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Saturday, June 25, 2005

K-- B-- As a Queer and Pleasant Danger

One of my lecturers at school this semester was neither man, nor woman. She prided her self on being a paradox: a man who had a sex change. She told us that Western civilization had brainwashed everyone into believing that there is a binary nature to life: him/her, right/wrong, black/white, dead/alive. These are the extremes, she told us, but in between was a whole spectrum to explore.
She said she was an incarnate Koan: what is the sound of one hand clapping? I say what is the look of one sexless human?
He had a sex change maybe eight or ten years ago. I really can't remember what she said. He might as well have had it a month ago because he still didn't seem comfortable in his koan body.
She walked around the room with pink and yellow sunglasses and blonde hair to his ears. She wore a pink bra under a see through blouse, which also showed his masculine love handles.
What did she tell us? She read a section from her one woMan play called "K-- B-- as a Queer and Pleasant Danger." She stalked across the front of the room shoving her arms into the air in violent ways that made me sit on edge.
"Am I real?" She kept retorting. "Am I real or is this just show biz?" She wailed dramatically and then ripped the wig off her head so that she was suddenly male. His bald head was frail and milky looking much like the head of a slug. The room fell silent. No one even gasped. He stood there for a moment blinking at us as if we were sunshine and then put his wig back on.
"It keeps me warm," she chuckled as she pulled the elastic onto his head and flipped the hair out of his face. "Otherwise I'd keep it off. I've got sinus problems." A few people laughed.
"What paradoxes are in your life?" She wanted us to write them down, while he listed his. "I'm a masochist," he said. "I'm an anoretic. I've been hospitalized more times than I can count." She thinks she's fat. She told us this while grabbing for his waist.
You're not fat, I thought. You're a man!
Later, he would forget that he told us that being anorexic had almost killed him. He seemed to forget a lot of things and then go back and say something different like, "Not eating has saved my life! I've learned that when I'm smoking grass, not eating will help me control that addiction. And if I can get out of grass, then I can teach myself how to eat."
One time in the lecture he asked us, "What things do you love, that don't hurt anyone else but get you in trouble?" His example was getting a sex change. Slapping his forhead he said, "I'm still running into things as a woman that I say, 'That's really cool!"
But then later he said, "When I had my sex change, the boy part of me didn't want to die. He was really sad to die but I felt backed into a corner. I felt trapped. But even after I killed him, he's still around. He didn't go away."
I've seen many strange and unusual lifestyles since coming to Antioch. I've met people who have challenged what I believe and why. With all of them, I've been able to find a piece of humanity to identify with. I watched K-- B-- at the front of the room, ready to give him a chance, ready to hear his story and discern the hurt that had led him to such a violent choice. I listened but a strange thing happened, something I can't figure out how to describe and something that will make you think I'm a little nutty. My spirit shifted and suddenly K-- B--'s body seemed dark. That's the only way I can think to put it. It was like I was reaching out for the person behind those pink and yellow sunglasses but was met with -- well nothing. It's the only way I can think to put it.
The sex change seemed the least of his problems. It was like I was looking at someone who had deliberately chosen to destroy everything natural about his life. And I struggle even now to write this because we're speaking purely of intuition and a gut level reaction. I only sat and listened to him for two hours, and didn't have any interactions with her after that. I don't like that as I'm writing I'm shaping your reaction to him as you read this. I'd much rather you meet him for yourself and draw your own conclusions. But that's never going to happen.
So how do I end this post? With what conclusions? I guess Koan's do this, they stretch your brain so that it slides back and forth without resting on any point --

A Writer's Rant

I'm at the end of my residency and I feel like I've been wound up and wrung out! I can't wait for the minute after this residency when I can say "I'm done." I'll be tearful, I'll be silent, and I'll be cranky! Watch out Dwayne.
We're spending tomorrow with my parents. Their house is quiet so I'll sit and listen to the humming in my brain. Sometimes, I just have to stop and say to myself, "This is how I feel." That means that I hold my heart up like a paper thin sac of fluid and watch as it twists. This morning I felt a pang of disappointment. After days of listening to professional writers tell us about objective correlatives, thru-lines, and memises, on top of reading other writer's beautiful work, I felt lousy. Oddly, where I should be feeling empowered, I'm feeling like a loser and I want to pout.
It's good to know where you stand.
It's good to be humbled.
True! Otherwise, I'd forget why writing is important at all.
We live in a superstar generation.
Yeah, no one wants to be reading. Everyone wants to be a writer because that's where the attention is.
Although I just found out yesterday that even best-selling books only sell around 2500 - 3000 copies.
Ugh, why aren't we reading?!
So what is writing if it's not for the publishing?
It's for the soul! There's a valiant answer. But still, I don't have the answer.
James Baldwin wrote so that America would look at herself and change. Did he care about being published?
I care about being published, but I think I better find a better way to spend my desire. What do I write for? Should I even be that good right now? Is it too much to expect that I would be producing professional work? Sure I have friends being published and being championed by famous writers, but maybe they're the exception to the mid-twenties rule?
That would break my heart.
God told me to write. I'll just tell him that I'll only do it so long as I don't write rubbish. Maybe we can strike a deal. Maybe he'll take pity on me (like I'm pitying myself) and strike me with genius. Maybe he could sprinkle a little extra discipline my way. Maybe I've already got the words for my next essay. I guess I'll just keep going. Because if there's one thing I DO know, its that Anne Lamott was dead on when she said, "You're not well when you don't write."
See I feel better already.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Wounds We Haven't Inflicted

