Thursday, July 25, 2013


I've been branching out. 

I know I have been trying to write more here, but along with that, I've been working on a book of poetry and (quite unexpectedly) started work on a what might be a small business. Nope, this is not a heavy post with a lot to consider and a lot of metaphor to unpack. This is, instead, a post about hair accessories. 

Yeah. Could I be more of a suburban housewife? I craft. 

This is a summer of trying new things, that's for sure. We signed up for the Breezy Willow Farm CSA, and I've tried more new recipes in the past two months than I had in the past year. G and I kicked off the summer by trekking up to Syracuse, NY, to be in the wedding (the first besides our own) of his awesome brother and equally awesome wife. I got to wear my first bridesmaid dress, G, his first really spiffy suit with a deep purple pocket square. Another first of this summer belongs to my sister - she's getting braces next week, and this week had a fair amount of teeth taken out in preparation. 

Other firsts - we are going to be in our friends' wedding in December, and we've been spending more time with them. As such, we went up to the Celtic Fling and Highland Games in Pennsylvania and saw caber tossing, Irish dancing, and (shopper that I am) lots of crafts. 

Meandering in an out of craft booths is one of my favorite things to do at a fair. At the Fling, we had stopped to wait for friends outside of one such booth, and (obviously) my eyes quickly caught on gorgeous jewelry, pins, and hair clips. It was terribly hot, my hair was sticking to the side of my face, and after the millionth time of tucking it behind my ears I was primed for purchase - anything to deal with my hair. Anything. 

Anything turned out to be a deep red flower - five layers of petals with a few feathers and an iridescent purple center, set on an alligator clip. The proprietress, I then noticed, had six or seven lengths of fabric hung from the canvas roof of the shop, each with hair clips within a color group. Greens, blues, reds - little riots of silk and scrap and plume; I think she had about 100 of them hanging, each for ten dollars. 

Ten dollars seemed like a more than fair price for a flower the size of my fist and a solution to my problems. I even had cash - it was meant to be. But I ended up buying something else along with that one clip: I bought an idea. 

I can do this. 

I think it's safe to say that I feel a little silly about having a eureka! moment over a hair clip. It really isn't rocket science. But I had some glimmer of inspiration, which is, after all, the essential spark of what it takes to create. So I chased the glimmer - I went, within the week, to the crafts store, and in three days I had made 75 clips. I started by thinking about what I would want, what would please me, but after having made so many (bobby pins, larger alligator clips, French barrettes, and pieces with peacock feathers and French netting which are begging to be worn at the renaissance festival) I thought, hot damn, I could sell these. 

More firsts these summer? Having the conviction, the confidence, to get space at two craft shows in the fall. Having the nerve to invite people over for afternoon tea and wine tastings in August to take a look at my work and (perhaps) purchase a few items. Believing in myself, even if my current eureka! moments have more to do with hand crafts than great novels. Considering things like kickstarter and etsy and a PayPal merchant account. 

Doing, instead of thinking about doing. 

Today, I'm going to go over all of my items, make a few tweaks, improve on some of my earlier designs. I've never been much good at editing (well, I just didn't ever want to) so that's a first, too. Tonight we are getting more fruit and veggies from the farm, and I will have to quickly figure out what to cook - and actually follow through on it. 

I'm branching out. 


Here are three of my first creations. I think I've made well over 100 at this point:

Here's a giant wall of about half my product (all of these are the large size with alligator clips):

Tuesday, July 2, 2013


What am I trying to do with my life?

I just checked the overview of this blog - the dashboard where I see page views, comments, etc. I haven't looked in quite some time; the last time I really noticed it was when I hit 5,000 views. Today, I'm at over 8,000. My post on bipolar disorder, Shame, has been seen 452 times, due in no small part to Columbia's late friend and Big Deal, Dennis Lane. 

My post yesterday hit 104. Bipolar disorder, bisexuality, and posts about my community life in Columbia seem to be the biggest draws. 

Again, what am I doing with my life? What am I doing here? What do I stand for?

I'm not counting my page views or blogging success as a measure of my writing skill, my perspectives, or my worth. It's a tool - I can see what interests people, and maybe, through that, what further topics I might explore. I'm also blogging over at Buster and Ellie, so I've gone into detail there about married life, growing up, and living in Columbia. A few of my words are out there - and rather than counting page views, I'd like to have some sense that what I'm doing resonates with people, or that what I say has a place in the world. 

I'd like to know that my writing has meaning. That my life has meaning. 

