Tuesday, June 25, 2013


There is a part of me which hates Facebook. 

I was in that generation of kids for whom Facebook was an epic right of passage - I waited, breathless, for my university email address to arrive so that I could join my fellow high school seniors in getting that coveted, no-parents-allowed, (fairly obvious) status symbol which was a picture and a few words of me. I remember filling out the small sample of boxes about my favorite movies, books, music, thinking that somehow putting those personal identifiers online would say more about me than any actual human interaction with actual human beings. 

I got to write whatever I wanted, so I proudly declared my faith (Anglican), my politics (very liberal) and my "interested in" (quite defiantly, men and women). I listed all the French literature I had ever thumbed through, from Rimbaud to Baudelaire, and I enumerated the jazz performers who made my heart sing and the love of whom, I thought, made me sophisticated. I created a little world for myself online: one picture of Louise Brooks, a few quotes from Anais Nin, and a mostly unseen reference to my bisexuality. 

It was due to Facebook that I met my husband. I joined the JHU Rocky Horror group, quickly agreed to be in the cast, and met the love of my life at a Thursday night rehearsal for what was to be my social scene for the next four years. Without Facebook - I will admit - I most likely would not be married to G. 

So thanks, Facebook, for that bit. 

The part of me which hates Facebook is the part which is terribly afraid that social interaction (in real life, as they say) will forever be changed by the myth that talking online is the same thing as speaking to a friend in person. 

The Internet was once known as the "information highway," and while that sounds a bit silly now, I feel as if the goal of exchanging information should be that for which we, as Internet users, strive. I fear, however, that social media can sometimes do the opposite - we don't always share information. Mostly, we choose to share the banal, like pictures of our food or a recounting of bar excursions or other trivial details of self-importance. Places like Facebook help us focus on ourselves, because everything we do is placed on a grander stage of both the ephemeral and the eternal. Our lives are catalogued quickly and effortlessly, mundane events and casual thoughts listed alongside births and deaths and marriages, and with a refresh of the feed those events are gone - but as my husband would remind me, what you put on the Internet is there forever. 

What does that mean for human interaction? Is everything we do important? Is it brief and meaningless? Do we know, anymore, how to ask questions about others, or how to be polite, or how to care? Can we go out to dinner without telling the world? 

How do we proceed in a world where what we are is in bits of data - the personal sound bite - rather than in a good meal, a good conversation, and questions which can't be answered by a quick search and a concurrent stretch of uncomfortable silence? 

What if we know more about our friends through a status update than through the art of conversation? 

Those are the concerns which leave me baffled by Facebook - by our current use of the Internet entire. I hate that. I hate feeling like I'm more valuable online than I am in real life. 

But there is, of course, the other part of me, which sees something emerging and terribly good about social media. 

I will return to the opening of this post, which addressed my "coming out," of sorts, through Facebook. Frankly, I don't think it was a huge surprise to anyone who knew me that I was attracted to both men and women. I'm obviously very open about that now, and to me it is truly no big deal. But back then, at eighteen, it was a big honking deal, and there was a fair bit of doubt which went into putting that information anywhere, even if only other eighteen year olds could see it. I was invisible to adults, yes - but somehow, with a check mark in the appropriate box, I was more visible to myself. 

That level of visibility is what I love, really love, about Facebook. 

I recently read an article written by Stephen Fry about his journey with bipolar disorder. It was posted by my grandfather on - you guessed it - Facebook, and I don't know if I've ever been more grateful for the share button. After I reposted the link, two friends reposted it, and this afternoon, my mother mentioned the piece and we were able to talk about Fry's use of Shakespeare and of his mental illness. 

It was a real, human interaction. 

It was also another moment of visibility for me. Sure, eight years ago, I announced my bisexuality - but today, through a quick reposting and a resulting conversation, I announced, addressed, had no shame in my bipolar disorder. I made myself visible, and not only that, I helped Stephen Fry's visibility, and I was able to share in that with my grandfather and with friends and with their friends, too. Isn't that the sharing of information, the goal, the purpose of the Internet? 

Maybe the fact that our lives are an open book online means that we can be more honest, both with ourselves and with the world. Maybe sharing information isn't just about facts and figures but about the human condition - sexuality, social justice, mental illness, compassion, debate, anger, joy, grief, delight. Maybe we share pictures of our food because they convey something about us, something which is both ephemeral and eternal. 

When I got Facebook, I put a bit of myself out there, and sure, there was a fair amount of ego involved, but there was also an element of - this is me. It was a stepping stone, a passage which took me from being single and heterosexual and unmedicated to being married and bisexual and openly bipolar (and dealing with it). I mean, here I am, on a public blog, talking about how I can be married to a man and attracted to women and emotionally stable and mentally ill and all of it, now, is no big deal. 

