God would save me a place in heaven. The real one, where it doesn’t matter who you are or how you look or how you sacrifice your dignity and self-respect most days just to be true to yourself.

The story takes a bit of a twist (to me, at least) from there, introducing an old friend, Peyton, that had dropped Aimee after her parents got divorced and Aimee moved to the wrong side of the tracks and “inner-city housing.” But it was awesome to see Aimee and Peyton reconnect and by the end of the story, with some humor and snark, we get hope for the two girls to be friends again.

Boi deals with an FtM trans character and opens with some fairly explicit talk about children being curious about body parts and how one moment with a cousin was a tip-off for the main character that ze wanted zir own penis. Over a decade later, the same cousin helped Vince get zir first packing penis. Vince’s cousin Kevin were raised by their grandparents. I really liked this story as soon as I started reading it, so the assault that happens to Vince utterly gutted me. Fair warning, this story ends on an incredibly upsetting note and I hate these fictitious boys for what they did to Vince. The damage they did may’ve been fictional, but it’s indicative of the real damage and hate that gets carried out everyday all over the world towards trans people and it’s horrific.

I think TIAD was my least favorite story. I certainly relate to it. It mostly takes place in a chatroom online and I remember what it was like to connect to someone in a chatroom, think that you have something in an LDR, and then to have it all fall apart. This one just felt a little flat to me. However, it is funny that the acronym and it’s meaning has been on my mind a lot lately. I recently wrote a piece about how Tomorrow Is Another Day, so that’s important to remember but this one just didn’t really stick in my brain and I had a hard time connecting to the characters.

Aaaand whereas I couldn’t connect in TIAD, I did nothing by connect with the story and characters in the last story of this compilation, called Two-Part Invention. This was definitely my favorite, but that’s likely due a lot to the fact that it was music-based. Whereas On The Floor was all sweaty sports-filled adrenaline, this was pure lyricism, ripe with music references, and I love how music can be a metaphor for love. This story centered on Kat and her yearly pilgrimages to an elite camp for musical prodigies and the girl, Annika, she’s fallen in love with. There’s a beautiful tension where Kat is trying to bring herself to tell Annika how she feels about her and also trying not to freak out about how Annika has been recently talking about a fellow male prodigy musician named Bryce, throwing a wrench into things for Kat to figure out if Annika might feel the same way. I won’t tell you how it ends, but I was a fan of the ending and think it was the perfect story to end the book on.

Have I mentioned how much I love Julie Anne Peters?

Reclaiming my time…and my pagan roots.

When I was growing up, my father was very Christian…except he wouldn’t set foot in a church. Due to some bullshit with tithings and my grandfather’s funeral, my dad wound up justifiably pissed off at the church he was raised in and therefore struck out on his own religious path. However, it looked a lot like what he was raised with, minus actually, y’know, going to church. We said our prayers every night (and sung “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” after…don’t ask. I really don’t remember why but that stands out in my memory as a unique part of our prayers that none of my other friends under the Christian umbrella did.), my dad read the Bible, had religious iconography around the house, created his own manger to put on the coffee table in the living room for the holidays. “God bless you” wasn’t just what we said when someone sneezed but also when saying goodbye. It came right after “I love you”. Pretty standard Christian stuff.

My mom, on the hand, was the “rebel”. Well, after they got divorced, that is. Before they got divorced, she was a CCD teacher. Post divorce, she split from most of her family and the church and became a “recovering Catholic”. Then she embraced Wicca/Paganism. The latter culminated in my mid teen years, right after I moved in with her.

Point of note: while I was raised vaguely Christian, my mom encouraged me to explore religion and spirituality and find what worked best for me. Whenever my friends invited me to religious events or Sunday school, she told me to “go check it out so you can make an informed decision about what works for you.”

We went to my first circle together…a Dianic affair that was at once all love, light, and sisterhood but also a whopping dose of powerful man hate disguised as jokes and empowerment. Looking back, I think there was a lot of empowerment there. Some of the women were N.O.W. members and had literally fought for civil rights and feminist ideals via for longer than I’d been alive at that point. I was in awe of them and also the people my age I was meeting. They seemed so much more open, in touch with themselves. I was barely out of the closet, had no idea yet about being polyamorous (let alone begun the long path to relationship anarchy) nor the World of Non-binary. And forget the Gray Ace umbrella. I didn’t learn these things about myself until a few years later and it’s taken nearly two decades to really evolve into them.

All that being said, I had so many positive, uplifting, affirming, healing circles but eventually, the wild pendulum swing from the patriarchal background I had to the complete Goddess-centricity of this particular circle didn’t work out for us.