Brennan Manning once shared with a group of pastors about his work with the Regional AIDS Interfaith Network in New Orleans. One of the pastors demanded "But what should the Christian posture be toward the gay community?"
Brennan went on to give one of the most anointed answers I've ever read in response to homosexuality. This is found in his book "Posers, Fakers, and Wannabes."
"In one of Jesus's farming parables, he said to let the wheat and the weeds grow together. Paul caught this spirit when he wrote in 1 Corinthians, 'Stop passing judgment and wait upon the Lord's return.' The sons and daughters of Abba are the most nonjudgemental people you'll ever meet. They get along brilliantly with sinners. Remember the place in Matthew where Jesus says, 'Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect'? In Luke, the same verse is translated, 'Be compassionate as your heavenly Father is compassionate.' Biblical scholars say that the two words, perfect and compassionate, can be reduced to the same reality. ...
Besides...I'm reluctant to push God off his judgment seat when I have neither the knowledge nor the authority to judge anyone. [emphasis mine] No one at this table has ever seen a motive. How can we know what inspired another person's action? Remember Paul's words after his discourse on homosexuality in Romans 1. He begins chapter 2, 'If you think that leaves you on the high ground where you can point your finger at others, think again. Every time you criticize someone, you condemn yourself."
A gay friend called me one night breathless with hurt and rage to tell me there had been a protest in his neighborhood. A man carrying a sign saying "God hates gays" had tried to beat him up. Even now it sounds like a nightmare. A bad dream.
That's why this passage from Manning meant so much to me. I pray that God gives us all compassion and grace as we try to reconcile wounds that perhaps we have not inflicted.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

This Cold Heaven

I've been thinking about the artic cirlce. It's been settling on the top of my brain, gradually descending into my conscious, with random facts floating like sea ice into my day. Let me show you:

In Nunavut there are no trees. The Inuit ancestors made massive figures from stone called "Inukshuk" which meant "in the image of man" to help travelers find their way.
-- Dave Taylor, father-in-law

In Greenland there are four months of dark, four months of light, and two seasons of twilight, "when the sun hangs at the horizon as though stuck between two thoughts."
--From "This Cold Heaven" by Gretel Ehrlich. This is a good book. Beautiful writing and fascinating content!

The first settler, Erik the Red, named Greenland, "Greenland" to attract other settlers.
--Another tid bit from Ehrlich

Scientists have been tracking the landscape of Siberia for thirty years. Since the 1960's, 250 lakes have disappeared completely and over 1000 have greatly diminished. They say this is proof of global warming. One scientist explains that the permafrost is melting and draining water away from the Earth.
-- NPR News

Bjork was persuaded to release an album of cover songs when she was eleven. This made her a child star in Iceland, but she found her artist's heart young, and vowed never to preform another piece that was not her own.
-- Bjork

We're so warm down here in LA, close to the equator, next to the middle of the earth.:-)

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

The "Real" World

I woke up this morning wondering why people like reading other people’s blogs? Is it the same reason why we tune into “Survivor” or “The Apprentice” (my personal favorite)? We’ve known ever since MTV’s “Real World” that we are endlessly fascinated by other people’s minutia. We are drawn to their inner realities.
I’m interested in this question because I happen to be studying creative nonfiction writing, a genre which includes memoir and the personal reflection essay. My classmates constantly ask themselves, “Will people want to read about me?”
Annie Dillard says, “Don’t write about yourself…Boring people talk about themselves.” But this statement stands in the face of things like reality TV, myspace, and blogging, whole megabytes and minutes taken up with the details of our personal lives. We write about ourselves; we talk about ourselves; we plaster ourselves all over the web.
One of my schoolmates told me that a writer must be a little delusional to survive. I think he’s right. We’re all a little delusional, or at the very best self-involved. The fact is, I love clicking onto Mandy’s blog to read about her personal book list, and I’m delighted by Sam’s picture of burnt toast. Brandon and Lisa’s blog about England has become a routine part of my week. Every Monday I clear space on my desk to eat my lunch and look through their latest pictures of England. And I am delusional enough to believe someone will be equally delighted by my world.