I am not invisible. The very root of me is exposed. 

I still miss the days when going out to dinner was more important than telling people I was going out to dinner. I worry that our enjoyment of life is inextricably bound by how we present our lives online, and by how many people "like" it, and by how good our food looks through the lenses of our cell phones. I am so torn between the concept of sharing and that of over-sharing. I don't want my self worth to revolve around my online presence. 

But I can understand that, perhaps, seeing myself through the lens of social media means that I am forced to "like" myself. I have begun to appreciate the many ways in which my Facebook family shares parts of themselves - statuses, articles, music or video - and that I can share those parts, too. I've been awfully hard on social media in the past, but as I have been writing I've thought about what life would be like without Facebook, and I wonder - 

Would I have ever known about Stephen Fry's mental illness? Would I have known about my high school classmate - now living in Europe - giving birth to a beautiful baby boy? Would I have been able to see my ex-girlfriend's awesome band succeed? Would I know what was happening in Asheville, or San Fran, or Washington, or even Baltimore? Would I know exotic dancers, actors, lawyers, poets, housewives, feminists, activists, priests? 

Would they know me? 

It's flitting, it's permanent, and none of it, none of us, are invisible. 

As much as I hate dinners interrupted by Facebook, I love my life with it - an open book, a source of pride, and something worth writing about. 

Even if it is in a status update. 

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

On the Evening of Making an Offer

Dear Lord,

I am fairly certain that you know all of my thoughts - probably before I think them. It should come as no surprise to you, then, that on this evening of making an offer on our first house, I've got one particular poem stuck in my head.

I was sitting on the porch, as you know, praying - praying for peace. I asked for the kind of peace which would allow my husband and I to handle either a rejection or an acceptance of our offer. And, what do you know (hopefully, a lot), but a flitting line of poetry began to twine itself in the folds of my brain,

"And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow..."

Yes God, it's me, Alice - the girl who dreams in greens and rain and the smell of stone and in the language of Ben Bulben. You know me; when I don't know what to say, what to think, I speak in Yeats.

Back to the praying bit. So here I was, Lord, praying in Yeats, and I thought of what it might mean to have a permanent home. I'm sure you remember what I was like as a teenager - a bit of a mess, I'm afraid, but with a terribly romantic idea of purchasing a one way plane ticket, a motor bike, and glibly riding up and down the coasts of Ireland for the rest of my life. Ireland was the closest place to home I had ever felt, and in my dramatic teenaged way I wanted to stay there forever.

It was home - and perhaps I was melodramatic, too rash in falling in love with a far away fairy tale land, but it was, it really was, home.

Now, you know how the story goes, God. You know what my life was like when I forsook my childhood dream and met the love of my life at university. You know he is and always will be a pretty great guy, and that I endeavor, every day, to be worthy of him. You know that, in meeting my husband, I found a home more permanent, more enduring, and (thankfully) a bit less dramatic than my dream of Ireland.

So why the Yeats? Well, God, I think you know. But let me work this out for a moment.

When I think about that poem, I think of a man who had that image of home in his heart. He longs for it, absolutely - he writes that when being in the city, outside of nature and that little island in Sligo, he feels his home calling. And his writing encapsulates the scene of Innisfree; he holds it in a bubble of never-changing by putting it into words. Through poetry, he creates two isles: the physical, and the conceptual. Both are real, both have merit, both are home.

I know, Lord, you're probably sitting up there on a cloud wondering how you ever created a girl who could talk so much. Sometimes, I wonder that too. The act of praying can be quite the marathon event in the Alice household.

Peace and home, that's what I'm trying to figure out. That's why I'm praying. I've got a lot of homes, in a way - a Mom and Dad's house, a Stepmom's house, a Dad and partner's house, a Grandmere's house, a G and Alice's house. And I have had a lot of peace, too - not only recently with G, but also with my Grandpere, when he drove through Baltimore, painfully slow, just to watch the world go by; with my cockatiel, Rembrandt, when he sang his warbles to my shiny silver braces; with my grandparents, S&J, who made me rethink just about everything, from theatre to happiness to life, fully lived.

Peace and home - now that I think about it, you're doing a pretty good job, God. Keep it up. So what am I praying about (I hear You ask Yourself as You have way bigger fish to fry)?

There may just be a little part of me, the little Yeats-speaking part, which holds a home in her heart, trapped in time, beautiful but untouchable.

You know, God, when people are upset - how they say things or beg things of you which don't make much sense? Asking for things that could never happen, regaining the light of lives lost, finding a set of car keys that we should know darn well where we put them? Well, as you know, when I'm really upset and lonely I think, "I want to go home."