We tried to start our own circle, which was good for a while. But life brought my mom and I in different directions. Also, I was also getting signs that I needed a break and to do more soul searching in different ways. I mean, when you nearly burn down your college apartment three times in a row from trying to be a solo-practitioner, one might think a break is in order. At least this one did. There had always been a powerful connection to the energetic forces of the world in my life, and I was told I had power I didn’t even realize yet…but I had no idea how to control or channel it. At the time, I also didn’t have anyone whom I felt drawn to as a teacher, so I opened up to the world to be my teacher.

I joined a circle that was open and accepting of LGBT people and allies that was stregheria-based. That was wonderful while it lasted but life pulled me in another direction from there as well, and then I eventually let a partner shame me out of my spirituality. When that relationship ended, it took me a while to get back into…anything.

The first smack upside the head I can point to was when I connected with someone who reminded me that I do have gifts that were barely explored and harnessed. I can feel energy, I get cues from the Universe, and gradually, I started opening myself back up to practicing again over the past two years.

It started small. An energy ball sent to someone I cared about. Reaching out to a friend I’d known for years (since that very first Dianic circle) and picking their brain for suggestions and guidance, which they graciously gave in spades and still do (and also gave me a vanity table set which later became my the first home altar I’d had in over a decade.) But first, I created my first portable altar to help protect and balance me at work while I was going through one of the most difficult years in my life. Reading more online about solo rituals for the full moon and then decided to give scrying a try.

Started to use my angel oracle deck for guidance while researching and searching for a tarot deck because all of a sudden, I fell called to start reading tarot. Finally found a deck and hemmed and hawed about buying it myself because of the thing that said your tarot decks should be gifts. Then I found people who said fuck that noise, if you want to buy a tarot deck that speaks to you, buy it. So I walked into a shop after therapy one day and found the deck I had decided on right in front of me. I bought it. I’ve been working with it and recently reached out to friends to help me learn to read better. Turns out, according to one friend, at least, I’m doing pretty well teaching myself on a not-easy-to-learn-on deck.

The biggest, most exciting thing for me, though, was finally being able to go to Beltane. Finally getting my happy ass to Ramblewood. Finally being able to attend a pagan festival retreat and finally being able to open myself up to the experience and the Universe and the messages I was getting. It was an incredible time that deserves its own post (which I’m working on). It showed me in no uncertain terms that I was going in the right direction.

There’s still a metric fuckton of work to do and myriad decisions to make, but for once, I feel like I’m back on the right path and that means the world to me.

Shades of Gray (Asexuality): or, Intimacy à la Carte

Back when I first started poly, there were so many rules. These rules were meant to keep me and the primary relationship safe. Because that was the most important thing. And these rules made sense. Sex was reserved for only inside my triad. I could date and play with other people, and making out was okay, but there was no touching in the standard “bathing suit areas”. This was fine with me, most of the time, because I couldn’t fathom having sex with anyone outside my triad. I loved to make out (still do….kissing and touch are two of my favoritest things ever) but most of the time, I had no real sexual drive outside my triad. Most of the time.

So there was this one time when I was dating someone, and this person and I were sitting in my car. They started stroking my palm and talking to me in a very seductive voice. The stroking, the voice…ASMR kicked in and all of a sudden I told them we had to stop. Because I realized I was actually aroused and might’ve had an orgasm…from having my fucking palm stroked. We stopped. No orgasms were had, no bathing suit areas were touched.

There were other times, with people I was dating, very few and far between, that I wanted more than making out. Mostly, I wanted kink. To scene, to play, to be beaten and touched, to flog, be tied up. I didn’t have many options back then and I was also terrified of pick up play. I felt like an incoherent idiot in a foreign country trying to speak the language. Which was weird as hell, since in my triad we were kinky as fuck, and tried new things. However, we were more “into the kink scene” but not really “in” the kink scene. My partners didn’t like playing in public. And there weren’t many people that I both wanted to play with and of whom they approved.

When we got divorced, I began to slowly explore. I did things with people as I wanted, stopped things when I wanted to (or, the people I was with wanted to), and it was fucking terrifying. Because I realized I didn’t always know what I wanted without that screen of what I was told (and agreed to) that I could do. It was all stuff I had to figure out.

It seemed, though, that one common thread was that the rest of the world liked sex a whole helluva lot more than I did. It’s not that I disliked it. Nowhere near. I can be a whore and a half with the right person/people in the right circumstances. But the latter was rare-ish and the former was damn near non-existent. Somewhere along the lines, I found the term demisexual and it was like a light bulb in my whole body.

Yes! I need to have feelings and trust built up with someone before I could feel sexually attracted to them! After all, that’s the way it had happened before. That made sense. I couldn’t even conceive of a one night stand or sleeping with a friend just…cause. This label helped me understand things a little better.