Saturday, June 04, 2005


Today I sat in the doctor's office and watched while Hala Koudsi MD poked my husband's arm.
"Let me see the spot we tested," she said as Dwayne lifted his sleeve to reveal a large mole with black stitches in the middle. Last Friday, Dr. Koudsi's nurse practitioner punched a small circle in my husband's shoulder and removed a slice of skin. He had a biopsy. Five days later, she called to tell him he had stage two malignant melanoma skin cancer.
Dr. Koudsi pushed the mole and said, "That doesn't look like cancer. It looks like a mole."
I was confused. What did she mean? That they had made a mistake? That the results had gotten mixed with another person's test?
Dr. Koudsi looked at him over her glasses. "You know my nurse practitioner is excellent! Most dermatologists would pass over this mole. Do you know why she stopped here?" Dr. Koudsi asked pointing to his shoulder.
"She said it was malformed," he replied.
Dr. Koudsi raised her chin and smiled.
It is a strange thing to be twenty-five and hear the word "cancer" from a doctor. As we left Dr. Koudsi's office, we were relieved. "This is nothing," she had said. "This is very early, only stage two. A simple excision will cure it." But just to be safe, just because "you are so young, and your wife is so young" she had said looking over his shoulder at me sitting in the corner, "I'm sending you to an oncologist. He'll run some tests and make sure there's nothing else."
She wanted to be clear that this was for our peace of mind, not because she felt Dwayne had anything wrong with him. I remember what she looked like as she spoke to us. She was wearing pink cordoroy pants and tan sandals with a leather flower on the toe. Her hair was long and brown with highlights flowing around her cheek bones. I scanned Dr. Koudsi's face curious about her skin care. It was so moisturized it glistened, even with a heavy layer of foundation and powder. I recognized around her eyebrows and cheek bones a ripe apricot look left from botox.
"She could be eighty-five," Dwayne said as we left the elevator and made our way out to the parking lot. "But she only looks forty," I said. I imagined her, every morning, rubbing oils and vitamins into her face, carefully trying to work herself back to youth.
And then there was Dwayne, who could barely remember to put on sunscreen. For the first time, he is aware of his skin and his lymphnodes.
As I recalled Dr. Koudsi standing over Dwayne's arm, flipping her charts, I imagined two people pushing from opposite ends, facing one another. "Because you are so young," she kept saying. "Because you are so young I will send you to a plastic surgeon." "Because you are so young a little excision will cure it." "Because you are so young your body will survive," she was saying, as if constantly comparing it to her own.
Dwayne and I reached the car and he pointed out, "She looked so weird with those fake teeth!"
But the point was, we were young and still strong, without fake teeth and botox.
"I'm not afraid that I'm going to die anymore," Dwayne said with a hint of irony. We pulled out of the parking lot and rode toward home. No, I thought to myself. Not afraid.
But for the first time I was feeling the meaning of the word "temporary."

Thursday, June 02, 2005

My First Comment

The virtual world is nerve racking. I first felt this way a year ago when I started my low-residency program for grad school. Most of my studying happens on a virtual campus called FirstClass, but back then I could hardly bring myself to log-in once a week. The endless silence surrounding my comments was intimidating. I couldn’t stand the experience of typing something without seeing people’s reactions. Give me just a face, a set of eyes, an “uh-huh,” or a nod!
Also, there was no saying something quietly. There was no sitting in the middle of class nodding my head and looking engaged. I had to write my thoughts on the conferences, otherwise the teachers thought I was being lazy. But then my comments were being blurted in that obnoxious Times New Roman font, wound up and pitchy, posted on the walls of our cyber class for every one to look at in black and white.
It has taken me until now to get it. I’m beginning to understand that hanging my comments out in the great “empty” can be freeing. The vacuum that follows my words makes me feel like I can say anything. Because in the gap where faces, and bodies, and non-verbals used to be is a single flashing cursor. And in that cursor I can create an audience. So today, I’m pretending that you and I are sitting in a circle (like “That Seventies Show”) and you are listening to me, nodding happily at my comments, and adding your own on top.;-)