I'm not asking for affirmation or praise in this post. I have support from friends and family, and if you've ever commented on this blog you know I am absolutely terrible at following up on comments or engaging in dialogue, even when the subject matter is very important to me. I love the comments, most certainly, but I am shy and awkward even on the internet. In some ways, I don't want to be the story - I want what I write to be what matters. 

You see, I'm muddling along in life, trying to make sense of it in between loads of laundry and toilet scrubbings and iPad scribblings. I'm doing my best - and it's true that sometimes I don't feel like my best is good enough. Maybe that's what it means to be a writer; I only know that I have often felt inadequate: in my acting, musicality, academics, and interpersonal skills. 

I've often said that writing is an exercise in failure, and that's certainly true. But I think there's something more, too - writing is an exercise in discovering the self, the good parts and the bad. I find flaws in my writing and flaws in the way I execute my daily tasks. I also find a lot of good in me - the simple joys of writing and the delicious sound of words, the way I love my husband, my slow but hopefully unstoppable progress in loving myself. 

It sounds a bit like fortune cookie wisdom, or like a self-help book with meaningless buzzwords. I don't know. A discovery of the self sounds tacky - but I think it has merit. 

Again, I'm not totally sure what I'm doing with my life. I'm a housewife (while trying to reclaim that word in a positive way), and I'm a writer. I love being a big sister, and I am trying to be a good daughter. I am terrible with plants. I like French roast coffee, made in my French press, served in a giant mug from the Renaissance Festival. I like going to the gym - sometimes. I play the piano passably, but not very well.

I write blog posts about the Big Things, like sexuality, mental illness, racism, religion, feminism. 

I write blog posts which are nothing more than a close examination of the contents of my belly button. 

All of that is me. All of that, and little life lessons like keeping my mouth closed when I scrub the toilet (a lesson, I'm sad to say, hard-won). I am, as they say, a work in progress. I think we all are. 

That may be what I'm doing with my life - just becoming. Becoming something better, perhaps, while still being a person with flaws and doubts and insecurities. 

I was talking to my therapist about some of my family relationships, and I said that I can be overwhelmed by guilt - not being a good daughter, granddaughter, or not being supportive enough to people who need a shoulder to cry on. She said, quite firmly, Stop, and No. Guilt is a habit, she told me. Being overwhelmed is a habit. And all habits can be broken. 

Writing is a habit, too, and it's a good habit. Like my organic French roast, it's a good part of me, one worth celebrating and enjoying. That's part of why I'm writing today - I was daunted by the prospect of figuring out what to say after yesterday's post, but I knew that had to write, even if what I wrote wasn't terribly profound. 

I don't think there's any one of us who hasn't considered, at least for a moment, the question of "What am I doing with my life?" I'm sure it's common for people my age, set adrift in a vast ocean of what the hell, college is over, who am I? I think it's also common for everyone to have brief glimpses of being on the brink of not knowing something so seemingly necessary - career, relationships, health, identity. So I suppose I'm saying that I am not alone in my muddling, my questioning, my "discovery of the self."

Recently, a very close friend came over for dinner and drinks. We sat on the porch with our beer and cider and we read each other our poetry. I absolutely rejoiced in hers - she accomplished a great feat, finishing a challenging poem she had been writing for years. The way she read it, the words and the images and her intense lips, thrilled something in me - it was an invitation for me to be a part of her life, and for me to take more interest in my own. I read her the beginning of what I think will be my first book of poetry and I was suddenly, fiercely proud - and imperfect, and still in progress, and me. 

I guess I could say that I'm a writer. That's an identity, right?

My bad habits, as my therapist would call them, are still there, waiting to be broken. One of them is delaying my writing because of insecurities. Another is waiting for Facebook comments to come in after I've written a particularly challenging post. Yet another is considering this future book of poetry, "Conversations with my Father in the Garden," and putting it off because of my daughter-guilt and little Alice fear. They're all a part of the other habit, the good one, which in an uncontrollable urge to write. 

I feel like this post has gone on for far too long, and it probably has, because the only thing that's really on my mind today is a simple, deceptively effortless statement of truth, which is that I'm a writer and I have to keep writing. 5,000 views, 8,000; Facebook comments, family praise; being a voice in Columbia, being a drop in the ocean - it's just an easy thing to realize, after all, that this is who I am, this is what I am doing with my life, and that what I stand for is telling my story and inviting others to tell theirs, too. 

First, I will put the laundry away. And then - I will write. 

Monday, July 1, 2013

My Mirror

I was nine years old when I caught myself on the edge of admitting something - something I had probably always known - as I looked into a gilded mirror in an antique shop and thought, horrified, "I like girls." 

I pushed it away. 