I've worn myself out asking for it, and I bet I've worn you out by not finding it. And tonight - a night I would have ordinarily ended by asking for that home - I started this long, misbegotten prayer, and I prayed for peace, instead.

I could almost see you smile. (You don't have to look so smug, though.)

In praying for peace, I saw my home, and it was me.

It was a ridiculous a-ha moment, to be sure. Yeats's words settled into me a bit more deeply - he was his home, too, because he lived it and wrote about it and loved it. Yeah, the longing is still there - but there is a permanence, something almost tangible, in committing that love to paper. Maybe I'm trying to do that now. Maybe that's what I've been trying to do for quite some time.

Sometimes I want to shake my fist at you, Lord, and make some particularly nasty comments about your mother (sorry, Mary). It all seems too hard, just too, too difficult, when you throw all this stuff in my way like death and money and morality and all the other bits and bobs of being human. It can really suck, God, and sometimes you seem like a jerk. And, don't get me wrong - we are not on the best terms forever. But today you gave me a little something.

If I'm not talking to the air. Which would be embarrassing.

But anyway, God, I'm trying to bring this prayer to a humble finish. G and I made an offer on a house tonight, and it is scary. We don't know if it will be accepted. We don't know if the house inspection would show a lot of needed repairs and fixes. We don't even really know which would be preferable - acceptance or refusal. But what I'm asking for, here, is just a few more moments of peace, in which I can look into myself and see home -

Grandmere, Grandpere; Mom, Richard; Todette, Rembrandt; Dad, Jenn; G, me.

Baltimore, Columbia, Sligo, Cork.

An apartment, a house.

The permanence of Innisfree.

Thanks for listening, God. You'll probably hear from me tomorrow.


Inspire HoCoHouseHon

My brilliant mother has undertaken an important task - namely, writing a blog post each morning.

I have to admit, I'm kind of in awe of her.

My mom is and always has been a creative person, drawn to crafting and home decorating, music and poetry, introspective journaling and brain mapping. She is a writer - so much so that one of my standard (but not too dull, I hope) gifts for her has been a pretty notebook and fancy pens. I always thought of her as having something interesting to say, either about her state of mind or about the world she inhabits. I'm grateful to her for teaching me the importance of being honest through writing and through art.

If you read my blog, you probably read my mother's, too, "Village Green/Town Squared." Through it, she has significantly developed her writing skills, while at the same time struggling with and raising questions about our community. Knowing my mother to be a mostly shy person, I am so proud to see her create her voice - not just as a blogger, but as someone to notice, someone to respect, someone to laugh with and cry with. When I think about what it means to live in Columbia, I think about my mom: cool, compelling, open, with a sense of integrity in the life we live here.

Mom went through a particularly nasty election a few months ago in her village of Oakland Mills. To me, Mom would have been a great voice for change in a town which should be growing and adapting to the challenges of modern life. Unfortunately, being a voice for change in Columbia is (sometimes) like banging your head against a wall; there are too many entrenched ideas, too many people hoping that Columbia will stay frozen in the honey amber tree-sap of cultural and structural immobility. Oakland Mills has its fair share of those citizens - people so afraid of change that they don't see, for example, that cutting down a few (a lot of them, dead) trees in Symphony Woods could be the beginning of something wonderful, a Columbia-that-will-be, rather than a Columbia-that-was.

In response to that unpleasant election process, and compelled by the issues of living in Columbia, my mom started writing a blog post each morning. Seeing my mom pull strength out of defeat has inspired me and, in some ways, made me reconsider my role as a blogger in HoCo.

My mom showed me how to heal.

For so long, I have put my writing aside. Though I didn't want it to, the fact that I will not be attending graduate school this fall made a dent in my pride - and in my confidence. My mother might have felt rejected by her home village; I felt incredibly stupid that I had tried to get into a program to which I apparently was unsuited. Writing, then, got harder and harder as I imagined the disapproval of JHU - somehow I saw the impassive faces of fiction professors every time I took up a pen or the iPad. As I was moping away, though, my mother turned a disappointment into something more; what was, at first, bitter, became a catalyst for a new and constant creativity.

Pretty cool. And now, it's my turn.

I'm going to try to write here more often. What I type might not be that interesting every day - frankly, a little less seriousness and a little more informality might do me good. I'm also writing at Buster and Ellie, a site for and by people in their 20s. I'm going to submit stories and poems to contests and see where that leads me.

I've been sticking my head in the sand for too long, and it's depressing and a big waste of time.

So today is a new day - as is every day - and here I am, writing. If I feel a little foolish sometimes, or if the only topic I can think to write about is picking out paint colors or cooking Swiss chard, I'm going to keep on keeping on with a big, "so what?" to the universe.