Until I looked more into demisexuality and it’s umbrella label, gray asexuality. An even brighter light went off in me and I felt that even though this term meant more ambiguity than being demi, it fit. I’d begun saying that I didn’t have a primary sex drive, I have a primary kink drive, but this left some room that I felt necessary for a growing curiosity inside. Sex outside of a Relationship. I just still wasn’t sure how to…do that. All I knew was that I wanted to open myself up to it a little, so I did. And then things started happening (in no particular order)…

  • I had this metamour. And they were awesome and open and we had…a few hours together. Making out and some sex. I made them come. After, I didn’t really want to come. I just wanted sensation on my back. So they did that to me for so long. It felt soooooo fucking good.
  • Another time, I had been flirting with a friend sometimes after events. Even though my spouse told me to “go for it”, I didn’t really know how nor did I didn’t think anything would come of it. Until this one time, at a party, a kiss happened. Another time, some making out happened. Another time, we negotiated to play a few times. We agreed that all that was cool, but neither of us were interested in being more than friends.
  • I met someone who woke up parts of me that I didn’t fully know until years later. Taught me more about honest communication and who saw me for me in a way not many had ever done. Along with my best friend, they taught me that holding hands doesn’t have to be for Relationships. Helped me learn how to lean into difficult conversations. They’re incredibly important to me, even though I don’t see or talk to them very often.
  • Met another person who, within fifteen minutes of meeting me, asked if I was submissive. This was a night out with some friends, so it wasn’t like we were at a kink event. They’re someone I consider a comet who comes through my life about once a year and each time, I learn new things about myself. They challenge me. I barely knew anything about this person but found myself sexually attracted to them. We had a brief spanking scene once. Some fairly intense conversations and interactions.

These were all interactions that had some measure of what I would’ve categorized as sexual attraction when I was younger. And sexual attraction, to me, meant I couldn’t do anything with them unless we were in a Relationship. Problem was…these are all people I don’t want to be in a Relationship with. A relationship, sure. I already have relationships with all of them. Varying degrees of friendship

Then there was play…it took me a similarly long time to realize that I could casually play. It was a little easier for me, though. After trying to figure out what I was looking for in play and then starting to talk about it, I wound up connecting with other people who were interested in the same things. I drummed up the courage to ask some people I had kink crushes on to play. Some said yes, some said no. Some I’ve been able to play with and some I haven’t yet. Hopefully at a future event. And I’ve reached out to friends, as well. That’s been a big revelation, that I can play with friends.

  • My best friend and I started playing a few years back. Rose flogging, sadistic massage, impact play, things like that. We negotiate things and have had some great scenes and experiences. There will likely be more in the future and I’m glad for that.
  • A dear friend I’ve known for nearly two decades and I started playing. Some wax, a fantastic, cathartic scene in the fall of last year. Rose floggings. They’ve introduced me to another person dear to them and there’s been some fucking epic co-topping.
  • I’ve started messaging someone else I’ve known for years about playing. It all started from a ultra light flirty joke during a convo and something in me went, “huh…I wonder if there’s anything behind that or if it was just a passing flirt that happens.” Turns out, there was kinda sorta almost something to it and we started talking about possibilities. Things seem to be lining up and maybe hopefully one day, we’ll get to do a Thing or two.
  • Then there’s the pegacorn of the list: someone who’s become a very good friend, who inspires me, who’s great to talk to about so many things, AND with whom I like kinking with, can do energy play with, and one of two people in the world I currently am sexually attracted to.

It was usually a struggle to overcome the fear and panic, but once I did, it started getting a little easier. And I found I was suddenly playing with a few pretty awesome people. (“Suddenly”…after years of evolution). Without having to date them or be in a Relationship with them. This was a revelation. But it was nothing compared to the discovery over the past two-ish years that I could also have other forms of intimate times, like making out and sex and sensual times that also aren’t within a Relationship.

It’s taken nearly two decades, but I finally am able to extract sex and play both from Relationships and truly embrace the possibility of seeing them as a long list of types of intimacy that I can want, ask for, and experience à la carte.

The strangest thing of all, though, is that up until the last three years or so, I didn’t really know how to do intimacy à la carte…hell, I didn’t even really know it could be a thing. And now, it seems like it’s all that I’m interested in. Like, I seriously do not wanna date anymore. I’ve been re-evaluating my capital-R Relationships. And I’m noticing I have waaaaay less interest in traditional Relationship structures, even beyond dismantling hierarchy, and a fuckton more in exploring more with relationship anarchy and building whatever connections feels right for me and whomever I’m building with.

I’m still getting used to this new understanding of myself as a gray ace. Sometimes, it gets weird. People I’ve known for years started shying away from sex and sexuality as topics of conversation because they didn’t want me to be squicked. While I definitely appreciate the consideration, I always wind up feeling like…have you MET me?! I didn’t change who I am; all I did was find better words to describe it, but those words don’t negate the fact that I adore talking about sex, sexuality, kink, and so many thing associated with them. I just don’t have sex or feel sexual attraction as often as most people I know. It’s no better or worse; it’s just different.