My grandmother and great-aunt had taken me on a trip to French Canada. Among whale watching and fancy dinners I aged, and I was terrified; I wondered when I should start shaving my legs, and when I could flirt with boys, and when I should be honest with myself about the less than platonic relationship between my girlish heroes, Xena and Gabrielle. I was confident of certain things: I didn't doubt my body yet, and I hadn't begun to question the emotional effects of being a child of divorce, and my mother hadn't remarried and brought my sister into the world. I was an only child, mature for my age. I ran down the long hallway of my father and stepmother's apartment and kicked the air, releasing a battle cry, and my stepmom praised my confidence. I was glad. 

On that trip to Canada, though, I found myself shy and halting - enjoying myself, absolutely, but I was somehow aware that things were about to change. This was the summer before my father took up his post at my school and church, the summer before my mother joined the choir and met my stepfather, the time before I looked at boys and girls and felt an aching in my chest which burned with a white flame. I think of that summer now as the moment before fruit bursts with ripeness - a steaming August before the fall, the last peach over-sweet but too tempting to refuse. 

Grandmere, my aunt, and I took a moment to poke around an antique shop. The owner spoke French and it was beautiful in its clean symmetry and haunting softness; I wished I could understand it and come back to Baltimore and my Grandpere and delight him. As Grandmere and Betty scanned the back of blue and white dishes in the practiced way of finding treasures, a hundred years old or more, in the corners of my eye I saw a mirror as tall as I was, and I was frozen in that moment of self-awareness and fear. 

I knew it, suddenly. I was different. 

How can I explain what that meant to me, how I felt? The idea of being gay was nothing new to me - after all, I was an episcopalian, a church musician's daughter, and most of the adults I knew were gay. It wasn't a shocking concept, and frankly until I was eighteen and at college I assumed that most people were attracted to their own sex. There were no moral qualms in me; the God I worshipped was a loving God, a force for passion and compassion and truth - and for enduring acceptance. I had no social training in rejecting others. I loved everyone, and I hoped they loved each other, too. 

So why was I scared? 

I stayed scared for a long time. Even as I slowly came out as bisexual in high school, I was scared. At eighteen I was thrilled with joy and with dread as I attempted to have a girlfriend, and my fear totally messed that up - I couldn't give enough of myself. She was beautiful, kind; she played the cello, excellently; she wanted to help me love her. 

I did. And I couldn't. And I regret that almost every day. 

This isn't some grand announcement, here. I am very happily married to my husband, my best friend, the man with whom I fit perfectly like pieces of a puzzle. We work together, and anatomy has nothing to do with it. I couldn't have found a better person to spend my life with - and yes, a better man. 

I think about how lucky I am to have my love recognized by society and by the government, and how, if I had been more brave, more confident, I wouldn't have had the same luck. It's a terrible thing to be told how to love, how not to love - to be told to change yourself, to pray your very being away. To think that God is not that compassionate God, and that he hates you. 

How many young women and men have had the same moment as I had - the moment of seeing oneself honestly - and endured the fear which comes with knowing they are different? 

How can we work to take that fear away and replace it with love?

This is clearly a subject very close to my heart. My wonderful, sort-of ex-girlfriend told me that she loved me when I spoke about civil rights for all of us, and I carry that praise and acceptance with me as I find myself in a world with so little justice, so little compassion, so much fear. I carried her beauty with me when I cried as DOMA was partially overturned; I held that memory in my aching chest as I blasted "Same Love" from my porch after I read the news and saw pictures of couples kissing and weeping. 

I don't want to be afraid anymore. I don't want anyone to be afraid. 

I don't have a hell of a lot of solutions to this problem. I suppose I had to start within myself, quelling my doubts and terror and being honest - and it wasn't, it isn't, easy. After that I started to represent the kind of person I hoped to see in others - coming out, engaging in dialogue and shared experiences, giving comfort and support to friends and family. But after that, what's next? What can we do to create a space for everyone to be loved? 

That's something I pray for, and I hope my childhood God listens with his infinite compassion. 

I'm not going to give up. I'm not going to stop praying, stop loving, stop reading the news; I'm not going to stop being honest with myself and others; I'm not going to end this long struggle for equality by hiding or fearing or being complacent in my marriage to a man. I don't know how to fix the world, I really have no idea, but maybe if I keep fixing myself through integrity and passionate purpose I can contribute to the kind of society I wish to live in. 

I can think of my ex-girlfriend with gratitude, rather than shame. I can remember what it felt like to be the confident little girl who loved everybody, and herself. I can go back to that moment in the mirror, whisper across time, shout in gladness and in pride at my differences and worth and validity. 

I can love my husband, without guilt and with joy. 

I can stop being scared.