Finally, if you haven't checked out "Village Green/Town Squared," I suggest you do - the writer is a pretty awesome lady who might just inspire you the way she inspires me.

Monday, June 10, 2013


A while ago, I wrote a post entitled, "Winning the Lottery," about rape culture in the US and its psychological impact. Today, I'd like to put a new - and rather literal, I'm afraid - spin on those words.

Anyone who knows me might say that I've already won the lottery of life. I married a wonderful man, someone who makes me laugh and holds me when I'm down and eats everything I cook, even when it's mostly vegetables. I live in a safe, beautiful home, and though we rent instead of own it has truly become our space - our art, our furniture, our ever growing collection of glassware. It's an apartment where we have grown up together, figuring out marriage and finances and fun.

I won the lottery in having an amazing sister, fourteen years my junior, who brought light into a world where I had found so little. In some ways, my sister was the driving force of turning my life around - she taught me simple pleasures that only children know, bubbles in the bath, silly songs from preschool, loving and depending on family without hesitation. That black-haired, purple-eyed infant, once so alien to me, became one of my greatest joys. If that isn't winning the lottery, I don't know what is.

I was a winner, too, in getting treatment for my bipolar disorder. Though it is still a struggle sometimes, I have a support system in my family and my doctor - something not everyone is lucky enough to have. I live a mostly normal life, a life I choose to live through writing and housework and cooking and love. Good luck, most certainly, and hard work, is this business of being healthy.

So why do I buy lottery tickets? Why should I want anything other, anything more?

When I was young, Mom and I used to play the lottery game. We'd buy the tickets and then plan what we would do with the money - a house with a yard and a treehouse out back was a dream we held on to as my mother did her best to raise me and feed me, clothe me, house me. The lottery game was an outlet for the desires made difficult by our financial situation.

There's something in me which will never get over those parts of my childhood touched by having too many dreams and too little money.

I'm not trying to be negative about the way my mother raised me - not at all. She magnificently succeeded at taking care of a growing girl, providing me with a capacity for enjoyment wholly unsullied by our lack of wealth. She gave me a place in her faith, and though she was singing in the choir at church rather than sitting beside me in the pews, I always felt a sense of wonder as she shared her belief in a compassionate God. We spent summers going to concerts, having picnics, and we spent winters sledding, building snowmen, mixing ice and sugar to make snow candy and ice cream. Mostly, she provided me with love. Though money was tight, that love was another way in which I won the lottery.

My life was and is full of love - my stepmother was a blessing, my stepfather a stroke of luck too good to believe. I didn't go wanting when it came to affection - from all four of my parents, from my grandparents, from family friends.

Six dollars a week, now, go towards the lottery. What am I looking for that I don't already have?

Most people probably don't think about the lotto in these terms - I can see it being a whim, a hint of delight at the possibility (but without any expectations). I can also see the lottery as someone's last chance at finally having enough on which to get by. But for me, both of those impulses are inextricably caught up with those days when Mom and I planned our treehouse. It's a legacy of not quite having enough that I can't seem to shake.

My husband and I are embarking on that complicated voyage which is buying a house. The housing market in Columbia is a lot more intense than we anticipated - I think we expected the demand to be quite low, but Columbia, being in Howard County, benefiting from a top notch school system, positioned perfectly between Baltimore and DC, is a hot market where properties are sold as soon as they are listed. Finding a house which fits our budget and other criteria has been quite a challenge. We've just found something we like, which is exciting; even so, we are trying to be as financially smart and safe as possible. Without several factors going our way, this house could slip out of reach. Not a big deal, in some ways - as I said, we love where we are living now.

But I've got two tickets in my wallet, and sometimes I pray to that compassionate God - who could chide me, maybe, for my apparent materialism and greediness - that He might spin the numbers my way. I whisper all the things I would do, from fixing up my grandmother's house, to restoring the organ at church in my grandfather's name, to helping my stepmother with rent; I will do it all, I think, and keep only what is needful. I will follow Christ's teachings and give to not only my family but to those in need. Whatever you want, God, I will do.

When I was little, I hoped that someday money would be abolished, and that everyone would have what they needed without those dirty, crumpled bills. No bank accounts, no credit cards, just freedom from wealth and debt.

I'm realizing now that I've gone on and on about money, which is one of those things you are definitely not supposed to do. Forgive me - I tend to write here about all things impolite. My takeaway message is not about needing more money, or about worshipping at the altar of consumerism, or about a childhood lived well but without enough. This is what I mean to say -

I have so, so much. And I am grateful. Old habits might die hard - but new habits, mindfulness, peace in the present, are the stronger foundations of this life I share with my husband, my sister, my mom, my family, my God.

And if that's what it means to win the lottery, I'll take it.